ONCE on a time there was a sheep who stood in the pen to be fattened; so he lived well, and was stuffed and crammed with everything that was good. So it went on, till one day the dairymaid came and gave him still more food, and then she said, "Eat away, sheep; you won't be much longer here; we are going to kill you tomorrow."
It is an old saying that women's counsel is always worth having, and that there is a cure for everything but death. "But after all," said the sheep to himself, "there may be a cure even for death this time."
So he ate till he was ready to burst; and when he was crammed full, he butted out the door of the pen, and took his way to the neighbouring farm. There he went to the pigsty to a pig that he had known out on the common, and ever since had been the best friends with.
"Good day," said the sheep, "and thanks for our last merry meeting."
"Good day," answered the pig, "and the same to you."
"Do you know," said the sheep, "why it is you are so well off, and why it is they fatten you and take such pains with you?"
"No, I don't," said the pig.
"Many a flask empties the cask; I suppose you know that," said the sheep. "They are going to kill and eat you."
"Are they?" said the pig. "Well, I hope they'll say grace after meat."
"If you will do as I do," said the sheep, "we'll go off to the wood, build us a house and set up for ourselves. A home is a home, be it ever so homely."
Yes, the pig was willing enough. "Good company is such a comfort," he said, and so the two set off.
So when they had gone a bit they met a goose.
"Good day, good sirs, and thanks for our last merry meeting," said the goose; "where away so fast today?"
"Good day, and the same to you," said the sheep. "You must know we were too well off at home, and so we are going to set up for ourselves in the wood. For you know every man's house is his castle."
"Well," said the goose, "it's much the same with me where I am. Can't I go with you too? For it's child's play when three share the day."
"With gossip and gabble is built neither house nor stable," said the pig; "let us know what you can do."
"By cunning and skill a cripple can do what he will," said the goose. "I can pluck moss and stuff it into the seams of the planks, and your house will be tight and warm."
Yes, they would give him leave, for piggy wished to be warm and comfortable above all things.
When they had gone a bit farther, the goose had hard work to walk so fast. Then they met a hare who came frisking out of the wood.
"Good day, good sirs, and thanks for our last merry meeting," she said; "how far are you trotting today?"
"Good day, and the same to you," said the sheep. "We were far too well off at home, and so we're going to the wood to build us a house and set up for ourselves. For you know, try all the world round, there's nothing like home."
"As for that," said the hare, "I have a house in every bush yes, a house in every bush; but yet, I have often said in winter, 'If I only live till summer, I'll build me a house;' and so I have half a mind to go with you and build one up, after all."
"Yes," said the pig, "if we ever get into a scrape, we might use you to scare away the dogs, for you don't fancy you could help us in house-building."
"He who lives long enough always finds work enough to do," said the hare. "I have teeth to gnaw pegs, and paws to drive them into the wall, so I can very well set up to be a carpenter; for 'good tools make good work,' as the man said when he flayed the mare with a gimlet."
Yes, he too got leave to go with them and build their house; there was nothing more to be said about it.
When they had gone a bit farther they met a cock.
"Good day, good sirs," said the cock, "and thanks for our last merry meeting. Where are you going today, gentlemen?"
"Good day, and the same to you," said the sheep. ''At home we were too well off, and so we are going off to the wood to build us a house and set up for ourselves. For he who out of doors shall bake, loses at last both coal and cake."
"Well," said the cock, "that's just my case. But it's better to sit on one's own perch, for then one can never be left in the lurch, and besides, all cocks crow loudest at home. Now, if I might have leave to join such a gallant company, I also would like to go to the wood and build a house."
"Ay, ay!" said the pig; "flapping and crowing sets tongues a-going, but a jaw on a stick never yet laid a brick. How can you ever help us to build a house?"
"Oh," said the cock, "that house will never have a clock where there is neither dog nor cock. I am up early, and I wake everyone."
"Very true," said the pig; "the morning hour has a golden dower; let him come with us;" for you must know piggy was always the soundest sleeper. "Sleep is the biggest thief," he said; "he thinks nothing of stealing half one's life."
So they all set off to the wood as a band and brotherhood and built the house. The pig hewed the timber, and the sheep drew it home; the hare was carpenter and gnawed pegs and bolts and hammered them into the walls and roof; the goose plucked moss and stuffed it into the seams; the cock crew and looked out that they did not oversleep themselves in the morning; and when the house was ready and the roof lined with birch bark and thatched with turf, there they lived by themselves, and were merry and well. "It's good to travel east and west," said the sheep, "but after all a home is best."
But you must know that a bit farther on in the wood was a wolf's den, and there lived two greylegs [wolves]. So when they saw that a new house had risen up hard by, they wanted to know what sort of folk their neighbours were, for they thought to themselves that a good neighbour was better than a brother in a foreign land, and that it was better to live in a good neighbourhood than to know many people miles and miles off.
So one of them made up an errand and went into the new house and asked for a light for his pipe. But as soon as ever he got inside the door, the sheep gave him such a butt that he fell head foremost into the stove. Then the pig began to gore and bite him, the goose to nip and peck him, the cock on the roost to crow and chatter; and as for the hare, he was so frightened out of his wits that he ran about aloft and on the floor and scratched and scrambled in every corner of the house.
After a long time the wolf came out.
"Well," said the one who waited for him outside, "neighbourhood makes brotherhood. You must have come into a perfect paradise on bare earth since you stayed so long. But what became of the light, for you have neither pipe nor smoke?"
"Yes, yes," said the other; "it was just a nice light, and a pleasant company. Such manners I never saw in all my life. But then you know we can't pick and choose in this wicked world, and an unbidden guest gets bad treatment. As soon as I got inside the door, the shoemaker let fly at me with his last, so that I fell head foremost into the smithy fire. And there sat two smiths who blew the bellows and made the sparks fly. They beat and punched me with red-hot tongs and pincers so that they tore whole pieces out of my body. As for the hunter, he went scrambling about looking for his gun, and it was good luck he did not find it. And all the while there was another who sat up under the roof and slapped his arms and sang out, 'Put a hook into him and drag him here, drag him here.' That was what he screamed, and if he had only got hold of me, I should never have come out alive."
Once there was a couple, and each of them had a daughter by a former marriage. The woman's daughter was dull and lazy, and could never turn her hand to anything, and the man's daughter was brisk and ready; but somehow or other she could never do anything to her stepmother's liking, and both the woman and her daughter would have been glad to be rid of her.
So it fell one day the two girls were to go out and spin by the side of the well, and the woman's daughter had flax to spin, but the man's daughter got nothing to spin but bristles. "I don't know how it is," said the woman's daughter, "you're always so quick and sharp, but still I'm not afraid to spin a match with you."
So they span away; but just as they were hard at it, the man's daughter's thread broke, and she had to go down the well. When she got to the bottom, she saw far and wide around her a fair green mead, and she had not hurt herself at all.
So she walked on a bit, till she came to a hedge which she had to cross.
"Ah! don't tread hard on me, pray don't, and I'll help you another time, that I will," said the hedge.
Then the lassie made herself as light as she could, and trode so carefully she scarce touched a twig.
So she went on a bit farther, till she came to a brindled cow, which walked there with a milking-pail on her horns. It was a large pretty cow, and her udder was so full and round.
"Ah! be so good as to milk me, pray," said the cow; "I'm so full of milk. Drink as much as you please, and throw the rest over my hoofs, and see if I don't help you some day."
So the man's daughter did as the cow begged. As soon as she touched the teats, the milk spouted out into the pail. Then she drank till her thirst was slaked; and the rest she threw over the cow's hoofs, and the milking pail she hung on her horns again.
So when she had gone a bit farther, a big wether met her, which had such thick long wool, it hung down and draggled after him on the ground, and on one of his horns hung a great pair of shears.
"Ah! please clip off my wool," said the sheep, "for here I go about with all this wool, and catch up everything I meet, and besides, it's so warm, I'm almost choked. Take as much of the fleece as you please, and twist the rest round my neck, and see if I don't help you some day."
Yes; she was willing enough, and the sheep lay down of himself on her lap, and kept quite still, and she clipped him so neatly, there wasn't a scratch on his skin. Then she took as much of the wool as she chose, and the rest she twisted round the neck of the sheep.
A little farther on, she came to an apple-tree, which was loaded with apples; all its branches were bowed to the ground, and leaning against the stem was a slender pole.
"Ah! do be so good as to pluck my apples off me," said the Tree, "so that my branches may straighten themselves again, for it's bad work to stand so crooked; but when you beat them down, don't strike me too hard. Then eat as many as you please, lay the rest round my root, and see if I don't help you some day or other."
Yes; she plucked all she could reach with her hands, and then she took the pole and knocked down the rest, and afterwards she ate her fill, and the rest she laid neatly round the root.
So she walked on a long, long way, and then she came to a great farm-house, where an old hag of the Trolls lived with her daughter. There she turned in to ask if she could get a place.
"Oh!" said the old hag; "it's no use your trying. We've had ever so many maids, but none of them was worth her salt."
But she begged so prettily that they would just take her on trial, that at last they let her stay. So the old hag gave her a sieve, and bade her go and fetch water in it. She thought it strange to fetch water in a sieve, but still she went, and when see came to the well, the little birds began to sing:
Daub in clay,
Yes, she did so, and found she could carry water in a sieve well enough; but when she got home with the water, and the old witch saw the sieve, she cried out:
"You haven't sucked this out of your own breast."
So the old witch said, now she might go into the byre to pitch out dung and milk kine; but when she got there she found a pitchfork so long and heavy she couldn't stir it, much less work with it. She didn't know at all what to do, or what to make of it; but the little birds sang again that she should take the broomstick and toss out a little with that, and all the rest of the dung would fly after it. So she did that, and as soon as ever she began with the broomstick, the byre was as clean as if it had been swept and washed.
Now she had to milk the kine, but they were so restless that they kicked and frisked; there was no getting near them to milk them.
But the little birds sang outside:
A little drop, a tiny sup,
Yes, she did that; she just milked a tiny drop, it was as much as she could, for the little birds outside; and then all the cows stood still and let her milk them. They neither kicked nor frisked; they didn't even lift a leg.
So when the old witch saw her coming in with the milk, she cried out:
"This you haven't sucked out of your own breast. But now just take this black wool and wash it white."
This the lassie was at her wit's end to know how to do, for she had never seen or heard of any one who could wash black wool white. Still she said nothing, but took the wool and went down with it to the well. There the little birds sang again, and told her to take the wool and dip it into the great butt that stood there; and she did so, and out it came as white as snow.
"Well, I never!" said the old witch, when she came in with the wool, "it's no good keeping you. You can do everything, and at last you'll be the plague of my life. We'd best part, so take your wages and be off."
Then the old hag drew out three caskets, one red, one green, and one blue, and of these the lassie was to choose one as wages for her service. Now she didn't know at all which to choose, but the little birds sang:
Don't take the red, don't take the green,
So she took the blue casket, as the birds sang.
"Bad luck to you, then," said the old witch; "see if I don't make you pay for this!"
So when the man's daughter was just setting off, the old witch shot a red-hot bar of iron after her, but she sprang behind the door and hid herself, so that it missed her, for her friends, the little birds, had told her beforehand how to behave. Then she walked on and on as fast as ever she could; but when she got to the apple-tree, she heard an awful clatter behind her on the road, and that was the old witch and her daughter coming after her.
The lassie was so frightened and scared, she didn't know what to do.
"Come here to me, lassie, do you hear," said the apple-tree, "I'll help you; get under my branches and hide, for if they catch you they'll tear you to death, and take the casket from you."
Yes; she did so, and she had hardly hidden herself before up came the old witch and her daughter.
"Have you seen any lassie pass this way, you apple-tree?" said the old hag.
The apple-tree kept silent. So the old witch turned back and went home again.
Then the lassie walked on a bit, but when she came just about where the sheep was, she heard an awful clatter beginning on the road behind her, and she didn't know what to do, she was so scared and frightened; for she knew well enough it was the old witch, who had thought better of it.
"Come here to me, lassie," said the wether, "and I'll help you. Hide yourself under my fleece, and then they'll not see you; else they'll take away the casket, and tear you to death."
Just then up came the old witch, tearing along.
"Have you seen any lassie pass here, you sheep?" she cried to the wether.
The wether said baah, baah to her, and the old witch could not make out what it meant, so she turned round and went home.
But when the lassie had come to where she met the cow, she heard another awful clatter behind her.
"Come here to me, lassie," said the cow, "and I'll help you to hide yourself under my udder, else the old hag will come and take away your casket, and tear you to death."
True enough, it wasn't long before she came up.
"Have you seen any lassie pass here, you cow?" said the old hag.
"Moo, moo," said the cow, and the hag could not understand what to make out of it. So she turned round, and went back home again.
When the lassie had walked a long, long way farther on, and was not far from the hedge, she heard again that awful clatter on the road behind her, and she got scared and frightened, for she knew well enough it was the old hag and her daughter, who had changed their minds.
"Come here to me, lassie," said the hedge, "and I'll help you. Creep under my twigs, so that they can't see you; else they'll take the casket from you, and tear you to death."
Yes; she made all the haste she could to get under the twigs of the hedge.
"Have you seen any lassie pass this way, you hedge?" said the old hag to the hedge.
"Talking to a hedge, a hedge?" whispered the hedge thoughtfully, and all the while he spread himself out and made himself so big and tall that one had to think twice before crossing him. And so the old witch had no help for it but to turn round and go home again.
When the man's daughter got home, her step-mother and her step-sister were more spiteful against her than ever; for now she was much neater, and so smart that it was a joy to look at her. Still she could not get leave to live with them; they drove her out into a pig-sty. That was to be her house.
Inside, she opened her casket, just to see what she had got for her wages. But as soon as she unlocked it, she saw inside so much gold and silver, and lovely things, which came streaming out till all the walls were hung with them, and at last the pig-sty was far grander than the grandest king's palace.
When the step-mother and her daughter came to see this, they almost jumped out of their skin, and began to ask what kind of a place she had down there?
"Oh," said the lassie, "I got such good wages. It was such a family and such a mistress to serve, you couldn't find their like anywhere."
The woman's daughter made up her mind to go out to serve too, that she might get just such another gold casket. So they sat down to spin again, and now the woman's daughter was to spin bristles, and the man's daughter flax, and she whose thread first snapped was to go down the well.
It wasn't long, as you may fancy, before the woman's daughter's thread snapped, and so they threw her down the well.
So the same thing happened. She fell to the bottom, but met with no harm, and found herself on a lovely green meadow. When she had walked a bit she came to the hedge.
"Don't tread hard on me, pray, lassie, and I'll help you again," said the hedge.
"Oh!" said she, "what should I care for a bundle of twigs!" and tramped and stamped over the hedge till it cracked and groaned again.
A little farther on she came to the cow, which walked about ready to burst for want of milking.
"Be so good as to milk me, lassie," said the cow, "and I'll help you again. Drink as much as you please, but throw the rest over my hoofs."
Yes, she did that; she milked the cow, and drank till she could drink no more; but when she left off, there was none left to throw over the cow's hoofs, and as for the pail, she tossed it down the hill and walked on.
When she had gone a bit farther, she came to the sheep, which walked along with his wool dragging after him.
"Oh, be so good as to clip me, lassie," said the sheep, "and I'll serve you again. Take as much of the wool as you will, but twist the rest round my neck."
Well, she did that; but she went so carelessly to work, that she cut great pieces out of the poor sheep, and as for the wool, she carried it all away with her.
A little while after she came to the apple-tree, which stood there quite crooked with fruit again.
"Be so good as to pluck the apples off me that my limbs may grow straight, for it's weary work to stand all awry," said the apple-tree. "But please take care not to beat me too hard. Eat as many as you will, but lay the rest neatly round my root, and I'll help you again."
Well, she plucked those nearest to her, and thrashed down those she couldn't reach with the pole; but she didn't care how she did it, and broke off and tore down great boughs, and ate till she was as full as full as could be, and then she threw down the rest under the tree.
When she had gone a good bit farther, she came to the farm where the old witch lived. There she asked for a place, but the old hag said she wouldn't have any more maids, for they were either worth nothing, or were too clever and cheated her out of her goods. But the woman's daughter was not to be put off, she woul have a place, so the old witch said she would give her a trial, if she was fit for anything.
The first thing she had to do was to fetch water in a sieve. Well, off she went to the well, and drew water in a sieve, but as fast as she got it in it ran out again. So the little birds sang,
Daub in clay,
But she didn't care to listen to the birds' song, and pelted them with clay till they flew off far away. And so she had to go home with the empty sieve, and got well scolded by the old witch.
Then she was to go into the byre to clean it, and milk the kine. But she was too good for such dirty work, she thought. Still, she went out into the byre, but when she got there, she could not get on at all with the pitchfork, it was so big. The birds said the same to her as they had said to her step-sister, and told her to take the broomstick, and toss out a little dung, and then all the rest would fly after it; but all she did with the broomstick was to throw it at the birds.
When she came to milk, the kine were so unruly, they kicked and pushed, and every time she got a little milk in the pail, over they kicked it. Then the birds sang again:
A little drop, and a tiny sup,
But she beat and banged the cows about, and threw and pelted at the birds everything she could lay hold of, and made such a to do, it was awful to see. So she did not make much either of her pitching or milking.
When she came indoors she got blows as well as hard words from the old witch, who sent her off to wash the black wool white; but that, too, she did no better.
Then the old witch thought this really too bad, so she set out the three caskets, one red, one green, and one blue, and said she'd no longer any need of her services. For wages she should have leave to choose whichever casket she pleased.
Then sang the little birds:
Don't take the red, don't take the green,
She didn't care a pin for what the birds sang, but took the red, which caught her eye most. And so she set out on her road home, and she went along quietly and easily enough; there was no one who came after her.
When she got home, her mother was ready to jump with joy, and the two went at once into the ingle, and put the casket up there, for they made up their minds there could be nothing in it but pure silver and gold, and they thought to have all the walls and roof gilded like the pig-sty. But when they opened the casket there came tumbling out nothing but toads, and frogs, and snakes; and worse than that, whenever the woman's daughter opened her mouth, out popped a toad or a snake, so that at last there was no living in the house with her.
That was all the wages she got for being unable to behave herself when trying to gain from serving an old witch.
[The tale is modified by TK]
❋ Those she met were kind to her and yet not repaid.