The Fairy in the Cuckoo Clock (Swiss Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, Swiss Folk Tales9971


As a rule, and certainly with most fairies, mortals are considered to be very stupid. In fairyland, the reputation of human beings, as dull witted and slow, is a fixed tradition.

Before doing a new thing, men and women have to think it out. They talk a good deal about “cause and effect”; whereas, with fairies, there are no causes, but things, and events just happen. If they do not, the fairies make them. Some situations, like the sun and moon, the earth and sky, the summer and winter, cannot be changed. Yet fairies can bring to pass lots of wonders that surprise men. They can play tricks that puzzle them beyond measure.

A hundred years ago, before the days of tourists, alpenstocks, hotels, electric railroads, and other foolish novelties, the guides, and all village folk, believed in the fairies. They felt as sure of giants and dwarfs, elves, and dragons, as folk of today, that never saw a dodo, or a pterodactyl, or an auroch, or a five-toed horse, believe these were once plentiful on the earth.

In fact, there was once a time, when men had no clocks or wrist-watches, and girls did not carry at their waist the pretty gold or nickel time-keepers of today. Nor did the big bells in the towers boom out the hours, nor were the huge clock-faces or dials seen, by day or by night. In the castles of Switzerland, where rich men or nobles lived, they knew nothing about marking the hours and minutes by anything, with a round face, having figures on it. One way to announce the hours was to have a candle, with two little brass balls, on opposite sides of the wax, and tied together with a string. When the flame burned, say, an inch, or other measured space, the balls dropped down into a brass basin. This made a loud, ringing noise, which sounded out the hours. Or, a little hammer struck a bell, and that is the reason why a clock, as its name was at first, was called a klok, or bell. On ships, the bells sounded every hour, and half hour, and this is still the method, to which sailors are accustomed; “eight bells” marking the end of one of the three periods of four hours each, into which the day is divided. The fairies could always tell the time, as well as men, by the sun, but they were more interested in the moon and stars, for night was their joy time. The common people had no word for a minute, or a second, or anything less than an hour. They knew when the sun rose and set, and they guessed the time of day from the place of the sun in the sky – at the east, as it rose in the morning, and during the afternoon, as it sank in the west.

After the Alpen glow, or rosy light, that flushed the mountains like a maiden”s blush, the fairies came out to dance in the meadows. They always went away and disappeared at sunrise, for the dancing fairies would be turned into stone, if the sun”s rays struck them. It was even worse for them, than for mortals, who, even amid the ice and snow, when climbing high mountains, might be sunstruck and die. One family of the flowers they named Four o”Clocks. But by and bye, men learned that they could set two sticks in a line north and south, and the shadow line from one stick would touch the other. They called this time twelve o”clock, or noon.

The old men also took notice that, in the long days of summer, the sun lengthened and, in cold winter, shortened its shadows. They were thus able to count the days before the flowers would bloom in the springtime. Then the yodel music would sound and the cows be driven to pasture up in the high mountains. From this noon shadow of the sun, men got the idea of the sundial. Placing a round disc, or plate, made of brass, or copper, on a stone or post, and setting on one side of it a metal pin, they noticed the sun”s shadow going round it in a circle. On the spaces, they marked the hours. Soon, it became the general fashion to have sun- dials in the gardens.

Yet all the time the fairies laughed at mortals and declared that if they could live on the earth, during the sunshiny hours, they would be able to tell the time of day from the flowers and the sun”s place in the sky. So, just for the fun of it, whenever they noticed a new sundial, of brass, or stone, set up in a garden, they invariably held a ball, and danced around it all night. Once in a while, they went into a church when no one was there, and walked and sported around the hour glass in the pulpit. Of the arrant stupidity of some mortals, the fairies became finally and perfectly sure, when one night, they gathered together for a merry dance around a new sundial. This had been placed, only that day, in a garden owned by an old fellow, who was reputed, by his neighbors, to be a very wise man. The fairies were interrupted in their plan of playing ring-around-a- rosy, when their sentinel, set to watch, had seen a strange sight and called out a loud alarm. Now this funny old fellow had a name which, if translated, into English, would be Soft Pudding. He was a kind-hearted chap, that loved the birds, and his pets, and children, but he was a most absent-minded codger. He never knew where his hat was, when he went outdoors, so his wife tied it, by a string, on to his button hole, as she did the little children”s mittens with a bit of tape, over their shoulders. Yet he was a delightful daddy, and all the little folks loved him.

Mr. Soft Pudding gladly paid the bill for his new toy, the sundial. He was so overjoyed at the idea of telling time by a shadow, that he talked about it for hours. Indeed, he was so absorbed in it, that he forgot all about the sun, and the necessity of its shining, or that daylight was at all requisite for his enjoyment, in looking at the sundial. So, on one cool autumn night, old Soft Pudding put on his cloak, lighted his lantern, and walked out into the garden to see what time it might be! Fool that he was, he found that as he changed the position of the lantern, its rays every time cast a new shadow. Instead of its showing one time, it looked as if there were several times, marked by the pin; and, as if everything had gone wrong. Then, for the first time, the idea entered his head that sundials were for use, during the daytime only. “Who would have thought it?” he cried, as he tramped back into his house, hoping his wife would not know the object of his errand and laugh at him.

But he did not tell her, and she thought he had gone out to look after the cows. But the fairies were irritated and in bad temper, because they had been driven away, by this intruder on their pleasures. They laughed at his stupidity, but their vexation was plain to be seen. “He might as well have had a wooden head, or one made of a squash. This only shows what fools these mortals be,” said one fairy to another. “Oh, don”t be angry, or sneer at him,” said an old fairy, who was a famous inventor. “Stupid though he is, he and his wife have always been kind to us fairies. Leave him to me. I'll put another idea in his head. For the sake of his people, I'll teach him to turn the dial upside down, turn its face outward, and put hands and fingers on its face, with wheels inside and weights below. Then, he can always have what he expected, this evening, to do; and tell the time, at night, as well as by day. “And I'll make the new contrivance sing. No longer shall a timekeeper be called a bell, to strike or sound the hours. I'll put a bird inside, to fly out and call out the hours.”

So the next night, the Queen of the Fairies took counsel of the owl, the wisest of all the birds, and also as fair-minded as a judge, who is just to all and the favorite of none. The owl decided that the cuckoo would serve best, and could be most depended upon always to come out, flap its wings, and chirp out the proper numbers of the hours. The Fairy Queen was surprised. “How can you, sir Judge, nominate a bird of bad character? The cuckoo is a pirate. Does it not lay its eggs in the nests of other birds? How often, besides stealing their homes, it throws out the eggs of the rightful owners, and, because of this robbery, the birdies die.” “True, I have considered this,” said the owl, “but the cuckoo is a summer bird, that eats up the hairy caterpillars, which other birds will not touch. In this manner, it helps the trees to grow and the fruit to ripen, so that men have a clean country for the fairies to play in. Besides, in the courting season, you know it is the male bird”s love note, that sounds so sweetly, in April, May and June, and this song, “cuckoo, cuckoo,” we all love to hear.”

The Queen of the Fairies pondered this answer. She was impressed with the owl”s wisdom, and, besides, she wanted all the fairies to love each other. So she concluded to invite the male cuckoo bird to be her model, for the new clock, that was to make Switzerland wealthy and famous. Surely, such clocks would be wanted, all over the world. The land being rich in walnut trees, there was no trouble in getting plenty of wood, dark and handsome, to be carved.

So, appearing to old Soft Pudding, in a dream, the fairy queen said to him. “Although we fairies all had a good laugh at you, when we saw you coming out of your house at night, with a lantern, to tell the time at the sundial, thus breaking up our party, yet because you have always been so kind to the birds, and loved our fairy folks, and the children, I will show you how to make a new kind of clock. It will not only mark the hours on its face, without the aid of the sun, but will send out a cuckoo, every hour, to flap its wings in delight. Then this wooden bird will call out “cuckoo, cuckoo,” as if a real one in feathers were making love to its mate. Do you not, yourself, think that the affection of the lover bird, thus shown, will increase mutual affection in your own house and brighten every Swiss home, and many more homes, beyond the sea?”

“I am sure it will. Thank you heartily,” said Soft Pudding. Then the Fairy Queen held out before his gaze a lovely cuckoo clock, made of black walnut, with hands and face-figures cut out of the wood of the white birch tree. When he woke up in the morning, out of his sleep, old Soft Pudding stretched out his hands to receive the gift, but it was daylight, and, of course, the fairy was gone. It was the common light of the sun, but he was very happy, even though he had only dreamed. He proceeded at once to turn his dream into reality, by constructing the clock. Within a week, he had made the works. Then, he set them inside a black walnut case, with ivory figures on the dial. After several attempts, he succeeded with the wooden cuckoo, that would come out, flap its wings, and chirp the number of the hours, and go inside the shut doors, while the clock face also marked the proper point. Then, he brought his whole family, one morning, near the moment when the minute hand was approaching the proper dot on the disc.

What was their surprise, when, without any one touching the little black house, which was set on the wall, the doors flew open, and out strutted a cuckoo, flapping its wings. It chirped out, ten times, and then bowed, went into its box again, and the little doors shut. The children all clapped their hands and the mother embraced her husband in joy. By and by, for ivory, which was very costly, Mr. Soft Pudding used white birch for the clock hands. Then he set up a factory, and this gave work to many villagers, men and women, boys and girls. He soon made a fortune, and now, no one called him Soft Pudding, but every one saluted him with a title of respect. When he died, he left his wealth to his family.

To this day, his cuckoos flap their wings, and salute the hours, in every land. Because the wooden clock and bird were black, the time-telling cuckoo, which was sometimes hitched to a barometer, or set in a toy, to foretell the weather, was called the “rain-crow.” But, with this beginning, made by the cuckoo clock, Switzerland became a land of clocks, watches, and musical boxes.



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