Swiss Fairy Tales




Fashions change in the fairy world, as well as among mortals who live on the earth. The Swiss water fairies, called Undines, at times grew tired of living down below the surface of the lakes and rivers. When restless, they longed to mingle in the village gatherings. They wanted to hear the lively music of the young men and maidens, as they sang and danced. Their favorite time for waltzes and cotillions was on moonlight nights.

So it became quite common, at these times, for the fairy maids and swains to swim up to the shore. Then these Undines changed themselves into girls and young men. They put on clothes, that were deep green, the color of the waves. Slipping in among the dancers, they joined in the fun and merry making. In this manner, many a lad romped with a water fairy and even kissed her, thinking she was or might be his sweetheart; for, in the dim light of the moon, it was not always easy to see clearly the face of one’s partner. Many a lassie received an embrace, or a salute on the lips, from a lively dancer, whom she supposed was a new comer. He might not be well known in the village, she thought, though he appeared graceful and dressed very nicely, in sea green, gauzy clothes.

Yet no matter how hard these Undines might try to get their clothes entirely dry, they could never wring the water out wholly of their garments, so that they were always more or less damp. If they had changed their form too quickly, their clothes would drip, and make spots on the floor, or ground. Often the village folk felt dampness, on their limbs below the knees. Yet few ever gave the matter a second thought, for their minds were wholly set on having a good time, and they had it.

Sometimes the lady fairies started rather late in the evening to take their swim to the lake shore. Fearing to lose some of the fun, and thinking they might even find the dancing all over, and the people gone home to bed, they were in a great hurry, while on the strand, to change into the form of mortals and put on their human clothes. So it happened that, when they joined in the dance, one sharp-eyed fellow, who was playing the violin for the measures, noticed that something was wrong. In fact, he was so surprised, that he suddenly stopped fiddling. Then, instantly, everybody dropped arms and stood looking around at the musician’s stand, to see what was the matter. In a moment, it was as quiet as a church aisle, when the parson was praying.

What he saw made his eyes big and round. Then, most impolitely—as some of the girls thought—he pointed to a maiden’s green petticoat, that was beneath her outer dress and that had come a little below her frock. It was dripping with water. Again, after looking with searching eyes at another, and a third, he screamed out:

“Folks and fellow villagers! Don’t you know you’ve got the Undines among you? Look there, and there, and there!” Then he pointed, with his fiddle bow, to some of the prettiest of the female dancers. “Just feel the hem of their skirts, and you’ll know what sort of guests have been dancing with you tonight.”

Whereupon, every young man turned his female partner round, and some of them, most ungallantly, flapped their hands on their lower skirts. Feeling and finding that these were very damp, four or five of them at once lifted up their hands, which were wringing wet, and shook off the drops.

One bold fellow even went behind, and seized the tail of his partner’s petticoat. She seemed to be the sloppiest-looking girl in the whole party, and he actually wrung out a half pint of water.

Thereupon, a tall handsome fellow, leader of the Undine party of a half dozen or so, put his two fingers in his mouth and gave a sort of whistle. At once, all the Undines shouted and ran down to the water’s edge. There, they stopped a minute or two, on the lake beach, and then leaped below the waves and disappeared. It sounded as if six big seals had made a dive.

One villager, who pretended to be an Undine, ran quickly after these water sprites and saw them for a moment on the shore, when they changed their form before resuming their old shapes.

He came back to tell a wonderful tale of what he had seen. When he examined the clothes they had left behind, he found that though they looked shiny, in the moonlight, the stuff was only that of some water plants like sea weed.

When arrived in their crystal palace under the waves, the king of the Undines gave the girl fairies a good scolding, for not, in the first place, being more punctual in both starting and coming home, and next, for being in too much of a hurry in changing themselves into mortals. As for the others, he punished these by forbidding them ever to dance again on that side of the lake.

Ever after that, when, on moonlight nights, the village lads and lasses came out to waltz, they scrutinized each partner in the dance, before allowing him or her to join in when the music began. Some, among the younger set of girls, felt offended at such a severe examination; but it was necessary, and the other girls agreed to it.

Yet even then, the water sprites would sometimes join in; for, when everybody was lively, and the fun was fast and furious, each one of the lads and lasses was too much excited to notice the dress, or to be certain as to who was who, or which was which, or what was what, or even to see the face of a partner.

One night, the daughter of the lord of the grand chateau, the Princess Babi, slipped out the castle gate, along with several of her maids, and joined the village youth in their fun. At the very height of the dance, a young man became her partner in the waltz, chiefly because of his elegant clothes and polished manners. Though he did not talk, but expressed his offers and wishes by signs and motions, she enjoyed mightily his dancing, which was both deft and graceful.

There was present, however, a sharp-eyed mother, a nurse, who had three nieces in the dance. She kept looking, like a lynx, at every lad in the party. At last, she noticed this unusually handsome and stylish fellow, who seemed to wear finer clothes than most of the village boys.

The old woman’s suspicions were fully aroused, when she saw the young couple linked, arm in arm, and, especially, as he turned his body round in the dance. For, when the moonbeams fell upon the skirt of his coat, it shone as only wet clothes could, in the silvery light. The color reflected was that of wave green.

Upon this, she made up her mind that this fine fellow was no other than the King of the Crystal Cavern, which was far down in the world under the waters.

She was about to give the signal, that would expose him, when her mouth was shut, and her limbs felt as if paralyzed by some unseen and unknown power, when she saw him offer to take, as his partner, the Princess Babi, the daughter of the castle lord.

Her companion leaped with her into the lake

Her companion leaped with her into the lake

Smilingly the lovely maiden put out her arms, in return for his embrace. All she thought of was the fun and merriment. Yet, within a few minutes after they had linked arms together, he started in a whirling dance. It was so rapid, that the mother and the older spectators, who sat watching the young people, were too fascinated to speak or cry out. They noticed him whirling his partner around, but getting ever nearer the lakeside. Wider and wider were the circles they made, but all the time he was bringing her nearer the beach; while she seemed delirious with delight, apparently oblivious to everything but the rapturous motion.

Reaching the shore, pausing hardly a moment, he leaped with her into the water, which was then silvered with the moonbeams and rippling with the breeze.

Down, down, below the sparkling waves, the King of the World under the Waters—for it was he—made her his wife and queen, but never would he let her go back home.

There, among the great coral trees and groves of gold and silver and amid heaps of shining gems, with a score of maidens to wait on her, valets and footmen and servants of a strange sort, and with food rich and abundant, pleasing and tempting to both eye and palate, and with the most entrancing music ever at her command, she was enraptured. So delighted was she, that the years passed away as days.

Yet even when touched with homesickness, and longing for those she had left behind on earth, in her castle home, she found herself watched and guarded. The gates, though made of emerald and sapphire, shut of themselves, because moved, by some secret spring, against her return. Having once eaten of fairy food, and accepted her husband’s gifts, she could never again leave either the palace or the World under the Waves. The crystal cavern was her prison. When she looked in the mirror, she found her teeth were wave green. She was now an Undine.

Yet in the village, where the story of the castle princess was told, it was declared that, on calm still nights, when the moon shone brightest, the most delightful music could be heard coming up from the lake. Some of the fishermen were sure that, far below on quiet summer days, also when no wind blew, and the sunbeams struck deep into the waters, they could peer down into the depths and see the walls and towers of this crystal palace.