The Elfin Hill
“Now we must fumigate the place with burnt horse-hair and pig’s bristles, and then I think I shall have done my part,” said the elf man-servant.
“Father, dear,” said the youngest daughter, “may I now hear who our high-born visitors are?”
“Well, I suppose I must tell you now,” he replied; “two of my daughters must prepare themselves to be married, for the marriages certainly will take place. The old goblin from Norway, who lives in the ancient Dovre mountains, and who possesses many castles built of rock and freestone, besides a gold mine, which is better than all, so it is thought, is coming with his two sons, who are both seeking a wife. The old goblin is a true-hearted, honest, old Norwegian graybeard; cheerful and straightforward. I knew him formerly, when we used to drink together to our good fellowship: he came here once to fetch his wife, she is dead now. She was the daughter of the king of the chalk-hills at Moen. They say he took his wife from chalk; I shall be delighted to see him again. It is said that the boys are ill-bred, forward lads, but perhaps that is not quite correct, and they will become better as they grow older. Let me see that you know how to teach them good manners.”
“And when are they coming?” asked the daughter.
“That depends upon wind and weather,” said the elf king; “they travel economically. They will come when there is the chance of a ship. I wanted them to come over to Sweden, but the old man was not inclined to take my advice. He does not go forward with the times, and that I do not like.”
Two will-o’-the-wisps came jumping in, one quicker than the other, so of course, one arrived first. “They are coming! they are coming!” he cried.
“Give me my crown,” said the elf king, “and let me stand in the moonshine.”
The daughters drew on their shawls and bowed down to the ground. There stood the old goblin from the Dovre mountains, with his crown of hardened ice and polished fir-cones. Besides this, he wore a bear-skin, and great, warm boots, while his sons went with their throats bare and wore no braces, for they were strong men.
“Is that a hill?” said the youngest of the boys, pointing to the elf hill, “we should call it a hole in Norway.”
“Boys,” said the old man, “a hole goes in, and a hill stands out; have you no eyes in your heads?”
Another thing they wondered at was, that they were able without trouble to understand the language.
“Take care,” said the old man, “or people will think you have not been well brought up.”
Then they entered the elfin hill, where the select and grand company were assembled, and so quickly had they appeared that they seemed to have been blown together. But for each guest the neatest and pleasantest arrangement had been made. The sea folks sat at table in great water-tubs, and they said it was just like being at home. All behaved themselves properly excepting the two young northern goblins; they put their legs on the table and thought they were all right.
“Feet off the table-cloth!” said the old goblin. They obeyed, but not immediately. Then they tickled the ladies who waited at table, with the fir-cones, which they carried in their pockets. They took off their boots, that they might be more at ease, and gave them to the ladies to hold. But their father, the old goblin, was very different; he talked pleasantly about the stately Norwegian rocks, and told fine tales of the waterfalls which dashed over them with a clattering noise like thunder or the sound of an organ, spreading their white foam on every side. He told of the salmon that leaps in the rushing waters, while the water-god plays on his golden harp. He spoke of the bright winter nights, when the sledge bells are ringing, and the boys run with burning torches across the smooth ice, which is so transparent that they can see the fishes dart forward beneath their feet. He described everything so clearly, that those who listened could see it all; they could see the saw-mills going, the men-servants and the maidens singing songs, and dancing a rattling dance,—when all at once the old goblin gave the old elfin maiden a kiss, such a tremendous kiss, and yet they were almost strangers to each other.
Then the elfin girls had to dance, first in the usual way, and then with stamping feet, which they performed very well; then followed the artistic and solo dance. Dear me, how they did throw their legs about! No one could tell where the dance begun, or where it ended, nor indeed which were legs and which were arms, for they were all flying about together, like the shavings in a saw-pit! And then they spun round so quickly that the death-horse and the grave-pig became sick and giddy, and were obliged to leave the table.
“Stop!” cried the old goblin, “is that the only house-keeping they can perform? Can they do anything more than dance and throw about their legs, and make a whirlwind?”
“You shall soon see what they can do,” said the elf king. And then he called his youngest daughter to him. She was slender and fair as moonlight, and the most graceful of all the sisters. She took a white chip in her mouth, and vanished instantly; this was her accomplishment. But the old goblin said he should not like his wife to have such an accomplishment, and thought his boys would have the same objection. Another daughter could make a figure like herself follow her, as if she had a shadow, which none of the goblin folk ever had. The third was of quite a different sort; she had learnt in the brew-house of the moor witch how to lard elfin puddings with glow-worms.
“She will make a good housewife,” said the old goblin, and then saluted her with his eyes instead of drinking her health; for he did not drink much.
Now came the fourth daughter, with a large harp to play upon; and when she struck the first chord, every one lifted up the left leg (for the goblins are left-legged), and at the second chord they found they must all do just what she wanted.
“That is a dangerous woman,” said the old goblin; and the two sons walked out of the hill; they had had enough of it. “And what can the next daughter do?” asked the old goblin.
“I have learnt everything that is Norwegian,” said she; “and I will never marry, unless I can go to Norway.”
Then her youngest sister whispered to the old goblin, “That is only because she has heard, in a Norwegian song, that when the world shall decay, the cliffs of Norway will remain standing like monuments; and she wants to get there, that she may be safe; for she is so afraid of sinking.”
“Ho! ho!” said the old goblin, “is that what she means? Well, what can the seventh and last do?”
“The sixth comes before the seventh,” said the elf king, for he could reckon; but the sixth would not come forward.
“I can only tell people the truth,” said she. “No one cares for me, nor troubles himself about me; and I have enough to do to sew my grave clothes.”
So the seventh and last came; and what could she do? Why, she could tell stories, as many as you liked, on any subject.
“Here are my five fingers,” said the old goblin; “now tell me a story for each of them.”
So she took him by the wrist, and he laughed till he nearly choked; and when she came to the fourth finger, there was a gold ring on it, as if it knew there was to be a betrothal. Then the old goblin said, “Hold fast what you have: this hand is yours; for I will have you for a wife myself.”
Then the elfin girl said that the stories about the ring-finger and little Peter Playman had not yet been told.
“We will hear them in the winter,” said the old goblin, “and also about the fir and the birch-trees, and the ghost stories, and of the tingling frost. You shall tell your tales, for no one over there can do it so well; and we will sit in the stone rooms, where the pine logs are burning, and drink mead out of the golden drinking-horn of the old Norwegian kings. The water-god has given me two; and when we sit there, Nix comes to pay us a visit, and will sing you all the songs of the mountain shepherdesses. How merry we shall be! The salmon will be leaping in the waterfalls, and dashing against the stone walls, but he will not be able to come in. It is indeed very pleasant to live in old Norway. But where are the lads?”
Where indeed were they? Why, running about the fields, and blowing out the will-o’-the-wisps, who so good-naturedly came and brought their torches.
“What tricks have you been playing?” said the old goblin. “I have taken a mother for you, and now you may take one of your aunts.”
But the youngsters said they would rather make a speech and drink to their good fellowship; they had no wish to marry. Then they made speeches and drank toasts, and tipped their glasses, to show that they were empty. Then they took off their coats, and lay down on the table to sleep; for they made themselves quite at home. But the old goblin danced about the room with his young bride, and exchanged boots with her, which is more fashionable than exchanging rings.
“The cock is crowing,” said the old elfin maiden who acted as housekeeper; “now we must close the shutters, that the sun may not scorch us.”
Then the hill closed up. But the lizards continued to run up and down the riven tree; and one said to the other, “Oh, how much I was pleased with the old goblin!”
“The boys pleased me better,” said the earth-worm. But then the poor miserable creature could not see.
Copyright 2010 by Alpine Publishing