by Georg Ebers
A FAIRY TALE.
Once upon a time there was a country, more beautiful than all other
lands and the castle of the Duke, its ruler, lay beside a lake that
was bluer than the deepest indigo. A long time ago the Knight
Wendelin and his squire George chanced upon this lake, but they found
nothing save waste fields and bleak rocks around it, yet the shores
must formerly have borne a different aspect, for there were shattered
columns and broken-nosed statues lying on the ground. Against the
hillside there were remains of ancient walls that once, undoubtedly,
had supported terraces of vines, but the rains had long washed the
soil from the rocks, and among the caves and crannies of the fallen
stonework, and ruined cellars, foxes, bats, and other animals had
found a home.
The knight was no antiquary, but as he looked about him his
curiosity was excited: "What can have happened here?" he said, and
his squire wondered also, and followed his master. The latter led his
horse to the edge of the water to let him drink, for though he had
seen many watercourses in the land, he had found nothing in them save
stones, and boulders, and sand.
"What if this lake should be salt, like the Dead Sea in the Holy
Land?" the knight asked, and the squire answered:
"Ugh, that would be a thousand pities!" As the former raised his
hand to his mouth to taste the water, wishing indeed that it were
wine, he suddenly heard a strange noise. It was mournful and
complaining, but very soft and sweet. It seemed to be the voice of an
unhappy woman, and this pleased the knight, for he had ridden forth in
search of adventures. He had already been successful in several
encounters, and from George's saddle hung the tail-tips of seven
dragons which his master had killed. But a woman with a musical,
appealing voice, in great danger, offered a rare opportunity to a
knight. Wendelin had not yet had any such experience. The squire saw
his master's eyes sparkle with pleasure, and scratched his head
thinking: "Distress brings tears to most peoples' eyes, but there is
no knowing what will delight a knight like him!"
The waters of the lake proved to be not salt, but wonderfully
When Wendelin reached the grotto from which the complaining notes
came, he found a beautiful young woman, more lovely than any one the
grey- haired George had ever seen. She was pale, but her lips shone
moist and red like the pulp of strawberries, her eyes were as clear
and blue as the sky over the Holy Land, and her hair glistened as if
it had been spun of the sunbeams. The knight's heart beat fast at the
sight of her loveliness; he could not speak, but he noticed that her
hands and feet were bound with chains, and that her beautiful hair was
entwined about a circle of emeralds that hung by a chain from the
ceiling. She marked neither the knight nor the squire, who stood
shading his eyes with his hand in order to see her the better.
Hot rage took possession of the heart of Wendelin when he saw the
tears rain down from the lady's large eyes onto her gown, which was
already as wet as if she had just been drawn from the lake.
When the knight noticed this, an overwhelming pity chased the anger
from his heart, and George, who was a soft-hearted man, sobbed aloud
at her pitiful appearance. The voice of the knight, too, was unsteady
as he called to the fair prisoner that he was a German, Wendelin by
name, and that he had set out on a knightly quest to kill dragons, and
to draw his sword for all who were oppressed. He had already
conquered in many combats, and nothing would please him better than to
fight for her.
At this she ceased to weep, but she shook her head gently—her hair
being chained impeded her motion,—and answered sadly. "My enemy is
too powerful. You are young and beautiful, and the darling, perhaps,
of a loving mother at home, I cannot bear that you should suffer the
same fate as the others. Behold that nut-tree over there! What seem
to be white gourds hanging on its naked branches are their skulls! Go
your way quickly, for the evil spirit that keeps me prisoner, and will
not release me until I have sworn an oath to become his wife, will
soon return. His name is Misdral, he is very fierce and mighty, and
lives among the waste rocks over there on the north shore of the lake.
You have my thanks for your good intention, and now proceed on your
journey." The knight, however, did not follow her advice, but
approached the beautiful woman without more words, and caught hold of
her hair to unbind it from the ring. No sooner had he touched the
emeralds than two brown snakes came hissing towards him.
"Oho!" exclaimed Sir Wendelin. With one hand he caught their two
necks together in his powerful grip, with the other he grasped their
tails, tore them in two, and threw them out onto the cliffs above the
When the imprisoned lady saw this, she heaved a deep sigh of relief
and spoke: "Now I believe that you will be able to liberate me. Draw
this ring from my finger!"
The knight obeyed and as he touched the lady's fingers, which were
slender and pointed, he felt his heart warm within him, and he would
gladly have kissed her. But he only withdrew the ring. As he forced
it onto the end of his own little finger the lady said to him:
"Whenever you turn it round you will be changed to a falcon; for you
must know....But woe to us! There, where the water is lashed into
foam, is the monster swimming towards us!"
She had hardly finished before a hideous creature drew itself out
of the lake. It looked as if it were covered with mouldering
pumice-stone. Two toads peeped from the cavities of the eyes, brown
eel-grass hung dripping and disordered over its neck and forehead, and
in place of teeth there were long iron spikes in its jaws which
protruded and crossed one another over its lips.
"A fine wooer, indeed!" thought the squire. "If the stone-clad
fellow should not possess a vulnerable spot somewhere on his body I
shall certainly lose my position!"
Similar thoughts passed through the knight's mind, and consequently
he did not attack it with his sword, but lifting a huge piece of
granite from the ground he hurled it at the monster's head. The
creature only sneezed, and passed its hand over its eyes as if to
brush away a fly. Then it looked round and, perceiving the knight,
bellowed aloud, and changed itself into a dragon spouting fire. Herr
Wendelin rejoiced at this, for his favourite pastime was to kill that
sort of beast. He had no sooner, however, plunged his good sword into
a soft part of the monster, and seen the blood flow from the wound,
than his opponent changed itself into a griffin, and raising itself
from the ground swooped upon him. His defence now became more
difficult, as the evil spirit continued to attack him in ever changing
forms, but Sir Wendelin was no coward, and knew well how to use his
arm and sword. At length, however, the knight began to feel that his
strength was deserting him; his sword seemed to grow heavier and
heavier in his hand, and his legs felt as if an hundredweight had been
attached to them. His squire, noting his fatigue, grew faint, and
began to think the best thing for him would be to ride off, for the
fight was likely to end badly for his master. The knight's knees were
trembling under him, and as the monster, in the form of a unicorn,
charged against his shield he fell to the ground.
The creature shrank suddenly together and in the guise of a black,
agile rat shot towards him.
Sir Wendelin felt that he was losing consciousness, he heard
faintly a voice from the grotto where the lady was imprisoned calling
to him: "The ring, remember the ring!"
He was just able to turn with his thumb the ring on his little
finger. Immediately he felt himself lighter and freer than he had ever
felt before, and his heart seemed to harden to a steel spring, while a
gay and reckless mood came over him. A wild desire to fly took
possession of him at the same time, and it seemed as if he were only
fourteen years old once more. Some strange force impelled him aloft
into the air, to which he yielded, spreading the two large wings, that
he suddenly found himself in possession of, as naturally as if he had
used them all his life. He soon felt the feathers on his back stroked
by the clouds, and yet he saw everything below him on the earth more
distinctly than ever before. Even the smallest things appeared
perfectly clear to his sharpened eyes, and yet he seemed to see them
as if reflected in a brilliant mirror. He could distinguish even the
hairs on the rat and suddenly another impulse came over him—the
impulse to stoop down and catch the long-tailed vermin in his beak and
claws. Wendelin had been changed into a falcon, and the rat struggled
in vain to escape his powerful attack.
The prisoner had followed the combat first with anxiety, then with
joy. While the falcon held the rat in his claws and struck him with
his beak again and again, she called the squire to her, and bade him
free her from her chains. This was no distasteful task for George,
indeed it gave him so much pleasure that he was in no hurry to finish.
When at last all her bonds were loosened, she stood very erect, and
lifted her arms, and each moment seemed to make her more lovely and
more beautiful. Then she grasped the circle of emeralds, about which
the enchanter had wound her golden hair, and waving it high in the
air, cried: "Falcon, return to the shape you were before. Misdral,
hear thy sentence!"
Wendelin assumed immediately his knightly guise, which seemed very
clumsy to him after having been a falcon. The rat lengthened itself
and expanded until it was once more the giant covered with
pumicestone; it walked no longer erect, however, but crawled along the
ground at the feet of the beautiful woman, whimpering and howling like
a whipped cur. She then said to it: "At last I possess the emerald
circlet, in which resides your power over me. I can destroy you, but
my name is Clementine and so I will grant you mercy. I will only
banish you to your rocks. There you shall remain until the last hour
of the last day. Papaluka, Papaluka,—Emerald, perform thy duty!"
The giant of pumice-stone immediately glowed like molten iron.
Once he raised his clenched fist towards Wendelin, and then plunged
into the lake where the hissing and foaming waters closed over him.
The lady and the knight were left alone together. When she asked him
what reward he desired, he could only answer that he wished to have
her for his wife, and to take her to his home in Germany; but she
blushed and answered sadly: "I may not leave this country, and it is
not permitted to me to become the wife of any mortal man. But I know
how heroes should be rewarded, and I offer you my lips to kiss."
He knelt down before her and she took his head between her slim
hands and pressed her mouth against his.
George, the squire, saw this, sighed deeply, and wondered: "Why was
my father only a miller? What favours are granted to a knight like
that! But I hope the kiss won't be the end of it all; for, unless she
is a miserly fairy, there ought to be much more substantial pay for
his services in store for him."
But Clementine bestowed even a richer reward than he had expected
upon her rescuer. When she discovered that a lock of the brown hair
on Wendelin's left temple had turned grey during the conflict with the
evil monster, she said to him: 'All this land shall belong to you
henceforth, and because you have grown grey in your courageous fight
with evil, you shall be known from this time forward as Duke Greylock.
Every prince, yea, even the Emperor himself, will recognize the title
which I confer upon you as my saviour, and when the race, of which you
are to be the progenitor, is blessed with offspring, I will stand
godmother to every first-born. All the sons of your house from first
to last, whether they be dark or fair, or brown, shall bear the grey
lock. It will be a sign unto your posterity that much good fortune
awaits them. My authority, however, is limited, and if at any time a
higher power should hinder me from exerting my influence in behalf of
one of your grandsons, then will the grey lock be missing from his
head, and it will depend altogether on himself how his life unfolds
itself. One thing more. Give me back my ring and take instead this
mirror, which will always show to you and yours whatever you hold most
dear, even when you are far away from it."
"Then it will ever be granted to me to bring your face before my
eyes, oh! lovely lady!" the knight exclaimed.
The fairy laughed and answered: "No, Duke Greylock—the mirror can
only reflect the forms of mortals. I know a wife awaiting you, whom
you will rather see than any picture in the glass, even were it that
of a fairy. Receive my thanks once more! you are duke, enter now into
With these words she disappeared. A gentle rustling and tinkling
was heard through the air, the waste ground covered itself with fresh
green, the dry river beds filled with clear running water, and on
their banks appeared blooming meadows, shady groves and forests. The
broken walls against the hillsides fitted themselves together, rose
higher and supported once more the terraces covered with vine stocks
and fruit- trees. Villages and cities grew into form and lay cradled
in the landscape. Beautiful gardens bloomed forth, full of gay
flowers, olive- trees, orange-trees, citron, and fig, and
pomegranate-trees, each covered with its golden fruit of many-seeded
apples. In the neighbourhood of the grotto in which the fairy had
been imprisoned a park of incomparable beauty grew into view, where
brooks whispered and fountains played, and shady pergolas appeared,
formed of gold and silver trellises, over which a thousand luxuriant
creepers clambered, holding by their little tendril hands.
The fallen columns stood up again, the mutilated marble statues
found new noses and arms, and in the background of all this growing
magnificence the young duke perceived-at first dimly, as if obscured
by mists, then more distinctly-the outline of a palace with loggia,
balconies, columned halls, and statues in bronze and marble around the
cornice of its flat roof.
George, the squire, gazed in openmouthed wonder, and his mouth
remained open until he entered the fore-court of the palace. Then he
only closed it to give his jaws a little rest before their future
labours began, for such a good smell from the kitchen greeted him that
he ordered the willing cook to satisfy immediately the demands of his
appetite, as his hunger was greater than his curiosity.
Sir Wendelin continued his way through the passages, chambers,
halls, and courts. Everywhere servants, guards, and heyducks swarmed,
and from the stables he heard the stamping of many horses, and the
jingle of their halter chains as they rattled them against their
well-filled mangers. Choruses of trumpeters played inspiriting
fanfares, and from the assembled people in the forecourt a thousand
voices shouted again and again: "Hail to his Grace Duke Greylock,
Wendelin the First! Long may he live!"
The knight bowed graciously to his good people, and when the
Chancellor stepped forward, and after a deep reverence set forth in a
carefully prepared speech the great services which the duke had
rendered to the country, Wendelin listened with polite attention,
though he himself was quite ignorant of what the old man was talking
Sir Wendelin had lived through so many adventures that it pleased
him now to sit peacefully on his throne, and he did his best to be
worthy of the honours which the fairy had conferred upon him. After
he had learned the duties of a ruler from A to Z, he returned to
Germany to woo his cousin Walpurga. He led her back to his palace,
and for many years they governed the beautiful land together. All of
the five sons which his wife bore to him, came into the world with the
grey lock. They all grew to be brave men and loyal subjects of their
father, whom they served faithfully in war, holding fraternally
together and greatly enlarging the boundaries of his dukedom by their
A long time passed and generation after generation of the
descendants of the worthy Sir Wendelin followed one another. The
first-born son always bore the name of the progenitor of the family,
and the fairy Clementine always appeared at the baptism. No one ever
saw her; but a gentle tinkling through the palace betrayed her
presence, and when that ceased, the grey lock on the infant's temple
was always found to have twisted itself into a curl.
At the end of five hundred years, Wendelin XV. was carried to his
grave. No Greylock had ever possessed a more luxuriant grey curl than
his, and yet he had died young. The wise men of the land said that
even to the most favoured only a fixed measure of happiness and good
luck was granted, and that Wendelin XV. had enjoyed his full share in
the space of thirty years.
Certain it is that from childhood everything had prospered with
this duke. His people had expected great things of him when he was
only crown prince, and he did not disappoint them when he came to the
throne. Every one had loved him. Under his leadership the army had
marched from one victory to another. While he held the sceptre one
abundant harvest followed another, and he had married the most
beautiful and most virtuous daughter of the mightiest prince in the
In the midst of a hot conflict, and at the moment that his own army
sent up a shout of victory, he met his death. Everything that the
heart of man could desire had been accorded to him, except the one joy
of possessing a son and heir. But he had left the world in the hope
that that wish, too, would be fulfilled.
Black banners floated from the battlements of the castle, the
columns at its entrance were wreathed in crape, the gold state-coaches
were painted black, and the manes and tails of the duke's horses bound
with ribbons of the same sombre hue. The master of the hunt had the
gaily-colored birds in the park dyed, the schoolmaster had the
copy-books of the boys covered with black, the merry minstrels in the
land sang only sad strains, and every subject wore mourning. When the
ruby-red nose of the guardian of the Court cellar gradually changed to
a bluish tint during this time, the Court marshal thought it only
natural. Even the babies were swaddled in black bands. And besides
all this outward show, the hearts too were sad, and saddest of all was
that of the young widowed duchess. She also had laid aside all bright
colours, and went about in deepest mourning, only her eyes, despite
the Court orders in regard to sombre hues, were bright red from
She would have wished to die that she might not be separated from
her husband, save for a sweet, all-powerful hope which held her to
this world; and the prospect of holy duties, like faint rays of
sunshine, threw their light over her future, which would otherwise
have seemed as dark as the habits of the Court about her.
Thus five long months passed. On the first morning of the sixth
month cannon thundered from the citadel of the capital. One salvo
followed another, making the air tremble, but the firing did not waken
the citizens, for not one of them had closed an eye the foregoing
night, which, according to the oldest inhabitants, had been
unprecedented. From the rocky district on the north shore of the
lake, where Misdral lived, a fearful thunder-storm had arisen, and
spread over the city and ducal palace. There was a rolling and
rumbling of thunder and howling of wind, such as might have heralded
the Day of judgment. The lightning had not, as usual, rent the
darkness with long, jagged flashes, but had fallen to the ground as
great fiery balls which, however, had set nothing aflame. The watchmen
on the towers asserted that above the black clouds a silver- white
mist had floated, like a stream of milk over dark wool, and that in
the midst of the rumbling and crashing of the thunder they had heard
the sweet tones of harps. Many of the burghers said that they too had
heard it, and the ducal Maker of Musical Instruments declared that the
notes sounded as if they had come from a fine harpsichord—though not
from one of the best—which some one had played between heaven and
As soon as the firing of cannon began, all the people ran into the
streets, and the street-cleaners, who were sweeping up the tiles and
broken bits of slate that the storm had torn from the roofs, leaned on
their brooms and listened. The Constable was using a great deal of
powder; the time seemed long to the men and women who were counting
the number of reports, and there seemed no end to the noise. Sixty
guns meant a princess, one hundred and one meant a prince. When the
sixty- first was heard, there was great rejoicing, for then they knew
that the duchess had borne a son; when, however, another shot followed
the one hundred and first, a clever advocate suggested that perhaps
there were two princesses. When one hundred and sixty-one guns had
been fired, they said it might be a boy and a girl; when the one
hundred and eightieth came, the schoolmaster, whose wife had presented
him with seven daughters, exclaimed: "Perhaps there are triplets,
'feminini generis!" But this supposition was confuted by the next
shot. When the firing ceased after the two hundred and second gun,
the people knew that their beloved duchess was the mother of twin
The city went crazy with joy. Flags bearing the national colours
were hoisted in place of the mourning banners. In the show-windows of
the drapers' shops red, blue, and yellow stuffs were exhibited once
more, and the courtiers smoothed the wrinkles out of their brows, and
practised their smiles again.
Every one was delighted, with the exception of the Astrologer, and
a few old women and wise men, who drew long faces, and said that
children born in such a night had undoubtedly come into the world
under inauspicious signs. In the ducal palace itself the joy was not
unclouded, and it was precisely the most faithful and devoted of the
servants who seemed most depressed, and who held long conferences
Both of the boys were well formed and healthy, but the second-born
lacked the grey curl which heretofore had never failed to mark each
Pepe, the Major-domo, who was a direct descendant of George, the
squire, and who knew the history of the ducal family better than any
one else, for he had learned it from his grandfather, was so dejected
that one would have imagined a great misfortune had befallen him, and
in the evenings, when he sat over his wine in company with the Keeper
of the Cellar, the Keeper of the Plate and the Decker of the Table, he
could not resist giving expression to his presentiments. His
conviction that Bad Luck had knocked at the door of the hitherto
fortunate Greylocks was finally shared by his companions.
That an unhappy future awaited the second boy was the firm belief,
not only of the servants, but of the whole Court. The unlucky
horoscope cast by the Astrologer was known to all, the wise men of the
land confirmed it by their predictions, and soon it was proved that
even the fairy Clementine was powerless to avert the misfortune that
threatened the youngest prince. On the day of the baptism, neither
the gentle tinkling sound, nor the sweet perfume, which had heretofore
announced her presence, were perceptible. That she had not deserted
the ducal house altogether was shown by the fact that the lock on the
temple of the first-born twined itself into a perfect curl. The lock
on the left temple of the second son remained brown, and not a sign of
grey could be discovered even with a magnifying glass. The heart of
the young mother was filled with alarm, and she called the old nurse
who had taken care of her dead husband when he was a baby, to ask her
what had happened at his baptism, and the old woman burst into tears,
and ended by betraying the gloomy forecasts of the Astrologer and wise
men. That a Greylock should go through life without the white curl
was unheard of, was awful! And the old nurse called the poor little
creature, "an ill-starred child, a dear pitiable princeling."
Then the mother recalled her last dream, in which she had seen a
dragon attack her youngest boy. A great fear possessed her heart, and
she bade them bring the child to her. When they laid him naked before
her, she stroked the little round body, the straight back, and
well-shaped legs with her weak hands, and felt comforted. He was a
beautifully-formed, well-developed child, her child, her very own, and
nothing was lacking save the grey lock. She never wearied of looking
at him; at last she leaned over him and whispered: "You sweet little
darling, you are just as good, and just as much of a Greylock as your
brother. He will be duke, but that is no great piece of luck, and we
will not begrudge it to him. His subjects will some day give him
enough anxiety. He must grow to be a mighty man for their sakes, and
I doubt not that his nurse gives him better nourishment to that end
than I could who am only a weak woman. But you, you poor, dear, little
ill-omened mite, I shall nourish you myself, and if your life is
unhappy it shall not be because I have not done my best."
When the Chief Priest came to her, to ask her what name she had
chosen for the second boy—the first, of course, was to be Wendelin
XVI—she remembered her dream, and answered quickly: "Let him be
named George, for it was he who killed the dragon."
The old man understood her meaning, and answered earnestly: "That
is a good name for him."
Time passed, and both of the princes flourished. George was
nourished by his own mother, Wendelin by a hired nurse. They learned
to babble and coo, then to walk and talk, for in this respect the sons
of dukes with grey locks are just like other boys. And yet no two
children are alike, and if any schoolmaster tried to write an
exhaustive treatise on the subject of education, it would have to
contain as many chapters as there are boys and girls in the world, and
it would not be one of the thinnest books ever published.
The ducal twins from the beginning exhibited great differences.
Wendelin's hair was straight and, save for the grey lock, which hung
over his left temple like a mark of interrogation, jet black; George,
on the contrary, had curly brown hair. Their size remained equal
until their seventh year, when the younger brother began to outstrip
the older. They loved one another very fondly, but the amusements
that pleased one failed to attract the other; even their eyes seemed
to have been made on different patterns, for many things that seemed
white to George appeared black to his brother.
Both received equal care and were never left alone. The older
brother found this but natural, and he liked to lie still, and be
fanned, or have the flies brushed away from him, and to have some one
read fairy stories, which he loved, aloud to him until he dozed off to
sleep. It was astonishing how long and how soundly he could sleep.
The courtiers said that he was laying up a store of strength, to meet
the demands that would be made upon him when he came to the throne.
Even before he could speak plainly, he had learned to let others
wait upon him, and would never lift his little finger to do anything
for himself. His passive face and large melancholy eyes were
wonderfully beautiful, and inspired even his mother with a feeling of
awe and respect. She never had cause to feel anxious about him, for
there was no better, nor more obedient child in the whole land.
The ill-omened boy, George, was the exact opposite of his brother.
He, on the contrary, had to be watched and tended, for his veins
seemed to run quicksilver. One would have been justified in saying
that he went out to meet the misfortune which was so surely awaiting
him. Whenever it was possible he gave his nurses and attendants the
slip. He planned dangerous games, and incited the children of the
castle servants and gardeners to carry out the mischief which he had
But his favorite pastime was building. Sometimes he would erect
houses of red stone, often he would dig great caves of many chambers
and halls in the sand. At this work he was much more energetic than
his humbler playfellows, and he would be dirty and dripping with
perspiration when he returned to the castle. The courtiers would
shake their heads over him in disapprobation, and then look
approvingly at Wendelin, who was a true royal child and never got his
white hands dirty.
There was no doubt but that George was cast in a less aristocratic
mould than his brother. When Wendelin complained of the heat, George
would spring into the lake for a swim, and when Wendelin was freezing,
George would praise the fresh bracing air. The duchess often sighed
for a thousand eyes that she might the better look after him, and she
constantly had to scold and reprove him, whereas her other son never
heard anything but soft words from her. But then George would fly
into her arms in a most unprincely manner, and she would kiss him and
hug him, as if she never wanted to let him go, while her caresses of
her elder son were restricted to a kiss on his forehead, or to
stroking his hair. George was by no means so beautiful as his brother;
he had only a fresh boyish face, but his eyes were exceptionally deep
and truthful, and his mother always found in them a perfect reflection
of what was in her own heart.
The two boys were as happy as is every child who grows up in the
sunshine of its mother's love, but the lords and ladies about the
Court, and the castle-servants felt that misfortune had already begun
to dog the footsteps of the younger prince. How constantly he was in
disgrace with the duchess! And the accidents that had already
happened in the eleven years of his life were too numerous to count.
While bathing he had ventured too far out into the lake and had been
nearly drowned; once, while riding in the ring, he had been thrown
over the barriers by an unmanageable horse; indeed the Court-physician
was certain to be called from his night's rest at least once a month,
to bind up bloody wounds in the young prince's bead, or bruises on his
No one, save the Seneschal of the Royal Household, and the Master
of Ceremonies bore the unruly boy any malice, but every one pitied him
as an ill-starred child. With what relentlessness his evil destiny
pursued him was first made clear when a stone house, which he,
together with some other boys, had built, fell down on top of him.
When they drew him out from under the blocks and stones he was
unconscious, and the Major-domo, who had been attracted by the cries
of George's companions, carried him into the prince's room, laid him
on the bed, and watched by him until the physician was called.
The old nurse, Nonna, aided the Majordomo, and these two faithful
souls confided their anxiety to one another. They recalled the
unlucky signs that had accompanied his entrance into the world, and
Pepe expressed his fear that the unfortunate child would not come to
"'Tis very sad," he continued, "but I doubt not it would be better
for the ducal family if Heaven were now to remove him, for an early
death is, after all, preferable to a long life of vexation and
The boy heard this conversation word for word, for, although he
could move neither hand nor foot, and kept his eyes closed, his
hearing and understanding were wide awake.
Old Nonna had shed many tears during good Pepe's speech, and he was
trying to comfort her when George suddenly sat up, rubbed his eyes
with the back of his hands, stretched himself, and then, agile as a
brook trout, sprang out of bed.
The two old people screamed in their astonishment, then laughed
louder in their joy; but the Court physician, who was just entering
the room, looked very much disgusted and disappointed, for he saw the
beautiful prospect of saving the life of one of the royal children
dissolve before his very eyes.
At the time of this accident the Duchess was away from home. On
her return she forced herself to reprove George for his recklessness
before she yielded fully to her motherly affection. When George threw
his arms around her neck and asked her if it were really true that he
was an ill- starred child, and would never have anything but bad luck
as long as he lived, she nearly burst into tears. But she restrained
herself, called Pepe and Nouna a couple of old geese, and the "signs,"
which they had talked about, stupid nonsense. Then she left the room
hurriedly and George thought that he heard her crying outside. He had
gathered from her tone that she was not convinced of what she was
saying, and was only trying to quiet his fears, and from that hour he,
too, regarded himself as a child destined to adversity. This was
indeed unfortunate, yet it had its compensation, for each morning he
anticipated an unhappy day, and when in the evening he looked back on
nothing but pleasure and sunshine, he went to bed with a heart full of
gratitude for the good which he had enjoyed but which did not
rightfully belong to him. From this time his mother had him more
carefully guarded than before, she herself even followed him about
anxiously, like a hen who has hatched a duckling, and forbade him to
build any more stone-houses.
The noble Duchess was just then weighed down with other cares. One
of her neighbors, a king, who had often been defeated in battle by her
husband and her husband's father, thought it an excellent opportunity,
while the duchy of the Greylocks was ruled only by a woman and her
Councillors, to invade the land, and win back some of the provinces
which he had formerly lost. Moustache, her Field-marshal, had led
forth the army, and a battle was now imminent, which like all other
battles, must end either in victory or defeat.
One day a messenger came from the camp, bringing a letter from the
brave marshal, who demanded more troops, saying that the enemy far
out-numbered him. Then the Prime Minister called the Great Council
together, from which, of course, the Duchess could not be absent, and
during the time that she presided over the Councillors' meeting, she
lost sight of George for the first time for many weeks.
The naughty boy was delighted. He slipped out of the castle,
whence his older brother would not move, on account of the bad
weather, went down to the shore of the lake, and finding that it was
unusually rough, he, together with the son of the head-gondolier,
sprang into a small boat, and drove it with powerful strokes out among
the waves. The wind lifted the brown curls of the boy, and whenever a
large wave bore the skiff aloft on its crest, he shouted with joy.
Hitherto he had only been allowed to go on the lake in a well manned,
safe boat, and then the sailors were under orders to keep to the
southern half of the lake. Consequently an excursion on the water had
seemed but a mild amusement; but to be his own master, and to fight
thus untrammelled against the winds and waves was pleasure such as he
had never before experienced.
He had never yet visited the northern part of the lake, there where
it was so dark, and mysterious, and where—as old Nonna used to
relate—evil spirits dwelt, and a giant covered with pumice-stone was
compelled by a curse to live. Perhaps, if he could only get to the
other shore, he might see a ghost! That was a tempting prospect! So
he turned the bow of the boat towards the north, and bidding his
companion to row hard, did the same himself.
As they got further north, the waves increased in size, a storm
arose and blew fiercely in their faces; but the rougher the lake
became, the gayer and more boisterous grew George's mood.
His companion began to be afraid, and begged that they might
return, but George, though it was not his custom, made his princely
authority felt, and sternly commanded the boy to do as he was bid.
All at once it became dark around them, and it seemed as if a
powerful sea-horse must have got under the skiff and lifted it with
his back, for George was hurled into the air. Then he felt himself
caught by a rushing whirlpool which sucked him in its circles to the
bottom. He lost breath and consciousness. When he came to himself
again, he found himself in a closed cave, amidst strange forms of
grey-brown, dripping stalactites. Above the arches of the roof he
heard a loud, grunting laugh, and a voice, that sounded like the
hoarse howl of a dog, cried several times: "Here we have the Wendelin
brood! At last I have the Greylock!"
Then George remembered all that he had overheard Pepe and Nonna
relate, and all that he had coaxed out of them by his questions. He
had fallen into the hands of the evil spirit, Misdral, and now the
real misfortune, which had threatened him ever since his birth, was to
begin. He was freezing cold, and very hungry, and as he thought of
the beautiful gardens at home, of the well-spread table in his
father's castle, at which he used to sit so comfortably in his
high-backed chair, and of the well-fed lackeys, he felt quite faint.
He also realized what terrible anxiety his absence would cause his
mother. He could see her running about, weeping, with her hair in
disorder, seeking him every where.
When he was smaller she had often taken him into her bed and played
"Little Red Riding Hood" with him, and he said to himself that for
that and many succeeding nights she would find no rest on her silken
cushions, but would wet them with her tears. These recollections
brought him to the verge of weeping, but the next instant he stamped
his foot angrily, in rage against his weakness.
He was only thirteen years old, but he was a true Greylock, and
fear and cowardice were as unknown to him as to his ancestor, Wendelin
I. So when he heard the voice of the wicked Misdral again, and
listened to the curses which it heaped upon his family, George's anger
grew so hot that he picked up a stone, as the first Wendelin had done
five hundred years before, to hurl it in the monster's wrinkled face.
But Misdral did not show himself, and George had to give up the
expectation of seeing him, for he gathered from the conversation
between the two spirits that, owing to an oath which he had given to
the fairy, Misdral dared not lay hands on a Wendelin, and that,
therefore, he had planned to starve him (George) to death. This
prospect seemed all the more dreadful to the boy because of his hunger
at that moment.
The cave was lighted by a hole in the roof of rocks, and as George
could cry no more, and had raged enough against himself and the wicked
Misdral, there was nothing further for him to do but to look about his
prison, and examine the stalactites which surrounded him on all sides.
One of them looked like a pulpit, a second like a camel, a third made
him laugh, for it had a face with a bottle-nose, like that of the
chief wine cooper at the castle. On one of the columns he thought he
discerned the figure of a weeping woman, and this made his eyes fill
with tears again. But he did not mean to cry any more, so he turned
his attention to the ceiling. Some of the stalactites that hung from
it looked like great icicles, and some of them looked like damp, grey
clothes hung out to dry. This recalled the appearance of the wash
hanging in the garden behind the palace—a long stocking, or an
unusually large shirt descending below the rest of the clothes—and he
remembered how, in the fall, after the harvest, the clothes-lines used
to be tied to the plum-trees, and the ends decorated with branches
still bearing the blue, juicy fruit, and then his hunger became so
ravenous that he buckled his belt tighter round his waist and groaned
Night fell. The cave grew dark, and he tried to sleep, but could
not, although the drops of water splashed soothingly, and monotonously
from the roof into the pools below.
The later it grew, the more he was tormented by his hunger, and the
flapping of the bats, which he could not see in the dark. He longed
for it to be morning, and more than once, in his great need, he lifted
his hands and prayed for deliverance, and yet more passionately for a
piece of bread, and the coming of day. Then he sat lost in thought,
and bit his nails, for the sake of having something to chew. He was
aroused by a splash in one of the puddles on the Hoor. It must be a
fish! He sat up to listen, and it seemed as if some one called to him
gently. He pricked up his ears sharply, and then!—no, he had not
deceived himself, for the friendly words came distinctly from below:
"George, my poor boy, are you awake?"
How they comforted him, and how quickly he sprang up in answer to
the question! At last he was saved. That was as certain to him as
that twice two makes four, although it might have been otherwise.
Over the pool, from which the small voice had sounded, appeared now
a dim light, a beautiful goldfish lifted its head out of the water,
opened its round mouth, and said, in a scarcely audible tone,—for a
real fish finds it difficult to speak, because it has no lungs,—that
George's godmother, the fairy Clementine, had sent it. Its mistress
was by no means pleased with George's disobedience; but, as he was
otherwise a good boy, and she was pledged to aid the Greylocks, she
would help him out of his difficulty this time.
The boy cried: "Take me home take me home, take me to my mother!"
"That would indeed be the simplest thing to do," replied the fish,
"and it lies in our power to fulfil your wish; but, if my mistress
frees you from the power of the wicked Misdral, she must promise him
in exchange that another ill shall befall your house. Your army is in
the field, and if you return to your family, then will the giant help
your enemies; they will defeat you, will capture your capital, and
possibly something evil might befall your mother."
George sprang up and waved his hand in negation. Then his curly
head fell, and he said sadly, but decisively: "I will stay here and
The fish in his delight slapped the water with his tail until it
splashed high, and continued, although his first speech had already
made him hoarse:
"No, no; it need not be so bad as that. If you are willing to go
into the world as a poor boy, and never to tell any one that you are a
prince, nor what your name is, nor whence you come, then no enemy will
be able to do your army or the lady duchess any harm."
"And shall I never see my mother and Wendelin again?" George
asked, and the tears poured down over his cheeks like the water over
"Oh yes!" the fish replied, "if you are courageous, and do
something good and great, then you may return to your home."
"Something good and great," George repeated, "that will be very
difficult; and, if I should succeed in doing something that I thought
good and great, how could I know whether the fairy considered it so?"
"Whenever the grey lock grows on your head, you may declare yourself
to be the son of a duke and go home;" the fish whispered. "Follow me.
I will light the way for you. It is lucky that you have run about so
much and are so thin, otherwise you might stick fast on the way. Now
pay attention. This pool drains itself, through a passage under the
mountain, into the lake. I shall swim in front of you until we come
to the big basin into which the springs of these mountains empty their
waters. After that I must keep to the right, in order to get back
into the lake, but you must take the left passage, and let the current
carry you along for an hour, when it will join the head of the great
Vitale river, and flow out into the open air. Continue with the
stream until it turns towards the east, then you must climb over the
mountains, and keep ever northwards. Hold your hand under my mouth
that I may give you money for your journey."
George did as he was bid, and the fish poured forty shining
groschen into his hand. Each one of them would pay for a day's
nourishment and a night's lodging.
The fish then dived under, George plunged after it into the pool,
and followed the shimmering light that emanated from his scaly guide.
Sometimes the rocky passages, through which he crawled on his stomach
in shallow water, became so small that he bumped his head, and had to
press his shoulders together in order to pass, and often he thought
that he would stick fast among the rocks, like a hatchet in a block of
wood. He always managed to free himself, however, and finally reached
the big basin, where a crowd of maidens with green hair and scaly
tails were sporting, and they invited him to come and play tag with
them. But the fish advised him not to stop with the idle hussies, and
then parted from him.
George was alone once more, and he let himself be borne along on
the rushing subterranean stream. At length it poured out into the
open air, as the Vitale river, and the boy fell with it over a wall of
rock into a large pool surrounded by thick greenery. There was a
great splash, the trout were frightened to death, a dog began to bark,
and a shepherd, who was sitting on the bank, sprang up, for the
coloured bundle that had just shot over the falls, now arose from the
water and bore the form of a pretty boy of thirteen years.
This apparition soon stood before him, puffing, and dripping, and
regarding, with greedy eyes, the bread and cheese which the old man
was eating. The shepherd was very, very old, and deaf, but he
understood the language of the boy's eyes, and as he had just milked
the goats, he held out a cup of the milk to him with a friendly
gesture, and broke off a piece of bread for him. Then he invited
George to sit down beside him in the sun, which had been up for an
The prince had never before eaten such a meal, but as he sat there
in the sun, munching the bread, and drinking goats' milk, he would
have thought any one a fool who called him an ill-fated child.
After he had satisfied his hunger, he thanked the shepherd, and
offered him one of the groschen which the fish had given him, but the
old man refused it.
George insisted, for it hurt his pride to take anything as a gift
from a man clad in rags, but the shepherd still declined, and added,
after he had noticed the fine clothes of the little prince, which the
water had not entirely spoiled: "What the poor man gives gladly, no
gold can repay. Keep your groschen."
George blushed scarlet, put his money in his pocket, and replied:
"Then may God reward you." The words sprang naturally and easily to
his lips, and yet they were the very ones that the beggars in the
duchy of the Greylocks always used.
He ran along by the side of the stream quite fast, in order to dry
his clothes, until it was noon, and many thoughts passed through his
mind, but so rapidly that he could hardly remember whether they were
gay or sad. When at last he sat down to rest under a flowering elder
bush, he thought of his mother, and of the great sorrow that he was
causing her, of his brother, and Norma, and old Pepe, and his heart
failed him, and he wept. He might never see them again, for how could
he ever accomplish anything that was good and great, and yet the fish
had demanded it of him! For three days he continued to be very
dejected, and whenever he passed boys at play, or boys and maidens
dancing and singing under the trees, he would say to himself: "You are
happy, for you were not born under an evil star as I was."
The first night he slept in a mill, the second in an inn, the third
in a smithy. just as he was leaving in the early morning a horseman
rode rapidly past, and called out to the smith, who was standing in
front of the shop: "The battle is lost. The King is flying. The
Greylocks are marching on the capital."
George laughed aloud, and the messenger hearing him, made a cut at
him with his riding-whip, but missed him, and the boy ran away.
George felt as if some one had removed the burden that had been
weighing him down during his wanderings, and he reflected that, if he
had remained a prince, and had been at that moment comfortably at
home, instead of wandering until he was footsore along the highways,
Moustache, the Field-marshal, would have lost the battle.
It was still early when he reached the spot where the river turned
to the east. From this point he was to go northwards. He found a
path that led from the bank of the river, through the woods, across
the mountain chain. The dew still hung on the grass, and above in the
oaks and beeches, it seemed as if all the birds were holding high
festival, there was such a fluttering, and calling, and chirping, and
trilling, and singing, while the woodpecker beat time. The sunshine
played among the branches, and fell through onto the flowery earth,
where it lay among the shadows of the leaves like so many round pieces
of gold. Although George was climbing the mountain, his breath came
freely, and all at once, without any reason, he burst into song. He
sang a song at the top of his voice, there in the woods, that he had
learned from the gardeners. At noon he thought he had reached the top
of the mountain, but behind again a yet higher peak arose, and so,
after he had eaten the bread and butter which the blacksmith's wife
had given him, he continued his way and, as the sun was setting,
attained the summit of the second mountain, which was the highest far
Once more he beheld the river which, sparkling and bright, wound
through the green plain like a silver snake. Smaller hills covered
with forests fell away on all sides and the tops of the trees caught
the radiance of the sinking sun. Over the snow-fields of the further
mountain-ranges, a rosy shimmer spread that made him think of the
peach blossoms at home; a purple mist obscured the rocky peaks behind
him and there, far away to the south, was a tiny speck of blue. That
might be his own dear lake, which he was never to see again. It was
all so wonderfully beautiful and his heart filled to overflowing with
memories and hopes. Neither to the right nor to the left, whither he
turned his eyes, were there any boundaries to be seen. How wide, how
immeasurably wide was the world which, in the future, was to be his
home, in the place of the small walled garden of the castle. Two
eagles were floating round in circles under the softly-glowing fleecy
clouds, and George said to himself that he was as free and
untrammelled on the earth as they were in the air; suddenly a feeling
of delight in his liberty overcame him, he snatched his cap from his
head and, waving it aloft, tore down the mountain, as if he were
running for a wager. That night he found hospitable housing in the
cell of a hermit.
After this he derived much pleasure from his wanderings. He was a
child born to bad luck—no denial could change that—nevertheless a
child destined to good fortune could hardly have been more contented
than he. On the thirtieth day of his journeying he met with a
travelling companion in the lower countries, which he had reached some
time before. This was a stone-mason's son, who was much older than
George, but who accepted the gay young vagabond as his comrade. The
youth was returning home after his wanderings as a journeyman and, as
he soon discovered that George was a clever, trustworthy boy with all
his wits about him, he persuaded him to offer himself as apprentice to
the stone-mason, who was an excellent master in his business. His
name was Kraft, and he gladly received his son's companion as
apprentice, George having spent his last groschen that very day, and
thus the little prince was turned into a stone-mason's apprentice.
In the castle of the Greylocks, meanwhile, there was sorrow and
lamentation. The boy who had ventured onto the lake with George,
managed to save his life and returned home the following morning, and
to repeated questionings he had only the one answer to make—that he
had seen the prince drown before his very eyes. With this information
the Court had to content itself; but not the duchess, for a king will
give up his throne sooner than a mother the hope of seeing her child
again. She possessed indeed one means by which she could know beyond
doubt whether her darling were alive or dead, namely the magic mirror
which the fairy had given to the first Wendelin, and in which, ever
since, the Greylocks had been able to see what they held most dear.
In this glass she had seen her husband fall from his horse and die.
Once again she took it out of the ivory casket in which it was kept;
but so long as George sat imprisoned in the cave of the evil spirit,
nothing was to be seen on its smooth surface. That was ominous, yet
she ceased not to hope, and thought: "If he were dead, I should see
his corpse." She sat the whole night staring in the mirror. In the
morning a messenger from the army of the Greylocks arrived, bringing
word that the enemy was pressing upon them and that a battle would
have to be fought before the fresh troops, which Moustache, the
field-marshal, had asked for, could arrive.
The issue was doubtful, and the duchess would better have
everything ready for her flight and that of the princes, and, in case
of the worst, to carry with her the crown jewels, the royal seal and a
store of gold.
The chancellor ordered all of these things to be packed in chests
and warned the servants not to forget to add his dressing-gown. Then
he begged the noble widow to look into the glass and to let him know
as soon as there was any reflection of the battle.
Presently she saw the two armies fall upon each other, but her
longing to see her son overcame her immediately, and behold, there in
the glass he appeared, seated by the side of an old ragged shepherd
and eating bread and cheese, his clothes were soaked and there was no
possibility of his changing them. This worried her and she at once
pictured him with a cold or lying helpless in the open air, stricken
down by fever or inflammation of the lungs. Henceforth she thought no
more about the decisive battle, and forgot all else during the hours
that she sat and followed George's movements. Then she sent for
huntsmen, for messengers and for all the professors who studied
geography, botany, or geology, and bade them look into the mirror, and
asked them if they knew where those mountains were, of which they saw
the reflection. The smooth surface showed only the immediate
surroundings of the boy, and no one could tell what the district was
where George wandered. Thereupon she sent messengers towards all
points of the compass to seek him.
Thus half the day passed, and when the chancellor came again in the
afternoon to inquire after the fortunes of the battle, the duchess was
frightened, for she had entirely forgotten the conflict.
She therefore commanded the mirror to show her again the army and
Moustache, the field-marshal, who was a cousin of her late husband.
She beheld with dismay that the ranks of her soldiers were wavering.
The chancellor saw it, too; he put his hand to his narrow forehead
"Everything is lost! My office, your Highness, and the land! I
must to the treasury, to the stables! The enemy—flight—our brave
soldiers—I pray your Highness to keep a watch over the battle! More
important duties. . . ."
He withdrew, and when half an hour later he returned, very red in
the face from all the orders that he had given, and looked over the
duchess' shoulder, unperceived into the mirror, he started back and
cried out angrily, as no true courtier ought ever to allow himself to
do in the presence of his sovereign: "By the blood of my ancestors! A
boy climbing a mountain. And there is such dire need to know . . ."
The duchess sighed and called the battle once more into view.
During the time that she had been watching her son, things had taken
a better turn. This pleased her greatly, and the chancellor exclaimed:
"Did I not prophesy this to your Highness. The circumstances were
such that the victory was bound to be ours. Brave Moustache! I had
such confidence in him that I saw the caravans bearing the treasure
depart, without a pang of uneasiness. Will your Highness be good
enough to have them recalled."
After this the duchess had no further opportunity to see the
reflection of her boy until the battle was decided and the victory
theirs beyond a doubt; then she could use the mirror to gratify the
desire of her heart.
When George walked along dejectedly, she thought: "Is that my
heedless boy?" and when he looked about him gaily once more to see
what mischief he could get into, she rejoiced, yet it troubled her,
too, to have him appear so free from all grief, she feared that he
might have entirely forgotten her.
All the expeditions that she sent in search of him were fruitless;
but she knew from the glass that he had become apprentice to a
stone-mason and had hard work to do. This made her very sad. He was
indeed a child born to misfortune, and when she saw him eat out of the
same bowl with his companions, food so coarse, that her very dogs
would have despised it, she felt that the misery into which he had
fallen was too deep, too awful. Yet, strange to relate, he always
seemed gay, despite these ills, whereas Wendelin, the heir to the
throne, grew more peevish every day.
The duchy of this fortunate youth had been enlarged by the late
successful war, and the assembly of the states of the empire was
debating whether it should not be made a kingdom. He possessed
everything that it was in the power of man to desire, and yet, with
each new month, he seemed to become more unhappy and dejected.
When the heir to the throne drove out in his gilt coach and the
duchess heard of the enthusiasm exhibited by the people, or saw him
sitting at a feast of pheasants, smacking his lips and drawing the
asparagus between his teeth, she reflected on his brother's hard lot
and could not help feeling angry with her fortunate son for possessing
all the gifts that Destiny refused to her poor outcast George.
Once when the duchess looked in the mirror, she saw George who had
carefully taken a clock to pieces, trying to put it together again. A
moment later the chancellor and the master of ceremonies came up behind
her in order to look into the glass also. No sooner had they done so
than they set up a loud outcry, and behaved as if the enemy had
invaded the land again.
"The poor, miserable, pitiable, ill-starred princeling!" one of
them exclaimed. "A Greylock, it is unheard of, abominable,
sacrilegious," the other moaned. They had indeed beheld a dreadful
sight, for they had seen the son of Wendelin XV. beaten over the back
by a common workman with a stick. The duchess had to witness many
similar outrages later when she saw George in the school to which the
stone-mason sent his promising apprentice. Alas! how long the poor
child had to bend over his drawing- board and his slate doing dreadful
sums, whereas Wendelin only studied two hours a day under a
considerate tutor who gently coaxed him along the paths of learning.
Everything that seemed difficult was carefully removed from his way,
and everything that was unpalatable was coated with sugar before being
presented to him. Thus even in school the fortunate child trod a path
strewn with roses without thorns, and if he yawned now and then in his
tutor's face, the latter could flatter himself that the young prince
yawned much more frequently over what other people considered
pleasures and amusements.
When he attained his sixteenth birthday, he was declared to be of
age, for princes mature earlier than other men. Soon afterwards he
was crowned, not duke, but king, and it was remarked that he held his
lace handkerchief oftener than ever to his mouth.
The state prospered under his government; for his mother and
councillors knew how to choose men who understood their work and did
it well. These men acted as privy council to the king. One of them
was put in charge of the army, a second of the Executive, a third of
the customs and taxes, a fourth of the schools, a fifth exercised the
king's right of pardon, a sixth, who bore the title the Chancellor of
the Council, was obliged to do the king's thinking. To this
experienced man was also confided the responsibility of choosing a
wife for the young king. He acquitted himself wonderfully well of
this duty, for the princess whom Wendelin XVI. espoused on his
twentieth birthday, was the daughter of a powerful king, and so
beautiful that it seemed as if the good God must have made a new mould
in which to form her. No more regular features were to be seen in any
collection of wax figures; the princess also possessed the art of
keeping her face perfectly unmoved. If anything comic occurred, she
smiled slightly, and where others would have wept, and thus distorted
their features, she only let her eyelids fall. She was moreover very
virtuous and, though but seventeen, was already called "learned." She
never said anything silly, and also, no doubt out of modesty,
refrained from expressing her wise thoughts. Wendelin approved of her
silence, for he did not like to talk; but his mother resented it. She
would have liked to pour her heart out to her daughter-in-law, and to
make her son's wife her friend and confidante. But such a
relationship was impossible; for, when she tried to share with her
daughter the emotions which crowded upon her, they rolled off the
queen like water off the breast of a swan.
The people adored the royal pair. They were both so beautiful, and
looked so noble and princely as they leaned back in the corners of
their gilt coach during their drives and gazed into vacancy, as if
their interests were above those of ordinary mortals.
Years passed, and the choice of the Chancellor of the Council did
not turn out to be so fortunate as had at first appeared, for the
queen gave her husband no heir, and the house of Greylock was
threatened with the danger of dying out with Wendelin XVI. This
troubled the duchess indeed, but not so much as one would have
supposed, for she knew that yet another Greylock lived, and the
mother's heart ceased not to hope that he would return one day, and
hand down the name of her husband.
She therefore persisted in sending messengers to those lands where,
to judge by the costume of the people, the appearance of the country
and buildings, as shown in the magic mirror, George was most likely to
Once she allowed her daughter-in-law to look into the smooth glass
with her; but never again, for it happened that the queen chanced upon
a time when George, poorly dressed, and with great beads of
perspiration on his forehead, sat hard at work over his drawing in a
miserable room under the roof; her delicate nostrils sniffed the air
disdainfully, as if afraid that they might be insulted by any odour of
poverty, and she said coldly: "And you wish me to believe that person
is a brother of my highbred husband? Impossible!"
After this the duchess permitted no one save old Nonna to look into
the glass; she, however, spent many hours each clay in following the
miserable experiences of her unfortunate child. Sometimes indeed it
seemed to her as if a little happiness were mixed with the misery of
his existence, and it also struck her that her little imp of a George
was gradually growing to be a tall, distinguished-looking man with a
noble forehead and flashing eyes, whereas Wendelin, despite his beauty
and his grey lock, had become fat and red in the face, and looked like
a common farmer.
Great was her solicitude for him, and her heart bled when she saw
him suffer, which was not seldom; but then, on the other hand, she
often had to laugh with him and be merry, when he gave himself up to
the strange illusion of being happy. And had she ever seen a face so
beaming as his was when one day, in a splendid hall, a stately
grey-haired man in a long gown embraced him and laid a laurel wreath
on the design for a building, at which she had seen George work. And
then he seemed to have gone to another country, and to be living in
the midst of the direst poverty, yet somehow the world must have been
turned upside down, for he was as lighthearted and gay as if Dame
Fortune had poured the entire contents of her cornucopia over him.
He lived in a little white-washed room, which was not even floored,
but only paved with common tiles. In the evening he ate nothing save
a piece of bread, with some goat-cheese and figs, and quenched his
thirst with a draught of muddy wine which he diluted with water. A
squalid old woman brought him this wretched supper, and it cut the
duchess to the heart to see him hunt about for coppers enough to pay
for it. One day he seemed to have exhausted his store, for he turned
his purse upside down and shook it, but not the smallest coin fell
This grieved her sorely, and she wept bitterly, thinking of the
ease of her other son, and resenting the injustice with which blind
and cruel Fortune had bestowed her gifts.
When she had dried her eyes sufficiently to be able to see the
picture in the mirror once more, she beheld a long low house by the
side of which there was a large space roofed over with lattice work.
This was covered by a luxuriant growth of fig-branches and
grape-vine. The moon shed its silver radiance over the leaves and
stems, while beneath it a fire cast its golden and purple lights on
the house, the trellis roof, and the gay folk supping under it.
Young men in strange garb sat at the small tables. Their faces
were wonderfully animated and gay. Before each one stood a
long-necked bottle wound with straw, cups were filled, emptied, waved
aloft or clinked. With every moment the eyes of the drinkers grew
brighter, their gestures freer and more lively; finally one of them
sprang up on a table, he was the handsomest of them all,—her own
George, and he looked as if he were in Paradise instead of on this
earth, and had been blessed by a sight of God and his Heavenly host.
He spoke and spoke, while the others listened without moving until he
raised a large goblet and took such a long draught that the duchess
was frightened. Then what a wild shout the others sent up! They
jumped to their feet, as if possessed, and one of them tossed his cup
through the lattice work and vines overhead.
When George got down again, young and old surrounded him, a few of
them embraced him, and then the whole gay company began to sing.
Later the duchess saw her son whirling madly in the dance with a girl
dressed in many colours, who, though beautiful, was undoubtedly only
the daughter of a swineherd, for she was barefoot, and kiss her red
lips—which indeed no Greylock ought to have done, yet his mother did
not begrudge him the amusement.
It looked as if that were happiness, but true happiness it could
not be, for such was not granted to a child born to misfortune. Yet
what else could it be? At any rate, he had the appearance of being
the most blessed of mortals.
He was in Italy; of that she became more and more assured, and yet
none of her messengers could find him. A year later, however, her son
began to busy himself with matters that would certainly give some clue
to her more recent envoys.
George had left his poverty-stricken room and dwelt now in a
handsome vaulted chamber. Each day dressed in a fine robe and with a
roll of parchment in his hand, he superintended a great number of
builders. Often she saw him standing on such high scaffolding that he
seemed to be perched between heaven and earth, and she would be
overcome by giddiness, though he seemed proof against it.
Once in a while a tall princely-looking man, with a beautiful young
woman and a train of courtiers and servants, came to inspect the
building. George would be sent for to show the gentleman and the young
woman, who seemed to be his daughter, the plans, and they had long
conversations together. At these interviews George was not at all
servile; and his gestures were so manly and graceful, his eyes shone
so frankly, yet so sweetly and modestly, that his mother yearned to
draw him to her heart and kiss him; but that, alas! could not be, and
little by little it dawned upon her that he longed for other lips than
hers, for the glances that he bestowed upon the maiden bespoke his
admiration, which, the duchess noticed, did not seem to displease her.
Once, during an interview with George, she dropped a rose, and when
he picked it up, she must have allowed him to keep it, for she gave no
sign of disapproval when he kissed it and hid it inside the breast of
his doublet. The large architectural drawing had screened this little
comedy from curious eyes.
One evening, in the moonlight, the duchess saw him climb a garden
wall, with a lute in his hand, then the sky became overcast, and she
could distinguish him no more; she could only see a lighted window
where a beautiful girl was standing. The maiden charmed her beyond
measure, and she grew hot and cold with the pleasurable anticipation
that George might win her for his wife some day and bring her home.
But then she reflected that he was a child born to ill-luck, and as
such would never be blessed with the love of so exquisite a creature.
What she saw in the next few weeks confirmed this opinion. His
manner was usually decisive, abrupt and self-reliant, but now he
seemed to her like a clock that points to one hour while it strikes
another. At the works he gave his orders as firmly and decidedly as
ever; but as soon as he was alone, he looked like a criminal sentenced
to death, and either sat bowed down and miserable or else paced up and
down the floor restlessly, gesticulating wildly. Often when he beat
his forehead with the palm of his hand or struck his breast with his
fist, his mother was frightened.
Once, after a garden party, where he had been fortunate enough to
walk alone for a full hour under a shady pergola with the daughter of
the gentleman who owned the building in progress, and to kiss her hand
many times, he burst into tears as soon as he was in his own room, and
behaved so wildly that his mother feared for his reason and wept
bitterly also. just at this time she ought to have felt nothing but
joy, joy, heart-felt and unadulterated, for it appeared that the chief
of the councillors had in truth been more far-sighted, than other
people and had not made a mistake in his choice of a queen, for she
had just borne a son, and, moreover, one that was a true Greylock.
His grey lock was indeed somewhat thin and lacked the firm curl of
the former ones; but every one who was not colour-blind must
acknowledge that it was grey.
The duchess would have liked to rejoice sincerely in her
grandchild, but her affections were divided, and even when she held it
in her arms, she yearned for the magic glass and a sight of her
Wendelin XVI., who had long been satiated with the pleasures which
his position offered him, finding them all flat and insipid,
experienced for the first time in twelve years a sensation of delight,
like any one else, when he heard the faint cry of the infant and
learned the good news that his child was a son. Hitherto his greatest
satisfaction had been to hear the clock strike five when he had
imagined that it was only four.
The child, however, was something entirely new, and his heart,
which usually beat as slowly as a clock that is running down,
quickened its pulsations whenever he thought of his son. During the
first weeks of its life he sat for hours at a time beside the gilt
cradle, staring thoughtfully through his eye-glass at the future
Wendelin XVII. Soon this occupation ceased to interest him, and he
drifted along once more on the sluggish waves of his former existence,
from minute to minute, from hour to hour.
The queen, his companion on this placid journey, had grown to be
like him in many ways. The two yawned as other people breathe. They
knew no desires, for as everything they possessed was always the best
that could be had, to-morrow could give them nothing better than
to-day. Their life was like a long poplar alley through which they
wandered lazily side by side.
Pepe, the major-domo, after Wendelin came to the throne, was made
body- servant to the king; he, above all others, was inclined to
regard his master, born under a lucky star and possessing everything
that one could desire, as a person favoured by Fortune; yet, after he
had listened to his sighs and murmurs through many a quiet night, he
reflected: "I am better off in my own shoes."
Pepe kept his own counsel and confided to no one save old Nonna
what he knew. She, too, had learned to be discreet and consequently
did not repeat his confidences even to the duchess, who had enough to
bear without that additional burden.
How pale her darling seemed to her when she saw him in the glass!
Yet, even on the worst days, he was busy at his place in the piazza,
where the cathedral, which he had been building for three years, was
nearing completion. The greatest energy at that moment was being
expended on the dome, which rose proudly over the crossing of the nave
and transepts. Whenever Nonna looked over the duchess' shoulder to get
a glimpse of George, he was always seen there so long as the sun was
in the heavens. Many times the hearts of the two women stood still
when they saw him climb to the highest point of the scaffolding in
order to direct the work from there. Fate had only to make his foot
slip one little inch or decree that a wasp should sting him on the
finger to put an end to his existence. The poor mother was doubly
anxious because he seemed so unconscious of the risk he ran up there
and looked about him even more boldly and self-reliantly than usual.
The dome was already perfectly round. Why wasn't it finished, and
why must he go on climbing again and again that frightful scaffolding?
"Nonna, Nonna, you must look, I can stand it no longer," she cried
one day after she had been regarding the glass for a long time. "Hold
me—he is going to jump. Nonna, is he safe? I can no longer see."
And the glass shook in her hand.
"Oh!" the old woman answered, heaving a sigh of relief, "there he
stands as solidly and firmly as the statue of Wendelin I. in the
market-place. See. . . ."
"Yes, yes, there he is," the duchess cried and fell on her knees
to thank Heaven.
The nurse continued to look in the glass. Suddenly she shrieked
aloud and her mistress sank together and covered her face with her
hands. "Has he fallen? Is he dead?" she groaned.
But Nonna, despite her gout, sprang up and ran to her mistress with
the mirror in her hand and stammering, half laughing and half crying,
like one drunk yet possessed of his senses: "George, our George, look.
Our prince has the grey lock. Here, before my very eyes I saw it
The duchess jumped up, cast one glance into the glass, saw the grey
lock distinctly, and then forgetting that she was a princess and Nonna
but a humble servant, threw her arms about her and kissed her on the
mouth, above which grew so luxuriant a moustache that many a page
would gladly have exchanged his young upper lip for her older one.
Then the duchess reached once more for the mirror to assure herself
that her eyes had not been deceived, but her fingers trembled so with
excitement that the glass slipped from her hand and fell to the floor
where it broke in a thousand pieces.
What a fright it gave them! Fortunately Nonna, after a lifetime
spent in the care of babies, had laid aside what we call nerves, else
she had certainly fallen in a swoon like her mistress; she was
consequently able to support the duchess and soothe her with gentle
In the meanwhile the young architect from the staging inspected the
stone which crowned the dome and found that it had been well set. But
he had no suspicion that the grey lock had grown on his head. Older
architects came and absorbed his attention. They pressed his hand,
praised him and said that he had just finished a marvellous work of
art. They examined, with him, the interior of the cathedral, and then
appeared the prince for whom George had built the church, and to him
the architects explained how solid and well proportioned was the dome
which had been finished a few hours before. The noble prince listened
with comprehension; after he was satisfied he drew George to his
breast and said: "I thank, you my friend. Despite your youth I
entrusted you with a great undertaking and you have more than
fulfilled my most sanguine expectations. At my age we count it gain
not to be disappointed, and the day when our expectations are not only
fulfilled, but surpassed we number among our festivals. Your work
will be an ornament to the city and state, and will insure you undying
fame. Take this from a man who wishes you well."
The prince took the golden chain from his own neck, hung it about
George's, and continued:
"Art is easy, some say; others, that it is difficult. Both are
right. It must be delightful and ennobling to design such a work but
the carrying out must be laborious and attended with many
perplexities. I can see that you have found it so, for only yesterday
I remarked with pleasure the youthful glint of your brown hair and
today,—no doubt while you were superintending the laying of the
dome's crown,—a lock of hair above your left temple has turned grey,
George reeled at this sudden and unexpected fulfilment of the
dearest wish of his soul. He had gone out into the world under this
name of Peregrinus and had never betrayed the fact that he was a
prince's son. For several years his heart had been overflowing with
love for the daughter of the prince and he had known that she
reciprocated his affection sincerely, yet for the sake of his own
family he had battled bravely with his passion and had borne his
heartache and longing in silence.
Proofs had not been wanting to show hint how devoted the prince was
to him, and if he had been able to say to his patron, "I am a
Greylock," no doubt his lord would gladly have accorded his daughter's
hand to him. George had repeated this to himself a thousand times, but
he had remained firm, had kept his counsel and had not ceased to hope
that by righteous energy and industry he might accomplish the "great
and good task" which had been required of him in Misdral's cave. When
his grey lock grew, the fairy Clementine's fish had said to him, then
would he know that he had achieved something great and good, and that
he might bear once more the name of his proud race and return home
without exposing his family to any danger. He had reached the goal,
the task was completed, he might call himself a Greylock once more,
for the curl which was the pride of his race now adorned his head too.
"The prince watched him turn very red then very pale and finally
said inquiringly "Well, my Peregrinus?" The architect fell upon his
knee, kissed the prince's hand and cried:
"I am not Peregrinus. Henceforth I am a Greylock, I am George, the
second son of the Duke Wendelin, of whom you have heard, and I must
confess to you, my noble lord, that I love your daughter Speranza,
and I would not exchange places with any god if you would but give us
"A Greylock!" the prince exclaimed. "Truly, truly this day should
not be reckoned among the feast-days but should be regarded as the
best day in all the year. Come to my arms, my dear, my worthy son!"
An hour later the architect held the princess in his arms. What a
wedding they had! George did not return immediately to his own home.
He wrote to his mother that he was alive and well and intended to
visit her in company with his young bride as soon as he had finished a
great work with which he was occupied. He sent with the letter a
portrait of his wife and when the duchess saw it and read the letter
she grew ten years younger from pure delight, and old Nonna at least
five. When Wendelin XVI. was informed that his brother still lived,
he smiled and the queen followed his example, but as soon as they were
alone she cried: "The land of the Greylocks will be smaller than ever
now and even before it was not so great as my father's."
When Speranza presented her husband with a son the duchess and her
faithful attendant Nonna went to Italy, and the meeting between mother
and son was beyond all measure joyful. Two months she spent with her
dear children and then she returned home, George and his wife having
promised to visit her the following year in the capital of the
The cathedral was finished. There was no finer building under the
sun and artists and connoisseurs flocked from all parts of the world
to see it. George received the commendations of the most critical and
his name was ranked among those of the greatest architects.
Proud of his work, yet ever modest, he together with his wife and
child returned to his home.
He found great rejoicings in progress when he crossed the
frontiers, for Moustache, the field-marshal, had just conquered
another enemy, and by the conditions of the treaty of peace another
province came into the possession of the Greylocks, making their
kingdom then as large as that of the queen's father.
When George entered the capital he found flags flying, heard bells
pealing, the explosions of mortars and firing of cannon, sometimes one
shot after another, sometimes a deafening salvo of many guns together,
and a thousand voices shouting "Hurrah, hurrah! Long live Wendelin
The Assembly of States had decided the day before that the king by
whom the land had been so wonderfully extended, and whose government
had been so prosperous that not even a shadow of misfortune had fallen
across it, should be called: "Wendelin the Lucky."
This title of honour was to be seen on all the flags, triumphal
arches, transparencies, and even on the ginger-bread cakes in the
George and his lovely wife rejoiced with the other jubilant people,
but they were happiest when they were alone with his mother.
Wendelin XVI. received his brother and his brother's wife in the
great reception room, and even went further forward to meet him than
the point prescribed by the master of ceremonies; the queen made good
this violation of etiquette by remaining herself well within the
boundaries laid down. After the feast Wendelin went with his brother
onto the balcony, and as he stood opposite to George and looked at him
more closely he let his languid eyelids droop, for it seemed to him
that his brother was a man of iron, and he suddenly felt as if his own
backbone were made of dough.
In the evening the lake was beautifully illuminated, and the day
was to end with a boating party on the water enlivened with music and
In the first boat, on cushions of velvet and ermine, sat Wendelin
XVI. and his queen, in the second George and his beloved wife. His
mother could not bear to be separated from these two, or to miss for
even an hour the happiness of having them with her.
The weather for the festivals was as perfect as they could have
wished. The full moon shone more brilliantly than usual, as if to
congratulate the king on his new title, the bells pealed forth their
chimes again, a chorus of maidens and boys in skiffs followed the
state gondola of the royal pair, singing the new song which had just
been composed in their honour, and which consisted of twenty-four
stanzas, each one ending with the lines:
"The luck and glory let us sing Of lucky Wendelin, our king!"
By his side sat his wife, who continued her complaints against the
newly- found brother, and urged her husband to make investigations as
to whether or not this architect were a true Greylock, "To be sure,
both he and his son have the grey lock," she said, "but then they both
have light hair, and the barber's craft has made great strides lately;
and certainly that fat-cheeked baby looks as if it belonged in the
cradle of a peasant rather than in that of a prince." Wendelin XVI
did not listen to what she said; his heart was very heavy, and every
time one of the bells rang out above the others, or the chorus sang,
"lucky Wendelin, our king," particularly distinctly and
enthusiastically, he felt as if he were being jeered at and ridiculed.
He longed to cry aloud in his shame and pain, and to fly for comfort
to his sympathetic mother and strong brother in the other boat. When
he stared into the water it seemed as if the fish made fun of him, and
if he looked at the sky he imagined the moon made a mocking grimace at
him, and looked down scornfully at the wretched man whom they called
"fortunate." He knew not where to gaze, he withdrew within himself,
and tried to shut his ears, while he wished to Heaven that he could
change places with the active sailor opposite who was setting the
purple sail with his brawny arms.
A light breeze wafted the royal gondola towards the island where
the fireworks were to be displayed. The second boat followed at a
short distance. George held his mother's hand and his wife's in his
own, few words were spoken, but their very silence betrayed the great
treasure of their love and happiness, and spoke more plainly than long
discourses how dear these three persons were to one another.
The royal gondola floated quietly past the cliff that separated the
southern from the northern part of the lake; no sooner had the second
boat approached it, however, than an unexpected and fearful gust of
wind blew suddenly from the clefts of the rocks and struck the boat,
and before the sailors had time to lower the sail threw it onto its
beam ends. George sprang forward instantly to help the sailors right
her, but a second gust tore away the flapping sail, and capsized the
gondola, which was caught and carried to the bottom by a rushing eddy.
Both of the women rose from the waves at George's side. He grasped
his mother, and struggled bravely against the wind and current until
he laid her on the beach at the foot of the cliff. Then he swam back
as rapidly as he could to the place of the accident. His mother was
safe, but his wife, his beloved, his all? To rescue her, or to drown
with her was his sole idea.
At that moment he perceived a long golden streak rising and falling
with the waves. It was a lock of her hair, her wonderful silken hair.
With mighty strokes he sped towards it, reached it, grasped it, then
his trembling hands felt her body and lifted her up. She breathed,
she lived, and it depended on him to save her from the evil spirit,
from death. With one arm he held her to him, with the other he parted
the waters; but the lake seemed to turn to a mighty torrent that bore
down upon him with its heavy waves. He struggled, he fought with
panting breast, yet in vain, always in vain. He felt that his
strength was being exhausted. If no one came to his aid, he was lost;
he raised his head to look for help.
He saw his brother's gondola sailing as peacefully and undisturbed
from storm or accident as a swan in the moonlight, and the bitter
thought passed through his mind, that Wendelin was the lucky one, and
that he had been born to misfortune.
His arm was struggling with the tide once more, and this time more
successfully. Then Speranza opened her eyes, recognized him, and,
kissing him on the forehead, murmured: "My own love, how good you
From the cliff the duchess called to him: "George, my best, my
only son!" His heart warmed within him, all his bitterness
disappeared, and the waves seemed to rock him and the burden in his
arms as in a cradle. The picture of his mother floated before his
vision, that of his child, and of his beautiful work, the great
indestructible cathedral, which he had erected to the honour of God.
He reflected what sweet joy each new spring had brought him, how he
had been blessed in his work, what exquisite delight he derived from
all that was beautiful in the world. No, no, no. Of all the men on
this earth, he, the child destined to misfortune, was the happiest.
Overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude, he returned his wife's kiss.
Saved! She was saved! He felt firm ground beneath his feet; he
lifted her on high; but, just as he laid her in the strong arms that
reached down from the cliff to receive her, a high wave caught him and
dragged him back into the deep, and the waters closed over him.
The next morning a fisherman found his body. George's wife and
mother were saved. The wise men of the land said that the ill-starred
child had perished, as they had foreseen, and the people echoed their
In the mausoleum of the Greylocks only two places remained empty,
and these had to be kept for Wendelin the Lucky and his queen,
consequently the ill-omened son might not even rest in the grave of
his fathers, and George was buried on a green hillside, whence there
was a beautiful view of the lake and distant landscape.
King Wendelin the Lucky and his wife lived to a good old age.
After the king became childish, he ceased to groan and whimper in the
night, as he had formerly done. When he died, he was interred next to
Queen Isabella, in the coldest corner of the marble mausoleum, and no
ray of sun ever rested on his stone sarcophagus. His son, Wendelin
XVII., visited his father's grave once a year, on All Saints' Day, and
laid a dry wreath of immortelles on the lid of the coffin.
George's resting-place was surrounded by bushes and flowers. His
mother and wife and child visited it and cared for it. When the
spring came, nightingales, redbreasts, finches and thrushes without
number sang their merry notes above the head of the unfortunate one
who lay there. His son George grew to be the pride of his mother, and
became a noble prince in beautiful Italy. Centuries have passed since
then, yet to-day enthusiastic artists still make pilgrimages to the
hillside where the sun shines so brightly, to lay wreaths on the grave
of the great architect George Peregrinus of the princely house of the
They at least do not regard him who lies there as one born to