HERE once lived in Rambin, a town near the Baltic Sea, an honest, industrious man named James Dietrich. He had several children, all of a good disposition, especially the youngest, whose name was John. John Dietrich was a handsome, smart boy, diligent at school, and obedient at home. His great passion was for hearing stories, and whenever he met any one who was well stored with such, he never let him go till he had heard them all.
When John was about eight years old he was sent to spend a summer with his uncle, a farmer in Rodenkirchen. Here he had to keep cows with other boys, and they used to drive them to graze about the Nine-hills, where an old cowherd, one Klas Starkwolt, frequently came to join the lads, and then they would sit down all together and tell stories. Consequently Klas became John's best friend, for he knew stories without end. He could tell all about the Nine-hills, and the underground folk who inhabited them; how the giants disappeared from the country, and the dwarfs or little people came in their stead. These tales John swallowed so eagerly that he thought of nothing else, and was for ever talking of golden cups, and crowns, and glass shoes, and pockets full of ducats, and gold rings, and diamond coronets, and snow-white brides, and the like. Old Klas used often to shake his head at him and say, "John! John! What are you about? The spade and scythe will be your sceptre and crown, and your bride will wear a garland of rosemary and a gown of striped drill."
Still John almost longed to get into the Nine-hills, for Klas had told him that any one who by luck or cunning should get the cap of one of the little people might go down with safety, and instead of becoming their slave, he would be their master. The fairy whose cap he got would be his servant, and obey all his commands.
Midsummer-eve, when the days are longest and the nights shortest, was now come. In the village of Rambin old and young kept the holiday, had all sorts of plays, and told all kinds of stories. John, who knew that this season was the time for all fairy-people to come abroad, could now no longer contain himself, but the day after the festival he slipped away to the Nine-hills, and when it grew dark laid himself down on the top of the highest of them, which Klas had told him was the principal dancing-ground of the underground people. John lay there quite still from ten till twelve at night. At last it struck twelve. Immediately there was a ringing and a singing in the hills, and then a whispering and a lisping and a whiz and a buzz all about him, for the little people were now come out, some whirling round and round in the dance, and others sporting and tumbling about in the moonshine, and playing a thousand merry pranks. He felt a secret dread creep over him at this whispering and buzzing, for he could see nothing of them, as the caps they wore made them invisible; but he lay quite still, with his face in the grass and his eyes fast shut, snoring a little just as if he was asleep. Yet now and then he ventured to open his eyes a little and peep out, but not the slightest trace of them could he see, though it was bright moonlight.
It was not long before three of the underground people came jumping up to where he was lying; but they took no heed of him, and flung their brown caps up into the air, and caught them from one another. At length one snatched the cap out of the hand of another and flung it away. It flew direct and fell upon John's head. He could feel, though he could not see it; and the moment he did feel it, he caught hold of it. Starting up, he swung it about for joy, and made the little silver bell of it tingle, then set it upon his head, and—O wonderful to relate!—that instant he saw the countless and merry swarm of the little people.
The three little men came slily up to him, and thought by their nimbleness to get back the cap, but he held his prize fast, and they saw clearly that nothing was to be done in this way with him, for in size and strength John was a giant in comparison of these little fellows, who hardly reached his knee. The owner of the cap now came up very humbly to the finder, and begged, in as supplicating a tone as if his life depended upon it, that he would give him back his cap. "No," said John, "you sly little rogue, you'll get the cap no more. That's not the sort of thing: I should be in a nice perplexity if I had not something of yours; now you have no power over me, but must do what I please. And I will go down with you, and see how you live below, and you shall be my servant.—Nay, no grumbling, you know you must. And I know it too, just as well as you do, for Klas Starkwolt told it to me often and often."
The little man made as if he had not heard or understood one word of all this; he began all his crying and whining over again, and wept, and screamed, and howled most piteously for his little cap. But John cut the matter short by saying to him, "Have done; you are my servant, and I intend to take a trip with you." So the underground man gave up the point; especially as he well knew there was no remedy.
John now put away his old hat and put on the cap, and set it firmly on his head, lest it should slip off or fly away, for all his power lay in it. He lost no time in trying its virtues, but commanded his new servant to fetch him food and drink. The servant ran away like the wind, and in a second was there again with bottles of wine, and bread, and rich fruits. So John ate and drank, and looked on at the sports and the dancing of the little people, and it pleased him right well, and he behaved himself stoutly and wisely, as if he was a born master.
When the cock had now crowed for the third time, and the little larks had made their first flutter in the sky, and the daybreak appeared in slender white streaks in the east, then there went a whisper, hush, hush, hush, through the bushes, and flowers, and trees; and the hills rang again, and opened up, and the little men stole down and disappeared. John gave close attention to every thing, and found that it was exactly as he had been told. And behold! on the top of the hill where they had just been dancing, and which was now full of grass and flowers, as people see it by day, there rose, of a sudden, a small glass door. Whosoever wanted to go in stepped upon this; it opened, and he glided gently in, the glass closing again after him; and when they had all entered it vanished, and there was no farther trace of it to be seen. Those who descended through the glass door sank quite gently into a wide silver tun or barrel, which held them all, and could easily have harboured a thousand such little people. John and his man went down also, along with several others, all of whom screamed out and prayed him not to tread on them, for if his weight came on them, they were dead men. He was, however, careful, and acted in a very friendly way towards them. Several barrels of this kind went up and down after each other, until all were in. They hung by long silver chains, which were drawn and guided from below.
In his descent John was amazed at the wonderful brilliancy of the walls between which the tun glided down. They seemed all studded with pearls and diamonds, glittering and sparkling brightly, while below him he heard the most beautiful music tinkling at a distance, so that he did not know what he was about, and from excess of pleasure he fell fast asleep.
He slept a long time, and when he awoke he found himself in the most beautiful bed that could be, such as he had never seen in his father's or any other house. It was also the prettiest little chamber in the world, and his servant was beside him with a fan to keep away the flies and gnats. He had hardly opened his eyes when his little servant brought him a basin and towel, and held ready for him to put on the nicest new clothes of brown silk, most beautifully made; with these was a pair of new black shoes with red ribbons, such as John had never beheld in Rambin or in Rodenkirchen either. There were also there several pairs of glittering glass shoes, such as are only used on great occasions. John was, we may well suppose, delighted to have such clothes to wear, and he put them on joyfully. His servant then flew like lightning and returned with a fine breakfast of wine and milk, and delicate white bread and fruits, and such other things as little boys are fond of. He now perceived, every moment, more and more, that Klas Starkwolt, the old cowherd, knew what he was talking about, for the splendour and magnificence here surpassed anything John had ever dreamt of. His servant, too, was the most obedient one possible; a nod or a sign was enough for him, for he was as wise as a bee, as all these little people are by nature.
John's bedroom was all covered with emeralds and other precious stones, and in the ceiling was a diamond as big as a nine-pin bowl, that gave light to the whole chamber. In this place they have neither sun, nor moon, nor stars to give them light; neither do they use lamps or candles of any kind; but they live in the midst of precious stones, and have the purest of gold and silver in abundance, from which they manage to obtain light both by day and by night, though indeed, properly speaking, as there is no sun here, there is no distinction of day and night, and they reckon only by weeks. They set the brightest and clearest precious stones in their dwellings, and the ways and passages leading under the ground, and in the places where they have their large halls, and their dances and feasts; and the sparkle of these jewels makes a sort of silvery twilight which is far more beautiful than common day.
When John had finished his breakfast, his servant opened a little door in the wall, where was a closet with silver and gold cups and dishes and other vessels, and baskets filled with ducats, and boxes of jewels and precious stones. There were also charming pictures, and the most delightful story-books he had seen in the whole course of his life.
John spent the morning looking at these things; and, when it was mid-day, a bell rung, and his servant said, "Will you dine alone, sir, or with the large company?"
"With the large company, to be sure," replied John. So his servant led him out. John, however, saw nothing but solitary halls, lighted up with precious stones, and here and there little men and women, who appeared to him to glide out of the clefts and fissures of the rocks. Wondering what it was the bells rang for, he said to his servant—"But where is the company?" And scarcely had he spoken when the hall they were in opened out to a great extent, and a canopy set with diamonds and precious stones was drawn over it. At the same moment he saw an immense throng of nicely dressed little men and women pouring in through several open doors: the floor opened in several places, and tables, covered with the most beautiful ware, and the most luscious meats, and fruits, and wines, arranged themselves in rows, and the chairs arranged themselves along beside the tables, and then the men and women took their seats.
The principal persons now came forward, bowed to John, and led him to their table, where they placed him among their most beautiful maidens, a distinction which pleased John well. The party too was very merry, for the underground people are extremely lively and cheerful, and can never stay long quiet. Then the most charming music sounded over their heads; and beautiful birds, flying about, sung sweetly: these were not real but artificial birds, which the little men make so ingeniously that they can fly about and sing like natural ones.
The servants of both sexes, who waited at table, and handed about the gold cups, and the silver and crystal baskets with fruit, were mortal children, whom some misfortune had thrown among the underground people, and who, having come down without securing any pledge, such as John's cap, had fallen into their power. These were differently clad from their masters. The boys and girls were dressed in snow-white coats and jackets, and wore glass shoes, so thin that their steps could never be heard, with blue caps on their heads, and silver belts round their waists.
John at first pitied them, seeing how they were forced to run about and wait on the little people; but as they looked cheerful and happy, and were handsomely dressed, and had such rosy cheeks, he said to himself, "After all, they are not so badly off, and I was myself much worse when I had to be running after the cows and bullocks. To be sure, I am now a master here, and they are servants; but there is no help for it: why were they so foolish as to let themselves be taken and not get some pledge beforehand? At any rate, the time must come when they shall be set at liberty, and they will certainly not be longer than fifty years here." With these thoughts he consoled himself, and sported and played away with his little playfellows, and ate, and drank, and made his servant and the others tell him stories, for he always liked to hear something strange, and to get to the bottom of everything.
They sat at table about two hours: the principal person then rang a little bell, and the tables and chairs all vanished in a whiff, leaving the company standing on their feet.
The birds now struck up a most lively air, and the little people began to dance, jumping and leaping and whirling round and round, as if the world were grown dizzy. And the pretty little girls that sat next John caught hold of him and whirled him about; and, without making any resistance, he danced with them for two good hours. Every afternoon while he remained there he used to do the same; and, to the last hour of his life, he always spoke of it with the greatest glee.
When the music and dancing were over, it might be about four o'clock. The little people then disappeared, and went each about their work or their pleasure. After supper they sported and danced in the same way; and at midnight, especially on starlight nights, they slipped out of their hills to dance in the open air. John used then, like a good boy, to say his prayers and go to sleep, a duty he never neglected either in the evening or in the morning.
For the first week that John was in the glass-hill he only went from his chamber to the great hall and back again. After then, however, he began to walk about, making his servant show and explain everything to him. He found that there were here most beautiful walks, in which he might ramble along for miles, in all directions, without ever finding an end of them, so immensely large was the hill that the little people lived in, and yet outwardly it seemed but a little hill, with a few bushes and trees growing on it.
He found also meadows and lanes, islands and lakes where the birds sang sweeter, and the flowers were more brilliant and fragrant than anything he had ever seen on earth. There was a breeze, and yet one did not feel the wind; it was quite clear and bright, but there was no heat; the waves were dashing, still there was no danger; and the most beautiful little barks and canoes came, like white swans, when one wanted to cross the water, and went backwards and forwards of their own accord. Whence all this came nobody knew, nor could his servant tell anything about it.
These lovely meads and plains were, for the most part, all solitary. Few of the underground people were to be seen upon them, and those that were just glided across them, as if in the greatest hurry. It very rarely happened that any of them danced out here in the open air; sometimes about three of them did so; at the most half a dozen; John never saw a greater number together. The meadows never seemed cheerful, except when the earth-children, who were kept as servants, were let out to walk. This, however, happened but twice a week, for they were mostly kept employed in the great hall and adjoining apartments, or at school.
For John soon found they had schools there also; he had been there about ten months, when one day he saw something snow-white gliding into a rock, and disappearing. "What!" said he to his servant, "are there some of you too that wear white, like the servants?" He was informed that there were; but they were few in number, and never appeared at the large tables or the dances, except once a year, on the birthday of the great Hill-king, who dwelt many thousand miles below in the great deep. These were the oldest men among them, some being many thousand years old; they knew all things, and could tell of the beginning of the world, and were called the Wise. They lived all alone, and only left their chambers to instruct the underground children and the attendants of both sexes.
John was greatly interested by this news, and he determined to take advantage of it: so next morning he made his servant conduct him to the school, and was so well pleased with it that he never missed a day. The scholars were taught reading, writing, and accounts, to compose and relate histories and stories, and many elegant kinds of work; so that many came out of the hills very prudent and learned. The biggest, and those of best capacity, received instruction in natural science and astronomy, and in poetry and riddle-making, arts highly esteemed by the little people. John was very diligent, and soon became a clever painter; he wrought, too, most ingeniously in gold, and silver, and stones; and in verse and riddle-making he had no fellow.
John had spent many a happy year here without ever thinking of the upper world, or of those he had left behind, so pleasantly passed the time—so many an agreeable playfellow had he among the children.
Of all his playfellows there was none of whom he was so fond as of a little fair-haired girl, named Elizabeth Krabbin. She was from his own village, and was the daughter of Frederick Krabbe, the minister of Rambin. She was but four years old when she was taken away, and John had often heard tell of her. She was not, however, stolen by the little people, but came into their power in this manner. One day in summer, she, with other children, ran out into the fields: in their rambles they went to the Nine-hills, where little Elizabeth fell asleep, and was forgotten by the rest. At night, when she awoke, she found herself under the ground among the little people. It was not merely because she was from his own village that John was so fond of Elizabeth, but she was a most beautiful child, with clear blue eyes and ringlets of fair hair, and a most angelic smile.
Time flew away unperceived: John was now eighteen, and Elizabeth sixteen. Their childish fondness was now become love, and the little people were pleased to see it, thinking that by means of her they might get John to renounce his power, and become their servant; for they were fond of him, and would willingly have had him to wait upon them; the love of dominion is their vice. But they were mistaken; John had learned too much from his servant to be caught in that way.
John's chief delight was walking about alone with Elizabeth; for he now knew every place so well that he could dispense with the attendance of his servant. In these rambles he was always gay and lively, but his companion was frequently sad and melancholy, thinking of the land above, where men lived, and where the sun, moon, and stars shine. Now it happened in one of their walks, that as they talked of their love, and it was after midnight, they passed under the place where the tops of the glass hills used to open and let the underground people in and out. As they went along they heard of a sudden the crowing of several cocks above. At this sound, which she had not heard for twelve years, little Elizabeth felt her heart so affected that she could contain herself no longer, but throwing her arms about John's neck, she bathed his cheeks with her tears. At length she spake—
"Dearest John," said she, "everything down here is very beautiful, and the little people are kind, and do nothing to injure me, but still I have always been uneasy, nor ever felt any pleasure till I began to love you; and yet that is not pure pleasure, for this is not a right way of living, such as it should be for human beings. Every night I dream of my dear father and mother, and of our church-yard, where the people stand so piously at the church-door waiting for my father, and I could weep tears of blood that I cannot go into the church with them, and worship God as a human being should; for this is no Christian life we lead down here, but a delusive half heathen one. And only think, dear John, that we can never marry, as there is no priest to join us. Do, then, plan some way for us to leave this place; for I cannot tell you how I long to get once more to my father, and among pious Christians."
John too had not been unaffected by the crowing of the cocks, and he felt what he had never felt here before, a longing after the land where the sun shines. He replied—
"Dear Elizabeth, all you say is true, and I now feel that it is a sin for Christians to stay here; and it seems to me as if our Lord said to us in that cry of the cocks, 'Come up, ye Christian children, out of those abodes of illusion and magic; come to the light of the stars, and act as children of light.' I now feel that it was a great sin for me to come down here, but I trust I shall be forgiven on account of my youth; for I was a child and knew not what I did. But now I will not stay a day longer. They cannot keep me here."
At these last words, Elizabeth turned pale, for she recollected that she was a servant, and must serve her fifty years. "And what will it avail me," cried she, "that I shall continue young and be but as twenty years old when I go out, for my father and mother will be dead, and all my companions old and gray; and you, dearest John, will be old and gray also," cried she, throwing herself on his bosom.
John was thunderstruck at this, for it had never before occurred to him; he, however, comforted her as well as he could, and declared he would never leave the place without her. He spent the whole night in forming various plans; at last he fixed on one, and in the morning he despatched his servant to summon to his apartment six of the principal of the little people. When they came, John thus mildly addressed them:
"My friends, you know how I came here, not as a prisoner or servant, but as a lord and master over one of you, and consequently, over all. You have now for the ten years I have been with you treated me with respect and attention, and for that I am your debtor. But you are still more my debtors, for I might have given you every sort of annoyance and vexation, and you must have submitted to it. I have, however, not done so, but have behaved as your equal, and have sported and played with you rather than ruled over you. I now have one request to make. There is a girl among your servants whom I love, Elizabeth Krabbin, of Rambin, where I was born. Give her to me, and let us depart. For I will return to where the sun shines and the plough goes through the land. I ask to take nothing with me but her, and the ornaments and furniture of my chamber."
He spoke in a determined tone, and they hesitated and cast their eyes to the ground; at last the eldest of them replied:
"Sir, you ask what we cannot grant. It is a fixed law, that no servant should leave this place before the appointed time. Were we to break through this law, our whole subterranean empire would fall. Anything else you desire, for we love and respect you, but we cannot give up Elizabeth."
"You can and you shall give her up," cried John in a
rage; "go think of it till
The six retired. Next morning, on their return, John addressed them in the kindest manner, but to no purpose; they persisted in their refusal. He gave them till the following day, threatening them severely in case of their still proving refractory.
Next day, when the six little people appeared before him, John looked at them sternly, and made no reply to their salutations, but said to them shortly, "Yes or No?" And they answered with one voice, "No." He then ordered his servant to summon twenty-four more of the principal persons, with their wives and children. When they came, they were in all five hundred men, women, and children. John ordered them forthwith to go and fetch pickaxes, spades, and bars, which they did in a second.
He now led them out to a rock in one of the fields, and ordered them to fall to work at blasting, hewing, and dragging stones. They toiled patiently, and made as if it was only sport to them. From morning till night their taskmaster made them labour without ceasing, standing over them constantly, to prevent their resting. Still their obstinacy was inflexible; and at the end of some weeks his pity for them was so great, that he was obliged to give over.
He now thought of a new species of punishment for them. He ordered them to appear before him next morning, each provided with a new whip. They obeyed, and John commanded them to strip and lash one another till the blood should run down on the ground, while he stood looking on as grim and cruel as an Eastern tyrant. Still the little people cut and slashed themselves, and mocked at John, and refused to comply with his wishes. This he did for three or four days.
Several other courses did he try, but all in vain; his temper was too gentle to struggle with their obstinacy, and he began now, to despair of ever accomplishing his dearest wish. He began to hate the little people whom he was before so fond of; he kept away from their banquets and dances, associated only with Elizabeth, and ate and drank quite solitary in his chamber. In short, he became almost a perfect hermit, and sank into moodiness and melancholy.
While in this temper, as he was taking a solitary walk in the evening, and, to divert his melancholy, was flinging the stones that lay in his path against each other, he happened to break a tolerably large one, and out of it jumped a toad. The moment John saw the ugly animal, he caught him up in ecstasy, and put him into his pocket and ran home, crying, "Now I have her! I have my Elizabeth! Now you shall catch it, you little mischievous rascals!" And on getting home he put the toad into a costly silver casket, as if it was the greatest treasure.
To account for John's joy you must know Klas Starkwolt had often told him that the underground people could not endure any ill odour, and that the sight or even the smell of a toad made them faint and suffer the most dreadful tortures, so that, by means of these animals, one could compel them to anything. Hence there are no bad smells to be found in the whole glass empire, and a toad is a thing unheard of there; this toad must therefore have been enclosed in the stone from the Creation, as it were for the sake of John and Elizabeth.
Resolved to try the effect of his toad, John took the casket under his arm and went out, and on the way he met two of the little people in a lonesome place. The moment he approached them they fell to the ground, and whimpered and howled most lamentably, as long as he was near them.
Satisfied now of his power, he next morning summoned the fifty principal persons, with their wives and children, to his apartment. When they came, he addressed them, reminding them once again of his kindness and gentleness towards them, and of the good terms on which they had hitherto lived together. He reproached them with their ingratitude in refusing him the only favour he had ever asked of them, but firmly declared he would not give way to their obstinacy. "Wherefore," said he, "for the last time, I warn you;—think for a minute, and if you then say No, you shall feel that pain which is to you and your children the most terrible of all sufferings."
They did not take long to deliberate, but unanimously replied "No;" for they thought to themselves, What new scheme has the youth hit on, with which he thinks to frighten wise ones like us? and they smiled when they said No. Their smiling enraged John above all, and he ran back to where he had laid the casket with the toad, under a bush.
He was hardly come within a hundred paces of them when they all fell to the ground as if struck with a thunderbolt, and began to howl and whimper, and to writhe, as if suffering the most excruciating pain. They stretched out their hands, and cried, "Have mercy! have mercy! we feel you have a toad, and there is no escape for us. Take the odious beast away, and we will do all you require." He let them kick a few seconds longer, and then took the toad away. They then stood up and felt no more pain. John let all depart but the six chief persons, to whom he said—
"This night, between twelve and one, Elizabeth and I will depart. Load then for me three waggons, with gold, and silver, and precious stones. I might, you know, take all that is in the hill, and you deserve it, but I will be merciful. Farther, you must put all the furniture of my chamber in two waggons, and get ready for me the handsomest travelling-carriage that is in the hill with six black horses. Moreover, you must set at liberty all the servants who have been so long here that on earth they would be twenty years old and upwards, and you must give them as much silver and gold as will make them rich for life, and make a law that no one shall be detained here longer than his twentieth year."
The six took the oath, and went away quite melancholy, and John buried his toad deep in the ground. The little people laboured hard according to his bidding. At midnight everything was out of the hill, and John and Elizabeth got into the silver tun and were drawn up.
It was then one o'clock, and midsummer-eve, the very time that twelve years before John had gone down into the hill. Music sounded around them, and they saw the glass hill open, and the rays of the light of heaven shine on them for the first time after so many years; and when they got out they saw the streaks of dawn already in the east. Crowds of the underground people were around them busied about the waggons. John bade them a last farewell, waved his brown cap three times in the air, and then flung it among them. And at the same moment he ceased to see them; he beheld nothing but a green hill, and the well-known bushes and fields, and heard the church-clock of Rambin strike two. When all was still, save a few larks who were tuning their morning songs, they both fell on their knees and worshipped God, resolving henceforth to lead a pious and a Christian life.
When the sun rose, John and his Elizabeth, with the children whom they had saved from the underground people, set out for Rambin. Every well-known object that they saw awakened pleasing recollections; and as they passed by Rodenkirchen, John recognised, among the people that gazed at and followed them, his old friend Klas Starkwolt, the cowherd, and his dog Speed. It was four in the morning when they entered Rambin, and they halted in the middle of the village, about twenty paces from the house where John was born. The whole village poured out to gaze on these Asiatic princes; for such the old sexton, who had in his youth been at Moscow and Constantinople, said they were. Then John saw his father and mother, and his brother Andrew, and his sister Trine. The old minister, Krabbe, stood there too, in his black slippers and white nightcap, gaping and staring with the rest.
John discovered himself to his parents, and Elizabeth to hers, and the wedding-day was soon fixed, and such a wedding was never seen before or since in the island of Rugen; for John sent to Stralsund and Greifswald for whole boat-loads of wine, and sugar, and coffee, and whole herds of oxen, sheep, and pigs. The quantity of harts and roes and hares that were shot on the occasion it were vain to attempt to tell, or to count the fish that were caught. There was not a musician in Rugen and Pomerania that was not engaged, for John was immensely rich, and he wished to display his wealth.
John did not neglect his old friend Klas Starkwolt, the cowherd. He gave him enough to make him comfortable for the rest of his days, and insisted on his coming and staying with him as often and as long as he wished.
After his marriage, John made a progress through the country with his beautiful Elizabeth, and they purchased towns, and villages, and lands until he became master of nearly half Rugen, and a very considerable portion of the country. His father, old James Dietrich, was made a nobleman, and his brothers and sisters gentlemen and ladies—for what cannot money do?
John and his wife spent their days in acts of piety and charity. They built several churches, they had the blessings of every one that knew them, and died universally lamented. It was Count John Dietrich who built and richly endowed the present church of Rambin. He built it on the site of his father's house, and presented to it several of the cups and plates made by the underground people, and his own and Elizabeth's glass shoes, in memory of what had befallen them in their youth. But they were all taken away in the time of the great Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, when the Russians came on the island, and the Cossacks plundered even the churches, and took away everything.