There once was an old man and an old woman. The old man worked in the fields as a pitch-burner, while the old woman sat at home and spun flax. They were so poor that they could save nothing at all; all their earnings went in bare food, and when that was gone there was nothing left. At last the old woman had a good idea.
"Look now, husband," cried she, "make me a straw ox, and smear it all over with tar."
"Why," said he, "what's the good of an ox of that sort?"
'Never mind," said she, "you just make it. I know what I am about."
He set to work and made the ox of straw, and smeared it all over with tar.
The night passed away, and at early dawn the old woman took her distaff, and drove the straw ox out into the steppe to graze, and she herself sat down behind a hillock, and began spinning her flax, and cried,
"Graze away, little ox, while I spin my flax!
While she spun, her head drooped down, and she began to doze, and while she was dozing, from behind the dark wood and from the back of the huge pines a bear came rushing out upon the ox and said,
"Who are you? Speak up and tell me!"
The ox said, "A three-year-old heifer am I, made of straw and smeared with tar."
"So!" said the bear, "stuffed with straw and smeared with tar, eh? Then give me of your straw and tar, that I may patch up my ragged fur again!"
"Take some," said the ox, and the bear fell upon him and began to tear away tar. He tore and tore, and buried his teeth in it till he found he couldn't get it off. No matter how he tugged and he tugged, it was no good.
The ox dragged him off, goodness knows where. Then the old woman awoke and there was no ox to be seen.
"Alas! old fool that I am!" cried she, "perhaps it has gone home."
Then she quickly caught up her distaff and spinning board, threw them over her shoulders, and hastened off home. When she arrived, she saw the bear which the ox had dragged up to the fence. In she went to the old man.
"Dad, dad!" she cried. "Look! The ox has brought us a bear. Come out and kill it!"
Then the old man up, tore off the bear, tied him up, and threw him in the cellar.
Next morning between dark and dawn, the old woman took her distaff and ox into the steppe to graze. She herself sat down by a mound, began spinning, and said,
"Graze away, little ox, while I spin my flax!
While she spun, her head drooped down and she dozed. And, lo! From the dark wood, from the back of the huge pines, a grey wolf came rushing upon the ox and said,
"Who are you? Come, tell me!"
"I'm a three-year-old heifer, stuffed with straw and trimmed with tar," said the ox.
"Hm, trimmed with tar, are you? Then give me of your tar to tar my sides, that the dogs tear me not!"
"Have some," said the ox.
And with that the wolf fell upon him and tried to tear off tar. He tugged and tugged, and tore with his teeth, but could get none off. Then he tried to let go, but couldn't. No matter how he tried, it didn't help.
When the old woman woke, there was no heifer in sight.
"Maybe my heifer has gone home!" she cried; "I'll go home and see."
When she got there she was surprised, for by the palings stood the ox with the wolf still tugging at it. She ran her old man, and her old man came and threw the wolf into the cellar also.
The third day the old woman again drove her ox into the pastures to graze by a mound and dozed off. Then a fox came running up.
"Who are you," asked the fox.
"I'm a three-year-old heifer, stuffed with straw and daubed with tar."
"Then give me some of your tar to smear my sides with, for dogs tear my hide!"
"Do have some," said the ox.
Then the fox fastened her teeth in him and couldn't get them out again, and then the same thing happened. The ox took the fox home and the old woman told her old man. He took and cast the fox in the cellar in the same way.
And after that they caught a hare - the Pussy Swift-foot.
After the old man had got all these animals safely, he sat down on a bench in front of the cellar and began sharpening a knife. The bear said to him, "Tell me, daddy, what are you sharpening your knife for?"
"To flay your skin off, that I may make a leather jacket for myself and a pelisse for my old wife."
"Oh! don't flay me, daddy dear! Rather let me go, and I'll bring you a lot of honey."
"Very well, see you do it," and he unbound the bear and let him go.
Then he sat down on the bench and again began sharpening his knife. And the wolf asked him, "Daddy, what are you sharpening your knife for?"
"To flay off your skin, that I may make me a warm cap against the winter."
"Oh! don't flay me, daddy dear, and I'll bring you a whole herd of little sheep."
'Well, see that you do it," and he let the wolf go.
Then he sat down and began sharpening his knife again. The fox put out her little snout and asked him, "Be so kind, dear daddy, and tell me why you are sharpening your knife!"
"Little foxes," said the old man, "have nice skins that do very well for collars and trimmings, and I want to skin you!"
"Oh! don't take my skin away, daddy dear, and I'll bring you hens and geese."
"Very well, see that you do it!" and he let the fox go
The hare now alone remained, and the old man began sharpening his knife on the hare's account. "Why do you do that?" asked the hare, and the old man replied:
"Little hares have nice little soft warm skins, which will make me gloves and mittens against the winter!"
"Oh, daddy dear! don't flay me, and I'll bring you kale and good cauliflower, if only you let me go!"
Then he let the hare go also.
Then they went to bed, but very early in the morning, when it was neither dusk nor dawn, there was a noise in the doorway.
"Daddy, cried the old woman, "there's someone scratching at the door, go and see who it is!"
The old man went out, and there was the bear carrying a whole hive full of honey. The old man took the honey from the bear, but no sooner did he lie down than again there was banging at the door once again. The old man looked out and saw the wolf driving a whole flock of sheep into the yard. Close on his heels came the fox, driving before her geese and hens and all manner of fowls; and last of all came the hare, bringing cabbage and kale and all manner of good food.
And the old man was glad to know that these animals could be trusted, and the old woman was glad too. The old man got so rich that he needed nothing more. As for the straw-stuffed ox, it stood in the sun till it fell to pieces.
In the village of Sittendorf, at the foot of a mountain, lived Peter Klaus. He was a goatherd who used to pasture his flock on the nearby Kyffhäusen Mountains. Toward evening he generally let this goats browseon a green plot surrounded by an old ruined wall. From there he could take a muster of his whole flock.
During one period he noticed that one of his prettiest goats usually disappeared soon after she came to this spot and did not join the fold again until late in the evening. He watched her again and again, and at last found that she slipped through a gap in the old wall. He followed her and discovered that the gap led into a passage which widened into a cavern. When he entered the cavern, he found the goat busy picking up oats that fell through some crevices above. He looked up, shook his head at this odd shower, and at first could not understand it.
At length he heard over his head that horses were neighing and stamping. He listened, and made out that the oats must have fallen through a manger where horses were being fed. The poor goatherd was sadly at a loss to know what horses were doing in that uninhabited part of the mountain, but so it was, for a groom soon appeared. Without saying a word, the groom beckoned Peter to follow. Peter obeyed and followed him up some steps. They led into an open courtyard surrounded by old walls. Next to this was a still more spacious ravine, surrounded by rocky heights and overhung with trees and shrubs which admitted only a kind of twilight.
Peter went on and came at last to a smooth-shaven green, where twelve ancient knights were engaged in playing ninepins. None of them said a word. His guide now beckoned to Peter to pick up the ninepins and then went his way.
Trembling in every limb, Peter did not venture to disobey, but after a time he began to cast stolen glances at the players, and saw at once that their long beards and slashed doublets belonged to a fashion long past. As he gradually got bolder, he noticed among other things a tankard near him. It was filled with wine with a fine aroma. Peter took a draught. It seemed to renew the life in him. Whenever he began to feel tired, he drank some more of the wine. Finally he fell asleep from it.
When he opened his eyes again he found himself on the grassy plot once more, in the same old spot where he used to feed his goats. He rubbed his eyes and looked round but could see neither dog nor flock. This surprised him, but he was even more surprised at the long rank grass that grew about him, and at trees and bushes which he had never before seen. He shook his head and walked a little farther, looking for the old sheep path and the hillocks and road where he used daily to drive his flock; but he could find no trace of them. Yet he saw the village just before him: and it was undoubtedly the same Sittendorf. Scratching his head, he hastened down the hill to ask about his flock.
All the people he met when he walked into the village were strangers to him, and all were strangely dressed and spoke in a different way than his old neighbours. When he asked about his goats, the people only stared at him- for he had now got a beard that was at least a foot long. He began to think that he was dreaming it all. But over there was the Kyffhäusen. And there were the cottages with their gardens and grassy plots, much as he had left them. Besides, when he asked the lads round him what place it was, they said "Sittendorf."
Shaking his head, he went farther into the village to look for his own house. He found it, but it was greatly altered for the worse: a strange goatherd in an old tattered frock lay before the door, and Near the door lay Peter's old dog, but it only growled and showed its teeth when Peter tried to call him. He went through the entrance which had once had a door, but all within was empty and deserted. Then he staggered out of the house like a drunken man, and called for his wife and children by name; but no one listened and no one gave answer.
Soon, however, a crowd of women and children gathered round the stranger with the long beard and asked him what it was he wanted. Peter thought it might seem strange to them that a stranger stood before his own house and ask for his own wife and children, as well as about himself. To escape much embarrassment, he asked for an old neighbour, the blacksmith. Most of the spectators only stared at him blankly, till an old woman at last said,
"Why he has been in Sachsenburg these twelve years."
"Where then is Valentine Meier, the tailor?" Peter asked.
"The Lord rest his soul!" cried another old woman leaning upon her crutch. "He has been lying more than these fifteen years in a house he will never leave."
Peter at last saw that these two women had been young neighbours of his. They seemed to have grown old alarmingly fast, but he did not feel for asking about how it had come to pass.
At this moment appeared a sprightly young woman with a year-old baby in her arms and with a girl of about four holding her hand appeared. All three looked much like the wife he was seeking. "What are your names?" he cried out in surprise.
"Mine is Maria," the woman said.
"And your father's?" continued Peter.
"God rest his soul! Peter Klaus. It is now twenty years since we were all looking for him day and night on the Kyffhäusen – after his flock came home without him. I was then only seven years old."
The goatherd could no longer contain himself. "I am Peter Klaus," he cried." He took his daughter's child and kissed it. First the spectators were astonished, but then one and then another began to say, "Yes, indeed, that is Peter Klaus! Welcome, good neighbour, welcome home."
Jehan Connaxa was one of the merchant princes of Antwerp in the fifteenth century. He married off his two only daughters to young noblemen. The two couples were not content with the handsome dowries he had given them when they were married, and would rather not wait till they should inherit all his vast wealth. Therefore they talked him into giving it to them a long time before he passed away
For a short period he was treated nicely by the couples, but it was not long before he began to find that they found it to be irksome to have him in their households. And finally he was plainly told that he must not expect to find a home with them any longer.
He hired a house, and turned over in his mind how to be treated with the respect he deserved in his daughters' houses again. At last he had a plan, and invited his sons-in-law and their wives to dine with him on a certain day. When it was settled that they would come, he went to an old friend, a rich merchant, and borrowed one thousand crowns for twenty-four hours, told him to keep the transaction a profound secret, and to send a servant to his house the next day at a certain hour to get the money back.
"Okay," said his old friend.
The next day, when his daughters and their husbands were seated at his table, a message came that his friend had sent for the sum of money he had promised. Jehan left his meal at the table, went into an adjoining room, and returned with a sack of money. He counted out a thousand crowns from it and delivered it to the messenger. His dinner guests were astonished at this, and soon insisted that he should live in their homes by turns for the rest of his life.
Since then, each family vied with the other in attending to him. He always brought with him a heavy strong box with three locks. The box was supposed to contain untold wealth. On his death-bed he sent for his two sons-in-law and the head friar of a neighbouring convent. He delivered to them the three keys of the box, saying, "It contains my will. But it is not to be opened until forty days after my funeral."
Jehan also said he wished to do good while he was yet alive, and begged his sons-in-law to give much money to the poor while he was still among the living, and also to pay another large sum to the head monks so that he and the other friars would pray for his soul.
This was done, and in time the old man was buried. After forty days the box was opened with due formality. It was found to contain a heap of old iron, lead, and stones. On the top of them was a large stick with a document rolled around it. His will! It read:
He that gives away all long before he's dead,
(Retold from Guernsey Folk Lore by Sir Edgar MacCulloch (London, 1903, 433-36) The legend was earlier published in supplement to the Illustrated News, February 7th, 1874.)