Gateway to the Classics: Tales That Nimko Told by Mary Brecht Pulver
Tales That Nimko Told by  Mary Brecht Pulver

The Dwarf and the Cobbler's Sons

A long time ago there lived in Friesland a poor cobbler and his three little boys, Franz, Friedrich, and Fritz.

He was a very poor cobbler indeed, for he had scarcely any shoes whatever to mend, and times were very hard and the winter bitter cold, with heavy snow upon the ground.

In the cobbler's house were only the poorest sort of things, not in the least like the things you are used to. There was no bed like yours, with plenty of warm covering to snuggle into on cold nights.

The three boys slept together on a thin, cold bed of straw and had for cover only a single blanket as full of holes as a slice of Swiss cheese. And their clothes were hardly any better; so, as you may imagine, they did a great deal of shivering.

As for food, the best the poor cobbler could manage that winter was lumps of boiled cornmeal, a delicacy I am sure you would never care for.

Now, as Christmas approached, the cobbler's three sons felt sad, for they feared the good Kriss Kringle might miss them, which in those days sometimes happened.

But on Christmas Eve the cobbler got tidings of a bit of work to be done twenty miles away, where a fine lady had lost a button from her little silver dancing shoes, so he said to his boys:

"My lads, I will leave you for tonight. Tomorrow is the Christ Child's birthday, and perhaps if I hasten to this lady's house and repair her shoe, I may yet have a farden or two to buy a bit of good food with. It is a long journey, and I will not return until morning, but lie you snug and close as you can under the blanket. And let no one enter in my absence, for the wolf prowls ever at the poor man's door, and the cold winds may rush in and make you even colder."

And the little lads promised.

So the cobbler gave to each a lump of cornmeal, the last the poor man had, and wrapping himself in his thin cloak—for all the world like another slice of Swiss cheese—was gone.

The three boys huddled together in bed very quietly, nibbling their meal. They had little Fritz in the middle, and they tried hard to pretend they were warm and comfortable. But it was very cold, and they could hear the wind blow whoo-oo-oo! whoo-oo-oo!  And through their little window they could see the bright stars shining in the cold blue sky.

Suddenly there came a brisk knock—tat-tat! tat-tat!right on the outside of their door.

The boys were startled.

"It must be the wolf that our father said waited outside," whispered Franz, but Friedrich called loudly: "Who is there?"

"Ah, me! ah, me!" cried a pitiful voice. "I am so cold! so c-oo-oold! And I am so hungry! Pray let me come in!"

"It is the wind," said little Franz.

"No, no," said Friedrich. "It must be someone in distress. Who are you?" he called.

"Ah, me! ah, me!" shivered the voice. "So co-o-old, so tired, so hungry! Pray let me in!"

"It is the wolf, perhaps, trying to fool us," said Franz.

"Oh, no," said Friedrich. "Look out of the window, Franz, quick, and see."

Frank looked. In the corner of the window they could see the top of a peaked hat—such a hat as poor old men used to wear many, many years ago in Germany.

"It cannot be the wolf," cried Franz. "A wolf never wears a hat." And I am sure you will agree with him.

"It is someone who needs our aid," said Friedrich. "I am sure our father never meant us to deny shelter to the needy." And with that he rose and opened the door.

Into the room sprang one of the dwarf people, a tiny old man clad in scarlet, with twinkling eyes, apple cheeks, and a gray beard that reached nearly to his toes.

"Hola!" he said. "At last you hear me and let me in. Why did you not open before?"

"Our father forbade us to open the door for fear of the wolf. I am sorry," faltered Friedrich.

The dwarf only twinkled his eyes angrily.

"Ha!" he cried. "A warm bed and three great loafers in it! Make way, I pray, for I am cold and tired."

And, shoving aside Franz and Fritz with his elbows, he sprang into the warmest part of the bed and rolled the blanket tightly about him.

Little Fritz began to cry, but Friedrich hushed him, saying: "Patience, brother. I will wrap my coat about you. The old man is both tired and cold, and our father would wish us to share our bed."

The dwarf then perceived the cornmeal in the children's hands and snatched greedily at it, saying: "Come, selfish ones, will you lie here and fill yourselves with good food before my very eyes! Have I not said that I am hungry?"

He made as if to take Fritz's cornmeal, so that the little boy wept again, whereupon Friedrich offered his.

"He is but a baby, the little one, and knows no better," he apologized. "Pray have mine. Our father would not have us let a guest go hungry."

So the dwarf ate both Franz's and Friedrich's cornmeal, then rolled over on his side, complaining bitterly that they crowded him, that he must have more room.

Suddenly he sat erect.

"There is not room for so many," he said sharply. "One of you will have to get out. You, Friedrich, are the eldest. You shall go first. The others may take turns. Go, you, to yonder corner and stand upon your head."

Now, Friedrich thought this a strange request indeed. It was bad enough to leave his bed, without turning upside down. But he was a polite little fellow, and just a bit afraid also of this sharp-tongued little man, so he obeyed. Down on his hands he went and up . . . up . . . up went his heels! Instantly there came a funny sound. Pop-pop! pop-pop! thump, thump, thump! tap! tap! went something, and there, down on the bare wooden floor, dropping from his pockets, came a perfect torrent of nuts and apples and oranges. Oh, every kind of nut you have ever heard of—pop-pop!—hickory nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, butternuts, peanuts, right down to the end of the list; great handfuls of them; and apples by the dozen, fat and rosy. And oranges, great bounding golden fellows. You may be sure there was a shouting then and a leaping to capture these fine treasures.

"Hello!" cried the dwarf. "So that is what you have hidden from me, my fine lad! Let us see what else you have. Franz, you next."

Down on his hands went Franz and up . . . up . . . up went his heels.

Sure enough! His pockets too seemed to be filled, for, with a rat-tat-tat, down on the floor came a stream of bright candies. Oh, my! I cannot tell all the kinds! Think of every kind you like, of every kind you know. There were chocolates bursting with cream, mints and marshmallows, great lumps of taffy and fudge, limedrops and gumdrops, and—but what is the use! There was enough for a whole confectioner's shop.

Now, you may be sure, the brothers laughed and shouted louder than ever as they gathered up the goodies. "Small Fritz next," shouted the dwarf, who seemed angry with Franz for hiding such goodies.

They had to help Fritz because he was so small. Down on his hands he went and up they turned his little heels.

You'll hardly believe what happened then. Dear me, if you and I could have such luck! (But think how pleased the good cobbler was when he returned.) For out of little Fritz's pockets—clip-clop! clip-clop!—sharp on the floor there fell . . . money. Beautiful gold thalers—enough for firewood and blankets, and new shoes and coats and a fine roast Christmas goose.

Suddenly Friedrich remembered his manners, for he knew now that the dwarf had come in with kind intentions, that he had tested their charity and found it true. For had they not shared their beds and the things they had themselves needed?

"Oh, sir, we thank you," he began, then stopped, as well he might.

For the dwarf was gone.

Not a sign of the little gray-bearded man in his scarlet clothes could they find. Nor did they ever see him again.

But a voice cried through the window from outside,

"A happy Christmas to the cobbler and his three sons." And that was all. Except, of course, all the beautiful things to eat and piles of golden thalers which made their poor little room so bright.

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