THE leaves of the Mystic Linden sigh! Light glows from the Magic Stone! Listen to the Wizard of the Crystal-Lighted Cavern!
Once on a time, in a great wood lived a poor man with his wife. God had given them eight children, and when a ninth was born, they were not overjoyed. But God had sent the child, so they had to receive him and give him Christian baptism. But there was no one willing to stand as godfather to such a poor child.
"I will take him to the Church anyway," thought the Father. "The Pastor may do as he chooses, christen him or not."
As he was starting out with the child, he met a beggar sitting by the way, who asked an alms of him.
"I have nothing to give you, little Brother," answered the poor man. "But if you will do me the favor of becoming my child's godfather, afterward we will go home and make merry with whatever my wife has provided for the christening feast."
The Beggar, who had never been asked before to be a godfather, was filled with joy, and went with him to the Church. Just as they reached it, what should drive up but a magnificent coach with four horses. Out of it stepped a young and noble Lady.
The man thought to himself, "Here, for the last time, I will try my luck!" Then he said to her humbly, "Noble Lady, will you take the trouble of standing godmother to my child?"
The Lady said, "Yes."
When the child was brought forward for baptism, every one was surprised to see a poor Beggar and a proud, noble Lady stand together as the child's godparents. The child received the name of Paertel. The rich Lady gave the child a christening gift of three gold pieces.
The Beggar went home with the poor man to enjoy the feast. And before he left that evening, he took from his pocket a little box wrapped in a rag. He gave the box to the child's Mother, saying:
"This is my christening gift. It is nothing much, but do not despise it, for it may bring your child great luck. A very wise Aunt of mine, who understood all kinds of Magic, gave me before her death the little egg in this box, saying:
"'When something unexpected happens, which you have never dreamed of, give this egg away. When it falls into the hands of him for whom it is meant, it will bring him great Good Luck. Guard the egg like the apple of your eye, and see that it does not break for its shell is tender.'
"Though I am nigh sixty years old," continued the Beggar, "never has anything unexpected happened to me till today, when I was asked to be godfather. My first thought was to give this egg to your child, as a christening gift."
The little Paertel throve, and grew up to be the joy of his parents. When he was ten years old, he was sent to a rich farmer to be herdboy. His Mother, when she was saying farewell, stuck the godfather's gift in his pocket, and bade him care for it like the apple of his eye. And Paertel did.
On the meadow where he grazed his herd, stood an ancient Linden Tree, and under this lay a great flint-stone. This spot, Paertel liked very much. The bread which he brought with him each morning, he ate on the stone, and he quenched his thirst at a little spring nearby. With the other herdboys, who were always up to mischief, Paertel had nothing to do. And it was wonderful that nowhere grew such beautiful grass as between the stone and the spring. Although his herd grazed there each day, on the next morning the grass had sprung up again green and fresh.
Now and then, when Paertel, on a hot day, napped a little, sitting on the stone, he was overjoyed by the most wonderful dreams. And when he woke, in his ears was the sound of music and singing, so that when he opened his eyes he seemed to dream on. The stone, too, seemed to him like a dear friend, which he said good-bye to each night with a heavy heart.
Paertel grew to be a fine lad, too old to be herdsboy any longer. The farmer took him as a farmhand. On Sundays and summer evenings when the other lads were joking with their sweethearts, Paertel did not join them but hurried off to his grazing meadow, to his beloved Linden Tree, under which he often spent half the night.
One Sunday evening as he sat on the stone playing upon his jew's-harp, a Milk White Snake crept from under the stone, raised its head as if listening, and gazed on Paertel with its clear eyes that glowed like fiery sparks.
Evening after evening, Paertel, as soon as he had free time, hurried to his stone, in order to see the beautiful White Snake. She became so used to him, that she would often wind herself about his leg.
By day he thought of the White Snake, and by night he dreamed of her. For this reason that winter seemed very long, while the deep snow lay on the frozen earth. As soon as the spring sunshine melted the snow and the ground thawed, Paertel hurried to the stone under the Linden Tree, although its leaves were not yet to be seen.
O joy! As soon as he breathed his longing through the harp the White Snake crept out from under the stone, and played about his feet. But it seemed to Paertel as if today the Snake shed tears, so his heart was sad.
After that he let no evening pass without going to the stone. The Snake grew so tame, that she let him stroke her. But when he tried to hold her, she slipped through his fingers and crept back under the stone.
On Midsummer Eve, all the village folk, old and young, went together to light the St. John's Fire. Paertel did not dare to remain behind, though his heart pulled him another way. But in the midst of the fun, while the others were singing, dancing, and having a jolly time, he slipped away to the Linden Tree, for that was the only spot where his heart found rest.
As he drew near it, he saw a clear bright fire gleaming from the stone. When he came closer, he saw the fire die down. It left neither ashes nor sparks. He sat down on the stone and began as usual to play on his harp. Instantly the fire blazed up again--it was but a burning from the eyes of the White Snake!
There the Snake was! She played his around his feet, and looked at him so beseechingly that she seemed to want to speak.
Midnight was near, when the Snake slipped under the stone and did not come back while Paertel played. Then he took his harp from his mouth, placed it in his pocket, and started to go home. Just then the leaves of the Linden Tree sighed so wonderfully in a puff of wind, that they sounded like a human voice. Paertel thought he heard them say over and over again:
Tender shell surrounds the Luck Egg.
Tough the heart of ancient trouble.
Take your Luck, while you may have it!
Then he felt such a painful longing that his heart seemed about to break. Yet he knew not what he longed for. Bitter tears ran down his cheeks, and he lamented:
"How can Luck help me, the Unlucky, for whom there is no Luck in this world?"
Then suddenly everything around him was as brilliant as if the Linden and the stone were the shining sun. For a minute his eyes were dazzled, then he saw standing near him on the stone, an exquisite maiden-shape in snow-white robes. From her mouth sounded a voice sweeter than the nightingale's. The voice said:
"Dear Lad! Do not fear, but listen to the prayer of an unhappy Maiden. Poor me! I live in a miserable prison. If you do not save me, I have no hope of escape. O dear Lad! Have pity on me, and do not refuse my request! I am the Daughter of a Mighty King of the East, who is immeasurably rich with gold and treasures. But those cannot help me, for I am bewitched in the shape of a Snake, and forced to live here under this stone. Here have I lived for many a hundred years, without growing old.
"Though I have never hurt a human being, every one who sees me flees from me. You are the only living mortal who has not fled. Yes! I have even dared to play about your feet, and your hand has stroked me! So there has arisen in my heart, the hope that you are to be my rescuer. Your heart is as pure as a child's, and in it is neither deceit nor falsehood. And the Luck Egg was your christening gift.
"Only once in twenty-five years," continued the sweet voice, "on the Night of St. John, am I permitted to assume my human shape, and to wander for one hour on earth. And should the lad with your gift come, and listen to my prayer, so might I be loosed from my prison. Save me! O save me!"
So speaking the maiden-shape fell at Paertel's feet, embraced his knees, and wept bitterly. Paertel's heart melted at the sight. He begged her to arise and tell him how he might rescue her.
"I would go through fire and water," cried he, "if that might save you! Had I ten lives to lose, I would give them all!"
The maiden-shape answered, "Come here tomorrow night at sundown. And when I creep toward you in the form of a Snake, and wind myself like a girdle around your body and kiss you three times, you must not be afraid nor shrink back. If you do, I shall again sigh under the curse of Enchantment for many a hundred years."
With these words, the maiden-shape vanished from the lad's eyes, and again the leaves of the Linden seemed to sigh and sigh:
Tender shell surrounds the Luck Egg.
Tough the heart of ancient trouble.
Take your Luck, while you may have it!
Paertel went home and lay down to sleep before dawn. But wonderful varied dreams, partly happy and partly horrible, chased sleep from his bed. He sprang up in terror when one dream showed him the white Snake winding its coils around his breast and smothering him.
However, he did not think more about this terrible thing, for he was firmly resolved to rescue the King's Daughter from the bonds of her Enchantment. Nevertheless, his heart grew heavier and heavier, the nearer the sun drew to the horizon.
At the set time he stood by the stone under the Linden Tree, and looking up toward Heaven, sighed and implored that he might not shiver or weaken when the Snake should wind herself around his body and kiss him. Then suddenly he thought of the Luck Egg. He drew the little box from his pocket, opened it, and took between his fingers the egg which was not larger than a sparrow's egg.
At that moment the Snow White Snake crept forth from under the stone, glided up and wound herself around his body. She raised her head to kiss him--when!--the lad himself did not know how it happened--he thrust the Luck Egg into her mouth.
He stood firm but with freezing heart, till the Snake had kissed him three times. Crash! Flash! Lightning seemed to strike the stone. Heavy thunder made the earth tremble. Paertel fell as if dead to the ground. He knew nothing of what happened around him.
But at this dreadful moment, the bond of Enchantment snapped, and the King's Daughter was freed from her prison.
When Paertel woke from his heavy swoon, he found himself lying on cushions of white silk in a magnificent glass room of a heavenly blue color. The beautiful King's Daughter was kneeling beside him and stroking his cheeks. As he opened his eyes, she cried out:
"Thanks! A thousand thanks, faithful lad, who freed me from my Enchantment! Take my whole Kingdom, take this Royal Palace and all its treasures! And take me, if you will for your bride! You shall live here happily, as is due the Lord of the Luck Egg."
Paertel's luck and joy had no end. The longings of his heart were stilled. Far from the world he dwelt with his dear bride in the Palace of Luck.
As for the people of his village, great was their astonishment when they went to search for him, and found neither Paertel, nor the Linden Tree, nor the stone. Even the little spring was gone. All had vanished away!