Page:The fairy tales of science.djvu/301

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257
THE GNOMES.

earth, trespassers in the land of the creatures whom "light annoys." Shall we extinguish our torch, and so allow the thick darkness to fall upon us like a pall? Shall we restore to these subterranean chambers their native gloom? And shall we invoke, by such an act, the presence of those weird beings whom "darkness joys?"

The consequence of our deed would be, not an apparition of the gnomes, but the loss of the track by which we entered these gorgeous caverns now grim and gloomy. Our danger would thus be in the absence of living creatures, and not in their presence. Science, which wars against ignorance on the earth above, has descended to these depths to strike the sceptre from the hand of the Gnome King, and to banish his subjects to the mysterious regions of No-man's-land, leaving only these jewelled caves to astonish and delight us.

The old story-tellers, whose rich and active fancy peopled the air with sylphs, and the waters with nymphs, created the gnomes to be the guardians of the untold wealth of these subterranean realms. Queer little fellows were these underground people, and wonderful stories have been related of them. In the night, when mortals were fast asleep, they would sometimes ascend to the moon-lit surface of the earth, and dance about the hills till cock-crow. Some say that they had no music but howling and whimpering, and that the sounds which proceeded from their midnight assemblies were often mistaken