A tailor and a goldsmith were journeying together, and as evening approached they heard wonderful lovely music. It was so beautiful that they forgot how tired they were and took longer and longer steps to see who the musicians were. When they listened it was at first like the wind softly blowing in the linden trees along the pathway, then it was as though the bluebells in the meadow were ringing as they nodded in the wind.
The tailor thought about his dear fiancée, whom he had left at home, and sighed because he was so poor that the musicians would not be playing at their wedding dance.
As they walked along the music sounded nearer and nearer, and at last on a hill they saw many small figures, little men and little women, holding hands and dancing in a circle around an old man. They were singing (that was the music), and one after the other they bowed before the old man.
The old man was somewhat larger than the others, had a long ice-gray beard that hung down low over his chest, had a majestic appearance, and was magnificently dressed. The tailor and the goldsmith stood there amazed and could not see enough. Then the old man motioned to them; the dancers opened their circle; and the goldsmith, who was a small hunchbacked fellow, stepped inside. The frightened tailor stayed where he was, but when he saw how the little men and women welcomed his companion, he took heart and followed him into the circle. With the circle now closed, the little people continued to dance and to sing.
The old man took a long, broad knife, whetted it until it glistened brightly, and then shaved off the hair and the beards of the tailor and the goldsmith. They shook with fear that their heads would be next, but the old man patted them friendly on their shoulders, as if to say that it was good that they had not resisted. Afterward he pointed to a pile of coal that lay nearby, indicating to them with gestures that they should fill their pockets with it. The goldsmith, who was greedy by nature, took much more than did the tailor, even though the coal had no value.
Then the two of them walked down the hill to seek shelter for the night, looking back repeatedly at the tiny dancers. The music sounded more distant and more softly. The monastery bell in the valley struck twelve, and suddenly the hill was empty. Everything had disappeared.
Once at the inn the two wanderers covered themselves with their jackets, and because they were very tired, they forgot to take the coal out of their pockets. They awakened earlier than usual, because their jackets were pushing down on them like lead.
They reached into the pockets and could not believe their eyes when they saw that they contained pure gold instead of coal. The goldsmith estimated that his was worth thirty thousand thalers, and the tailor’s fifteen thousand. Furthermore, their hair and beards had been restored as well.
They praised the old man on the mountain, and the goldsmith said, “Do you know what? Let’s go back this evening and fill our pockets clear full.”
But the tailor did not want to do this. “I have enough,” he said, “and am satisfied. Now I can become a master tailor and marry my Margaret. We will manage beautifully.”
The goldsmith did not want to journey onward, and because they had traveled together for a long time, as a favor the tailor spent the day with him at the inn. As evening approached, the goldsmith hung several bags over his shoulders and went back to the hill. He heard the music, as they had before, and saw the little dancers with the old man in the middle. And the old man again motioned to him, shaved him, indicating that he should take some coal. He gathered up as much as he could carry away, hurried back to the village inn, covered himself with his jacket, and could not fall asleep in anticipation that the pockets and bags, now filled with light coal, would be getting heavier and heavier.
But on earth not everything happens the way foolish people think it will. The pockets and bags remained light. As dawn approached he went to the window and looked at each piece of coal. It was ordinary coal, and it made his fingers black. Frightened, he fetched the gold from the previous day, but it no longer glistened. Everything had turned back into coal.
Then he awakened the tailor in order to share his sorrow with him. When the tailor saw him he was horrified. Only now did the goldsmith discover his entire misfortune. His hair and his beard had been shaved off completely, and they never grew back. But the worst thing was this: he had had a hump on his back, but now he had one of the same size on his chest, and would be unable to work.
He recognized this as punishment for his greed, and began to cry bitterly. However, the tailor comforted him, saying, “Since we have been good traveling companions for so long, and since we found the treasure together, from now on you can live with me and share my treasure.”
The tailor soon became a master and married his Margaret. He had many pious children and always enough work; and he is still taking care of the goldsmith with the two humps and no hair.
- Emil Sommer, “Der Berggeister Geschenke,” Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Sachsen und Thüringen (Halle: Eduard Anton, 1846), vol. 1, pp. 82-86.
- Image: Arthur Rackham