THE LAKE AT EUSEKUeLL.
In former times there was no lake at Eusekuell, for it was carried there from the district of Oiso in Esthonia. One day a great black cloud like a sack rolled up from the north, and drew up all the water from the lake of Oiso. Before the cloud ran a black bull bellowing angrily, and above in the cloud flew an old man crying incessantly, "Lake, go to Eusekuell!" When the bull came to Eusekuell, where the tavern now stands, he dug his horns into the ground, and formed two deep trenches, which any one may still see to the right of the path which leads to the tavern at Kersel.
Then the cloud rolled on farther, till it reached the district of Eusekuell. All the people were making hay in the meadow, and when they saw the black cloud, they hastened with their work, to bring the hay under cover. Presently the cloud stood above them. First a great knife with a wooden handle fell down, and next all kinds of fish, and then it began to rain heavily.
The people hurried from the field to take shelter. But one girl who had left her string of beads on a haycock, and wanted to save it, neglected to escape. Suddenly the waves of the lake fell from above, and buried her beneath them. Since that time the lake at Eusekuell has been inhabited by a water-nymph, who requires the offering of a human life every year.
* * * * *
There are several other Esthonian tales of lakes moving from one spot to another.
EMMU LAKE AND VIRTS LAKE.
Soon after the Creation, Vanaisa formed a beautiful lake, called the Emmu Lake, which was intended to furnish men with refreshing water at all times, but owing to the wickedness of men, he caused all the water to be absorbed by a waterspout. Now men had nothing but rain-water, and although rain-water and melted snow sometimes filled the old Emmu Lake, it was dirty and unrefreshing, and people called it the Virts Lake. But at length Vanaisa, took pity on the people, who had somewhat improved, and formed narrow channels in the earth, through which the waters of the old Emmu lake flow as springs. But to prevent their being too warm in summer and too cold in winter, a cold stone is put into the springs in spring, and replaced by a warm one in autumn.
[Footnote 48: God is frequently called Vanaisa, the Old Father, just as the Devil is frequently called Vanapois, the Old Boy.]
THE BLUE SPRING.
At the foot of the Villina hill, near the church of Lais, is a swamp where rises a spring of water, called from its colour the Blue Spring. It is said that the spring can produce rain or drought, and thus cause dearth or plenty. In time of drought three widows of the same name must go to the spring on a Sunday during service-time, to clean it out and to enlarge the opening. Each must take a spade, hoe, rake, a cake of bread, and a hymn-book with her. But if too much rain falls, the spring must be closed up to a mere crevice, and this is at once efficacious.
One day three widows named Anna opened the spring too wide, when a dreadful rain spread over the country. Sometimes it has happened that women who were about to clean the spring have failed to finish the work during church-time, and it has been fruitless. Another time the people wished to find out how deep was the spring. They let down a stone with a long cord, but drew the cord up without the stone. They then let down a kettle filled with stones, but, to their horror, they drew up a bleeding human head instead. They were about to make another trial, when a voice cried from the depths, "If you attempt this again, you will all sink!" So the depth of the Blue Spring is still unknown.
[Footnote 49: In the neighbourhood of Dorpat.]
THE BLACK POOL.
In time of war, a rich lord tried to escape from the country with his family and goods in a coach drawn by six horses. In their haste, the horses swerved from the path, and all were lost in a deep lake of black water. Since that time it has been haunted, and sometimes a black dog tries to entice boys in, or cats and birds are seen about it. One day a man was walking by the pool when his leg was seized, and he was dragged down, but he contrived to seize a bush of juniper, and saved himself. Then he saw some maidens sporting in the water like white swans; but presently they vanished. One day a fisherman caught a black tail-less pike, when the voice of the old nobleman was heard asking, "Are all the swine safe?" And another voice answered, "The old tail-less boar is missing." Many people, too, have seen a great hoop from a coach-wheel, as sharp as the edge of an axe, rise from the water.
[Footnote 50: Dreadful stories are told in many countries of the fiends inhabiting the undrained swamps. Monsters as terrible as those described in "Beowulf" are popularly believed to have haunted the English fens almost to the present day. Aino, in the Kalevala (Runo 4), was lured into a lake by the sight of some maidens bathing; and it is said that it is unsafe for sensitive people to venture near the banks of some of the Irish lakes in the evening, lest they should be lured into the water by the singing of the water-nymphs. In this connection, we may refer to the oft-quoted passage from the notes to Heywood's Hierarchies of the Blessed Angels (1635): "In Finland there is a castle, which is called the New Rock, moated about with a river of unsounded depth, the water black, and the fish therein very distasteful to the palate. In this are spectres often seen, which foreshow either the death of the Governor, or of some prime officer belonging to the place; and most often it appeareth in the shape of a harper, sweetly singing and dallying and playing under the water."—See Southey's Donica.]
STORIES OF THE DEVIL AND OF BLACK MAGIC.
Stories relating to the Devil are very frequent in Esthonian literature, and notwithstanding the universal notion that you sell yourself to him by giving him three drops of your blood, or by signing a compact with your blood, yet many stories of this class are evidently pre-Christian. He is generally represented as a buffoon, and easily outwitted. Further particulars respecting him will be found in the Introduction. The stories incidentally referred to in this section of our work are mostly related by Jannsen.
As regards sorcery, the Esthonians appear to have regarded the Finns, and the Finns the Lapps, as proficient in magic, each people attributing most skill to those living north of themselves. However, it should be mentioned that there is a ballad in the Finnish Kanteletar in which the sun and moon are represented as stolen by German and Esthonian sorcerers. In the Kalevala they are stolen by Louhi, the witch-queen of Lapland.
The first story of this series, "The Son of the Thunder-God," represents this demigod as actually selling his soul to the Devil, and tricking the Devil out of it. The Thunder-God is here called Paristaja, and also Vana Kou; but in other tales he is usually called Pikne, and is no doubt identical with the Perkunas of the Lithuanians. In this story the Devil is called Kurat, the Evil One; and also Vanapois (the Old Boy), as in other tales.
The primitive manner in which the undutiful son tickles the nose of his august father is amusing. Vana (old) seems to be a term of respect applied to gods and devils alike.
THE SON OF THE THUNDER-GOD.
Once upon a time the son of the Thunder-God made a compact with the Devil. It was agreed that the Devil was to serve him faithfully for seven years, and to do everything which his master required of him, after which he was to receive his master's soul as a reward. The Devil fulfilled his part of the bargain faithfully. He never shirked the hardest labour nor grumbled at poor living, for he knew the reward he had to expect. Six years had already passed by, and the seventh had begun; but the Thunderer's son had no particular inclination to part with his soul so easily, and looked about for some trick by which he could escape the necessity of fulfilling his share of the bargain. He had already tricked the Devil when the compact was signed, for instead of signing it with his own blood, he had signed it with cock's blood, and his short-sighted adversary had not noticed the difference. Thus the bond which the Devil thought perfectly secure was really a very doubtful one. The end of the time was approaching, and the Thunderer's son had not yet attempted to regain his freedom, when it happened one day that a black cloud arose in the sky, which foreboded a violent thunderstorm. The Devil immediately crept down underground, having made himself a hiding-place under a stone for that purpose. "Come, brother," said he to his master, "and keep me company till the tempest is over." "What will you promise me if I fulfil your request?" said the Thunderer's son. The Devil thought they might settle this down below, for he did not like to talk over matters of business just then, when the storm was threatening to break over them at any moment. The Thunderer's son thought, "The Old Boy seems quite dazed with terror to-day, and who knows whether I may not be able to get rid of him after all?" So he followed him into the cave. The tempest lasted a long time, and one crash of thunder followed another, till the earth quaked and the rocks trembled. At every peal the Old Boy pushed his fists into his ears and screwed up his eyes tight; a cold sweat covered his shaking limbs, and he was unable to utter a word. In the evening, when the storm was over, he said to the Thunderer's son, "If your old dad did not make such a noise and clatter now and then, I could get along with him very well, for his arrows could not hurt me underground. But this horrible clamour upsets me so much that I am ready to lose my senses, and hardly know what I am about. I should be willing to offer a great reward to any one who would release me from this annoyance." The Thunderer's son answered, "The best plan would be to steal the thunder-weapon from my old dad." "I'd do it if it were possible," answered the Devil, "but old Kou is always on the alert. He keeps watch on the thunder-weapon day and night; and how is it possible to steal it?" But the Thunderer's son still maintained that the feat was possible. "Ay, if you would help me," cried the Devil, "we might perhaps succeed, but I can't manage it by myself." The Thunderer's son promised to help him, but demanded no less a reward than that the Devil should abandon his claim to his soul. "You may keep the soul with all my heart," cried the Devil delighted, "if you will only release me from this shocking worry and anxiety." Then the Thunderer's son began to explain how he thought the business might be managed, if they both worked well together. "But," he added, "we must wait till my old dad again tires himself out so much as to fall into a sound sleep, for he generally sleeps with open eyes, like the hares."
Some time after this conversation, another violent thunderstorm broke out, which lasted a great while. The Devil and the Thunderer's son again retreated to their hiding-place under the stone. Terror had so stupefied the Old Boy, that he could not hear a word of what his companion said. In the evening they both climbed a high mountain, when the Old Boy took the Thunderer's son on his shoulders, and began to stretch himself out by his magic power higher and higher, singing—
"Higher, brother, higher, To the Cloudland nigher,"
till he had grown up to the edge of the clouds. When the Thunderer's son peeped over the edge of the clouds, he saw his father Kou sleeping quietly, with his head resting on a pillow of clouds, but with his right hand resting across the thunder-instrument. He could not seize the weapon, for he would have roused the sleeper by touching his hand. The Thunderer's son now crept from the Devil's shoulder along the clouds as stealthily as a cat, and taking a louse from behind his own ear, he set it on his father's nose. The old man raised his hand to scratch his nose, when his son grasped the thunder-weapon, and jumped from the clouds on to the back of the Devil, who ran down the mountain as if fire was burning behind him, and he did not stop till he reached Porgu. Here he hid the stolen property in an iron chamber secured by seven locks, thanked the Thunderer's son for his friendly aid, and relinquished all claims upon his soul.
But now a misfortune fell upon the world and men which the Thunderer's son had not foreseen, for the clouds no longer shed a drop of moisture, and everything withered away with drought. "If I have thoughtlessly brought this unexpected misery on the people," thought he, "I must try to repair the mischief as best I can." So he travelled north to the frontiers of Finland, where a noted sorcerer lived, and told him the whole story, and where the thunder-weapon was now hidden. Then said the sorcerer, "First of all, you must tell your old father Kou where the thunder-weapon is hidden, and he will be able to find means for recovering his property himself." And he sent the Eagle of the North to carry the tidings to the old Father of the Clouds. Next morning Kou himself called upon the sorcerer to thank him for having put him on the track of the stolen property. Then the Thunderer changed himself into a boy, and offered himself to a fisherman as a summer workman. He knew that the Devil often came to the lake to catch fish, and he hoped to encounter him there. Although the boy Pikker watched the net day and night, it was some time before he caught sight of his enemy. It often happened to the fisherman that when he left his nets in the lake at night, they had been emptied before the morning, but he could not discover the cause. The boy knew very well who stole the fish, but he would not say anything about it till he could show his master the thief.
One moonlight night, when the fisherman and the boy came to the lake to examine the nets, they found the thief at work. When they looked into the water over the side of their boat, they saw the Old Boy taking the fishes from the meshes of the net and putting them into a bag over his shoulder. Next day the fisherman went to a celebrated sorcerer and asked him to use his magic to cause the thief to fall into the net, and to enchant him so that he could not escape without the owner's consent. This was arranged just as the fisherman wished. Next day, when the net was drawn up, they drew up the Devil to the surface and brought him ashore. And what a drubbing he received from the fisherman and his boy; for he could not escape from the net without the consent of the sorcerer. The fisherman gave him a ton's weight of blows on the body, without caring where they fell. The Devil soon presented a piteous sight, but the fisherman and his boy felt no pity for him, but only rested awhile, and then began their work afresh. Entreaties were useless, and at last the Devil promised the fisherman the half of all his goods if he would only release him from the spell. But the enraged fisherman would listen to nothing till his own strength failed so completely that he could no longer move his stick. At length, after a long discussion, it was arranged that the Old Boy should be released from the net with the sorcerer's aid, and that the fisherman and his boy should accompany the Devil to receive his ransom. No doubt he hoped to get the better of them by some stratagem.
A grand feast was prepared for the guests in the hall of Porgu, which lasted for a whole week, and there was plenty of everything. The aged host exhibited his treasures and precious hoards to his visitors, and made his players perform before the fisherman in their very best style. One morning the boy Pikker said to the fisherman, "If you are again feasted and feted to-day, ask for the instrument which is in the iron chamber behind seven locks." The fisherman took the hint, and in the middle of the feast, when everybody was half-seas over, he asked to see the instrument in the secret chamber. The Devil was quite willing, and he fetched the instrument, and tried to play upon it himself. But although he blew into it with all his strength, and shifted his fingers up and down the pipe, he was not able to bring a better tone from it than the cry of a cat when she is seized by the tail, or the squeaking of a decoy-pig at a wolf-hunt. The fisherman laughed, and said, "Don't give yourself so much trouble for nothing. I see well enough that you'll never make a piper. My boy can manage it much better." "Oho," said the Devil, "you seem to think that playing this instrument is like playing the flageolet, and that it is mere child's play. Come, friend, try it; but if either you or your boy can bring anything like a tune out of the instrument, I won't be prince of hell any longer. Only just try it," said he, handing the instrument to the boy. The boy Pikker took the instrument, but when he put it to his mouth and blew into it, the walls of hell shook, and the Devil and his company fell senseless to the ground and lay as if dead. In place of the boy the old Thunder-god himself stood by the fisherman, and thanked him for his aid, saying, "In future, whenever my instrument is heard in the clouds, your nets will be well filled with fish." Then he hastened home again.
On the way his son met him, and fell on his knees, confessing his fault, and humbly asking pardon. Then said Father Kou, "The frivolity of man often wars against the wisdom of heaven, but you may thank your stars, my son, that I have recovered the power to annihilate the traces of the suffering which your folly has brought on the people." As he spoke, he sat down on a stone, and blew into the thunder-instrument till the rain-gates were opened, and the thirsty earth could drink her fill. Old Kou took his son into his service, and they live together still.
* * * * *
In our next story we shall see the Devil and his companions overreaching themselves in a manner worthy of the Ingoldsby Legends, while in the Polyphemus story already referred to under Cosmopolitan Tales we find the Devil blinded and perishing miserably.
[Footnote 51: There is a variant of this story (Pikne's Trumpet: Kreutzwald) in which Tuehi himself steals the trumpet while Pikne is asleep. Pikne is afraid to apply for aid to the Old Father, for fear of being punished for losing it, but recovers it by an artifice similar to that employed in the present story. This is interesting as showing Pikne to be only a subordinate deity. Loewe considers the Thunderer's musical instrument to be a bagpipe.]
[Footnote 52: He does not call his father Vanaisa, which would identify him with the Supreme God, but uses another term, Vana taat.]
[Footnote 53: As Louhi, in the Kalevala, secures the magic mill, the Sampo.]
[Footnote 54: This story is probably connected with the Finnish and Esthonian legends of the theft of the sun and moon by sorcerers.]
When the Lord God had created the whole world, the work did not turn out so complete as it ought to have done, for there was an insufficiency of light. In the daytime the sun pursued his course through the firmament, but when he sank at evening, when the evening glow faded into twilight, and all grew dark, thick darkness covered heaven and earth, until the morning redness took the dawn from the hand of the evening glow and heralded a new day. There was neither moonlight nor starlight, but darkness from sunset to sunrise.
The Creator soon perceived the deficiency, and sought to remedy it. So he ordered Ilmarine to see that it should be light on earth by night as well as by day. Ilmarine listened to the command, and went to his forge, where he had already forged the firmament. He threw in silver, and cast it into a large round ball. He covered it with thick gold, lighted a bright fire inside, and ordered it to proceed on its course across the sky. Then he forged innumerable stars, covered them thinly with gold, and fixed each in its place in the firmament.
Now began a new life for the earth. The sun had hardly set, and was borne away by the evening glow, when the golden moon arose from the borders of the sky, set out on his blue path, and illuminated the darkness of night just as the sun illumines the day. Around him twinkled the innumerable host of stars, and accompanied him like a king, until at length he reached the other side of the heavens. Then the stars retired to rest, the moon quitted the firmament, and the sun was conducted by the morning redness to his place, in order that he should give light to the world.
After this, ample light shone upon the earth from above both by day and by night; for the face of the moon was just as clear and bright as that of the sun, and his rays diffused equal warmth. But the sun often shone so fiercely by day that no one was able to work. Thus they preferred to work under the light of the nocturnal keeper of the heavens, and all men rejoiced in the gift of the moon.
But the Devil was very much annoyed at the moon, because he could not carry on his evil practices in his bright light. Whenever he went out in search of prey, he was recognised a long way off, and was driven back home in disgrace. Thus it came about that during all this time he only succeeded in bagging two souls.
So he sat still day and night pondering on what he could do to better his prospects. At last he summoned two of his companions, but they could not give him any good advice. So the three of them consulted together in care and trouble, but nothing feasible occurred to them. On the seventh day they had nothing left to eat, and they sat there sighing, rubbing their empty stomachs, and racking their brains with thought. At last a lucky idea occurred to the Devil himself.
"Comrades," he exclaimed, "I know what we can do. We must get rid of the moon, if we want to save ourselves. If there's no moon in the sky, we shall be just as valiant heroes as before. We can carry out our great undertakings by the dim starlight."
"Shall we pull down the moon from heaven?" asked his servants.
"No," said the Devil, "he is fixed too tight, and we can't get him down. We must do something more likely to succeed. The best we can do is to take tar and smear him with it till he's black. He may then run about the sky as he pleases, but he can't give us any more trouble. The victory then rests with us, and rich booty awaits us."
The fiendish company approved of the plan of their chief, and were all anxious to get to work. But it was too late at the time, for the moon was just about to set, and the sun was rising. But they worked zealously at their preparations all day till late in the evening. The Devil went out and stole a barrel of tar, which he carried to his accomplices in the wood. Meantime, they had been engaged in making a long ladder in seven pieces, each piece of which measured seven fathoms. Then they procured a great bucket, and made a mop of lime-tree bast, which they fastened to a long handle.
Then they waited for night, and as soon as the moon rose, the Devil took the ladder and the barrel on his shoulder and ordered his two servants to follow him with the bucket and the mop. When they reached a suitable spot, they filled the bucket with tar, threw a quantity of ashes into it, and dipped in the mop. Just at this moment the moon rose from behind the wood. They hastily raised the ladder, and the Devil put the bucket into the hand of one of his servants, and told him to make haste and climb up, while he stationed the other under the ladder.
Now the Devil and his servant were standing under the ladder to hold it, but the servant could not bear the weight, and it began to shake. The other servant who had climbed up missed his footing on a rung of the ladder, and fell with the bucket on the Devil's neck. The Devil began to pant and shake himself like a bear, and swore frightfully. He paid no more attention to the ladder, and let it go, so it fell on the ground with a thundering crash, and broke into a thousand pieces.
When the Devil found that his work had prospered so ill, and that he had tarred himself all over instead of the moon, he grew mad with rage and fury. He washed and scoured and scraped himself, but the tar and soot stuck to him so tight that he keeps his black colour to the present day.
But although the first experiment had failed, the Devil would not give up his plan. Next day he stole seven more ladders, bound them firmly together, and carried them to the edge of the wood where the moon stands lowest. In the evening, when the moon rose, the Devil planted the ladder firmly on the ground, steadied it with both hands, and sent the other servant up to the moon, cautioning him to hold very tight and beware of slipping. The servant climbed up as quickly as possible with the bucket, and arrived safely at the last rung of the ladder. Just then the moon rose from behind the wood in regal splendour. Then the Devil lifted up the whole ladder, and carried it hastily to the moon. What a great piece of luck! It was really just so long that its end reached the moon.
Then the Devil's servant set to work in earnest. But it's not an easy task to stand on the top of such a ladder and to tar the moon's face over with a mop. Besides, the moon didn't stand still at one place, but went on his appointed course steadily. So the servant tied himself to the moon with a rope, and being thus secure from falling, he took the mop from the bucket, and began to blacken the moon first on the back. But the thick gilding of the pure moon would not suffer any stain. The servant painted and smeared, till the sweat ran from his forehead, until he succeeded at last, with much toil, in covering the back of the moon with tar. The Devil below gazed up at the work with his mouth open, and when he saw the work half finished he danced with joy, first on one foot, and then on the other.
When the servant had blackened the back of the moon, he worked himself round to the front with difficulty, so as to destroy the lustre of the guardian of the heavens on that side also. He stood there at last, panted a little, and thought, when he began, that he would find the front easier to manage than the other side. But no better plan occurred to him, and he had to work in the same way as before.
Just as he was beginning his work again, the Creator woke up from a little nap. He was astonished to see that the world had become half black, though there was not a cloud in the sky. But, when he looked more sharply into the cause of the darkness, he saw the Devil's servant perched on the moon, and just dipping his mop into the bucket in order to make the front of the moon as black as the back. Meantime the Devil was capering for joy below the ladder, just like a he-goat.
"Those are the sort of tricks you are up to behind my back!" cried the Creator angrily. "Let the evil-doers receive the fitting reward of their offences. You are on the moon, and there you shall stay with your bucket for ever, as a warning to all who would rob the earth of its light. My light must prevail over the darkness, and the darkness must flee before it. And though you should strive against it with all your strength, you would not be able to conquer the light. This shall be made manifest to all who gaze on the moon at night, when they see the black spoiler of the moon with his utensils."
The Creator's words were fulfilled. The Devil's servant still stands in the moon to this day with his bucket of tar, and for this reason the moon does not shine so brightly as formerly. He often descends into the sea to bathe, and would like to cleanse himself from his stains, but they remain with him eternally. However bright and clear he shines, his light cannot dispel the shadows which he bears, nor pierce through the black covering on his back. When he sometimes turns his back to us, we see him only as a dull opaque creature, devoid of light and lustre. But he cannot bear to show us his dark side long. He soon turns his shining face to the earth again, and sheds down his bright silvery light from above; but the more he waxes, the more distinct becomes the form of his spoiler, and reminds us that light must always triumph over darkness.
* * * * *
In the following narrative we have a horrible story of black magic, which, however, is extremely interesting as showing the prevalence of fetishism, which probably preceded the worship of the powers of nature among the Finns and Esthonians. The Kratt seems originally to have been nothing worse than Tont, the house-spirit, who robbed the neighbours for the benefit of his patrons, and it is probably only after the introduction of Christianity that he assumed the diabolical character attributed to him in the present story.
[Footnote 55: Ilmarine or Ilmarinen is the Vulcan of the Finnish and Esthonian legends. He is represented in the Kalevala as a young and handsome hero, but deficient in courage. In Esthonian tales he generally appears as a demigod. In the Kalevala he plays a part second only to that of Vaeinaemoeinen himself, but fails in many of his undertakings; for though he is said to have forged the sky, he cannot confer speech or warmth on the bride of gold and silver whom he forges for himself after his first wife has been given to the wolves and bears by Kullervo; and when he forges a new sun and moon, after the old ones have been stolen by Louhi, they turn out miserable failures.]
Once upon a time there lived a young farmer whose crops had totally failed. His harvest had been spoiled, his hay parched up, and all his cattle died, so that he was unable to perform his lawful obligations to his feudal superior. One Sunday he was sitting at his door in great trouble, just as the people were going to church. Presently Michel, an old fellow who used to wander about the country, came up. He had a bad reputation; people said that he was a wizard, and that he used to suck the milk from the cows, to bring storms and hail upon the crops, and diseases upon the people. So he was never allowed to depart without alms when he visited a farm.
"Good day, farmer," said Michel, advancing.
"God bless you," answered the other.
"What ails you?" said the old man. "You are looking very miserable."
"Alas! everything is going with me badly enough. But it is a good thing that you have come. People say that you have power to do much evil, but that you are a clever fellow. Perhaps you can help me."
"People talk evil of others because they themselves are evil," answered the old man. "But what is to be done?"
The farmer told him all his misfortunes, and Michel said, "Would you like to escape from all your troubles, and to become a rich man all at once?"
"With all my heart!" cried the other.
Old Michel answered, with a smile, "If I were as young and strong as you, and if I had sufficient courage to face the darkness of night, and knew how to hold my tongue, I know what I'd do."
"Only tell me what you know. I will do anything if I can only become rich, for I am weary of my life at present."
Then the old man looked cautiously round on all sides, and then said in a whisper, "Do you know what a Kratt is?"
The farmer was startled, and answered, "I don't know exactly, but I have heard dreadful tales about it."
"I'll tell you," said the old man. "Mark you, it is a creature that anybody can make for himself, but it must be done so secretly that no human eye sees it. Its body is a broomstick, its head a broken jug, its nose a piece of glass, and its arms two reels which have been used by an old crone of a hundred years. All these things are easy to procure. You must set up this creature on three Thursday evenings at a cross-road, and animate it with the words which I will teach you. On the third Thursday the creature will come to life."
"God preserve us from the evil one!" cried the farmer.
"What! you are frightened? Have I told you too much already?"
"No, I'm not frightened at all. Go on."
The old man continued, "This creature is then your servant, for you have brought him to life at a cross-road. Nobody can see him but his master. He will bring him all kinds of money, corn, and hay, as often as he likes, but not more at once than a man's burden."
"But, old man, if you knew all this, why haven't you yourself made such a useful treasure-carrier, instead of which you have remained poor all your life?"
"I have been about to do it a hundred times, and have made a beginning a hundred times, but my courage always failed me. I had a friend who possessed such a treasure-carrier, and often told me about it, but I could not screw up courage to follow his example. My friend died, and the creature, left without a master, lived in the village for a long time, and wrought all manner of tricks among the people. He once tore all a woman's yarn to pieces; but when it was discovered, and they were going to remove it, they found a heap of money underneath. After this no more was seen of the creature. At that time I should have been glad enough to have a treasure-bringer, but I am now old and grey, and think no more of it."
"I've plenty of courage," said the farmer; "but wouldn't it be better for me to consult the parson about it?"
"No; you mustn't mention it to anybody, but least of all to the parson; for if you call the creature to life, you sell your soul to the devil."
The farmer started back in horror.
"Don't be frightened," said the old man. "You are sure of a long life in exchange, and of all your heart desires. And if you feel that your last hour is approaching, you can always escape from the clutches of the evil one, if you are clever enough to get rid of your familiar."
"But how can this be done?"
"If you give him a task which he is unable to perform, you are rid of him for the future. But you must set about it very circumspectly, for he is not easy to outwit. The peasant of whom I told you wanted to get rid of his familiar, and ordered him to fill a barrel of water with a sieve. But the creature fetched and spilled water, and did not rest till the barrel was filled with the drops which hung on the sieve."
"So he died, without getting rid of the creature?"
"Yes; why didn't he manage the affair better? But I have something more to tell you. The creature must be well fed, if he is to be kept in good-humour. A peasant once put a dish of broth under the roof for his familiar, as he was in the habit of doing. But a labourer saw it, so he ate the broth, and filled the dish with sand. The familiar came that night, and beat the farmer unmercifully, and continued to do so every night till he discovered the reason, and put a fresh dish of broth under the roof. After this he let him alone. And now you know all," said the old man.
The farmer sat silent, and at last replied, "There is much about it that is unpleasant, Michel."
"You asked for my advice," answered the old man, "and I have given it you. You must make your own choice. Want and misery have come upon you. This is the only way in which you can save yourself and become a rich man; and if you are only a little prudent, you will cheat the devil out of your soul into the bargain."
After some reflection, the farmer answered, "Tell me the words which I am to repeat on the Thursdays."
"What will you give me, then?" said the old man.
"When I have the treasure-bringer, you shall live the life of a gentleman."
"Come, then," said the old man, and they entered the house together.
After this Sunday the young farmer was seen no more in the village. He neglected his work in the fields, and left what little was left there to waste, and his household management went all astray. His man loafed about the public-houses, and his maid-servant slept at home, for her master himself never looked after anything.
In the meantime the farmer sat in his smoky room. He kept the door locked, and the windows closely curtained. Here he worked hard day and night at the creature in a dark corner by the light of a pine-splinter. He had procured everything necessary, even the reels on which a crone of a hundred years old had spun. He put all the parts together carefully, fixed the old pot on the broomstick, made the nose of a bit of glass, and painted in the eyes and mouth red. He wrapped the body in coloured rags, according to his instructions, and all the time he thought with a shudder that it was now in his power to bring this uncanny creature to life, and that he must remain with him till his end. But when he thought of the riches and treasures, all his horror vanished. At length the creature was finished, and on the following Thursday the farmer carried it after nightfall to the cross-roads in the wood. There he put down the creature, seated himself on a stone, and waited. But every time he looked at the creature he nearly fell to the ground with terror. If only a breeze sprung up, it went through the marrow of his bones, and if only the screech-owl cried afar off, he thought he heard the croaking of the creature, and the blood froze in his veins. Morning came at last, and he seized the creature, and slunk away cautiously home.
On the second Thursday it was just the same. At length the night of the third Thursday came, and now he was to complete the charm. There was a howling wind, and the moon was covered with thick dark clouds, when the farmer brought the creature to the cross-roads at dead of night. Then he set it up as before, but he thought, "If I was now to smash it into a thousand pieces, and then go home and set hard at work, I need not then do anything wicked."
Presently, however, he reflected: "But I am so miserably poor, and this will make me rich. Let it go as it may, I can't be worse off than I am now."
He looked fearfully round him, turned towards the creature trembling, let three drops of blood fall on it from his finger, and repeated the magic words which the old man had taught him.
Suddenly the moon emerged from the clouds and shone upon the place where the farmer was standing before the figure. But the farmer stood petrified with terror when he saw the creature come to life. The spectre rolled his eyes horribly, turned slowly round, and when he saw his master again, he asked in a grating voice, "What do you want of me?"
But the farmer was almost beside himself with fear, and could not answer. He rushed away in deadly terror, not caring whither. But the creature ran after him, clattering and puffing, crying out all the time, "Why did you bring me to life if you desert me now?"
But the farmer ran on, without daring to look round.
Then the creature grasped his shoulder from behind with his wooden hand, and screamed out, "You have broken your compact by running away. You have sold your soul to the devil without gaining the least advantage for yourself. You have set me free. I am no longer your servant, but will be your tormenting demon, and will persecute you to your dying hour."
The farmer rushed madly to his house, but the creature followed him, invisible to every one else.
From this hour everything went wrong with the farmer which he undertook. His land produced nothing but weeds, his cattle all died, his sheds fell in, and if he took anything up, it broke in his hand. Neither man nor maid would work in his house, and at last all the people held aloof from him, as from an evil spirit who brought misfortune wherever he appeared.
Autumn came, and the farmer looked like a shadow, when one day he met old Michel, who saluted him, and looked scoffingly in his face.
"Oh, it's you," cried the farmer angrily. "It is good that I have met you, you hell-hound. Where are all your fine promises of wealth and good luck? I have sold myself to the devil, and I find a hell on earth already. But all this is your doing!"
"Quiet, quiet!" said the old man. "Who told you to meddle with evil things if you had not courage? I gave you fair warning. But you showed yourself a coward at the last moment, and released the creature from your service. If you had not done this, you might have become a rich and prosperous man, as I promised you."
"But you never saw the horrible face of the creature when he came to life," said the farmer in anguish. "Oh, what a fool I was to allow myself to be tempted by you!"
"I did not tempt you; I only told you what I knew."
"Help me now."
"Help yourself, for I can't. Haven't I more reason to complain of you than you of me? I have not deceived you; but where is my reward, and the fine life you promised me? You are the deceiver."
"All right! all right! Only tell me how I can save myself, and advise me what to do. I will perform everything."
"No," said the old man, "I have no further advice to give you. I am still a beggar, and it is all your fault;" and he turned round and left him.
"Curse upon you!" cried the farmer, whose last hope had vanished.
"But can't I save myself in any way?" said he to himself. "This creature who sits with the Devil on my neck is after all nothing but my own work, a thing of wood and potsherds. I must needs be able to destroy him, if I set about it right."
He ran to his house, where he now lived quite alone. There stood the creature in a corner, grinning, and asking, "Where's my dinner?"
"What shall I give you to get rid of you?"
"Where's my dinner? Get my dinner, quick. I'm hungry."
"Wait a little; you shall have it presently."
Then the farmer took up a pine-faggot which was burning in the stove, as if pondering and then ran out, and locked all the doors on the outside.
It was a cold autumn night. The wind whistled through the neighbouring pine forest with a strange sighing sound.
"Now you may burn and roast, you spirit of hell!" cried the farmer, and cast the fire on the thatch. Presently the whole house was wrapped in bright flames.
Then the farmer laughed madly, and kept on calling out, "Burn and roast!"
The light of the fire roused the people of the village, and they crowded round the ill-starred spot. They wished to put out the fire and save the house, but the farmer pushed them back, saying, "Let it be. What does the house matter, if he only perishes? He has tormented me long enough, and I will plague him now, and all may yet be well with me."
The people stared at him in amazement as he spoke. But now the house fell in crashing, and the farmer shouted, "Now he's burnt!"
At this moment the creature, visible only to the farmer, rose unhurt from the smoking ruins with a threatening gesture. As soon as the farmer saw him, he fell on the ground with a loud shriek.
"What do you see?" asked old Michel, who had just arrived on the scene, and stood by smiling.
But the farmer returned no answer. He had died of terror.
[Footnote 56: One of Michael Scot's familiars was a devil of this kind, whom he got rid of ultimately by setting him to spin ropes of sea-sand.]
THE WOODEN MAN AND THE BIRCH-BARK MAID.
This is another story which relates how a stingy farmer starved all his servants, till no one would live with him. He applied to a sorcerer, who directed him to take a black hare in a bag to a cross-road for three Thursdays running, just before midnight, and whistle for the Devil. The farmer took a black cat instead, and on the third Thursday agreed with the Devil to receive a man-servant and a maid, who should work for him for twice seven years, and who would require no food, nothing but a little water. To ratify the bargain, the farmer gave the Devil three drops of blood from his index-finger. At the end of the time the servants disappeared, and the farmer could only find a rotten stump and a heap of birch-bark, as their names signified (Puulaene and Tohtlaene). Then the Devil seized the farmer by the throat and strangled him, and his wife could find no trace of him but three drops of blood, while all the corn-bins were empty, and the money-chest contained only withered birch-leaves.
* * * * *
A farmer who had unthinkingly devoted his lazy horse to the Devil, was much annoyed by three, who appeared successively, and demanded it. At last he was obliged to invite them to his Christmas-dinner, and to promise to feed them on blood, flesh, and corn. But a Finnish sorcerer taught him a charm by which he transformed them respectively into a bug, a wolf, and a rat.
* * * * *
Another story, in which the Devil gets the worst of it, is
THE COMPASSIONATE SHOEMAKER.
Once upon a time, when God himself was still on earth, it happened that he went to a farm-house disguised as a beggar, while a christening was going forward, and asked for a lodging. But the people did not receive him, and declared that he might easily be trodden under the feet of the guests in the confusion. The poor man offered to creep under the stove, and lie still there; but they would not heed his prayer, and showed him the door, telling him he might go to the mud hovel, or where-ever he liked.
In the hovel lived a shoemaker, who was always very compassionate towards the poor and needy, and would rather suffer hunger himself than allow a poor man to leave his threshold unrelieved. God went to him, and begged for a night's lodging. The shoemaker gave him a friendly reception and something to eat, and offered him his own bed, while he himself lay on straw.
Next morning, when God took his departure, he thanked his host, and said, "I am he who has power to fulfil whatsoever the heart can desire. You have given me a friendly and most hospitable reception and I am grateful to you from my heart, and will reward you. Speak a wish, and it shall be fulfilled."
The shoemaker answered, "Then I will wish that whenever a poor man comes to ask my aid, I may be able to give him what he most requires, and that I myself may never want for daily bread as long as I live."
"Let it be so!" answered God, who took leave of him and departed.
Meantime the people in the farmhouse were feasting and drinking, not remembering the proverbs, "A large piece strains the mouth," and "The mouth is the measure of the stomach." They set the house on fire by their recklessness, and only escaped with bare life. All their goods and chattels were reduced to ashes, and they were left without a roof to shelter them. The guests hastened home, but the farmer and his people were forced to take refuge in the shoemaker's hut. He received them in the most friendly way, and gave them clothes and shoes, and food and drink, and saw to it that they wanted for nothing till they could again provide themselves with shelter.
Besides this, needy people came every day to the shoemaker, and each received an abundant allowance.
As he thus doled out everything, and refused no one relief, low people jeered at him, saying, "What is your object in giving everything away? You cannot make the world warm." He answered, "We should love our neighbours as ourselves."
At length the shoemaker felt that his last hour had come. So he dressed himself neatly, took with him a staff of juniper, and set off on the way to hell. The warden trembled when he saw him, and cried out, "Throw down the staff! No one may bring such a weapon to hell." The shoemaker took no heed of this speech, but pressed on his way. At length the Prince of Hell himself met him, and cried out, "Throw down your staff and let us wrestle. If you overcome me, I will be your slave; but if I should overcome you, then you must serve me."
This did not please the shoemaker, who answered, "I will not wrestle with you, for you have such very clumsy hands, but come against me with a spear."
As the Devil continued talking, and again advised him to throw away the staff, the shoemaker struck him a heavy blow with it behind the ear. Upon this, all hell shook, and the Devil and his companions vanished suddenly, as lead sinks in water.
Then the shoemaker proceeded farther, and cautiously explored the interior of the underworld. In one hall lay a great book, in which the souls of all children who died unbaptized were recorded. Near the book lay many keys, which opened the rooms in which the children's souls were imprisoned. So he took the keys, released the innocent captive souls, and went with them to heaven, where he was received with honour, and a thanksgiving feast was instituted in remembrance of his good deed.
* * * * *
Among other stories of devils is one of a forester who gave the Devil three drops of blood for a magic powder which would heal all wounds. But when he died, his corpse rushed out at the door, and was never seen again. Another time, a dull schoolboy, who was always beaten by his master, met the Devil, who drew blood from three punctures, and wrote a compact with it; but the boy was rescued by a clever student, who afterwards died from the bursting of the "blood-vessel of wisdom," as was ascertained by autopsy.
The Devil is sometimes represented as driving about in a coach drawn by twelve black stallions, and annoying the neighbourhood.
Another time, a charitable orphan-girl stayed late one Saturday evening in the bath-house, after washing the poor and helpless, when the Devil and his mother and three sons drove up in a coach drawn by four black stallions, with harness adorned with gold and silver, and asked her hand for one of his sons. But the maiden fled back into the bath-house, after making the sign of the cross on the threshold, and replied that she was not ready, as she had no shoes nor dress. The Devil desired her to ask for whatever she wanted; but a mouse called to her to ask for each article separately. One of the sons fetched each article as it was asked for; and the maiden was at last fully attired, when the cock crew, and everything vanished. Next day the girl's mistress and her daughter were envious of her fine clothes and ornaments; and next Saturday evening the daughter went to the bath-house. But she despised the warning of the mouse, and asked for everything at once, when she was taken into the coach and carried away.
Tales of minor dealings with the Devil are common. A farmer taking flax to market, invoked the Devil to enable him to sell it well. The Devil did so, and rode home with him from market, made him drunk, and tempted him to commit a burglary at the house of a rich man in the neighbourhood. He put his hat on the farmer's head, which made him invisible, and broke open the iron bars of the door with his teeth. On the way home, the farmer cried out, while crossing the ford where he had first met the Devil, "Good God! how much money I've got!" The Devil vanished, and all the treasure fell into the stream, and was lost. On another occasion, a labourer devoted his horse to the Devil, at a time when an old Devil and his son overheard him. The son wanted to lay claim to it, but his father warned him that it was no use, for such people did not mean what they said, and did not keep their word. Nevertheless, the imp went to unharness it, and the peasant in terror invoked the Trinity, when the imp ran away, and his father laughed at him.
The stories which follow, like several of the preceding, are mostly told by Jannsen, and deal with various forms of black magic. The first is an instance of something very like Vampyrism.
[Footnote 57: This disguise is often assumed by God in the stories of Eastern Europe, when he wishes to be incognito; nor is it always clear whether God or Christ is intended. I remember once reading a Lithuanian story in which God and St. Peter are represented as descending to earth disguised as beggars, for fear they might be recognised, to inquire into the wickedness of mankind before the Flood.]
[Footnote 58: The bath is a special place of resort for devils in Mohammedan folk-lore.]
MARTIN AND HIS DEAD MASTER.
Martin was a young fellow who was very fond of amusing himself with the girls, and often sat up talking and joking with them till very late in the evening. One Sunday, when he had slept very little the night before, he went to church, and there he fell asleep and did not awake till dark night. He rubbed his eyes, and could not imagine where he was, for the church was full of people, and they were all fine gentlemen. Martin looked about, and recognised among them his former master, who had been buried three months before. He also knew him, and asked, "Well, Martin, when did you die?" "Three months after you were buried," answered Martin. "Oh, indeed," said the gentleman; "but what do you think? Shouldn't we go home now for a short visit? Won't you accompany me?" "I'm ready," said Martin, and he rose and followed his master. On the way he found a frozen glove, which he put in his pocket. They came to the mansion, and the master went first to the stable, for he intended to torment the horses, and thought Martin would help him. When the gentleman entered, the horses made no sound, but when Martin came in, they neighed. The master turned round and said, "Listen, Martin! you can't be really dead. Give me your hand to feel." Martin thrust his hand into the frozen glove which he had found on the road, and extended it to his master, who said, "Yes, you are really dead; your hand is shockingly cold." Then he tormented the horses till they were covered with white foam. Martin was sorry, but could do nothing but stand and look on. At last the master ceased his spiteful work, and said, "Let us go into the house. Go you into the kitchen and frighten the maids, and I will torment the lady. When it is time to depart, I will come for you." The lady screamed and sobbed with terror as if she was mad, and the maids screamed too, but with fun and frolic.
After a long time, the master came to the kitchen, and said, "Come, Martin, let us make haste, for the cocks will soon crow." He would have liked to have run away, but he was too much afraid, so he went with his master. On the way his master talked a great deal to him about how his wife had searched everywhere for the treasure which he had hidden before his death, and what she had done to banish the nightly hauntings, but everything was useless. "Yes," said Martin, "it must be a great sorcerer who can lay spectres and discover treasures in the ground. Perhaps she will never meet with one."
"Ha! ha!" laughed the gentleman, "no great cleverness is needed. If a living person was to stamp three times on my grave with his left heel, and say each time, 'Here shall you lie,' I couldn't get out again. But the money which I hid in my lifetime is under the floor of my bedroom, near the stove."
Martin was delighted to hear this, and would have shouted for joy, but he thought it too dangerous. They now came to the churchyard, and the gentleman asked Martin to show him his grave. But Martin said, "We shall have another opportunity, I'm afraid the cocks are just about to crow." The gentleman slipped quickly into his grave, when Martin stamped three times with his left heel on the mound, and said three times, "Here shall you lie."
"Oh, you liar and scoundrel!" cried the dead man from the grave; "if I had known that you were still alive, I should have crushed and mangled you. Now I can do nothing more to you."
Then Martin returned home full of joy, and told the lady all that he had seen and heard and done. The lady did not know how to thank him enough. She took him as her husband, and they lived together happily and honourably; and if they could have got on as well with Death as with the nocturnal spectre, they might be living still.
* * * * *
Free-shooters, so well known in Germany, are not unknown in Esthonia. In the story of the "Hunter's Lost Luck" (Kreutzwald), we find a hunter whose usual skill had deserted him selling himself to the Devil with three drops of blood for a magic bullet which should kill the author of his bad luck. His good luck depended on his not shooting at the leader of a flock or herd; but one evening, having drunk too much, he fired at the leader of a troop of foxes, and fell down dead. The villagers took his body home; but when he was put into the coffin, a great black cat, which was supposed to be the Old Boy himself, carried him away.
* * * * *
The story of "The Coiners of Leal" relates to the ruins of an old castle, which was said to be haunted by a hell-hound. One night a young nobleman set out to explore it, and was warned off by a tall man in black clothes, but, on advancing, sank into the vaults, where he found a number of men coining gold and silver. They bound him by an oath of secrecy as to their proceedings, warning him that if he broke it, their master, the dog, would fetch him, and make him coin gold and silver for ever with them; and he received a sackful of treasure to remind him of his oath. Some years after, he drank too much at a feast, told his story, and immediately disappeared, and was never seen again.
[Footnote 59: The Manx story will occur to the reader. Compare also the story of the "Courageous Barn-keeper" in the following section of our work.]
THE BEWITCHED HORSE.
A farmer's old horse had died, so he skinned it, and threw it behind the threshing-floor, intending to bury it next day. He saw a great toad creep under it as he went away. At night he went into the barn to sleep, and hearing a noise outside, kept watch for thieves; but, to his horror, he saw the door slowly open, and his dead horse enter. The horse came in snuffling and snorting, and broke down several of the posts that supported the loft where his master had been sleeping; but the farmer contrived to scramble into the rafters. At last the cock crew, when the horse fell down like a lump of meat, and the farmer too lost his hold and fell upon him. Next morning the farmer buried the horse, and stamped three times with his left heel on the grave; so the horse remained quiet.
But it was a sorcerer who had a grudge against the farmer who had sent the toad into the carcass of the horse.
In Esthonia, as elsewhere, we meet with many stories of hidden treasures, frequently in connection with devils, and hence we place this section next to the Devil-stories. The stories of "The Courageous Barn-keeper" and of the "Gallows Dwarfs" are curious and interesting; those which follow are given here only in abstract. In all countries which have been devastated by war, traditions of hidden treasure are common. I remember once reading a story in a newspaper (but I do not know if the report was true) of a quantity of coins of Edward the Confessor and Harold being dug up in a field respecting which there was a tradition in the neighbourhood that a great treasure was concealed in it. In Esthonian as well as in Oriental tales, hidden treasures are usually under the care of non-human guardians, even when it is not said that they were specially placed under their protection. This notion probably persists in many countries to the present day. It is said that when Kidd, the famous pirate, buried a hoard of treasure, he used to slaughter a negro at the place, that the ghost might guard it. Stories of his hidden treasure (more or less probable) are still rife in America.
THE COURAGEOUS BARN-KEEPER.
Once upon a time there lived a barn-keeper who had few to equal him in courage. The Old Boy himself admitted that a bolder man had never yet appeared on earth. In the evening, when the threshers were no longer at work in the barn, he often paid a visit to the barn-keeper, and never tired of talking with him. He was under the impression that the barn-keeper did not recognise him, and supposed him to be only an ordinary peasant; but his host knew him well enough, though he pretended not, and had made up his mind to box Old Hornie's ears if he could. One evening the Old Boy began to complain of the hard life of a bachelor, and how he had nobody to knit him a pair of stockings or to hem a handkerchief. The barn-keeper answered, "Why don't you go a-wooing, my brother?" The Old Boy returned, "I've tried my luck often enough, but the girls won't have me. The younger and prettier they are, the more they laugh at me."
The barn-keeper advised him to court old maids or widows, who would be much easier to win, and who would not be so likely to despise a suitor. The Old Boy took his advice, and some weeks afterwards married an old maid; but it was not long before he came back to the barn-keeper to complain of his troubles. His newly-married wife was full of tricks; she left him no rest night or day, and tormented him continually. "What sort of a man are you," laughed the barn-keeper, "to allow your wife to wear the trousers? If you marry a wife, you must take care to be master." The Old Boy answered, "I couldn't manage her. If she chose to bring anybody else into the house, I couldn't venture to set foot in it." The barn-keeper sought to comfort him, and advised him to try his luck elsewhere; but the Old Boy thought that the first trial was enough, and had no inclination to put his neck under a woman's yoke again.
In the autumn of the following year, when threshing had begun again, the old acquaintance of the barn-keeper paid him another visit. The latter saw that the peasant had something on his mind, but he asked no questions, thinking it best to wait till the other broached the matter himself. He had not long to wait before he heard all the old fellow's misfortunes. During the summer he had made the acquaintance of a young widow who cooed like a dove, so that the little man again thought of courtship. In short, he married her, but discovered afterwards that she was a shocking scold at home, who would gladly have scratched his eyes out of his head, and he had cause to thank his stars that he had escaped from her hands. The barn-keeper remarked, "I see you're good for nothing as a husband, for you are chicken-hearted, and don't know how to manage a wife." The Old Boy was forced to acknowledge that it was true. After they had talked awhile about women and marriage, the Old Boy said, "If you are really such a bold man as you pretend, and could tame the most hellish woman that exists, I will show you a way by which you can turn your courage to better account than by subduing a violent woman. Do you know the ruins of the old castle on the mountain? A great treasure lies there since ancient times, which no one has been able to get at, just because nobody has had enough courage to dig it up." The barn-keeper said, smiling, "If nothing more is needed than courage, the treasure is already as good as in my pocket." Then the Old Boy told him that he must go to dig up the treasure next Thursday night, when the moon would be full; but added, "Take good care that you are not a bit afraid, for if your heart fails you, or if only a muscle of your body trembles, you will not only lose the expected treasure, but may even lose your life, like many others who have tried their luck before you. If you don't believe me, you may go into any farmhouse, and the people will tell you what they have heard about the walls of the old castle. Many people even profess to have seen something with their own eyes. But once more, if you value your life, and wish to possess the treasure, beware of all fear."
On the morning of the appointed Thursday, the barn-keeper set out, and although he did not feel the slightest fear, he turned into the village inn, hoping to find somebody there who could give him some kind of information about the ruins of the old castle. He asked the landlord what the old ruins on the hill were, and whether people knew anything about who built them, and who destroyed them. An old farmer, who overheard the question, gave him the following information: "The report goes that a very rich squire lived there many centuries ago, who was lord over vast territories and a great population. This lord ruled with an iron hand, and treated his subjects with great severity, but he had amassed vast wealth by their sweat and blood, and gold and silver poured into his castle on all sides in hogsheads. Here he stored his wealth in deep cellars, where it was secure from thieves and robbers. No one knows how the wealthy miscreant came to his end. One morning the attendants found his bed empty and three drops of blood on the floor. A great black cat, which was never seen before or afterwards, was sitting on the canopy of the bed. It is supposed that this cat was the Evil Spirit himself, who had strangled the squire in his bed in this form, and had then carried him off to Porgu to expiate his crimes. As soon as the relatives of the squire heard of his death, they wished to secure his treasures, but not a single copeck was to be found. It was at first thought that the servants had stolen it, and they were brought to trial; but as they knew that they were innocent, nothing could be extracted from them, even under the torture. In the meantime, many people heard a chinking like money deep under ground at night, and informed the authorities; and as this was investigated and the report confirmed, the servants were set at liberty. The strange nocturnal chinking was often heard afterwards, and many people dug for the treasure, but nothing was discovered, and no one returned from the caverns under the castle, for they were doubtless seized upon by the same power which had brought the owner of the money to such a dreadful end. Every one saw that there was something uncanny about it, and no one dared to live in the old castle. At length the roof and walls fell in from long exposure to rain and wind, and nothing was left but an old ruin. No one dares to spend the night near it, and still less would any one be rash enough to seek for the ancient treasure there." So said the old farmer.
When the barn-keeper had heard the story, he said, half joking, "I should like to try my luck. Who'll go with me to-morrow night?" The men made the sign of the cross, and declared that their lives were more to them than all the treasures in the world, and that no one could reach these treasures without losing his soul. Then they begged the stranger to recall his words, and not to pledge himself to the Evil One. But the bold barn-keeper gave no heed to their entreaties and expostulations, and resolved to attempt the adventure alone. In the evening he asked the host for a bundle of pine-splinters, that he might not be in the dark, and then inquired the nearest way to the ruins.
One of the peasants, who seemed to be a little bolder than the others, went with him for some distance as his guide with a lighted lantern. As the sky was cloudy, and it was quite dark, the barn-keeper was obliged to grope his way. The whistling of the wind and the screeching of the owls were terrible to hear, but could not frighten his bold heart. As soon as he was able to strike a light under the shelter of the masonry, he lit a splinter and looked about for a door or an opening through which he could get down underground. After looking about fruitlessly for some time, at last he discovered a hole at the foot of the wall, which seemed to lead downwards. He put the burning splinter in a crack in the wall, and cleared out so much earth and rubbish with his hands that he could creep through. After he had gone some distance, he came to a flight of stone stairs, and there was now room enough for him to stand upright. He descended the stairs with his bundle of splinters on his shoulder and one burning in his hand, and at last reached an iron door, which was not locked. He pushed the heavy door open, and was about to enter, when a large black cat with fiery eyes dashed through the door like the wind and rushed up the stairs. The barn-keeper thought, "That must be what strangled the lord of the castle;" so he pushed the door to, threw down the bundle of splinters, and then examined the place more carefully. It was a great wide hall, with doors everywhere in the walls; he counted twelve, and considered which he should try first. "Seven's a lucky number," said he, so he counted till he came to the seventh door, but it was locked, and would not yield. But when he pushed at the door with all his strength, the rusty lock gave way and the door flew open. When the barn-keeper entered, he found a room of moderate size; on one side stood a table and bench, and at the opposite wall was a stove, with a bundle of faggots lying on the ground near the hearth. The inspector then lit a fire, and by its light he found a small pot and a cup of flour standing on the stove, and some salt in a salt-cellar. "Look here!" cried the barn-keeper. "Here I find something to eat unexpectedly; I have some water with me in my flask, and can cook some warm porridge." So he set the pot on the fire, put some flour and water into it, added some salt, stirred it with a splinter of wood, and boiled his porridge well, after which he poured it into the cup, and set it on the table. The bright fire lit up the room, and he did not need to light a splinter. The bold barn-keeper seated himself at the table, took the spoon, and began to eat the warm porridge. All at once he looked up and saw the black cat with the fiery eyes sitting on the stove. He could not comprehend how the beast had come there, as he had seen it running up the stairs with his own eyes. After this, three loud knocks were struck on the door, till the walls and floor shook. The barn-keeper did not lose his presence of mind, but cried out loudly, "Let anybody enter who has a head on his shoulders!" Immediately the door flew wide open, and the black cat sprang from the stove and darted through, while sparks of fire flew from its eyes and mouth. As soon as the cat had disappeared, four tall men entered, clad in long white coats, and wearing caps of flame-colour, which shone so brightly that the room became as bright as day. The men carried a bier on their shoulders, and a coffin stood upon it, but still the bold barn-keeper did not feel the least bit afraid. The men set the coffin on the ground without speaking a word, and then one after another went out at the door, and closed it behind them. The cat whined and scratched at the door, as if it wanted to get in, but the barn-keeper did not concern himself, and only ate his warm porridge. When he had eaten enough, he stood up, and looked at the coffin. He broke open the lid, and beneath it he beheld a little man with a long white beard. The barn-keeper lifted him out, and carried him to the fire to warm him. It was not long before the little old man began to revive, and to move his hands and feet. The bold barn-keeper was not a bit afraid; he took the porridge-pot and the spoon from the table, and began to feed the old man. The latter said presently, "Thank you, my son, for taking pity on such a poor creature as I am, and reviving my body, which was stiff with cold and hunger. I will give you such a princely reward for your good deed that you shall not forget me as long as you live. Behind the stove you will find some pitch-torches, light one and come with me. But first make the door securely fast, that the furious cat may not get in to break your neck. We will afterwards make it so tame that it cannot hurt anybody again."
As he spoke, the old man raised a square trap-door about three feet broad from the floor, and it was plain that the stone covered the entrance to a cellar. The old man went down the steps first, and the barn-keeper followed him with the torch till they reached a terribly deep cavern.
In this great cellar-like arched cavern lay an enormous heap of money, as big as the largest haycock, half silver and half gold. The little old man took from a cupboard in the wall a handful of wax-candles, three bottles of wine, a smoked ham, and a loaf of bread. Then he said to the barn-keeper, "I give you three days' time to count and sort this heap. You must divide the heap into two equal parts, exactly alike, and so that nothing remains over. While you are busy with this, I will lie down by the wall to sleep, but take care not to make the least mistake or I'll strangle you."
The barn-keeper at once set to work, and the old man lay down. In order to guard against any mistake, the barn-keeper always took two similar coins to divide, whether thalers or roubles, gold or silver, and he laid one on his right, and the other on his left, to form two heaps. When he found his strength failing, he took a pull at one of the bottles, ate some bread and meat, and then set to work with renewed strength. As he only allowed himself a short sleep at night, in order to get on with his work, he had already finished the sorting on the evening of the second day, but one small piece of silver remained over. What was to be done? This did not trouble the bold barn-keeper; he drew his knife from his pocket, laid the blade on the middle of the coin, and struck the back of the knife so hard with a stone that the coin was split in two halves. One half he laid to the right heap, and the other to the left, after which he roused up the old man, and asked him to inspect the work. When the old man saw the two halves of the last coin lying on the heap to the right and left, he uttered a cry of joy, and fell on the neck of the barn-keeper, stroked his cheeks, and at last exclaimed, "A thousand and again a thousand thanks to you, brave youth, for releasing me from my long, long captivity. I have been obliged to watch over my treasure here for many hundred years, because there was no one who had sufficient courage or sense to divide the money so that nothing was left over. I was therefore forced by a binding oath to strangle one after another, and as no one returned, for the last two hundred years no one has dared to come here, though there was not a night which I allowed to pass without jingling the money. But it was destined for you, O child of good luck! to become my deliverer, after I had almost abandoned all hope, and fancied myself doomed to eternal imprisonment. Thanks, a thousand thanks, for your good deed! Take now one of these heaps of money as the reward for your trouble, but the other you must divide among the poor, as an atonement for my grievous sins; for when I lived on earth in this castle I was a great libertine and scoundrel. You have still to accomplish one task for my benefit, and for your own. When you go upstairs again, and you meet the great black cat on the stairs, seize it and hang it up. Here is a noose from which it cannot escape again."
Hereupon he took from his bosom a chain woven of fine gold thread, as thick as a shoe-string, which he handed to the barn-keeper, and then vanished, as if he had sunk into the ground. A tremendous crash followed, as if the earth had cloven asunder beneath the barn-keeper's feet. The light went out, and he found himself in thick darkness, but even this unexpected event did not shake his courage. He contrived to grope his way till he came to the stairs, which he ascended till he reached the first room, where he had boiled his porridge. The fire in the hearth had long been extinguished, but he found some sparks among the ashes, which he succeeded in blowing into a flame. The coffin was still standing on the ground, but instead of the old man, the great black cat was sleeping in it. The barn-keeper seized it by the head, slipped the gold chain round its neck, hung it on a strong iron nail in the wall, and then laid down on the floor to rest.
Next morning he made his way out of the ruins, and took the nearest path to the inn from whence he had started. When the host saw that the stranger had escaped unhurt, his joy and astonishment knew no bounds. But the barn-keeper said, "Get me a few dozen sacks to hold a ton, for which I will pay well, and hire horses, so that I can fetch away my treasure." Then the host perceived that the stranger's expedition had not been fruitless, and he immediately fulfilled the rich man's orders.
When the barn-keeper learned from the people what part of the old man's domains was formerly under the authority of the lord of the castle, he assigned one-third of the money destined for the poor to this district, handed over the remaining two-thirds to the local authorities for distribution, and settled himself with his own money in a distant country, where nobody knew him. His descendants live there as rich people to this day, and extol the bravery of their ancestor, who carried off the treasure.
[Footnote 60: Porgulise is the actual word used here.]
[Footnote 61: This term, kuri vaim, is explicitly used here, not Vana pois, as we find in the earlier part of the story; and seems to indicate a different and much more malevolent being than the simpleton who visited the barn-keeper, though the term Vana pois sometimes occurs in stories like "The Wooden Man and Birch-bark Maid," in which souls are actually sold to the Devil.]
Once upon a time a parson was looking out for a servant who would undertake to toll the church bell at midnight in addition to his other duties. Many men had already made the attempt, but whenever they went to toll the bell at night, they disappeared as suddenly as if they had sunk into the ground, for the bell was not heard to toll, and the bell-ringer never came back. The parson kept the matter as quiet as possible, but the sudden disappearance of so many men could not be concealed, and he could no longer find anybody willing to enter his service.
The more the matter was talked about, the more seriously it was discussed, and there were even malicious tongues to whisper that the parson himself murdered his servants. Every Sunday the parson proclaimed from the pulpit after the sermon, "I am in want of a good servant, and offer double wages, good keep," &c.; but for many months no one applied for the post. However, one day the crafty Hans offered his services. He had been last in the employment of a stingy master, and the offer of good keep was therefore very attractive to him, and he was quite ready to enter on his duties at once. "Very well, my son," said the parson, "if you are armed with courage and trust in God, you may make your first trial to-night, and we will conclude our bargain to-morrow."
Hans was quite content, and went into the servants' room without troubling his head about his new employment. The parson was a miser, and was always vexed when his servants ate too much, and generally came into the room during their meals, hoping that they would eat less in his presence. He also encouraged them to drink as much as possible, thinking that the more they drank, the less they would be able to eat. But Hans was more cunning than his master, for he emptied the jug at one draught, saying, "That makes twice as much room for the food." The parson thought this was really the case, and no longer urged his people to drink, while Hans laughed in his sleeve at the success of his trick.
It was about eleven o'clock at night when Hans entered the church. He found the interior lighted up, and was rather surprised when he saw a numerous company, who were not assembled for purposes of devotion. The people were sitting at a long table playing cards. But Hans was not a bit frightened, or, if he secretly felt a little alarm, he was cunning enough to show nothing of it. He went straight to the table and sat down with the players. One of them noticed him, and said, "Friend, what business have you here?" Hans gave him a good stare, and presently answered, "It would be better for a meddler like you to hold his tongue. If anybody here has a right to ask questions, I think I'm the man. But if I don't care to avail myself of my right, I certainly think it would be more polite of you to hold your jaw." Hans then took up the cards, and began to play with the strangers as if they were his best friends. He had good luck, for he doubled his stakes, and emptied the pockets of many of the other players. Presently the cock crew. Midnight must have come; and in a moment the lights were extinguished, and the players, with their table and benches, vanished. Hans groped about in the dark church for some time before he could find the door which led to the belfry.
When Hans had nearly reached the top of the first flight, he saw a little man without a head sitting on the top step. "Oho, my little fellow! what do you want here?" cried Hans, and, without waiting for an answer, he gave him a good kick and sent him rolling down the long flight of stairs. He found the same kind of little sentinel posted on the top stair of the second, third, and fourth flights, and pitched them down one after another, so that all the bones in their bodies rattled.
At last Hans reached the bell without further hindrance. When he looked up, to make sure that all was right, he saw another headless little man sitting crouched together in the bell. He had loosened the clapper, and seemed to be waiting for Hans to pull the bell-rope, to drop the heavy clapper on his head, which would certainly have killed him. "Wait a while, my little friend," cried Hans; "we haven't bargained for this. You may have seen how I rolled your little comrades downstairs without tiring their own legs! You yourself shall follow them. But because you sit the highest, you shall make the proudest journey. I'll pitch you out of the loophole, so that you'll have no wish to come back again."
As he spoke, he raised the ladder, intending to drag the little man out of the bell and fulfil his threat. The dwarf saw his danger, and began to beg, "Dear brother, spare my wretched life, and I promise that neither my brothers nor I will again interfere with the bellringer at night. I may seem small and contemptible, but who knows whether I may not some day be able to do more for your welfare than offer you a beggar's thanks?"
"Poor little fellow!" laughed Hans. "Your ransom wouldn't be worth a gnat. But as I'm in a good humour just now, I'm willing to spare your life. But take care not to come in my way again, for I might not be inclined to trifle with you another time."
The headless dwarf gave him his humble thanks, clambered down the bell-rope like a squirrel, and bolted down the belfry-stairs as if he was on fire, while Hans tolled the bell to his heart's content.
When the parson heard the bell tolling at midnight he was surprised and pleased at having at last found a servant who had withstood the ordeal.
After Hans had finished his work he went into the hayloft, and lay down to sleep.
The parson was in the habit of getting up early in the morning, and going to see whether his people were about their work. All were in their places except the new servant, and nobody had seen anything of him. When eleven o'clock came, and Hans still made no appearance, the parson became anxious, and began to fear that the bell-ringer had met his death like those before him. But when the rattle was used to call the workmen to dinner, Hans likewise appeared among them.
"Where have you been all morning?" asked the parson.
"I've been asleep," answered Hans, yawning.
"Asleep?" cried the parson in amazement. "You don't mean that you sleep every day till this hour?"
"I think," answered Hans, "it's as clear as spring-water. Nobody can serve two masters. He who works at night must sleep during the day, for night was meant for labourers to rest. If you relieve me from tolling the bell at night, I'm quite ready to set to work at daybreak. But if I have to toll the bell at night, I must sleep in the daytime, at any rate till mid-day."
After disputing over the matter for some time, they finally agreed on the following conditions:—Hans was to be relieved of his nocturnal duties, and was to work from sunrise to sunset. He was to be allowed to sleep for half-an-hour after nine o'clock in the morning, and for a whole hour after dinner, and was to have the whole of Sunday free. "But," said the parson, "you might sometimes help with odd jobs at other times, especially in winter, when the days are short, and the work would then last longer."
"Not at all," cried Hans, "for that's why the days are longer in summer. I won't do any more than work from sunrise to sunset on week-days, as I promised."
Some time afterwards the parson was asked to attend a grand christening in town. The town was only a few hours from the parsonage, but Hans took a bag of provisions with him. "What's that for?" said the parson. "We shall get to town before evening." But Hans answered, "Who can foresee everything? Many things may happen on the road to interfere with our journey, and you know that our bargain was that I am only obliged to serve you till sunset. If the sun sets before we reach town, you'll have to finish your journey alone."
They were in the middle of the forest when the sun set. Hans stopped the horses, took up his provision-bag, and jumped out of the sledge. "What are you doing, Hans? Are you mad?" asked the pastor of souls. But Hans answered quietly, "I'm going to sleep here; for the sun has set, and my time of work is over." His master did his utmost to move him with alternate threats and entreaties, but it was all of no use, and at last he promised him a good present and an increase in his wages. "Are you not ashamed, Mr. Parson?" said Hans. "Would you tempt me to stray from the right way and break my agreement? All the treasures of the earth would not induce me, for you hold a man by his word, and an ox by his horns. If you want to go to town to-night, travel on alone, in God's name; for I can't go any farther with you, now that my hours of service have expired."
"But, my good Hans, my dear fellow," said the parson, "I really can't leave you here all alone by yourself. Don't you see the gallows close by, with two evil-doers hanging on it, whose souls are now burning in hell? Surely you wouldn't venture to pass the night in the neighbourhood of such company?"
"Why not?" said Hans. "These gallows-birds are hanging up in the air, and I shall sleep on the ground below, so we can't interfere with each other." As he spoke he turned his back to his master and went off with his provision-bag.
If the parson would not miss the christening, it was necessary for him to go to town alone. The people were much astonished to see him arrive without a coachman; but when he had related his astonishing altercation with Hans, they could not make up their minds whether the master or the servant was the biggest fool of the two.
Hans cared nothing about what the people thought or said of him. He ate his supper, lit himself a pipe to warm his nose, made himself a bed under a great branching pine-tree, wrapped himself in his warm rug, and went to sleep. He might have slept for some hours when he was roused by a sudden noise. It was a bright moonlight night, and close by stood two headless dwarfs under the pine-tree exchanging angry words. Hans raised himself to look at them better, when they both cried out at once, "It is he! it is he!" One of them drew nearer to Hans' sleeping place and said, "Old friend, we have met again by a lucky chance. My bones still ache from the steps in the church tower, and I dare say you haven't forgotten the story. We'll deal with your bones now in such a fashion that you won't forget our meeting for weeks. Hi! there, comrades; come on and set to work!"
Upon this a crowd of the headless dwarfs rushed together from all sides like a swarm of gnats. They were all armed with thick cudgels, bigger than themselves. The number of these little enemies threatened danger, for they struck as hard as any strong man could have done. Hans thought his last hour was come, for he could not make any defence against such a host of enemies. But by good luck another dwarf made his appearance, just as the blows were falling fastest. "Stop, stop, comrades!" he exclaimed. "This man has been my benefactor, and I owe him a debt of gratitude. He gave me my life when I was in his power. Although he pitched some of you downstairs, he didn't cripple any of you. The warm bath cured your broken limbs long ago, and you had better forgive him and go home."
The headless dwarfs were easily persuaded by their comrade, and went quietly away. Hans now recognised his deliverer as the apparition who had sat in the church-bell at night. The dwarf sat down with Hans under the pine-tree, and said, "You laughed at me once when I said that a time might come in which I might be useful to you. That time has now arrived, and let it teach you not to despise even the smallest creature in the world." "I thank you with all my heart," returned Hans. "My bones are almost pulverised with their blows, and I should hardly have escaped with life if you had not arrived in the very nick of time."
The headless dwarf continued, "My debt is now paid, but I will do more, and give you something to indemnify you for your thrashing. You need no longer toil in the service of a stingy parson. When you reach home to-morrow go straight to the north corner of the church, where you will find a great stone fixed in the wall, which is not secured with mortar like the others. It is full moon on the night of the day after to-morrow. Go at midnight, and take this stone out of the wall with a lever. Under the stone you will find an inestimable treasure, which many generations have heaped together; there are gold and silver church plate, and a large amount of money, which was once concealed in time of war. Those who hid the treasure have all died more than a hundred years ago, and not a living soul knows anything about the matter. You must divide one-third of the money among the poor of the parish, and all the rest is yours, to do what you like with." At this moment a cock crew in a distant village, and the headless dwarf vanished as if he had been wiped out.