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The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes online

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most resplendent hall, so that, as she entered, her eyes were dazzled
by the radiance. Flame-colored tapestry covered the walls with a
purple glow; and when her eye had grown a little used to it, the
stranger saw, to her astonishment, that, in the tapestry, there were
figures moving up and down in dancing joyfulness, in form so
beautiful, and of so fair proportions, that nothing could be seen more
graceful; their bodies were as of red crystal, so that it appeared as
if the blood were visible within them, flowing and playing in its
courses. They smiled on the stranger, and saluted her with various
bows; but as Mary was about approaching nearer them, Zerina plucked
her sharply back, crying: "Thou wilt burn thyself, my little Mary, for
the whole of it is fire."

Mary felt the heat. "Why do the pretty creatures not come out," asked
she, "and play with us?"

"As thou livest in the Air," replied the other, "so are they obliged
to stay continually in Fire, and would faint and languish if they left
it. Look now, how glad they are, how they laugh and shout; those down
below spread out the fire-floods everywhere beneath the earth, and
thereby the flowers, and fruits, and wine, are made to flourish; these
red streams again are to run beside the brooks of water; and thus the
fiery creatures are kept ever busy and glad. But for thee it is too
hot here; let us return to the garden."

In the garden, the scene had changed since they left it. The moonshine
was lying on every flower; the birds were silent, and the children
were asleep in complicated groups, among the green groves. Mary and
her friend, however, did not feel fatigue, but walked about in the
warm summer night, in abundant talk, till morning.

When the day dawned, they refreshed themselves on fruit and milk, and
Mary said: "Suppose we go, by way of change, to the firs, and see how
things look there?"

"With all my heart," replied Zerina; "thou wilt see our watchmen,
too, and they will surely please thee; they are standing up among the
trees on the mound." The two proceeded through the flower-gardens by
pleasant groves, full of nightingales; then they ascended vine-hills;
and at last, after long following the windings of a clear brook,
arrived at the firs and the height which bounded the domain. "How does
it come," asked Mary, "that we have to walk so far here, when,
without, the circuit is so narrow?"

"I know not," said her friend; "but so it is."

They mounted to the dark firs, and a chill wind blew from without in
their faces; a haze seemed lying far and wide over the landscape. On
the top were many strange forms standing, with mealy, dusty faces,
their misshapen heads not unlike those of white owls; they were clad
in folded cloaks of shaggy wool; they held umbrellas of curious skins
stretched out above them; and they waved and fanned themselves
incessantly with large bat's wings, which flared out curiously beside
the woolen roquelaures. "I could laugh, yet I am frightened," cried
Mary.

"These are our good trusty watchmen," said her playmate; "they stand
here and wave their fans, that cold anxiety and inexplicable fear may
fall on every one that attempts to approach us. They are covered so,
because without it is now cold and rainy, which they cannot bear. But
snow, or wind, or cold air, never reaches down to us; here is an
everlasting spring and summer: yet if these poor people on the top
were not frequently relieved, they would certainly perish."

"But who are you, then?" inquired Mary, while again descending to the
flowery fragrance; "or have you no name at all?"

"We are called the Elves," replied the friendly child; "people talk
about us on the Earth, as I have heard."

They now perceived a mighty bustle on the green. "The fair Bird is
come!" cried the children to them: all hastened to the hall. Here, as
they approached, young and old were crowding over the threshold, all
shouting for joy; and from within resounded a triumphant peal of
music. Having entered, they perceived the vast circuit filled with the
most varied forms, and all were looking upward to a large Bird with
gleaming plumage, that was sweeping slowly round in the dome, and in
its stately flight describing many a circle. The music sounded more
gaily than before; the colors and lights alternated more rapidly. At
last the music ceased; and the Bird, with a rustling noise, floated
down upon a glittering crown that hung hovering in air under the high
window by which the hall was lighted from above. His plumage was
purple and green, and shining golden streaks played through it; on his
head there waved a diadem of feathers, so resplendent that they
sparkled like jewels. His bill was red, and his legs of a flashing
blue. As he moved, the tints gleamed through each other, and the eye
was charmed with their radiance. His size was as that of an eagle. But
now he opened his glittering beak; and sweetest melodies came pouring
from his moved breast, in finer tones than the lovesick nightingale
gives forth; still stronger rose the song, and streamed like floods of
Light, so that all, the very children themselves, were moved by it to
tears of joy and rapture. When he ceased, all bowed before him; he
again flew round the dome in circles, then darted through the door,
and soared into the light heaven, where he shone far up like a red
point, and then soon vanished from their eyes.

"Why are ye all so glad?" inquired Mary, bending to her fair playmate,
who seemed smaller than yesterday.

"The King is coming!" said the little one; "many of us have never seen
him, and whithersoever he turns his face, there are happiness and
mirth; we have long looked for him, more anxiously than you look for
spring when winter lingers with you; and now he has announced, by his
fair herald, that he is at hand. This wise and glorious Bird, that has
been sent to us by the King, is called Phoenix; he dwells far off in
Arabia, on a tree - there is no other that resembles it on Earth, as
in like manner there is no second Phoenix.

[Illustration: #DANCE OF THE ELVES# MORITZ VON SCHWIND]

When he feels himself grown old, he builds a pile of balm and incense,
kindles it, and dies singing; and then from the fragrant ashes soars
up the renewed Phoenix with unlessened beauty. It is seldom he so
wings his course that men behold him; and when once in centuries this
does occur, they note it in their annals, and expect remarkable
events. But now, my friend, thou and I must part; for the sight of the
King is not permitted thee."

Then the lady with the golden robe came through the throng, and
beckoning Mary to her, led her into a sequestered walk. "Thou must
leave us, my dear child," said she; "the King is to hold his court
here for twenty years, perhaps longer; and fruitfulness and blessings
will spread far over the land, but chiefly here beside us; all the
brooks and rivulets will become more bountiful, all the fields and
gardens richer, the wine more generous, the meadows more fertile, and
the woods more fresh and green; a milder air will blow, no hail shall
hurt, no flood shall threaten. Take this ring, and think of us; but
beware of telling any one of our existence or we must fly this land,
and thou and all around will lose the happiness and blessing of our
neighborhood. Once more, kiss thy playmate, and farewell." They issued
from the walk; Zerina wept, Mary stooped to embrace her, and they
parted. Already she was on the narrow bridge; the cold air was blowing
on her back from the firs; the little dog barked with all its might,
and rang its little bell; she looked round, then hastened over, for
the darkness of the firs, the bleakness of the ruined huts, the
shadows of the twilight, were filling her with terror.

"What a night my parents must have had on my account!" said she within
herself, as she stepped on the green; "and I dare not tell them where
I have been, or what wonders I have witnessed, nor indeed would they
believe me." Two men passing by saluted her, and as they went along,
she heard them say: "What a pretty girl! Where can she have come
from?" With quickened steps she approached the house; but the trees
which were hanging last night loaded with fruit were now standing dry
and leafless; the house was differently painted, and a new barn had
been built beside it. Mary was amazed, and thought she must be
dreaming. In this perplexity she opened the door; and behind the table
sat her father, between an unknown woman and a stranger youth. "Good
God! Father," cried she, "where is my mother?"

"Thy mother!" said the woman, with a forecasting tone, and sprang
toward her: "Ha, thou surely canst not - yes, indeed, indeed thou art
my lost, long-lost, dear, only Mary!" She had recognized her by a
little brown mole beneath the chin, as well as by her eyes and shape.
All embraced her, all were moved with joy, and the parents wept. Mary
was astonished that she almost reached to her father's stature; and
she could not understand how her mother had become so changed and
faded; she asked the name of the stranger youth. "It is our neighbor's
Andrew," said Martin. "How comest thou to us again, so unexpectedly,
after seven long years? Where hast thou been? Why didst thou never
send us tidings of thee?"

"Seven years!" said Mary, and could not order her ideas and
recollections. "Seven whole years?"

"Yes, yes," said Andrew, laughing, and shaking her trustfully by the
hand; "I have won the race, good Mary; I was at the pear-tree and back
again seven years ago, and thou, sluggish creature, art but just
returned!"

They again asked, they pressed her; but remembering her instruction,
she could answer nothing. It was they themselves chiefly that, by
degrees, shaped a story for her: How, having lost her way, she had
been taken up by a coach, and carried to a strange remote part, where
she could not give the people any notion of her parents' residence;
how she was conducted to a distant town, where certain worthy persons
brought her up, and loved her; how they had lately died, and at length
she had recollected her birthplace, and so returned. "No matter how it
is!" exclaimed her mother; "enough that we have thee again, my little
daughter, my own, my all!"

Andrew waited supper, and Mary could not be at home in anything she
saw. The house seemed small and dark; she felt astonished at her
dress, which was clean and simple, but appeared quite foreign; she
looked at the ring on her finger, and the gold of it glittered
strangely, inclosing a stone of burning red. To her father's question,
she replied that the ring also was a present from her benefactors.

She was glad when the hour of sleep arrived, and she hastened to her
bed. Next morning she felt much more collected; she had now arranged
her thoughts a little, and could better stand the questions of the
people in the village, all of whom came in to bid her welcome. Andrew
was there too with the earliest, active, glad, and serviceable beyond
all others. The blooming maiden of fifteen had made a deep impression
on him; he had passed a sleepless night. The people of the castle
likewise sent for Mary, and she had once more to tell her story to
them, which was now grown quite familiar to her. The old Count and his
Lady were surprised at her good breeding; she was modest, but not
embarrassed; she made answer courteously in good phrases to all their
questions; all fear of noble persons and their equipage had passed
away from her; for when she measured these halls and forms by the
wonders and the high beauty she had seen with the Elves in their
hidden abode, this earthly splendor seemed but dim to her, the
presence of men was almost mean. The young lords were charmed with her
beauty.

It was now February. The trees were budding earlier than usual; the
nightingale had never come so soon; the spring rose fairer in the land
than the oldest men could recollect it. In every quarter, little
brooks gushed out to irrigate the pastures and meadows; the hills
seemed heaving, the vines rose higher and higher, the fruit-trees
blossomed as they had never done; and a swelling fragrant blessedness
hung suspended heavily in rosy clouds over the scene. All prospered
beyond expectation: no rude day, no tempest injured the fruits; the
wine flowed blushing in immense grapes; and the inhabitants of the
place felt astonished, and were captivated as in a sweet dream. The
next year was like its forerunner; but men had now become accustomed
to the marvelous. In autumn, Mary yielded to the pressing entreaties
of Andrew and her parents; she was betrothed to him, and in winter
they were married.

She often thought with inward longing of her residence behind the
fir-trees; she continued serious and still. Beautiful as all that lay
around her was, she knew of something yet more beautiful; and from the
remembrance of this a faint regret attuned her nature to soft
melancholy. It smote her painfully when her father and mother talked
about the gipsies and vagabonds that dwelt in the dark spot of ground.
Often she was on the point of speaking out in defense of those good
beings, whom she knew to be the benefactors of the land; especially to
Andrew, who appeared to take delight in zealously abusing them; yet
still she repressed the word that was struggling to escape her bosom.
So passed this year; in the next, she was solaced by a little
daughter, whom she named Elfrida, thinking of the designation of her
friendly Elves.

The young people lived with Martin and Brigitta, the house being large
enough for all, and helped their parents in conducting their now
extended husbandry. The little Elfrida soon displayed peculiar
faculties and gifts; for she could walk at a very early age, and could
speak perfectly before she was a twelvemonth old; and after some few
years she had become so wise and clever, and of such wondrous beauty,
that all people regarded her with astonishment, and her mother could
not banish the thought that her child resembled one of those shining
little ones in the space behind the Firs. Elfrida cared not to be with
other children, but seemed to avoid, with a sort of horror, their
tumultuous amusements, and liked best to be alone. She would then
retire into a corner of the garden, and read, or work diligently with
her needle; often also you might see her sitting, as if deep in
thought, or impetuously walking up and down the alleys, speaking to
herself. Her parents readily allowed her to have her will in these
things, for she was healthy, and waxed apace; only her strange
sagacious answers and observations often made them anxious. "Such wise
children do not grow to age," her grandmother, Brigitta, many times
observed; "they are too good for this world; the child, besides, is
beautiful beyond nature, and will never find her proper place on
Earth."

The little girl had this peculiarity, that she was very loath to let
herself be served by any one, but endeavored to do everything herself.
She was almost the earliest riser in the house; she washed herself
carefully, and dressed without assistance; at night she was equally
careful; she took special heed to pack up her clothes and belongings
with her own hands, allowing no one, not even her mother, to meddle
with her articles. The mother humored her in this caprice, not
thinking it of any consequence. But what was her astonishment, when,
happening one holiday to insist, regardless of Elfrida's tears and
screams, on dressing her out for a visit to the castle, she found upon
her breast, suspended by a string, a piece of gold of a strange form,
which she directly recognized as one of the sort she had seen in such
abundance in the subterranean vaults! The little thing was greatly
frightened, and at last confessed that she had found it in the garden,
and, as she liked it much, had kept it carefully; she at the same time
prayed so earnestly and pressingly to have it back that Mary fastened
it again in its former place, and, full of thoughts, went out with her
in silence to the castle.

Sideward from the farm-house lay some offices for the storing of
produce and implements; and behind these there was a little green,
with an old arbor, now visited by no one, as, from the new arrangement
of the buildings, it lay too far from the garden. In this solitude
Elfrida delighted most; and it occurred to nobody to interrupt her
here, so that frequently her parents did not see her for half a day.
One afternoon her mother chanced to be in these buildings, seeking for
some lost article among the lumber; and she noticed that a beam of
light was coming in, through a chink in the wall. She took a thought
of looking through this aperture, and seeing what her child was busied
with; and it happened that a stone was lying loose, and could be
pushed aside, so that she obtained a view right into the arbor.
Elfrida was sitting there on a little bench, and beside her the
well-known Zerina; and the children were playing and amusing each
other, in the kindliest unity. The Elf embraced her beautiful
companion, and said mournfully: "Ah! dear little creature, as I sport
with thee, so have I sported with thy mother, when she was a child;
but you mortals so soon grow tall and thoughtful! It is very hard;
wert thou but to be a child as long as I!"

"Willingly would I do it," said Elfrida; "but they all say I shall
come to sense and give over playing altogether; for I have great
gifts, as they think, for growing wise. Ah! and then I shall see thee
no more, thou dear Zerina! Yet it is with us as with the fruit-tree
flowers - how glorious the blossoming apple-tree, with its red bursting
buds! It looks so stately and broad; and every one that passes under
it thinks surely something great will come of it; then the sun grows
hot, and the buds come joyfully forth; but the wicked kernel is
already there, which pushes off and casts away the fair flower's
dress; and now, in pain and waxing, it can do nothing more, but must
grow to fruit in harvest. An apple, to be sure, is pretty and
refreshing; yet nothing to the blossom of spring. So is it also with
us mortals; I am not glad in the least at growing to be a tall girl.
Ah! could I but once visit you!"

"Since the King is with us," said Zerina, "it is quite impossible; but
I will come to thee, my darling, often, often, and none shall see me
either here or there. I will pass invisible through the air, or fly
over to thee like a bird. Oh, we will be much, much together, while
thou art so little! What can I do to please thee?"

"Thou must like me very dearly," said Elfrida, "as I like thee in my
heart; but come, let us make another rose." Zerina took a well-known
box from her bosom, threw two grains from it on the ground, and
instantly a green bush stood before them, with two deep-red roses,
bending their heads as if to kiss each other. The children plucked
them smiling, and the bush disappeared. "O that it would not die so
soon!" said Elfrida; "this red child, this wonder of the Earth!"

"Give it me here," said the little Elf; then breathed thrice upon the
budding rose, and kissed it thrice. "Now," said she, giving back the
rose, "it will continue fresh and blooming till winter."

"I will keep it," said Elfrida, "as an image of thee; I will guard it
in my little room, and kiss it night and morning as if it were
thyself."

"The sun is setting," said the other; "I must home." They embraced
again, and Zerina vanished.

In the evening, Mary clasped her child to her breast, with a feeling
of alarm and veneration. She henceforth allowed the good little girl
more liberty than formerly; and often calmed her husband, when he came
to search for the child; which for some time he was wont to do, as her
retiredness did not please him, and he feared that, in the end, it
might make her silly, or even pervert her understanding. The mother
often glided to the chink; and almost always found the bright Elf
beside her child, employed in sport, or in earnest conversation.

"Wouldst thou like to fly?" inquired Zerina once.

"Oh, well! How well!" replied Elfrida; and the fairy clasped her
mortal playmate in her arms, and mounted with her from the ground,
till they hovered above the arbor. The mother, in alarm, forgot
herself, and pushed out her head in terror to look after them; when
Zerina from the air, held up her finger, and threatened, yet smiled;
then descended with the child, embraced her, and disappeared. After
this, it happened more than once that Mary was observed by her; and
every time, the shining little creature shook her head, or threatened,
yet with friendly looks.

Often, in disputing with her husband, Mary had said in her zeal: "Thou
dost injustice to the poor people in the hut!" But when Andrew pressed
her to explain why she differed in opinion from the whole village,
nay, from his lordship himself, and why she could understand it better
than the whole of them, she still broke off embarrassed, and became
silent. One day, after dinner, Andrew grew more insistent than ever,
and maintained that, by one means or another, the crew must be packed
away, as a nuisance to the country; when his wife, in anger, said to
him: "Hush! for they are benefactors to thee and to every one of us."

"Benefactors!" cried the other, in astonishment; "These rogues and
vagabonds?"

In her indignation, she was now at last tempted to relate to him,
under promise of the strictest secrecy, the history of her youth; and
as Andrew at every word grew more incredulous, and shook his head in
mockery, she took him by the hand, and led him to the chink; where, to
his amazement, he beheld the glittering Elf sporting with his child,
and caressing her in the arbor. He knew not what to say; an
exclamation of astonishment escaped him, and Zerina raised her eyes.
On the instant she grew pale, and trembled violently; not with
friendly, but with indignant looks, she made the sign of threatening,
and then said to Elfrida "Thou canst not help it, dearest heart; but
outsiders will never learn sense, wise as they believe themselves."
She embraced the little one with stormy haste; and then, in the shape
of a raven, flew with hoarse cries over the garden, toward the firs.

In the evening, the little one was very still, she kissed her rose
with tears; Mary felt depressed and frightened; Andrew scarcely spoke.
It grew dark. Suddenly there went a rustling through the trees; birds
flew to and fro with wild screaming, thunder was heard to roll, the
earth shook, and tones of lamentation moaned in the air. Andrew and
his wife had not courage to rise; they wrapped themselves in their bed
clothes, and with fear and trembling awaited the day. Toward morning
it grew calmer; and all was silent when the sun, with his cheerful
light, rose over the wood.

Andrew dressed himself, and Mary now observed that the stone of the
ring upon her finger had become quite pale. On opening the door, the
sun shone clear on their faces, but the scene around them they could
scarcely recognize. The freshness of the wood was gone; the hills were
shrunk, the brooks were flowing languidly with scanty streams, the sky
seemed gray; and when you turned to the Firs, they were standing there
no darker or more dreary than the other trees. The huts behind were no
longer frightful; and several inhabitants of the village came and told
about the fearful night, and how they had been across the spot where
the gipsies had lived; how these people must have left the place at
last, for their huts were standing empty, and within had quite a
common look, just like the dwellings of other poor people; some of
their household gear was left behind.

Elfrida in secret said to her mother: "I could not sleep last night;
and in my fright at the noise, I was praying from the bottom of my
heart, when the door suddenly opened, and my playmate entered to take
leave of me. She had a traveling-pouch slung round her, a hat on her
head, and a large staff in her hand. She was very angry at thee; since
on thy account she had now to suffer the severest and most painful
punishments, as she had always been so fond of thee; for all of them,
she said, were very loath to leave this quarter."

Mary forbade her to speak of this; and now the ferryman came across
the river, and told them new wonders. As it was growing dark, a
stranger of large size had come to him, and had hired his boat till
sunrise, but with this condition, that the boatman should remain quiet
in his house - at least should not cross the threshold of his door. "I
was frightened," continued the old man, "and the strange bargain would
not let me sleep. I slipped softly to the window, and looked toward



Online LibraryUnknownThe German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes → online text (page 22 of 38)