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The Soul of John

Once an old man and an old woman lived together. The old man was a troublesome fellow, disliked by people, lazy and of no use at home. It annoyed his old wife greatly, for she drudged all she could and spared no toil in getting what they needed. But although they quarrelled much, the dame loved well her old carl, and never let him want.

One day the old man fell sorely ill. The old woman watched over him, and when his strength slowly began to fail him, she came to think that maybe he was not so good that he would be admitted into heaven. She therefore thought out how she could to bring his soul to heaven herself.

She took a leather bag, drew it tight over the old fellow's face, and when he died his soul went into the bag. She tied up the bag at once, thinking his soul was inside it.

After this, she went to heaven with the leather bag in her apron. When she came to heaven's gate she knocked at it, and out came St. Peter. He asked what was the matter.

"Hi therel," said the old woman. "I bring the soul of my own Joh. You have no doubt heard talk of him. Please get him in here."

"I see," said St. Peter; but I cannot do it for you. I have heard talk of your John, but never heard good of him yet."

She said, "I could not think for a moment that you were so hard-hearted, St. Peter; and now it is clear that you have quite forgotten how you acted in days of former times, when you forsook your own master."

When she told this, St. Peter backed in and locked the door, but the old woman stood groaning and sighing outside.

Now after a while she knocked again, and out came St. Paul.

She greeted and asked him who he was, and he told her. She then asked him to let the soul of her John come in, but St. Paul said he would have nothing to do with her, for this John did not deserve any mercy.

Then the woman got angry, and said: "Oh, this is no doubt what may be expected of you - you could have deserved this same mercy yourself, when you persecuted the first Christians. I ask no more boon of you."

Paul slammed the door to, at once.

When the old woman knocked for the third time, the Virgin Mary came out.

"Hi to you, Good Lady!" said the old woman; "I hope you will let my own John come in, even though Peter and Paul have both refused to let him in."

"Ah," said the Virgin Mary, "lady, I am sorry to say that I dare not; for your own John was such a wretched old John."

"Oh," said the old woman. "I thought you knew that others could be weak as well as yourself. You may not have not forgotten that the first child you ever had, was out of wedlock."

Mary did not want to hear any more, but shut to the door in a hurry.

A fourth time the old woman knocked. Out came Christ himself. He wanted to know what she was travelling up here for.

She said humbly: "I would only ask you, Sir, to allow this poor soul to enter through the gate." Christ answered, "Your own John, I see! No, he never believed in me."

Now, just before he had shut the door completely, the old woman threw the leather bag with the soul in it through the slight opening. The bag was blown far into the heavenly place before the door slammed into the lock.

A stone was lifted from the old woman's heart. Her John was in spite of all in heaven. She went home, feeling glad.




Once there was a young peasant on a farm under some mountains. His pasture land was good, and he kept many sheep and sheared much wool. And yet it was not easy for him to get a coat to wear on his back, for the young and healthy woman he had just married, was lazy and did not care much about the affairs of the house.

Her husband could not get her to mend her ways, no matter how he tried. At the close of summer he gave her a large bundle of wool and told her to spin it and work it up into coarse wadmal during the winter months.

"Very well," she said, "I'll see about it bye and bye." But at the same time she looked as if she would far rather have nothing to do with it. She let the bundle lie untouched in a corner despite the hints her husband gave her every now and then. It was midwinter before she fully made up her mind to set to work, but at that time she started to get perplexed as to how she could get all that wool worked up before the close of winter.

Just then an ugly old woman came to the door, begging for alms.

"Can you do any work for me in return?" asked the peasant's wife.

"Perhaps," answered the old woman. "But what kind of work would you have me do?"

"I want you to make some coarse cloth for me out of this wool."

"Very well, let me have the wool then."

The peasant's wife handed the large bag of wool to the old woman, who tossed it up on her back, saying, "I'll come back with the cloth the first day of summer. You can depend on that."

"But what payment will you ask for when you bring the cloth?" said the peasant's wife.

"When I return you must tell me what my name is. You'll get three guesses."

"But what if I fail to say your name?" asked the peasant's wife nervously.

"Then - that is for me to decide when the time comes," said the old woman.

The peasant's wife was too lazy to spin and weave for herself, so she agreed to this strange condition. Then the old woman left.

As the winter months passed on, the peasant often asked what had become of the wool.

"Don't worry about it," said the wife, "you'll have it back, spun and woven, by the first day of summer."

He never could get any other answer, so he stopped asking about the wool. All this time his wife was trying to find out the old woman's name, but in vain. By the time the last month of winter came round she became so anxious and uneasy that she could neither eat nor sleep. Her husband was greatly distressed at the change which had come over her, and begged her to let him know what was the matter with her. Unable to keep the matter secret any longer, she told him everything that had happened. He was very much startled at what he heard and told her how very unthinking she had been, saying: "The old woman could be a witch who will take you away with her if you fail to say her name!"

A day or two after this talk, he had occasion to go up the mountain next to the farm. He was so bowed down with grief at the thought of losing his wife that he scarcely knew what he was about and wandered from the road. He came to the bottom of a lofty cliff. While he was considering how he could get to the right road again, he thought he heard a sound as of a voice inside the hill. He followed the sound and discovered a hole in the face of the cliff. He peeped through this hole and saw a tall old woman sitting there. She was weaving with the loom between her knees, and as she beat the treadles, every now and then she broke into a snatch of song,

"Ha! Ha! and Ho! Ho!
The good wife doesn't know
Gilitrutt is my name."

"Aha!" muttered the peasant to himself, "if she doesn't know now, she will know bye and bye." He felt very sure it was the same old hag who had taken unfit advantage of his short-sighted wife.

All the way home he kept repeating the word Gilitrutt, and as soon as he got indoors he wrote it down on a piece of paper that he might not forget it. Then he asked his wife, "Have you found out your visitor's name yet, wife?"

"Alas, no! I feel like I am to die of grief."

"There may be no reason for that," he replied cheerfully, "I think I have got the name for you, so you need not be afraid to meet the old hag."

With that he handed her the piece of paper and told what he had seen and overheard on the mountain. She took the paper with a trembling hand, fearing that the news was too good to be true. Although her husband's story comforted her much, she feared the name might not be the right one.

She wanted her husband to stay indoors to be present when the old woman called.

"No," said he, "this is between you and her."

Then he left the house. He thought he had done enough, and was not very supportive beyond that.

The first day of summer came. The peasant's wife was in the house alone, and lay in bed, listening with a beating heart for the first sound of the old hag's footsteps. She did not have to wait for long. Before the morning passed, a trampling noise was heard. In stalked the old woman with a bundle on her back and a scowl on her face. As soon as she got within the room, she threw down the big bundle of cloth and called out in an angry tone:

"What's my name now? What's my name?"

The peasant wife was trembling with fear when she said, "Signy!"

"No. Guess again."

"Asa," she said.

"No again. Now's your last chance."

"Gilitrutt?" said the woman.

This made the old hag fall down on the floor with a great noise. There she lay for some time, before she then got up and went her way out of the house without speaking a word.

She was never seen in the country-side again. And the peasant's wife was full of joy at being saved, and was a changed woman ever after, and worked her own wool herself.


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