THE ELVES AND THEIR ANTICS
HE elves are the little white creatures that live between heaven and earth. They are not in the clouds, nor down
in the caves and mines, like the kabouters. They are bright and fair, dwelling in the air, and in the world of
light. The direct heat of the sun is usually too much for them, so they are not often seen during the day,
except towards sunset. They love the silvery moonlight. There used to be many folks, who thought they had seen
the beautiful creatures, full of fun and joy, dancing hand in hand, in a circle.
In these old days, long since gone by, there were more people than there are now, who were sure they had many
times enjoyed the sight of the elves. Some places in Holland show, by their names, where this kind of fairies
used to live. These little creatures, that looked as thin as gauze, were very lively and mischievous, though
they often helped honest and hard working people in their tasks, as we shall see. But first and most of all,
they were fond of fun. They loved to vex cross people and to please those who were bonnie and blithe. They
 misers, but they loved the kind and generous. These little folks usually took their pleasure in the grassy
meadows, among the flowers and butterflies. On bright nights they played among the moonbeams.
There were certain times when the elves were busy, in such a way as to make men and girls think about them.
Then their tricks were generally in the stable, or in the field among the cows. Sometimes, in the kitchen or
dairy, among the dishes or milk-pans, they made an awful mess for the maids to clean up. They tumbled over the
churns, upset the milk jugs, and played hoops with the round cheeses. In a bedroom they made things look as if
the pigs had run over them.
When a farmer found his horse's mane twisted into knots, or two cows with their tails tied together, he said
at once, "That's the work of elves." If the mares did not feel well, or looked untidy, their owners were sure
the elves had taken the animals out and had been riding them all night. If a cow was sick, or fell down on the
grass, it was believed that the elves had shot an arrow into its body. The inquest, held on many a dead calf
or its mother, was, that it died from an "elf-shot." They were so sure of this, that even when a stone arrow
head—such as our far-off ancestors used in hunting, when they were
 cave men—was picked up off the ground, it was called an "elf bolt," or "elf-arrow."
Near a certain village named Elf-berg or Elf Hill, because there were so many of the little people in that
neighborhood, there was one very old elf, named Styf, which means Stiff, because though so old he stood up
straight as a lance. Even more than the young elves, he was famous for his pranks. Sometimes he was nicknamed
Haan-e'-kam or Cock's Comb. He got this name, because he loved to mock the roosters, when they crowed, early
in the morning. With his red cap on, he did look like a rooster. Sometimes he fooled the hens, that heard him
crowing. Old Styf loved nothing better than to go to a house where was a party indoors. All the wooden shoes
of the twenty or thirty people within, men and women, girls and boys, would be left outside the door. All good
Dutch folks step out of their heavy timber shoes, or klomps, before they enter a house. It is always a curious
sight, at a country church, or gathering of people at a party, to see the klomps, big and little, belonging to
baby boys and girls, and to the big men, who wear a number thirteen shoe of wood. One wonders how each one of
the owners knows his own, but he does. Each pair is put in its own place, but Old Styf would come and mix them
all up together, and then
 leave them in a pile. So when the people came out to go home, they had a terrible time in finding and sorting
out their shoes. Often they scolded each other; or, some innocent boy was blamed for the mischief. Some did
not find out, till the next day, that they had on one foot their own, and on another foot, their neighbor's
shoe. It usually took a week to get the klomps sorted out, exchanged, and the proper feet into the right
shoes. In this way, which was a special trick with him, this naughty elf, Styf, spoiled the temper of many
Beside the meadow elves, there were other kinds in Elfin Land; some living in the woods, some in the
sand-dunes, but those called Staalkaars, or elves of the stall, were Old Styf's particular friends. These
lived in stables and among the cows. The Moss Maidens, that could do anything with leaves, even turning them
into money, helped Styf, for they too liked mischief. They teased men-folks, and enjoyed nothing better than
misleading the stupid fellows that fuddled their brains with too much liquor.
Styf's especially famous trick was played on misers. It was this. When he heard of any old fellow, who wanted
to save the cost of candles, he would get a kabouter to lead him off in the swamps, where the sooty elves come
out, on dark nights, to dance. Hoping to catch these
 lights and use them for candles, the mean fellow would find himself in a swamp, full of water and chilled to
the marrow. Then the kabouters would laugh loudly.
Old Styf had the most fun with another stingy fellow, who always scolded children when he found them spending
a penny. If he saw a girl buying flowers, or a boy giving a copper coin for a waffle, he talked roughly to
them for wasting money. Meeting this miser one day, as he was walking along the brick road, leading from the
village, Styf offered to pay the old man a thousand guilders, in exchange for four striped tulips, that grew
in his garden. The miser, thinking it real silver, eagerly took the money and put it away in his iron strong
box. The next night, when he went, as he did three times a week, to count, and feel, and rub, and gloat, over
his cash, there was nothing but leaves in a round form. These, at his touch, crumbled to pieces. The Moss
Maidens laughed uproariously, when the mean old fellow was mad about it.
But let no one suppose that the elves, because they were smarter than stupid human beings, were always in
mischief. No, no! They did, indeed, have far more intelligence than dull grown folks, lazy boys, or careless
girls; but many good things they did. They sewed shoes
 for poor cobblers, when they were sick, and made clothes for children, when the mother was tired. When they
were around, the butter came quick in the churn.
When the blue flower of the flax bloomed in Holland, the earth, in spring time, seemed like the sky. Old Styf
then saw his opportunity to do a good thing. Men thought it a great affair to have even coarse linen tow for
clothes. No longer need they hunt the wolf and deer in the forest, for their garments. By degrees, they
learned to make finer stuff, both linen for clothes and sails for ships, and this fabric they spread out on
the grass until the cloth was well bleached. When taken up, it was white as the summer clouds that sailed in
the blue sky. All the world admired the product, and soon the word "Holland" was less the name of a country,
than of a dainty fabric, so snow white, that it was fit to robe a queen. The world wanted more and more of it,
and the Dutch linen weaver grew rich. Yet still there was more to come.
Now, on one moonlight night in summer, the lady elves, beautiful creatures, dressed in gauze and film, with
wings to fly and with feet that made no sound, came down into the meadows for their fairy dances. But when,
instead of green grass, they saw a white landscape, they wondered, Was it winter?
 Surely not, for the air was warm. No one shivered, or was cold. Yet there were whole acres as white as snow,
while all the old fairy rings, grass and flowers were hidden.
They found that the meadows had become bleaching grounds, so that the cows had to go elsewhere to get their
dinner, and that this white area was all linen. However, they quickly got over their surprise, for elves are
very quick to notice things. But now that men had stolen a march on them, they asked whether, after all, these
human beings had more intelligence than elves. Not one of these fairies but believed that men and women were
the inferiors of elves.
So, then and there, began a battle of wits.
"They have spoiled our dancing floor with their new invention; so we shall have to find another," said the
elfin queen, who led the party.
"They are very proud of their linen, these men are; but, without the spider to teach them, what could they
have done? Even a wild boar can instruct these human beings. Let us show them, that we, also, can do even
more. I'll get Old Styf to put on his thinking cap. He'll add something new that will make them prouder yet."
"But we shall get the glory of it," the elves shouted in chorus. Then they left off talking and began their
dances, floating in the air, until
 they looked, from a distance, like a wreath of stars.
The next day, a procession of lovely elf maidens and mothers waited on Styf and asked him to devise something
that would excel the invention of linen; which, after all, men had learned from the spider.
"Yes, and they would not have any grain fields, if they had not learned from the wild boar," added the elf
Old Styf answered "yes" at once to their request, and put on his red thinking cap. Then some of the girl elves
giggled, for they saw that he did, really, look like a cock's comb. "No wonder they called him Haan-e'-kam,"
said one elf girl to the other.
Now Old Styf enjoyed fooling, just for the fun of it, and he taught all the younger elves that those who did
the most work with their hands and head, would have the most fun when they were old.
First of all, he went at once to see Fro, the spirit of the golden sunshine and the warm summer showers, who
owned two of the most wonderful things in the world. One was his sword, which, as soon as it was drawn out of
its sheath, against wicked enemies, fought of its own accord and won every battle. Fro's chief enemies were
the frost giants, who wilted the flowers and
 blasted the plants useful to man. Fro was absent, when Styf came, but his wife promised he would come next
day, which he did. He was happy to meet all the elves and fairies, and they, in turn, joyfully did whatever he
told them. Fro knew all the secrets of the grain fields, for he could see what was in every kernel of both the
stalks and the ripe ears. He arrived, in a golden chariot, drawn by his wild boar which served him instead of
a horse. Both chariot and boar drove over the tops of the ears of wheat, and faster than the wind.
The Boar was named Gullin, or Golden Bristles because of its sunshiny color and splendor. In this chariot, Fro
had specimens of all the grains, fruits, and vegetables known to man, from which Styf could choose, for these
he was accustomed to scatter over the earth.
When Styf told him just what he wanted to do, Fro picked out a sheaf of wheat and whispered a secret in his
ear. Then he drove away, in a burst of golden glory, which dazzled even the elves, that loved the bright
sunshine. These elves were always glad to see the golden chariot coming or passing by.
Styf also summoned to his aid the kabouters, and, from these ugly little fellows, got some useful hints; for
they, dwelling in the dark caverns,
 know many secrets which men used to name alchemy, and which they now call chemistry.
Then Styf fenced himself off from all intruders, on the top of a bright, sunny hilltop, with his thinking cap
on and made experiments for seven days. No elves, except his servants, were allowed to see him. At the end of
a week, still keeping his secret and having instructed a dozen or so of the elf girls in his new art, he
invited all the elves in the Low Countries to come to a great exhibition, which he intended to give.
What a funny show it was! On one long bench, were half a dozen washtubs; and on a table, near by, were a dozen
more washtubs; and on a longer table not far away were six ironing boards, with smoothing irons. A stove, made
hot with a peat fire, was to heat the irons. Behind the tubs and tables, stood the twelve elf maidens, all
arrayed in shining white garments and caps, as spotless as snow. One might almost think they were white elves
of the meadow and not kabouters of the mines. The wonder was that their linen clothes were not only as dainty
as stars, but that they glistened, as if they had laid on the ground during a hoar frost.
Yet it was still warm summer. Nothing had frozen, or melted, and the rosy-faced elf-maidens were as dry as an
ivory fan. Yet they resembled
 the lilies of the garden when pearly with dew-drops.
When all were gathered together, Old Styf called for some of the company, who had come from afar, to take off
their dusty and travel-stained linen garments and give them to him. These were passed over to the trained
girls waiting to receive them. In a jiffy, they were washed, wrung out, rinsed and dried. It was noticed that
those elf-maidens, who were standing at the last tub, were intently expecting to do something great, while
those five elf maids at the table took off the hot irons from the stove. They touched the bottom of the
flat-irons with a drop of water to see if it rolled off hissing. They kept their eyes fixed on Styf, who now
came forward before all and said, in a loud voice:
"Elves and fairies, moss maidens and stall sprites, one and all, behold our invention, which our great friend
Fro and our no less helpful friends, the kabouters, have helped me to produce. Now watch me prove its
Forthwith he produced before all a glistening substance, partly in powder, and partly in square lumps, as
white as chalk. He easily broke up a handful under his fingers, and flung it into the fifth tub, which had hot
water in it. After dipping the washed garments in the white gummy
 mass, he took them up, wrung them out, dried them with his breath, and then handed them to the elf ironers. In
a few moments, these held up, before the company, what a few minutes before had been only dusty and stained
clothes. Now, they were white and resplendent. No fuller's earth could have bleached them thus, nor added so
glistening a surface.
It was starch, a new thing for clothes. The fairies, one and all, clapped their hands in delight.
"What shall we name it?" modestly asked Styf of the oldest gnome present.
"Hereafter, we shall call you Styf Sterk, Stiff Starch." They all laughed.
Very quickly did the Dutch folks, men and women, hear and make use of the elves' invention. Their linen
closets now looked like piles of snow. All over the Low Countries, women made caps, in new fashions, of lace
or plain linen, with horns and wings, flaps and crimps, with quilling and with whirligigs. Soon, in every
town, one could read the sign "Hier mangled men" (Here we do ironing).
In time, kings, queens and nobles made huge ruffs, often so big that their necks were invisible, and their
heads nearly lost from sight, in rings of quilled linen, or of lace, that stuck out a foot or so. Worldly
people dyed their starch yellow;
 zealous folk made it blue; but moderate people kept it snowy white.
Starch added money and riches to the nation. Kings' treasuries became fat with money gained by taxes laid on
ruffs, and on the cargoes of starch, which was now imported by the shipload, or made on the spot, in many
countries. So, out of the ancient grain came a new spirit that worked for sweetness and beauty, cleanliness,
and health. From a useful substance, as old as Egypt, was born a fine art, that added to the sum of the
world's wealth and pleasure.
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