It was a summer holiday. The sun shone with burning rays on newly-mown bank, the roads and paths seemed knee-deep with dust and the flowers by the wayside hung their heads - the waters of the streamlet were heated as they passed along. Franzl was lying indolently on its bank. As he did not get cooler there, he rose and sauntered away and wished there were no holidays.
"Oh, don't wish that!" said a gentle, fair-haired maiden by his side. "I have been longing for holidays to find time to fill the basket I made for mother with fresh strawberries from the wood."
"A good idea, Walburga," answered Franzl. "There's shade in the wood, and the strawberries will be cooler and more refreshing than this stream."
With that they strolled away towards the wood.
The cottage of Franzl and Walburga was nestled into the side of a steep hill. The top of the hill was mantled with a forest of lofty pines. , Franzl now strolled alone up the steep path past the cottage, without troubling himself to help the girl who toiled behind him on the slippery path of loose stones sunburnt moss. This was how he was. His own ease was all he cared about
At the highest point of the path there was a stone cross. It was shaded from the weather by a little penthouse covered with ivy. "At last, here is some coolness in the heat! Now we are close to those nice refreshing strawberries," Franzl said to himself.
Franzl took a look for red berries among the pine-legs, and soon found some. "Oh, what a splendid catch!" he cried and plunged to where the ripe, rich berries clustered closest, and began helping himself to his heart's content.
Walburga lined her basket with fresh green leaves and laid the strawberries in tasteful order on them, only now and then taking the smallest for herself. They were still tasty.
They pushed deeper and deeper into the pine forest, Walburga kept near Franzl, even though he had no cheerful words for her.
They came to a place where dark pines closed thick overhead. Here the strawberries were no longer ripe and red, for there was not enough sunlight to ripen them at this time. Franzl turned to go and Walburga followed gently behind. Suddenly they stopped and watched a bright light beneath the dark pines. In the centre of that light stood a beautiful queen. The light seemed to come from the diadem on her forehead and the garments around her.
"What are you doing here?" she sweetly asked Walburga.
"Gathering strawberries for mother dear," said Walburga.
The lady smiled approvingly. The bright light seemed brighter when she smiled and a sweet and balmy breeze stirred the air when she spoke again.
"Here, child," she said, "take this casket." She handed Walburga a casket made just like the strawberry-basket she had woven for her mother, only it was all of pure gold filigree, and, in place of the piled-up strawberries, it had a lid of sparkling carbuncles. "Take this, my child; and when you open it think of me."
"And what are you doing?" the shining lady said to Franzl. He had his hat full of strawberries and was so busy devouring them that he had not noticed the beautiful present his sister had got.
He did not stop eating, but between throwing away one chuck and picking out another fruit, he muttered,
"Think for yourself."
The shining lady looked at him and gave him a dark iron casket, with the same words she had used to Walburga.
The light disappeared and the fair lady was out of sight.
"Who could that bright lady be? What can these caskets be that she has given us?" said Walburga. "Let us get home quickly and show them to mother." She ran onwards merrily, calling out, "Mother, mother dear, see what I have got!"
Franzl said; "I'm not going to wait for that: I want to see what's in them now." But Walburga did not hear that.
He pulled the lid off his dark iron casket; and at once two great black ugly snakes wriggled out. They grew bigger and longer, dancing round him. He could he escape from their meshes. Then they closed their coils tightly round him and carried him away through the thick, sunless forest. No one ever saw him again.
Meantime Walburga was making her way home as fast as she could down the dangerous mountain track, her strawberry-basket in one hand and the golden casket in the other. Her mother sat spinning in the shade of the climbing plants over-shadowing the broad cottage-eaves.
"Mother, dear mother!" cried the child; "see what I have got. Here is a basket of fresh, cool strawberries I have gathered for you in the wood and here is a golden casket that a shining lady brought me in the wood. She also gave Franzl a casket, one of dark iron. The mother kissed her child fondly and stroked her fair, soft, curling hair, but turned her head and wept, for she understood what had happened and what it meant: her grandmother had told her so.
Franzl did not appear. When Walburga had sought him everywhere, she said, "He must be gone round by the woodman's track to meet father, so let us open the casket, dear mother."
She put the casket in her mother's lap and lifted the beautiful carbuncle lid. Two tiny beings flew out. They were radiant with rainbow light and grew bigger and bigger, fluttering round her till they folded the child softly in their arms, then spread their wings and flew away with her above the clouds.
Under shelter of the hooked staff, one lives well. (Proverb from Tyrol)