Long, long ago there stood in the midst of a country covered
with lakes a vast stretch of moorland called the Tontlawald, on
which no man ever dared set foot. From time to time a few bold
spirits had been drawn by curiosity to its borders, and on their
return had reported that they had caught a glimpse of a ruined
house in a grove of thick trees, and round about it were a crowd of
beings resembling men, swarming over the grass like bees. The men
were as dirty and ragged as gipsies, and there were besides a
quantity of old women and half-naked children.
One night a peasant who was returning home from a feast wandered
a little farther into the Tontlawald, and came back with the same
story. A countless number of women and children were gathered round
a huge fire, and some were seated on the ground, while others
danced strange dances on the smooth grass. One old crone had a
broad iron ladle in her hand, with which every now and then she
stirred the fire, but the moment she touched the glowing ashes the
children rushed away, shrieking like night owls, and it was a long
while before they ventured to steal back. And besides all this
there had once or twice been seen a little old man with a long
beard creeping out of the forest, carrying a sack bigger than
himself. The women and children ran by his side, weeping and trying
to drag the sack from off his back, but he shook them off, and went
on his way. There was also a tale of a magnificent black cat as
large as a foal, but men could not believe all the wonders told by
the peasant, and it was difficult to make out what was true and
what was false in his story. However, the fact remained that
strange things did happen there, and the King of Sweden, to whom
this part of the country belonged, more than once gave orders to
cut down the haunted wood, but there was no one with courage enough
to obey his commands. At length one man, bolder than the rest,
struck his axe into a tree, but his blow was followed by a stream
of blood and shrieks as of a human creature in pain. The terrified
woodcutter fled as fast as his legs would carry him, and after that
neither orders nor threats would drive anybody to the enchanted
A few miles from the Tontlawald was a large village, where dwelt
a peasant who had recently married a young wife. As not uncommonly
happens in such cases, she turned the whole house upside down, and
the two quarrelled and fought all day long.
By his first wife the peasant had a daughter called Elsa, a good
quiet girl, who only wanted to live in peace, but this her
stepmother would not allow. She beat and cuffed the poor child from
morning till night, but as the stepmother had the whip-hand of her
husband there was no remedy.
For two years Elsa suffered all this ill-treatment, when one day
she went out with the other village children to pluck strawberries.
Carelessly they wandered on, till at last they reached the edge of
the Tontlawald, where the finest strawberries grew, making the
grass red with their colour. The children flung themselves down on
the ground, and, after eating as many as they wanted, began to pile
up their baskets, when suddenly a cry arose from one of the older
'Run, run as fast as you can! We are in the Tontlawald!'
Quicker than lightning they sprang to their feet, and rushed
madly away, all except Elsa, who had strayed farther than the rest,
and had found a bed of the finest strawberries right under the
trees. Like the others, she heard the boy's cry, but could not make
up her mind to leave the strawberries.
'After all, what does it matter?' thought she. 'The dwellers in
the Tontlawald cannot be worse than my stepmother'; and looking up
she saw a little black dog with a silver bell on its neck come
barking towards her, followed by a maiden clad all in silk.
'Be quiet,' said she; then turning to Elsa she added: 'I am so
glad you did not run away with the other children. Stay here with
me and be my friend, and we will play delightful games together,
and every day we will go and gather strawberries. Nobody will dare
to beat you if I tell them not. Come, let us go to my mother'; and
taking Elsa's hand she led her deeper into the wood, the little
black dog jumping up beside them and barking with pleasure.
Oh! what wonders and splendours unfolded themselves before
Elsa's astonished eyes! She thought she really must be in Heaven.
Fruit trees and bushes loaded with fruit stood before them, while
birds gayer than the brightest butterfly sat in their branches and
filled the air with their song. And the birds were not shy, but let
the girls take them in their hands, and stroke their gold and
silver feathers. In the centre of the garden was the
dwelling-house, shining with glass and precious stones, and in the
doorway sat a woman in rich garments, who turned to Elsa's
companion and asked:
'What sort of a guest are you bringing to me?'
'I found her alone in the wood,' replied her daughter, 'and
brought her back with me for a companion. You will let her
The mother laughed, but said nothing, only she looked Elsa up
and down sharply. Then she told the girl to come near, and stroked
her cheeks and spoke kindly to her, asking if her parents were
alive, and if she really would like to stay with them. Elsa stooped
and kissed her hand, then, kneeling down, buried her face in the
woman's lap, and sobbed out:
'My mother has lain for many years under the ground. My father
is still alive, but I am nothing to him, and my stepmother beats me
all the day long. I can do nothing right, so let me, I pray you,
stay with you. I will look after the flocks or do any work you tell
me; I will obey your lightest word; only do not, I entreat you,
send me back to her. She will half kill me for not having come back
with the other children.'
And the woman smiled and answered, 'Well, we will see what we
can do with you,' and, rising, went into the house.
Then the daughter said to Elsa, 'Fear nothing, my mother will be
your friend. I saw by the way she looked that she would grant your
request when she had thought over it,' and, telling Elsa to wait,
she entered the house to seek her mother. Elsa meanwhile was tossed
about between hope and fear, and felt as if the girl would never
At last Elsa saw her crossing the grass with a box in her
'My mother says we may play together to-day, as she wants to
make up her mind what to do about you. But I hope you will stay
here always, as I can't bear you to go away. Have you ever been on
'The sea?' asked Elsa, staring; 'what is that? I've never heard
of such a thing!'
'Oh, I'll soon show you,' answered the girl, taking the lid from
the box, and at the very bottom lay a scrap of a cloak, a mussel
shell, and two fish scales. Two drops of water were glistening on
the cloak, and these the girl shook on the ground. In an instant
the garden and lawn and everything else had vanished utterly, as if
the earth had opened and swallowed them up, and as far as the eye
could reach you could see nothing but water, which seemed at last
to touch heaven itself. Only under their feet was a tiny dry spot.
Then the girl placed the mussel shell on the water and took the
fish scales in her hand. The mussel shell grew bigger and bigger,
and turned into a pretty little boat, which would have held a dozen
children. The girls stepped in, Elsa very cautiously, for which she
was much laughed at by her friend, who used the fish scales for a
rudder. The waves rocked the girls softly, as if they were lying in
a cradle, and they floated on till they met other boats filled with
men, singing and making merry.
'We must sing you a song in return,' said the girl, but as Elsa
did not know any songs, she had to sing by herself. Elsa could not
understand any of the men's songs, but one word, she noticed, came
over and over again, and that was 'Kisika.' Elsa asked what it
meant, and the girl replied that it was her name.
It was all so pleasant that they might have stayed there for
ever had not a voice cried out to them, 'Children, it is time for
you to come home!'
So Kisika took the little box out of her pocket, with the piece
of cloth lying in it, and dipped the cloth in the water, and lo!
they were standing close to a splendid house in the middle of the
garden. Everything round them was dry and firm, and there was no
water anywhere. The mussel shell and the fish scales were put back
in the box, and the girls went in.
They entered a large hall, where four and twenty richly dressed
women were sitting round a table, looking as if they were about to
attend a wedding. At the head of the table sat the lady of the
house in a golden chair.
Elsa did not know which way to look, for everything that met her
eyes was more beautiful than she could have dreamed possible. But
she sat down with the rest, and ate some delicious fruit, and
thought she must be in heaven. The guests talked softly, but their
speech was strange to Elsa, and she understood nothing of what was
said. Then the hostess turned round and whispered something to a
maid behind her chair, and the maid left the hall, and when she
came back she brought a little old man with her, who had a beard
longer than himself. He bowed low to the lady and then stood
quietly near the door.
'Do you see this girl?' said the lady of the house, pointing to
Elsa. 'I wish to adopt her for my daughter. Make me a copy of her,
which we can send to her native village instead of herself.'
The old man looked Elsa all up and down, as if he was taking her
measure, bowed again to the lady, and left the hall. After dinner
the lady said kindly to Elsa, 'Kisika has begged me to let you stay
with her, and you have told her you would like to live here. Is
At these words Elsa fell on her knees, and kissed the lady's
hands and feet in gratitude for her escape from her cruel
stepmother; but her hostess raised her from the ground and patted
her head, saying, 'All will go well as long as you are a good,
obedient child, and I will take care of you and see that you want
for nothing till you are grown up and can look after yourself. My
waiting-maid, who teaches Kisika all sorts of fine handiwork, shall
teach you too.'
Not long after the old man came back with a mould full of clay
on his shoulders, and a little covered basket in his left hand. He
put down his mould and his basket on the ground, took up a handful
of clay, and made a doll as large as life. When it was finished he
bored a hole in the doll's breast and put a bit of bread inside;
then, drawing a snake out of the basket, forced it to enter the
'Now,' he said to the lady, 'all we want is a drop of the
When she heard this Elsa grew white with horror, for she thought
she was selling her soul to the evil one.
'Do not be afraid!' the lady hastened to say; 'we do not want
your blood for any bad purpose, but rather to give you freedom and
Then she took a tiny golden needle, pricked Elsa in the arm, and
gave the needle to the old man, who stuck it into the heart of the
doll. When this was done he placed the figure in the basket,
promising that the next day they should all see what a beautiful
piece of work he had finished.
When Elsa awoke the next morning in her silken bed, with its
soft white pillows, she saw a beautiful dress lying over the back
of a chair, ready for her to put on. A maid came in to comb out her
long hair, and brought the finest linen for her use; but nothing
gave Elsa so much joy as the little pair of embroidered shoes that
she held in her hand, for the girl had hitherto been forced to run
about barefoot by her cruel stepmother. In her excitement she never
gave a thought to the rough clothes she had worn the day before,
which had disappeared as if by magic during the night. Who could
have taken them? Well, she was to know that by-and-by. But WE can
guess that the doll had been dressed in them, which was to go back
to the village in her stead. By the time the sun rose the doll had
attained her full size, and no one could have told one girl from
the other. Elsa started back when she met herself as she looked
'You must not be frightened,' said the lady, when she noticed
her terror; 'this clay figure can do you no harm. It is for your
stepmother, that she may beat it instead of you. Let her flog it as
hard as she will, it can never feel any pain. And if the wicked
woman does not come one day to a better mind your double will be
able at last to give her the punishment she deserves.'
From this moment Elsa's life was that of the ordinary happy
child, who has been rocked to sleep in her babyhood in a lovely
golden cradle. She had no cares or troubles of any sort, and every
day her tasks became easier, and the years that had gone before
seemed more and more like a bad dream. But the happier she grew the
deeper was her wonder at everything around her, and the more firmly
she was persuaded that some great unknown power must be at the
bottom of it all.
In the courtyard stood a huge granite block about twenty steps
from the house, and when meal times came round the old man with the
long beard went to the block, drew out a small silver staff, and
struck the stone with it three times, so that the sound could be
heard a long way off. At the third blow, out sprang a large golden
cock, and stood upon the stone. Whenever he crowed and flapped his
wings the rock opened and something came out of it. First a long
table covered with dishes ready laid for the number of persons who
would be seated round it, and this flew into the house all by
When the cock crowed for the second time, a number of chairs
appeared, and flew after the table; then wine, apples, and other
fruit, all without trouble to anybody. After everybody had had
enough, the old man struck the rock again. The golden cock crowed
afresh, and back went dishes, table, chairs, and plates into the
middle of the block.
When, however, it came to the turn of the thirteenth dish, which
nobody ever wanted to eat, a huge black cat ran up, and stood on
the rock close to the cock, while the dish was on his other
There they all remained, till they were joined by the old
He picked up the dish in one hand, tucked the cat under his arm,
told the cock to get on his shoulder, and all four vanished into
the rock. And this wonderful stone contained not only food, but
clothes and everything you could possibly want in the house.
At first a language was often spoken at meals which was strange
to Elsa, but by the help of the lady and her daughter she began
slowly to understand it, though it was years before she was able to
speak it herself.
One day she asked Kisika why the thirteenth dish came daily to
the table and was sent daily away untouched, but Kisika knew no
more about it than she did. The girl must, however, have told her
mother what Elsa had said, for a few days later she spoke to Elsa
'Do not worry yourself with useless wondering. You wish to know
why we never eat of the thirteenth dish? That, dear child, is the
dish of hidden blessings, and we cannot taste of it without
bringing our happy life here to an end. And the world would be a
great deal better if men, in their greed, did not seek to snatch
every thing for themselves, instead of leaving something as a
thankoffering to the giver of the blessings. Greed is man's worst
The years passed like the wind for Elsa, and she grew into a
lovely woman, with a knowledge of many things that she would never
have learned in her native village; but Kisika was still the same
young girl that she had been on the day of her first meeting with
Elsa. Each morning they both worked for an hour at reading and
writing, as they had always done, and Elsa was anxious to learn all
she could, but Kisika much preferred childish games to anything
else. If the humour seized her, she would fling aside her tasks,
take her treasure box, and go off to play in the sea, where no harm
ever came to her.
'What a pity,' she would often say to Elsa, 'that you have grown
so big, you cannot play with me any more.'
Nine years slipped away in this manner, when one day the lady
called Elsa into her room. Elsa was surprised at the summons, for
it was unusual, and her heart sank, for she feared some evil
threatened her. As she crossed the threshold, she saw that the
lady's cheeks were flushed, and her eyes full of tears, which she
dried hastily, as if she would conceal them from the girl. 'Dearest
child,' she began, 'the time has come when we must part.'
'Part?' cried Elsa, burying her head in the lady's lap. 'No,
dear lady, that can never be till death parts us. You once opened
your arms to me; you cannot thrust me away now.'
'Ah, be quiet, child,' replied the lady; 'you do not know what I
would do to make you happy. Now you are a woman, and I have no
right to keep you here. You must return to the world of men, where
joy awaits you.'
'Dear lady,' entreated Elsa again. 'Do not, I beseech you, send
me from you. I want no other happiness but to live and die beside
you. Make me your waiting maid, or set me to any work you choose,
but do not cast me forth into the world. It would have been better
if you had left me with my stepmother, than first to have brought
me to heaven and then send me back to a worse place.'
'Do not talk like that, dear child,' replied the lady; 'you do
not know all that must be done to secure your happiness, however
much it costs me. But it has to be. You are only a common mortal,
who will have to die one day, and you cannot stay here any longer.
Though we have the bodies of men, we are not men at all, though it
is not easy for you to understand why. Some day or other you will
find a husband who has been made expressly for you, and will live
happily with him till death separates you. It will be very hard for
me to part from you, but it has to be, and you must make up your
mind to it.' Then she drew her golden comb gently through Elsa's
hair, and bade her go to bed; but little sleep had the poor girl!
Life seemed to stretch before her like a dark starless night.
Now let us look back a moment, and see what had been going on in
Elsa's native village all these years, and how her double had
fared. It is a well-known fact that a bad woman seldom becomes
better as she grows older, and Elsa's stepmother was no exception
to the rule; but as the figure that had taken the girl's place
could feel no pain, the blows that were showered on her night and
day made no difference. If the father ever tried to come to his
daughter's help, his wife turned upon him, and things were rather
worse than before.
One day the stepmother had given the girl a frightful beating,
and then threatened to kill her outright. Mad with rage, she seized
the figure by the throat with both hands, when out came a black
snake from her mouth and stung the woman's tongue, and she fell
dead without a sound. At night, when the husband came home, he
found his wife lying dead upon the ground, her body all swollen and
disfigured, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. His screams
brought the neighbours from their cottages, but they were unable to
explain how it had all come about. It was true, they said, that
about mid-day they had heard a great noise, but as that was a
matter of daily occurrence they did not think much of it. The rest
of the day all was still, but no one had seen anything of the
daughter. The body of the dead woman was then prepared for burial,
and her tired husband went to bed, rejoicing in his heart that he
had been delivered from the firebrand who had made his home
unpleasant. On the table he saw a slice of bread lying, and, being
hungry, he ate it before going to sleep.
In the morning he too was found dead, and as swollen as his
wife, for the bread had been placed in the body of the figure by
the old man who made it. A few days later he was placed in the
grave beside his wife, but nothing more was ever heard of their
All night long after her talk with the lady Elsa had wept and
wailed her hard fate in being cast out from her home which she
Next morning, when she got up, the lady placed a gold seal ring
on her finger, strung a little golden box on a ribbon, and placed
it round her neck; then she called the old man, and, forcing back
her tears, took leave of Elsa. The girl tried to speak, but before
she could sob out her thanks the old man had touched her softly on
the head three times with his silver staff. In an instant Elsa knew
that she was turning into a bird: wings sprang from beneath her
arms; her feet were the feet of eagles, with long claws; her nose
curved itself into a sharp beak, and feathers covered her body.
Then she soared high in the air, and floated up towards the clouds,
as if she had really been hatched an eagle.
For several days she flew steadily south, resting from time to
time when her wings grew tired, for hunger she never felt. And so
it happened that one day she was flying over a dense forest, and
below hounds were barking fiercely, because, not having wings
themselves, she was out of their reach. Suddenly a sharp pain
quivered through her body, and she fell to the ground, pierced by
When Elsa recovered her senses, she found herself lying under a
bush in her own proper form. What had befallen her, and how she got
there, lay behind her like a bad dream.
As she was wondering what she should do next the king's son came
riding by, and, seeing Elsa, sprang from his horse, and took her by
the hand, sawing, 'Ah! it was a happy chance that brought me here
this morning. Every night, for half a year, have I dreamed, dear
lady, that I should one day find you in this wood. And although I
have passed through it hundreds of times in vain, I have never
given up hope. To-day I was going in search of a large eagle that I
had shot, and instead of the eagle I have found—you.' Then he took
Elsa on his horse, and rode with her to the town, where the old
king received her graciously.
A few days later the wedding took place, and as Elsa was
arranging the veil upon her hair fifty carts arrived laden with
beautiful things which the lady of the Tontlawald had sent to Elsa.
And after the king's death Elsa became queen, and when she was old
she told this story. But that was the last that was ever heard of
(From Ehstnische Marchen.)