Swiss Fairy Tales




Once upon a time, the fairies that live up near the mountain tops got together, and one said to another:

“Let us go travelling.”

“We’ll go as far as Geneva,” said another.

“Agreed,” they all shouted in chorus. “It will be like going from the North Pole to the Spice Islands. We can see all sorts of landscapes and go through many climates, before we get to Geneva. So let us all begin our journey today!”

It was not at all strange, that they should all start off at once. The fairies had no laundry to get home in time, nor new clothes to have made and fitted, nor trunks to pack, nor expressmen to bother with. There were no tickets to be bought, or reserved seats in the cars to look after, or handbags to carry, or telegrams to send, or letters to write. Neither did they fume or fret, because the taxicab man did not arrive on the split second. They had no watches to wind up, or to look at, lest they might miss the train, nor hunting cases to snap, nor sandwiches to carry, in case there were no buffet or dining cars. No! Happily for them, all they had to do was to jump on their ice-chairs at once, and be off.

Now let us ask what was their palace car, in which they were to journey, from the top of Mont Blanc to the Rhone river, and over Lake Leman and thence by ship to Geneva the Beautiful?

It was nothing less than a glacier, twenty miles long and two miles wide. This car, made of white snow and ice crystal, moves, as everybody knows, steadily along, and down, from mountain top to the valley. It does not fly as fast indeed as the Empire State lightning express. Yet it starts on time, and is sure to arrive at its terminal. It takes only about a thousand years, from the mountain’s tip top to the down below, or from snow flake to Rhone river.

When motion was begun, by the fairies in the air, several hundred of them caught, each, a snow flake at the summit, and rode on it from the clouds to the ground, until enough had fallen from the sky to make up the party, which sat, all together, on a snow bank, for awhile, till the train was all ready. Then the slide downhill began.

Every day the sun would tickle the ice mass and melt it, so it had to move on. Then, for the fairies, it was like coasting on a bob sled, and they were as merry as if they were on a toboggan. So they mightily enjoyed the fun. The fairies did not have to sit on a narrow line, or hold on tight, lest they might fall off, bump against a post, or hit a tree, or a rock.

On the contrary, it was more like going on board a big ship, or promenading on the deck of an ocean liner. They played ball, and hockey, and shuffle board, and danced and waltzed, and had guessing and finger games, and leap frog for exercise. They sat in the cabins, which were crystal ice caverns. They played hide and seek in the crevices, and blindman’s buff among the ice ridges. They leaped merrily over the hammocks, and they bathed and swam in the ponds of water, which the sun melted every day toward noon. In the baths, which lasted several hours, they sported around like a lot of mermaids.

In this way, they so amused themselves, that they forgot or did not care to remember the passing months, or years, or centuries. They were travelling for fun, and had no business or social engagements to attend to, or guide books, to tell where they were going. So they were in no hurry, for the glacier only moved at the rate of half an inch an hour, or a few miles in a century. What cared they for rapid transit? There were no strikes or delay, no subway or tunnel rules, no hustler to make you “step lively,” and shut the car door on you, or tell you to “let ’em out,” or “watch your steps.” No policeman on foot, or motorcycle, to overtake and arrest you for speeding! It was all pure fun.

The fairies had a watcher, who sat on an ice pinnacle, like a man in the foretop of an ocean steamer. He it was, who announced anything new in the weather, or the country, or landscape through which they passed. Then, also, a lecturer came aboard, every ten or twenty years, to explain the history and point out the wonderful things along the route, or what had happened, at this or that place.

These wise prompters were also expected to tell what famous trees or flowers lived, along the route, and in the various climates. Without a telescope, they could see little moving specks, looking like flies, or fleas, high up on the eternal snows. These were human beings, who had either, like wild flowers, escaped cultivation; or, perhaps, had fled from prison, or lunatic asylums, and were bound to get up to the mountain tops, as if their keepers were after them with guns. Occasionally an electric railroad, with snorting locomotive, on a track and pinion system of cog-wheels, with central rail, carried the passengers, fat or thin, who could not climb, or who were sane, or, it might be, lazy.

Occasionally, in rambling through the ice halls, the fairies could discern, embedded in the crystal walls, black spots. Asking whether these were flies in amber, such as they had heard of, they were told that these specks were mortals, men and women, mountain climbers, who had fallen down precipices, or upon the ice, or slipped into crevices. Having ended their lives thus, they were kept in the crystal for years, until their bodies were shot out on the moraines, or washed down the rivers. Sometimes the fairies found bits of rope and alpenstocks. They even learned to tell the difference between blondes and brunettes.

Often some of the fairies wondered how it would feel to be born as a baby, and drink milk, and eat candy, and first crawl over the floor, and then walk and grow up to be a man or a woman. They could only guess vaguely what it was to die. For that is the curious thing about fairies, they cannot die, because they were never born. They do not have to grow like human babies, or big elephants, or little kangaroos, or be hatched out of eggs, like chickens, or wriggle in the ponds, or swim in the water like frogs, or fishes, or whales, or porpoises. Once in a while, some fairy thought she would like to try it, just once, to live and die, just to see how it felt, but the other fairies, who did not admire her taste, only laughed at her.

As a rule, these passengers on the glacier did not pay close attention to such matters. They were not much interested in mortals, but more in themselves, for they considered boys and girls, and men and women, to be very inferior creatures. They gave more attention to what they saw, as they traveled through the country, changing climate every few thousand feet and every century or so.

At first, all was snow, ice and rocks, with no birds, shrubs, or trees, or flowers, and not even moss. Indeed, some of them grumbled and declared they would not have left home, if they thought they were to see nothing more than mere human beings. But very soon, that is, after a few years, ten or twenty, perhaps, their ice chariot or train had carried them past this old scenery.

Now they began to see mosses and lichens, and occasionally a condor, or Alpine eagle, on a crag, eating his dinner—perhaps a young lamb, or a rabbit, or a marmot, or a chamois kid, or something from a cow’s carcass, which the big bird of prey had stolen from some butcher’s slaughter house. This was the first sign of that uncanny thing they called life; which, inside of mortals and other animals, makes them move about.

It was a stunning novelty, when the conductor called out the name of a new station:


Then they saw, overhanging the rocks, or near the edges of the precipices, or in the crevices and crannies of the cliffs, what they called flowers. Yet to us folks, who live in the house and nursery, these plants, so bundled up in white, hardly seemed to be flowers. They rather looked like babies, ready to be taken out to ride, for they were well swaddled in what appeared to be fur or flannel. In fact, their flowers, so called, were so woolly, and cushiony, and flat, and low, and they kept holding on so hard, as if for dear life, in the biting cold wind, that they looked bleak and ghostly. Some of these Alpine flowers were as downy as a duckling, and as hairy as a poodle. But this was to keep the plants warm. For life is warm. Death is cold.

Even more wonderful, to most of these fairies, that had lived so long up among the highest mountain tops, and had never been lower down than eight thousand feet or so, was another lovely sight—that of green meadows, spangled with blooms. It was that of the summer pastures.

Now they began to hear the tinkling of bells and saw many cows. They laughed uproariously, as they saw that the billy goats waved their chin beards, up and down, and stood on their hind legs. On the roofs of the shepherds’ chalets, they noticed the big stones. These were laid in rows, to keep down the strips of bark or shingles, when the tempests roared. While they were wondering how funny it must feel, to be a boy or a girl, and live in a skin, with clothes on, they heard the Alpine horn. While listening to its sweet echoes, some of the fairies actually began to think that perhaps, after all, mortals might have a good time, and, possibly, as much enjoyment as fairies do, and always have had. Most of them, however, scouted the very idea.

A real epidemic of rapture broke out and went through the fairies, like measles among children, when they looked upon still greener meadows rich in grass, which were spangled with flowers and these of the loveliest hues, deep red, scarlet, crimson, pink, violet, blue and yellow. They saw the Alpine Poa, which the cows love so dearly.

When the lecturer described its kangaroo-like mothers and babies of this family of plants, the fairies laughed, so loud and merrily, that some of the shepherds thought that a swift horse, with a strap of silver sleigh bells, around its neck, was galloping over the ice.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all was the sight of trees, which those fairies who had never traveled, had not seen before. In one country, that is, on one level, they found only pines and firs, which rocked in the wind.

Several of the fairies jumped off the train, to pick up a handful of pine needles from the ground, and to play cradle-swinging in the tree branches. They were not afraid of being left behind, by the train rushing past them; for, after playing two or three years under the trees, these passengers jumped on again, and showed handfuls of the curious things that had fallen off the trees, and covered the ground like a brown carpet. Then there were many exclamations of wonder among those that had kept on the train.

Lower down, in another climate, or country, or level, they found forests of oak, birch, and maple. Yet they could not get any sweets out of this Swiss tree, for these fairies did not live in America, where the sugar maple grows.

Every once in a while, the fairy that was the conductor would get out and consult the thermometer. Then, with an air of great wisdom, like an owl, or grand daddy, it was announced that tomorrow—that is, a year, or two, from that date—they would come into a new climate, and to such and such a level, or place, so many feet above sea. Then they would see this and that sort of thing, such as houses, church spires, cheese factories, etc.

At last, having used up their old calendar, through centuries, and into and out of many climates, they found that their palace car train had itself greatly changed within. In one place, where the mountain sides came close together, the road narrowed. Then the rate of movement slackened, so that the ice forming the train was all squeezed up high, and curled, and twisted up, like tooth-paste pressed out of a tube. The glacier was cracked and fissured in every direction.

Some of the fairies had feared, lest their train should run off the track, and bump into a hill, and a wreck follow; but the conductor assured them all was perfectly safe, and that no accidents ever happened on that line. One fairy tried to quote Latin, having once heard a parson say it, in his sermon. In attempting to say Deo Volente, she got it Dic Volente. So the knowing ones nicknamed this member of their family “Dick,” and one, who was very irreverent, called her “Slippery Dick.” She did not like a boy’s name, but she could not help herself.

Dick warned them that they were near the end of the first part of their journey and that the train would stop, when at the level of five thousand feet. Then the temperature would be so high, that they must all be prepared to jump overboard and swim.

At this bit of news, all the family laughed. They said they were glad, for already the palace cars had got so wet with the thaw, inside, that the ceiling dripped on them continually, the seats were slippery, and fast melting away, while as for the floor, it was only a puddle, most of the time. It was a case of watering stock. After all, however, the fairies did not mind it much, and they were only in fun, when they pretended to grumble.

At last, the train, after having made a quick passage of a thousand years, or thereabouts, arrived at its terminal. Then it gradually melted away, becoming a noisy and very muddy river. One after another, the fairies turned themselves into water, and slid out into the stream, rolling about until they reached the beautiful Lake Leman, at the end of which was Geneva. Here they expected to pay a brief visit, of four or five hundred years, before returning home to the mountain tops.

When they arrived at the entrance of the lake, and were well into the deep water, the fairies found waiting for them one of the prettiest craft that ever floated. It was a galley, of strange shape, with a high deck at the bow and the stern. There was plenty of room in the middle for the fairies to play and dance. With their pretty butterfly wings, and lovely gauzy robes, of every tint and hue, they looked so sweet!

On the prow of the ship stood their Queen, who ruled over the lowlands and lake waters, and was captain of this fairy vessel. The smallest of the fairies were continually flitting round the queen, dropping flowers and fruits, and filling the air with perfumes. The vessel had sails of the shape called lateen, or leg-of-mutton. These were made of embroidered silk and cloth of gold. For even more rapid movement, several snow white swans, swift of feet and bright of eye, were harnessed, with silver chains, to the front part, called the cut-water. These drew the ship along gracefully, all the time singing in chorus the sweetest songs imaginable. Accompanying this music was a large golden harp, set in front of the mast, and this, whispered to by the winds, made, with the swans’ songs, the most delicious melody all day long.

Some of the fairies remembered the echo music of the Alpine horn, sent back by the lofty mountain peaks; which, however, lasted but a few seconds. Yet this lake melody continued from sunrise to sunset.

Whenever the Fairy Ship touched the shore, the ground, no matter how hard and stony it had been, at once became soft with soil. Then, grasses, and flowers, grain farms and orchards, and trees rich in luscious fruits, sprang up. Every boy and girl, always on the lookout, and adults, who were so fortunate as to catch a glimpse of the Fairy Ship, would make a wish in their hearts, which was sure to be gratified. They got what they wanted, though often in fairy time, that is, years afterwards.

For years and years, the Fairy Ship plied up and down the lovely blue lake, stopping here and there. A moonlight night was the best time for catching a glimpse of it. Many old folks, still living, like to tell about the craft of good fortune, and also what they then wished for, when they were so happy as to see it coming, or sailing past them.

But bye and bye, when the black smoke of steamboats poisoned the air, and set the fairies sneezing and coughing, and roughened the throats of the swans, so that they could not sing any more, the Fairy Queen gave up her pleasure trips on the lake and ordered the snow fairies back to their mountains.

But, first, the mountain fairies had their visit to Geneva, where they saw the pretty shops and streets, and there these fairies still live, in the hearts of the children. Although nobody ever sees them nowadays, the old folks love to talk about them, and tell of the lovely times they had when children.

It is certain that the fairies left their blessing behind them, for to this day, on the great Genevan holiday, in the confectionery shops, on birthday greetings, and on Christmas and New Year’s cards, you may see a picture of the Fairy Ship, with its brightly colored lateen sails, inscribed with “Good Luck,” or “Happy New Year,” or “Many Joyful Returns of the Day.” Sometimes, they who receive these cards feel as happy as if they had seen the Fairy Ship.