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- The Wagner Story Book - 3/24 -

are suddenly older. They have not eaten the apples of youth to-day, and nobody can get them but the one goddess who has gone. They know that they will grow older every hour and will soon die if they do not get her back, and the only way is to find the dwarf's treasure for the giants.

"'Come quickly,' says the Father of the Gods, 'and let us get this treasure; let us hasten down under the ground where the dwarfs live, for we must have it to-night, when the giants come.'

"There, where the dirty yellow smoke is pouring out between the sticks of wood at the top of the pile, I see a crevice in the rocks. The Father of the Gods and the Fire God go down into it, and the smoke comes thicker and blacker, and hides everything but those two, and I see them climbing down and down over the rough, sharp rocks, toward the caverns of the dwarfs, while the little tongues of flame shoot out at them from the fissures, as if they were trying to catch and burn and sting them, just as they shoot out from between the black, charred sticks here before our eyes.

"It is a deep, dark cave that I see now, with little spots of light here and there, like forges, and there is the sound of anvils. The dwarfs live here, and they are all working hard, as they must now, for the dwarf who stole the gold and made the ring from it. I see him too, and he is scolding and beating another dwarf, who is his brother. It is all about a piece of fine metal work that he has set his brother to do, and now the brother wants to keep what he has made. But he drops it on the ground and the dwarf king, for a king he really is now, picks it up and claps it on his head. It is a helmet, made of delicate rings of steel linked together. It is a magic helmet, and anybody who wears it can disappear from sight whenever he likes, or can take any shape he chooses. In a minute the dwarf is no more to be seen, and in his place there is only a cloud of smoke. But he can still beat his brother, and presently he leaves him whining and crying on the ground, and the cloud floats away.

"You are not to suppose because this dwarf is treated in this cruel way that he is any better than his brother who beats him. One of them is just as wicked as the other, and he deserves all he gets. So here, lying upon the ground and groaning, the two gods find him, as they come down into the cave. 'What is the matter?' they ask, and he tells them about the magic helmet. Then back comes the other dwarf, who wears the helmet and the ring, driving before him a crowd of his fellows, all laden down with gold and gems, and they throw them in a pile. They are so rich and dazzling, and there is such a quantity of them that the fire actually burns brighter there in the corner where they have heaped them up. The dwarf drives all his workmen away, and then sulkily asks the gods what they want here, for with his ring and his helmet he thinks that he is just as good as any of the gods.

"The Fire God tells him that they have heard so much about his great wealth that they have come to see it, and now they find his treasure greater and finer than anything they ever saw before. At that the dwarf is flattered and begins to boast. 'This that you see is nothing,' he says; 'I shall soon have much more, and by the magic of my ring I mean to rule the whole world and you gods too.'

"'But suppose,' says the Fire God, 'that some one should steal the ring from you while you were asleep?'

"'That shows how little you know about it,' the dwarf answers. 'Why, do you see this magic helmet of mine? With this I can make myself invisible, or I can take any form I like, and so nobody can find me while I am asleep to steal the ring.'

"'Oh, now you are telling us too big a story,' says the Fire God; 'it is nonsense to say you can take any form you like, helmet or no helmet; you can't expect us to believe that.'

"At this the dwarf begins to get a little angry; 'I tell you I can,' he cries; 'I will prove it to you; I can change myself into anything; what shall it be?'

"'Oh, whatever you like,' says the Fire God, 'only let it be something big and horrible to show just how much you can do.'

"So, to show what he can do, in a second the dwarf changes himself into a horrible dragon, with slimy scales and a writhing tail, and eyes and jaws that look as wicked as the dwarf himself, and twice as savage. The Fire God pretends to be dreadfully frightened, and when the dwarf comes back to his own shape again he says: 'That was very good, but that does not seem so hard, after all. Now, the way for you to hide, it seems to me, would be to make yourself very small, so that you could slip into a crack in the rocks. You can puff yourself up like a dragon, of course, but can you make yourself small as easily? Oh, no, I cannot believe that.'

"'I can be anything, anything, I tell you,' the dwarf cries, getting still more angry; 'I will be as small as you like,' and in another second he has changed himself into a toad, not much bigger than your hand, as slimy as ever, looking still just as wicked as the dwarf himself, and almost as ugly.

"'Now is the time--quick!' cries the Fire God, and in an instant the Father of the Gods stamps his foot upon the toad and has him fast. The Fire God stoops and pulls the magic helmet off the toad's head, and instantly he is the dwarf again, but he is still firmly held under the god's foot, and they tie him with cords and drag him away with them, up among the rocks from which they came."

"That is just the way Puss in Boots caught the ogre, when he turned himself into a mouse," said the little girl.

"Yes, to be sure it is, but you know there are only a very few stories in the world, any way, and we cannot find new ones. The most we can ever do is to tell the old ones over in different ways, and after all it is better so, for old things are better than new almost always, as you will find when you get a little older yourself. But now, with the fire burning up a little better to help me, we are back above ground. Let us put on more wood and see if we cannot make it better yet. We are just where we were before, on the hill by the river and the castle of the gods. And back now come the two gods from under the ground, dragging the dwarf with them. 'And what will you give us now,' they cry, 'if we will untie you and let you go?'

"'What must I give you?' he asks.

"'You must give us the whole of your treasure,' they answer; 'we will not let you go for anything less.'

"That seems a large price, but the dwarf is as crafty as he is wicked, though his craft seldom does him much good, and he thinks that even if he gives up all his treasure he can soon pile up as much more, with the help of the ring. So, by the power of the ring, he calls the dwarfs to bring him the treasure, and up they come with it, out of the cleft of the rocks, and they pile it in a great, glittering heap just there where the new fire is beginning to burn so bright. 'There is the gold,' cries the dwarf, 'let me go.'

"'Not yet,' says the Father of the Gods; 'give us your ring first, that belongs to the treasure.'

"At that the dwarf screams and struggles and writhes and curses the gods, but it is all of no use; the Father of the Gods tears the ring from his finger, and then they untie him and tell him to take himself off where he will. And now, as he goes, he lays a terrible curse on the ring. To every one who shall ever gain it, he swears, shall come ill luck, misfortune, sorrow, terror, and death; let him rule the world if he will, never shall he be happy; everyone shall long for the ring, and to him who gets it, it shall bring misery and ruin. Truly the dwarf has gained little by stealing the gold from the river nymphs, but the gods have done wrong as well in stealing it from him, and they are doing wrong still in not giving it back to the nymphs; so they must suffer too.

"But it is not yet time for that, for now, as the fire burns up, the whole picture grows brighter again. That is because the giants are bringing back the Goddess of Love and Youth, to see if the treasure is ready for them. The trees lift up their branches again and the happy sunlight pours down through them; the flowers open their eyes to see it; the sky is clear and bright, and the grass is again fresh; while the faces of the gods, who run to meet their sister, look young and happy as before. Only the castle is still hidden by the shining silver river mist. The giants have come near. 'Is the ransom ready for us?' they cry.

"'There is your treasure.' says the Father of the Gods, 'take it and be gone.'

"'We must see that it is enough first,' they answer; 'our treasure must be as much as your goddess, so you must pile it up before her till she is quite hidden by it; then we will take it, and you shall have her back.'

"They heap up the gold and the jewels before the goddess, higher and higher, till everything is gone from the old pile to the new one. Then one of the giants looks over it and still sees the gold of her hair above the gold of the treasure. 'Give me that helmet that you carry,' he says to the Fire God, 'to put on the top.' and he gives it. Now the other giant peeps through a chink in the pile and sees one of her eyes. 'Quick,' he cries to the Father of the Gods, 'give me that ring you wear to stop this chink.'

"'No,' says the Father of the Gods, 'you shall not have that; it is the ring that gives the power to rule the world, and I will keep it.'

"' Very well, then,' say the giants, 'we will have no more to do with you, and we will take the goddess back with us.'

"All the gods stand terrified and pale. Will their great father let the Goddess of Love be taken from them again, and must they all grow old and die, that he may keep this ring? Everything grows dark again, as our fire here drops down; only there is that pale blue flame that gives no light, away at the back of the hearth. And now, right in the pale blue flame, rises the form of a woman out of the ground. It is the Earth Goddess, the wisest woman in the world, who knows all that ever was, all that is, and all that ever shall be. She speaks to the Father of the Gods and tells him to give the ring to the giants, for the curse that the dwarf has laid upon it will surely destroy him who keeps it. Then she sinks out of sight, and the Father of the Gods takes from his finger the ring, and gives it.

"And even while the giants are stowing the treasure in a sack to carry it away, they fall to quarrelling about how it shall be divided, and one of them strikes the other a terrible blow with his club which lays him dead upon the ground. Then he strides away with the treasure, leaving the gods filled with horror at the first fatal work done by the curse of the ring.

"Yet only for a moment; their grand new castle is ready for them now.

The Wagner Story Book - 3/24

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