Swiss Fairy Tales




There is one variety of the Swiss fairies who manage to get along with very few clothes, and those very thin. The prettiest ones among them seem to live up among the highest mountain peaks. There, it is colder than anywhere else, but these fairies do not mind it. Furs are not in fashion, but only very filmy garments. On their backs are gauzy wings, by which they can fly around from one peak to another. They hover over the meadows also, which in summer glisten with blossoms of every tint and hue. They love to plague Jack Frost, and the old mountain giants, that have beards of icicles, and hair of snow streamers, and who try so hard to freeze out the flowers.

These fairies know all the secrets of the mountains. They find out where the largest and prettiest rock crystals are, and where the priceless minerals are to be found. They can tell just where the caves of sparkling topaz are situated, but they do not let any mortal know, unless he is their favorite. They can lead a hunter to the spot where the chamois are feeding on the moss. When they want to reward a brave man, they bring him bullets that are sure to hit the buck, and win for the marksman a fine pair of horns; or, at the village shooting matches, plug the bull’s eye of the target, and so secure the prize. To please his fairy guardian, the hunter must always promise to do what she bids him, or else her bad temper is roused. Then she scolds, and leaves him to his luck, which, after that time, is never good. It is not safe to quarrel with a fairy.

Now there was one of these lovely creatures, named Silver Wreath, because she looked as charming as the morning mists at sunrise, when shot through and through by the upspringing light. Then they float off in the air, like glistening wreaths made of golden braid, or like scarves of silver. Sometimes, when illuminated by the sun’s rays, they remind one of necklaces of pearls; or, when many are together, like white garments of burnished silver set with costly gems.

Silver Wreath, the fairy, was noted for living among the lofty peaks, where only the hardiest flowers, such as the Alpine rose, and the noble white flower, called the edelweiss, could grow. No animal or bird, ermine or ptarmigan, could be whiter than her body, which glistened like snow crystals or hoar frost, when struck by the sunbeams. When she blushed, her whole body was like the wonderful Alpine glow that, after sunset, robes the mountain tops, and both for the same reason. The sky becomes rosy red, because the sun’s rays are reflected from the snow, even after going down. So this fairy’s beautiful body not only shone by its own light, but at times reflected the great luminary’s loveliest tints. It was a way the sun had, of saying “good night” to the mighty mountains. So, also, fairy Silver Wreath blushed when, in the dawn of day, she made her farewell curtsey to her companions, for, after sunrise, the fairies disappear.

Now there was a brave hunter named Jeannod, who lived in a village of Uri. In his pursuit of the chamois, this stalwart youth was not afraid to follow this agile animal over the most dizzy precipices, and far up beyond the snow line. He did not hesitate to climb the most perpendicular mountain walls, to get a good shot. Hence, he was often compelled to spend a night, amid the cliffs and glaciers.

One evening, while on a hunting expedition, Jeannod caught sight of Silver Wreath, as she was flitting on her gauzy wings around a peak. At once, he fell in love with her. Happily for him, she was, after several meetings, enamored of Jeannod, and he became her favorite. As they became better acquainted with each other, she guided him over unknown paths and often warned him of danger. She directed him to the chamois herds, and fed him with the finest oat cake and cheese. When too wearied to retrace his way back, or to return home, for the night, she watched over him while he slept. There, far above, where the eagles flew, she guarded her lover from falling rock or ice, shielding him from every peril, seen and unseen.

In that way, it happened that for many months, the hunter was in luck and became the envy of his village companions. He never slipped or lost his balance, or fell over a precipice, or into an ice crevasse, or was hit by an avalanche, or lost his path. On every occasion he came back home with a fat buck on his shoulders, or a brace of ptarmagan birds, or a big rock crystal, and always looked rosy and healthy; all the young girls admired him, and the youth wanted to be like him. They hoped to learn the reason of his luck, which he kept a secret.

Silver Wreath soon found out what Jeannod liked most to eat, for while she was a fairy, he was a mortal, and had a stomach, and, always, a lively appetite. He was very particular, and rather fussy about the kind of cheese he ate, and he always bought the best that could be found in the market. In fact, he would often walk many miles, and spend his last coin, to get a cheese of an especially good brand or flavor, no matter at what price.

The fairy soon found this out, about her lover’s taste, and when Jeannod was hungry, after climbing the steep rocks, she fed him on a most delicious kind of cheese. He declared no mortal man or woman could make any equal to it, whether in taste, or in nourishment, or in flavor. On the other hand, he amused her by singing, rattling off rhymes, or telling her stories about men and women. One of these, about “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin-eater,” seemed to her to be the funniest of all. After that, when he asked her what he might bring her for a present, he was surprised to hear her say a “pumpkin shell.” Then he laughed heartily. When he brought it to her, she kept the pumpkin shell in a rock crevice as a great curiosity and called it her doll house.

Jeannod was so happy in his love for fairy Silver Wreath, that he wanted to make her his wife. So one day, he kneeled before her and asked her to be his bride. He thought it would be easy for her to accept his love and care, after she had so helped and favored him.

But Silver Wreath, much as she loved Jeannod, did not welcome the idea of either changing her nature, or leaving her mountain home. Either or both meant much to her, though little to him. She would have to put on women’s clothes, and be bothered with changes in fashion, with which fairies are not troubled. She would be shut up in a house, among mortals, who get old and die. She would have to depart from heaven-high peaks, and things white, and vast, and glorious, and dwell among gossips and tale-bearers. Besides, she could not tell whether Jeannod would always be fond of her. One day, she remembered the story he had told her, in fun, of “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin-eater,” and it frightened her, when she thought of Peter’s wife. So she brooded, long and hard, over the matter as to whether she should say “yes” to Jeannod, and be his wife. Would he be a Peter, and keep her in a pumpkin shell?

Yet the hunter was so handsome and so brave! Besides, he did so love the mountains and the Alpine flowers! Every time he came to her, he had an Alpine rose in his coat as a symbol of his joy, which might, however, be for his lifetime only; but, in his hand, he held an edelweiss, as symbol of faith in the things eternal. This showed that he thought of both the affairs of the body and the life of the soul, in the true Swiss way. Besides, he so vehemently assured her that, whenever she should get homesick, he would take her with him up to her old haunts. Every time he went to hunt the chamois, she should be his companion. Last, but not least, he pressed his suit so ardently that, finally, she consented to marry him, and live in his home.

But she gave her promise, only on one condition. She would be a faithful and loving wife, and live truly as a mortal, provided he should agree to the rules, which she made about eating; and, if he would observe the table manners, which she approved. Knowing his weakness for cheese, she vowed to keep the larder furnished, always, with the same kind of this delicacy, upon which she had fed him in his hunting trips, when he made love to her.

“I’ll wed with you,” she said, “provided that, every time, when you eat and enjoy the cheese, you will leave one small portion, uneaten, on your plate.”

This one condition of wifehood seemed so simple, that he laughed out loud, and poked fun at his betrothed, at her being so childish. But she looked very grave, though she did not speak a word. Fairies are not fools, and it may be that even mortal women know more than men, in some things. Besides, the pumpkin shell had become to her such a spectre, that, one day, she smashed it with a rock, even after he had promised vehemently to obey her law as to table manners. Then he gave her a kiss, and everything serious was forgotten in the mutual joy of lovers.

So the fairy put on a human form, keeping her beauty and loveliness, but leaving off her wings, and wearing bridal clothes. Then they were married in the village church. At the wedding, the maidens all marvelled at her wonderful dress and veil of silvery gauze. When the honeymoon was past, all declared that no more modest, sensible and pretty woman had ever come among them, while they wondered where Jeannod could have met and won so lovely and so good a wife.

In her new home, the fairy lady seemed to be happy every hour. Days sped into weeks, and months into years, in the routine of household and village life. What with her flowers and her cuckoo clock, and her carved wooden spoons, and her well set table, and a flower garden, and vines on the house wall, that surpassed all her neighbors, her bee hives and dove cote, the home of Jeannod and Silver Wreath was a place of beauty and joy. She was at once the delight and envy of all the village brides and wives. The blossoming plants seemed to thrive and grow more beautiful, because she loved them so. On her dainty, well spread table, were set the richest cream, the most transparent and delicious honey, and the whitest rolls. Her cheese surpassed in taste everything made by the men in the summer high pastures, who came back in the late September autumn, bringing their cheeses, which, since June, they had made in the chalets. In the chateau of Jeannod and Silver Wreath, it seemed to be always summer, and the food had the coveted June flavor all the year round.

While her butter, eggs, honey, milk and cream were the best, no one knew where she got such wonderful cheese, which excelled all. This was on the table, at every meal, and all the year round, from New Year’s Day to Christmas Eve, and during the holidays. Her husband was not very curious and did not ask questions. So long as he had plenty to eat, he was satisfied, for he had a good appetite and he loved his fairy wife very dearly, and liked to look at her often with sincere affection.

While food was plenty, Jeannod always remembered the promise he had made and kept his good table manners. He never caused his sweet and loving mate to scold, or even to frown. Because of his active life, hunger was the best sauce to sharpen appetite. Yet he always left a large part of the cheese uncut, for good manners. Even when returning from a chamois hunt hungry enough—so he laughingly declared—to swallow a cow, with its horns and tail, he kept at once his promise and his politeness to his sweet wife.

But in one year, when midwinter came, the cold was so severe, the storms so much more frequent and the avalanches so much bigger and more destructive than usual, that the roads were covered, so as to hide even the great landmarks out of sight. Then hunting was impossible. The wind was so tempestuous, that the strongest men kept indoors. Apart from what his wife provided, Jeannod could bring little to the table. In such terrible weather, Jeannod, unable to use his rifle, could not provide meat, and even Silver Wreath could furnish only cheese. In such a case, the husband was often ravenously hungry, and an empty stomach who can bear very long? Even when wolves and lions become tame and helpless, through hunger, what strong man does not become weak?

One day, after trying many hours, to track a chamois, and get within range of it, with his rifle, Jeannod came back empty, and very low in his mind. He was so fiercely hungry, that he threw down his hat and forgot, not only what the edelweiss and Alpine rose had taught him, but even what he had promised.

When he opened the door, into the larder, he saw that there was nothing there, but a strip of cheese, left over, from the last meal. Indeed it was hardly more than a rind. Thinking of nothing, but to satisfy his gnawing hunger, he seized and bit into it.

At that moment, Silver Wreath, his wife, entered the house. She saw him with the cheese in his hand, and cried out:

“Oh, my beloved, remember your promise that you would always keep a slice of cheese. Please do wait until midnight; and, at breakfast time, I promise you, you shall have all you want of the best; but now, please, please, leave even a small piece over.”

But the hungry and tired man was too obstinate to listen. From a thinking being, he had become a ravening beast. He gobbled up the last fragment.

No sooner had he swallowed the morsel, than his fairy wife cried out, “You’ve broken your promise and the rule of good manners in the fairy world. I cannot live with a glutton and promise-breaker. I must return to my mountains and fellow-fairies.”

Thereupon, all her clothing fell off. Her cap and comb, and her shoes, stockings and her pretty garments, one by one, dropped on the floor. In a moment more, her former filmy blue and pink robes covered her, while, from her back, grew out a pair of wings, like a butterfly’s, but larger, and mist-like. Waving a good-bye, she flew out of the door, which opened of its own accord. Soon, on the lofty mountain heights, she rejoined her fairy family, while the hunter-husband was left alone in misery and hunger, and, worse than all, with an accusing conscience.