Fiction > Harvard Classics > Hans Christian Andersen > Tales
Hans Christian Andersen. (1805–1875)  Tales.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
The Elfin Mound
SEVERAL large lizards were running quickly into the cleft of an old tree; they could understand each other perfectly, for they all spoke the lizard language.  1
  “What a noise there is in the old Elfin mound!” said one of the Lizards. “What a rumbling and uproar! For two nights I have not been able to close my eyes, and might just as well have had a toothache, for then I certainly should not have slept.”  2
  “There is a something going on there,” said the other Lizard. “They let the mound stand on four red poles till the crowing of the cock, to have it thoroughly aired; and the Elfin damsels have learnt new dances, in which there is some stamping. A something is going on, I’m sure.”  3
  “Yes; I have spoken to an earth-worm of my acquaintance,” said the third Lizard. “The Earth-worm came direct from the mound, where day and night he had been rummaging about in the ground. He had heard a good deal; for he can see nothing, poor wretch, but eavesdropping and listening he understands to perfection. Visitors are expected at the Elfin mound; visitors of rank, but who they were, the Earth-worm either would not or could not say. All the Jacks-o’-the-lantern have been ordered to prepare a procession by torch-light; and all the silver and gold, of which there is plenty in the Elfin mound, will be polished and laid in the moonshine.”  4
  “But who can the strangers be?” said all the Lizards. “What can be going on? Listen! what a humming and buzzing!”  5
  At the same instant the Elfin mound opened, and an elderly Elfin damsel, without a back, but for the rest very respectably dressed, came tripping forth. It was the old Elfin King’s housekeeper; she was distantly related to him, and wore an amber heart on her forehead. Her feet were so nimble—trip—trap—trip—trap!—how she skipped along, right away to the moor to the Night-raven.  6
  “You will be invited to the Elfin mound, and that tonight,” said she. “But would you not do us a great favor, and take charge of the invitations? As you do not give parties yourself, you must do us this service. Strangers of high rank are coming to us; magicians of no small importance, let me tell you; and so the old Elfin King wants to show himself off to advantage.”  7
  “Who is to be invited?” asked the Night-raven.  8
  “Why, to the grand ball everybody may come; men even, if they do but speak in their sleep, or are able to do something in our way. But the principal banquet is to be very select; those of the first rank only are to be invited. I have had a long discussion with the Elfin King; for, according to my notions, we cannot even ask ghosts. The Sea-god and his daughters must be invited first; ’tis true, they don’t much like coming on dry land, but they will have probably a wet stone to sit upon, or maybe something better still; and then, I think, they will not refuse for this once. We must have the old Mountain Dwarfs of the first class, with tails; the Elf of the Brook, and the Brownie, and then, I think, we must not omit the Swart Elf, and the Skeleton Horse: they belong, it is true, to the clergy, who are not of our sort; however, ’tis their office, and they are, moreover, nearly related to us, and are continually paying us visits.”  9
  “Caw!” said the Night-raven, and flew away to invite the company.  10
  The Elfin maidens were already dancing on the Elfin mound: they danced with long shawls, woven of haze and moonshine; and to all who like this sort of dancing, it seems pretty. In the centre of the Elfin mound was the great hall, splendidly ornamented; the floor was washed with moonshine, and the walls were rubbed with witches’ fat, so that they shone in the light like tulip-leaves. In the kitchen there was a great quantity of frogs among the dishes; adders’ skins, with little children’s fingers inside; salad of mushroom-seed; wet mice’s snouts and hemlock; beer, from the brewery of the old Witch of the Moor; sparkling saltpetre wine from a grave-cellar,—all very substantial eating: rusty nails and church-window glass were among the delicacies and kickshaws.  11
  The old Elfin King had his golden crown polished with powdered slate-pencil. It was the pencil of the head-scholar; and to obtain this one is very difficult for the Elfin King.  12
  They hung up the curtains in the bed-chamber, and fastened them with adder spittle. There was, indeed, a humming and a buzzing in the Elfin mound!  13
  “Now we must perfume the place with singed hair and pigs’ bristles; and then I think I shall have done my share of the business,” said the little Elfin damsel.  14
  “Dear papa,” said the least of the daughters, “shall I now know who the high visitors are?”  15
  “Well then,” said he, “I suppose I must tell you. Two of my daughters are to show themselves off, in order to get married. Two will certainly be married. The aged Mountain Elf of Norway, who lives in the old Dovre-field, and possesses many craggy castles, and a gold-mine too,—which is a better thing than one imagines,—is coming here with his two sons; and they are to choose themselves wives. The hoary Elf is an honest old Norwegian, merry and straightforward. I have known him since many a long day, when we drank together to better acquaintance and good fellowship. He came here to fetch his wife,—she is dead now,—who was the daughter of the Rock-king. O, how I long to see the old northern Elf! His sons, people say, are coarse, blustering fellows; but maybe one wrongs them, and when older, they will improve.”  16
  “And when will they come?” asked his daughter.  17
  “That depends on wind and weather,” said the Elfin King. “They travel economically; they will come here by water. I wish they would go through Sweden; but the old gentleman has no inclination that way. He does not keep pace with the time, and that I can’t bear.”  18
  At the same moment two Jacks-o’-the-lantern came hoping in, one faster than the other, and for that reason one was first.  19
  “They’re coming! they’re coming!” cried they.  20
  “Give me my crown; and let me stand in the moonshine,” said the Elfin King.  21
  The daughters held up their long shawls and bowed to the earth.  22
  There stood the hoary Mountain Elf, with a crown of hardened icicles and polished fir-cones on his head, and wrapped up in a mantle of fur and boots of the same. His sons, on the contrary, went with open throats, for they disdained the cold.  23
  “Is that a mound?” asked the lesser of the youths, pointing to Elfin-home. “In Norway we call such a thing a hole.”  24
  “Boy,” said the father, “a mound rises upward, and a hole goes inward. Have you no eyes in your head?”  25
  Now they went into the Elfin mound, where there was very choice company, certainly; and had come together with such speed, one might have thought they had been borne thither on the breeze; however, the arrangements for every one were neat and pretty. The sea folk sat at table in large water-butts; and they said they felt just as if they were at home. All observed good manners at the table, except the two little Norwegian Mountain Elves, who put their feet on the board, for they thought that all they did was becoming.  26
  “Take your feet away from the plates,” said the old Elf; and then they obeyed, although not immediately. They tickled the ladies next them with fir-cones; then they pulled off their boots, to be more at ease, and gave them to the ladies to hold for them; but their father was very different. He told about the proud Norwegian rocks, and of the water-falls, which, covered with foam, dashed downwards, raging and roaring like thunder; he told about the salmon, that leaps up against the falling waters, when the Spirit of the flood plays on her golden harp. He related about the clear winter nights, when the bells on the sledges jingle, and the youths run with flaming torches over the smooth ice, which is so transparent that they could see how affrighted the fishes were beneath their feet. He, indeed, could recount so that one saw and heard the things he described; when, huzza! all of a sudden, the old Elf gave one of the Elfin damsels a smacking kiss; and yet they were not even distantly related.  27
  The Elfin maidens were now to dance, simple as well as stamping dances; and then came the most difficult one of all, the so-called “Dance out of the dance.” Confound it! their legs grew so long, one did not know which was the beginning nor which was the end: one could not distinguish legs from arms; all was twirling about in the air like sawdust; and they went whizzing round to such a degree that the Skeleton Horse grew quite sick, and was obliged to leave the table.  28
  “Brrrrr!” said the gray-headed Elf; “that’s a regular Highland fling, as it’s called. But what can they do besides spinning about like a whirlwind?”  29
  “That you shall see,” said the King, calling the youngest of his daughters. She was as delicate and fair as moonlight, and was the daintiest of all the sisters. She put a white wand in her mouth, and vanished. That was her art.  30
  But the old Mountain Elf said, “This was an art he should not at all like in his wife, nor did he think his sons would either.”  31
  The other could walk beside her own self, as though she had a shadow, which is a thing Elves never have.  32
  The third one’s talent was of a very different kind; she had learned in the brewery of the Witch of the Moor, and she knew how to lard alder-wood with glow-worms.  33
  “She would make a good housewife,” said the Mountain Elf, blinking, for he did not at all like drinking so much.  34
  Then came the fourth Elfin maiden; she had a large golden harp, and when she touched the first string, everybody lifted up the left foot, for the Elves are all left-sided; and when she touched the next, everybody was forced to do whatever she pleased.  35
  “That is a dangerous damsel,” said the Mountain Elf; but both his sons went out of the Elfin mound, for they were tired of it.  36
  “What can the next daughter do?” asked the old Elf.  37
  “I have learned to love the Norwegians,” said she; “and I will not marry unless I can go to Norway.”  38
  But the youngest of the sisters whispered into the old Elf’s ear, “She only says that, because she has heard in an old Norwegian rhyme, that when even the world is at an end, the rocks of Norway will stand firm; and that’s the reason she wants to go there, for she is greatly afraid of death.”  39
  “Ho, ho!” said the old Elf; “that’s the way the wind blows, is it? But what can the seventh and last do?”  40
  “The sixth comes before the seventh,” said the Elfin King, for he knew how to count; but the sixth at first would not come forward.  41
  “I can do nothing except tell people the truth,” said she. “No one troubles about me, and I have enough to do to get my shroud ready.”  42
  Now came the seventh and last. And what could she do? She could tell as many fairy-tales as she chose.  43
  “Here are my five fingers,” said the old Mountain Elf. “For each one tell me a story.”  44
  And the Elfin maiden took hold of him by the wrist, and he laughed till he was almost choked; and when she came to the finger that wore a golden ring, just as if it knew that matrimony was going on, the old Elf said, “Hold fast what you have! The hand is yours! I will take you myself to wife!”  45
  And the Elfin maiden said that the fairy-tale to the ring-finger and to the little finger were wanting.  46
  “O, we’ll hear them in winter,” said the old Elf; “and about the fir-tree too, and about the birch, and the gifts of the wood-nymphs, and about the crackling frost. You shall have opportunities enough of telling stories, for no one understands that yonder. And there we will sit in our rocky dwelling, where the pine-torch is burning, and where we drink mead out of the golden horns of the old Norwegian kings; I got some as a present from the Water-spirit. And when we are sitting so together, Garbo will come to pay us a visit, and he will sing to you all the songs of the mountain maidens. How merry we shall be! The salmon will leap in the waterfall, and dash against the walls of rock; but he will not be able to come in to us, after all! Yes, yes; one leads a happy, comfortable life in dear old Norway! But where are the boys?”  47
  Where were they? Why, they were running about the fields, blowing out the wills-o’-the-wisp that were coming quite orderly to have a procession with torches.  48
  “What’s all this harum-scarum about?” said the old Elf. “I have taken a step-mother for you; methinks now you may choose a wife too.”  49
  But they said they liked speechifying and boon companionship better, and had no taste for matrimony; and so they made speeches, tossed off their glasses, and turned them topsy-turvy, to show that they were quite empty. They then pulled off their coats, and lay down on the table to sleep. But the old Elf danced round the room with his young bride, and exchanged boots with her; for that is much more genteel than exchanging rings.  50
  “The cock is crowing!” said the elderly damsel who attended to the housekeeping. “We must now bolt the shutters, lest the sun should spoil our complexions.”  51
  And then the mound closed. The Lizards ran about and up and down the cleft tree and one said to the other, “How much I like the old Mountain Elf!”  52
  “I like the merry boys better,” said the Earth-worm; but then he could not see, poor wretch!  53


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