The Shoemaker and the Elves

and similar migratory legends of type 7015
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2018-2020

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


  1. The Elves (Germany).

  2. Shoemaker Jobst and the Elves (Germany).

  3. The Shoemaker and the Dwarf (Germany).

  4. The Dwarf as a Journeyman Shoemaker (Germany).

  5. Mermen (Germany).

  6. The Grinding-Mill Elves (Germany).

  7. The Underground People at Bernstein (Germany / Poland).

  8. The Nisse's New Clothes (Sweden).

  9. The Little Washerwoman (Bohemia).

  10. The Little Wild Man (Austria).

  11. The Dwarfs Depart from Paznaun (Austria).

  12. The Herder Dwarf in Muri (Switzerland).

  13. Now What a Handsome Man Am I (Switzerland).

  14. The Pixies of Devonshire (England).

  15. The Pixie and the Washerwoman (England).

  16. The Hart Hall Hob (England).

  17. The Cauld Lad of Hilton (England).

  18. The Pixy's Clothes (England).

  19. The Pisky Thrasher (England).

  20. The Pixie Thresher (England).

  21. The Brownie's New Coat (Scotland).

  22. Brownies (Scotland).

  23. A Trow Called Broonie (Scotland).

  24. The Kildare Pooka (Ireland).

  25. The Phouka (Ireland).

  26. The Sprite (France).

  27. The Fairy Friar (Spain).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Elves


A shoemaker, through no fault of his own, had become so poor that he had only leather enough for a single pair of shoes. He cut them out one evening, then went to bed, intending to finish them the next morning. Having a clear conscience, he went to bed peacefully, commended himself to God, and fell asleep. The next morning, after saying his prayers, he was about to return to his work when he found the shoes on his workbench, completely finished. Amazed, he did not know what to say. He picked up the shoes in order to examine them more closely. They were so well made that not a single stitch was out of place, just as if they were intended as a masterpiece. A customer soon came by, and he liked the shoes so much that he paid more than the usual price for them.

The shoemaker now had enough money to buy leather for two pairs of shoes. That evening he cut them out, intending to continue his work the next morning with good cheer. But he did not need to do so, because when he got up they were already finished. Customers soon bought them, paying him enough that he now could buy leather for four pairs of shoes. Early the next morning he found the four pairs finished. And so it continued; whatever he cut out in the evening was always finished the following morning. He now had a respectable income and with time became a wealthy man.

One evening shortly before Christmas, just before going to bed, and having already cut out a number of shoes, he said to his wife, "Why don't we stay up tonight and see who is giving us this helping hand."

His wife agreed to this and lit a candle. Then they hid themselves behind some clothes that were hanging in a corner of the room. At midnight two cute little naked men appeared. Sitting down at the workbench, they picked up the cut-out pieces and worked so unbelievable quickly and nimbly that the amazed shoemaker could not take his eyes from them. They did not stop until they had finished everything. They placed the completed shoes on the workbench, then quickly ran away.

The next morning the wife said, "The little men have made us wealthy. We must show them our thanks. They are running around with nothing on, freezing. Do you know what? I want to sew some shirts, jackets, undershirts, and trousers for them, and knit a pair of stockings for each of them, and you should make a pair of shoes for each of them."

The husband said, "I agree," and that evening, when everything was finished, they set the presents out instead of the unfinished work. Then they hid themselves in order to see what the little men would do. At midnight they came skipping up, intending to start work immediately. When they saw the little clothes instead of the cut-out leather, they at first seemed puzzled, but then delighted. They quickly put them on, then stroking the beautiful clothes on their bodies they sang:

Sind wir nicht Knaben glatt und fein?
Was sollen wir länger Schuster sein!

Are we not boys, neat and fine?
No longer cobblers shall we be!

Then they hopped and danced about, jumping over chairs and benches. Finally they danced out of the house. They never returned, but the shoemaker prospered, succeeding in everything that he did.

Shoemaker Jobst and the Elves


In Eschwege the people tell about the elves, and especially how they helped poor Shoemaker Jobst in his time of need.

One evening Shoemaker Jobst was sitting sadly in his workroom. His wife, burdened with sorrow, had fallen asleep next to their poor children. A cricket was chirping in corner by the stove, and the moon cast its pale light through the old, round window panes onto their pale faces.

Jobst thought, "If only I could fall asleep with you, and then wake up to a carefree life with you poor little ones!"

Then he prayed to God in heaven and stretched out on his hard bed. Concerns about the next day and new worries kept him awake.

As midnight approached he thought that he heard light footsteps in his little cottage. Trip, trap, and a company of elves came inside. They quickly moved to the leather. One of them did the cutting while another one did the stitching. In a short time they had used up all the leather, and beautiful shoes stood there on his workbench. How Jobst now looked forward to the next day. It finally arrived, and when the streets came to life, many people looked in at the shoes. They bought what was there and ordered new shoes as well.

Jobst bought more leather, and when midnight came the elves returned. They worked busily, and the next morning his workbench was filled with new shoes. Jobst became famous. Everyone wanted to buy from him. Joy and prosperity now came to his household.

Jobst wanted to make his benefactors happy. He counted the elves and had nice clothes made for them, laying them out in a row for them. How this did please the elves! They immediately put on their new clothes. But with this they became proud and no longer wanted to make shoes, saying to themselves:

Come now and look at me
Why should I a cobbler be?
Within the hour they disappeared from Jobst's house, never again to return.

The Shoemaker and the Dwarf


In a village there lived a prosperous shoemaker with his wife. They seldom ate all of their evening meal, and the wife always put the leftovers in a pan on the stove. The following morning the shoemaker noticed that the leftover food had been eaten, and furthermore, the boots and shoes that he had left cut out on his workbench were now completely finished. Seeing how well they had been stitched together, he always cut out even more, and the next morning they were always finished.

The shoemaker grew ever more curious and wanted to know who was making the shoes. Therefore he bored a hole in the workroom door. That night he kept watch by looking through the hole. To his great surprise he saw a dwarf enter the room and begin sewing busily; however, the dwarf kept looking up at the hole, which he apparently had noticed.

After finishing a few pair of shoes he went to the stove and ate the food that was there, and then disappeared. Observing the same thing for some time, the shoemaker decided to do something for the dwarf, so he laid a suit of clothes on the workbench for him. The next night the dwarf came again and found the clothes. He finished the shoes and put on the clothes.

Then he cut out a pair of boots for himself, sewed them up, put them on, and said, "Why do I have to make shoes for peasants. I can now serve the King of the Dwarfs!"

With that he disappeared and never returned.

The Dwarf as a Journeyman Shoemaker


A dwarf came to shoemaker and offered his services as a journeyman. The shoemaker had a lot of work at the time and was therefore happy to accept the offer. He asked what he expected for wages. The dwarf asked for twenty-four thalers per week. The shoemaker replied that that was a lot of money, and that the dwarf was very small. How much work would he be able to do?

"Yes," said the dwarf. It was a lot of money, but his work would be worth it. Each week would be able to make twenty-four pair of tall riding boots. So the shoemaker hired him.

The next morning the dwarf did not begin to work but instead made himself comfortable and walked around in the house. The shoemaker reminded him of his promise, and the dwarf answered that he would keep it, but did nothing. Saturday arrived, and this day passed as well with the dwarf doing no work.

That night at eleven o'clock there arose a commotion in the house, and suddenly it was full of dwarfs. The shoemaker, who had already gone to bed with his wife, heard the noise and became curious. He looked through the keyhole and saw a roomful of dwarfs. Some were cutting and some were stitching while the journeyman sat comfortably in their midst and smoked.

Suddenly one of the dwarfs said, "Master, he's looking!"

"Let him look!" was the answer.

The dwarf repeated this three times, and the fourth time the answer was, "Then poke his eye out!"

With that the dwarf poked out the shoemaker's eye with an awl.

The latter went to his wife and told her what he had seen and what had happened to him. His wife advised him to not go back.

The dwarfs' work lasted until one o'clock, and then everything was quiet.

The next morning the wife got up and gave the journeyman his twenty-four thalers and told him he could go. The latter asked where the master was; he wanted to speak with him.

The wife answered that that was not possible, for the master was ill.

The dwarf asked, "What is wrong with him?"

"I don't know," she answered.

The dwarf insisted that she call her husband. Perhaps he could help him. So finally she fetched her husband.

The dwarf asked the shoemaker what was wrong with him, and he answered that he had seen the dwarfs at work and told what had happened to him.

With that the dwarf blew into his eye, with the words, "Next time don't look!"

And in that instant the shoemaker could again see with his eye.



Mermen formerly lived in the Seeben Pond (also known as Glaswald Lake), which is unfathomably deep. They were the same size as children and formed above like humans and below like fish. They could make themselves invisible.

One of them befriended the people at the Seeben Farm (which lies next to a hill three quarters of an hour down from the lake). He would awaken them every morning and stay with them until evening, when he returned to the lake. He did chores for them all day, and was especially helpful with their livestock, which flourished better than ever before.

However, whenever they gave him a task they always had to say, "Not too little and not too much!" otherwise he would do too little or too much.

Every day at the farmhouse they gave him his breakfast, noon meal, and evening meal, which they placed under the steps, where he sat by himself and ate. Although his clothes, including his floppy hat, were sorely worn out, and his jacket was badly ripped, the farmers at the Seeben Farm refrained from providing him with new clothes. However when winter came they secretly had a new jacket made for him, which they gave to him one evening.

To this the merman said, "When one has been paid, then one must leave. From tomorrow onward I'll not come back to you."

The farmer tried to assure him that the jacket was a gift and not a loan, but he could not dissuade the merman from his intention.

Angered at this, the maid-servant did not give the merman his evening meal, and he went away with an empty stomach. The next morning they found the maid-servant dead in front of the house. She was upside down, her head having been buried in the ground.

The merman was never again seen at the Seeben Farm.

The Grinding-Mill Elves


At the time when there were still elves in and around Brotterode, they often gave aid to those who knew how to deal with them. But they were terribly sensitive. If they were offended they immediately disappeared.

Once a pair of elves found their way into a grinding-mill near Brotterode, at a place still today called "The Grindstone." Two brothers owned the mill, and however many blades they laid out each evening to be ground and polished, the next morning they were all perfectly finished. This continued for a long time, and the elve's hardworking hands brought them great prosperity.

They wanted to thank their little helpers. Having noticed that the elves were very poorly dressed, they had little red jackets and little blue trousers tailored for them, and laid them out next to the blades in the grinding area.

The industrious house-sprites soon appeared, ready to work. However, when they saw the clothes they became very sad, saying:

Da liegt nun unser Lohn,
Jetzt müssen wir auf und davon!

Now that we've received our pay,
We must up and go away!

They picked up the gifts, went away, and were never seen there again.

The Underground People at Bernstein

Germany / Poland

There were many dwarfs in the vicinity of the town of Bernstein in Pomerania. The people there called them "the underground people." Once one of them for a long time came to a poor shoemaker and helped him with his work, so that the shoemaker was becoming wealthy. The man decided show his thanks, and he had a very nice new jacket made for the dwarf.

However, the underground people cannot tolerate this, and upon receiving the jacket he immediately went away, saying, "Master, you have paid me in full; now I am finished with the work!"

And he never returned.

The Nisse's New Clothes


The nisse always wears gray clothes and a red cap. One place where he was in service, they thought his clothes were very shabby. The landlady gave him a new suit, but after the nisse tried it on, he thought he was too fine a gentleman to work, and he worked no more for them.

They would have been wiser to just have given him his porridge and milk every night.

The Little Washerwoman


Every year at hay-harvesting time a group of little women could be seen bathing in a brook beneath the branches of an alder tree. They splashed about noisily and then hung all kinds of rags and cloths onto the branches to dry. The women were no larger than one-year-old children.

One could observe them from a distance without their taking notice. However, if one approached them, they would cry out and then hurriedly gather up their rags and cloths and disappear into the water.

One day a peasant lad, known to be a skilled bird-catcher, set a trap in the brush at the side of the brook, and -- in truth -- he captured one of the little washerwomen. She was wearing a clean white linen dress that reached beneath her knees. Her neatly combed hair fell loosely to her shoulders.

Without resisting, she let the lad carry her to his home, where she carefully looked about with her little black eyes. She had scarcely entered main room when she rolled up her sleeves, tied back her dress, and -- to the amazement and delight of the householders -- began to tidy up the room and to wash the dishes. Then she climbed onto a bench and washed the windows. In short, she worked tirelessly from morning until evening.

At twilight a little waterman clung to the wall outside and spoke into the window. The little washerwoman clung to the wall inside and spoke out through the window. They talked intimately, and he asked her to not reveal any of their secrets.

When winter approached, the householders thought that they should provide the little washerwoman with some shoes, but she refused to let them measure her foot. Therefore they scattered flour on the floor and measured the little woman's footprints.

Well and good.

The shoes were finished, and the householders put them on a bench for the little woman so that she could try them on by herself. However, she began sobbing and crying because they had paid her for her service. She picked up the shoes, rolled her sleeves back down, loosened her dress, and rushed away wailing.

They never saw her again.

This story took place when the mother of a mother was living as a child in her parents' house.

The Little Wild Man


Ruzo, the first peasant at Rofen, had a very beautiful little daughter. The girl herded her father's sheep up in the mountains. Often when she was sitting there by herself a poorly dressed little man came to her from a nearby mountain. No one in the valley knew who he was or where he came from.

The little fellow would sit by her side and tell her all kinds of curious stories; or he would help her with the herding and bring a lost sheep back to her. He often asked her to go to his house with him, but to no avail, for she was very modest and did not trust her unknown visitor.

The little man sometimes came to the girl's father at Rofen, and whenever he did so, he asked for food.

Some years later Ruzo's daughter had become a beautiful young woman. She married one of her father's former herders, and they settled in Vent.

The little man missed the girl, and he learned from a herder-boy that she had married and moved to Vent. Hearing this he became wild with anger. Repeatedly he frightend the Rofen peasant's herd such that in the evening the poor sheep would return to the stall bleating and hungry. During the night the angry little man would untie one cow but then bind two or three others together such that they mooed loudly and nearly broke apart their bonds. He set the hay afire and laughed cruely at the rising flames.

Ruzo tried to capture him, sending his servants after him, but without success. The little man always escaped unhurt. In order to put an end to the angry little fellow's mischief, Ruzo's daughter herself went back out with the herd. Wanting to placate the little man, she brought with her a new suit made of loden for him.

He approached her friendlily. However, as soon as he saw the gift he walked away crying, and returned to his mountain.

From that hour onward he was never seen again. Ruzo believed that the little man had died, and he named the mountain "Wildes Mannle" (Little Wild Man), and so it is called to this day.

The Dwarfs Depart from Paznaun


The dwarfs in the Paznaun Valley, especially in the vicinity of the little village of See, were very good natured, helping out however they could with housework. They also were happy to herd livestock....

A peasant from See engaged a dwarf as a goatherd. Every day the dwarf collected the goats near the village -- but he never entered the village itself -- and led them out to the pasture. In the evening he brought them back close to the village, then disappeared into the mountains.

The peasants sent his noonday meal to him in a very original manner: They tied it to the horns of a billy-goat. The dwarf untied it and ate it with pleasure. He would not touch it if they gave it to him in a different manner.

Once the peasants wanted to surprise him, so in the same manner they sent him a handsome red jacket. Seeing the jacket he sadly said to himself: "Now I can no longer herd goats, for they have given me a red jacket."

He then went into the mountains and was never again seen in the valley.

Similar legends are told in Etschland.

The Herder Dwarf in Muri


The great meadow above Muri was formerly worked by resident herders. Often when they went to feed their cattle in the morning they discovered that the day's work already had been done. The stall had been cleaned, milk-buckets washed, strainers and funnels put away. In short, everything was in order and ready for the evening.

Of course the herders wanted to know who their secret helpers were, so they hid themselves at all the barn's entrances. It wasn't long before they saw a tiny little man go into the barn. He crept through the feed-opening into the cattle-stall, where he silently busied himself. After finishing his work he quickly went out the same way and disappeared.

The herders were delighted with this, but a certain sense of respect told them that they could not thank him with words. Therefore they had a little suit of clothes made for him, which they laid out in the stall.

At his next appearance the dwarf tried on the new shirt, then put on the little leather cap, turning it this way and that way. Looking proudly at his new clothes in the little mirror that had been placed there, he called out over and over again, "I am no longer a herder!"

From this time onward he was never again seen in Muri; instead, he entered service in the village of Buttwil.

One day the peasant there said to his wife, "All the work in the stall and the barn is always done before daybreak. There is never any less hay. The cows are giving the best milk and give birth to the friskiest calves. We ourselves will have to see what is going on there. Let's hide in the barn tonight and see what happens."

And they did just that.

They heard a rustling in the hayloft above them. Then they heard little footsteps, like those of a child, and a tiny little man jumped down and shook the hay out of his hair. Finally he stood still -- oh dear! -- totally naked in the middle of the threshing-floor. He distributed the hay and brushed down the cows. Everything went lightning-fast. The little man was soon finished, and he instantly disappeared.

The peasant's wife was concerned that it was a cold winter, especially at New Year. "Let's have trousers and a jacket made for him," she said.

So it happened, and on New Year's Day they laid out the new suit of clothes in the hayloft for the little man.

Newly dressed, he walked back and forth on the threshing-floor. Clapping himself on the chest, he called out ernestly, "That a man such as I should be doing a herder's work!"

With that he disappeared forever from Buttwil as well.

Now What a Handsome Man Am I


A dwarf once asked for work at the flour mill in Ems. He promised to serve well, even for a small wage, and the miller hired him. The dwarf faithfully kept his word. He worked in the mill from the first cock-crow until late in the evening. He even got up in the night to check on the mill's moving parts.

The mill clattered busily away, grinding twice as much grain as usual.

Approaching the year's end the miller wanted to give the dwarf a nice present to show his appreciation for his good service. Because the dwarf was dressed in tattered rags, the miller had a beautiful suit of clothes tailored for him from the finest sheep's wool and the color of flour. When he handed the new clothes to the dwarf, the latter hopped away and disappeared into the mill. There he tore off his old rags and threw them into the mill-stream, put on the new clothes, then looked at himself with pleasure, saying:

Jetzt bin ich ein schöner Mann,
Daß ich nicht mehr mehlen kann!

Now what a handsome man am I,
So to this mill I say "good-bye!"

No longer willing to work in the dusty mill, the dwarf went forth into the wide world without taking leave from his master. The miller hurried after him, but could find him nowhere.

The Pixies of Devonshire


The Portunes -- which, according to Gervase, belonged exclusively to England, (although France had her Neptunes of a somewhat similar character) -- resembled the ancient household Spirit of Northern Europe. They joined in the harder labour of the house; and, as their only reward, claimed a share of the warmth from the evening hearth -- at which they would appear as soon as the doors were shut, warming their aged limbs, and eating, meanwhile, little frogs (ranunculos), which they drew from their bosoms and toasted on the embers.

In the same manner, the Pixies of Dartmoor, notwithstanding their darker character, aided occasionally in household work. A cottage at Belstone, near Oakhampton, is pointed out as having been a favourite scene of their labours. It was common to find great additions made to the "web" of cloth, morning after morning; and the Pixies were frequently heard working at the loom all through the night. Plates of honey and cream, but especially a basin of pure water, must be regularly placed for them in such houses as they frequent; and it is not safe to add a more valuable reward.

A washerwoman was one morning greatly surprised on coming down stairs to find all her clothes neatly washed and folded. She watched the next evening, and observed a Pixy in the act of performing this kind office for her; but she was ragged and mean in appearance, and Betty's gratitude was sufficiently great to induce her to prepare a yellow petticoat and a red cap for the obliging Pixy. She placed them, accordingly, by the side of the basin of water; and watched for the result. The Pixy, after putting them on, disappeared through the window, apparently in great delight. But Betty was ever afterwards obliged to wash all her clothes herself.

At another farm on the borders of the moor, the inhabitants were disturbed at dead of night by the loud noise of a flail at work in the barn; and in the morning a quantity of corn, which had been left in ear, was found threshed. On the ensuing night, watch was kept by the farmer, who perceived six "sprites," of the smallest imaginable size, enter the barn, and perform the same kind office as before. Their dress, however, was ragged and dirty -- and the farmer had better clothes prepared for them, which he placed where they might readily find them.

In the meantime, he told his neighbours of his good luck -- who, less kind-hearted than himself, stationed themselves in the barn with their guns, behind some unthreshed corn. They had not watched long when the Pixies entered; and, delighted with their new clothes, commenced their usual dance all song -- in the midst of which the farmers who were in watch fired on them.

But they were to be harmed by no weapon of "middle earth," and they departed for ever, singing as they went:

Now the pixies' work is done,
We take our clothes and off we run.

The Pixie and the Washerwoman


Notwithstanding the usual unamiable character given to the pixies of Dartmoor, they are said to aid occasionally in household work. A cottage at Belstone, near Okehampton, is pointed out as having been a favourite scene of their labours. It was common to find great additions made to the "web" of cloth, morning after morning; and the pixies were frequently heard working at the loom all through the night.

Plates of honey and cream, but especially a basin of pure water, must be regularly placed for them in such houses as they frequent; and it is not safe to add a more valuable reward.

A washerwoman was one morning greatly surprised, on coming down stairs, to find all her clothes neatly washed and folded. She watched the next evening, and observed a pixy in the act of performing this kind office for her; but she was ragged and mean in appearance, and Betty's gratitude was sufficiently great to induce her to prepare a yellow petticoat and a red cap for the obliging pixy.

She placed them, accordingly, by the side of the basin of water, and watched for the result. The pixy, after putting them on, disappeared through the window, apparently in great delight. But Betty was ever afterwards obliged to wash all her clothes herself.

The Hart Hall Hob


From fairies the old lady got on to recollections of what clearly was a survival of dwarf folklore. For she told me of certain small people who used to dwell in the houes (grave-mounds) that years ago were to be found in the Koxby and Mickleby direction, but which had been dug into and after wards ploughed over, so that the former denizens had clearly been evicted and forced to retire. But it was only imperfect recollections of what she had heard in her own young days that my informant was dealing with now; and the lack of feature and detail consequent on her lack of personal interest in the subject was quite evident.

But it was quite different when I began to ask her if in her youth she had had any knowledge of the Hart Hall "Hob." On this topic she was herself again.

Why, when she was a bit of a lass, everybody knew about Hart Hall in Glaisdale, and t' Hob there, and the work that he did, and how he came to leave, and all about it.

Had she ever seen him, or any of the work he had done?

"Seen him, saidst 'ee? Neea, naebody had ever seen him, leastwise, mair nor yance. And that was how he coomed to flit."

"How was that?" I asked.

"Wheea, everybody kenned at sikan a mak' o' creatur as yon never tholed being spied efter."

"And did they spy upon him?" I inquired.

"Ay, marry, that did they. Yah moonleeght neeght, when they beared his swipple (the striking part of the flail) gannan' wiv a strange quick bat (stroke) o' t' lathe fleear (on the barn floor) -- ye ken he wad dee mair i' yah neeght than a' t' men o' t' farm cou'd dee iv a deea -- yan o' t' lads gat hissel' croppen oop close anenst lathe-deear, an' leeak'd in thruff a lahtle hole i' t' boards, an' he seen a lahtle brown man, a' covered wi' hair, spangin' about wiv fleeal lahk yan wud (striking around with the flail as if he was beside himself). He'd getten a haill dess 0' shafts (a whole layer of sheaves) doon o' t' fleear, and my wo'd! ommost afore ye cou'd tell ten, he had tonned (turned) oot t' strae, an' sided away t' coorn, and was rife for another dess. He had nae claes on to speak of, and t' lad, he cou'd na see at he had any mak' or mander o' duds by an au'd ragg'd soort ov a sark."

And she went on to tell how the lad crept away as quietly as he had gone on his expedition of espial, and on getting indoors, undiscovered by the unconscious Hob, had related what he had seen, and described the marvellous energy of "t' lahtle hairy man, amaist as nakt as when he wur boorn."

But the winter nights were cold, and the Hart Hall folks thought he must get strange and warm working "sikan a bat as yon, an' it wad be sair an' cau'd for him, gannan' oot iv lathe wiv nobbut thae au'd rags. Seear, they'd mak' him something to hap hissel' wiv."

And so they did. They made it as near like what the boy had described him as wearing a sort of a coarse sark, or shirt, with a belt or girdle to confine it round his middle. And when it was done, it was taken before nightfall and laid in the barn, "gay and handy for t' lahtle chap to notish" when next he came to resume his nocturnal labours.

In due course he came, espied the garment, turned it round and round, and -- contrary to the usual termination of such legends, which represents the uncanny, albeit efficient, worker as displeased at the espionage practised upon him -- Hart Hall Hob, more mercenary than punctilious as to considerations of privacy, broke out with the following couplet:

Gin Hob mun hae nowght but a hardin' hamp [shirt],
He'll coom nae mair, nowther to berry [harvest] nor stamp [thresh].

The Cauld Lad of Hilton


This fairy or goblin was seldom seen, but his gambols were heard nightly in the hall of the great house. He overturned everything in the kitchen after the servants had gone to bed, and was, in short, one of the most mischievous sprites you could imagine. One night, however, the kitchen happened to be left in great confusion, and the goblin, who did everything by contraries, set it completely to rights; and the next morning it was in perfect apple-pie order. We may be quite sure that, after this occurrence, the kitchen was not again made orderly by the servants.

Notwithstanding, however, the service thus nightly rendered by the Cauld Lad, the servants did not like it. They preferred to do their own work without preter natural agency, and accordingly resolved to do their best to drive him from their haunts. The goblin soon understood what was going on, and he was heard in the dead of night to warble the following lines in a melancholy strain:

Wae's me! wae's me!
The acorn is not yet
Fallen from the tree,
That's to grow the wood,
That's to make the cradle,
That's to rock the bairn,
That's to grow to a man,
That's to lay me.

He was, however, deceived in this prediction; for one night, being colder than usual, he complained in moving verse of his condition. Accordingly, on the following evening, a cloak and hood were placed for him near the fire. The servants had unconsciously accomplished their deliverance, for present gifts to fairies, and they for ever disappear.

On the next morning the following lines were found inscribed on the wall:

I've taken your cloak, I've taken your hood;
The Cauld Lad of Hilton will do no more good!

A great variety of stories in which fairies are fright ened away by presents, are still to be heard in the rural districts of England. Another narrative, by Mr. Longstaffe, relates that on one occasion a woman found her washing and ironing regularly performed for her every night by the fairies. In gratitude to the "good people," she placed green mantles for their acceptance, and the next night the fairies departed, exclaiming:

Now the pixies' work is done!
We take our clothes, and off we run.

Mrs. Bray tells a similar story of a Devonshire pixy, who helped an old woman to spin. One evening she spied the fairy jumping out of her door, and observed that it was very raggedly dressed; so the next day she thought to win the services of the elf further by placing some smart new clothes, as big as those made for a doll, by the side of her wheel. The pixy came, put on the clothes, and clapping its hands with delight, vanished, saying these lines:

Pixy fine, pixy gay,
Pixy now will run away.

The Pixy's Clothes


I have heard a story about an old woman in this town [Tavistock], who suspected she received assistance of the above [helpful] nature, and one evening coming suddenly into the room, she spied a ragged little creature, who jumped out at the door. She thought she would try still further to win the services of her elfin friend; and so bought some smart new clothes, as big as those made for a doll. These pretty things she placed by the side of her wheel.

The pixy returned and put them on; when clapping her tiny hands in joy, she was heard to exclaim these lines (for pixies are so poetical, they always talk in rhyme):

Pixy fine, pixy gay,
Pixy now will run away.

And off she went; but the ungrateful little creature never spun for the poor old woman after.

The Pisky Thrasher

England (Cornwall)

On a farm near here, a pisky used to come at night to thrash the farmer's corn. The farmer in payment once put down a new suit for him. When the pisky came and saw it, he put it on, and said:
Pisky fine and pisky gay,
Pisky now will fly away.
And they say he never returned.

The Pixie Thresher


The following story of a fairy in the capacity of the benevolent sprite used to be told in one of the southern counties of England:

Once upon a time there was a young woman who married a thresher. Soon he turned out to be a hopeless drunkard; his work was neglected, and starvation stared them in the face. So the woman dressed herself in her husband's clothes, and went to the barn to do the threshing whilst he slept off the effects of his drunkenness.

On the morning of the second day she found her pile of threshed corn double what she had left there overnight, and this increase was repeated for three or four nights in succession. She determined to watch one night and discover who was her unknown helper. Presently she beheld a little pixy come into the barn, and set to work vigorously to thresh the corn, and as he swung his flail he sang:

Little pixy fair and slim,
Without a rag to cover him.

Out of pity and gratitude, the woman next day made him a tiny suit of clothes, and hung them up behind the barn door beside his flail. At night when the pixy returned to work, he saw the clothes, and put them on at once. Then, surveying himself with satisfaction, he sang:

Pixy fine and Pixy gay,
Pixy now must fly away.

With that he disappeared, and never came back any more.

The Brownie's New Coat


It is told of a Brownie, who haunted a border family, now extinct, that the lady having fallen unexpectedly in labour, and the servant, who was ordered to ride to Jedburgh for the sage femme, shewing no great alertness in setting out, the familiar spirit slipt on the great-coat of the lingering domestic, rode to the town on the laird's best horse, and returned with the midwife en croupe.

During the short space of his absence, the Tweed, which they must necessarily ford, rose to a dangerous height. Brownie, who transported his charge with all the rapidity of the ghostly lover of Lenoré, was not to be stopped by this obstacle. He plunged in with the terri?ed old lady, and landed her in safety where her services were wanted.

Having put the horse into the stable (where it was afterwards found in a woeful plight), he proceeded to the room of the servant, whose duty he had discharged; and, ?nding him just in the act of drawing on his boots, he administered to him a most merciless drubbing with his own horse-whip.

Such an important service excited the gratitude of the laird; who, understanding that Brownie had been heard to express a wish to have a green coat, ordered a vestment of that colour to be made and left in his haunts.

Brownie took away the green coat, but was never seen more. We may suppose, that, tired of his domestic drudgery, he went in his new livery to join the fairies.



The brownie was a household spirit, of an useful and familiar character. In former times, almost every farmhouse in the south of Scotland was supposed to be haunted by one. He was understood to be a spirit of a somewhat grotesque figure, dwarfish in stature, but endowed with great personal strength, and having a mind of the most disinterested and even exalted sort. It was his humour to be unseen and idle during the whole day, or while the people of the house were a-stir, and only to exert himself while all the rest were asleep.

It was customary for the mistress of the house to leave out work for him, such as the supper dishes to be washed, or the churn to be prepared, and he never failed to have the whole done in the morning.

This drudgery he performed quite gratuitously. He was a most disinterested spirit. To have offered him wages, or even to present him with an occasional boon, would have insured his anger, and perhaps caused him to abandon the establishment altogether.

Numerous stories are told of his resentment in cases of his being thus affronted. For instance, on the goodman of a farmhouse in the parish of Glendevon leaving out some clothes one night for the brownie, he was heard during the night to depart, saying, in a highly offended tone:

Gi'e brownie coat, gi'e brownie sark,
ye'se get nae mair o' brownie's wark!

A Trow Called Broonie


There was a trow called Broonie, who was supposed to be the king of Trowland. He showed himself very often; and it was remarked that if he had been seen in a corn-yard all was sure to be right there, but if the visitant was an ordinary trow, mischief ensued.

You may be sure folks were glad when Broonie paid them a visit, and they were careful not to go near any of the corn which he had been guarding, as it was observed that he objected to being overlooked, and resented such interference by laying the screws in herda (scattering the corn stacks).

Broonie seemed to have taken a whole neighbourhood under his protection, and was seen gliding from yard to yard in the cold evenings, casting his spells upon the crop. The people felt sorry for Broonie, exposed to the chill night air, so they made a cloak and hood for him, and laid it in a yard which he frequented. Broonie took the well-intentioned gi?t as an offence, for he was never seen again.

The Kildare Pooka


The supernatural agent of the next legend will not fit comfortably in any of the divisions of the spiritual world made by Grimm, Croker, Keightley, and others. He would be the Lubber-Fiend of Milton, or the Brownie of Scotland, or the Kobold of the North, but for once having been a "christened man."

Everyone up to the mere alphabet of fairy lore, knows that the pooka does not condescend to household drudgery, but his townsfolk would give the sprite in question no other name; and in consequence, the present editor of the tale does not feel entitled to take any liberties with it. A girl of Kilcock thus related the story to us.

The Kildare Pooka

Mr. H- R-, when he was alive, used to live a good deal in Dublin, and he was once a great while out of the country on account of the "Ninety-eight" business. But the servants kept on in the big house at Rath all the same as if the family was at home.

Well, they used to be frightened out of their lives after going to their beds, with the banging of the kitchen door and the clattering of the fire-irons, and the pots, and plates, and dishes.

One evening they sat up ever so long, keeping one another in heart with telling stories about ghosts and fetches and that when -- what would you have of it? -- the little scullery boy that used to be sleeping over the horses, and couldn't get room at the fire, crept into the hot hearth, and when he got tired listening to the stories, sorra fear him, but he fell dead asleep.

Well and good, after they were all gone, and the fire raked up, he was woke with the noise of the kitchen door opening, and the trampling of an ass on the kitchen floor. He peeped out, and what should he see but a big grey ass, sure enough, sitting on his currabingo, and yawning before the fire.

After a little, he looked about him, and began scratching his ears as if he was quite tired, and says he, "I may as well begin first as last."

The poor boy's teeth began to chatter in his head, for says he, "Now he's goin' to ate me."

But the fellow with the long ears and tail on him, had something else to do. He stirred up the fire, and then he brought in a pail of water from the pump, and filled a big pot, that he put on the fire before he went out. He then put in his hand -- foot, I mean -- into the hot hearth, and pulled out the little boy. He let a roar out of him with the fright, but the pooka only looked at him, and thrust out his lower lip to show how little he valued him, and then he pitched him into his pew again.

Well, he then lay down before the fire till he heard the boil coming on the water, and maybe there wasn't a plate, or a dish, or a spoon on the dresser, that he didn't fetch and put into the pot, and wash and dry the whole bilin' of 'em as well as e'er a kitchenmaid from that to Dublin town. He then put all of them up in their places on the shelves, and, if he didn't give a good sweepin' to the kitchen after all, leave it till again. Then he comes and sits fornent the boy, let down one of his ears and cocked up the other, and gave a grin. The poor fellow strove to roar out, but not a dheeg 'ud come out of his throat. The last thing the pooka done was to rake up the fire, and walk out, giving such a slap o' the door that the boy thought the house couldn't help tumbling down.

Well, to be sure, if there wasn't a hullabulloo next morning when the poor fellow told his story! They could talk of nothing else the whole day.

One said one thing, another said another, but a fat, lazy scullery girl said the wittiest thing of all. "Musha! "says she, "If the pooka does be cleaning up everything that way when we're asleep, what should we be slaving ourselves for, doing his work?"

"Sha gu dheine," says another: "them's the wisest words you ever said, Kauth: it's meself won't contradict you."

So said so done.

Not a bit of a plate or dish saw a drop of water that evening, and not a besom was laid on the floor, and everyone went to bed soon after sundown.

Next morning everything was as fine as fire in the kitchen, and the lord mayor might eat his dinner off the flags. It was great ease to the lazy servants, you may depend, and everything went on well till a foolhardy gag of a boy said he would stay up one night and have a chat with the pooka.

He was a little daunted when the door was thrown open, and the ass marched up to the fire. He didn't open his mouth till the pot was filled, and the pooka lying snug and sausty before the fire.

"Ah then, sir!" says he, at last, picking up courage, "If it isn't taking a liberty, might I ax who you are, and why are you so kind as to do half of the day's work for the girls every night?"

"No liberty at all," says the pooka, says he: "I'll tell you, and welcome. I was a servant here in the time of Squire R.'s father, and was the laziest rogue that ever was clothed and fed, and done nothing for it. When my time came for the other world, this is the punishment was laid on me -- to come here, and do all this labour every night, and then go out in the cold. It isn't so bad in the fine weather, but if you only knew what it is to stand with your head between your legs, facing the storm, from midnight to sunrise on a bleak winter night!"

"And could we do anything for your comfort, my poor fellow?" says the boy.

"Musha, I don't know, "says the pooka; "but I think a good quilted frieze coat would help to keep the life in me, them long nights."

"Why then, in throth, we'd be the ungratefulest of people if we didn't feel for you."

To make a long story short, the next night but two the boy was there again; and if he didn't delight the poor pooka, holding up a fine warm coat before him, it's no matter! Betune the pooka and the man, his legs were got into the four arms of it, and it was buttoned down his breast and his belly, and he was so pleased, he walked up to the glass to see how he looked.

"Well," says he, "it's a long lane that has no turning. I am much obliged to yourself and your fellow-servants. Yous have made me happy at last: good-night to you."

So he was walking out, but the other cried, "Och! Sure you're going too soon: what about the washing and sweeping?"

"Ah, you may tell the girls that they must now get their turn. My punishment was to last till I was thought worthy of a reward for the way I done my duty. You'll see me no more."

And no more they did, and right sorry they were for being in such a hurry to reward the ungrateful pooka.

The Phouka


The Phouka is a friendly being, and often helps the farmer at his work if he is treated well and kindly.

One day a farmer's son was minding cattle in the field when something rushed past him like the wind; but he was not frightened, for he knew it was the Phouka on his way to the old mill by the moat where the fairies met every night.

So he called out, "Phouka, Phouka! show me what you are like, and I'll give you my big coat to keep you warm."

Then a young bull came to him lashing his tail like mad; but Phadrig threw the coat over him, and in a moment he was quiet as a lamb, and told the boy to come to the mill that night when the moon was up, and he would have good luck. So Phadrig went, but saw nothing except sacks of corn all lying about on the ground, for the men had fallen asleep, and no work was done. Then he lay down also and slept, for he was very tired; and when he woke up early in the morning there was all the meal ground, though certainly the men had not done it, for they still slept. And this happened for three nights, after which Phadrig determined to keep awake and watch.

Now there was an old chest in the mill, and he crept into this to hide, and just looked through the keyhole to see what would happen. And exactly at midnight six little fellows came in, each carrying a sack of corn upon his back; and after them came an old man in tattered rags of clothes, and he bade them turn the mill, and they turned and turned till all was ground. Then Phadrig ran to tell his father, and the miller determined to watch the next night with his son, and both together saw the same thing happen.

"Now," said the farmer, "I see it is the Phouka's work, and let him work if it pleases him, for the men are idle and lazy and only sleep. So I'll pack the whole set off tomorrow, and leave the grinding of the corn to this excellent old Phouka."

After this the farmer grew so rich that there was no end to his money, for he had no men to pay, and all his corn was ground without his spending a penny. Of course the people wondered much over his riches, but he never told them about the Phouka, or their curiosity would have spoiled the luck.

Now Phadrig went often to the mill and hid in the chest that he might watch the fairies at work; but he had great pity for the poor old Phouka in his tattered clothes, who yet directed everything and had hard work of it sometimes keeping the little Phoukas in order. So Phadrig, out of love and gratitude, bought a fine suit of cloth and silk and laid it one night on the floor of the mill just where the old Phouka always stood to give his orders to the little men, and then he crept into the chest to watch.

"How is this?" said the Phouka when he saw the clothes. "Are these for me? I shall be turned into a fine gentleman."

And he put them on, and then began to walk up and down admiring himself.

But suddenly he remembered the corn and went to grind as usual, then stopped and cried out, "No, no. No more work for me. Fine gentlemen don't grind corn. I'll go out and see a little of the world and show my fine clothes."

And he kicked away the old rags into a corner, and went out.

No corn was ground that night, nor the next, nor the next; all the little Phoukas ran away, and not a sound was heard in the mill.

Then Phadrig grew very sorry for the loss of his old friend, and used to go out into the fields and call out, "Phouka, Phouka! come back to me. Let me see your face."

But the old Phouka never came back, and all his life long Phadrig never looked on the face of his friend again.

However, the farmer had made so much money that he wanted no more help; and he sold the mill, and reared up Phadrig to be a great scholar and a gentleman, who had his own house and land and servants. And in time he married a beautiful lady, so beautiful that the people said she must be daughter to the king of the fairies.

A strange thing happened at the wedding, for when they all stood up to drink the bride's health, Phadrig saw beside him a golden cup filled with wine. And no one knew how the golden cup had come to his hand; but Phadrig guessed it was the Phouka's gift, and he drank the wine without fear and made his bride drink also. And ever after their lives were happy and prosperous, and the golden cup was kept as a treasure in the family, and the descendants of Phadrig have it in their possession to this day.

The Sprite


Fully three thousand years ago, our neighbor had a lot of grain in his barn. Every morning he found a part of this grain threshed, with sheaves laid out on the threshing-floor for the next day. He could not explain how this came to be. One evening he hid in a corner of the barn and saw a little man come in and start to thresh the grain.

Because the little man was naked, the farmer said to himself, "I have to give him a nice little coat for his labor."

He then said to his wife, "It is a little man who comes to thresh our grain; you will have to make him a little coat."

The next day, the woman took all kinds of cloth pieces, and made a little suit from them. The farmer placed the suit on the pile of grain. The sprite returned the following night, and, threshing the grain, he found the suit.

In his joy he began to skip about, saying, "Whoever serves a good master shall receive a good wage."

Then he put on the suit, and found himself very handsome. "I have been paid for my labor, but who will now thresh the grain?"

Having said that, he left and never returned.

The Fairy Friar


Once upon a time there were three little brothers, who supported themselves by kneading a bushel of dough every night. One morning when they got up early as usual, and went to perform their daily task, they were surprised to find the work done for them, and the loaves all ready to put into the oven. And this happened for several days in succession.

Wishing to find out who it was that did them such a service, they hid themselves one night and watched. They beheld a very little fairy, dressed like a friar, but with his clothes all old and ragged. So they made a new suit of clothes for him and left it in the kitchen.

When the fairy came and saw the new garments placed there for him, he went off with them, singing:

The little friar, when his clothes are new,
Does not want kneading or baking to do;
and never came back any more.

This proves, my dear children, that there are many who, like the little friar, are compliant and useful until they receive a benefit, but that when that is once received, they do not return to repay the person whom they are indebted to for it.

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Revised June 12, 2020.