Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Man without a Heart

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THERE was once a wise man. His knowledge was so profound that he might have invented powder or discovered America if he had cared to, for neither was known in his day. His thoughts were, however, far from the welfare of others, and all that he cared about was to be left alone with his studies, by which means he hoped to gain perfect happiness. He was well aware that Fortune was neither a bag of money nor good eating and drinking. By his ardent and diligent studies he had discovered that Fortune was, indeed, a great power of nature, like lightning or magnetism, and he declared that it should be his one day or another.

Early and late he pursued his studies in nature, and in old, curious books, with which his rooms were filled. But he was often disturbed by persons who wished to consult him on important matters, and who sought his help. As he was wealthy a great many poor persons came to his door, asking for a kind word and a penny. He could spare neither, however. Whenever a poor widow or motherless child called him away from his books for a short while, he was annoyed. On one occasion, when he was obliged to follow his father's body to its last resting-place, he said to himself, sighing deeply, "I wish I had no heart," thinking if he had none it would be an easy matter to seclude himself from the large world, and his fellowmen, whom he did not love.

When at home, this wise man was, as a rule, occupied with boiling, melting, and mixing the most remarkable things. One day he placed a small pot on a quaint-looking little oven, and was in the act of carrying out a very important experiment. The pot contained, namely: three drops of rat's blood; forty drops of the juice of henbane and chelidonia; the finger of a thief, who had been hanged on the gallows; four slugs; the heart of a frog, and a bit of his own finger-nail. As soon as this began to boil, the wise man poured three drops of a green fluid into the pot. Instantly a white steam arose, spread itself above the stove, and assumed the shape of a ghost's figure, surmounted by a large head with a pale, colorless countenance, large, round eyes, and a broad mouth.

The old sage was struck with astonishment, and wondered if this figure might, indeed, be Fortune itself.

"What do you wish for?" asked the figure, with its broad mouth.

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"What do I wish for?" repeated the student. "Perfect happiness. Fortune herself is my desire."

"Explain what you mean by Fortune," pursued the spirit.

"Fortune," began the other, "is a power of nature, and—"

"Be quick!" cried the ghost. "Do you wish for money?"

"No, no," answered the wise man; "the greatest happiness is to have no heart. I wish that you would take mine from me."

"Shall I take your heart?" asked the spirit again.

"Yes, take it, and hide it so well that it will never be found."

"Far, far away," said the spirit, "in the middle of a wild forest, there is a sea with an island on which an old castle is standing. I shall bury your heart fifty feet under the deepest cellar in this castle. Are you contented?"

"Yes, and I shall rejoice to be rid of it."

Now the steam vanished, and the pot boiled quietly as before. The wise man felt a cold touch at the left side of his chest, and knew that he had lost his heart. Since that day he lived much more peacefully, and was able to see the greatest want and distress without feeling the least trouble. He thought himself happier than all other beings, and was able to pursue his studies undisturbed.

In the same country there lived a king who had two sons. These were ready to marry, and the youngest of them was especially urged by the king to seek a wife, as his father was advanced in age, and he was to be his successor. It was decided that the two young men should go into the wide world and seek their wives in the neighboring countries. At length the youngest went away alone, as the king wished to keep one of them to assist him in his duties, of which we know all kings have a great deal.

So the young prince left home, and walked far away, until he reached a house in a large forest, where the wise man without a heart lived undisturbed. It was towards evening, so he knocked at the door and asked the old philosopher, who was by this time over a hundred years old, to give him a bed for the night. He also told him that he was a prince and accustomed to have his will. The old man reluctantly bid him enter, and his surprise may be imagined when he found himself in a spacious study filled with the queerest treasures and specimens that had ever met his glance. He turned to his old host, inquiring, "Do you live here quite alone?" "Yes," was the answer; "there is no one but myself living inside these walls, and I care for no companions."

The prince seated himself in a comfortable chair, and continued: "But where are your wife and children? How can you live without them?"

"I have never married," replied the wise man, smiling grimly, "and I never shall. My time is too valuable to be spent in the careless world, which seems to live only for idle pleasures and trifling pursuits. I live for a grand purpose."

"Poor man!" said the prince; "you have never been happy. Does it not please you to hear the birds twitter and to feel the warm sunshine? Do you never enjoy the pleasant and solemn sound of church-bells every morning at sunrise, and again at sunset, when the shadows are lengthening over the fields? Do you never feel the blessings of living for others?" "I have thought and studied for many years," replied the philosopher, "but perfectly happy I never was until I lost my heart. I have lost that, and do not wish to have it back." "Poor man!" said the prince again; "what a life to lead! The greatest happiness on earth which I can think of is to have a kind and beautiful wife, and at present I am seeking one. Shall I not try to find one for you also?" "Yes," suddenly exclaimed the wise man, "you may do so." He thought that it might be an advantage to have a young woman in the house to wait on him, as thus a great deal of time might be saved to him. "I shall do my best," returned the prince.

The next morning he pursued his way, and in due time arrived at a kingdom where there were two fair princesses, whom every one, even their enemies, praised. The young man told the king who he was, and that he would like to marry the youngest, and that her sister would be a fit wife for his brother. The king at once consented, so the three young people entered a carriage and drove away to the home of the prince, who was much pleased with the outcome of his mission.

When they passed the forest where the old hermit lived, they alighted to pay him a visit. As they approached he was standing outside his door, engaged in measuring the distance to the sun with a long pole. Seeing the prince and his two fair companions, he nodded at them, and asked the young man which of the girls was his betrothed. The prince pointed to the youngest, whereupon the philosopher turned to her sister and asked if she was the woman whom the prince had promised to bring him.

"She is to be married to my brother," answered the prince, as the girl was too much afraid to make any reply.

"So this is the manner in which a prince keeps his word!" cried the old man. "If you do not allow me to keep this girl, you will regret it."

"I saw no woman who would be a fit wife for you," returned the prince. "This one is too young."

"You have broken your word!" shouted the wise man; "but I will punish you." Drawing a small staff from his belt, he touched the youngest princess and the prince, converting them into stones with a human shape, but cold and dead. Upon this he seized the other princess by the hand and led her into his house, where he forced her to cook, and wash, and scrub from morning to night, while he sat in his study, occupied with his learned duties. The poor girl never ceased to weep over her hard fate, and often begged him to show mercy; but he paid no attention to her tears and prayers, and merely bid her do her work if she did not wish to suffer the same treatment as the two who were standing immovable outside the house.

As the young prince did not return, the king began to fear that something had happened to him, and asked his eldest son to go and find him. The young man readily complied, and at once set out on his journey. He walked a long distance, until he lost his way in a forest where there was neither path nor road. One afternoon he caught sight of a huge eagle, which sat on a tree, watching the ground beneath.

"Can you tell me," said the prince to the bird, "where to—"

"Wait a moment!" interrupted the eagle. "There is a mole which is about to come up through yonder mole-cast. I wish to have it for supper, as I have seen no birds the whole day."

"Leave the poor fellow alone," said the prince, "and eat this sausage instead. It will give you less trouble, and, besides, the mole is a very useful animal which should be guarded carefully from every danger."

"Many thanks!" returned the bird, seizing the sausage with his sharp claws. "No doubt you are right in regard to the mole, but I am fearfully hungry, so I am obliged to take my chances."

At the same time the mole thrust his nose through the surface of the ground, and said: "Young man, if you are ever in need, call me and I will help you, as you have saved my life."

"Thank you for that promise," returned the prince.

"I will make you the same promise," now resumed the eagle, "because you gave me what you might yourself have needed. But why do you roam about in this forest?"

The prince thanked him many times, and told him that he was seeking his brother, who had disappeared while seeking a bride.

"I know it," explained the bird. "I saw him from far above; but it will be difficult to free him from the magician's hands into which he has fallen." And now he proceeded to tell the young man of his brother's cruel fate. "If we could only find the heart of the old philosopher," he said, musingly, "all would be well. Wait! Seat yourself on my back, and we may succeed." The prince obeyed, and was carried swiftly through the air, until the eagle landed on the island in the middle of the forest, where the spirit had buried the magician's heart fifty feet under the deepest cellar of the old castle. "Now call the mole," bade the eagle. The prince obeyed, and at once the small animal thrust his nose into the air, inquiring what he desired. "Bring us the heart which is buried deep in the ground below the old castle," said the eagle. The little fellow at once dug himself into the ground, and returned, pushing a small gray lump in front of him.

"Take this lump," said the eagle, "and when we arrive at the philosopher's house, walk in and bid him set your brother and the two princesses free. If he tries to hurt you, throw his heart at him, and he will obey you."

The prince again seated himself on the eagle's back, and away they went to the house in the forest, where the wise old man had so cruelly treated his brother and the two princesses. Here the bird stopped his flight, and the prince hastily entered the house. He saw the philosopher bending over his books and papers, while the princess was engaged in drying some evil-smelling herbs on the stove.

"Undo the wrong," cried the prince, "and set my brother and the two princesses free!"

The old man turned furiously upon him, and reached for his staff, but at the same moment he felt a stinging pain in his left side, threw up his hands, staggered to his feet, and cried: "Mercy, mercy! I have served the Evil One! Some one gave me back my heart. Oh, give me my youth again, that I may live like other men!"

In the next second the two figures outside the windows became alive again, and the two brothers clasped each other in their arms, while the sisters held each other by the hand. But a great change had taken place in the room. There now stood by the philosopher's chair a little boy, gazing curiously at the many singular objects about him. This man had found his heart again, and was to begin life afresh.

For none of God's creatures can live without a heart.