Swiss Fairy Tales




Sometimes judges and lawyers advise people, that have a quarrel, to settle their case outside of court. When a person thus decides between two, who are not agreed, we say that they are judicially minded. Now there was once, in Switzerland, an avalanche, that did what peacemakers and honest judges could not accomplish. So it was called the Judicial Avalanche.

Now, in the path of this avalanche, as it began to roll, was a rounded rock, called the Pagoda Curve. This was because it had a turn up and backward, like a sleigh runner. At a distance, it looked like one of the roofs, which they build in Peking, Soochow, and other Chinese cities. Once in a while, the ladies of the village on the slope below held tea parties on it, drinking out of egg shell china cups. Then the maidens pretended they had little feet, and ate candied ginger, and stuck pear blossoms in their hair. On their part, the boys wore pigtails of horsehair, behind their caps and shot off fire crackers, to make believe they were Chinese mandarins of the old style.

One summer’s day, this tremendous avalanche came rolling and thundering down the mountain side, and Pagoda Curve was directly in its path. When it struck this rounded rock, there was not enough of the bulge or re-curve, to stop the avalanche, but only to give an upward joust, or bounce, toward the sky. Then the big ball which, for a moment, was poised high in air, hung directly over the houses, five hundred feet below.

This dorf, or village, had a name, which, in English, means Tell’s Apple. Most of the houses stood on a flat place, among the mountains which rose round about it, like sentinels in ice-armor. The people who built it, long ago, were great admirers of the famous archer, who shot the apple off his little son’s head. The place where they kept the pig pens was named Gessler, after the cruel governor.

Now in this place, and just at this time, there was a very ugly and dilapidated old house of worship, which had been erected several hundred years before, and was now almost ready to tumble to pieces.

For a long time, the question, of tearing down the old church and erecting in its place a new one, in modern style, had so vexed the community, that a disgraceful squabble had broken out. The people of one party would not speak to, or have anything to do with, those of the other way of thinking; and all on account of this old building. The young people were hot for a new edifice. They hoped to get an architect from Zurich, who had gone from their village, and had his plans all ready, which the young ladies all said were “just lovely.”

Against these, the old folks held to the idea of keeping the holy house yet a while longer. The aged people were especially anxious that the venerable tower should not be touched, but be kept; and they even wanted to give it a new coat of paint, for which, of course, the younger party would not vote.

On this very afternoon, the choir had gathered to practice to sing the hymns for Sunday. The organist had put his foot on the pedals and struck the keys, and the soprano had just opened her mouth, when down thundered the avalanche!

This was far worse, than when a June bug had once flown into her mouth—as had happened on a Sunday night, a few weeks before. She stopped and the tenor’s face turned white, as if the crack of doom had been heard.

It simply knocked over the old tower

It simply knocked over the old tower

The sexton was outside, sitting on the steps smoking his pipe, when a lump of ice knocked the pipe out of his mouth, scattering fire and tobacco, down into his vest bosom and over his best trousers. Then followed a crash, as stone and brick, and the lightning rod, fell on the paving stones of the street.

All thought the world had come to an end, but when they lifted up their eyes to note the damage, they all declared that this was the most obliging and considerate avalanche, that had ever visited that region. It simply knocked over the old tower, and enough of the church walls to compel rebuilding.

The mighty mass rolled past one corner of the village, upsetting a farmer’s barn, but doing no further hurt or damage, except to a bob-tailed cat of vicious character.

This animal had fought with many dogs, and one, that it had scratched pretty badly, had bitten off its tail, so short, that even a rabbit would be ashamed of the measly tuft, left on the end, for, only what looked like a furry plug was visible.

Now this old puss, known as “Stumpy,” was just that minute about to sneak up to a bird box, in which were four very hungry little birdies. The mother bird was out, seeking worms for her little folks’ dinner.

Stumpy was just about to thrust in one of its front paws, through the little round hole, in the bird box, hoping to claw and drag out the four squabs, one by one, and eat them all up; when down came the edge of the avalanche, like ten billion of bricks. It just grazed the bird box, without doing any harm, or hurting the young ones inside, but it flattened out that puss, so that it crawled away alive, but limping, and meowing most piteously, and with one ear ground off by a bit of sharp ice. The mother bird, returning at this moment, seeing the cat, danced around and chirped out what sounded like the Japanese “aru beki” (served you right).

The avalanche was last seen, when rolling down the valley in the direction of the vineyards, apparently with the fell purpose of overwhelming them all in one common ruin. But, on its way, it struck again, right in the face, of an outjutting rock, on the side of a mountain, which made it roll around in another direction.

As for the church question, that was settled. There must be a new building and there was one soon, which, when finished, toned up the whole dorf. At a later meeting, one frivolous youth proposed a resolution of thanks to the avalanche, but this was voted down. Then the pertinacious fellow brought in a proposition to give thanks for the special Providence, that had opened the way to peace in the church. This was carried by a majority vote, all the young people being on the affirmative side.

The way that judicial avalanche behaved, was a scandal among the Frost Giants. The old style had been to toss donkeys, and their drivers, down within glacier crevices, into cold storage, a thousand feet deep; to crush houses, kill cattle, and bury more people in one day than the undertakers could put into coffins in a month. Besides this, old fashioned avalanches used to lay waste orchards, and fruitful fields, and spoil vineyards.

The conduct of this avalanche, which seemed bent on settling quarrels, was more like that of a nun, a monk, a parson, or an old grandmother. It happened to be about the time that the great Napoleon was upsetting the world like a political avalanche, and the Empress Josephine was covering up the red arms of peasant girls, now wives of generals, with long white kid gloves reaching up to the arm pits.

Now, in a certain house in the dorf, an old fashioned mother was scolding her frivolous young daughter, named Angelette, for aping Paris and Napoleonic fashions. She remarked that things had come to a pretty pass, when a young snip of a girl needed the leather of a whole goat to clothe her arms. Daddy had also joined in the conversation, but only to lose his temper. In his gestures, the cover of his pipe dropped off, spilling the hot ashes all over his daughter’s low-necked frock. The sparks made her jump, besides reddening the skin of her neck, even more than her arms.

The girl Angelette was dressing for the evening dance, on the green, and was quite put out by the accident. In fact, the old man had seized the tip of Angelette’s middle finger of her glove and had pulled off the half yard or more of white kid, when the avalanche flew past. It flung a bit of rock, like the bolt of a catapult, right through the window, sending the glove, all muddy and torn, out of the other.

Thinking his last day had come, the old daddy fell on his knees to pray, but he was quickly awakened to his senses, by hearing a regular concert in the barn yard. Outside, the donkeys were braying, the horses neighing, the roosters crowing, the geese cackling, the hens clucking, and the dogs barking—and all in joy. As for the old billy goat, he stood up on his hind legs and cut up such capers, that the whole family of kids began to imitate him by frisking in a circle.

Where, a minute or two before, had been ominous stillness, there had come, in the twinkling of an eye, a salvo of rejoicing in the animal world. It was as if the boarders in Noah’s ark had been let loose and were having a concert. It’s a way the animals have, of showing their joy, with a kind of music, all their own, which they can make, when the danger they feared is over and deliverance has come.

There was also a bride, the daughter of the richest man in the dorf, who was dressing for her wedding. All the other girls of her set were collecting their old shoes and handfuls of rice, ready to fling after the young couple’s carriage for good luck.

The bride’s kid boots, ordered from Paris, had cost fourteen dollars. The mail wagon having arrived, with the letters and the salt, at the Post Office, had just stopped in front of the bride’s house and handed out the long waited package. The servant maid was bringing the lovely white buttoned shoes upstairs, when, along and downward, thundered the avalanche. According to a way that avalanches have, this one flung off, at the sides, stones, rocks, gravel, ice and mud. Now, like cannon balls in a bombardment, one mass of wet snow, not quite so big as a fat elephant, struck the maid. It knocked her heels over head, sent her slippers flying, and her feet in the air, until one could see the color of her stockings, from toe to knees. As for the box from Paris, it was shot, as out of a gun, into the pig pen. The bride screamed, but nobody was hurt, and the maid quickly smoothed out her hair and dress, put on her slippers, and she was soon presentable.

It was weeks after the honeymoon, and return of the couple, that, after searching up hill and down dale, the remains of what were once a pair of white kid boots from Paris, were found in the black mire, among the pigs. Not knowing what it was, the porkers had crushed it under their hoofs. After trial with their teeth, unable to eat it, or its not tasting nice, the pigs thought it was not worth a turnip. One piggy, without chewing, had actually attempted to swallow it. Not finding it suited to a hog’s diet, the animal had dropped it with a grunt, and trampled on it. When fished out with the long handled pitchfork, it was recognized as a Paris shoe, by the two white buttons, which had escaped the blackening of the mire.

By this time the proceedings of this avalanche, which had started out to settle quarrels, had become positively frivolous. Wabbling about, here and there, reeling like a man with a quart of brandy in his stomach, the mighty ball rolled down the long road, leading into a larger village.

“Now,” fancied the Frost Giants, that were watching from aloft, “it surely will uphold the reputation of the family and act like other avalanches, in turning villages into cemeteries, and farms and vineyards into deserts.” Vain thought!

This lively chit of an avalanche followed the road, far enough to tumble, flat into the ditch, some drunken fellows, who had just come out of the gin house, and were staggering homewards. It was like ironing out clothes, to see the way that avalanche flattened out those topers. It left them for hours on the roadside, faces downwards, and sleeping off their debauch. When they woke up, as out of a cold bath, they shook off the snow and trudged homeward, only to get, from their sharp-tongued wives, the scoldings they richly deserved.

Many another adventure did that judicial avalanche have, before it had scudded past other villages, but hurting next to nothing, avoiding forests, farmhouses and vineyards, until it reached a glacier, over which it rolled.

Scratching, cracking, dropping out dirty stuff, rock and gravel, it acted like a dredge box. It sprinkled out its contents, to fill up the great deep green crevasses in the ice, until it finally reached a big open space of waste land, that had nothing on it, but rocks and bushes. Then, with a roar, as if laughing at itself, it broke up, spread open, and left the place strewn with more rocks and stones and lumps of ice.

Then a troop of fairies came riding on the hot, dry, south wind. They blew, with their breath, on the snow mass, and quickly melted it into the river, so fast, indeed, that men wondered at the high water in the distant lakes and the rivers in France. In lovely Switzerland, new soil was made, where today are farms and vineyards. In time, billions of purple clusters are plucked, and willing tourists are happy, in taking the grape cure; while they walk over the place where once, a judicially minded avalanche had laughed so hard, that it burst.