Saturday, April 5, 2014
The end: The Story of a boy who went forth to learn fear
On the third night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly, "If only I could shudder!"
When it was late, six large men came in carrying a coffin. At this he said, "Aha, for certain that is my little cousin, who died a few days ago." Then he motioned with his finger and cried out, "Come, little cousin, come."
They put the coffin on the ground. He went up to it and took the lid off. A dead man lay inside. He felt his face, and it was cold as ice.
"Wait," he said, "I will warm you up a little." He went to the fire and warmed his own hand, then laid it on the dead man's face, but the dead man remained cold. Then he took him out, sat down by the fire, and laid him on his lap, rubbing the dead man's arms to get the blood circulating again.
When that did not help either, he thought to himself, "When two people lie in bed together, they keep each other warm." So he carried the dead man to the bed, put him under the covers, and lay down next to him. A little while later the dead man became warm too and began to move.
The boy said, "See, little cousin, I got you warm, didn't I?"
But the dead man cried out, "I am going to strangle you."
"What?" he said. "Is that my thanks? Get back into your coffin!" Then he picked him up, threw him inside, and shut the lid. Then the six men came and carried him away again.
"I cannot shudder," he said. "I won't learn it here as long as I live."
Then a man came in. He was larger than all others, and looked frightful. But he was old and had a long white beard.
"You wretch," he shouted, "you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, for you are about to die."
"Not so fast," answered the boy. "If I am to die, I will have to be there."
"I've got you," said the monster.
"Now, now, don't boast. I am just as strong as you are, and probably even stronger."
"We shall see," said the old man. "If you are stronger than I am, I shall let you go. Come, let's put it to the test."
Then the old man led him through dark passageways to a blacksmith's forge, took an ax, and with one blow drove one of the anvils into the ground.
"I can do better than that," said the boy, and went to the other anvil. The old man stood nearby, wanting to look on. His white beard hung down. The boy seized the ax and split the anvil with one blow, wedging the old man's beard in the crack.
"Now I have you," said the boy. "Now it is your turn to die." Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man until he moaned and begged him to stop, promising that he would give him great riches. The boy pulled out the ax and released him. The old man led him back into the castle, and showed him three chests full of gold in a cellar.
"Of these," he said, "one is for the poor, the second one is for the king, and the third one is yours."
Meanwhile it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared, leaving the boy standing in the dark. "I can find my own way out," he said. Feeling around, he found his way to the bedroom, and fell asleep by his fire.
The next morning the king came and said, "By now you must have learned how to shudder."
"No," he answered. "What is it? My dead cousin was here, and a bearded man came and showed me a large amount of money down below, but no one showed me how to shudder."
Then the king said, "You have redeemed the castle, and shall marry my daughter."
"That is all very well," said the boy, "but I still do not know how to shudder."
Then the gold was brought up, and the wedding celebrated, but however much the young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still was always saying, "If only I could shudder. If only I could shudder." With time this made her angry.
Her chambermaid said, "I can help. I know how he can learn to shudder."
She went out to the brook that flowed through the garden, and caught a whole bucketful of minnows. That night when the young king was asleep, his wife was to pull the covers off him and pour the bucketful of cold water and minnows onto him, so that the little fishes would wriggle all over him.
When she did this, he woke up crying out, "Oh, what is making me shudder? What is making me shudder, dear wife? Yes, now I know how to shudder."
-- The end