Behind the mill, the brook gathered above huge rocks, and then fell into the depth below. Water danced up in the air like gleaming pearls and landed on the bushes that bent over the roaring brook. The girl sat there often, and didn't get tired of listening to the thundering of the water.
“Lena, what are you doing there?” the father would ask her now and again.
“I listen to him!”
And the father smiled and returned to his anvil.
In winter she sat down near the window with the house cat nestled beside her and never got sick of the miraculous world outside, the glittering ice-crystals of frost had created at the border of the waterfall. And when the mother asked her what she was doing, Lena answered, “I watch him!”
The brook, like her kitten, cheerfully hopped from one stone to the next, jumped down the slopes and rolled on its way between the grass. It seemed to be a living being just like the cat. Next to the parents, both were the darlings of her world. And she wished day after day that the water ghost might show up, as once happened to her grandmother.
Thus the years passed. Then came a spring, when it didn't rain at all. The crops in the fields dried up and the farmers started to complain. The brook became thinner and thinner. But it fed itself from springs deep inside the mountains, and the smith calmed his daughter, telling her that it wouldn't dry up.
When the heat of summer arrived in the country, the need for water became even bigger. Mercilessly, the sun burnt down from the sky and the cattle on the pastures cried of thirst. Lena’s brook had become narrow and weak; however, it still drove the mill wheel.
For hours Lena sat at the bank and stared at the trickling water. Sometimes she cried bitterly, fearing the brook would disappear completely.
Now and then her father came to comfort her. “Water is everlasting, my child,” he would say. “And nothing in the world is mightier. It defeats the fire; no stone stands firm to it. And it is stronger than we men.”
“He doesn't speak to me anymore,” Lena cried then.
“Oh, he does,” the father replied smiling. “Just listen carefully.” And he took a pebble and let it splash into the water: “Listen! This is his voice, too.”
At one noon two old farmers came to the father. “Listen, smith”, they said. “We need water for our cattle and our fields. We are going to dig a new bed for the brook downhill and lead it to our fields.”
“No!” Lena squealed; she had heard everything. “You can't do this!”
“Quiet, child!” the father said. “You don’t understand.”
Lena’s eyes opened wide, startled by the unexpected rebuke. However, she took heart: “Father, they can lead the animals here to let them drink. But they may not lock up the brook. He will get angry.”
“Stupid brat,” one of the farmers growled. “We can't bring our fields over here.”
Lena stared at him defiantly: “ Nevertheless, you can't force him. He is stronger than men!” Weeping she ran away.
The next morning the men of the village approached, equipped with pickaxes and shovels. They began to dig narrow canals straight through the fields to the brook. Then two bricklayers came to build a high stonewall across the brook’s bed below the smiths. Thus the water was forced to make its way into the ditches. Yet only narrow rivulets flowed and in the first few days they seeped into the dried earth after a few meters. But soon they ran farther and farther, and at the edges of the channels it started to turn green.
Lena had sat from morning to night beside the mill wheel, her little fists clenched, while she observed the activities of the villagers. She would murmur, quietly, as if to herself.
“Lena, what are you doing there?” the father asked her once.
“I comfort him,” was the answer. “The brook says he’s unhappy.”
“But, child,” the father said with a sigh.
Then came autumn and it brought long-desired rain. When the first drops fell, Lena ran out cheering. Piously she touched the dampness on the leaves, shaking the branches that bent over the brook, as if their moisture could fill him faster.
When the father finally stepped to her, she threw her arms around his neck: “Now the brook can return, right? Now the wall can come down!”
The father took Lena’s hand and looked at her seriously: “Child, to the brook it doesn’t matter where it flows. But it will serve men and animals many more years by bringing water to the meadows and fields.”
“No, it’s not the same for the brook,” she grumbled and sadly walked away.
It continued to rain and the brook became as mighty as before. But now downhill he dammed up in front of the wall, which the villagers had built, and was forced farther and farther into the fields. With the rain, Lena sat at the window and observed how it lost itself in the meadows. As soon as the sun broke through the clouds, she sat on the bank and listened to the growing rumbling of the waterfall.
Sample from "Magical Stories". Short story collection. English edition of "Magische Geschichten".
Short stories that are not only for children...
Magic and wisdom connect with reality and legend.
Meet a water ghost, a young magician, a magical hare and a good witch.
Discover what happens when a force of nature collides with the thoughtlessness of men.
Consider wisely and well before you wish or else...some very bad things will happen.
And prepare to have your heart warmed by a very particular Christmas story.
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