The Marsh King’s Daughter

The storks relate to their little ones a great many stories, and they are all about
moors and reed banks, and suited to their age and capacity. The youngest of them
are quite satisfied with “kribble, krabble,” or such nonsense, and think it very
grand; but the elder ones want something with a deeper meaning, or at least something
about their own family.

We are only acquainted with one of the two longest and oldest stories which
the storks relate—it is about Moses, who was exposed by his mother on the banks
of the Nile, and was found by the king’s daughter, who gave him a good education,
and he afterwards became a great man; but where he was buried is still unknown.

Every one knows this story, but not the second; very likely because it is quite
an inland story. It has been repeated from mouth to mouth, from one stork-mamma
to another, for thousands of years; and each has told it better than the last;
and now we mean to tell it better than all.

The first stork pair who related it lived at the time it happened, and had
their summer residence on the rafters of the Viking’s1 house, which stood near
the wild moorlands of Wendsyssell; that is, to speak more correctly, the great
moorheath, high up in the north of Jutland, by the Skjagen peak. This wilderness
is still an immense wild heath of marshy ground, about which we can read in
the “Official Directory.” It is said that in olden times the place was a lake,
the ground of which had heaved up from beneath, and now the moorland extends
for miles in every direction, and is surrounded by damp meadows, trembling,
undulating swamps, and marshy ground covered with turf, on which grow bilberry
bushes and stunted trees. Mists are almost always hovering over this region,
which, seventy years ago, was overrun with wolves. It may well be called the
Wild Moor; and one can easily imagine, with such a wild expanse of marsh and
lake, how lonely and dreary it must have been a thousand years ago. Many things
may be noticed now that existed then. The reeds grow to the same height, and
bear the same kind of long, purple-brown leaves, with their feathery tips. There
still stands the birch, with its white bark and its delicate, loosely hanging
leaves; and with regard to the living beings who frequented this spot, the fly
still wears a gauzy dress of the same cut, and the favorite colors of the stork
are white, with black and red for stockings. The people, certainly, in those
days, wore very different dresses to those they now wear, but if any of them,
be he huntsman or squire, master or servant, ventured on the wavering, undulating,
marshy ground of the moor, they met with the same fate a thousand years ago
as they would now. The wanderer sank, and went down to the Marsh King, as he
is named, who rules in the great moorland empire beneath. They also called him
“Gunkel King,” but we like the name of “Marsh King” better, and we will give
him that name as the storks do. Very little is known of the Marsh King’s rule,
but that, perhaps, is a good thing.

In the neighborhood of the moorlands, and not far from the great arm of the
North Sea and the Cattegat which is called the Lumfjorden, lay the castle of
the Viking, with its water-tight stone cellars, its tower, and its three projecting
storeys. On the ridge of the roof the stork had built his nest, and there the
stork-mamma sat on her eggs and felt sure her hatching would come to something.

One evening, stork-papa stayed out rather late, and when he came home he seemed
quite busy, bustling, and important. “I have something very dreadful to tell
you,” said he to the stork-mamma.

“Keep it to yourself then,” she replied. “Remember that I am hatching eggs;
it may agitate me, and will affect them.”

“You must know it at once,” said he. “The daughter of our host in Egypt has
arrived here. She has ventured to take this journey, and now she is lost.”

“She who sprung from the race of the fairies, is it?” cried the mother stork.
“Oh, tell me all about it; you know I cannot bear to be kept waiting at a time
when I am hatching eggs.”

“Well, you see, mother,” he replied, “she believed what the doctors said, and
what I have heard you state also, that the moor-flowers which grow about here
would heal her sick father; and she has flown to the north in swan’s plumage,
in company with some other swan-princesses, who come to these parts every year
to renew their youth. She came, and where is she now!”

“You enter into particulars too much,” said the mamma stork, “and the eggs
may take cold; I cannot bear such suspense as this.”

“Well,” said he, “I have kept watch; and this evening I went among the rushes
where I thought the marshy ground would bear me, and while I was there three
swans came. Something in their manner of flying seemed to say to me, ‘Look carefully
now; there is one not all swan, only swan’s feathers.’ You know, mother, you
have the same intuitive feeling that I have; you know whether a thing is right
or not immediately.”

“Yes, of course,” said she; “but tell me about the princess; I am tired of
hearing about the swan’s feathers.”

“Well, you know that in the middle of the moor there is something like a lake,”
said the stork-papa. “You can see the edge of it if you raise yourself a little.
Just there, by the reeds and the green banks, lay the trunk of an elder-tree;
upon this the three swans stood flapping their wings, and looking about them;
one of them threw off her plumage, and I immediately recognized her as one of
the princesses of our home in Egypt. There she sat, without any covering but
her long, black hair. I heard her tell the two others to take great care of
the swan’s plumage, while she dipped down into the water to pluck the flowers
which she fancied she saw there. The others nodded, and picked up the feather
dress, and took possession of it. I wonder what will become of it? thought I,
and she most likely asked herself the same question. If so, she received an
answer, a very practical one; for the two swans rose up and flew away with her
swan’s plumage. ‘Dive down now!’ they cried; ‘thou shalt never more fly in the
swan’s plumage, thou shalt never again see Egypt; here, on the moor, thou wilt
remain.’ So saying, they tore the swan’s plumage into a thousand pieces, the
feathers drifted about like a snow-shower, and then the two deceitful princesses
flew away.”

“Why, that is terrible,” said the stork-mamma; “I feel as if I could hardly
bear to hear any more, but you must tell me what happened next.”

“The princess wept and lamented aloud; her tears moistened the elder stump,
which was really not an elder stump but the Marsh King himself, he who in marshy
ground lives and rules. I saw myself how the stump of the tree turned round,
and was a tree no more, while long, clammy branches like arms, were extended
from it. Then the poor child was terribly frightened, and started up to run
away. She hastened to cross the green, slimy ground; but it will not bear any
weight, much less hers. She quickly sank, and the elder stump dived immediately
after her; in fact, it was he who drew her down. Great black bubbles rose up
out of the moor-slime, and with these every trace of the two vanished. And now
the princess is buried in the wild marsh, she will never now carry flowers to
Egypt to cure her father. It would have broken your heart, mother, had you seen

“You ought not to have told me,” said she, “at such a time as this; the eggs
might suffer. But I think the princess will soon find help; some one will rise
up to help her. Ah! if it had been you or I, or one of our people, it would
have been all over with us.”

“I mean to go every day,” said he, “to see if anything comes to pass;” and
so he did.

A long time went by, but at last he saw a green stalk shooting up out of the
deep, marshy ground. As it reached the surface of the marsh, a leaf spread out,
and unfolded itself broader and broader, and close to it came forth a bud.

One morning, when the stork-papa was flying over the stem, he saw that the
power of the sun’s rays had caused the bud to open, and in the cup of the flower
lay a charming child—a little maiden, looking as if she had just come out of
a bath. The little one was so like the Egyptian princess, that the stork, at
the first moment, thought it must be the princess herself, but after a little
reflection he decided that it was much more likely to be the daughter of the
princess and the Marsh King; and this explained also her being placed in the
cup of a water-lily. “But she cannot be left to lie here,” thought the stork,
“and in my nest there are already so many. But stay, I have thought of something:
the wife of the Viking has no children, and how often she has wished for a little
one. People always say the stork brings the little ones; I will do so in earnest
this time. I shall fly with the child to the Viking’s wife; what rejoicing there
will be!”

And then the stork lifted the little girl out of the flower-cup, flew to the
castle, picked a hole with his beak in the bladder-covered, window, and laid
the beautiful child in the bosom of the Viking’s wife. Then he flew back quickly
to the stork-mamma and told her what he had seen and done; and the little storks
listened to it all, for they were then quite old enough to do so. “So you see,”
he continued, “that the princess is not dead, for she must have sent her little
one up here; and now I have found a home for her.”

“Ah, I said it would be so from the first,” replied the stork-mamma; “but now
think a little of your own family. Our travelling time draws near, and I sometimes
feel a little irritation already under the wings. The cuckoos and the nightingale
are already gone, and I heard the quails say they should go too as soon as the
wind was favorable. Our youngsters will go through all the manoeuvres at the
review very well, or I am much mistaken in them.”

The Viking’s wife was above measure delighted when she awoke the next morning
and found the beautiful little child lying in her bosom. She kissed it and caressed
it; but it cried terribly, and struck out with its arms and legs, and did not
seem to be pleased at all. At last it cried itself to sleep; and as it lay there
so still and quiet, it was a most beautiful sight to see. The Viking’s wife
was so delighted, that body and soul were full of joy. Her heart felt so light
within her, that it seemed as if her husband and his soldiers, who were absent,
must come home as suddenly and unexpectedly as the little child had done. She
and her whole household therefore busied themselves in preparing everything
for the reception of her lord. The long, colored tapestry, on which she and
her maidens had worked pictures of their idols, Odin, Thor, and Friga, was hung
up. The slaves polished the old shields that served as ornaments; cushions were
placed on the seats, and dry wood laid on the fireplaces in the centre of the
hall, so that the flames might be fanned up at a moment’s notice. The Viking’s
wife herself assisted in the work, so that at night she felt very tired, and
quickly fell into a sound sleep. When she awoke, just before morning, she was
terribly alarmed to find that the infant had vanished. She sprang from her couch,
lighted a pine-chip, and searched all round the room, when, at last, in that
part of the bed where her feet had been, lay, not the child, but a great, ugly
frog. She was quite disgusted at this sight, and seized a heavy stick to kill
the frog; but the creature looked at her with such strange, mournful eyes, that
she was unable to strike the blow. Once more she searched round the room; then
she started at hearing the frog utter a low, painful croak. She sprang from
the couch and opened the window hastily; at the same moment the sun rose, and
threw its beams through the window, till it rested on the couch where the great
frog lay. Suddenly it appeared as if the frog’s broad mouth contracted, and
became small and red. The limbs moved and stretched out and extended themselves
till they took a beautiful shape; and behold there was the pretty child lying
before her, and the ugly frog was gone. “How is this?” she cried, “have I had
a wicked dream? Is it not my own lovely cherub that lies there.” Then she kissed
it and fondled it; but the child struggled and fought, and bit as if she had
been a little wild cat.

The Viking did not return on that day, nor the next; he was, however, on the
way home; but the wind, so favorable to the storks, was against him; for it
blew towards the south. A wind in favor of one is often against another.

After two or three days had passed, it became clear to the Viking’s wife how
matters stood with the child; it was under the influence of a powerful sorcerer.
By day it was charming in appearance as an angel of light, but with a temper
wicked and wild; while at night, in the form of an ugly frog, it was quiet and
mournful, with eyes full of sorrow. Here were two natures, changing inwardly
and outwardly with the absence and return of sunlight. And so it happened that
by day the child, with the actual form of its mother, possessed the fierce disposition
of its father; at night, on the contrary, its outward appearance plainly showed
its descent on the father’s side, while inwardly it had the heart and mind of
its mother. Who would be able to loosen this wicked charm which the sorcerer
had worked upon it? The wife of the Viking lived in constant pain and sorrow
about it. Her heart clung to the little creature, but she could not explain
to her husband the circumstances in which it was placed. He was expected to
return shortly; and were she to tell him, he would very likely, as was the custom
at that time, expose the poor child in the public highway, and let any one take
it away who would. The good wife of the Viking could not let that happen, and
she therefore resolved that the Viking should never see the child excepting
by daylight.

One morning there sounded a rushing of storks’ wings over the roof. More than
a hundred pair of storks had rested there during the night, to recover themselves
after their excursion; and now they soared aloft, and prepared for the journey

“All the husbands are here, and ready!” they cried; “wives and children also!”

“How light we are!” screamed the young storks in chorus. “Something pleasant
seems creeping over us, even down to our toes, as if we were full of live frogs.
Ah, how delightful it is to travel into foreign lands!”

“Hold yourselves properly in the line with us,” cried papa and mamma. “Do not
use your beaks so much; it tries the lungs.” And then the storks flew away.

About the same time sounded the clang of the warriors’ trumpets across the
heath. The Viking had landed with his men. They were returning home, richly
laden with spoil from the Gallic coast, where the people, as did also the inhabitants
of Britain, often cried in alarm, “Deliver us from the wild northmen.”

Life and noisy pleasure came with them into the castle of the Viking on the
moorland. A great cask of mead was drawn into the hall, piles of wood blazed,
cattle were slain and served up, that they might feast in reality, The priest
who offered the sacrifice sprinkled the devoted parishioners with the warm blood;
the fire crackled, and the smoke rolled along beneath the roof; the soot fell
upon them from the beams; but they were used to all these things. Guests were
invited, and received handsome presents. All wrongs and unfaithfulness were
forgotten. They drank deeply, and threw in each other’s faces the bones that
were left, which was looked upon as a sign of good feeling amongst them. A bard,
who was a kind of musician as well as warrior, and who had been with the Viking
in his expedition, and knew what to sing about, gave them one of his best songs,
in which they heard all their warlike deeds praised, and every wonderful action
brought forward with honor. Every verse ended with this refrain,—

“Gold and possessions will flee away,
Friends and foes must die one day;
Every man on earth must die,
But a famous name will never die.”
And with that they beat upon their shields, and hammered upon the table with
knives and bones, in a most outrageous manner.
The Viking’s wife sat upon a raised cross seat in the open hall. She wore a
silk dress, golden bracelets, and large amber beads. She was in costly attire,
and the bard named her in his song, and spoke of the rich treasure of gold which
she had brought to her husband. Her husband had already seen the wonderfully
beautiful child in the daytime, and was delighted with her beauty; even her
wild ways pleased him. He said the little maiden would grow up to be a heroine,
with the strong will and determination of a man. She would never wink her eyes,
even if, in joke, an expert hand should attempt to cut off her eye-brows with
a sharp sword.

The full cask of mead soon became empty, and a fresh one was brought in; for
these were people who liked plenty to eat and drink. The old proverb, which
every one knows, says that “the cattle know when to leave their pasture, but
a foolish man knows not the measure of his own appetite.” Yes, they all knew
this; but men may know what is right, and yet often do wrong. They also knew
“that even the welcome guest becomes wearisome when he sits too long in the
house.” But there they remained; for pork and mead are good things. And so at
the Viking’s house they stayed, and enjoyed themselves; and at night the bondmen
slept in the ashes, and dipped their fingers in the fat, and licked them. Oh,
it was a delightful time!

Once more in the same year the Viking went forth, though the storms of autumn
had already commenced to roar. He went with his warriors to the coast of Britain;
he said that it was but an excursion of pleasure across the water, so his wife
remained at home with the little girl. After a while, it is quite certain the
foster-mother began to love the poor frog, with its gentle eyes and its deep
sighs, even better than the little beauty who bit and fought with all around

The heavy, damp mists of autumn, which destroy the leaves of the wood, had
already fallen upon forest and heath. Feathers of plucked birds, as they call
the snow, flew about in thick showers, and winter was coming. The sparrows took
possession of the stork’s nest, and conversed about the absent owners in their
own fashion; and they, the stork pair and all their young ones, where were they
staying now? The storks might have been found in the land of Egypt, where the
sun’s rays shone forth bright and warm, as it does here at midsummer. Tamarinds
and acacias were in full bloom all over the country, the crescent of Mahomet
glittered brightly from the cupolas of the mosques, and on the slender pinnacles
sat many of the storks, resting after their long journey. Swarms of them took
divided possession of the nests—nests which lay close to each other between
the venerable columns, and crowded the arches of temples in forgotten cities.
The date and the palm lifted themselves as a screen or as a sun-shade over them.
The gray pyramids looked like broken shadows in the clear air and the far-off
desert, where the ostrich wheels his rapid flight, and the lion, with his subtle
eyes, gazes at the marble sphinx which lies half buried in sand. The waters
of the Nile had retreated, and the whole bed of the river was covered with frogs,
which was a most acceptable prospect for the stork families. The young storks
thought their eyes deceived them, everything around appeared so beautiful.

“It is always like this here, and this is how we live in our warm country,”
said the stork-mamma; and the thought made the young ones almost beside themselves
with pleasure.

“Is there anything more to see?” they asked; “are we going farther into the

“There is nothing further for us to see,” answered the stork-mamma. “Beyond
this delightful region there are immense forests, where the branches of the
trees entwine round each other, while prickly, creeping plants cover the paths,
and only an elephant could force a passage for himself with his great feet.
The snakes are too large, and the lizards too lively for us to catch. Then there
is the desert; if you went there, your eyes would soon be full of sand with
the lightest breeze, and if it should blow great guns, you would most likely
find yourself in a sand-drift. Here is the best place for you, where there are
frogs and locusts; here I shall remain, and so must you.” And so they stayed.

The parents sat in the nest on the slender minaret, and rested, yet still were
busily employed in cleaning and smoothing their feathers, and in sharpening
their beaks against their red stockings; then they would stretch out their necks,
salute each other, and gravely raise their heads with the high-polished forehead,
and soft, smooth feathers, while their brown eyes shone with intelligence. The
female young ones strutted about amid the moist rushes, glancing at the other
young storks and making acquaintances, and swallowing a frog at every third
step, or tossing a little snake about with their beaks, in a way they considered
very becoming, and besides it tasted very good. The young male storks soon began
to quarrel; they struck at each other with their wings, and pecked with their
beaks till the blood came. And in this manner many of the young ladies and gentlemen
were betrothed to each other: it was, of course, what they wanted, and indeed
what they lived for. Then they returned to a nest, and there the quarrelling
began afresh; for in hot countries people are almost all violent and passionate.
But for all that it was pleasant, especially for the old people, who watched
them with great joy: all that their young ones did suited them. Every day here
there was sunshine, plenty to eat, and nothing to think of but pleasure. But
in the rich castle of their Egyptian host, as they called him, pleasure was
not to be found. The rich and mighty lord of the castle lay on his couch, in
the midst of the great hall, with its many colored walls looking like the centre
of a great tulip; but he was stiff and powerless in all his limbs, and lay stretched
out like a mummy. His family and servants stood round him; he was not dead,
although he could scarcely be said to live. The healing moor-flower from the
north, which was to have been found and brought to him by her who loved him
so well, had not arrived. His young and beautiful daughter who, in swan’s plumage,
had flown over land and seas to the distant north, had never returned. She is
dead, so the two swan-maidens had said when they came home; and they made up
quite a story about her, and this is what they told,—

“We three flew away together through the air,” said they: “a hunter caught
sight of us, and shot at us with an arrow. The arrow struck our young friend
and sister, and slowly singing her farewell song she sank down, a dying swan,
into the forest lake. On the shores of the lake, under a spreading birch-tree,
we laid her in the cold earth. We had our revenge; we bound fire under the wings
of a swallow, who had a nest on the thatched roof of the huntsman. The house
took fire, and burst into flames; the hunter was burnt with the house, and the
light was reflected over the sea as far as the spreading birch, beneath which
we laid her sleeping dust. She will never return to the land of Egypt.” And
then they both wept. And stork-papa, who heard the story, snapped with his beak
so that it might be heard a long way off.

“Deceit and lies!” cried he; “I should like to run my beak deep into their

“And perhaps break it off,” said the mamma stork, “then what a sight you would
be. Think first of yourself, and then of your family; all others are nothing
to us.”

“Yes, I know,” said the stork-papa; “but to-morrow I can easily place myself
on the edge of the open cupola, when the learned and wise men assemble to consult
on the state of the sick man; perhaps they may come a little nearer to the truth.”
And the learned and wise men assembled together, and talked a great deal on
every point; but the stork could make no sense out of anything they said; neither
were there any good results from their consultations, either for the sick man,
or for his daughter in the marshy heath. When we listen to what people say in
this world, we shall hear a great deal; but it is an advantage to know what
has been said and done before, when we listen to a conversation. The stork did,
and we know at least as much as he, the stork.

“Love is a life-giver. The highest love produces the highest life. Only through
love can the sick man be cured.” This had been said by many, and even the learned
men acknowledged that it was a wise saying.

“What a beautiful thought!” exclaimed the papa stork immediately.

“I don’t quite understand it,” said the mamma stork, when her husband repeated
it; “however, it is not my fault, but the fault of the thought; whatever it
may be, I have something else to think of.”

Now the learned men had spoken also of love between this one and that one;
of the difference of the love which we have for our neighbor, to the love that
exists between parents and children; of the love of the plant for the light,
and how the germ springs forth when the sunbeam kisses the ground. All these
things were so elaborately and learnedly explained, that it was impossible for
stork-papa to follow it, much less to talk about it. His thoughts on the subject
quite weighed him down; he stood the whole of the following day on one leg,
with half-shut eyes, thinking deeply. So much learning was quite a heavy weight
for him to carry. One thing, however, the papa stork could understand. Every
one, high and low, had from their inmost hearts expressed their opinion that
it was a great misfortune for so many thousands of people—the whole country
indeed—to have this man so sick, with no hopes of his recovery. And what joy
and blessing it would spread around if he could by any means be cured! But where
bloomed the flower that could bring him health? They had searched for it everywhere;
in learned writings, in the shining stars, in the weather and wind. Inquiries
had been made in every by-way that could be thought of, until at last the wise
and learned men has asserted, as we have been already told, that “love, the
life-giver, could alone give new life to a father;” and in saying this, they
had overdone it, and said more than they understood themselves. They repeated
it, and wrote it down as a recipe, “Love is a life-giver.” But how could such
a recipe be prepared—that was a difficulty they could not overcome. At last
it was decided that help could only come from the princess herself, whose whole
soul was wrapped up in her father, especially as a plan had been adopted by
her to enable her to obtain a remedy.

More than a year had passed since the princess had set out at night, when the
light of the young moon was soon lost beneath the horizon. She had gone to the
marble sphinx in the desert, shaking the sand from her sandals, and then passed
through the long passage, which leads to the centre of one of the great pyramids,
where the mighty kings of antiquity, surrounded with pomp and splendor, lie
veiled in the form of mummies. She had been told by the wise men, that if she
laid her head on the breast of one of them, from the head she would learn where
to find life and recovery for her father. She had performed all this, and in
a dream had learnt that she must bring home to her father the lotus flower,
which grows in the deep sea, near the moors and heath in the Danish land. The
very place and situation had been pointed out to her, and she was told that
the flower would restore her father to health and strength. And, therefore,
she had gone forth from the land of Egypt, flying over to the open marsh and
the wild moor in the plumage of a swan.

The papa and mamma storks knew all this, and we also know it now. We know,
too, that the Marsh King has drawn her down to himself, and that to the loved
ones at home she is forever dead. One of the wisest of them said, as the stork-mamma
also said, “That in some way she would, after all, manage to succeed;” and so
at last they comforted themselves with this hope, and would wait patiently;
in fact, they could do nothing better.

“I should like to get away the swan’s feathers from those two treacherous princesses,”
said the papa stork; “then, at least, they would not be able to fly over again
to the wild moor, and do more wickedness. I can hide the two suits of feathers
over yonder, till we find some use for them.”

“But where will you put them?” asked the mamma stork.

“In our nest on the moor. I and the young ones will carry them by turns during
our flight across; and as we return, should they prove too heavy for us, we
shall be sure to find plenty of places on the way in which we can conceal them
till our next journey. Certainly one suit of swan’s feathers would be enough
for the princess, but two are always better. In those northern countries no
one can have too many travelling wrappers.”

“No one will thank you for it,” said stork-mamma; “but you are master; and,
excepting at breeding time, I have nothing to say.”

In the Viking’s castle on the wild moor, to which the storks directed their
flight in the following spring, the little maiden still remained. They had named
her Helga, which was rather too soft a name for a child with a temper like hers,
although her form was still beautiful. Every month this temper showed itself
in sharper outlines; and in the course of years, while the storks still made
the same journeys in autumn to the hill, and in spring to the moors, the child
grew to be almost a woman, and before any one seemed aware of it, she was a
wonderfully beautiful maiden of sixteen. The casket was splendid, but the contents
were worthless. She was, indeed, wild and savage even in those hard, uncultivated
times. It was a pleasure to her to splash about with her white hands in the
warm blood of the horse which had been slain for sacrifice. In one of her wild
moods she bit off the head of the black cock, which the priest was about to
slay for the sacrifice. To her foster-father she said one day, “If thine enemy
were to pull down thine house about thy ears, and thou shouldest be sleeping
in unconscious security, I would not wake thee; even if I had the power I would
never do it, for my ears still tingle with the blow that thou gavest me years
ago. I have never forgotten it.” But the Viking treated her words as a joke;
he was, like every one else, bewitched with her beauty, and knew nothing of
the change in the form and temper of Helga at night. Without a saddle, she would
sit on a horse as if she were a part of it, while it rushed along at full speed;
nor would she spring from its back, even when it quarrelled with other horses
and bit them. She would often leap from the high shore into the sea with all
her clothes on, and swim to meet the Viking, when his boat was steering home
towards the shore. She once cut off a long lock of her beautiful hair, and twisted
it into a string for her bow. “If a thing is to be done well,” said she, “I
must do it myself.”

The Viking’s wife was, for the time in which she lived, a woman of strong character
and will; but, compared to her daughter, she was a gentle, timid woman, and
she knew that a wicked sorcerer had the terrible child in his power. It was
sometimes as if Helga acted from sheer wickedness; for often when her mother
stood on the threshold of the door, or stepped into the yard, she would seat
herself on the brink of the well, wave her arms and legs in the air, and suddenly
fall right in. Here she was able, from her frog nature, to dip and dive about
in the water of the deep well, until at last she would climb forth like a cat,
and come back into the hall dripping with water, so that the green leaves that
were strewed on the floor were whirled round, and carried away by the streams
that flowed from her.

But there was one time of the day which placed a check upon Helga. It was the
evening twilight; when this hour arrived she became quiet and thoughtful, and
allowed herself to be advised and led; then also a secret feeling seemed to
draw her towards her mother. And as usual, when the sun set, and the transformation
took place, both in body and mind, inwards and outwards, she would remain quiet
and mournful, with her form shrunk together in the shape of a frog. Her body
was much larger than those animals ever are, and on this account it was much
more hideous in appearance; for she looked like a wretched dwarf, with a frog’s
head, and webbed fingers. Her eyes had a most piteous expression; she was without
a voice, excepting a hollow, croaking sound, like the smothered sobs of a dreaming

Then the Viking’s wife took her on her lap, and forgot the ugly form, as she
looked into the mournful eyes, and often said, “I could wish that thou wouldst
always remain my dumb frog child, for thou art too terrible when thou art clothed
in a form of beauty.” And the Viking woman wrote Runic characters against sorcery
and spells of sickness, and threw them over the wretched child; but they did
no good.

“One can scarcely believe that she was ever small enough to lie in the cup
of the water-lily,” said the papa stork; “and now she is grown up, and the image
of her Egyptian mother, especially about the eyes. Ah, we shall never see her
again; perhaps she has not discovered how to help herself, as you and the wise
men said she would. Year after year have I flown across and across the moor,
but there was no sign of her being still alive. Yes, and I may as well tell
you that you that each year, when I arrived a few days before you to repair
the nest, and put everything in its place, I have spent a whole night flying
here and there over the marshy lake, as if I had been an owl or a bat, but all
to no purpose. The two suit of swan’s plumage, which I and the young ones dragged
over here from the land of the Nile, are of no use; trouble enough it was to
us to bring them here in three journeys, and now they are lying at the bottom
of the nest; and if a fire should happen to break out, and the wooden house
be burnt down, they would be destroyed.”

“And our good nest would be destroyed, too,” said the mamma stork; “but you
think less of that than of your plumage stuff and your moor-princess. Go and
stay with her in the marsh if you like. You are a bad father to your own children,
as I have told you already, when I hatched my first brood. I only hope neither
we nor our children may have an arrow sent through our wings, owing to that
wild girl. Helga does not know in the least what she is about. We have lived
in this house longer than she has, she should think of that, and we have never
forgotten our duty. We have paid every year our toll of a feather, an egg, and
a young one, as it is only right we should do. You don’t suppose I can wander
about the court-yard, or go everywhere as I used to do in old times. I can do
it in Egypt, where I can be a companion of the people, without forgetting myself.
But here I cannot go and peep into the pots and kettles as I do there. No, I
can only sit up here and feel angry with that girl, the little wretch; and I
am angry with you, too; you should have left her lying in the water lily, then
no one would have known anything about her.”

“You are far better than your conversation,” said the papa stork; “I know you
better than you know yourself.” And with that he gave a hop, and flapped his
wings twice, proudly; then he stretched his neck and flew, or rather soared
away, without moving his outspread wings. He went on for some distance, and
then he gave a great flap with his wings and flew on his course at a rapid rate,
his head and neck bending proudly before him, while the sun’s rays fell on his
glossy plumage.

“He is the handsomest of them all,” said the mamma stork, as she watched him;
“but I won’t tell him so.”

Early in the autumn, the Viking again returned home laden with spoil, and bringing
prisoners with him. Among them was a young Christian priest, one of those who
contemned the gods of the north. Often lately there had been, both in hall and
chamber, a talk of the new faith which was spreading far and wide in the south,
and which, through the means of the holy Ansgarius, had already reached as far
as Hedeby on the Schlei. Even Helga had heard of this belief in the teachings
of One who was named Christ, and who for the love of mankind, and for their
redemption, had given up His life. But to her all this had, as it were, gone
in one ear and out the other. It seemed that she only understood the meaning
of the word “love,” when in the form of a miserable frog she crouched together
in the corner of the sleeping chamber; but the Viking’s wife had listened to
the wonderful story, and had felt herself strangely moved by it.

On their return, after this voyage, the men spoke of the beautiful temples
built of polished stone, which had been raised for the public worship of this
holy love. Some vessels, curiously formed of massive gold, had been brought
home among the booty. There was a peculiar fragrance about them all, for they
were incense vessels, which had been swung before the altars in the temples
by the Christian priests. In the deep stony cellars of the castle, the young
Christian priest was immured, and his hands and feet tied together with strips
of bark. The Viking’s wife considered him as beautiful as Baldur, and his distress
raised her pity; but Helga said he ought to have ropes fastened to his heels,
and be tied to the tails of wild animals.

“I would let the dogs loose after him” she said; “over the moor and across
the heath. Hurrah! that would be a spectacle for the gods, and better still
to follow in its course.”

But the Viking would not allow him to die such a death as that, especially
as he was the disowned and despiser of the high gods. In a few days, he had
decided to have him offered as a sacrifice on the blood-stone in the grove.
For the first time, a man was to be sacrificed here. Helga begged to be allowed
to sprinkle the assembled people with the blood of the priest. She sharpened
her glittering knife; and when one of the great, savage dogs, who were running
about the Viking’s castle in great numbers, sprang towards her, she thrust the
knife into his side, merely, as she said, to prove its sharpness.

The Viking’s wife looked at the wild, badly disposed girl, with great sorrow;
and when night came on, and her daughter’s beautiful form and disposition were
changed, she spoke in eloquent words to Helga of the sorrow and deep grief that
was in her heart. The ugly frog, in its monstrous shape, stood before her, and
raised its brown mournful eyes to her face, listening to her words, and seeming
to understand them with the intelligence of a human being.

“Never once to my lord and husband has a word passed my lips of what I have
to suffer through you; my heart is full of grief about you,” said the Viking’s
wife. “The love of a mother is greater and more powerful than I ever imagined.
But love never entered thy heart; it is cold and clammy, like the plants on
the moor.”

Then the miserable form trembled; it was as if these words had touched an invisible
bond between body and soul, for great tears stood in the eyes.

“A bitter time will come for thee at last,” continued the Viking’s wife; “and
it will be terrible for me too. It had been better for thee if thou hadst been
left on the high-road, with the cold night wind to lull thee to sleep.” And
the Viking’s wife shed bitter tears, and went away in anger and sorrow, passing
under the partition of furs, which hung loose over the beam and divided the

The shrivelled frog still sat in the corner alone. Deep silence reigned around.
At intervals, a half-stifled sigh was heard from its inmost soul; it was the
soul of Helga. It seemed in pain, as if a new life were arising in her heart.
Then she took a step forward and listened; then stepped again forward, and seized
with her clumsy hands the heavy bar which was laid across the door. Gently,
and with much trouble, she pushed back the bar, as silently lifted the latch,
and then took up the glimmering lamp which stood in the ante-chamber of the
hall. It seemed as if a stronger will than her own gave her strength. She removed
the iron bolt from the closed cellar-door, and slipped in to the prisoner. He
was slumbering. She touched him with her cold, moist hand, and as he awoke and
caught sight of the hideous form, he shuddered as if he beheld a wicked apparition.
She drew her knife, cut through the bonds which confined his hands and feet,
and beckoned to him to follow her. He uttered some holy names and made the sign
of the cross, while the form remained motionless by his side.

“Who art thou?” he asked, “whose outward appearance is that of an animal, while
thou willingly performest acts of mercy?”

The frog-figure beckoned to him to follow her, and led him through a long gallery
concealed by hanging drapery to the stables, and then pointed to a horse. He
mounted upon it, and she sprang up also before him, and held tightly by the
animal’s mane. The prisoner understood her, and they rode on at a rapid trot,
by a road which he would never have found by himself, across the open heath.
He forgot her ugly form, and only thought how the mercy and loving-kindness
of the Almighty was acting through this hideous apparition. As he offered pious
prayers and sang holy songs of praise, she trembled. Was it the effect of prayer
and praise that caused this? or, was she shuddering in the cold morning air
at the thought of approaching twilight? What were her feelings? She raised herself
up, and wanted to stop the horse and spring off, but the Christian priest held
her back with all his might, and then sang a pious song, as if this could loosen
the wicked charm that had changed her into the semblance of a frog.

And the horse galloped on more wildly than before. The sky painted itself red,
the first sunbeam pierced through the clouds, and in the clear flood of sunlight
the frog became changed. It was Helga again, young and beautiful, but with a
wicked demoniac spirit. He held now a beautiful young woman in his arms, and
he was horrified at the sight. He stopped the horse, and sprang from its back.
He imagined that some new sorcery was at work. But Helga also leaped from the
horse and stood on the ground. The child’s short garment reached only to her
knee. She snatched the sharp knife from her girdle, and rushed like lightning
at the astonished priest. “Let me get at thee!” she cried; “let me get at thee,
that I may plunge this knife into thy body. Thou art pale as ashes, thou beardless
slave.” She pressed in upon him. They struggled with each other in heavy combat,
but it was as if an invisible power had been given to the Christian in the struggle.
He held her fast, and the old oak under which they stood seemed to help him,
for the loosened roots on the ground became entangled in the maiden’s feet,
and held them fast. Close by rose a bubbling spring, and he sprinkled Helga’s
face and neck with the water, commanded the unclean spirit to come forth, and
pronounced upon her a Christian blessing. But the water of faith has no power
unless the well-spring of faith flows within. And yet even here its power was
shown; something more than the mere strength of a man opposed itself, through
his means, against the evil which struggled within her. His holy action seemed
to overpower her. She dropped her arms, glanced at him with pale cheeks and
looks of amazement. He appeared to her a mighty magician skilled in secret arts;
his language was the darkest magic to her, and the movements of his hands in
the air were as the secret signs of a magician’s wand. She would not have blinked
had he waved over her head a sharp knife or a glittering axe; but she shrunk
from him as he signed her with the sign of the cross on her forehead and breast,
and sat before him like a tame bird, with her head bowed down. Then he spoke
to her, in gentle words, of the deed of love she had performed for him during
the night, when she had come to him in the form of an ugly frog, to loosen his
bonds, and to lead him forth to life and light; and he told her that she was
bound in closer fetters than he had been, and that she could recover also life
and light by his means. He would take her to Hedeby2 to St. Ansgarius, and there,
in that Christian town, the spell of the sorcerer would be removed. But he would
not let her sit before him on the horse, though of her own free will she wished
to do so. “Thou must sit behind me, not before me,” said he. “Thy magic beauty
has a magic power which comes from an evil origin, and I fear it; still I am
sure to overcome through my faith in Christ.” Then he knelt down, and prayed
with pious fervor. It was as if the quiet woodland were a holy church consecrated
by his worship. The birds sang as if they were also of this new congregation;
and the fragrance of the wild flowers was as the ambrosial perfume of incense;
while, above all, sounded the words of Scripture, “A light to them that sit
in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of
peace.” And he spoke these words with the deep longing of his whole nature.

Meanwhile, the horse that had carried them in wild career stood quietly by,
plucking at the tall bramble-bushes, till the ripe young berries fell down upon
Helga’s hands, as if inviting her to eat. Patiently she allowed herself to be
lifted on the horse, and sat there like a somnambulist—as one who walked in
his sleep. The Christian bound two branches together with bark, in the form
of a cross, and held it on high as they rode through the forest. The way gradually
grew thicker of brushwood, as they rode along, till at last it became a trackless
wilderness. Bushes of the wild sloe here and there blocked up the path, so that
they had to ride over them. The bubbling spring formed not a stream, but a marsh,
round which also they were obliged to guide the horse; still there were strength
and refreshment in the cool forest breeze, and no trifling power in the gentle
words spoken in faith and Christian love by the young priest, whose inmost heart
yearned to lead this poor lost one into the way of light and life. It is said
that rain-drops can make a hollow in the hardest stone, and the waves of the
sea can smooth and round the rough edges of the rocks; so did the dew of mercy
fall upon Helga, softening what was hard, and smoothing what was rough in her
character. These effects did not yet appear; she was not herself aware of them;
neither does the seed in the lap of earth know, when the refreshing dew and
the warm sunbeams fall upon it, that it contains within itself power by which
it will flourish and bloom. The song of the mother sinks into the heart of the
child, and the little one prattles the words after her, without understanding
their meaning; but after a time the thoughts expand, and what has been heard
in childhood seems to the mind clear and bright. So now the “Word,” which is
all-powerful to create, was working in the heart of Helga.

They rode forth from the thick forest, crossed the heath, and again entered
a pathless wood. Here, towards evening, they met with robbers.

“Where hast thou stolen that beauteous maiden?” cried the robbers, seizing
the horse by the bridle, and dragging the two riders from its back.

The priest had nothing to defend himself with, but the knife he had taken from
Helga, and with this he struck out right and left. One of the robbers raised
his axe against him; but the young priest sprang on one side, and avoided the
blow, which fell with great force on the horse’s neck, so that the blood gushed
forth, and the animal sunk to the ground. Then Helga seemed suddenly to awake
from her long, deep reverie; she threw herself hastily upon the dying animal.
The priest placed himself before her, to defend and shelter her; but one of
the robbers swung his iron axe against the Christian’s head with such force
that it was dashed to pieces, the blood and brains were scattered about, and
he fell dead upon the ground. Then the robbers seized beautiful Helga by her
white arms and slender waist; but at that moment the sun went down, and as its
last ray disappeared, she was changed into the form of a frog. A greenish white
mouth spread half over her face; her arms became thin and slimy; while broad
hands, with webbed fingers, spread themselves out like fans. Then the robbers,
in terror, let her go, and she stood among them, a hideous monster; and as is
the nature of frogs to do, she hopped up as high as her own size, and disappeared
in the thicket. Then the robbers knew that this must be the work of an evil
spirit or some secret sorcery, and, in a terrible fright, they ran hastily from
the spot.

The full moon had already risen, and was shining in all her radiant splendor
over the earth, when from the thicket, in the form of a frog, crept poor Helga.
She stood still by the corpse of the Christian priest, and the carcase of the
dead horse. She looked at them with eyes that seemed to weep, and from the frog’s
head came forth a croaking sound, as when a child bursts into tears. She threw
herself first upon one, and then upon the other; brought water in her hand,
which, from being webbed, was large and hollow, and poured it over them; but
they were dead, and dead they would remain. She understood that at last. Soon
wild animals would come and tear their dead bodies; but no, that must not happen.
Then she dug up the earth, as deep as she was able, that she might prepare a
grave for them. She had nothing but a branch of a tree and her two hands, between
the fingers of which the webbed skin stretched, and they were torn by the work,
while the blood ran down her hands. She saw at last that her work would be useless,
more than she could accomplish; so she fetched more water, and washed the face
of the dead, and then covered it with fresh green leaves; she also brought large
boughs and spread over him, and scattered dried leaves between the branches.
Then she brought the heaviest stones that she could carry, and laid them over
the dead body, filling up the crevices with moss, till she thought she had fenced
in his resting-place strongly enough. The difficult task had employed her the
whole night; and as the sun broke forth, there stood the beautiful Helga in
all her loveliness, with her bleeding hands, and, for the first time, with tears
on her maiden cheeks. It was, in this transformation, as if two natures were
striving together within her; her whole frame trembled, and she looked around
her as if she had just awoke from a painful dream. She leaned for support against
the trunk of a slender tree, and at last climbed to the topmost branches, like
a cat, and seated herself firmly upon them. She remained there the whole day,
sitting alone, like a frightened squirrel, in the silent solitude of the wood,
where the rest and stillness is as the calm of death.

Butterflies fluttered around her, and close by were several ant-hills, each
with its hundreds of busy little creatures moving quickly to and fro. In the
air, danced myriads of gnats, swarm upon swarm, troops of buzzing flies, ladybirds,
dragon-flies with golden wings, and other little winged creatures. The worm
crawled forth from the moist ground, and the moles crept out; but, excepting
these, all around had the stillness of death: but when people say this, they
do not quite understand themselves what they mean. None noticed Helga but a
flock of magpies, which flew chattering round the top of the tree on which she
sat. These birds hopped close to her on the branches with bold curiosity. A
glance from her eyes was a signal to frighten them away, and they were not clever
enough to find out who she was; indeed she hardly knew herself.

When the sun was near setting, and the evening’s twilight about to commence,
the approaching transformation aroused her to fresh exertion. She let herself
down gently from the tree, and, as the last sunbeam vanished, she stood again
in the wrinkled form of a frog, with the torn, webbed skin on her hands, but
her eyes now gleamed with more radiant beauty than they had ever possessed in
her most beautiful form of loveliness; they were now pure, mild maidenly eyes
that shone forth in the face of a frog. They showed the existence of deep feeling
and a human heart, and the beauteous eyes overflowed with tears, weeping precious
drops that lightened the heart.

On the raised mound which she had made as a grave for the dead priest, she
found the cross made of the branches of a tree, the last work of him who now
lay dead and cold beneath it. A sudden thought came to Helga, and she lifted
up the cross and planted it upon the grave, between the stones that covered
him and the dead horse. The sad recollection brought the tears to her eyes,
and in this gentle spirit she traced the same sign in the sand round the grave;
and as she formed, with both her hands, the sign of the cross, the web skin
fell from them like a torn glove. She washed her hands in the water of the spring,
and gazed with astonishment at their delicate whiteness. Again she made the
holy sign in the air, between herself and the dead man; her lips trembled, her
tongue moved, and the name which she in her ride through the forest had so often
heard spoken, rose to her lips, and she uttered the words, “Jesus Christ.” Then
the frog skin fell from her; she was once more a lovely maiden. Her head bent
wearily, her tired limbs required rest, and then she slept.

Her sleep, however, was short. Towards midnight, she awoke; before her stood
the dead horse, prancing and full of life, which shone forth from his eyes and
from his wounded neck. Close by his side appeared the murdered Christian priest,
more beautiful than Baldur, as the Viking’s wife had said; but now he came as
if in a flame of fire. Such gravity, such stern justice, such a piercing glance
shone from his large, gentle eyes, that it seemed to penetrate into every corner
of her heart. Beautiful Helga trembled at the look, and her memory returned
with a power as if it had been the day of judgment. Every good deed that had
been done for her, every loving word that had been said, were vividly before
her mind. She understood now that love had kept her here during the day of her
trial; while the creature formed of dust and clay, soul and spirit, had wrestled
and struggled with evil. She acknowledged that she had only followed the impulses
of an evil disposition, that she had done nothing to cure herself; everything
had been given her, and all had happened as it were by the ordination of Providence.
She bowed herself humbly, confessed her great imperfections in the sight of
Him who can read every fault of the heart, and then the priest spoke. “Daughter
of the moorland, thou hast come from the swamp and the marshy earth, but from
this thou shalt arise. The sunlight shining into thy inmost soul proves the
origin from which thou hast really sprung, and has restored the body to its
natural form. I am come to thee from the land of the dead, and thou also must
pass through the valley to reach the holy mountains where mercy and perfection
dwell. I cannot lead thee to Hedeby that thou mayst receive Christian baptism,
for first thou must remove the thick veil with which the waters of the moorland
are shrouded, and bring forth from its depths the living author of thy being
and thy life. Till this is done, thou canst not receive consecration.”

Then he lifted her on the horse and gave her a golden censer, similar to those
she had already seen at the Viking’s house. A sweet perfume arose from it, while
the open wound in the forehead of the slain priest, shone with the rays of a
diamond. He took the cross from the grave, and held it aloft, and now they rode
through the air over the rustling trees, over the hills where warriors lay buried
each by his dead war-horse; and the brazen monumental figures rose up and galloped
forth, and stationed themselves on the summits of the hills. The golden crescent
on their foreheads, fastened with golden knots, glittered in the moonlight,
and their mantles floated in the wind. The dragon, that guards buried treasure,
lifted his head and gazed after them. The goblins and the satyrs peeped out
from beneath the hills, and flitted to and fro in the fields, waving blue, red,
and green torches, like the glowing sparks in burning paper. Over woodland and
heath, flood and fen, they flew on, till they reached the wild moor, over which
they hovered in broad circles. The Christian priest held the cross aloft, and
it glittered like gold, while from his lips sounded pious prayers. Beautiful
Helga’s voice joined with his in the hymns he sung, as a child joins in her
mother’s song. She swung the censer, and a wonderful fragrance of incense arose
from it; so powerful, that the reeds and rushes of the moor burst forth into
blossom. Each germ came forth from the deep ground: all that had life raised
itself. Blooming water-lilies spread themselves forth like a carpet of wrought
flowers, and upon them lay a slumbering woman, young and beautiful. Helga fancied
that it was her own image she saw reflected in the still water. But it was her
mother she beheld, the wife of the Marsh King, the princess from the land of
the Nile.

The dead Christian priest desired that the sleeping woman should be lifted
on the horse, but the horse sank beneath the load, as if he had been a funeral
pall fluttering in the wind. But the sign of the cross made the airy phantom
strong, and then the three rode away from the marsh to firm ground.

At the same moment the cock crew in the Viking’s castle, and the dream figures
dissolved and floated away in the air, but mother and daughter stood opposite
to each other.

“Am I looking at my own image in the deep water?” said the mother.

“Is it myself that I see represented on a white shield?” cried the daughter.

Then they came nearer to each other in a fond embrace. The mother’s heart beat
quickly, and she understood the quickened pulses. “My child!” she exclaimed,
“the flower of my heart—my lotus flower of the deep water!” and she embraced
her child again and wept, and the tears were as a baptism of new life and love
for Helga. “In swan’s plumage I came here,” said the mother, “and here I threw
off my feather dress. Then I sank down through the wavering ground, deep into
the marsh beneath, which closed like a wall around me; I found myself after
a while in fresher water; still a power drew me down deeper and deeper. I felt
the weight of sleep upon my eyelids. Then I slept, and dreams hovered round
me. It seemed to me as if I were again in the pyramids of Egypt, and yet the
waving elder trunk that had frightened me on the moor stood ever before me.
I observed the clefts and wrinkles in the stem; they shone forth in strange
colors, and took the form of hieroglyphics. It was the mummy case on which I
gazed. At last it burst, and forth stepped the thousand years’ old king, the
mummy form, black as pitch, black as the shining wood-snail, or the slimy mud
of the swamp. Whether it was really the mummy or the Marsh King I know not.
He seized me in his arms, and I felt as if I must die. When I recovered myself,
I found in my bosom a little bird, flapping its wings, twittering and fluttering.
The bird flew away from my bosom, upwards towards the dark, heavy canopy above
me, but a long, green band kept it fastened to me. I heard and understood the
tenor of its longings. Freedom! sunlight! to my father! Then I thought of my
father, and the sunny land of my birth, my life, and my love. Then I loosened
the band, and let the bird fly away to its home—to a father. Since that hour
I have ceased to dream; my sleep has been long and heavy, till in this very
hour, harmony and fragrance awoke me, and set me free.”

The green band which fastened the wings of the bird to the mother’s heart,
where did it flutter now? whither had it been wafted? The stork only had seen
it. The band was the green stalk, the cup of the flower the cradle in which
lay the child, that now in blooming beauty had been folded to the mother’s heart.

And while the two were resting in each other’s arms, the old stork flew round
and round them in narrowing circles, till at length he flew away swiftly to
his nest, and fetched away the two suits of swan’s feathers, which he had preserved
there for many years. Then he returned to the mother and daughter, and threw
the swan’s plumage over them; the feathers immediately closed around them, and
they rose up from the earth in the form of two white swans.

“And now we can converse with pleasure,” said the stork-papa; “we can understand
one another, although the beaks of birds are so different in shape. It is very
fortunate that you came to-night. To-morrow we should have been gone. The mother,
myself and the little ones, we’re about to fly to the south. Look at me now:
I am an old friend from the Nile, and a mother’s heart contains more than her
beak. She always said that the princess would know how to help herself. I and
the young ones carried the swan’s feathers over here, and I am glad of it now,
and how lucky it is that I am here still. When the day dawns we shall start
with a great company of other storks. We’ll fly first, and you can follow in
our track, so that you cannot miss your way. I and the young ones will have
an eye upon you.”

“And the lotus-flower which I was to take with me,” said the Egyptian princess,
“is flying here by my side, clothed in swan’s feathers. The flower of my heart
will travel with me; and so the riddle is solved. Now for home! now for home!”

But Helga said she could not leave the Danish land without once more seeing
her foster-mother, the loving wife of the Viking. Each pleasing recollection,
each kind word, every tear from the heart which her foster-mother had wept for
her, rose in her mind, and at that moment she felt as if she loved this mother
the best.

“Yes, we must go to the Viking’s castle,” said the stork; “mother and the young
ones are waiting for me there. How they will open their eyes and flap their
wings! My wife, you see, does not say much; she is short and abrupt in her manner;
but she means well, for all that. I will flap my wings at once, that they may
hear us coming.” Then stork-papa flapped his wings in first-rate style, and
he and the swans flew away to the Viking’s castle.

In the castle, every one was in a deep sleep. It had been late in the evening
before the Viking’s wife retired to rest. She was anxious about Helga, who,
three days before, had vanished with the Christian priest. Helga must have helped
him in his flight, for it was her horse that was missed from the stable; but
by what power had all this been accomplished? The Viking’s wife thought of it
with wonder, thought on the miracles which they said could be performed by those
who believed in the Christian faith, and followed its teachings. These passing
thoughts formed themselves into a vivid dream, and it seemed to her that she
was still lying awake on her couch, while without darkness reigned. A storm
arose; she heard the lake dashing and rolling from east and west, like the waves
of the North Sea or the Cattegat. The monstrous snake which, it is said, surrounds
the earth in the depths of the ocean, was trembling in spasmodic convulsions.
The night of the fall of the gods was come, “Ragnorock,” as the heathens call
the judgment-day, when everything shall pass away, even the high gods themselves.
The war trumpet sounded; riding upon the rainbow, came the gods, clad in steel,
to fight their last battle on the last battle-field. Before them flew the winged
vampires, and the dead warriors closed up the train. The whole firmament was
ablaze with the northern lights, and yet the darkness triumphed. It was a terrible
hour. And, close to the terrified woman, Helga seemed to be seated on the floor,
in the hideous form of a frog, yet trembling, and clinging to her foster-mother,
who took her on her lap, and lovingly caressed her, hideous and frog-like as
she was. The air was filled with the clashing of arms and the hissing of arrows,
as if a storm of hail was descending upon the earth. It seemed to her the hour
when earth and sky would burst asunder, and all things be swallowed up in Saturn’s
fiery lake; but she knew that a new heaven and a new earth would arise, and
that corn-fields would wave where now the lake rolled over desolate sands, and
the ineffable God reign. Then she saw rising from the region of the dead, Baldur
the gentle, the loving, and as the Viking’s wife gazed upon him, she recognized
his countenance. It was the captive Christian priest. “White Christian!” she
exclaimed aloud, and with the words, she pressed a kiss on the forehead of the
hideous frog-child. Then the frog-skin fell off, and Helga stood before her
in all her beauty, more lovely and gentle-looking, and with eyes beaming with
love. She kissed the hands of her foster-mother, blessed her for all her fostering
love and care during the days of her trial and misery, for the thoughts she
had suggested and awoke in her heart, and for naming the Name which she now
repeated. Then beautiful Helga rose as a mighty swan, and spread her wings with
the rushing sound of troops of birds of passage flying through the air.

Then the Viking’s wife awoke, but she still heard the rushing sound without.
She knew it was the time for the storks to depart, and that it must be their
wings which she heard. She felt she should like to see them once more, and bid
them farewell. She rose from her couch, stepped out on the threshold, and beheld,
on the ridge of the roof, a party of storks ranged side by side. Troops of the
birds were flying in circles over the castle and the highest trees; but just
before her, as she stood on the threshold and close to the well where Helga
had so often sat and alarmed her with her wildness, now stood two swans, gazing
at her with intelligent eyes. Then she remembered her dream, which still appeared
to her as a reality. She thought of Helga in the form of a swan. She thought
of a Christian priest, and suddenly a wonderful joy arose in her heart. The
swans flapped their wings and arched their necks as if to offer her a greeting,
and the Viking’s wife spread out her arms towards them, as if she accepted it,
and smiled through her tears. She was roused from deep thought by a rustling
of wings and snapping of beaks; all the storks arose, and started on their journey
towards the south.

“We will not wait for the swans,” said the mamma stork; “if they want to go
with us, let them come now; we can’t sit here till the plovers start. It is
a fine thing after all to travel in families, not like the finches and the partridges.
There the male and the female birds fly in separate flocks, which, to speak
candidly, I consider very unbecoming.”

“What are those swans flapping their wings for?”

“Well, every one flies in his own fashion,” said the papa stork. “The swans
fly in an oblique line; the cranes, in the form of a triangle; and the plovers,
in a curved line like a snake.”

“Don’t talk about snakes while we are flying up here,” said stork-mamma. “It
puts ideas into the children’s heads that can not be realized.”

“Are those the high mountains I have heard spoken of?” asked Helga, in the
swan’s plumage.

“They are storm-clouds driving along beneath us,” replied her mother.

“What are yonder white clouds that rise so high?” again inquired Helga.

“Those are mountains covered with perpetual snows, that you see yonder,” said
her mother. And then they flew across the Alps towards the blue Mediterranean.

“Africa’s land! Egyptia’s strand!” sang the daughter of the Nile, in her swan’s
plumage, as from the upper air she caught sight of her native land, a narrow,
golden, wavy strip on the shores of the Nile; the other birds espied it also
and hastened their flight.

“I can smell the Nile mud and the wet frogs,” said the stork-mamma, “and I
begin to feel quite hungry. Yes, now you shall taste something nice, and you
will see the marabout bird, and the ibis, and the crane. They all belong to
our family, but they are not nearly so handsome as we are. They give themselves
great airs, especially the ibis. The Egyptians have spoilt him. They make a
mummy of him, and stuff him with spices. I would rather be stuffed with live
frogs, and so would you, and so you shall. Better have something in your inside
while you are alive, than to be made a parade of after you are dead. That is
my opinion, and I am always right.”

“The storks are come,” was said in the great house on the banks of the Nile,
where the lord lay in the hall on his downy cushions, covered with a leopard
skin, scarcely alive, yet not dead, waiting and hoping for the lotus-flower
from the deep moorland in the far north. Relatives and servants were standing
by his couch, when the two beautiful swans who had come with the storks flew
into the hall. They threw off their soft white plumage, and two lovely female
forms approached the pale, sick old man, and threw back their long hair, and
when Helga bent over her grandfather, redness came back to his cheeks, his eyes
brightened, and life returned to his benumbed limbs. The old man rose up with
health and energy renewed; daughter and grandchild welcomed him as joyfully
as if with a morning greeting after a long and troubled dream.

Joy reigned through the whole house, as well as in the stork’s nest; although
there the chief cause was really the good food, especially the quantities of
frogs, which seemed to spring out of the ground in swarms.

Then the learned men hastened to note down, in flying characters, the story
of the two princesses, and spoke of the arrival of the health-giving flower
as a mighty event, which had been a blessing to the house and the land. Meanwhile,
the stork-papa told the story to his family in his own way; but not till they
had eaten and were satisfied; otherwise they would have had something else to
do than to listen to stories.

“Well,” said the stork-mamma, when she had heard it, “you will be made something
of at last; I suppose they can do nothing less.”

“What could I be made?” said stork-papa; “what have I done?— just nothing.”

“You have done more than all the rest,” she replied. “But for you and the youngsters
the two young princesses would never have seen Egypt again, and the recovery
of the old man would not have been effected. You will become something. They
must certainly give you a doctor’s hood, and our young ones will inherit it,
and their children after them, and so on. You already look like an Egyptian
doctor, at least in my eyes.”

“I cannot quite remember the words I heard when I listened on the roof,” said
stork-papa, while relating the story to his family; “all I know is, that what
the wise men said was so complicated and so learned, that they received not
only rank, but presents; even the head cook at the great house was honored with
a mark of distinction, most likely for the soup.”

“And what did you receive?” said the stork-mamma. “They certainly ought not
to forget the most important person in the affair, as you really are. The learned
men have done nothing at all but use their tongues. Surely they will not overlook

Late in the night, while the gentle sleep of peace rested on the now happy
house, there was still one watcher. It was not stork-papa, who, although he
stood on guard on one leg, could sleep soundly. Helga alone was awake. She leaned
over the balcony, gazing at the sparkling stars that shone clearer and brighter
in the pure air than they had done in the north, and yet they were the same
stars. She thought of the Viking’s wife in the wild moorland, of the gentle
eyes of her foster-mother, and of the tears she had shed over the poor frog-child
that now lived in splendor and starry beauty by the waters of the Nile, with
air balmy and sweet as spring. She thought of the love that dwelt in the breast
of the heathen woman, love that had been shown to a wretched creature, hateful
as a human being, and hideous when in the form of an animal. She looked at the
glittering stars, and thought of the radiance that had shone forth on the forehead
of the dead man, as she had fled with him over the woodland and moor. Tones
were awakened in her memory; words which she had heard him speak as they rode
onward, when she was carried, wondering and trembling, through the air; words
from the great Fountain of love, the highest love that embraces all the human
race. What had not been won and achieved by this love?

Day and night beautiful Helga was absorbed in the contemplation of the great
amount of her happiness, and lost herself in the contemplation, like a child
who turns hurriedly from the giver to examine the beautiful gifts. She was over-powered
with her good fortune, which seemed always increasing, and therefore what might
it become in the future? Had she not been brought by a wonderful miracle to
all this joy and happiness? And in these thoughts she indulged, until at last
she thought no more of the Giver. It was the over-abundance of youthful spirits
unfolding its wings for a daring flight. Her eyes sparkled with energy, when
suddenly arose a loud noise in the court below, and the daring thought vanished.
She looked down, and saw two large ostriches running round quickly in narrow
circles; she had never seen these creatures before,—great, coarse, clumsy-looking
birds with curious wings that looked as if they had been clipped, and the birds
themselves had the appearance of having been roughly used. She inquired about
them, and for the first time heard the legend which the Egyptians relate respecting
the ostrich.

Once, say they, the ostriches were a beautiful and glorious race of birds,
with large, strong wings. One evening the other large birds of the forest said
to the ostrich, “Brother, shall we fly to the river to-morrow morning to drink,
God willing?” and the ostrich answered, “I will.”

With the break of day, therefore, they commenced their flight; first rising
high in the air, towards the sun, which is the eye of God; still higher and
higher the ostrich flew, far above the other birds, proudly approaching the
light, trusting in its own strength, and thinking not of the Giver, or saying,
“if God will.” When suddenly the avenging angel drew back the veil from the
flaming ocean of sunlight, and in a moment the wings of the proud bird were
scorched and shrivelled, and they sunk miserably to the earth. Since that time
the ostrich and his race have never been able to rise in the air; they can only
fly terror-stricken along the ground, or run round and round in narrow circles.
It is a warning to mankind, that in all our thoughts and schemes, and in every
action we undertake, we should say, “if God will.”

Then Helga bowed her head thoughtfully and seriously, and looked at the circling
ostrich, as with timid fear and simple pleasure it glanced at its own great
shadow on the sunlit walls. And the story of the ostrich sunk deeply into the
heart and mind of Helga: a life of happiness, both in the present and in the
future, seemed secure for her, and what was yet to come might be the best of
all, God willing.

Early in the spring, when the storks were again about to journey northward,
beautiful Helga took off her golden bracelets, scratched her name on them, and
beckoned to the stork-father. He came to her, and she placed the golden circlet
round his neck, and begged him to deliver it safely to the Viking’s wife, so
that she might know that her foster-daughter still lived, was happy, and had
not forgotten her.

“It is rather heavy to carry,” thought stork-papa, when he had it on his neck;
“but gold and honor are not to be flung into the street. The stork brings good
fortune—they’ll be obliged to acknowledge that at last.”

“You lay gold, and I lay eggs,” said stork-mamma; “with you it is only once
in a way, I lay eggs every year But no one appreciates what we do; I call it
very mortifying.”

“But then we have a consciousness of our own worth, mother,” replied stork-papa.

“What good will that do you?” retorted stork-mamma; “it will neither bring
you a fair wind, nor a good meal.”

“The little nightingale, who is singing yonder in the tamarind grove, will
soon be going north, too.” Helga said she had often heard her singing on the
wild moor, so she determined to send a message by her. While flying in the swan’s
plumage she had learnt the bird language; she had often conversed with the stork
and the swallow, and she knew that the nightingale would understand. So she
begged the nightingale to fly to the beechwood, on the peninsula of Jutland,
where a mound of stone and twigs had been raised to form the grave, and she
begged the nightingale to persuade all the other little birds to build their
nests round the place, so that evermore should resound over that grave music
and song. And the nightingale flew away, and time flew away also.

In the autumn, an eagle, standing upon a pyramid, saw a stately train of richly
laden camels, and men attired in armor on foaming Arabian steeds, whose glossy
skins shone like silver, their nostrils were pink, and their thick, flowing
manes hung almost to their slender legs. A royal prince of Arabia, handsome
as a prince should be, and accompanied by distinguished guests, was on his way
to the stately house, on the roof of which the storks’ empty nests might be
seen. They were away now in the far north, but expected to return very soon.
And, indeed, they returned on a day that was rich in joy and gladness.

A marriage was being celebrated, in which the beautiful Helga, glittering in
silk and jewels, was the bride, and the bridegroom the young Arab prince. Bride
and bridegroom sat at the upper end of the table, between the bride’s mother
and grandfather. But her gaze was not on the bridegroom, with his manly, sunburnt
face, round which curled a black beard, and whose dark fiery eyes were fixed
upon her; but away from him, at a twinkling star, that shone down upon her from
the sky. Then was heard the sound of rushing wings beating the air. The storks
were coming home; and the old stork pair, although tired with the journey and
requiring rest, did not fail to fly down at once to the balustrades of the verandah,
for they knew already what feast was being celebrated. They had heard of it
on the borders of the land, and also that Helga had caused their figures to
be represented on the walls, for they belonged to her history.

“I call that very sensible and pretty,” said stork-papa.

“Yes, but it is very little,” said mamma stork; “they could not possibly have
done less.”

But, when Helga saw them, she rose and went out into the verandah to stroke
the backs of the storks. The old stork pair bowed their heads, and curved their
necks, and even the youngest among the young ones felt honored by this reception.

Helga continued to gaze upon the glittering star, which seemed to glow brighter
and purer in its light; then between herself and the star floated a form, purer
than the air, and visible through it. It floated quite near to her, and she
saw that it was the dead Christian priest, who also was coming to her wedding
feast—coming from the heavenly kingdom.

“The glory and brightness, yonder, outshines all that is known on earth,” said

Then Helga the fair prayed more gently, and more earnestly, than she had ever
prayed in her life before, that she might be permitted to gaze, if only for
a single moment, at the glory and brightness of the heavenly kingdom. Then she
felt herself lifted up, as it were, above the earth, through a sea of sound
and thought; not only around her, but within her, was there light and song,
such as words cannot express.

“Now we must return;” he said; “you will be missed.”

“Only one more look,” she begged; “but one short moment more.”

“We must return to earth; the guests will have all departed. Only one more
look!—the last!”

Then Helga stood again in the verandah. But the marriage lamps in the festive
hall had been all extinguished, and the torches outside had vanished. The storks
were gone; not a guest could be seen; no bridegroom—all in those few short moments
seemed to have died. Then a great dread fell upon her. She stepped from the
verandah through the empty hall into the next chamber, where slept strange warriors.
She opened a side door, which once led into her own apartment, but now, as she
passed through, she found herself suddenly in a garden which she had never before
seen here, the sky blushed red, it was the dawn of morning. Three minutes only
in heaven, and a whole night on earth had passed away! Then she saw the storks,
and called to them in their own language.

Then stork-papa turned his head towards here, listened to her words, and drew
near. “You speak our language,” said he, “what do you wish? Why do you appear,—you—a
strange woman?”

“It is I—it is Helga! Dost thou not know me? Three minutes ago we were speaking
together yonder in the verandah.”

“That is a mistake,” said the stork, “you must have dreamed all this.”

“No, no,” she exclaimed. Then she reminded him of the Viking’s castle, of the
great lake, and of the journey across the ocean.

Then stork-papa winked his eyes, and said, “Why that’s an old story which happened
in the time of my grandfather. There certainly was a princess of that kind here
in Egypt once, who came from the Danish land, but she vanished on the evening
of her wedding day, many hundred years ago, and never came back. You may read
about it yourself yonder, on a monument in the garden. There you will find swans
and storks sculptured, and on the top is a figure of the princess Helga, in

And so it was; Helga understood it all now, and sank on her knees. The sun
burst forth in all its glory, and, as in olden times, the form of the frog vanished
in his beams, and the beautiful form stood forth in all its loveliness; so now,
bathed in light, rose a beautiful form, purer, clearer than air—a ray of brightness—from
the Source of light Himself. The body crumbled into dust, and a faded lotus-flower
lay on the spot on which Helga had stood.

“Now that is a new ending to the story,” said stork-papa; “I really never expected
it would end in this way, but it seems a very good ending.”

“And what will the young ones say to it, I wonder?” said stork-mamma.

“Ah, that is a very important question,” replied the stork.