Hans Andersen's fairy tales (Robinson)/Elfin-Mount
SEVERAL large lizards were running nimbly in and out among the clefts of an old tree; they could understand each other perfectly well, for they all spoke the lizards' language. 'Only hear what a rumbling and grumbling there is in the old Elfin-mount yonder!' observed one lizard. 'I have not been able to close my eyes for the last two nights; I might as well have had the toothache, for the sleep I have had!'
'There is something in the wind, most certainly!' rejoined the second lizard. 'They raise the Mount upon four red pillars till cock-crowing; there is a regular cleaning and dusting going on, and the Elfin-maidens are learning new dances—such a stamping they make in them! There is certainly something in the wind!'
'Yes; I have been talking it over with an earth-worm of my acquaintance,' said a third lizard. 'The earth-worm has just come from the Mount; he has been grubbing in the ground there for days and nights together, and has overheard a good deal; he can't see at all, poor wretch! but no one can be quicker than he is at feeling and hearing. They are expecting strangers at the Elfin-mount—distinguished strangers; but who they are, the earth-worm would not say; most likely he did not know. All the wills-o'-the-wisp are engaged to form a procession of torches—so they call it; and all the silver and gold, of which there is such a store in the Elfin-mount, is being fresh rubbed up, and set out to shine in the moonlight.'
'But who can these strangers be?' exclaimed all the lizards with one voice. 'What can be in the wind? Only listen!—what buzzing and humming!'
Just then the Elfin-mount parted asunder; and an elderly Elfin damsel came tripping out—she was the old Elfin-King's housekeeper, and distantly related to his family, on which account she wore an amber heart on her forehead, but was otherwise plainly dressed. Like all other elves, she was hollow in the back. She was very quick and light-footed; trip—trip—trip, away she ran, straight into the marsh, to the nightraven. 'You are invited to Elfin-mount, for this very evening,' said she; 'but will you not first do us a very great kindness, and be the bearer of the other invitations? You do not keep house, yourself, you know; so you can easily oblige us. We are expecting some very distinguished strangers, Trolds in fact; and his Elfin Majesty intends to welcome them in person.'
'Who are to be invited?' inquired the night-raven.
Why, to the grand ball all the world may come; even men, if they could but talk in their sleep, or do a little bit of anything in our way. But the first banquet must be very select; none but guests of the very highest rank must be present. To say the truth, I and the King have been having a little dispute; for I insist, that not even ghosts may be admitted to-night. The Mer-King and his daughters must be invited first; they don't much like coming on land, but I'll promise they shall each have a wet stone, or, perhaps, something better still, to sit on; and then, I think, they cannot possibly refuse us this time. All old Trolds of the first rank we must have; also, the River-Spirit and the Nisses; and, I fancy, we cannot pass over the Death-Horse and Kirkegrim; true, they do not belong to our set, they are too solemn for us, but they are connected with the family, and pay us regular visits.'
'Caw!' said the night-raven; and away he flew to bear the invitations.
The Elfin-maidens were still dancing in the Elfin-mount; they danced with long scarfs woven from mist and moonlight, and for those who like that sort of thing it looks pretty enough. The large state-room in the Mount had been regularly cleaned and cleared out; the floor had been washed with moonshine, and the walls rubbed with witches' fat till they shone as tulips do when held up to the light. In the kitchen, frogs were roasting on the spit; while divers other choice dishes, such as mushroom seed, hemlock soup, etc., were prepared or preparing. These were to supply the first courses; rusty nails, bits of coloured glass, and such like dainties, were to come in for the dessert; there was also bright saltpetre wine, and ale brewed in the brewery of the Wise Witch of the Moor.
The old Elfin-King's gold crown had been fresh rubbed with powdered slate-pencil; new curtains had been hung up in all the sleeping-rooms, yes, there was indeed a rare bustle and commotion.
'Now, we must have the rooms scented with cows' hairs and swine's bristles; and then, I think, I shall have done my part!' said the Elfin-King's housekeeper.
'Dear papa,' said the youngest of the daughters, 4 won't you tell me now who these grand visitors are?'
Well!' replied His Majesty, ' I suppose there's no use in keeping it a secret. Let two of my daughters get themselves ready for their wedding-day, that's all! Two of them most certainly will be married. The Chief of the Norwegian Trolds, he who dwells in old Dofrefield, and has so many castles of freestone among these rocky fastnesses, besides a gold-mine, which is a capital thing, let me tell you, he is coming down here with his two boys, who are both to choose themselves a bride. Such an honest, straightforward, true old Norseman is this mountain chief! so merry and jovial! he and I are old comrades; he came down here years ago to fetch his wife;
THE MER-KING MUST BE INVITED FIRST
she is dead now; she was the daughter of the Rock-King at Moen. Oh, how I long to see the old Norseman again! His sons, they say, are rough unmannerly cubs, but perhaps report may have done them injustice, and at any rate they are sure to improve in a year or two, when they have sown their wild oats. Let me see how you will polish them up!'
'And how soon are they to be here?' inquired his youngest daughter again.
'That depends on wind and weather!' returned the Elfin-King. 'They travel economically; they come at the ship's convenience. I wanted them to pass over by Sweden, but the old man would not hear of that. He does not keep pace with the times, that's the only fault I can find with him.'
Just then two wills-o'-the-wisp were seen dancing up in a vast hurry, each trying to get before the other, and to be the first to bring the news.
'They come, they come!' cried both with one voice.
'Give me my crown, and let me stand in the moonlight!' said the Elfin-King.
And his seven daughters lifted their long scarfs and bowed low to the earth.
There stood the Trold Chief from the Dofrefield, wearing a crown composed of icicles and polished pine cones; for the rest, he was equipped in a bear-skin cloak and sledge-boots; his sons were clad more slightly, and kept their throats uncovered, by way of showing that they cared nothing about the cold.
'Is that a mount?' asked the youngest of them, pointing to it. 'Why, up in Norway we should call it a cave!'
'You foolish boy!' replied his father; 'a cave you go into, a mount you go up! Where are your eyes, not to see the difference?'
The only thing that surprised them in this country, they said, was that the people should speak and understand their language.
'Behave yourselves now!' said the old man; 'don't let your host fancy you never went into decent company before!'
And now they all entered the Elfin-mount, into the grand saloon, where a really very select party was assembled, although at such short notice that it seemed almost as though some fortunate gust of wind had blown them together. And every possible arrangement had been made for the comfort of each of the guests; the Mer-King's family, for instance, sat at table in large tubs of water, and they declared they felt quite as if they were at home. All behaved with strict good-breeding except the two young northern Trolds, who at last so far forgot themselves as to put their legs on the table.
'Take your legs away from the plates!' said their father, and they obeyed, but not so readily as they might have done. Presently they took some pine cones out of their pockets and began pelting the lady who sat between them, and then, finding their boots incommode them, they took them off, and coolly gave them to this lady to hold. But their father, the old mountain Chief, conducted himself very differently; he talked so delightfully about the proud Norse mountains, and the torrents, white with dancing spray, that dashed foaming down their rocky steeps with a noise loud and hoarse as thunder, yet musical as the full burst of an organ, touched by a master hand; he told of the salmon leaping up from the wild waters while the Neck was playing on his golden harp; he told of the star-light winter nights when the sledge bells tinkled so merrily, and the youths ran with lighted torches over the icy crust, so glassy and transparent that through it they could see the fishes whirling to and fro in deadly terror beneath their feet; he told of the gallant northern youths and pretty maidens singing songs of old time, and dancing the Hallinge dance,—yes, so charmingly he described all this, that you could not but fancy you heard and saw it all. Oh fie, for shame: all of a sudden the mountain Chief turned round upon the elderly Elfin maiden, and gave her a cousinly salute, and he was not yet connected ever so remotely with the family.The young Elfin-maidens were now called upon to dance. First they danced simple dances, then stamping dances, and
Round and round they went, such whirling and twirling
they did both remarkably well. Last came the most difficult of all, the 'Dance out of the dance,' as it was called. Bravo! how long their legs seemed to grow, and how they whirled and spun about! You could hardly distinguish legs from arms, or arms from legs. Round and round they went, such whirling and twirling, such whirring and whizzing there was that it made the death-horse feel quite dizzy, and at last he grew so unwell that he was obliged to leave the table.
THEY FELT QUITE AS IF THEY WERE AT HOME
'Hurrah!' cried the mountain Chief, 'they know how to use their limbs with a vengeance! but can they do nothing else than dance, stretch out their feet, and spin round like a whirlwind?'
'You shall judge for yourself,' replied the Elfin-King, and here he called the eldest of his daughters to him. She was transparent and fair as moonlight; she was, in fact, the most delicate of all the sisters; she put a white wand between her lips and vanished: that was her accomplishment.
But the mountain Chief said he should not at all like his wife to possess such an accomplishment as this, and he did not think his sons would like it either.
The second could walk by the side of herself, just as though she had a shadow, which elves and trolds never have.
The accomplishment of the third sister was of quite another kind: she had learned how to brew good ale from the Wise Witch of the Moor, and she also knew how to lard alder-wood with glow-worms.
'She will make a capital housewife,' remarked the old mountain Chief.
And now advanced the fourth Elfin damsel; she carried a large gold harp, and no sooner had she struck the first chord than all the company lifted their left feet—for elves are leftsided and when she struck the second chord, they were all compelled to do whatever she wished.
'A dangerous lady, indeed!' said the old Trold Chief. Both of his sons now got up and strode out of the mount; they were heartily weary of these accomplishments.
'And what can the next daughter do?' asked the mountain Chief.
'I have learned to love the north,' replied she, ' and I have resolved never to marry unless I may go to Norway.'
But the youngest of the sisters whispered to the old man, 'That is only because she has heard an old Norse rhyme, which says that when the end of the world shall come, the Norwegian rocks shall stand firm amid the ruins; she is very much afraid of death, and therefore she wants to go to Norway.'
'Ho, ho!' cried the mountain Chief, 'sits the wind in that quarter? But what can the seventh and last do?'
'The sixth comes before the seventh,' said the Elfin-King; for he could count better than to make such a mistake. However, the sixth seemed in no hurry to come forward.
'I can only tell people the truth,' said she. 'Let no one trouble himself about me; I have enough to do to sew my shroud!'
And now came the seventh and last, and what could she do? Why, she could tell fairy tales, as many as any one could wish to hear.
'Here are my five fingers,' said the mountain Chief; 'tell me a story for each finger.'
And the Elfin-maiden took hold of his wrist, and told her stories, and he laughed till his sides ached, and when she came to the finger that wore a gold ring, as though it knew it might be wanted, the mountain Chief suddenly exclaimed, ' Hold fast what thou hast; the hand is thine! I will have thee myself to wife!' But the Elfin-maiden said that she had still two more stories to tell, one for the ring-finger, and another for the little finger.
'Keep them for next winter, we'll hear them then,' replied the mountain Chief. 'And we'll hear about the "Loves of the Fir-Tree and the Birch," about the Valkyria's gifts too, for we all love fairy legends in Norway, and no one there can tell them so charmingly as thou dost. And then we will sit in our rocky halls, whilst the fir-logs are blazing and crackling in the stove, and drink mead out of the golden horns of the old Norse kings; the Neck has taught me a few of his rare old ditties, besides the Garbo will often come and pay us a visit, and he will sing thee all the sweet songs that the mountain maidens sang in days of yore; that will be most delightful! The salmon in the torrent will spring up and beat himself against the rock walls, but in vain, he will not be able to get in. Oh, thou canst not imagine what a happy, glorious life we lead in that dear old Norway! But where are the boys?'
Where were the boys? Why, they were racing about in the fields and blowing out the poor wills-o'-the-wisp, who were just ranging themselves in the proper order to make a procession of torches.
'What do you mean by making all this riot?' inquired the mountain Chief. 'I have been choosing you a mother; now you come and choose yourselves wives from among your aunts.'
But his sons said they would rather make speeches and drink toasts; they had not the slightest wish to marry. And
I WILL HAVE THEE MYSELF TO WIFE
accordingly they made speeches, tossed off their glasses and turned them topsy-turvy on the table, to show that they were quite empty; after this they took off their coats, and most unceremoniously lay down on the table and went to sleep. But the old mountain Chief, the while, danced round the hall with his young bride, and exchanged boots with her, because that is not so vulgar as exchanging rings.
'Listen, the cock is crowing!' exclaimed the lady-house-keeper. 'We must make haste and shut the window-shutters close, or the sun will scorch our complexions.'
And herewith Elfin-mount closed.
But outside, in the cloven trunk, the lizards kept running up and down, and one and all declared, 'What a capital fellow that old Norwegian Trold is!' 'For my part, I prefer the boys,' said the earth-worm; but he, poor wretch, could see nothing either of them or of their father, so his opinion was not worth much.