Swiss Fairy Tales




The dwarfs and chamois have always been good friends. This is chiefly because they are so much like each other, in being small. The short dwarfs look like little men. They have beards, and wear caps and clothes, but they are hardly as high as a yard stick, and measure up, only to the heads of quite small boys. In weight, some of them scarcely reach up to a calf. Occasionally, you find a little fellow that could be packed in a band box, or carried in a suit case. As for the baby dwarfs, one of them could be wrapped up in a napkin, and be dropped into a man’s overcoat pocket.

Now the chamois is like the dwarf in this, that he is too small to be a goat, and not big enough to be a deer. He is a funny fellow to look at. His horns are only as long as from your elbow to your hand, and are turned around and backwards at the ends, so that they look like a pair of big, black fish hooks. He has a yellow head, with a dark band on it, and on each cheek is a strip of black, as if he were held in, with bridles and bit. His coat of hair is brown, but his funny little tail is also black, and, oh, how bright his eyes are!

But when it comes to leaping, from rock to rock, the chamois is the Johnny Jump Up, among all animals, for he will skip over a chasm fifteen feet wide. Then, he will land on a tiny ledge of rock, so narrow that one could hardly imagine a cat could hold itself on. Putting his hind legs first, it gets a good footing, and then bounds forward.

These creatures are so agile, that one almost expects to see the strongest of them climb up trees, by hooking their horns on the branches, but they do not. They cut many capers, but not this one. The wonderful thing is that the females, as well as the males, have horns also.

These chamois ladies, and the little folks of the family, that is, the doe and fawn, generally live down among the lower forests, while the daddies and strong young bucks stay, most of the time, up among the high rocks and peaks. They all eat the lovely flowers, grasses, mosses and aromatic herbs, that have a hot taste, and which keep them warm inside.

The very old chamois, with beards, often live alone and off by themselves. So the dwarfs and chamois are much alike, in this respect, that they are both chin choppers, in having hair growing, like a tuft, under their chins, and both are able to whistle. For, when a hunter comes near and the wind blows from him to them, the sentinel, or watchman of the herd gives the alarm, by means of a short shrill sound. Then the whole party scampers far away.

Many thousands of stuffed heads of chamois, mounted, with their hooked horns and bright, artificial eyes, are seen on the walls of Swiss hotels and houses. After the invention of the rifle, so many chamois were killed, that laws were passed which forbade any one hunter to shoot more than one hundred during his lifetime. Then, when the herds of chamois went further and further away, men put telescopes on their long-range rifles, and were thus able to kill at a great distance—even a mile off.

Now among these four footed inhabitants of the high places near the sky, the white chamois is the king of the herds and the pet of the dwarfs. No hunter can kill this leader, for he is the property of the fairies. After a man has shot his hundredth animal, the white chamois appears, to give him warning to stop killing his fellow creatures. This king of the hook-horns can leap, as if it were flying, over chasms. It moves through the deep snows far faster than the strongest man in the land.

To the good people, the white chamois is a messenger of joy, telling of the safety of the herds, announcing also that there will be much sport for the brave hunter, and plenty of meat for the people, next summer, and for years to come; but, for the bad hunter who breaks the law and shoots over a hundred, whether bucks or does, or both, the white chamois is the messenger of death.

Now there was a very bad man, a hunter named Erni, who only said, “pooh pooh,” and “fudge,” when an old man informed him that a white chamois had been seen near the village, as if he had braved danger, in coming so near houses, in order to give warning.

But the man, instead of hanging up his trusty rifle on its pegs, sallied out very early one fine morning to shoot, if possible, this very creature, the white chamois, of which he had heard, but had never yet seen. It was still dark in the valley, when he started, but the man knew it would be bright light, by the time he should reach the peaks.

And so it was. Up over the rocks, and across the flowery meadows, that were more brilliant, with many colors, than any garden ever planted, or parlor carpet ever woven, the hunter made his way. When he came to the edge of a deep ravine, he slung his rifle over his back, and slid down. Then he climbed up to the top of a high ridge. Balancing himself on the edge of the rocks, he looked across the terrible, yawning chasm. With his telescope, he swept the field of view, but instead of discerning anything brown, with a black tail, he saw, very clearly, a white chamois.

“Now for a good shot,” he thought. “I’ll show these old grannies and silly dotards, down in the village, what fools they are.”

He unslung the rifle and then, for a moment only, looked down a thousand feet below, to the jagged rocks, wondering how he could get the body of the white chamois, if the bullet sped to its heart, and its carcass fell down.

But this was only for a second; for the bold fellow, familiar from his youth, with the mountains, laughed at any and all difficulties in his path. He was just about to level his weapon and take aim, when he heard a loud voice behind him, shouting:

“Erni, pull your cap down over your eyes.”

Astonished to hear his name called out at such a place, and struck with curiosity, he turned to see who and what it was.

There stood a dwarf, cap, beard, and all, with a stern look on his face. Pointing to the white chamois, he screamed:

“You had warning enough; down you go!”

Just then the hunter’s foot, with its hob-nailed shoe, slipped upon a fragment of rock, and he fell. Over the cliff, down, down, down, the cruel man tumbled. A few minutes later, the Alpine condors were quarreling over his corpse. Later, the wolves picked his bones, that lay long upon the bare rocks. An awful warning!

After this, the chamois mothers, during the summer season, reared their kids in peace and quiet and all was happy in the high places, where the dwarfs and the chamois dwell as friends together.