With dread the wanderer approaches the ruins of the Dummburg. Terror seizes him if night overtakes him in its vicinity; for when the sun goes down and he treads on the site of the castle, he hears from beneath hollow moans and the clank of chains. At midnight he sees in the moonlight the spectres of knights of former days, who ruled the land with an iron sceptre. In solemn procession twelve tall white figures rise from amid the rocky fragments, bearing a large open coffin, which they place on the top of the hill, and then vanish. The skulls also move about, that lie scattered under the rock.
For many years the Dummburg was the abode of robbers, who slew the passing travellers and merchants, whom they perceived on the road from Leipsig [Leipzig] to Brunswick [Braunschweig], and heaped together the treasures of the plundered churches and the surrounding country, which they concealed in subterranean caverns. Deep wells were choked up with their murdered victims; and in the frightful castle-dungeon, many miserable beings perished by the slower death of hunger.
Long did this lurking-place of banditti continue undiscovered. At length the vengeance of the confederated princes reached them. The hoards of gold, silver, and precious stones still remain piled up in the ruined cellars and vaults of the Dummburg; but it is seldom granted to the wanderer to find the doors, even if here and there he may discover ruined entrances. Spectres in the form of monks, and also living monks, are often seen descending into the rock.
A poor wood-cutter, who was about to fell a beech at the back of the scattered ruins, seeing a monk approach slowly through the forest, hid himself behind a tree. The monk passed by, and went among the rocks. The wood-cutter stole cautiously after him, and saw that he stopped at a small door, which had never been discovered by any of the villagers.
The monk knocked gently and cried: "Little door, open!" -- and the door sprang open.
"Little door, shut!" he also heard him cry, and the door was closed.
Trembling in every limb, the wood-cutter marked the crooked path with twigs and heaps of stones. But from that time he could neither eat nor drink, nor sleep, so anxious was he to know what was contained in the cellars to which this wonderful door gave entrance.
The following Saturday evening he fasted, and on the Sunday, rising with the sun, he took his rosary and proceeded to the rock. He now stood before the door, and his teeth chattered with fear, as he expected to see a spectre in the form of a monk -- but no spectre appeared. Trembling he approached the door; he listened long and heard nothing.
In the anxiety of his heart he prayed to all the saints and to the Virgin, and then, without reflecting, tapped on the door, at the same time saying in a low tremulous voice: "Little door, open!" and the door opened, when he saw before him a narrow dim passage. He entered tottering, and found that it led into a spacious and rather light vault.
"Little door, shut!" said he, almost unconsciously, and the door closed behind him.
With fear he now walked forward, and found large open vessels and sacks full of old dollars and fine guilders, together with heavy gold pieces. Here were also many beautiful caskets filled with jewels and pearls, costly shrines, and decorated images of saints, which lay about or stood on tables of silver in the corners of the vault. The wood-cutter crossed himself, and wished himself a thousand miles from the enchanted spot, yet could not withstand the desire of taking some of the useless treasures, to enable him to clothe his wife and eight children more comfortably, as they had long been in rags.
Shuddering, and with averted eyes, he stretched out his hand towards the sack that stood nearest to him, and took out a few guilders. Feeling now somewhat more composed, with less tremor and half closing his eyes he then took a few dollars, also a handful or two of the small copper coins, and again crossing himself, tottered back to the door.
"Come again!" cried a hollow voice from the depth of the vault.
As everything about him seemed to whirl round, he could scarcely stammer out: "Little door, open!"
The door sprang open. In a livelier and louder voice he now cried out: "Little door, shut!" and it closed behind him.
He ran home with the utmost speed, but uttered not a syllable about the treasures he had found; then went into the conventual church and offered up, for the church and for the poor, two-tenths of all that he had taken in the vault. The next day he went to the town, and bought some clothes for his wife and children. He had, he said, found an old dollar and a few guilders under the roots of the beech that he had felled.
The following Sunday he went with firmer steps to the door in the rock, did as he had done the first time, and supplied himself better than on the former occasion; still with moderation and discretion.
"Come again!" cried the same hollow voice.
And he went on the third Sunday, and filled his pockets as before. He was now in his own estimation a rich man, but what could he do with his riches? He gave to the church and to the poor two-tenths of all he had, the rest he resolved to bury in his cellar, and from time to time fetch some as he required it. Yet he could not resist the desire first to measure his money; for as to counting it, that was an art he had never learned.
He accordingly went to his neighbour, a very rich man, but who starved himself in the midst of his wealth. He hoarded up corn, deprived the labourer of his hire, extorted from the widow and orphan, and lent money on pledges. He had no children. From this man the wood-cutter borrowed a measure, measured his money, buried it, and returned the measure to its owner.
The measure had some long cracks in it, through which the corn-dealer, when selling to the poor labourer, always shook some grains back to his own heap. In one of these cracks two or three of the small copper coins had lodged, which the wood-cutter, in throwing out the money, had not observed. But they did not so easily escape the vulture-eyes of his rich neighbour. He went in search of the wood-cutter, and asked him what he had been measuring.
"Pine-cones and beans," answered he confusedly. The usurer shook his head, and showed him the copper coins, threatened him with the law, the torture, and, lastly, promised to give him all he could possibly wish for, if he would tell him the truth. Thus he extorted the secret out of the poor man, and learned from him the powerful words.
The whole week the rich usurer employed in forming plans how he might at once get possession of all the treasures in the vault, as well as of those he thought might be concealed in the neighbouring vaults, or buried under the earth. He reckoned beforehand, that if he could get together all this money, he could by degrees, either purchase at a cheap rate from his neighbours, or extort from them. by false accusations and false witnesses, one acre and one hide of land after another, and thus make himself lord of the whole village, and, perhaps, of several of the neighbouring villages; then get ennobled by the emperor; and, as a robber-knight, lay the country around under contribution.
It did not please the wood-cutter that his evil-disposed neighbour should visit the castle-vaults. He prayed him to desist from his purpose, and represented to him the fate of many luckless treasure-seekers. But who ever held back a miser from an open sack of gold?
By threats and entreaties the wood-cutter was at length prevailed on to accompany him to the door; he was only to receive the sacks, which the miser would himself drag out, and conceal them among the bushes. For this service he was to have the half of all the treasure, and the church a tenth; all the poor also in the village should be newly clothed. So spake the usurer.
In his heart he had resolved, when he no longer required his aid, to throw the wood-cutter headlong into a deep well which was near the castle, to give nothing to the poor, and to the church only a few copper coins.
The following Sunday the extortioner, accompanied by the wood-cutter, set off before sunrise to the Dummburg. On his shoulder he carried a sack, which contained three bushels, into which he put twenty smaller ones, and in his hand a spade and a large axe. The wood-cutter warned him most strongly against covetousness, but in vain; he recommended him to offer up prayers to the saints for protection, but he would not. Muttering and gnashing his teeth, he walked on.
They now arrived at the door. The wood-cutter, who did not feel very easy in the affair, but was held back by the fear of the torture, stood at some distance to receive the sacks.
"Little door, open!" cried the miser in a hurried tone, and trembling with eagerness. The door then opened, and he entered.
"Little door, shut!" cried he, and it closed after him.
No sooner was he in the vault and saw all the vessels and sacks full of gold, and caskets of precious stones and pearls, and shining money, than he devoured them all with his eyes; then with trembling hands pulled the twenty sacks out of the large one, and began filling them.
At this moment there came slowly from the depth of the vault a great black dog with fire-darting eyes, and laid himself on all the full sacks, and then on the money.
"Away with thee, miser!" cried the dog, grinning fiercely at him.
Trembling, the usurer fell to the ground, and crept on hands and knees to the door; but in his fear he forgot the words, "Little door, open," and continued calling out, "Little door, shut," and the door continued closed.
The wood-cutter waited long with beating heart; at length he approached the door. It seemed to him that he heard groans and moaning and the hollow howl of a dog, and then all was silent. He now heard the sound of the mass-bell at the convent, and counted his beads; then gently knocked at the door, saying: "Little door, open!"
The door opened, and there lay the bleeding body of his wicked neighbour stretched on his sacks; but the vessels of gold and silver, and diamonds and pearls, sank deeper and deeper before his eyes into the earth, till all had completely vanished.
Source: Benjamin Thorpe, "The Dummburg," Yule-Tide Stories: A Collection of Scandinavian and North German Popular Tales and Traditions (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), pp. 481-86.