In the year 1770, in Germany, the afterwards learned and accomplished Kevenhüller was born. He was the son of a count, and could have lived in lofty palaces and ridden at the Emperor’s side if he had so wished; but he had not.

He could have liked to fasten windmill sails on the castle’s highest tower, turn the hall into a locksmith’s workshop, and the boudoir into a watchmaker’s. He would have liked to fill the castle with whirling wheels and working levers. But when he could not do it he left all the pomp and apprenticed himself to a watchmaker. There he learned everything there was to learn about cogwheels, springs, and pendulums. He learned to make sundials and star-dials, clocks with singing canary-birds and horn-blowing shepherds, chimes which filled a whole church-tower with their wonderful machinery, and watch-works so small that they could be set in a locket.

When he had got his patent of mastership, he bound his knapsack on his back, took his stick in his hand, and wandered from place to place to study everything that went with rollers and wheels. Kevenhüller was no ordinary watchmaker; he wished to be a great inventor and to improve the world.

When he had so wandered through many lands, he turned his steps towards Värmland, to there study mill-wheels and mining. One beautiful summer morning it so happened that he was crossing the marketplace of Karlstad. But that same beautiful summer morning it had pleased the wood-nymph to extend her walk as far as the town. The noble lady came also across the marketplace from the opposite direction, and so met Kevenhüller.

That was a meeting for a watchmaker’s apprentice. She had shining, green eyes, and a mass of light hair, which almost reached the ground, and she was dressed in green, changeable silk. She was the most beautiful woman Kevenhüller had ever seen.

He stood as if he had lost his wits, and stared at her as she came towards him.

She came direct from the deepest thicket of the wood, where the ferns are as high as trees, where the giant firs shut out the sun, so that it can only fall in golden drops on the yellow moss.

I should like to have been in Kevenhüller’s place, to see her as she came with ferns and pine-needles tangled in her yellow hair and a little black snake about her neck.

How the people must have stared at her! Horses bolted, frightened by her long, floating hair. The street boys ran after her. The men dropped their meat-axes to gape at her.

She herself went calm and majestic, only smiling a little at the excitement, so that Kevenhüller saw her small, pointed teeth shine between her red lips.

She had hung a cloak over her shoulders so that none should see who she was; but as ill-luck would have it, she had forgotten to cover her tail. It dragged along the paving stones.

Kevenhüller saw the tail; he was sorry that a noble lady should make herself the laughingstock of the town; so he bowed and said courteously:⁠—

“Would it not please your Grace to lift your train?”

The wood-nymph was touched, not only by his kindness, but by his politeness. She stopped before him and looked at him, so that he thought that shining sparks passed from her eyes into his brain. “Kevenhüller,” she said, “hereafter you shall be able with your two hands to execute whatever work you will, but only one of each kind.”

She said it and she could keep her word. For who does not know that the wood-nymph has the power to give genius and wonderful powers to those who win her favor?

Kevenhüller remained in Karlstad and hired a workshop there. He hammered and worked night and day. In a week he had made a wonder. It was a carriage, which went by itself. It went up hill and down hill, went fast or slow, could be steered and turned, be stopped and started, as one wished.

Kevenhüller became famous. He was so proud of his carriage that he journeyed up to Stockholm to show it to the king. He did not need to wait for post-horses nor to scold ostlers. He proudly rode in his own carriage and was there in a few hours.

He rode right up to the palace, and the king came out with his court ladies and gentlemen and looked at him. They could not praise him enough.

The king then said: “You might give me that carriage, Kevenhüller.” And although he answered no, the king persisted and wished to have the carriage.

Then Kevenhüller saw that in the king’s train stood a court lady with light hair and a green dress. He recognized her, and he understood that it was she who had advised the king to ask him for his carriage. He was in despair. He could not bear that another should have his carriage, nor did he dare to say no to the king. Therefore he drove it with such speed against the palace wall that it was broken into a thousand pieces.

When he came home to Karlstad he tried to make another carriage. But he could not. Then he was dismayed at the gift the wood-nymph had given him. He had left the life of ease at his father’s castle to be a benefactor to many, not to make wonders which only one could use. What good was it to him to be a great master, yes, the greatest of all masters, if he could not duplicate his marvels so that they were of use to thousands.

And he so longed for quiet, sensible work that he became a stonecutter and mason. It was then he built the great stone tower down by the west bridge, and he meant to build walls and portals and courtyards, ramparts and turrets, so that a veritable castle should stand by the Klar River.

And there he should realize his childhood’s dream. Everything which had to do with industry and handicraft should have a place in the castle halls. White millers and blacksmiths, watchmakers with green shades before their strained eyes, dyers with dark hands, weavers, turners, filers⁠—all should have their workshops in his castle.

And everything went well. Of the stones he himself had hewn he had with his own hand built the tower. He had fastened windmill sails on it⁠—for the tower was to be a mill⁠—and now he wanted to begin on the smithy.

But one day he stood and watched how the light, strong wings turned before the wind. Then his old longing came over him.

He shut himself in in his workshop, tasted no food, took no rest, and worked unceasingly. At the end of a week he had made a new marvel.

One day he climbed up on the roof of his tower and began to fasten wings to his shoulders.

Two street boys saw him, and they gave a cry which was heard through the whole town. They started off; panting, they ran up the streets and down the streets, knocking on all the doors, and screaming as they ran:⁠—

“Kevenhüller is going to fly! Kevenhüller is going to fly!”

He stood calmly on the tower-roof and fastened on his wings, and in the meantime crowds of people came running through the narrow streets of old Karlstad. Soon the bridge was black with them. The marketplace was packed, and the banks of the river swarmed with people.

Kevenhüller at last got his wings on and set out. He gave a couple of flaps with them, and then he was out in the air. He lay and floated high above the earth.

He drew in the air with long breaths; it was strong and pure. His breast expanded, and the old knights’ blood began to seethe in him. He tumbled like a pigeon, he hovered like a hawk, his flight was as swift as the swallow’s, as sure as the falcon’s. If he had only been able to make such a pair of wings for every one of them! If he had only been able to give them all the power to raise themselves in this pure air! He could not enjoy it alone. Ah, that wood-nymph⁠—if he could only meet her!

Then he saw, with eyes which were almost blinded by the dazzling sunlight, how someone came flying towards him. Great wings like his own, and between the wings floated a human body. He saw floating yellow hair, billowy green silk, wild shining eyes. It was she, it was she!

Kevenhüller did not stop to consider. With furious speed he threw himself upon her to kiss her or to strike her⁠—he was not sure which⁠—but at any rate to force her to remove the curse from his existence. He did not look where he was going; he saw only the flying hair and the wild eyes. He came close up to her and stretched out his arms to seize her. But his wings caught in hers, and hers were the stronger. His wings were torn and destroyed; he himself was swung round and hurled down, he knew not whither.

When he returned to consciousness he lay on the roof of his own tower, with the broken flying-machine by his side. He had flown right against his own mill; the sails had caught him, whirled him round a couple of times, and then thrown him down on the tower roof.

So that was the end.

Kevenhüller was again a desperate man. He could not bear the thought of honest work, and he did not dare to use his magic power. If he should make another wonder and should then destroy it, his heart would break with sorrow. And if he did not destroy it, he would certainly go mad at the thought that he could not do good to others with it.

He looked up his knapsack and stick, let the mill stand as it was, and decided to go out and search for the wood-nymph.

In the course of his journeyings he came to Ekeby, a few years before the major’s wife was driven out. There he was well received, and there he remained. The memories of his childhood came back to him, and he allowed them to call him count. His hair grew gray and his brain slept. He was so old that he could no longer believe in the feats of his youth. He was not the man who could work wonders. It was not he who had made the automatic carriage and the flying-machine. Oh, no⁠—tales, tales!

But then it happened that the major’s wife was driven from Ekeby, and the pensioners were masters of the great estate. Then a life began there which had never been worse. A storm passed over the land; men warred on earth, and souls in heaven. Wolves came from Dovre with witches on their backs, and the wood-nymph came to Ekeby.

The pensioners did not recognize her. They thought that she was a poor and distressed woman whom a cruel mother-in-law had hunted to despair. So they gave her shelter, revered her like a queen, and loved her like a child.

Kevenhüller alone saw who she was. At first he was dazzled like the others. But one day she wore a dress of green, shimmering silk, and when she had that on, Kevenhüller recognized her.

There she sat on silken cushions, and all the old men made themselves ridiculous to serve her. One was cook and another footman; one reader, one court-musician, one shoemaker; they all had their occupations.

They said she was ill, the odious witch; but Kevenhüller knew what that illness meant. She was laughing at them all.

He warned the pensioners against her. “Look at her small, pointed teeth,” he said, “and her wild, shining eyes. She is the wood-nymph⁠—all evil is about in these terrible times. I tell you she is the wood-nymph, come hither for our ruin. I have seen her before.”

But when Kevenhüller saw the wood-nymph and had recognized her, the desire for work came over him. It began to burn and seethe in his brain; his fingers ached with longing to bend themselves about hammer and file; he could hold out no longer. With a bitter heart he put on his working-blouse and shut himself in in an old smithy, which was to be his workshop.

A cry went out from Ekeby over the whole of Värmland:⁠—

“Kevenhüller has begun to work!”

A new wonder was to see the light. What should it be? Will he teach us to walk on the water, or to raise a ladder to the stars?

One night, the first or second of October, he had the wonder ready. He came out of the workshop and had it in his hand. It was a wheel which turned incessantly; as it turned, the spokes glowed like fire, and it gave out warmth and light. Kevenhüller had made a sun. When he came out of the workshop with it, the night grew so light that the sparrows began to chirp and the clouds to burn as if at dawn.

There should never again be darkness or cold on earth. His head whirled when he thought of it. The sun would continue to rise and set, but when it disappeared, thousands and thousands of his fire-wheels should flame through the land, and the air would quiver with warmth, as on the hottest summer-day. Harvests should ripen in midwinter; wild strawberries should cover the hillsides the whole year round; the ice should never bind the water.

His fire-wheel should create a new world. It should be furs to the poor and a sun to the miners. It should give power to the mills, life to nature, a new, rich, and happy existence to mankind. But at the same time he knew that it was all a dream and that the wood-nymph would never let him duplicate his wheel. And in his anger and longing for revenge, he thought that he would kill her, and then he no longer knew what he was doing.

He went to the main building, and in the hall under the stairs he put down his fire-wheel. It was his intention to set fire to the house and burn up the witch in it.

Then he went back to his workshop and sat there silently listening.

There was shouting and crying outside. Now they could see that a great deed was done.

Yes, run, scream, ring the alarm! But she is burning in there, the wood-nymph whom you laid on silken cushions.

May she writhe in torment, may she flee before the flames from room to room! Ah, how the green silk will blaze, and how the flames will play in her torrents of hair! Courage, flames! courage! Catch her, set fire to her! Witches burn! Fear not her magic, flames! Let her burn! There is one who for her sake must burn his whole life through.

Bells rang, wagons came rattling, pumps were brought out, water was carried up from the lake, people came running from all the neighboring villages. There were cries and wailings and commands; that was the roof, which had fallen in; there was the terrible crackling and roaring of a fire. But nothing disturbed Kevenhüller. He sat on the chopping-block and rubbed his hands.

Then he heard a crash, as if the heavens had fallen, and he started up in triumph. “Now it is done!” he cried. “Now she cannot escape; now she is crushed by the beams or burned up by the flames. Now it is done.”

And he thought of the honor and glory of Ekeby which had had to be sacrificed to get her out of the world⁠—the magnificent halls, where so much happiness had dwelt, the tables which had groaned under dainty dishes, the precious old furniture, silver and china, which could never be replaced⁠—

And then he sprang up with a cry. His fire-wheel, his sun, the model on which everything depended, had he not put it under the stairs to cause the fire?

Kevenhüller looked down on himself, paralyzed with dismay.

“Am I going mad?” he said. “How could I do such a thing?”

At the same moment the door of the workshop opened and the wood-nymph walked in.

She stood on the threshold, smiling and fair. Her green dress had neither hole nor stain, no smoke darkened her yellow hair. She was just as he had seen her in the marketplace at Karlstad in his young days; her tail hung between her feet, and she had all the wildness and fragrance of the wood about her.

“Ekeby is burning,” she said, and laughed.

Kevenhüller had the sledgehammer lifted and meant to throw it at her head, but then he saw that she had his fire-wheel in her hand.

“See what I have saved for you,” she said.

Kevenhüller threw himself on his knees before her.

“You have broken my carriage, you have rent my wings, and you have ruined my life. Have grace, have pity on me!”

She climbed up on the bench and sat there, just as young and mischievous as when he saw her first.

“I see that you know who I am,” she said.

“I know you, I have always known you,” said the unfortunate man; “you are genius. But set me free! Take back your gift! Let me be an ordinary person! Why do you persecute me? Why do you destroy me?”

“Madman,” said the wood-nymph, “I have never wished you any harm. I gave you a great reward; but I can also take it from you if you wish. But consider well. You will repent it.”

“No, no!” he cried; “take from me the power of working wonders!”

“First, you must destroy this,” she said, and threw the fire-wheel on the ground in front of him.

He did not hesitate. He swung the sledgehammer over the shining sun; sparks flew about the room, splinters and flames danced about him, and then his last wonder lay in fragments.

“Yes, so I take my gift from you,” said the wood-nymph. As she stood in the door and the glare from the fire streamed over her, he looked at her for the last time. More beautiful than ever before, she seemed to him, and no longer malicious, only stern and proud.

“Madman,” she said, “did I ever forbid you to let others copy your works? I only wished to protect the man of genius from a mechanic’s labor.”

Whereupon she went. Kevenhüller was insane for a couple of days. Then he was as usual again.

But in his madness he had burned down Ekeby. No one was hurt. Still, it was a great sorrow to the pensioners that the hospitable home, where they had enjoyed so many good things, should suffer such injury in their time.