Swiss Fairy Tales




Many people think Switzerland the most beautiful country on earth. It is certainly the world’s playground. Every year, many hundreds of thousands of persons from various countries, go there to spend either the winter or the summer. They come to enjoy the good sleep that comes from the bracing air, to climb the high peaks, to see the flowers, to hear the echoes of the Alpine horn, to ride over the mountain roads, or to be whisked up, on electric railways, to summits among the clouds. With most of the tourists, the effect of the sharp atmosphere is to whet their appetites, even more than their wits; but perhaps this is what they seek.

The sick and the well alike get vast benefit. They think it great fun to find so much ice and snow, and also so much sunshine, as if winter and summer liked to play together. In February, hardy and strong people enjoy sledding and sliding, besides skis and skittles, and many other merry sports. Children go out on sleds, with almost nothing on them, to enjoy the air baths.

Yet Switzerland was not always a flowery playground, rich in splendid hotels, where the boarders’ bills catch the spirit of the place and become mountain climbers. For ages, it was a sort of North Pole, set in the middle of Europe, frozen in, tight and fast, and with mountains of snow and rivers of ice, where no animals could live. In this age, everything was white. Then there were no animals, men, women, children or babies; no flowers, no birds, no fish; no farms, no vineyards, but only dreadful cold, all the year round, and for millions of years.

Then the frost giants ruled a land forever white with snow, that never melted, and their king sat on the top of a solid mountain of ice. These frost giants would not allow anything alive to come near them. They made it the law that, whatever had eyes or nose, feet or hands, or paws or wings, should be instantly frozen to death, and their solid carcasses packed away in a refrigerator, a million years old.

The queen of the fairies, that lived down in the warm meadows, felt sorry that so fine a place should have nothing in it that was alive, or had any color, red, pink, blue, or yellow, violet or green. She believed that the land could be conquered from the frost giants and made a country in which boys and girls could play and pick flowers.

It might, indeed, take several millions of years to melt the ice and cover the ground with flowery meadows. But what was that? Because fairies never care anything about days, months or years. They never grow old and do not use almanacs, because not dwelling in bodies like ours, and never having lived like us mortals, they do not get sick or have any funerals or cemeteries. They are saved all expenses of being buried, for they do not have any graves. There are no doctors, or undertakers, in fairy land, even though the immortelle flowers bloom everywhere. It seems to be that because some are wiser than others that they may be called old, or mothers, aunts or grandmothers.

To carry out her purpose, the fairy queen made a friend of the sun and asked his help. This, Old Sol, as the fairies called him, was very glad to give; because he had rescued other parts of the world from the ice-kings and made many lands bright and beautiful. He thought that the monarch of the frost world and his white giants had reigned long enough, in Switzerland. Besides, Old Sol wanted to show that he had not yet done his best work. It is true that he had made other lands look lovely, changing them from barren rocks and sand, to fruitful fields, groves and gardens, rich in wheat and corn, fruit trees and berry bushes, besides peaches and apples and pears, roses and lilies.

Old Sol declared that, with the aid of the fairies, he would make Switzerland the most beautiful of all countries, so that many people from foreign lands would come to see it. He would scoop out lakes, channel out rivers, smooth the face of the country, and make it lovely with pastures, rich in cows and goats, and spangled with flowers of many hues. Yes, if the fairies would promise to put enough clothes on their favorites, and wrap them up in downy undergarments, with lots of fur and wool for overcoats, he would help the prettiest flowers to climb up to the high mountains. Then he would promise to furnish heat enough, so that they could keep warm and live there. He would make it so pleasant for them, that they would never get homesick, or want to go back to their mothers in the valley below. In spite of the frost giants, the storms and winds, the tempests, and the icy breath of the giants, these flowers would bloom, and nod, and laugh at and defy all enemies.

What was even more wonderful, Old Sol promised that every flower, as it climbed higher, should have a richer color on its cheeks, so that all the world would wonder. Then, the plants, in the warmer regions lower down, should envy the brilliant faces of their sisters so high up. In fact, it was to be a beauty contest. “Nothing venture nothing have,” should be the rule. They might not grow to be so tall. Their feet might be larger, for they would need strong toes, to hold on tight to the ground, when old Boreas, the wind giant, tried his best to blow them away; but to win out, they were sure to do, in the end, and beat Jack Frost and all his army.

When the fairies were called together, and told by their queen that the Sun would be their friend and help them every day, and never tire of his good work, you ought to have seen how happy they were. They all clapped their hands, and every one, big and little, wanted to be brave and go out to fight the frost giants. Each volunteer said, “I am not afraid. The frost giants can’t freeze me.”

It was wonderful how the pretty fairies were perfectly willing to be changed into humble looking plants, that never could grow very tall, but lie quite flat on the ground, and have deep roots in the crannies. They would have to live without much society, or excitement, and spend their lives in clefts and hollows. What was hardest to bear, was, that most of them would have to live like nuns; for in the case of many of them, their beauty would never be appreciated or even seen.

Some were glad even to become plain meadow grasses. When one plump fairy was told she would become an Alpine Poa, and must carry her babies on her back, she gladly consented saying, “I am willing.”

The enthusiasm for the war became an epidemic. Some of the big fairies asked to be changed into trees—oak, maple, spruce, pine, or birch. This was hard, for those who had been regular chatterboxes would now be able only to sough in the breeze, or whisper in the winds, and they could roar only in a gale or tempest. Some even begged to be allowed to take on the form of the old-fashioned arolla, the most ancient of all the Swiss trees.

It was astonishing to note how ready, these pretty fairies were, to put off their lovely gossamer-like robes, lay aside their wings, and wear such plain clothes, as some of them must, who volunteered to be meadow and rock plants. But then, the idea of fighting the frost giants, and rescuing the land from ice and snow, had filled them all with enthusiasm. It was like patriotism among mortals. But then, they loved the children and wanted them to have a pretty playground made ready for them, so that, when babies and cradles came into the land, the flowers would be in bloom, for the little folks to pick and string around their necks.

So the queen of the fairies and her wise counsellors enrolled and equipped an army of her fairies, who had agreed to be turned into plants, for the long war against the frost giants. Of all these, Old Sol was to be the general. Heaps of fur and flannel, wool and velvet, and hair and down, were stored up, to make thick underclothes, and stout overcoats to keep warm, and all sorts of wiry stuff, for toes to grip tight and keep hold of the rocks. Then, with plenty of rich paints and dyes, to color their cheeks, the Fairy Queen summoned the volunteers to come forth.

As each name was called, and a fairy stepped out, the queen waved her wand. First, she pointed it upward, to where the stars were playing hide and seek among the snowy peaks. Then, touching each kneeling fairy, she tapped with her star-tipped wand, upon the neck of each.

Presto! What change! Eyes, nose, ears, lovely yellow, or raven black, or shining auburn hair, limbs, hands and feet and wings disappeared, in a golden mist.

When one looked again, there was, where each fairy had kneeled down, a flower. Never was the like seen before, in all the wonderful floral world, either as to the kind, or blossom, or the shape of the stalk, leaves or petals of the plants. Some hardly looked like flowers at all, while others were recognized at once, as cousins or sisters of old friends; but so dressed up, as if for an arctic journey, as scarcely to be recognized. One had a family of little folks on its back—“As hairy and furry as an Esquimaux baby,” whispered one fairy to the other.

Here was one creature, dazzlingly splendid in colors, while, alongside of her, was a little lady robed entirely in white, as if she were to be the bride of Jack Frost, and marry him in a country where the tint of ermine and ptarmigan bird was the only one in fashion.

The lowliness, of some of these new born flowers, was perhaps the most astonishing thing about them. Even when in bloom they were not over an inch in height, while their neighbors, down in the valley, were all nearly as tall as yard sticks. One group became only plain meadow grass, while their relatives seemed dressed for Fifth Avenue, or the main street of Zurich or Berne.

Although, when the fairies were turned into trees, and were, at first, hardly higher than a needle, and not one of them had a body as thick as a thimble, they at once began whispering, for it was hard to give up the old habit of talking every minute.

Of one pretty creature, shaped like a blue bell, with scalloped edges, it was noticed that she shut up her mouth, and did not say a word. At this, one wise old fairy looked up at the sky, and said, “It is certainly going to rain.” Thereupon, since flowers were so cheap, this one, they called “the poor man’s weather glass.” Another, that had a curiously shaped blossom, they named Lady’s Slipper. To still another, very reddish, tufty, and strong, they gave the title of Prince’s Feather; while an unusually pert and active one, that had a very expressive face, they christened Johnny-jump-up. This fairy had whimpered a little, at the idea of being named after a boy; but, when told she would have clothes of many colors, she was instantly happy, and welcomed her change into a flower with a face that would never need rouge, or lily white powder.

While these, thus far mentioned, were mostly valley or pasture flowers, and not expected to live very far up the mountain slopes, several others volunteered to lead what some called “the forlorn hope,” but they were too full of “pep” for that and took the name of the advance guard. These were especially equipped for fighting the cold. These were the edelweiss, the Alpine rose, and the octopetalla. They were made so frost-proof, by fur and thick clothes, that they could laugh in the very faces of the frost giants, and dare them to do their worst in trying their best to freeze them out.

Of the one, that seemed done up entirely in white flannel, and that kept its blooms in a bunch, like a rosette, everybody knows, for it was the edelweiss—proud of her name, the noble white.

Millions of fairies gathered together on the hill slopes, to see the procession start, and did not mind waiting a thousand years or so. They hung on bushes, sat on top of rocks and boulders and on the tree-branches, or stood or hovered, wherever they could get either a peep, or a good view of the fairy flower army, that was to march up to the heights and wrestle with the giants.

Some wondered how the battle would go, and if the war would ever end. Could they possibly march up the mountain sides, and hold their own, amid the blasts of winter and amid the eternal snow and ice, and win the land now covered up? Not a sign of field, or pasture, or road, or any space clear of snow, was then visible. There was nothing but ice, many miles thick and looming so far up in the air, as to seem, at night, to touch the stars. The jagged rocks, splintered by the lightning, and the mountain sides, clothed with glaciers, like armor, and which were billions of tons in weight, seemed very forbidding.

“Just give us a few millions of years, and we’ll surely win,” cried the fairy queen, who was proud of her beautiful army, and who, with them all, knew or cared nothing for what we call time.

Fairies never cry, but some felt as if they might weep, to see so many pretty flowers killed, as they feared they would be. Even the idea of the chills and shivers, they would have to suffer, made some of the timid ones feel creepy.

Even suppose they could survive ice and frost, and the cold breath of the strong winds, that might uproot them, how could they resist the avalanches, that might overwhelm and crush them? If whole forests of giant trees were often leveled, like egg shells, and flattened like flounders, by these rolling terrors, or torn up by landslides, or ground to gravel, by falling rocks, or carried away by landslides, how could tiny and tender flowers hope to escape?

But the fairy queen knew the power of her friend, the Sun, and the tenacity and perseverance of her flower children. So, laughing at such forebodings, she bade the lovely flowers and little trees begin their march. Their orders to advance were steadily “forward and upward.” They were to hold the ground gained, inch by inch. They must even try, again and again, to split the rocks, and be willing to suffer cold, wet, wind, and not be out of sorts, or show bad temper, when it rained too much, or the clouds hid the sun. They must take advantage of every nook, crevice, crack and cranny.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said one wise fairy to her neighbor. “I’ll warrant you they will pretty soon complain that it is too hot, and sometimes even ask the sun to veil his face with clouds. When the evil imps, that ride on the Föhn, or south wind, visit them, one or more will be eager to marry a frost giant, to keep cool.”

But the other fairy said, “that is only gossip,” and she did not believe they would “ever be sorry and want to change back.”

When, after their first victories, the cows and goats should come, and the birds make their nests, and men and women arrive, and the boys and girls play, these fairies, thus changed into flowers, were not to object to have their stalks eaten up by the cattle, or their seeds to be swallowed by the birds, or their blossoms to be plucked by the children. Even when they should come to their best bloom, and seem too pretty to be touched, they were to welcome the cows and goats.

To all these directions, the new plants, trees, and flowers, nodded their heads, and the war began. The older fairies went back to the vineyards, groves, forests, dales and meadows, in the lower lands of sunshine, of mild climate, and of fair weather, and the battle was on.

Several millions of years slipped away, and some of the fairies in the warm countries had almost forgot their cousins in the high Alps. Then it happened that some thousands of them made up a party to go and visit what they had once left long ago, as a polar region, of thick ice where no land was visible.

What a change, and how lovely! When they reached Switzerland, and looked over the landscape, they could not, at first, believe their own eyes. True, it was mid-summer when they arrived; but, as far as the eye could reach, they beheld valleys and meadows spangled with flowers, from which floated the sound, or echoes, of tinkling bells, where contented cows and goats were browsing. On the sweet perfumed air, were wafted the aromatic odors of the delicious herbage, freshly cropped by the cattle. Pretty houses, on the flat spaces, or perched on the hill slopes, told of happy homes. Children were playing games, or picking flowers. Church spires pointed toward Heaven. In one village, a great long parade of sleek cows, their well groomed coats shining in the sun, and one with a milking stool between her horns, was moving up, where the grass was most luscious. Donkeys and horses, laden with cheese and garden produce, were moving in lengthened lines to the markets. Here and there, castles, chalets, bridges, church spires, and thickly clustered houses, told of villages, towns and cities; for man was now in possession, and all the world rejoiced. It was like an heiress receiving her fortune, for human beings thus to enter into the enjoyment of the lovely landscape and beautiful country, which the fairies had helped so grandly to create.