The Violet Fairy Book HTML version

The Underground Workers
On a bitter night somewhere between Christmas and the New Year, a man set out to walk
to the neighbouring village. It was not many miles off, but the snow was so thick that
there were no roads, or walls, or hedges left to guide him, and very soon he lost his way
altogether, and was glad to get shelter from the wind behind a thick juniper tree. Here he
resolved to spend the night, thinking that when the sun rose he would be able to see his
path again.
So he tucked his legs snugly under him like a hedgehog, rolled himself up in his
sheepskin, and went to sleep. How long he slept, I cannot tell you, but after awhile he
became aware that some one was gently shaking him, while a stranger whispered, 'My
good man, get up! If you lie there any more, you will be buried in the snow, and no one
will ever know what became of you.'
The sleeper slowly raised his head from his furs, and opened his heavy eyes. Near him
stood a long thin man, holding in his hand a young fir tree taller than himself. 'Come with
me,' said the man, 'a little way off we have made a large fire, and you will rest far better
there than out upon this moor.' The sleeper did not wait to be asked twice, but rose at
once and followed the stranger. The snow was falling so fast that he could not see three
steps in front of him, till the stranger waved his staff, when the drifts parted before them.
Very soon they reached a wood, and saw the friendly glow of a fire.
'What is your name?' asked the stranger, suddenly turning round.
'I am called Hans, the son of Long Hans,' said the peasant.
In front of the fire three men were sitting clothed in white, just as if it was summer, and
for about thirty feet all round winter had been banished. The moss was dry and the plants
green, while the grass seemed all alive with the hum of bees and cockchafers. But above
the noise the son of Long Hans could hear the whistling of the wind and the crackling of
the branches as they fell beneath the weight of the snow.
'Well! you son of Long Hans, isn't this more comfortable than your juniper bush?'
laughed the stranger, and for answer Hans replied he could not thank his friend enough
for having brought him here, and, throwing off his sheepskin, rolled it up as a pillow.
Then, after a hot drink which warmed both their hearts, they lay down on the ground. The
stranger talked for a little to the other men in a language Hans did not understand, and
after listening for a short time he once more fell asleep.
When he awoke, neither wood nor fire was to be seen, and he did not know where he
was. He rubbed his eyes, and began to recall the events of the night, thinking he must
have been dreaming; but for all that, he could not make out how he came to be in this
Suddenly a loud noise struck on his ear, and he felt the earth tremble beneath his feet.
Hans listened for a moment, then resolved to go towards the place where the sound came
from, hoping he might come across some human being. He found himself at length at the
mouth of a rocky cave in which a fire seemed burning. He entered, and saw a huge forge,
and a crowd of men in front of it, blowing bellows and wielding hammers, and to each
anvil were seven men, and a set of more comical smiths could not be found if you