The Silver Dwarven Bell

A shepherd boy working in Patzig found a small silver bell on the green heath between the barrows, about half a mile from Bergen where many subterraneans live in the hills. He pocketed it. But this was the bell from the cap of a brown dwarf, who had lost it while dancing and had not immediately realized that it was no longer ringing on the cap. He then had descended without the bell, and was greatly saddened about this loss. For the worst thing that can happen to the subterraneans is when they lose their cap, and the second worst loss are their shoes. But the small bells on their caps and their belt-buckles are no small losses, either. If one of them loses their bells, then they cannot sleep until they recover it, and this is no small trifle. In his dire straits, the small subterranean searched and scouted around, but how should he know who had taken possession of his bell? For they were allowed to only go into the daylight for a few days during the year, and during those times they were not allowed to show themselves in their true form. He had often transformed himself into all sorts of shapes, as birds, and animals, and humans as well, and he had sung and sounded and called and roared and wailed and spoken about his bell, but no word or even trace of it ever reached him. For the great misfortune was that the shepherd boy had moved away from Patzig on precisely the day when he had found the bell, and now he watched over sheep at Unrow near Gingst. Only by chance, and after a long time did the poor little subterranean regain his bell and his peace of mind.

For he had considered the notion if a raven or a jackdaw or a crow or a magpie might have found the bell - and, in the manner of their thieving nature and their fascination with shiny things, had carried it into their nest. And he had transformed into a small, colorful bird and flown to all nests on the island, and sung all sorts of queries to the birds whether they would tell him if they had found the object, and thus help him to regain his sleep. But the birds could not remember anything. One evening, the shepherd boy (who was named Fritz Schlagenteufel) was watching over his sheep on the field of Unrow, when the bird was approaching from the direction of the waters near Ralow. Several of the sheep were wearing bells around their necks, which rang when the boy hurried them onwards with the assistance of his dog. The small bird flying above them thought of his own bell, and sang mournfully:

“Little bell, little bell,
little ram, little ram,
little sheep as well,
If you are carrying my ring-a-ling,
then you are the richest beast,
for you are carrying my ease.”

The boy pricked his ears when he heard this strange singing coming from the air, and saw the colorful bird which seemed even stranger to him. He said to himself: “By the sacraments, who owns this bird? It sings better than most of us can speak! What does its strange singing mean? Perhaps it is a many-hued master of witchcraft! My rams only have bells out of fired clay, and it calls them rich beasts. But I have a small silver bell, and the bird hasn’t mentioned me.” And with these thoughts, he started to rummage in his pocket, pulled out his bell, and let it ring. The bird in the air immediately realized what it was, and was overjoyed beyond all measure. But immediately, he vanished, flew behind the next shrub, sat down, pulled off his feathered dress, and transformed himself into an old woman dressed in decrepit clothing.

The old woman, who had seemingly been outfitted with a whole bag of sighs and groans, slowly bumbled across the field towards the shepherd boy, who was still ringing with his bell and was wondering where the beautiful bird had gone. She cleared her throat and coughed a few times from the depths of her chest, and then offered him a friendly “good evening” and asked after the road to the town of Bergen. Then she pretended as if she had only seen the bell at that moment, and called out: “Criminy, what a cute little bell! I have seen nothing finer in my life! Listen, sonny, do you want to sell this bell? And what is it supposed to cost? I have a small grandchild, and it would be a great toy for him.” “No, this bell is not for sale!”, the shepherd boy answered tartly. “This is a bell of a kind which no longer exists in the world. I merely have to ring it for a short time, and my sheep race to the spot where I want them to be on their own! And what a lovely sound it has! Listen, gammer!” (and he let it ring) “Is there any kind of boredom that can persist before this bell? With it, I can ring away the most tedious times so that they are over at once.”

The old woman thought to herself: “We shall see if he can resist shiny coins!”, and presented him silver, perhaps three thalers. He spoke: “I will not sell the bell.” She offered him five ducats, and he said: “The bell will remain mine.” She presented a whole hand filled with ducats, and he spoke for the third time: “Gold is baloney, and doesn’t make these wondrous sounds.” Then the old one changed her approach and moved the conversation to different matters. Now she lured him with secret arts and blessings that would make his animals prosper, and told him of all sorts of marvels of this kind. Then he became eager and paid attention. The upshot was that she told him: “Listen, my child. Give me the bell, and behold this white staff,” and she pulled out a small white staff on which Adam and Eve were most artfully carved as they herded the herds of Paradise, and the fattest rams and lambs frolicked before them. The shepherd David was likewise depicted as he prepared his sling against the giant Goliath. “I will give you this staff in exchange for this bell, and as long as you drive your animals with this staff, it will prosper and you shall become a rich shepherd. Your wethers shall fatten up four weeks earlier than the ones of all other shepherds, and each of your sheep will carry two more pounds of wool, even though they won’t look any different.” The old woman handed him the stick with such a mysterious gesture, and smiled at him in such an intent and magical manner, that the boy was immediately enthralled. Greedily, he grasped for the stick, gave her his hand, and said: “Done! Shake hands on this! The bell is yours for the stick.” And she shook hands on this, took the bell, and soared away over the field and the heath like a barely perceptible wind. And he saw her vanish, and she seemed to flow away and disperse like fog, and all his hairs stood on ends.

The subterranean, who had talked him into giving up the bell in the disguise of an old woman, had not swindled him. For the subterraneans may not lie, but must keep the words they have spoken or pledged. For when they lie, they are transformed into the most disgusting animals, such as toads, snakes, dung beetles, wolves, lynxes, and monkeys. In this manner, they must crawl and roam for thousands of years in abhorrence and ignominy before they are released. For this reason, lying is repulsive to them. Fritz Schlagenteufel paid close attention and tried out his new shepherd’s stick, and he soon discovered that the old woman had told him the truth. For his herds, and all his works and his hands’ labors prospered well, and he continued to have the most wondrous fortune. Because of this, all sheep owners and senior shepherds desired to employ this boy. But he did not remain a shepherd boy for long, for he attained his own sheep farm before he became eighteen years old, and in a few years he became the richest shepherd in all of Rügen. Finally, he was able to purchase a manor. This was the Grabitz estate close to Rambin, which now belongs to the lords of the Sund. My father had still made his acquaintance, and witnessed how the shepherd boy had become a nobleman. Even after that, he still behaved as a wise and devout man who was praised by everyone. And he raised his sons like squires and his daughters like noblewomen, and those of them who still live consider themselves to be distinguished people. And if we hear such tales, we can wish that we might experience something similar and also find a small silver bell lost by the subterraneans.

Source: Arndt, E.M. Mährchen und Jugenderinnerungen von E. M. Arndt. Erster Theil. Zweite Ausgabe. 1842, p. 191ff

Notes & commentary: The Silver Dwarven Bell