Three miners once worked the Kutten Mine in Bohemia. They toiled faithfully for many long years, earning honest bread for their wives and children. Each morning when they left home for the mine they took three things with them: their lamps, enough oil for one day, and their day's bread. They knew of the dangers of the mine, yet went to work diligently.
One day, just as they were finishing their work, the whole face of the mountain caved in and buried the entrance to the mine. Realising they were trapped, they exclaimed: "This is it! We're done for!"
They prepared to die. But their lamps kept burning, and the small piece of bread that they ate daily, was never totally exhausted. Time went on, they could see, for their beards grew very long. In the meantime their wives, were convinced their husbands were dead, and considered remarrying.
About that time one of the three trapped miners wished from the bottom of his heart. He said, "If I could only see the light of day once more, I would die happily."
The second miner said, "If I could only sit with my wife once more at my table and eat with her, I would happily die!"
And the third one said, "Oh, if I could only live one more year peacefully and happily with my wife, I would be happy to die."
No sooner had they uttered this than the mountain thundered and split asunder. The first miner ran to where the mountain had opened, looked up and saw the blue sky again. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the light of day, he sank to the ground and was dead.
Then the mountain gave another roar and opened wider. The other two miners began digging stairs into the side of the mountain, and could crawl out at last.
They went in great haste to their village. But when they came home, their wives did not recognize them. "Our husbands have been dead for seven years, buried in the Kutten Mine!" they said.
The second miner then said to his wife, "I am your husband." But she did not believe him because his long beard made him look quite different than she remembered. He then said, "Fetch me the razor high in the wall cabinet, and bring me a piece of soap." Then he shaved off his beard and washed and combed his hair. When he had finished, his wife recognised her husband. She was overjoyed and brought food and drink to the table, and they sat down together and enjoyed their meal. The man ate his fill. But as he was swallowing the last bit of bread, he fell over dead.
The third miner lived a whole year in peace and joy with his wife. But one year to the hour and day that he had crawled from the mine, he and his wife both sank to the floor dead.
[No. 1 retold]
❋ Be careful about what you wish for - it may be too little.
There were once two miners who always worked as a team. One day when they came to the shaft that they worked in, they noticed that they lacked lamp oil to last them the whole day in the mine.
"What can we do?" they asked one another. "If we run out of oil deep in the mine, we'll be in serious trouble in the dangerous shaft. But if we run home for more oil, the foreman will enjoy punishing us, for he doesn't like us."
As they stood there wondering what to do, they saw a light coming toward them from deep down in the shaft. It was a tall figure, crouched over, who made his way up the shaft toward them. He wore a large hood and carried a large miner's lamp in his hand.
The two men stood frozen with fear until he straightened up and said, "Have no fear. I won't harm you, but do you good." He then poured oil from his lamp into theirs.
He grabbed their tools and began to work the mine. In one hour he had mined more ore than they could have done in a week. Then he said, "Tell no one that you have seen me here," and disappeared.
However, the oil he had poured into their lamps, remained and never diminished. This gave the two men quite an advantage in their work. One Saturday night, however, the two of them were drinking with their friends in the tavern and having a good time, and told about the figure and the oil. Monday morning, as they prepared for work, they saw there was no more oil in their lamps. From then on they had to fill up their lamps every day, like other miners.
[No. 3 retold]
At Christmastime Mother Holla begins to roam the countryside. At this time all village maidens wind new flax or tow onto the distaffs on their spinning wheels and let them stand over night. Mother Holla rejoices when she sees such things, and exclaims: "Many good years will be!"
She continues her nightly wanderings until six days into the New Year, when she must return to her home in Horsel Mountain. If at this time she should find a distaff with flax on it she becomes angry, saying: "Bad years will be!"
For she expects all girls to keep the spinning tidy and carefully remove the flax from their distaffs after a day's work. Best of all is when they manage to spin all the flax from the distaff before their day's work is done.
[No. 5 retold]
The gnomes are only about twenty-five centimetres tall. They look like old men with long beards, dress like miners and carry lanterns, picks, and hammers, and are also called the Little People. They never harm miners. And even when they occasionally throw rocks, it's rare that anyone gets hurt – unless the little people have been angered by cursing and swearing. They ever like to appear in shafts rich in ore or where the prospects for making a strike are good. Because of this the miners are not afraid of gnomes. Rather, they believe it is a good omen when they appear. Miners get happier and work harder on seeing them.
The little creatures like to roam through mine chambers and shafts and tease the miners. Gnomes seem to work very hard, but they never do anything at all. Sometimes miners think that gnomes are tunneling out a new shaft or a vein; at other times gnomes seem to be filling their buckets with ore or working the lift as though they want to send something to the surface. But they are only teasing and distracting the miners. Now and then they will also call out from one of the chambers, but when one goes to investigate, no one is there. No one.
[No. 37 abridged.]
High in the mountains of the Black Forest, not far from Baden, lies a deep, deep lake. If one casts stones into the lake, a great storm will arise with gale-force winds and hail. And all stones cast into these depths are carefully carried back to shore by the mermen who live there.
Once some cowherds were tending their cattle on the shores when a brown bull came out of the lake and began to graze with the other cattle. Then a man came out of the lake to drive the bull into the water. When it did not obey, he began cursing at it till it went back into the lake with him.
Late one evening a dwarf came to a farm not far from there and asked the farmer for lodgings for the night. The farmer did not have enough beds, so he offered the dwarf the window seat in his living room, or the hayrick in the barn. But the dwarf only asked to be allowed to sleep in the basin where hemp was being soaked.
"It's all right with me," answered the farmer.
The dwarf then dove into the basin and went to rest as if he were lying in hay and warming himself. Early next morning he came out of the water with his clothes completely dry. The farmer was amazed to see this.
The dwarf soon became trusting of the farmer, and told him that he was a merman who had lost his wife. He meant to look for her in Lake Mummel, and asked for directions so that he could find the lake. On the way to the lake the dwarf recounted to the farmer how he had sought his lost wife in many lakes already but had not found her.
At the shores of Lake Mummel, the dwarf asked the farmer to wait until he returned or sent him a signal. After waiting for some hours the farmers saw a number of shoes springing from the water of the lake and into the air, and assumed that this was his signal.
[From No. 59 retold]
In some villages nearly every farm has a kobold who performs all kinds of domestic chores. He carries water into the kitchen, chops wood, fetches beer from the cellar, cooks, brushes the horses in the stable, clears the manure out of the stalls and the like. When a kobold lives on the farm, the cattle increase in number and the whole farm is successful and prospers. Even today, when a maidservant succeeds in her work very well, a proverb is recited: "She has a kobold." But whoever vexes the kobold had best take care!
If a cook has accepted a kobold as a secret helper, she must put a dish full of good food in a chosen place every day at the same time and then go back to her chores. If she does so, then she can be lazy, go to bed early, and still find that all her work has been done for her by early morning. But if she once forgets to put out the food, then she must not only do all the work herself in the future, she also finds she has got a most unlucky hand - it gets burned in hot water, drops pitchers and dishes, and spills food. Thus, she will constantly be reprimanded by her employers. When this happens, the kobold is often heard snickering and giggling.
If the servants of the house should change, the kobold will remain. But the leaving maidservant must recommend him to the new servant and make sure that the new servant will continue to set out his food. If the new servant will not, she will have constant misfortune until the day she decides to go elsewhere.
Sometimes the maidservant is curious to see her little helper. If she persists, the spirit will finally tell where she will be able to see him. He also instructs her to bring a bucket of cold water with her, for she risks being so frightened by the sight of him that she faints. Then the kobold jumps up and dumps the bucket of cold water over her so she comes to again.
[No. 72, all retold]
A farmer had a kobold who was always up to mischief. And no matter what the farmer did, he could not get rid of him. At last the farmer was advised to burn down the barn, since the kobold had his home there. First, the farmer carted all the straw out of the barn. Then, after carrying out the last load, he locked the spirit inside and set the barn afire.
When the whole barn was burning, the farmer glanced around - and here was the kobold sitting on the back of the cart, saying again and again,
"It's about time we got out of there!
The farmer understood that he had been ill advised, returned to the house and could not get rid of his kobold.
[No. 73 retold]