The story of a greedy alchemist, a search for red gold, and a house saved by a stork’s nest.
The Wind’s Tale
About Waldemar Daa and his Daughters
A Hans Christian Andersen Story
WHEN the wind sweeps across a field of grass it makes little ripples in it like a lake; in a field of corn it makes great waves like the sea itself; this is the wind’s frolic. Then listen to the stories it tells; it sings them aloud, one kind of song among the trees of the forest, and a very different one when it is pent up within walls with all their cracks and crannies. Do you see how the wind chases the white fleecy clouds as if they were a flock of sheep? Do you hear the wind down there, howling in the open doorway like a watchman winding his horn? Then, too, how he whistles in the chimneys, making the fire crackle and sparkle. How cozy it is to sit in the warm glow of the fire listening to the tales it has to tell! Let the wind tell its own story! It can tell you more adventures than all of us put together. Listen now:
“Whew! Whew! Fare away!” That was the refrain of his song.
“Close to the Great Belt stands an old mansion with thick red walls,” says the wind. “I know every stone of it. I knew them before when they formed part of Marsk Stig’s Castle on the Ness; it had to come down. The stones were used again, and made a new wall of a new castle in another place, Borreby Hall as it now stands.
“I have watched the high-born men and women of all the various races who have lived there, and now I am going to tell you about Waldemar Daa and his daughters!
“He held his head very high, for he came of a royal stock! He knew more than the mere chasing of a stag, or the emptying of a flagon; he knew how to manage his affairs, he said himself.
“His lady wife walked proudly across the brightly polished floors, in her gold brocaded kirtle; the tapestries in the rooms were gorgeous, and the furniture of costly carved woods. She had brought much gold and silver plate into the house with her, and the cellars were full of German ale, when there was anything there at all. Fiery black horses neighed in the stables; Borreby Hall was a very rich place when wealth came there.
“Then there were the children, three dainty maidens, Ida, Johanna, and Anna Dorothea. I remember their names well.
“They were rich and aristocratic people and they were born and bred in wealth! Whew! whew! fare away!” roared the wind, then he went on with his story.
“I did not see here, as in other old noble castles, the highborn lady sitting among her maidens in the great hall turning the spinning wheel. No, she played upon the ringing lute, and sang to its tones. Her songs were not always the old Danish ditties, however, but songs in foreign tongues. All was life and hospitality; noble guests came from far and wide; there were sounds of music and the clanging of flagons so loud that I could not drown them!” said the wind. “Here were arrogance and ostentation enough and to spare; plenty of lords, but the Lord had no place there.
“Then came the evening of May-day!” said the wind. “I came from the west; I had been watching ships being wrecked and broken up on the west coast of Jutland. I tore over the heaths and the green wooded coasts, across the island of Funen and over the Great Belt, puffing and blowing. I settled down to rest on the coast of Zealand close to Borreby Hall, where the splendid forest of oaks still stood. The young bachelors of the neighbourhood came out and collected fagots and branches, the longest and driest they could find. These they took to the town, piled them up in a heap, and set fire to them; then the men and maidens danced and sang round the bonfire. I lay still,” said the wind, “but I softly moved a branch, the one laid by the handsomest young man, and his billet blazed up highest of all. He was the chosen one, he had the name of honour, he became ‘Buck of the Street!’ and he chose from among the girls his little May-lámb. All was life and merriment, greater far than within rich Borreby Hall.
“The great lady came driving toward the Hall, in her gilded chariot drawn by six horses. She had her three dainty daughters with her; they were indeed three lovely flowers. A rose, a lily, and a pale hyacinth. The mother herself was a gorgeous tulip; she took no notice whatever of the crowd, who all stopped in their game to drop their curtseys and make their bows; one might have thought that, like a tulip, she was rather frail in the stalk and feared to bend her back. The rose, the lily, and the pale hyacinth, yes, I saw them all three. Whose May-lambs were they one day to become, thought I; their mates would be proud knights—perhaps even princes!
“Whew! whew! fare away! Yes, the chariot bore them away, and the peasants whirled on in their dance. They played at ‘Riding the summer into the village,’ to Borreby village, Tareby village, and many others.
“But that night when I rose,” said the wind, “the noble lady laid herself down to rise no more; that came to her which comes to every one—there was nothing new about it. Waldemar Daa stood grave and silent for a time. ‘The proudest tree may bend, but it does not break,’ said something within him. The daughters wept and every one else at the Castle was wiping their eyes; but Madam Daa had fared away, and I fared away too! Whew! whew!” said the wind.
“I came back again; I often came back across the island of Funen and the waters of the Belt and took up my place on Borreby shore close to the great forest of oaks. The ospreys and the wood pigeons used to build in it, the blue raven, and even the black stork! It was early in the year; some of the nests were full of eggs, while in others the young ones were just hatched. What a flying and screaming was there! Then came the sound of the axe, blow upon blow; the forest was to be felled. Waldemar Daa was about to build a costly ship, a three-decked man-of-war, which it was expected the King would buy. So the wood fell, the ancient landmark of the seaman, the home of the birds. The shrike was frightened away; its nest was torn down; the osprey and all the other birds lost their nests, too, and they flew about distractedly, shrieking in their terror and anger. The crows and the jackdaws screamed in mockery, ‘Caw! caw!’ Waldemar Daa and his three daughters stood in the middle of the wood among the workmen. They all laughed at the wild cries of the birds except Anna Dorothea, who was touched by their distress, and when they were about to fell a tree which was half-dead, and on whose naked branches a black stork had built its nest, out of which the young ones were sticking their heads, she begged them with tears in her eyes to spare it. So the tree with the black stork’s nest was allowed to stand. It was only a little thing.
“The chopping and the sawing went on—the three-decker was built. The master builder was a man of humble origin, but of noble loyalty; great power lay in his eyes and on his forehead, and Waldemar Daa liked to listen to him, and little Ida liked to listen, too, the eldest, fifteen-year-old daughter. But whilst he built the ship for her father, he built a castle in the air for himself, in which he and little Ida sat side by side as man and wife. This might also have happened if his castle had been built of solid stone, with moat and ramparts, wood and gardens. But with all his wisdom, the shipbuilder was only a poor bird, and what business has a sparrow in a crane’s nest? Whew! whew! I rushed away, and he rushed away, for he dared not stay, and little Ida got over it, as get over it she must.
“The fiery black horses stood neighing in the stables; they were worth looking at, and they were looked at to some purpose, too. An admiral was sent from the King to look at the new man-of-war, with a view to purchasing it. The admiral was loud in his admiration of the horses. I heard all he said,” added the wind. “I went through the open, door with the gentlemen and scattered the straw like gold before their feet. Waldemar Daa wanted gold; the admiral wanted the black horses, and so he praised them as he did; but his hints were not taken, therefore the ship remained unsold. There it stood by the shore covered up with boards, like a Noah’s Ark which never reached the water. Whew! whew! get along! get along! It was a miserable business. In the winter, when the fields were covered with snow, and the Belt was full of icefloes which I drove up on to the coast,” said the wind, “the ravens and crows came in flocks, the one blacker than the other, and perched upon the desolate, dead ship by the shore. They screamed themselves hoarse about the forest which had disappeared, and the many precious birds’ nests which had been devastated, leaving old and young homeless; and all for the sake of this old piece of lumber, the proud ship which was never to touch the water! I whirled the snow about till it lay in great heaps round the ship. I let it hear my voice, and all that a storm has to say. I know that I did my best to give it an idea of the sea. Whew! whew!
“The winter passed by; winter and summer passed away! They come and go just as I do. The snowflakes, the apple blossoms, and the leaves fall, each in their turn. Whew! whew! they pass away as men pass, too!
“The daughters were still young. Little Ida, the rose, as lovely to look at as when the shipbuilder turned his gaze upon her. I often took hold of her long brown hair when she stood lost in thought by the apple tree in the garden. She never noticed that I showered apple blossoms over her loosened hair; she only gazed at the red sunset against the golden background of the sky, and the dark trees and bushes of the garden. Her sister Johanna was like a tall, stately lily; she held herself as stiffly erect as her mother, and seemed to have the same dread of bending her stem. She liked to walk in the long gallery where the family portraits hung. The ladies were painted in velvet and silk, with tiny pearl embroidered caps on their braided tresses. Their husbands were all clad in steel, or in costly cloaks lined with squirrel skins and stiff blue ruffs; their swords hung loosely by their sides. Where would Johanna’s portrait one day hang on these walls? What would her noble husband look like? These were her thoughts, and she even spoke them aloud; I heard her as I swept through the long corridor into the gallery, where I veered round again.
“Anna Dorothea, the pale hyacinth, was only a child of fourteen, quiet and thoughtful. Her large blue eyes as clear as water were very solemn, but childhood’s smile still played upon her lips; I could not blow it away, nor did I wish to do so. I used to meet her in the garden, the ravine, and in the manor fields. She was always picking flowers and herbs, those she knew her father could use for healing drinks and potions. Waldemar Daa was proud and conceited, but he was also learned, and he knew a great deal about many things. One could see that, and many whispers went about as to his learning. The fire blazed in his stove even in summer, and his chamber door was locked. This went on for days and nights, but he did not talk much about it. One must deal silently with the forces of nature. He would soon discover the best of everything, the red, red gold!
“This was why his chimney flamed and smoked and sparkled. Yes, I was there, too,” said the wind.
“Away with you, away! I sang in the back of the chimney. Smoke, smoke, embers and ashes, that is all it will come to! You will burn yourself up in it. Whew! whew! away with it! But Waldemar Daa could not let it go.
“The fiery steeds in the stable, where were they? The old gold and silver plate in cupboard and chest, where was that? The cattle, the land, the castle itself? Yes, they could all be melted down in the crucible, but yet no gold would come.
“Barn and larder got emptier and emptier. Fewer servants; more mice. One pane of glass got broken and another followed it. There was no need for me to go in by the doors,” said the wind. “A smoking chimney means a cooking meal, but the only chimney which smoked here swallowed up all the meals, all for the sake of the red gold.
“I blew through the castle gate like a watchman blowing his horn, but there was no watchman,” said the wind. “I twisted round the weathercock on the tower and it creaked as if the watchman up there was snoring, only there was no watchman. Rats and mice were the only inhabitants. Poverty laid the table; poverty lurked in wardrobe and larder. The doors fell off their hinges, cracks and crannies appeared everywhere; I went in and out,” said the wind, “so I know all about it.”
“The hair and the beard of Waldemar Daa grew gray, in the sorrow of his sleepless nights, amid smoke and ashes. His skin grew grimy and yellow, and his eyes greedy for gold, the long expected gold.
“I whistled through the broken panes and fissures, blew into the daughters’ chests where their clothes lay faded and threadbare; they had to last forever. A song like this had never been sung over the cradles of these children. A lordly life became a woeful life! I was the only one to sing in the castle now,” said the wind. “I snowed them up, for they said it gave warmth. They had no firewood, for the forest was cut down where they should have got it. There was a biting frost. Even I had to keep rushing through the crannies and passages to keep myself lively. They stayed in bed to keep themselves warm, those noble ladies. Their father crept about under a fur rug. Nothing to bite, and nothing to burn! a lordly life indeed! Whew! whew! let it go! But this was what Waldemar Daa could not do.
She was always picking flowers and herbs, those she knew her father could use for healing drinks and potions
“ ‘After winter comes the spring,’ said he; ‘a good time will come after a time of need; but they make us wait their pleasure, wait! The castle is mortgaged, we are in extremities—and yet the gold will come—at Easter!’
“I heard him murmur to the spider’s web ‘You clever little weaver! You teach me to persevere! If your web is broken, you begin at the beginning again and complete it! Broken again—and cheerfully you begin it over again. That is what one must do and one will be rewarded!’
“It was Easter morning, the bells were ringing, and the sun was at play in the heavens. Waldemar Daa had watched through the night with his blood at fever pitch; boiling and cooling, mixing and distilling. I heard him sigh like a despairing soul, I heard him pray, and I felt that he held his breath. The lamp had gone out, but he never noticed it. I blew up the embers and they shone upon his ashen face, which took a tinge of colour from their light; his eyes started in their sockets; they grew larger and larger as if they would leap out.
“Look at the alchemist’s glass! something twinkles in it, it is glowing, pure and heavy. He lifted it with a trembling hand and shouted with a trembling voice: ‘Gold! gold!’ He reeled, and I could easily have blown him over,” said the wind, “but I only blew upon the embers, and followed him to the room where his daughters sat shivering. His coat was powdered with ash, as well as his beard and his matted hair. He drew himself up to his full height and held up his precious treasure. In the fragile glass. ‘Found! won! gold!’ he cried, stretching up his hand with the glass which glittered in the sunbeams; his hand shook and the alchemist’s glass fell to the ground shivered into a thousand atoms. The last bubble of his welfare was shattered, too. Whew! whew! fare away! and away I rushed from the goldmaker’s home.
“Late in the year, when the days were short and dark up here, and the fog enveloped the red berries and bare branches with its cold moisture, I came along in a lively mood, clearing the sky and snapping off the dead boughs. This is no great labour, it is true, yet it has to be done. Borreby Hall, the home of Waldemar Daa, was having a clean sweep of a different sort. The family enemy, Ové Ramel from Vasness, appeared, holding the mortgage of the Hall and all its contents. I drummed upon the cracked window panes, beat against the decaying doors, and whistled through all the cracks and crannies, whew! I did my best to prevent Herr Ové taking a fancy to stay there. Ida and Anna Dorothea faced it bravely, although they shed some tears; Johanna stood pale and erect and bit her finger till it bled! much that would help her! Ové Ramel offered to let them stay on at the Castle for Waldemar Daa’s lifetime, but he got no thanks for his offer; I was listening. I saw the ruined gentleman stiffen his neck and hold his head higher than ever. I beat against the walls and the old linden trees with such force that the thickest branch broke, although it was not a bit rotten. It fell across the gate like a broom, as if some one was about to sweep; and a sweeping there was indeed to be. I quite expected it. It was a grievous day and a hard time for them, but their wills were as stubborn as their necks were stiff. They had not a possession in the world but the clothes on their backs; yes, one thing—an alchemist’s glass which had been bought and filled with the fragments scraped up from the floor. The treasure which promised much and fulfilled nothing. Waldemar Daa hid it in his bosom, took his staff in his hand, and with his three daughters the once wealthy gentleman walked out of Borreby Hall for the last time. I blew a cold blast upon his burning cheeks, I fluttered his gray beard and his long white hair; I sang such a tune as only I could sing. Whew! whew! away with them! away with them! This was the end of all their grandeur.
“Ida and Anna Dorothea walked one on each side of him; Johanna turned round in the gateway, but what was the good of that? nothing could make their luck turn. She looked at the red stones of what had once been Marsk Stig’s Castle. Was she thinking of his daughters?
‘The elder took the younger by the hand,
And out they roamed to a far off land.’
Was she thinking of that song? Here there were three and their father was with them. They walked along the road where once they used to ride in their chariot. They trod it now as vagrants, on their way to a plastered cottage on Smidstrup Heath, which was rented, at ten marks yearly. This was their new country seat with its empty walls and its empty vessels. The crows and the magpies wheeled screaming over their heads with their mocking ‘Caw, caw! Out of the nest! Caw! caw!’ just as they screamed in Borreby Forest when the trees were felled.
“Herr Daa and his daughters must have noticed it. I blew into their ears to try and deaden the cries, which after all were not worth listening to.
“So they took up their abode in the plastered cottage on Smidstrup Heath, and I tore off over marshes and meadows, through naked hedges and bare woods, to the open seas and other lands. Whew! whew! away, away! and that for many years.”
What happened to Waldemar Daa? What happened to his daughters? This is what the wind relates:
“The last of them I saw, yes, for the last time, was Anna Dorothea, the pale hyacinth. She was old and bent now; it was half a century later. She lived the longest; she had gone through everything.
“Across the heath, near the town of Viborg, stood the Dean’s new, handsome mansion, built of red stone, with toothed gables. The smoke curled thickly out of the chimneys. The gentle lady and her fair daughters sat in the bay window looking into the garden at the drooping thorns and out to the brown heath beyond. What were they looking at there? They were looking at a stork’s nest on a tumbledown cottage; the roof was covered, as far as there was any roof to cover, with moss and house-leek; but the stork’s nest made the best covering. It was the only part to which anything was done, for the stork kept it in repair.
“This house was only fit to be looked at, not to be touched. I had to mind what I was about,” said the wind. “The cottage was allowed to stand for the sake of the stork’s nest; in itself it was only a scarecrow on the heath, but the Dean did not want to frighten away the stork, so the hovel was allowed to stand. The poor soul inside was allowed to live in it; she had the Egyptian bird to thank for that; or was it repayment for having once pleaded for the nest of his wild black brother in Borreby Forest? Then, poor thing, she was a child, a delicate, pale hyacinth in a noble flower garden. Poor Anna Dorothea; she remembered it all! Ah, human beings can sigh as well as the wind when it soughs through the rushes and reeds.
“‘Oh dear! Oh dear! No bells rang over the grave of Waldemar Daa. No schoolboys sang when the former lord of Borreby Castle was laid in his grave. Well, everything must have an end, even misery! Sister Ida became the wife of a peasant, and this was her father’s sorest trial. His daughter’s husband a miserable serf, who might at any moment be ordered the punishment of the wooden horse by his lord. It is well that the sod covers him now, and you, too, Ida! Ah yes! ah yes! Poor me, poor me! I still linger on. In Thy mercy release me, O Christ!’
“This was the prayer of Anna Dorothea, as she lay in the miserable hovel which was only left standing for the sake of the stork.
“I took charge of the boldest of the sisters,” said the wind. “She had clothes made to suit her manly disposition and took a place as a lad with a skipper. Her words were few, and looks stubborn, but she was willing enough at her work. But with all her will she could not climb the rigging; so I blew her overboard before any one discovered that she was a woman, and I fancy that was not a bad deed of mine!” said the wind.
“On such an Easter morning as that on which Waldemar Daa thought he had found the red gold, I heard from beneath the stork’s nest a psalm echoing through the miserable walls. It was Anna Dorothea’s last song. There was no window; only a hole in the wall. The sun rose in splendour and poured in upon her; her eyes were glazed and her heart broken! This would have been so this morning whether the sun had shone upon her or not. The stork kept a roof over her head till her death! I sang at her grave,” said the wind, “and I sang at her father’s grave. I know where it is, and her’s, too, which is more than any one else knows.
“The old order changeth, giving place to the new. The old high-road now only leads to cultivated fields, while peaceful graves are covered by the busy traffic on the new road. Soon comes Steam with its row of wagons behind it, rushing over the graves, forgotten, like the names upon them. Whew! whew! Let us be gone! This is the story of Waldemar Daa and his daughters. Tell it better yourselves, if you can,” said the wind, as it veered round. Then it was gone.