Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 


QUICK, daughter, quick! spin off what's on your rock.
'Tis Saturday night, and with the week you know
Our work must end; we shall the more enjoy
To-morrow's rest when all 's done out of hand. [a]
Quick, daughter, quick! spin off what 's on your rock.
True, mother, but every minute sleep
Falls on my eyes as heavy as lead, and I
Must yawn do what I will; and then God knows
I can't help nodding though 'twere for my life;
Or ... oh! it might be of some use if you
Would once more, dearest mother, tell about
The wonderful, good-natured little Dwarfs,
What they here round the country used to do,
And how they showed their kindness to the hinds.
See now! what industry!--your work itself
Should keep you waking. I have told you o'er
A thousand times the stories, and we lose,
If you grow wearied of them, store of joy
Reserved for winter-nights; besides, methinks,
The evening 's now too short for chat like this.
There 's only one thing I desire to hear
Again, and. sure, dear mother, never yet
Have you explained how 'twas the little men
Lived in the hills, and how, all through the year,
They sported round the country here, and gave
Marks of their kindness. For you 'll ne'er persuade
Me to believe that barely, one by one,
They wandered in the valleys, and appeared
Unto the people, and bestowed their gifts:
So, come now, tell at once, how 'twas the Dwarfs
Lived all together in society.
'Tis plain, however, of itself, and well
Wise folks can see, that such an active race
Would never with their hands before them sit.
Ah! a right merry lively thing, and full
Of roguish tricks, the little Hill-man is,
And quickly too he gets into a rage,
If you behave not toward him mannerly,
And be not frank and delicate in your acts.
But, above all things, they delight to dwell,
Quiet and peaceful, in the secret clefts
Of hills and mountains, evermore concealed.
All through the winter, when with icy rind
The frost doth cover o'er the earth, the wise
And prudent little people keep them warm
By their fine fires, many a fathom down
Within the inmost rocks. Pure native gold,
And the rock-crystals shaped like towers, clear,
Transparent, gleam with colours thousandfold
Through the fair palace, and the Little-folk,
So happy and so gay, amuse themselves
Sometimes with singing--Oh, so sweet! 'twould charm
The heart of any one who heard it sound.
Sometimes with dancing, when they jump and spring
Like the young skipping kids in the Alp-grass.
Then when the spring is come, and in the fields
The flowers are blooming, with sweet May's approach,
They bolts and bars take from their doors and gates,
That early ere the hind or hunter stirs,
In the cool morning, they may sport and play;
Or ramble in the evening, when the moon
Lights up the plains. Seldom hath mortal man
Beheld them with his eyes; but should one chance
To see them, it betokens suffering
And a bad year, if bent in woe they glide
Through woods and thickets; but the sight proclaims
Joy and good luck, when social, in a ring,
On the green meads and fields, their hair adorned
With flowers, they shout and whirl their merry rounds.
Abundance then they joyously announce
For barn, for cellar, and for granary,
And a blest year to men, to herds, and game.
Thus they do constantly foreshow what will
Befall to-morrow and hereafter; now
Sighing, and still, by their lamenting tones,
A furious tempest; and again, with sweet
And smiling lips, and shouting, clear bright skies. [b]
Chief to the poor and good, they love to show
Kindness and favour, often bringing home
At night the straying lambs, and oftener still
In springtime nicely spreading, in the wood,
Brushwood, in noble bundles, in the way
Of needy children gone to fetch home fuel.
Many a good little girl, who well obeyed
Her mother,--or, mayhap, a little boy,--
Has, with surprise, found lying on the hills
Bright dazzling bowls of milk, and baskets too,
Nice little baskets, full of berries, left
By the kind hands of the wood-roaming Dwarfs.
Now be attentive while I tell you one
Out of a hundred and a hundred stories;
'Tis one, however, that concerns us more
Than all the rest, because it was my own
Great-great-grandfather that the thing befell,
In the old time, in years long since agone.
Where from the lofty rocks the boundary runs
Down to the vale, Barthel, of herdsmen first
In all the country round, was ploughing up
A spacious field, where he designed to try
The seed of corn; but with anxiety
His heart was filled, lest by any chance
His venture should miscarry, for his sheep
In the contagion he had lost, now poor
And without skill, he ventures on the plough.
Deliberate and still, at the plough-tail,
In furrows he cuts up the grassy soil,
While with the goad his little boy drives on
The panting ox. When, lo! along the tall
Rocky hill-side, a smoke ascends in clouds
Like snow-flakes, soaring from the summit up
Into the sky. At this the hungry boy
Began to think of food, for the poor child
Had tasted nothing all the live-long day
For lunch, and, looking up, he thus began:
"Ah! there the little Dwarf-folk are so gay
At their grand cooking, roasting, boiling now,
For a fine banquet, while with hunger I
Am dying. Had we here one little dish
Of the nice savoury food, were it but as
A sign that there 's a blessing on our work!"
'Twas thus the boy spake, and his father ploughed
Silently on, bent forwards o'er his work.
They turn the plough; when huzza! lo! behold
A miracle! there gleamed right from the midst
Of the dark furrow, toward them, a bright
Lustre, and there so charming! lay a plate
Heaped up with roast meat; by the plate, a loaf
Of bread upon the outspread table-cloth,
At the disposal of the honest pair.
Hurra! long live the friendly, generous Dwarfs!
Barthel had now enough--so had the boy--
And laughing gratefully and loud, they praise
And thank the givers; then, with strength restored,
They quick return unto their idle plough.
But when again their day's task they resume,
To break more of the field, encouraged now
To hope for a good crop, since the kind Dwarfs
Had given them the sign of luck they asked--
Hush! bread and plate, and crums, and knife and fork,
Were vanished clean; only--just for a sign
For ever of the truth--lay on the ridge
The white, nice-woven, pretty table-cloth.
O mother! mother! what? the glittering plate
And real? and the cloth with their own hands
Spun by the generous Dwarfs? No, I can ne'er
Believe it!--Was the thread then, real drawn
And. twisted thread, set in it evenly?
And was there too a flower, a pretty figure,
Nicely wrought in with warp and crossing woof?
Did there a handsome border go all round,
Enclosing all the figures?--Sure your great-
Great-grandfather, if really he was
The owner of the curious little cloth,
He would have left it carefully unto
His son and grandson for a legacy,
That, for a lasting witness of the meal
Given by the Dwarfs, it might to distant years,
The praise and wonder of our vale remain.
Odds me! how wise the child is! what a loss
And pity 'tis that in old times the folk
Were not so thoughtful and so over-knowing!
Ah! our poor simple fathers should rise up
Out of their graves, and come to get advice
And comfort from the brooders that are now,--
As if they knew not what was right and fit!
Have but a little patience, girl, and spin
What's on your rock; to-morrow when 'tis day
I'll let you see the Dwarfs' flowered table-cloth,
Which, in the chest laid safe, inherited
From mother down to daughter, I have, long
Kept treasured under lock and key, for fear
Some little girl, like some one that you know,
Might out of curiosity, and not
Acquainted with its worth, set it astray.
Ah, that is kind, dear mother; and see now
How broad awake I am, and how so smart
I'm finishing my work since you relate
These pretty tales; but I will call you up
Out of your bed to-morrow in the morning
So early I Oh, I wish now it were day
Already, for I 'm sure I shall not get
One wink of sleep for thinking of the cloth. [c]

[a] It is a notion in some parts of Germany, that if a girl leaves any flax or tow on her distaff unspun on Saturday night, none of what remains will make good thread. Grimm, Deut. Mythol. Anhang, p. lxxii.
[b] Glanz is the term employed in Switzerland.
[c] This legend was picked up by a friend of Mr. Wyss when on a topographical ramble in the neighbourhood of Bern. It was told to him by a peasant of Belp; "but," says Mr. Wyss, "if I recollect right, this man said it was a nice smoking-hot cake that was on the plate, and it was a servant, not the man's son, who was driving the plough. The circumstance of the table-cloth being handed down from mother to daughter," he adds, "is a fair addition which I have allowed myself."
The writer recollects to have heard this story, when a boy, from an old woman in Ireland; and he could probably point out the very field in the county of Kildare where it occurred. A man and a boy were ploughing: the boy, as they were about in the middle of their furrow, smelled roast beef, and wished for some. As they returned, it was lying on the grass before them. When they had eaten, the boy said "God bless me, and God bless the fairies!" The man did not give thanks, and he met with misfortunes very shortly after.
--The same legend is also in Scotland.

Next: The Chamois-Hunter