Swiss Fairy Tales




When the little boys and girls, who read these Swiss fairy tales, grow up to be big and travel in Switzerland, they will enjoy the Alpine horn.

Nearly every shepherd lad in the mountains knows how to blow it. It is made of wood, and is about half as long as an ordinary broom. Its butt, or heavy end, rests on the ground. When a man blows a long blast, the sound, at first, when one is too near, does not seem to be very pleasing; for distance lends enchantment to the sound. But wait a moment, and listen! Far off across the valley, the strains are caught up, and sent back from the tops of the high mountains. Then it sounds as if a great choir of angels had come down from Heaven to sing glory to God, and to bring greetings to all good souls. Nowhere in all the world is there such sweet music made by echoes.

Sometimes there is a double set of echoes, like one rainbow inside of another. Then, it makes one think of a choir of little angels, that sing a second time, after the first heavenly chorus has ceased.

How the Swiss people first received the Alpine horn, as a gift from the fairies, is told in the story of a faithful shepherd’s boy, named Perrod. He had to work hard all day, in tending the cows that grazed on the high mountain pastures, which the natives call the Alps. But when foreign people speak of “the Alps,” they mean the ranges of mountains themselves.

In winter, these level stretches of ground are covered with snow and ice, but by the month of June, it is warm enough for the grass and flowers to grow. Then the cowboys and cheese makers go up with their cattle. At night, Perrod, having milked the cows, skimmed the cream off the milk, hung the great caldron over the fire, and made the cheese.

By this time, that is, well into the late hours, Perrod was almost tired to death. After calling “good-night” to Luquette, his sweetheart, who lived across the valley, and hearing her greeting in answer, he climbed up the ladder, into the loft, and lay down on his bed. This was only a pile of straw, but he was asleep almost the very moment he touched it, for he was a healthy lad and the mountain air was better than medicine. It was especially good for sound sleep, and he knew he must get up early, at sunrise, to lead the cows and goats out to pasture. Then the all-day concert, of tinkling bells, began.

But this night, instead of slumber, without once waking until day dawn, Perrod had closed his eyes, for only about three hours, when he heard a crackling sound, which waked him up. He thought, at first, the wind was blowing hard enough to rip off some of the bark strips from the roof of the chalet, and was tumbling down some of the heavy stones laid on to keep them in place. But when he saw the reflection, on the walls and ceiling, of a bright fire, he crawled quietly out of bed. Then he peeped down and through the cracks in the board floor, to see what was going on.

Three men were around the fire. One, the biggest fellow of the three, was hanging up the caldron on the hooks. The second piled on more wood, while the others warmed their hands in the bright blaze.

The three men were all different in appearance, the one from the other, and a queer looking lot they were. The tremendously tall man seemed to be a giant, in weight and size. His sleeves were rolled up, showing that his arms were sunburnt, until they were very dark. When he lifted up the caldron, to hang it up, or take it down, his muscles stood out like whipcords.

But the man sitting on a milking stool, at the right hand side of the fireplace, was entirely different, being smaller, and with a white skin and golden hair. He had a long horn, which rested on the floor beside him.

The man on the left-hand side of the fireplace, appeared to be a woodman, or hunter. At least, he seemed to be used to the forest. Though it was pitch dark night, he knew where the wood lay, piled up under the eaves of the chalet; for, when the fire burned low, he went out doors and returned with an arm load of faggots. Then he piled up the wood, and the fire blazed, and crackled, and roared, until the boy in the loft thought the hut would be burned up, too. Yet, though he trembled at the strange sight, he was brave. He resolved not to be quiet, if the big men tried to steal his cheese, which was to be food for the family during the winter.

Just as he was wondering, whether his sisters and old daddy would have enough to eat, during the long cold winter of eight months, that was soon coming, when snow and ice covered the fields, he saw a curious thing happen. Sweet music began, such as had never met his ears before, since he was in his cradle and his mother sang to him.

It was the man with the golden hair, who seemed to be the real gentleman of the party. He it was, who made the music. He first handed something to the giant, who dropped it into the caldron. Then, with his horn, he disappeared through the door. When outside, he lifted the instrument to his lips and blew a blast.

Perrod was so interested in watching the giant, that he paid little attention to the man outside, or to the sound he had made, for he saw the hunter take a bottle out of his pocket, and hand it over to the biggest fellow, who stood at the caldron over the fire. This one poured the liquid, which seemed to be blood red, into the big iron pot. Then, with a ladle, as big as a shovel, and long as a gun, he stirred vigorously. Then, three beakers, or cups were set upon the table.

By this time, the golden haired man outside had finished his blast of music, which seemed to float across the valleys down into the defiles, over the pastures, and through the wood. It grew sweeter and sweeter, as it swelled on the gentle night breeze, until all the mountains seemed to have awakened, turned into living angels and lifted up their voices. The sweet strain ended with a prolonged sad note, as if melancholy had fallen on the musicians, and then it ceased.

A strange thing happened. All the cows and goats woke up from their sleep, and one, from all directions, could hear the tinkling of their neck bells, all over the pastures, far and near. The poor creatures thought it was time to get up and be milked, but they were puzzled to find it was yet dark. In fact, they were all, still, quite sleepy and very slow to move.

Something even far more wonderful happened next. Perrod, after first hearing the horn blow, thought the music had ceased: when, suddenly, it all seemed to come back in vastly greater volume. The sounds were multiplied, as if a thousand echoes had blended into one and all heaven had joined in the melody. Perrod was entranced. He even closed his eyes lest he might, by looking down at the strange men, lose some of what seemed to him a choir of angels singing.

When the last strain had ceased, Perrod opened his eyes. The golden haired musician had re-entered the chalet, and resumed his seat, sitting down again on the milkstool, at the right of the fire; while the hunter rearranged three glass goblets, on the rough wooden table, from which Perrod ate his meals.

All three of the strangers then solemnly watched the caldron, as the liquid boiled, just as the cream does, when cheese is to be made; the big man stirring up with his huge ladle. At a particular moment, the giant lifted the caldron and emptied out the contents into the three glass vessels. To the amazement of Perrod, there issued, from the same vessel, three very different colors.

In the first glass, filled to the brim, the draught was as red as blood, and it foamed at the top. The drops, flying out on the board, left crimson stains.

Giving a tap on the caldron, with the big ladle, the tall man let flow, into the second glass, what seemed to be the same liquid; but this time, it was as green as grass, but hissing hot, and bubbling.

Another loud ladle tap on the caldron, and out flowed a stream as cold as snow water, and as white as the edelweiss flower. The liquid rested in the goblet as quiet as milk, but seemed to be frosty on the top.

Now the giant-like fellow, shaking his huge ladle in his right hand, and putting his left at the side of his mouth, shouted with a voice of thunder:

“Come down, you boy, and make your choice of one of these three. Each has a glorious gift to him who drinks. Come quick, for it will soon be daylight.”

Perrod knew he was discovered, but he was a brave boy. If his legs trembled, his heart was big. Moreover, the golden haired man gave him a nod, and winked his eye, to encourage the lad.

So Perrod at once climbed down and stood before the table, on which were the three chalices.

“Drink, young friend,” said the giant, “from any one of these, but know that, in the red liquid, is a gift to the Swiss men. Drain this cup, and then you will have strength, like me.” At that, he bent his arm to show his mighty muscles. “You will be able to conquer the strongest man, or fiercest beast. Besides, I shall give you a hundred fat cows, each of which will yield much milk, rich in butter. Drain this cup, and, according to my promise, you will see the kine tomorrow.”

"Drink, young friend," said the giant

Then the hunter spoke: “Better drink from my goblet. After this green draught, you will have all the gold you want, and heaps of coins; and then you can marry, and still easily support your old father and mother.” So saying, he tossed handfuls of gold pieces on the floor, piling them up, until they reached the lad’s knees. Perrod opened his eyes wide in astonishment, for here was not a promise in words, but the actual thing, that he could see for himself.

He was just about to stretch both his hands and drink the green liquid, when the golden haired man, speaking gently to Perrod, said:

“I cannot promise you either cows or coins, but if you drink the liquid in the white goblet, you will be able to use this horn, make music in the mountains and call your cows, as I have done. Thus your flocks and herds also will share with you my gift.”

Not a minute did Perrod wait to decide. “I care more for music, than for money, or strength,” he said, and, lifting the glass, he put it to his lips and drained the cup dry.

“What was it, and how did it taste?” do you ask? It was what the cows gave him every day—pure fresh milk, but cold as glacier water.

“Good,” cried the man with the golden hair. “Any other choice would have meant death. Here is the horn. Blow it tomorrow, and see what will happen.”

As if lifted up on wings, to his straw bed, but holding on to his horn, Perrod heard the door shut and bang, as the three men went out, two of them scowling. Then the fire cooled to ashes. He fell asleep and dreamed of the time when, in the church, he should lead his bride to the altar, his lovely sweetheart, Luquette, to be married, and the two should have a chateau and home of their own.

Awakening at the first moment, when the rosy light of the rising sun made the face of the mountains blush, even while the valleys below were still in darkness, and long before his sisters, in the village, far away, had awakened, he rushed out to the edge of the pasture. Then, he drew in a man’s breath, filled his lungs, and, putting his lips to the mouthpiece of the horn, blew a long blast. He listened eagerly, for the far off echoes. A pleasant double surprise awaited him.

All over the pastures, in the chalets of the high plateau, and along the mountain slopes, even down to the valleys, there was heard, at once, the tinkling of goat bells, cow bells, and the sound even of what hung in the metal collars of donkeys and horses, until the chorus of bell music was wonderful.

“Very fine, but is that all?” thought Perrod.

But another surprise! From across the great ravine, or chasm, out rushed his beloved Luquette. Hastily throwing a wrap around her shoulders, she stood in bare feet, threw a kiss to Perrod, and shouted to him her joy.

Now came the crowning wonder. From the high peaks, miles distant, and now rosy red in the dayspring, came back the music, in multiplied echoes, as if all the snow ranges of the Alps were singing. Pure, sweet, prolonged, the boy thought of what he had heard read in the church, that, at creation “the morning stars sang together.” So it seemed now to him.

Through many centuries, and to this day, to call the cows together, to make the goats look up, and turn homeward, to seek shelter of the night, for men’s evening prayer and chant of thanks-giving, for the signals of defence against enemies, for beginning the festal dance, or, to sound the wedding joy, the Alpine horn is the delight of the Swiss. It is like the carillons of the Belgic folk, the chimes of Normandy, the tower music of Holland, or the bagpipes of the Highlander. In a foreign land, in dreams, in its memories it tells of “home, sweet home.”