nce, long ago, there lived near the ancient city of Strasburg, on the
river Rhine, a young and handsome count, whose name was Otto. As the years
flew by he remained unwed, and never so much as cast a glance at the fair
maidens of the country round; for this reason people began to call him
It chanced that Count Otto, on one Christmas Eve, ordered that a great
hunt should take place in the forest surrounding his castle. He and his
guests and his many retainers rode forth, and the chase became more and
more exciting. It led through thickets, and over pathless tracts of
forest, until at length Count Otto found himself separated from his
companions. He rode on by himself until he came to a spring of clear,
bubbling water, known to the people around as the "Fairy Well." Here
Count Otto dismounted. He bent over the spring and began to lave his
hands in the sparkling tide, but to his wonder he found that though
the weather was cold and frosty, the water was warm and delightfully
caressing. He felt a glow of joy pass through his veins, and, as he
plunged his hands deeper, he fancied that his right hand was grasped
by another, soft and small, which gently slipped from his finger the
gold ring he always wore. And, lo! when he drew out his hand, the gold
ring was gone.
Full of wonder at this mysterious event, the count mounted his horse
and returned to his castle, resolving in his mind that the very next
day he would have the Fairy Well emptied by his servants.
He retired to his room, and, throwing himself just as he was upon his
couch, tried to sleep; but the strangeness of the adventure kept him
restless and wakeful.
Suddenly he heard the hoarse baying of the watch-hounds in the
courtyard, and then the creaking of the drawbridge, as though it
were being lowered. Then came to his ear the patter of many small feet
on the stone staircase, and next he heard indistinctly the sound of
light footsteps in the chamber adjoining his own.
Count Otto sprang from his couch, and as he did so there sounded a
strain of delicious music, and the door of his chamber was flung
open. Hurrying into the next room, he found himself in the midst of
numberless Fairy beings, clad in gay and sparkling robes. They paid
no heed to him, but began to dance, and laugh, and sing, to the sound
of mysterious music.
In the center of the apartment stood a splendid Christmas Tree, the
first ever seen in that country. Instead of toys and candles there
hung on its lighted boughs diamond stars, pearl necklaces, bracelets
of gold ornamented with colored jewels, aigrettes of rubies and
sapphires, silken belts embroidered with Oriental pearls, and daggers
mounted in gold and studded with the rarest gems. The whole tree swayed,
sparkled, and glittered in the radiance of its many lights.
Count Otto stood speechless, gazing at all this wonder, when suddenly
the Fairies stopped dancing and fell back, to make room for a lady of
dazzling beauty who came slowly toward him.
She wore on her raven-black tresses a golden diadem set with jewels.
Her hair flowed down upon a robe of rosy satin and creamy velvet. She
stretched out two small, white hands to the count and addressed him
in sweet, alluring tones: --
"Dear Count Otto," said she, "I come to return your Christmas visit.
I am Ernestine, the Queen of the Fairies. I bring you something you
lost in the Fairy Well."
And as she spoke she drew from her bosom a golden casket, set with
diamonds, and placed it in his hands. He opened it eagerly and found
within his lost gold ring.
Carried away by the wonder of it all, and overcome by an irresistible
impulse, the count pressed the Fairy Ernestine to his heart, while
she, holding him by the hand, drew him into the magic mazes of the
dance. The mysterious music floated through the room, and the rest
of that Fairy company circled and whirled around the Fairy Queen and
Count Otto, and then gradually dissolved into a mist of many colors,
leaving the count and his beautiful guest alone.
Then the young man, forgetting all his former coldness toward the
maidens of the country round about, fell on his knees before the
Fairy and besought her to become his bride. At last she consented
on the condition that he should never speak the word "death" in her
The next day the wedding of Count Otto and Ernestine, Queen of the
Fairies, was celebrated with great pomp and magnificence, and the
two continued to live happily for many years.
Now it happened on a time, that the count and his Fairy wife were to
hunt in the forest around the castle. The horses were saddled and
bridled, and standing at the door, the company waited, and the count
paced the hall in great impatience; but still the Fairy Ernestine
tarried long in her chamber. At length she appeared at the door of
the hall, and the count addressed her in anger.
"You have kept us waiting so long," he cried, "that you would make
a good messenger to send for Death!"
Scarcely had he spoken the forbidden and fatal word, when the Fairy,
uttering a wild cry, vanished from his sight. In vain Count Otto,
overwhelmed with grief and remorse, searched the castle and the Fairy
Well, no trace could he find of his beautiful, lost wife but the
imprint of her delicate hand set in the stone arch above the castle gate.
Years passed by, and the Fairy Ernestine did not return. The count
continued to grieve. Every Christmas Eve he set up a lighted tree in
the room where he had first met the Fairy, hoping in vain that she
would return to him.
Time passed and the count died. The castle fell into ruins. But to
this day may be seen above the massive gate, deeply sunken in the
stone arch, the impress of a small and delicate hand.
And such, say the good folk of Strasburg, was the origin of the
THE CHRISTMAS FAIRY OF STRASBURG|
(A German folk-tale by J. Stirling Coyne [adapted])