Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER VI. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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When evening came, and the friends were sitting in an arbor from which there was a wide prospect all round, there appeared on the threshold a notable figure, whom our friend recognized at once as the barber of the morning before.
To a deep and silent obeisance on the man’s part, Lenardo replied, “You come, as ever, very opportunely, and you will not delay to gratify us with your gift.
“I may perhaps tell you,” he went on, turning to Wilhelm, “something about the association of which I may boast myself to be the Bond. No one enters our circle but he who has given evidence of certain talents which would contribute to the profit or pleasure of every society. This man is a thorough surgeon, who, in precarious cases, in which decision and physical strength are requisite, is ready to assist his master cleverly. To what he achieves as a beard-artist you can yourself bear witness in his favor; on this account he is equally necessary and welcome to us. But as this occupation commonly brings with it a great and often burdensome loquacity, he has, for the sake of his own culture, let himself be placed under a condition: as indeed everyone who wishes to live amongst us must restrain himself on one particular side, though greater freedom is accorded to him on another. This man accordingly has renounced the use of speech in so far as anything commonplace or casual is expressed by it; but from this another kind of speaking-talent has developed itself in him, which produces its effect designedly, cleverly and pleasantly: namely, the gift of narration.
“His life is rich in strange experiences, which at one time he used to splinter up by chattering in undue season, but which now, constrained by silence, he repeats and arranges in the quiet of his mind. With this, too, is associated the power of imagination adding life and movement to the occurrence. He knows how to tell real legends and legendary histories with peculiar art and address, by the help of which he often delights us at suitable times when his tongue is loosened by me. This then I do at the present moment; and, at the same time, give him credit for having, during the considerable time that I have known him, not once repeated himself. I hope now that, for love and honor of our dear guest, he will specially distinguish himself on this occasion too.”
A merry look, full of intelligence, overspread Redcloak’s face, and without delay he began to speak as follows.
The New Melusina.
HONORED SIRS: As I am aware that you do not particularly care for preliminary speeches and introductions, I will assure you without more ado that this time I hope to acquit myself exceedingly well. Without doubt many true stories have already gone forth from me to the high satisfaction of all; but to-day, I dare maintain, that I have one to tell which far surpasses all that have gone before, and which, though it happened to me several years ago, still disquiets me whenever I recollect it, nay, even still makes me hope for an explanation in the end. You would have difficulty in finding the like of it.
First I must confess that I have not always ordered my plan of life so as to be quite sure of the time that was shortly coming on, even of the next day. In my youth I was not a good manager, and often found myself in divers perplexities. Once I undertook a journey which should have brought me in a good profit; but I cut my cloth a little too big, and after beginning it with extra-post, and then proceeding for a time by diligence, I at last found myself obliged to face the end of it on foot.
As a lively young fellow, I had always made a practice of looking about for the landlady, or even for the cook, as soon as I entered an inn, and, by expending a little flattery on them, my reckoning was generally diminished.
One evening, as I was entering the post-house of a small town, and was just going to set to work in this customary manner, a handsome two-seated carriage, with four horses, rattled up to the door close behind me. I turned round and saw a young lady all alone, without maid and without attendants. I at once hastened to open the door for her, and inquire whether I could do anything for her. As she got out a beautiful figure became evident, and her amiable face, when one looked at it more nearly, was adorned with a slight trace of sadness. I asked once more whether I could serve her in any way.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “if you will carefully lift out the little box that lies on the seat, and carry it up for me; but I beg you earnestly to carry it quite steadily, and not to swing or shake it in the least!”
I took up the box carefully, whilst she shut the carriage-door. We went up the stairs together, and she told the servants that she would stay here for the night.
We were now alone in the room. She bade me set the box upon the table that stood by the wall, and on noticing from some of her movements that she wished to be alone, I took my leave, and respectfully but warmly kissed her hand.
“Order supper for both of us,” she then said; and it may be imagined with what satisfaction I fulfilled this commission, whilst, in self-conceit, I scarcely threw a side-glance at the hostess and servants. I awaited with impatience the moment which was at last to take me again to her. It was served up, and we sat down opposite one another. For the first time for a long while I refreshed myself with a good meal, and at the same time with a sight so enviable; nay, it seemed to me as if she became more beautiful every minute.
Her conversation was agreeable, yet she made a point of repudiating everything that related to regard or affection. The table was cleared. I lingered; I tried all sorts of artifices to get near her, but in vain; she kept me back with a certain dignity that I could not withstand. Nay, I was obliged, against my will, to leave her in rather good time.
After a night for the best part of which I lay awake or dreamed restlessly, I got up early. I inquired whether she had ordered horses; I was told “No,” and walked into the garden. I saw her standing at the window dressed, and ran up to her. As she stepped towards me, as beautiful as, nay, more beautiful than yesterday, love, impudence and audacity were all at once set astir within me: I rushed towards her and clasped her in my arms. “Angelic, irresistible being,” I exclaimed, “forgive me, but it is impossible —”
With incredible address she freed herself from my arms, and I was not able to imprint a single kiss upon her cheeks.
“Keep back such outbreaks of sudden, passionate affection, if you do not wish to forfeit a piece of good fortune that lies close to you, but which can only be grasped after certain trials.”
“Demand what thou wilt, angelic spirit,” I exclaimed, “but do not drive me to despair!”
She answered with a smile, “If you are willing to devote yourself to my service, hear the conditions. I have come to this place to visit a female friend, with whom I expect to pass a few days: meanwhile I wish my carriage and this case to be taken farther on. Are you willing to take charge of it? You will have nothing to do but to lift the box carefully into and out of the carriage, to sit down by it, and to take every care of it. When you come to an inn it is placed on a table in a room by itself, in which you must neither sit nor sleep. You always lock the door with this key, which opens and closes any lock, and gives the lock the special property that no one is able to open it otherwise.”
I looked at her, and a strange feeling came over me. I promised to do everything, if I might hope to see her soon again, and if she would seal this hope to me with a kiss. This she did, and from that moment I had become completely her body-slave. I was now, she said, to order the horses. We settled the road that I was to take, the places where I should stop and should wait for her. Lastly she pressed a purse of gold into my hand, and I my lips to her hands. She seemed moved at parting, and already I knew not what I did or was about to do.
When I came back after giving my orders I found the room-door locked; I immediately tried my master-key, and it stood its test perfectly. The door sprang open: I found the room empty: there was only the box standing upon the table where I had set it down.
The carriage had driven up. I took the box carefully down and set it beside me.
The hostess asked, “Where is the lady, then?”
A child answered, “She is gone into the town.”
I nodded to the people and drove away in triumph from the door, at which yesterday evening I had arrived with dusty spatterdashes. That I now, at complete leisure, turned this occurrence over and over in my mind, that I counted the gold, made all sorts of schemes, and continued to look occasionally at the box, you can easily imagine. I drove straight forward, did not alight for several stations, and did not rest until I arrived at a considerable town where she had appointed to meet me. Her commands were carefully obeyed, the box was placed in a room by itself, and a few wax candles were lighted near it, as she had also ordered. I locked up the room, settled myself in mine, and made myself comfortable.
For awhile I was able to occupy myself with thinking of her: but soon the time began to seem long. I was not accustomed to be without company; this I soon found at the inn-tables and in public places in accordance with my taste. In this way my money began to melt away, and one evening, when I imprudently abandoned myself to a passionate fit of gaming, it vanished absolutely from my purse. When I reached my room I was beside myself. Bereft of money, with the appearance of a wealthy man, expecting a heavy reckoning, uncertain whether and when my fair one would again make her appearance, I was in the greatest embarrassment. Doubly did I long for her, and was certain that without her and her money I was now quite unable to live.
After supper, for which I had had no sort of relish, since this time I had been obliged to eat it alone, I walked rapidly up and down the room, talked aloud to myself, cursed myself, threw myself on the floor, tore my hair, and behaved like an utter madman. Suddenly in the locked-up room adjoining, I hear a gentle movement, and shortly afterwards a knocking at the well-secured door. I collect myself, and seize hold of the master-key; but the folding-doors fly open of themselves, and in the glow of the lighted wax-candles my fair one comes towards me. I throw myself at her feet, kiss her skirt, her hands: she raises me, I do not venture to embrace her, scarcely to look at her; yet frankly and penitently I confess to her my fault.
“It may be pardoned,” said she; “only unfortunately you delay your good fortune and mine. You must now once more make an expedition into the world before we meet again. Here is more gold,” said she, “and quite enough if you are willing to be at all careful; but if wine and play have got you into trouble this time, be on your guard now against wine and women, and let me hope for a more joyous meeting.”
She retired through her doorway; the folding-doors closed. I knocked, I implored, but nothing more was to be heard.
When I called for the reckoning the next morning, the waiter laughed and said, “So we know why you lock your doors in such a scientific and incomprehensible way that no master-key is able to open them. We assumed that you had a great deal of money and jewels; but now we have seen your treasure going down-stairs, and it seemed on all accounts worthy of being well guarded.”
I said nothing in reply, but paid my reckoning and got into the carriage with my box. I now drove again into the wide world, with the most fixed intention to pay heed for the future to my mysterious friend’s warning. Yet scarce had I again arrived at a large town, when I presently got acquainted with some amiable young ladies, from whom I absolutely could not tear myself away. They seemed disposed to make me pay dearly for their favor, for, whilst they continued to keep me at a certain distance, they led me on to one expense after another, and, as all that I cared for was to further their enjoyment, I never thought twice about my purse, but paid and spent away just as occasion occurred. How great then was my astonishment and delight, when, at the end of some weeks, I noticed that the fulness of my purse showed as yet no diminution, but that it was still as round and bulky as at first. I would fain assure myself more exactly of this pretty quality, and set to work to reckon up. I noticed the sum precisely, and now began to live merrily with my companions as before. There was no stint of country and river-excursions, of dancing, singing, and other enjoyments; but now it required no great attention to perceive that the purse really was diminishing, just as if I, by my confounded counting, had taken away from it the virtue of being uncountable. However the life of pleasure was once for all in full swing: I could not draw back, and yet I was soon at the end of my cash. I cursed my situation, blamed my fair friend who had thus led me into temptation, took it ill of her that she did not come on the scene again; repudiated in my anger all duties towards her, and proposed to myself to open the box, in case perchance some help might be found in it; for, though it was not heavy enough to contain gold, yet there might be jewels in it, and these would have been very welcome to me. I was on the point of carrying out my intention; however I put it off till night-time, in order to carry out the operation quite quietly, and I hastened to a banquet, which was just about to take place. Here again the fun was speeding fast, and we were highly excited with wine and trumpet-tones, when by ill-luck it befell me that, at supper-time, an earlier friend of my favorite fair one, returning from a journey, came in unexpectedly, sat down by her side, and without much ceremony sought to assert his old privileges. Hence arose ill-humor, anger and strife; we drew, and I was taken home half dead with sundry wounds.
The surgeon had bandaged me and gone away; it was already deep in the night, and my attendant had fallen asleep; the door of the side-room opened, my mysterious friend entered, and sat down by my bedside. She asked how I was; I did not answer, for I was faint and sullen. She went on speaking with much sympathy, rubbed my temples with a certain balsam, so that I felt rapidly and distinctly strengthened—so strengthened that I was able to grow angry and upbraid her. In hasty words I laid all the blame of my ill-fortune upon her, on the passion with which she had inspired me, on her appearance, her disappearance, on the tedium, on the yearning that I had felt. I became more and more violent, as if a fever were attacking me, and at last I swore to her that if she would not be mine—would not this time belong to and unite herself with me, I cared no longer to live; and thereto I demanded a decisive answer. When she hesitated and held back with an explanation, I got quite beside myself, and tore the double and threefold bandage from the wounds, with the indubitable intention of letting myself bleed to death. But how astounded was I when I found my wounds all healed, my body sleek and shining, and her in my arms!
Now were we the happiest couple in the world. We alternately asked pardon of each other, though we ourselves knew not rightly wherefore. She now promised to travel on with me, and we were soon sitting by one another in the carriage, with the box opposite to us, in the third person’s place. I had never made any mention of it to her: and even now it did not occur to me to speak of it, although it was standing before our eyes, and we both by a tacit agreement took it in charge as occasion might require: except that I always lifted it in and out of the carriage, and, as before, attended to the locking of the doors.
As long as there was anything left in my purse I had always paid: when my cash came to an end, I gave her notice of the fact. “That is easily remedied,” she said, pointing to a couple of little pockets, attached to the top of the carriage at the sides, which I certainly had noticed before, but had not used. She felt in one and took out a few gold pieces, and out of the other a few silver coins, and showed me thus the possibility of continuing any sort of expenditure we liked.
Thus we journeyed from town to town, from country to country, pleased with ourselves and other people; and I never thought that she could again leave me; all the less so, inasmuch as for some time she had decidedly had expectations through which our happiness and love would be only further increased. But one morning I found, alas, that she was no longer there, and as remaining without her was burdensome to me, I started again on my travels with my little box, tested the power of the two pockets, and found that it was still maintained.
The journey sped well; and if, so far, I had had no further thoughts about my adventure, inasmuch as I was expecting a perfectly natural explanation of these strange occurrences, yet there presently happened something which threw me into astonishment, into anxiety, nay, even into fear. In order to get far away from the place I was accustomed to travel night and day, and thus it happened that I often drove in the dark, and if the lamps by chance went out, it was pitch dark in my carriage. Once in a night thus dark I had fallen asleep, and when I awoke I noticed the reflection of a light on the roof of my carriage. I examined it, and found that it issued from the box, in which there seemed to be a chink, as if it had sprung by reason of the hot and dry weather of the advancing summer season. My fancies about the jewels were again set astir; I supposed that a carbuncle was lying in the box, and I was anxious to make certain of it. I put myself in position, as well as I could, so that my eye was in close contact with the chink. But how great was my astonishment, when I found myself looking in at a room brilliantly illuminated with candles, and furnished with much taste, nay, even magnificence, exactly as if I had been looking down into a royal saloon through an opening in the ceiling. It is true I could see only a part of the room, from which I could infer the rest. An open fire seemed to be burning, near which stood an arm-chair. I held my breath and continued to observe. In the meantime, from the other side of the saloon, came a young lady with a book in her hand, whom I at once recognized as my wife, although her figure was diminished in the minutest proportion. The beautiful creature sat down on the seat by the fireplace to read, and as she arranged the embers with the daintiest pair of tongs, I could plainly observe that this most lovable little being was on the point of becoming a mother. But now I found myself obliged in some measure to change my inconvenient position, and directly afterwards, when I was again going to look in, and convince myself that it had not been a dream, the light vanished, and I looked on empty darkness.
How amazed, how terrified I was, may be imagined. I formed a thousand ideas as to this discovery, and yet could really imagine nothing. Doing this I fell asleep, and when I awoke I fancied that I had just been only dreaming. Yet I felt somewhat estranged from my fair one, and whilst I handled the box only so much the more carefully, I knew not whether I must desire or dread her reappearance in perfect human size.
After some little time, my fair one really did come to me about eventide, clad in white, and as the room was just getting dark, she seemed taller to me than she was wont at other times to appear and I recollected to have heard that all the race of nixies and elves are noticeably increased in height as night approaches. She rushed as usual into my arms, but I could not with a right glad heart press her to my burdened breast.
“My darling,” she said, “I feel too well by your reception, what, alas! I know already. You have seen me in the interval: you are informed of the situation in which I find myself at certain periods. Your happiness and mine is thereby interrupted, nay, is on the point of being utterly annihilated. I must leave you, and know not whether I shall ever see you again.”
Her presence, the grace with which she spoke, immediately banished almost every remembrance of that vision that even before had only hovered over me like a dream. I caught her quickly in my arms, convinced her of my passion, assured her of my innocence, told her the accidental occasion of my discovery; enough, I did enough to make her seem pacified, and try to pacify me.
“Put yourself to a strict proof,” said she, “as to whether this discovery has not been injurious to your love, whether you can forget that I live with you in a twofold form, whether the diminution of my person will not also diminish your affection.”
I looked at her; she was fairer than ever; and I thought to myself, “Is it then so great a misfortune to own a wife who from time to time becomes a dwarf, so that she can be carried about in a case? Would it not be much worse if she became a giantess, and put her husband into the box?” My cheerfulness had come back; I would not have let her go away for everything in the world.
“Sweetheart,” I replied, “let us abide and be as we have been! Could we two be better off? Consult your own convenience, and I promise you to carry the case but so much the more carefully. How should the prettiest thing that I have seen in my whole life make a bad impression upon me? How happy would lovers be could they but possess such miniature pictures! And, after all, it was only such a picture, a little deception of conjuring. You are testing and teasing me; but you shall see how I will behave.”
“The matter is more serious than you think,” said the fair one; “meanwhile I am right well content that you make light of it; for it may still have the happiest consequences for both of us. I will rely upon you, and for my part do what is possible; only promise me never to think of this discovery reproachfully. To this I add most earnestly one more request, beware of wine and of anger more than ever!”
I promised what she begged. I would have gone on promising anything and everything; yet she herself changed the conversation, and all went on smoothly as before. We had no reason to alter our place of residence; the town was large, and the society of many sorts; the time of year gave occasion for many rural and garden entertainments.
In all such amusements my wife was very much in request; nay, eagerly sought after by men and by women. A kindly and engaging manner, combined with a certain dignity, gained her the love and respect of everyone. In addition to this she played splendidly on the lute, and sang to it as well, and all social evenings must needs be made complete by the aid of her talent.
I desire but to confess that I have never been able to make much of music; nay, it rather had an unpleasant effect upon me. My fair one, who had soon noticed this in me, consequently never sought, when we were alone, to divert me in this way. On that account she seemed to indemnify herself in society, where she generally found a crowd of admirers.
And now, why should I deny it? Our last conversation, in spite of my very good intentions, had yet not been sufficient to dismiss the matter entirely. Rather had it attuned most strangely my whole mode of feeling, without my having been perfectly conscious of it. So one evening, at a large party, my smothered ill-humor broke loose, and therefrom ensued for me the most disadvantageous consequences.
When I think over it properly, I loved my fair one much less after the discovery, and now—what had never occurred to me before—I was getting jealous about her. This evening, at the supper-table, where we were sitting diametrically opposite to each other at a considerable distance, I found myself very well off with my two neighbors, a couple of ladies, who had appeared very charming to me for some time. Amid jesting and sentimental talk the wine was not spared. In the meanwhile, on the other side, a pair of musical amateurs had prevailed on my wife, and contrived to encourage and lead on the company to singing both solo and in chorus. This put me in an ill-humor. The two amateurs seem importunate; the singing made me irritable, and when a verse in solo was demanded from me as well, I became really indignant, emptied my glass, and set it roughly down.
My neighbors’ tact soon made me feel soothed again, but it is a bad case for anger if it has once made a start. It simmered away in secret, although everything ought to have disposed me to pleasure and to complaisance. On the contrary, I only grew still more ill-tempered when a lute was brought, and my fair one accompanied her song, to the astonishment of everyone else. As ill-luck would have it, a general silence was requested. So I was not to be allowed to talk any more; and the sounds set my teeth on edge. Was it wonderful, then, that the smallest spark at last set light to the mine?
The songsters had just ended a song amidst the greatest approval, when she looked across towards me, and in truth with a right loving look. Unhappily the glance did not penetrate within me. She noticed that I gulped down a cup of wine, and filled up another. With her right-hand forefinger she made a sign of affectionate threatening.
“Remember that it is wine,” she said, only loud enough for me to hear it.
“Water is for nixies!” I exclaimed.
“Ladies,” said she to my neighbors, “crown the cup with every grace, that it be not so often empty.”
“You surely will not let yourself be domineered over?” said one of them to me.
“What ails the imp?” I exclaimed, gesticulating more wildly, and thereby upsetting the cup.
“It is not little that is overthrown,” cried the wondrous beauty, striking the strings as if to attract the attention of the company from this interruption to herself again. In this she actually succeeded; the more so, as she stood up, but only as if she wished to play with more convenience to herself, and continued her prelude.
As soon as I saw the red wine streaming over the tablecloth I came to my senses. I saw how great a fault I had committed, and was cut to the very heart. For the first time the music spoke to me. The first stanza that she sang was a kindly farewell to the company, whilst as yet they could still feel that they were together. With the next stanza the party seemed as it were to be scattered asunder; each individual felt himself solitary, separated; no one imagined himself to be any longer present. But what should I say of the last stanza? It was addressed to me alone: the voice of injured love bidding farewell to ill-temper and presumption.
Mutely I led her home, expecting naught pleasant to myself. Yet scarcely had we reached our room than she proved to be in the highest degree kind and amiable, nay, even roguish, making me the happiest of men.
The next morning, being completely consoled and full of affection, I said, “You have so often sung, when challenged to it by good company, for instance, that touching farewell-song yesterday evening: sing now, too, for love of me, only this once, a pretty, lively welcome at this morning hour, so that we may be as if we were learning to know each other for the first time!”
“That I may not do, my friend,” she replied, with seriousness; “the song of yesterday evening referred to our parting, which must now take place forthwith; for I can tell you only that the violence done to your word and oath has the evilest consequences for us both: you scoff away a great gift of fortune, and I, too, must forego my dearest wishes.”
When, hereupon, I was urgent with her, and begged that she would explain herself more clearly, she replied, “That, alas, I can easily do, for at all events there is an end of my remaining with you. Hear, then, what I would rather have concealed from you to the last moments! The form in which you beheld me in the box is in reality innate and natural to me, for I am of the race of King Eckwald, the mighty prince of the dwarfs, of whom authentic history tells so much. Our people are still, as of old, active and industrious, and for that reason also easy to govern. But you must not suppose that the dwarfs have remained behindhand in their labors. Else would swords, which followed the enemy when they were thrown after him, invisible and secretly binding fetters, impenetrable shields and the like, be their most famous productions; but now they busy themselves especially with articles of convenience and of adornment, and surpass therein all other people of the earth. You would be astonished if you were to walk through our workshops and warehouses. This would be—this would all be well now, were it not that, with the whole nation in general, but chiefly with the royal family, a special circumstance came into play.”
As she remained silent for a moment, I entreated her for further disclosure of these marvellous secrets, which she forthwith conceded to me.
“It is well known,” she said, “that God, as soon as He had created the world, and the whole earth was dry, and mountains stood there mighty and glorious—God, I say, forthwith created, before anything else, the dwarfs, in order that there might also be rational beings, who in their burrows and clefts might marvel at and adore his wonders in the inner parts of the earth. Furthermore, it is known that this little race later became lifted up, and aspired to gain for themselves the dominion of the earth, wherefore God then created dragons in order to drive the dwarfs back into their mountains. But since the dragons themselves were wont to make their nests in the great holes and caverns, and there to live, many of them, too, spitting fire, and working much other devastation, the dwarfs were thus reduced to great straits and distress, so much so, that no longer knowing where to come or go, they therefore very humbly and imploringly turned themselves to God the Lord, and called to Him in prayer that He would bring to naught again this unclean breed of dragons. But although in his wisdom He could not determine to destroy his own creatures, yet the dire need of the poor dwarfs so went to his heart, that He immediately created the giants, who were to fight the dragons, and, if not root them out, at least diminish their number.
“But no sooner had the giants pretty well done with the dragons, than pride and arrogance arose forthwith within them, and in consequence they perpetrated much evil, especially towards the poor dwarfs, who in their distress turned themselves again to the Lord: He thereupon in the power of his might created knights who were to fight the giants and dragons and live on good terms with the dwarfs. With this the work of creation was completed in this direction, and it has come to pass that henceforth giants and dragons as well as knights and dwarfs have always managed to co-exist. Whereby you may see, my friend, that we belong to the oldest race in the world, which is certainly to our honor, but which also carries with it great disadvantages.
“For since nothing can last forever in the world, but everything that has once been great must become small and decrease, we, too, are in this case, that since the creation of the world we have always been decreasing and getting smaller, and above all the others the royal family, which, on account of the purity of its blood, is the first to be subjected to this destiny. On this account our wise instructors have many years ago devised this expedient, that from time to time a princess of the royal house is sent out into the world to wed herself with some honorable knight, in order that the race of dwarfs may be again invigorated, and saved from total ruin.”
Whilst my fair one uttered these words with thorough simplicity, I looked at her with misgiving, for it seemed as if she had a wish to impose upon me. As far as her pretty pedigree was concerned I had no further doubt, but that she had got hold of me in place of a knight, this caused me some mistrust, inasmuch as I know myself too well to think of supposing that my forefathers were created directly by God.
I concealed my wonder and doubt, and asked her kindly, “But tell me, my dear child, how do you attain to this tall and shapely form? for I know few women that can be compared with you in fineness of figure.”
“That you shall hear,” replied my fair one. “It has been handed down for ages in the council of the dwarf-king that we should beware of taking this extraordinary step as long as possible—which indeed I find quite natural and proper. There would probably have still been much hesitation about sending out a princess into the world again, if my younger brother had not been brought into the world so small, that the nurses actually lost him out of his swaddling clothes and no one knows whither he has gone. At this occurrence, altogether unknown in the annals of the dwarf realm, the wise men were assembled, and without further parley the resolution was taken to send me out to look for a husband.”
“The resolution!” I exclaimed; “this is all very fine: you may take a resolution, you may come to a determination; but to give a dwarf this form divine, how did your wise men bring that about?”
“This was already provided for by our ancestors,” she said. “In the royal treasury lay an immense gold finger-ring. I speak of it now as it appeared to me when it was formerly shown to me as a child, in its place; for it is the same that I have here on my finger. And now the following process was gone through.
“I was informed of all that awaited me, and was instructed as to what I was to do and not to do. A magnificent palace, after the pattern of my parents’ favorite summer-residence, was made ready—a main building, side-wings, and everything that one can but wish for. It stood at the entrance of a great rocky ravine, which it adorned to the utmost. On the appointed day the court withdrew thither, with me and my parents. The army was reviewed, and four and twenty priests, not without difficulty, bore the wondrous ring upon a costly barrow. It was laid upon the threshold of the building just inside where one would step. Many ceremonies were gone through, and after a heartfelt farewell, I advanced to the work. I stepped up to it, laid my hand upon the ring, and forthwith began visibly to increase. In a few moments I had reached my present stature, whereupon I straightway put the ring upon my finger. Then, on the instant, windows, door and gates closed up, the side-wings drew back into the main building: in place of the palace, stood a small box beside me, which I at once lifted up, and carried with me, not without a pleasant feeling in being so large and so strong, though still, it is true, a dwarf compared with trees and mountains, with streams and tracts of land, but yet to all intents a giant compared with grass and herbs, but especially with the ants, with whom we dwarfs are not always on good terms, and by whom consequently we are often annoyed.
“How I fared on my pilgrimage, before I met you—of this I might have a good deal to tell. Enough, I tried many, but no one else but you seemed to me worthy to renovate and perpetuate the line of the princely Eckwald.”
During all these communications my head kept wagging, though I did not actually shake it. I put various questions, to which however I obtained no particular answer; but rather learned, to my very great sorrow, that after what had happened she must of necessity return to her parents. She hoped, indeed, to come back to me, but at present she must inevitably present herself, since otherwise all would be lost for her as well as for me. The purses would soon leave off paying, and all sorts of other consequences would ensue therefrom.
When I heard that our money might run out, I inquired no further what else might happen. I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing, and she seemed to understand me.
We packed up together and took our seats in the carriage, with the box opposite to us, in which however I could not yet see anything like a palace. And so we went on for several stages. Post-money and drink-money were readily and liberally paid from the pockets on the right hand and left, till we came at last to a hilly district, and we had scarcely alighted than my fair one walked on in front and I followed at her bidding with the box. She led me along a tolerably steep path to a narrow plot of meadow-land, through which a clear brook partly rushed down and partly meandered at a quiet pace. There she pointed out to me a raised level plot, bade me set down the box and said “Farewell, you will easily find the way back. Think of me; I hope to see you again.”
At this moment I felt as if I could not leave her. She was just then in one of her good days again, or if you will, her good hours. To be with so lovable a being on the verdant carpet amidst grass and flowers, concealed by rocks, lulled by the rill, what heart could have remained unmoved? I could have seized her hand, clasped her in my arms, but she pressed me back, and threatened me, though still lovingly enough, with great peril if I did not straightway withdraw.
“Is there then no possibility,” I exclaimed, “of my staying with you, of your being able to keep me with you?”
I accompanied these words with gestures and tones so full of sorrow that she seemed touched, and after a little thought admitted to me that a continuance of our union was not utterly impossible. Who was happier than I? My importunity, which grew more and more urgent, at last obliged her to say the word, and disclose to me, that if I would make up my mind to become, together with her, as small as I had already seen her, I could even now stay with her, and enter with her into her dwelling, her kingdom, and her family. This plan did not altogether please me. Yet I could not all at this moment tear myself away from her, and having now for a long time been accustomed to the marvellous, and being bound to a speedy resolution, I agreed, and said that she might do what she liked with me.
I had forthwith to hold out the little finger of my right hand; she set her own against it, with her left hand drew the gold ring quite gently off, and let it slide on to my finger. This was scarcely done than I felt a severe pain in the finger: the ring contracted and tortured me horribly. I gave a loud scream, and involuntarily gazed around me for my beautiful one, who, however, had disappeared. What my state of mind was in the meantime I could find no words to express, nor does aught remain for me to say but that I very soon found myself in diminutive form, close by my fair one in a forest of grass-blades. The delight of meeting again after a short and yet so strange a separation, or if you will, a reunion without separation, transcends all conception. I fell upon her neck: she returned my caresses, and the little couple felt as happy as the big one.
With some trouble we now proceeded to climb up a hill, for the sward had become for us an almost impenetrable forest. Yet at last we reached a clear space, and how astounded was I to see there a large barred and bolted pile, which, however, I was soon forced to recognize as the box in the condition in which I had set it down.
“Go, dear friend, and only knock with the ring. You will see wonders,” said my beloved.
I went up to it, and had hardly knocked when I really witnessed the greatest marvel. Two side-wings came forward, and at the same time, like scales and chips, down fell sundry portions, whereupon doors, windows, arcades and all that pertains to a complete palace, came all at once to view.
Anyone who has seen one of Röntgens’ ingenious writing-tables, in which, by one pull, a number of catches and strings come into play, and desk, writing materials, letter-drawers, and money-drawers are brought out all at once or soon after each other, will be able to form some idea of the unfolding of this palace into which my sweet conductress now introduced me. In the principal saloon I at once recognized the chimney that I had formerly seen from above, and the seat upon which she sat. And when I looked above my head I fancied that I actually still saw something of the rift in the dome through which I had looked in. I spare you a description of the rest: enough, all was spacious, costly and tasteful. I had scarcely recovered from my astonishment, when I heard in the distance a military band. My lovely half jumped for joy, and informed me with delight of the approach of her royal father. We stepped out to the entrance and looked as a brilliant procession defiled out of a beautiful rocky chasm. Soldiers, servants, household officials, and a brilliant array of courtiers followed one behind the other. Finally we beheld a gilded crowd and in it the king himself. When the whole procession was drawn up in front of the palace the king come forward with his most select retinue. His loving daughter ran to meet him, dragging me with her; we threw ourselves at his feet; he raised me very graciously, and only when I came to stand in front of him did I notice that in this miniature world I was actually the most considerable in stature. We walked together towards the palace, when the king, in the presence of his whole court, and in a studied speech, in which he expressed his astonishment at finding us here, was pleased to bid me welcome, acknowledged me as his son-in-law, and fixed the nuptial ceremony for the next day.
In what a terrible state of mind was I, when I heard marriage spoken of! for I had hitherto dreaded this, almost more than music itself, which otherwise seemed to me the most hateful thing upon earth. People that make music, I was accustomed to say, at least fancy that they are at one with each other, and working in unison, for when they have been tuning-up, and rending our ears with all sorts of discords long enough, they fancy, safely and surely, that the matter is now simplified, and that one instrument accords exactly with another. Even the director is under this happy delusion, and now they set off merrily, whilst for the rest of us our ears keep on tingling. In the wedded state, on the other hand, even this is not the case: for although it is only a duet, and one would think that two voices, nay, two instruments, must be able to be brought into some sort of tune, yet this seldom happens: for if the husband emits one note, the wife immediately takes a higher one, and the husband a higher again; then it passes from the chamber-pitch to the choral, and so on, higher and higher, so that at last even wind instruments cannot keep up with it, and thus, seeing that harmonic music continues hateful to me, it is still less to be supposed that I should endure the unharmonic.
Of all the festivities in which the day was spent I need not and cannot say anything, for I took little heed of them. The sumptuous food, the delicious wine, everything was distasteful to me: I was thinking and considering what I should do. And yet there was not much to be thought of. When night came, I made up my mind, without more ado, to get up and go away and hide myself somewhere or other. Accordingly I got safely to a crevice in the rock into which I squeezed and concealed myself as well as possible. My first anxiety after this was to get the unlucky ring from off my finger, but in this I was by no means successful; rather I was compelled to feel that it always got tighter as soon as I attempted to draw it off, causing me to endure acute pains, which, however, abated as soon as I desisted from my intention.
Early in the morning I woke up—for my little body had slept very well—and was just going to look a little further about me, when it began to rain, as it almost seemed, upon me. For something fell down in large quantities like sand or grit, through grass, leaves and flowers; but how horrified I was, when the whole place round about me seemed to be alive, and an innumerable host of ants rushed down upon me. No sooner did they perceive me than they attacked me on all sides, and although I defended myself vigorously and bravely enough, they at last so overwhelmed, pinched and pricked me, that I was glad when I heard a demand that I should surrender. I, in fact, did surrender on the spot, whereupon an ant of remarkable size approached me with politeness, nay, with reverence, and even recommended himself to my favor. I learned that the ants were allies of my father-in-law, and that he had summoned them to his aid in the present emergency, and enjoined them to fetch me back. Little as I was, I was now in the hands of creatures still less. I had now to look forward to the wedding, and must needs thank God if my father-in-law were not enraged, and my fair one become vexed.
Let me pass over in silence all the ceremonies: enough, we were married; yet, merrily and gayly as the time passed with us, there were nevertheless some lonely hours, when one is led to reflection; and something happened to me which had never happened before. What it was and how it happened you shall hear.
Everything about me was completely proportioned to my present shape and to my requirements; the bottles and glasses were well adapted to a small drinker, nay, if you will, in accordance with a better standard than ours. To my small gums the dainty mouthfuls had an excellent flavor; a kiss from the little mouth of my wife was the most enchanting thing in the world, and I do not deny that novelty made all these circumstances in the highest degree pleasing. Yet at the same time I had unhappily not forgotten my former state of existence. I felt within me a measure of former greatness, which made me restless and unhappy. Now for the first time I saw what the philosophers mean with their ideals, wherewith mankind are said to be so plagued. I had an ideal of myself, and often appeared to myself in dreams as a giant. Enough; the wife, the ring, the diminutive form, and so many other bonds, made me thoroughly and completely miserable, so that I began to think seriously of my deliverance.
As I was persuaded that the whole magic lay in the ring, I determined to file it off. Accordingly I borrowed some files from the court jeweller. Fortunately I was left-handed, and had never in my life done anything in a right-handed way. I kept bravely at the work, which was no trifle, for the golden circle, thin as it appeared, had grown thicker, in proportion, as it had contracted from its former size. All leisure hours I devoted, unobserved, to this task, and was wise enough, when the metal was nearly filed through, to step outside the door. This was well advised, for all at once the golden hoop sprang forcibly from my finger, and my figure shot upwards with such violence, that I fancied I really struck the sky, and in any case would have broken through the dome of our summer palace, nay, would have destroyed the entire pavilion with my rude clumsiness.
So there I stood again, certainly so much the bigger, but, as I considered, also much more foolish and helpless. And when I recovered from my stupefaction, I saw lying near me the case, which I found tolerably heavy when I lifted it up, and took the footpath downwards to the post-house, where I immediately ordered horses and set forth. On the way, I presently made trial of the pockets on both sides. Instead of money, which seemed to be exhausted, I found a little key: it belonged to the box, in which I found a moderate reserve fund. As long as this held out, I made use of the carriage, then this was sold to allow of my going on by the diligence; at length I cast away the box, for I kept thinking that it ought to fill itself once more; and so finally, though by a considerable circuit, I came back to the chimney-corner and the cook, where you first made my acquaintance.