Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Neighbor Underground

The Neighbor Underground [The Norwegian Fairy Book]

 The Neighbor Underground [The Norwegian Fairy Book]

Once upon a time there was a peasant who lived in Telemarken, and had a big farm; yet he had nothing but bad luck with his cattle, and at last lost his house and holding. He had scarcely anything left, and with the little he had, he bought a bit of land that lay off to one side, far away from the city, in the wildwood and the wilderness. One day, as he was passing through his farm-yard, he met a man.

“Good-day, neighbor!” said the man.

“Good-day,” said the peasant, “I thought I was all alone here. Are you a neighbor of mine?”

“You can see my homestead over yonder,” said the man. “It is not far from your own.” And there lay a farm-holding such as he had never before seen, handsome and prosperous, and in fine condition. Then he knew very well that this must be one of the underground people; yet he had no fear, but invited his neighbor in to drink a glass with him, and the neighbor seemed to enjoy it .

“Listen,” said the neighbor, “there is one thing you must do for me as a favor.”

“First let me know what it is,” said the peasant.

“You must shift your cow-stable, because it is in my way,” was the answer he gave the peasant.

“No, I’ll not do that,” said the peasant. “I put it up only this summer, and the winter is coming on. What am I to do with my cattle then?”

“Well, do as you choose; but if you do not tear it down, you will live to regret it,” said his neighbor. And with that he went his way.

The peasant was surprised at this, and did not know what to do. It seemed quite foolish to him to start in to tear down his stable when the long winter night was approaching, and besides, he could not count on help.

One day as he was standing in his stable, he sank through the ground. Down below, in the place to which he had come, everything was unspeakably handsome. There was nothing which was not of gold or of silver. Then the man who had called himself his neighbor came along, and bade him sit down. After a time food was brought in on a silver platter, and mead in a silver jug, and the neighbor invited him to draw up to the table and eat. The peasant did not dare refuse, and sat down at the table; but just as he was about to dip his spoon into the dish, something fell down into his food from above, so that he lost his appetite. “Yes, yes,” said the man, “now you can see why we don’t like your stable. We can never eat in peace, for as soon as we sit down to a meal, dirt and straw fall down, and no matter how hungry we may be, we lose our appetites and cannot eat. But if you will do me the favor to set up your stable elsewhere, you shall never go short of pasture nor good crops, no matter how old you may grow to be. But if you won’t, you shall know naught but lean years all your life long.”

When the peasant heard that, he went right to work pulling down his stable, to put it up again in another place. Yet he could not have worked alone, for at night, when all slept, the building of the new stable went forward just as it did by day, and well he knew his neighbor was helping him .

Nor did he regret it later, for he had enough of feed and corn, and his cattle waxed fat. Once there was a year of scarcity, and feed was so short that he was thinking of selling or slaughtering half his herd. But one morning, when the milk-maid went into the stable, the dog was gone, and with him all the cows and the calves. She began to cry and told the peasant. But he thought to himself, that it was probably his neighbor’s doings, who had taken the cattle to pasture. And sure enough, so it was; for toward spring, when the woods grew green, he saw the dog come along, barking and leaping, by the edge of the forest, and after him followed all the cows and calves, and the whole herd was so fat it was a pleasure to look at it.


“The Neighbor Underground” (Idem, p. 149, from Halland, told Asbjörnsen by a Hallander whom he met at Björnsjo, fishing) will not surprise the reader who knows the Danish tale of the “Ale of the Trolls.” Now and again the underground folk and trolls show themselves to be kind and grateful beings, when their wishes are granted, and when they are not annoyed by obtrusive curiosity.