HERE WERE ONCE a brother and sister who loved each other dearly; their mother was dead, and their father had married again a woman who was most unkind and cruel to them. One day the boy took his sister's hand, and said to her, "Dear little sister, since our mother died we have not had one happy hour. Our stepmother gives us dry hard crusts for dinner and supper; she often knocks us about, and threatens to kick us out of the house. Even the little dogs under the table fare better than we do, for she often throws them nice pieces to eat. Heaven pity us! Oh, if our dear mother knew! Come, let us go out into the wide world!"
So they went out, and wandered over fields and meadows the whole day till evening. At last they found themselves in a large forest; it began to rain, and the little sister said, "See, brother, heaven and our hearts weep together." At last, tired out with hunger and sorrow, and the long journey, they crept into a hollow tree, laid themselves down, and slept till morning.
When they awoke the sun was high in the heavens, and shone brightly into the hollow tree, so they left their place of shelter and wandered away in search of water.
"Oh, I am so thirsty!" said the boy. "If we could only find a brook or a stream." He stopped to listen, and said, "Stay, I think I hear a running stream." So he took his sister by the hand, and they ran together to find it.
Now, the stepmother of these poor children was a wicked witch. She had seen the children go away, and, following them cautiously like a snake, had bewitched all the springs and streams in the forest. The pleasant trickling of a brook over the pebbles was heard by the children as they reached it, and the boy was just stooping to drink, when the sister heard in the babbling of the brook:
"Whoever drinks of me, a tiger soon will be."
Then she cried quickly, "Stay, brother, stay! do not drink, or you will become a wild beast, and tear me to pieces."
Thirsty as he was, the brother conquered his desire to drink at her words, and said, "Dear sister, I will wait till we come to a spring." So they wandered farther, but as they approached, she heard in the bubbling spring the wordsó
"Who drinks of me, a wolf will be."
"Brother, I pray you, do not drink of this brook; you will be changed into a wolf, and devour me."
Again the brother denied himself and promised to wait; but he said, "At the next stream I must drink, say what you will, my thirst is so great."
Not far off ran a pretty streamlet, looking clear and bright; but here also in its murmuring waters, the sister heard the wordsó
"Who dares to drink of me,
Turned to a stag will be."
"Dear brother, do not drink," she began; but she was too late, for her brother had already knelt by the stream to drink, and as the first drop of water touched his lips he became a fawn. How the little sister wept over the enchanted brother, and the fawn wept also.
He did not run away, but stayed close to her; and at last she said, "Stand still, dear fawn; don't fear, I must take care of you, but I will never leave you." So she untied her little golden garter and fastened it round the neck of the fawn; then she gathered some soft green rushes, and braided them into a soft string, which she fastened to the fawn's golden collar, and then led him away into the depths of the forest.
After wandering about for some time, they at last found a little deserted hut, and the sister was overjoyed, for she thought it would form a nice shelter for them both. So she led the fawn in, and then went out alone, to gather moss and dried leaves, to make him a soft bed.
Every morning she went out to gather dried roots, nuts, and berries, for her own food, and sweet fresh grass for the fawn, which he ate out of her hand, and the poor little animal went out with her, and played about as happy as the day was long.
When evening came, and the poor sister felt tired, she would kneel down and say her prayers, and then lay her delicate head on the fawn's back, which was a soft warm pillow, on which she could sleep peacefully. Had this dear brother only kept his own proper form, how happy they would have been together! After they had been alone in the forest for some time, and the little sister had grown a lovely maiden, and the fawn a large stag, a numerous hunting party came to the forest, and amongst them the king of the country.
The sounding horn, the barking of the dogs, the holloa of the huntsmen, resounded through the forest, and were heard by the stag, who became eager to join his companions.
"Oh dear," he said, "do let me go and see the hunt; I cannot restrain myself." And he begged so hard that at last she reluctantly consented.
"But remember," she said, "I must lock the cottage door against those huntsmen, so when you come back in the evening, and knock, I shall not admit you, unless you say, 'Dear little sister let me in.'"
He bounded off as she spoke, scarcely stopping to listen, for it was so delightful for him to breathe the fresh air and be free again.
He had not run far when the king's chief hunter caught sight of the beautiful animal, and started off in chase of him; but it was no easy matter to overtake such rapid footsteps. Once, when he thought he had him safe, the fawn sprang over the bushes and disappeared.
As it was now nearly dark, he ran up to the little cottage, knocked at the door, and cried, "Dear little sister, let me in." The door was instantly opened, and oh, how glad his sister was to see him safely resting on his soft pleasant bed!
A few days after this, the huntsmen were again in the forest; and when the fawn heard the holloa, he could not rest in peace, but begged his sister again to let him go.