Gateway to the Classics: The Fairy Ring by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith
The Fairy Ring by  Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith

The Little Brother and Sister

T HERE was once a little Brother who took his Sister by the hand and said: "Since our own dear mother's death we have not had one happy hour; our stepmother beats us every day, and, if we come near her, kicks us away with her foot. Our food is the hard crusts of bread which are left, and even the dog under the table fares better than we, he often gets a nice morsel. Come, let us wander forth into the wide world." So the whole day long they traveled over meadows, fields, and stony roads, and when it rained the Sister said, "It is Heaven crying in sympathy." By evening they came into a large forest, and were so wearied with grief, hunger, and their long walk that they laid themselves down in a hollow tree and went to sleep. When they awoke the next morning the sun had already risen high in the heavens, and its beams made the tree so hot that the little boy said to his Sister, "I am so thirsty; if I knew where there was a brook I would go and drink. Ah, I think I hear one running"; and so saying he got up, and taking his Sister's hand they went in search of the brook.

The wicked stepmother, however, was a witch, and had witnessed the departure of the two children; so sneaking after them secretly, as is the habit of witches, she had enchanted all the springs in the forest.

Presently they found a brook which ran trippingly over the pebbles, and the Brother would have drunk out of it, but the Sister heard how it said as it ran along, "Who drinks of me will become a tiger!" So the Sister exclaimed: "I pray you Brother, drink not, or you will become a tiger and tear me to pieces!" So the Brother did not drink, although his thirst was so great, and he said, "I will wait till the next brook." As they came to the second the Sister heard it say, "Who drinks of me becomes a wolf!" The Sister ran up crying: "Brother, do not, pray do not, drink, or you will become a wolf and eat me up!" Then the Brother did not drink, saying: "I will wait until we come to the next spring, but then I must drink, you may say what you will; my thirst is much too great." Just as they reached the third brook the Sister heard the voice saying: "Who drinks of me will become a fawn—who drinks of me will become a fawn!" So the Sister said: "Oh, my Brother! do not drink, or you will be changed to a fawn and run away from me!" But he had already kneeled down and drank of the water, and, as the first drops passed his lips, his shape became that of a fawn.

At first the Sister cried over her little changed Brother, and he wept too, and knelt by her very sorrowful; but at last the maiden said, "Be still, dear little Fawn, and I will never forsake you"; and, undoing her golden garter, she put it around his neck, and weaving rushes made a white girdle to lead him with. This she tied to him, and, taking the other end in her hand she led him away, and they traveled deeper and deeper into the forest. After they had walked a long distance they came to a little hut, and the maiden, peeping in, found it empty, and thought, "Here we can stay and dwell." Then she looked for leaves and moss to make a soft couch for the Fawn, and every morning she went out and collected roots and berries and nuts for herself and tender grass for the Fawn, which he ate out of her hand, and played happily around her. In the evening, when the Sister was tired and had said her prayers, she laid her head upon the back of the Fawn, which served for a pillow, on which she slept soundly. Had but the Brother regained his own proper form, their life would have been happy indeed.

Thus they dwelt in this wilderness, and some time had elapsed, when it happened that the King of the country held a great hunt in the forest; and now resounded through the trees the blowing of horns, the barking of dogs, and the lusty cries of the hunters, so that the little Fawn heard them and wanted very much to join. "Ah!" said he to his Sister, "let me go to the hunt, I cannot restrain myself any longer"; and he begged so hard that at last she consented. "But," said she to him, "return again in the evening, for I shall shut my door against the wild huntsmen, and, that I may know you, do you knock and say, 'Sister, let me in,' and if you do not I shall not open the door." As soon as she had said this, the little Fawn sprang off, quite glad and merry in the fresh breeze. The King and his huntsmen perceived the beautiful animal, and pursued him; but they could not catch him, and when they thought they had him for certain he sprang away over the bushes and got out of sight. Just as it was getting dark he ran up to the hut, and, knocking, said, "Sister mine, let me in." Then she undid the little door, and he went in and rested all night long upon his soft couch. The next morning the hunt was commenced again, and as soon as the little Fawn heard the horns and the tallyho of the sportsmen he could not rest, and said, "Sister, dear, open the door, I must be off." The Sister opened it, saying, "Return at evening, mind, and say the words as before." When the King and his huntsmen saw again the Fawn with the golden necklace, they followed him closely, but he was too nimble and quick for them. The whole day long they kept up with him, but toward evening the huntsmen made a circle around him, one wounded him slightly in the hind foot, so that he could only run slowly. Then one of them slipped after him to the little hut, and heard him say, "Sister, dear, open the door," and saw that the door was opened and immediately shut behind. The huntsman, having observed all this, went and told the King what he had seen and heard, and he said, "On the morrow I will once more pursue him."

The Sister, however, was terribly frightened when she saw that her Fawn was wounded, and washing off the blood put herbs upon the foot and said: "Go and rest upon your bed, dear Fawn, that the wound may heal." It was so slight that the next morning he felt nothing of it, and when he heard the hunting cries outside he exclaimed: "I cannot stop away—I must be there, and none shall catch me so easily again!" The Sister wept very much and told him: "Soon they will kill you, and I shall be here all alone in this forest, forsaken by all the world. I cannot let you go."

"I shall die here in vexation," answered the Fawn, "if you do not, for when I hear the horn I think I shall jump out of my skin." The Sister, finding she could not prevent him, opened the door with a heavy heart, and the Fawn jumped out, quite delighted, into the forest. As soon as the King perceived him he said to his huntsmen: "Follow him all day long till the evening, but let no one do him an injury." When the sun had set, the King asked his huntsmen to show him the hut; and as they came to it, he knocked at the door and said, "Let me in, dear Sister." Then the door was opened, and stepping in the King saw a maiden more beautiful than he had ever before seen. She was frightened when she saw not her Fawn, but a man step in who had a golden crown upon his head. But the King, looking at her with a friendly glance, reached her his hand, saying, "Will you go with me to my castle and be my dear wife?" "Oh, yes," replied the maiden; "but the Fawn must go too; him I will never forsake." The King replied: "He shall remain with you as long as you live, and shall want for nothing." In the meantime the Fawn had come in, and the Sister, binding the girdle to him, again took it in her hand, and led him away with her out of the hut.

The King took the beautiful maiden upon his horse, and rode to his castle, where the wedding was celebrated with great splendor, and she became Queen, and they lived together a long time; while the Fawn was taken care of and lived well, playing about the castle garden. The wicked stepmother, however, on whose account the children had wandered forth into the world, supposed that long ago the Sister had been torn in pieces by the wild beasts, and the little Brother hunted to death in his Fawn's shape by the hunters. As soon, therefore, as she heard how happy they had become, and how everything prospered with them, envy and jealousy were roused in her heart and left her no peace, and she was always thinking in what way she could work misfortune to them. Her own daughter, who was as ugly as night and had but one eye, for which she was continually reproached, said, "The luck of being a queen has never yet happened to me."

"Be quiet now," said the old woman, "and make yourself contented. When the time comes, I shall be at hand." As soon, then, as the time came when the Queen brought into the world a beautiful little boy, which happened when the King was out hunting, the old witch took the form of a chambermaid, and got into the room where the Queen was lying, and said to her: "The bath is ready which will restore you and give you fresh strength; be quick, before it gets cold." Her daughter being at hand, they carried the weak Queen between them into the room, and laid her in the bath, and then, shutting the door, they ran off; but first they had made an immense fire in the stove, which must soon suffocate the young Queen.

When this was done the old woman took her daughter, and putting a cap on her, laid her in the bed in the Queen's place. She gave her, too, the form and appearance of the real Queen as far as she could; but she could not restore the lost eye, and so that the King might not notice it, she turned upon that side where there was no eye. When he came home at evening and heard that a son was born to him, he was much delighted, and prepared to go to his wife's bedside to see how she did. So the old woman called out in a great hurry: "For your life, do not undraw the curtains; the Queen must not yet see the light, and must be kept quiet." So the King went away, and did not discover that a false Queen was laid in the bed.

When midnight came and everyone was asleep, the nurse, who sat by herself, wide awake, near the cradle in the nursery, saw the door open and the true Queen come in. She took the child in her arms and rocked it awhile, and then, shaking up its pillow, laid it down in its cradle and covered it over again. She did not forget the Fawn either, but going to the corner where he was, stroked his back, and then went silently out at the door. The nurse asked in the morning of the guards if anyone had passed into the castle during the night, but they answered, "No, we have seen nobody." For many nights afterwards she came constantly, and never spoke a word; and the nurse saw her always, but she would not trust herself to speak about it to anyone.

When some time had passed away, the Queen one night began to speak, and said:

"How fares my child, how fares my Fawn?

Twice more will I come, but never again."

The nurse made no reply; but, when she had disappeared, went to the King and told him all. The King exclaimed: "Oh, heavens! what does this mean? The next night I will watch myself by the child." In the evening he went into the nursery, and about midnight the Queen appeared and said:

"How fares my child, how fares my Fawn?

Once more will I come, but never again."

And she nursed the child as she was used to do, and then disappeared. The King dared not speak, but he watched the following night, and this time she said:

"How fares my child, how fares my Fawn?

This time have I come, but never again."

At these words the King could hold back no longer, but sprang up and said, "You can be no other than my dear wife!" Then she answered, "Yes, I am your dear wife"; and at that moment her life was restored by God's mercy, and she was again as beautiful and charming as ever. She told the King the fraud which the witch and her daughter had practiced upon him, and he had them both tried and sentence pronounced against them. The daughter was taken into the forest, where the wild beasts tore her in pieces, but the old witch was led to the fire and miserably burned. And as soon as she was reduced to ashes the little Fawn was unbewitched, and received again his human form; and the Brother and Sister lived happily together to the end of their days.

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