William Elliot Griffis.

Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks online

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[Illustration: Flying out of the sky they came bringing cheeses]





_Author of "The Firefly's Lovers," "The Unmannerly Tiger," "Brave
Little Holland," "Bonnie Scotland," etc._
























Long ago, in Dutch Fairy Land, there lived a young mermaid who was very
proud of her good looks. She was one of a family of mere or lake folks
dwelling not far from the sea. Her home was a great pool of water that
was half salt and half fresh, for it lay around an island near the mouth
of a river. Part of the day, when the sea tides were out, she splashed
and played, dived and swam in the soft water of the inland current. When
the ocean heaved and the salt water rushed in, the mermaid floated and
frolicked and paddled to her heart's content. Her father was a
gray-bearded merryman and very proud of his handsome daughter. He owned
an island near the river mouth, where the young mermaids held their
picnics and parties and received the visits of young merrymen.

Her mother and two aunts were merwomen. All of these were sober folks
and attended to the business which occupies all well brought up mermaids
and merrymen. This was to keep their pool clean and nice. No frogs,
toads or eels were allowed near, but in the work of daily housecleaning,
the storks and the mermaids were great friends.

All water-creatures that were not thought to be polite and well behaved
were expected to keep away. Even some silly birds, such as loons and
plovers and all screaming and fighting creatures with wings, were warned
off the premises, because they were not wanted. This family of merry
folks liked to have a nice, quiet time by themselves, without any rude
folks on legs, or with wings or fins from the outside. Indeed they
wished to make their pool a model, for all respectable mermaids and
merrymen, for ten leagues around. It was very funny to see the old daddy
merman, with a switch made of reeds, shooing off the saucy birds, such
as the sandpipers and screeching gulls. For the bullfrogs, too big for
the storks to swallow, and for impudent fishes, he had a whip made of

Of course, all the mermaids in good society were welcome, but young
mermen were allowed to call only once a month, during the week when the
moon was full. Then the evenings were usually clear, so that when the
party broke up, the mermen could see their way in the moonlight to swim
home safely with their mermaid friends. For, there were sea monsters
that loved to plague the merefolk, and even threatened to eat them up!
The mermaids, dear creatures, had to be escorted home, but they felt
safe, for their mermen brothers and daddies were so fierce that, except
sharks, even the larger fish, such as porpoises and dolphins were afraid
to come near them.

One day daddy and the mother left to visit some relatives near the
island of Urk. They were to be gone several days. Meanwhile, their
daughter was to have a party, her aunts being the chaperones.

The mermaids usually held their picnics on an island in the midst of the
pool. Here they would sit and sun themselves. They talked about the
fashions and the prettiest way to dress their hair. Each one had a
pocket mirror, but where they kept these, while swimming, no mortal ever
found out. They made wreaths of bright colored seaweed, orange and
black, blue, gray and red and wore them on their brows like coronets.
Or, they twined them, along with sea berries and bubble blossoms, among
their tresses. Sometimes they made girdles of the strongest and knotted
them around their waists.

Every once in a while they chose a queen of beauty for their ruler. Then
each of the others pretended to be a princess. Their games and sports
often lasted all day and they were very happy.

Swimming out in the salt water, the mermaids would go in quest of
pearls, coral, ambergris and other pretty things. These they would bring
to their queen, or with them richly adorn themselves. Thus the Mermaid
Queen and her maidens made a court of beauty that was famed wherever
mermaids and merrymen lived. They often talked about human maids.

"How funny it must be to wear clothes," said one.

"Are they cold that they have to keep warm?" It was a little chit of a
mermaid, whose flippers had hardly begun to grow into hands, that asked
this question.

"How can they swim with petticoats on?" asked another.

"My brother heard that real men wear wooden shoes! These must bother
them, when on the water, to have their feet floating," said a third,
whose name was Silver Scales. "What a pity they don't have flukes like
us," and then she looked at her own glistening scaly coat in admiration.

"I can hardly believe it," said a mermaid, that was very proud of her
fine figure and slender waist. "Their girls can't be half as pretty as
we are."

"Well, I should like to be a real woman for a while, just to try it, and
see how it feels to walk on legs," said another, rather demurely, as if
afraid the other mermaids might not like her remark.

They didn't. Out sounded a lusty chorus, "No! No! Horrible! What an
idea! Who wouldn't be a mermaid?"

"Why, I've heard," cried one, "that real women have to work, wash their
husband's clothes, milk cows, dig potatoes, scrub floors and take care
of calves. Who would be a woman? Not I" - and her snub nose - since it
could not turn up - grew wide at the roots. She was sneering at the idea
that a creature in petticoats could ever look lovelier than one in
shining scales.

"Besides," said she, "think of their big noses, and I'm told, too, that
girls have even to wear hairpins."

At this - the very thought that any one should have to bind up their
tresses - there was a shock of disgust with some, while others clapped
their hands, partly in envy and partly in glee.

But the funniest things the mermaids heard of were gloves, and they
laughed heartily over such things as covers for the fingers. Just for
fun, one of the little mermaids used to draw some bag-like seaweed over
her hands, to see how such things looked.

One day, while sunning themselves in the grass on the island, one of
their number found a bush on which foxgloves grew. Plucking these, she
covered each one of her fingers with a red flower. Then, flopping over
to the other girls, she held up her gloved hands. Half in fright and
half in envy, they heard her story.

After listening, the party was about to break up, when suddenly a young
merman splashed into view. The tide was running out and the stream low,
so he had had hard work to get through the fresh water of the river and
to the island. His eyes dropped salt water, as if he were crying. He
looked tired, while puffing and blowing, and he could hardly get his
breath. The queen of the mermaids asked him what he meant by coming
among her maids at such an hour and in such condition.

At this the bashful merman began to blubber. Some of the mergirls put
their hands over their mouths to hide their laughing, while they winked
at each other and their eyes showed how they enjoyed the fun. To have a
merman among them, at that hour, in broad daylight, and crying, was too
much for dignity.

"Boo-hoo, boo-hoo," and the merman still wept salt water tears, as he
tried to catch his breath. At last, he talked sensibly. He warned the
Queen that a party of horrid men, in wooden shoes, with pickaxes, spades
and pumps, were coming to drain the swamp and pump out the pool. He had
heard that they would make the river a canal and build a dyke that
should keep out the ocean.

"Alas! alas!" cried one mermaid, wringing her hands. "Where shall we go
when our pool is destroyed? We can't live in the ocean all the time."
Then she wept copiously. The salt water tears fell from her great round
eyes in big drops.

"Hush!" cried the Queen. "I don't believe the merman's story. He only
tells it to frighten us. It's just like him."

In fact, the Queen suspected that the merman's story was all a sham and
that he had come among her maids with a set purpose to run off with
Silver Scales. She was one of the prettiest mermaids in the company, but
very young, vain and frivolous. It was no secret that she and the merman
were in love and wanted to get married.

So the Queen, without even thanking him, dismissed the swimming
messenger. After dinner, the company broke up and the Queen retired to
her cave to take a long nap! She was quite tired after entertaining so
much company. Besides, since daddy and mother were away, and there were
no beaus to entertain, since it was a dark night and no moon shining on
the water, why need she get up early in the morning?

So the Mermaid Queen slept much longer than ever before. Indeed, it was
not till near sunset the next day that she awoke. Then, taking her comb
and mirror in hand, she started to swim and splash in the pool, in order
to smooth out her tresses and get ready for supper.

But oh, what a change from the day before! What was the matter? All
around her things looked different. The water had fallen low and the
pool was nearly empty. The river, instead of flowing, was as quiet as a
pond. Horrors! when she swam forward, what should she see but a dyke and
fences! An army of horrid men had come, when she was asleep, and built a
dam. They had fenced round the swamp and were actually beginning to dig
sluices to drain the land. Some were at work, building a windmill to
help in pumping out the water.

The first thing she knew she had bumped her pretty nose against the dam.
She thought at once of escaping over the logs and into the sea. When she
tried to clamber over the top and get through the fence, her hair got so
entangled between the bars that she had to throw away her comb and
mirror and try to untangle her tresses. The more she tried, the worse
became the tangle. Soon her long hair was all twisted up in the timber.
In vain were her struggles to escape. She was ready to die with fright,
when she saw four horrid men rush up to seize her. She attempted to
waddle away, but her long hair held her to the post and rails. Her
modesty was so dreadfully shocked that she fainted away.

When she came to herself, she found she was in a big long tub. A crowd
of curious little girls and boys were looking at her, for she was on
show as a great curiosity. They were bound to see her and get their
money's worth in looking, for they had paid a stiver (two cents)
admission to the show. Again, before all these eyes, her modesty was so
shocked that she gave one groan, flopped over and died in the tub.

Woe to the poor father and mother at Urk! They came back to find their
old home gone. Unable to get into it, they swam out to sea, never
stopping till they reached Spitzbergen.

What became of the body of the Mermaid Queen?

Learned men came from Leyden to examine what was now only a specimen,
and to see how mermaids were made up. Then her skin was stuffed, and
glass eyes put in, where her shining orbs had been. After this, her body
was stuffed and mounted in the museum, that is, set up above a glass
case and resting upon iron rods. Artists came to Leyden to make pictures
of her and no fewer than nine noblemen copied her pretty form and
features into their coats of arms. Instead of the Mermaid's Pool is now
a cheese farm of fifty cows, a fine house and barn, and a family of
pink-cheeked, yellow-haired children who walk and play in wooden shoes.

So this particular mermaid, all because of her entanglement in the
fence, was more famous when stuffed than when living, while all her
young friends and older relatives were forgotten.


Klaas Van Bommel was a Dutch boy, twelve years old, who lived where cows
were plentiful. He was over five feet high, weighed a hundred pounds,
and had rosy cheeks. His appetite was always good and his mother
declared his stomach had no bottom. His hair was of a color half-way
between a carrot and a sweet potato. It was as thick as reeds in a swamp
and was cut level, from under one ear to another.

Klaas stood in a pair of timber shoes, that made an awful rattle when he
ran fast to catch a rabbit, or scuffed slowly along to school over the
brick road of his village. In summer Klaas was dressed in a rough, blue
linen blouse. In winter he wore woollen breeches as wide as coffee bags.
They were called bell trousers, and in shape were like a couple of
cow-bells turned upwards. These were buttoned on to a thick warm jacket.
Until he was five years old, Klaas was dressed like his sisters. Then,
on his birthday, he had boy's clothes, with two pockets in them, of
which he was proud enough.

Klaas was a farmer's boy. He had rye bread and fresh milk for breakfast.
At dinner time, beside cheese and bread, he was given a plate heaped
with boiled potatoes. Into these he first plunged a fork and then dipped
each round, white ball into a bowl of hot melted butter. Very quickly
then did potato and butter disappear "down the red lane." At supper, he
had bread and skim milk, left after the cream had been taken off, with a
saucer, to make butter. Twice a week the children enjoyed a bowl of
bonnyclabber or curds, with a little brown sugar sprinkled on the top.
But at every meal there was cheese, usually in thin slices, which the
boy thought not thick enough. When Klaas went to bed he usually fell
asleep as soon as his shock of yellow hair touched the pillow. In summer
time he slept till the birds began to sing, at dawn. In winter, when the
bed felt warm and Jack Frost was lively, he often heard the cows
talking, in their way, before he jumped out of his bag of straw, which
served for a mattress. The Van Bommels were not rich, but everything was
shining clean.

There was always plenty to eat at the Van Bommels' house. Stacks of rye
bread, a yard long and thicker than a man's arm, stood on end in the
corner of the cool, stone-lined basement. The loaves of dough were put
in the oven once a week. Baking time was a great event at the Van
Bommels' and no men-folks were allowed in the kitchen on that day,
unless they were called in to help. As for the milk-pails and pans,
filled or emptied, scrubbed or set in the sun every day to dry, and the
cheeses, piled up in the pantry, they seemed sometimes enough to feed a
small army.

But Klaas always wanted more cheese. In other ways, he was a good boy,
obedient at home, always ready to work on the cow-farm, and diligent in
school. But at the table he never had enough. Sometimes his father
laughed and asked him if he had a well, or a cave, under his jacket.

Klaas had three younger sisters, Trintjé, Anneké and Saartjé; which is
Dutch for Kate, Annie and Sallie. These, their fond mother, who loved
them dearly, called her "orange blossoms"; but when at dinner, Klaas
would keep on, dipping his potatoes into the hot butter, while others
were all through, his mother would laugh and call him her Buttercup. But
always Klaas wanted more cheese. When unusually greedy, she twitted him
as a boy "worse than Butter-and-Eggs"; that is, as troublesome as the
yellow and white plant, called toad-flax, is to the farmer - very
pretty, but nothing but a weed.

One summer's evening, after a good scolding, which he deserved well,
Klaas moped and, almost crying, went to bed in bad humor. He had teased
each one of his sisters to give him her bit of cheese, and this, added
to his own slice, made his stomach feel as heavy as lead.

Klaas's bed was up in the garret. When the house was first built, one of
the red tiles of the roof had been taken out and another one, made of
glass, was put in its place. In the morning, this gave the boy light to
put on his clothes. At night, in fair weather, it supplied air to his

A gentle breeze was blowing from the pine woods on the sandy slope, not
far away. So Klaas climbed up on the stool to sniff the sweet piny
odors. He thought he saw lights dancing under the tree. One beam seemed
to approach his roof hole, and coming nearer played round the chimney.
Then it passed to and fro in front of him. It seemed to whisper in his
ear, as it moved by. It looked very much as if a hundred fire-flies had
united their cold light into one lamp. Then Klaas thought that the
strange beams bore the shape of a lovely girl, but he only laughed at
himself at the idea. Pretty soon, however, he thought the whisper became
a voice. Again, he laughed so heartily, that he forgot his moping and
the scolding his mother had given him. In fact, his eyes twinkled with
delight, when the voice gave this invitation:

"There's plenty of cheese. Come with us."

To make sure of it, the sleepy boy now rubbed his eyes and cocked his
ears. Again, the light-bearer spoke to him: "Come."

Could it be? He had heard old people tell of the ladies of the wood,
that whispered and warned travellers. In fact, he himself had often seen
the "fairies' ring" in the pine woods. To this, the flame-lady was
inviting him.

Again and again the moving, cold light circled round the red tile roof,
which the moon, then rising and peeping over the chimneys, seemed to
turn into silver plates. As the disc rose higher in the sky, he could
hardly see the moving light, that had looked like a lady; but the voice,
no longer a whisper, as at first, was now even plainer:

"There's plenty of cheese. Come with us."

"I'll see what it is, anyhow," said Klaas, as he drew on his thick
woolen stockings and prepared to go down-stairs and out, without waking
a soul. At the door he stepped into his wooden shoes. Just then the cat
purred and rubbed up against his shins. He jumped, for he was scared;
but looking down, for a moment, he saw the two balls of yellow fire in
her head and knew what they were. Then he sped to the pine woods and
towards the fairy ring.

What an odd sight! At first Klaas thought it was a circle of big
fire-flies. Then he saw clearly that there were dozens of pretty
creatures, hardly as large as dolls, but as lively as crickets. They
were as full of light, as if lamps had wings. Hand in hand, they flitted
and danced around the ring of grass, as if this was fun.

Hardly had Klaas got over his first surprise, than of a sudden he felt
himself surrounded by the fairies. Some of the strongest among them had
left the main party in the circle and come to him. He felt himself
pulled by their dainty fingers. One of them, the loveliest of all,
whispered in his ear:

"Come, you must dance with us."

Then a dozen of the pretty creatures murmured in chorus:

"Plenty of cheese here. Plenty of cheese here. Come, come!"

Upon this, the heels of Klaas seemed as light as a feather. In a moment,
with both hands clasped in those of the fairies, he was dancing in high
glee. It was as much fun as if he were at the kermiss, with a row of
boys and girls, hand in hand, swinging along the streets, as Dutch maids
and youth do, during kermiss week.

Klaas had not time to look hard at the fairies, for he was too full of
the fun. He danced and danced, all night and until the sky in the east
began to turn, first gray and then rosy. Then he tumbled down, tired
out, and fell asleep. His head lay on the inner curve of the fairy ring,
with his feet in the centre.

Klaas felt very happy, for he had no sense of being tired, and he did
not know he was asleep. He thought his fairy partners, who had danced
with him, were now waiting on him to bring him cheeses. With a golden
knife, they sliced them off and fed him out of their own hands. How good
it tasted! He thought now he could, and would, eat all the cheese he had
longed for all his life. There was no mother to scold him, or daddy to
shake his finger at him. How delightful!

But by and by, he wanted to stop eating and rest a while. His jaws were
tired. His stomach seemed to be loaded with cannon-balls. He gasped for

But the fairies would not let him stop, for Dutch fairies never get
tired. Flying out of the sky - from the north, south, east and west - they
came, bringing cheeses. These they dropped down around him, until the
piles of the round masses threatened first to enclose him as with a
wall, and then to overtop him. There were the red balls from Edam, the
pink and yellow spheres from Gouda, and the gray loaf-shaped ones from
Leyden. Down through the vista of sand, in the pine woods, he looked,
and oh, horrors! There were the tallest and strongest of the fairies
rolling along the huge, round, flat cheeses from Friesland! Any one of
these was as big as a cart wheel, and would feed a regiment. The fairies
trundled the heavy discs along, as if they were playing with hoops. They
shouted hilariously, as, with a pine stick, they beat them forward like
boys at play. Farm cheese, factory cheese, Alkmaar cheese, and, to crown
all, cheese from Limburg - which Klaas never could bear, because of its
strong odor. Soon the cakes and balls were heaped so high around him
that the boy, as he looked up, felt like a frog in a well. He groaned
when he thought the high cheese walls were tottering to fall on him.
Then he screamed, but the fairies thought he was making music. They, not
being human, do not know how a boy feels.

At last, with a thick slice in one hand and a big hunk in the other, he
could eat no more cheese; though the fairies, led by their queen,
standing on one side, or hovering over his head, still urged him to take

At this moment, while afraid that he would burst, Klaas saw the pile of
cheeses, as big as a house, topple over. The heavy mass fell inwards
upon him. With a scream of terror, he thought himself crushed as flat as
a Friesland cheese.

But he wasn't! Waking up and rubbing his eyes, he saw the red sun rising
on the sand-dunes. Birds were singing and the cocks were crowing all
around him, in chorus, as if saluting him. Just then also the village
clock chimed out the hour. He felt his clothes. They were wet with dew.
He sat up to look around. There were no fairies, but in his mouth was a
bunch of grass which he had been chewing lustily.

Klaas never would tell the story of his night with the fairies, nor has
he yet settled the question whether they left him because the
cheese-house of his dream had fallen, or because daylight had come.


Long, long ago, before ever a blue flax-flower bloomed in Holland, and
when Dutch mothers wore wolf-skin clothes, there was a little princess,
very much beloved by her father, who was a great king, or war chief. She
was very pretty and fond of seeing herself. There were no metal mirrors
in those days, nor any looking glass. So she went into the woods and
before the pools and the deep, quiet watercourses, made reflection of
her own lovely face. Of this pleasure she never seemed weary.

Yet sometimes this little princess was very naughty. Then her temper was
not nearly so sweet as her face. She would play in the sand and roll
around in the woods among the leaves and bushes until her curls were all
tangled up. When her nurse combed out her hair with a stone comb - for no
other kinds were then known - she would fret and scold and often stamp
her foot. When very angry, she called her nurse or governess an
"aurochs," - a big beast like a buffalo. At this, the maid put up her
hands to her face. "Me - an aurochs! Horrible!" Then she would feel her
forehead to see if horns were growing there.

The nurse - they called her "governess," as the years went on - grew tired
of the behavior of the bad young princess. Sometimes she went and told
her mother how naughty her daughter was, even to calling her an aurochs.
Then the little girl only showed her bad temper worse. She rolled among
the leaves all the more and mussed up her ringlets, so that the
governess could hardly comb them out smooth again.

It seemed useless to punish the perverse little maid by boxing her ears,

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Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisDutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks → online text (page 1 of 11)