The Gifts of the Little People

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A tailor and a goldsmith were journeying together when one evening, just as the sun had sunk behind the mountains, they heard the sound of distant music. It grew more and more distinct. It had a strange sound, but was so pleasing that they forgot their fatigue and walked speedily ahead. The moon had already risen when they arrived at a hill, upon which they viewed a large number of small men and women who were holding hands and dancing around and cheerfully singing with the greatest pleasure and happiness. That was the music that the wanderers had heard.

An old man, somewhat larger than the others, sat in their midst. He wore a brightly colored jacket, and his ice-gray beard hung down over his chest. Filled with amazement, the two wanderers stopped and watched the dance. The old man motioned to them that they too should join in, and the little people voluntarily opened their circle.

The goldsmith, who had a hump on his back, and -- like all hunchbacks -- was forward enough, stepped right up. The tailor was at first a little shy and held back, but as soon as he saw what fun it was, he too took heart and joined in.

They closed the circle again, and the little people sang and danced wildly forth. However, the old man took a broad knife, that had been hanging from his belt, sharpened it, and as soon as it was sufficiently sharpened, looked at the strangers. They were frightened, but they did not have to worry for long. The old man grabbed the goldsmith and with the greatest speed smoothly shaved off his beard and the hair from his head. Then the same thing happened to the tailor.

Their fear disappeared when the old man patted them friendly on their shoulders as if he wanted to say that they had done well by letting it all happen without resisting. With his finger he pointed toward a pile of coal that lay nearby, and indicated to them through gestures that they should fill their pockets with it. They both obeyed, although they did not know of what use the coal would be to them. Then they went on their way to seek out a place to spend the night.

They had just arrived in the valley when the bell from a neighboring monastery struck twelve. The singing ceased instantly. Everyone disappeared, and the hill lay in lonely moonlight.

The two wanderers found shelter. Lying on beds of straw, they covered themselves with their jackets. They were so tired that they forgot to take the coal out of their pockets first.

They were awakened earlier than normal by a heavy weight pressing down on their limbs. They reached into their pockets, and could hardly believe their eyes when they saw that they were not filled with coal, but with pure gold. Further, their hair and their beards had also been fully restored.

Now they were rich. However, the goldsmith had twice as much as the tailor, because -- true to his greedy nature -- he had filled his pockets better. However much a greedy person has, he always wants more, so the goldsmith proposed to the tailor that they stay there another day in order to be able to gain even more wealth from the old man on the mountain that evening.

The tailor did not want to do this, and said: "I have enough and am satisfied. I am going to become a master, marry my pleasant object (as he called his sweetheart), and be a happy man."

However, to please the goldsmith, he agreed to stay one more day. That evening the goldsmith hung several pockets over his shoulders in order to be able to carry everything, and set off for the hill.

As had happened the night before, he found the little people dancing and singing. The old man shaved him smooth once again, and indicated that he should take some coal. Without hesitating he packed away as much as his pockets would hold, and then happily returned home. Covering himself with his jacket he said: "I can bear it, if the gold presses down on me." With the sweet premonition that he would awaken tomorrow as a very rich man, he fell asleep.

When he opened his eyes, he got up quickly in order to examine his pockets. How astounded he was, that he pulled out nothing but black coal, however often he reached inside. "Anyway, I still have the gold from the night before," he thought, and reached for it. Horrified, he saw that it too had turned back into coal. He struck himself on the forehead with his grimy hand, and felt that his entire head was as bald and smooth as his beardless chin.

Nor was that the end of his misfortune. Only now did he notice that in addition the hump on his back, a second one, of the same size, had grown onto his chest. Now he recognized the punishment for his greed and began to cry aloud.

The good tailor, who had been awakened by all this, consoled the unhappy man as best he could, saying: "You were my traveling companion, and you can stay with me now and live from my treasure."

He kept his word, but the poor goldsmith had to bear two humps and cover his bald head with a cap as long as he lived.

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Revised May 27, 2000.