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Legends Of Rubezahl Or Number-nip

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: German

Once upon a time a glazier who was travelling across the mountains,
feeling very tired from the heavy load of glass which he was carrying,
began to look about to discover a place where he might rest it.
Rubezahl, who had been watching for some time, no sooner saw this than
he changed himself into a little mound, which the glazier not long
afterwards discovered in his way, and on which, well pleased, he
proposed to seat himself. But his joy was not of long continuance, for
he had not sat there many minutes before the heap vanished from under
him so rapidly, that the poor glazier fell to the ground with his
glass, which was by the fall smashed into a thousand pieces.

The poor fellow arose from the ground and looked around him, but the
mound of earth on which he had before seated himself was no longer
visible. Then he began bitterly to lament, and to sigh with heartfelt
sorrow over his untoward fate. At length he started once more on his
journey. Upon this Rubezahl, assuming the appearance of a traveller,
accosted him, and inquired why he so lamented, and what was the great
sorrow with which he was afflicted. The glazier related to him the
whole affair, how that, being weary, he had seated himself upon a
mound by the wayside, how this had suddenly overthrown him, and broken
to pieces his whole stock of glass, which was well worth eight
dollars, and how, in short, the mound itself had suddenly disappeared.
He declared that he knew not in the least how to recover his loss and
bring the business to a good ending. The compassionate mountain sprite
comforted him, told him who he was, and that he himself had played him
the trick, and at the same time bade him be of good cheer, for his
losses should be made good to him.

Upon this Rubezahl transformed himself into an ass, and directed the
glazier to sell him at the mill which lay at the foot of the mountain,
and to be sure to make off with the purchase-money as quickly as
possible. The glazier accordingly immediately bestrode the transformed
mountain sprite, and rode him down the mountain to the mill, where he
offered him for sale to the miller at the price of ten dollars. The
miller offered nine, and the glazier, without further haggling, took
the money and went his way.

When he was gone the miller sent his newly purchased beast to the
stable, and the boy who had charge of him immediately filled his rack
with hay. Upon this Rubezahl exclaimed--

"I don't eat hay. I eat nothing but roasted and boiled, and that of
the best."

The boy's hair stood on end. He flew to his master, and related to him
this wondrous tale, and he no sooner heard it than he hastened to the
stable and there found nothing, for his ass and his nine dollars were
alike vanished.

But the miller was rightly served, for he had cheated in his time many
poor people, therefore Rubezahl punished in this manner the injustice
of which he had been guilty.

* * * * *

In the year 1512 a man of noble family, who was a very tyrant and
oppressor, had commanded one of his vassals or peasants to carry home
with his horses and cart an oak of extraordinary magnitude, and
threatened to visit him with the heaviest disgrace and punishment if
he neglected to fulfil his desires. The peasant saw that it was
impossible for him to execute the command of his lord, and fled to the
woods with great sorrow and lamentation.

There he was accosted by Rubezahl, who appeared to him like a man, and
inquired of him the cause of his so great sorrow and affliction. Upon
this the peasant related to him all the circumstances of the case.
When Rubezahl heard it he bade him be of good cheer and care not, but
go home to his house again, as he himself would soon transport the
oak, as his lord required, into his courtyard.

Scarcely had the peasant got well home again before Rubezahl took the
monstrous oak-tree, with its thick and sturdy boughs, and hurled it
into the courtyard of the nobleman, and with its huge stem, and its
many thick branches, so choked and blocked up the entrance that no one
could get either in or out. And because the oak proved harder than
their iron tools, and could in no manner or wise, and with no power
which they could apply to it, be hewn or cut in pieces, the nobleman
was compelled to break through the walls in another part of the
courtyard, and have a new doorway made, which was only done with great
labour and expense.

* * * * *

Once upon a time Rubezahl made, from what materials is not known, a
quantity of pigs, which he drove to the neighbouring market and sold
to a peasant, with a caution that the purchaser should not drive them
through any water.

Now, what happened? Why these same swine having chanced to get sadly
covered with mire, what must the peasant do, but drive them to the
river, which they had no sooner entered than the pigs suddenly became
wisps of straw, and were carried away by the stream. The purchaser
was, moreover, obliged to put up with the loss, for he could neither
find his pigs again, nor could he discover the person from whom he
had bought them.

* * * * *

Rubezahl once betook himself to the Hirschberg, which is in the
neighbourhood of his forest haunts, and there offered his services as
a woodcutter to one of the townsmen, asking for his remuneration
nothing more than a bundle of wood. This the man promised him,
accepting his offer, and pointed out some cart-loads, intending to
give him some assistance. To this offer of help in his labours
Rubezahl replied--

"No. It is quite unnecessary. All that is to be done I can very well
accomplish by myself."

Upon this his new master made a few further inquiries, asking him what
sort of a hatchet he had got, for he had noticed that his supposed
servant was without one.

"Oh," said Rubezahl, "I'll soon get a hatchet."

Accordingly he laid hands upon his left leg, and pulled that and his
foot and all off at the thigh, and with it cut, as if he had been
raving mad, all the wood into small pieces of proper lengths and sizes
in about a quarter of an hour, thus proving that a dismembered foot is
a thousand times more effectual for such purposes than the sharpest

In the meanwhile the owner (who saw plainly that mischief was
intended) kept calling upon the wondrous woodcutter to desist and go
about his business. Rubezahl, however, kept incessantly answering--

"No, I won't stir from this spot until I have hewn the wood as small
as I agreed to, and have got my wages for so doing."

In the midst of such quarrelling Rubezahl finished his job, and
screwed his leg on again, for while at work he had been standing on
one leg, after the fashion of a stork. Then he gathered together into
one bundle all he had cut, placed it on his shoulder, and started off
with it towards his favourite retreat, heedless of the tears and
lamentations of his master.

On this occasion Rubezahl did not appear in the character of a
sportive or mischievous spirit, but as an avenger of injustice, for
his employer had induced a number of poor men to bring wood to his
home upon the promise of paying them wages, which, however, he had
never paid them. Rubezahl laid at the door of each of these poor men
as much of the wood he carried away as would repay them, and so the
business was brought to a proper termination.

* * * * *

It once happened that a messenger vexed or played some trick upon
Rubezahl, who thereupon revenged himself in the following manner, and
so wiped out the score.

The messenger, in one of his journeys over the mountains, entered an
hotel to refresh himself, and placed his spear as usual behind the
door. No sooner had he done so than Rubezahl carried off the spear,
transformed himself into a similar one, and took its place.

When the messenger, after taking his rest, set forth again with the
spear, and had got some little way on his journey, it began slipping
about every now and then in such a manner that the messenger began
pitching forward into the most intolerable mire, and got himself sadly
bespattered. It did this so often that at last he could not tell for
the soul of him what had come to the spear, or why he kept slipping
forward with it instead of seizing fast hold of the ground.

He looked at it longways and sideways, from above, from underneath,
but in spite of all his attempts, no change could he discover.

After this inspection he went forward a little way, when suddenly he
was once more plunged into the morass, and commenced crying--

"Woe is me! woe is me!" at his spear, which led him into such scrapes,
and did nothing to release him from them. At length he got himself
once more to rights, and then he turned the spear the wrong way
upwards. No sooner had he done so than he was driven backwards instead
of forwards, and so got into a worse plight than ever.

After this he laid the spear across his shoulder like a pikeman, since
it was no use to trail it upon the earth, and in this fashion he
started on. But Rubezahl continued his tricks by pressing on the
messenger as though he had got a yoke on his back. He changed the
spear from one shoulder to the other, until at last, from very
weariness, he threw away the bewitched weapon, imagining that the Evil
One must possess it, and went his way without it.

He had not proceeded above a quarter of a mile, when, looking
carelessly about him, he was astounded to find his spear by his side.
He was sadly frightened, and little knew what to make of it. At last
he boldly ventured to lay hands upon it. He did so, and lifted it up,
but he could not conceive how he should carry it. He had no desire to
trail it any more on the ground, and the thought of carrying it on his
shoulder made him shudder. He decided, however, to give it another
trial, carrying it in his hand. Fresh troubles now arose. The spear
weighed so heavy that he could not stir it a foot from the spot, and
though he tried first one hand and then another, all his efforts were
in vain.

At last he bethought him of riding upon the spear, as a child
bestrides a stick. A wonderful change now came over the weapon. It ran
on as though it had been a fleet horse, and thus mounted the messenger
rode on without ceasing until he descended the mountain and came into
the city, where he excited the wonder, delight, and laughter of the
worthy burghers.

Although he had endured some trouble in the early part of his
journey, the messenger thought he had been amply compensated at the
close, and he comforted himself by making up his mind that in all
future journeys he was destined to perform he would bestride his
nimble spear. His good intentions were, however, frustrated. Rubezahl
had played his game, and had had all the amusement he desired with the
poor knave. Accordingly he scampered away, leaving in his place the
real spear, which never played any more tricks, but, after the old
fashion of other spears, accompanied its master in a becoming and
orderly style.

* * * * *

A poor woman, who got her living by gathering herbs, once went,
accompanied by her two children, to the mountains, carrying with her a
basket in which to gather the plants, which she was in the habit of
disposing of to the apothecaries. Having chanced to discover a large
tract of land covered with such plants as were most esteemed, she
busied herself so in filling her basket that she lost her way, and was
troubled to find out how to get back to the path from which she had
wandered. On a sudden a man dressed like a peasant appeared before
her, and said--

"Well, good woman, what is it you are looking for so anxiously? and
where do you want to go?"

"Alas!" replied she, "I am a poor woman who has neither bit nor sup,
for which reason I am obliged to wander to gather herbs, so that I
may buy bread for myself and my hungry children. I have lost my way,
and cannot find it. I pray you, good man, take pity on me, and lead me
out of the thicket into the right path, so that I may make the best of
my way home."

"Well, my good woman," replied Rubezahl, for it was he, "make yourself
happy. I will show you the way. But what good are those roots to you?
They will be of little benefit. Throw away this rubbish, and gather
from this tree as many leaves as will fill your basket; you will find
them answer your purpose much better."

"Alas!" said the woman, "who would give a penny for them? They are but
common leaves, and good for nothing."

"Be advised, my good woman," said Rubezahl; "throw away those you have
got, and follow me."

He repeated his injunction over and over again in vain, until he got
tired, for the woman would not be persuaded. At last, he fairly laid
hold of the basket, threw the herbs out by main force, and supplied
their place with leaves from the surrounding bushes. When he had
finished, he told the woman to go home, and led her into the right

The woman, with her children and her basket, journeyed on some
distance; but they had not gone far before she saw some valuable herbs
growing by the wayside. No sooner did she perceive them than she
longed to gather them, for she hoped that she should obtain something
for them, while the leaves with which her basket was crammed were, she
thought, good for nothing. She accordingly emptied her basket,
throwing away the rubbish, as she esteemed it, and having filled it
once more with roots, journeyed on to her dwelling at Kirschdorf.

As soon as she arrived at her home she cleansed the roots she had
gathered from the earth which clung around them, tied them neatly
together, and emptied everything out of the basket. Upon doing this,
something glittering caught her eye, and she commenced to make a
careful examination of the basket. She was surprised to discover
several ducats sticking to the wickerwork, and these were clearly such
of the leaves as remained of those which she had so thoughtlessly
thrown away on the mountains.

She rejoiced at having preserved what she had, but she was again
sorely vexed that she had not taken care of all that the mountain
spirit had gathered for her. She hastened back to the spot where she
had emptied the basket, in hopes of finding some of the leaves there;
but her search was in vain--they had all vanished.

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