What the Old Man Does Is Always Right
In a country lane there was a very old farmhouse with a stork's nest on the ridge of the gable. Beneath the branches of an elder-tree is a pool of water, in which a few ducks were swimming around. There was a farm dog too. He used to bark at all newcomers.
In this house lived an old couple. They owned a horse they said could not do without. The old farmer rode on it into town, and his neighbours often borrowed it of him, and paid for the loan by rendering some service to the old couple. But after some time they thought it would be as well to sell the horse, or barter it for something which might be more useful to them.
"You will know best, old man," said the wife. "Ride to the fair in town and get rid of the horse for money or something else."
She fastened his neckerchief for him; for she could do that better than he could. She also smoothed his hat round and round with the palm of her hand, and gave him a kiss. The old man rode off. The sun shone with great heat, and not a cloud was to be seen in the sky. The road was dusty, for many were driving, riding, or walking it to the fair that was held that day. There was no shelter anywhere. Then a man came trudging along, driving a cow to the fair. "She gives good milk, I am certain," said the farmer to himself. "That would be a very good exchange: the cow for the horse. "If you like, we will exchange," he said.
"Surely," said the man with the cow, and then they bartered.
The farmer could have turned back now, for he had done what he rode off from home to do. But since he had made up his mind to go to the fair, he went on along the dusty road with his cow. He strode on and overtook a man who was driving a sheep. It was a good fat sheep, with a fine fleece on its back.
"I should like to have that fellow," said the farmer to himself. Perhaps it would be more profitable to have a sheep than a cow."
The man with the sheep was quite ready to exchange; the bargain was quickly made. The farmer went on with his newly bartered sheep. Soon he overtook another man who was carrying a large goose under his arm.
"What a heavy creature you have there!" said the farmer; "it has plenty of feathers and plenty of fat, and would look well tied to a string, or paddling in the water at our place. How often my old woman has said, 'If only had a goose!' Now here is an opportunity!"
The other had not the least objection, and then the old farmer walked on with his goose till he came near the town. There was quite a rush of men and cattle. To escape the stress, the old farmer walked into the toll-keeper's potato-field. There a fowl that was strutting about with a string tied to its leg to keep it at home. The tail-feathers of the fowl were very short, and it winked with both its eyes as it said "Cluck, cluck." As soon as our good man saw it, he thought, "That's the finest fowl I ever saw in my life. I think it would be a good exchange if I could get it for my goose."
"Shall we exchange?" he asked the toll-keeper, who agreed to it. Then the toll-keeper kept the goose and the farmer carried off the fowl.
Now he had really done a great deal of business, and he was hot and tired, so he went to an inn. He was just about to enter when a man carrying a sack of rotten apples came out. "Rotten apples would be something to take home to my old woman," he thought. "Last year the old apple-tree by the grass-plot only bore one apple, and we kept it in the cupboard till it was quite withered and rotten. It was always property, my old woman said; and here she would see a great deal of property, a whole sackful of it."
"What will you give me for the sackful?" asked the other.
"I will give you my fowl in exchange."
So he gave up the fowl and got the apples, which he carried into the inn parlour. He leaned the sack carefully against the stove, and then went to the table. But the stove was hot, and he had not thought of that. Many guests were there. Among them were two Englishmen. They were so rich that their pockets bulged; and they were fond of betting too, like so many others. So when the apples began to roast with a hissing sound by the hot stove, they asked one another what it was.
The farmer told them the whole story of his bartering adventures that day, from the horse and right down to the apples.
"Your old woman will give it you well when you get home," said one of the Englishmen.
"What! Give me what?" said the farmer. "She will kiss me and say, 'what the old man does is always right.'"
"Let us lay a wager on it," said the Englishmen. "We'll wager you a ton of coined gold."
"No; a bushel will be enough," replied the farmer. "I can only set a bushel of apples against it, and I'll throw myself and my old woman into the bargain; that will pile up the measure."
"Done! taken!" So the bet was made.
The landlord's coach came to the door, and the two Englishmen and the farmer got in and drow off. They soon came to the farmer's hut. "Good evening, old woman." "Good evening, old man." "I've made the exchange."
"Ah, well, you understand what you're about," said the woman. Then she embraced him, and paid no attention to the strangers, nor did she notice the sack.
"I got a cow in exchange for the horse."
"Thank Heaven," said she. "Now we shall have plenty of milk, butter, and cheese on the table."
"Yes, but I changed the cow for a sheep."
"Ah, better still!" cried the wife. "You always think of everything. Ewe's milk and cheese, woollen jackets and stockings! The cow could not give all these!"
"Then I changed away the sheep for a goose."
"Then we shall have roast goose to eat this year. You dear old man, you are always thinking of something to please me."
"Then I gave away the goose for a fowl."
"A fowl! Well, that was a good exchange," replied the woman. "The fowl will lay eggs and hatch them, and we shall have chickens. This is just what I was wishing for."
"Then I exchanged the fowl for a sack of shrivelled apples."
"What!" exclaimed the wife. "Now I'll tell you something: Almost as soon as you left me this morning, I began to think of what I could give you nice for supper this evening, but I wanted herbs - and here you are with apples. I'm very glad for it, it makes me laugh to think about it." And then she gave him a hearty kiss.
"Well, always going downhill and yet merry; it was well worth the money to see it," said both the Englishmen and paid a hundred-weight of gold to the farmer, who was not scolded but kissed, whatever he did. [Retold]
❋ Some stories and some people get better as they grow older.
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