The Story Of Halfman
: The Violet Fairy Book
In a certain town there lived a judge who was married but had no
children. One day he was standing lost in thought before his
house, when an old man passed by.
'What is the matter, sir, said he, 'you look troubled?'
'Oh, leave me alone, my good man!'
'But what is it?' persisted the other.
'Well, I am successful in my profession and a person of
nce, but I care nothing for it all, as I have no
Then the old man said, 'Here are twelve apples. If your wife
eats them, she will have twelve sons.'
The judge thanked him joyfully as he took the apples, and went to
seek his wife. 'Eat these apples at once,' he cried, 'and you
will have twelve sons.'
So she sat down and ate eleven of them, but just as she was in
the middle of the twelfth her sister came in, and she gave her
the half that was left.
The eleven sons came into the world, strong and handsome boys;
but when the twelfth was born, there was only half of him.
By-and-by they all grew into men, and one day they told their
father it was high time he found wives for them. 'I have a
brother,' he answered, 'who lives away in the East, and he has
twelve daughters; go and marry them.' So the twelve sons saddled
their horses and rode for twelve days, till they met an old
'Good greeting to you, young men!' said she, 'we have waited long
for you, your uncle and I. The girls have become women, and are
sought, in marriage by many, but I knew you would come one day,
and I have kept them for you. Follow me into my house.'
And the twelve brothers followed her gladly, and their father's
brother stood at the door, and gave them meat and drink. But at
night, when every one was asleep, Halfman crept softly to his
brothers, and said to them, 'Listen, all of you! This man is no
uncle of ours, but an ogre.'
'Nonsense; of course he is our uncle,' answered they.
'Well, this very night you will see!' said Halfman. And he did
not go to bed, but hid himself and watched.
Now in a little while he saw the wife of the ogre steal into the
room on tiptoe and spread a red cloth over the brothers and then
go and cover her daughters with a white cloth. After that she
lay down and was soon snoring loudly. When Halfman was quite
sure she was sound asleep, he took the red cloth from his
brothers and put it on the girls, and laid their white cloth over
his brothers. Next he drew their scarlet caps from their heads
and exchanged them for the veils which the ogre's daughters were
wearing. This was hardly done when he heard steps coming along
the floor, so he hid himself quickly in the folds of a curtain.
There was only half of him!
The ogress came slowly and gently along, stretching out her hands
before her, so that she might not fall against anything unawares,
for she had only a tiny lantern slung at her waist, which did not
give much light. And when she reached the place where the
sisters were lying, she stooped down and held a corner of the
cloth up to the lantern. Yes! it certainly was red! Still, to
make sure that there was no mistake, she passed her hands lightly
over their heads, and felt the caps that covered them. Then she
was quite certain the brothers lay sleeping before her, and began
to kill them one by one. And Halfman whispered to his brothers,
'Get up and run for your lives, as the ogress is killing her
daughters.' The brothers needed no second bidding, and in a
moment were out of the house.
By this time the ogress had slain all her daughters but one, who
awoke suddenly and saw what had happened. 'Mother, what are you
doing?' cried she. 'Do you know that you have killed my
'Oh, woe is me!' wailed the ogress. 'Halfman has outwitted me
after all!' And she turned to wreak vengeance on him, but he and
his brothers were far away.
They rode all day till they got to the town where their real
uncle lived, and inquired the way to his house.
'Why have you been so long in coming?' asked he, when they had
'Oh, dear uncle, we were very nearly not coming at all!' replied
they. 'We fell in with an ogress who took us home and would have
killed us if it had not been for Halfman. He knew what was in
her mind and saved us, and here we are. Now give us each a
daughter to wife, and let us return whence we came.'
'Take them!' said the uncle; 'the eldest for the eldest, the
second for the second, and so on to the youngest.'
But the wife of Halfman was the prettiest of them all, and the
other brothers were jealous and said to each other: 'What, is he
who is only half a man to get the best? Let us put him to death
and give his wife to our eldest brother!' And they waited for a
After they had all ridden, in company with their brides, for some
distance, they arrived at a brook, and one of them asked, 'Now,
who will go and fetch water from the brook?'
'Halfman is the youngest,' said the elder brother, 'he must go.'
So Halfman got down and filled a skin with water, and they drew
it up by a rope and drank. When they had done drinking, Halfman,
who was standing in the middle of the stream, called out: 'Throw
me the rope and draw me up, for I cannot get out alone.' And the
brothers threw him a rope to draw him up the steep bank; but when
he was half-way up they cut the rope, and he fell back into the
stream. Then the brothers rode away as fast as they could, with
Halfman sank down under the water from the force of the fall, but
before he touched the bottom a fish came and said to him, 'Fear
nothing, Halfman; I will help you.' And the fish guided him to a
shallow place, so that he scrambled out. On the way it said to
him, 'Do you understand what your brothers, whom you saved from
death, have done to you?'
'Yes; but what am I to do?' asked Halfman.
'Take one of my scales,' said the fish, 'and when you find
yourself in danger, throw it in the fire. Then I will appear
'Thank you,' said Halfman, and went his way, while the fish swam
back to its home.
The country was strange to Halfman, and he wandered about without
knowing where he was going, till he suddenly found the ogress
standing before him. 'Ah, Halfman, have I got you at last? You
killed my daughters and helped your brothers to escape. What do
you think I shall do with you?'
'Whatever you like!' said Halfman.
'Come into my house, then,' said the ogress, and he followed her.
'Look here!' she called to her husband, 'I have got hold of
Halfman. I am going to roast him, so be quick and make up the
So the ogre brought wood, and heaped it up till the flames roared
up the chimney. Then he turned to his wife and said: 'It is all
ready, let us put him on!'
'What is the hurry, my good ogre?' asked Halfman. 'You have me
in your power, and I cannot escape. I am so thin now, I shall
hardly make one mouthful. Better fatten me up; you will enjoy me
'That is a very sensible remark,' replied the ogre; 'but what
fattens you quickest?'
'Butter, meat, and red wine,' answered Halfman.
'Very good; we will lock you into this room, and here you shall
stay till you are ready for eating.'
So Halfman was locked into the room, and the ogre and his wife
brought him his food. At the end of three months he said to his
gaolers: 'Now I have got quite fat; take me out, and kill me.'
'Get out, then!' said the ogre.
'But,' went on Halfman, 'you and your wife had better go to
invite your friends to the feast, and your daughter can stay in
the house and look after me!'
'Yes, that is a good idea,' answered they.
'You had better bring the wood in here,' continued Halfman, 'and
I will split it up small, so that there may be no delay in
So the ogress gave Halfman a pile of wood and an axe, and then
set out with her husband, leaving Halfman and her daughter busy
in the house.
After he had chopped for a little while he called to the girl,
'Come and help me, or else I shan't have it all ready when your
mother gets back.'
'All right,' said she, and held a billet of wood for him to chop.
But he raised his axe and cut off her head, and ran away like the
wind. By-and-by the ogre and his wife returned and found their
daughter lying without her head, and they began to cry and sob,
saying, 'This is Halfman's work, why did we listen to him?' But
Halfman was far away.
When he escaped from the house he ran on straight before him for
some time, looking for a safe shelter, as he knew that the ogre's
legs were much longer than his, and that it was his only chance.
At last he saw an iron tower which he climbed up. Soon the ogre
appeared, looking right and left lest his prey should be
sheltering behind a rock or tree, but he did not know Halfman was
so near till he heard his voice calling, 'Come up! come up! you
will find me here!'
'But how can I come up?' said the ogre, 'I see no door, and I
could not possibly climb that tower.'
'Oh, there is no door,' replied Halfman.
'Then how did you climb up?'
'A fish carried me on his back.'
'And what am I to do?'
'You must go and fetch all your relations, and tell them to bring
plenty of sticks; then you must light a fire, and let it burn
till the tower becomes red hot. After that you can easily throw
'Very good,' said the ogre, and he went round to every relation
he had, and told them to collect wood and bring it to the tower
where Halfman was. The men did as they were ordered, and soon
the tower was glowing like coral, but when they flung themselves
against it to overthrow it, they caught themselves on fire and
were burnt to death. And overhead sat Halfman, laughing
heartily. But the ogre's wife was still alive, for she had taken
no part in kindling the fire.
'Oh,' she shrieked with rage, 'you have killed my daughters and
my husband, and all the men belonging to me; how can I get at you
to avenge myself?'
'Oh, that is easy enough,' said Halfman. 'I will let down a
rope, and if you tie it tightly round you, I will draw it up.'
'All right,' returned the ogress, fastening the rope which
Halfman let down. 'Now pull me up.'
'Are you sure it is secure?'
'Yes, quite sure.'
'Don't be afraid.'
'Oh, I am not afraid at all!'
So Halfman slowly drew her up, and when she was near the top he
let go the rope, and she fell down and broke her neck. Then
Halfman heaved a great sigh and said, 'That was hard work; the
rope has hurt my hands badly, but now I am rid of her for ever.'
So Halfman came down from the tower, and went on, till he got to
a desert place, and as he was very tired, he lay down to sleep.
While it was still dark, an ogress passed by, and she woke him
and said, 'Halfman, to-morrow your brother is to marry your
'Oh, how can I stop it?' asked he. 'Will you help me?'
'Yes, I will,' replied the ogress.
'Thank you, thank you!' cried Halfman, kissing her on the
forehead. 'My wife is dearer to me than anything else in the
world, and it is not my brother's fault that I am not dead long
'Very well, I will rid you of him,' said the ogress, 'but only on
one condition. If a boy is born to you, you must give him to
'Oh, anything,' answered Halfman, 'as long as you deliver me from
my brother, and get me my wife.'
'Mount on my back, then, and in a quarter of an hour we shall be
The ogress was as good as her word, and in a few minutes they
arrived at the outskirts of the town where Halfman and his
brothers lived. Here she left him, while she went into the town
itself, and found the wedding guests just leaving the brother's
house. Unnoticed by anyone, the ogress crept into a curtain,
changing herself into a scorpion, and when the brother was going
to get into bed, she stung him behind the ear, so that he fell
dead where he stood. Then she returned to Halfman and told him
to go and claim his bride. He jumped up hastily from his seat,
and took the road to his father's house. As he drew near he
heard sounds of weeping and lamentations, and he said to a man he
met: 'What is the matter?'
'The judge's eldest son was married yesterday, and died suddenly
'Well,' thought Halfman, 'my conscience is clear anyway, for it
is quite plain he coveted my wife, and that is why he tried to
drown me.' He went at once to his father's room, and found him
sitting in tears on the floor. 'Dear father,' said Halfman, 'are
you not glad to see me? You weep for my brother, but I am your
son too, and he stole my bride from me and tried to drown me in
the brook. If he is dead, I at least am alive.'
'No, no, he was better than you!' moaned the father.
'Why, dear father?'
'He told me you had behaved very ill,' said he.
'Well, call my brothers,' answered Halfman, 'as I have a story to
tell them.' So the father called them all into his presence.
Then Halfman began: 'After we were twelve days' journey from
home, we met an ogress, who gave us greeting and said, "Why have
you been so long coming? The daughters of your uncle have
waited for you in vain," and she bade us follow her to the house,
saying, "Now there need be no more delay; you can marry your
cousins as soon as you please, and take them with you to your own
home." But I warned my brothers that the man was not our uncle,
but an ogre.
'When we lay down to sleep, she spread a red cloth over us, and
covered her daughters with a white one; but I changed the cloths,
and when the ogress came back in the middle of the night, and
looked at the cloths, she mistook her own daughters for my
brothers, and killed them one by one, all but the youngest. Then
I woke my brothers, and we all stole softly from the house, and
we rode like the wind to our real uncle.
'And when he saw us, he bade us welcome, and married us to his
twelve daughters, the eldest to the eldest, and so on to me,
whose bride was the youngest of all and also the prettiest. And
my brothers were filled with envy, and left me to drown in a
brook, but I was saved by a fish who showed me how to get out.
Now, you are a judge! Who did well, and who did evil--I or my
'Is this story true?' said the father, turning to his sons.
'It is true, my father,' answered they. 'It is even as Halfman
has said, and the girl belongs to him.'
Then the judge embraced Halfman and said to him: 'You have done
well, my son. Take your bride, and may you both live long and
At the end of the year Halfman's wife had a son, and not long
after she came one day hastily into the room. and found her
husband weeping. 'What is the matter?' she asked.
'The matter?' said he.
'Yes, why are you weeping?'
'Because,' replied Halfman, 'the baby is not really ours, but
belongs to an ogress.'
'Are you mad?' cried the wife. 'What do you mean by talking like
'I promised,' said Halfman, 'when she undertook to kill my
brother and to give you to me, that the first son we had should
'And will she take him from us now?' said the poor woman.
'No, not quite yet,' replied Halfman; 'when he is bigger.'
'And is she to have all our children?' asked she.
'No, only this one,' returned Halfman.
Day by day the boy grew bigger, and one day as he was playing in
the street with the other children, the ogress came by. 'Go to
your father,' she said, 'and repeat this speech to him: "I want
my forfeit; when am I to have it?" '
'All right,' replied the child, but when he went home forgot all
about it. The next day the ogress came again, and asked the boy
what answer the father had given. 'I forgot all about it,' said
'Well, put this ring on your finger, and then you won't forget.'
'Very well,' replied the boy, and went home.
The next morning, as he was at breakfast, his mother said to him,
'Child, where did you get that ring?'
'A woman gave it to me yesterday, and she told me, father, to
tell you that she wanted her forfeit, and when was she to have
Then his father burst into tears and said, 'If she comes again
you must say to her that your parents bid her take her forfeit at
once, and depart.'
At this they both began to weep afresh, and his mother kissed
him, and put on his new clothes and said, 'If the woman bids you
to follow her, you must go,' but the boy did not heed her grief,
he was so pleased with his new clothes. And when he went out, he
said to his play-fellows, 'Look how smart I am; I am going away
with my aunt to foreign lands.'
At that moment the ogress came up and asked him, 'Did you give my
message to your father and mother?'
'Yes, dear aunt, I did.'
'And what did they say?'
'Take it away at once!'
So she took him.
But when dinner-time came, and the boy did not return, his father
and mother knew that he would never come back, and they sat down
and wept all day. At last Halfman rose up and said to his wife,
'Be comforted; we will wait a year, and then I will go to the
ogress and see the boy, and how he is cared for.'
'Yes, that will be the best,' said she.
The year passed away, then Halfman saddled his horse, and rode to
the place where the ogress had found him sleeping. She was not
there, but not knowing what to do next, he got off his horse and
waited. About midnight she suddenly stood before him.
'Halfman, why did you come here?' said she.
'I have a question I want to ask you.'
'Well, ask it; but I know quite well what it is. Your wife
wishes you to ask whether I shall carry off your second son as I
did the first.'
'Yes, that is it,' replied Halfman. Then he seized her hand and
said, 'Oh, let me see my son, and how he looks, and what he is
The ogress was silent, but stuck her staff hard in the earth, and
the earth opened, and the boy appeared and said, 'Dear father,
have you come too?' And his father clasped him in his arms, and
began to cry. But the boy struggled to be free, saying 'Dear
father, put me down. I have got a new mother, who is better than
the old one; and a new father, who is better than you.'
Then his father sat him down and said, 'Go in peace, my boy, but
listen first to me. Tell your father the ogre and your mother
the ogress, that never more shall they have any children of
'All right,' replied the boy, and called 'Mother!'
'What is it?'
'You are never to take away any more of my father and mother's
'Now that I have got you, I don't want any more,' answered she.
Then the boy turned to his father and said, 'Go in peace, dear
father, and give my mother greeting and tell her not to be
anxious any more, for she can keep all her children.'
And Halfman mounted his horse and rode home, and told his wife
all he had seen, and the message sent by Mohammed--Mohammed the
son of Halfman, the son of the judge.
[Marchen und Gedichte aus der Stadt Tripolis. Hans von Stumme.]