The Gnomes.

From: Kobboltozo: A Sequel to the Last of the Huggermuggers (1869)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Lee and Shepard 1869 Boston



  IT was the dwelling and laboratory of those elfs who work under ground—called Gnomes.

  The dwarfs found themselves in a vast hall or dome, in the centre of which seemed to be a huge furnace, from which issued great flames. But what was very strange, they could feel no heat, they could hear no crackling, they could see no smoke. The flames were like those of the Northern-lights, only redder and intenser—indeed, so intense that the dwarfs who had been so long in the darkness, could hardly bear to look at them. On drawing nearer, they were astonished to see against the light, swarms of little beings of strange and grotesque shapes, and all of one sober brown or grey color, like the rocks around, and all busily and silently at work. Some were melting or refining metals, and shutting and opening the doors of the furnace—some dragging out great lumps of what seemed to be red-hot iron—some ladling out melted gold and silver—some hammering at anvils—some filing and polishing precious stones of enormous size and wonderful lustre—some digging into the solid rock-crystal sides of the great hall—some heaving and rolling along great fragments of stone—some descending and ascending mines and holes in the earth—all busy, and active, and quick; not one idle; each one seeming to know his task, and, though it might puzzle you to imagine what it was all for, each one working in perfect silence.

  As Kobboltozo and Hammawhaxo approached, no one stopped working—they merely raised a moment their queer little eyes to look at them, but didn’t turn their heads. They showed no signs of curiosity or astonishment, but seemed to look at them with as much indifference as if they were quite accustomed to them. One could not compare them to any thing so truly, as to a swarm of magnified brown ants. There was the same running to and fro, each on his own special business, yet for the good of the community, the same indifference to any thing else than the work before them—the same silence—the same swarming multitudinous life. They would appear and disappear, one couldn’t tell how. They would come up from some hole or crack in the earth—they would run up the sides of the room—they would drop down from the ceiling, and go on working as before. They would lift objects of enormous size and weight. Nothing seemed impossible to them. One after another they swarmed up from the crevices in the rocks, carrying on their backs huge pieces of ore or crystal, which they ran to deposit in a corner where there was an immense pile of treasures—and then would descend to appear again with fresh burdens.

  All this caused immense astonishment to our friends the shoemaker and carpenter. They had never seen such curious little beings as these. They had never seen any work done so silently, so cleverly.

  After they had looked on with wondering eyes for some time, they began to think that they would enter into conversation with the gnomes, and perhaps learn from them, who seemed to have explored all the secrets under ground, how they should get out of the earth. Indeed Kobboltozo thought he might kill two birds with one stone, and make some inquiries with regard to the wonderful shell-fish.

  They therefore came up to a goodnatured-looking little imp, who was engaged in crystallizing a lump of silver, and asked him as politely as they could, if he could tell them the way back to the surface of the earth. The gnome only looked at him with his twinkling jet eyes, and without speaking, or even pointing with his ever-busy hands, simply nodded in a certain direction. They then asked him if he knew where they could find a certain shell-fish, which would make men grow to be giants. The gnome stared, and faintly smiled, and nodded in the same direction. This was all they could get from him. They tried others of the gnomes, who all repeated the same nod of the head, in the same direction.

  “From all which,” said Kobboltozo, “it seems we must take that way indicated by these queer silent creatures, if we wish to get out of this place. I think we had better be off, as soon as we can. The truth is, I am getting to be confoundedly hungry, notwithstanding last night’s feast. Suppose we ask one of our little fairy friends for a bit of bread and cheese. Hallo there! you young lump of brown earth, with the big head and arms—couldn’t you give a starving fellow-creature of the upper-crust, a bit of something—we won’t be particular—any thing just to keep body and soul together, for we are almost famished. But I fancy you don’t raise potatoes and pumpkins down here—eh, young one?”

  The gnome only stared at him and passed on.

  “You, then!” cried Kobboltozo, “you with the smutty face and the hairy legs—can’t you give us something to eat—don’t you ever eat down here?” And the shoemaker and the carpenter both made signs to show that they had great appetites.

  But the gnome stared as the other did, and passed on.

  “By jingo!” said the carpenter, “I believe they are deaf and dumb, or don’t know what meat and drink means, any more than rest or sleep. Come, let’s be off; we shall get no Satisfaction out of these creatures.”

  So they proceeded in the way so vaguely indicated by the gnomes, and soon found themselves in a gallery which led them through several such caverns as those they had already traversed. Gradually the red fire-light which issued from the hall of the gnomes grew fainter and fainter, till they found themselves at last in utter darkness. Soon, however, a faint light, as from without, seemed to dawn, dimly revealing the rough sides of the cavern. Encouraged, they pushed on through the narrow windings—now up, now down—now interrupted in their journey by huge masses of fallen rock, now by streams of water—till to their great joy they at last reached an opening in the side of a rocky gorge, from which they saw the sunlight again, and the blue sea sleeping beneath them.

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