The Woman among the Elves


Not long ago there lived in Frankenberg a midwife who could tell many amazing things about the elves, for once she had spent an entire eight days among them observing their deeds and ways.

One dark night when all the neighbors were sound asleep a loud knocking at the house door had awakened the woman. She jumped up and peered through the window, but she could see nothing except for a lantern in front of the house.

Then a voice called out, “Throw on your clothes and come with me. A woman is in need of your service!”

The midwife did what she had been asked, went down, and with hesitating steps followed the lantern, which was already one street ahead of her. She could not see the person who was carrying it. Thus it went through several streets, then out through the convent gate, and then a good way beyond the town.

Finally the light stopped moving. A hidden trapdoor opened, and many steps led underground. Trembling and praying, the midwife followed her mysterious leader, and before long she found herself in a roomy chamber surrounded by elves, who cordially welcomed her. Before she had time to recover from her surprise, one of the little people stepped up to her and asked her to follow him to the woman for whose sake she had been summoned.

Soon afterward a tiny, cute elf came to the world. Since mother and child were both doing well, the midwife hoped that she would be able to return to her own people the next morning. But that was not so. The elves did not want to let her go. Each day they treated her better than the day before, giving her everything that she could want.

During this time the elves often went out, not returning unless they were loaded down with all kinds of pretty things. Before leaving they always rubbed their eyes with a liquid which they kept in a glass. The old woman noticed this, and once when the little people had gone out she found the glass and put a little of its contents on her right eye.

In the meantime eight days had passed, and the elves no longer resisted the old woman’s request. As soon as it was dark they allowed her to return home, saying, “For your reward take along those sweepings behind the door!”

Smart enough to not despise the unusual gift, she brushed the sweepings into her apron. Then with good cheer she followed the lantern, which — as had happened eight days earlier — was carried on ahead by an invisible hand.

A half hour later she arrived safely at home, much to the amazement of her husband, who for eight days had been terribly worried over her disappearance. She told him everything that had happened and then shook the sweepings that she was carrying in her apron onto the table before him.

Oh, how the old people’s hearts leapt for joy! How their eyes gleamed! How they stood there in silence, fearing that one little word of gladness might cause the dream to vanish that now so enraptured them! Finally they found their tongues. Their amazement turned to words, and they saw that it was no dream. It was pure reality. Lying on the table was a pile of glistening gold pieces!

Some time later there was a fair in Frankenberg. The midwife, who had suddenly become rich, walked among the market booths looking and from time to time making a purchase. Suddenly she saw the elves scattered throughout the crowd. Unseen by others they were skillfully plundering the tables and booths. This she could see with her right eye, which she had rubbed with the liquid at the time she was with the elves.

She could not stand to see the little thieves freely getting away with this, so she called out, “Hey! What are you doing?”

The elves recognized her and asked, “Which eye can you see us with?”

She answered, “With the right one.”

Then they blew into her right eye, and in that instant it became like a black night. She never saw the elves again, and for as long as she lived she remained blind in her right eye.

  • Source, Karl Lyncker, Deutsche Sagen und Sitten in hessischen Gauen (Kassel: Verlag von Oswald Bertram, 1854), no. 71, pp. 45-47.
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