THE CHRISTMAS FAIRY OF STRASBURG
A GERMAN FOLK-TALE
BY J. STIRLING COYNE (ADAPTED)
ONCE, long ago, there lived near the ancient city of
Strasburg, on the river Rhine, a young and handsome count,
whose name was Otto. As the years flew by he remained unwed,
and never so
 much as cast a glance at the fair maidens of the country
round; for this reason people began to call him
It chanced that Count Otto, on one Christmas Eve, ordered
that a great hunt should take place in the forest
surrounding his castle. He and his guests and his many
retainers rode forth, and the chase became more and more
exciting. It led through thickets, and over pathless tracts
of forest, until at length Count Otto found himself
separated from his companions.
He rode on by himself until he came to a spring of clear,
bubbling water, known to the people around as the "Fairy
Well." Here Count Otto dismounted. He bent over the spring
and began to lave his hands in the sparkling tide, but to
his wonder he found that though the weather was cold and
frosty, the water was warm and delightfully caressing. He
felt a glow of joy pass through his veins, and, as he
plunged his hands deeper, he fancied that his right hand was
grasped by another, soft and small, which gently slipped
from his finger the gold ring he always wore. And, lo! when
he drew out his hand, the gold ring was gone.
Full of wonder at this mysterious event, the count mounted
his horse and returned to his castle, resolving in his mind
that the very next day he would have the Fairy Well emptied
by his servants.
 He retired to his room, and, throwing himself just as he was
upon his couch, tried to sleep; but the strangeness of the
adventure kept him restless and wakeful.
Suddenly he heard the hoarse baying of the watch-hounds in
the courtyard, and then the creaking of the drawbridge, as
though it were being lowered. Then came to his ear the
patter of many small feet on the stone staircase, and next
he heard indistinctly the sound of light footsteps in the
chamber adjoining his own.
Count Otto sprang from his couch, and as he did so there
sounded a strain of delicious music, and the door of his
chamber was flung open. Hurrying into the next room, he
found himself in the midst of numberless Fairy beings, clad
in gay and sparkling robes. They paid no heed to him, but
began to dance, and laugh, and sing, to the sound of
In the center of the apartment stood a splendid Christmas
Tree, the first ever seen in that country. Instead of toys
and candles there hung on its lighted boughs diamond stars,
pearl necklaces, bracelets of gold ornamented with colored
jewels, aigrettes of rubies and sapphires, silken belts
embroidered with Oriental pearls, and daggers mounted in
gold and studded with the rarest gems. The whole tree
swayed, sparkled, and glittered in the radiance of its many
 Count Otto stood speechless, gazing at all this wonder, when
suddenly the Fairies stopped dancing and fell back, to make
room for a lady of dazzling beauty who came slowly toward
She wore on her raven-black tresses a golden diadem set with
jewels. Her hair flowed down upon a robe of rosy satin and
creamy velvet. She stretched out two small, white hands to
the count and addressed him in sweet, alluring tones:—
"Dear Count Otto," said she, "I come to return your
Christmas visit. I am Ernestine, the Queen of the Fairies. I
bring you something you lost in the Fairy Well."
And as she spoke she drew from her bosom a golden casket,
set with diamonds, and placed it in his hands. He opened it
eagerly and found within his lost gold ring.
Carried away by the wonder of it all, and overcome by an
irresistible impulse, the count pressed the Fairy Ernestine
to his heart, while she, holding him by the hand, drew him
into the magic mazes of the dance. The mysterious music
floated through the room, and the rest of that Fairy company
circled and whirled around the Fairy Queen and Count Otto,
and then gradually dissolved into a mist of many colors,
leaving the count and his beautiful guest alone.
Then the young man, forgetting all his former coldness
toward the maidens of the country
 round about, fell on his knees before the Fairy and besought
her to become his bride. At last she consented on the
condition that he should never speak the word "death" in her
The next day the wedding of Count Otto and Ernestine, Queen
of the Fairies, was celebrated with great pomp and
magnificence, and the two continued to live happily for many
Now it happened on a time, that the count and his Fairy wife
were to hunt in the forest around the castle. The horses
were saddled and bridled, and standing at the door, the
company waited, and the count paced the hall in great
impatience; but still the Fairy Ernestine tarried long in
her chamber. At length she appeared at the door of the hall,
and the count addressed her in anger.
"You have kept us waiting so long," he cried, "that you
would make a good messenger to send for Death!"
Scarcely had he spoken the forbidden and fatal word, when
the Fairy, uttering a wild cry, vanished from his sight. In
vain Count Otto, overwhelmed with grief and remorse,
searched the castle and the Fairy Well, no trace could he
find of his beautiful, lost wife but the imprint of her
delicate hand set in the stone arch above the castle gate.
Years passed by, and the Fairy Ernestine did not return. The
count continued to grieve.
 Every Christmas Eve he set up a lighted tree in the room
where he had first met the Fairy, hoping in vain that she
would return to him.
Time passed and the count died. The castle fell into ruins.
But to this day may be seen above the massive gate, deeply
sunken in the stone arch, the impress of a small and
And such, say the good folk of Strasburg, was the origin of
the Christmas Tree.
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