The Strawberry Thief by Pauline Schanz
THE mid-day sun was shining brightly as two
children ran merrily down the steep grassy slope
leading from the little village to the neighbouring
forest. Their loose, scanty clothing left head, neck, and
feet bare. But this did not trouble them, for the sun's
rays kissed their little round limbs, and the children liked
to feel their warm kisses.
They were brother and sister; each carried a small jar
to fill with strawberries, which their mother would sell
in the town on the morrow. They were very poor, almost
the poorest people in the village. Their mother, a widow,
had to work hard to procure bread for herself and children.
When strawberries or nuts were in season, or even the
early violets, the children went into the forest to seek
them, and by the fruit or flowers they gathered helped
to earn many a groschen. The happy children ran
joyously along as though they were the rulers of the
beautiful world that stretched so seductively before them. The forest berries were still scarce, and would fetch a
high price in the town; this is why they started so early
in the afternoon, whilst other people still rested in their
Deep in the forest was many a spot, well known to
the children, where large masses of strawberry plants
flourished and bloomed, covering the ground with a
luxurious carpet. White star-like blossoms in profusion
looked roguishly out from the ample foliage; the little
green and bright-red berries were there in crowds, but the
ripe, dark-red fruit was difficult to find.
Very slowly the work proceeded, and as the gathered
treasures in their small jars grew higher and higher the
sun sank lower and lower. Busy with their task, the
children forgot laughter and chattering; they tasted none
of the lovely berries, scarcely looked at the violets and
anemones; the sun's rays peeping through the branches
the cock-chafers and butterflies were alike unheeded.
"Lorchen," cried Fried, at length, throwing back his
sunburnt, heated face; "look, Lorchen, my jar is full!"
Lorchen looked up, her face flushed with toil; her poor
little jar was scarcely half-full. Oh, how she envied her
brother his full jar! Fried was a good boy—he loved his
little sister dearly. He made her sit down on the soft
grass, placed his jar beside her, and did not cease his
work until Lorchen's jar was likewise filled. Their day's
work was now ended. But it was so beautiful in the
forest. The birds sang so joyfully among the leaves,
everything exhaled the fragrance of the dewy evening
that crept slowly between the trembling branches.
At a little distance a small stretch of meadow shimmered
through the trees. The bright sunshine still rested on the
fresh, green grass, and thousands of daffodils, bluebells,
pinks, and forget-me-nots unfolded there their varied
beauties. It was a delightful play-place for the children.
They hastened thither, placed their jars carefully behind
a large tree-trunk, and soon forgot their hard afternoon's
work in a merry game. Greyer grew the shadows, closer
the dusk of evening veiled the lonely forest. Then the
brother and sister thought of returning—the rest had
strengthened their weary limbs, and their game in the
flowery meadow had made them cheerful and merry.
Now the dew that wetted their bare feet, and hunger
that began to make itself felt, urged them to return home.
They ran to the tree behind which they had placed their
jars, but oh, horror! the jars had vanished. At first the
children thought they had mistaken the place; they
searched farther, behind every trunk, behind every bush,
but no trace of the jars could they find.
They had vanished, together with the precious fruit.
What would their mother say when they returned home,
their task unfulfilled? With the price of the berries she
intended to buy meal to make bread. They had been
almost without bread for several days, and now they had
not even the jars in which to gather other berries.
Lorchen began to sob loudly; Fried's face grew crimson
with rage, and his eyes sparkled, he did not weep. The
darkness increased, the tree-trunks looked black and
spectral, the wind rustled in the branches. Who could
have stolen their berries? No one had come near the
meadow. Squirrels and lizards could not carry away
jars. The poor children stood helpless beside the old tree-trunk. They could not return to their mother empty-handed;
they feared she would reproach them for losing
sight of their jars.
The little maiden shivered in her thin frock, and wept
with fear, hunger, and fatigue. Fried took his little
sister's hand, and said: "Listen, Lorchen: you must run
home, it is night now in the forest. Tell mother our jars
have disappeared, eat your supper, and go to bed and
to sleep. I will remain here and search behind every
tree and everywhere, until I find the jars. I am neither
hungry nor tired, and am not afraid to pass the night
alone in the forest, in spite of all the stories our grand-mother
used to tell of wicked spirits in the forest,
hobgoblins who tease children, will-o'-the-wisps, and
mountain-demons who store their treasures beneath the
Lorchen shuddered and looked fearfully around—she
was a timid, weakly child. Wrapping her little arms in
her apron, she wept bitterly.
"Come home with me, Fried," she pleaded. "I am
afraid to go through the gloomy forest alone!"
Fried took her hand and went with her until they saw
the lights of the village. Then he stopped and said:
"Now run along alone; see, there is the light burning in
our mother's window. I shall turn back, I cannot go
He turned quickly into the forest. Lorchen waited a
moment, and cried, "Fried, Fried!" Then, receiving no
answer, she fled swiftly up the grassy slope she had
descended so merrily a few hours previously.
Their mother, who had grown uneasy at their prolonged
absence, was standing at the door when Lorchen returned,
weeping and breathless. Poor child, she had scarcely
strength enough left to tell that they had lost strawberries
and jars, and that Fried had remained behind.
The mother grew sad as she listened—she had scarcely
any bread left, and knew not whence to procure more;
but Fried remaining in the forest was worse than all,
for she, like all the villagers, firmly believed in hobgoblins.
Sadly she lay down to rest beside her little
Fried ran ever farther and farther into the forest,
through whose thick foliage the stars looked down timidly.
He said his evening prayer, and no longer feared the
rustling of the leaves, the cracking of the branches, or the
whisper of the night wind in the trees.
Soon the moon arose, and it was light enough for Fried
to seek his jars. In vain his search—the hours passed
and he found nothing. At length he saw a small mountain
overgrown with shrubs. Then the moon crept behind a
thick cloud, and all was dark. Tired out, Fried sank
down behind a tree and almost fell asleep. Suddenly he
saw a bright light moving about close to the mountain,
He sprang up and hastened towards it.
Coming closer, he heard a peculiar noise, as of groans
uttered by a man engaged in heavy toil. He crept softly
forward, and beheld, to his astonishment, a little dwarf,
who was trying to push some heavy object into a hole,
that apparently led into the mountain. The little man
wore a silver coat and a red cap with points, to which the
wonderful light, a large, sparkling precious stone, was
Fried soon stood close behind the dwarf, who in his
eagerness had not observed the boy's approach, and saw
with indignation that the object the little man was striving
so hard to push into the hole was his jar of strawberries.
In great wrath Fried seized a branch that lay near, and
gave the little man a mighty blow. Thereupon the dwarf
uttered a cry very like the squeak of a small mouse,
and tried to creep into the hole.
But Fried held him fast by his silver coat, and angrily
demanded where he had put his other jar of strawberries.
The dwarf replied he had no other jar, and strove to
free himself from the grasp of the little giant.
Fried again seized his branch, which so terrified the
dwarf that he cried: "The other jar is inside; I will fetch
it for you."
"I should wait a long time," said Fried, "if I once let
you escape; no, I will go with you and fetch my own
The dwarf stepped forward, the light in his cap shining
brighter than the brightest candle. Fried followed, his
jar in one hand, and the branch in the other. Thus they
journeyed far into the mountain. The dwarf crept along
like a lizard, but Fried, whose head almost touched the
roof, could scarcely get along.
At length strains of lovely music resounded through the
vaulted passages: a little farther on their journey was
stopped by a grey stone wall. Taking a silver hammer
from his doublet, the little dwarf gave three sounding
knocks on the wall; it sprang asunder, and as it opened
such a flood of light streamed forth that Fried was obliged
to close his eyes. Half-blinded, with hand shading his
face, he followed the dwarf, the stone door closed behind
them, and Fried was in the secret dwellings of the gnomes.
A murmur of soft voices, mingled with the sweet strains
of the music, sounded in his ears. When at length he
was able to remove his hand from his eyes, he saw a
wondrous sight. A beauteous, lofty hall, hewn out of the
rock, lay before him; on the walls sparkled thousands of
precious stones such as his guide had worn in his cap.
They served instead of candles, and shed forth a radiance
that almost blinded human eyes.
Between them hung wreaths and sprays of flowers such
as Fried had never before seen. All around crowds of
wonderful little dwarfs stood gazing at him full of
In the centre of the hall stood a throne of green transparent
stone, with cushions of soft mushrooms. On this
sat the gnome-King; around him was thrown a golden
mantle, and on his head was a crown cut from a flaming
carbuncle. Before the throne the dwarf, Fried's guide,
stood relating his adventure.
When the dwarf ceased speaking, the King rose,
approached the boy, who still stood by the door, surrounded
by the gnomes, and said: "You human child,
what has brought you to my secret dwelling?"
"My Lord Dwarf," replied Fried politely, "I desire
my strawberries which yonder dwarf has stolen. I pray
you order them to be restored to me, and then suffer
me to return to my mother."
The King thought for a few moments, then he said:
"Listen, to-day we hold a great feast, for which your
strawberries are necessary. I will, therefore, buy them.
I will also allow you to remain with us a short time,
then my servants shall lead you back to the entrance
of the mountain."
"Have you money to buy my strawberries?" asked the
"Foolish child, know you not that the gold, silver,
and copper come out of the earth? Come with me and
see my treasure-chambers."
So saying, the King led him from the hall through long
rooms, in which mountains of gold, silver, and copper
were piled; in other rooms lay like masses of precious
stones. Presently they came to a grotto, in the centre
of which stood a large vase. From out this vase poured
three sparkling streams, each of a different colour: they
flowed out of the grotto and discharged themselves into
the veins of the rocks.
Beside these streams knelt dwarfs, filling buckets with
the flowing gold, silver, and copper, which other dwarfs
carried away and stored in the King's treasure-chambers.
But the greatest quantity flowed into the crevices of
the mountain, from whence men dig it out with much
Fried would have liked to fill his pockets with the
precious metals, but did not dare ask the gnome-King's
permission. They soon returned to the hall where the
feast was prepared. On a long white marble table stood
rows of golden dishes filled with various dainties, prepared
from Fried's strawberries. In the background sat the
musicians, bees and grasshoppers, that the dwarfs had
caught in the forest. The dwarfs ate off little gold plates,
and Fried ate with them. But the pieces were so tiny,
they melted on his tongue before he could taste them.
After the feast came dancing. The gnome-men were
old and shrivelled, with faces like roots of trees; all
wore silver coats and red caps. The gnome-maidens were
tall and stately, and wore on their heads wreaths of flowers
that sparkled as though wet with dew. Fried danced
with them, but because his clothes were so poor, his
partner took a wreath of flowers from the wall and placed
it on his head. Very pretty it looked on his bright, brown
hair—but he could not see this, for the dwarfs have no
looking-glasses. The bees buzzed and hummed like flutes
and trombones, the grasshoppers chirped like fiddles.
The dancing ended, Fried approached the King, who
was resting on his green throne, and said: "My Lord
King, be so good as to pay for my berries, and have
me guided out of the mountain, for it is time I returned
to my mother."
The King nodded his carbuncle crown, and wrapping
his golden mantle around him, departed to fetch the
money. How Fried rejoiced at the thought of taking
that money home! Being very tired, he mounted the
throne, seated himself on the soft mushroom cushion
from which the gnome-King had just risen, and, ere
that monarch returned, Fried was sleeping sound as a
Day was dawning in the forest when he awoke. His
limbs were stiff, and his bare feet icy cold. He rubbed
his eyes and stretched himself. He still sat beneath
the tree from whence, on the previous evening, he had
seen the light moving. "Where am I?" he muttered;
then he remembered falling asleep on the gnome-King's
mushroom cushion. He also remembered the
money he had been promised, and felt in his pockets—they
were empty. Yes, he remembered it all. This
was the morning his mother should have gone to town,
and he had neither berries nor money. Tears flowed from
his eyes, and he reviled the dwarfs who had carried
him sleeping from the mountain, and cheated him out
of his money. Rising sorrowfully, he went to the mountain,
but though he searched long and carefully, no
opening could he find.
There was nothing for it but to return home, and
this he did with a heavy heart. No one was stirring
when he reached the village. Gently he knocked on
the shutter of the room where his mother slept. "Wake
up, mother," he cried. "It is I, your Fried."
Quickly the door of the little house opened.
"Thank Heaven you have returned," said his mother,
embracing him. "But has nothing happened to you all
night alone in the forest?"
"Nothing, mother," he replied; "I only had a foolish
dream about the gnomes who dwell in the mountain."
And whilst his mother lit the stove, Fried related
his dream. She shook her head on hearing it, for she
believed her boy had really seen and heard these wonderful
Then Lorchen came in, and her mother told her to
unfasten the shutters. The child obeyed, but on re-entering
the room, she cried aloud, and placed her hands
on her brother's head.
Something heavy and sparkling fell to the ground.
They picked it up. It was the wreath of many-coloured
flowers Fried's partner had given him at the dance. But
the flowers were not like those that grow in the fields
and meadows: they were cold, and sparkling, like those
that adorned the walls of the mountain hall, and which
the gnome-maidens wore in their hair.
It was now clear that Fried had really spent the night
with the dwarfs. They all thought the flowers were
only coloured glass; but as they sparkled so brilliantly,
and filled the cottage with indescribable splendour, the
mother determined to ask advice about them. She therefore
broke a tiny branch from the wreath and took it
to the town to a goldsmith, who told her, to her great
astonishment, that the branch was composed of the most
costly gems, rubies, diamonds, and sapphires. In exchange
for it, he gave her a sack of gold so heavy she could
scarcely carry it home.
Want was now at an end for ever, for the wreath
was a hundred times more valuable than the tiny branch.
Great excitement prevailed in the village when the
widow's good fortune was made known, and all the
villagers ran into the forest to search for the wonderful
hole. But their searching was vain—none ever found
the entrance to the mountain. From henceforth the widow
and her children lived very happily; they remained pious
and industrious in spite of their wealth, did good to
the poor, and were contented to the end of their lives.