Swiss Fairy Tales




All giants behave in about the same way, in every country; so each one of the big-boned fellows in Switzerland was like his relations in other lands. He had two legs, each as thick as a telegraph pole, arms like crowbars, and a body that made one think of a hogshead. His bone box, called a skull, had only a spoonful or two of brains inside of it, for his head was no bigger than a cocoanut. Usually he went about roaring like a bull, and carried a club in his right hand, as long and thick as a young fir tree. Although he was as strong as an ox, he could hardly run as fast as an elephant, and any smart dog could move around more quickly than he. That is the reason why a nimble princess, with a needle, could outwit him, or any clever young fellow could trap him in a pit, and then crack his skull with a pickaxe.

The monstrous fellow had a stomach equal to that of a rhinoceros. At one meal, he could chew up a sirloin of beef, eat a half bushel of rice, and gulp down a firkin of milk. With his club, he could smash a hay wagon; but, besides eating and bullying, he was not good for much. In fact, when it came to a game of hard thinking, and using his two spoonfuls of brains, any clever boy or girl twelve years’ old could beat him. Some giants, of course, were more intelligent than others, but as a rule, a giant got very soon and very much tired out, when he had to use his mind.

They do say that the reason why giants are so stupid is because that, when they were quite little babies, their skull bones closed tight, too soon; so that their brains never grew any larger, while the bone became thicker and thicker. That is the reason why some people usually called the big lout, “Mr. Bone Head, with the big club.”

There were other people, however, who believed that the heads of the giants were made of wood, and some always thought of the big clumsy fellows as belonging to the tribe of Wooden Heads.

One exception, to the general run of Swiss giants, was a bulky fellow named Kisher, who served the great Charlemagne, when this mighty general was fighting the savages, called Huns and Avars. This giant could wade all rivers, no matter how deep. If his horse, which was bigger than a hippopotamus, was afraid to step in, and cross over, Kisher would grab hold of his tail and pull him backwards, through the deep water and over to the other shore. When fighting with his long sword, in front of Charlemagne’s army, one would think, from the way he cut down the enemy, and left their corpses in swathes, that he was a sort of mowing machine.

After the battle, Kisher poked his spear into eight or ten of the carcasses of the defunct savages. Then, stringing them on his spear shaft, like a pile of pretzels, he threw the load over his shoulders. Trudging to his general’s tent, he shook off the dead savages on the ground, as though he was dropping sausages from a fork.

Thereupon, his general rewarded him by naming him Einheer, which means that the giant was a whole army in himself. He also ordered that the big fellow should have all the sausages, and barley cakes, and dried apples, that he wanted.

In fact, it was necessary to have plenty of eatables ready for the giant, for fear lest, when very hungry, he might swallow the dishes, chew up the napkins, eat up the table cloth, and gulp down the table, legs and all. So terrible was his appetite, that the mothers, when they saw Einheer coming down the hill, or up the street, called all their children inside the house, for fear lest a pretty plump girl, or a nice fat boy, should be seized, to fill up the mammoth cave that he kept under his belt.

When no food was at hand, and the giant had to do without his dinner, he set up a roar, like a lion, until people thought it was distant thunder echoing among the far off mountains. Then old Kisher—for the people often forgot his new title—used to pull his belt tighter. He would even let the buckle tongue go into two or three holes further back, in the strap. This took off the edge of his appetite for a while, but only for a few hours. Then he began to roar once more. Again the mothers clasped their babies in their arms and locked the doors, for fear he might get in and eat them out of house and home. The farmers took the harness off the horses, so that even if he broke into the stables, he would help himself only to the animals, and not devour also the traces and horse collars. But after all this, the giant never knew enough to pick a lock, or get into barns, when the doors were properly barred. Even a trained monkey could beat him at this sort of smartness.

Now there was a young tailor, who was tired of this giant’s boasting. Although the people often laughed at this man of shears and measuring tape, and called him “one-ninth,” and the boys at times shouted “Cabbage” at him, he was really a brave fellow. Besides being an expert with needle and thread, he was really as clever as any one in town. Indeed, he thought himself, in this respect, equal, even to the judges, in the court, who put big wigs on their heads, to look as if theirs contained more brains than common people have. He read stories of famous heroes and dragon slayers and wanted to be like them and even excel. He boasted that, with a bag and a pair of scissors, he could get the better of any giant living. But when he declared he would some day show them the giant’s carcass, they laughed and said, “That’s only a tailor’s promise.” Yet he always retorted, “You’ll see.”

At any rate, the tailor made up his mind that cunning could accomplish as much as force. So he studied the habits and tastes of giants, to see what they liked best to eat. He soon found that this monster in human shape was very fond of rice pudding, with plenty of sauce and sugar on it. But the tailor never said a word to the giant about knowing this special weakness of his.

One day, while walking on the road to the next town, to take home a suit of clothes to a customer, he suddenly came upon the giant, who at this time was, as usual, very hungry. They both glared at each other, but the giant, speaking first, roared out:

“Here, you fraction of a fellow, come now let us have a trial of strength. I’ll hang you on a tree, if I beat you, and you can skin me alive, if you win.”

At first, the little tailor was so frightened that his knees knocked together, and his hat fell off; but, quickly feeling brave again, he answered:

“All right, I’m not afraid of you. Come on, we’ll try.”

The tailor knew that a brainy fellow, with a clear head and a sharp tongue, was more than a match for the big bonehead, any day. So, when the giant picked up a boulder, weighing a ton or so, and threw it into the lake, and then dared the man to do likewise, the tailor answered:

“Bah! that’s nothing. Why don’t you give me something that’s hard to do? I can pick up the hardest pebble and squeeze water out of it with my hands. I’ll wager a gold coin you can’t do it.”

Thus dared, the giant picked up a bit of hard rock and nearly broke his finger bones trying to crush it, or make it yield water. Mad as fire, he called the tailor a rascal, and said he told fibs. Then he dared him to try his hand at it. He got his club ready to smash the man into a jelly, if he failed.

Now the tailor, not expecting to get home until night, had brought a fresh cheese ball and some crackers, to eat on the way. He turned his back to the giant and bent over, pretending to pick up a hard round stone from the ground. Then he pressed this cheese between his two hands so hard, that a drop or two, of what looked like water, came out. As the moisture glistened in the sun, the astonished giant dropped his club. Then, rushing up to the tailor, he grasped his hand and cried out:

“Comrade and brother you are. Don’t skin me. Come along with me; we’ll skin other people, and I’ll make you rich and famous.”

The tailor, pretending to be as merciful, as he thought himself brave, and being very ambitious, walked along with the giant, until they came to a castle. The tailor wanted to get rich quick and marry a princess, or at least an heiress.

Strange to say, they found everybody inside the castle shedding tears, so that there were barely handkerchiefs enough to go round. Even the sentinel at the castle gate was weeping and had already used up four. Secretly, the tailor wished he had brought along his whole stock of linen, for here he might have driven a good bargain, and made large sales at a high profit. But he told no one his thoughts.

In one breath, both the tailor and the giant asked, “What’s the matter?”

Then the man-at-arms told them the trouble. A dragon, living up in the mountains, in a cave had been roaring all night for food. The citizens wanted to feed the criminals, then in prison, to the monster, but he refused such common nourishment. In fact, he was the most particular dragon, as to his diet, that ever came to Switzerland. He required one maiden a day to appease his hunger. He never would be satisfied with boys, or men, or even with ladies, that were either slender or bony.

Now the supply of plump and beautiful girls had actually run so low, that the new victims had to draw lots. This very day, the lot had fallen on the King’s only daughter, and at sunrise the next day, she was to be swallowed up.

As soon as the news had spread abroad in the city, after sunrise, the stock on hand, in all the shops that kept mourning goods, or black silk, or muslin, or grief-bordered handkerchiefs, was sold out before noon, and there was not time enough to import a fresh supply of crêpe from Paris. So everybody was sighing and groaning, and the sounds were appalling. Some were shedding tears copiously, for real grief; but others, because their old mourning garments were out of fashion. With others, it was a case of economy, rather than grief, for black goods saved their best clothes.

But the tailor, though feeling sad at first, saw a chance of coining wealth and getting into society, for he had quickly learned that the king had offered his daughter, in marriage, to any one who would fight and kill the dragon, besides making a gift outright, of a thousand pounds of gold.

So when the pair of heroes, the tailor and giant, proffered their services, the monarch gave the monstrous fellow an iron bar, as big as the rail for a locomotive to run on.

But when the king saw that the little tailor had only a pair of scissors, he laughed, until he forgot his grief. Then he offered the little man a battle axe. It was as sharp as a razor, and heavy enough to chop open a knight clothed in steel. Thus armed, the two were all ready to set out together to the dragon’s cave.

Pretending that one of his shoe laces had broken and he needed to tie it up, the tailor told the giant to go on, and carry both axe and iron club, and he would catch up with him. When the two were together, the giant was about to hand his companion the battle axe, when the tailor began at once to talk about rice pudding. He smilingly asked the giant whether he liked raisins in it, and would take it with grated nutmeg, sprinkled over the top; or, would he have it plain?

The subject was so interesting to the giant, that his eyes sparkled at once. He forgot that he was carrying both of the two heavy things, axe and bar. He never dropped them, until they reached the dragon’s lair.

But, while they were arguing which should go in first, the dragon rushed out and swallowed the little tailor at a gulp, without chewing him up.

The giant noticed that not a bit of butter, nor drop of gravy, was necessary, for the tailor had slid down, and disappeared, in a jiffy. Thereupon, the giant gave the monster a mighty wallop upon the head, with the iron bar. It was so terrific, that he fell dead and stiffened out, ten yards long. The giant waited to be sure he was defunct. Then, opening the monster’s wide mouth, he thrust his big fist down the dragon’s throat, pulled up the little tailor, and stood him on his feet.

The tailor was out of breath, for a moment; but, quickly regaining both his wind and his wits, he took off his cap and began to rub his head.

“What’s the matter?” asked the giant. “Don’t you feel all right?”

“Why, no! You nearly dented my skull, when you struck the dragon with your club. Why are you not more skillful? I can handle such monsters better than you. Can’t you see that I just leaped into the dragon’s mouth, in order to cut his throat, with my scissors?” With this, he flourished his shears, which were all bloody.

The stupid giant was dumbfounded, but he did not know enough to contradict the tailor, who told the big fellow to shoulder the dragon, and they would both go back to the king’s court, and demand the promised reward. So, with much pulling and hauling, lifting and dragging, the giant did all the work. The clumsy carcass was laid before the royal throne. The princess, looking on, wondered which one of the two heroes was to be her husband.

She did not feel, just then, like marrying either of them, big or little. When, however, she thought it over, she believed she could live on her income better with the tailor, than with the giant, who was already beginning to ask when dinner would be ready.

As for the king, he could not decide which was the hero, for both laid claims to the princess and to the gold. So, for the time being, the giant was fed all the beans, and pork, and barley, and turnips, he could eat; but, even then, the tailor saw that the big fellow was not satisfied, and would rather have rice pudding.

The king and his wise men kept on debating for several days, for neither would give in. Then they became alarmed, when the steward whispered, in the royal ear, that provisions were running low. In fact, both the larder and the cellar were nearly empty. This was on account of the giant’s enormous appetite. By the following Sunday, nothing would be left except an extra hogshead of rice.

The tailor overheard the steward’s talk, and at once he proposed a plan, by which the contest between the two claimants could be settled. Let that hogshead of rice be made into one enormous pudding. It must be well sweetened, and with plenty of raisins and powdered nutmeg on top, and then divided into two parts, or piles. Whichever ate up his portion, most quickly, should be hailed as the hero, marry the princess, get the money, and be publicly announced, by the trumpeters, as the royal son-in-law and successor to the throne.

“Now I’ll keep my promise,” said the tailor to himself, “as to what I could do, with only a pair of scissors and a bag.”

So, when the boiled rice, smoking hot, was piled on trenchers, and served on a long table, with a small shovel beside each large wooden plate, the trial began. The giant went at his mess, as if he were himself a dragon. To his astonishment, however, the tailor made the rice pudding disappear as fast as he himself could. Even after unbuckling his belt, and letting out, first, two, and then four holes, in the leather, the tailor kept on.

Finally the giant had to stop. He rolled over on the floor and cried out:

“I’m beaten. Give the tailor the princess and the money; but don’t let him skin me alive.”

All the while, the tailor, who had a pal, under the table, to hand him bag after bag, as he dropped into them the shovelfuls of rice pudding. He filled, first, one big bag, strapped to his bosom, and when that was full, he put on another. The giant was so occupied with gorging himself, that he did not notice anything, but the rice before him.

Meanwhile the man, whom the tailor had paid to do it, kept on handing fresh bags to the tailor. When all of these, except several, towards the last, were used up, he took the tailor’s scissors and cut open the bags at the bottom of the pile, for fear the supply of bags might run out. Meanwhile, he filled a tub near by. So the castle people were saved from starvation, but they all, from king to scullion, had only cold rice to eat the next day.

When the tailor explained, to the giant, that he had an extra stomach, and cut open the first one, after enjoying the taste of the rice pudding, and then filled the second one, the giant, foolishly hoping still to eat more, and thinking it was the proper thing to do, cut open his big stomach with a sword. But that was too much even for a giant.

So on Monday, the next day, the giant’s funeral took place, and on Tuesday, the day after, the tailor married the princess, and they lived happily ever after. He had several sons and daughters, and people said his boys and girls looked like their father, on whose coat of arms was a leather wallet and a pair of scissors.