|The Three Sisters with the Glass Hearts
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
There are people who have glass hearts. If you would tap such a heart lightly it
would sound like a silver bell. But if you would hit it hard, it would break in two.
Now there was once a king and queen who had three daughters and all three of them
had glass hearts. "Children," said the queen, "beware of your hearts, they can be
broken!" The children listened and were careful indeed.
One day the eldest sister was leaning out of her window over the parapet and was
looking down at the garden where bees and butterflies were flitting among the
flowers. While doing so she felt the railing pressing against her heart: Ping! It
sounded as if something had cracked, and at that moment she fell to the floor and
And a bit later the second daughter was drinking a cup of very hot coffee. Again there
was the sound of glass breaking, but this time it was much fainter, and she too fell to
the floor. Her mother lifted her up carefully and soon saw to her surprise that her
daughter was not dead but that her heart had only been slightly cracked and that it
was still throbbing.
"What can we do with our daughter?" the parents asked themselves. "Her heart is
only cracked but even though the crack is very fine it could very easily break in two.
We will have to be all the more careful with her."
But the princess said: "Let me be! Sometimes broken things can hold together for a
very long time."
Meanwhile the king's youngest daughter had grown up and she was so beautiful, so
kind-hearted and understanding that the sons of other kings from far distant places
would come and ask to marry her. But the old king was wise, for he had learned what
suffering and loss meant and he said: "I have but one daughter who is whole but she,
too, has a glass heart. If I have to give her in marriage it must be to a king who has
two qualities: he must be a glass cutter and a person who knows how to handle
breakable wares." And among the many suitors who came there was not one who
knew how to work with glass, and so they all had to take their leave with heavy
Now at the castle there was one page who had almost completed his training. He only
had to be the train-bearer for the king's youngest daughter three more times before
he could be made a nobleman. After doing that the king would congratulate him and
say: "You are now a full-fledged nobleman. I thank you for your services. Now you
may take your leave."
When he bore the princess's train the first time he saw how she could walk just like a
queen. When he carried it the second time the princess said: "Let go of my train, give
me your hand and lead me up the stairs, but do it graciously, as befits a page who
attends to the king's daughter." When he did that he saw what a royal hand she had.
But the princess noticed something too; what it was I will tell later on. Finally, when
he was her train-bearer for the third time the king's daughter turned to him and said:
"What an excellent train-bearer you are! No one ever carried it in such a charming
way. Now the page noticed that she was able to speak like a queen, too. After fulfilling
what was required of him the page became a nobleman. The king congratulated and
thanked him and said he could now take his leave.
As he was departing the king's daughter was standing at the garden gate and said to
him: "I have had no other train-bearer as good as you. If you were only a glass cutter
and a king!"
To this he answered that he wanted to do everything he could to be such a person; if
only she could wait he was certain he would return.
Then he went to a glass cutter and asked if he was in need of an apprentice. "Yes,
certainly," answered the glass cutter, "but only after you have worked here for four
years. In the first year you must fetch the rolls from the baker, bathe the children,
comb and dress them. In the second you must learn to apply putty to all kinds of
cracks, in the third, learn how to cut and mount glass, and in the fourth you will
become a master glass cutter."
After hearing that the young man asked if he could start at the end because that way
it would go faster. But the master explained that a real glass cutter had to start at
the beginning for otherwise nothing useful would come of him.
The young nobleman was satisfied with that explanation. In the first year he fetched
the rolls from the baker, bathed, combed and helped to dress the children. In the
second year he learned to apply putty to cracks, in the third he learned to cut and
mount glass and in the fourth he became a master glass cutter. Then he once more
put on his page's garb, took leave of his master and considered what he must do to
become a king.
When he was walking down the street lost in thought and looking down at the cobble
stones a man came up to him and asked if he had lost something because he was
always staring at the ground. He answered: No, I have not lost anything but I am
looking for something, namely, a kingdom. And he asked him if he might know what
he had to do to become a king.
"If you were a glass cutter," said the man," I could give you some advice."
"But I am a glass cutter!" he answered, "I have just become a master-cutter!"
When he heard that the man told him about the sisters with the golden hearts and
how the old king was set on having his daughter marry a glass cutter. "In the
beginning," he said, "the suitor had to be both a glass cutter and a king or the son of
a king, but because he could find no one with both qualifications, glass cutter and
king, the king conceded somewhat, as a prudent man always does, and set two new
conditions. Yes, he had to be a glass cutter, he stuck to that!"
"But what are the two conditions," asked the young nobleman.
"First, the princess must like him and he must have tender hands. If a glass cutter
presents himself and she likes him and if he has tender hands the king would give him
his daughter, and later on, after he had died, he would have him made king. There
were already many glass cutters who had come to the castle but the princess didn't
like any of them. Besides that their hands were in no way tender, but raw, just like
you would expect the hands of an ordinary glass cutter to be."
When the young nobleman heard this he went to the castle and presented himself to
the king. He first told him that he had served him as page and that out of love for his
daughter he had become a glass cutter and that now he wanted to marry her and
that after the king had died he wanted to become king.
The king had his daughter brought in and asked her if she liked the young nobleman,
and when she said yes, because she immediately recognized who it was, the king
asked him to take off his gloves and show him if he had tender hands. But the
princess thought this was not necessary because she knew perfectly well that he had
tender hands. She had already noticed it when he had led her up the stairs.
So now both conditions were met and because the princess had found a husband
who was not only a glass cutter but also a man with tender hands. And after their
marriage her husband was most careful with her heart and remained so throughout
But the second sister, the one with the cracked heart, became an aunt and she was
the best aunt in the world. Not only did the king's children think that, but everyone in
the kingdom thought so too. She taught the little princesses to read, to pray and
how to make doll dresses; and she watched over their schoolwork. If one of them had
a good grade she would praise him abundantly and give him a little present; but if he
had a bad one she would give him a mild slap on the back of the head and she would
say: "Tell me, clever Prince, what is going on in your head? What do you want to be
later on? Tell me right now! It is high time, isn't it?"
And if he would start to stutter and blurt out: "Ki-Ki-Ki-King!" she would laugh and
ask: "King! King Midas perhaps? King Midas High Born with two long donkey ears!"
Then he would be ashamed for not applying himself.
And likewise this second princess lived to a ripe old age, even though her heart had a
crack in it. If someone was astonished by that she would repeat her saying: "A crack
in the heart does not necessarily cause it to break and if it was made when one was
young it often stays together for a long, long time."—
And there is a lot of truth in that. For I know that my mother has an old creamer, a
white one, with little colored flowers painted on it. It has been cracked for as long as
I can remember but it is still whole to this day. And ever since the day it was given to
her she has bought many replacements and all of them are now broken, so many that
we have lost count of them. —
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides