The Shoemaker and the Elves

and similar migratory legends of type 7015
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2018

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

Contents

  1. The Elves (Germany).

  2. Shoemaker Jobst and the Elves (Germany).

  3. The Shoemaker and the Dwarf (Germany).

  4. The Dwarf as a Journeyman Shoemaker (Germany).

  5. Mermen (Germany).

  6. The Underground People at Bernstein (Germany / Poland).

  7. The Dwarfs Depart from Paznaun (Austria).

  8. The Pixies of Devonshire (England).

  9. The Hart Hall Hob (England).

  10. The Cauld Lad of Hilton (England).

  11. The Pisky Thrasher (England).

  12. The Brownie's New Coat (Scotland).

  13. Brownies (Scotland).

  14. The Phouka (Ireland).

  15. The Fairy Friar (Spain).


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

The Elves

Germany

A shoemaker, through no fault of his own, had become so poor that he had only leather enough for a single pair of shoes. He cut them out one evening, then went to bed, intending to finish them the next morning. Having a clear conscience, he went to bed peacefully, commended himself to God, and fell asleep. The next morning, after saying his prayers, he was about to return to his work when he found the shoes on his workbench, completely finished. Amazed, he did not know what to say. He picked up the shoes in order to examine them more closely. They were so well made that not a single stitch was out of place, just as if they were intended as a masterpiece. A customer soon came by, and he liked the shoes so much that he paid more than the usual price for them.

The shoemaker now had enough money to buy leather for two pairs of shoes. That evening he cut them out, intending to continue his work the next morning with good cheer. But he did not need to do so, because when he got up they were already finished. Customers soon bought them, paying him enough that he now could buy leather for four pairs of shoes. Early the next morning he found the four pairs finished. And so it continued; whatever he cut out in the evening was always finished the following morning. He now had a respectable income and with time became a wealthy man.

One evening shortly before Christmas, just before going to bed, and having already cut out a number of shoes, he said to his wife, "Why don't we stay up tonight and see who is giving us this helping hand."

His wife agreed to this and lit a candle. Then they hid themselves behind some clothes that were hanging in a corner of the room. At midnight two cute little naked men appeared. Sitting down at the workbench, they picked up the cut-out pieces and worked so unbelievable quickly and nimbly that the amazed shoemaker could not take his eyes from them. They did not stop until they had finished everything. They placed the completed shoes on the workbench, then quickly ran away.

The next morning the wife said, "The little men have made us wealthy. We must show them our thanks. They are running around with nothing on, freezing. Do you know what? I want to sew some shirts, jackets, undershirts, and trousers for them, and knit a pair of stockings for each of them, and you should make a pair of shoes for each of them."

The husband said, "I agree," and that evening, when everything was finished, they set the presents out instead of the unfinished work. Then they hid themselves in order to see what the little men would do. At midnight they came skipping up, intending to start work immediately. When they saw the little clothes instead of the cut-out leather, they at first seemed puzzled, but then delighted. They quickly put them on, then stroking the beautiful clothes on their bodies they sang:

Sind wir nicht Knaben glatt und fein?
Was sollen wir länger Schuster sein!

Are we not boys, neat and fine?
No longer cobblers shall we be!

Then they hopped and danced about, jumping over chairs and benches. Finally they danced out of the house. They never returned, but the shoemaker prospered, succeeding in everything that he did.




Shoemaker Jobst and the Elves

Germany

In Eschwege the people tell about the elves, and especially how they helped poor Shoemaker Jobst in his time of need.

One evening Shoemaker Jobst was sitting sadly in his workroom. His wife, burdened with sorrow, had fallen asleep next to their poor children. A cricket was chirping in corner by the stove, and the moon cast its pale light through the old, round window panes onto their pale faces.

Jobst thought, "If only I could fall asleep with you, and then wake up to a carefree life with you poor little ones!"

Then he prayed to God in heaven and stretched out on his hard bed. Concerns about the next day and new worries kept him awake.

As midnight approached he thought that he heard light footsteps in his little cottage. Trip, trap, and a company of elves came inside. They quickly moved to the leather. One of them did the cutting while another one did the stitching. In a short time they had used up all the leather, and beautiful shoes stood there on his workbench. How Jobst now looked forward to the next day. It finally arrived, and when the streets came to life, many people looked in at the shoes. They bought what was there and ordered new shoes as well.

Jobst bought more leather, and when midnight came the elves returned. They worked busily, and the next morning his workbench was filled with new shoes. Jobst became famous. Everyone wanted to buy from him. Joy and prosperity now came to his household.

Jobst wanted to make his benefactors happy. He counted the elves and had nice clothes made for them, laying them out in a row for them. How this did please the elves! They immediately put on their new clothes. But with this they became proud and no longer wanted to make shoes, saying to themselves:

Come now and look at me
Why should I a cobbler be?
Within the hour they disappeared from Jobst's house, never again to return.




The Shoemaker and the Dwarf

Germany

In a village there lived a prosperous shoemaker with his wife. They seldom ate all of their evening meal, and the wife always put the leftovers in a pan on the stove. The following morning the shoemaker noticed that the leftover food had been eaten, and furthermore, the boots and shoes that he had left cut out on his workbench were now completely finished. Seeing how well they had been stitched together, he always cut out even more, and the next morning they were always finished.

The shoemaker grew ever more curious and wanted to know who was making the shoes. Therefore he bored a hole in the workroom door. That night he kept watch by looking through the hole. To his great surprise he saw a dwarf enter the room and begin sewing busily; however, the dwarf kept looking up at the hole, which he apparently had noticed.

After finishing a few pair of shoes he went to the stove and ate the food that was there, and then disappeared. Observing the same thing for some time, the shoemaker decided to do something for the dwarf, so he laid a suit of clothes on the workbench for him. The next night the dwarf came again and found the clothes. He finished the shoes and put on the clothes.

Then he cut out a pair of boots for himself, sewed them up, put them on, and said, "Why do I have to make shoes for peasants. I can now serve the King of the Dwarfs!"

With that he disappeared and never returned.




The Dwarf as a Journeyman Shoemaker

Germany

A dwarf came to shoemaker and offered his services as a journeyman. The shoemaker had a lot of work at the time and was therefore happy to accept the offer. He asked what he expected for wages. The dwarf asked for twenty-four thalers per week. The shoemaker replied that that was a lot of money, and that the dwarf was very small. How much work would he be able to do?

"Yes," said the dwarf. It was a lot of money, but his work would be worth it. Each week would be able to make twenty-four pair of tall riding boots. So the shoemaker hired him.

The next morning the dwarf did not begin to work but instead made himself comfortable and walked around in the house. The shoemaker reminded him of his promise, and the dwarf answered that he would keep it, but did nothing. Saturday arrived, and this day passed as well with the dwarf doing no work.

That night at eleven o'clock there arose a commotion in the house, and suddenly it was full of dwarfs. The shoemaker, who had already gone to bed with his wife, heard the noise and became curious. He looked through the keyhole and saw a roomful of dwarfs. Some were cutting and some were stitching while the journeyman sat comfortably in their midst and smoked.

Suddenly one of the dwarfs said, "Master, he's looking!"

"Let him look!" was the answer.

The dwarf repeated this three times, and the fourth time the answer was, "Then poke his eye out!"

With that the dwarf poked out the shoemaker's eye with an awl.

The latter went to his wife and told her what he had seen and what had happened to him. His wife advised him to not go back.

The dwarfs' work lasted until one o'clock, and then everything was quiet.

The next morning the wife got up and gave the journeyman his twenty-four thalers and told him he could go. The latter asked where the master was; he wanted to speak with him.

The wife answered that that was not possible, for the master was ill.

The dwarf asked, "What is wrong with him?"

"I don't know," she answered.

The dwarf insisted that she call her husband. Perhaps he could help him. So finally she fetched her husband.

The dwarf asked the shoemaker what was wrong with him, and he answered that he had seen the dwarfs at work and told what had happened to him.

With that the dwarf blew into his eye, with the words, "Next time don't look!"

And in that instant the shoemaker could again see with his eye.




Mermen

Germany

Mermen formerly lived in the Seeben Pond (also known as Glaswald Lake), which is unfathomably deep. They were the same size as children and formed above like humans and below like fish. They could make themselves invisible.

One of them befriended the people at the Seeben Farm (which lies next to a hill three quarters of an hour down from the lake). He would awaken them every morning and stay with them until evening, when he returned to the lake. He did chores for them all day, and was especially helpful with their livestock, which flourished better than ever before.

However, whenever they gave him a task they always had to say, "Not too little and not too much!" otherwise he would do too little or too much.

Every day at the farmhouse they gave him his breakfast, noon meal, and evening meal, which they placed under the steps, where he sat by himself and ate. Although his clothes, including his floppy hat, were sorely worn out, and his jacket was badly ripped, the farmers at the Seeben Farm refrained from providing him with new clothes. However when winter came they secretly had a new jacket made for him, which they gave to him one evening.

To this the merman said, "When one has been paid, then one must leave. From tomorrow onward I'll not come back to you."

The farmer tried to assure him that the jacket was a gift and not a loan, but he could not dissuade the merman from his intention.

Angered at this, the maid-servant did not give the merman his evening meal, and he went away with an empty stomach. The next morning they found the maid-servant dead in front of the house. She was upside down, her head having been buried in the ground.

The merman was never again seen at the Seeben Farm.




The Underground People at Bernstein

Germany / Poland

There were many dwarfs in the vicinity of the town of Bernstein in Pomerania. The people there called them "the underground people." Once one of them for a long time came to a poor shoemaker and helped him with his work, so that the shoemaker was becoming wealthy. The man decided show his thanks, and he had a very nice new jacket made for the dwarf.

However, the underground people cannot tolerate this, and upon receiving the jacket he immediately went away, saying, "Master, you have paid me in full; now I am finished with the work!"

And he never returned.




The Dwarfs Depart from Paznaun

Austria

The dwarfs in the Paznaun Valley, especially in the vicinity of the little village of See, were very good natured, helping out however they could with housework. They also were happy to herd livestock....

A peasant from See engaged a dwarf as a goatherd. Every day the dwarf collected the goats near the village -- but he never entered the village itself -- and led them out to the pasture. In the evening he brought them back close to the village, then disappeared into the mountains.

The peasants sent his noonday meal to him in a very original manner: They tied it to the horns of a billy-goat. The dwarf untied it and ate it with pleasure. He would not touch it if they gave it to him in a different manner.

Once the peasants wanted to surprise him, so in the same manner they sent him a handsome red jacket. Seeing the jacket he sadly said to himself: "Now I can no longer herd goats, for they have given me a red jacket."

He then went into the mountains and was never again seen in the valley.

Similar legends are told in Etschland.




The Pixies of Devonshire

England

The Portunes -- which, according to Gervase, belonged exclusively to England, (although France had her Neptunes of a somewhat similar character) -- resembled the ancient household Spirit of Northern Europe. They joined in the harder labour of the house; and, as their only reward, claimed a share of the warmth from the evening hearth -- at which they would appear as soon as the doors were shut, warming their aged limbs, and eating, meanwhile, little frogs (ranunculos), which they drew from their bosoms and toasted on the embers.

In the same manner, the Pixies of Dartmoor, notwithstanding their darker character, aided occasionally in household work. A cottage at Belstone, near Oakhampton, is pointed out as having been a favourite scene of their labours. It was common to find great additions made to the "web" of cloth, morning after morning; and the Pixies were frequently heard working at the loom all through the night. Plates of honey and cream, but especially a basin of pure water, must be regularly placed for them in such houses as they frequent; and it is not safe to add a more valuable reward.

A washerwoman was one morning greatly surprised on coming down stairs to ?nd all her clothes neatly washed and folded. She watched the next evening, and observed a Pixy in the act of performing this kind office for her; but she was ragged and mean in appearance, and Betty's gratitude was sufficiently great to induce her to prepare a yellow petticoat and a red cap for the obliging Pixy. She placed them, accordingly, by the side of the basin of water; and watched for the result. The Pixy, after putting them on, disappeared through the window, apparently in great delight. But Betty was ever afterwards obliged to wash all her clothes herself.

At another farm on the borders of the moor, the inhabitants were disturbed at dead of night by the loud noise of a flail at work in the barn; and in the morning a quantity of corn, which had been left in ear, was found threshed. On the ensuing night, watch was kept by the farmer, who perceived six "sprites," of the smallest imaginable size, enter the barn, and perform the same kind office as before. Their dress, however, was ragged and dirty -- and the farmer had better clothes prepared for them, which he placed where they might readily ?nd them.

In the meantime, he told his neighbours of his good luck -- who, less kind-hearted than himself, stationed themselves in the barn with their guns, behind some unthreshed corn. They had not watched long when the Pixies entered; and, delighted with their new clothes, commenced their usual dance all song -- in the midst of which the farmers who were in watch fired on them.

But they were to be harmed by no weapon of "middle earth," and they departed for ever, singing as they went:

Now the pixies' work is done,
We take our clothes and off we run.



The Hart Hall Hob

England

From fairies the old lady got on to recollections of what clearly was a survival of dwarf folklore. For she told me of certain small people who used to dwell in the houes (grave-mounds) that years ago were to be found in the Koxby and Mickleby direction, but which had been dug into and after wards ploughed over, so that the former denizens had clearly been evicted and forced to retire. But it was only imperfect recollections of what she had heard in her own young days that my informant was dealing with now; and the lack of feature and detail consequent on her lack of personal interest in the subject was quite evident.

But it was quite different when I began to ask her if in her youth she had had any knowledge of the Hart Hall "Hob." On this topic she was herself again.

Why, when she was a bit of a lass, everybody knew about Hart Hall in Glaisdale, and t' Hob there, and the work that he did, and how he came to leave, and all about it.

Had she ever seen him, or any of the work he had done?

"Seen him, saidst 'ee? Neea, naebody had ever seen him, leastwise, mair nor yance. And that was how he coomed to flit."

"How was that?" I asked.

"Wheea, everybody kenned at sikan a mak' o' creatur as yon never tholed being spied efter."

"And did they spy upon him?" I inquired.

"Ay, marry, that did they. Yah moonleeght neeght, when they beared his swipple (the striking part of the flail) gannan' wiv a strange quick bat (stroke) o' t' lathe fleear (on the barn floor) -- ye ken he wad dee mair i' yah neeght than a' t' men o' t' farm cou'd dee iv a deea -- yan o' t' lads gat hissel' croppen oop close anenst lathe-deear, an' leeak'd in thruff a lahtle hole i' t' boards, an' he seen a lahtle brown man, a' covered wi' hair, spangin' about wiv fleeal lahk yan wud (striking around with the flail as if he was beside himself). He'd getten a haill dess 0' shafts (a whole layer of sheaves) doon o' t' fleear, and my wo'd! ommost afore ye cou'd tell ten, he had tonned (turned) oot t' strae, an' sided away t' coorn, and was rife for another dess. He had nae claes on to speak of, and t' lad, he cou'd na see at he had any mak' or mander o' duds by an au'd ragg'd soort ov a sark."

And she went on to tell how the lad crept away as quietly as he had gone on his expedition of espial, and on getting indoors, undiscovered by the unconscious Hob, had related what he had seen, and described the marvellous energy of "t' lahtle hairy man, amaist as nakt as when he wur boorn."

But the winter nights were cold, and the Hart Hall folks thought he must get strange and warm working "sikan a bat as yon, an' it wad be sair an' cau'd for him, gannan' oot iv lathe wiv nobbut thae au'd rags. Seear, they'd mak' him something to hap hissel' wiv."

And so they did. They made it as near like what the boy had described him as wearing a sort of a coarse sark, or shirt, with a belt or girdle to confine it round his middle. And when it was done, it was taken before nightfall and laid in the barn, "gay and handy for t' lahtle chap to notish" when next he came to resume his nocturnal labours.

In due course he came, espied the garment, turned it round and round, and -- contrary to the usual termination of such legends, which represents the uncanny, albeit efficient, worker as displeased at the espionage practised upon him -- Hart Hall Hob, more mercenary than punctilious as to considerations of privacy, broke out with the following couplet:

Gin Hob mun hae nowght but a hardin' hamp [shirt],
He'll coom nae mair, nowther to berry [harvest] nor stamp [thresh].



The Cauld Lad of Hilton

England

The counties of Northumberland and Durham are certainly peculiarly rich in tricksy spirits. There is the Cauld Lad of Hilton, who haunted Hilton Castle in the Valley of the Wear. Seldom seen, he was heard night after night by the servants. If they left the kitchen in order, he would amuse himself by hurling everything wildly about; if they left it in confusion, he would arrange everything with the greatest care.

Harmless as he seemed, the servants got tired of him; so they laid a green cloak and hood before the kitchen fire, and set themselves to watch the result. At midnight the Cauld Lad glided in, surveyed the garments, put them on, frisked about, and when the cock crew, disappeared, saying:

Here's a cloak, and there's a hood,
The Cauld Lad of Hilton will do no more good.



The Pisky Thrasher

England (Cornwall)

On a farm near here, a pisky used to come at night to thrash the farmer's corn. The farmer in payment once put down a new suit for him. When the pisky came and saw it, he put it on, and said:
Pisky fine and pisky gay,
Pisky now will fly away.
And they say he never returned.




The Brownie's New Coat

Scotland

It is told of a Brownie, who haunted a border family, now extinct, that the lady having fallen unexpectedly in labour, and the servant, who was ordered to ride to Jedburgh for the sage femme, shewing no great alertness in setting out, the familiar spirit slipt on the great-coat of the lingering domestic, rode to the town on the laird's best horse, and returned with the midwife en croupe.

During the short space of his absence, the Tweed, which they must necessarily ford, rose to a dangerous height. Brownie, who transported his charge with all the rapidity of the ghostly lover of Lenoré, was not to be stopped by this obstacle. He plunged in with the terri?ed old lady, and landed her in safety where her services were wanted.

Having put the horse into the stable (where it was afterwards found in a woeful plight), he proceeded to the room of the servant, whose duty he had discharged; and, ?nding him just in the act of drawing on his boots, he administered to him a most merciless drubbing with his own horse-whip.

Such an important service excited the gratitude of the laird; who, understanding that Brownie had been heard to express a wish to have a green coat, ordered a vestment of that colour to be made and left in his haunts.

Brownie took away the green coat, but was never seen more. We may suppose, that, tired of his domestic drudgery, he went in his new livery to join the fairies.




Brownies

Scotland

The brownie was a household spirit, of an useful and familiar character. In former times, almost every farmhouse in the south of Scotland was supposed to be haunted by one. He was understood to be a spirit of a somewhat grotesque figure, dwarfish in stature, but endowed with great personal strength, and having a mind of the most disinterested and even exalted sort. It was his humour to be unseen and idle during the whole day, or while the people of the house were a-stir, and only to exert himself while all the rest were asleep.

It was customary for the mistress of the house to leave out work for him, such as the supper dishes to be washed, or the churn to be prepared, and he never failed to have the whole done in the morning.

This drudgery he performed quite gratuitously. He was a most disinterested spirit. To have offered him wages, or even to present him with an occasional boon, would have insured his anger, and perhaps caused him to abandon the establishment altogether.

Numerous stories are told of his resentment in cases of his being thus affronted. For instance, on the goodman of a farmhouse in the parish of Glendevon leaving out some clothes one night for the brownie, he was heard during the night to depart, saying, in a highly offended tone:

Gi'e brownie coat, gi'e brownie sark,
ye'se get nae mair o' brownie's wark!



The Phouka

Ireland

The Phouka is a friendly being, and often helps the farmer at his work if he is treated well and kindly.

One day a farmer's son was minding cattle in the field when something rushed past him like the wind; but he was not frightened, for he knew it was the Phouka on his way to the old mill by the moat where the fairies met every night.

So he called out, "Phouka, Phouka! show me what you are like, and I'll give you my big coat to keep you warm."

Then a young bull came to him lashing his tail like mad; but Phadrig threw the coat over him, and in a moment he was quiet as a lamb, and told the boy to come to the mill that night when the moon was up, and he would have good luck. So Phadrig went, but saw nothing except sacks of corn all lying about on the ground, for the men had fallen asleep, and no work was done. Then he lay down also and slept, for he was very tired; and when he woke up early in the morning there was all the meal ground, though certainly the men had not done it, for they still slept. And this happened for three nights, after which Phadrig determined to keep awake and watch.

Now there was an old chest in the mill, and he crept into this to hide, and just looked through the keyhole to see what would happen. And exactly at midnight six little fellows came in, each carrying a sack of corn upon his back; and after them came an old man in tattered rags of clothes, and he bade them turn the mill, and they turned and turned till all was ground. Then Phadrig ran to tell his father, and the miller determined to watch the next night with his son, and both together saw the same thing happen.

"Now," said the farmer, "I see it is the Phouka's work, and let him work if it pleases him, for the men are idle and lazy and only sleep. So I'll pack the whole set off tomorrow, and leave the grinding of the corn to this excellent old Phouka."

After this the farmer grew so rich that there was no end to his money, for he had no men to pay, and all his corn was ground without his spending a penny. Of course the people wondered much over his riches, but he never told them about the Phouka, or their curiosity would have spoiled the luck.

Now Phadrig went often to the mill and hid in the chest that he might watch the fairies at work; but he had great pity for the poor old Phouka in his tattered clothes, who yet directed everything and had hard work of it sometimes keeping the little Phoukas in order. So Phadrig, out of love and gratitude, bought a fine suit of cloth and silk and laid it one night on the floor of the mill just where the old Phouka always stood to give his orders to the little men, and then he crept into the chest to watch.

"How is this?" said the Phouka when he saw the clothes. "Are these for me? I shall be turned into a fine gentleman."

And he put them on, and then began to walk up and down admiring himself.

But suddenly he remembered the corn and went to grind as usual, then stopped and cried out, "No, no. No more work for me. Fine gentlemen don't grind corn. I'll go out and see a little of the world and show my fine clothes."

And he kicked away the old rags into a corner, and went out.

No corn was ground that night, nor the next, nor the next; all the little Phoukas ran away, and not a sound was heard in the mill.

Then Phadrig grew very sorry for the loss of his old friend, and used to go out into the fields and call out, "Phouka, Phouka! come back to me. Let me see your face."

But the old Phouka never came back, and all his life long Phadrig never looked on the face of his friend again.

However, the farmer had made so much money that he wanted no more help; and he sold the mill, and reared up Phadrig to be a great scholar and a gentleman, who had his own house and land and servants. And in time he married a beautiful lady, so beautiful that the people said she must be daughter to the king of the fairies.

A strange thing happened at the wedding, for when they all stood up to drink the bride's health, Phadrig saw beside him a golden cup filled with wine. And no one knew how the golden cup had come to his hand; but Phadrig guessed it was the Phouka's gift, and he drank the wine without fear and made his bride drink also. And ever after their lives were happy and prosperous, and the golden cup was kept as a treasure in the family, and the descendants of Phadrig have it in their possession to this day.




The Fairy Friar

Spain

Once upon a time there were three little brothers, who supported themselves by kneading a bushel of dough every night. One morning when they got up early as usual, and went to perform their daily task, they were surprised to find the work done for them, and the loaves all ready to put into the oven. And this happened for several days in succession.

Wishing to find out who it was that did them such a service, they hid themselves one night and watched. They beheld a very little fairy, dressed like a friar, but with his clothes all old and ragged. So they made a new suit of clothes for him and left it in the kitchen.

When the fairy came and saw the new garments placed there for him, he went off with them, singing:

The little friar, when his clothes are new,
Does not want kneading or baking to do;
and never came back any more.

This proves, my dear children, that there are many who, like the little friar, are compliant and useful until they receive a benefit, but that when that is once received, they do not return to repay the person whom they are indebted to for it.




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Revised July 8, 2018.