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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

Anne Lisbeth

ANNE LISBETH was a beautiful young woman, with a red and
white complexion, glittering white teeth, and clear soft eyes;
and her footstep was light in the dance, but her mind was
lighter still. She had a little child, not at all pretty; so
he was put out to be nursed by a laborer's wife, and his
mother went to the count's castle. She sat in splendid rooms,
richly decorated with silk and velvet; not a breath of air was
allowed to blow upon her, and no one was allowed to speak to
her harshly, for she was nurse to the count's child. He was
fair and delicate as a prince, and beautiful as an angel; and
how she loved this child! Her own boy was provided for by
being at the laborer's where the mouth watered more frequently
than the pot boiled, and where in general no one was at home
to take care of the child. Then he would cry, but what nobody
knows nobody cares for; so he would cry till he was tired, and
then fall asleep; and while we are asleep we can feel neither
hunger nor thirst. Ah, yes; sleep is a capital invention.

As years went on, Anne Lisbeth's child grew apace like
weeds, although they said his growth had been stunted. He had
become quite a member of the family in which he dwelt; they
received money to keep him, so that his mother got rid of him
altogether. She had become quite a lady; she had a comfortable
home of her own in the town; and out of doors, when she went
for a walk, she wore a bonnet; but she never walked out to see
the laborer: that was too far from the town, and, indeed, she
had nothing to go for, the boy now belonged to these laboring
people. He had food, and he could also do something towards
earning his living; he took care of Mary's red cow, for he
knew how to tend cattle and make himself useful.

The great dog by the yard gate of a nobleman's mansion
sits proudly on the top of his kennel when the sun shines, and
barks at every one that passes; but if it rains, he creeps
into his house, and there he is warm and dry. Anne Lisbeth's
boy also sat in the sunshine on the top of the fence, cutting
out a little toy. If it was spring-time, he knew of three
strawberry-plants in blossom, which would certainly bear
fruit. This was his most hopeful thought, though it often came
to nothing. And he had to sit out in the rain in the worst
weather, and get wet to the skin, and let the cold wind dry
the clothes on his back afterwards. If he went near the
farmyard belonging to the count, he was pushed and knocked
about, for the men and the maids said he was so horrible ugly;
but he was used to all this, for nobody loved him. This was
how the world treated Anne Lisbeth's boy, and how could it be
otherwise. It was his fate to be beloved by no one. Hitherto
he had been a land crab; the land at last cast him adrift. He
went to sea in a wretched vessel, and sat at the helm, while
the skipper sat over the grog-can. He was dirty and ugly,
half-frozen and half-starved; he always looked as if he never
had enough to eat, which was really the case.

Late in the autumn, when the weather was rough, windy, and
wet, and the cold penetrated through the thickest clothing,
especially at sea, a wretched boat went out to sea with only
two men on board, or, more correctly, a man and a half, for it
was the skipper and his boy. There had only been a kind of
twilight all day, and it soon grew quite dark, and so bitterly
cold, that the skipper took a dram to warm him. The bottle was
old, and the glass too. It was perfect in the upper part, but
the foot was broken off, and it had therefore been fixed upon
a little carved block of wood, painted blue. A dram is a great
comfort, and two are better still, thought the skipper, while
the boy sat at the helm, which he held fast in his hard seamed
hands. He was ugly, and his hair was matted, and he looked
crippled and stunted; they called him the field-laborer's boy,
though in the church register he was entered as Anne Lisbeth's
son. The wind cut through the rigging, and the boat cut
through the sea. The sails, filled by the wind, swelled out
and carried them along in wild career. It was wet and rough
above and below, and might still be worse. Hold! what is that?
What has struck the boat? Was it a waterspout, or a heavy sea
rolling suddenly upon them?

'Heaven help us!' cried the boy at the helm, as the boat
heeled over and lay on its beam ends. It had struck on a rock,
which rose from the depths of the sea, and sank at once, like
an old shoe in a puddle. 'It sank at once with mouse and man,'
as the saying is. There might have been mice on board, but
only one man and a half, the skipper and the laborer's boy. No
one saw it but the skimming sea-gulls and the fishes beneath
the water; and even they did not see it properly, for they
darted back with terror as the boat filled with water and
sank. There it lay, scarcely a fathom below the surface, and
those two were provided for, buried, and forgotten. The glass
with the foot of blue wood was the only thing that did not
sink, for the wood floated and the glass drifted away to be
cast upon the shore and broken; where and when, is indeed of
no consequence. It had served its purpose, and it had been
loved, which Anne Lisbeth's boy had not been. But in heaven no
soul will be able to say, 'Never loved.'

Anne Lisbeth had now lived in the town many years; she was
called 'Madame,' and felt dignified in consequence; she
remembered the old, noble days, in which she had driven in the
carriage, and had associated with countess and baroness. Her
beautiful, noble child had been a dear angel, and possessed
the kindest heart; he had loved her so much, and she had loved
him in return; they had kissed and loved each other, and the
boy had been her joy, her second life. Now he was fourteen
years of age, tall, handsome, and clever. She had not seen him
since she carried him in her arms; neither had she been for
years to the count's palace; it was quite a journey thither
from the town.

'I must make one effort to go,' said Anne Lisbeth, 'to see
my darling, the count's sweet child, and press him to my
heart. Certainly he must long to see me, too, the young count;
no doubt he thinks of me and loves me, as in those days when
he would fling his angel-arms round my neck, and lisp 'Anne
Liz.' It was music to my ears. Yes, I must make an effort to
see him again.' She drove across the country in a grazier's
cart, and then got out, and continued her journey on foot, and
thus reached the count's castle. It was as great and
magnificent as it had always been, and the garden looked the
same as ever; all the servants were strangers to her, not one
of them knew Anne Lisbeth, nor of what consequence she had
once been there; but she felt sure the countess would soon let
them know it, and her darling boy, too: how she longed to see
him!

Now that Anne Lisbeth was at her journey's end, she was
kept waiting a long time; and for those who wait, time passes
slowly. But before the great people went in to dinner, she was
called in and spoken to very graciously. She was to go in
again after dinner, and then she would see her sweet boy once
more. How tall, and slender, and thin he had grown; but the
eyes and the sweet angel mouth were still beautiful. He looked
at her, but he did not speak, he certainly did not know who
she was. He turned round and was going away, but she seized
his hand and pressed it to her lips.

'Well, well,' he said; and with that he walked out of the
room. He who filled her every thought! he whom she loved best,
and who was her whole earthly pride!

Anne Lisbeth went forth from the castle into the public
road, feeling mournful and sad; he whom she had nursed day and
night, and even now carried about in her dreams, had been cold
and strange, and had not a word or thought respecting her. A
great black raven darted down in front of her on the high
road, and croaked dismally.

'Ah,' said she, 'what bird of ill omen art thou?'
Presently she passed the laborer's hut; his wife stood at the
door, and the two women spoke to each other.

'You look well,' said the woman; 'you're fat and plump;
you are well off.'

'Oh yes,' answered Anne Lisbeth.

'The boat went down with them,' continued the woman; 'Hans
the skipper and the boy were both drowned; so there's an end
of them. I always thought the boy would be able to help me
with a few dollars. He'll never cost you anything more, Anne
Lisbeth.'

'So they were drowned,' repeated Anne Lisbeth; but she
said no more, and the subject was dropped. She felt very
low-spirited, because her count-child had shown no inclination
to speak to her who loved him so well, and who had travelled
so far to see him. The journey had cost money too, and she had
derived no great pleasure from it. Still she said not a word
of all this; she could not relieve her heart by telling the
laborer's wife, lest the latter should think she did not enjoy
her former position at the castle. Then the raven flew over
her, screaming again as he flew.

'The black wretch!' said Anne Lisbeth, 'he will end by
frightening me today.' She had brought coffee and chicory with
her, for she thought it would be a charity to the poor woman
to give them to her to boil a cup of coffee, and then she
would take a cup herself.

The woman prepared the coffee, and in the meantime Anne
Lisbeth seated her in a chair and fell asleep. Then she
dreamed of something which she had never dreamed before;
singularly enough she dreamed of her own child, who had wept
and hungered in the laborer's hut, and had been knocked about
in heat and in cold, and who was now lying in the depths of
the sea, in a spot only known by God. She fancied she was
still sitting in the hut, where the woman was busy preparing
the coffee, for she could smell the coffee-berries roasting.
But suddenly it seemed to her that there stood on the
threshold a beautiful young form, as beautiful as the count's
child, and this apparition said to her, 'The world is passing
away; hold fast to me, for you are my mother after all; you
have an angel in heaven, hold me fast;' and the child-angel
stretched out his hand and seized her. Then there was a
terrible crash, as of a world crumbling to pieces, and the
angel-child was rising from the earth, and holding her by the
sleeve so tightly that she felt herself lifted from the
ground; but, on the other hand, something heavy hung to her
feet and dragged her down, and it seemed as if hundreds of
women were clinging to her, and crying, 'If thou art to be
saved, we must be saved too. Hold fast, hold fast.' And then
they all hung on her, but there were too many; and as they
clung the sleeve was torn, and Anne Lisbeth fell down in
horror, and awoke. Indeed she was on the point of falling over
in reality with the chair on which she sat; but she was so
startled and alarmed that she could not remember what she had
dreamed, only that it was something very dreadful.

They drank their coffee and had a chat together, and then
Anne Lisbeth went away towards the little town where she was
to meet the carrier, who was to drive her back to her own
home. But when she came to him she found that he would not be
ready to start till the evening of the next day. Then she
began to think of the expense, and what the distance would be
to walk. She remembered that the route by the sea-shore was
two miles shorter than by the high road; and as the weather
was clear, and there would be moonlight, she determined to
make her way on foot, and to start at once, that she might
reach home the next day.

The sun had set, and the evening bells sounded through the
air from the tower of the village church, but to her it was
not the bells, but the cry of the frogs in the marshes. Then
they ceased, and all around became still; not a bird could be
heard, they were all at rest, even the owl had not left her
hiding place; deep silence reigned on the margin of the wood
by the sea-shore. As Anne Lisbeth walked on she could hear her
own footsteps in the sands; even the waves of the sea were at
rest, and all in the deep waters had sunk into silence. There
was quiet among the dead and the living in the deep sea. Anne
Lisbeth walked on, thinking of nothing at all, as people say,
or rather her thoughts wandered, but not away from her, for
thought is never absent from us, it only slumbers. Many
thoughts that have lain dormant are roused at the proper time,
and begin to stir in the mind and the heart, and seem even to
come upon us from above. It is written, that a good deed bears
a blessing for its fruit; and it is also written, that the
wages of sin is death. Much has been said and much written
which we pass over or know nothing of. A light arises within
us, and then forgotten things make themselves remembered; and
thus it was with Anne Lisbeth. The germ of every vice and
every virtue lies in our heart, in yours and in mine; they lie
like little grains of seed, till a ray of sunshine, or the
touch of an evil hand, or you turn the corner to the right or
to the left, and the decision is made. The little seed is
stirred, it swells and shoots up, and pours its sap into your
blood, directing your course either for good or evil.
Troublesome thoughts often exist in the mind, fermenting
there, which are not realized by us while the senses are as it
were slumbering; but still they are there. Anne Lisbeth walked
on thus with her senses half asleep, but the thoughts were
fermenting within her.

From one Shrove Tuesday to another, much may occur to
weigh down the heart; it is the reckoning of a whole year;
much may be forgotten, sins against heaven in word and
thought, sins against our neighbor, and against our own
conscience. We are scarcely aware of their existence; and Anne
Lisbeth did not think of any of her errors. She had committed
no crime against the law of the land; she was an honorable
person, in a good position- that she knew.

She continued her walk along by the margin of the sea.
What was it she saw lying there? An old hat; a man's hat. Now
when might that have been washed overboard? She drew nearer,
she stopped to look at the hat; 'Ha! what was lying yonder?'
She shuddered; yet it was nothing save a heap of grass and
tangled seaweed flung across a long stone, but it looked like
a corpse. Only tangled grass, and yet she was frightened at
it. As she turned to walk away, much came into her mind that
she had heard in her childhood: old superstitions of spectres
by the sea-shore; of the ghosts of drowned but unburied
people, whose corpses had been washed up on the desolate
beach. The body, she knew, could do no harm to any one, but
the spirit could pursue the lonely wanderer, attach itself to
him, and demand to be carried to the churchyard, that it might
rest in consecrated ground. 'Hold fast! hold fast!' the
spectre would cry; and as Anne Lisbeth murmured these words to
herself, the whole of her dream was suddenly recalled to her
memory, when the mother had clung to her, and uttered these
words, when, amid the crashing of worlds, her sleeve had been
torn, and she had slipped from the grasp of her child, who
wanted to hold her up in that terrible hour. Her child, her
own child, which she had never loved, lay now buried in the
sea, and might rise up, like a spectre, from the waters, and
cry, 'Hold fast; carry me to consecrated ground!'

As these thoughts passed through her mind, fear gave speed
to her feet, so that she walked faster and faster. Fear came
upon her as if a cold, clammy hand had been laid upon her
heart, so that she almost fainted. As she looked across the
sea, all there grew darker; a heavy mist came rolling onwards,
and clung to bush and tree, distorting them into fantastic
shapes. She turned and glanced at the moon, which had risen
behind her. It looked like a pale, rayless surface, and a
deadly weight seemed to hang upon her limbs. 'Hold,' thought
she; and then she turned round a second time to look at the
moon. A white face appeared quite close to her, with a mist,
hanging like a garment from its shoulders. 'Stop! carry me to
consecrated earth,' sounded in her ears, in strange, hollow
tones. The sound did not come from frogs or ravens; she saw no
sign of such creatures. 'A grave! dig me a grave!' was
repeated quite loud. Yes, it was indeed the spectre of her
child. The child that lay beneath the ocean, and whose spirit
could have no rest until it was carried to the churchyard, and
until a grave had been dug for it in consecrated ground. She
would go there at once, and there she would dig. She turned in
the direction of the church, and the weight on her heart
seemed to grow lighter, and even to vanish altogether; but
when she turned to go home by the shortest way, it returned.
'Stop! stop!' and the words came quite clear, though they were
like the croak of a frog, or the wail of a bird. 'A grave! dig
me a grave!'

The mist was cold and damp, her hands and face were moist
and clammy with horror, a heavy weight again seized her and
clung to her, her mind became clear for thoughts that had
never before been there.

In these northern regions, a beech-wood often buds in a
single night and appears in the morning sunlight in its full
glory of youthful green. So, in a single instant, can the
consciousness of the sin that has been committed in thoughts,
words, and actions of our past life, be unfolded to us. When
once the conscience is awakened, it springs up in the heart
spontaneously, and God awakens the conscience when we least
expect it. Then we can find no excuse for ourselves; the deed
is there and bears witness against us. The thoughts seem to
become words, and to sound far out into the world. We are
horrified at the thought of what we have carried within us,
and at the consciousness that we have not overcome the evil
which has its origin in thoughtlessness and pride. The heart
conceals within itself the vices as well as the virtues, and
they grow in the shallowest ground. Anne Lisbeth now
experienced in thought what we have clothed in words. She was
overpowered by them, and sank down and crept along for some
distance on the ground. 'A grave! dig me a grave!' sounded
again in her ears, and she would have gladly buried herself,
if in the grave she could have found forgetfulness of her
actions.

It was the first hour of her awakening, full of anguish
and horror. Superstition made her alternately shudder with
cold or burn with the heat of fever. Many things, of which she
had feared even to speak, came into her mind. Silently, as the
cloud-shadows in the moonshine, a spectral apparition flitted
by her; she had heard of it before. Close by her galloped four
snorting steeds, with fire flashing from their eyes and
nostrils. They dragged a burning coach, and within it sat the
wicked lord of the manor, who had ruled there a hundred years
before. The legend says that every night, at twelve o'clock,
he drove into his castleyard and out again. He was not as pale
as dead men are, but black as a coal. He nodded, and pointed
to Anne Lisbeth, crying out, 'Hold fast! hold fast! and then
you may ride again in a nobleman's carriage, and forget your
child.'

She gathered herself up, and hastened to the churchyard;
but black crosses and black ravens danced before her eyes, and
she could not distinguish one from the other. The ravens
croaked as the raven had done which she saw in the daytime,
but now she understood what they said. 'I am the raven-mother;
I am the raven-mother,' each raven croaked, and Anne Lisbeth
felt that the name also applied to her; and she fancied she
should be transformed into a black bird, and have to cry as
they cried, if she did not dig the grave. And she threw
herself upon the earth, and with her hands dug a grave in the
hard ground, so that the blood ran from her fingers. 'A grave!
dig me a grave!' still sounded in her ears; she was fearful
that the cock might crow, and the first red streak appear in
the east, before she had finished her work; and then she would
be lost. And the cock crowed, and the day dawned in the east,
and the grave was only half dug. An icy hand passed over her
head and face, and down towards her heart. 'Only half a
grave,' a voice wailed, and fled away. Yes, it fled away over
the sea; it was the ocean spectre; and, exhausted and
overpowered, Anne Lisbeth sunk to the ground, and her senses
left her.

It was a bright day when she came to herself, and two men
were raising her up; but she was not lying in the churchyard,
but on the sea-shore, where she had dug a deep hole in the
sand, and cut her hand with a piece of broken glass, whose
sharp stern was stuck in a little block of painted wood. Anne
Lisbeth was in a fever. Conscience had roused the memories of
superstitions, and had so acted upon her mind, that she
fancied she had only half a soul, and that her child had taken
the other half down into the sea. Never would she be able to
cling to the mercy of Heaven till she had recovered this other
half which was now held fast in the deep water.

Anne Lisbeth returned to her home, but she was no longer
the woman she had been. Her thoughts were like a confused,
tangled skein; only one thread, only one thought was clear to
her, namely that she must carry the spectre of the sea-shore
to the churchyard, and dig a grave for him there; that by so
doing she might win back her soul. Many a night she was missed
from her home, and was always found on the sea-shore waiting
for the spectre.

In this way a whole year passed; and then one night she
vanished again, and was not to be found. The whole of the next
day was spent in a useless search after her.

Towards evening, when the clerk entered the church to toll
the vesper bell, he saw by the altar Anne Lisbeth, who had
spent the whole day there. Her powers of body were almost
exhausted, but her eyes flashed brightly, and on her cheeks
was a rosy flush. The last rays of the setting sun shone upon
her, and gleamed over the altar upon the shining clasps of the
Bible, which lay open at the words of the prophet Joel, 'Rend
your hearts and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord.'

'That was just a chance,' people said; but do things
happen by chance? In the face of Anne Lisbeth, lighted up by
the evening sun, could be seen peace and rest. She said she
was happy now, for she had conquered. The spectre of the
shore, her own child, had come to her the night before, and
had said to her, 'Thou hast dug me only half a grave: but thou
hast now, for a year and a day, buried me altogether in thy
heart, and it is there a mother can best hide her child!' And
then he gave her back her lost soul, and brought her into the
church. 'Now I am in the house of God,' she said, 'and in that
house we are happy.'

When the sun set, Anne Lisbeth's soul had risen to that
region where there is no more pain; and Anne Lisbeth's
troubles were at an end.



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