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  1. The Cunning Man from Hilltown
  2. The Merry Wives
  3. I Know What I Have Learned

The Cunning Man from Hilltown

Once there were two villages a few miles from each other in a certain part of the country. Their names were Plaintown and Hilltown. The people of Plaintown benefited from fertile soil and abundant crops, and their fragrant hopgardens and extensive farmlands filled their chests and drawers with gold and silver. They knew little about hills and woods and difficulties they brought with them.

Hilltown had hills and woods. The soil was not very rich, and produced only moderate crops, so those who cultivated it had to labour hard hard for the necessities of life. But they learned more by it than their friends in Plaintown who lived at ease.

In Hilltown there was a man called Eric. One day he had the good fortune to catch a fox which had long disturbed the peace in his poultry-yard. He determined not to kill the animal, but to tie a rope around Reynard's neck and sell him to anyone who might buy him.

As he went along a by-road, a man from Plaintown came driving along. His name was Christopher. When he caught sight the fox he stopped his horses, shouting: "What sort of creature is that, hey? I never saw its like before."

Eric from Hilltown stopped and looked at the stranger and his two beautiful mares. As soon as he found out that the man could have come from no other place than Plaintown, he replied: "One could call it a sheep-painter."

"A sheep-painter!" shouted the Plaintowner. "What use do you make of him?"

"He makes my sheep red," returned Eric.

"Is it possible?" said Christopher.

"It's true in a way, all right."

"One could perhaps save money that way," observed Christopher again.

"I don't think so!" said Eric. "He is very, very expensive, actually."

"Of course!" rejoined Christopher. "Now, how how much will you take for him?"

"I will let him go for seventy pounds."

"That is a great deal, ' remarked the man from Plaintown. "Three fine cows might be bought for that money."

"I know," answered Eric, turned around and began to walk on.

"Wait, wait a moment!" shouted the rich man. "Can't we discuss the price? I will give you fifty."

"Take him, then," answered Eric, turning back."

The bargain was closed, and Reynard changed owner.

"Just let me tell you," explained Eric, "that if you put him into the fold and keep the door well closed for some time, he finds his own food."

When Christopher returned home with his sheeppainter, he put the animal to work at once. He was led into the fold, and the door was carefully closed to avoid disturbing him.

In a week Christopher's wife became curious to see how far the work had progressed. She peeped through the door and said that she could see a great many red spots. So they concluded that the painter was at work, and determined to leave him alone another week that he might finish his task.

When the two weeks had passed, the Plainfielder and his wife opened the door of the sheepfold and walked in. Both sheep-painter and sheep were gone. A few bloody hides and bones alone remained, and a hole in the wall that the red-painter had escaped out of.

"I have been cheated shamefully - deceived!" cried Christopher, and his wife began to cry and lament over the sheep. "But I will take revenge."

He made his horses and carriage ready, selected his best whip, and set out to cool his rage on the cunning man in Hilltown who had treated him so shamefully.

Eric at once guessed his errand when he saw Christopher approaching. He ran into the kitchen and seized a pot with boiling soup and placed it on a stone in the yard. As the boiling did not cease at once, the first thing that Christopher caught sight of when he drove into the yard was this pot, which seemed to boil without fire or spark, standing on the cold stone. He at once forgot the sheep-painter and his thoughts of revenge. "Such a pot must be a great marvel," he thought.

And before he drove out of the yard again he had bought it for fifty pounds. For he had seen himself how the pot boiled with all its might, without fire.

As soon as he was home again he decided to try the pot. It was filled with water and placed on a stone in the yard, and the whole family stood around it, watching to see it boil.

"You had better tell it to start," said the woman to her husband after a while.

"You had better begin to boil," said Christopher to the pot.

They waited one hour, and another, but not even the faintest smoke could be seen.

"It is time to start!" shouted Christopher to the pot, but it did not heed him at all.

At length they were convinced that they had again been hoodwinked by a man from Hilltown.

[Abridged]

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The Merry Wives

There lay three houses in a row, in one of which there lived a tailor, in another a carpenter, and in the third a smith. All three were married, and their wives were very good friends. They often talked about how stupid their husbands were, but they could never agree as to which of them had the most stupid one; each one stuck up for her own husband, and maintained that it was he.

The three wives went to church together every Sunday, and had a regular good gossip on the way, and when they were coming home from church they always turned into the tavern which lay by the wayside and drank half a pint together. This was at the time when half a pint of brandy cost threepence, so that was just a penny from each of them.

But the brandy went up in price, and the taverner said that he must have fourpence for the half-pint.

They were greatly annoyed at this, for there were only the three of them to share it, and none of them was willing to pay the extra penny.

As they went home from the church that day they decided to wager with each other as to whose husband was the most stupid, and the one who, on the following Sunday, should be judged to have played her husband the greatest trick should thereafter go free from paying, and each of the two others would give twopence for their Sunday's half-pint.

Next day the tailor's wife said to her husband, "I have some girls coming today to help to card my wool there is a great deal to do, and we must be very busy. I am so annoyed that our watchdog is dead, for in the evening the young fellows will come about to get fun with the girls, and they will get nothing done. If we had only had a fierce watchdog he would have kept them away."

"Yes," said the man, "that would have been a good thing."

"Listen, good man," said the wife, "you must just be the watchdog yourself, and scare the fellows away from the house."

The husband was not very sure about this, although otherwise he was always ready to give in to her.

"Oh yes, you will see it will work all right," said the wife.

And so towards evening she got the tailor dressed up in a shaggy fur coat, tied a black woollen cloth round his head, and chained him up beside the dog's kennel."

There he stood and barked and growled at everyone that moved in his neighbourhood. The neighbour wives knew all about this, and were greatly amused at it.

On the day after this the carpenter had been out at work, and came home quite merry; but as soon as he entered the house his wife clapped her hands together and cried, "My dear, what makes you look like that? You are ill."

The carpenter knew nothing about being ill; he only thought that he wanted something to eat, so he sat down at the table and began his dinner.

His wife sat straight in front of him, with her hands folded, and shook her head, and looked at him with an anxious air.

"You are getting worse, my dear," she said; "you are quite pale now; you have a serious illness about you; I can see it by your looks."

The husband now began to grow anxious, and thought that perhaps he was not quite well.

"No, indeed," said she; "it's high time that you were in bed."

She then got him to lie down, and piled above him all the bedclothes she could find, and gave him various medicines, while he grew worse and worse.

"You will never get over it," said she; "I am afraid you are going to die."

"Do you think so?" said the carpenter; "I can well believe it, for I am indeed very poorly."

In a little while she said again, "Ah, now I must part with you. Here comes Death. Now I must close your eyes." And she did so.

The carpenter believed everything that his wife said, and so he believed now that he was dead, and lay still and let her do as she pleased.

She got her neighbours summoned, and they helped to lay him in the coffin – it was one of those he himself had made; but his wife had bored holes in it to let him get some air. She made a soft bed under him, and put a coverlet over him, and she folded his hands over his breast; but instead of a flower or a psalm-book, she gave him a pint-bottle of brandy in his hands. After he had lain for a little he took a little pull at this, and then another and another, and he thought this did him good, and soon he was sleeping sweetly, and dreaming that he was in heaven.

Meanwhile word had gone round the village that the carpenter was dead, and was to be buried next day.

It was now the turn of the smith's wife. Her husband was lying sleeping off the effects of a drinking bout, so she pulled off all his clothes and made him black as coal from head to foot, and then let him sleep till far on in the day.

The funeral party had already met at the carpenter's, and marched oft towards the church with the coffin, when the smith's wife came rushing in to her husband.

"Gracious, man," said she, "you are lying there yet? You are sleeping too long. You know you are going to the funeral."

The smith was quite confused; he knew nothing about any funeral.

"It's our neighbour the carpenter," said his wife, "who is to be buried today. They are already half-way to church with him."

"All right," said the smith, "make haste to help me on with my black clothes."

"What nonsense!" said his wife, "you have them on already. Be off with you now."

The smith looked down at his person and saw that he was a good deal blacker than he usually was, so he caught up his hat and ran out after the funeral. This was already close to the church, and the smith wanted to take part in carrying the coffin, like a good neighbour. So he ran with all his might, and shouted after them, "Hey! wait a little; let me get a hold of him!"

The people turned round and saw the black figure coming, and thought it was the devil himself, who wanted to get hold of the carpenter, so they threw down the coffin and took to their heels.

The lid sprang off the coffin with the shock, and the carpenter woke up and looked out. He remembered the whole affair; he knew that he was dead and was going to be buried, and recognising the smith, he said to him, in a low voice, "My good neighbour, if I hadn't been dead already, I should have laughed myself to death now to see you coming like this to my funeral."

From that time forth the carpenter's wife drank free of expense every Sunday, for the others had to admit that she had fooled her husband the best.

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I Know What I Have Learned

There was once a man who had three daughters, and they were all married to trolls, who lived underground. One day the man thought that he would pay them a visit, and his wife gave him some dry bread to eat by the way. After he had walked some distance he grew both tired and hungry, so he sat down on the east side of a mound and began to eat his dry bread. The mound then opened, and his youngest daughter came out of it, and said, "Why, father! why are you not coming in to see me?"

"Oh," said he, "if I had known that you lived here, and had seen any entrance, I would have come in."

Then he entered the mound along with her.

The troll came home soon after this, and his wife told him that her father was come, and asked him to go and buy some beef to make broth with.

"We can get it easier than that!" said the troll.

He fixed an iron spike into one of the beams of the roof, and ran his head against this till he had knocked several large pieces off his head. He was just as well as ever after doing this, and they got their broth without further trouble.

The troll then gave the old man a sackful of money, and laden with this he betook himself homewards. When he came near his home he remembered that he had a cow about to calve, so he laid down the money on the ground, ran home as fast as he could, and asked his wife whether the cow had calved yet.

"What kind of a hurry is this to come home in?" said she. "No, the cow has not calved yet."

"Then you must come out and help me in with a sackful of money," said the man.

"A sackful of money?" cried his wife.

"Yes, a sackful of money," said he. "Is that so very wonderful?"

His wife did not believe very much what he told her, but she humoured him, and went out with him.

When they came to the spot where he had left it there was no money there; a thief had come along and stolen it. His wife then grew angry and scolded him heartily.

"Well, well!" said he, "hang the money! I know what I have learned."

"What have you learned?" said she.

"Ah! I know that," said the man.

After some time had passed the man had a mind to visit his second eldest daughter. His wife again gave him some dry bread to eat, and when he grew tired and hungry he sat down on the east side of a mound and began to eat it. As he sat there his daughter came up out of the mound, and invited him to come inside, which he did very willingly.

Soon after this the troll came home. It was dark by that time, and his wife bade him go and buy some candles.

"Oh, we shall soon get a light," said the troll. With that he dipped his fingers into the fire, and they then gave light without being burned in the least.

The old man got two sacks of money here, and plodded away homewards with these. When he was very nearly home he again thought of the cow that was with calf, so he laid down the money, ran home, and asked his wife whether the cow had calved yet.

"Whatever is the matter with you?" said she. "You come hurrying as if the whole house was about to fall. You may set your mind at rest: the cow has not calved yet."

The man now asked her to come and help him home with the two sacks of money. She did not believe him very much, but he continued to assure her that it was quite true, till at last she gave in and went with him. When they came to the spot there had again been a thief there and taken the money. It was no wonder that the woman was angry about this, but the man only said, "Ah, if you only knew what I have learned."

A third time the man set out – to visit his eldest daughter. When he came to a mound he sat down on the east side of it and ate the dry bread which his wife had given him to take with him. The daughter then came out of the mound and invited her father to come inside.

In a little the troll came home, and his wife asked him to go and buy some fish.

"We can get them much more easily than that," said the troll. "Give me your dough trough and your ladle."

They seated themselves in the trough, and rowed out on the lake which was beside the mound. When they had got out a little way the troll said to his wife, "Are my eyes green?"

"No, not yet," said she.

He rowed on a little further and asked again, "Are my eyes not green yet?"

"Yes," said his wife, "they are green now."

Then the troll sprang into the water and ladled up so many fish that in a short time the trough could hold no more. They then rowed home again, and had a good meal off the fish.

The old man now got three sacks full of money, and set off home with them. When he was almost home the cow again came into his head, and he laid down the money. This time, however, he took his wooden shoes and laid them above the money, thinking that no one would take it after that. Then he ran home and asked his wife whether the cow had calved. It had not, and she scolded him again for behaving in this way, but in the end he persuaded her to go with him to help him with the three sacks of money.

When they came to the spot they found only the wooden shoes, for a thief had come along in the meantime and taken all the money. The woman was very angry, and broke out on her husband; but he took it all very quietly, and only said, "Hang the money! I know what I have learned."

"What have you learned I should like to know?" said his wife.

"You will see that yet," said the man.

One day his wife took a fancy for broth, and said to him, "Oh, go to the village, and buy a piece of beef to make broth."

"There's no need of that," said he; "we can get it an easier way." With that he drove a spike into a beam, and ran his head against it, and in consequence had to lie in bed for a long time afterwards.

After he had recovered from this his wife asked him one day to go and buy candles, as they had none.

"No," he said, "there's no need for that;" and he stuck his hand into the fire. This also made him take to bed for a good while.

When he had got better again his wife one day wanted fish, and asked him to go and buy some. The man, however, wished again to show what he had learned, so he asked her to come along with him and bring her dough trough and a ladle. They both seated themselves in this, and rowed on the lake. When they had got out a little way the man said, "Are my eyes green?"

"No," said his wife; "why should they be?"

They rowed a little further out, and he asked again, "Are my eyes not green yet?"

"What nonsense is this?" said she; "why should they be green?"

"Oh, my dear," said he, "can't you just say that they are green?"

"Very well," said she, "they are green."

As soon as he heard this he sprang out into the water with the ladle for the fishes, but he just got leave to stay there with them!

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