There was once a farmer who was married to the most contrary wife in the world. If he expected her to say, "Yes," she would always say, "No," and if he expected her to say, "No," she would always say, "Yes." If he said the soup was too hot, his wife would instantly insist that it was too cold. She would do nothing that he wanted her to do, and she always insisted on doing everything that he did not want her to do.
After the farmer had been married to his contrary wife for a few years, he knew how to manage her. For example, at Christmas one year he wanted to make a big feast for his friends and neighbours. Did he tell his wife so? Not he! Instead, a few weeks beforehand he remarked casually, "Christmas is coming and I suppose everyone will expect us to have fine white bread. But I don't think we ought to. It's too expensive. Black bread is good enough for us."
"Black bread, indeed!" cried his wife. "Not at all I We're going to have white bread and you needn't say any more about it! Black bread at Christmas! To hear you talk people would suppose we are beggars!"
The farmer said, "Well, my dear, have white bread if your heart is set on it, but I hope you don't expect to make any pies."
"Not make any pies! Just let me tell you I expect to make all the pies I want!"
"Well, now, if we have pies I don't think we ought to have any wine."
"No wine! I like that! Of course we'll have wine on Christmas!"
The farmer was much pleased but said, "Well, if we spend money on wine, perhaps we should not buy any coffee."
"What! No coffee on Christmas! Who ever heard of such a thing! Of course we'll have coffee!"
"Well, get a little coffee if you like, but just enough for you and me, for I don't think we ought to have any guests."
"What! No guests on Christmas! You're wrong if you think we're not going to have a houseful of guests!"
The farmer was overjoyed but said, "If you have the house full of people, you needn't think I'm going to sit at the head of the table, for I'm not!"
"You are, too!" screamed his wife. "That's exactly where you are going to sit!"
"Wife, wife, don't get so excited! I will sit there if you insist. But if I do, you mustn't expect me to pour the wine."
"And why not? It would be a strange thing if you didn't pour the wine at your own table!"
"All right, all right, I'll pour it! But you mustn't expect me to taste it beforehand."
"Of course you're going to taste it beforehand!"
This was exactly what the farmer wanted his wife to say. By pretending to oppose her at every turn he was able to have the big Christmas party that he wanted and he was able to feast to his heart's content with all his friends and relatives and neighbours.
Time went by and his wife grew more and more contrary if such a thing were possible. Summer came and the haymaking season. They were going to a distant meadow to toss hay and had to cross an angry little river on a footbridge made of one slender plank.
The farmer crossed in safety, then he called back to his wife, "Walk very carefully, for the plank is not strong!"
"I will not walk carefully!" the wife declared.
She flung herself on the plank with all her weight and when she got to the middle of the stream she jumped up and down. The plank broke with a snap, the wife fell into the water, the current carried her off, and she was drowned.
Her husband, seeing what had happened, ran madly upstream shouting, "Help! Help!"
The haymakers heard him and came running to see what was the matter.
"My wife has fallen into the river!" he cried, "and the current has carried her body away!"
"What is wrong with you?" the haymakers said. "If the current has carried your wife away, she's floating downstream, not upstream!"
"Any other woman would float downstream," the farmer said. "But you know my wife! She's so contrary she'd float upstream every time!"
"That's true," the haymakers said, "she would!" So all afternoon the farmer and the haymakers searched upstream for his wife's body, but they never found it.
When night came, the farmer went home and had a good supper of things he liked to eat, but that his wife never would let him have.
There was once a man who was poor and lazy and his wife was even worse. She was so lazy that it was an effort for her to lift one foot after the other. And in addition to her laziness she complained a lot. "Oh!" she used to grunt in the morning, "I wish we didn't have to get up!" and "Oh!" she used to groan at night, "I wish we didn't have to take our shoes off before going to bed!"
One day when they were both out in the forest collecting faggots the wife said, "I don't see why we aren't rich! I don't see why the king should live at his ease while we have to grub for everything we get! I just hate work!"
The trouble both with the wife and her husband was not that they worked, but that they didn't work. It was because they didn't that they had so much time to think about it.
"Pooh!" the wife went on, "If Adam and Eve hadn't eaten an apple, all would be living in a garden to this day."
"Yes," the man agreed, "If I had been Adam I shouldn't have allowed Eve to touch the apple in the first place."
The king was out hunting that day and happened to overhear the conversation.
"I'll teach these two people a lesson!" he thought to himself, pushed aside the bushes that had hidden him from them and said, "Good day to you both! I have just heard your complaints. I too think it very hard that you should be poor while others are rich, so I'll take you both home with me to the castle and maintain you in ease and luxury if you obey me in just one thing."
The wife and her husband eagerly agreed to this, and the king took them home with him to the castle. He lodged them in a room with golden furniture, he gave them fine clothes to wear, and for food he had them served the choicest delicacies in the world.
As they sat eating their first royal meal, he came in to them, carrying in his hands a covered dish of silver. He put the dish down in the centre of the table.
"Now, my friends," he said, "I promised to maintain you in this ease and luxury if you would obey me in one thing. You see this silver dish. I forbid you ever to lift the cover. If you disobey me, that moment I shall take from you your fine clothes and send you back to your poverty and misery."
With that the king left them and they stuffed themselves to their hearts' content with the delicate foods set before them.
They were so busy eating and drinking and admiring themselves in their fine clothes that for the first day they didn't give the covered dish a. thought. The second day the wife noticed it and said, "That's the thing we are not to touch. Well, for my part I don't want to touch it, I don't want to do anything but eat and sleep and try on my pretty new clothes."
By the third day they had eaten so much and so
steadily that they were no longer hungry, and when they lay down on the big soft bed they no longer fell asleep at once.
"Dear me," the wife began, "I don't know what's the matter with this food! It doesn't taste as good as it used to! Maybe the cook has grown careless! I think we ought to complain to the king. I'm beginning to feel very uncomfortable and I haven't any appetite at all! I wonder what's in that covered dish. Perhaps it's something to eat, something perfectly delicious! I've half a mind to lift the cover and see."
"Now just you leave that silver dish alone!" the man growled. He, too, had been eating too much and was feeling peevish. "Don't you remember what the king said?"
"Pooh!" cried the wife. "What do I care what the king said! I think he was just poking fun at us telling us we must not lift the cover of that silver dish. After all a dish is a dish and it's no crime to lift a cover even if it is made of silver!"
With that the wife jumped up and before her husband could stop her she lifted the forbidden cover. Instantly a little white mouse hopped out of the silver dish and scurried away.
"Oh!" the wife screamed, dropping the cover with a great clatter.
The king who was in an adjoining chamber heard the noise and came in.
"So!" he said, "you have done the one thing that I told you not to do! You haven't been here three days and although you've had everything that heart could wish for yet you couldn't obey me in this one little matter!"
"But," the man said, "it was my wife who did it, not I."
"No matter," the king said, "you, too, are to blame. If you had restrained her it wouldn't have happened."
Then he called his servants and had them strip off the fine clothes and dress the couple in their old rags again. "And don't blame Adam and Eve for misfortunes you bring upon yourselves."