Death of an Underground Person

migratory legends of type 6070B
(also classified as Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 113A folktales)
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2013


  1. Torke's Child Is Dead / Kilian's Child Is Dead (Germany).

  2. Hübel and Habel (Germany).

  3. Prilling and Pralling Is Dead (Germany).

  4. Pingel Is Dead! (Germany).

  5. The Unknown Girl (Germany).

  6. King Pippe Is Dead! (Denmark).

  7. The Troll Turned Cat (Denmark).

  8. The Cat of the Carman's Stage (Ireland).

  9. The King of the Cats (Ireland).

  10. The King of the Cats (Scotland).

  11. The King o' the Cats (England).

  12. Dildrum, King of the Cats (England).

  13. Mally Dixon (England).

  14. Johnny Reed's Cat (England).

  15. Le Petit Colin (Guernsey).

  16. Notes and Bibliography.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Torke's Child Is Dead / Kilian's Child Is Dead



Near Westerhausen there are dwarf caves. Ages ago dwarfs lived there, and they were very active in the region.

Once a peasant was driving from Halberstadt to Börneke, which lies about a half hour from Westerhausen. As he was approaching Mount Tekenberg, someone shouted to him, "Wedgehead, tell Torke to come home. His child is dead!"

He looked around, but peering far and wide he could not see anyone who could have called out. So he drove home, and after his arrival there, while seated at his table, it kept going around in his head that someone had shouted to him and that he had seen no one. So he said to his wife, "Just think, as I was approaching Mount Tekenberg, someone shouted to me, Wedgehead, tell Torke to come home. His child is dead!'"

He had scarcely said this when someone called out from the best room, "Is that so? Then I must go there at once!"

Then they heard something fall. They went into the room and found there a bag. It was filled with dough from their baking trough.


There were also many dwarfs in Mount Kuckuksberg near Westerhausen and in Mount Steinberg near Börneke. They were thick-headed people with black faces. They wore three-cornered hats. They sometimes helped humans and sometimes harmed them. When Old Fritz [Frederick the Great of Prussia] came to power, he did not want them in his country any more, and he exiled them to the other side of the Black Sea. Thus they all emigrated, and nothing more has been heard about them since then. Formerly, however, there were many stories about them.

For example, once a peasant was driving past Mount Kuckuksberg when someone shouted to him, "Leave your wagon and your horses here, and run home quickly, and tell Kilian he should come here. His child is dead!"

The peasant did that. Arriving at home, he gave the message, and suddenly the bread dough fell down from above, and someone said that in the future they should make three crosses on the bread when they leave the dough overnight, and then the dwarfs would not be able to take it away.

For this reason, to this very day three crosses are made on bread.

Hübel and Habel


A dwarf appeared to the owner of the Halbhufe farm near Mount Dittersberg, while he was working in his field. He asked him to tell Hübel (a female dwarf) that Habel (a male dwarf) had died. The farmer related this unusual incident at the dinner table, and even as he spoke, a small woman, previously unseen, came into view in a corner of the room. She ran crying from the room, and was never seen again.

Prilling and Pralling Is Dead


The servant of Landholder Gireck (whose residence in Plau was on Elden Street where Master Mason Büttner's house now stands) was once hauling a load of manure to a field abutting Gall Mountain. He had just unloaded the manure and was about to put the sideboards back onto the wagon when he heard his name being called from the mountain, together with the words, "When you get home say that Prilling and Pralling is dead." Back at home, he had scarcely related this experience and repeated the words, when they heard groaning and crying coming from the house's cellar. They investigated, but found nothing but a pewter mug, of a kind that had never before been seen in Plau. The master of the house kept the mug, and when he later moved to Hamburg he took it with him. About seventy years ago someone from Plau saw it there.

Pingel Is Dead!


In Jagel, near Schleswig, there was once a host who observed with vexation that his beer always ran out too fast, without his knowing how. But one day, when on his way from the city, where he had been to fetch a fresh supply, he heard, on passing the Jagelberg, where there is a giant-grave, a voice crying in a tone of lamentation, "Pingel is dead! Pingel is dead!"

On his return home he related what he had heard to his wife, and had scarcely uttered the words when a little underground man came rushing out of the cellar, and crying:

Ach, is Pingel tot, is Pingel tot,
So hab ich hier Bier genug geholt,
Ah, if Pingel's dead, if Pingel's dead,
Then have I fetched beer enough,
and then ran off. A jug was afterwards found in the cellar standing by the beer-cask, which the little man had left behind; for it was for the sick Pingel that he had stolen the beer.

The Unknown Girl


A peasant in Holl had a servant girl whom no one knew. She was very industrious and well behaved, but she would not say what her name was.

One day the man was carrying a yoke home from the field when the voice of an unseen person called out to him several times, "You, the man carrying the yoke, tell Gloria that the chancellor has died."

The man did not think about this occurance until suppertime, and then he related it to the girl, adding that he now knew that her name was Gloria. The girl immediately jumped head over heels and fled. And no one has seen her since then.

King Pippe Is Dead!


Between Nordborg and Sønderborg, on the isle of Als, there is a mount called Stakkelhøi, which in former days was inhabited by a multitude of the subterranean folk, who were noted for their diligent researches in the neighboring pantries.

One evening late, as a man was passing over Stakkelhoi to Hagenbierg, he heard some one in the mount exclaim, "Now King Pippe is dead!"

These words he retained in his memory. At the same time, one of the mount-people of Stakkelhøi was paying a visit at a peasant's in Hagenbierg, for the purpose of letting some of his beer flow into a silver jug that he had brought with him.

The troll was just sitting cheek by jowl with the cask, when the aforesaid man entered the house and told the peasant how, as he was passing over Stakkelhøi, he heard a voice in the mount saying, "Now King Pippe is dead!"

At this the troll in a fright exclaimed, "Is King Pippe dead?" and rushed out of the house with such haste that he forgot to take his silver jug with him.

The Troll Turned Cat


About a quarter of a mile from Soröe lies Pedersborg, and a little farther on is the town of Lyng. Just between these towns is a hill called Bröndhöi (Spring-hill), said to be inhabited by the troll-people.

There goes a story that there was once among these troll-people of Bröndhöi an old cross-grained curmudgeon of a troll, whom the rest nick-named Knurremurre (Rumble-grumble), because he was evermore the cause of noise and uproar within the hill. The Knurremurre having discovered what he thought to be too great a degree of intimacy between his young wife and a young troll of the society, took this in such ill part, that he vowed vengeance, swearing he would have the life of the young one. The latter, accordingly, thought it would be his best course to be off out of the hill till better times; so, turning himself into a noble tortoise-shell tom-cat, he one fine morning quitted his old residence, and journeyed down to the neighboring town of Lyng, where he established himself in the house of an honest poor man named Plat.

Here he lived for a long time comfortable and easy, with nothing to annoy him, and was as happy as any tom-cat or troll crossed in love well could be. He got every day plenty of milk and good grout to eat, and lay the whole day long at his ease in a warm arm-chair behind the stove.

Plat happened one evening to come home rather late, and as he entered the room the cat was sitting in his usual place, scraping meal-grout out of a pot, and licking the pot itself carefully. "Harkye, dame," said Plat, as he came in at the door, "till I tell you what happened to me on the road. Just as I was coming past Bröndhöi, there came out a troll, and he called out to me, and said,

Harkye Plat
Tell your cat,
That Knurremurre is dead.

The moment the cat heard these words, he tumbled the pot down on the floor, sprang out of the chair, and stood up on his hind-legs. Then, as he hurried out of the door, he cried out with exultation, "What! is Knurremurre dead? Then I may go home as fast as I please." And so saying he scampered off to the hill, to the amazement of honest Plat; and it is likely lost no time in making his advances to the young widow.

The Cat of the Carman's Stage


A carman was leaving Bunclody one morning for Dublin, when what should he see but a neighbor's cat galloping along the side of the road, and crying out every moment, "Tell Moll Browne, Tom Dunne is dead. Tell Moll Browne, Tom Dunne is dead."

At last he got tired of this ditty, and took up a stone and flung it at the cat, bidding himself, and Tom Browne, and Moll Dunne, to go to Halifax, and not be botherin' him.

When he got to Luke Byrne's in Francis Street, where all the Wicklow and Wexford carmen used to stop, he was taking a pot of beer in the taproom, and began to tell the quare thing that happened on the road. There was a comfortable-looking gray cat sitting by the fire, and the moment he mentioned what the Bunclody cat was saying, she cried out, "That's my husband!" That's my husband!"

She made only one leap out through the door, and no one ever saw her at Luke Byrne's again.

The King of the Cats


A most important personage in feline history is the King of the Cats. He may be in your house a common looking fellow enough, with no distinguishing mark of exalted rank about him, so that it is very difficult to verify his genuine claims to royalty. Therefore the best way is to cut off a tiny little bit of his ear. If he is really the royal personage, he will immediately speak out and declare who he is ; and perhaps, at the same time, tell you some very disagreeable truths about yourself, not at all pleasant to have discussed by the house cat.

A man once, in a fit of passion, cut off the head of the domestic pussy, and threw it on the fire. On which the head exclaimed, in a fierce voice, "Go tell your wife that you have cut off the head of the King of the Cats; but wait! I shall come back and be avenged for this insult," and the eyes of the cat glared at him horribly from the fire.

And so it happened; for that day year, while the master of the house was playing with a pet kitten, it suddenly flew at his throat and bit him so severely that he died soon after.

A story is current also, that one night an old woman was sitting up very late spinning, when a knocking came to the door. "Who is there?" she asked. No answer; but still the knocking went on. "Who is there?" she asked a second time. No answer; and the knocking continued. "Who is there?" she asked the third time, in a very angry passion.

Then there came a small voice, "Ah, Judy, agrah, let me in, for I am cold and hungry; open the door, Judy, agrah, and let me sit by the fire, for the night is cold out here. Judy, agrah, let me in, let me in!"

The heart of Judy was touched, for she thought it was some small child that had lost its way, and she rose up from her spinning, and went and opened the door -- when in walked a large black cat with a white breast, and two white kittens after her.

They all made over to the fire and began to warm and dry themselves, purring all the time very loudly; but Judy said never a word, only went on spinning.

Then the black cat spoke at last, "Judy, agrah, don't stay up so late again, for the fairies wanted to hold a council here tonight, and to have some supper, but you have prevented them; so they were very angry and determined to kill you, and only for myself and my two daughters here you would be dead by this time. So take my advice, don't interfere with the fairy hours again, for the night is theirs, and they hate to look on the face of a mortal when they are out for pleasure or business. So I ran on to tell you, and now give me a drink of milk, for I must be off."

And after the milk was finished the cat stood up, and called her daughters to come away.

"Good-night, Judy, agrah," she said. "You have been very civil to me, and I'll not forget it to you. Good-night, goodnight."

With that the black cat and the two kittens whisked up the chimney; but Judy looking down saw something glittering on the hearth, and taking it up she found it was a piece of silver, more than she ever could make in a month by her spinning, and she was glad in her heart, and never again sat up so late to interfere with the fairy hours, but the black cat and her daughters came no more again to the house.

The King of the Cats


Many years ago, long before shooting in Scotland was a fashion as it is now, two young men spent the autumn in the very far north, living in a lodge far from other houses, with an old woman to cook for them. Her cat and their own dogs formed all the rest of the household.

One afternoon the elder of the two young men said he would not go out, and the younger one went alone, to follow the path of the previous day's sport looking for missing birds, and intending to return home before the early sunset. However, he did not do so, and the elder man became very uneasy as he watched and waited in vain till long after their usual supper-time. At last the young man returned, wet and exhausted, nor did he explain his unusual lateness until, after supper, they were seated by the fire with their pipes, the dogs lying at their feet, and the old woman's black cat sitting gravely with half-shut eyes on the hearth between them. Then the young man began as follows:--

"You must be wondering what made me so late. I have had a curious adventure to-day. I hardly know what to say about it. I went, as I told you I should, along our yesterday's route. A mountain fog came on just as I was about to turn homewards, and I completely lost my way. I wandered about for a long time, not knowing where I was, till at last I saw a light, and made for it, hoping to get help. As I came near it, it disappeared, and I found myself close to a large old oak-tree. I climbed into the branches the better to look for the light, and, behold! it was beneath me, inside the hollow trunk of the tree. I seemed to be looking down into a church, where a funeral was in the act of taking place. I heard singing, and saw a coffin, surrounded by torches, all carried by ---- But I know you won't believe me if I tell you!"

His friend eagerly begged him to go on, and laid down his pipe to listen. The dogs were sleeping quietly, but the cat was sitting up apparently listening as attentively as the man, and both young men involuntarily turned their eyes towards him. "Yes," proceeded the absentee," it is perfectly true. The coffin and the torches were both borne by cats, and upon the coffin were marked a crown and scepter!" He got no further; the cat started up shrieking, "By Jove! old Peter's dead! and I'm the King o' the Cats!" rushed up the chimney and was seen no more.

The King o' the Cats


One winter's evening the sexton's wife was sitting by the fireside with her big black cat, Old Tom, on the other side, both half asleep and waiting for the master to come home. They waited and they waited, but still he didn't come, till at last he came rushing in, calling out, "Who's Tommy Tildrum?" in such a wild way that both his wife and his cat stared at him to know what was the matter.

"Why, what's the matter?" said his wife. "And why do you want to know who Tommy Tildrum is?"

"Oh, I've had such an adventure. I was digging away at old Mr. Fordyce's grave when I suppose I must have dropped asleep, and only woke up by hearing a cat's meow."

"Meow!" said Old Tom in answer.

"Yes, just like that! So I looked over the edge of the grave, and what do you think I saw?"

"Now, how can I tell?" said the sexton's wife.

"Why, nine black cats all like our friend Tom here, all with a white spot on their chestesses. And what do you think they were carrying? Why, a small coffin covered with a black velvet pall, and on the pall was a small coronet all of gold, and at every third step they took they cried all together, 'Meow --'"

"Meow!" said Old Tom again.

"Yes, just like that!" said the sexton. "And as they came nearer and nearer to me I could see them more distinctly, because their eyes shone out with a sort of green light. Well, they all came towards me, eight of them carrying the coffin and the biggest cat of all walking in front for all the world like -- but look at our Tom, how he's looking at me. You'd think he knew all I was saying."

"Go on, go on," said his wife. "Never mind Old Tom."

"Well, as I was a-saying, they came towards me slowly and solemnly, and at every third step crying all together, 'Meow --'"

"Meow!" said Old Tom again.

"Yes, just like that, till they came and stood right opposite Mr. Fordyce's grave, where I was, when they all stood still and looked straight at me. I did feel queer, that I did! But look at Old Tom. He's looking at me just like they did."

"Go on, go on," said his wife. "Never mind Old Tom."

"Where was I? Oh, they all stood still looking at me, when the one that wasn't carrying the coffin came forward and, staring straight at me, said to me -- yes, I tell 'ee, said to me -- with a squeaky voice, 'Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum's dead,' and that's why I asked you if you knew who Tom Tildrum was, for how can I tell Tom Tildrum Tim Toldrum's dead if I don't know who Tom Tildrum is?"

"Look at Old Tom! Look at Old Tom!" screamed his wife.

And well he might look, for Tom was swelling, and Tom was staring, and at last Tom shrieked out, "What -- old Tim dead! Then I'm the King o' the Cats!" and rushed up the chimney and was never more seen.

Dildrum, King of the Cats


The following tradition is often heard in South Lancashire:

A gentleman was one evening sitting cosily in his parlor, reading or meditating, when he was interrupted by the appearance of a cat, which came down the chimney, and called out, "Tell Dildrum, Doldrum's dead!"

He was naturally startled by the occurrence; and when, shortly afterwards, his wife entered, he related to her what had happened, and their own cat, which had accompanied her, exclaimed, "Is Doldrum dead?" and immediately rushed up the chimney, and was heard of no more.

Of course there were numberless conjectures upon such a remarkable event, but the general opinion appears to be that Doldrum had been king of cat-land, and that Dildrum was the next heir.

Mally Dixon


Stories of fairies appearing in the shape of cats are common in the North of England. Mr. Longstaffe relates that a farmer of Staindrop, in Durham, was one night crossing a bridge, when a cat jumped out, stood before him, and looking him full in the face, said:

Johnny Reed! Johnny Reed!
Tell Madam Momfort
That Mally Dixon's dead.

The farmer returned home, and in mickle wonder recited this awfu' stanza to his wife, when up started their black cat, saying, "Is she?" and disappeared for ever. It was supposed she was a fairy in disguise, who thus went to attend a sister's funeral, for in the North fairies do die, and green shady spots are pointed out by the country folks as the cemeteries of the tiny people.

Johnny Reed's Cat


Yes, cats are queer folk, sure enough, and often know more than a simple beast ought to by knowledge that's rightly come by. There's that cat there, you've been looking at, will stand at a door on its hind legs with its front paws on the handle trying like a Christian to open the door, and mewling in a manner that's almost like talking. He's a London cat, he is, being brought me by a cousin who lives there, and is called Gilpin, after, I 'm told, a mayor who was christened the same. He's a knowing cat, sure enough; but it's not the London cats that are cleverer than the country ones. Who knows, he may be a relative of Johnny Reed's own tom-cat himself.

And who was Johnny Reed? And what was there remarkable about his cat?

Have you never heard tell of Johnny Reed's cat? It's an old tale they have in the north country, and it's true enough, though folk may not believe it in these days when the Bible's not gospel enough for some of them.

I've heard my father often tell the story, and he came from Newcastle way, which is the very part where Johnny Reed used to live, being a parish sexton in a village not far away.

Well, Johnny Reed was the sexton, as I've already said, and he and his wife kept a cat, a well enough behaved creature, sure enough, and a beast as he had no fault to set on, saving a few of the tricks which all cats play at times, and which seem born in the blood of the creatures. It was all black except one white paw, and seemed as honest and decent a beast as could be, and Tom would as soon have suspected it of being any more than it really seemed to be as he would one of his own children themselves, like many other folk, perhaps, who, may be, have cats of the same kind, little thinking it.

Well, the cat had been with him some years when a strange thing occurred.

One night Johnny was going home late from the churchyard, where he had been digging a grave for a person who had died on a sudden, throwing the grave on Johnny's hands unexpectedly, so that he had to stop working at it by the light of a lantern to have it ready for the next day's burying. Well, having finished his work, and having put his tools in the shed in a corner of the yard, and having locked them up safe, he began to walk home pretty brisk, thinking would his wife be up and have a bit of fire for him, for the night was cold, a keen wind blowing over the fields.

He hadn't gone far before he comes to a gate at the roadside, and there seemed to be a strange shadow about it, in which Johnny saw, as it might be, a lot of little gleaming fires dancing about, while some stood steady, just like flashes of light from little windows in buildings all on fire inside.

Says Johnny to himself, for he was not a man to be easily frightened, being accustomed by his calling to face things which might upset other folk, "'Hullo! What's here? Here's a thing I never saw before."

And with that he walks straight up to the gate, while the shadow got deeper and the fires brighter the nearer he came to it. Well, when he came right up to the gate he finds that the shadow was just none at all, but nine black cats, some sitting and some dancing about, and the lights were the flashes from their eyes.

When he came nearer he thought to scare them off, and he calls out, "Sh -- sh -- sh," but never a cat stirs for all of it.

"I'll soon scatter you, you ugly varmin," says Johnny, looking about him for a stone, which was not to be found, the night being dark and preventing him seeing one.

Just then he hears a voice calling, '"Johnny Reed!"

"Hullo!" says he, "Who's that wants me?"

"Johnny Reed," says the voice again.

"Well," says Johnny, "I'm here," and looking round and seeing no one, for no one was about 'tis true. "Was it one of you," says he, joking like, to the cats, "as was calling me?"

"Yes, of course," answers one of them, as plain as ever Christian spoke. "It's me as has called you these three times."

Well, with that, you may be sure, Johnny begins to feel curious, for 'twas the first time he had ever been spoken to by a cat, and he didn't know what it might lead to exactly. So he takes off his hat to the cat, thinking that it was, perhaps, best to show it respect, and, seeing that he was unable to guess with whom he was dealing, hoping to come off all the better for a little civility.

"Well, sir," says he, "what can I do for you?"

"It's not much as I want with you," says the cat, "but it's better it'll be with you if you do what I tell you. Tell Dan Ratcliffe that Peggy Poyson's dead."

"I will, sir," says Johnny, wondering at the same time how he was to do it, for who Dan Ratcliffe was he knew no more than the dead.

Well, with that all the cats vanished, and Johnny, running the rest of the way home, rushes into his house, smoking hot from the fright and the distance he had to go over.

"Nan," says he to his wife, the first words he spoke, "who's Dan Ratcliffe?"

"Dan Ratcliffe," says she. "I never heard of him, and don't know there's any one such living about here."

"No more do I," says he, '"but I must find him wherever he is."

Then he tells his wife all about how he had met the cats, and how they had stopped him and given him the message.

Well, his cat sits there in front of the fire looking as snug and comfortable as a cat could be, and nearly half asleep, but when Johnny comes to telling his wife the message the cats had given him, then it jumped up on its feet, and looks at Johnny, and says, "What! Is Peggy Poyson dead? Then it's no time for me to be here."

And with that it springs through the door and vanishes, nor was ever seen again from that day to this.

"And did the sexton ever find Dan Ratcliffe," I asked.

Never. He searched high and low for him about, but no one could tell him of such a person, though Johnny looked long enough, thinking it might be the worse for him if he didn't do his best to please the cats. At last, however, he gave the matter up.

Then, what was the meaning of the cat's message?

It's hard to tell; but many folk thought, and I'm inclined to agree with them, that Dan Ratcliffe was Johnny's own cat, and no one else, looking at the way he acted, and no other of the name being known. Who Peggy Poyson was no one could tell, but likely enough it was some relative of the cat, or may be someone it was interested in, for it's little we know concerning the creatures and their ways, and with whom and what they're mixed up.

Le Petit Colin


Fairies have sometimes been known to enter into the service of mankind, but by what motives they were actuated in so doing is not clear. A certain "Mess" [Monsieur] Dumaresq, of "Les Grands Moulins," once engaged as a farm servant a boy who offered himself. No one knew whence he came, nor did he appear to have any relations. He was extremely lively, active, and attentive to his duties, but so small that he acquired and was known by no other name than that of "P'tit Colin."

One morning as Dumaresq was returning from St. Saviour's, he was astonished, on passing the haunted hill known as "La Roque où le Coq Chante," to hear himself called by name. He stopped his horse and looked round, but could see no one. Thinking that his imagination must have deceived him, he began to move on, but was again arrested by the voice. A second time he stopped and looked round, but with no more success than the first. Beginning to feel alarmed, he pushed his horse forward, but was a third time stopped by the voice. He now summoned up all his courage and asked who it was that called, and what was required of him.

The voice immediately answered, "Go home directly and tell P'tit Colin that Grand Colin is dead."

Wondering what could be the meaning of this, he made the best of his way home, and, on his arrival, sent for Le Petit Colin, to whom he communicated what had befallen him.

The boy replied, "What! Is Le Grand Colin dead? Then I must leave you," and immediately turned round to depart.

"Stop," said Mess Dumaresq, "I must pay you your wages."

"Wages!" said Colin, with a laugh, "I am far richer now than you. Goodbye."

Saying this he left the room and was never afterwards seen or heard of.

This story is still related by Dumaresq's descendants.

Notes and Bibliography

Migratory legend type 6070B; Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 113A.

In many versions of this tale the deceased is a cat, usually the "king of the cats," while the mysterious person who runs off after hearing of the death is the family housecat. Many folklore traditions, of course, connect cats with elves, fairies, and other supernatural beings.

"Death of an elf (or cat)" tales are classified as type 113A tales in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale classification system, or as a migratory legend type 6070B in the Christiansen system.

For more information about folktale types see:

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Revised February 25, 2013.