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THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER

 

THE storks tell their little ones very many storiesall of the swamp and the marshThese stories are generally adapted to the age and capacity of the hearersThe youngest are content if they are toldCribble-crabbleplurry-murryas a storyand find it charmingbut the older ones want something with a deeper meaningor at any rate something relating to the familyOf the two oldest and longest stories that have been preserved among the storks we all know the onenamelythat of Moseswho was exposed by his mother on the banks of the Nileand whom the king's daughter foundand who afterwards became a great man and the place of whose burial is unknownThat story is very well known

The second is not known yetperhaps because it is quite an inland storyIt has been handed down from storkmamma to storkmammafor thousands of yearsand each of them has told it better and betterand now we'll tell it best of all

The first Stork pair who told the story had their summer residence on the wooden house of the Vikingwhich lay by the wild moor in Wendsysselthat is to sayif we are to speak out of the abundance of our knowledgehard by the great moor in the circle of Hj rringhigh up by Skagenthe most northern point of JutlandThe wilderness there is still a great wild mossabout which we can read in the official description of the districtIt is said that in old times there was here a seawhose bottom was upheavednow the moss extends for miles on all sidessurrounded by damp meadowsand unsteady shaking swampand turfy moorwith blueberries and stunted treesMists are almost always hovering over this regionwhich seventy years ago was still inhabited by the wolvesIt is certainly rightly called thewild moss”;and one can easily think how dreary and lonely it must have beenand how much marsh and lake there was here a thousand years agoYesin detailexactly the same things were seen then that may yet be beheldThe reeds had the same heightand bore the same kind of long leaves and bluishbrown feathery plumes that they bear nowthe birch stood therewith its white bark and its fine loosely-hanging leavesjust as nowand as regards the living creatures that dwelt herewhythe fly wore its gauzy dress of the same cut that it wears nowand the favourite colours of the stork were white picked out with blackand red stockingsThe people certainly wore coats of a different cut from those they now wearbut whoever stepped out on the shaking mossbe he huntsman or followermaster or servantmet with the same fate a thousand years ago that he would meet with todayHe sank and went down to the Marsh Kingas they called himwho ruled below in the great empire of the mossThey also called him Quagmire Kingbut we like the name Marsh King betterand by that name the storks also called himVery little is known of the Marsh King's rulebut perhaps that is a good thing

In the neighbourhood of the mossclose by Limfjordenlay the wooden house of the Vikingwith its stone water-tight cellarswith its tower and its three projecting storiesOn the roof the Stork had built his nestand Stork-mamma there hatched the eggsand felt sure that her hatching would come to something

One evening Storkpapa stayed out very lateand when he came home he looked very bustling and important]

I've something very terrible to tell you,”he said to the Stork-marrima

Let that be,”she replied.“Remember that I'm hatching the eggsand you might agitate meand I might do them a mischief.”

You must know it,”he continued.“She has arrived herethe daughter of our host in Egyptshe has dared to undertake the journey hereand she's gone!”

She who came from the race of the fairiesOhtell me all about itYou know I can't bear to be kept long in suspense when I'm hatching eggs.”

You seemothershe believed in what the doctor saidand you told me trueShe believed that the moss flowers would bring healing to her sick fatherand she has flown here in swan's plumagein company with the other Swan Princesseswho come to the North every year to re-new their youthShe has come hereand she is gone!”

You are much too longwinded!”exclaimed the Storkmamma,“and the eggs might catch coldI can't bear being kept in such suspense!”

I have kept watch,”said the Stork-papa;“and tonightwhen I went into the reedsthere where the marsh ground will bear methree swans cameSomething in their flight seemed to say to me,‘Look outThat's not altogether swanIt's only swan's feathers’Yesmotheryou have a feeling of intuition just as I haveyou can tell whether a thing is right or wrong.”

Yescertainly,”she replied;“but tell me about the PrincessI'm sick of hearing of the swan's feathers.”

Wellyou know that in the middle of the moss there is something like a lake,”continued Stork-papa

You can see one corner of it if you raise yourself a littleThereby the reeds and the green mudlay a great elder stumpand on this the three swans satflapping their wings and looking about themOne of them threw off her plumageand I immediately recognized her as our own Princess from EgyptThere she satwith no covering but her long black hairI heard her tell the others to pay good heed to the swan's plumagewhile she dived down into the water to pluck the flowers which she fancied she saw growing thereThe others noddedand picked up the empty feather dress and took care of it.‘I wonder what they will do with it'thought Iand perhaps she asked herself the same questionIf soshe got an answerfor the two rose up and flew away with her swan's plumage.‘Do thou dive down'they cried;‘thou shalt never fly more in swan's formthou shalt never see Egypt againRemain thou there in the moss!’And so sayingthey tore the swan's plumage into a hundred piecesso that the feathers whirled about like a snowstormand away they flewthe two faithless Princesses!”

Whythat is terrible!”said Stork-mamma.“I can't bear to hear itBut now tell me what happened next

The Princess wept and lamentedHer tears fell fast on the elder stumpand the latter movedfor it was the Marsh King himselfhe who lives in the mossI myself saw ithow the stump of the tree turned roundand ceased to be a tree stumplong thin branches grew forth from it like armsThen the poor child was terribly frightenedand sprang away on to the green slimy groundbut that cannot even carry memuch less herShe sank immediatelyand the elder stump dived down tooand it was he who drew her downGreat black bubbles rose upand there was no more trace of themNow the Princess is buried in the wild mossand never more will she bear away a flower to EgyptYour heart would have burstmotherif you had seen it.”

You ought not to tell me anything of the kind at such a time as this,”said Stork-mamma;“the eggs might suffer by itThe Princess will find some way of escapesome one will come to help herIf it had been you or Ior one of our peopleit would certainly have been all over with us.”

But I shall go and look every day to see if anything happens,”said Stork-papa

And he was as good as his word

A long time had passedwhen at last he saw a green stalk shooting up out of the deep mossWhen it reached the surface a leaf spread out and unfolded itself broader and broaderclose by ita bud came outAnd one morninwhen the Stork flew over the stalkthe bud opened through the power of the strong sunbeamsand in the cup of the flower lay a beautiful childa little girllooking just as if she had risen out of the bathThe little one so closely resembled the Princess from Egyptthat at the first moment the Stork thought it must be the Princess herselfbuton second thoughtsit appeared more probable that it must be the daughter of the Princess and of the Marsh Kingand that also explained her being placed in the cup of the water-lily

But she cannot possibly be left lying there,”thought the Stork;“and in my nest there are so many alreadyBut stayI have a thoughtThe wife of the Viking has no childrenand how often has she not wished for a little onePeople always say,‘The stork has brought a little one’and I will do so in earnest this timeI shall fly with the child to the Viking's wifeWhat rejoicing the there will be there!”

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And the Stork lifted the little girlflew to the wooden housepicked a hole with his beak in the bladder-covered windowlaid the child on the bosom of the Viking's wifeand then hurried up to the Storkmammaand told her what he had seen and doneand the little Storks listened to the storyfor they were big enough to do so now

So you see,”he concluded,“the Princess is not deadfor she must have sent the little one up hereand now that is provided for too.”

AhI said it would be so from the very beginning!”said the Storkmamma;“but now think a little of your own familyOur travelling time is drawing onsometimes I feel quite restless in my wings alreadyThe cuckoo and the nightingale have startedand I heard the quails saying that they were going tooas soon as the wind was favourableOur young ones will behave well at the exercisingor I am much deceived in them.”

The Viking's wife was extremely glad when she woke next morning and found the charming infant lying in her armsShe kissed and caressed itbut it cried violentlyand struggled with its arms and legsand did not seem rejoiced at allAt length it cried itself to sleepand as it lay there it looked exceedingly beautifulThe Viking's wife was in high gleeshe felt light in body and soulher heart leapt within herand it seemed to her as if her husband and his warriorswho were absentmust return guite as suddenly and unexpectedly as the little one had come

Therefore she and the whole household had enough to do in preparing everything for the reception of her lordThe long coloured curtains of tapestrywhich she and her maids had workedand on which they had woven pictures of their idolsOdinThorand Freiawere hung upthe slaves polished the old shields that served as ornamentsand cushions were placed on the benchesand dry wood laid on the fireplace in the midst of the hallso that the fire could be lighted at a moment's noticeThe Viking's wife herself assisted in the workso that towards evening she was very tiredand slept well

When she awoke towards morningshe was violently alarmedfor the infant had vanishedShe sprang from her couchlighted a pine torchand searched all round aboutandbeholdin the part of the bed where she had stretched her feetlaynot the childbut a great ugly frogShe was horror-struck at the sightand seized a heavy stick to kill the frogbut the creature looked at her with such strange mournful eyesthat she was not able to strike the blowOnce more she looked round the roomthe frog uttered a lowwailing croakand she startedsprang from the couchand ran to the window and opened itAt that moment the sun shone forthand flung its beams through the windo on the couch and on the great frogand suddenly it appeared as though the frog's great mouth contracted and became small and redand its limbs moved and stretched and became beautifully symmetricaland it was no longer an ugly frog which lay therebut her pretty child

What is this?”she said.“Have I had a bad dreamIs it not my own lovely cherub lying there?”

And she kissed and hugged itbut the child struggled and fought like a little wild cat

Not on this day nor on the morrow did the Viking returnalthough he was on his way homebut the wind was against himfor it blew towards the southfavourably for the storksA good wind for one is a contrary wind for another

When one or tow more days and nights had gonethe Viking's wife clearly understood how the case was with her childthat a terrible power of sorcery was upon itBy day it was charming as an angel of lightthough it had a wildsavage temperbut at night it became an ugly frogquiet and mournfulwith sorrowful eyesHere were two natures changing inwardly as well as outwardly with the sunlightThe reason of this was that by day the child had the form of its motherbut the disposition of its fatherwhileon the contraryat night the paternal descent became manifest in its bodily appearancethough the mind and heart of the mother then beeame dominant in the childWho might be able to loosen this charm that wicked sorcery had worked

The wife of the Viking lived in care and sorrow about itand yet her heart yearned towards the little creatureof whose condition she felt she should not dare tell her husband on his returnfor he would probablyaccording to the custom which then prevailedexpose the child on the public highwayand let whoever listed take it awayThe good Viking woman could not find it in her heart to allow thisand she therefore determined that the Viking should never see the child except by daylight

One morning the wings of storks were heard rushing over the roofmore than a hundred pairs of those birds had rested from their exercise during the previous nightand now they soared aloftto travel southwards

All males hereand ready,”they cried;“and the wives and children too.”

How light we feel!”screamed the young Storks in chorus:“it seems to be creeping all over usdown into our very toesas if were filled with living frogsAhhow charming it istravelling to foreign lands!”

Mind you keep close to us during your flight,”said papa and mamma.“Don't use your beaks too much for that tires the chest.”

And the Storks flew away

At the same time the sound of the trumpets rolled across the heathfor the Viking had landed with his warriorsthey were returning homerichly laden with spoilfrom the Gallic coastwhere the peopleas in the land of the Britonssang in their terror

Deliver us from the wild Northmen!”

And life and tumultuous joy came with them into the Viking's castle on the moorlandThe great mead-tub was brought into the hall the pile of woodwas set ablazehorses were killed and a great feast was to beginThe officiating priest sprinkled the slaves with the warm bloodthe fire crackledthe smoke rolled along beneath the roof soot dropped from the beamsbut they were accustomed to thatGuests were invitedand received handsome giftsall feuds and all malice were forgottenAnd the company drank deepand threw the bones of the feast in each other's faces and this was considered a sign of good humourThe barda kind of minstrelwho was also a warrior and had been on the expedition with the restsang them a song in which they heard all their warlike deeds praisedand everything remarkable was specially noticedEvery verse ended with the burden

Goods and goldfriends and foes will dieevery man must one day dieBut a famous name will never die

And with that they beat upon their shieldsand hammered the table with bones and knives

The Viking's wife sat upon the crossbench in the open hallShe wore a silken dress and golden armletsand great amber beadsshe was in her costliest garbAnd the bard mentioned her in his songand sang of the rich treasure she had brought her rich husbandThe latter was delighted with the beautiful child which he had seen in the daytime in all its lovelinessand the savage ways of the little creature pleased him especiallyHe declared that the girl might grow up to be a stately heroine strong and determined as a manShe would not wink her eyes when a practised hand cut off her eyebrows with a sword by way of a jest

The full mead-barrel was emptied and a fresh one brought infor these were people who liked to enjoy all things plentifullyThe old proverb was indeed well knownwhich says,“The cattle know when they should quit the pasturebut a foolish man knoweth not the measure of his own appetite.”Yesthey knew it well enough but one knows one thingand one does anotherThey also knew thateven the welcome guest becomes weariscome when he sitteth long in the house”;but for all that they sat still for pork and mead are good thingsand there was high carousingand at night the bondmen slept among the warm ash-Es and dipped their fingers in the far grease and licked themThose were glorious times

Once more in the year the Viking sallied forththough the storms of autumn already began to roarhe went with his warriors to the shores of Britainfor he declared that was but an excursion across the waterand his wife stayed at home with the little girlAnd thus much is certainthat the foster-mother soon got to love the frog with its gentle eyes and its sorrowful sighsalmost better than the pretty child that bit and beat all around her

The rough damp mist of autumn which devours the leaves of the foresthad already descended upon thicket and heath.“Birds featherless,”as they called the snowflew in thick massesand the winter was coming on fastThe sparrows took possession of the storks’ nests and talked about the absent proprietors according to their fashionbut thesethe Stork-pair with all the young oneswhat had become of them

The Storks were now in the land of Egyptwhere the sun sent forth warm raysas it does here on a fine mid-summer dayTamarind and acacias bloomed in the country all aroundthe crescent of Mohammed glittered from the cupolas of the templesand on the slender towers sat many a stork-pair resting after the long journey Great troops divided the nestsbuilt close together on venerable pillars and in fallen temple arches of forgotten cities The date-palm lifted up its screen as if it would be a sun-shade the greyishwhite pyramids stood like masses of shadow in the clear air of the far desertwhere the ostrich ran his swift careetand the lion gazed with his great grave eyes at the marble Sphinx which lay half buried in the sandThe waters of the Nile had fallen and the whole river bed was crowded with frogsand that was for the Stork familythe finest spectacle in the countryThe young Storks thought it was optical illusion they found everything so glorious

Yes it's delightful hereand it's always like this in our warm country,”said the Storkmamma

And the young ones felt quite frisky on the strength of it

Is there anything more to be seen?”they asked.“Are we to go much farther into the country?”

There's nothing further to be seen,”answered Stork-mamma.“Behind this delightful region there are only wild forests whose branches are interlaced with one another while prickly climbing plants close up the pathsonly the elephant can force a way for himself with his great feet and the snakes are too big and the lizards too quick fof usIf you go into the desertyou'll get your eyes full of sand when there's a light breeze but when it blows great guns you may get into the middle of a pillar of sandIt is best to stay herewhere there are frogs and locustsI shall stay hereand you shall stay too.”

And there they remainedThe parents sat in the nest on the slender minaret and rested and yet were busily employed smoothing their feathers and whetting their beaks against their red stockings

Now and then they stretched out their necks and bowed gravelyand lifted their headswith their high foreheads and fine smooth feathers and looked very clever with their brown eyesThe female young ones strutted about in the juicy reedslooked slyly at the other young storksmade acquaintancesand swallowed a frog at every third stepor rolled a little snake to and fro in their billswhich they thought became them well andmoreover tasted niceThe male young ones began a quarrelbeat each other with their wings struck with their beaksand even pricked each other till the blood cameAnd in this way sometimes one couple was betrothedand sometimes another of the young ladies and gentlemenand that was just what they lived for then they took to a new nestand began new quarrels for in hot countries people are generally hot tempered and passionateBut it was pleasant for all that and the old people especially were much rejoicedfor all that young people do seems to suit them wellThere was sunshine every dayand every day plenty to eat and nothing to think of but pleasure But in the rich castle at the Egyptian host'sas they called himthere was no pleasure to be found

The rich mighty lord reclined on his divanin the midst of the great hall of the many-coloured walls looking as if he were sitting in a tulipbut he was stiff and powerless in all his limbsand lay stretched out like a mummyHis family and servants surrounded himfor he was not deadthough one could not exactly say that he was aliveThe healing moss flower from the Northwhich was to have been found and brought home by her who loved him bestnever appearedHis beauteous young daughterwho had flown in the swan's plumage over sea and land to the far Northwas never to come back.“She is dead the two returning Swanmaidens had said and they had made up a complete story which ran as follows

We three together flew high in the air a hunter saw usand shot his arrow at usit struck our young companion and friend and slowly singing her farewell songshe sank down a dying swaninto the woodland lake

By the shore of the lakeunder a weeping birch tree we buried herBut we had our revengeWe bound fire under the wings of the swallow who had her nest beneath the huntsman's thatchthe house burst into flamesthe huntsman burned in the houseand the glare shone over the sea as far as the hanging birch beneath which she sleepsNever will she return to the land of Egypt.”

And then the two weptAnd when Stork-papa heard the storyhe clapped with his beak so that it could be heard a long way off

Falsehood and lies!” he cried.“I should like to run my beak deep into their chests.”

And perhaps break it off,”interposed the Storkmamma:“and then you would look wellThink first of yourselfand then of your familyand all the rest does not concern you.”

But tomorrow I shall seat myself at the edge of the open cupolawhen the wise and learned men assemble to consult on the sick man's stateperhaps they may come a little nearer the truth.”

And the learned and wise men came together and spoke a great dealout of which the Stork could make no senseand it had no result either for the sick man or for the daughter in the swampy wasteBut for all that we may listen to what the people said for we have to listen to a great deal of talk in the world

But then it will be an advantage to hear what went beforeand in this case we are well informed for we know just as much about it as Stork-papa

Love gives life The highest love gives the highest lifeOnly through love can his life be preserved.”

That is what they all said and the learned men said it was very cleverly and beautifully spoken

That is a beautiful thought!”Stork-papa said immediately

I don't quite understand it,”Stork-mamma replied;“and that's not my faultbut the fault of the thoughtBut let it be as it will I've something else to think of.”

And now the learned men had spoken of the love to this one and that oneand of the difference between the love of one's neighbour and love between parents and childrenof the love of plants for the lightwhen the sunbeam kisses the ground and the germ springs forth from it,—everything was so fully and elaborately explained that it was quite impossible for Stork-papa to take it inmuch less to repeat itHe felt quite weighed down with thoughtand half shut his eyesand the whole of the following day he stood thoughtfully upon one legit was quite heavy for him to carryall that learning

But one thingStork-papa understoodAllhigh and lowhad spoken out of their inmost heartsand said that it was a great misfortune for thousands of peopleyes for the whole countrythat this man was lying sick and could not get welland that it would spread joy and pleasure abroad if he should recoverBut where grew the flower that could restore him to healthThey had all searched for itconsulted learned booksthe twinkling stars the weather and the windthey had made inquiries in every by-way of which they could thinkand at length the wise men and the learned men had saidas we have already toldthatLove begets lifewill restore a father's life”; and on this occasion they said more than they understoodThey repeated itand wrote down as a recipe,“Love begets life.”But how was the thing to be prepared according to the recipe That was a difficulty they could not get overAt last they were decided upon the point that help must come by means of the Princesswho loved her father with her whole souland at last a method had been devised whereby help could be procured Yes it was already more than a year ago since the Princess was to go forth by night when the brief rays of the new moon were waning she was to go out to the marble Sphinx to shake the dust from her sandals and to go onward through the long passage which leads into the midst of one of the great pyramids where one of the mighty Kings of antiquitysurrounded by pomp and treasurelay swathed in mummy clothsThere she was to incline her ear to the dead kingand then it would be revealed to her where she might find life and health for her fatherShe had fulfilled all thisand had seen in a vision that she was to bring home from the deep moss up in the Danish landthe very place had been accurately described to herthe lotus flower which grows in the depths of the watersand then her father would regain health and strength

And therefore she had gone forth in the swan's plumage out of the land of Egypt up to the wild mossAnd the Storkpapa and Storkmamma knew all thisand now we also know it more accurately than we knew it be-foreWe know that the Marsh king had drawn her down to himselfand know that to those at home she is dead for everOnly the wisest of them saidas the Storkmamma said too,“She will manage to help herself:”and they resolved to wait and see what would happenfor they knew of nothing better that they could do I should like to take away the swans’ feathers from the two faithless Princesses,”said the Stork-papa;“then at any ratethey will not be able to fly up again to the wild moss and do mischief I'll hide the two swanfeather suits up theretill somebody has occasion for them.”

But where do you intend to hide them?”asked Storkmamma

Up in our nest in the moss,”answered he.“I and our young ones will take turns in carrying them up yonder on our returnand if that should prove too difficult for usthere are places enough on the way where we can conceal them till our next journeyCertainlyone suit of swan's feathers would be enough for the Princessbut two are always betterIn those northern countries no one can have too many wraps.”

No one will thank you for it,”quoth Storkmamma;“but you're the masterExcept at breeding-time I have nothing to say.”

In the Viking’ s castle by the wild moss whither the Storks bent their flight when the spring approachedthey had given the little girl the name of Helga but this name was too soft for a temper like that which went with her beauteous form Month by month this temper showed itself more and moreand in the course of yearsduring which the Storks made the same journey over and over againin autumn to the Nile in spring back to the moorland lakethe child grew to be a big girland be-fore people were aware of itshe was a beautiful maiden in her sixteenth yearThe shell was splendidbut the kernel was harsh and hardharder even than most in those darkgloomy timesIt was a pleasure to her to splash about with her white hands in the blood of the horse that had been slain in sacrificeIn her wild mood she bit off the neck of the black cook the priest was about to offer upand to her fosterfather she said in perfect seriousness

If thy enemy should pull down the roof of they housewhile thou wert sleeping I would not wake the even if I had the powerI should never hear itfor my ears still tingle with the blow that thou gavest me years agothou I have never forgotten it.”

But the Viking took her words in jestforlike all othershe was bewitched with her beautyand he knew not how temper and form changed in HelgaWithout a saddle she sat upon a horseas if she were part of itwhile it rushed along in full career nor would she spring from the horse when it quarrelled and fought with other horsesOften she would throw herselfin her clothesfrom the high shore into the seaand swim to meet the Viking when his boat steered near home and she cut her longest lock of hairand twisted it into a string for her bow

Selfmade is wellmade,”she said

The Viking's wife was strong of character and of willaccording to the custom of the timesbutcommapared to her daughtershe appeared as a feebletimid womanmoreovershe knew that an evil charm weighed heavily upon the unfortunate child

It seemed as if out of mere malice when her mother stood on the threshold or came out into the yardHelga would often seat herself on the margin of the welland wave her arms in the airthen suddenly she would dive into the deep wellwhere her frog nature enabled her to dive and risedown and up until she climbed forth a-gain like a cat and came back into the hall dripping with waterso that the green leaves strewn upon the ground turned about in the stream

But there was one thing that imposed a check upon Helgaand that was the evening twilightWhen that came she was quiet and thoughtful and would listen to reproof and adviceand then a secret feeling seemed to draw her towards her motherAnd when the sun sankand the usual transformation of body and spirit took place in hershe would sit quiet and mournfulshrunk to the shape of the frogher body indeed much larger than that of the animaland for that reason much more hideous to beholdfor she looked like a wretched dwarf with a frog's head and webbed fingersHer eyes then had a very melancholy expressionShe had no voiceand could only utter a hollow croaking that sounded like the stifled sob of a dreaming childThen the Viking's wife took her on her lap and forgot the ugly form as she looked into the mournful eyesand said

I could almost with that thou wert always my poor dumb frog-childfor thou art only the more terrible to look at when they beauty is on the outside.”

And she wrote Runes against sorcery and sicknessand threw them over the wretched childbut she could not see that they worked any good

One can scarcely believe that she was ever so small that she could lie in the cup of a water-lily,”said Stork-papanow she's grown up the image of her Egyptian motherHer we shall never see again!”She did not know how to help herselfas you and the learned physicians said Year after year I have flown to and fro across and across the great mossand she has never once given a sign that she was still alive YesI may as well tell youthat every year when I came here a few days before youto repair the nest and attend to various matters I spent a whole night in flying to and fro over the lakeas if I had been an owl or a bat but every time in vainThe two suits of swan feathers which I and the young ones dragged up here out of the land of the Nile have consequently not been usedwe had trouble enough with them to bring them hither in three journeys and now they have lain for many years at the bottom of the nestand if it should happen that a fire broke out and the wooden house were burnedthey would be destroyed.”

And our good nest would be destroyed too,”said Storkmamma;“but you think less of that than of your plumage stuff and of your Moor PrincessYou'd best go down into the mud and stay there with her You're a bad father to your own childrenas I told you when I hatched our first broodI only hope neither we nor our children will get an arrow in our wings through that wild girlHelga doesn't know in the least what she does I wish she would only remember that we have lived here longer than sheand that we have never forgotten our dutyand have given our toll every yeara featheran eggand a young oneas it was right we should doDo you think I can now wander about in the courtyard and everywhere as I used to in former daysand as I still do in Egypt where I am almost the playfellow of the peopleand that I can press into pot and kettle as I can yonderNoI sit up here and am angry at her the stupid chit And I am angry at you tooYou should have just left her lying in the waterlilyand she would have been dead long ago.”

You are much better than your words,” said Stork-papa.“I know you better than you know yourself.”

And with that he gave a hop and flapped his wings heavily twicestretched out his legs behind him and flew away or rather sailed awaywithout moving his wingsHe had already gone some distance when he gave a great flapThe sun shone upon the white feathers and his head and neck were stretched forth proudly There was power in itand dash

After allhe's handsomer than any of them,”said Stork-mamma to herself;“but I don't tell him so.”

Early in that autumn the Viking came homeladen with bootyand bringing prisoners with himAmong these was a young Christian priest one of those who contemned the gods of the North

Often in those later times there had been a talkin hall and chamberof the new faith that was spreading far and wide in the Southand whichby means of Saint Ansgarhad penetrated as far as Hedeby on the Slie

Even Helga had heard of this belief in the White Christ who from love to men and for their redemptionhad sacrificed His lifebut with her all this had as the saying isgone in at one ear and come out at the otherIt seemed as if she only understood the meaning of the word lovewhen she crouched in a corner of the chamber in the form of a miserable frogbut the Viking's wife had listenedand had felt strangely moved by the stories and tales which were told in the South about the one only true Word

On their return from their last voyagethe men told of the splendid temples built of hewn stonesraised for the worship of Him whose mesage is loveSome massive vessels of goldmade with cunning arthad been brought home among the booty and each one had a peculiar fragrancefor they were incense vesselswhich had been swung by Christian priests before the altar

In the deep cellars of the Viking's house the young priest had been immured his hands and feet bound with strips of barkThe Viking's wife declared that he was beautiful as Balder to behold and his misfortune touched her heartbut Helga declared that it would be right to tie ropes to his heels and fasten him to the tails of wild oxenAnd she exclaimed

Then I would let loose the dogsHurrahOver the moor and across the swampThat would be a spectacleAnd yet finer would it be to follow him in his career.”

But the Viking would not suffer him to die such a deathhe purposed to sacrifice the priest on the morrowon the deathstone in the groveas a despiser and foe of the high gods

For the first time a man was to be sacrificed here

Helga beggedas a boonthat she might sprinkle the image of the god and the assembled multitude with the blood of the victimShe sharpened her glittering knifeand when one of the great savage dogs of whom a number were running about near the Viking's aboderan by hershe thrust the knife into his side,“merely to try its sharpnessas she saidAnd the Viking's wife looked mourn-fully at the wild evildisposed girland when night 65came on and the maiden exchanged beauty of form for gentleness of soulshe spoke in eloquent words to Helga of the sorrow that was deep in her heart

The ugly frog in its monstrous form stood before herand fixed its brown eyes upon her facelistening to her words and seeming to comprehend them with human intelligence

Nevernot even to my husbandhave I allowed my lips to utter a word concerning the sufferings I have to undergo through the,”said the Viking's wife;“my heart is full of more compassion for the than I myself believedgreat is the love of a motherBut love never entered into they heartthey heart that is like the wet cold moorland plantsFrom whence have you come into my house?”

Then the miserable form trembled and it was as though these words touched an invisible bond between body and souland great tears came into her eyes

They hard time will come.”said the Viking's wife;“and it will be terrible to me tooIt had been better if thou hadst been set out by the high road and the night wind had lulled the to sleep.”

And the Viking's wife wept bitter tears and went away full of wrath and bitterness of spiritdisappearing be-hind the curtain of furs that hung over the beam and divided the hall

The wrinkled frog crouched in the corner aloneA deep silence reigned all around but at intervals a half-stifled sigh escaped from its breast[,from the breast of Helga]. It seemed as though a painful new life were arising in her inmost heart She came forward and listenedandstepping forward again grasped with her clumsy hands the heavy pole that was laid across before the doorSilently she pushed back the pole silently drew back the bolt and took up the flickering Iamp which stood in the antechamber of the hallIt seemed as if a strong will gave her strengthShe drew back the iron bolt from the closed cellar doorand crept in to the captive He was asleep she touched him with her cold clammy hand and when he awoke and saw the hideous formhe shuddered as though he had beheld a wicked apparitionShe drew her knifecut his bondsand beckoned him to follow her

He uttered some holy names and made the sign of the crossand when the form remained unchangedhe said

Who art thouWhence this animal shape that thou bearestwhile yet thou art full of gentle mercy?”

The frog-woman beckoned him to followand led him through passages shrouded with curtainsinto the stablesand there pointed to a horseHe mounted on its backand she also sprang up before him holding fast by the horse's maneThe prisoner understood her meaningand in a rapid trot they rode on a way which he would never have found out on to the open heath

He thought not of her hideous form but felt how the mercy and lovingkindness of the Almighty were working by means of this monster apparition he prayed plous prayers and sang songs of praiseThen she trembled Was it the power of song and of prayer that worked in her or was she shuddering at the cold morn-in twilight that was approachingWhat were her feel-in twilight that was approachingWhat were her feelings She raised herself up and wanted to stop the horse and to alightbut the Christian priest held her back with all his strength and sang a psalmas if that would have the power to loosen the charm that tumed her into the hideous semblance of a frogAnd the horse galloped on more wildly than everthe sky turned redthe first sunbeam pierced through the clouds and as the flood of light came streaming downthe frog changed its nature Helga was again the beautiful maiden with the wicked demoniac spiritHe held a beautiful maiden in his armsbut was horrified at the sighthe swung himself from the horse and compelled it to stand This seemed to him a new and terrible sorcery but Helga likewise leaped from the saddle and stood on the groundThe child's short garment reached only to her knee She plucked the sharp knife from her girdie and rushed in upon the astonished priest

Le me get at the!”she screamed;“Let me get at the and plunge this knife in they bodyThe art pale as straw thou beardless slave

She pressed in upon himThey struggled together in a hard strife but an invisible power seemed given to the Christian captive He held her fast and the old oak tree beneath which they stood came to his assistance for its rootswhich projected over the groundheld fast the maid-en's feet that had become entangled in itQuite close to them gushed a spring and he sprinkled Helga's face and neck with the fresh water and commanded the unclean spirit to come forth and blessed her in the Christian fashionbut the water of faith has no power when the well-spring of faith flows not from within

And yet the Christian showed his power even nowand opposed more than the mere might of a man against the evil that struggled within the girlHis holy action seemed to overpower hershe dropped her handsand gazed with astonished eyes and pale cheeks upon him who appeared to her a mighty magician learned in secret artshe seemed to her to speak in a dark Runic tongueand to be making magic signs in the air She would not have winked had he swung a sharp knife or a glittering axe against her but she trembled when he signed her with the sign of the cross on her brow and her bosomand she sat there like a tame bird with bowed head

Then he spoke to her in gentle words of the kindly deed she had done for him in the past night when shecame to him in the form of the hideous frog to loosen his bonds and to lead him out to life and light and he told her that she too was bound in closer bonds than those that had confined himand that she should be released by his meansHe would take her to Hedeby to the holy Ansgarand there in the Christian city the spell that bound her would be loosedBut he would not let her sit before him on the horse though of her own accord she offered to do so

The must sit behind me not before me,”he said.“They magic beauty hath a power that comes of eviland I fear itand yet I feel that the victory is sure to him who hath faith.”And he knelt down and prayed fervently

It seemed as though the woodland scenes were consecrated as a holy church by his prayerThe birds sang as though they belonged to the new congregation the wild flowers smelt sweet as incenseand while he spoke the horse that had carried them both in headlong career stood still before the tall bramble bushes and plucked at themso that the ripe juicy berries fell down upon Helga's handsoffering themselves for her refreshment

Patiently she suffered the priest to lift her on the horse and sat like a somnambulistneither completely asleep nor wholly awakeThe Christian bound two branches together with bark in the form of a cross which he held up high as they rode through the forestThe wood became thicker as they went on and at last became a trackless wilderness

The wild sloe grew across the way so that they had to ride round the bushesThe spring became not a stream but a standing marshround which likewise they were obliged to ride There was strength and refreshment in the cool forest breezeand no small power lay in the gentle words which were spoken in faith and in Christian lovefrom a strong inward yearning to lead the poor lost one into the way of light and life

They say the raindrops can hollow the hard stoneand the waves of the sea can smooth and round the sharp edges of the rocks Thus did the dew of mercy that dropped upon helgasmooth what was rough and penetrate what was hard in herThe effects did not yet ap-pearnor was she aware of them herself but doth the seed in the bosom of earth know when the refreshing dew and the quickening sunbeams fall upon itthat it hath within itself the power of growth and blossoming As the song of the motherr penetrates into the heart of the childand it babbles the words after her without understanding their importuntil they afterwards engender thought and come forward in due time clealer and more clearly so here also did the Word take effect that is powerful to create

They rode forth from the dense forest across the heath and then again through pathless woods and towards evening they encountered a band of robbers

Where hast thou stolen that beauteous maiden?”cried the robbers and they seized the horse's bridle and dragged the two riders from its back The priest had no weapon save the knife he had taken from Helgaand with this he tried to defend himselfOne of the robbers lifted his axebut the young priest sprang asideotherwise he would have been struckand now the edge of the axe went deep into the horse's neckso that the blood spurted forthand the creature sank down on the groundThen Helga seemed suddenly to wake up from her long revenie and threw herself hastily upon the gasping animalThe priest stood before her to protect and defend herbut one of the robbers swung his iron hammer over the Christian's headand brought it down with such a crash that blood and brains were scattered aroundand the priest sank to the earthdead

Then the robbers seized little Helga by her white armsbut the sun went down and its last ray disappeared at that moment and she was changed into the form of a frogA white-green mouth spread over half her faceher arms became thin and slimy and broad hands with webbed fingers spread out upon them like fansThen the robbers were seized with terron and let her go She stood a hideous monster among them and as it is the nature of the frog to doshe hopped up high and disappeared in the thicketThen the robbers saw that this must be a bad prank of the spirit Lokeor the evil power of magic and in great affright they hurried away from the spot

The full moon was already rising Presently it shone with splendid radiance over the earthand poor Helga crept forth from the thicket in the wretched frog's shapeShe stood still beside the corpse of the priest and the carcass of the slain horse She looked at them with eyes that appeared to weepand from the frogmouth came forth a croaking like the voice of a child bursting into tearsShe leaned first over the one then over the other brought water in her hand which had become larger and more hollow by the webbed skinand poured it over thembut dead they wereand dead they would remainshe at last understoodSoon the wild beasts would come and tear their dead bodiesbut nothat must not be So she dug up the earth as well as she could in the endeavour to prepare a grgve for themShe had nothing to work with but a stake and her two hands encumbered with the webbed skin that grew between the fingersand which was torn by the labourso that the blood flowedAt last she saw that her endeavours would not succeed Then she brought water and washed the dead man’ s face and covered it with fresh green leavesshe brought large boughs and laid them upon him scattering dead leaves in the spaces between Then she brought the heaviest stones she could carry and laid them over the dead body stopping up the openings with moss And now she thought the gravehill would be strong and secure The night had passed away in this difficult workthe sun broke through the clouds and beautiful Helga stood there in all her loveliness with bleeding hands and for the first time with tears on her blushing maiden cheeks Then in this sransformation it seemed as if two natures were striving within herHer whole frame trembled and she looked aroundas if she had just awoke from a troubled dream Then she ran towards the slender tree clung to it for support and in another moment she had climbed to the summit of the tree and held fastThere she sat like a startled squirreland remained the whole day long in the silent solitude of the wood where everything is quietandas they saydeadButterflies fluttered around in sport and in the neighbourhood were several anthills each with its hundreds of busy little occupants moving briskly to and fro In the air danced innumerable gnats swarm upon swarm and hosts of buzzing fliesladybirdsgold beetlesand other little winged creatures the worm crept forth from the damp groundthe moles came out but except these all wassilent aroundsilent and as people say dead No one noticed Helga but some flocks of jays that flew screaming about the top of the tree on which she satthe birds hopped close up to her on the twigs with pert curiosity but when the glance of her eye fell upon them it was a signal for their flight But they could not understand hernor indeedcould she understand herself

When the evening twilight came onand the sun was sinkingthe time of her transformation roused her to fresh activityShe glided down from the treeand as the last sunbeam vanished she stood in the wrinkled form of the frogwith the torn webbed skin on her handsbut her eyes now gleamed with a splendour of beauty that had scarcely been theirs when she wore her garb of loveliness for they were a pair of purepiousmaidenly eyes that shone out of the frogfaceThey bore witness of depth of feeling of the gentle human heartand the beauteous eyes overflowed in tearsweeping precious drops that lightened the heart

On the sepulchral mound she had raised there yet lay the cross of boughsthe last work of him who slept beneathHelga lifted up the crossin pursuance of a sudden thought that came upon herShe planted it between the stones over the priest and the dead horse The sorrowful remembrance of him called fresh tears into her eyes and in this tender frame of mind she marked the same sign in the earth around the graveand as she wrote the sign with both her handsthe webbed skin fell from them like a torn gloveand when she washed her hands in the woodland springand gazed in wonder at her fine white handsshe again made the holy sign in the air between herself and the dead man then her lips trembled the holy name that had been preached to her during the ride from the forest came to her mouth and she pronounced it audibly

Then the frogskin fell from her and she was once more the beauteous maiden But her head sank wearilyher tired limbs required restand she slept

Her sleep howeverwas short Towards midnight she awokeBefore her stood the dead horse beaming and full of lifewhich gleamed forth from his eyes and from his wounded neck close beside the creature stood the murdered Christian priest,“more beautiful than Balder,”the Viking woman would have saidand yet he seemed to stand in a flame of fire

Such gravity such an air of justice such a piercing look shone out of his great mild eyes that their glance seemed to penetrate every comer of her heart Little Helga trembled at the lookand her remembrance awoke as though she stood before the tribunal of judgment Every good deed that had been done for her every loving word that had been spokenseemed endowed with lifeshe understood that it had been love that kept her here during the days of trial during which the creature formed of dust and spiritsoul and earth combats and struggles she acknowledged that she had only followed the leading of temperand had done nothing for herselfeverything had benn given her everything had been guided by ProvidenceShe bowed herself humblyconfessing her own deep imperfection in the presence of the Power that can read every thought of the heartand then the priest spoke

The daughter of the moss,”he said,“out of the earthout of the moorthou camestbut from the earth thou shalt ariseThe sunbeam in youwhich comes not from the sun but from God will go back to its originconscious of the body it has inhabited No soul shall be lost but time is longit is the course of life through eternityI come from the land of the dead The too shalt pass through the deep valleys into the beaming mountain region where dwell mercy and completeness I cannot lead the to Hedeby to receive Christian baptismforfirst thou must burst the veil of waters over the deep moss and draw forth the living source of they being and of they birth thou must exercise they faculties in deeds before the consecration can be given the.”

And he lifted her upon the horse and gave her a golden censer similar to the one she had seen in the Viking's castleThe open wound in the forehead of the slain Christian shone like a diademHe took the cross from the grave and held it aloft And now they rode the airover the rustling woodover the mounds where the old heroes lay buried each on his dead warhorseand the mighty figures rose up and galloped forthand stationed themselves on the summits of the moundsThe golden hoop on the forehead of each gleamed in the moonlight and their mantles floated in the night breezeThe dragon that guards buried treasures likewise lifted up his head and gazed after the riders

The gnomes and wood spirits peeped forth from beneath the hills and from between the furrows of the fields and flitted to and fro with red blue and green torcheslike the sparks in the ashes of a burned paper

Over woodland and heathover river and marsh they fled away up to the wild moss and over this they hovered in wide circles The Christian priest held the cross aloftit gleamed like goldand from his lips dropped pi-us prayersBeautiful Helga joined in the hymns he sang like a child joining in its mother's song She swung the censer and a wondrous fragrance of incense streamed forth thenceso that the reeds and grass of the moss burst forth into blossom Every germ came forth from the deep ground All that had life lifted itself up A veil of waterlilies spread itself forth like a carpet of wrought flowersand upon this carpet lay a sleeping woman young and beautifulHelga thought it was her own likeness she saw upon the mirror of the calm watersBut it was her mother whom she beheld the Marsh King's wife the Princess from the banks of the Nile

The dead priest commanded that the slumbering woman should be lifted upon the horsebut the horse sank under the burdenas though its body had been a cloth fluttering in the wind But the holy sign gave strength to the airy phantom and then the three rode from the moss to the firm land

Then the cock crowed in the Viking's castleand the phantom shapes dissolved and floated away in air but mother and daughter stood opposite each other

Is it myself that I see in the deep waters?”asked the mother

Is it myself that I see reflected on the clear mirror?”exclaimed the daughter

And they approached one another and embracedThe heart of the mother beat quickest and she understood it

My child The flower of my own heartMy lotos flower of the deep waters!”

And she embraced her child anewand weptand the tears were as a new baptism of life and love to Helga

In the swan's plumage came I hither,”said the mother,“and threw it offI sank through the shaking mudfar down into the black slime which closed like a wal around meBut soon I felt a fresher streama power drew me downdeeper and ever deeperI felt the weight of sleep upon my eyelidsI slumbered and dreams hovered round meIt seemed to me that I was again in the pyramid in Egypt and yet the waving alder trunk that had frightened me up in the moss was ever before me I looked at the clefts and wrinkles in the stemand they shone forth in colours and took the form of hieroglyphicsit was the case of the mummy at which I was gazing the case burst and forth stepped the thousandyear old Kingthe mummied form black as pitch shining black as the wood snail or the fat mud of the swampwhether it was the Marsh King or the mummy of the pyramids I knew notHe seized me in his armsand I felt as if I must die When I returned to consciousness a little bird was sitting on my bosombeating with its wingsand twitterin and singingThe bird flew away from me up towards the heavydark coveringbut a long green band still fastened him to me I heard and understood his longing tones:‘FreedomSunlightTo my father'then I thought of my father and the sunny land of my birthmy lifeand my loveand I loosened the band and let the bird soar away home to the father Since that hour I have dreamed no moreI have slept a sleep a long and heavy sleep till in this hour harmony and incense awoke me and set me free.”

The green band from the heart of the mother to the bird's wingswhere did it flutter now Whither had it been wafted Only the Stork had seen it The band was the green stalkthe bow at the end the beauteous flowerthe cradle of the child that had now bloomed into beauty and was once more resting on its mother's heart

And while the two were locked in each other's embracethe old Stork flew around them in circles and at length shot away towards his nest whence he brought out the swanfeather suits he had preserved there for yearsthrowing one to each of themand the feathers closed around themso that they soared up from the earth in the semblance of two white swans

And now we will speak with one another,”quoth Stork-papa,“now we understand each other though the beak of one bird is differently shaped from that of anotherIt happens more than fortunately that you came tonightTomorrow we should have been gonemothermyself and the young ones for we are flying southwardYesonly look at meI am an old friend from the land of the Nile and mother has a heart larger than her beakShe always declared the Princes would find a way to help herself and I and the young ones carried the swans’ feathers up here But how glad I am And how fortunate that I'm here still At dawn of day we shall move hencea great company of storksWe'll fly firstand do you follow us thus you cannot miss your way moreover I and the youngsters will keep a sharp eye upon you.”

And the lotus flower which I was to bring with me,”said the Egyptian Princess,“she is flying by my side in the swans plumage I bring with me the flower of my heart and thus the riddle has been read Homewardhomeward!”

But Helga declared she could not quit the Danish land before she had once more seen her fostermotherthe affectionate Viking womanEvery beautiful recollection every kind word every tear that her fostermother had wept for her rose up in her memory and in that moment she almost felt as if she loved the Viking woman best of all

Yes we must go to the Viking's castle,” said Stork-papa;“mother and the youngsters are waiting for us thereHow they will turn up their eyes and flap their wingsYesyou seemother doesn't speak muchshe's short and dry but she means all the better I'll begin clapping at once that they may know we're coming.”

And Stork-papa clapped in firstrate styleand they all flew away towards the Viking's castle

In the castle every one was sunk in deep sleep The Viking’ s wife had not retired to rest until it was late She was anxious about Helgawho had vanished with the Christian priest three days beforeshe must have assisted him in his flight for it was the girl's horse that had been missed from the stablesbut how all this had been effected was a mystery to herThe Viking woman had heard of the miracles told of the White Christand by those who believed in His words and followed Him Her passing thoughts formed themselves into a dreamand it seemed to her that she was still lying awake on her couch and that deep darkness reigned withoutThe storm drew nearshe heard the sea roaring and rolling to the east and to the west like the waves of the North Sea and the CattegatThe immense snake which was believed to surround the span of the earth in the depths of the ocean was trembling in convulsionsshe dreamed that night of the fall of the gods had comeRagnarok as the heathen called the last day when everything was to pass away even the great gods themselvesThe war-trumpet soundedand the gods rode over the rainbow clad in steelto fight the last battle The winged valkyries rode before themand the dead warriors closed the train The whole firmament was ablaze with Northern Lightsand yet the darkness seemed to predominate It was a terrible hour

And close by the terrified Viking woman Helga seemed to be crouching on the floor in the hideous frog-form trembling and pressing close to her fostermotherwho took her on her lap and embraced her affectionatelyhideous though she wasThe air resounded with the blows of clubs and swordsand with the hissing of arrows as if a hail-storm were passing across itThe hour was come when earth and sky were to burst the stars to fall and all things to be swallowed up in Surt's sea of fire but she knew that there would be a new heaven and a new earth that the cornfields then would wave where now the ocean rolled over the desolate tracts of sand and that the unutterable God would reignand up to Him rose Balder the gentle the affectionatedelivered from the kingdom of the deadhe camethe Viking woman saw him and recognized his countenanceit was that of the captive Christian priest.“White Christ!” she cried aloudand with these words she pressed a kiss upon the forehead of the hideous frogchildThen the frogskin fell off and Helga stood revealed in all her beautylovely and gentle as she had never appearedand with beaming eyes She kissed her fostermother's hands blessed her for all the care and affection lavished during the days of bitterness and trial for the thought she had awakened and cherished in her for naming the name which she repeated,“White Christ;”and beauteous Helga arose in the form of a mighty swan and spread her white wings with a rushing like the sound of a troop of birds of passage winging their way through the air

The Viking woman awoke and she heard the same noise without still continuing She knew it was the time for the storks to depart and that it must be those birds whose wings she heardShe wished to see them once moreand to bid them farewell as they set forth on their journeyTherefore she rose from her couch and stepped out upon the threshold and on the top of the gable she saw stork ranged behind stork and around the castleover the high trees flew bands of storks wheeling in wide circlesbut opposite herby the well where Helga had often sat and alarmed her with her wildness sat two white swans gazing at her with intelligent eyes And she remembered her dreamwhich still filled her soul as if it were reality She thought of Helga in the shape of a swan and of the Christian priestand suddenly she felt her heart rejoice within her

The swans flapped their wings and arched their necksas if they would send her a greeting and the Viking’ s wife spreed out her arms towards themas if she understood it and smiled through her tears and then stood sunk in deep thought

Then all the storks arose flapping their wings and clapping with their beaks to start on their voyage towards the South

We will not wait for the swans,”said Storkmamma:“if they want to go with us they had better come We can't sit here till the plovers startIt is a fine thingafter all to travel in this way in families not like the finches and partridgeswhere the male and female birds fly in separate bodies which appears to me a very unbecoming thingWhat are yonder swans flapping their wings for?”

Every one flies in his own fashion,” said Stork-pa-pa:“the swans in an oblique linethe cranes in a triangleand the plovers in a snake's line.”

Don't talk about snakes while we are flying up here,”said Stork-mamma.“It only puts ideas into the children's heads which can't be gratified.”

Are those the high mountains of which I have heard tell?” asked Helgain the swan's plumage

They are storm clouds driving on beneath us,”replied her mother

What are yonder white clouds that rise so high?”asked Helga again

Those are the mountains covered with perpetual snow which you see yonder,”replied her mother

And they flew across the lofty Alps towards the blue Mediterranean

Africa's landEgypt's strand!”sangrejoicinglyin her swan's plumagethe daughter of the Nileas from the lofty air she saw native land in the form of a yellowish wavy stripe of shore

And all the birds caught sight of it and hastened their flight

I can scent the Nile mud and wet frogs,” said Stork-mamma;“I begin to fell quite hungry Yesnow you shall taste something niceand you will see the marabou bird the crane and the ibis They all belong to our familythough they are not nearly so beautiful as weThey give themselves great airsespecially the ibis He has been quite spoiled by the Egyptian for they make a mummy of him and stuff him with spices I would rather be stuffed with live frogs and so would you and so you shallBetter have something in one's inside while one is alive than to be made a fuss of after one is deadThat's my opinionand I am always right.”

Now the storks are come said the people in the rich house on the banks of the Nile where the royal lord lay in the open hall on the downy cushions covered with a leopard-skin not alive and yet not dead but waiting and hoping for the lotus flower from the deep moss in the far NorthFriends and servants stood around his couch

And into the hall flew two beauteous swans They had come with the storks They threw off their dazzling white plumageand two lovely female forms were revealed as like each other as two dewdrops They bent over the old pale sick man they put back their long hair and while Helga bent over her grandfather his white cheeks reddened his eyes brightened and life came back to his wasted limbsThe old man rose up cheerful and well and daughter and granddaughter em-braced him joyfully as if they were giving him a morning greeting after a long heavy dream

And joy reigned through the whole house and like-wise in the Stork's nest though there the chief cause was certainly the good foodespecially the numberless frogsand while the learnea men wrote down hastily in flying characters a sketch of the history of the two Princessesand of the flower of health that had been a source of joy for the home and the land the Storkpair told the story to their family in their own fashion but not till all had eaten their fillotherwise they would have found something more interesting to do than to listen to stories

Nowat lastyou will become something,”whispered Storkmamma,“there's no doubt about that.”

What should I become?” asked Stork-papa.“What have I done Nothing at all!”

You have done more than the restBut for you and the youngsters the two Princesses would never have seen Egypt againor have effected the old man's cure You will turn out something They must certainly give you a doctor's degree and our youngsters will inherit it and so will their children after them and so on You already look like an Egyptian doctorat least in my eyes.”

The learned and wise men developed the groundthoughtas they called it which went through the whole affair.“Love begets life this maxim they explained in various ways.“The warm sunbeam was the Egyptian Princess she descended to the Marsh King and from their meeting arose the flower—”

I cannot quite repeat the words as they were spoken,”said Storkpapa who had listened from the roofand was now telling it again to his own family.“What they said was so involvedit was so wise and learnedthat they immediately received rank and presents even the head cook received an especial mark of distinctionprobably for the soup.”

And what did you receive?” asked Storkmamma.“Surely they ought not to forget the most important person of all and you are certainly heThe learned men have done nothing throughout the whole affair but used their tonguesbut you will doubtless receive what is due to you

Late in the nightwhen the gentle peace of sleep rested upon the now happy house there was one who still watched It was not Storkpapa though he stood upon one leg and slept on guardit was Helga who watchedShe bowed herself forward over the balconyand looked into the clear airgazed at the great gleaming starsgreater and purer in their lustre than she had ever seen them in the Northand yet the same orbsShe thought of the Viking woman in the wild moorland of the gentle eyes of her fostermother and of the tears which the kind soul had wept over the poor frog-child that now lived in splendour under the gleaming stars in the beauteous spring air on the banks of the Nile She thought of the love that dwelt in the breast of the heathen woman

the love that had been shown to a wretched creature hateful in human formand hideous in its transformationShe looked at the gleaming starsand thought of the glory that had shone upon the forehead of the dead man when she flew with him through the forest and across the moorlandsounds passed through her memory words she had heard pronounced as they rode onwardand when she was borne wondering and trembling through the air words from the great Fountain of love that embraces all human kind

Yesgreat things had been achieved and won Day and night beautiful Helga was absorbed in the contemplation of the great sum of her happinessand stood in the contemplation of it like a child that turns hurriedly from the giver to gaze on the splendours of the gifts it has received She seemed to lose herself in the increasing happinessin contemplation of what might comeof what would comeHad she not been borne by miracle to greater and greater bliss And in this idea she one day lost herself so completely that she thought no more of the GiverIt was the exuberance of youthful courage unfoldin its wings for a bold flight Her eyes were gleaming with courage when suddenly a loud noise in the court-yard below recalled her thoughts from their wandering flight There she saw two great ostriches running round rapidly in a narrow circleNever before had she seen such creaturesgreat clumsy things they werewith wings that looked as if they had been clipped and the bids themselves looking as if they had suffered violence of some kindand now for the first time she heard the legend which the Egyptians tell of the ostrich

Once they say the ostriches were a beautiful glorious race of birds with strong large wings and one evening the larger birds of the forest said to the ostrich,“Brother shall we fly tomorrtowGod willing to the river to drink?” And the ostrich answered,“I will.”At daybreakaccordingly they winged their flight from thenceflying first up on high towards the sun that gleamed like the eye of Godhigher and higher the ostrich far in advance of all the other birdsProudly the ostrich flew straight towards the lightboasting of his strengthand not thinking of the Giver or saying,“ God willing!”Then suddenly the avenging angel drew aside the veil from the flaming ocean of sunlightand in a moment the wings of the proud bird were scorched and shriveled upand he sank miserably to the ground Since that time the ostrich has never again been able to raise himself in the air but flees timidly along the ground and runs round in a narrow circleAnd this is a warning for us men that in all our thoughts and schemes in all our doings and deviceswe should say,“God willing.”And Helga bowed her head thoughtfully and looked at the circling ostrichnoticing its timid fear and its stupid pleasure at sight of its own great shadow cast upon the white sunlit wall And seriousness struck its roots deep into her mind and heartA rich life in present and future happiness was given and wonand what was yet to come The best of all,“God willing.”

In early springwhen the storks flew again towards the North beautiful Helga took off her golden bracelet and scratched her name upon itand beckoning to the Stork-papa she placed the golden hoop around his neckand begged him to deliver it to the Viking woman so that the latter might see that her adopted daughter was welland had not forgotten her

That's heavy to carry thought the Storkpapawhen he had the golden ring round his neck;“but gold and honour are not to be flung on the highwayThe stork brings good fortunethey'll be obliged to acknowledge that up there.”

You lay gold and I lay eggs,”said the Stork-mamma.“But with you it's only once in a way whereas I lay eggs every year but neither of us is appreciatedthat's very disheartening.”

Still one has one's inward consciousness mother,”replied Stork-papa

But you can't hang that round your neck,”Stork-mamma retorted,“and it won't give you a good wind or a good meal.”

The little nightingalesinging in the tamarind treewould soon be going north tooHelga the fair had often heard the sweet bird sing up yonder by the wild mossnow she wanted to give it a message to carryfor she had learned the language of birds when she flew in the swan's plumageshe had often conversed with stork and with swallowand she knew the nightingale would understand herSo she begged the little bird to fly to the beechwood on the peninsula of Jutlandwhere the gravemound had been reared with stones and branches and asked the nightingale to beg all other little birds to build their nests around the grave and sing their song there again and againAnd the nightingale flew awayand time flew away

In autumn the eagle stood upon the pyramid and saw a stately train of richly laden camels approachingand richly attired armed men on snorting Arab steedsshining white as silver with pink trembling nostrils and great thick manes hanging down almost over their slender legs Wealthy guests a royal Prince of Arabia handsome as a Prince should became into the proud mansion on whose roof the storks’ nests now stood empty those who had inhabited the nest were away in the far North but they would soon return And indeed they returned on that very day that was so rich in joy and gladnessHere a marriage was celebrated and fair Helga was the bride shining in jewels and silkThe bridegroom was the young Arab Princeand bride and bridegroom sat together at the upper end of the table between mother and grandfather

But her gaze was not fixed upon the bridegroomwith his manly sunbrowned cheeks round which a black beard curledshe gazed not at his dark fiery eyes that were fixed upon herbut far away at a gleaming star that shone down from the sky

Then strong wings were heard beating the airThe storks were coming homeand however tired the old Stork pair might be from the journeyand however much they needed reposethey did not fail to come down at once to the balustrades of the verandah for they knew what feast was being celebrated Already on the frontier of the land they had heard that Helga had caused their figures to be painted on the wallfor did they not belong to her history

That's very pretty and suggestive,”said Storkpapa

But it's very little,”observed Stork-mamma.“They could not possibly have done less.”

And when Helga saw themshe rose and came on to the verandah to stroke the backs of the Storks The old pair bowed their necksand even the youngest among the young ones felt highly honoured by the reception

And Helga looked up to the gleaming star which seemed to glow purse and purer and between the star and herself there floated a form purer than the air and visible through it it floated quite close to her It was the spirit of the dead Christian priesthe too was coming to her wedding feastcoming from heaven

The glory and brightness yonder outshines everything that is known on earth!” he said

And fair Helga begged so ferventlyso beseechinglyas she had never yet prayed that it might be permitted her to gaze in there for one single moment that she might be allowed to cast but a single glance into the brightness that beamed in the kingdom of heaven

Then he bore her up amid splendour and gloryNot only around herbut within her sounded voices and beamed a brightness that words cannot express

Now we must go backthou wilt be missed,”he said

Only one more look!”she begged.“But one short minute more!”

We must go back to the earth The guests will all depart.”

Only one more lookthe last.”

And Helga stood again in the verandah but the marriage lights without had vanished and the lamps in the hall were extinguished and the storks were gonenowhere a guest to be seenno bridegroomall seemed to have been swept away in those few short minutes

Then a great dread came upon her Alone she went through the empty great hall into the next chamberStrange warriors slept yonderShe opened a side door which led into her own chamber andas she thought to step in thereshe suddenly found herself in the gardenbut yet it had not looked thus here beforethe skygleamed redthe morning dawn was come

Three minutes only in heaven and a whole night on earth had passed away

Then she saw the Storks againShe called to them and spoke their languageand Stork-papa turned his head towards her listened to her wordsand drew near

You speak our language,”he said;“what do you wish Why do you appear hereyou a strange woman?”

It is Iit is Helgadost thou not know meThree minutes ago we were speaking together yonder in the verandah!”

That's a mistake,”said the Stork;“you must have dreamed that!”

Nono!”she persistedAnd she reminded him of the Viking's castleand of the wild mossand of the journey hither

Then Storkpapa winked with his eyes and said,“That's an old storywhich I heard from the time of my great-great-grandmotherThere certainly was here in Egypt a Princess of that kind from the Danish land but she vanished on the evening of her wedding-daymany hundred years agoand never came back

You may read about it yourself yonder on the monument in the garden there you'll find swans and storks sculptured and at the top you yourself are out in white marble!”

And thus it was Helga saw it and understood itand sank on her knees

The sun burst forth in gloryand as in time of yorethe frogshape had vanished in its beamsand the beautiful form had stood displayed so now in the light a beauteous formclearerpurer than aira beam of brightnessflew up into heaven

The body crumbled to dustand a faded lotus flower lay on the spot where Helga had stood

Wellthat's a new ending to the story,”said Storkpapa.“I had certainly not expected itBut I like it very well.”

But what will the young ones say to it?”said Stork-mamma

Yescertainlythat's the important point,”replied he

 


 

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