: The Yellow Fairy Book
From the German. Kletke.
There was once upon a time a miller who was very well off, and
had as much money and as many goods as he knew what to do with.
But sorrow comes in the night, and the miller all of a sudden
became so poor that at last he could hardly call the mill in
which he sat his own. He wandered about all day full of despair
and misery, and when he lay down at night he could get no rest,
but lay awake all night sunk in sorrowful thoughts.
One morning he rose up before dawn and went outside, for he
thought his heart would be lighter in the open air. As he
wandered up and down on the banks of the mill-pond he heard a
rustling in the water, and when he looked near he saw a white
woman rising up from the waves.
He realised at once that this could be none other than the nixy
of the mill-pond, and in his terror he didn't know if he should
fly away or remain where he was. While he hesitated the nixy
spoke, called him by his name, and asked him why he was so sad.
When the miller heard how friendly her tone was, he plucked up
heart and told her how rich and prosperous he had been all his
life up till now, when he didn't know what he was to do for want
Then the nixy spoke comforting words to him, and promised that
she would make him richer and more prosperous than he had ever
been in his life before, if he would give her in return the
youngest thing in his house.
The miller thought she must mean one of his puppies or kittens,
so promised the nixy at once what she asked, and returned to his
mill full of hope. On the threshold he was greeted by a servant
with the news that his wife had just given birth to a boy.
The poor miller was much horrified by these tidings, and went in
to his wife with a heavy heart to tell her and his relations of
the fatal bargain he had just struck with the nixy. 'I would
gladly give up all the good fortune she promised me,' he said,
'if I could only save my child.' But no one could think of any
advice to give him, beyond taking care that the child never went
near the mill-pond.
So the boy throve and grew big, and in the meantime all prospered
with the miller, and in a few years he was richer than he had
ever been before. But all the same he did not enjoy his good
fortune, for he could not forget his compact with the nixy, and
he knew that sooner or later she would demand his fulfilment of
it. But year after year went by, and the boy grew up and became
a great hunter, and the lord of the land took him into his
service, for he was as smart and bold a hunter as you would wish
to see. In a short time he married a pretty young wife, and
lived with her in great peace and happiness.
One day when he was out hunting a hare sprang up at his feet, and
ran for some way in front of him in the open field. The hunter
pursued it hotly for some time, and at last shot it dead. Then
he proceeded to skin it, never noticing that he was close to the
mill-pond, which from childhood up he had been taught to avoid.
He soon finished the skinning, and went to the water to wash the
blood off his hands. He had hardly dipped them in the pond when
the nixy rose up in the water, and seizing him in her wet arms
she dragged him down with her under the waves.
When the hunter did not come home in the evening his wife grew
very anxious, and when his game bag was found close to the
mill-pond she guessed at once what had befallen him. She was
nearly beside herself with grief, and roamed round and round the
pond calling on her husband without ceasing. At last, worn out
with sorrow and fatigue, she fell asleep and dreamt that she was
wandering along a flowery meadow, when she came to a hut where
she found an old witch, who promised to restore her husband to
When she awoke next morning she determined to set out and find
the witch; so she wandered on for many a day, and at last she
reached the flowery meadow and found the hut where the old witch
lived. The poor wife told her all that had happened and how she
had been told in a dream of the witch's power to help her.
The witch counselled her to go to the pond the first time there
was a full moon, and to comb her black hair with a golden comb,
and then to place the comb on the bank. The hunter's wife gave
the witch a handsome present, thanked her heartily, and returned
Time dragged heavily till the time of the full moon, but it
passed at last, and as soon as it rose the young wife went to the
pond, combed her black hair with a golden comb, and when she had
finished, placed the comb on the bank; then she watched the water
impatiently. Soon she heard a rushing sound, and a big wave rose
suddenly and swept the comb off the bank, and a minute after the
head of her husband rose from the pond and gazed sadly at her.
But immediately another wave came, and the head sank back into
the water without having said a word. The pond lay still and
motionless, glittering in the moonshine, and the hunter's wife
was not a bit better off than she had been before.
In despair she wandered about for days and nights, and at last,
worn out by fatigue, she sank once more into a deep sleep, and
dreamt exactly the same dream about the old witch. So next
morning she went again to the flowery meadow and sought the witch
in her hut, and told her of her grief. The old woman counselled
her to go to the mill-pond the next full moon and play upon a
golden flute, and then to lay the flute on the bank.
As soon as the next moon was full the hunter's wife went to the
mill-pond, played on a golden flute, and when she had finished
placed it on the bank. Then a rushing sound was heard, and a
wave swept the flute off the bank, and soon the head of the
hunter appeared and rose up higher and higher till he was half
out of the water. Then he gazed sadly at his wife and stretched
out his arms towards her. But another rushing wave arose and
dragged him under once more. The hunter's wife, who had stood on
the bank full of joy and hope, sank into despair when she saw her
husband snatched away again before her eyes.
But for her comfort she dreamt the same dream a third time, and
betook herself once more to the old witch's hut in the flowery
meadow. This time the old woman told her to go the next full
moon to the mill-pond, and to spin there with a golden spinning-
wheel, and then to leave the spinning-wheel on the bank.
The hunter's wife did as she was advised, and the first night the
moon was full she sat and spun with a golden spinning-wheel, and
then left the wheel on the bank. In a few minutes a rushing
sound was heard in the waters, and a wave swept the
spinning-wheel from the bank. Immediately the head of the hunter
rose up from the pond, getting higher and higher each moment,
till at length he stepped on to the bank and fell on his wife's
But the waters of the pond rose up suddenly, overflowed the bank
where the couple stood, and dragged them under the flood. In her
despair the young wife called on the old witch to help her, and
in a moment the hunter was turned into a frog and his wife into a
toad. But they were not able to remain together, for the water
tore them apart, and when the flood was over they both resumed
their own shapes again, but the hunter and the hunter's wife
found themselves each in a strange country, and neither knew what
had become of the other.
The hunter determined to become a shepherd, and his wife too
became a shepherdess. So they herded their sheep for many years
in solitude and sadness.
Now it happened once that the shepherd came to the country where
the shepherdess lived. The neighbourhood pleased him, and he saw
that the pasture was rich and suitable for his flocks. So he
brought his sheep there, and herded them as before. The shepherd
and shepherdess became great friends, but they did not recognise
each other in the least.
But one evening when the moon was full they sat together watching
their flocks, and the shepherd played upon his flute. Then the
shepherdess thought of that evening when she had sat at the full
moon by the mill-pond and had played on the golden flute; the
recollection was too much for her, and she burst into tears. The
shepherd asked her why she was crying, and left her no peace till
she told him all her story. Then the scales fell from the
shepherd's eyes, and he recognised his wife, and she him. So
they returned joyfully to their own home, and lived in peace and
happiness ever after.