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The Juniper-Tree

Long, long ago, some two thousand years or so, there lived a rich manwith a good and beautiful wife. They loved each oth...

The Juniper-Tree

Long, long ago, some two thousand years or so, there lived a rich manwith a good and beautiful wife. They loved each other dearly, butsorrowed much that they had no children. So greatly did they desire tohave one, that the wife prayed for it day and night, but still theyremained childless.

In front of the house there was a court, in which grew a juniper-tree.One winter’s day the wife stood under the tree to peel some apples, andas she was peeling them, she cut her finger, and the blood fell onthe snow. «Ah,» sighed the woman heavily, «if I had but a child, as redas blood and as white as snow,» and as she spoke the words, her heartgrew light within her, and it seemed to her that her wish was granted,and she returned to the house feeling glad and comforted. A monthpassed, and the snow had all disappeared; then another month went by,and all the earth was green. So the months followed one another, andfirst the trees budded in the woods, and soon the green branchesgrew thickly intertwined, and then the blossoms began to fall. Onceagain the wife stood under the juniper-tree, and it was so full ofsweet scent that her heart leaped for joy, and she was so overcomewith her happiness, that she fell on her knees. Presently the fruitbecame round and firm, and she was glad and at peace; but when theywere fully ripe she picked the berries and ate eagerly of them, andthen she grew sad and ill. A little while later she called herhusband, and said to him, weeping. «If I die, bury me under thejuniper-tree.» Then she felt comforted and happy again, and beforeanother month had passed she had a little child, and when she saw thatit was as white as snow and as red as blood, her joy was so great thatshe died.

Her husband buried her under the juniper-tree, and wept bitterly forher. By degrees, however, his sorrow grew less, and although at times hestill grieved over his loss, he was able to go about as usual, andlater on he married again.

He now had a little daughter born to him; the child of his first wifewas a boy, who was as red as blood and as white as snow. The motherloved her daughter very much, and when she looked at her and thenlooked at the boy, it pierced her heart to think that he would alwaysstand in the way of her own child, and she was continually thinking howshe could get the whole of the property for her. This evil thought tookpossession of her more and more, and made her behave very unkindly tothe boy. She drove him from place to place with cuffings andbuffetings, so that the poor child went about in fear, and had no peacefrom the time he left school to the time he went back.

One day the little daughter came running to her mother in thestore-room, and said, «Mother, give me an apple.» «Yes, my child,» saidthe wife, and she gave her a beautiful apple out of the chest; thechest had a very heavy lid and a large iron lock.

«Mother,» said the little daughter again, «may not brother have onetoo?» The mother was angry at this, but she answered, «Yes, when hecomes out of school.»

Just then she looked out of the window and saw him coming, and itseemed as if an evil spirit entered into her, for she snatched theapple out of her little daughter’s hand, and said, «You shall not haveone before your brother.» She threw the apple into the chest and shutit to. The little boy now came in, and the evil spirit in the wifemade her say kindly to him, «My son, will you have an apple?» but shegave him a wicked look. «Mother,» said the boy, «how dreadful youlook! Yes, give me an apple.» The thought came to her that she wouldkill him. «Come with me,» she said, and she lifted up the lid of thechest; «take one out for yourself.» And as he bent over to do so, theevil spirit urged her, and crash! down went the lid, and off went thelittle boy’s head. Then she was overwhelmed with fear at the thought ofwhat she had done. «If only I can prevent anyone knowing that I didit,» she thought. So she went upstairs to her room, and took a whitehandkerchief out of her top drawer; then she set the boy’s head againon his shoulders, and bound it with the handkerchief so that nothingcould be seen, and placed him on a chair by the door with an apple inhis hand.

Soon after this, little Marleen came up to her mother who was stirringa pot of boiling water over the fire, and said, «Mother, brother issitting by the door with an apple in his hand, and he looks so pale;and when I asked him to give me the apple, he did not answer, andthat frightened me.»

«Go to him again,» said her mother, «and if he does not answer, give hima box on the ear.» So little Marleen went, and said, «Brother, give methat apple,» but he did not say a word; then she gave him a box on theear, and his head rolled off. She was so terrified at this, that she rancrying and screaming to her mother. «Oh!» she said, «I have knockedoff brother’s head,» and then she wept and wept, and nothing would stopher.

«What have you done!» said her mother, «but no one must know about it,so you must keep silence; what is done can’t be undone; we will make himinto puddings.» And she took the little boy and cut him up, madehim into puddings, and put him in the pot. But Marleen stood lookingon, and wept and wept, and her tears fell into the pot, so that therewas no need of salt.

Presently the father came home and sat down to his dinner; heasked, «Where is my son?» The mother said nothing, but gave him a largedish of black pudding, and Marleen still wept without ceasing.

The father again asked, «Where is my son?»

«Oh,» answered the wife, «he is gone into the country to hismother’s great uncle; he is going to stay there some time.»

«What has he gone there for, and he never even said goodbye to me!»

«Well, he likes being there, and he told me he should be away quitesix weeks; he is well looked after there.»

«I feel very unhappy about it,» said the husband, «in case it shouldnot be all right, and he ought to have said goodbye to me.»

With this he went on with his dinner, and said, «Little Marleen, whydo you weep? Brother will soon be back.» Then he asked his wife formore pudding, and as he ate, he threw the bones under the table.

Little Marleen went upstairs and took her best silk handkerchief outof her bottom drawer, and in it she wrapped all the bones from underthe table and carried them outside, and all the time she did nothing butweep. Then she laid them in the green grass under the juniper-tree, andshe had no sooner done so, then all her sadness seemed to leave her,and she wept no more. And now the juniper-tree began to move, and thebranches waved backwards and forwards, first away from one another,and then together again, as it might be someone clapping their handsfor joy. After this a mist came round the tree, and in the midst of itthere was a burning as of fire, and out of the fire there flew abeautiful bird, that rose high into the air, singing magnificently, andwhen it could no more be seen, the juniper-tree stood there asbefore, and the silk handkerchief and the bones were gone.

Little Marleen now felt as lighthearted and happy as if her brotherwere still alive, and she went back to the house and sat down cheerfullyto the table and ate.

The bird flew away and alighted on the house of a goldsmith and beganto sing:

«My mother killed her little son; My father grieved when I was gone; My sister loved me best of all; She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

The goldsmith was in his workshop making a gold chain, when he heardthe song of the bird on his roof. He thought it so beautiful that hegot up and ran out, and as he crossed the threshold he lost one of hisslippers. But he ran on into the middle of the street, with a slipperon one foot and a sock on the other; he still had on his apron, andstill held the gold chain and the pincers in his hands, and so he stoodgazing up at the bird, while the sun came shining brightly down on thestreet.

«Bird,» he said, «how beautifully you sing! Sing me that song again.»

«Nay,» said the bird, «I do not sing twice for nothing. Give thatgold chain, and I will sing it you again.»

«Here is the chain, take it,» said the goldsmith. «Only sing methat again.»

The bird flew down and took the gold chain in his right claw, and thenhe alighted again in front of the goldsmith and sang:

«My mother killed her little son; My father grieved when I was gone; My sister loved me best of all; She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

Then he flew away, and settled on the roof of a shoemaker’s houseand sang:

«My mother killed her little son; My father grieved when I was gone; My sister loved me best of all; She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

The shoemaker heard him, and he jumped up and ran out inhis shirt-sleeves, and stood looking up at the bird on the roof with hishand over his eyes to keep himself from being blinded by the sun.

«Bird,» he said, «how beautifully you sing!» Then he called throughthe door to his wife: «Wife, come out; here is a bird, come and look atit and hear how beautifully it sings.» Then he called his daughterand the children, then the apprentices, girls and boys, and they allran up the street to look at the bird, and saw how splendid it waswith its red and green feathers, and its neck like burnished gold, andeyes like two bright stars in its head.

«Bird,» said the shoemaker, «sing me that song again.»

«Nay,» answered the bird, «I do not sing twice for nothing; you mustgive me something.»

«Wife,» said the man, «go into the garret; on the upper shelf you willsee a pair of red shoes; bring them to me.» The wife went in andfetched the shoes.

«There, bird,» said the shoemaker, «now sing me that song again.»

The bird flew down and took the red shoes in his left claw, and thenhe went back to the roof and sang:

«My mother killed her little son; My father grieved when I was gone; My sister loved me best of all; She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

When he had finished, he flew away. He had the chain in his right clawand the shoes in his left, and he flew right away to a mill, and themill went «Click clack, click clack, click clack.» Inside the millwere twenty of the miller’s men hewing a stone, and as they went «Hickhack, hick hack, hick hack,» the mill went «Click clack, click clack,click clack.»

The bird settled on a lime-tree in front of the mill and sang:

«My mother killed her little son;

then one of the men left off,

My father grieved when I was gone;

two more men left off and listened,

My sister loved me best of all;

then four more left off,

She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie

now there were only eight at work,

Underneath

And now only five,

the juniper-tree.

and now only one,

Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

then he looked up and the last one had left off work.

«Bird,» he said, «what a beautiful song that is you sing! Let me hearit too; sing it again.»

«Nay,» answered the bird, «I do not sing twice for nothing; give methat millstone, and I will sing it again.»

«If it belonged to me alone,» said the man, «you should have it.»

«Yes, yes,» said the others: «if he will sing again, he can have it.»

The bird came down, and all the twenty millers set to and lifted upthe stone with a beam; then the bird put his head through the hole andtook the stone round his neck like a collar, and flew back with it tothe tree and sang—

«My mother killed her little son; My father grieved when I was gone; My sister loved me best of all; She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

And when he had finished his song, he spread his wings, and with thechain in his right claw, the shoes in his left, and the millstoneround his neck, he flew right away to his father’s house.

The father, the mother, and little Marleen were having their dinner.

«How lighthearted I feel,» said the father, «so pleased and cheerful.»

«And I,» said the mother, «I feel so uneasy, as if a heavythunderstorm were coming.»

But little Marleen sat and wept and wept.

Then the bird came flying towards the house and settled on the roof.

«I do feel so happy,» said the father, «and how beautifully thesun shines; I feel just as if I were going to see an old friend again.»

«Ah!» said the wife, «and I am so full of distress and uneasiness thatmy teeth chatter, and I feel as if there were a fire in my veins,» andshe tore open her dress; and all the while little Marleen sat in thecorner and wept, and the plate on her knees was wet with her tears.

The bird now flew to the juniper-tree and began singing:

«My mother killed her little son;

the mother shut her eyes and her ears, that she might see andhear nothing, but there was a roaring sound in her ears like that of aviolent storm, and in her eyes a burning and flashing like lightning:

My father grieved when I was gone;

«Look, mother,» said the man, «at the beautiful bird that is singingso magnificently; and how warm and bright the sun is, and what adelicious scent of spice in the air!»

My sister loved me best of all;

then little Marleen laid her head down on her knees and sobbed.

«I must go outside and see the bird nearer,» said the man.

«Ah, do not go!» cried the wife. «I feel as if the whole house werein flames!»

But the man went out and looked at the bird.

She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

With that the bird let fall the gold chain, and it fell just roundthe man’s neck, so that it fitted him exactly.

He went inside, and said, «See, what a splendid bird that is; he hasgiven me this beautiful gold chain, and looks so beautiful himself.»

But the wife was in such fear and trouble, that she fell on the floor,and her cap fell from her head.

Then the bird began again:

«My mother killed her little son;

«Ah me!» cried the wife, «if I were but a thousand feet beneath theearth, that I might not hear that song.»

My father grieved when I was gone;

then the woman fell down again as if dead.

My sister loved me best of all;

«Well,» said little Marleen, «I will go out too and see if the birdwill give me anything.»

So she went out.

She laid her kerchief over me, And took my bones that they might lie

and he threw down the shoes to her,

Underneath the juniper-tree Kywitt, Kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!»

And she now felt quite happy and lighthearted; she put on the shoesand danced and jumped about in them. «I was so miserable,» she said,«when I came out, but that has all passed away; that is indeed asplendid bird, and he has given me a pair of red shoes.»

The wife sprang up, with her hair standing out from her head likeflames of fire. «Then I will go out too,» she said, «and see if it willlighten my misery, for I feel as if the world were coming to an end.»

But as she crossed the threshold, crash! the bird threw the millstonedown on her head, and she was crushed to death.

The father and little Marleen heard the sound and ran out, but theyonly saw mist and flame and fire rising from the spot, and whenthese had passed, there stood the little brother, and he took thefather and little Marleen by the hand; then they all threerejoiced, and went inside together and sat down to their dinners andate.

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