(Illustration by Harald Wiberg)
A Fairy Tale from Switzerland:
The Venetian Gnome
In ancient times dark-haired persons often traveled from Wales to the Swiss Alps. There they searched for gold in the cliffs and wild mountain streams. The local folk called these dark-haired visitors Venetians. They were popular among the Swiss because they were well-mannered and entertaining and told many stories about foreign lands and their city by the sea. But alpine shepherds thought it odd that these Venetians always carried leather purses round their necks. These little sacks were always filled with gold, even though the villagers themselves never found a single grain of gold dust despite all their searching. They knew that the Venetians were highly skilled and did a great deal more than eat rye bread.
It happened that such a Venetian, a plain-spoken little man, came every summer to Clarus, which is today a beautiful village near the alp called Glaernisch. As soon as the summer cow herders drove their herds into the high mountains, the Venetian Gnome followed. He helped the herders ladle out the milk, ate cheese and bread with them, and also slept in their wild mountain cabin. But while the cow herders kept watch over their cattle and made cheese and butter, the Venetian Gnome vanished between the cliffs and marched through streamlets and gathered stones that glistened in the bright sunlight. When his seven sacks were full, the Venetian disappeared but no one ever knew quite how it happened. When they all thought he was long gone, he reappeared on the alp and began collecting new stones in seven new sacks.
The herders thought the little man’s comings and goings a bit strange, but nothing more. One day, they decided to play a trick on the gnome. They secretly took one of his seven sacks and hid it in a place they thought he could never find. When the gnome returned in the evening from his gold search and entered the cabin, the Swiss herders were lying around on the grass outside. The gnome approached them: “I have noticed that you have hidden one of my sacks and the stones inside. Shall you fetch it, or shall I?” They laughed and replied “Go get it yourself!” To their amazement the little man ran directly to the spot under a steep drop-off where the cow herders had hidden his sack. Angered, the little man now returned the sack and the stones to the cabin.
As summer ended, the grass no longer grew so tall and snow hung in the air. The shadows were longer these days and the wind nipped at the cow herders’ cheeks. The Venetian Gnome took leave as he did every year. But this time he spoke to the herders in a friendly way: “I am returning to Venice. If one of you ever visit me there, I will give you a sack full of silver!”
The Venetian Gnome had hardly departed from the alps when the herders forgot his friendly invitation. Only one remembered; he was a poor man and owned a small parcel in the valley. He remembered the Venetian’s words. One sack full of silver would come in handy and help him care for his sick wife and many children.
When the herders now descended the mountain and returned to the valley, the larch trees and oaks had turned crimson and orange. But the poor herdsman quietly departed, crossed the river and the Gotthard Pass, until after a long march he arrived at the sea. In the distance he saw a city with many towers reaching into the heavens. It was the seaside city of Venice, about which the gnome had spoken so often.
When he arrived in the city, which only had a few streets because it was built in the middle of water on a few sand bars, he felt a bit strange because he did not know the house or street where the Venetian Gnome lived. He didn’t even know his name. Sadly he walked through several lanes and was already thinking about returning home, when suddenly someone tapped him on his shoulder. He turned around, and a small, distinguished gentleman extended his hand and welcomed him. He immediately asked how things were in Clarus and how the cow herders were faring, whereby he referred to many of the villagers by name.
When the poor herder saw the finely dressed little man, he recognized the unassuming Venetian Gnome, who had shared so many summer days in the mountains with him and his comrades. He was happy when the little man invited him to come to his house and find accommodations there. He was amazed at the beautiful house the Venetian took him to, it was made of marble and the walls glistened. In front of the windows there lay a dark canal and above flew snow-white doves. Now things were going well for the cow herder. He received every sort of food that he desired and wine that was as red as blood. He soon regained his strength.
It wasn’t long before the poor cow herder tired of the good life, although he could have spent the entire day lying in silken sheets in bed. His thoughts always returned to his wife and children.
One day he sat in front of the Venetian’s fine marble palace, looked sadly around and remembered his distant homeland. The Venetian came out of the house and when he saw him sitting there so dejectedly, tears came to his eyes and he said in a friendly way: “I think you are bored here in Venice! Or are you homesick?”
“That’s it,” replied the cow herder.” I am plagued with homesickness. I don’t know what to do.”
The Venetian laughed, led him inside his house into a chamber the cow herder had never entered before. There was a magnificent mirror hanging on the wall. “Look into the glass,” the Venetian said, “See how things are going in the village of Clarus!”
Wonder of wonders! The cow herd now saw the village of Clarus clearly before him. But he also saw his own homestead, his wife bathing the children and her eyes were full of tears because she was thinking about her husband.
The Venetian now said “Go home! I will give you enough provisions in gold or silver. If you prefer gold, I will you give it to you. If you want silver, then you can fetch it yourself from my treasury.” The Glarner herder replied “I only want a sack of silver, like you promised me in Clarus on the alp.!” And with the permission of the Venetian he went into his treasury and filled a sack with silver.
When the cow herder left the marble palace and departed, the Venetian gnome said to him: “Pay attention to that sack so that you do not lose it on your journey. And if you sleep in an inn, take it with you to bed and place it under your head.” The cow herd thanked his host for every good thing that had been done and made his way from the seaside city. He wandered higher and higher into the mountains and toward his home.
When he had walked an entire day and night threatened to fall once again, he had to find accommodations in a Welsh village . This was difficult because he was still far from his hometown and the sack he carried was very heavy. But he searched out an inn, went to bed and placed the sack of silver under his head.
When he opened his eyes the next morning he found himself in Clarus, in his own bed with a mattress stuffed with leaves. He heard his cuckoo clock ticking in the kitchen and in front of the cabin he heard his goats bleating! First he thought he had dreamt it all and had never been to Venice. But then he noticed something hard under his head and found the sack full of silver. He rushed to his wife and children who squealed in glee! And how happy his poor wife was when she found his strange pillow. The poor cow herd now became a rich man. His descendants still live honorable lives in Clarus but the villagers call them the family from Venice.
Translation Copyright FairyTaleChannel.org