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   Chapter 3 THE BLACK ELVES.

Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 11251

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

ACCORDING to the very old Scandinavian notion, land-fairies were of two sorts; the Light or Good Elves who dwelt in air, or out-of-doors on the earth, and the Black or Evil Elves who dwelt beneath it.

We will follow the Norse folk. If we were required to group human beings under two headings, we should choose that same Good and Evil, because the division occurs to one naturally, because it saves time, and because everybody comprehends it, and sees that it is based upon law; and so do we deal with our wonder-friends, who have the strange moral sorcery belonging to each of us their masters, to help or to harm.

The evil fairies, then, were the scowling underground tribes, who hid themselves from the frank daylight, and the open reaches of the fields. Yet just as the good fairies had many a sad failing to offset their grace and charm, the grim, dark-skinned manikins had sudden impulses towards honor and kindness. In fact, as we noted before, they were astonishingly like our fellow-creatures, of whom scarce any is entirely faultless, or entirely warped and ruined.

For instance, the Hill-men, in Switzerland, were very generous-minded; they drove home stray lambs at night, and put berry-bushes in the way of poor children. And the more modern Dwarves of Germany, frequenting the clefts of rocks, were silent, mild, and well-disposed, and apt to bring presents to those who took their fancy. Like others of the elf-kingdom, they loved to borrow from mortals. Once a little bowing Dwarf came to a lady for the loan of her silk gown for a fairy-bride. (You can imagine that, at the ceremony, the groom must have had a pretty hunt among the wilderness of finery to get at her ring-finger!) Of course the lady gave it; but worrying over its tardy return, she went to the Dwarves' hill and asked for it aloud. A messenger with a sorrowful countenance brought it to her at once, spotted over and over with wax. But he told her that had she been less impatient every stain would have been a diamond!


The huge, terrible, ogre-like Hindoo Rakshas, the weird Divs and Jinns of Persia, and the ancient demon-dwarves of the south called Panis, may be considered the foster-parents of our dwindled minims, as the glorious Peris on the other hand gave their name, and some of their qualities, to a little European family of very different ancestry.

The Black Elves will serve as our general name for dwarves and mine-fairies. These are closely connected in all legends, live in the same neighborhoods, and therefore claim a mention together. They have four points in common: dark skin; short, bulky bodies; fickle and irritable natures; and occupations as miners, misers, or metalsmiths. And because of their exceeding industry, on the old maxim's authority, where all work and no play made Jack a dull boy, they are curiously heavy-headed and preposterous jacks; and, waiving their plain faces, not in any wise engaging. Yet perhaps, being largely German, they may be philosophers, and so vastly superior to any little gabbling, somersaulting ragamuffin over in Ireland.

In the Middle Ages, they were described as withered and leering, with small, sharp, snapping black eyes, bright as gems; with cracked voices, and matted hair, and horns peering from it! and as if that were not enough adornment, they had claws, which must have been filched from the ghosts of medi?val pussy-cats, on their fingers and toes.

The first Duergars belonging to the Gotho-German mythology, were muscular and strong-legged; and when they stood erect, their arms reached to the ground. They were clever and expert handlers of metal, and made of gold, silver and iron, the finest armor in the world. They wrought for Odin his great spear, and for Thor his hammer, and for Frey the wondrous ship Skidbladnir.

Long ago, too, armor-making Elves, black as pitch, lived in Svart-Alfheim, in the bowels of the earth, and were able, by their glance or touch or breath, to cause sickness and death wheresoever they wished.


Still uglier were the Black Dwarves of the mysterious Isle of Rügen; nor had they any frolicsome or cordial ways which should bring up our opinion of them. Their pale eyes ran water, and every midnight they mewed and screeched horribly from their holes. In idle summer-hours they sat under the elder-trees, planning by twos and threes to wreak mischief on mankind. They, as well, were once useful, if not beautiful; for in the days when heroes wore a panoply of steel, the Black Dwarves wrought fair helmets and corselets of cobwebby mail which no lance could pierce, and swords flexible as silk which could unhorse the mightiest foe. The little blackamoors frequented mining districts, and dug for ore on their own account. They were said to be very rich, owning unnumbered chests stored underground. The most exciting tales about gnomes of all nations were founded on the efforts of daring mortals to get possession of their wealth.

To the mining division belong the dwarf-Trolls of Denmark and Sweden (for there were giant-Trolls as well), and the whimsical Spriggans of Cornwall. The Trolls burrowed in mounds and hills, and were called also Bjerg-folk or Hill-folk; they lived in societies or families, baking and brewing, marrying and visiting, in the old humdrum way. They made fortunes, and hoarded up heaps of money. But they were often obliging and benevolent; it gave them pleasure to bestow gifts, to lend and borrow, and sometimes, alas! to steal. They played prettily on musical instruments, and were

very jolly. People used to see the stumpy little children of the genteel Troll who lived at Kund in Jutland, climbing up the knoll which was the roof of their own house, and rolling down one after the other with shouts of laughter. The Trolls were famous gymnasts, and very plump and round. Our word "droll" is left to us in merry remembrance of them.


They were tractable creatures, as you may know from the tale of the farmer, who, ploughing an angry Troll's land, agreed, for the sake of peace, to go halves in the crops sown upon it, so that one year the Troll should have what grew above ground, and the next year what grew under. But the sly farmer planted radishes and carrots, and the Troll took the tops; and the following season he planted corn; and his queer partner gathered up the roots and marched off in triumph. Indeed, it was so easy to outwit the simple Troll that a generous farmer would never have played the game out, and we should have lost our little story. It was mean to take advantage of the sweet fellow's trustfulness. There was an English schoolmaster once, a man wise, firm, and kind, and of vast influence, of whom one of his boys said to another: "It's a shame to tell a lie to Arnold; he always believes it." That was a ray of real chivalry.

The Spriggans were fond of dwelling near walls and loose stones, with which it was unlucky to tamper, and where they slipped in and out with suspicious eyes, guarding their buried treasure. If a house was robbed, or the cattle were carried away, or a hurricane swooped down on a Cornish village, the neighbors attributed their trouble to the Spriggans; whereby you may believe they had fine reputations for meddlesomeness. Their cousins, the Buccas, Bockles or Knockers, were gentlemen who went about thumping and rapping wherever there was a vein of ore for the weary workmen, cheating, occasionally, to break the monotony.


The Welsh Coblynau followed the same profession, and pointed out the desired places in mines and quarries. The Coblynau were copper-colored, and very homely, as were all the pigmies who lived away from the sun; they were busybodies, half-a-yard high, who imitated the dress of their friends the miners, and pegged away at the rocks, like them, with great noise and gusto, accomplishing nothing. Their houses were far-removed from mortal vision, and unlike certain proper children, now obsolete, the Coblynau themselves were generally heard, but not seen.

Their German relation was the Wichtlein (little wight) an extremely small fellow, whom the Bohemians named Hans-schmiedlein (little John Smith!) because he makes a noise like the stroke of an anvil.

Dwarves and mine-men went about, unfailingly, with a purseful of gold. But if anyone snatched it from them, only stones and twine and a pair of scissors were to be found in it. The Leprechaun, or Cluricaune, whom we shall meet later as the fairy-cobbler, was an Irish celebrity who knew where pots of guineas were hidden, and who carried in his pocket a shilling often-spent and ever-renewed. He looked, in this banker-like capacity, a clumsy small boy, dressed in various ways, sometimes in a long coat and cocked hat, unlike the Danish Troll, who kept to homely gray, with the universal little red cap. Even the respectable Kobold, who was, virtually, a house-spirit, caught the fever of fortune-hunting, and often threw up his domestic duties to seek the fascinating nuggets in the mines.

There is a funny anecdote of a Troll who, as was common with his race, cunningly concealed his prize under the shape of a coal. Now a peasant on his way to church one bright Sunday morning saw him trying vainly to move a couple of crossed straws which had blown upon his coal; for anything in the shape of a cross seemed to shrivel up an elf's power in the most startling manner. So the little sprite turned, half-crying, and begged the peasant to move the straws for him. But the man was too shrewd for that, and took up the coal, straws and all, and ran, despite the poor Troll's screaming, and saw, on reaching home, that he had captured a lump of solid gold.

All Black Elves were particular about their neighborhoods, and a whole colony would migrate at once if they took the least offence, or if the villagers about got "too knowing" for them. (An American poet once wrote a sonnet "To Science," in which he berated her for having made him "too knowing," and for having driven

-"the Naiad from her flood

The elfin from the green grass";

and it was in consequence of his very knowingness, no doubt, that, beauty-loving and marvel-loving as were his sensitive eyes, they never saw so much as the vanishing shadow of a fairy.) A little dwarf-woman told two young Bavarians that she intended to leave her favorite dwelling, because of the shocking cursing and swearing of the country-people! But they were not all so godly.


Ever since the great god Thor threw his hammer at the Trolls, they have hated noise as much as Mr. Thomas Carlyle, who, however, made Thor's own bluster in the world himself. They sought sequestered places that they might not be disturbed. The Prussian mites near Dardesheim were frightened away by the forge and the factory. Above all else, church-bells distressed them, and spoiled their tempers. A huckster once passed a Danish Troll, sitting disconsolately on a stone, and asked him what the matter might be. "I hate to leave this country," blubbered the fat mourner, "but I can't stay where there is such an eternal ringing and dinging!"

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