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The Spirit in the Bottle
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
There was once a poor woodcutter who toiled from early
morning till late at night. When at last he had laid by some
money he said to his boy, "You are my only child, I will spend the
money which I have earned with the sweat of my brow on your
education, if you learn some honest trade you can support me in
my old age, when my limbs have grown stiff and I am obliged to
stay at home."
Then the boy went to a high school and learned
diligently so that his masters praised him, and he remained
there a long time. When he had worked through two classes, but
was still not yet perfect in everything, the little pittance
which the father had earned was all spent, and the boy was
obliged to return home to him.
"Ah," said the father, sorrowfully, "I can
give you no more, and in these hard times I cannot earn a
farthing more than will suffice for our daily bread." "Dear
father," answered the son, "don't trouble yourself about it, if it
is God's will, it will turn to my advantage. I shall soon
accustom myself to it." When the father wanted to go into the
forest to earn money by helping to chop and stack wood, the
son said, "I will go with you and help you." "Nay, my son," said
the father, "that would be hard for you. You are not accustomed
to rough work, and will not be able to bear it. Besides, I have
only one axe and no money left wherewith to buy another." "Just
go to the neighbor," answered the son, "he will lend you his axe
until I have earned one for myself."
The father then borrowed an axe of the neighbor, and next
morning at break of day they went out into the forest together.
The son helped his father and was quite merry and brisk about
it. But when the sun was right over their heads, the father
said, "We will rest, and have our dinner, and then we shall work
twice as well." The son took his bread in his hands, and said,
"Just you rest, father, I am not tired, I will walk up and down
a little in the forest, and look for birds' nests." "Oh, you fool,"
said the father, "why should you want to run about there? Afterwards
you will be tired, and no longer able to raise your arm.
Stay here, and sit down beside me."
The son, however, went into the forest, ate his bread, was very
merry and peered in among the green branches to see if he could
discover a bird's nest anywhere. So he walked to and fro until
at last he came to a great dangerous-looking oak, which
certainly was already many hundred years old, and which five
men could not have spanned. He stood still and looked at it, and
thought, many a bird must have built its nest in that. Then all at
once it seemed to him that he heard a voice. He listened and
became aware that someone was crying in a very smothered voice,
"Let me out, let me out." He looked around, but could discover
nothing. Then he fancied that the voice came out of the ground.
So he cried, "Where are you?" The voice answered, "I am down here
amongst the roots of the oak-tree. Let me out. Let me out."
The schoolboy began to loosen the earth under the tree, and search
among the roots, until at last he found a glass bottle in a little
hollow. He lifted it up and held it against the light, and then
saw a creature shaped like a frog, springing up and down in it.
"Let me out. Let me out," it cried anew, and the boy thinking no
evil, drew the cork out of the bottle. Immediately a spirit
ascended from it, and began to grow, and grew so fast that in a
very few moments he stood before the boy, a terrible fellow as big
as half the tree. "Do you know," he cried in an awful voice, "what
your reward is for having let me out?" "No," replied the boy
fearlessly, "how should I know that?" "Then I will tell you," cried
the spirit, "I must strangle you for it." "You should have told me
that sooner," said the boy, "for I should then have left you shut
up, but my head shall stand fast for all you can do, more persons
than one must be consulted about that." "More persons here, more
persons there," said the spirit. "You shall have the reward you
have earned. Do you think that I was shut up there for such a
long time as a favor. No, it was a punishment for me. I am the
mighty Mercurius. Whoso releases me, him must I strangle."
"Slowly," answered the boy, "not so fast. I must first know that
you really were shut up in that little bottle, and that you are
the right spirit. If, indeed, you can get in again, I will believe
and then you may do as you will with me." The spirit said
haughtily, "that is a very trifling feat." Drew himself together,
and made himself as small and slender as he had been at first, so
that he crept through the same opening, and right through the neck
of the bottle in again. Scarcely was he within than the boy
thrust the cork he had drawn back into the bottle, and threw
it among the roots of the oak into its old place, and the spirit
And now the schoolboy was about to return to his father, but the
spirit cried very piteously, "Ah, do let me out, ah, do let me out."
"No," answered the boy, "not a second time. He who has once tried to
take my life shall not be set free by me, now that I have caught
him again." "If you will set me free," said the spirit, "I will give
you so much that you will have plenty all the days of your life."
"No," answered the boy, "you would cheat me as you did the first time."
"You are spurning you own good luck," said the spirit, "I will do you
no harm but will reward you richly." The boy thought, "I will
venture it, perhaps he will keep his word, and anyhow he shall not
get the better of me."
Then he took out the cork, and the spirit
rose up from the bottle as he had done before, stretched himself
out and became as big as a giant. "Now you shall have your reward,"
said he, and handed the boy a little rag just like stiking-plaster,
and said, "If you spread one end of this over a wound it
will heal, and if you rub steel or iron with the other end it will
be changed into silver." "I must just try that," said the boy, and
went to a tree, tore off the bark with his axe, and rubbed it
with one end of the plaster. It immediately closed together and
was healed. "Now, it is all right," he said to the spirit, "and we
can part." The spirit thanked him for his release, and the boy
thanked the spirit for his present, and went back to his father.
"Where have you been racing about?" said the father. "Why have you
forgotten your work? I always said that you would never come to
anything." "Be easy, father, I will make it up." "Make it up indeed,"
said the father angrily, "that's no use." "Take care, father, I will
soon hew that tree there, so that it will split." Then he took
his plaster, rubbed the axe with it, and dealt a mighty blow, but
as the iron had changed into silver, the edge bent. "Hi, father,
just look what a bad axe you've given me, it has become quite
crooked." The father was shocked and said, "Ah, what have you done!
Now I shall have to pay for that, and have not the wherewithal, and
that is all the good I have got by your
work." "Don't get angry," said the son, "I will soon pay for the axe."
"Oh, you blockhead," cried the father, "Wherewith will you pay for it?
You have nothing but what I give you. These are students' tricks
that are sticking in your head, you have no idea of woodcutting."
After a while the boy said, "Father, I can really work no more, we
had better take a holiday." "Eh, what," answered he, "do you think I
will sit with my hands lying in my lap like you. I must go on
working, but you may take yourself off home." "Father, I am here in
this wood for the first time, I don't know my way alone. Do go
with me." As his anger had now abated, the father at last let
himself be persuaded and went home with him. Then he said to the
son, "Go and sell your damaged axe, and see what you can get for it,
and I must earn the difference, in order to pay the neighbor."
The son took the axe, and carried it into town to a goldsmith,
who tested it, laid it in the scales, and said, "It is worth four
hundred talers, I have not so much as that by me." The son said,
"Give me what thou have, I will lend you the rest." The goldsmith
gave him three hundred talers, and remained a hundred in his
debt. The son thereupon went home and said, "Father, I have got
the money, go and ask the neighbor what he wants for the axe."
"I know that already," answered the old man, "one taler, six groschen."
"Then give him him two talers, twelve groschen, that is double and
enough. See, I have money in plenty." And he gave the father
a hundred talers, and said, "You shall never know want, live as
comfortably as you like."
"Good heavens," said the father, "how
have you come by these riches?" The boy then told how all had come
to pass, and how he, trusting in his luck, had made such a packet.
But with the money that was left, he went back to the high school
and went on learning more, and as he could heal all wounds with
his plaster, he became the most famous doctor in the whole world.