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The Witch's Granddaughter

from Fairy Tales From The German Forests





PART I

In a green valley between two mountain-slopes lay a little village
crowned by the Castle of Eppenhain, that stood on the mountain-side,
built on projecting slabs of rock.

The quaint old houses of the village with their red, slanting roofs, and
black-beamed walls, made a pretty picture in the May sunshine as Count
Karl of Eppenhain rode through the stone-paved highway, mounted on his
white steed decked with scarlet fringes. The lilac bushes were in
flower, the air was sweet with their scent, the laburnums hung out their
"gold rain" between the houses, the cherry-trees in the little gardens
shed their blossoms like snow.

At the farther end of the village was a house somewhat larger than the
peasant's cottages, with many gables and corners. This house was
surrounded on all sides by a thick briar hedge. The Count knew that it
had belonged to an old woman who was said to be a witch. There she had
lived all alone, save for her seven cats, her seven ravens, her
poultry--famous for the remarkable size of the eggs--and her little
granddaughter, Babette.

Count Karl had heard that the old woman was dead; for there had been a
great fuss about her burial. The villagers had said that as she was a
notorious witch, she ought not to be buried in consecrated ground; but
as the old lady had left money to the church, her tombstone was erected
after all in the little churchyard. The village boys declared that they
had seen her riding on a broomstick over the church spire; but the Count
did not believe such tales. He wondered what had become of the child;
she was the prettiest, as well as the most mischievous and ill-behaved
child in the village.

As the Count came up to the house, he heard voices shouting and
scolding. Then he saw a strange hunting scene. The hunters were not men,
but women with sticks and brooms, and the creature pursued was neither a
hare nor a fox, but just a little girl.

Yes, it was little Babette, the witch's granddaughter. She was leading
the fat peasant women a fine dance. They were quite unused to running,
and were obliged to stop every few minutes to pant; then Babette danced
just before them, made naughty faces, and (oh, fie!) stuck out her
little red tongue. Her hair blew over her head in the fresh breeze, till
she looked like some tall flower with curling petals. Sometimes she
stopped and shook her little fist at her pursuers; then off she flew
again. She knew every nook and corner of the garden, and that was to her
advantage.

The Count paused, laughed, then blew a blast from his horn.

Instantly everyone stood still as if they were living pictures.

"Hi! Ho! Come here, good folk!" he cried.

The women came at once, wiping their hot faces with the corner of their
aprons, puffing and blowing like so many fat seals. Babette stood at a
safe distance, but near enough to hear all that went on.

"Please sir," said one of the women with a curtsy, "as your Lordship
knows, the child's granny is dead and buried. Four days has the child
lived here all alone, never a bite or sup has she had; she will die of
starvation. (Here Babette laughed.) She hides in the bushes like the
wild cat that she is!"

"Babette, little Babette, come here, child," he called, interrupting the
old woman's narrative.

She came at once in obedience to his gentle command. She gave him one
glance out of her deep brown eyes, lifting up her long black lashes, and
his heart was captured at once. He was very fond of children, but he had
none of his own. Here was a beautiful child that seemed ready made for
him. Not one of the women before him really wished to keep her; for they
feared her, and the supposed power of her dead grandmother.

Meanwhile the child stood by the Count, and began to stroke his fine
embroidered sleeve; finally she slipped her little hand into his. This
settled the matter.

"Well, well, we must see what is to be done for the child. Meanwhile I
shall take her up with me to the Castle. She seems to have made you all
rather hot," he remarked mischievously to the reddest and stoutest of
the women.

"A devil's brat, I call her!" she muttered in return, between her teeth.

"Hush," said my Lord indignantly, "she looks more like a little angel,"
and, indeed, at his kind words her small face had become very sweet.

As he mounted his horse again and lifted Babette to place her before
him, she began to cry bitterly.

"Why, little one, what ails you?" he said. "Are you frightened?"

"No-o-o-o-o-o," said Babette, "but I don't want to go away from my
beau-ti-ful home!"

"You shall have a far more beautiful home, and everything that you can
want, shall be yours," he said. "Why, you would have starved there
alone, you poor little thing!"

"Oh no!" said Babette, "for Lucky--she is my pet hen you know--always
laid the biggest eggs for me; then I make a little hole and suck them
so. (She tossed back her curly head.) Then I am never hungry or thirsty.
O, who will feed Lucky, and all the baby chickens; and my cats?" she
continued, and began to cry again.

"We will fetch them all up to the Castle," said his Lordship
consolingly.

The road wound upwards and upwards, until they reached at length the
gateway of the Castle. The heavy gates stood open to receive them. There
was a pretty terraced garden in the front, where peacocks strutted up
and down, who nodded their heads as if they knew Babette.

A dog sprang out barking to meet his master. Count Karl patted his head;
then he lifted Babette from his horse, and led her by the hand into the
Castle. "Welcome to Eppenhain, my little maid," he said, formally, but
kindly.

Her little heart beat fast; for she was timid, like all wild, untamed
creatures, and did not know what might happen to her next. The Count
drew back the heavy curtain that hung before the entrance to a room; and
there in a deep window niche sat a lady dressed in a rich green velvet
dress with puffed sleeves, and a gold chain round her neck. She was
working at embroidery on a frame. She sprang up at once, as her husband
(for it was the Countess herself) entered the room, and uttered a cry of
surprise as she saw the child.

"Why, what dirty little thing have you picked up? Send her away again at
once," she said imperiously. "Don't touch me, child," as Babette
attempted to stroke her grand dress.

Now the Count had not noticed that Babette was very dirty, that her red
pinafore hung in rags, and her hair had not been combed for many a day.
He was somewhat taken aback, and saw that he had been rash.

"She shall be washed and properly dressed, and then you will see," he
said. He dared not tell her his plans at once. He sent for his old
nurse, who had brought him up as a boy, and gave the child into her
care.

The poor woman soon had her hands full, I can tell you! You might as
well have tried to dress a hare as Babette! She would not stand still
for a second, and as for a bath, she seemed to be quite afraid of it.
However, several maids were called, and Babette was bathed in spite of
kicks and screams. She was no sooner in the water than she began to
splash about like a baby, and to enjoy herself finely. It was almost as
difficult to get her out as to put her in! Some old clothes that had
belonged to the Count's sister, were produced. Babette thought them very
fine, and seemed quite pleased, she stroked the old nurse's cheek,
chucked her under the chin, and sprang up and down violently on her
knee, "nearly cracking my old bones," as nurse related afterwards. Her
curls were the most trouble; it would take more than one day's brushing
to set them in order.

Meanwhile Count Karl had been explaining to his wife that he meant to
adopt Babette, and bring her up as his own daughter.

"A witch's offspring without a family pedigree," exclaimed his wife,
"must I be mother to a witch's brat?"

Just then the "witch's brat" entered the room, making a funny bobbing
curtsy, as nurse had taught her to do, just outside the door. Very
pretty she looked in her low-necked, white-embroidered frock, with the
cherry-coloured sash, her face flushed after the bath. Even her Ladyship
was bound to acknowledge that she was quite a lovely child.

"What is your name, child?" she said condescendingly.

"I don't love you," said Babette, and stuck out her tongue.

"Babette," said the Count sternly, "if you are a good little girl, and
do as you are told, you may stay here with us, and this lady will be
your mother, and I your father. Then you will be brought up as a lady
instead of becoming a little heathen and wild girl of the woods."

Babette stood still a moment, as if she were considering the matter;
then she gravely kissed his Lordship's hand. The Countess extended her
lily-white fingers, and Babette kissed them as well, but timidly; for
she feared a rebuff.

Just at this moment a noise of scratching and miewing was heard at the
window.

Babette flew to open it, and in walked--what do you think?--seven cats
with their tails in the air rubbing themselves comfortably against the
window-pane.

"O my dear Fotchen, dear Silverpaws, how glad I am to see you!"
exclaimed Babette, and she kissed them all.

"What next?" said the poor Countess, holding up her hands in horror!

In a few minutes there came a rap at the window, seven times repeated.
These were the ravens. However, they did not venture into the room; they
were afraid of the big gun that stood in the corner. They flew straight
up into a tall fir-tree, and there they chattered away as usual, hidden
by the dark branches.

The funniest sight of all was the arrival of the poultry. The cocks
walked first with an air of importance and authority; the baby bantams
sat on their mothers' backs; the whole procession toiled up the hill to
the Castle and entered by the yard gate. The servants watched them with
astonishment; they too said: "What next?" However, no one grumbled, not
even the Countess when she heard of it; for such guests were welcome.
The old witch's hens were renowned for the size of their eggs; they had
often been bought for use at the Castle.

Now the clock struck seven.

"High time for little girls to have their supper and go to bed," said
her Ladyship, and nurse was called, and carried Babette off again.

A beautiful wooden cot, painted white and gold, stood in the room where
Babette was to sleep. It was still called the nursery; for the Count and
his sister had slept there as children.

Nurse persuaded her to let five of the cats sleep outside in the barn;
but she begged so hard to have Fotchen and Silverpaws that nurse sent
for a bundle of hay, and the two pussies slept in a corner of the room
to keep her from feeling homesick.

Babette stole out of her bed at six o'clock the next morning. She
dressed herself in haste; she was so anxious to see her new
surroundings. It seemed to her like a wonderful dream, or like one of
the fairy stories that her old grandmother had so often narrated to her.

Yesterday, little, wild Babette, whom no one cared for, and everyone
scorned; to-day, the Count's own daughter. She would try and be so
good, never naughty any more. She smoothed her hair a little with her
fingers; washing she did not think necessary. Then she went down the big
oak staircase followed by her two pussies. When the young servants saw
her, they began to tease her unmercifully and to pull the cats' tails.

Then Babette grew very angry. "Leave my cats alone, will you?" she said.
She stamped her little foot, made ugly faces, and used bad words.
Finally she escaped from her persecutors into the garden. Here she was
alone. She sat down and cried with rage and sorrow. She had meant to be
so good; but it was very hard when people were so horrid!

However she heard a cock-a-doodle-do from the hen-house, and ran off
there, forgetting her troubles. She was greeted by a chorus of melodious
voices. They made such a noise that they woke my Lady out of her
comfortable early-morning doze. Lucky had laid an immense egg. She
rolled it with pride to the feet of her young mistress, who promptly
began to suck its contents. The ravens flew down to greet her, and she
stroked their glossy plumage.

The five cats were still shut up and miewed bitterly. Babette luckily
met one of the gardeners who opened the door of the barn and freed the
captives. They followed her into the big kitchen with the shining copper
pans, purring and rubbing themselves against her legs. Babette coaxed
the cook till he gave her seven saucers of milk; then there was a great
smacking of lips.

When nurse awoke as usual at seven o'clock, she was frightened to find
that her little charge had vanished. "What a child to look after in my
old age!" she groaned. "And yet she is taking too! How sweet she looked
curled up in the old cot." She soon found out from the servants what
Babette had been doing; so the child was seized upon, washed and brushed
again, and dressed in a stiff frock with white frills.

Quite sober and respectable our little wild girl looked when she went
downstairs after breakfast to see my Lord and Lady in the dining-room.

She sat on the high, straight-backed sofa, and played with the carved
lions' heads, and had never a word to say for herself until the Count
produced a doll that he had rummaged out from among some old treasures.
It was yellow from age; but its frock was of satin, and it had on
little gold shoes. To Babette, who had never had a doll of her own, it
seemed very lovely indeed. "Is it really for me?" she asked in tones
of ecstasy.

She was perfectly good all the morning, playing with it, washing its
face, dressing and undressing it, and putting it to bed as little girls
love to do.

At dinner she shocked the polite company by putting her food into her
mouth with her fingers; forks and spoons she did not know how to manage.
So she was sent to have dinner with the servants who made fine fun of
her again, till she flew into a passion and declared with many tears
that she would run away. Then they were frightened lest my Lord should
hear the noise, and soothed and petted her till she was quiet again.
They did not mean to be unkind; they were only stupid, and thought her
tempers amusing.

Well, the days went on, and Babette became more gentle and docile, and
gave up many of her wild ways. She saw but little of the Countess, but
she grew to admire the grave, silent lady, and to long for some response
to her affection. My Lord was Babette's best friend and protector in all
her childish troubles. Everyone said that he was quite infatuated with
the child. He would play ball with her in the garden, "regardless of
his knightly dignity," as his wife remarked.

Babette knew all the animals about the Castle and ruled over them like a
little queen.

She would go up to the proud peacocks and say imperiously: "Spread out
your tails, or I will smack your silly heads!" and they obeyed her
meekly at once.

She had a pet frog in the pond, and once when the gardener was scolding
her for breaking some of his beautiful lilies, she popped it down his
neck, to his horror and disgust! For this she was whipped and put to
bed. I think she richly deserved it--don't you?

The garden at the back of the Castle led into the dense forest by which
the mountains were covered. Babette would sit on the stone wall and gaze
into the deep shades, as if she could see things there that were
invisible to others. She knew how to call the deer. One day she enticed
a fine stag into the garden. She made a garland of cornflowers and
ox-eye daisies, and threw it over his antlers; then she sprang on his
back, holding a red foxglove in her hand for a whip, and galloped round
the garden, singing and shouting: "Look at me, look at me! I am the
Queen of the fairies!"

The Countess herself owned that she had never seen a prettier sight; but
then she sighed deeply, and said to her husband she feared all was not
right with the child.

The Count shared her fears to some extent, and nurse had orders never to
let her out of her sight.

Nurse had several times seen a strange man watching Babette from over
the wall as she played alone in the garden. She too felt nervous and
anxious about her little charge.


PART II

Years passed by, Babette grew into a tall and charming maiden. She
learned to read and write, and to play on the harp. She could even speak
a little French, which was the fashionable language of the Court in
those days. So that with these accomplishments she was considered a fine
lady, far above the village children, who had formerly despised her.

One fine evening (she was then about sixteen years of age) she was
walking with her old nurse in the forest, not far from the Castle,
picking bilberries, and singing to herself songs of her own composing.
The wood was very still; not a leaf stirred. The setting sun shone out
behind a beech-tree, making a brilliant star of iridescent colours that
dazzled her eyes. She heard a sudden noise as of a cough: the bushes
near her rustled. She felt frightened and called out: "Nurse, nurse," in
trembling tones.

As she spoke, a man sprang out of the wood and seized her by the arm.
Nurse began to scream; but the man raised the stick he had in his hand,
and she stood as if turned to stone.

Babette's courage always rose to emergencies. She looked the man over
from head to foot. He was dressed in green, with a red feather in his
cap. His hair was dark and curly; his eyes were large and would have
been beautiful, but that they had a wild and sinister look that Babette
did not like, and squinted slightly. She seemed to remember his face;
but where or when she had seen him before, she did not know. Her first
thought was that he must be a wizard like one of those her grandmother
had told her stories about.

"Who are you?" he said, shaking her slightly.

"I am Babette, daughter of Count Karl of Eppenhain," said Babette
proudly.

"A Count's daughter--a fine tale--the witch's granddaughter you mean,"
he said with emphasis, and Babette shuddered. "Come along with me,
child!" he continued, "you must follow me now, and serve me well and
cook my dinners. I knew your old grandmother and have often seen you as
a child; a little imp you were," he said. "Now it is high time you
learnt to be useful; they will only turn your head, and teach you
rubbish up there at the Castle; you must come along with me now." Then
he turned to the poor nurse, and said, "In half an hour you will be free
to return to the Castle. Adieu!" He fixed his strange eyes on the nurse,
who swooned away, and thus she was found exactly half an hour afterwards
by the housemaid, who had followed her to say that supper was ready.

You may imagine the consternation at the Castle. The poor Countess who
had been so cold to Babette, seemed to feel it most. She sat and cried:
"O Babette, come back, come back, my dear, and I will be a real mother
to you, indeed I will."

The Count immediately took steps to recover her. The forests were
searched through and through by his men; but not the slightest trace
could they discover.

The seven ravens said: "Caw, caw," and set off at once in search of her.

The next day Fotchen and Silverpaws and the other cats disappeared.
Lucky and several of the old witch's hens were also missed.

It was evident that they had all followed Babette, and that she must be
alive somewhere; but where, that was the question. Where there is magic
at work, it is always a difficult matter.

One clever youth remarked that if one could find her pets, why, then one
might find Babette.

But this brilliant idea was not of much use, as they were all lost.

Meanwhile Babette followed her strange guide with many misgivings and
sad sinkings of the heart. They had not gone far when they came to a
cottage in the forest, surrounded, like her granny's garden, by a briar
hedge.

Now I must tell you that Babette had fallen into the power of a reputed
wizard, and he had the power of making everything within this briar
hedge invisible and intangible to those outside. So that poor Babette
would be more safely imprisoned there than in an iron-barred fortress.
She did not realise this at first; she grew to understand it later, when
she became more acquainted with the wizard (or Mr Squint-eyes, as
Babette called him) and his ways. The hedge was so thick and high, and
the thorns were so huge, that it would have been impossible for Babette
to think of squeezing herself through it, and running away.

The wizard parted this hedge with his wand; it closed up thick and close
behind them as they entered.

The cottage garden was laid out in patches of vegetables. Not a flower
was to be seen in it; but there were fruit-trees with ripe apples, and
pears, plums and medlars; for it was the early autumn. They entered into
the little parlour which seemed dark and gloomy to Babette. Mr
Squint-eyes tossed off a mug of beer that stood on the table, and told
her to be off to bed. The poor girl was hungry; for bilberries are not
very satisfying and it was supper time; but she crept up the narrow
stairs, too much frightened to say a word. She found a tiny room with a
white bed in it, a looking-glass, very dim and old and uncanny-looking,
with candlesticks on either side, also a primitive washing-stand.

As she began to undress, a sense of fear and loneliness came over her.
She thought of her happy home at Eppenhain, and of the Count, and hot
tears began to fall. However, she was accustomed to look at the cheerful
side of things. "They are sure to find me to-morrow," she said to
herself; she knew she could not be far away.

The next morning she was awakened by a loud knocking at the door. The
horrid man who had stolen her, poked his head in, "Get up, get up, you
lazy bones," he said, "and see about my breakfast."

Babette hurried downstairs and found a small kitchen, with a door
leading into the garden. There was a heap of dried wood just outside the
door, and, after many attempts, she succeeded in making the fire.

She filled the heavy iron kettle from the pump in the yard, making her
pretty frock quite black.

"That's right, that's the way that women should work," said the wizard
coolly.

Babette felt indignant and thought that he might offer to help her, but
not a bit of it. There he stood, leaning against the door, smoking his
long pipe, the picture of laziness.

"Please where is the coffee?" said Babette.

"Use your eyes and you will find it," said her polite host.

Then she saw a jar on a shelf labelled "Coffee," and near it the
coffee-mill.

Babette ground the beans till she was red in the face. Then she waited
for the water to boil. Whilst she was attending to the coffee, rolls and
butter appeared on the table and a blue and white china coffee service.
The table seemed to have laid itself; for Babette was sure that the man
had never moved from the door. Now breakfast was ready. They sat down
together, the wizard saying never a word, but lifting one eyebrow at
times in a peculiar way that made Babette feel very uncomfortable.

After breakfast he went out of the house saying: "Clean the house, make
the beds, cook the dinner."

"But there is no dinner to cook," said poor Babette.

"Find it," was all the reply she could get out of him.

Now Babette had not been remarkable for obedience and docility, and if
anyone had spoken to her like that at home, she would have rebelled at
once; but she felt instinctively that her safety here lay in doing
exactly as she was told. The man was half-mad she feared, and if she
aroused his wrath, he might do her bodily harm.

The tears came into her eyes; she felt quite in despair; but she was a
brave girl and determined to make the best of things.

The vegetables in the garden occurred to her. She would cook some
carrots; that was easy. Stewed plums would do for pudding; but what
about the soup and the joint?

At this point of her deliberations a hare was thrown over the hedge.
This settled the question. Evidently the man did not wish to starve.

"But how shall I get its fur off?" thought Babette. "Bah! I shall never
be able to skin the creature!"

Just then she heard to her joy a "caw caw," seven times repeated, and
there she saw her dear ravens sitting on a tree just outside the garden.

Now the limit of invisibility did not exist for the witch's favourites.
They flew at once to Babette; she told them her troubles, and showed
them the hare.

"That is an easy matter," said the ravens, "the hare has seven skins; we
are seven ravens, each of us will take off one skin, and may we have the
pickings?" said the greedy fellows.

"Anything, anything you like! Please take it away and bring it back
again all ready to pop in the pot!" said Babette.

"Potted or jugged hare famous!" said the ravens, and they laughed
hoarsely.

"Be quiet, be quiet, or the wizard will catch you!" she said in a
warning tone.

Now the dinner was all ready on the stove. Potatoes she had dug out of
the garden. "Hare and carrots and stewed plums, what can anyone want
more?" she thought, and felt very proud. But suddenly soup occurred to
her. How could she make soup? She had heard that soup was made of bones
and water; but she had no bones, and those nice little halfpenny packets
for making soup out of nothing were not invented in those days.

She put on some hot water with a few carrots and a little chopped
parsley in it and plenty of pepper and salt. She tasted it, as a good
cook should, and said to herself: "Not bad, I have tasted worse."

She laid the table, and punctually at one o'clock the man came in.
Babette trembled. He proceeded at once to business; that is, he sat
down to dinner.

Soup came first, which was unfortunate. "Bah!" he said, making a
horribly wry face, "what stuff, child, do you want to make me sick?"

"No-o-o," said poor Babette.

"Never make such soup again, or I shall fetch my sister, and she will
cook you," he said with a terrible look.

However the hare was tender, and when a pot of red-currant jelly
produced itself, seemingly from nowhere, it was quite a fine dinner.

The carrots were hard, and "not scraped," as the wizard said severely.
"Plums too much sugar."

But in spite of all this grumbling she felt immensely proud of her
morning's work. The house was not cleaned; neither were the beds made;
but this he did not seem to notice. He lay on the sofa by the window,
covered himself up with a bear skin, and snored loudly with his mouth
open.

Babette made up the fire, and put the kettle on to boil for tea. Then
she strolled out into the garden. She climbed up into a pear-tree. From
her perch in its branches she could see far into the woods. She wondered
when her friends would come and rescue her.

Then she saw to her delight Lucky and some of her favourite cocks and
hens wandering about in search of her. They came scuttling up at once.
She held up one finger to enjoin silence. She feared that her capturer
might take a fancy for roast fowl if he should see them. So they hid
under the hedge.

"Now I can make scrambled eggs for supper," thought Babette joyfully.

Fotchen and Silverpaws had likewise no rest when their mistress was
gone, and they too set out in search of her. When they reached the briar
hedge, Babette was indoors making tea. They began to miew and made a
great noise.

"The old woman's cats, by Thor!" said the wizard. "They know a thing or
two. I'll go and let them in." So saying he again parted the hedge with
his wand, and let them through. Although Babette was very pleased to see
them, she felt a little anxious as to their welfare.

However the wizard scratched their heads, and was quite affectionate to
them. He had, it seemed, a partiality for cats.

Babette felt a little happier now that her pets were with her; yet her
heart was sore. She thought of her lovely house, of her kind, good
foster-father, and of all her friends, and the tears stood in her eyes.

Several weeks passed away, and Babette cooked and scrubbed every day in
fear and trembling, like a regular little Cinderella. Being German, she
was used to helping in the household, and was not so inexperienced as
many English girls would have been. But never a word of praise did she
get from her queer companion; but if anything were amiss, then he opened
his mouth and scolded the poor girl roughly.


PART III

A young man was returning home after a day's hunting. He was the son of
the knight of a neighbouring castle, and his name was Sir Rudolf of
Ruppertshain. It was a hot afternoon; the sunlight made a chequered
pattern through the forest trees. His bag was heavy with game, and he
whistled merrily as he strode between the oak-trees and bracken fern. He
had a light heart and an easy conscience, few enemies and many friends,
and added to these advantages was the exhilarating feeling of youth and
perfect health.

Suddenly he stopped and looked around him, startled. He heard a sweet
voice singing. The notes were clear and distinct as those of a bird, and
yet it was no bird. Who could it be in this lonely spot? He could
distinguish the words of the song as he held his breath to listen:

"A lonely maiden, I,
Sit here and sob and sigh;
No man my face can see,
Ah, who will rescue me?
O lack-a-daisy-me!

O wasted life of mine!
Here must I sadly pine;
My young life hid must be
From all humanity.
O lack-a-daisy me!

O were a knight so bold,
As in the time of old,
In days of chivalry,
He would deliver me!
O lack-a-daisy-me!"

Rudolf's eyes were trained by hunting. He searched the woods carefully
round that place, and peered behind every bush and tree; but nothing was
to be seen. His heart beat fast, this was a real adventure. Surely if a
wood-nymph or fairy were to appear to him here in this lonely forest, it
would hardly seem strange.

So he summoned up his courage and addressed the wood-spirit as he
thought. "Who are you? Where are you?" he said. "Be you wood-sprite or
fairy, I fear you not. I am ready to do your bidding; for your sweet
voice and your distress have touched my heart: appear, O appear!"

Babette (for of course it was she) trembled with excitement. This was
really a chance of escape. She had seen the young huntsman from her
perch in the pear-tree, and had made up the impromptu song. She thought
it was even more original than her cooking. Now she answered eagerly:

"Alas it is impossible for me to appear unto you; for I am as invisible
as if I had on Siegfried's cap of darkness. I was stolen by a horrid
wizard when I was walking in the forest with my nurse. Surely you have
heard of me?"

Now of course Sir Rudolf had heard of Babette,--the story of whose
kidnapping was told all over the country, and became more wonderful with
every telling. Some people said that the devil himself had carried her
off; this was really unkind; for Babette, though lively, was not a bad
girl, as we know.

"Are you Babette, the witch's granddaughter?" said the young man
hesitatingly.

"O don't, don't say that, I want to forget that!" said Babette, and he
heard a slight sob. "I am the adopted daughter of Count Karl of
Eppenhain, and O, a wicked wizard holds me here invisible under a
powerful spell. Just think," said Babette crying again, "I slave for him
all day and cook and do all the house-work, and never a kind word or
look do I get from him in return. It is a shame. O dear! O dear!"

"Please don't cry, I really cannot bear it, when I cannot even see you
to comfort you," said Rudolf tenderly. "Tell me what to do! Shall I
shoot the wizard?"

"No, of course not; besides, he is invisible, too. You might walk
through us all, and notice no difference, so subtle is the spell," said
Babette.

Rudolf was one of those specially gifted mortals in whom the sense of
things unseen is as clearly developed as the senses of sight and
hearing. He never doubted Babette's reality, though I think a more
up-to-date youth would certainly have done so, and have thought that his
imagination was playing tricks with him. He felt much distressed and
perplexed, but could think of no way out of this strange dilemma.

But an inspiration came to Babette.

"Go to Mother Holle," she said, "if you really wish to help me. She was
an intimate friend of my grandmother's, and she is a powerful fairy and
can perhaps help us. What is your name, brave youth?" she continued.
"Sir Rudolf of Ruppertshain," he answered. "Why, then, I know your
mother quite well; but you were away travelling with your father, when I
visited your castle. But quick, we must not delay matters by
conversation, though it is dreadfully nice to talk to a real human
being again." Her voice sounded near and yet far away; "a curious kind
of conversation," Rudolf thought it was.

"Where can I find Mother Holle?" said Rudolf. "And will she not drop
pitch on my head? I should be no good at shaking feather beds, you see!"

"Nonsense, she won't expect you to do anything of the sort. She is very
kind and friendly; she lives on the Rossert Mountain, quite near to your
Castle. Hush, hush, go now! my tyrant is waking up; if he were to
suspect us! Go!--go!"

A complete and somewhat unnatural silence followed, like one of those
awkward pauses in the conversation when we entertain stiff callers for
the first time.

Then Rudolf took the precaution of marking the position of the trees in
that part of the woods.

Three tall fir-trees raised their heads among the beech and oaks. He cut
a cross [image: anti-clockwise swastika] thus, on each one of them,
because trees are so deceptive. This mark is the old symbol of the
Mithras cult, two axes placed sideways signifying the striking of fire.
It is an old sign known and respected by the fairies; so he hoped that
the good folk would see it and further his quest.

On one of the firs the ravens were assembled. They caw-cawed seven times
to indicate their willingness to lend Rudolf their aid.

The wizard looked at Babette closely that evening. The new-born hope,
perhaps, too, the sight of the handsome stranger had given an extra
colour to her cheeks. "I may have trouble with her yet!" he said to
himself, and cleared his throat with a rumbling sound.

I must tell you that the cocks and hens had betrayed themselves. They
were silent all through the night, but when the dawn broke, they could
not resist one cock-a-doodle-doo! Then the wizard chuckled and brought
them in; but nothing had happened to them as yet.

Babette lived during the next days in a state of suppressed excitement.
She felt that something must happen for good or evil; but she did not
know what. Patient waiting! a hard lesson for all of us to learn, but
harder still for a maiden of seventeen years who had been kept so long
in that dull hole. She had passed her birthday in that horrid place!
just think of it, and not one birthday present did she get. She made up
for it afterwards by having two birthdays at once; but it was not
quite so nice.

Meanwhile Sir Rudolf had turned homewards pondering on his strange
adventure, and fully determined to seek Mother Holle's aid. Should he go
first to the Castle of Eppenhain and tell Babette's foster-parents that
he had found out where Babette was imprisoned? He felt that, credulous
though they were in those days, they would only laugh at him, and
consider the story as outside the range of possibility. They might even
suggest that a cask of Rhine wine had clouded his intelligence; no, he
would go home to Ruppertshain Castle and have supper, and think it over.
So he returned home, and was so silent and dreamy, and his appetite,
which was usually of heroic proportions, was so small that his mother
felt quite anxious about him.

"You are not bewitched, Rudie dear?" she asked anxiously, just as we
might inquire if he were a little upset.

"I am not sure, mother, maybe I am!" he answered to the good lady's
dismay.

After sprinkling him with various herbs, she insisted on his drinking
some nasty aromatic tea when he went to bed. As she had put some
spider's legs in it and a few choice things of that sort, Rudolf asked
to be allowed to take it upstairs with him. Then I regret to say he
deceived the good lady by pouring it out of the window. I rather think
that you or I might have done the same thing under the circumstances,
though it was undoubtedly wrong.

The full moon was shining into the little window in the gable of the
turret. He shook off the very natural sleepiness and fatigue consequent
on his night's hunting, took off his soiled clothes, and dressed
himself in his fine velvet Court suit with the beautiful lace on the
collar.

He opened the little window, squeezed himself (it was lucky that he was
slight for a German knight) through the iron bars, and climbed on to the
roof with some difficulty, not to say danger. Then he crawled
noiselessly along the Castle walls, fearing to be challenged by the
warder of the Castle on his nightly rounds. But the warder was just
enjoying his seventh glass of lager beer, and was not very keen on the
look-out.

As he dropped outside the walls, his favourite dog began to bark and beg
to go with him; but Rudolf did not dare to let him out for fear of
creating a disturbance.

He soon gained the little path which led through Eppenhain, and then
through fields to the woods that clothed the Rossert. Great clouds had
obscured the moon; but he was not afraid; he was so used to the woods
and could distinguish one creature from another simply by its movements.

In his hand he carried a dark lantern. A rough path covered with rocks
and stones led to the summit of the mountain. As he walked cautiously
along, a bat hit him in the face as it blundered along. "Hi, ho, steady
there, old fellow!" said Rudolf. He now entered the part of the woods
where the beeches and oaks grow so closely together that at midday the
sky seems green, rather than blue. The moon shone out suddenly, and he
saw by its light a gruesome-looking head without a body that seemed to
grin at him from among the undergrowth. His heart stood still for a
moment, and then he laughed at his fears; for he saw that it was only a
grotesque old tree-stump, such as one so often sees in the woods.

Suddenly he saw a bright light through the trees, as if one of the
bushes were on fire, or was it merely the brilliant moonbeams shining on
a wet clearing?

For a moment all was still; then lightning played across his path,
revealing a huge clumsy-looking giant who stood with club uplifted in
the way, looking as if he would dash his brains out. Brave though Rudolf
was, he did not wish to court danger; so he turned aside into the woods
hoping to find another path before long that was not thus barricaded.
Then voices seemed to mock him and to laugh at him, and he had the
unpleasant sensation of dark shadows, moving as he moved, shadows
unaccompanied by substance.

The rain came down, pouring, drenching rain, such as the forests love.
In a few minutes he was wet to the skin, as wet as if he had plunged
into the river with his clothes on. Naturally his vanity was to blame
for this; in his stout hunting clothes and thick leather boots even a
deluge could not have wetted him through. To add to this, the air was
close and stifling, and he had lost his way. All this for the sake of an
unseen maiden. What if she were as old and ugly as Fraeulein Kunigunde of
whom Heinrich von Kleist has written? Somehow he felt that was
impossible; but even if it had been so, his natural gallantry would not
have deserted him, and we will hope that he would still have sought to
deliver her.

A Christian knight is ready to help all women, be they young or old,
rich or poor, plain or pretty.

The rain had ceased; but there was a sense of something oppressive in
the atmosphere. An owl with eyes that looked like live coals glared at
him from the branch of an oak-tree, vanishing as he approached. A fox?
No, it was too large for a fox; it was a wolf (there were really wolves
in the Taunus woods in those days!) came up to him snarling. Rudolf had
his gun ready, but the creature moved away into the darkest shades,
snarling and growling as it went.

Altogether I cannot say it was a pleasant walk. I do not think any one
of us would have enjoyed it all alone at the dead of night, do you?

At this moment came a flash of lightning that struck down a tree just
before Rudolf's eyes. He crossed himself involuntarily and muttered a
paternoster.

A lull followed the storm; the heavens were clear again. Rudolf made out
by the light of his lantern a triangular spot made by three footpaths
crossing. It was bare of all vegetation; black ashes were heaped up in
the middle as if gipsies had lately lit a fire there.

An irresistible impulse made him enter this triangle, though he felt as
if long ghostly arms were trying to hold him back.

No sooner had he stepped on to this spot than he fell into a deep sleep
or faint. When he awoke, he saw a wonderful light near him, and in the
midst of the light which seemed to radiate from her presence, was a
beautiful lady, with long rippling fair hair.

"You are safe now in my kingdom," she said. "You have passed the
boundary between the good and evil powers, and have left the dangers of
the night behind you."

"O can you tell me where to find Mother Holle, beautiful fairy?" he
said.

"Easily enough, for I am Mother Holle!" she answered. "I know why you
have come here, and I am ready to help you." She took him by the hand,
and he leapt to his feet, making a low bow to the lovely lady. All the
evil dreams that had perplexed him, fled as the night before the day,
and he could have shouted hurrah! for joy and gladness.

He had the unshaken confidence in the final victory of good over evil,
that is so necessary to help us to any measure of success in this world
with its chequered lights.

He walked with Mother Holle a little way, till they came to an arbour
made of honeysuckle and wild roses, surrounded by banks of evening
primroses, round which luminous moths were fluttering. Into this they
entered, and she sat down and gazed at him, till he was quite
overwhelmed with her beauty. He had expected to see an old witch
hobbling along with a stick and to have feather beds to make! Feather
pillows, indeed, there were in the arbour, very cosy and soft. It was
delightful to have a chat with such a woman in such a place, even if
there were no Babette in the world.

Mother Holle began to speak, her voice sounded like the murmur of the
fir-trees.

"I have heard that pretty little Babette has fallen into the power of a
bad man. He stole the magic book from her grandmother's house at a time
when the old lady was ill and feeble, shortly before her death. He has
been only able to make out a few of the spells--that, for instance, for
rendering things invisible. He is not a real wizard, so that if you
obtain the book, the power will be yours. But I strongly advise you to
have nothing to do with magic; it is very dangerous; but to return the
book to me, to whom, in fact, it rightfully belongs."

"Have no fear of that," laughed Rudolf. "I don't want it, I would not
touch it with the tongs if I could help it."

"Now listen carefully to my instructions! At the foot of one of the
fir-trees, grows a red toadstool, spotted with white. On it sits an ugly
old toad. Take this handkerchief (she gave him a lovely gauze scarf),
wrap the toad in it, and cast it to the ground. Pull up the toadstool.
Then the whole place will become visible, and you will be able to
consult with Babette as to how to overcome old Squint-eyes, as she calls
him.

"Hold this candle alight in your hand"--she gave him the young pointed
top of a fir-tree--"it will keep off evil spells. When you have overcome
the man, bind him with this grass." So saying, she gave him a bundle of
silvery woodland grass. "Then tie him up to the tallest of the three
fir-trees and leave him to us. We will punish him according to his
deserts, and teach him to behave better in the future."

"Can you tell me anything about the fair young lady herself? Is she
really the granddaughter of a witch? I could well believe it; for
verily she has bewitched me; but who were her parents? I wish to know
for her own sake," asked Rudolf anxiously.

"The old woman was really her nurse," said Mother Holle. "It is true
that the woman had fairy blood in her veins and was learned in magic,
but she never used her powers for any evil purposes, and as for riding
on a broomstick, she abhorred such practices. Babette is the
granddaughter of the great Baron of Siebenbergen. The Baron brought his
children up strictly as became their rank; but his youngest son ran away
from home, and married a village maiden much beneath him in rank.

"His father was exceedingly angry and refused to acknowledge her. The
young wife died when Babette was born. The father went off in despair to
the wars. He entrusted the tiny baby to the care of an old woman who had
formerly been his own nurse. This old woman, who was spoken of later as
Babette's grandmother, had been nurse to the children in Siebenbergen
Castle for many years; but she had been dismissed suddenly in her old
age, because evil tongues had denounced her as a witch. The Baron did
not believe in the charge, but, nevertheless, he was obliged to send her
away. He had his own reputation in the country to think of, and the
charge of witchcraft was no light one in those days, and not so easy to
disprove. He gave her a handsome pension, and a comfortable house and
troubled himself no more about her.

"Babette's father lost interest in life on the death of his dearly
beloved peasant wife. He fought recklessly in the front of the battle,
and fell, covered with many wounds. His body was brought home for burial
and there was a grand funeral in Siebenbergen. Everyone praised his
heroism, and lamented his early death, but no one inquired after his
peasant wife, or knew of the existence of his baby daughter.

"The notice of the marriage and the certificate of Babette's birth are
to be found in the church of Eppenhain, all duly registered and
complete.

"The old nurse became very feeble and was hardly fitted to bring up such
a wild, high-spirited child as Babette. That is all I can tell you; you
must find the papers, and test the accuracy of the story for yourself."

Rudolf was deeply interested; his heart beat fast. Babette became more
and more interesting, wrapped round in a web of romance. He wanted to
ask more questions of Mother Holle; but she faded slowly away. As she
vanished, a voice said: "Adieu, follow the light path, and nothing can
molest you."

A long stream of light shone out from where she had stood and illumined
the way through the woods. It shone on and on in one great bright path,
like the moon shining over the sea. Rudolf reached home walking like one
in a dream, his head full of strange and marvellous fancies.


PART IV

Rudolf awoke rather later than usual; for he was thoroughly tired out.
His mother did not feel so concerned about him when she saw the amount
of breakfast he consumed; but he was still silent and abstracted. His
adventures seemed to him like a wild dream. It seemed almost absurd to
seek for the three firs; but yet an irresistible longing led him
thither.

On the stroke of twelve at midday he stood beneath them, and recognised
his own sign, and O joy! saw the toadstool with the toad sitting on it.

Without a moment's hesitation he took the handkerchief ("which was in
itself a proof of the reality of the story," he said to himself) and
seized the horrid shiny toad (how it wriggled and squirmed like some
evil thing!) and cast it to the ground where it sprang into a thousand
pieces. These pieces took root in the earth, so to speak, and came up
again as a multitude of toadstools quite wonderful to behold. Perhaps
you may see them if you ever come across this spot in your excursions to
the Taunus Mountains.

Then Rudolf took hold of the red and white toadstool on which the toad
had sat. Surely never before had a fungus been so firmly planted in the
earth! The whole ground seemed to shake and tremble as he tugged at it;
trees were uprooted in the forest; the earth moved up and down like the
waves of the sea. At last it was out, and bump down fell Rudolf. One of
the great fir-trees fell as well, luckily in another direction, or he
might have been crushed beneath it.

When he got up again, he saw to his joy a little red-roofed house and a
pretty maiden sitting in a pear-tree.

Babette had been watching him all the time; but she could not make out
what he was doing. She had nearly fallen off the tree as he pulled up
the toadstool. Now she climbed carefully down and came to the hedge and
their eyes met. Need I say that they fell in love, or, at any rate,
Rudolf did, at first sight. The hedge parted to let him through. Perhaps
this was caused by the fairy candle, or perhaps it was Mother Holle's
doing--who knows?

"Hush, he is asleep, you have come just at the right moment," said
Babette.

"We must secure the magic book first of all," said Rudolf, holding the
fir-branch firmly in his hand, "and would you kindly light this candle
for me?"

Babette laughed. "A funny candle," she said.

"A fairy candle," he whispered, "to keep off evil spells. Mother Holle
recommended it."

Babette felt inclined to dance for joy. "Can you really see me?" she
whispered. "O how untidy and ragged I am, you must think me a perfect
fright!"

"I think you are the most beautiful lady I have ever seen," said Rudolf
sincerely, and Babette blushed at the compliment, and felt very grown-up
and important.

"I will light the candle for you at the kitchen fire. Come, we will go
together softly and try and get the magic book. I know where it is. It
is under the sofa where Old Squint-eyes is asleep. Follow me. Throw all
that grass away," she said in her old imperious way.

"Let me give it to you to hold," said Rudolf. "It is also a gift from
Mother Holle, and may come in useful."

They walked together towards the house, Babette holding the bunch of
silvery grass, and entered the kitchen. Here Babette lit the
fir-branch.

"It smells just like Christmas; there must be good times coming for poor
little me," she said.

Then they peeped into the parlour, and there was Mr Wizard fast asleep
in spite of the earthquake. Rudolf could hardly help laughing; he looked
such a funny sight with his mouth wide open, his nose very red, and his
hair hanging over his face.

Babette lifted up the bear-skin rug and pulled out the heavy book; but,
as soon as she touched the book, the wizard awoke and seized her by the
arm and sprang to his feet with many curses.

When he saw Rudolf, he let go of Babette's arm and tried to seize the
young man. Rudolf was fully prepared and threw him off with all his
force. A wrestling match began, and it might have ended badly for
Rudolf; for his adversary was tremendously strong and agile, but that he
had unexpected assistance. The ravens flew in at the window, and beat
themselves against Rudolf's opponent, nearly blinding him. The cats
stood on the cupboard, with their backs up and hair bristling ready to
spring if necessary. The cocks and hens crowded on the window-sill in
war-like attitudes.

Meanwhile the fumes of the fir-candle which Babette had lit, filled the
room, and Mr Squint-eyes could not abide the smell of burning fir. He
grew weaker and weaker, and more and more confused, and at last Rudolf
threw him down with such force that he was partially stunned.

Rudolf then took the woodland grass from Babette, and as he touched it,
it wound itself in his hands into strong cord. He bound the man up with
Babette's assistance, and gagged him with Mother Holle's handkerchief.

The two of them then lugged him into the wood, and tied him up to the
biggest of the fir-trees as Mother Holle had directed. Then they fetched
the magic book and placed it under the uprooted fir-tree, which
instantly stood up again as if nothing had happened, burying the book
beneath its roots.

They looked at the man they had tied up, bound like a martyr to the
tree. He could not curse and swear as his mouth was stopped up; but he
rolled his eyes and squinted so violently that he was horrible to look
at.

Then Rudolf and Babette ran off together. Breathlessly they ran and ran.
Babette was afraid Old Squint-eyes might wriggle out after all; he was
so thin and wiry, and she had no fancy for serving him any more. Not
until they came to a main road through the woods leading to Eppenhain
Castle, did they pause to look at one another.

Then impetuous Babette (she was half a child still, you must remember)
flew at Sir Rudolf and gave him a kiss. She turned red and white when
she realised, what she had done. "I couldn't help it," she said. "You
are such a dear. I am so very, very grateful to you for all you have
done for me, an unknown and even unseen maiden."

"Please, don't apologise, dearest lady," he said. "I liked it very, very
much. Won't you give me another?"

"Never," said Babette firmly. Subsequent events however caused her to
revoke this determination.

Rudolf did not answer, but offered her his arm, which she took shyly,
glancing at him from time to time out of her deer-like eyes with the
long-fringed lashes. Ragged and untidy as she was, she looked like a
princess; and he in his fine clothes, soiled and torn as they were,
looked nevertheless like a real fairy-tale prince!

He took her straight home to Eppenhain Castle, and you may imagine the
excitement there! The Count clasped Babette in his arms and could hardly
speak for emotion. Then he turned to Rudolf saying: "We shall never be
able to reward you enough."

"I shall only want one reward, and that is the little maiden herself,"
said Rudolf.

The Countess wept and cried over her darling child, and said she would
never scold her any more.

Nurse said: "Well, Miss Babette, you do look a fine sight to be
sure--and to come home with such a pretty young man, too! Come upstairs
with me, and let me make you clean and tidy." And this Babette was only
too glad to do.

A great company of retainers were sent out by the Count to capture the
so-called wizard; but they were unable to find either the fir-trees with
the mark on them or the man, or the wood cottage. Neither Babette nor
Rudolf set eyes on them since that day. I cannot say that they were
altogether sorry.

The papers proving Babette's parentage were found to be in order, and
her father's name and fortune became hers, so that she was not poor,
despised Babette any more--the witch's granddaughter--but a maiden of
good rank and birth with pin-money of her own.

A short time afterwards there was a grand wedding in Eppenhain, and two
happier mortals never lived than Rudolf and Babette on that day, and,
let us hope, for ever afterwards!





Next: Holiday Adventures

Previous: King Reinhold



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