HAVE you ever heard of the little gnomes?—little men who live under the ground, where the coal, stone, iron, gold, and silver are found? Sometimes they are called dwarfs. They have long gray beards, and wear leather aprons, with a hammer stuck in the belt, while on their caps, right in front, is a little light, and if that light goes out, or they should lose their caps, they cannot find their way back into the ground.
Now, they work in the ground, getting gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, and all kinds of precious stones out of the black earth. Sometimes they come up to the top, where we live, but we have to keep our eyes wide open to see them, for when they have their little magic caps on their heads, we cannot see them unless we have magic spectacles on.
Do you know, one cold day in November, the sleet was coming down like rain, and the rough north wind was blowing very hard and all the ground was covered with ice, so that people could not walk unless they had stockings on their shoes. On this bad night a poor little gnome lost his cap while on top of the earth, and of course could not find his way home again. The rain had soaked into his shoes and even into his coat, so he was wet to the skin. What should he do for a bed to sleep in that night, and how should he get a supper? he was so very hungry!
He walked in the rain and sleet bareheaded until he was almost tired to death, when he came to a village with many large and small houses in it. Some were made of stone, while a great many were made of brick and wood.
The little gnome thought he would knock at the door of the largest house first and ask for some supper and a bed for the night.
Knock, knock, knock, went his little fingers on the great door, but no one heard him. He knocked louder and louder, until at last some one did hear his knock and came to open it.
He was so small, and it was so dark, that the lady did not see him, and was just about to close it again, when he said, "Kind lady, can you give me a little supper, and a bed to sleep in? I have lost my way and am wet and cold." "O," said the lady, "our supper is just over, and the dishes are washed and put away; you should have come sooner, now it is too late. I can give you nothing to-night," and with that she closed the door, which was not kind at all.
How badly the little gnome felt! He went to the next house and knocked at that door, but was treated just like he had been at the first house. From house to house he went, but no one had a supper or a bed for him.
"I guess I will have to stay out all night in the cold and sleet;" saying this, he was just about to sit on a large stone in the street when he saw a tiny light at the other end of the village, where all the small houses were, in which the poor people lived. "Well," said he, "I suppose it is no use to ask those people for supper, for they are almost too poor to give me some of theirs, but I am so very hungry and tired, I will try my luck there anyhow."
So off he walked toward the light, and when he came near, he found it came from a tiny window. This window was in the front wall of a little house that looked as if it would fall to pieces. Before he knocked at the door, he went to the window and peeped in, and just think! he had to stand on his tip-toes to see into the room, he was so very small. This is what he saw: A clean little room, in the middle of which stood a table with a clean white table-cloth spread upon it, and two cups, two plates, two knives, two forks and two spoons. There was a little girl at the open fire stirring something, which was boiling in a small iron pot. A little boy stood close by talking to the little girl, and soon he walked away and set two chairs at the table.
When the little gnome had seen all this, he said to himself, "How poor they must be; they have only two of every thing. I had better not ask for supper, but, however, I will try them." So, rap! rap! rap! at the door, and he did not have to wait a second when the little boy opened it and said, "Why, little man, where do you come from this cold night? Come right in and dry your clothes at our fire and have some supper." You see, he did not even have to ask for supper here.
When he came in, the little boy took off his wet coat and hung it upon a nail to dry. The little girl said to him, "Little man, you have just come in time, our porridge is done and we can have our supper." She took the pot from the fire and ladled the hot porridge into the two plates. The little girl ate her porridge out of the iron pot because they only had two plates, and used the cooking spoon as they had only two spoons. She did not mind that at all.
After the dishes were washed and put away, they sat around the fire and told stories. They had only two chairs, so the little brother sat on the floor, but he did not mind that, and was only too glad to give his chair to the stranger.
They talked so long and told so many stories that at last they got very tired and sleepy. The little boy said to the gnome, "Little man, we have only two beds, so you can sleep in mine, and I will sleep on the rug before the fire." "No! No!" said the little girl, "I will sleep on the rug and you can sleep in my bed." "No," said the little gnome, "I would rather sleep on the rug, it will help to dry my clothes. Do let me sleep on the rug!" He begged so long until they said he might. The little sister said, "It is not right, you are our guest, and ought to sleep in the bed."
The little gnome would not hear of it and just when they were going to their rooms (the little sister to hers and little brother to his), the little gnome said to them, "Now, before you say goodnight, tell me where are your parents?" They then told him they had died, and they (the little sister and brother), lived together and wished always to do so. "Well," said the little man, "because you have been so kind to me, I will grant you three wishes. Whatever you wish shall come true; so wish for anything you would like very much to have."
"Oh," said the little sister, "brother, do let us wish for a house upon the hill, then the water could not come into our house, as it does in the springtime when the river rises." "Yes, yes," said the brother, "you know every Spring the water comes up into the house, and we have to move all of our furniture into the attic, and it always makes us sick, the house is so damp. Yes, that is what we will wish for."
"That is a good wish," said the little gnome. "Now you have two left, what shall they be?"
"Let it be a tree before the door and a little bench under the tree, so we can sit there and see the sun set and the boats come up the river."
"That is a nice thing to wish for, but what shall the third wish be? Make haste and tell me, it is getting very late."
They could not think of any thing they wanted. At last the little brother cried out and clapped his hands, "I have the third wish. Why, don't you know, little sister, we will not always be young as we are now, and after a while deep wrinkles will come into our faces, our eyes will grow weak and our hair grow white—then we will have to die. I am sure you will not want to die before I do and I not before you do, so do you not think our last wish ought to be, after we have lived happily together for so many years, we would like the angel of death to come and kiss us both at once and take us up to heaven together?" "Oh, yes," said the little sister, "let that be our third wish, little man."
He said it would be, and with that they all went to bed.
The little gnome only pretended to sleep, for when every thing was quiet and he was sure little sister and brother were sound asleep, he got up very softly, opened the door as quietly as a fairy would do and went out into the night. The clear moon was peeping from behind the flying clouds. When he had walked to the foot of the hill, he took a little whistle from his pocket, put it up to his mouth and blew such a shrill, sharp whistle, and the funniest thing happened. Just think! the ground opened, and so many, many little gnomes, each with a cap and light on his head, came jumping out of it. They all went up to our little gnome, shook hands, and said to him, "We found your cap; it had fallen into a cave when you were digging for silver—here it is, put it on."
Then they asked what they were called upon to do. Some were carrying saws, others planes, hammers, spades, boxes of nails and planks.
He told them how kind little brother and sister had been to him, and how they had wished for a house on the hill. They all went to work, and in a few hours the house was finished; then they made a bench, and one of the little gnomes took a seed from his pocket, dug a hole in the ground, planted it and in a few minutes two little green leaves peeped out, next a stem came, which grew larger and larger every minute until at last a large tree stood beside the bench. After this, the little gnomes went into the ground again.
Next morning little brother and sister got up early to prepare breakfast for the little man, but when they came into the room he had gone.
"Well," said the brother, "I suppose he had a long journey to make, and got up before daybreak."
He went to the window and looked out, and when he looked up at the hill he could hardly believe his eyes, for up on the hill was a house and bench and even the tree they had wished for. After breakfast they moved in and spent a pleasant time up there; they sat on the bench at sunset and saw the boats come up the beautiful river.
One evening, after many years, little brother and sister were sitting on the bench together; they said to each other, "We must be getting quite old now, for I can hardly see the boats as they come up the river." "Your hair is getting as white as snow, little sister." "And so is yours, little brother," she said. "Is it almost time for the angel to come?" The little girl answered, "Dear brother, look at that lovely pink cloud sailing in the sky, does it not look like a boat?" "Yes, it does," said the brother, "and I see something white in it. Do you not see something white in it also?" "Why, see it is coming this way nearer and nearer."
Sure enough, it was an angel as white as snow, with silver wings, sailing in a pink cloud boat, and when it came up close to where the little brother and sister sat, it stepped out, Oh, so softly. It went up to them, kissed them both on the forehead, and they closed their eyes and went to sleep. Then the angel took them up to heaven at once, and their third wish was fulfilled.
Little Sister and Brother
A Fictional Short Story by
Agnes Taylor Ketchum & Ida M. Jorgensen