Swiss Fairy Tales




There is one curious thing about the little brown fellows of the mountains, called dwarfs, that seems very funny to us. Instead of thinking of themselves as less than men, they consider themselves fully as clever as human beings. Indeed, some of them strut about, slapping their stomachs and saying “who wants to be a man?”

Instead of rating men as greater than themselves, they are more apt to talk about human beings as slow, and dull witted. The dwarfs declare that they have secrets which no boys or girls, or even wise men, can ever find out.

Most of the dwarfs live in caves, or down in the mines. They are very expert in using fires, forges, bellows, anvils, hammers, tongs, pincers and the tools of blacksmiths and machinists. They often make very handsome weapons, ornaments and things of use, such as guns, ploughs, swords, armor, milkpans, and cheese caldrons.

Now there was a hunter named Walter, who lived in the Alps. This man went out every day to get food for his wife and his large family of boys and girls, who all had good appetites. He never shot at any creature, or ever killed anything that had life, out of mere sport. He was always pleasant to the dwarfs also.

So all these folks, in the caves and mines, got to like this hunter. Even the chamois, that he chased, knew that he was not cruel. Besides, they heard good things about him from the birds, that could talk the languages of goats, ibexes and chamois.

Occasionally Walter the hunter shot a bear, and then he had a big fur robe, out of which to make a bed, besides bones for all his dogs to gnaw upon. Moreover, he was looked upon by the village people as a hero, and his sons felt very proud of their father.

Yet it was not so easy, as some might think, to feed his large family, for each of these youngsters seemed to have a cave, growing in their stomachs, which, three times a day, apparently enlarged, as meal time drew near. Only a few potatoes and cabbages could be grown in their garden, and every wisp of hay, and all the dry leaves, had to be saved, to keep warm in the Swiss winter, which lasted eight or nine months.

Buttermilk and potatoes, and corn meal, boiled in goat’s milk, was what was on the bill of fare for Walter’s family, most of the time. They were too poor to live down in the valleys, or villages, where the land was all owned by well-to-do people. So the entire family, old and young, were kept busy at work, every moment of daylight in summer, when the snow was off the ground. There were many things to do, to get fuel, to keep the roof from leaking, and to prepare for the awful cold, from September to May.

Walter’s chief trouble was with his poor gun, the barrel of which was a smooth bore, which could not shoot a bullet straight forward, very far, so that the hunter could not be sure of hitting anything that was over fifty yards away.

Sometimes, Walter would spend many hours, or even a whole day, while out hunting, in climbing over rocks and up the steep mountain sides, to get even a distant shot at a chamois, only to miss his aim. Or, what was even worse, to this kind-hearted hunter, the leaden ball, going out of its course, only wounded the poor animal, so that it ran away, to suffer a long time and then die in pain. In this manner, Walter very often lost a dinner for himself and his hungry children, while he grieved over inflicting pain upon innocent creatures. More than once, he threw down the gun, in his anger, calling it names, as if it were an animal, or, at the worst, a “blunder buss.”

Now, so many of the chamois had complained to their friends and protectors, the dwarfs, about the cruelty of hunters, and the sufferings of their fellows, especially the doe and fawn, that all these little people held a congress, in a cave, and to see what could be done. Nearly a hundred dwarfs attended the meeting, and both graybeards and youngsters were invited to give their opinions. All agreed that men were stupid fellows, and had to be helped out, in all their needs and plans, as well as to have their wits sharpened, by the dwarfs.

“Here is a really good and kind hunter, Walter. He is using a blunderbuss, because he has nothing better. He ought to help him improve his weapon. But what can be done?”

“We must first find out the reason why this fellow Walter, and others like him, inflict so many wounds upon the chamois; for we know he is our friend, and is full of pity for the animals,” said a venerable old chap, who seemed to be chairman of the meeting.

The talk went on for hours. At last a good looking dwarf, with a big head and very long white beard, slowly arose to speak. Usually, he never said a word, but listened carefully, until every one else had had his say. Then, if asked, he would give his own opinion, which always proved to be the sense of the whole meeting. Every one wondered how his head could carry all he knew, and how he could remember what each one had said. So he was generally known, by one or the other of two names, which, in the dwarf language, mean “Thought Includer,” or “Clarifier of Ideas.”

The chairman at once recognized him, called him by name, and bade him come up in front and speak where all could hear him. He was very modest at first, and held back a moment, but fearing that some of the other dwarfs might twist their necks off, in turning them too far around to get a good look at him, and knowing that some of the old fellows were nearly deaf, he strode forward. Stepping upon a platform of rock, where all could hear him easily, he began thus:

“The trouble with our friend Walter, and with all other hunters, good and bad, especially with those who are poor shots, is that with all their good intentions, they are too stupid. They need the help of us dwarfs.”

Here he was interrupted by applause, and cries of “well said,” and “go on.”

“Now,” he resumed, “from what has been already remarked, by the honorable speakers in this company, I propose:

“1. That we prevail upon the prettiest fairy in the Alps to lure this man Walter up into one of our caves, so far up toward the peaks that, getting very tired, he will fall asleep quickly.

“2. Then, while in slumber, one of our best soothsayers will make him dream of a gun that never misses fire, or fails to deliver its bullet to the mark.

“3. Finally, that our best craftsman shall invent a new kind of weapon, with improved barrel and lock. Then, when Walter wakes up, I propose he be shown how to use it.”

On hearing this, all the dwarfs clapped their hands and the meeting broke up, every one feeling sure that men needed only the brains of dwarfs to help them. Now, they declared, there would be few wounded chamois to suffer pain.

The chairman then selected, from the dwarfs that were passing out, one handsome fellow to take the message, in the most polite manner and correct language, to the fairy maids. These were to choose one of their number, as the Queen of Beauty, to lead the hunter to the cave, in which the dwarf’s secret was to be revealed.

To another was given the task of conjuring up the dream for the sleeping hunter.

Then a committee of four, of the cleverest dwarfs, was appointed to invent the new gun, and show the hunter how to use it.

Now the cave selected, to which the prettiest of the fairies was to lead the hunter, was one just opened, a few days before, by an avalanche. In tumbling down the slopes, this colossal ball of snow and ice, well loaded with rocks, had struck off a part of the mountain which had bulged out. In a moment the rocky crust was broken open.

Then as if a curtain had been lifted, a great cave, like a hall lighted with crystal chandeliers, was suddenly opened to view. As the sunbeams struck the walls, the vast space was seen to be full of topaz, glittering at a thousand facets, like cut and polished diamonds.

The lovely fairy elected to allure the hunter was told about this new cave of jewels. She was perfectly delighted, with both the task given her to do and with the jewel parlor. She met the hunter, who was struggling upwards, on his way to the high peaks, after a chamois. She first appeared in his path, and greeted him with a smile. She then led him towards the topaz cavern. Her beauty so dazzled him, that, while she went ahead, talking to him, he quickly forgot the miles he had traveled. Occasionally, she would sing a sweet song.

Soon she had led him into the topaz hall of the great cave, but no sooner had he crossed the threshold than he fell down, exhausted, upon the shining floor. In a moment he was in a deep sleep, from which he was not to awake for many days.

Meanwhile, the master dwarfs were busy at the forges, making a new kind of fire arm. Instead of leaving the barrel smooth inside, they made grooves, along its whole length, which curved and twisted round. Or, as they said, they made it reiffelin, which kept the leaden ball perfectly straight on its course. When finished, a master dwarf asked the fairy to fly across the ravine and set up on the face of the cliff, a hundred yards off, a flat round bit of smoky rock crystal, only as big as a thaler, or a watch face.

First the dwarf loaded the gun and then, with a mallet, pounded on the ramrod, to drive the lead of the bullet well into the grooves. Then, taking aim, he pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the disc, knocking the pretty crystal to pieces.

By this time the hunter, asleep in the cave, began to dream, and the fairy whispered the secret in his ear. With both sight and hearing, he saw and understood all.

Awaking, the hunter found his old blunderbuss gone. In its place lay the rifle, and a beauty it was, lighter to carry, more graceful in shape, and requiring less powder and lead. For one who had to climb mountains, this was a great benefit. So he at once loaded his new piece, so as to be ready for the first chamois he should see. He thought it would be fine fun to carry home a prize, in addition to his new weapon.

He had hardly stepped out of the topaz cave, which seemed to close like a door behind him, than there appeared in view four chamois, each full grown and with splendid horns. Putting his rifle to his shoulder and taking careful aim, though the distance was great, he fired. Instantly, there fell the finest of the animals, while the others scampered away.

Retrieving his prize, Walter started down the mountain with the buck on his back. Reaching home, his wife embraced him, and all his children gathered round him, while his dog frisked about him in delight. Then he told the whole story.

The next day, he walked to the village and showed the gunsmith the rifle barrel, which he had cleaned and scoured inside, until, when unscrewed from the stock, it shone like a mirror. At first, the craftsman laughed at him, but on looking down into the muzzle, as a sunbeam struck the touch hole and lighted it up along the whole length, the gunsmith opened his eyes wide in surprise. Besides a sight of it, he put his little finger in and at once discovered the secret. His eyes gleamed and his face lighted to a smile of joy. He begged the hunter to let him try the weapon. Walter gladly allowed him, for the gunmaker was an expert. At a hundred yards, he knocked a hole in a plough handle. On a second shot, he cut the stem of a lone leaf remaining on a maple tree. At his success, the gunsmith fairly yelled with delight. Thenceforth the hunter was called Mr. Walter Reiffler.

The gunsmith, with the happy hunter’s permission, set up, as a sign over his shop, the picture of a disc or circle, with eight dots showing the grooves in the gun. From this time forth, he could not make rifles enough to supply the chamois hunters. Each man wanted the new weapon. There was rejoicing, even among the dumb animals, for the dwarfs told them what had happened and why it was that none of their number suffered pain any more, or died in agony from the hunters’ missing fire.

So a new joy came into the life of Walter the hunter. After this, he could always get enough meat to supply his family’s need. From the skins and fur, the horns, and the heads, stuffed and mounted, with bright eyes made of glass, and sold in the village shops and hotels, and to visitors, he had plenty of pocket money. For his wife, he bought a tortoise shell comb, besides a linen and lace cap, and silver chains for her bodice. To each of his daughters, he gave enough spending money for them to save up sufficient to buy all the pretty things they needed, and also to lay in a store of linen, for their dowry. His sons, trained early to the use of the rifle, won prizes at the shooting matches, which now grew to be so popular as to become in time a national institution. This enabled the Swiss people to fear none of the despotic rulers of Europe, who hated republics. When one proud visiting emperor asked one of Walter’s sons, who was a dead shot, what the Swiss, in little Switzerland, would do, if an army corps from Germany were to invade their land, he answered:

“We should, each one of us, shoot twice, your Majesty,” answered the brave boy.

All the other hunters were happy, too, for chamois meat was plentiful in every chalet. Nevertheless, so many of the herds were, in time, so depleted and the total number in the mountains so lessened, that laws were passed forbidding any hunter, young or old, and no matter how famous, from shooting more than one hundred, during his life time. Yet, even then, there was plenty of meat for all, and very much more than in the old days.

All the world rejoiced, also, for now, armed with the rifle, the wild beasts, even lions, tigers and grizzly bears that had so long destroyed millions of human beings, were no longer able to drive men away. Even women hunters dared to go into the jungle and face the terrible creatures.

In time, the rifle was made lighter to carry, prettier to look at, and easier to charge. Men discovered that the old way of loading was at the wrong end, and used the breech, instead of the muzzle, to put in the cartridges. So the heavy mallet and ramrod were left behind and forgotten, and wars became shorter and less dreadful.