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From dutch fairy tales by william griffis.
Age Rating 6 to 8.
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Start of Story
When the young queen Wilhelmina visited Brabant and Limburg, they amused
her with pageants and plays, in which the little fellows called
kabouters, in Dutch, and kobolds in German, played and showed off their
tricks. Other small folk, named gnomes, took part in the tableaux. The
kabouters are the dark elves, who live in forests and mines. The white
elves live in the open fields and the sunshine.
The gnomes do the thinking, but the kabouters carry out the work of
mining and gathering the precious stones and minerals. They are short,
thick fellows, very strong and are strenuous in digging out coal and
iron, copper and gold. When they were first made, they were so ugly,
that they had to live where they could not be seen, that is, in the dark
places. The grown imps look like old men with beards, but no one ever
heard of a kabouter that was taller than a yardstick. As for the babies,
they are hardly bigger than a man's thumb. The big boys and girls, in
the kabouter kingdom, are not much over a foot high.
What is peculiar about them all is, that they help the good and wise
people to do things better; but they love to plague and punish the dull
folks, that are stupid, or foolish or naughty. In impish glee, they lure
the blockheads, or in Dutch, the "cheese-heads," to do worse.
A long time ago, there were no church spires or bells in the land of the
Dutch folks, as there are now by the thousands. The good teachers from
the South came into the country and taught the people to have better
manners, finer clothes and more wholesome food. They also persuaded them
to forget their cruel gods and habits of revenge. They told of the
Father in Heaven, who loves us all, as his children, and forgives us
when we repent of our evil doings.
Now when the chief gnomes and kabouters heard of the newcomers in the
land, they held a meeting and said one to the other:
"We shall help all the teachers that are good and kind, but we shall
plague and punish the rough fellows among them."
So word was sent to all little people in the mines and hills,
instructing them how they were to act and what they were to do.
Some of the new teachers, who were foreigners, and did not know the
customs of the country, were very rude and rough. Every day they hurt
the feelings of the people. With their axes they cut down the sacred
trees. They laughed scornfully at the holy wells and springs of water.
They reviled the people, when they prayed to great Woden, with his black
ravens that told him everything, or to the gentle Freya, with her white
doves, who helped good girls to get kind husbands. They scolded the
children at play, and this made their fathers and mothers feel
miserable. This is the reason why so many people were angry and sullen,
and would not listen to the foreign teachers.
Worse than this, many troubles came to these outsiders. Their bread was
sour, when they took it out of the oven. So was the milk, in their pans.
Sometimes they found their beds turned upside down. Gravel stones
rattled down into their fireplaces. Their hats and shoes were missing.
In fact, they had a terrible time generally and wanted to go back home.
When the kabouter has a grudge against any one, he knows how to plague
But the teachers that were wise and gentle had no trouble. They
persuaded the people with kind words, and, just as a baby learns to eat
other food at the table, so the people were weaned away from cruel
customs and foolish beliefs. Many of the land's folk came to listen to
the teachers and helped them gladly to build churches.
More wonderful than this, were the good things that came to these kind
teachers, they knew not how. Their bread and milk were always sweet and
in plenty. They found their beds made up and their clothes kept clean,
gardens planted with blooming flowers, and much hard work done for them.
When they would build a church in a village, they wondered how it was
that the wood and the nails, the iron necessary to brace the beams, and
the copper and brass for the sacred vessels, came so easily and in
plenty. When, on some nights, they wondered where they would get food to
eat, they found, on waking up in the morning, that there was always
something good ready for them. Thus many houses of worship were built,
and the more numerous were the churches, the more did farms, cows, grain
fields, and happy people multiply.
Now when the gnomes and kabouters, who like to do work for pleasant
people, heard that the good teachers wanted church bells, to call the
people to worship, they resolved to help the strangers. They would make
not only a bell, or a chime, but, actually a carillon, or concert of
bells to hang up in the air.
The dark dwarfs did not like to dig metal for swords or spears, or what
would hurt people; but the church bells would guide travellers in the
forest, and quiet the storms, that destroyed houses and upset boats and
killed or drowned people, besides inviting the people to come and pray
and sing. They knew that the good teachers were poor and could not buy
bells in France or Italy. Even if they had money, they could not get
them through the thick forests, or over the stormy seas, for they were
When all the kabouters were told of this, they came together to work,
night and day, in the mines. With pick and shovel, crowbar and chisel,
and hammer and mallet, they broke up the rocks containing copper and
tin. Then they built great roaring fires, to smelt the ore into ingots.
They would show the teachers that the Dutch kabouters could make bells,
as well as the men in the lands of the South. These dwarfish people are
jealous of men and very proud of what they can do.
It was the funniest sight to see these short legged fellows, with tiny
coats coming just below their thighs, and little red caps, looking like
a stocking and ending in a tassel, on their heads, and in shoes that had
no laces, but very long points. They flew around as lively as monkeys,
and when the fire was hot they threw off everything and worked much
harder and longer than men do.
Were they like other fairies? Well, hardly. One must put away all his
usual thoughts, when he thinks of kabouters. No filmy wings on their
backs! No pretty clothes or gauzy garments, or stars, or crowns, or
wands! Instead of these were hammers, pickaxes, and chisels. But how
diligent, useful and lively these little folks, in plain, coarse coats
and with bare legs, were! In place of things light, clean and easy, the
kabouters had furnaces, crucibles and fires of coal and wood.
Sometimes they were grimy, with smoke and coal dust, and the sweat ran
down their faces and bodies. Yet there was always plenty of water in the
mines, and when hard work was over they washed and looked plain but
tidy. Besides their stores of gold, and silver, and precious stones,
which they kept ready, to give to good people, they had tools with which
to tease or tantalize cruel, mean or lazy folks.
Now when the kabouter daddies began the roaring fires for the making of
the bells, the little mothers and the small fry in the kabouter world
could not afford to be idle. One and all, they came down from off the
earth, and into the mines they went in a crowd. They left off teasing
milkmaids, tangling skeins of flax, tearing fishermen's nets, tying
knots in cows' tails, tumbling pots, pans and dishes, in the kitchen, or
hiding hats, and throwing stones down the chimneys onto the fireplaces.
They even ceased their fun of mocking children, who were calling the
cows home, by hiding behind the rocks and shouting to them. Instead of
these tricks, they saved their breath to blow the fires into a blast.
Everybody wondered where the "kabs" were, for on the farms and in town
nothing happened and all was as quiet as when a baby is asleep.
For days and weeks underground, the dwarfs toiled, until their skins,
already dark, became as sooty as the rafters in the houses of our
ancestors. Finally, when all the labor was over, the chief gnomes were
invited down into the mines to inspect the work.
What a sight! There were at least a hundred bells, of all sizes, like as
in a family; where there are daddy, mother, grown ups, young sons and
daughters, little folk and babies, whether single, twins or triplets.
Big bells, that could scarcely be put inside a hogshead, bells that
would go into a barrel, bells that filled a bushel, and others a peck,
stood in rows. From the middle, and tapering down the row, were scores
more, some of them no larger than cow-bells. Others, at the end, were so
small, that one had to think of pint and gill measures.
Besides all these, there were stacks of iron rods and bars, bolts, nuts,
screws, and wires and yokes on which to hang the bells.
One party of the strongest of the kabouters had been busy in the forest,
close to a village, where some men, ordered to do so by a foreign
teacher, had begun to cut down some of the finest and most sacred of the
grand old trees. They had left their tools in the woods; but the "kabs,"
at night, seized their axes and before morning, without making any
noise, they had levelled all but the holy trees. Those they spared.
Then, the timber, all cut and squared, ready to hold the bells, was
brought to the mouth of the mine.
Now in Dutch, the name for bell is "klok." So a wise and gray-bearded
gnome was chosen by the high sounding title of klokken-spieler, or bell
player, to test the bells for a carillon. They were all hung, for
practice, on the big trestles, in a long row. Each one of these frames
was called a "hang," for they were just like those on which fishermen's
nets were laid to dry and be mended.
So when all were ready, washed, and in their clean clothes, every one of
the kabouter families, daddies, mothers, and young ones, were ranged in
lines and made to sing. The heavy male tenors and baritones, the female
sopranos and contraltos, the trebles of the little folks, and the
squeaks of the very small children, down to the babies' cooing, were all
heard by the gnomes, who were judges. The high and mighty
klokken-spieler, or master of the carillon, chose those voices with best
tone and quality, from which to set in order and regulate the bells.
It was pitiful to see how mad and jealous some of the kabouters, both
male and female, were, when they were not appointed to the first row, in
which were some of the biggest of the males, and some of the fattest of
the females. Then the line tapered off, to forty or fifty young folks,
including urchins of either sex, down to mere babies, that could hardly
stand. These had bibs on and had to be held up by their fond mothers.
Each one by itself could squeal and squall, coo and crow lustily; but,
at a distance, their voices blended and the noise they made sounded like
All being ready, the old gnome bit his tuning fork, hummed a moment, and
then started a tune. Along the line, at a signal from the chief gnome,
they started a tune.
In the long line, there were, at first, booms and peals, twanging and
clanging, jangling and wrangling, making such a clangor that it sounded
more like an uproar than an opera. The chief gnome was almost
But neither a gnome nor a kabouter ever gives up. The master of the
choir tried again and again. He scolded one old daddy, for singing too
low. He frowned at a stalwart young fellow, who tried to drown out all
the rest with his bull-like bellow. He shook his finger at a kabouter
girl, that was flirting with a handsome lad near her. He cheered up the
little folks, encouraging them to hold up their voices, until finally he
had all in order. Then they practiced, until the master gnome thought he
had his scale of notation perfect and gave orders to attune the bells.
To the delight of all the gnomes, kabouters and elves, that had been
invited to the concert, the rows of bells, a hundred or more, from
boomers to tinklers, made harmony. Strung one above the other, they
could render merriment, or sadness, in solos, peals, chimes, cascades
and carillons, with sweetness and effect. At the low notes the babies
called out "cow, cow;" but at the high notes, "bird, bird."
So it happened that, on the very day that the bishop had his great
church built, with a splendid bulb spire on the top, and all nicely
furnished within, but without one bell to ring in it, that the kabouters
planned a great surprise.
It was night. The bishop was packing his saddle bags, ready to take a
journey, on horseback, to Rheims. At this city, the great caravans from
India and China ended, bringing to the annual fair, rugs, spices, gems,
and things Oriental, and the merchants of Rheims rolled in gold. Here
the bishop would beg the money, or ask for a bell, or chimes.
Suddenly, in the night, while in his own house, there rang out music in
the air, such as the bishop had never heard in Holland, or in any of the
seventeen provinces of the Netherlands. Not even in the old lands,
France, or Spain, or Italy, where the Christian teachers, builders and
singers, and the music of the bells had long been heard, had such a
flood of sweet sounds ever fallen on human ears. Here, in these northern
regions, rang out, not a solo, nor a peal, nor a chime, nor even a
cascade, from one bell, or from many bells; but, a long programme of
richest music in the air--something which no other country, however rich
or old, possessed. It was a carillon, that is, a continued mass of real
music, in which whole tunes, songs, and elaborate pieces of such length,
mass and harmony, as only a choir of many voices, a band of music, or an
orchestra of many performers could produce.
To get this grand work of hanging in the spire done in one night, and
before daylight, also, required a whole regiment of fairy toilers, who
must work like bees. For if one ray of sunshine struck any one of the
kabouters, he was at once petrified. The light elves lived in the
sunshine and thrived on it; but for dark elves, like the kabouters,
whose home was underground, sunbeams were as poisoned arrows bringing
sure death; for by these they were turned into stone. Happily the task
was finished before the eastern sky grew gray, or the cocks crowed.
While it was yet dark, the music in the air flooded the earth. The
people in their beds listened with rapture.
"Laus Deo" (Praise God), devoutly cried the surprised bishop. "It sounds
like a choir of angels. Surely the cherubim and seraphim are here. Now
is fulfilled the promise of the Psalmist: 'The players on instruments
shall be there.'"
So, from this beginning, so mysterious to the rough, unwise and stupid
teachers, but, by degrees, clearer to the tactful ones, who were kind
and patient, the carillons spread over all the region between the
forests of Ardennes and the island in the North Sea. The Netherlands
became the land of melodious symphonies and of tinkling bells. No town,
however poor, but in time had its carillon. Every quarter of an hour,
the sweet music of hymn or song, made the air vocal, while at the
striking of the hours, the pious bowed their heads and the workmen heard
the call for rest, or they took cheer, because their day's toil was
over. At sunrise, noon, or sunset, the Angelus, and at night the curfew
sounded their calls.
It grew into a fashion, that, on stated days, great concerts were given,
lasting over an hour, when the grand works of the masters of music were
rendered and famous carillon players came from all over the Netherlands,
to compete for prizes. The Low Countries became a famous school, in
which klokken-spielers (bell players) by scores were trained. Thus no
kingdom, however rich or great, ever equalled the Land of the Carillon,
in making the air sweet with both melody and harmony.
Nobody ever sees a kabouter nowadays, for in the new world, when the
woods are nearly all cut down, the world made by the steam engine, and
telegraph, and wireless message, the automobile, aeroplane and
submarine, cycle and under-sea boat, the little folks in the mines and
forests are forgotten. The chemists, miners, engineers and learned men
possess the secrets which were once those of the fairies only. Yet the
artists and architects, the clockmakers and bellfounders, who love
beauty, remember what their fathers once thought and believed. That is
the reason why, on many a famous clock, either in front of the dial or
near the pendulum, are figures of the gnomes, who thought, and the
kabouters who wrought, to make the carillons. In Teuton lands, where
their cousins are named kobolds, and in France where they are called
fée, and in England brownies, they have tolling and ringing of bells,
with peals, chimes and cascades of sweet sound; but the Netherlands,
still, above all others on earth, is the home of the carillon.