Part 8 out of 8
and the other poor. Christmas was approaching, but the poor man had
nothing in the house for a Christmas dinner; so he went to his brother
and asked him for a trifling gift.
The rich man was ill-natured, and when he heard his brother's request he
looked very surly. But as Christmas is a time when even the worst people
give gifts, he took a fine ham down from the chimney, where it was
hanging to smoke, threw it at his brother, and bade him be gone and
never show his face again.
The poor man thanked his brother for the ham, put it under his arm, and
went his way. He had to pass through a great forest on his way home, and
when he reached the thickest part of it, he saw an old man, with a long,
white beard, hewing timber. "Good evening," said the poor man.
"Good evening," returned the old man, raising himself from his work, and
looking at him. "That is a fine ham you are carrying."
On hearing this, the poor man told him all about the ham and how it was
"It is lucky for you," says the old man, "that you have met with me. If
you will take that ham into the land of the dwarfs, the entrance to
which lies just under the roots of this tree, you can make a capital
bargain with it; for the dwarfs are very fond of ham, and rarely get
any. But mind what I say; you must not sell it for money, but demand for
it the old hand-mill which stands behind the door. When you come back
I'll show you how to use it."
The poor man thanked his new friend, who showed him the door under a
stone below the roots of the tree, and by this door he entered into the
land of the dwarfs. No sooner had he set foot in it than the dwarfs
swarmed about him, attracted by the smell of the ham. They offered him
queer, old-fashioned money and gold and silver ore for it; but he
refused all their tempting offers, and said that he would sell it only
for the old hand-mill behind the door. At this the dwarfs held up their
little old hands and looked quite perplexed.
"We cannot make a bargain, it seems," said the poor man, "so I'll bid
you all good day."
The fragrance of the ham had by this time reached the remote parts of
the land. The dwarfs came flocking around in little troops, leaving
their work of digging out precious ores, eager for the ham. "Let him
have the old mill," said some of the newcomers; "it is quite out of
order, and he does not know how to use it. Let him have it, and we will
have the ham."
So the bargain was made. The poor man took the old hand-mill, which was
a little thing, not half so large as the ham, and went back to the
woods. Here the old man showed him how to use it. All this had taken up
a great deal of time, and it was midnight before he reached home.
"Where in the world have you been?" said his wife. "Here I have been
waiting and waiting, and we have no wood to make a fire, nor anything to
put into the porridge-pot for our Christmas supper."
[Illustration: SO THE BARGAIN WAS MADE]
The house was dark and cold; but the poor man bade his wife wait and see
what would happen. He placed the little hand-mill on the table, and
began to turn the crank. First, out there came some grand, lighted wax
candles, and a fire on the hearth, and a porridge-pot boiling over it,
because in his mind he said they should come first. Then he ground out a
tablecloth, and dishes, and spoons, and knives and forks, and napkins.
He was himself astonished at his good luck, as you may believe; and his
wife was almost beside herself with joy and astonishment. Well, they had
a capital supper; and after it was eaten, they ground out of the mill
every possible thing to make their house and themselves warm and
comfortable. So they had a merry Christmas eve and morning, made merrier
by the thought that they need never want again.
When the people went by the house to church the next day, they could
hardly believe their eyes. There was glass in the windows instead of
wooden shutters, and the poor man and his wife, dressed in new clothes,
were seen devoutly kneeling in the church.
"There is something very strange in all this," said every one.
"Something very strange indeed," said the rich man, when three days
afterwards he received an invitation from his once poor brother to a
grand feast. And what a feast it was! The table was covered with a cloth
as white as snow, and the dishes were all of silver or gold. The rich
man could not in his great house, and with all his wealth, set out such
a table, or serve such food.
"Where did you get all these things?" exclaimed he. His brother told him
all about the bargain he had made with the dwarfs, and putting the mill
on the table, ground out boots and shoes, coats and cloaks, stockings,
gowns, and blankets, and bade his wife give them to the poor people that
had gathered about the house to get a sight of the grand feast the poor
brother had made for the rich one, and to sniff the delightful odors
that came from the kitchen.
The rich man was very envious of his brother's good fortune, and wanted
to borrow the mill, intending--for he was not an honest man--never to
return it again. His brother would not lend it, for the old man with the
white beard had told him never to sell or lend it to any one, no matter
what inducements might be offered.
Some years went by, and at last the possessor of the mill built himself
a grand castle on a rock by the sea, facing west. Its windows,
reflecting the golden sunset, could be seen far out from the shore, and
it became a noted landmark for sailors. Strangers from foreign parts
often came to see this castle and the wonderful mill, of which the most
extraordinary tales were told.
At length a great foreign merchant came, and when he had seen the mill,
inquired whether it would grind salt. Being told that it would, he
wanted to buy it, for he traded in salt, and thought that if he owned
the mill he could supply all his customers without taking long and
The man would not sell it, of course. He was so rich now that he did not
want to use it for himself; but every Christmas he ground out food and
clothes and coal for the poor, and nice presents for the little
children. So he rejected all the offers of the rich merchant, who,
however, determined to have it. He bribed one of the man's servants to
let him go into the castle at night, and he stole the mill and sailed
away in triumph, feeling certain that his fortune was made.
He had scarcely got out to sea before he determined to set the mill to
work. "Now, mill, grind salt," said he; "grind salt with all your
might!--Salt, salt, and nothing but salt!" The mill began to grind, and
the sailors to fill the sacks; but these were soon full, and in spite of
all that could be done, it began to fill the ship.
The dishonest merchant was now very much frightened. What was to be
done? The mill would not stop grinding; and at last the ship was
overloaded, and down it went, making a great whirlpool where it sank.
The ship went to pieces; but the mill stands on the bottom of the sea,
and keeps grinding out "salt, salt, nothing but salt!" That is the
reason, say the peasants of Denmark and Norway, why the sea is salt.