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THIS story takes a very similar form in Esthonia to that familiar to us nearer home. A young lady out walking with her maid encounters a snake, which the maid wishes to destroy, but the lady remonstrates. A few days afterwards, a little man enters her room and asks her to become godmother to his child. She at last consents, and he promises to fetch her at the right time, and informs her that he lives under the kitchen steps in the subterranean kingdom.
Next Thursday evening, the dwarf leads her down a long flight of stairs to a great house with many rooms, all lit up with tapers and full of company. She was invited to take her seat at table, but on looking up, she saw a sharp sword suspended over her head. She wanted to flee, but the master ordered the sword to be removed, and the child’s mother told her that her own life lately hung on a hair, for she was the snake whose life she had saved. When the young lady left, the p. 9 master filled her apron with earth, but she shook it out, whereupon he raked it up, and pressed it on her again, saying, “Don’t despise the least gift from a grateful heart.” In the morning, of course, it had turned to gold and silver.
After this, the dwarf often visited the young lady, and at length asked her to pour a jug of milk under the kitchen-stairs every morning. But one day the wicked maid ordered a dishful of boiling milk to be poured down very early. Presently the dwarf came weeping to the young lady, saying that his child had been scalded to death by the hot milk. But he knew who was to blame; let her put what she most valued together, and leave the house at once. She did so, and on looking back, she saw the whole house in flames, and in a few hours nothing remained of it and its inhabitants but a heap of ashes. But the lady took another house, married happily, and lived to see her children’s children.