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The Storm and the Reckoning

Once a terrible storm was raging in the valley of Matsch. The flood streamed down the heights and threatened to overflow the banks of the three lakes high in the mountains and work havoc. The wind from the glacier howled [16] dismally over the mountainsides.

The people closed their doors and shutters against the blast and listened to the roar of the wind, trembling with the thought that every moment there might come a huge flood and carry them all away in its torrents.

In the solidest and most important house of the straggling village in the valley the family of the richest man of the place was gathered. They trusted the flood could not get them and sang and talked with one another to ignore the ominous sounds from the outside.

Suddenly they heard a doleful voice between the angry gusts of wind. Someone outside prayed piteously for help. One of the party opened the casement and looked out, and then quickly closed it again. He came back into the room with a laugh to tell he had seen a ludicrous figure, a little manikin with a beard big enough for a full-grown man. His clothes were drenched with the rain. Over his shoulder was slung a tiny bundle tied in a handkerchief, but the bundle all the same seemed to bow him down with its weight.

It was a little Norg in trouble. The rich people inside laughed at the description. After a while, his wails started to irritate them more than the sound of the wind. The master of the house got up and shouted to the little Norg to go away, for they would not open their house at this time of the night to such a tiny fellow.

The farmer then banged the window to as closely as possible. For all that, those inside heard very well what the little man said:

The reckoning day
Is not far away.

In German:

"Morgen oder Heut'
Kommt die Zahlzeit.

The Norg begged no more, but tried to pass on his way. He could not get far, though, for the torrents of rain had wiped away the path that led from the rising ground that this house was built on. It was scarcely safe to walk downward in the dark to lower ground that a flood might reach. Loose stones rattled away under his feet, but then he saw a glimmering light from a low hut built into the slope. The hut looked so poor and humble that the Norg felt ashamed to ask anything of those who lived in it. They could scarcely have enough for their own needs, he thought.

When the poor little Norg saw how badly he had fared, he sat down on a stone and wept. He had such a hoarse voice that it sounded more like a wild animal than a man. A compassionate little maid in the lowly hut heard him. She sensed it was a voice of distress and put her head out to ask who was there, and then she saw the little Norg.

"Poor old man!" she cried; "come inside and dry yourself and let me give you something warm."

Before he could answer he heard a weak voice within, "Beware of the wolves, Theresa – remember there are wolves in our valley."

"Have no fear, mother dear," answered the maiden, "this is no wolf, but a very distressed little old man. He does not look as if he could harm anyone; and besides we are now in June – and the wolves don't threaten us in the summer." With that she opened the door and let in the little man.

By the time she had dried his clothes and fed him with some warm soup, the worst of the storm had abated and he was able to go on his way. The maiden offered him shelter for the night, but he said he must reach home before midnight, and prepared to leave. Before he left he asked her what there was she most desired.

"That my mother gets well again!" answered Theresa; "I desire nothing more than that!"

The Norg walked to the bedside and sought to make out what was the matter with the ill mother. At last he said: "She shall be cured, but you must come to me tomorrow at midnight to the Nörgelspitz." The girl was astonished at this, and wondered if she could manage to do what he asked of her, but he went on: "You have only to make your way as far as the Wetterkreuz and call three times 'Kruzinegele! Kruzinegele! Kruzinegele!' Then I will see to it that you get helped the rest of the way."

He left, singing:

Tomorrow or today
comes a time for a pay.

The next night Theresa set out bravely on her way and climbed as far as the Wetterkreuz – and it was lucky she did not have to go no farther, for here she sank down quite exhausted. She had not lain there many seconds when she saw a prow of little men just like Kruzinegele, with a litter and torches, who carried her up till they came to a door in the rock, which opened at their approach. This led to a magnificent crystal hall glittering with gold and gems and on a gold throne sat Kruzinegele himself, with his fair daughter by his side. When the litter was brought to the steps of the throne, he came down courteously and renewed his thanks for her hospitality, but she could not find a word to say, in her astonishment at seeing him so changed. Meantime he sent his daughter to fetch the herbs which were to cure the poor mother and gave them to her, telling her how to administer them. "You see," he added:

Sooner or later
you pay the waiter
or run,

and your rich neighbour will find it so too."

Then he told the little men to carry Theresa home. They laid her in the litter and bore her away. She remembered nothing more till she found herself comfortably in bed while the rising sun warmed her cheeks. But many things were much changed. The walls that used to bulge and reek with mildew and damp, were straight and smooth; glass casements replaced the rickety shutters; nice white curtains tempered the sunshine. The scanty and broken furniture was replaced by new.

But what she valued above all, in her hand were the herbs which were to make her mother's healing drink. First she prepared them as she had been told, and by the next day they had restored her mother to health. Joy once more reigned in the cottage, thanks to the Norg.

As other families of the village did, the rich family used to take their cattle on to the mountain pastures to graze for the beginning of the summer season on Midsummer's Day. The rich farmer's grazing ground was just the highest pasture of the Nörgelspitz.

Midsummer and its festivities soon arrived. Picturesque processions of cattle with their cowherds went lowing forth as usual, to enjoy their summer feed. But when the rich farmer came to his family's own slopes up there, with his cows and sheep, the slopes were not emerald green with juicy grass as before, but stony and desolate. For three days the animals wandered about in search of a few blades to browse, but found nothing to eat but ice and snow.

Few of the rich man's animals lived to return. His household could not prosper without pastures to feed animals on. Before many years he had to leave his farm, a ruined man.

Theresa had in the meantime married a thrifty peasant. His good, hard work made him able to buy the abandoned farm of the once so wealthy man. Soon Theresa's husband had supplied the farm with plants that thrived on the soil and live animals. Often a curious grey-bearded little man would drop in at night to share their comfortable meal. Before he left them, he would sing this mirthful couplet:

Sooner or later
decency will cater.

⚶ ⚶ ⚶

Pastures survive those who made them. (Tyrolean Proverb)

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