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A Tale Of The Tontlawald

from The Violet Fairy Book





Long, long ago there stood in the midst of a country covered with
lakes a vast stretch of moorland called the Tontlawald, on which
no man ever dared set foot. From time to time a few bold spirits
had been drawn by curiosity to its borders, and on their return
had reported that they had caught a glimpse of a ruined house in
a grove of thick trees, and round about it were a crowd of beings
resembling men, swarming over the grass like bees. The men were
as dirty and ragged as gipsies, and there were besides a quantity
of old women and half-naked children.

One night a peasant who was returning home from a feast wandered
a little farther into the Tontlawald, and came back with the same
story. A countless number of women and children were gathered
round a huge fire, and some were seated on the ground, while
others danced strange dances on the smooth grass. One old crone
had a broad iron ladle in her hand, with which every now and then
she stirred the fire, but the moment she touched the glowing
ashes the children rushed away, shrieking like night owls, and it
was a long while before they ventured to steal back. And besides
all this there had once or twice been seen a little old man with
a long beard creeping out of the forest, carrying a sack bigger
than himself. The women and children ran by his side, weeping
and trying to drag the sack from off his back, but he shook them
off, and went on his way. There was also a tale of a magnificent
black cat as large as a foal, but men could not believe all the
wonders told by the peasant, and it was difficult to make out
what was true and what was false in his story. However, the fact
remained that strange things did happen there, and the King of
Sweden, to whom this part of the country belonged, more than once
gave orders to cut down the haunted wood, but there was no one
with courage enough to obey his commands. At length one man,
bolder than the rest, struck his axe into a tree, but his blow
was followed by a stream of blood and shrieks as of a human
creature in pain. The terrified woodcutter fled as fast as his
legs would carry him, and after that neither orders nor threats
would drive anybody to the enchanted moor.

A few miles from the Tontlawald was a large village, where dwelt
a peasant who had recently married a young wife. As not
uncommonly happens in such cases, she turned the whole house
upside down, and the two quarrelled and fought all day long.

By his first wife the peasant had a daughter called Elsa, a good
quiet girl, who only wanted to live in peace, but this her
stepmother would not allow. She beat and cuffed the poor child
from morning till night, but as the stepmother had the whip-hand
of her husband there was no remedy.

For two years Elsa suffered all this ill-treatment, when one day
she went out with the other village children to pluck
strawberries. Carelessly they wandered on, till at last they
reached the edge of the Tontlawald, where the finest strawberries
grew, making the grass red with their colour. The children flung
themselves down on the ground, and, after eating as many as they
wanted, began to pile up their baskets, when suddenly a cry arose
from one of the older boys:

'Run, run as fast as you can! We are in the Tontlawald!'

Quicker than lightning they sprang to their feet, and rushed
madly away, all except Elsa, who had strayed farther than the
rest, and had found a bed of the finest strawberries right under
the trees. Like the others, she heard the boy's cry, but could
not make up her mind to leave the strawberries.

'After all, what does it matter?' thought she. 'The dwellers in
the Tontlawald cannot be worse than my stepmother'; and looking
up she saw a little black dog with a silver bell on its neck come
barking towards her, followed by a maiden clad all in silk.

'Be quiet,' said she; then turning to Elsa she added: 'I am so
glad you did not run away with the other children. Stay here
with me and be my friend, and we will play delightful games
together, and every day we will go and gather strawberries.
Nobody will dare to beat you if I tell them not. Come, let us go
to my mother'; and taking Elsa's hand she led her deeper into the
wood, the little black dog jumping up beside them and barking
with pleasure.

Oh! what wonders and splendours unfolded themselves before
Elsa's astonished eyes! She thought she really must be in
Heaven. Fruit trees and bushes loaded with fruit stood before
them, while birds gayer than the brightest butterfly sat in their
branches and filled the air with their song. And the birds were
not shy, but let the girls take them in their hands, and stroke
their gold and silver feathers. In the centre of the garden was
the dwelling-house, shining with glass and precious stones, and
in the doorway sat a woman in rich garments, who turned to Elsa's
companion and asked:

'What sort of a guest are you bringing to me?'

'I found her alone in the wood,' replied her daughter, 'and
brought her back with me for a companion. You will let her
stay?'

The mother laughed, but said nothing, only she looked Elsa up and
down sharply. Then she told the girl to come near, and stroked
her cheeks and spoke kindly to her, asking if her parents were
alive, and if she really would like to stay with them. Elsa
stooped and kissed her hand, then, kneeling down, buried her face
in the woman's lap, and sobbed out:

'My mother has lain for many years under the ground. My father
is still alive, but I am nothing to him, and my stepmother beats
me all the day long. I can do nothing right, so let me, I pray
you, stay with you. I will look after the flocks or do any work
you tell me; I will obey your lightest word; only do not, I
entreat you, send me back to her. She will half kill me for not
having come back with the other children.'

And the woman smiled and answered, 'Well, we will see what we can
do with you,' and, rising, went into the house.

Then the daughter said to Elsa, 'Fear nothing, my mother will be
your friend. I saw by the way she looked that she would grant
your request when she had thought over it,' and, telling Elsa to
wait, she entered the house to seek her mother. Elsa meanwhile
was tossed about between hope and fear, and felt as if the girl
would never come.

At last Elsa saw her crossing the grass with a box in her hand.

'My mother says we may play together to-day, as she wants to make
up her mind what to do about you. But I hope you will stay here
always, as I can't bear you to go away. Have you ever been on
the sea?'

'The sea?' asked Elsa, staring; 'what is that? I've never heard
of such a thing!'

'Oh, I'll soon show you,' answered the girl, taking the lid from
the box, and at the very bottom lay a scrap of a cloak, a mussel
shell, and two fish scales. Two drops of water were glistening
on the cloak, and these the girl shook on the ground. In an
instant the garden and lawn and everything else had vanished
utterly, as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up, and as
far as the eye could reach you could see nothing but water, which
seemed at last to touch heaven itself. Only under their feet was
a tiny dry spot. Then the girl placed the mussel shell on the
water and took the fish scales in her hand. The mussel shell
grew bigger and bigger, and turned into a pretty little boat,
which would have held a dozen children. The girls stepped in,
Elsa very cautiously, for which she was much laughed at by her
friend, who used the fish scales for a rudder. The waves rocked
the girls softly, as if they were lying in a cradle, and they
floated on till they met other boats filled with men, singing and
making merry.

'We must sing you a song in return,' said the girl, but as Elsa
did not know any songs, she had to sing by herself. Elsa could
not understand any of the men's songs, but one word, she noticed,
came over and over again, and that was 'Kisika.' Elsa asked what
it meant, and the girl replied that it was her name.

It was all so pleasant that they might have stayed there for ever
had not a voice cried out to them, 'Children, it is time for you
to come home!'

So Kisika took the little box out of her pocket, with the piece
of cloth lying in it, and dipped the cloth in the water, and lo!
they were standing close to a splendid house in the middle of the
garden. Everything round them was dry and firm, and there was no
water anywhere. The mussel shell and the fish scales were put
back in the box, and the girls went in.

They entered a large hall, where four and twenty richly dressed
women were sitting round a table, looking as if they were about
to attend a wedding. At the head of the table sat the lady of
the house in a golden chair.

Elsa did not know which way to look, for everything that met her
eyes was more beautiful than she could have dreamed possible.
But she sat down with the rest, and ate some delicious fruit, and
thought she must be in heaven. The guests talked softly, but
their speech was strange to Elsa, and she understood nothing of
what was said. Then the hostess turned round and whispered
something to a maid behind her chair, and the maid left the hall,
and when she came back she brought a little old man with her, who
had a beard longer than himself. He bowed low to the lady and
then stood quietly near the door.

'Do you see this girl?' said the lady of the house, pointing to
Elsa. 'I wish to adopt her for my daughter. Make me a copy of
her, which we can send to her native village instead of herself.'

The old man looked Elsa all up and down, as if he was taking her
measure, bowed again to the lady, and left the hall. After
dinner the lady said kindly to Elsa, 'Kisika has begged me to let
you stay with her, and you have told her you would like to live
here. Is that so?'

At these words Elsa fell on her knees, and kissed the lady's
hands and feet in gratitude for her escape from her cruel
stepmother; but her hostess raised her from the ground and patted
her head, saying, 'All will go well as long as you are a good,
obedient child, and I will take care of you and see that you want
for nothing till you are grown up and can look after yourself.
My waiting-maid, who teaches Kisika all sorts of fine handiwork,
shall teach you too.'

Not long after the old man came back with a mould full of clay on
his shoulders, and a little covered basket in his left hand. He
put down his mould and his basket on the ground, took up a
handful of clay, and made a doll as large as life. When it was
finished he bored a hole in the doll's breast and put a bit of
bread inside; then, drawing a snake out of the basket, forced it
to enter the hollow body.

'Now,' he said to the lady, 'all we want is a drop of the
maiden's blood.'

When she heard this Elsa grew white with horror, for she thought
she was selling her soul to the evil one.

'Do not be afraid!' the lady hastened to say; 'we do not want
your blood for any bad purpose, but rather to give you freedom
and happiness.'

Then she took a tiny golden needle, pricked Elsa in the arm, and
gave the needle to the old man, who stuck it into the heart of
the doll. When this was done he placed the figure in the basket,
promising that the next day they should all see what a beautiful
piece of work he had finished.

When Elsa awoke the next morning in her silken bed, with its soft
white pillows, she saw a beautiful dress lying over the back of a
chair, ready for her to put on. A maid came in to comb out her
long hair, and brought the finest linen for her use; but nothing
gave Elsa so much joy as the little pair of embroidered shoes
that she held in her hand, for the girl had hitherto been forced
to run about barefoot by her cruel stepmother. In her excitement
she never gave a thought to the rough clothes she had worn the
day before, which had disappeared as if by magic during the
night. Who could have taken them? Well, she was to know that
by-and-by. But WE can guess that the doll had been dressed in
them, which was to go back to the village in her stead. By the
time the sun rose the doll had attained her full size, and no one
could have told one girl from the other. Elsa started back when
she met herself as she looked only yesterday.

'You must not be frightened,' said the lady, when she noticed her
terror; 'this clay figure can do you no harm. It is for your
stepmother, that she may beat it instead of you. Let her flog it
as hard as she will, it can never feel any pain. And if the
wicked woman does not come one day to a better mind your double
will be able at last to give her the punishment she deserves.'

From this moment Elsa's life was that of the ordinary happy
child, who has been rocked to sleep in her babyhood in a lovely
golden cradle. She had no cares or troubles of any sort, and
every day her tasks became easier, and the years that had gone
before seemed more and more like a bad dream. But the happier
she grew the deeper was her wonder at everything around her, and
the more firmly she was persuaded that some great unknown power
must be at the bottom of it all.

In the courtyard stood a huge granite block about twenty steps
from the house, and when meal times came round the old man with
the long beard went to the block, drew out a small silver staff,
and struck the stone with it three times, so that the sound could
be heard a long way off. At the third blow, out sprang a large
golden cock, and stood upon the stone. Whenever he crowed and
flapped his wings the rock opened and something came out of it.
First a long table covered with dishes ready laid for the number
of persons who would be seated round it, and this flew into the
house all by itself.

When the cock crowed for the second time, a number of chairs
appeared, and flew after the table; then wine, apples, and other
fruit, all without trouble to anybody. After everybody had had
enough, the old man struck the rock again. the golden cock
crowed afresh, and back went dishes, table, chairs, and plates
into the middle of the block.

When, however, it came to the turn of the thirteenth dish, which
nobody ever wanted to eat, a huge black cat ran up, and stood on
the rock close to the cock, while the dish was on his other side.

There they all remained, till they were joined by the old man.

He picked up the dish in one hand, tucked the cat under his arm,
told the cock to get on his shoulder, and all four vanished into
the rock. And this wonderful stone contained not only food, but
clothes and everything you could possibly want in the house.

At first a language was often spoken at meals which was strange
to Elsa, but by the help of the lady and her daughter she began
slowly to understand it, though it was years before she was able
to speak it herself.

One day she asked Kisika why the thirteenth dish came daily to
the table and was sent daily away untouched, but Kisika knew no
more about it than she did. The girl must, however, have told
her mother what Elsa had said, for a few days later she spoke to
Elsa seriously:

'Do not worry yourself with useless wondering. You wish to know
why we never eat of the thirteenth dish? That, dear child, is
the dish of hidden blessings, and we cannot taste of it without
bringing our happy life here to an end. And the world would be a
great deal better if men, in their greed, did not seek to snatch
every thing for themselves, instead of leaving something as a
thankoffering to the giver of the blessings. Greed is man's
worst fault.'

The years passed like the wind for Elsa, and she grew into a
lovely woman, with a knowledge of many things that she would
never have learned in her native village; but Kisika was still
the same young girl that she had been on the day of her first
meeting with Elsa. Each morning they both worked for an hour at
reading and writing, as they had always done, and Elsa was
anxious to learn all she could, but Kisika much preferred
childish games to anything else. If the humour seized her, she
would fling aside her tasks, take her treasure box, and go off to
play in the sea, where no harm ever came to her.

'What a pity,' she would often say to Elsa, 'that you have grown
so big, you cannot play with me any more.'

Nine years slipped away in this manner, when one day the lady
called Elsa into her room. Elsa was surprised at the summons,
for it was unusual, and her heart sank, for she feared some evil
threatened her. As she crossed the threshold, she saw that the
lady's cheeks were flushed, and her eyes full of tears, which she
dried hastily, as if she would conceal them from the girl.
'Dearest child,' she began, 'the time has come when we must
part.'

'Part?' cried Elsa, burying her head in the lady's lap. 'No,
dear lady, that can never be till death parts us. You once
opened your arms to me; you cannot thrust me away now.'

'Ah, be quiet, child,' replied the lady; 'you do not know what I
would do to make you happy. Now you are a woman, and I have no
right to keep you here. You must return to the world of men,
where joy awaits you.'

'Dear lady,' entreated Elsa again. 'Do not, I beseech you, send
me from you. I want no other happiness but to live and die
beside you. Make me your waiting maid, or set me to any work you
choose, but do not cast me forth into the world. It would have
been better if you had left me with my stepmother, than first to
have brought me to heaven and then send me back to a worse
place.'

'Do not talk like that, dear child,' replied the lady; 'you do
not know all that must be done to secure your happiness, however
much it costs me. But it has to be. You are only a common
mortal, who will have to die one day, and you cannot stay here
any longer. Though we have the bodies of men, we are not men at
all, though it is not easy for you to understand why. Some day
or other you will find a husband who has been made expressly for
you, and will live happily with him till death separates you. It
will be very hard for me to part from you, but it has to be, and
you must make up your mind to it.' Then she drew her golden comb
gently through Elsa's hair, and bade her go to bed; but little
sleep had the poor girl! Life seemed to stretch before her like
a dark starless night.

Now let us look back a moment, and see what had been going on in
Elsa's native village all these years, and how her double had
fared. It is a well-known fact that a bad woman seldom becomes
better as she grows older, and Elsa's stepmother was no exception
to the rule; but as the figure that had taken the girl's place
could feel no pain, the blows that were showered on her night and
day made no difference. If the father ever tried to come to his
daughter's help, his wife turned upon him, and things were rather
worse than before.

One day the stepmother had given the girl a frightful beating,
and then threatened to kill her outright. Mad with rage, she
seized the figure by the throat with both hands, when out came a
black snake from her mouth and stung the woman's tongue, and she
fell dead without a sound. At night, when the husband came home,
he found his wife lying dead upon the ground, her body all
swollen and disfigured, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. His
screams brought the neighbours from their cottages, but they were
unable to explain how it had all come about. It was true, they
said, that about mid-day they had heard a great noise, but as
that was a matter of daily occurrence they did not think much of
it. The rest of the day all was still, but no one had seen
anything of the daughter. The body of the dead woman was then
prepared for burial, and her tired husband went to bed, rejoicing
in his heart that he had been delivered from the firebrand who
had made his home unpleasant. On the table he saw a slice of
bread lying, and, being hungry, he ate it before going to sleep.

In the morning he too was found dead, and as swollen as his wife,
for the bread had been placed in the body of the figure by the
old man who made it. A few days later he was placed in the grave
beside his wife, but nothing more was ever heard of their
daughter.

All night long after her talk with the lady Elsa had wept and
wailed her hard fate in being cast out from her home which she
loved.

Next morning, when she got up, the lady placed a gold seal ring
on her finger, strung a little golden box on a ribbon, and placed
it round her neck; then she called the old man, and, forcing back
her tears, took leave of Elsa. The girl tried to speak, but
before she could sob out her thanks the old man had touched her
softly on the head three times with his silver staff. In an
instant Elsa knew that she was turning into a bird: wings sprang
from beneath her arms; her feet were the feet of eagles, with
long claws; her nose curved itself into a sharp beak, and
feathers covered her body. Then she soared high in the air, and
floated up towards the clouds, as if she had really been hatched
an eagle.

For several days she flew steadily south, resting from time to
time when her wings grew tired, for hunger she never felt. And
so it happened that one day she was flying over a dense forest,
and below hounds were barking fiercely, because, not having wings
themselves, she was out of their reach. Suddenly a sharp pain
quivered through her body, and she fell to the ground, pierced by
an arrow.

When Elsa recovered her senses, she found herself lying under a
bush in her own proper form. What had befallen her, and how she
got there, lay behind her like a bad dream.

As she was wondering what she should do next the king's son came
riding by, and, seeing Elsa, sprang from his horse, and took her
by the hand, sawing, 'Ah! it was a happy chance that brought me
here this morning. Every night, for half a year, have I dreamed,
dear lady, that I should one day find you in this wood. And
although I have passed through it hundreds of times in vain, I
have never given up hope. To-day I was going in search of a
large eagle that I had shot, and instead of the eagle I have
found--you.' Then he took Elsa on his horse, and rode with her
to the town, where the old king received her graciously.

A few days later the wedding took place, and as Elsa was
arranging the veil upon her hair fifty carts arrived laden with
beautiful things which the lady of the Tontlawald had sent to
Elsa. And after the king's death Elsa became queen, and when she
was old she told this story. But that was the last that was ever
heard of the Tontlawald.

[From Ehstnische Marchen.]





Next: The Finest Liar In The World

Previous: The Story Of Sigurd



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