BETWEEN the village of Imst and the railway station of Nassereit lies the Gurgl Thal (Gurgl valley), through which runs the little stream of the Pilgerbach. On the way from Imst to Nassereit stands the little hamlet of Strad, and on making the ascent from this hamlet up the Ungar mountain, or Ungarkopf, one arrives after an hour’s walk at a vaulted grotto, which is the entrance to a vast cellular cavern noted in former times as the abode of three fairies, called by the villagers ‘die Heiligen’ (the Holy Ones). These fairies appeared from time to time at the entrance to their grotto, bleaching linen and hanging out snow-white clothes in the sun; they are said to have even come down as low as Strad, and helped the village girls to spin, but people were generally afraid of them, and they who saw the clothes hanging out in the wind ran off in terror. In this grotto, which is generally called the Eggerskeller, there is a small hole just large enough for a child to creep through.
One day the cowherd of Strad went up the mountain to cut birch for brooms, and as the lovely green before the grotto was just convenient for his work, he sat down there, and stripping the leaves from the branches, set about making his brooms. On the following day when he returned to the same spot on the same business, he found to his great astonishment that every little leaf had been swept away, and not a vestige of one of them left. He sat down on a rock and began his work, when all at once he heard from the interior of the mountain the voices of three girls, which sounded so charmingly to his ears that he was quite entranced. He listened and held his breath until the song finished, and then he descended the mountain to the village in a state of enchantment.
The cow-herd was soon afterwards on his favourite place, while his herd, guarded by his faithful dogs, browsed around him; and again he found the leaves he had left on the preceding day swept away; and as he looked up he saw three white robes floating in the wind, but as he could not see the cord upon which they ought to have been suspended, he was seized with an unutterable terror, and hurried away from the spot. “Had he only taken one of these dresses,” still now say the superstitious people of Strad, “one of the Heiligen would have been bound to his service for ever.”
Although the dresses had frightened the youth so much, an irresistible longing compelled him a few days afterwards to climb once more the Ungarkopf, where all at once one of the fairies appeared to him with love and joy beaming on her countenance, but she did not approach him, and it seemed rather as though she wished him to follow her, for she looked smilingly behind, entered into the mountain and disappeared from his gaze. He dared not follow her. Henceforth he listened only to their enchanting songs, which resounded from the interior of the mountain, and consumed himself in silent longing.
About fifteen years ago there lived in the village of Strad a peasant of the name of Anton Tangl, who is now dead. One day this peasant went up the mountain in the neighbourhood of the grotto, to dig up young fir-trees, which he intended to place round his Alpine hut. While digging up these trees, one of them was more firmly fixed in the ground than the others, and he was obliged to go very deep to get the tree up. When he lifted it out of the ground he discovered a deep hole, and looking down he saw far below a green meadow, through which trickled a milk-white rippling stream. At this the man was greatly astonished, but still more so when upon the green meadow far beneath him he saw on the grass, like little tiny dolls, the three fairies. They were sitting close to one another, interlaced together by their arms, and singing a sweet song whose air he could distinctly hear, without being able to catch the words. Tangl listened until nightfall, when he could no longer see into the interior of the mountain. Then he descended to the village, and recounted what an extraordinary thing had befallen him. But of course no one would believe, and therefore on the following day several of his friends went with him up the Ungarkopf. Tangl went on bravely before the others, and searched for the spot, but in vain; and he was now compelled to suffer the ridicule of his companions, who called him a fool, a liar, and a dreamer.
“If I had only held my tongue,” Tangl used to say when he recounted this story, “and had entered into the mountains instead of telling others what I had seen, I should have been able to bring many precious things out of them, and should have been rich and happy all my life; but man after all is but a stupid animal.”