The Headless Dwarfs

: The Violet Fairy Book

There was once a minister who spent his whole time in trying to

find a servant who would undertake to ring the church bells at

midnight, in addition to all his other duties.

Of course it was not everyone who cared to get up in the middle

of the night, when he had been working hard all day; still, a

good many had agreed to do it. But the strange thing was that no

sooner had the servant set forth to perfor
his task than he

disappeared, as if the earth had swallowed him up. No bells were

rung, and no ringer ever came back. The minister did his best to

keep the matter secret, but it leaked out for all that, and the

end of it was that no one would enter his service. Indeed, there

were even those who whispered that the minister himself had

murdered the missing men!

It was to no purpose that Sunday after Sunday the minister gave

out from his pulpit that double wages would be paid to anyone

that would fulfil the sacred duty of ringing the bells of the

church. No one took the slightest notice of any offer he might

make, and the poor man was in despair, when one day, as he was

standing at his house door, a youth known in the village as

Clever Hans came up to him. 'I am tired of living with a miser

who will not give me enough to eat and drink,' said he, 'and I am

ready to do all you want.' 'Very good, my son,' replied the

minister, 'you shall have the chance of proving your courage this

very night. To-morrow we will settle what your wages are to be.'

Hans was quite content with this proposal, and went straight into

the kitchen to begin his work, not knowing that his new master

was quite as stingy as his old one. In the hope that his

presence might be a restraint upon them, the minister used to sit

at the table during his servants' meals, and would exhort them to

drink much and often, thinking that they would not be able to eat

as well, and beef was dearer than beer. But in Hans he had met

his match, and the minister soon found to his cost that in his

case at any rate a full cup did not mean an empty plate.

About an hour before midnight, Hans entered the church and locked

the door behind him, but what was his surprise when, in place of

the darkness and silence he expected, he found the church

brilliantly lighted, and a crowd of people sitting round a table

playing cards. Hans felt no fear at this strange sight, or was

prudent enough to hide it if he did, and, going up to the table,

sat down amongst the players. One of them looked up and asked,

'My friend, what are you doing here?' and Hans gazed at him for a

moment, then laughed and answered, 'Well, if anybody has a right

to put that question, it is I! And if I do not put it, it will

certainly be wiser for you not to do so!'

Then he picked up some cards, and played with the unknown men as

if he had known them all his life. The luck was on his side, and

soon the money of the other gamblers found its way from their

pockets into his. On the stroke of midnight the cock crew, and

in an instant lights, table, cards, and people all had vanished,

and Hans was left alone.

He groped about for some time, till he found the staircase in the

tower, and then began to feel his way up the steps.

On the first landing a glimmer of light came through a slit in

the wall, and he saw a tiny man sitting there, without a head.

'Ho! ho! my little fellow, what are you doing there?' asked

Hans, and, without waiting for an answer, gave him a kick which

sent him flying down the stairs. Then he climbed higher still,

and finding as he went dumb watchers sitting on every landing,

treated them as he had done the first.

At last he reached the top, and as he paused for a moment to look

round him he saw another headless man cowering in the very bell

itself, waiting till Hans should seize the bell-pull in order to

strike him a blow with the clapper, which would soon have made an

end of him.

'Stop, my little friend!' cried Hans. 'That is not part of the

bargain! Perhaps you saw how your comrades walked down stairs,

and you are going after them. But as you are in the highest

place you shall make a more dignified exit, and follow them

through the window!'

With these words he began to climb the ladder, in order to take

the little man from the bell and carry out his threat.

At this the dwarf cried out imploringly, 'Oh, brother! spare my

life, and I promise that neither I nor my comrades will ever

trouble you any more. I am small and weak, but who knows whether

some day I shall not be able to reward you.'

'You wretched little shrimp,' replied Hans, 'a great deal of good

your gratitude is likely to do me! But as I happen to be feeling

in a cheerful mood to-night I will let you have your life. But

take care how you come across me again, or you may not escape so


The headless man thanked him humbly, slid hastily down the bell

rope, and ran down the steps of the tower as if he had left a

fire behind him. Then Hans began to ring lustily.

When the minister heard the sound of the midnight bells he

wondered greatly, but rejoiced that he had at last found some one

to whom he could trust this duty. Hans rang the bells for some

time, then went to the hay-loft, and fell fast asleep.

Now it was the custom of the minister to get up very early, and

to go round to make sure that the men were all at their work.

This morning everyone was in his place except Hans, and no one

knew anything about him. Nine o'clock came, and no Hans, but

when eleven struck the minister began to fear that he had

vanished like the ringers who had gone before him. When,

however, the servants all gathered round the table for dinner,

Hans at last made his appearance stretching himself and yawning.

'Where have you been all this time?' asked the minister.

'Asleep,' said Hans.

'Asleep!' exclaimed the minister in astonishment. 'You don't

mean to tell me that you can go on sleeping till mid-day?'

'That is exactly what I do mean,' replied Hans. 'If one works in

the night one must sleep in the day, just as if one works in the

day one sleeps in the night. If you can find somebody else to

ring the bells at midnight I am ready to begin work at dawn; but

if you want me to ring them I must go on sleeping till noon at

the very earliest.'

The minister tried to argue the point with him, but at length the

following agreement was come to. Hans was to give up the

ringing, and was to work like the rest from sunrise to sunset,

with the exception of an hour after breakfast and an hour after

dinner, when he might go to sleep. 'But, of course,' added the

minister carelessly, 'it may happen now and then, especially in

winter, when the days are short, that you will have to work a

little longer, to get something finished.'

'Not at all!' answered Hans. 'Unless I were to leave off work

earlier in summer, I will not do a stroke more than I have

promised, and that is from dawn to dark; so you know what you

have to expect.'

A few weeks later the minister was asked to attend a christening

in the neighbouring town. He bade Hans come with him, but, as

the town was only a few hours' ride from where he lived, the

minister was much surprised to see Hans come forth laden with a

bag containing food.

'What are you taking that for?' asked the minister. 'We shall be

there before dark.'

'Who knows?' replied Hans. 'Many things may happen to delay our

journey, and I need not remind you of our contract that the

moment the sun sets I cease to be your servant. If we don't

reach the town while it is still daylight I shall leave you to

shift for yourself.'

The minister thought he was joking, and made no further remark.

But when they had left the village behind them, and had ridden a

few miles, they found that snow had fallen during the night, and

had been blown by the wind into drifts. This hindered their

progress, and by the time they had entered the thick wood which

lay between them and their destination the sun was already

touching the tops of the trees. The horses ploughed their way

slowly through the deep soft snow and as they went Hans kept

turning to look at the sun, which lay at their backs.

'Is there anything behind you?' asked the minister. 'Or what is

it you are always turning round for?'

'I turn round because I have no eyes in the back of my neck,'

said Hans.

'Cease talking nonsense,' replied the minister, 'and give all

your mind to getting us to the town before nightfall.'

Hans did not answer, but rode on steadily, though every now and

then he cast a glance over his shoulder.

When they arrived in the middle of the wood the sun sank

altogether. Then Hans reined up his horse, took his knapsack,

and jumped out of the sledge.

'What are you doing? Are you mad?' asked the minister, but

Hans answered quietly, 'The sun is set and my work is over, and I

am going to camp here for the night.'

In vain the master prayed and threatened, and promised Hans a

large reward if he would only drive him on. The young man was

not to be moved.

'Are you not ashamed to urge me to break my word?' said he. 'If

you want to reach the town to-night you must go alone. The hour

of my freedom has struck, and I cannot go with you.'

'My good Hans,' entreated the minister, 'I really ought not to

leave you here. Consider what danger you would be in! Yonder,

as you see, a gallows is set up, and two evil-doers are hanging

on it. You could not possibly sleep with such ghastly


'Why not?' asked Hans. 'Those gallows birds hang high in the

air, and my camp will be on the ground; we shall have nothing to

do with each other.' As he spoke, he turned his back on the

minister, and went his way.

There was no help for it, and the minister had to push on by

himself, if he expected to arrive in time for the christening.

His friends were much surprised to see him drive up without a

coachman, and thought some accident had happened. But when he

told them of his conversation with Hans they did not know which

was the most foolish, master or man.

It would have mattered little to Hans had he known what they were

saying or thinking of him. He satisfied his hunger with the food

he had in his knapsack, lit his pipe, pitched his tent under the

boughs of a tree, wrapped himself in his furs, and went sound

asleep. After some hours, he was awakened by a sudden noise, and

sat up and looked about him. The moon was shining brightly above

his head, and close by stood two headless dwarfs, talking

angrily. At the sight of Hans the little dwarfs cried out:

'It is he! It is he!' and one of them stepping nearer

exclaimed, 'Ah, my old friend! it is a lucky chance that has

brought us here. My bones still ache from my fall down the steps

of the tower. I dare say you have not forgotten that night! Now

it is the turn of your bones. Hi! comrades, make haste! make


Like a swarm of midges, a host of tiny headless creatures seemed

to spring straight out of the ground, and every one was armed

with a club. Although they were so small, yet there were such

numbers of them and they struck so hard that even a strong man

could do nothing against them. Hans thought his last hour was

come, when just as the fight was at the hottest another little

dwarf arrived on the scene.

'Hold, comrades!' he shouted, turning to the attacking party.

'This man once did me a service, and I am his debtor. When I was

in his power he granted me my life. And even if he did throw you

downstairs, well, a warm bath soon cured your bruises, so you

must just forgive him and go quietly home.'

The headless dwarfs listened to his words and disappeared as

suddenly as they had come. As soon as Hans recovered himself a

little he looked at his rescuer, and saw he was the dwarf he had

found seated in the church bell.

'Ah!' said the dwarf, seating himself quietly under the tree.

'You laughed at me when I told you that some day I might do you a

good turn. Now you see I was right, and perhaps you will learn

for the future not to despise any creature, however small.'

'I thank you from my heart,' answered Hans. 'My bones are still

sore from their blows, and had it not been for you I should

indeed have fared badly.'

'I have almost paid my debt,' went on the little man, 'but as you

have suffered already, I will do more, and give you a piece of

information. You need not remain any longer in the service of

that stingy minister, but when you get home to-morrow go at once

to the north corner of the church, and there you will find a

large stone built into the wall, but not cemented like the rest.

The day after to-morrow the moon is full, and at midnight you

must go to the spot and get the stone out of the wall with a

pickaxe. Under the stone lies a great treasure, which has been

hidden there in time of war. Besides church plate, you will find

bags of money, which have been lying in this place for over a

hundred years, and no one knows to whom it all belongs. A third

of this money you must give to the poor, but the rest you may

keep for yourself.' As he finished, the cocks in the village

crowed, and the little man was nowhere to be seen. Hans found

that his limbs no longer pained him, and lay for some time

thinking of the hidden treasure. Towards morning he fell asleep.

The sun was high in the heavens when his master returned from the


'Hans,' said he, 'what a fool you were not to come with me

yesterday! I was well feasted and entertained, and I have money

in my pocket into the bargain,' he went on, rattling some coins

while he spoke, to make Hans understand how much he had lost.

'Ah, sir,' replied Hans calmly, 'in order to have gained so much

money you must have lain awake all night, but I have earned a

hundred times that amount while I was sleeping soundly.'

'How did you manage that?' asked the minister eagerly, but Hans

answered, 'It is only fools who boast of their farthings; wise

men take care to hide their crowns.'

They drove home, and Hans neglected none of his duties, but put

up the horses and gave them their food before going to the church

corner, where he found the loose stone, exactly in the place

described by the dwarf. Then he returned to his work.

The first night of the full moon, when the whole village was

asleep, he stole out, armed with a pickaxe, and with much

difficulty succeeded in dislodging the stone from its place.

Sure enough, there was the hole, and in the hole lay the

treasure, exactly as the little man had said.

The following Sunday he handed over the third part to the village

poor, and informed the minister that he wished to break his bond

of service. As, however, he did not claim any wages, the

minister made no objections, but allowed him to do as he wished.

So Hans went his way, bought himself a large house, and married a

young wife, and lived happily and prosperously to the end of his


[Ehstnische Marchen.]