When we are busy about our work, we do not stop to think who may be watching us, or overhearing our thoughtlessly uttered words. It was thus with Peter Margesin, a blacksmith who lived not far from St. Vigil in the Fanes Alp. He was a typical blacksmith, hugem fat, and with a face so ruddy that it seemed a permanent reflection of the fire that daily roared in his furnace. His was thirsty work, so it is not to be wondered at if he was always ready to out-drink any of the villagers. Sometimes a neighbour, in passing the open door of the smithy where children loved to cluster, would fling the smith a polite greeting, and without pausing in his labours, Margesin used to return a cheery "Good day!"
The blacksmith was also agreeable, and therefore well liked by his fellow villagers, who loved to boast of his skill in fashioning farm implements or shoeing refractory horses. Certainly he was cunning enough to turn his labour to good account among the rich; but just, and even generous, towards the poor.
Now none of us can be perfect in this life, and Margesin had one fault. As he worked, he would call on the devil to observe his labours.
"Now, the devil look at that!" he would cry as he beat out a ploughshare; or "Here come the devil's peep-holes!" as he pierced a horseshoe for its nails.
Peter ought to have known better. He went regularly to Mass, and nearly always said his prayer when the Angelus rang. Still, he had a profane tongue, and like most bad habits, this eventually led him into trouble.
The blacksmith lived near to a wonderful rocky region called the Dolomites. Towering walls of crag rise steeply from the ground, enclosing a great circular space like a theatre. There are no trees on these rocks, and no trickling streams tumble down a stony path among ferns and moss and flowers. The air is without the scent of growing grass and the sound of bird songs.
There is a grandeur about these pinnacles that makes them awe-inspiring. As the hours pass and the sun moves along on its daily journey, so these rocks glow with the changing hues of sunrise and sunset, like giant semiprecious stones. Peter called it the devil's playhouse, little thinking that there might be some truth in his careless words.
One day, when Margesin had made an unusually good job of a ploughshare, he laughed with the pride of a skilled workman, and cried out:
"The devil himself could not have made a better one. If he were here, I'd defy him to his face to do it. After all, we both work with fire!"
"A bashful dog never grows fat," he continued, "so I must praise my own wares," - and he jovially slapped on the back, old Anton, the beggar who had crept into the smithy to doze in its warmth.
As Peter ceased speaking, the day grew overcast. Heavy clouds began to roll over the sky. Long, rumbling peals of thunder filled the air. A terrific thunderclap let loose a boulder that came crashing downwards near the village. It made men and women fear an earthquake was about.
Old Anton stirred for a moment, but did not open his eyes. Had he done so, he would have seen Peter the smith standing in the middle of the floor, his face the colour of a ripe plum. He was too astonished to speak for a while. He was staring at a stranger in the smithy. He was no more than five feet tall. His eyes shone red and yellow like the flames of a furnace. The stranger also had a long arrow-tipped tail that was carefully twisted over his left arm.
Peter came to realise that he was face to face with the devil, and was disturbed at the sight of him. The devil chuckled with mirth at the sight of the astonished smith.
"Peter Margesin," he said, "how many times have you trifled with my name since you began to work in this smithy?"
The smith recovered his wits. "I don't know exactly," he said, and added, "but I think this is the first time you have answered the call."
The devil's eyes flashed. He said: "It is well for you that it is so. Now, Margesin, you have used my name altogether too much. Every time you have called, I have sent an answer, though you might not be aware of it. I have come now to be paid for it."
"If it's smithing you want done," cried Peter, "why, by the devil - " He stopped short as two tongues of fire shot from his visitor's eyes.
"Another added to your list," chuckled the Devil. "Now listen! The imps in charge of the hot iron regions down below lack fancy. During the last fifty years, only two new torture machines have been invented. It won't do! It won't do!"
The devil shook his head almost mournfully, and a shower of sparks darted from his eyes, nearly setting fire to old Anton's greasy cloak.
"Margesin," the devil went on, "you must come back with me and help with the work. For every time you have used my name you owe me one year's service. Now I claim that service."
Peter nodded thoughtfully: "I understand," he said. "No one should say that the smith does not pay his debts. However, I must ask you to allow me to finish the work I have in hand. On Friday in a fortnight, I may be ready."
"Agreed," said the devil. "You will probably have called on me many times before then, and may serve me longer for it. I will come to fetch you myself."
The visitor then unwound his forked tail from his arm and, lashing the ground with it, created a clap of thunder and disappeared in the noise of it, surrounded by clouds that smelled sulphur.
At that moment old Anton awoke and grumbled that the smithy was cold. Peter laughed a lot and tended the fire and started to work again. He had not in mind to fulfil his part of the bargain with the devil, but it might not be an easy task to escape it either.
The days passed, and still he did not know what to do to escape serving the devil in a hot place, He had unwittingly entangled himself in a net through swearing. At last the fatal Friday dawned. Nothing happened until after dinner. Then he caught sight of a small figure - a tiny likeness of the devil himself. The tiny figure was seated on the red coals of the furnace, and shivering. The smith greeted him.
The imp bowed and said:
"My name is Hob. I have been sent to fetch you. The Devil could not come himself, as he was engaged with a newcomer that he was fitting an extra special scold's bridle to. Please hurry up, it is so very cold here."
Margesin answered as politely as could be: "I apologise that my red-hot coals feel terribly cold, but as I informed the devil when he was here a fortnight ago, I cannot leave my work unfinished, so I should complete these horse-shoes."
Hob moaned a little, for he was very cold.
"Well, then," he said at last, "if you must, you must. I'll blow up the fire with the bellows - that ought to help you."
So saying, he seized the bellows and plied them vigorously. The furnace roared, and flames rushed up the chimney.
Peter laid a piece of iron on the coals and with it, unseen by the imp, a little cross that he had fashioned the day before. At once the fire grew dark and sullen. Hob puffed and puffed with the bellows; but the fire faded all the more.
"Puff a little harder, if you please," said the smith, and began to enjoy himself.
The imp worked with such vigour that at last he burst the bellows.
"Dear me!" cried Margesin, "this is unfortunate. I cannot get ready today now. I must get a new pair of bellows and finish this job tomorrow. But I can let you stay overnight in the smithy to save time, although it gets very cold here in the night."
Hob considered a moment. This smithy was cold - ugh! He would instead go back and say truthfully that the smith would be ready next day, although truth was never appreciated by the devil, he figured.
At hell's gate, Hob was greeted by the devil himself. He asked why Hob did not bring the smith with him, listened impatiently to what the imp told, and then yelled with anger.
"No fire will burn if there's a cross in it! Get out of my sight at once!"
Then the devil sent for Nob, a very shrewd little devil. Nob came, trembling.
"Go tomorrow to the smithy of Peter Margesin and bring him here with you. Don't return without him!"
The devil shouted the last words so loudly that they knocked Nob over. Nex morning he started so early that the smithy was barely open when he reached it.
"Good day," said the smith when he saw the imp in the doorway, "so you've come back, then."
"No, I have not come back," he said. "I'm Nob, not Hob, and you have to come with me."
Nob threw out his chest and tried to look fierce - he did not see the twinkle in Peter's eyes.
"Come, come," said Peter, "it was most unfortunate that your friend broke my bellows. You see my work is still unfinished."
He noticed that the imp was still very hot from his speedy travel and said: "Would you mind sitting on the anvil for me? It should help in getting the iron hot without using the bellows."
Nob agreed and perched himself on the anvil, thrusting his feet into the newly lighted fire. In so doing, he had to turn his back on the smith.
The iron on the anvil began to glow. Peter stooped down as though to pick up a hammer, but instead took from a pocket in his leather apron a little bottle of water from a special spring. Carefully he poured it over the anvil, so that the water wetted Nob.
"Ow!" shrieked the imp, as the water touched him and parts of it turned into hissing and hot steam "Ow! What is that?"
He tried to spring off the anvil, but it stuck fast. He kicked, he struggled, but he could not get loose from the anvil. Shrieking and bellowing with terror, he fled from the smithy, with the heavy iron anvil fastened to him. As he neared hell, his shrieks drowned all other noise there. A hundred imps ran to see what had happened and did not refrain from loud and mocking laughter when they saw Nob coming. The devil had just come from making an excellent bargain for the soul of a miser. He was therefore in a fairly good mood when he met Nob at the gate.
"You too!" he shouted. "He got you too, didn't he?" Then the devil too began to laugh at the sight of the imp and the anvil.
Nob rushed away and found Hob in a furnace, where he was nursing a bruise from the day before. They comforted each other.
The only thing left was for the devil himself to fetch the smith and make him pay for his pranks. Early on Monday morning the devil set off.
That morning a terrific thunderstorm broke over the village, striking terror into the hearts of all the inhabitants, except Peter Margesin, who was very busy. He half expected a visit from the devil himself, so the thunderstorm did not take him by surprise. When the devil arrival, the smith had in his hand a huge hammer, but he did not know what to do to outwit the visitor from hell this time.
He turned and bowed while seeming unruffled. The devil shouted and flung out his tail so that it caught Peter round the waist. The devil lifted him high in the air. Before the smith could draw one breath, he and the devil were out of the smithy, flying through the sky. Margesin did not know in the least what was going to happen to him; but he could still feel that he grasped in his hand the great hammer - a reminder of the good old earth that he was so rapidly leaving behind.
The tail pressed tightly round him, and Peter kicked and struggled, but in vain. He had been to church the day before, on Sunday, and had vowed five pounds of pure wax to St. Florian if he came safely through this.
At last the devil set him on his feet again. The two now stood on a broad road leading to the main gate of the regions of hell. There seemed to be no way for the smith to escape, so the devil led the way down the road.
Hob and Nob, the two imps he had sent to get the smith earlier, were standing in the gateway to hell when they saw the devil and the smith coming. They could not help it; they began to tremble as they recalled the sufferings the devil and the smith and brought on them, each in his own way.
The smith recognised them and his anvil stuck to of one of them, and noticed how afraid the two imps were, and suddenly looked very satisfied. Feeling in the pocket of his leathern apron, Peter brought out a little bottle. It looked like the one with spring water in it. He shook the bottle gleefully as he approached them.
The devil had by this time passed through the gates, unaware of what was going on behind his back. Hob and Nob shrieked with terror as the smith, drew nearer to them and uncorked the bottle. With one frantic effort, they shut the gates with a bang while the smith was outside.
The devil heard the bang and shrieks. He grew so angry that the air became too hot for Peter the smith, and he fled. How he came home again he never knew, but suddenly, tired and weary, he stood at the door of the smithy. In his hand was a sledgehammer whose head was somewhat melted.
Some people are unkind enough to say that Peter got drunk one night and dreamed all this. But then, what shall we say about the new anvil he bought and his melted sledgehammer head?
Where there is hair, there is love. (Proverb from Tyrol)