The Underground Workers
: The Violet Fairy Book
On a bitter night somewhere between Christmas and the New Year, a
man set out to walk to the neighbouring village. It was not many
miles off, but the snow was so thick that there were no roads, or
walls, or hedges left to guide him, and very soon he lost his way
altogether, and was glad to get shelter from the wind behind a
thick juniper tree. Here he resolved to spend the night,
thinking that when the sun rose he wo
ld be able to see his path
So he tucked his legs snugly under him like a hedgehog, rolled
himself up in his sheepskin, and went to sleep. How long he
slept, I cannot tell you, but after awhile he became aware that
some one was gently shaking him, while a stranger whispered, 'My
good man, get up! If you lie there any more, you will be buried
in the snow, and no one will ever know what became of you.'
The sleeper slowly raised his head from his furs, and opened his
heavy eyes. Near him stood a long thin man, holding in his hand
a young fir tree taller than himself. 'Come with me,' said the
man, 'a little way off we have made a large fire, and you will
rest far better there than out upon this moor.' The sleeper did
not wait to be asked twice, but rose at once and followed the
stranger. The snow was falling so fast that he could not see
three steps in front of him, till the stranger waved his staff,
when the drifts parted before them. Very soon they reached a
wood, and saw the friendly glow of a fire.
'What is your name?' asked the stranger, suddenly turning round.
'I am called Hans, the son of Long Hans,' said the peasant.
In front of the fire three men were sitting clothed in white,
just as if it was summer, and for about thirty feet all round
winter had been banished. The moss was dry and the plants green,
while the grass seemed all alive with the hum of bees and
cockchafers. But above the noise the son of Long Hans could hear
the whistling of the wind and the crackling of the branches as
they fell beneath the weight of the snow.
'Well! you son of Long Hans, isn't this more comfortable than
your juniper bush?' laughed the stranger, and for answer Hans
replied he could not thank his friend enough for having brought
him here, and, throwing off his sheepskin, rolled it up as a
pillow. Then, after a hot drink which warmed both their hearts,
they lay down on the ground. The stranger talked for a little to
the other men in a language Hans did not understand, and after
listening for a short time he once more fell asleep.
When he awoke, neither wood nor fire was to be seen, and he did
not know where he was. He rubbed his eyes, and began to recall
the events of the night, thinking he must have been dreaming; but
for all that, he could not make out how he came to be in this
Suddenly a loud noise struck on his ear, and he felt the earth
tremble beneath his feet. Hans listened for a moment, then
resolved to go towards the place where the sound came from,
hoping he might come across some human being. He found himself
at length at the mouth of a rocky cave in which a fire seemed
burning. He entered, and saw a huge forge, and a crowd of men in
front of it, blowing bellows and wielding hammers, and to each
anvil were seven men, and a set of more comical smiths could not
be found if you searched all the world through! Their heads were
bigger than their little bodies, and their hammers twice the size
of themselves, but the strongest men on earth could not have
handled their iron clubs more stoutly or given lustier blows.
The little blacksmiths were clad in leather aprons, which covered
them from their necks to their feet in front, and left their
backs naked. On a high stool against the wall sat the man with
the pinewood staff, watching sharply the way the little fellows
did their work, and near him stood a large can, from which every
now and then the workers would come and take a drink. The master
no longer wore the white garments of the day before, but a black
jerkin, held in its place by a leathern girdle with huge clasps.
From time to time he would give his workmen a sign with his
staff, for it was useless to speak amid such a noise.
If any of them had noticed that there was a stranger present they
took no heed of him, but went on with what they were doing.
After some hours' hard labour came the time for rest, and they
all flung their hammers to the ground and trooped out of the
Then the master got down from his seat and said to Hans:
'I saw you come in, but the work was pressing, and I could not
stop to speak to you. To-day you must be my guest, and I will
show you something of the way in which I live. Wait here for a
moment, while I lay aside these dirty clothes.' With these words
he unlocked a door in the cave, and bade Hans pass in before him.
Oh, what riches and treasures met Hans' astonished eyes! Gold
and silver bars lay piled on the floor, and glittered so that you
could not look at them! Hans thought he would count them for
fun, and had already reached the five hundred and seventieth when
his host returned and cried, laughing:
'Do not try to count them, it would take too long; choose some of
the bars from the heap, as I should like to make you a present of
Hans did not wait to be asked twice, and stooped to pick up a bar
of gold, but though he put forth all his strength he could not
even move it with both hands, still less lift it off the ground.
'Why, you have no more power than a flea,' laughed the host; 'you
will have to content yourself with feasting your eyes upon them!'
So he bade Hans follow him through other rooms, till they entered
one bigger than a church, filled, like the rest, with gold and
silver. Hans wondered to see these vast riches, which might have
bought all the kingdoms of the world, and lay buried, useless, he
thought, to anyone.
'What is the reason,' he asked of his guide, 'that you gather up
these treasures here, where they can do good to nobody? If they
fell into the hands of men, everyone would be rich, and none need
work or suffer hunger.'
'And it is exactly for that reason,' answered he, 'that I must
keep these riches out of their way. The whole world would sink
to idleness if men were not forced to earn their daily bread. It
is only through work and care that man can ever hope to be good
Hans stared at these words, and at last he begged that his host
would tell him what use it was to anybody that this gold and
silver should lie mouldering there, and the owner of it be
continually trying to increase his treasure, which already
overflowed his store rooms.
'I am not really a man,' replied his guide, 'though I have the
outward form of one, but one of those beings to whom is given the
care of the world. It is my task and that of my workmen to
prepare under the earth the gold and silver, a small portion of
which finds its way every year to the upper world, but only just
enough to help them carry on their business. To none comes
wealth without trouble: we must first dig out the gold and mix
the grains with earth, clay, and sand. Then, after long and hard
seeking, it will be found in this state, by those who have good
luck or much patience. But, my friend, the hour of dinner is at
hand. If you wish to remain in this place, and feast your eyes
on this gold, then stay till I call you.'
In his absence Hans wandered from one treasure chamber to
another, sometimes trying to break off a little lump of gold, but
never able to do it. After awhile his host came back, but so
changed that Hans could not believe it was really he. His silken
clothes were of the brightest flame colour, richly trimmed with
gold fringes and lace; a golden girdle was round his waist, while
his head was encircled with a crown of gold, and precious stones
twinkled about him like stars in a winter's night, and in place
of his wooden stick he held a finely worked golden staff.
The lord of all this treasure locked the doors and put the keys
in his pocket, then led Hans into another room, where dinner was
laid for them. Table and seats were all of silver, while the
dishes and plates were of solid gold. Directly they sat down, a
dozen little servants appeared to wait on them, which they did so
cleverly and so quickly that Hans could hardly believe they had
no wings. As they did not reach as high as the table, they were
often obliged to jump and hop right on to the top to get at the
dishes. Everything was new to Hans, and though he was rather
bewildered he enjoyed himself very much, especially when the man
with the golden crown began to tell him many things he had never
heard of before.
'Between Christmas and the New Year,' said he, 'I often amuse
myself by wandering about the earth watching the doings of men
and learning something about them. But as far as I have seen and
heard I cannot speak well of them. The greater part of them are
always quarrelling and complaining of each other's faults, while
nobody thinks of his own.'
Hans tried to deny the truth of these words, but he could not do
it, and sat silent, hardly listening to what his friend was
saying. Then he went to sleep in his chair, and knew nothing of
what was happening.
Wonderful dreams came to him during his sleep, where the bars of
gold continually hovered before his eyes. He felt stronger than
he had ever felt during his waking moments, and lifted two bars
quite easily on to his back. He did this so often that at length
his strength seemed exhausted, and he sank almost breathless on
the ground. Then he heard the sound of cheerful voices, and the
song of the blacksmiths as they blew their bellows--he even felt
as if he saw the sparks flashing before his eyes. Stretching
himself, he awoke slowly, and here he was in the green forest,
and instead of the glow of the fire in the underworld the sun was
streaming on him, and he sat up wondering why he felt so strange.
At length his memory came back to him, and as he called to mind
all the wonderful things he had seen he tried in vain to make
them agree with those that happen every day. After thinking it
over till he was nearly mad, he tried at last to believe that one
night between Christmas and the New Year he had met a stranger in
the forest, and had slept all night in his company before a big
fire; the next day they had dined together, and had drunk a great
deal more than was good for them--in short, he had spent two
whole days revelling with another man. But here, with the full
tide of summer around him, he could hardly accept his own
explanation, and felt that he must have been the plaything or
sport of some magician.
Near him, in the full sunlight, were the traces of a dead fire,
and when he drew close to it he saw that what he had taken for
ashes was really fine silver dust, and that the half burnt
firewood was made of gold.
Oh, how lucky Hans thought himself; but where should he get a
sack to carry his treasure home before anyone else found it?
But necessity is the mother of invention: Hans threw off his fur
coat, gathered up the silver ashes so carefully in it that none
remained behind, laid the gold sticks on top, and tied up the bag
thus made with his girdle, so that nothing should fall out. The
load was not, in point of fact, very heavy, although it seemed so
to his imagination, and he moved slowly along till he found a
safe hiding-place for it.
In this way Hans suddenly became rich--rich enough to buy a
property of his own. But being a prudent man, he finally decided
that it would be best for him to leave his old neighbourhood and
look for a home in a distant part of the country, where nobody
knew anything about him. It did not take him long to find what
he wanted, and after he had paid for it there was plenty of money
left over. When he was settled, he married a pretty girl who
lived near by, and had some children, to whom on his death-bed he
told the story of the lord of the underworld, and how he had made