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In the following narrative we have a horrible story of black magic, which, however, is extremely interesting as showing the prevalence of fetishism, which probably preceded the worship of the powers of nature among the Finns and Esthonians. The Kratt seems originally to have been nothing worse than Tont, the house-spirit, who robbed the neighbours for the benefit of his patrons, and it is probably only after the introduction of Christianity that he assumed the p. 168 diabolical character attributed to him in the present story.
ONCE upon a time there lived a young farmer whose crops had totally failed. His harvest had been spoiled, his hay parched up, and all his cattle died, so that he was unable to perform his lawful obligations to his feudal superior. One Sunday he was sitting at his door in great trouble, just as the people were going to church. Presently Michel, an old fellow who used to wander about the country, came up. He had a bad reputation; people said that he was a wizard, and that he used to suck the milk from the cows, to bring storms and hail upon the crops, and diseases upon the people. So he was never allowed to depart without alms when he visited a farm.
“Good day, farmer,” said Michel, advancing.
“God bless you,” answered the other.
“What ails you?” said the old man. “You are looking very miserable.”
“Alas! everything is going with me badly enough. But it is a good thing that you have come. People say that you have power to do much evil, but that you are a clever fellow. Perhaps you can help me.”
“People talk evil of others because they themselves are evil,” answered the old man. “But what is to be done?”
The farmer told him all his misfortunes, and Michel said, “Would you like to escape from all your troubles, and to become a rich man all at once?”
“With all my heart!” cried the other. Old Michel answered, with a smile, “If I were as young and strong as you, and if I had sufficient courage to face the darkness of night, and knew how to hold my tongue, I know what I’d do.”
“Only tell me what you know. I will do anything if I can only become rich, for I am weary of my life at present.”
Then the old man looked cautiously round on all sides, and then said in a whisper, “Do you know what a Kratt is?”
The farmer was startled, and answered, “I don’t know exactly, but I have heard dreadful tales about it.”
“I’ll tell you,” said the old man. “Mark you, it is a creature that anybody can make for himself, but it must be done so secretly that no human eye sees it. Its body is a broomstick, its head a broken jug, its nose a piece of glass, and its arms two reels which have been used by an old crone of a hundred years. All these things are easy to procure. You must set up this creature on three Thursday evenings at a cross-road, and animate it with the words which I will teach you. On the third Thursday the creature will come to life.”
“God preserve us from the evil one!” cried the farmer.
“What! you are frightened? Have I told you too much already?”
“No, I’m not frightened at all. Go on.”
The old man continued, “This creature is then your servant, for you have brought him to life at a cross-road. Nobody can see him but his master. He will bring him all kinds of money, corn, and hay, as often as he likes, but not more at once than a man’s burden.”
“But, old man, if you knew all this, why haven’t you yourself made such a useful treasure-carrier, instead of which you have remained poor all your life?”
“I have been about to do it a hundred times, and have made a beginning a hundred times, but my courage always failed me. I had a friend who possessed such a treasure-carrier, and often told me about it, but I could not screw up courage to follow his example. My friend died, and the creature, left without a master, lived in the village for a long time, and wrought all manner of tricks among the people. He once tore all a woman’s yarn to pieces; but when it was discovered, and they were going to remove it, they found a heap of money underneath. After this no more was seen of the creature. At that time I should have been glad enough to have a treasure-bringer, but I am now old and grey, and think no more of it.”
“I’ve plenty of courage,” said the farmer; “but wouldn’t it be better for me to consult the parson about it?”
“No; you mustn’t mention it to anybody, but least of all to the parson; for if you call the creature to life, you sell your soul to the devil.”
The farmer started back in horror.
“Don’t be frightened,” said the old man. “You are sure of a long life in exchange, and of all your heart desires. And if you feel that your last hour p. 172 is approaching, you can always escape from the clutches of the evil one, if you are clever enough to get rid of your familiar.”1
“But how can this be done?”
“If you give him a task which he is unable to perform, you are rid of him for the future. But you must set about it very circumspectly, for he is not easy to outwit. The peasant of whom I told you wanted to get rid of his familiar, and ordered him to fill a barrel of water with a sieve. But the creature fetched and spilled water, and did not rest till the barrel was filled with the drops which hung on the sieve.”
“So he died, without getting rid of the creature?”
“Yes; why didn’t he manage the affair better? But I have something more to tell you. The creature must be well fed, if he is to be kept in good-humour. A peasant once put a dish of broth under the roof for his familiar, as he was in the habit of doing. But a labourer saw it, so he ate the broth, and filled the dish with sand. The familiar came that night, and beat the farmer unmercifully, and continued to do so every night till he discovered the reason, and p. 173 put a fresh dish of broth under the roof. After this, he let him alone. And now you know all,” said the old man.
The farmer sat silent, and at last replied, “There is much about it that is unpleasant, Michel.”
“You asked for my advice,” answered the old man, “and I have given it you. You must make your own choice. Want and misery have come upon you. This is the only way in which you can save yourself and become a rich man; and if you are only a little prudent, you will cheat the devil out of your soul into the bargain.”
After some reflection, the farmer answered, “Tell me the words which I am to repeat on the Thursdays.”
“What will you give me, then?” said the old man.
“When I have the treasure-bringer, you shall live the life of a gentleman.”
“Come, then,” said the old man, and they entered the house together.
After this Sunday the young farmer was seen no more in the village. He neglected his work in the fields, and left what little was left there to waste, and his household management went all astray. p. 174 His man loafed about the public-houses, and his maid-servant slept at home, for her master himself never looked after anything.
In the meantime the farmer sat in his smoky room. He kept the door locked, and the windows closely curtained. Here he worked hard day and night at the creature in a dark corner by the light of a pine-splinter. He had procured everything necessary, even the reels on which a crone of a hundred years old had spun. He put all the parts together carefully, fixed the old pot on the broomstick, made the nose of a bit of glass, and painted in the eyes and mouth red. He wrapped the body in coloured rags, according to his instructions, and all the time he thought with a shudder that it was now in his power to bring this uncanny creature to life, and that he must remain with him till his end. But when he thought of the riches and treasures, all his horror vanished. At length the creature was finished, and on the following Thursday the farmer carried it after nightfall to the cross-roads in the wood. There he put down the creature, seated himself on a stone, and waited. But every time he looked at the creature he nearly fell to the ground with terror. If only a breeze sprung up, p. 175 it went through the marrow of his bones, and if only the screech-owl cried afar off, he thought he heard the croaking of the creature, and the blood froze in his veins. Morning came at last, and he seized the creature, and slunk away cautiously home.
On the second Thursday it was just the same. At length the night of the third Thursday came, and now he was to complete the charm. There was a howling wind, and the moon was covered with thick dark clouds, when the farmer brought the creature to the cross-roads at dead of night. Then he set it up as before, but he thought, “If I was now to smash it into a thousand pieces, and then go home and set hard at work, I need not then do anything wicked.”
Presently, however, he reflected: “But I am so miserably poor, and this will make me rich. Let it go as it may, I can’t be worse off than I am now.”
He looked fearfully round him, turned towards the creature trembling, let three drops of blood fall on it from his finger, and repeated the magic words which the old man had taught him.
Suddenly the moon emerged from the clouds and shone upon the place where the farmer was standing before the figure. But the farmer stood petrified p. 176 with terror when he saw the creature come to life. The spectre rolled his eyes horribly, turned slowly round, and when he saw his master again, he asked in a grating voice, “What do you want of me?”
But the farmer was almost beside himself with fear, and could not answer. He rushed away in deadly terror, not caring whither. But the creature ran after him, clattering and puffing, crying out all the time, “Why did you bring me to life if you desert me now?”
But the farmer ran on, without daring to look round.
Then the creature grasped his shoulder from behind with his wooden hand, and screamed out, “You have broken your compact by running away. You have sold your soul to the devil without gaining the least advantage for yourself. You have set me free. I am no longer your servant, but will be your tormenting demon, and will persecute you to your dying hour.”
The farmer rushed madly to his house, but the creature followed him, invisible to every one else.
From this hour everything went wrong with the farmer which he undertook. His land produced nothing but weeds, his cattle all died, his sheds fell p. 177 in, and if he took anything up, it broke in his hand. Neither man nor maid would work in his house, and at last all the people held aloof from him, as from an evil spirit who brought misfortune wherever he appeared.
Autumn came, and the farmer looked like a shadow, when one day he met old Michel, who saluted him, and looked scoffingly in his face.
“Oh, it’s you,” cried the farmer angrily. “It is good that I have met you, you hell-hound. Where are all your fine promises of wealth and good luck? I have sold myself to the devil, and I find a hell on earth already. But all this is your doing!”
“Quiet, quiet!” said the old man. “Who told you to meddle with evil things if you had not courage? I gave you fair warning. But you showed yourself a coward at the last moment, and released the creature from your service. If you had not done this, you might have become a rich and prosperous man, as I promised you.”
“But you never saw the horrible face of the creature when he came to life,” said the farmer in anguish. “Oh, what a fool I was to allow myself to be tempted by you!”
“I did not tempt you; I only told you what I knew.”
“Help me now.”
“Help yourself, for I can’t. Haven’t I more reason to complain of you than you of me? I have not deceived you; but where is my reward, and the fine life you promised me? You are the deceiver.”
“All right! all right! Only tell me how I can save myself, and advise me what to do. I will perform everything.”
“No,” said the old man, “I have no further advice to give you. I am still a beggar, and it is all your fault;” and he turned round and left him.
“Curse upon you!” cried the farmer, whose last hope had vanished.
“But can’t I save myself in any way?” said he to himself. “This creature who sits with the Devil on my neck is after all nothing but my own work, a thing of wood and potsherds. I must needs be able to destroy him, if I set about it right.”
He ran to his house, where he now lived quite alone. There stood the creature in a corner, grinning, and asking, “Where’s my dinner?”
“What shall I give you to get rid of you?”
“Where’s my dinner? Get my dinner, quick. I’m hungry.”
“Wait a little; you shall have it presently.”
Then the farmer took up a pine-faggot which was burning in the stove, as if pondering, and then ran out, and locked all the doors on the outside.
It was a cold autumn night. The wind whistled through the neighbouring pine forest with a strange sighing sound.
“Now you may burn and roast, you spirit of hell!” cried the farmer, and cast the fire on the thatch. Presently the whole house was wrapped in bright flames.
Then the farmer laughed madly, and kept on calling out, “Burn and roast!”
The light of the fire roused the people of the village, and they crowded round the ill-starred spot. They wished to put out the fire and save the house, but the farmer pushed them back, saying, “Let it be. What does the house matter, if he only perishes? He has tormented me long enough, and I will plague him now, and all may yet be well with me.”
The people stared at him in amazement as he spoke. But now the house fell in crashing, and the farmer shouted, “Now he’s burnt!”
At this moment the creature, visible only to the farmer, rose unhurt from the smoking ruins with a threatening gesture. As soon as the farmer saw him, he fell on the ground with a loud shriek.
“What do you see?” asked old Michel, who had just arrived on the scene, and stood by smiling.
But the farmer returned no answer. He had died of terror.
1 One of Michael Scot’s familiars was a devil of this kind, whom he got rid of ultimately by setting him to spin ropes of sea-sand.