The Money Chest
Photo: Stefan Jonasson
A handcarved chest by Hallgrímur Jónsson of Naust (1717-1785) at the National Museum
The gold isn’t always found at the end of the rainbow.
It happened, once upon a time, that a large party of men were travelling together and pitched their tent, early one Sunday morning, on the fresh sward of a fair green meadow. The weather was bright and warm, and the men being tired with their night's journey, and having tethered their horses, fell asleep, side by side, all round the inside of the tent.
One of them, however, who happened to be lying nearest the door, could not, in spite of his fatigue, succeed in getting to sleep, so he lay idly watching the other sleepers. As he looked around, he discovered a small cloud of pale-blue vapour moving over the head of the man who was sleeping in the innermost part of the tent. Astonished at this, he sat up and at the same moment the cloud flitted out of the tent. Being curious to know what it could be and what would become of it, he jumped up softly, and, without awaking the others, stole out into the sunshine. On looking around he saw the vapour floating slowly over the meadow, so he set himself to follow it.
After a while, it stopped over the blanched skull of a horse upon the grass, around which hummed and buzzed a cloud of noisy blue flies. Into this the vapour entered among the flies. After staying a while, it came out, and took its course over the meadow till it came to a little thread of a rivulet, which hurried through the grass. Here it seemed to be at a loss how to get over the water and it moved restlessly and impatiently up and down the side of it until the man laid his whip, which he happened to have with him, over it, the handle alone being sufficient to bridge it across. Over this the vapour passed and moved on until it came to a small hillock, into which it disappeared.
The man stood by and waited for it to come out again, which it soon did, and it returned by the same way as that by which it had come. The man laid his whip as before across the stream and the vapour crossed upon the handle. Then it moved on towards the tent, which it entered, and the man who had followed it saw it hover for a minute over the head of the sleeper, where he had first seen it, and disappear. After this he lay down again and went to sleep himself.
When the day was far spent and the sun was going down, the men rose, struck the tent, and made preparations for beginning their journey again. While they were packing and loading the horses, they talked on various things, including money.
“Bless me!” said the man who had slept in the innermost part of the tent. “I wish I had what I saw in my dream today.”
“What was your dream and what did you see?” asked the man who had followed the vapour.
The other replied, “I dreamt that I walked out from the tent and across the meadow until I came to a large and beautiful building, into which I went. There I found many people reveling in a vast and noble hall, singing, dancing, and making merry. I stayed some time among them, and, when I left them and stepped out from the hall, I saw stretched before me a vast plain of fair green meadow. I walked for some time over this until I came to an immensely broad and turbulent river, over which I wished to cross, but could find no means of doing so. As I was walking up and down the bank, thinking about how I could possibly get over it, I saw a mighty giant, greater than any I had ever heard about, come towards me, holding in his hand the trunk of a large tree, which he laid across the river. Thus I was able to get easily to the other side. The river once passed, I walked straight on for a long time until I came to a high mound that lay open. I went into it, thinking to find wonderful treasures, but found only a single chest, which was so full of money that I could neither lift it nor count its contents. So I gave it up and bent my steps back here again. The giant flung his tree across the river, as before, and I came to the tent and went to sleep from sheer weariness.”
At hearing this, the man who had followed the vapour was mightily pleased and, laughing to himself, said, “Come, my good fellow, let us fetch the money. If one could not count it, no doubt two can.”
“Fetch the money!” replied the man. “Are you mad? Do you forget that I only dreamed about it? Where would you fetch it from?”
But since the man who had followed the vapour seemed really earnest and determined, he consented to go with him. So they took the same course that the vapour had taken and, when they came to the skull, the man who had followed the mist said, “There is your hall of revel.”
“And there,” he said, when they stepped over the rivulet, “is your broad and turbulent river. And here is the trunk the giant threw over it as a bridge.” With these words he showed him his whip.
The dreamer was filled with amazement and, when they came to the mound, having dug a little way into it, he really and truly discovered a heavy chest full of golden pieces. His astonishment was not one whit the less. On their way back to the tent with the treasure, his companion told him all about the matter.
Whether the two travellers complained of the weight of the money-chest or gave up counting its contents in despair, this story does not relate.
A traveller’s folktale from the collection of Jón Árnason (1819-1888), Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og ævintýry (Icelandic Folk Tales and Legends), adapted from the translation by George E.J. Powell and Eiríkur Magnússon.