A father had two sons, the elder of whom was forward and clever enough to do almost anything; and so, the younger son was ignored. If anything was to be done, the elder had at all times to do it; but sometimes the father would call him to fetch something in the dead of night, and perhaps the way led through the churchyard or by a dismal place, and then he used to answer, “No, father, I cannot go there, I am afraid,” for he was a coward.
Sometimes of an evening, tales were told by the fireside which made one shudder, and the listeners exclaimed, “Oh, it makes us shiver!” In a corner, meanwhile, sat the younger son, listening, but he could not comprehend what was said, and he thought, “They say continually, ‘Oh, it makes us shiver, it makes us shiver!’ but perhaps shivering is an art which I cannot understand.”
One day, however, his father said to him, “Do you hear, you there in the corner? You are growing stout and big; you must learn some trade to get your living by. Do you see how your brother works? But as for you, you are not worth malt and hops.”
“Ah, father,” answered he, “I would willingly learn something. When shall I begin? I want to know what shivering means, for of that I can understand nothing.”
The father sighed and said, “What shivering means you may learn soon enough, but you will never get your bread by that.”
Soon after the parish sexton came in for a gossip, so the father told him his troubles, and how that his younger son had no idea what to do for a living . “Just fancy, when I asked him how he intended to earn his bread, he desired to learn what shivering meant!”
“Oh, if that be all,” answered the sexton, “he can learn that soon enough with me; just send him to my place, and I will soon teach him.”
The father was very glad, because he thought that it would do the boy good; so, the sexton took him home to ring the bells. About two days afterward he called him up at midnight to go into the church-tower to toll the bell. “You shall soon learn what shivering means,” thought the sexton, and getting up he went out too. As soon as the boy reached the belfry, and turned himself round to seize the rope, he saw upon the stairs, near the sounding-hole, a white figure. “Who’s there?” he called out; but the figure gave no answer, and neither stirred nor spoke. “Answer,” said the boy, “or make haste off; you have no business here to-night.” But the sexton did not stir, so that the boy might think it was a ghost.
The boy called out a second time, “What are you doing here? Speak, if you are an honest fellow, or else I will throw you downstairs.”
The sexton said to himself, “That is not a bad thought”; but he remained quiet as if he were a stone. Then the boy called out for the third time, but it produced no effect; so, making a spring, he threw the ghost down the stairs, so that it rolled ten steps, and then lay motionless in a corner. Thereupon he rang the bell, and then going home, he went to bed without saying a word, and fell fast asleep. The sexton’s wife waited some time for her husband, but he did not come; so at last she became anxious, woke the boy, and asked him if he knew where her husband was, who had gone before him to the belfry.
“No,” answered the boy; “but there was someone standing on the steps who would not give any answer, nor go away, so I took him for a thief and threw him downstairs. Go now and see where he is; perhaps it may be he, but I should be sorry for it.”
The wife ran off and found her husband lying in a corner, groaning, with one of his ribs broken.
She took him up and ran with loud outcries to the boy’s father, and said to him, “Your son has brought a great misfortune on us; he has thrown my husband down and broken his bones. Take the good-for-nothing fellow from our house.”
The terrified father came in haste and scolded the boy. “What do these wicked tricks mean? They will only bring misfortune upon you.”
“Father,” answered the lad, “hear me! I am quite innocent. He stood there at midnight like one who had done some evil; I did not know who it was, and cried three times, ‘Speak, or be off!'”
“Ah!” said the father, “everything goes badly with you. Get out of my sight; I do not wish to see you again!”
“Yes, father, willingly; wait but one day, then I will go out and learn what shivering means, that I may at least understand one business which will support me.”
“Learn what you will,” replied the father, “all is the same to me. Here are fifty dollars; go forth with them into the world, and tell no man whence you came, or who your father is, for I am ashamed of you.”
“Yes, father, as you wish; but if you desire nothing else, I shall esteem that very lightly.”
As soon as day broke the youth put his fifty dollars into a knapsack and went out upon the high road, saying continually, “Oh, if I could but shiver!”
Presently a man came up, who heard the boy talking to himself; and, as they we’re just passing the place where the gallows stood, the man said, “Do you see? There is the tree where seven fellows have married the hempen maid, and now swing to and fro. Sit yourself down there and wait till midnight, and then you will know what it is to shiver!”
“Oh, if that be all,” answered the boy, “I can very easily do that! But if I learn so speedily what shivering is, then you shall have my fifty dollars if you come again in the morning.”
Then the boy went to the gallows, sat down, and waited for evening, and as he felt cold he made a fire. But about midnight the wind blew so sharp, that in spite of the fire he could not keep himself warm. The wind blew the bodies against one another, so that they swung backward and forward, and he thought, “If I am cold here below by the fire, how must they freeze above!” So his compassion was excited, and, contriving a ladder, he mounted, and, unloosening them one after another, he brought down all seven. Then he poked and blew the fire, and set them round that they might warm themselves; but as they sat still without moving their clothing caught fire.
He said, “Take care of yourselves, or I will hang all of you up again.” The dead heard not, and silently allowed their rags to burn. This made him so angry that he said, “If you will not hear I cannot help you; but I will not burn with you.” So, he hung them up again in a row and sitting down by the fire he soon went to sleep.
The next morning the man came, expecting to receive his fifty dollars, and asked, “Now do you know what shivering means?”
“No,” he answered, “how should I know? Those fellows up there have not opened their mouths and were so stupid that they let the old rags on their bodies be burnt.”
Then the man saw that he should not carry away the fifty dollars that day, so he went away saying, “I never met with such a one before.”
The boy also went on his way and began again to say, “Ah, if only I could but shiver—if I could but shiver!” A wagoner walking behind overheard him, and asked, “Who are you?”
“I do not know,” answered the boy.
The wagoner asked again, “What do you here?”
“I know not.”
“Who is your father?”
“I dare not say.”
“What is it you are continually grumbling about?”
“Oh,” replied the youth, “I wish to learn what shivering is, but nobody can teach me.”
“Cease your silly talk,” said the wagoner. “Come with me, and I will see what I can do for you.” So the boy went with the wagoner, and about evening time they arrived at an inn where they put up for the night, and while they were going into the parlor he said, quite aloud, “Oh, if I could but shiver—if I could but shiver!” The host overheard him and said, laughingly, “Oh, if that is all you wish, you shall soon have the opportunity.”
“Hold your tongue,” said his wife; “so many imprudent people have already lost their lives, it was a shame and sin to such beautiful eyes that they should not see the light again.”
But the youth said, “If it were ever so difficult I would at once learn it; for that reason, I left home”; and he never let the host have any peace till he told him that not far off stood an enchanted castle, where anyone might soon learn to shiver if he would watch there three nights.
The King had promised his daughter in marriage to whoever would venture, and she was the most beautiful young lady that the sun ever shone upon. And he further told him that inside the castle there was an immense amount of treasure guarded by evil spirits; enough to make any one free and turn a poor man into a very rich one. Many, he added, had already ventured into this castle, but no one had ever come out again.
The next morning this youth went to the King, and said, “If you will allow me, I wish to watch three nights in the enchanted castle.” The King looked at him, and because his appearance pleased him, he said, “You may make three requests, but they must be inanimate things you ask for, and such as you can take with you into the castle.” So the youth asked for a fire, a lathe, and a cutting-board.
The King let him take these things by day into the castle, and when it was evening the youth went in and made himself a bright fire in one of the rooms, and, placing his cutting-board and knife near it, he sat down upon his lathe. “Ah, if I could but shiver!” said he. “But even here I shall never learn.”
At midnight he got up to stir the fire, and, as he poked it, there shrieked suddenly in one corner, “Miau, miau! how cold I am!” “You simpleton!” he exclaimed, “what are you shrieking for? If you are so cold come and sit down by the fire and warm yourself!” As he was speaking, two great black cats sprang up to him with an immense jump and sat down one on each side, looking at him quite wildly with their fiery eyes. When they had warmed themselves for a little while they said, “Comrade, shall we have a game of cards?”
“Certainly,” he replied; “but let me see your paws first.”
So, they stretched out their claws, and he said, “Ah, what long nails you have got; wait a bit, I must cut them off first”; and so saying he caught them up by the necks and put them on his board and screwed their feet down. “Since I have seen what you are about, I have lost my relish for a game at cards,” said he; and, instantly killing them, threw them away into the water. But no sooner had he quieted these two and thought of sitting down again by his fire, than there came out of every hole and corner black cats and black dogs with glowing chains, continually more and more, so that he could not hide himself. They howled fearfully, and jumped upon his fire, and scattered it about as if they would extinguish it. He looked on quietly for some time, but at last, getting angry, he took up his knife and called out, “Away with you, you vagabonds!” and chased them about until a part ran off, and the rest he killed and threw into the pond.
As soon as he returned, he blew up the sparks of his fire again and warmed himself, and while he sat his eyes began to feel very heavy and he wished to go to sleep. So, looking around he saw a great bed in one corner, in which he lay down; but no sooner had he closed his eyes, than the bed began to move of itself and travelled all round the castle. “Just so,” said he, “only better still”; whereupon the bed galloped away as if six horses pulled it up and down steps and stairs, until at last, all at once, it overset, bottom upward, and lay upon him like a mountain; but up he got, threw pillows and mattresses into the air, and saying, “Now he who wishes may travel,” laid himself down by the fire and slept till day broke.
In the morning the King came, and, seeing the youth lying on the ground, he thought that the specters had killed him, and that he was dead; so, he said, “It is a great misfortune that the finest men are thus killed”; but the youth, hearing this, sprang up, saying, “It is not come to that with me yet!” The King was much astonished, but very glad, and asked him how he had fared. “Very well,” replied he; “as one night has passed, so also may the other two.” Soon after he met his landlord, who opened his eyes when he saw him. “I never thought to see you alive again,” said he; “have you learnt now what shivering means?” “No,” said he; “it is all of no use. Oh, if anyone would but tell me!”
The second night he went up again into the castle, and sitting down by the fire, began his old song, “If I could but shiver!” When midnight came, a ringing and a rattling noise was heard, gentle at first and louder and louder by degrees; then there was a pause, and presently with a loud outcry half a man’s body came down the chimney and fell at his feet. “Holloa,” he exclaimed; “only half a man answered that ringing; that is too little.” Then the ringing began afresh, and a roaring and howling was heard, and the other half fell down.
“Wait a bit,” said he; “I will poke up the fire first.”
When he had done so and looked round again, the two pieces had joined themselves together, and an ugly man was sitting in his place.
“I did not bargain for that,” said the youth; “the bench is mine.”
The man tried to push him away, but the youth would not let him, and giving him a violent push sat himself down in his old place.
Presently more men fell down the chimney, one after the other, who brought nine thighbones and two skulls, which they set up, and then they began to play at ninepins. At this the youth wished also to play, so he asked whether he might join them. “Yes, if you have money!”
“Money enough,” he replied, “but your balls are not quite round”; so, saying he took up the skulls, and, placing them on his lathe, turned them round. “Ah, now you will roll well,” said he. “Holloa! now we will go at it merrily.” So, he played with them and lost some of his money, but as it struck twelve everything disappeared. Then he lay down and went to sleep quietly.
On the morrow the King came for news and asked him how he had fared this time. “I have been playing ninepins,” he replied, “and lost a couple of dollars.”
“Have you not shivered?”
“No! I have enjoyed myself very much; but I wish someone would teach me that!”
On the third night he sat down again on his bench, saying in great vexation, “Oh, if I could only shiver!”
When it grew late, six tall men came in bearing a coffin between them. “Ah, ah,” said he, “that is surely my little cousin, who died two days ago”; and beckoning with his finger he called, “Come, little cousin, come!” The men set down the coffin upon the ground, and he went up and took off the lid, and there lay a dead man within, and as he felt the face it was as cold as ice.
“Stop a moment,” he cried; “I will warm it in a trice”; and stepping up to the fire he warmed his hands, and then laid them upon the face, but it remained cold.
So, he took up the body, and sitting down by the fire, he laid it on his lap and rubbed the arms that the blood might circulate again. But all this was of no avail, and he thought to himself if two lie in a bed together they warm each other; so, he put the body in the bed, and covering it up laid himself down by its side.
After a little while the body became warm and began to move about. “See, my cousin,” he exclaimed, “have I not warmed you?”
But the body got up and exclaimed, “Now I will strangle you.”
“Is that your gratitude?” cried the youth. “Then you shall get into your coffin again”; and taking it up, he threw the body in, and made the lid fast. Then the six men came in again and bore it away.
“Oh, deary me,” said he, “I shall never be able to shiver if I stop here all my lifetime!”
At these words in came a man who was taller than all the others and looked more horrible; but he was very old and had a long white beard. “Oh, you wretch,” he exclaimed, “now thou shalt learn what shivering means, for thou shalt die!”
“Not so quick,” answered the youth; “if I die I must be brought to it first.”
“I will quickly seize you,” replied the ugly one.
“Softly, softly; be not too sure. I am as strong as you, and perhaps stronger.”
“That we will see,” said the ugly man. “If you are stronger than I, I will let you go; come, let us try”; and he led him away through a dark passage to a smith’s forge. Then taking up an axe he cut through the anvil at one blow down to the ground.
“I can do that still better,” said the youth, and went to another anvil, while the old man followed him and watched him, with his long beard hanging down. Then the youth took up an axe, and, splitting the anvil at one blow, wedged the old man’s beard in it. “Now I have you; now death comes upon you!” The old man begged him to release him, and he would give him great riches.
So, the youth drew out the axe, and let him loose. Then the old man, leading him back into the castle, showed him three chests full of gold in a cellar. “One share of this,” said he, “belongs to the poor, another to the King, and a third to yourself.” And just then it struck twelve and the old man vanished, leaving the youth in the dark.
“I must help myself out here,” said he, and groping round he found his way back to his room and went to sleep by the fire.
The next morning the King came and inquired, “Now have you learnt to shiver?” “No,” replied the youth; “what is it? My dead cousin came here, and a bearded man, who showed me a lot of gold down below; but what shivering means, no one has showed me!” Then the King said, “You have won the castle, and shall marry my daughter.”
“That is all very fine,” replied the youth, “but still I don’t know what shivering means.”
So, the gold was fetched, and the wedding was celebrated, but the young Prince (for the youth was a Prince now), notwithstanding his love for his bride, and his great contentment, was still continually crying, “If I could but shiver! if I could but shiver!”
At last, it fell out in this wise: one of the chambermaids said to the Princess, “Let me bring in my aid to teach him what shivering is.” So, she went to the brook which flowed through the garden and drew up a pail of water full of little fish; and, at night, when the young Prince was asleep, his bride drew away the covering and poured the pail of cold water and the little fishes over him, so that they slipped all about him. Then the Prince woke up directly, calling out, “Oh! that makes me shiver! dear wife, that makes me shiver! Yes, now I know what shivering means!”
Citation: Grimm, Jacob and Grimm, Wilhelm. Grimm’s Fairy Stories. Edited by S.E. Schlosser. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.