THE LOST BELL
A SHEPHERD'S boy belonging to Patzig, about half a mile from Bergen, where there are great numbers of the underground people in the hills, found one morning a little silver bell on the green heath, among the Giants'-graves, and fastened it on him. It happened to be the bell belonging to the cap of one of the little Brown ones, who had lost it while he was dancing, and did not immediately miss it, or observe that it was no longer tinkling in his cap. He had gone down into the hill without his bell, and having discovered his loss, was filled with melancholy. For the worst thing that can befall the underground people is to lose their cap, then their shoes; but even to lose the bell from their caps, or the buckle from their belts, is no trifle to them. Whoever loses his bell must pass some sleepless nights, for not a wink of sleep can he get till he has recovered it.
The little fellow was in the greatest trouble, and searched and looked about everywhere; but how could he learn who had the bell? For only on a very few days in the year may they come up to the daylight; nor can they then appear in their true form. He had turned himself into every form of birds, beasts, and men; and he had sung and rung, and groaned and moaned, and lamented and inquired about his bell, but not the slightest tidings, or trace of tidings, had he been able to get. For what was worst of all, the shepherd's boy had left Patzig the very day he found the little bell, and was now keeping sheep at Unruh, near Gingst: so it was not till many a day after, and then by mere chance, that the little underground fellow recovered his bell, and with it his peace of mind.
He had thought it not unlikely that a raven, or a crow, or a jackdaw, or a magpie, had found his bell, and from his thievish disposition, which is caught with anything bright and shining, had carried it into his nest; with this thought he had turned himself into a beautiful little bird, and searched all the nests in the island, and had sung before all kinds of birds, to see if they had found what he had lost, and could restore him his sleep; but nothing had he been able to learn from the birds. As he now, one evening, was flying over the waters of Baby and the fields of Unruh, the shepherd's boy, whose name was Fritz Schlagenteufel (Smite-devil), happened to be keeping his sheep there at the very time. Several of the sheep had bells about their necks, and they tinkled merrily, when the boy's dog set them trotting. The little bird, who was flying over them thought of his bell, and sung, in a melancholy tone,
Little bell, little bell,
Little ram as well,
You, too, little sheep,
If you've my Tingletoo,
No sheep's so rich as you,
My rest you keep.
The boy looked up and listened to this strange song which came out of the sky, and saw the pretty bird, which seemed to him still more strange:--"Odds bodikins!" said he to himself, "if one but had that bird that's singing up there, so plain that one of us would hardly match him! What can he mean by that wonderful song? The whole of it is, it must be a feathered witch. My rams have only pinchbeck bells, he calls them rich cattle; but I have a silver bell, and he sings nothing about me." And with these words he began to fumble in his pocket, took out his bell, and rang it.
The bird in the air instantly saw what it was, and was rejoiced beyond measure. He vanished in a second--flew behind the nearest bush--alighted and drew off his speckled feather-dress, and turned himself into an old woman dressed in tattered clothes. The old dame, well supplied with sighs and groans, tottered across the field to the shepherd's boy, who was still ringing his bell, and wondering what was become of the beautiful bird. She cleared her throat, and coughing up from the bottom of her chest, bid him a kind good evening, and asked him which was the way to Bergen. Pretending then that she had just seen the little bell, she exclaimed, "Good Lord! what a charming pretty little bell! Well! in all my life I never beheld anything more beautiful! Harkye, my son, will you sell me that bell? And what may be the price of it? I have a little grandson at home, and such a nice plaything as it would make for him!" "No," replied the boy, quite short, "the bell is not for sale. It is a bell, that there is not such another bell in the whole world. I have only to give it a little tinkle, and my sheep run of themselves wherever I would have them go. And what a delightful sound it has! Only listen, mother!" said he, ringing it: "is there any weariness in the world that can hold out against this bell? I can ring with it away the longest time, so that it will be gone in a second."
The old woman thought to herself, "We will see if he can hold out against bright shining money." And she took out no less than three silver dollars, and offered them to him: but he still replied, "No, I will not sell my bell." She then offered him five dollars. "The bell is still mine," said he. She stretched out her hand full of ducats: he replied, this third time, "Gold is dirt and does not ring." The old dame then shifted her ground, and turned the discourse another way. She grew mysterious, and began to entice him by talking of secret arts, and of charms by which his cattle might be made to thrive prodigiously, relating to him all kinds of wonders of them. It was then the young shepherd began to long, and he now lent a willing ear to her tales.
The end of the matter was, that she said to him, "Harkye, my child! give me the bell and see! here is a white stick for you," said she, taking out a little white stick which had Adam and Eve very ingeniously cut on it, as they were feeding the herds of Paradise, with the fattest sheep and lambs dancing before them; and there was the shepherd David too, as he stood with his sling against the giant Goliath. "I will give you," said the old woman, "this stick for the bell, and as long as you drive the cattle with it they will be sure to thrive. With this you will become a rich shepherd: your wethers will always be fat a month sooner than the wethers of other shepherds, and every one of your sheep will have two pounds of wool more than others, and yet no one will be ever able to see it on them."
The old woman handed him the stick. So mysterious was her gesture, and so strange and bewitching her smile, that the lad was at once in her power. He grasped eagerly at the stick, gave her his hand, and cried, "Done! Strike hands! The bell for the stick!" And cheerfully the old woman struck hands, and took the bell, and went like a light breeze over the field and the heath. He saw her vanish, and she seemed to float away before his eyes like a mist, and to go off with a slight whiz and whistle that made the shepherd's hair stand on end.
The underground one, however, who, in the shape of an old woman, had wheedled him out of his bell, had not deceived him. For the under groundpeople dare not lie, but must ever keep their word; a breach of it being followed by their sudden change into the shape of toads, snakes, dunghill-beetles, wolves and apes; forms in which they wander about, objects of fear and aversion for a long course of years before they are freed. They, therefore, have naturally a great dread of lying. Fritz Schlagenteufel gave close attention and made trial of his new shepherd's-staff and he soon found that the old woman had told him the truth, for his flocks, and his work, and all the labour of his hands prospered with him and had wonderful luck, so that there was not a sheep-owner or head shepherd but was desirous of having Fritz Schlagenteufel in his employment.
It was not long, however, that he remained an underling. Before he was eighteen years of age, he had gotten his own flocks, and in the course of a few years was the richest sheep-master in the whole island of Rügen; until at last, he was able to purchase a knight's estate for himself, and that estate was Grabitz, close by Rambin, which now belongs to the lords of Sunde. My father [a] knew him there, and how from a shepherd's boy he was become a nobleman, and, he always conducted himself like a prudent, honest and pious man, who had a good word from every one. He brought up his sons like gentlemen, and his daughters like ladies, some of whom are still alive and accounted people of great consequence. And well may people who hear such stories wish that they had met with such an adventure, and had found a little silver bell which the underground people had lost.
[a] Hinrich Vick's of course, for he is the narrator.