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The Crystal Coffin

from The Green Fairy Book





Now let no one say that a poor tailor can't get on in the world,
and, indeed, even attain to very high honour. Nothing is required
but to set the right way to work, but of course the really
important thing is to succeed.

A very bright active young tailor once set off on his travels,
which led him into a wood, and as he did not know the way he soon
lost himself. Night came on, and there seemed to be nothing for it
but to seek out the best resting-place he could find. He could
have made himself quite comfortable with a bed of soft moss, but
the fear of wild beasts disturbed his mind, and at last he
determined to spend the night in a tree.

He sought out a tall oak tree, climbed up to the top, and felt
devoutly thankful that his big smoothing-iron was in his pocket,
for the wind in the tree-tops was so high that he might easily
have been blown away altogether.

After passing some hours of the night, not without considerable
fear and trembling, he noticed a light shining at a little
distance, and hoping it might proceed from some house where he
could find a better shelter than in the top of the tree, he
cautiously descended and went towards the light. It led him to a
little hut all woven together of reeds and rushes. He knocked
bravely at the door, which opened, and by the light which shone
from within he saw an old gray-haired man dressed in a coat made
of bright-coloured patches. 'Who are you, and what do you want?'
asked the old man roughly.

'I am a poor tailor,' replied the youth. 'I have been benighted in
the forest, and I entreat you to let me take shelter in your hut
till morning.'

'Go your way,' said the old man in a sulky tone, 'I'll have
nothing to do with tramps. You must just go elsewhere.'

With these words he tried to slip back into his house, but the
tailor laid hold of his coat-tails, and begged so hard to be
allowed to stay that the old fellow, who was by no means as cross
as he appeared, was at length touched by his entreaties, let him
come in, and after giving him some food, showed him quite a nice
bed in one corner of the room. The weary tailor required no
rocking to rest, but slept sound till early morning, when he was
roused from his slumbers by a tremendous noise. Loud screams and
shouts pierced the thin walls of the little hut. The tailor, with
new-born courage, sprang up, threw on his clothes with all speed
and hurried out. There he saw a huge black bull engaged in a
terrible fight with a fine large stag. They rushed at each other
with such fury that the ground seemed to tremble under them and
the whole air to be filled with their cries. For some time it
appeared quite uncertain which would be the victor, but at length
the stag drove his antlers with such force into his opponent's
body that the bull fell to the ground with a terrific roar, and a
few more strokes finished him.

The tailor, who had been watching the fight with amazement, was
still standing motionless when the stag bounded up to him, and
before he had time to escape forked him up with its great antlers,
and set off at full gallop over hedges and ditches, hill and dale,
through wood and water. The tailor could do nothing but hold on
tight with both hands to the stag's horns and resign himself to
his fate. He felt as if he were flying along. At length the stag
paused before a steep rock and gently let the tailor down to the
ground.

Feeling more dead than alive, he paused for a while to collect his
scattered senses, but when he seemed somewhat restored the stag
struck such a blow on a door in the rock that it flew open. Flames
of fire rushed forth, and such clouds of steam followed that the
stag had to avert its eyes. The tailor could not think what to do
or which way to turn to get away from this awful wilderness, and
to find his way back amongst human beings once more.

As he stood hesitating, a voice from the rock cried to him: 'Step
in without fear, no harm shall befall you.'

He still lingered, but some mysterious power seemed to impel him,
and passing through the door he found himself in a spacious hall,
whose ceiling, walls, and floor were covered with polished tiles
carved all over with unknown figures. He gazed about, full of
wonder, and was just preparing to walk out again when the same
voice bade him: 'Tread on the stone in the middle of the hall, and
good luck will attend you.'

By this time he had grown so courageous that he did not hesitate
to obey the order, and hardly had he stepped on the stone than it
began to sink gently with him into the depths below. On reaching
firm ground he found himself in a hall of much the same size as
the upper one, but with much more in it to wonder at and admire.
Round the walls were several niches, in each of which stood glass
vessels filled with some bright-coloured spirit or bluish smoke.
On the floor stood two large crystal boxes opposite each other,
and these attracted his curiosity at once.

Stepping up to one of them, he saw within it what looked like a
model in miniature of a fine castle surrounded by farms, barns,
stables, and a number of other buildings. Everything was quite
tiny, but so beautifully and carefully finished that it might have
been the work of an accomplished artist. He would have continued
gazing much longer at this remarkable curiosity had not the voice
desired him to turn round and look at the crystal coffin which
stood opposite.

What was his amazement at seeing a girl of surpassing loveliness
lying in it! She lay as though sleeping, and her long, fair hair
seemed to wrap her round like some costly mantle. Her eyes were
closed, but the bright colour in her face, and the movement of a
ribbon, which rose and fell with her breath, left no doubt as to
her being alive.

As the tailor stood gazing at her with a beating heart, the maiden
suddenly opened her eyes, and started with delighted surprise.

'Great heavens!' she cried, 'my deliverance approaches! Quick,
quick, help me out of my prison; only push back the bolt of this
coffin and I am free.'

The tailor promptly obeyed, when she quickly pushed back the
crystal lid, stepped out of the coffin and hurried to a corner of
the hall, when she proceeded to wrap herself in a large cloak.
Then she sat down on a stone, desired the young man to come near,
and, giving him an affectionate kiss, she said, 'My long-hoped-for
deliverer, kind heaven has led you to me, and has at length put an
end to all my sufferings. You are my destined husband, and,
beloved by me, and endowed with every kind of riches and power,
you shall spend the remainder of your life in peace and happiness.
Now sit down and hear my story. I am the daughter of a wealthy
nobleman. My parents died when I was very young, and they left me
to the care of my eldest brother, by whom I was carefully
educated. We loved each other so tenderly, and our tastes and
interests were so much alike that we determined never to marry,
but to spend our entire lives together. There was no lack of
society at our home. Friends and neighbours paid us frequent
visits, and we kept open house for all. Thus it happened that one
evening a stranger rode up to the castle and asked for
hospitality, as he could not reach the nearest town that night. We
granted his request with ready courtesy, and during supper he
entertained us with most agreeable conversation, mingled with
amusing anecdotes. My brother took such a fancy to him that he
pressed him to spend a couple of days with us, which, after a
little hesitation, the stranger consented to do. We rose late from
table, and whilst my brother was showing our guest to his room I
hurried to mine, for I was very tired and longed to get to bed. I
had hardly dropped off to sleep when I was roused by the sound of
some soft and charming music. Wondering whence it could come, I
was about to call to my maid who slept in the room next mine,
when, to my surprise, I felt as if some heavy weight on my chest
had taken all power from me, and I lay there unable to utter the
slightest sound. Meantime, by the light of the night lamp, I saw
the stranger enter my room, though the double doors had been
securely locked. He drew near and told me that through the power
of his magic arts he had caused the soft music to waken me, and
had made his way through bolts and bars to offer me his hand and
heart. My repugnance to his magic was so great that I would not
condescend to give any answer. He waited motionless for some time,
hoping no doubt for a favourable reply, but as I continued silent
he angrily declared that he would find means to punish my pride,
and therewith he left the room in a rage.

'I spent the night in the greatest agitation, and only fell into a
doze towards morning. As soon as I awoke I jumped up, and hurried
to tell my brother all that had happened, but he had left his
room, and his servant told me that he had gone out at daybreak to
hunt with the stranger.

'My mind misgave me. I dressed in all haste, had my palfrey
saddled, and rode of at full gallop towards the forest, attended
by one servant only. I pushed on without pausing, and ere long I
saw the stranger coming towards me, and leading a fine stag. I
asked him where he had left my brother, and how he had got the
stag, whose great eyes were overflowing with tears. Instead of
answering he began to laugh, and I flew into such a rage that I
drew a pistol and fired at him; but the bullet rebounded from his
breast and struck my horse in the forehead. I fell to the ground,
and the stranger muttered some words, which robbed me of my
senses.

'When I came to myself I was lying in a crystal coffin in this
subterranean vault. The Magician appeared again, and told me that
he had transformed my brother into a stag, had reduced our castle
and all its defences to miniature and locked them up in a glass
box, and after turning all our household into different vapours
had banished them into glass phials. If I would only yield to his
wishes he could easily open these vessels, and all would then
resume their former shapes.

'I would not say a word more than I had done previously, and he
vanished, leaving me in my prison, where a deep sleep soon fell on
me. Amongst the many dreams which floated through my brain was a
cheering one of a young man who was to come and release me, and
to-day, when I opened my eyes, I recognised you and saw that my
dream was fulfilled. Now help me to carry out the rest of my
vision. The first thing is to place the glass box which contains
my castle on this large stone.'

As soon as this was done the stone gently rose through the air and
transported them into the upper hall, whence they easily carried
the box into the outer air. The lady then removed the lid, and it
was marvellous to watch the castle, houses, and farmyards begin to
grow and spread themselves till they had regained their proper
size. Then the young couple returned by means of the movable
stone, and brought up all the glass vessels filled with smoke. No
sooner were they uncorked than the blue vapours poured out and
became transformed to living people, in whom the lady joyfully
recognised her many servants and attendants.

Her delight was complete when her brother (who had killed the
Magician under the form of a bull) was seen coming from the forest
in his proper shape, and that very day, according to her promise,
she gave her hand in marriage to the happy young tailor.





Next: The Three Snake-leaves

Previous: Spindle Shuttle And Needle



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