Swiss Fairy Tales




In that part of the Swiss Republic, called the Grisons, there is a sharp mountain, thin and round, like a horn. Because it is red, its name has always been Rothhorn, or Red Peak.

In one of the towns near by, lived a proud man, named Gruntli, who scouted the idea of there being any fairies, or Santa Claus. To his view, there was no intelligence, or virtue, in dumb brutes. He did not believe in anything but what he could see, taste, smell, hear, or handle with his ten fingers. This was what he called “science.”

This old fellow, Gruntli, boasted of being “a man of science.” He considered that everything belonging to religion was superstition. Mule drivers, cow milkers, cheese makers, and such folk, whom he called “the ignorant common people,” might have faith in such things, but not he.

Gruntli was rich. He had a large house, with one room full of books, but not one of these contained any poetry, or stories, or novels, or romances. He sneered at anybody who said they believed in Santa Claus, and he openly insulted people who loved to think that William Tell, their national hero, ever lived. As for the exploits of Joan of Arc, or of Arnold of Winkelried, he used to say that what was told of them was only the same as nursery stories.

Nobody loved Gruntli, for he was a hard master with his servants. Though he called himself “a man of science,” and sneered at the village folks, when they went to church on Sunday, he did nothing to help the poor people of the valley.

Part of the wealth, of this hard-hearted man, consisted in mules, of which he had twenty or more. These were sumpters, or pack animals, that carried the milk, butter, cheese, and produce of the valley, to be sold in the nearest large city, and to bring back what was needed.

Gruntli’s favorite animal for the saddle was a pure-blooded white ass, which his father had given him, when a boy, so that he and the dumb brute were well acquainted with each other. Large in size and imposing in appearance, this animal was named Julius Cæsar; or, for short, “Gulick,” for that was the way the great Roman conqueror’s name was pronounced in the local dialect.

People used to say that this donkey was the only living creature for which Gruntli cared, or had any affection; or, that he even treated decently. Occasionally, his master would allow this, his favorite beast, to be ridden by his overseer, or chief clerk—a privilege on which this head man set great store. The sure-footed creature carried its rider over the most dangerous passes. It seemed almost a miracle, the way in which, along narrow ledges of rock, the ass moved as if on a well-paved road.

Gulick seemed to measure with its eye, and gauge the width necessary, even making allowance for its load, for the pack saddle, or for the knees of the rider; so that, though a dumb beast, its reputation for safety was great in all the region. Muleteers often used to scold their stubborn animals, by calling them “rabbit-eared fools,” and “not worth one hoof of Gulick,” the paragon among long eared animals.

Nevertheless, there were times, when the donkey, Gulick, showed that it had a mind of its own. Then it could be stubborn, too. But this was what men thought, and not the animal’s own opinion of itself. This usually took place, when it saw that the path ahead, or the ledge of rock, over which it was expected to pass, with a pack load, or a stout lady in the saddle, or a big fat fellow, with both legs far out and taking up the room, between the ass and the rock.

Then, no amount of scolding, yelling, bad temper, hard names, or even beating, could move the creature. The only thing to do was to get off and unload. In fact, the ass had a very poor opinion of some human beings. He even pitied them, because they had only two legs, while donkeys had four.

Not once, in all its long life, did Gulick lose its way, slip, fall down, or have an accident. In fact, its master could go to sleep, while riding home. When, as was often the case, the man was too full of strong wine, to sit up straight, this was a good thing; for a sober donkey has more brains than a drunken man.

Some people, who believed in fairies, even thought that Gulick was really a human being who, for doing something wicked, in another world, had been changed, by a fairy, into this creature with the shaggy hide, ropy tail and ears like a jack rabbit’s.

An event, that seemed to furnish a fresh foundation for the common belief, took place near the village of Plurs. Then, the general idea, that a man had, somehow, got into an ass’s skin, was confirmed.

One night, Gruntli’s overseer was returning from Zurich. He reached the village of Plurs, late at night. There, the wine being good and the stabling cheap, he expected to make his stay, until next morning. So, stepping into the wine room, and calling for the hostler, he sat down before the table, thinking that all was right, according to the usual way of beasts and man, until morning.

But when the stable boy went outdoors, he found the line of mules was some distance up the road, and that Gulick was leading them.

Running after the train, he brought the animals back, to the inn; but when, for a moment, being at the end of the line, he left the beasts, to open the stable door, off trotted Gulick and all the donkeys after their leader.

So the boy had another run and was in very bad temper. He seized the bridle of Gulick, and gave such a jerk, in his anger, that he nearly broke the strap, and pained the animal’s jaw.

Nevertheless, for a third time, the sagacious beast ran away. When the stable boy, out of patience, rushed into the wine room, and told the overseer of the strange behavior of his donkey, Gulick, the man had sense enough to follow the mule train.

Well for him and his master, that he did so, for, when hearing a frightful noise, he looked behind him, from the top of the hill, he saw a landslide, from the mountain flank, wipe out the whole town, leaving the houses, people and cattle buried under one white pall of earth, rock and snow.

After this, one would suppose that the owner of Gulick would fully trust the animal’s wonderful instinct and unerring vision, as well as his sure footedness.

But this man, Gruntli was, as he called himself, “too much of a man of science” to consider such an affair, as that of Gulick and the landslide, as anything but an accident, a coincidence, or, as an example of “the doctrine of averages.”

Wishing, however, to see the ruin wrought by the landslide, he mounted Gulick, clapped his ankles against the animal’s sides, and was off. Gruntli wore spurs, more for show than for use, for Gulick instantly obeyed the pull of his master’s bridle, or the clap of his foot, and never was known to need urging. So there never had been any blood on the points of Gruntli’s spurs.

But this day, the master was in very bad humor, because seven of his houses, which he owned in the village, were now destroyed. Much of his income was thus lost, for he could no longer collect rents from the people who had been his tenants.

Now, as they were jogging along, and approached near the scene of yesterday’s horror, the ass suddenly stopped with a jerk, that threw its master forward, and nearly off the saddle.

There, in front of the animal in the middle of the road, stood an angel holding a naked sword. Of course, Gruntli could not see anything, for his soul had nearly shriveled up, and Gulick had never before met such a being. Yet the ass, even though it was a dumb brute, had enough sense to know that it dare not, and ought not, to rush up against the apparition, whatever it might be. Had it been rock, stone, ice, a mountain path, a chamois, or anything usual, the Swiss donkey would have known what to do. But before such an unusual sight, Gulick stood still.

As for Gruntli, he, being a self-styled “man of science,” without any faith, and very little imagination, could see nothing. So, when Gulick, to get out of the way, turned aside and out of the road, to make its way through the field, Gruntli, getting very angry, beat the animal and in his bad temper, even laid on several blows with his whip handle.

At this unusual action of his master, the ass was so surprised, that he actually stopped. He turned round, gave a rebuking glance at Gruntli, and then tried to go on, but in vain.

Then the man, in a worse temper than ever, not only beat the dumb brute again, but he drove his spurs into the sides of the faithful beast, until little drops of blood dropped on the ground.

At this, even patient Gulick lost his donkey temper, and lifting one of his hind legs tried to kick the man’s heels.

This enraged Gruntli still further, and he cried out:

“You stupid beast! If you want to climb up into the saddle and ride yourself, I’ll jump off.”

Then he clutched his whip more tightly, expecting to get down and thrash the animal with all his strength.

But Gulick moved on, the road narrowing down, between rocks, as many bridle paths in Switzerland do. Yet no sooner had the intelligent beast entered into the shadow, than again a shining angel appeared in the path in front of them, but this time in a threatening manner, and waving his glittering sword.

Startled at the sight, the ass again stopped, hoping its master would treat his own beast more kindly and see what was the matter.

But angry men are nearly always blind, and sometimes half insane, or even wholly so. Gruntli once more drove his already bloody spurs into Gulick’s side.

At this, stung with pain, and fearing to rush against the angel, the beast dashed sideways against the rocky wall.

Maddened, almost to insanity, at this action, and smarting with a crushed ankle, Gruntli beat the ass with repeated and cruel blows.

In spite of such inhuman treatment, and even more awed by the apparition, than by the agony it was suffering, the ass lay down flat under its rider, though without hurting him. It turned its head around and looked at him, as if in stern rebuke, at this treating an old friend, that had ever served faithfully.

Unmoved by the beseeching look in the eyes of what had been his pet, since childhood, Gruntli, in a fresh fury of rage, bellowed out:

“I just wish I had a sword to kill you,” and he rained blow upon blow on his faithful brute.

Then he jumped off the saddle, and, leaving Gulick in the rocky path, walked forward a few rods. All the time he was wondering what had so disturbed and checked the brute.

One look, as he turned away to the brow of the mountain, revealed to him a scene of frightful desolation. Rocks, gravel, ice, snow, and general débris, covered what had been his seven houses, and tenants and their cattle. Looking up, he noticed that the face of the mountain, whence the mass of earth had slipped down, was greatly changed in form.

Nevertheless, the landslide, for so it was, had opened a view, impossible before, of a rich pasture, where many kine were grazing. Looking intently at a cow that, having filled its stomach with grass, was about to lie down, Gruntli noticed that, before doing so, the dumb animal fell, first, on its front knees.

“Now I see that I am a fool,” he cried, as he beat upon his breast. “That cow has more religion than I, for it kneels before it lies down; while, before tumbling into bed, my knee has been unbent, this many a year.”

Then going back, he patted the neck of his faithful Gulick, washed off the blood stains, threw his spurs away, and spoke so kindly to the ass, that it rose up, and actually began frisking around. Then it sidled up close to Gruntli, and seemed to invite him to get on its back again.

This the man did, and, riding to where the village had been, organized a corps of relief to help the wounded and hungry, who were left alive, and he paid for medicines out of his own purse. Then he built new and better houses for his tenants, the survivors, and for those who came from other parts of the Swiss country.

And when later, a devout worshipper in church and helper of his fellow men, Gruntli cared for and fed his ass Gulick, in a comfortable stable, until at last the beast died at a good old age.

The pastor of the rebuilt village came one day, and asked Gruntli to tell the story of his great change and the reason of it. Then the man made answer as follows:

“When it came to pass that an ass could see an angel before I, a man of science, could discern, or hear him, I thought it time to believe. So I at once exchanged science, so called, for faith, as a little child, and, my pride of knowledge for help to my fellow men.”