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Children Of Kings
Haensel And Gretel
Lohengrin The Knight Of The Swan
Tannhaeuser The Minstrel Knight
The Flying Dutchman
The Master Singers


Great Opera Stories




Children Of Kings








I

Once upon a time, in a lonely glade between high mountains far, far
above the World of Men, there stood a hut. It was a miserable,
tumbledown, little hut, and the mosses of many summers clung to its
sloping roof. It had a bent stovepipe where its chimney should have
been, a slanting board in place of a doorstep, and just one, poor,
little, broken window.

Yet it was not its forlorn appearance alone that made the hut hide
behind the shadows of the grim forest, far away from the sight of man.
It had more, much more than that to be ashamed of. For a hideous Witch
lived there,--and with her, a Goosegirl.

They lived alone, those two,--the Goosegirl, with the joy of youth in
her heart; and the Witch, unmindful of joy or youth, thinking only of
magic and evil and hate. While the Goosegirl had been growing from
babyhood to girlhood, from girlhood to womanhood, dreaming and wondering
and wishing,--she knew not what,--the Witch had been trying to make her
as ugly and as wicked as herself. But try as she would, the heart of the
Goosegirl was so pure that evil could find no spot in it to lodge. As
for her face, each passing year left it lovelier than the last. The
sunshine was no brighter than her yellow hair, the sky no bluer than her
clear blue eyes. The lone lily before the hut envied the whiteness of
her skin, and the birch tree in the woods, the slenderness of her form.

Now it chanced upon a sunny afternoon in summer that the Goosegirl lay
on her back in the long grass before the hut. Now and then she tossed a
handful of corn to her quacking geese or played with a wreath of wild
daisies. But her thoughts were far away. Her eyes were full of the
wonder of things,--of the sun that shone, the brook that laughed, the
flowers that bloomed, the birds that sang, and the blue sky over all.
And her dreams were full of the World of Men, which she had never seen
and to which she longed to go. Something within her whispered that
happiness was to be found there, and the Goosegirl desired happiness
above all things. And she desired kindness and love, too, although she
had never heard of them, and did not know what they were.

As far back as she could remember, ever since she was a tiny little
child, the Goosegirl had lived in the wretched hut. And the hideous
Witch had been her only companion. The Goosegirl wondered whether all
the people in the World of Men had such gruesome bodies, such ugly
faces, such evil ways, as the Witch. She had never seen any one else, so
she could not tell. For fear of the Witch no one had ever come that way.
Winter and summer, summer and winter, it had always been the same.

The Goosegirl's dreams were suddenly interrupted by the hoarse voice of
the Witch.

"Where are you, good-for-naught?" came from the doorway. "Idle, I'll be
bound, when there's work to be done!"

The Goosegirl turned her eyes toward the figure of the Witch, and,
familiar as it was, for the thousandth time she shuddered with disgust.
The crooked back, the burning eyes peering out from under the tangled
hair, the rags, the ugliness,--oh, must she always stay? She arose
slowly and walked toward the door. With hands outstretched she begged
the hideous creature to set her free and to let her go down to the World
of Men to seek for happiness.

"I will never become a Witch," she implored. "Oh, please let me go."

The Witch's crooked mouth widened into a horrible smile. One yellow
tooth stuck out.

"Not make a Witch of you, indeed! Wait and see! I'll bend your proud
back!" Then brandishing her cane, she muttered savagely:

"Get to work. There's bread to knead!"

The frightened Goosegirl ran for bowl and flour, and set to work.
Meanwhile the Witch took out some dark powders. She mumbled strange
words over them, and while the Goosegirl, with busy hands but unseeing
eyes, kneaded and kneaded and kneaded, the Witch poured the powders into
the dough. Poor Goosegirl! Her bread was soon finished, but it was a
foul-smelling bread, and it contained enough poison to kill a dozen men.

Soon afterward the Witch, chuckling fiendishly, took up her basket and
hobbled away to the grim forest. But the Goosegirl, full of horror for
the deed she had been made to do, sat motionless, staring straight
ahead. Would her life never, never change? With a sigh she called to her
geese and wandered back to her place in the grass. Ah, that there should
be so much evil in such a beautiful world! She looked at the dancing
shadows of the fluttering leaves. They were beautiful. There was beauty
in the thin, blue line of smoke as it climbed lazily upward from the
broken chimney. Two turtledoves cooed above her head. The sunlight
shimmered upon the wings of the buzzing bumblebees and made them shine
like gold. All, all was beautiful. Were people the only ugly things? The
Goosegirl gazed toward the World of Men far, far below, and wondered.

Presently her fingers, wandering idly over the grass, found the wreath
of daisies. Idly she placed it upon her head.

"Look at me, geese!" she cried. "Look at me! Am I ugly, too?"

With the geese at her heels, she ran swiftly toward the pool and peered
earnestly into its clear depths. Her hair hung in long golden strands on
each side of her face, her eyes shone like stars, her cheeks were
flushed.

"Ah!" she exclaimed happily. "I am beautiful! Geese dear, I am
beautiful, very beautiful!" And she gazed and gazed again.

Suddenly a song broke the silence. The Goosegirl started. For it was a
song of youth and joy, the like of which she had never heard before in
all her life.

Then, down from the mountains, out of the woods, straight to that lonely
glade, came a youth, a ragged youth, but a noble youth, with a sword at
his side, a bundle on his back, and a smile on his lips. His bearing was
so proud, he looked so straight ahead, with eyes both fearless and true,
that the Goosegirl held her breath as he halted before her.

"Hey, pretty Queen of the Geese," he said. "How goes the world with you?
Have you no greeting for me?"

The Goosegirl continued to stare, saying nothing, her eyes wide with
wonder. Finally she found her voice, and in a whisper just loud enough
for him to hear, ventured timidly:

"Are you a man?"

"From top to toe!" exclaimed the youth, and laughed. How he laughed! He
threw back his head, his white teeth gleamed, and the distant hills rang
with the joyous sound. Even the Goosegirl was forced to smile at her own
ignorance.

Such merriment soon made them the best of friends, and before long,
seated side by side in the grass, the youth told the Goosegirl whence he
had come and whither he was roving.

A King's Son was he, of noble name and fortune. High up among the
mountains stood his father's castle, and there, amid the luxuries of the
court, he had been reared. But when he had grown old enough to wander,
the luxury had palled, the court life had fettered his free spirit. "Up
and away!" cried a summons from within his heart. And so, while no one
watched, he had stolen forth, with naught but a sword by his side, a
bundle on his back, and a song on his lips. And he had wandered over
the mountains, through the valleys, up and down, in and out, in search
of adventure.

The Goosegirl heard the marvelous tale to the end. Then in faltering
tones, but with shining eyes, she said slowly:

"Oh, that I might go with you!"

The youth smiled scornfully.

"King's Son and beggar maid!" exclaimed he, shaking his head. But as he
looked into her face he stopped short.

The nobility of her expression, her simple beauty, drew him nearer. Ah!
this was no beggar maid. There was something regal in the pose of that
golden head, the glance of those clear blue eyes. What a companion she
would make for now and forevermore! He forgot the rags, he forgot the
geese, he forgot the hut.

"Have you courage?" he asked, gazing at her searchingly.

In answer she placed her hand in his. So he took off her wreath of
white daisies and placed it within his jacket, close to his heart. And
he opened his bundle and drew forth a golden crown, which he placed upon
her head. Then crying:

"Up and away!" he led her to the edge of the grim wood.

At that instant, however, the sky began to darken with rushing clouds.
Broad flashes of lightning blazed forth, thunder rolled, and the wind
blew furiously through the trees. The geese flapped their wings in
terror and gathered about the Goosegirl. She stood still, staring before
her in fear. She was turned to stone. She could not move. Her feet were
fixed to the ground.

"What makes you stand so still and stare?" cried the King's Son.

"Oh, I am afraid!" answered the Goosegirl. "I cannot go! I am
bewitched!"

"Fear is but shame," declared the King's Son, angrily. "You have lied to
me. You are not fit to wander with a King's Son. You are only a beggar
maid, after all."

Then, overpowered by his wrath, he made ready to go, adding:

"Farewell. You shall never see me any more. No, never again, unless a
star from heaven falls into the lily yonder." And pointing to the lone
lily by the door of the hut, he rushed into the grim forest and was lost
to sight.


II

The Goosegirl, saddened, disheartened, hid her golden crown and dragged
herself wearily into the hut. The hideous Witch, returning with her
venomous load, soon followed. And evening came. All was still. But for
the thin column of smoke rising from the stovepipe one would not have
known that any life was there.

Just as the golden edge of the moon peeped over the eastern mountain a
loud song burst upon the air. And a moment later a Fiddler, clad in
leather jacket and boots, appeared, emerging from the grim wood. He
strode forth boldly as befitted an honest man who had nothing to fear.
Seeing the miserable, tumbledown hut with its smoking chimney, he
stopped.

"Ah, ha!" cried he. "Here's the journey's end." Then, looking back into
the woods and waving his cap, he shouted at the top of his voice:

"Come on, Master Wood-cutter. Come on, Master Broom-maker. Here's the
Witch's den. Come on!"

And Master Wood-cutter and Master Broom-maker came on. But how they
came! They slunk out of the woods in fear and trembling, teeth
chattering, knees shaking, eyes bulging. They took but one look at the
tumbledown hut and then made for the nearest tree, behind which they
cowered, shivering from head to toe.

"Not so loud! Not so loud! Master Fiddler, please. She may hear you,"
they protested.

"Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha!" laughed the Fiddler. "Don't you want her to hear
you? What did you come for, then, pray tell me?"

And so he half dragged, half pushed, the two cowardly braggarts toward
the Witch's door.

"You may knock first," said the polite Broom-maker through his
chattering teeth to the Wood-cutter.

"No, indeed. You may have the honor," responded the Wood-cutter, and his
knees knocked together as he bowed.

Since there was no way out of it, the Broom-maker moved toward the door.
He tapped once with the knuckle of his forefinger, gently, like a little
mouse. Then in a wee, small voice, he said:

"Good wife, won't you buy a broom?"

No answer came from within the hut.

Emboldened by the silence, Master Wood-cutter joined his comrade at the
door of the hut. Then he, too, rapped a little bit, just like a penny
hammer.

"Most honored wise-woman!" he whispered.

But no answer came. All was as still as before.

"There's no one at home," said both at once. And they strutted boldly to
and fro, grinning from ear to ear.

"Stand aside!" said the Fiddler.

He pushed them away and strode toward the door. With his clenched fist
he banged once, twice, thrice. And he lifted his voice. My, what a voice
it was! The very woods rang with the sound of it.

"Witch! Hag! Foul woman!" he shouted. "Open the door!"

There was a moment's silence. But presently the door creaked on its
rusty hinges, and there stood the Witch, in all her ugliness, leaning
upon a cane.

The Wood-cutter and the Broom-maker gave her one glance and then,
stricken with terror, they fled as fast as their legs could carry them
to the first tree. There they waited, trembling and quaking, to see what
the dread creature would do. They would not venture out, no, not they.
They had wives and children to care for, and it was no business for men
of their kind. No, indeed!

Meanwhile the Witch was croaking in her awful voice:

"Who comes here to my hut in the woods? Hey, fellows, what do you want?"

"What do I want?" mocked the Fiddler, who had bravely stood his ground.
Looking at her calmly, he dropped on one knee, with a comical smile:

"Ah, fair dame, those red, red eyes and that one yellow tooth of yours
have made me sick with love and longing. Listen to my suit, I pray."

The Witch looked at him in surprise as he rose to his feet. Could it be
that he was not afraid of her? He looked her straight in the eyes,
fearless and brave. So she scowled. He smiled. She shook her cane. He
laughed. Well! Well! Her magic was powerless against a man like that.
Let him tell his tale and be gone.

So it came to pass that the Fiddler called the Wood-cutter and the
Broom-maker and bade them state their business. But they bobbed and
scraped and hemmed and hawed and chattered and giggled so long that the
Fiddler had to come to the rescue.

The King of the World of Men had died, and since the King's Son had run
away and could not be found, there was no one to rule the town of
Hellabrun. So the people had sent the Wood-cutter and the Broom-maker to
ask the Wise-Witch what was to be done. They wanted a ruler straightway
and did not know where to find one.

The Witch pondered long, frowning savagely. Then she told the
Wood-cutter and the Broom-maker to go back and tell the people that the
first person who knocked at the town gate at noon on the morrow would be
worthy to wear the crown.

Pleased with this prophecy the Wood-cutter and the Broom-maker hurried
away through the grim forest toward the town of Hellabrun in the World
of Men.

But the Fiddler did not go. He had caught a glimpse of a golden head and
a pair of blue eyes at the window; and the sight of one so fair in such
a hut told him that there was work for him to do here.

"Why do you stay?" snarled the Witch. The Fiddler gave her a sharp
glance.

"I'm setting a snare for the little golden bird that you keep in the
hut."

The Witch started. She clenched her fist wrathfully, but her eyes fell
before his steady glance.

"Let out the golden bird," sang the Fiddler, cheerily, "or I will go in,
I will go in."

The Witch looked this way and that. She could not meet his eyes.
Muttering savagely, she hobbled toward the door. A moment later she
dragged forth the trembling Goosegirl.

The Fiddler was amazed. Such beauty! Such pride! She was fit to sit upon
a throne!

"Who are you, maiden?" he asked. "And how came you here?"

Slowly and sadly the words fell from the Goosegirl's lips. She knew not
who she was. The Witch had told her to call her "Grandmother." More than
that she could not say.

The Fiddler's eyes traveled from the Goosegirl to the hideous Witch and
back again. This fair maid kin to that foul creature! No, no, it was not
possible.

As if divining his thought, the Witch wagged her head maliciously and
sneered:

"No, she is no kin of mine. But worse, far worse. You may know all. A
hangman's daughter is she; that's it, a hangman's daughter."

"It is not true," shouted the Fiddler. Then turning to the weeping
Goosegirl, he cried:

"Believe her not. Look at your hands, girl, your white, white hands, and
your hair, your golden hair. There's nobility in your face. Believe in
yourself, and you will sit beside the King's Son on a throne. Be not
afraid. Pray, girl, pray!"

The Goosegirl fell upon her knees and lifted her eyes to heaven. Her
voice rose from the depths of her being and cried out to the mother and
father whom she had never seen. Her golden hair covered her like a
mantle, her face was radiant. Still kneeling, she held her crown of gold
toward heaven and prayed to God for help, for guidance, for strength.
And as she prayed, a shining star shot from heaven, downward, downward,
straight into the lone lily by the door of the hut.

The Goosegirl uttered a cry of joy. Putting the crown upon her head, she
arose, exclaiming:

"I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!"

Then, followed by her geese and the Fiddler, she rushed into the grim
wood toward the World of Men.


III

When morning dawned and the grim wood with all its terrors lay behind
the King's Son, he came at last to the town of Hellabrun in the World of
Men. Weary and footsore, faint from hunger and thirst, yet dauntless
still, he stopped before an inn near the town gate and begged for work.

"I would earn an honest penny," he said, "to buy my daily bread. Have
you any work for me?"

The innkeeper, who was a rough, ill-natured fellow, smiled with contempt
as he looked upon the white hands and noble face of the youth before
him. So he declared gruffly:

"All I need is a swineherd!"

"A swineherd!" The voice of the King's Son echoed the loathsome word,
while a look of disgust overspread his face. But only for a moment;
then, quick as thought, came the vision of the Goosegirl, so sweet and
fair despite her humble calling. "All work is noble to those that are of
noble mind," thought he. His hand stole to his heart and touched the
wreath of white daisies there.

"I will be your swineherd," he answered sturdily.

Then he seated himself beneath a tree to await the orders of the
innkeeper.

Now it happened to be a day of great excitement in Hellabrun, and as the
morning wore away, a chattering, restless crowd of people--men, women,
and even little children--assembled in the market place. With eager eyes
they scanned the two soldiers who, armed with long spears, stood on
guard before the closed and barred town gate.

There were lean men and fat men; men in rich clothes and men in rags.
There were tinkers and tailors, soldiers and sailors, and their wives
and their sweethearts. Here were wise doctors in black gowns, there
gray-bearded counselors leaning upon canes. Wee babes in arms crowed and
laughed, boys romped, girls danced. And all awaited the noontide hour
and the coming of their King.

"Will he ride upon a snow-white charger?" asked one.

"Nay, he will be carried aloft, seated upon a golden throne," replied
another.

"His robes will be of richest velvet," said a third.

"And a jeweled crown will be upon his head," said a fourth.

"Perhaps a beautiful queen with ropes of pearls about her neck will sit
upon the throne at his side," ventured a fifth.

"Tell us again what the Wise-Witch promised," called one from the crowd
to the Wood-cutter and the Broom-maker, who were strutting proudly to
and fro.

Nothing loath, Master Broom-maker and Master Wood-cutter pushed their
way to the front of the admiring crowd. Then they stood with heads high,
chests stuck out, feet wide apart and arms waving, and told their story
for the fiftieth time. And since with each telling the story had grown
and grown, it was a marvelous tale, indeed.

They told of the grim forest and the many dangers through which they had
passed before they arrived at the Witch's den.

"The woods were full of lions and tigers," said the Wood-cutter.

"But I felled every one with one mighty blow of my broom," said the
Broom-maker.

"And an ogre with fiery eyes sat behind each tree; and a dragon snorting
steam held guard before the den of the Witch. But we feared them not. We
slew them all. We went so boldly forward that the Witch quaked and hid
herself in fear when she saw us coming."

"'Tis not truth that you speak," cried out a young voice, and the crowd
fell back amazed at the sight of the King's Son. Who was this ragged
fellow who dared to interrupt the thrilling story? Down with him! And
they beat him with their sticks and pelted him with stones and called
him names. But just as they were about to drive him from the market
place the town clock struck the hour.

A sudden hush fell upon the crowd. The people stood still. With eager,
expectant faces turned toward the gate they waited, while the bell
pealed forth its twelve long notes. Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

It was noon!

The guards pulled out the long bolts. An excited murmur came from the
crowd. Then all was still, as still as before. The guards turned the
huge knobs. The door swung on its hinges, and there stood--a Goosegirl
and her flock of geese. Her feet were bare. Her dress was tattered and
torn. But her shining hair covered her like a mantle, and a golden
crown was upon her head. Her cheeks were red. Her eyes, glowing as from
an inner light, sought among the sea of faces, and found that of the
King's Son alone. Then, with arms outstretched, she walked slowly toward
him, crying softly:

"I have come to be your Queen."

Queen! The breathless crowd stared in amazement one moment longer. Then
the amazement gave way to laughter, the laughter to anger, the anger to
fury.

"Ha-ha-ha! This is no queen!" they shouted angrily. "We have been
fooled. This is only a Goosegirl. Strike her! Beat her!"

The King's Son enfolded the Goosegirl in his arms.

"Stop!" he cried to the mob. "I am a King's Son, and she is my Queen."

"Listen to the ragged fellow!" shouted the people. "He says he is a
King's Son! Ha-ha-ha! Stone them! Hit them! A Swineherd! A Goosegirl!
Drive them out! Out! Out!"

And so the King's Son and the Goosegirl were driven away from the town
of Hellabrun, and the angry people returned in disappointment to their
homes. Only one little pure-hearted girl lingered at the town gate and
gazed with eyes of faith after the fleeing pair. When she could see them
no longer, she fell upon the ground and wept and wept.

"Why do you cry, little girl?" she was asked.

"Oh, that was the King," she sobbed--"the King and his bride."


IV

During all the long summer days the King's Son and the Goosegirl
wandered over hill and dale, through field and forest, far away from the
World of Men. And the King's Son shielded the Goosegirl with his love
and brought her berries to eat and the skins of wild animals to rest
upon, and was gentle, oh, very gentle! And the Goosegirl made the King's
Son glad with the sight of her beauty and the sound of her light-hearted
laughter. And they were happy with a happiness that surpassed all that
they had ever felt or dreamed.

But then autumn came. The wind moaned piteously through the trees,
driving brown leaves in whirling gusts before their eyes. Winter
followed, covering the grim woods with a mantle of shining white. Their
clothes were thin. Their feet were bare, and it was cold--bitter, bitter
cold. So they wandered on and on, day after day, until at last, faint
with hunger, sick with despair, they came, all unknowingly, to the
lonely glade between the high mountains where the Witch's hut stood.

The hideous Witch was no longer there. Because they believed she had
prophesied falsely, the infuriated people of Hellabrun had burned her at
the stake. Only the Broom-maker and the Wood-cutter were in the
miserable tumble-down hut; while out in the grim forest were the Fiddler
and the one pure-hearted little girl, seeking, ever seeking, with eyes
of faith for the rightful King and Queen.

With steps that faltered, and eyes half closed, the King's Son and the
Goosegirl crept into the glade. Tottering feebly, hand in hand, they
approached the door of the hut, and knocking, begged for shelter, for
food, for drink.

The face of the Wood-cutter appeared at the window for a brief moment.
Blinded by his distrust, he saw only two beggar children before the
door.

"Away with you! We have naught to give," he shouted as he slammed the
broken shutter.

Hopelessly, sadly, the King's Son bore the Goosegirl to the snow-covered
mound beneath the linden tree. Whither could he turn to get his loved
one food? Ah, foolish, foolish King's Son who would not rule, who could
not beg!

The Goosegirl, clinging to him tenderly, felt his despair, saw his eyes
fill with tears. Crying out that she was not ill, but was well and
strong, she rose to her feet. To cheer him, she tripped lightly to and
fro, singing a gay little song. Faster and faster twinkled her little
feet, brighter and brighter grew her smiles. But weaker and weaker
became her voice, paler and paler her face, until she fell, fainting,
into the snow.

Then the King's Son rushed to her and took her in his arms. He wrapped
his cloak about her and carried her back to the mound. She opened her
eyes and smiled.

"King! My King!" she whispered.

Like a flash the King's Son remembered his crown. He opened the bundle
and took it out.

"Do not sell your crown, O King!" murmured the Goosegirl.

"I will! I must!" replied the King's Son. "It will bring you bread."

He arose hastily, broke the shining crown into pieces, and ran toward
the hut.

Rap! Rap! Rap! "Let me in!" he cried impatiently.

"Do you want to break down the door?" replied the Broom-maker, appearing
at the window.

"I care not," answered the King's Son. "Here is gold. Now will you give
me bread?"

Gold? The greedy eyes of the Broom-maker gave the glittering fragments
one glance. Then he called the Wood-cutter. And they whispered, and they
searched all through the miserable hut until they found the poisoned
bread, the foul-smelling bread, which the Goosegirl had made as the
Witch had directed on that bright summer day long, long ago.

With it in their hands they ran to the window. They handed it to the
King's Son, and he gave them gold, his golden crown, in its stead.

The King's Son snatched the loaf and ran joyfully toward the mound and
fell at the Goosegirl's feet, crying:

"I'm bringing bread, dear one! bread! Take it! Eat it!"

"Not I alone," answered the Goosegirl. "You, too."

So they broke the bread in two, and, laughing happily, they ate it
eagerly. They ate it all to its bitter, bitter end. Then, clasped in
each other's arms, they lay down to sleep and dreamed of rosy clouds of
glory wafting them toward sunny lands of everlasting bliss; and
dreaming, slept and--knew no more. And the snowflakes fell softly,
silently, and covered them with a shining robe of fleeciest white.

A little later, the Fiddler and the little pure-hearted girl, followed
by a troop of children, entered the glade, all seeking, still seeking
with eyes of faith, for the rightful King and Queen. As they approached
the snow-covered mound the snow suddenly ceased falling; and the sunset
glow from the west shone down and revealed the Kingly Children asleep
forevermore.





Next: Haensel And Gretel




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