Kaethchen And The Kobold
: Fairy Tales From The German Forests
Half-way up the long steep hill that leads from Soden to Koenigstein, a
rough road branches off to the left, plunging suddenly into a valley,
and passing through the little village of Altenhain. As you walk down
this steep rocky incline, the Taunus Mountains rise up grand and high in
At the bottom of the hill lies Altenhain, an ordinary enough Taunus
village, save for the beautiful
shrine that stands on the high road.
There a Crucifix hangs between two enormous poplar trees, one of the
most beautiful natural altars in the world. The trees are tall and
pointed like church spires, the trunks venerable with age. May the
lightning spare these grand old trees, and the winds play gently through
In this village lived a schoolmaster with his wife and family consisting
of a daughter, twelve years old, and a baby boy. They were not really
poor; for, besides their income, they had a piece of land to grow
potatoes and vegetables; also a strip of vineyard and fine strawberry
fields on the Dachberg, the produce of which they sold in Frankfurt for
a good price. Moreover, they kept pigs and chickens and geese, and two
dear little goats that gave them milk.
On a fine September day Kaethchen (that was the daughter's name) was on
the Dachberg, helping her parents to gather up the potatoes for the
winter. Two sacks stood already full, looking from a distance like funny
old peasants. Kaethe liked to watch the potato fires that are lit to burn
the refuse of the plants, smouldering and crackling in the dry autumn
air, and the smoke curling up in the clear sky.
It was now about five o'clock, and as she had worked all day, she was
tired and began to groan and grumble. So her mother said: "Hurry up and
go home now, child, before it gets dark. Fetch the baby (the neighbours
had taken charge of it for the day), light the fire, put on the kettle,
and peel and boil the potatoes for supper."
Kaethe was only too glad to be let off; her tiredness soon vanished as
she flew down the steep, grassy slope of the Dachberg, slipping and
tumbling every minute. The sun was low, and glowed through the pines and
larches, which stand here together, making a wonderful contrast.
Kaethe found her way across the wet emerald field coloured with patches
of exquisite lilac from the autumn crocuses growing there in thousands,
hanging out their cheeky little orange tongues. She sang and shouted for
joy, and a feeling half sadness, half exhilaration, that comes to us
often at the twilight, came over her. She wore a little red skirt and
loose cotton blouse, and a tidy pinafore put on in order to cover her
soiled frock on the way home. Her hair was ash blonde, and braided in
two plaits round her head. Her eyes were dark and deep-set, and were a
strange contrast to her hair. She passed over the tiny bridge where the
brook crosses the field, and gathered a bunch of wild flowers,
meadowsweet and harebells, water forget-me-nots and ragged robin, and
made a pretty nosegay. She also picked a graceful spray of hops, the
leaves slightly tinged with red, and wound it in and out of her hair.
She had forgotten the baby and the supper and all the things for which
she was responsible, and was just a little maiden living in her own
Now the path wound close by the pine woods, and the air seemed to grow
chillier and more solemn. She saw great white clouds resting on the
Dachberg above her. She seemed so far away, down in this valley and so
alone. But she knew that her father and mother were near, probably
watching her from the hill-top; it was silly to be frightened, she knew
the way so well.
Suddenly something sprang out of the bushes on to the path in front of
her. She gave a great jump, but then so did he and she saw that it was
only an old green frog. He cheered her up at once, and she began to poke
at him with a stick and to sing:
"The frog sits in the rushes,
The funny fat old man,
And sings his evening ditties
As sweetly as he can,
But as suddenly as he had appeared on the scene, the frog vanished again
with a leap and a bound into the dark waters of the little brook that
ran along by the side of the way.
Then she heard a rustling of the bushes and saw a little red squirrel
peering at her with his bright, inquisitive eyes. Round and round the
tree-trunk he went, enjoying himself thoroughly, and making fun of
Kaethchen, playing peep-bo like a baby.
The sun glowed through the tree trunks. It must be about six o'clock. "I
must hurry up or supper will not be ready when my father and mother come
home," she thought.
She then became aware of the sound of footsteps coming towards her along
"Probably a peasant from Altenhain," she thought, and was pleased to
think of meeting a friend. But the footsteps sounded strange and light,
more like the pattering of raindrops through leaves, and then for a
moment, she turned giddy; it seemed to her as if the trees were really
rushing past her, as they seem to do when we look at them out of a
railway carriage. One of the young oak trees seemed to be running
towards her down the path; but as she looked more closely, and her head
became steadier, she saw that it was a boy a little older than herself,
who came running towards her, and very queer he looked.
He had a great mass of brown curly hair tumbling about his head; green
ears--it seemed to her, could it be possible? No, it must be that he
had stuck oak leaves into his curly locks for ornament, pretty oak
leaves tinged with soft red. Moreover he had the bluest and strangest
eyes she had ever seen. They shone like wonderful jewels at one moment,
and then turned dull and opaque and looked almost dead. He had on rough
green trousers, and a white shirt with yellow embroidered braces; his
feet were bare and very brown. When he saw Kaethe, he gave a wild kind of
Indian whoop, and danced round and round her, much to the poor child's
dismay, his eyes flashing all sorts of colours. Her heart beat fast, but
not a word or sound would come out of her mouth.
The boy then made a deep bow, and took her by the hand. Soon he had his
long arms round her waist and was trying to kiss her.
Kaethe began to cry with fear and indignation, "You rude, naughty boy,"
she said, "I will tell my mother of you."
The imp seemed much surprised, caught one of her tears on his finger,
held it up to the light and then sucked it, making funny faces all the
time. Kaethe could not help laughing, and then she dried her tears with a
corner of her apron. She sat down on a tree-trunk for a moment and tried
Immediately the boy sat by her, and begged her to give him a kiss. He
looked quite nice and pretty for the moment, and Kaethe thought she had
better do as he wished, or he might begin his antics again. So she gave
him a motherly kiss, just as she would give to her baby brother, smack!
on the cheek. Immediately the queer look went out of his eyes, and a
more human expression took its place.
"Kaethe," he said, "Kaethe, I am but a lonely little imp of the forest,
but I love you, Kaethe, and I want you to marry me, and live with me
always, and be my own little wife. Will you, O will you? O do, do,
do," he said, dancing up and down in wild excitement.
"O goodness gracious me, you are certainly quite crazy," said Kaethe, "I
will tell my mother of you!" She began to cry again, and smacked him
whenever he tried to come near her.
Then he seized her by the hand and dragged her after him into the wild
woods, till they were lost in the forest.
"O dear, O dear, whatever shall I do? what will mother say when she
finds no Kaethe, no supper, and no baby. Boo-o-o-o!"
"Never mind," said our imp consolingly, "you can't help it now, you have
run away with me you see."
"I didn't, indeed I didn't," interrupted Kaethe indignantly.
"I will send a moonshine Kaethchen to take your place for the night. You
are fond of dreaming, aren't you?"
"O yes, mother often calls me 'Traeum Lies' (Dreaming Liese)."
"Well then, it's all right, she will not notice anything, and you and I
will have fine times together. If you won't marry me, at least, we can
get engaged you know, that will be fine fun."
"Hum----" said Kaethe, "that would be amusing. We might play at being
engaged! that would not matter."
"Have you a gold ring for me?"
"O we will go and buy one at the flower shop," said he.
"At the flower shop, that is a funny place to buy rings at," said
"Buttercups and dandelions melted to a yellow heat make splendid fairy
gold," he replied.
"Ah, then you really are a fairy!" said the little girl.
"Why of course, did you think I was a human child like you? What did
they teach you at school?"
"Reading, writing and arithmetic, history and geography and scripture
and sewing," said Kaethe.
"But not how to know a fairy when you see one, O my stars!" said our
"What is the good of learning
To read and write and sew,
To count and do addition
If fairies you don't know?
How do you know a fairy?
O by his glittering eye,
And by his light, light footsteps
You know when he goes by.
O what are school and lessons,
My little maiden, pray,
If to the land of fairy
They do not show the way?"
So he sang, and Kaethchen thought to herself: "I've always suspected that
we did not learn everything at school."
By this time her little head was completely turned; she thought no more
of supper or mother or baby, but only wondered with round eyes what
would happen next.
The moon shone brilliantly through the branches, and she noticed that
the trees began to move, and some of them quickly changed places.
"Have you ever seen the trees dance?" said our hero. We will call him
Green Ears; for I had forgotten to say that being a tree-imp, his ears
were shaped like oak leaves, and were green tinged with pinky red. It
was peculiar of course, but not so very noticeable on account of his
thick curly hair. He was able to move them if anything startled him, to
prick up his ears in very truth; then you saw that they really
belonged to him.
The trees did not wait for Kaethe to reply; they formed themselves in
long avenues and began a stately dance, something like a quadrille.
A soft fairy music was played by an invisible band. Squirrels sprang at
intervals from one tree to another, spreading out their bushy tails and
uttering strange cries like new-born babies.
Birds flew in and out singing and keeping time to the music and rhythm
of the dance. It was a strange sight, grotesque yet beautiful; the trees
took half human forms and faces; it was funny to see how they joined
hands (or branches) from time to time in the dance. After they had
watched for some time and the sport had become monotonous, Green Ears
took Kaethe to the top of the hill, and there they saw the beautiful
peaked mountain called the Rossert, bathed in the moonlight.
"Well, children, enjoying yourselves on this fine night, I hope?" said a
woman of tall and commanding presence. "Will you come home and have
supper with me? I am sure Green Ears has forgotten to offer you anything
Here she chucked him under his pointed chin.
The two children, fairy and human, turned and followed her, they felt
that she was a person of authority and must be obeyed. Her fair hair
fell in waving masses almost to her feet, it was covered with soft
feathers, as if she had recently been filling feather beds.
The children saw a lighted cottage before them, with red roof and
black-beamed walls like so many in the Taunus. A strong smell of
honeysuckle was wafted towards them.
"This is my wood cottage, it is quite close to the Rossert, as you see.
Some people call me the wood-woman, others Frau Holle," she said. "The
Old King (the mountain called Altkoenig) is my brother; Olle (slang in
German for old) or Holle, it is all the same, we are all relations in
the Taunus, you must know!"
In front of the house was a dear little garden. The moonlight shone
brightly on the flower-beds. The fairies were awake and peeped out with
the greatest interest as the children entered.
Over the door was written in letters made of light, like those beautiful
advertisements of beer and chocolate which so adorn the city of London
THIS WAY TO FAIRYLAND.
Kaethe felt that she was learning more in one night than in all her life
before of that strange dream-world on the borders of which we live.
The house was so neat and tidy, that it looked as if it had just been
spring-cleaned; the windows stood wide open, the moonlight streamed in.
A little table was laid for supper.
Frau Holle invited them to sit down and they did so at once.
Green Ears sat opposite to Kaethe staring at her with a wistful
expression of adoration and love in his eyes.
A chocolate pudding with cream and sugar and a bilberry jelly stood on
the table, also rolls which were thickly buttered and spread with
various kinds of fairy sausage purely vegetarian in character. Mugs of
delicious-looking milk were ready for each child.
But the supper reminded Kaethe of her home and she felt a little uneasy.
However she had at the bottom of all a comfortable feeling that all
was right. This is the way with many of our self-imposed troubles, big
people's as well as little people's. We groan and grumble, and express
our views that everything is very wrong, and the world is soon going to
the dogs, but at the bottom of all, we know that it is all right, and
that all things work together for good.
Green Ears began to fidget; he was like a little girl I know, and
could not sit still for more than one minute.
"Frau Holle," he said, "Frau Holle, Gracious Lady, we want to get
Frau Holle burst out laughing: "A mortal child and a Kobold of the
forest! nonsense, it's impossible!"
Kaethchen lifted up her brown eyes. "We might play at it," she said. "It
would be a beautiful game."
Frau Holle chuckled so much at this that she nearly upset the milk jug.
"How do people get engaged?" said Kaethe. "I have often thought about
it, but I never could imagine how they do it?"
"Didn't they teach you that at school either?" said Green Ears. "My
stars! What did they teach you at school?"
"Children," said the wood-woman, "children, do you mean it?"
"Certainly," said Green Ears.
"I think so," said Kaethe.
"Do you wish to buy rings?"
"O yes," decidedly from both children.
"Now listen; there is a passage from my house leading to the shops, most
convenient I assure you," said Frau Holle. "Everything delivered
punctually on the premises within one minute of purchasing it. No lifts
or motor-cars necessary. You see I know the ways of the world." So
saying she opened the back door, and they passed into a lane lighted by
many lamp-posts. These lamp-posts gave a very bright light and had queer
faces like the man in the moon. They grinned and winked as Green Ears
and Kaethchen went by.
It was a lovely fair; a fair in fairyland you may imagine how gorgeous
that must be!
There were stalls on which lay all sorts of tempting things, cakes,
sweet and toys. Kaethe felt sorry that she had no money.
At the flower stall they paused; the flowers were exquisitely arranged,
and out of each peeped a little Fee.
In big gold letters was written:
CONDENSED FLOWERS FOR SALE.
As Green Ears asked boldly for engagement rings, a fairy who stood
behind the stall, handed him two little gold rings made to fit any
finger; they were a new patent and self-adapting, the fairy said.
Green Ears was so pleased that he turned head over heels again and again
for joy, a funny proceeding for a would-be husband.
"Do you know how to get engaged," he said to the fairy.
"Why no, not exactly, but I have heard it is very simple," said she.
"Mother Holle (here she made a deep curtsy), Mother Holle knows all
Kaethe looked out of the corner of her eyes at her lover, and wished he
would behave with more dignity. Now he was cramming his mouth with
"Aren't you going to give me any?" she said.
"O my stars!" he said again, surprised; it had never struck him. Imps
are usually egoists; that is to say they think first of themselves.
There are exceptions, but this is the rule.
He went rapidly from stall to stall and returned with his arms full of
parcels done up in pink paper which he presented to Kaethchen with a low
bow. She accepted them with much delight and they fell to munching
chocolate together; it was a real bond of union, and they were not the
first sweethearts who discovered it.
They reached the end of the street and suddenly found themselves alone
once more on the slopes of the Altenhainer Thal or Valley.
Green Ears sat down by Kaethchen, and squeezed himself up closely to her.
"Give me your pretty little hand," he said. "Do you know which is the
"O yes!" Kaethchen knew that quite well, though I have heard that it is a
disputed point in Germany.
She stuck out her little hard-worked fingers, and he put the gold ring
on the third finger of the left hand. It fitted exactly and with a cry
of joy Kaethchen put the other on his long brown finger.
Then both the children laughed and clapped their hands, and danced
merrily about. "Now we are engaged," they cried, "really engaged to be
They made such a noise that the squirrels were cross and threw sticks at
them for disturbing their early-morning sleep.
Then, goodness knows why--let us call it reaction--Kaethe began to cry
again, great, big drops.
Green Ears was much puzzled.
"You are clever, now I can't do that," he said. "You must stay with
me always, and live with me in the woods, and be my own little
"O no," said Kaethe, "I should never be allowed to do that; I must go to
school every day, and then I have my exercises to do, and to help mother
with the housework; the baby to mind; and--O I am always so busy."
"I will come and help you," said Green Ears.
"But you can't, you are not real, you know," said Kaethe and began to
"Kaethchen," said Green Ears, and he looked quite serious and thinky all
at once. "Listen to me. I will go to the Old King; he is the ruler of
all the fairies here, and I will beg him to teach me how to become
human. It may be years before we meet again, for the way into your world
is very hard for me to find. Yes it is easier for you to find the way
into our world, than for us to enter yours; but cheer up, I will dare it
and do it for your sake! but O sweetheart wait for me; O wait for me!"
"Wait for me, my little sweetheart,
Till I come to you again,
Win the world for you, my sweetheart,
With its joy and with its pain.
Wait for me, my little sweetheart,
For when falling on the ground
I beheld those curious dewdrops
To your heart my heart was bound.
All my fairy life is nothing,
All my fairy joy I give,
Just to hold your hands, my sweetheart,
In your world with you to live.
Wait for me, my little sweetheart:
I will find the way to you,
As a grown man I will seek you,
Seek and find you ever true."
So singing they walked arm in arm through the long winding valley, till
the dawn approached like a golden bird opening its great wings to fly.
Kaethchen reached her cottage door. All was silent within. "Good-bye,"
she said, and their eyes met in one last farewell.
"Auf Wiedersehen!" said Green Ears (that pretty German farewell greeting
which means so much more than good-bye), and then he stole back down the
stony street, kissing his hands again and again to the little girl.
In some strange way Kaethchen passed through the door of her little
cottage; she had become for the time incorporeal; through the touch of a
fairy her body and soul had become loose, that is to say, and she was
able to enter the house as silently as a person in a dream. She went
through the kitchen and up the steep wooden stairs. It seemed to her as
if her feet did not touch the ground, she floated rather than walked.
She reached her own little attic, and saw the room as if it were a
picture, the square window-frame, the branches of the trees outside,
the old pictures on the walls that she was so fond of.
But what was her surprise to see herself curled up asleep in her big
The horror of it made her faint, and she remembered no more until she
found herself in her own bed under her own big feather sack. In order
that she should not forget her night's adventures, or think it was all
merely a dream, she found a ring of yellow grass wound tightly round her
third finger. From that hour, though the ring fell to pieces, the mark
of it was clearly to be seen on her finger. It was a fairy ring, you
Her mother apparently had not missed her, and the baby was as jolly as
"What was the matter with you last night, Kaethe?" said her mother.
"You were dreamier than ever; not a word could we get out of you. You
must have been tired out, you poor child!"
"But everything was all right, wasn't it, mother, the potatoes were
boiled and the supper ready?"
"Why of course you managed very nicely. Now hurry up and let us have
Now I feel sure that all the children who read this story will want to
know what happened to Kaethchen and Green Ears later on.
Did he really come back to visit her as a grown man?
Did they marry and live happy ever after?
Had he green ears as a mortal?
But alas the fairies who told me this story, have left these questions
unanswered, at all events for the present, so I can only guess at the
I think myself that Green Ears was pretty sure to succeed in his quest,
because if you want a thing intensely enough, you can usually get it.
They would make a rather funny married couple, that is true, and we will
hope that Green Ears did not turn head over heels on his marriage day.
But the fairies assure me that the trials necessary to pass through in
order to become a mortal, have a very sobering effect on the character,
and so we can think of Green Ears as quite different, though still
fascinating and charming.
I would have liked to be present at their wedding, wouldn't you?
"O joy when on this solid earth
Is heard the sound of fairy mirth!
O joy, when under earthly things
Is heard the sound of fairy wings,
When the impossible is true,
When I come back and marry you!"