Fairies, Fairy Tales, Fairy Books

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Swiss Fairy Tales and Fairies

The Fairy Mythology
by Thomas Keightley

Gertrude and Rosy
The Chamois-Hunter
The Dwarfs on the Tree
Curiousity punished
The Rejected Gift
The Wonderful Little Pouch
Aid and Punishment
The Dwarf in search of Lodging

Denn da hielten auch im lande
Noch die guten Zwerglein Hans;
Kleingestalt, doch hochbegabet,
Und so hülfreich liberaus!
For then also in the country
The good Dwarflings still kept house;
Small in form, but highly gifted,
And so kind and generous!
WE now arrive at Switzerland, a country with which are usually associated ideas of sublime and romantic scenery, simple manners, and honest hearts. The character of the Swiss Dwarfs will be found to correspond with these ideas. For, like the face of Nature, these personifications of natural powers seem to become more gentle and mild as they approach the sun and the south.
The Dwarfs, or little Hill- or Earth-men [a] of Switzerland, are described as of a lively, joyous disposition, fond of strolling through the valleys, and viewing and partaking in the labours of agriculture. Kind and generous, they are represented as driving home stray lambs, and leaving brush-wood and berries in the way of poor children. Their principal occupation is keeping cattle--not goats, sheep, or cows, but the chamois, from whose milk they make excellent and well-flavoured cheese. This cheese, when given by the Dwarfs to any one, has the property of growing again when it has been cut or bitten. But should the hungry owner be improvident enough to eat up the whole of it and leave nothing from it to sprout from, he of course has seen the end of his cheese.
The Kobolds are also to be met with in Switzerland. In the Vaudois, they call them Servants, [b] and believe that they live in remote dwellings and lonely shiels. [c] The most celebrated of them in those parts is Jean de la Boliéta, or, as he is called in German, Napf-Hans, i. e. Jack-of-the-Bowl, because it was the custom to lay for him every evening on the roof of the cow-house a bowl of fresh sweet cream, of which he was sure to give a good account. He used to lead the cows to feed in the most dangerous places, and yet none of them ever sustained the slightest injury. He always went along the same steep path on which no one ever saw even a single stone lying, though the whole side of the mountain was strewn as thickly as possible with boulders. It is stifi called Boliéta's Path. [d]
Rationalising theory has been at work with the Swiss Dwarfs also. It is supposed, that the early inhabitants of the Swiss mountains, when driven back by later tribes of immigrants, retired to the high lands and took refuge in the clefts and caverns of the mountains, whence they gradually showed themselves to the new settlers--approached them, assisted them, and were finally, as a species of Genii, raised to the region of the wonderful.
For our knowledge of the Dwarf Mythology of Switzerland, we are chiefly indebted to professor Wyss, of Bern, who has put some of the legends in a poetical dress, and given others in the notes to his Idylls as he styles them. These legends were related by the peasants to Mr. Wyss or his friends, on their excursions through the mountains; and he declares that he has very rarely permitted himself to add to, or subtract from, the peasants' narrative. He adds, that the belief in these beings is strong in the minds of the people, not merely in the mountain districts, but also at the foot of Belp mountain, Belp, Gelterfingen, and other places about Bern. 
As a specimen of Mr. Wyss's manner of narrating these legends, we give here a faithful translation of his first Idyll

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 CHAMOIS-RUNTER set out early one morning, and ascended the mountains. He had arrived at a great height, and was in view of some chamois, when, just as he was laying his bolt on his crossbow, and was about to shoot, a terrible cry from a cleft of the rock interrupted his purpose. Turning round he saw a hideous Dwarf, with a battle-axe in his hand raised to slay him. "Why," cried he, in a rage, "hast thou so long been destroying my chamois, and leavest not with me my flock? But now thou shalt pay for it with thy blood.' The poor hunter turned
pale at the stranger's words. In his terror he was near falling from the cliff.
At length, however, he recovered himself; and begged forgiveness of the Dwarf; pleaded his ignorance that the chamois belonged to him, declaring at the same time that he had no other means of support than what he derived from hunting. The Dwarf was pacified, laid down his axe, and said to him, "Tis well; never be seen here again, and I promise thee that every seventh day thou shalt find, early in the morning, a dead chamois hanging before thy cottage; but beware and keep from the others." The Dwarf then vanished, and the hunter returned thoughtfully home, little pleased with the prospect of the inactive live be was now to lead.
On the seventh morning he found, according to the Dwarf's promise, a fat chamois hanging in the branches of a tree before his cottage, of which he ate with great satisfaction. The next week it was the same, and so it continued for some months. But at last he grew weary of this idle life, and preferred, come what might, returning to the chase, and catching chamois for himself; to having his food provided for him without the remembrance of his toils to sweeten the repast. His determination made, he once more ascended the mountains. Almost the first object that met his view was a fine buck. The hunter levelled his bow and took aim at the prey; and as the Dwarf did not appear, he was just pulling the trigger, when the Dwarf stole behind him, took him by the ankle, and tumbled him down the precipice.
Others say the Dwarf gave the hunter a small cheese of chamois-milk, which would last him his whole life, but that he one day thoughtlessly ate the whole of it, or, as some will have it, a guest who was ignorant of the quality of it ate up the remainder. Poverty then drove him to return to the chamois-hunting, and he was thrown into a chasm by the Dwarf. [a]


IN old times men lived in the valley, and around them, in the clefts and holes of the rocks, dwelt the Dwarfs. They were kind and friendly to the people, often performing hard and heavy work for them in the night; and when the country-people came early in the morning with their carts and tools, they saw, to their astonishment, that the work was already done, while the Dwarfs hid themselves in the bushes, and laughed aloud at the astonished rustics. Often, too, were the peasants incensed to find their corn, which was scarcely yet ripe, lying cut on the ground; but shortly after there was sure to come on such a hail-storm, that it became obvious that hardly a single stalk could have escaped destruction had it not been cut, and then, from the bottom of their hearts, they thanked the provident Dwarf-people. But at last mankind, through, their own folly, deprived themselves of the favour and kindness of the Dwarfs; they fled the country, and since that time no mortal eye has seen them. The cause of their departure was this:

    A shepherd had a fine cherry-tree [a] that stood on the mountain. When in the summer the fruit had ripened, it happened that, three times running, the tree was-stript, and all tie fruit spread out on the benches and hurdles, where the shepherd himself used to spread it out to dry for the winter. The people of the village all said, "It could be none but the good-natured Dwarfs, who come by night tripping along with their feet covered with long mantles, as light as birds, and industriously perform for mankind their daily work. People have often watched them," continued the narrators, "but no one disturbs them; they are left to come and go as they please." This talk only excited the curiosity of the shepherd, and he longed to know why it was that the Dwarfs so carefully concealed their feet, and whether they were differently formed from those of men. Accordingly, next year, when the summer came, and the time when the Dwarfs secretly pulled the cherries, and brought them to the barn, the shepherd took a sack full of ashes, and strewed them about under the cherry-tree. Next morning, at break of day, he hastened to the place: the tree was plucked completely empty, and he saw the marks of several goose-feet impressed on the ashes. The shepherd then laughed and jested at having discovered the Dwarfs' secret. But soon after the Dwarfs broke and laid waste their houses, and fled down deeper in the mountain to their splendid secret palace, that had long lain empty to receive them. Vexed with mankind, they never more granted them their aid; and the imprudent shepherd who had betrayed them became sickly, and continued so to the end of his life. [b]


A DWARF came down one night from the chesnut woods on the side of the mountain over the village of Walchwyl, and enquired for the house of a midwife, whom he earnestly pressed to come out and go with him. She consented, and the Dwarf, bearing a light, led the way in silence to the woods. He stopped at last before a cleft in a rock, at which they entered, and the woman suddenly found herself in a magnificent hall. She was thence led through several rich apartments to the chamber of state, where the queen of the Dwarfs, for whom her services were required, was lying. She performed her office, and brought a fair young prince to the light. She was thanked and dismissed, and her former conductor appeared to lead her home. As he was taking leave of her, he filled her apron with something, bidding her on no account to look at it till she was in her own house. But the woman could not control her curiosity, and the moment the Dwarf disappeared, she partly opened the apron, and lo! there was nothing in it but some black coals. In a rage, she shook them out on the ground, but she kept two of them in her hands, as a proof of the shabby treatment she had met with from the Dwarfs. On reaching home, she threw them also down on the ground. Her husband cried out with joy and surprise, for they shone like carbuncles. She asserted that the Dwarf had put nothing but coals into her apron; but she ran out to call a neighbour, who knew more of such things than they did, and he on examining them pronounced them to be precious stones of great value. The woman immediately ran back to where she had shaken out the supposed coals, but they were all gone. [a]


AT NOON one day a young peasant sat by the side of a wood, and, sighing, prayed to God to give him a morsel of food. A Dwarf suddenly emerged from the wood, and told him that his prayer should be fulfilled. He then gave him the pouch that he had on his side, with the assurance that he would always find in it wherewithal to satisfy his thirst and hunger, charging him at the same time not to consume it all and to share with any one who asked him for food. The Dwarf vanished, and the peasant put his hand into the pouch to make trial of it, and there he found a cake of new bread, a cheese, and a bottle of wine, on which he made a hearty meal. He then saw that the pouch swelled up as before, and looking in be found that it was again full of bread, cheese, and wine. He now felt sure of his food, and he lived on in an idle luxurious way, without doing any work. One day, as he was gorging himself there came up to him a feeble old man, who prayed him to give him a morsel to eat. He refused in a brutal, churlish tone, when instantly the bread and cheese broke, and scattered out of his hands, and pouch and all vanished. [a]


ON the side of Mount Pilatus is a place named the Kastler-Alpe, now covered with stones and rubbish, but which once was verdant and fertile. The cause of the change was as follows.
The land there was formerly occupied by a farmer, a churlish, unfeeling man, who, though wealthy, let his only sister struggle with the greatest poverty in the valley beneath. The poor woman at length having fallen sick, and seeing no other resource, resolved to apply to her hardhearted brother for the means of employing a doctor. She sent her daughter to him; but all the prayers and tears of the poor girl failed to move him, and he told her he would, sooner than give her anything, see the Alpe covered with stones and rubbish. She departed, and as she went along a Dwarf suddenly appeared to her. She would have fled, but he gently detained her, and telling her he had heard all that had passed, gave her a parcel of herbs, which he assured her would cure her mother, and a little cheese, which he said would last them a long time.
On trial, the herbs quickly produced the promised effect; and when they went to cut the cheese they found the knife would not penetrate it, and no wonder, for it was pure gold. There also came a sudden storm on the mountain, and the Kastler-Alpe was reduced to its present eondition. [a]


ONE night, during a tremendous storm of wind and rain, a Dwarf came travelling through a little village, and went from cottage to cottage, dripping with rain, knocking at the doors for admission. None, however, took pity on him, or would open the door to receive him: on the contrary, the inhabitants even mocked at his distress.
At the very end of the village there dwelt two honest poor people, a man and his wife. Tired and faint, the Dwarf crept on his staff up to their house, and tapped modestly three times at the little window. Immediately the old shepherd opened the door for him, and cheerfully offered him the little that the house afforded. The old woman produced some bread, milk, and cheese: the Dwarf sipped a few drops of the milk, and ate some crums of the bread and cheese. "I am not used," said he, laughing, "to eat such coarse food: but I thank you from my heart, and God reward you for it: now that I am rested, I will proceed on farther." "God forbid!" cried the good woman; "you surely don't think of going out in the night and in the storm! It were better for you to take a bed here, and set out in the daylight." But the Dwarf shook his head, and with a smile replied, "You little know what business I have to do this night on the top of the mountain. I have to provide for you too; and to-morrow you shall see that I am not ungrateful for the kindness you have shown to me." So saying, the Dwarf departed, and the worthy old couple went to rest.
But at break of day they were awaked by storm and tempest; the lightnings flashed along the red sky, and torrents of water poured down the hills and through the valley. A huge rock now tumbled from the top of the mountain, and rolled down toward the village, carrying along with it, in its course, trees, stones, and earth. Men and cattle, every thing in the village that had breath in it, were buried beneath it. The waves had now reached the cottage of the two old people, and in terror and dismay they stood out before their door. They then beheld approaching in the middle of the stream a large piece of rock, and on it, jumping merrily, the Dwarf, as if he was riding and steering it with a great trunk of a pine till he brought it before the house, where it stemmed the water and kept it from the cottage, so that both it and the good owners escaped. The Dwarf then swelled and grew higher and higher till he became a monstrous Giant, and vanished in the air, while the old people were praying to God and thanking him for their deiverance. [a]

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