The Shepherd And The Serpent





In a peaceful, pleasantly situated little village, there once lived a

poor shepherd youth. Near the village was a valley, a lonely retired

spot, whither the youth always guided his flock; and it seemed as

though he had selected that quiet valley for his favourite retreat. He

never took his noon-day meal, nor lay down to repose in the cool

shade, except in that beloved place. Thither was he ever drawn by an

irresistible longing.



The place itself was simple enough--a rugged block of stone, beneath

which murmured a little rivulet, and a wild cherry-tree which

overshadowed the stone with its leafy branches, were all that was to

be seen there; but the youth felt happy when he spread his meal upon

that stone, and drank from that streamlet. When, after having partaken

of his meal, he stretched himself to rest upon the stone, he would

fancy he heard a mysterious singing, and sometimes a sighing too,

beneath it; he would then listen and watch, but would finally slumber

and dream. His spirit seemed to be ever wrapped in mysterious

unearthly happiness. On going forth with his flocks in the morning,

and returning home with them in the evening, this unaccountable

longing seemed always to take possession of him. He liked not to

accompany the throng of merry village youths and maidens who went

about singing and frolicking on festive evenings, but preferred to

walk alone, silent and even melancholy. But when the fair morning

dawned again, and he went forth with his lambs over heath and meadow,

his spirit grew ever more serene as he drew nearer to the beloved

stone and to the shade of the dear cherry-tree. It often happened,

too, that whilst he rested there and played upon his flute, a

silver-white serpent came out from under the stone, and after

wreathing herself caressingly at his feet, would then erect herself

and gaze upon the shepherd, until two big tears would roll from her

eyes, and then she softly slid back again: on these occasions a still

more peculiar and strange feeling filled the shepherd's heart.



At length he altogether ceased to associate with the merry band of

youths and maidens; their mirthsome noise was unpleasant to him;

whilst, on the contrary, the still solitude became more and more dear

to him.



One lovely Sunday in the spring time--it was Trinity Sunday, which the

peasants call "Golden Sunday," and which they always keep with

especial festivity--when the youth of the village were to have a merry

dance beneath the linden-trees, the pensive shepherd boy, drawn by

that inexpressible longing, directed his steps at mid-day to the

lonely valley of the stone and cherry-tree. He gazed serenely upon the

dear spot, and then sat down and listened musingly to the rustling of

the leaves and the mysterious sounds under the stone, when suddenly a

bright light shone before his eyes, a pang of terror shot through his

heart, and looking up he saw a beauteous form arrayed in white like an

angel, standing before him with a soft expression and folded hands,

whilst with transported senses he heard a sweet voice thus address

him: "O youth, fear not, but hear the supplication of an unhappy

maiden, and do not drive me from thee, nor flee from my misfortune. I

am a noble princess, and have immense treasures of pearls and gold;

but for many hundred years I have languished under enchantment, have

been banished beneath this stone, and am doomed to glide about in the

form of a serpent. In that shape I have often gazed on thee and

conceived the hope that thou mayest release me. Thou art still pure in

heart as a child. Only once throughout the whole year, this very hour

on Golden Sunday, am I permitted to wander on the earth in my own

form; and if I then find a youth with a pure heart, I may implore him

for my deliverance. Release me then, thou beloved one! release me, I

implore thee by all that is holy!"--The maiden sank at the shepherd's

feet, which she clasped as she looked up to him weeping. The heart of

the youth heaved with transport; he raised the angelic maiden and

faltered out: "Oh say only what I must do to free thee, thou fair

beloved one!"



"Return hither to-morrow at the same hour," replied she, "and when I

appear before thee in my serpent form, and wind myself around thee,

and thrice kiss thee, do not, oh! do not shudder, else must I again

languish enchanted here for another century!" She vanished, and again

a soft sighing and singing issued from beneath the stone.



On the following day, at the hour of noon, the shepherd, not without

fear in his heart, waited at the appointed place, and supplicated

Heaven for strength and constancy at the trying moment of the

serpent's kiss. Already the silver-white serpent glided from beneath

the stone, approached the youth, twined herself round his body, and

raised her serpent head, with its bright eyes, to kiss him. He

remained steady, and endured the three kisses. A mighty crash was then

heard, and dreadful thunders rolled around the youth, who had fallen

senseless on the ground. A magic change passed over him, and when he

was restored to his senses, he found himself lying on white cushions

of silk, in a richly-adorned chamber, with the beautiful maiden

kneeling by his couch, holding his hand to her heart. "Oh, thanks be

to Heaven!" exclaimed she, when he opened his eyes; "receive my

thanks, beloved youth, for my deliverance, and take as thy reward my

fair lands, and this palace with all its rich treasures, and take me

too as thy faithful wife: thou shalt henceforth be happy, and have

plenitude of joy!"



And the shepherd was happy and joyful; that longing of his heart which

had so often drawn him towards the stone, was gloriously satisfied. He

dwelt, remote from the world, in the bosom of happiness, with his

fair spouse; and he never wished himself back on earth, nor amongst

his lambs again. But in the village there was great lamentation for

the shepherd who had so suddenly vanished: they sought him in the

valley, and by the stone under the cherry-tree, whither he had last

gone, but neither the shepherd, nor the stone, nor the cherry-tree

were to be found any longer; and no human eye ever again beheld any

trace of either.





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