Swiss Fairy Tales




Long ages ago, when the round earth was being shaped, and the ice was melting, to give way to the green fields and flowers, huge monsters, bears, wolves and other wild animals were the only living creatures in Switzerland. Then the giants arrived on the world.

When, by and bye, human beings came into the land, they told their children that the mountains were what were left of the earth’s crust, after it had shrunk into peaks and ridges, humps and hollows, like an apple, when baked in the oven, making crusts, points and wrinkles. The valleys had been sunk, by the giants walking about on the earth, while it was yet soft. The rivers were formed by the weeping of the giants’ wives and daughters, when they were badly treated; for these rough fellows, husbands and brothers, did not know how to be kind to their female kin. The only way the giants were able to make their women obey them, when they were bad tempered, or naughty, or scolded too much, was to use shovels, pokers, clubs, and straps on them. This clumsy and cruel way, of keeping the family in order, was because the giants had not yet learned to love, but were like brutes and knew only about force.

These giants, though so big, were very stupid, as compared with men. Their brains were more like those of babies, and they were not half as smart as boys and girls are to-day. They did not know enough even to plough the ground, and raise wheat, and rye, and oats, and to make porridge, to say nothing of bread and cakes, and pies and doughnuts. They could not melt lead, or work iron, or make tools, but depended on their muscles, because these were huge and tough, so that they bulged out; for the giants had terrific strength, like bulls and elephants. Though their brains were so small, their limbs were like pillars, much thicker than piano legs, and their arms were like iron. They could only make hammers, or chisels, knives and scrapers of stone, and clubs of wood, for they knew no better, and never went to school or college.

When men finally arrived on the earth, and began to plough the ground, and to raise wheat for bread, and brought cows for milk, the giants, and especially the giantesses, were mightily interested. Their curiosity was great, to see how the things were done and how houses were built, and cradles were made for babies to sleep in.

The giants told their sons and daughters not to meddle with the human folks, but rather to help them; for the giants, dull as their wits were, were afraid of any creature, that, though smaller than they were, had more brains. They wondered how human beings got such big heads, and they often pounded on each other’s skulls, to see if they were hollow inside, like a cocoanut.

Now the biggest, of all these big fellows, was their king, named Gargantua, but men learned to call him “Old Gargy.” He had only one daughter, Bertha, who was his pet. She was a pretty good giantess, but she always wanted to have her own way, and this often made trouble in the family. Daddy and mamma could not always agree about her. Bertha knew how to get on Old Gargy’s soft side, and sweeten his temper.

Too often, her indulgent father either let her have her own way, or gave what she begged of him, or else he winked at, and overlooked, some of her foolish pranks.

One day, when her daddy and mamma were asleep, she sneaked out from the cave, on her tiptoes, and slipped down a glacier. When on solid ground, she ran, like a deer, up into the valley, where she saw a farmer with two horses making furrows in the field.

Amused at this, she stood and watched, while perched on a boulder, looking on with wonder. Then the young giantess burst out laughing.

“How funny, to make stripes, and little gutters, all along the ground,” she said to herself. Then, she walked up to where the man was and lifting him, his plough, and both his horses, in one of her big hands, she held out her apron, open wide, and dropped the whole lot, man, team, and tools into it. These she took home to play with, on the cave floor. Her mother looked on and enjoyed the fun, as her daughter pulled the horses’ tails, and made them kick. She forced the man to dance on her thumb nail, and used the iron end of the plough to clean her finger nails. The man talked and whined and wanted to go home to his wife and babies, but the giantess, Bertha, could not understand, a word he said. So she spoke to her mother thus:

“This must be his way of frowning, like a wolf cub. Or, maybe he is chattering, like a monkey. Or is he crying? Do you suppose?”

At this, the shadow of Old Gargy darkened the cave door. He saw what was being done, and instantly ordered the release of the man and his horses. Then he lifted his club, as a sign of securing obedience.

The jolly giantess, Bertha, having had her fun, took back the man and his team into the valley. The farmer’s wife was so grateful, that she wanted to make her visitor a nice present. So she took from the corner of the room something brown. It was four-foot long and stood there, on the end, with others like it. They looked like clubs, but seemed very light. These were loaves of Swiss rye bread, that were kept standing on their ends, in the spring house, and were called the staff of life. A thick round cheese, a pot of honey and a full pail of milk were also given Bertha for a present. The giantess ate heartily. She drank a bucket full of the milk, chewed up a cheese, and a yard of bread, and then asked for more to take home; which was willingly given.

When back in the cave, the giant family had a jolly feast; at least, each one had a mouth full. They all smacked their lips, and murmured “Um, um, um,” in their delight.

Down in the Valley, the farmer’s wife, although the sky was blue, and the sun shining, thought it was thundering, or that an avalanche had fallen down the mountain; but it was only the giant family showing how happy they were, at eating the food of human beings.

“So you see, daughter Bertha,” said Old Gargy, her daddy, “what these human creatures can do for us. So, do you let them alone; and, in the future, harm them not, even in play. Then they will give us more bread and cheese and milk.”

The good daughter placed one of the big cheeses, still uneaten, upon her thumb nail, as a sign of truth. Then she declared she never would disturb anything, man or beast in the valley.

Now there was another giant, named Hotap, who, in disposition, was very different from his neighbor, and often played bad tricks on the farmers. He loved to start avalanches, by making a wet snowball called a soaker, and then flinging it over the snow and down into the valley, upon the villages. In this way, he ruined many houses, barns, and stables, killing men, goats, sheep, donkeys, chickens and cattle.

Besides this Hotap used to lie in wait for nice little boys, especially those that were rosy, and plump, and to catch them and eat them up. He sometimes came back, to his cave home, with his pocket full of small boys. He thus ruined so many families, and made so many mothers cry, that they sometimes called him Old Schoppe, which means something like Boy-Eater, or, more exactly, our John Barleycorn.

But Schoppe was a giant that destroyed many more small boys, than any other giant, or ogre, and in a different way. By and bye, Hotap and Schoppe, who at first were rivals, became partners. Instead of living in caves, they went into business and set up shops all over Switzerland. They lured young men into these shops, and set them to drinking poisonous stuff, which the giants made, so that the roads, and streets, and gutters at nights, and early in the morning, were often full of fellows lying asleep on the ground, or like pigs in the mud.

Then, further, the two giants made it the general fashion of putting Schoppe’s drink even into things cooked for children.

Hotap found that, as partner to Schoppe, he could catch and destroy more boys in this new business, than in the old way. So he laid aside his club and stopped trying to destroy villages by rolling avalanches on them. He put on fine clothes, and made his shops very attractive, by looking glasses, and pretty pitchers, and tumblers. But, finally, he himself got so fond of the drink which Schoppe made, out of barley, and rye, and other grain that he drank himself to death and was buried in a cemetery. Over his grave a monument was carved, in the shape of a barrel, with a bung, and spout, and tap, as if he were continuing business in the next world.

But Schoppe kept on in the business. He ground up grain, and wasted so much, that he made the price of bread very high, so that poor people often had to go hungry. Out of the good barley and rye, he made the stuff that poisoned the brains of the young men and turned them into flapjacks, so that they lay as stupid as stones in the ground. He filled up the men, until they were hardly better than swill barrels. In this way many boys were ground up into poverty or stupidity, and the graveyards were filled so fast, by old Schoppe, that people called his saloon the Mill. At last, the big fat fellow, with a red nose, died also.

So at Berne, one sees the monument of Schoppe or Boy-Eater. He stands in bronze over a fountain. He has boys in his pocket, samples of boys in his hands and mouth, some more at his feet, and a good supply at hand, to chew up and swallow.

Everyone goes to see the statue of the Boy Eater. Yet many others still follow his business and eat up the boys.