The Christmas Fairy Of Strasburg
: CHRISTMAS DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
A GERMAN FOLK-TALE
BY J. STIRLING COYNE (ADAPTED)
Once, long ago, there lived near the ancient city of Strasburg, on the
river Rhine, a young and handsome count, whose name was Otto. As the
years flew by he remained unwed, and never so much as cast a glance at
the fair maidens of the country round; for this reason people began to
call him "Stone-Heart."
hat Count Otto, on one Christmas Eve, ordered that a great
hunt should take place in the forest surrounding his castle. He and his
guests and his many retainers rode forth, and the chase became more
and more exciting. It led through thickets, and over pathless tracts
of forest, until at length Count Otto found himself separated from his
He rode on by himself until he came to a spring of clear, bubbling
water, known to the people around as the "Fairy Well." Here Count Otto
dismounted. He bent over the spring and began to lave his hands in the
sparkling tide, but to his wonder he found that though the weather was
cold and frosty, the water was warm and delightfully caressing. He
felt a glow of joy pass through his veins, and, as he plunged his hands
deeper, he fancied that his right hand was grasped by another, soft
and small, which gently slipped from his finger the gold ring he always
wore. And, lo! when he drew out his hand, the gold ring was gone.
Full of wonder at this mysterious event, the count mounted his horse and
returned to his castle, resolving in his mind that the very next day he
would have the Fairy Well emptied by his servants.
He retired to his room, and, throwing himself just as he was upon his
couch, tried to sleep; but the strangeness of the adventure kept him
restless and wakeful.
Suddenly he heard the hoarse baying of the watch-hounds in the
courtyard, and then the creaking of the drawbridge, as though it were
being lowered. Then came to his ear the patter of many small feet on
the stone staircase, and next he heard indistinctly the sound of light
footsteps in the chamber adjoining his own.
Count Otto sprang from his couch, and as he did so there sounded a
strain of delicious music, and the door of his chamber was flung open.
Hurrying into the next room, he found himself in the midst of numberless
Fairy beings, clad in gay and sparkling robes. They paid no heed to
him, but began to dance, and laugh, and sing, to the sound of mysterious
In the center of the apartment stood a splendid Christmas Tree, the
first ever seen in that country. Instead of toys and candles there hung
on its lighted boughs diamond stars, pearl necklaces, bracelets of
gold ornamented with colored jewels, aigrettes of rubies and sapphires,
silken belts embroidered with Oriental pearls, and daggers mounted in
gold and studded with the rarest gems. The whole tree swayed, sparkled,
and glittered in the radiance of its many lights.
Count Otto stood speechless, gazing at all this wonder, when suddenly
the Fairies stopped dancing and fell back, to make room for a lady of
dazzling beauty who came slowly toward him.
She wore on her raven-black tresses a golden diadem set with jewels.
Her hair flowed down upon a robe of rosy satin and creamy velvet. She
stretched out two small, white hands to the count and addressed him in
sweet, alluring tones:--
"Dear Count Otto," said she, "I come to return your Christmas visit. I
am Ernestine, the Queen of the Fairies. I bring you something you lost
in the Fairy Well."
And as she spoke she drew from her bosom a golden casket, set with
diamonds, and placed it in his hands. He opened it eagerly and found
within his lost gold ring.
Carried away by the wonder of it all, and overcome by an irresistible
impulse, the count pressed the Fairy Ernestine to his heart, while she,
holding him by the hand, drew him into the magic mazes of the dance. The
mysterious music floated through the room, and the rest of that Fairy
company circled and whirled around the Fairy Queen and Count Otto, and
then gradually dissolved into a mist of many colors, leaving the count
and his beautiful guest alone.
Then the young man, forgetting all his former coldness toward the
maidens of the country round about, fell on his knees before the Fairy
and besought her to become his bride. At last she consented on the
condition that he should never speak the word "death" in her presence.
The next day the wedding of Count Otto and Ernestine, Queen of the
Fairies, was celebrated with great pomp and magnificence, and the two
continued to live happily for many years.
Now it happened on a time, that the count and his Fairy wife were
to hunt in the forest around the castle. The horses were saddled and
bridled, and standing at the door, the company waited, and the count
paced the hall in great impatience; but still the Fairy Ernestine
tarried long in her chamber. At length she appeared at the door of the
hall, and the count addressed her in anger.
"You have kept us waiting so long," he cried, "that you would make a
good messenger to send for Death!"
Scarcely had he spoken the forbidden and fatal word, when the Fairy,
uttering a wild cry, vanished from his sight. In vain Count Otto,
overwhelmed with grief and remorse, searched the castle and the Fairy
Well, no trace could he find of his beautiful, lost wife but the imprint
of her delicate hand set in the stone arch above the castle gate.
Years passed by, and the Fairy Ernestine did not return. The count
continued to grieve. Every Christmas Eve he set up a lighted tree in
the room where he had first met the Fairy, hoping in vain that she would
return to him.
Time passed and the count died. The castle fell into ruins. But to this
day may be seen above the massive gate, deeply sunken in the stone arch,
the impress of a small and delicate hand.
And such, say the good folk of Strasburg, was the origin of the