A Tale Of The Tontlawald

: 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
he 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


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?' 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


'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


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


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.]