The Volksmärchen of Musäus 3/3
The Chronicles of the Three Sisters, Part 3 of 3
Excerpt from the German of Musäus: “The Legend of Rubezahl and Other Stories.” Editor C.M. Wieland. The 1845 William Hazlitt translation.
“Of a sudden the fish plunged under water, and the boat was again set afloat, but a moment after the monster of the lake re-appeared on its surface, and opening a hideous throat as big as a moderate-sized crater, from its dark abyss, as from a subterraneous vault, sounded forth deep and distinct these words: “Audacious fisher! How durst thou thus murder my subjects? Thou canst only atone for such an outrage with thy life!”
The Count was by this time so used to such adventures, that he knew exactly how to behave himself. Speedily recovering from his first alarm, when he thus knew the fish would be willing to listen to reason, he answered quite boldly: “Master Behemoth, do not forget the rites of hospitality; grant me a dish of fish out of your pond, and if you will favor me with a visit, my kitchen and cellar shall be open to you in return.”
“Stay, stay,” replied the monster, “we are not quite such good friends as all that; know’st thou not might is right; that the strongest eats the weakest? Thou stealest my subjects to swallow them, and I will swallow thee!”
Hereupon the grim fish opened his jaws still wider. as if he would swallow man and boat and trout and all. “Ah, spare my life! Spare my life,” cried the Count. “You see I am but a sorry breakfast for your whaleship’s stomach.”
The enormous fish seemed to consider awhile. “Well,” said he, “I know thou hast a pretty daughter, promise her to me for a wife, and take thy life in exchange.”
When the Count heard the fish take this tone, he laid aside all trace of fear. “She is quite at your service,” said he. “You are a gallant son-in-law to whom no honest father could refuse his child. But what will you lay down for your bride, according to the custom of the land?”
” I have neither gold nor silver,” answered the Fish, “but at the bottom of the lake lies a great treasure of pearl shells. Thou hast only to ask and to have.”
“Done,” replied the Count. “Three bushels of pearls are next to nothing for a pretty bride.”
“They are thine,” said the Fish, “and mine the bride; in seven months I shall fetch my darling home.”
Hereupon he beat the waves lustily with his tail and sent the boat ashore.
The Count took his trout, had them boiled, and with the Countess and the beautiful Bertha enjoyed the Carthusian meal exceedingly. The poor girl little dreamed how dear this meal was to cost her.
Well, the moon increased and diminished six times, and the Count had nearly forgotten his adventure, but as she became rounder and rounder for the seventh time, he thought of the impending catastrophe, and in order not to witness it, slipped away on a little excursion into the country. At the sultry hour of noon, on the day of the full noon, a gallant band of knights galloped up to the castle gates. The Countess, alarmed at the presence of so many strange visitors, hesitated whether to admit them or not; however, when a knight, well known to her, announced himself, she no longer objected.
He had often, in the days of their prosperity and profusion, attended the tournaments at the castle, had manifested rare skill in the joust, had received many a prize from the fair Bertha’s hand, and led off many a dance with her; but at the time of the change of the Count’s fortune, he had disappeared with the other knights. The worthy Countess was ashamed of having her poverty exposed to the noble chevalier and his suite, for she had nothing to serve up for their refreshment.
He, however, accosted her in a most friendly manner, and requested nothing but a draught of pure water from the castle well, just as he used to do erewhile, for he had never drunk wine , and had, indeed, been therefore called in joke the Water Knight.
The fair Bertha hastened, at her mother’s bidding, to the well, filled a jug, then poured its sparkling contents into a crystal cup, and, after putting it to her lips, presented it to the Knight. He received it from her delicate hand, and placing his mouth to the spot where her coral lips had touched the vase, pledged her with ineffable delight.
The Countess meantime was in the greatest embarrassment at not being able to offer her guest anything for breakfast; at length she recollected that there was a juicy water melon, just ripe, in the castle garden. She ran to the spot, and in a moment had plucked the melon and laid it upon an earthen plate, decked with vine leaves and the most odoriferous flowers as an offering to their guest. On returning from the garden, she found the court yard empty and silent, without either horses or horsemen, and going in doors she saw as little neither knight nor squire.
In terrible affright, she called for her daughter, Bertha; there was no answer; she sought for her all over the house; no daughter was to be found. In the hall was placed three bags, made of new canvas, which she had not remarked in her first alarm, and which felt from without as if they were filled with peas. Her affliction did not allow her to search further.
The good mother gave herself over to grief, weeping aloud till evening, when her husband returned and found her in terrible distress. She could not conceal from him what had happened though she would have fain done so, for she dreaded his reproaches for having let an unknown knight into the castle, who had been thus enabled to carry off their beloved daughter. But the Count, who comforted her most affectionately, seemed most interested in the bags of peas she had mentioned, and going out forthwith to look at them, opened one in her presence.
What was the astonishment of the afflicted Countess when there rolled out fine pearls, as large as the big peas in the garden, perfectly round, delicately pierced, and of the purest water. She clearly perceived that her daughter’s ravisher had paid every maternal tear with a pearl, and, imbued with an exalted opinion of his rank and riches, was consoled that this son-in-law was not a monster, but a stalwart and and stately knight, an error which the Count took care not to rectify.
The parents, it is true, had now parted with all their beautiful daughters, but in return they were possessed of an immense treasure. The Count soon converted a portion of it into money. From morning to night, the castle was swarming with merchants bargaining for the precious pearls. The Count redeemed his towns and estates, let his castle in the woods, and returned to his former capital where he resumed once more his princely state. No longer, however, as a reckless spendthrift but as a hospitable dignitary of the empire: for he had no more daughters left to barter away. The noble couple were now exceedingly well off, but the Countess could not get over the loss of her daughters; she constantly wore mourning and hardly ever smiled.
For a long time, she hoped to see her Bertha again, with the wealthy Knight of the Pearls, and as often as a stranger was announced at their court, she thought it was her son-in-law returning. At last the Count , who could not find it in his heart to feed these fallacious hopes any longer, confessed to her that this magnificent son-in-law was none other than an abominable fish.”
End of Excerpt and Book 1 of 3
“The Chronicles of the Three Sisters”
But, of course, not the end of the story!
The Volksmärchen of Musäus