Reading time for children: 17 min
The brother took his sister’s hand and said to her, „Since our mother died we have had no good days; our stepmother beats us every day, and if we go near her she kicks us away; we have nothing to eat but hard crusts of bread left over; the dog under the table fares better,“ he gets a good piece every now and then. If our mother only knew, how she would pity us! Come, let us go together out into the wide world!“ So they went, and journeyed the whole day through fields and meadows and stony places, and if it rained the sister said, „The skies and we are weeping together.“ In the evening they came to a great wood, and they were so weary with hunger and their long journey, that they climbed up into a high tree and fell asleep.
The next morning, when they awoke, the sun was high in heaven, and shone brightly through the leaves. Then said the brother, „Sister, I am thirsty; if I only knew where to find a brook, that I might go and drink! I almost think that I hear one rushing.“
So the brother got down and led his sister by the hand, and they went to seek the brook. But their wicked stepmother was a witch, and had known quite well that the two children had run away, and had sneaked after them, as only witches can, and had laid a spell on all the brooks in the forest.
So when they found a little stream flowing smoothly over its pebbles, the brother was going to drink of it; but the sister heard how it said in its rushing, „He a tiger will be who drinks of me, Who drinks of me a tiger will be!“
Then the sister cried, „Pray, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a wild beast, and will tear me in pieces.“
So the brother refrained from drinking, though his thirst was great, and he said he would wait till he came to the next brook. When they came to a second brook the sister heard it say, „He a wolf will be who drinks of me, Who drinks of me a wolf will be!“
Then the sister cried, „Pray, dear brother, do not drink, or you will be turned into a wolf, and will eat me up!“
So the brother refrained from drinking, and said, „I will wait until we come to the next brook, and then I must drink, whatever you say; my thirst is so great.“
And when they came to the third brook the sister heard how in its rushing it said, „Who drinks of me a fawn will be, He a fawn will be who drinks of me!“
Then the sister said, „O my brother, I pray drink not, or you will be turned into a fawn, and run away far from me.“
But he had already kneeled by the side of the brook and stooped and drunk of the water, and as the first drops passed his lips he became a fawn.
And the sister wept over her poor lost brother, and the fawn wept also, and stayed sadly beside her. At last the maiden said, „Be comforted, dear fawn, indeed I will never leave you.“ Then she untied her golden girdle and bound it round the fawn’s neck, and went and gathered rushes to make a soft cord, which she fastened to him; and then she led him on, and they went deeper into the forest. And when they had gone a long long way, they came at last to a little house, and the maiden looked inside, and as it was empty she thought, „We might as well live here.“ And she fetched leaves and moss to make a soft bed for the fawn, and every morning she went out and gathered roots and berries and nuts for herself, and fresh grass for the fawn, who ate out of her hand with joy, frolicking round her. At night, when the sister was tired, and had said her prayers, she laid her head on the fawn’s back, which served her for a pillow, and softly fell asleep. And if only the brother could have got back his own shape again, it would have been a charming life.
So they lived a long while in the wilderness alone. Now it happened that the King of that country held a great hunt in the forest. The blowing of the horns, the barking of the dogs, and the lusty shouts of the huntsmen sounded through the wood, and the fawn heard them and was eager to be among them.
„Oh,“ said he to his sister,“ do let me go to the hunt; I cannot stay behind any longer,“ and begged so long that at last she consented.
„But mind,“ said she to him,“ come back to me at night. I must lock my door against the wild hunters, so, in order that I may know you, you must knock and say, ‚ Little sister, let me in,‘ and unless I hear that I shall not unlock the door.“ Then the fawn sprang out, and felt glad and merry in the open air. The King and his huntsmen saw the beautiful animal, and began at once to pursue him, but they could not come within reach of him, for when they thought they were certain of him he sprang away over the bushes and disappeared.
As soon as it was dark he went back to the little house, knocked at the door, and said, „Little sister, let me in.“ Then the door was opened to him, and he went in, and rested the whole night long on his soft bed.
The next morning the hunt began anew, and when the fawn heard the hunting-horns and the tally-ho of the huntsmen he could rest no longer, and said, „Little sister, let me out, I must go“
The sister opened the door and said, „Now, mind you must come back at night and say the same words.“ When the King and his hunters saw the fawn with the golden collar again, they chased him closely, but he was too nimble and swift for them.
This lasted the whole day, and at last the hunters surrounded him, and one of them wounded his foot a little, so that he was obliged to limp and to go slowly. Then a hunter slipped after him to the little house, and heard how he called out,“ Little sister, let me in,“ and saw the door open and shut again after him directly., The hunter noticed all this carefully, went to the King, and told him all he had seen and heard. Then said the King, „To-morrow we will hunt again.“
But the sister was very terrified when she saw that her fawn was wounded. She washed his foot, laid cooling leaves round it, and said,“ Lie down on your bed, dear fawn, and rest, that you may be soon well.“ The wound was very slight, so that the fawn felt nothing of it the next morning. And when he heard the noise of the hunting outside, he said, „I cannot stay in, I must go after them; I shall not be taken easily again!“
The sister began to weep, and said, „I know you will be killed, and I left alone here in the forest, and forsaken of everybody. I cannot let you go!“
„Then I shall die here with longing,“ answered the fawn;“ when I hear the sound of the horn I feel as if I should leap out of my skin.“
Then the sister, seeing there was no help for it, unlocked the door with a heavy heart, and the fawn bounded away into the forest, well and merry.
When the King saw him, he said to his hunters, „Now, follow him up all day long till the night comes, and see that you do him no hurt.“ So as soon as the sun had gone down, the King said to the huntsmen:“ Now, come and show me the little house in the wood.“ And when he got to the door he knocked at it, and cried, „Little sister, let me in!“ Then the door opened, and the King went in, and there stood a maiden more beautiful than any he had seen before. The maiden shrieked out when she saw, instead of the fawn, a man standing there with a gold crown on his head.
But the King looked kindly on her, took her by the hand, and said, „Will you go with me to my castle, and be my dear wife?“
„Oh yes,“ answered the maiden, „but the fawn must come too. I could not leave him.“ And the King said, „He shall remain with you as long as you live, and shall lack nothing.“ Then the fawn came bounding in, and the sister tied the cord of rushes to him, and led him by her own hand out of the little house.
The King put the beautiful maiden on his horse, and carried her to his castle, where the wedding was held with great pomp; so she became lady Queen, and they lived together happily for a long while; the fawn was well tended and cherished, and he gambolled about the castle garden.
Now the wicked stepmother, whose fault it was that the children were driven out into the world, never dreamed but that the sister had been eaten up by wild beasts in the forest, and that the brother, in the likeness of a fawn, had been slain by the hunters. But when she heard that they were so happy, and that things had gone so well with them, jealousy and envy arose in her heart, and left her no peace, and her chief thought was how to bring misfortune upon them. Her own daughter, who was as ugly as sin, and had only one eye, complained to her, and said, „I never had the chance of being a Queen.“
„Never mind,“ said the old woman, to satisfy her;“ when the time comes, I shall be at hand.“ After a while the Queen brought a beautiful baby-boy into the world, and that day the King was out hunting. The old witch took the shape of the bedchamber woman, and went into the room where the Queen lay, and said to her, „Come, the bath is ready; it will give you refreshment and new strength. Quick, or it will be cold.“ Her daughter was within call, so they carried the sick Queen into the bath-room, and left her there. And in the bath-room they had made a great fire, so as to suffocate the beautiful young Queen.
When that was managed, the old woman took her daughter, put a cap on her, and laid her in the bed in the Queen’s place, gave her also the Queen’s form and countenance, only she could not restore the lost eye. So, in order that the King might not remark it, she had to lie on the side where there was no eye. In the evening, when the King came home and heard that a little son was born to him, he rejoiced with all his heart, and was going at once to his dear wife’s bedside to see how she did. Then the old woman cried hastily, „For your life, do not draw back the curtains, to let in the light upon her; she must be kept quiet.“ So the King went away, and never knew that a false Queen was lying in the bed.
Now, when it was midnight, and every one was asleep, the nurse, who was sitting by the cradle in the nursery and watching there alone, saw the door open, and the true Queen come in. She took the child out of the cradle, laid it in her bosom, and fed it. Then she shook out its little pillow, put the child back again, and covered it with the coverlet. She did not forget the fawn either: she went to him where he lay in the corner, and stroked his back tenderly. Then she went in perfect silence out at the door, and the nurse next morning asked the watchmen if any one had entered the castle during the night, but they said they had seen no one.
And the Queen came many nights, and never said a word; the nurse saw her always, but she did not dare speak of it to any one.
After some time had gone by in this manner, the Queen seemed to find voice, and said one night,
„My child my fawn twice more I come to see,
Twice more I come, and then the end must be.“
The nurse said nothing, but as soon as the Queen had disappeared she went to the King and told him all. The King said, „Ah, heaven! what do I hear! I will myself watch by the child to-morrow night.“ So at evening he went into the nursery, and at midnight the Queen appeared, and said,
„My child my fawn once more I come to see,
Once more I come, and then the end must be.“
And she tended the child, as she was accustomed to do, before she vanished. The King dared not speak to her, but he watched again the following night, and heard her say,
„My child my fawn this once I come to see,
This once I come, and now the end must be.“
Then the King could contain himself no longer, but rushed towards her, saying, „You are no other than my dear wife!“
Then she answered, „Yes, I am your dear wife,“ and in that moment, by the grace of heaven, her life returned to her, and she was once more well and strong. Then she told the King the snare that the wicked witch and her daughter had laid for her.
The King had them both brought to judgment, and sentence was passed upon them. The daughter was sent away into the wood, where she was devoured by the wild beasts, and the witch was burned, and ended miserably. And as soon as her body was in ashes the spell was removed from the fawn, and he took human shape again; and then the sister and brother lived happily together until the end.