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Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Marsh King's Daughter - Part 4

'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

'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

'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 he.

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

'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 marble.'

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

'Ah, that is a very important question,' replied the

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