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The Absent-minded Farmer

Once there was a farmer and a donkey. The farmer was very absent-minded, but his donkey was always wide-awake. So it happened that when the farmer walked around by himself he got into all sorts of trouble, but when he had his donkey under him and the donkey did the walking, everything usually went very well.

Usually - but one day the donkey could not help his master.

They were going across a green meadow. The donkey was walking along, pit, pat, pit, pat. Astride him rode the farmer, lost in a dream. It must have been a beautiful dream for he was so absorbed in it that he did not see the three robbers who were following him. He did not even notice when one of them slipped under him in place of the donkey while the other two went off with the uncomplaining animal.

It was not until the farmer came to the end of the meadow that he woke up from his dream and realised with amazement that he was now riding on a man.

"I don't understand this," thought the farmer. "I must still be dreaming. Perhaps I should ask this fellow what he is doing here."

He bent over and whispered in the robber's ear. "Tell me, how is it that a moment ago you were a donkey, and now you are a man?"

"Ah " said the robber, "before, I was a man as I am now, but I was a bad man. As a punishment for my crimes I was changed into a donkey. But my time as a donkey was up today and I am a man again, as you can see."

"Is that so!" said the farmer with his mouth wide open. "Then I cannot keep you, can I? I will give you your liberty."

He dismounted and took the saddle and harness off the robber. "Goodbye, goodbye. You have been a good donkey. Be a good man."

It was but a short time after that that the farmer found he could not possibly get along without a donkey and went to the fair on foot to buy one. There were many for sale, but among all the long ears and white bellies, the farmer recognised his own former donkey. He walked over to the animal and patted it on the back. It was his donkey, with the same white patch on its forehead.

"Eh! Eh! You rascal," the farmer whispered discreetly into the donkey's ear. "Tell me now, what sin did you commit to be so changed a second time? But," added the farmer, "don't worry, come with me. I'll forgive you."

He paid for the donkey, and the donkey took him home, pit, pat, pit, pat, pit, pat.

[Retold]

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A Charming Little Girl

On one of the spurs of the Jura mountains are the remains of the old castle of Furstenstein, the home of a knight of Rothberg in the 1300s. He married a good wife, and both were devoted to their only child, a charming little girl of about four years of age.

One day the mother took the little girl out into the forest, where she let her run about to fill her basket with wood-flowers and tiny wild strawberries that are so delicious. The mother sat down in the shade of a big tree, where the little one came every few moments to exhibit some new treasure. But suddenly a sharp cry rang through the air. The Lady of Rothberg sprang to her feet in terror and rushed to the place where her child had stood a moment before, and saw a frightfully steep precipice. When she leaned far over the edge, frantically calling the child, nothing but a loud echo replied. Beside herself with grief, the unhappy mother rushed down the mountain path, crying aloud for help.

On reaching the foot of the mountain and the entrance to the ravine, she almost fainted with joy, for her little girl came running joyfully forward to meet her. The mother clasped the child rapturously to her breast, and when the first emotion was over and she had assured herself that her darling was uninjured, she gently began to question her. The little girl artlessly told that she had gone very near the edge of the precipice to pick a beautiful flower, and had suddenly fallen. But before she could touch the ground, her sturdy coat was grabbed from behind. She heard flapping about her and was lowered down to the soft grass among red strawberries. She had just got up to pick berries for her father when her mother came.

The wonderful rescue of their only child filled the parents with gratitude.

[From Guerber, transformed]

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The Fairy Wife

Long ago there were as many fairies in Switzerland as anywhere else, and those who lived around the village of Glebes in Valais were exceptionally good. They did all manner of charitable acts. They helped the poor; they cured the sick; they guided the herdsmen as the cows were led to the high alpine pastures and they cleaned the chalets. Yes, they were the very best of fairies.

They were seldom seen by the villagers, but one day a young man named Francois had the good fortune to meet one as he was going up to the high Alp pasture. The fairy was picking blue gentians to make a bouquet. She was so lovely that Francois fell in love with her at once and asked her to marry him.

The fairy said that she could not marry a mortal man. But Francois pleaded so sincerely and looked so good that at last she yielded. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she said, "Francois, I can become your wife on two conditions: you must never be angry with me, and you must never ever say, 'You are a bad fairy" to me."

Francois promised.

They were married in the church. The village fiddlers, perched on two empty wine-casks, played for the dance. It was a merry wedding, which promised a happy life.

The couple lived many happy years together. They never quarrelled. They had three pretty children. When Francois came home at night after a hard day's work in the field or on the mountain, he would find his children so well taken care of, the wood walls so white, the supper so good, and his wife so cheerful, that he felt himself a lucky man, which he was.

But on a certain summer day, Francois was called to an Alp of to tend an ailing cow. The sky was darkening when he left, and the air was warm and heavy. Fearing a storm coming on, Francois did not stay long at his alp-chalet, but gave his instructions to their shepherd there and hurried homeward.

Fairies have knowledge of the future, and may thus avoid misfortune. In the valley, Francois' fairy-wife sensed that a terrible hail storm was coming. Quickly, with the aid of other Alp fairies, her friends and kinsfolk, she harvested her wheat. It was still green and flowering, but nevertheless they brought it in and stored it in the barn with a branch of alder-tree between each sheaf.

Hardly had this been done when the storm broke. It was the worst storm the mountaineers had seen for many years. Hailstones as big as grapes fell upon the valley and devastated the fields. The desolate peasants were ruined. Hunger would be their lot during the long winter that lay ahead.

Francois had reached home just as the storm began. When he learned what his wife had done while he was away, he flew into a rage, and scolded her.

"Whoever harvested green wheat?" he screamed. "The hail might have spared some of our wheat. Now all of it is lost. It will rot, every bit of it! Ah You are a bad fairy!"

Oops - as the words left his lips there was a sinister noise like a snake whistling and thrashing its tail, and his wife vanished before his eyes. But this did not make him less angry. Leaving his children in tears, he stamped out to the barn to examine the wheat.

How wonderful! From floor to rafters the barn was crammed with the most magnificent wheat, golden and ripe. The huge heads were bursting, and fat hard grains were falling to the floor! Francois had expected to find a mass of green festering wheat. How unjust he had been to his wife! But he was a stubborn man. "Just the same she shouldn't have done it," he said to himself.

He went slowly back to the house. All his children were sitting at table, and the dinner was served.

"Who served the dinner?" asked Francois.

"Mother."

"Where did she go?"

"She didn't say. She only said that you should apologise for your hard words. It is not too late if you do."

"Apologise?" said Francois.

He dined alone and slept little that night, for he was unhappy. Yet he would not bring himself to ask his wife forgiveness.

The next morning he found his children washed, dressed and combed. Their breakfast was served, but his was not. Francois remained stubbornly silent.

Several days later he drove to the miller to have his wheat ground. The miller's eyes popped when he saw the bags full of beautiful grain.

"How can you have such fine wheat, Francois, and so much of it, when the whole harvest elsewhere in the valley has been destroyed?" he asked. "You are the only man in the valley to have any wheat at all."

Francois told him what had happened.

"You don't deserve to have such a wonderful wife as you do. Go home and beg her pardon," the miller said.

Francois made up his mind to apologise to his wife for his rude behaviour. The decision made him happy, and loading the heavy bags of flour into his cart, he drove quickly home.

Everything was upset in his house. The cat slept in the bread chest; the milk pails were black with flies; the sink was a mountain of dirty dishes. Only the children were still washed and neatly dressed.

"When your mother comes," Francois told them, "tell her I will apologise."

The next morning he was awakened from sleep by a gentle tap on his shoulder. It was his little girl.

"Mother has come," she said. "She says she will stay if you will kiss the first thing you find behind the kitchen door."

Francois jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen, filled with joy. There was nothing behind the door. He thought it must be a joke. Then he heard again that whistling noise that had sounded when his wife had disappeared. He looked down and saw a little fox at his feet, waiting for a kiss.

But Francois could not bring himself to do it! He took the fox and flung it out of the door. It disappeared, and then his wife suddenly stood before him.

"If your love is not stronger than that," she said, "I must leave you, your fortune, and our children, you vain, and stubborn man," and she was gone forever.

Francois grieved a lot, but now it was too late. In the next years he became poorer and poorer, and in the end he and his children had to go from farm to farm and beg for work or a little food to stay alive.

[Retold]

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How the Devil Crushed His Foot

There is a story from olden times in Switzerland, about a good and pious lady who retreated to the picturesque Verena valley. She wanted to devote time to pray and contemplate on the Lord on this lonely spot, in a small hermitage she had built.

Her prayers and intercessions for others helped a lot. The Evil One, perceived that he could not bag as many souls as usual in that vicinity, finally set out to discover what was the matter. Walking past the hermitage, he heard muttered prayers. He listened attentively and gnashed his teeth with rage when he understood she was interceding for souls he hoped soon to have in his power. This was the reason for the decrease of his victims in the area, he learnt. He decided to put a stop to the prayers and at once tore a huge mass of stone from a neighbouring cliff. Then, stealing near the pious woman while she was deep in prayer, he held the boulder for a moment directly above her head, carefully measuring the distance, so that he could hit her with one blow.

But just as he was about to let the mass fall upon the lady and crush her, she suddenly looked up with such a look of mingled purity, compassion, and reproach, that Satan, started back involuntarily, letting the rock slipped from his hand in so doing. The boulder fell on his foot and crushed it so badly that he disappeared at once with a wrathful howl of pain and disappointment.

The rock that the Devil dropped in this way, lies still on the spot where it fell, and it still bears imprints of the Devil's claws deep into the stone. The place is often visited by pilgrims -

Won't you believe the legend,
go to the lady's glen,
and in the rocky dump
find marks of fingers - ten. [1]

Since then, the Devil is said to have avoided passing through the narrow gorge where he met with this unpleasant accident. He is constantly reminded of his failed attempt, though, for his crushed foot never recovered from the accident, and he has been lame from that day to this.

[Guerber, rendered freely]

Note

  1. Based on "Poems of Places. Switzerland" by Henry W. Longfellow.

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