The Drummer-Boy

(Der Trommler)

[This tale was first published in the edition of 1843, came from Eichsfeld, and was sent to the Grimms by one Karl Gödeke (born 1814, died 1887). About the Grimm Collection.]

One evening a young drummer-boy was walking all alone in the country and came to a lake, on the shore of which he saw three pieces of white linen. “What fine linen!” he said, putting one of the pieces in his pocket. He went home, thought no more of his find, and went to bed. As he was about to fall asleep, he had the feeling that someone was calling him by name. He listened and heard a soft voice calling to him, “Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, wake up!” Since it was pitch-black night, he couldn’t see anybody, but it seemed to him that a form was moving up and down in front of his bed. “What do you want?” he asked.

The voice answered, “Give me back my shift that you took from me this evening by the lake.” “You’ll get it back,” said the drummer, “if you’ll tell me who you are.” “Alas!” replied the voice, “I am the daughter of a mighty king, but I have fallen into the power of a witch and have been banished to the Glass Mountain. Every day my two sisters and I must bathe in the lake, but without my shift I can’t fly away again. My sisters have gone off, but I have had to stay behind. Give me back my shift, I beg you.” “Don’t worry, poor child,” said the drummer. “I’ll gladly give it back to you.” He fetched it out of his pouch and handed it to her in the dark. She seized it hastily and was about to depart with it. “Wait a moment,” he said; “perhaps I can help you.” “You can help me only if you climb the Glass Mountain and free me from the power of the witch. But you won’t get to the Glass Mountain, and even if you were quite near it, you couldn’t get up it.” “What I want to do, I can do,” said the drummer. “I’m sorry for you and am afraid of nothing. Only I don’t know the way to the Glass Mountain.” “The way goes through the great forest where the cannibals live,” she answered. “I may not tell you anything more.” Thereupon he heard her whirring away.

At daybreak the drummer-boy got up, slung his drum over his shoulder, and fearlessly went straight into the forest. After walking a while and seeing no giant, he thought, “I must rouse the sleepyheads,” pulled his drum around, and beat a roll on it, so that the birds flew up from the trees with loud cries. Before long a giant who had been lying asleep in the grass raised himself up; he was as tall as a fir tree. “You little creature,” he called to him, “why are you drumming here and waking me out of the best part of my sleep?” “I’m drumming,” he answered, “because many thousands of people are coming behind me and I am showing them the way.” “What do they want here in my forest?” asked the giant. “They want to make an end of you and purge the forest of monsters like you.” “Aha!” said the giant, “I’ll trample you all to death like so many ants.” “Do you think that you can do anything to them?” said the drummer. “If you bend over to seize one, he’ll jump away and hide. When, on the other hand, you lie down and go to sleep, they’ll come out of every bush and creep up on you. Each has a steel hammer in his belt and will beat in your skull with it.”

The giant got annoyed and thought, “If I get involved with these clever people, it might, indeed, work out badly for me. I can strangle wolves and bears, but I don’t know how to protect myself against earthworms.” “Listen, little chap,” he said, “you withdraw, and I promise you that in the future I shall leave you and your companions in peace. And if you want anything else, just tell me, and I’ll gladly do you a favor.” “You’ve got long legs,” said the drummer, “and can walk faster than I. Carry me to the Glass Mountain, and then I’ll give my people a signal to retire, and this time they will leave you in peace.” “Come here, worm,” said the giant. “Sit on my shoulder, and I’ll carry you to where you ask to go.” The giant lifted him up, and up there the drummer began to roll his drum to his heart’s content. The giant thought, “That will be the signal for the rest to retire.”

After a time a second giant appeared on the road; he took the drummer-boy from the first giant and put him in his button-hole. The drummer seized the button that was as large as a bowl, held on to it, and looked all around most cheerfully. Then they came to a third who took him out of the button-hole and set him on the brim of his hat. Up there the drummer walked back and forth and looked out over the trees, and on spying a mountain in the blue distance thought, “That is surely the Glass Mountain.” And so it was. The giant took just a few more steps and they had reached the foot of the mountain. There the giant set him down. The drummer demanded he carry him to the peak of the Glass Mountain, but the giant shook his head, growled something to himself, and went back into the forest.

Now the poor drummer-boy was in front of the mountain; it was as high as if three mountains had been piled on top of one another and was as smooth as a mirror, withal. Nor did he know how to get up it. He began to climb, but in vain; he kept slipping down again. “Were one only a bird,” he thought. But what good did wishing do him? He didn’t grow any wings. As he was standing thus and not knowing what to do, he saw not far off two men who were quarreling furiously with one another. He went up to them and saw that they were in disagreement over a saddle lying on the ground in front of them, which each of them wanted. “What fools you are!” he said. “You’re fighting over a saddle and haven’t a horse for it.” “The saddle is worth fighting for,” answered one of the men. “Whoever sits in it and wishes himself anywhere, even to the end of the world, will be there the instant he has uttered his wish. The saddle belongs to us jointly; it’s my turn to ride it, but the other man won’t agree to it.”

“I’ll soon settle the quarrel,” said the drummer, went off a distance, and stuck a white stake in the ground. Then he came back and said, “Now run toward the goal. The first one there will ride first.” Both set off at a trot, but scarcely were they a few paces away when the drummer swung onto the saddle, wished himself onto the Glass Mountain, and before you could say Jack Robinson, was there.

Up on the mountain was a plateau on which stood an old stone house, and outside the house was a big fishpond, and behind it a dark forest. He saw neither man nor beast; all was still but for the rustling of the wind in the trees and the clouds drifting by, quite close by over his head. He went to the door and knocked. When he had knocked for the third time, an old woman with a brown face and red eyes opened it. She had glasses on her long nose and looked at him sharply, then asked what he wanted. “Admission, food, and a night’s lodging,” answered the drummer-boy. “That you shall have,” said the old woman, “provided you will perform three tasks in return.” “Why not?” he answered. “I’m not afraid of any work, even if it’s ever so hard.”

The old woman let him in, gave him food, and at night a good bed. In the morning when he had had a good long sleep, the old woman took a thimble from her withered finger, handed it to the drummer, and said, “Now get to work and ladle out the pond there with this thimble. But you must be finished before night, and all the fish that are in the water must be sorted out according to their kind and size and laid side by side.” “That’s a strange task,” said the drummer, went, however, to the pond and began to ladle. He ladled all morning, but what can one do with a thimble in the case of a big body of water, even if one ladles for a thousand years? When it was noon, he thought, “It’s all no use and it’s all one whether I work or whether I don’t,” stopped and sat down.

Then a girl came out of the house and, setting down a basket of food for him, said, “You’re sitting there so sad. What is the matter with you?” He looked at her and saw that she was exceedingly beautiful. “Alas!” he said, “I can’t accomplish the first task. How will it be with the others? I set out to seek a king’s daughter who is supposed to be living here, but I haven’t found her. I’m going to move on.” “Stay here,” said the girl. “I’ll help you out of your difficulty. You’re tired. Lay your head in my lap and go to sleep. When you wake up again, the work will he done.” The drummer didn’t have to be told twice. As soon as his eyes were closed, she gave a wishing-ring a twist, saying, “Water up, fish out.” Immediately the water rose up like a white mist and moved off with the other clouds, and the fish came up with a smacking noise, leapt ashore, and lay down beside one another, each according to its size and kind.

When the drummer awoke, he saw to his astonishment that everything was finished, but the girl said, “One of the fish isn’t lying with its own kind but is quite by itself. When the old woman comes this evening and sees that everything has been done as she required, she will ask, ‘What is this fish doing by itself?’ Then throw the fish in her face and say, ‘That’s for you, old witch.” In the evening the old woman came, and when she put her question, he threw the fish in her face. She acted as if she didn’t notice it and kept still, though giving him a malicious look.

The next morning she said, “You had it too easy yesterday. I must set you a harder task. Today you must chop down the whole forest, split the wood into logs and cord it, and it must all be done by evening.” She gave him an ax, a mallet, and two wedges, but the ax was of lead, the mallet and wedges of tin. When he began to chop, the ax-edge turned and the mallet and wedges collapsed. He didn’t know what to do, but at noon the girl again came with the food and comforted him. “Lay your head in my lap,” she said, “and go to sleep. When you wake up, the work will be done.” She gave her wishing-ring a twist, and at that moment the whole forest collapsed with a crash, the wood split itself and piled itself in cords. It was as if invisible giants had accomplished the task. When he awoke, the girl said, “See, the wood is corded and piled; there’s just one odd branch, and when the old woman comes this evening and asks what about it, give her a blow with it and say, ‘That’s for you, you witch.’” The old woman came. “See,” she said, “how easy the work was. But for whom is that branch there?” “For you, you witch,” he answered and gave her a blow with it. But she acted as if she didn’t feel it, laughed mockingly, and said, “Early tomorrow you’re to pile all the wood into one pile, set fire to it, and burn it up.”

He got up at daybreak and began to fetch the wood. But how can a single person gather up a whole forest? He made no progress with the work. However, the girl didn’t forsake him in his need. At noon she brought him his food, and when he had eaten, he laid his head in her lap and went to sleep. On waking up, he saw the whole pile of wood burning in one huge flame that was sending out its tongues as high as the sky. “Listen to me,” said the girl. “When the witch comes, she will impose all sorts of tasks upon you. Do without fear what she demands; in that way she can’t do anything to you. If, however, you’re afraid, the fire will seize you and consume you. Finally, when you’ve done everything, seize her with both hands and throw her right into the fire.”

The girl went away, and the old woman came creeping up. “My! I’m freezing,” she said, “but there’s a fire! It’s burning, it warms my old bones, I’ll be comfortable there. But there’s a log over there that won’t burn; pull it out for me. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be free and can go where you please. Go right into the fire!” The drummer didn’t think long and jumped into the middle of the flames. They didn’t harm him, however; in fact, couldn’t even singe his hair. He brought out the log and put it down. Scarcely had the log touched the ground than it was transformed, and before him stood the beautiful girl who had helped him in his need, and from the silk garments, glittering like gold, that she had on, he saw plainly that she was the king’s daughter. But the old woman laughed venomously and said, “You think you have her, but you haven’t got her yet.” She was on the point of attacking the girl and pulling her away when he laid hold of the old woman with both hands, lifted her up, and threw her into the blaze. The flames closed over her as if glad to consume a witch.

Then the king’s daughter looked at the drummer-boy, and when she saw that he was a handsome youth and considered how he had risked his life to free her, she gave him her hand, saying, “You’ve risked everything for me, and I, too, shall do everything for you. Plight me your troth and you shall be my spouse. We’re not lacking riches, we have plenty with what the witch has gathered together here.” She took him into the house where stood chests and boxes filled with treasures. They left the gold and silver, taking only the jewels. They didn’t want to stay any longer on the Glass Mountain. Then he said to her, “Sit by me on my saddle, and we’ll fly down like birds.” “I don’t like the old saddle,” she said. “I need only to give my wishing-ring a twist and we’ll be home.” “All right,” answered the drummer, “then wish us outside the town gate.”

They were there in a flash, but the drummer said, “I want first to go to my parents and tell them the news. Wait for me out here in the country; I’ll be back shortly.” “O dear!” said the king’s daughter, “I beg you to be on your guard. When you get there, don’t kiss your parents on the right cheek, otherwise you’ll forget everything, and I’ll be left alone and forsaken in the fields.” “How can I forget you?” he said and gave her his hand on it to return very soon.

When he entered his father’s house, he had so changed that no one knew who he was, for the three days that he had spent on the Glass Mountain had been three long years. Then he made himself known, and his parents fell on his neck for joy, and his heart was so moved that he kissed them on both cheeks, not thinking of the girl’s words. When, however, he had given them a kiss on the right cheek, all thought of the king’s daughter left him. He emptied out his pockets and put handsful of the biggest jewels on the table. His parents had absolutely no idea what to do with the fortune. Then his father built a splendid mansion with gardens, woods, and meadows around about it, as if a prince were going to reside in it. And when it was finished, his mother said, “I have found a girl for you; the wedding will take place in three days.” The son was agreeable to everything his parents wished.

The poor king’s daughter stayed for a long time outside the town waiting for the youth’s return. When evening came, she said, “He surely kissed his parents on the right cheek and forgot me.” With heart full of grief she wished herself into a lonely forest hut and didn’t want to return to her father’s court. Every evening she went into town and walked past his house. He saw her sometimes, but no longer recognized her. Finally she heard the people say, “His wedding will be celebrated tomorrow.” Then she said, “I shall try and see if I may win back his heart.”

When the first day of the wedding festival was celebrated, she gave her wishing-ring a twist and said, “A gown as brilliant as the sun.” Forthwith the gown lay before her, glistening as if woven of sheer sunbeams. When all the guests had assembled, she entered the hall. Everybody marvelled at the beautiful gown, especially the bride, and since beautiful clothes were the latter’s greatest delight, she went to the stranger and asked if she would sell it to her. “Not for money,” she answered, “but if I may keep watch this first night outside the door of the bridegroom’s bedroom, I’ll give it away.” The bride was unable to restrain her desire and agreed, but she mixed a sleeping potion in the bridegroom’s nightcap and as a result he fell into a deep sleep. Now when all was quiet, the king’s daughter crouched outside the bedroom door, opened it a little, and called in,

“Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, listen to me!
Have you quite forgotten me?
Didn’t you sit beside me on the Glass Mountain?
Didn’t I save your life from the witch?
Didn’t you plight me your troth with your hand?
Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, listen to me!”

But it was all in vain. The drummer-boy didn’t wake up, and when morning came, the king’s daughter had to depart again without having accomplished her purpose.

The second evening she gave her wishing-ring a twist and said, “A gown as silvery as the moon.” When she appeared at the feast in the gown that was as delicate as moonlight, the bride’s desire was again aroused, and in exchange for the gown she gave her permission to spend the second night, too outside the bedroom door. Then in the still of the night she called,

“Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, listen to me!
Have you quite forgotten me?
Didn’t you sit beside me on the Glass Mountain?
Didn’t I save your life from the witch?
Didn’t you plight me your troth with your hand?
Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, listen to me!”

But the drummer-boy, drugged by the sleeping potion, was not to be awakened. In the morning she returned again sadly to her forest hut. The servants, however, had heard the strange girl’s lament and told the bridegroom about it. They also told him that he had not been able to hear because they had poured a sleeping potion into his wine.

On the third evening the king’s daughter gave the wishing-ring a twist and said, “A gown twinkling like stars.” When she appeared in it at the feast, the bride was quite beside herself over the splendor of the gown, which far surpassed the others, and said, “I shall and must have it.” The girl gave it to her, like the others, in exchange for leave to spend the night outside the bridegroom’s door. The bridegroom, however, didn’t drink the wine they gave him before going to sleep but poured it out behind his bed. When everything in the house was still, he heard a voice calling softly to him,

“Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, listen to me!
Have you quite forgotten me?
Didn’t you sit beside me on the Glass Mountain?
Didn’t I save your life from the witch?
Didn’t you plight me your troth with your hand?
Drummer-boy, drummer-boy, listen to me!”

Suddenly his memory returned. “Alas!” he cried, “how could I have acted so faithlessly! But the kiss, which out of the joy of my heart I gave my parents on their right cheeks, is to blame; it stupefied me.” He leapt up, took the king’s daughter by the hand, and led her to his parents’ bedside. “This is my true bride,” he said. “If I marry the other, I shall be doing a great wrong.” His parents, on hearing how it had all come about, agreed. Then the candles in the hall were lighted again, kettle-drums and trumpets fetched, friends and relatives invited to return, and the true wedding was celebrated with great joy.

The first bride kept the beautiful gowns by way of amends and declared herself satisfied.

*

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