Swiss Fairy Tales




Of all the families, tribes and clans of the little brown Folks, that are only a yardstick high, the Swiss dwarfs are the funniest, and at the same time the most friendly. They excel all others in being kind to every living creature and in doing good things for human folks. They look after the chamois, to keep them from being shot at, or killed, by hunters that are cruel. Or, they whisper to the fish, to keep away from naughty boys. They even go after lost cattle and goats, tend the flocks, milk the cows, make cheese, and do lots of good favors for the people whom they like. There are the kind shepherds and housemaids, who give them occasionally a bowlful of milk, or leave out a cup of cream for them to drink. They know where treasures lie in the ground, where the best pastures are to be found for the cows, and the secrets of the grasses and flowers are at their fingers’ ends.

In time of storm and wind, when it is too cold, or when avalanches are tumbling down the mountains, they keep away from the land, and are never visible. Going down deep, into the caves, or mines, they shut themselves up, until Jack Frost has departed and the storms and greatest cold are over. They shrink away, especially from the South wind, called the Föhn, which blows for seventeen days at a time, for it is like poison to them, and blinds their eyes.

To the people who treat them badly, or make fun of their feet, or heads, or laugh and jeer at them, because they are so small, the Swiss dwarfs are very mischievous, and even revengeful, and do such folks great harm in the kitchens and stables. They smash the milk pans and cheese kettles, upset the churns, lead the cattle astray, tie the cows’ tails together, and put stones and sticks in their food-troughs. Usually they do so much mischief, that the rude or cruel people have to be good, and treat the dwarfs with more politeness.

As for their looks, and the way they dress, the Swiss dwarfs beat all. They are web-footed, like geese, but they cover themselves, from head to toes, with long green cloaks. They wear gay red caps on their heads, which look like the cowls of monks. Most curious of all, are their beards, which are thick and long, and often white as snow.

A hundred years or so ago, many stories were told by old folks about the dwarfs. One of these will show how kind, obliging, and useful, or how surly and troublesome, the dwarfs could be—according as they are treated by merry, or by grumpy folks.

For example, Mr. Hilty was a dairy farmer, or shepherd, who was always ready to treat a dwarf with a cocoanut dipper full of cream. Because of this, the dwarfs were willing, whenever he called them, to look after his herds, when he wanted to leave his chalet, in the high pastures, and go down into the valley, to sell his cheeses, or to buy groceries.

But by and bye, Hilty, while he was a good fellow, became too inquisitive. He wanted to know the secrets of the dwarfs and even pestered them with questions. Then, they warned him that they could not tell, and that he must not ask. When he got too troublesome, the chief of the dwarfs thought it was time to give him a lesson. So one day, Hilty was invited, by an old white beard, to come and pay a visit to his cave.

When the shepherd, who had grown rather fat, was very tired, after much climbing up and over the rocks, with much puffing and blowing, arrived at the cave, he had to stop and get his breath. The chief dwarf came out, and smilingly invited him into the cave, where he sat down on the stool offered him.

Hilty was amazed, as he looked at the beautiful stalactites, hanging from the ceiling, and his eyes opened wide at the ingots of gold and silver, which he saw lying on the floor. Piles of silver ore, not yet smelted, and heaps of rocky crystals, topazes, onyx, and some sapphires and opals lay around. His host, the dwarf, paid no attention to these, but led him further in the cave, where was a sofa, made of thick soft moss, on which he was told to lounge at ease.

Before Hilty, there was spread a table, crowded with every sort of good things to eat, except, that there was no fish or meat in sight. The dwarf explained to his guest that all the cookies, goodies, and eatables were made from things in the vegetable kingdom.

After Hilty had enjoyed a good dinner, the dwarf told his guest that he would reveal to him one of the secrets of his skill, but he must not ask to be told more. He would be shown how to make delicious sweets, and valuable confectionery, from a common weed, which the chamois fed on every day. But this done, he repeated, Hilty must, on no account, ask for any other secret. Nor must he try to learn any receipt about any other delicacy, or even watch, while the cooking was going on. If he did, the dwarf would be angry, and cut off the shepherd from his friendship. He might even punish him, by causing him to lose his way, when returning home.

Hilty gave his promise, making also the sign of the cross on his breast. He swore an oath, that he would not see, hear, touch, taste, or try, even, to feel, any further than was permitted and clearly commanded him.

Trusting his guest fully, the dwarf first took a basketful of what we call “Iceland moss,” which grows so plentifully in the high Alpine pastures. Then he showed how, with water and fire, he could make the delicacy known among us as “Iceland Moss Paste.”

At once, after tasting a morsel of the confection, with gusto, Hilty smacked his lips and began to dream of getting rich. He resolved to open a shop and make the new confection in his own village.

But this Hilty was a greedy and covetous fellow and often made a glutton of himself. Seeing that the dwarf had everything ready, to make more confectionery, of other kinds, he made up his mind to learn all the secrets. “This time,” he said to himself, “I shall set up, not a village shop, but a big confectionery store in Lucerne, the great city.” He never thought more, of keeping the solemn promise, which he had just given to the dwarf.

So, pretending to be very sleepy, he asked the dwarf to let him lie down at length on the moss sofa and take a nap. The kind host at once agreed, and made his guest comfortable. In a few minutes, pretending to be asleep, Hilty, who was a gawk and a bumpkin, in manners, let his nose and open mouth give vent to snores, long and loud.

This, in itself, was bad enough, and the dwarf was disgusted at such manners and much irritated by the noise. But, worse than this was to come. This ill mannered dairyman, who kept peeping between his eyelids, got very much excited, as he saw the dwarf doing the most wonderful things, with common weeds and flowers. Out of these he drew juices, flavors, coloring matter, aromatic liquids, and sugars, either in crystal, or in the form of gum or candy. Out of his pots, pans and kettles, he poured what looked like the most tempting things to eat. They smelled so delightful that Hilty forgot himself and, with his eyes wide open, stared at the dwarf and what he was doing.

By this time, Hilty was building great air castles. He saw himself in a great candy store in Lucerne employing fifty pretty girls, in attractive uniform, to allure the public, wait at the counters on the crowd of customers, who came with plenty of money and all eager to get waited on. They stood in lines, four deep, in front of the show cases, eyeing what they were to choose; while those nearest the girls were eagerly buying bonbons, chocolates, caramels, all-day suckers, mint drops and Iceland moss paste, in boxes tied up in dainty, gay colored ribbons. Each box was wrapped, not in common paper, but in dotted Swiss muslin, or fine cambric. No one seemed to care how much the cost might be.

Back of the counters, were scores of lovely Swiss maidens, in white bodices, with silver chains, ornamented girdles, and brilliant head-dresses. These were tied, so as to show they were not yet married. There were dozens of waiter boys and serving maids, scurrying around with trays, attending to the people at the tables, who called for ices and sweets, or drinks, to be sipped. His chief customers were among the fashionable folks of Lucerne. For, in Hilty’s vision, his was the resort of the most stylish people in the city.

Out in the kitchen, another company of cooks, confectioners, dishwashers, and porters, kept hard at work; and, during rush hours, they were nearly ready to faint. At the rear, two clerks were kept busy, every moment, checking off the receipts, of boxes and barrels of white and brown sugar, sorghum, syrup, liquors, and all sorts of flavoring extracts, besides delicacies imported from Constantinople, Calcutta, Teheran, and Nagasaki.

On the shop front, the plate glass bore the name of “Jean Hilty,” in large gold letters, and below this, one read “The Home of Hilty’s Famous Genuine Swiss Mountain Confectionery and Iceland Moss Paste.”

The highest priced confection was a praline, or compound of nuts and chocolate, which was packed up in a most dainty box, lined with perfumed lace paper, and labeled in gold letters “Made according to the sole receipt ever revealed by the King of the Dwarfs.”

The display, in the big window, of all the delicious things known to the confectioners, and many of them from foreign countries, advertised to be of “private growth,” and “imported in our own fleet of ships” was dazzling.

Most astounding of all, was the tableau over the main entrance. It consisted of a group of carved and gilded figures, in front of a highly tinted background, showing the dwarf at the fire, with the well-spread tables and the dairyman as his guest.

Out on the street, the crowd that stood on the pavement, gazing up to see this pretty picture, in bas-relief, was so great, that the police had to make a lane and keep open a passage way, through the press of old and young folks, so that ordinary people could get through.

So, for a half hour or more, inside that shepherd’s brain, a moving picture show went on, as if a five-reel film was being rolled off, and his imagination had spread the screen. The bright colors, in this picture, of the furore for dwarf’s candy exceeded any gallery of paintings known in Paris, or any panorama that could be made on canvas.

In fact the dairyman was so sure of the good time coming, that, with his eyes wide open, he actually rubbed his two hands gleefully, right before the dwarf. The next thing he did, was that he so far forgot his promise, as to be heard in his glee. Instead of holding his tongue in silence, he talked out loud to himself saying, “Am I not a lucky fellow? By Saint Matthew, I am in luck, this time, surely.”

Hearing the strange noise, the King of the dwarfs turned around to look. In one hand was his skillet, and in the other a ladle and a cloth; and with both he was holding a very hot kettle, full of some liquid. In fact, he was just about to pour out the boiling chocolate over a dish of caramels, made after his own recipe.

But seeing the lazy lubber, wide awake, when he was believed to be fast asleep, the dwarf’s whole appearance changed. Instead of smiles, in his usually happy manner, his eyes blazed with wrath, like fire. His face wore one long scowl. He danced with rage, and screamed out,

“So that’s the way you keep your word, is it? You ungrateful bumpkin! Take that, and that!”

Then, he flung the pot of hot chocolate at the fellow’s head, and followed up his attack, with the ladle and cloth, batting him out of the cave.

What happened just after that, the dairyman never could, or would tell. He was so stunned, that he lay insensible for several hours, as he thought. The scalding, from the hot chocolate, made his face smart fearfully. Tearing off part of his shirt, he bandaged up his head and features as best he could, and then hobbled back home. It was weeks, before his broken head was mended enough, and the ugly scars on his face had healed. At last, he showed himself on the street, where the small boys made his life a burden.

Henceforth the neighbors nicknamed him “The Dwarf’s Guest,” but he never set up a candy store.