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The Three Boxes

There was once a poor peasant woman who had a little girl named Anna Maria. Once, as Anna Maria was going to school, she met an old man who begged for a bit of something to eat. Anna Maria was a kind-hearted girl. She had compassion on him because others despised him, and gave him the greater part of what she had for breakfast.

As the old man left, he gave her three pretty boxes, and told her that she must not open them till three years had gone by. Anna Maria took the boxes, and the old man disappeared.

When three years had passed, Anna Maria's mother was dead, and the girl had got a wicked stepmother instead. It was now hard times for Anna Maria. The stepmother could not bear her, and when Anna Maria wept, she called her an everlasting cry-baby. Besides, she had to work harder than she had ever known in her life before.

Once she had to make a garment that should be as shining as the sun. And because she could not do it, she began to weep. Suddenly the thought of the three boxes came into her mind, and she ran home and opened one of them.

As she looked in she saw a beautiful garment, as shining as the sun. Full of joy, she took it out, ran to her step-mother, and gave it to her. The stepmother turned up her nose at the garment, and in a passion at once said said that Anna Maria must spin a linen garment, fifty ells broad, yet that might be passed through a finger-ring.

Anna Maria went away, and opened the second box, and took out a linen garment fifty ells broad, yet which went through the ring as easily as if it was nothing at all. Full of joy, she took it to her step-mother. But her step-mother was full of spite when she saw it, for she believed that it had been spun by Anna Maria.

Now the step-mother bade Anna Maria build a castle all of glass, as high as the highest mountain. Anna Maria went her way, took the last box, went out, opened it, when suddenly it disappeared, and instead of the box there stood the castle, all of glass, and as high as the highest mountain.

When the step-mother saw it, she came out and ran up the staircase. But when she was at the top, she stumbled, fell over, and broke her neck. Anna Maria came up after, and when she got to the top, a prince came to meet her, and soon he wedded her too. Anna Maria became a great queen; and if she is not dead by this time, then she is still living.

How Hans Won His Wife

Once on a time Hans wandered into the world to find good men. He came into a great forest, and lay down weary under an oak-tree, and soon fell asleep. As he awoke, the sun appeared; he jumped up, made his breakfast out of his bread-bag, and then went deeper into the wood; but there was no end of it, and his heart was cast down.

The third night, as he went round the forest, he suddenly observed a light. Long was the way before he could reach it, but at last he came to his goal. Then he saw a small hut. Hans went in, but the owner was away; so he sat down on a moss-bank before the hut. Soon an old man appeared, and asked Hans what he wanted.

"Better men I am seeking," he answered, "better than those I knew."

"Better men you will hardly find, for they are all much alike; but if you will remain with me, you will find a good man," said the dweller in the hut. He led Hans into his hut and set some bread and cheese before him. Hans regaled himself, and told the man of the hut the reason of his leaving home. Next day, after Hans had breakfasted, the hermit went away, first giving Hans a fishing-tackle, and showing him the way to a lake where he was to fish.

Joyously he set out, and soon had reached the place. It was a lake clear as a mirror, where he saw the most beautiful fishes. But he was sorry for such beautiful fishes, so he merely looked at them, and rejoiced that for once he had found an honest man.

As he sat thinking thus, he suddenly heard a voice saying, "Let be, you will yet find good men, and it will go well with you, because you have taken none of us."

Looking up, he saw that the most beautiful fish swam away from him into the midst of the lake. Soon after Hans went home, and found the hermit getting ready a supper. Hans told him of his adventure.

The old man listened attentively, and said, "Dear Hans, what has happened to you today is very strange; go tomorrow again, and look to it that you learn more."

Next day Hans took his tackle, and again went to the lake; but this time no single fish was to be seen. As he was about to return, he saw a band of the fairest maidens, each of whom was clothed only in an apron. Shocked at the sight, he hastened to the old man's hut, and told him of it. At the same time he begged the old man for one of the maidens in marriage. The old man laughed at this desire, but advised Hans, if the maidens bathed again, to take the apron of the maiden who pleased him best. Hans followed the advice, and went next day to the lake. He had not long to wait before the maidens appeared, took off their aprons, and sprang into the water. He gently stole up to the apron which belonged to the maiden who pleased him best, seized it suddenly, and hastened away from there. But no sooner did the maidens catch sight of their disturber, than all sprang out of the water and hastened from the place.

But the maiden whose apron he had taken, was following him. When she reached him, she fell on her knees, and begged him urgently to give her back the apron, promising to go with him wherever he would. But Hans was not to be deceived; so taking the maiden by the arm, he led her into the hut of the hermit. The old man blessed their union, and told Hans that he was to burn the apron, for if she got hold of it, she would run away. Hans, however, wanted to keep the apron, and hid it in a chest.

Years passed by, and one day Hans' wife was going to wash clothes. Looking about, she found her apron. Quickly she took off her clothes, tied the apron around her, and hastened away. When Hans came home and did not see his wife, he sought everywhere, and could not find her. Then the thought came into his mind whether his wife had not found her apron and hastened away with it. Sadly he went to the chest, and convinced himself that the words of the old man had been actually fulfilled.

Next day Hans rose and was intent on seeking his wife everywhere. First he went to the hermit to bewail his sad fate, and to ask his counsel.

"I thought so," said the hermit, when Hans had told him all. "You ought to have followed my advice, but now I cannot help you. Still, I know of one means. Not far from me there lives a witch, and she is not on good terms with those who enchanted the maidens and hold them fast. Go to her, tell her your trouble, and beg her assistance."

Hans went to the witch, who was a hideous old hag.

"Good," said the witch, when she had silently listened to Hans, "It is well that you have come to me, otherwise you would have fared ill; but now listen attentively to what I shall tell you. In three days there is a great race. All the princes of the neighbouring towns are invited. He who rides his horse up a ball-shaped crystal mountain will get the fairest maiden that the old witch holds bound. Your wife is the fairest. To save her," the old woman went on, "take the horse that stands before the door, ride to the course, and announce yourself there as a competitor, for only in that way will be admitted to the contest. If you win, and this I can certainly promise you, your task is not over, for you must find her out among a thousand similar maidens. But this task will be easy, if you follow my advice. Give close heed when you come into the hall of the maidens, and choose the one that a spider descends on from the roof of the chamber."

Heartily Hans thanked the witch for her advice, and at a swinging gallop he hastened to the course, full of hope of meeting his beloved spouse.

There the nobles of all kingdoms were already gathered. They waited impatiently for the opening of the course, where they hoped to make their fortune. One after the other tried to ride up the crystal mountain, but none succeeded. Hans' turn now came. He did not long hesitate, but trusting the witch's horse, bounded at full gallop towards the goal and reached it to the astonishment of alL So Hans, the best rider, was awarded the prize.

And now, out of a thousand maidens, he had to choose his bride; and they were all alike. He recalled the witch's words, and paused; but as soon as he saw that a spider let itself down from the roof of the room on the head of a maiden, he chose her and recognised in her his spouse. He led her to the hermit's place that they might live quietly with him.

But soon the witch repented of having given Hans her choicest beauty. So she sent a messenger to take her again. When the messenger came to the heath that Hans had to pass to get to the hermit's, his wife noticed him and said, "See, over there is a messenger from the witch; she would have us both, but she shall not succeed."

With these words she muttered something, and suddenly instead of two persons a dove was seen, holding a straw in her beak. As the messenger came up to the spot where Hans and his wife had stood and saw nothing that excited his attention, he turned round.

The witch impatiently awaited the messenger. When at last she caught sight of him, she asked soon afterwards if he had the pair.

"No, I have not once seen them," answered the messenger.

"Did you see nothing?" asked the witch.

"Nothing but a dove, with a straw in her beak."

"Ride again, and take all that you find."

And again the messenger set out.

Meanwhile Hans and his wife had got a good distance further, but in the middle of the heath they were overtaken by the messenger. This time also the woman knew of a spell which she had learned from the witch, and as she uttered it Hans was changed into horse-dung, and she herself into a crow. The messenger passed the crow, and, seeing nothing, rode back.

The enraged witch sent him forth a third time, and he came up with the pair by the lake, where the hermit was wont to fish. When the woman again saw the messenger, she used her third and last spell and changed Hans into a thistle, which stood in the middle of the lake, and herself into a goldfinch that settled on the thistle and began to pipe and sing lustily.

When the messenger saw and heard this, he was going to seize the finch, but he did not succeed, because the lake was too deep, and Hans was too far from the messenger.

The messenger rode away from there in order to fetch a boat and crew; but before they came up, Hans and his spouse were already safe, for they had gone into the territory of the witch who had given Hans the horse. When the messenger returned to the witch, he could not find her, for the spell on the maiden was broken, and the witch was gone. No one knew where. Hans went with his spouse to the hermit, and they thanked him from their hearts, and in his presence the wedding was solemnised anew.

The fishes of the lake were in fact men. They had been banished by the same witch, and were now released from the spell, they too. The maidens of the Crystal Mountain were the brides of the former fishes. And now, at Hans' wedding the other husbands celebrated their own renewed weddings too, and there was no end of rejoicing.

The Mouth-Cure

Many years ago there lived a king who had a very big mouth. This affliction had been sent on him by a witch, because he had not fulfilled a wish of hers. The king was ever in growing vexation about his mouth, and resolved to give his daughter in marriage to the man who would cure him.

In a village not far from the palace there lived a peasant couple who had a son named Sepple. When he was eighteen years old he had to go from home to seek his fortune. Provided with bread and meat he wandered forth next morning, and came, after a long journey, into a great forest. When he got weary, he sat down in the shadow of a great tree, and took out his provisions. It was evening, so he offered up a prayer at a chapel standing near the tree, and fell asleep.

Towards midnight he heard a loud crash, and awaking, saw two white spirits standing by the chapel, and one of them spoke as follows: "It is now a year and a day since I, because of an unfulfilled wish, caused the mouth of the king of the kingdom near here to grow so. But he can be cured. Two hours' distance from here is a small lake. In the lake is a fish with five eyes or more. He who eats that fish raw, is at once free from his misfortunes, whatever they be."

After some more talk like this, the ghosts vanished with a noice of shotguns.

Sepple at once sprang up, and was eager to try his fortune. At the end of the forest he found the lake, and in it he saw a fish with five eyes swimming around. Fishing it was not easily done, for Sepple lacked tools and had to make them as best he could. But at last he succeeded, and at once took the fish to the king with the broad mouth, just as the king was eating.

Quickly Sepple approached him and told he had a cure for the king's malady. He showed the rare fish to the king, and added, "Now I will ask for your daughter to marry, for I think the fish will entirely cure you of your unfortunate mouth if you follow my instructions."

The king gave his word, "It is a deal," he said, "for everything else has been hopeless."

Sepple placed the fish in the king's mouth, and when he had gulped it down, his mouth got its natural size. The king kept his word, and after some days a fine wedding was celebrated.



Once there was a king who wished to marry and had decided to take none other to wife than one who had jet black hair and eyes. Whether she were high or low born did not matter to him. So he had proclaimed through the land that all maidens with these qualifications should appear before him.

Many announced themselves, but some were not as black as the king desired, and others wore false hair; in short, there was something lacking in everyone.

A charcoal-burner now came with his daughter. As she noticed the throng before the king's palace, she asked her father what it meant. He answered that the king desired to marry a maiden with black hair and black eyes, but none so far were just as the king desired.

The charcoal-burner's daughter had both. So she said to her father, "May I go?"

But he answered, "I think you are stupid to think the king will take you to wife."

She said that she only wanted to go that she might see a little of the castle. Her father gave her leave to go, and she went. On the way she met a little man who called to her, "Ho! maiden; what will you give me if you become queen?"

"Why, my little man, what can I give you? I have nothing, she replied.

Then began the dwarf again, "You will be queen, but you must know at the end of three years that my name is Kruzimügeli; if not, you are mine."

"Well, if that is all, I will attend to it," she said, and ran to the castle, without thinking any more of the dwarf who rubbed his hands with glee as he looked after her.

When the king looked on the maiden, he resolved at once to make her his queen, for her hair shone and her eyes sparkled with blackness. So the wedding took place, and they lived very happily. She had almost forgotten that the three years were drawing to a close, and oh! horror! she had forgotten the name of the dwarf! She got depressed and wept the whole day. The king who loved her dearly, caused celebrations to be held to amuse her, but all in vain. If he asked why she was so sad, she always answered she could not tell him.

One day the king's forester went into the forest for game for the royal table. Deep in the forest he saw a dwarf who had made a fire, and who was leaping about it with malicious joy, singing,

She does not know - oh, what jollity!
My name is Kruzimügeli."
The huntsman heard this and went home. He met the queen in the castle garden where she was walking, plunged in grief. He at once told her of the adventure in the forest, and when she heard the name Kruzimugelli she was almost beside herself for joy, for next day was the last of the third year, and the dwarf would come to ask the queen his name.

Next day he came and asked the queen, "Now, queen, do you know my name? You have only three guesses, and if you do not guess right, you belong to me."

The queen answered, " It seems to me it is Steffel."

When the dwarf heard this he leaped for joy, and cried with all his might, "Missed!"

Then the queen said, "Then it is Beitle."

Again he made a bound, and cried again, "Missed!"

Then the queen said quite carelessly, "Then it is Kruzimügeli."

When he heard this, he burst, without a word, through the wall into the open air. All endeavours to close up the hole made in the wall proved fruitless.

The queen lived with her consort long and happily.

The Grass Snake of the House

A LITTLE girl at times got a dish of milk and a hard roll as a between-meal by her mother. The girl sat down in the yard outside with her little feast. And as the child calmly and delightfully ate and drank, came a grass snake that lived in the farmstead, and sat down near her, and crept ever nearer. Probably the grass snake smelt the food and was hungry. And the animal-loving girl let the grass snake sponge unhindered.

The trust shown by the grass snake made the girl so happy that from now on, if she had something eatable, the grass snake said:

"We two love the food your mother makes."

And the grass snake was never missing and ate so much that it had to be more careful, so as not to overeat. But the grass snake also showed how grateful he was. He brought a precious jewel from his secret treasure to the girl, and beads and golden decorations of marvellous splendour. Because of the gifts the girl grew more beautiful and bright.

The girl's mother did not know anything about the friendship between her child and the grass snake. One day she was frightened to see how the animal coiled itself in the lap of her daughter. And since the mother got scared and feared the grass snake might harm her daughter, she grasped it and dashed it against the stone floor till it lay dead.

Afterwards a sad change came over the girl. She grew so ill that the night swallows called to her and the robin brought her dead leaves. Then one early morning, when the mother came to look after her child, she had passed away.


Austrian Fairy Tales and Legends, Literature  

Source: "The most beautiful fairy tales from Austria".

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