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Littell's Living Age
Volume 178, Issue 2302 : Sylt and its Associations
Originally from Blackwood's Magazine
legends from the early home of the english.

When Prussia annexed Schleswig-Holstein, she did not fail to include in the seizure the fringe or islands which stretch along the coast. No islands have more interest for the English-speaking race. The history of Friesland is a confused one; but the great fact which makes its lonely sandy lands more attractive than “the glows and glories of the broad belt of the world” is that it was the cradle of the English race. Green, in his “History of the English People,” remarks how it is with the landing of Hengist and his war-band at Ebbsfleet, on the shore of the Isle of Thanet, that English history begins. “No spot in Britain can be so sacred to Englishmen as that which first felt the tread of English feet.” As I stood, the other day, on the sandy shore of the rift in the dune which local tradition in Sylt points to as the ancient harbor of the Frisians, from which Hengist sailed to the conquest of Britain, I felt that this spot was scarcely less sacred. Trace of harbor there is now none — the storms of fourteen hundred years have greatly altered the sea-line of that coast; but however much the land may have altered, from the coarse grass-grown hillocks of the Riisgap or Riesenloch one still commands the same sea-view which met the eyes of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, when they embarked to protect the Britons against their enemies, by conquering Britain as a preliminarv. The town of Wenningstedt, which formerly stood near the harbor, is now under water (the new village of the same name, with its inn kept by the Widow Gamp, lies half a mile inland), and shipping there is none for miles around. The North Sea lies glittering in the sun, empty of sail or boat, and the dunes around are scarcely less dazzling, and equally devoid of life; but perhaps, on account of its very isolation and loneliness, Hengist’s departure-port is scarcely the less suggestive of curious thoughts. Had that fleet encountered a great gale, as many another North Sea fleet has done, what might have been the history of Britain? A fair wind gave the Britons new masters, just as an unfavorable one saved Britain from the Armada.

Sylt is the largest of the North Friesland islands. Its peculiar shape on the map must strike the eye. It is like a headless F. In extreme length it is some twenty-three miles; its average width, except at the branch of the headless F, is less than one mile. Surrounded by great sandhills or cliffs, red or white, which replace the dunes at intervals, the interior of the country is like the elongated crater of a volcano smoothed over. From the interior, which is flat and hill-less, one sees no sea — only the inner rim of the sandhills, or the top of the cliffs. Ascend the dune at any point, and an apparently boundless expanse of sea meets the eye. Sylt is reached by steamer from Hoyer on the mainland, or, better, from Wyk, the capital of the neighboring island of Führ. It has a population of about three thousand, industrious, well-behaved, even wealthy. But the people are greatly scattered, and I know no place where one can walk so far and meet so few people as Sylt. Westerland is the only place of fashion; and as one drives along the sandy road from Munkmarsch, the landing-place, to Westerland, in the grey of a northern twilight, through a plain empty but for great hillocks, Thing-hills and burial-mounds, one wonders what impelled German fashion to seek out Westerland. It is a gay little place in its way, with a couple of bands, a theatre, a Kursaal, and bathing-rules as stringent as the Decalogue. But this artificiality is only its fun. It is a very small place after all, and when the visitors are not bathing they do not promenade in fine clothes, but scoop out great holes in the sand, and therein sit father and mother and all the Kinder, and get so sunbrowned that all their neighbors in Berlin or in Hamburg will call heaven a thousand times to wonder over it, when they pack up their trunks and take ship home again. It is very easy to get out of sight of these loiterers; five minutes’ walk in any direction will land you in a wilderness of soft turf and sweet thyme, and it is entirely your own fault if you see another human creature in half-a-dozen hours; it is quite certain you will not meet an Englishman.

To live with the past instead of the present is more easy in Sylt than elsewhere. The whole island is an archæological museum, and every object has its legend. Folklore flourishes in this lonely spot to an extent as exhilarating as it is surprising to the folklorist, who has always to say at home, “in former times,” or “within the last century.” In Sylt the giants have scarcely passed away; the elves have scarcely vanished; you may see still the graves of sea-kings, and listen to the songs of lovesick mermen. It is a land of enchantment and wonder, of superstition and of history, of imagination and of adventure. The story of the giants’ ship is itself sufficient to equip a folklorist with material for a twenty-page essay. Once upon a time there was a great ship in which the giants sailed the North Sea; some say it was the vessel in which the first Frisians (who were naturally giants) reached Sylt. It was so big that when the captain (whose name was Uald — the chroniclers are always definite in such matters; his ship was the Mannigfuald) gave his orders, he had to gallop about the deck on a swift horse. The cook had a boat in which to pick up the meat out of the soup-tureen. The sailors were youths when they went up the rigging, but old and grey-haired when they came down again. Once this ship got into the English Channel; but, as was to be expected, the strait was too narrow, and the ship stuck. Uald was a man of ingenuity. He ordered the sides of the Mannigfuald to be washed over with white soap; the plan was successful; the vessel slid through, but the soap adhered to the rocks, and that is why the cliffs of Dover are white to this day! The island of Bornholm is merely part of the ballast which was once thrown overboard. There is a splendor of imagination about this tale which throws all ordinary fairy-tales into the shade.

The story of Ekke Nekkepen is of a different kind.

At Hörnum, at the south point of Sylt, lived a sea-monster or merman who stole away a maiden named Inge of Rantum, and refused to let her go unless she discovered his name. One day the secret was told by Ekke himself, for he sang this song; and although he sang it under a sandhill, Inge heard it: —

To-day shall I brew,
To-morrow shall I bake;
The next day is my wedding.
I am Ekke Nekkepen,
My bride is Inge of Rantum,
And that knows no one but I myself.

Quickly Inge claimed her freedom. “Thou are Ekke Nekkepen,” she cried, “and I remain Inge of Rantum!” Without another word, Ekke vanished and troubled her no more. Evil spirits always keep their word, but by night and day since then he has striven to destroy the land. Inge’s home is now beneath the waters. The Rantum that appears on the Sylt map of to-day is a new Rantum; but a good spirit, a white lady, watches over the lost land. Another story of Ekke‘s wooing is told. Disappointed of Inge’s love, the merman after a time went on a visit to Finn, the king of the dwarfs. These were an odd, small, tricky people whom the Frisians found in Sylt when they took possession. They lived underground, wore red caps, and lived on berries and mussels, fish, and birds, and wild eggs. They had stone axes and knives, and made pots of clay. They sang and danced by moonlight on the mounds of the plain which was their home, worked little, were deceitful, and loved to steal children and pretty women; the children they exchanged for their own, the women they kept. Those who lived in the bushes, and later in the Frieslanders’ own houses like our own brownies, were called Pucks, and a sandy dell near Braderup is still known as the Pukthal. These tiny folk, says Hansen, the old schoolmaster of Keitum, who so lovingly collected the legends of his beloved island, and of whose curious notes I make use here, could turn themselves into mice or toads if they pleased. They had a language of their own, which lingers yet in proverbs and children’s games. The story of King Finn’s subjects is evidently one of those valuable legends which illuminate dark pages of history. It clearly bears testimony to the same small race having inhabited Friesland in times which we trace in the caves of the neolithic age, and of which the Esquimaux are the only survivors.

To King Finn, then, came Ekke Nekkepen with his tale of jilted love. But on his way Ekke found a cave in the Red Cliff, and began to court a charming young brownie. But she was very haughty, and sang —

One is mine whom I choose;
Akel Dakel Dummeldei:
Wolves and dogs stay above.
Thou old tadpole,
Ekke, shalt be
Bundis’s cat.

A merman, however much in love, could not quite stand being called a tadpole, so he shrugged his shoulders and bade his fair friend

Pick, pack, weg!

One can do Ekke and his poetical friends no justice in translation, for their rhymes are eminently pertinent and concise. King Finn received the disconsolate wooer kindly, and told him how he won his bride from Braderup. One day the king had heard two maidens talking, as they walked, of their hard fate in having to work the livelong day. “If we had only as good a time as the underground folk!” said the one to the other. “They are always jolly; they dance and sing every evening, and only work when they please!” One morning, soon after, this girl went by alone. Finn met her, and asked her if she meant what she had said ? “Yes, all,” she answered. “Then, stay and be my wife,” said the elf-king; “thou shalt have everything good which we have.” And then had followed the great wedding, with its presents of a bowl of berries, of a thimbleful of milk or a cupful of honey, a mouse-skin, a net, a broom, a hair-comb, a wooden spoon, a whetstone, a kerchief or a bedcover, a crooked nail or a door-key, or something of kindred rarity, from all the guests. At the wedding-feast King Finn had sat on his throne, the great stone chair, wearing his jewelled crown, shaped like a sea-urchin, on his head, and a cloak of mouse-skin over his shoulders: by his side was the queen in a robe the finest and most transparent ever seen, upon her head a crown of heath-flowers and diamonds, and a ring on each finger. The guests feasted on herring milt and roe, and smelts, salted eggs, iltisbraten (? polecat) and oysters, wild berries of all kinds, and plentiful draughts of mead. Of all these glories Finn told Ekke, till the merman’s heart swelled up with new hope. Surely if the maidens of Braderup preferred marriage with Finn to work, then he also might make sure of a bride from Braderup. So it happened that one morning, as he sat on a hillock near Braderup, his face, says the folk-tale, “to the first peep of dawn in the east, the moon still shining in the west,” he saw a comely youth go to bathe in the bay beneath. Now Ekke also felt desirous of a dip, and he hastened to the shore; but when he reached the water, lo! the pretty stranger bolted. Nor was there wonder, for he was no boy, but Dorret Bundis, a maiden who had with her two brothers crossed from the main land the previous winter over the ice. (This is a very superfluous detail, for in the time of the cavemen Sylt can scarcely have been an island. The mind of the artist required, however, to explain the presence of a stranger, and the story was invested with artistic merit by this touch of modern life.) Afraid of the elves and their practice of stealing maids, Dorret had passed as a boy. Ekke quickly caught her. She begged to be allowed to go, but Ekke had had too many slips in the matrimonial market to permit such a thing, until she promised to wed him in a year and a day. The merman could not contain his joy, and, as usual, he burst into song. So he sat in his cave or perched himself on a rock in the moonlight and sang: —

Ekke must brew,
And Ekke must bake,
For Ekkc is going to marry;
Dorret Bundis is my bride,
I am Ekke Nekkepen,
And nobody knows it!

Everybody did know it, however, very soon, for if a merman will proclaim his loves to the winds he cannot fail to attract an audience. So all the Braderup people learned that Dorret Bundis was a girl, and that she had promised to wed Ekke. Dorret was very angry at the disclosure, and her conduct at this point compels a respectful admirer to hesitate about describing it. Among other playful tricks she threw dead calves and dogs into the merman‘s cave, turning that peaceful bachelor home into a very unsavory abode, and wound up with a dead cat, which she playfully invited him to take as an appropriate spouse, thus fulfilling the prophecy about Bundis’s cat mentioned above. Poor Ekke could not stand this kind of treatment, so he went to his friend King Finn and told him his troubles. He got little sympathy.

“The devil take you “said the elf-king, “you are too stupid to come among underground folks. When you had the girl, why didn’t you keep her? At least you might have kept your stupid tongue quiet. Your sing-song has roused the whole neighborhood, and done us much mischief, Get off to your Hörnum or the sea, and don’t bother the heath or the hills."

Ekke had come to be condoled with, not scolded; his angry passions rose. He said he was every bit as clever as Finn, and begged to inform him he intended to rule on land just as much as on the sea. With that, and to show that a merman is not to be trifled with, he plumped down in Finn’s own stone chair.

“If you are stronger than Ekke, come and pull me out,” he cried. “If you don’t, I stay here and shall be king over you all.”

This was ungrateful conduct. When you have done your best to help a troublesome neighbor to get a wife, and he fails entirely through his own fault, it is hard if in he comes and sets himself on your own throne. Finn now lost his temper. He ran at the merman and gave him a sharp blow on the head. Ekke said “Ah!” but did not move.

Wait a bit,” cried Finn, “till I fetch my axe.”

Ekke did not like this, but he blustered out, “Ekke has a thick head and a strong back; so long as I sit on this throne is Ekke king over the whole heath and all the hills on it, and all the elves; who sits on the king’s seat is the king.”

Finn listened to this exasperating doctrine of regal rights for a moment; then he ran off to fetch his axe, which he kept buried. Soon he was back, but he had a new idea as well as his axe.

“There is a ship just come to shore,” he remarked casually to his wife, who had a week-old child in her arms.

“Where?” exclaimed Ekke, who had an insatiable curiosity.

“Just down here,” replied Finn; “it came in through the Riisgap.” This is the historical Frisian harbor of later days whence Hengist and Horsa sailed. “The ship,” continued the artful Finn, “has some monkeys on board that go through a little play. My wife and I will go down this evening and see the fun, and you can look after the baby.”

“I’m going too!” cried Ekke, and jumped up from the stone chair.

“By the way, my axe is ready now,” said Finn, laughing. He laughed too soon. Ekke remembered he was standing, and sat down hastily, but with an uneasy mind for where was the joke in staying all alone on this hillock with Finn’s infant, while Finn and his queen amused themselves at the monkey-show? When the two had been gone some little time he could stand it no longer, so he took the precious chair on his back and stumbled along in the direction in which he thought Finn had gone. When he had gone on for about half an hour he was “as tired as a maggot,” the Frisian tale says; he puffed and blew, and was wet through with sweat. Carrying stone thrones about is not a usual work for mermen. He could not stir a step farther, so he sat down on the throne, and sat there the whole night, always hoping that Finn would come by, and that they would together go to see the monkeys. He looked down to the beach in the twilight, but could see neither ship nor apes. Early in the morning, while he still sat in his seat and was finding the time hang very heavily on his hands, he saw a great troop of the underground folk coming over the so-called Kettle-dune from the shore, dragging a monstrous shape with them. It was as thick as a barrel in the middle, with a head like a man’s and a tail like a fish; it howled and wept, and resisted those who pulled it along.

“Holloa!” cried Ekke, “my old sea-wife, Ran! Don’t bring her here! I’ll have nothing to do with her! Put her in the water!” But still the procession drew nearer. “I am your king,” he shouted; “Ekke sits on the throne, and you must obey him!” But no one heeded. When Ekke saw he was not to be obeyed, he leapt from the throne, took one terrible jump over the cliff to the shore, and swam off as fast as a merman can, to the south. His old wife followed at his heels. Ekke came no more to Finn’s land, but Finn’s throne lies still as Ekke left it, upset beside the Affenthal and the Riisgap.

Sylt legends are all of grey sandhills, of empty heaths, of witches, or of sea-wonders. So does the aspect of a country affect its thought. There are scarcely any trees in Sylt, no streams, and no hills. The air is so clear, and the view so unimpeded, that distant objects seem comparatively near. But the houses are few, and the population small; at the best of times there is not much to be seen of human beings, and the entire aspect of the place in its loneliness gives its great stretches of level land an air of mystery. One would scarcely be surprised to see elves dancing on that dark hillock, and there would be nothing astonishing in discovering a merman lying on the long low shore. Part of the charm of Heligoland is its life. All the people live in the sun, and, so to speak, “on the spot;” they form continually picturesque groups, and one has sometimes to rub his eyes and wonder if the scene on the little pier, with its gay fishermen, the white houses, the red, towering cliffs, the glittering sea, is not the prelude to a drama. Presently the heroine will come on the boards, the groups break up, and the real drama will commence. But the heroine does not come. The actors are always at the opening scene. There is nothing of this operatic picturesqueness in Sylt; but the land makes up for its lack of every-day life by the vivacity of its legends. One of the most curious of these tells of the war between the giants and dwarfs.

It all arose through Ekke’s unfortunate adventures. The giants, or Frisians, were roused to anger at the thought of the danger their wives and daughters were in of being captured by such as Ekke; and, as the nearest available enemy, they wreaked their spite on King Finn and his people. So a meeting was called of all the underground folk to consider what should be done. They met by night, Finn and Elferin, Eske and Labbe, Hatje and Pilatje; both the house fairies and the dell men were there. They chattered and talked so that you would have thought it was the ducks at Keitum market; and inside the hills, where all the wives were, it was like Teuschen’s oven where seven hundred mice were in childbed. At last Finn commanded silence. “Listen, listen!” cried all. Then Finn told of what evil repute Ekke had brought them into with his stupidity, with a few variations which make his conduct still blacker than I have described it. In consequence of his bad fame, the giants would give the underground folk now nothing but dead dogs and cats, chased them when they were seen, and made life a burden to any respectable elf. Then the loss of the stone throne was a calamity.

“In fact,” said Finn, “now I am a king no longer I What are we to do?” Like a skilled orator, Finn stopped there equally the people waited to hear what was to come after.

“We must fight,” continued the king, answering his own question. “We must sharpen our knives and our teeth, dig up our axes and hammers, and fight!”

“Fight!” cried every one; and so it was arranged that on the morrow they should all meet on the Stapelhügeln, and all went homewards to prepare for the coming struggle. Now it happened that Dorret Bundis, who seems to have had a particular knack of turning up in dramatic pauses, had lately been very uneasy in her mind; she felt there was something in the air; and very early in the morning, when all the underground folk were still asleep, she crept through the mist to the hillock in which Finn dwelt. She lay down and put her ear to the threshold and listened. All she heard was Finn’s wife singing to her child. But the song was enough to make the blood run cold of even a prehistoric amateur detective. These were the pretty words the queen sang to her baby —

Hela hei!
Baby’s mine.
To-morrow comes his father Finn,
Bringing us a man’s head in,
Heia hei, heia hei!

Dorret thought, “It is high time that the Sylt warriors were waking.” So she ran lightly to the Peace-hill, near Braderup, and kindled the Braderup beacon fire. This was an old sign that war was approaching; and before dawn the fiery cross was lit in Tinnum, in Eidum, in Keitum, and every hamlet in Sylt. By midday all the giants had gathered from east, and south, and west. These Frisians were no mean giants, although their trifling five or six yards of flesh and blood are little compared with Cornish giants. Strangely clad were they all, and bearing wonderful weapons. Some — prudent giants — wore woollen clothes as thick as felt, some coats of sailcloth ; but the most wore only a sheep’s skin or a seal’s skin, and many had only a cow’s or a horse’s hide over their shoulders.

Time was plentiful to the old Keitum schoolmaster, and space of no account; but we cannot here follow him in his detailed account of all the warriors, what they wore, who were their attendants, and what they ate. As regards their diet, Hansen says, “The Sylt giants were unheard-of gluttons;” and so they were. In all the varied crew there was much display; for King Ring, the sea-giant, had on his golden helmet, shaped like a ship, and King Bröns and his son came on their golden wagon, with Piar as their coachman. King Bröns’s crest was a golden eagle. The Bull of Morsum wore a cow’s hide, with golden horns, — and so on. The catalogue is entertaining enough, but a little of it goes a long way. At last the gathering of the clans took place at the Thing-hill on Tinnum moor, where the Thing councils were held in spring and autumn; and all came armed with iron swords, and axes, and bows. As we hear before that the underground folk had only stone arrows and axes, the story receives additional historical importance from this detail — for in studying the story of this ancient people we have almost undoubtedly an opportunity, curious to find, of acquiring evidence of what must have in fact taken place all over northern Europe, when the Aryans poured out their Asiatic thousands of tall skilled warriors against the small Iberians. Of course, the story is a confused one, much modernized, but containing, beyond question, traditions of vast antiquity. To return to the Thing-hill. When all the giants were assembled, King Bröns stood forth on the highest mound, and cried, “Hail to all!"

“To thee also!“ returned the giants.

“Are any strangers amongst ye?“ then asked Brons.

“Here are Jess and Jasper from Braderup,” answered Bramm, the king’s secretary.

“Wi sin och Siljringer!” cried Jasper — a dialectic version of “We too are Sylters,” which cannot be rendered in English.

“That sounds rather like Danish,” said Bramm. (This is obviously a very late addition to the story, referring as it does to the Frisian contests with the Danes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.) “We must see about this,” continued the secretary, and he straightway put to Jess and Jasper the Sylt shibboleth, — to repeat a Syltish sentence. Jess gets through his task pretty well, Jasper still better, and are questioned no more. Jess and Jasper have interest for us otherwise, because they were the brothers of Dorret Bundis, the bride of Ekke, and tradition alleges that Jasper’s wife distinguished herself also among her sex by giving birth to triplets.

“What have the underground folk stolen from thee?” asked the king.

“Ekke tormented my sister Dorret,” said Jess, “till she frightened him off with a dead cat.”

“Wilt thou, then, forsake the elves and abide with us,” returned the king, “pursuing the elves to the death?”

“Yea!” swore the brothers.

“That is good,” said the king, who then proceeded to hear other complaints against King Finn and his people, — how they stole the beer of one of the faithful, strove to carry away the wife of another, changed the baby of a third, milked the cows of a fourth, and misled the blind Erk Nickels of Keitum.

“These are complaints enough,” said the king, — “we must punish them,” and so the army prepared to advance. But first spoke the holy Frödde, “We must make our sacrifice before we go to battle.” “We have done so this morning,” it was answered. Then Frödde said, “Hast thou also prayed, ‘O Weda, save us ! O Wedke, receive our sacrifice’?” “Yes; that was duly said on the Wind-hill, on Weda’s hill, and on the Holy Place.” “Then we are ready!” “Weda” is the Teutonic Wodan, from the Frisian propensity, as Grimm has remarked, to drop a final n, and to modify o even when not followed by an I. We need not follow the course of the battle. Of course the giants ultimately triumphed. What is valuable in the story is the tradition of the fight; all else is embroidery of the many generations of story-tellers who have passed on the tale from sire to grandson, and although much of this later matter is full of interest, its relation and discussion would lead us too far.

All the Sylt kings perished in the fight, and their traditionary graves are the great mounds in the neighborhood of the Red Cliff, and of Kampen, which itself, by a doubtful etymology, is said to mean the site of battle. There is some confusion as to King Finn’s dwelling. As doctors differ, we may be allowed to claim that it was the Denghoog, close to Wenningstedt, if only because we descended into that remarkable dwelling. Externally merely a swelling green mound, like so many others in Sylt, entrance is gained by a trap-door in the roof, and descending a steep ladder, one finds himself in a subterranean chamber some seventeen by ten feet in size, the walls of which are twelve huge blocks of Swedish granite; the height of the roof varies from five to six feet. The original entrance appears to have been a long narrow passage, seventeen feet long and about two feet wide and high. This mound was examined by a Hamburg professor in 1868, who found remains of a fireplace, bones of a small man, some clay urns, and stone weapons. Later, a Kiel professor is said to have carried off all he found therein to Kiel museum, and so far we have not been able to trace the published accounts of his investigations. Hansen says not this, but the neighboring Reisehoog, was the residence of Finn; but in a matter of this kind even the wisest may err, and we prefer to believe that we have stood where Ekke told his love-woes to the king, and have seen the heath where the queen sang the weird baby-song which Dorret Bundis heard as she lay crouching above.

Sylt is very nearly the paradise of an archæologist. Lift your eyes where you will on all that fragrant plain, remains of long-vanished races meet them in those most permanent of all historical monuments, mounds and barrows. Each has its tale. Take for example the tale of the Bridal Hill. It tells how Taam Earik of Eidum had a daughter whose name, according to a system long known in northern Scotland, is derived from her father’s, Uas Taamen. He was rich, but had made his money by evil means, — wrecking and so forth. His daughter was charming, but light of heart, and would have none of her suitors. In her frivolity she joined herself to the witches, and when Taam Earik asked what she did on her frequent absences, she said she was learning the birds’ language, which odd answer seems to have satisfied the affectionate wrecker. One Walpurgisnacht she went with the witches to the meeting of the hellish crew, and there was the devil so charmed with her that he took her for a bride, making her swear that if she wed a mortal she would be turned to stone. After this adventure the heart of Uas Taamen seems not unnaturally to have failed her, until one happy night she dreamt the devil was dead.

Jü drämt; de Duiwel hi wior duad,
Jü wiar nü frii fan al höör Nuad.
Jü waath sa bliith, dat’s hoog ap sproong
En üs en Lörke Triller soong.

This does not require much translation. Her joy at her supposed freedom was so great, says the ballad, that in her blitheness she sang like a lark. Repenting of her ways, she accepted a suitor from Keitum, called Buh Tretten. The marriage-day was fixed; the invited guests, however, knew too much of the bride’s character, and would not come, so the wedding procession consisted solely of Taam Earik and the happy pair. As they went on their way to Keitum they were met by an old woman, who cried, —

Un Eidemböör! Un Keidemböör!
Juu Brid, jü es en Hex!
De Fuarman swaaret höör
'Uus Brid en Hex?
Da wilth ik wenske,
Dat wü jir dialsoonk altemaal
En wether apkam üs grä Stiin!
Man of Eidum, man of Keitum,
Thy bride is a witch!
The father swore, —
Our bride a witch?
Then may we all
Be turned into grey stone!

And so it happened, and two little hills mark the termination of that tragic Frisian love-tale.

Hansen, the schoolmaster of Keitum, who collected these and many another legend, was born at the right time, and occupied the right place. His widow still lives at his cottage in Keitum, where he accumulated a museum of great interest. It is practically unknown to archæologists. Filled with an interest in his native land which dwarfed all other interests, he let no opportunity slip of acquiring information as to the former inhabitants of Sylt. As a boy, he tells how he sat at the feet of the old gossips and heard their tales of the bygone days. His were the opportunities for which every member of the Folk-Lore Society yearns. He and the ancient Inken Nessen, and Mei Siemken, and the still more ancient Mei Aanken, would sit on Saturday afternoons, in a little lonely house at the foot of one of the great Rantum dunes, and while Hansen’s father, who was schoolmaster at Westerland, was examining the Rantuin boys in their catechism, little Hansen led on the not unwilling seniors to tell of the old days. When his father’s work was over, he would look in with his shining lantern in his hand, and bidding the others remember that it was nearly ten o’clock and time for bed, would take little Christian by the hand and go with him homewards over the lonely heath to Westerland. When the boy became a man, his profession gave him opportunities and leisure enough to seek the history which lay in the countless mounds and hillocks. His house is full of the treasures of such excavations, and not only of these, for he gathered also around him old Frisian carvings and cabinets, drawings and weapons, sufficient of themselves to make a Svlt curiosity-shop. What he gathered he retained, and when his curios outgrew his space, he built an addition to his cottage. He read everything relating to Friesland on which he could lay hands, and produced, besides the collection of legends to which reference is made above, a useful “Chronik des Friesischen Uthlande,” which reached a second edition. He made a very careful plan of the island, giving every dune and legend-haunted mound; and so correct was his topography, said Frau Hansen to the writer, that when the Prussians annexed Sylt, they adopted the Keitum schoolmaster’s work as the official map. It would be interesting to know if this compliment to his accuracy reconciled Hansen to the transference of his allegiance from Copenhagen to Berlin. As a schoolmaster, Hansen does not seem to have spared the skins of the young Sylters. His bundle of canes stands in a corner of the omnium gatherum, and the good widow expressed her opinion that since their disuse in the present Keitum school, learning was not nearly so easily got into the heads of the boys. Anyhow, the application of the rod did not tend to alienate the pupils’ affection from their master, for from far distant corners of the earth came presents of curious things to him; from the islands of the Eastern Archipelago, from America, from China and Japan, wherever these Sylt lads wandered, they sent to Keitum such foreign weapons and bric-à-brac as they knew would interest the dominie. There is something strangely pathetic in the miscellaneous nature of Hansen’s treasures, for they tell of many a wanderer’s thoughts of the bare, sandy island in this remote Frisian sea, when the stinging canes were forgotten, and only the master’s fond collection of all that was rare and curious remembered. “And now I am alone,” said the old woman, looking tenderly around the little museum, “and everything reminds me of him.”

Not far from Hansen’s house — which is far from easily found — is Keitum church. Tradition says that its site was once upon a time sacred to Freira, as were neighboring eminences to Weda (Odin) and Thor. The church is dedicated to St. Severin. At the building of the spire certain wise women prophesied that the bell would be fatal to the handsomest and most wanton youth, and the tower to the prettiest and vainest maiden. In 1739 the bell fell and killed a lad, and so the first part of the prophecy was fulfilled; but the Sylt girls still go to the parish church, and the most disdainful of her sex has not yet come. Perhaps the dread of consequences keeps all Sylt girls modest. Simple and quiet enough is their dress nowadays, far indeed from the magnificence of the old days, when a Sylt bride was so gorgeously attired, to judge from old drawings, and one of Hansen’s papers in the Berlin “Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie,” that only the queen of hearts in a pack of playing-cards gives any idea of her magnificence. The old Sunday dress of the finest white linen was worn within the memory of Mrs. Hansen; but now it, as well as the more radiant costumes of older days, has quite passed out of use. It is otherwise in the neighboring island of Führ, where the beauty of the women, and the splendor of their Sunday dress, are still matter of common Frisian talk. In Heligoland, too, the national dress, with its broad bands of yellow and red, is not quite a thing of the past. These little matters indicate truly enough the curious differences in the North Friesland islands, which lie comparatively so near each other, and are yet so different in scenery, habits, and even in language.

In the old days five hundred years ago there are said to have been many churches in Sylt. In 1436 there were only six, with ten clergymen. In 1800 there were four parishes, but in the following year the storms which have so grievously assailed the island practically destroyed the parish of Rantum, and now there are three parishes — Morsum, Keitum, and Westerland — the latter a comparatively new parish, dating from the destruction in 1436 of Eidum, whence the wooer of Taam Earik’s daughter came. The Westerland church has the old altar of the Eidum church, and tradition tells that originally that altar belonged to the yet older church of List, a lonely spot at the north point of Sylt, now separated at high tide from the rest of the island, inhabited but by a single family, and which, in no short time, will probably pass altogether under water. The people of List spoke Danish, while the rest of the inhabitants of Sylt spoke Frisian; now in all the churches and schools German is used. The little church of what remains of Rantum is a kind of chapel-of-ease to Westerland.

The history of Sylt, like that of all Friesland, is too complicated to be fairly treated in a summary. Like the Dark Ages, which were not so very dark after all, Sylt, which might reasonably be supposed to have little separate history from Denmark, has, in fact, a distinct historical interest. Lying out of the way of all ordinary commerce, its annals might be expected to be short and simple. It is in the character of the people that one finds the key to the extraordinary turbulence of Friesland. Denmark in the Middle Ages was as little a united nationality as Austria is now. We all know the irreverent diplomatist’s joke, that “heaven and earth might pass away, but the Schleswig-Holstein question never.” But even when we arrive at the fact that Sylt, like Führ and Heligoland, were part of these troublesome duchies, we are only at the beginning. Schleswig and Holstein had complications enough to excuse Europe for never properly mastering the question of their position as fiefs of the Danish crown; but all the North Friesland islands had little questions of their own, which to their inhabitants had far more importance naturally than the remoter, if bigger, problems of the statesmen of Copenhagen. Sylt, as the largest of the islands, has perhaps the longest records of disturbance and turmoil. Sometimes the islands were forgotten; sometimes Denmark found them a source of revenue; at all times they were uncanny. In the end, no one consulted the Sylters. Prussia solved the Schleswig-Holstein question by a whole sale annexation, and only Heligoland (which is undeniably the most important island strategically of all the islands) escaped passing under the entirely alien rule of German troops; and Heligoland only escaped, as everybody knows, because the descendants of those Sylters who sailed with Hengist and Horsa came back and reclaimed the Holy Island in 1807 — half a century before Prussia was in a position to interfere. There is no real sympathy between Heligolanders and Sylters. The islands lie too far apart, and the differences in dialect are considerable. A Sylt song runs thus —

Frii es de Feskgang,
Frii es de Jaght,
Frii es de Strönthgang,
Frii es de Naght,
Frii es de See, de wilde See,
En de Hörnemmer Rhee!

and so on. I showed this song in print to a Heligolander, one of the most intelligent of an intelligent race, and asked him the meaning of certain words in later verses. “That is not our language,” was his answer; “there are words there I do not understand.” The Heligolanders are entirely satisfied with their position as a colony of Britain, — for one reason, because, as a race of sailors, they have a curious contempt for all soldiers, and the Germans are soldiers; for another, because they are ruled with a light and judicious hand. The Sylters are become Germans, and, whether they wish it or not, they will remain so. As years go on, the difference between the peoples will become still more marked. In Heligoland the British tar is the representative of the governing power — in Sylt it is the Prussian soldier; and it is a credit in a small way to our decried diplomacy, that our selection of the type of the rulers is the more congenial one. Be things as they may, however, Prussia made no bad bargain when she took what she could; for if Sylt is no fertile land, it has an honest, industrious, and brave seafaring people.



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