A HAPPY MARRIAGE
A CONVENTION of magicians was to be held in Africa, and guests came to the festival from all quarters of the globe in aerial conveyances. Among others, an aged fairy had left her castle, and undertaken the journey. Her dragon-coach in the course of years had become somewhat decayed, and as it was coming down a steep cloud-mountain the axle-tree broke. The coach immediately began to fall, and whirled,together with the struggling dragons, down to the solid earth. A fairy can endure more than mortals, but still she was very much alarmed at the accident, and the fact that she landed directly in the midst of a populous town considerably increased her anxiety.
The city was none other than Simpel, and the people who surrounded the shattered coach were Simpletons. How they opened their eyes! Emperors and kings had often been entertained within their walls, but a fairy who journeyed through the air with a team of dragons they had never yet beheld. However, they conducted themselves like brave Christian people. The coach they dragged to the blacksmith's shop, they put the dragons in the stable, and filled the crib with pitch wreaths and brimstone matches. But the burgomaster invited the fairy in appropriate language to come to his humble dwelling and take a lunch to recover herself from the fright she had undergone.
The fairy accepted the gallant man's invitation, refreshed herself with food and drink, and later the burgomaster took her to see the sights of the city. Then, indeed, she saw many things that she had to shake her head over, and what she learned about the customs and doings of the people made her very thoughtful. When she returned to her host's house again, she took her magic book in her hand, and soon knew all that she wanted to know. “The worthy people must be helped,” she said to herself, and asked the burgomaster to grant her an interview.
At first she praised the city, and then began cautiously to draw his attention to the existing poverty and crime; and when the consul, shrugging his shoulders, admitted that things were really not altogether as they ought to be, the fairy said: “Gracious, burgomaster! A fiend has established himself in your city, and for hundreds of years has darkened the minds of the citizens, and —pardon me — yours as well. But I know how to exorcise spirits, and will free your city from the plague if you will accompany me to the court-house.”
So they went together to the windowless court-house, which was lighted with miserable oil lamps. There the fairy opened her book and began the exorcism. She had been whispering her magic words for a good while, when all of a sudden the door of the large oaken cupboard, in which the city seal, the chronicle, and the most important documents were kept, opened with a great creaking, and bluish smoke began to pour out from the inside. The burgomaster fortified himself behind a chair, and awaited the appearance of the spirit with fear and trembling. But the fairy continued her exorcism, the cloud became condensed, and finally the spirit assumed bodily form. It did not excite fear and dread, but rather pity, for it appeared like a young woman with low brow and delicate features. And the maiden, or whatever it was, immediately began to weep and sob, as if her heart would break.
“There is your city ghost,” said the fairy. “Now try your best to get rid of her. But do the little creature no harm. You must promise me that.”
The burgomaster had found his courage again. He looked at the pitiful form, and then asked her sternly, “Who are you?”
But the maid could give no answer, for she was sobbing so. Then the fairy bent towards the burgomaster and whispered a word in his ear, and the honorable gentleman fell back alarmed into a chair. “Horrible!” he groaned, and buried his face in his hands. Thus he sat for a long time.
“Make an end of it, good burgomaster,” said the fairy after a while, “and send her away.”
“Yes, she must go,” said the disquieted official. “She shall go unharmed from here, but she must swear that she will never come back again.”
She did so. Then the burgomaster gave the exile a pass, and furnished it with a seal and an illegible signature, and when the vesper bell sounded the evil spirit had already left the city far behind her.
*Sadly went the banished spirit along the country road. She journeyed all night long, and when the awakening birds became noisy, and the mountaintops began to grow rosy, she came to a village. She dimly remembered having once lived among the peasants, and that she did not have a bad time then. Therefore she made up her mind to try her luck in the village.
By a gurgling well stood a handsome peasant woman with red arms, pouring water into the milk that she was going to carry to the city. The woman was Country Simplicity. The pilgrim timidly approached her, and asked in a shy voice “Possibly you are in want of a maid?”
“A maid I certainly am in need of,” replied the peasant woman, and looked the stranger critically in the eye. “Oho, it's you, is it?” she exclaimed, and burst into a loud laugh. “I know you; I have often seen you in the city. No, my good girl, there is no room for you in the village. Go on further!” And Country Simplicity turned her back on the poor creature, and went on with her work.
The maid continued her way. She went from house to house, but she was welcome nowhere; they turned her rudely or scornfully from the door, and the dogs barked after her. The same thing happened to her in the next town, and she had begun to look about for a corner where she could stay at night, when she happened on an old gloomy house, whose door stood carelessly open. She went in, and found in an arched room on the ground floor an old woman busily writing by the light of a lamp. Dusty books and gilded parchments lay about everywhere, and spiders had spun their webs in every corner. The woman who was writing was Knowledge.
“Do you need a maid?” asked the outlaw in a low voice.
Knowledge pushed her horn spectacles upon her forehead, and inspected the stranger; nodded her gray head with satisfaction, and said: “There is something about you that pleases me. You can remain.” And the stranger remained.
It was not a difficult position to be in the service of Knowledge, and the mistress grew daily more fond of the industrious, quiet maid. Occasionally, when she was in a particularly good humor, she would read a passage from her manuscript to the servant, and ask, “What do you think of that?” Then the maid would answer and give her opinion as well as she could, and the dame would nod an assent, and write down the maid's words on the edge as a gloss. It was a fortunate union.
But one day a man came to the house who had orders from the king to write down the names of all the people in the city, — men, women, and children, — for the king wished to know how many subjects he had. So the maid was brought out to the official.
“Have you a certificate or anything in writing to show where you belong?” he asked; and the maid produced her passport that the burgomaster of Simpel had given her. The man looked at it with astonishment, then handed the paper to the mistress of the house, and asked with a laugh, “Do you know whom you have taken into your house?”
Knowledge took the passport, read it, and let the paper fall from her hands. “Oh my goodness!” she groaned in an undertone. Then she implored the officer not to say anything about it, paid the trembling maid the wages due her, gave her some cast-off garments besides, and bolted the door behind the departing bird of misfortune.
*With hanging head the poor thing crept out of the city; and when, after a hard journey, she reached a wood, she decided to live in it and become a hermit.
She had spent several days in the wilderness, when one morning, while gathering berries, she came to a garden fence. Strange trees and flowers grew in it, and birds of shining plumage sang in the branches. An old woman was taking a walk along the path strewn with golden sand. She was none other than the fairy who had driven the unfortunate creature into banishment; and as soon as the maid recognized her enemy, she fell on the ground with a loud scream.
The fairy came to the fainting girl, lifted her up, and gave her some strengthening balsam. Then she led her, trembling, into her castle, and quieted her with friendly words. “You may stay here,” she said, “for a few days, and rest yourself. In the mean time, I hope that just the right thing will be found for you. I am to blame for your misfortune, and it is right that I should help you out of it.”
Hereupon the fairy shut herself up in her study, and called up the spirits that served her, to hold counsel with them.
On the third day the fairy sent for the little stranger. She looked very friendly, and said: “My child, I have something good in store for you. In a short time your sadness will be changed to joy.” She rang for her waiting-maids, and ordered them to dress her charge in costly garments. The waiting-maids did their best, and when, after an hour, the stranger in her adornment appeared again before her patron, the fairy nodded her head in approval. “Come, and follow me!” she said, and conducted the little one into the courtyard. There stood a dainty, milk-white ass, provided with wings, and a woman's saddle. “Mount!” commanded the fairy, and helped the maiden into the saddle. Then she whispered something in the ass's ear, and the ass gave a joyful bray, lifted his wings, and rose like a falcon into the air. “Hold on fast!” cried the fairy, and waved her handkerchief. The winged ass had soon mounted so high with his burden that he looked no bigger than a lark above the cornfields. But the fairy, smiling, rubbed her hands with satisfaction.
The magic ass understood flying. He shot straight ahead like a dove striving to reach her own dove-cote, and when he saw his goal lying beneath him, he sank very slowly down, that his rider might come gently to the ground.
The ass stopped before a magnificent castle; the coat of arms above the door showed a golden turkey on a red field. Gaily clad servants rushed forward to assist the extraordinary rider from the saddle. At the foot of the broad marble steps stood a dignified man, gorgeously dressed, who was the lord of the castle.
Graciously he took off his hat adorned with ostrich feathers before the stranger, and led her into the interior of the palace. Oh, what magnificence!
When they reached the drawing-room the lord dropped politely on one knee before the lady, and said: “Be welcome, charming fairy child! Know that I am immortal, and only an immortal can become my wife. Therefore fate has led you to me. I am Pride.” He rose and stood in all his magnificence before the stupefied girl. “And who art thou, my adorable angel?” asked Pride. “What is thy name?”
The stranger lifted her face, and tears were shining in her watery blue eyes. “Ah,” she sighed, “I dare not deceive you. Immortal I am indeed; but if you should hear my name you would drive me from you. I am —”
“Why do you hesitate, heavenly fairy? Speak! Who are you?”
“I am Stupidity,” stammered the lady, and held her hand before her eyes.
The lord of the castle laughed till the arches rang. “And do you think I believe that?” he cried. “Never! But you shall be called whatever you please. I will nevermore let you leave my side, and the wedding shall be this very day. Are you willing?”
Then Stupidity with a beaming face fell on Pride's decorated breast, and whispered, blissfully smiling, “ Yes.”
Above them the ceiling of the drawing-room opened, and in a rosy cloud appeared the good fairy and blessed the union of the happy pair.