There was once an old woman whose home was a poor little cottage in a country village. She got a living by doing odd jobs for the farmers' wives round about. It was not much she could earn, yet, with a silver piece here and a few pennies there, and sometimes the gift of a bit of meat, or a little tea, she managed to get along without serious discomfort, and she was as cheerful as if she had not a want in the world.
One summer evening as she was going home, she came on a stout, black pot lying at the side of the road. "Now who could have left that pot here?" she said, looking about to see anyone that it might belong to. She went on, "It would be just the very thing for me if I had something to put in it. But stop! maybe it has been thrown away and has a hole in the bottom. Ah, yes! that is the trouble. Still, the hole would not prevent the pot from doing fine to put some flowers in for the window, and I think I'll take it home anyway."
So she bent her stiff old back and lifted the lid to look inside. But what she saw surprised her so much that she jumped back to the middle of the road, exclaiming, "Mercy me! the pot is full to the brim of gold pieces. Who would have thought it!"
For a while she could do nothing but walk round and round her treasure, admiring the yellow gold and wondering at her good fortune and saying over and over, "Well, now I feel rich and grand."
Soon, however, she picked up the pot and started again toward home. "No one will see what I'm taking along with me," said she; "for the sun is gone and it is growing dark, and I'll have all the night to myself to think what I'll do with this mass of golden money. I could buy a fine house with it and live like the queen herself and not do a stroke of work, but just sit comfortable by the fire all day with a cup of tea. Or maybe I'll go to the minister and ask him to keep the money for me. Then I'd get a little of it from him every week as I was wanting. Or perhaps I'll bury it in a hole in the garden and only save out one or two pieces to put on the mantel between my china teapot and the candles for ornament, you know. Ah!"
By this time she had become rather tired with carrying such a heavy weight and she stopped to rest. She set the pot down and then thought she would have another look at her wealth. But when she took the cover off she saw that instead of gold the pot was full of shining silver. She stared and rubbed her eyes and stared again.
"I would have sworn it was gold," she said; "but I reckon I must have been dreaming. Well, whatever it was I'm better off with silver than gold. It'll be far less trouble to look after, and not so likely to be stolen. Those gold pieces would have made a sight of bother to keep theem safe. Yes, yes, I'm well quit of them, and with the pot full of silver I'm as rich as any one need be."
Then she set off homeward again, cheerfully planning all the things she was going to do with her money. But by and by she grew tired once more and paused to rest for a minute or two; and had to have another look into the pot. As soon as she took off the cover she cried out in amazement, for there was nothing inside but a lump of iron. "Well, well!" she cried, "that beats all! And yet how nice it is to have such a fine heavy piece of iron. I can sell it easy, and the pennies it brings will come very handy. Ah, yes, it is far better to have this iron than a lot of gold or silver that would have kept me from sleeping nights thinking bad men would be prowling around to rob me. Oh, I am doing very well indeed!"
On she went, now, pot in hand, chuckling to herself over her good fortune until her arm was tired of the burden. For the third time she set the pot down that she might rest and have another glance at what was in it. She took off the cover and peeped in and was astonished to find nothing but a stone. "Deary me!" she said, "a stone in it this time! Yes, yes, and glad I am to have it. I've been wanting a stone like that to hold my door open with. It will be the very thing! Ah, did anyone ever hear of such fine luck as mine!"
She was in haste to see how the stone would look in the corner by her door, and she hurried on until she came to her cottage gate. In order to unfasten the gate she put the pot down, and when she stooped to pick it up she heard something inside and took the cover off. At once an animal leaped out. It grew in a moment into a big cow, and the pot disappeared. The cow shook its legs and flourished its tail and bellowed and laughed and ran off, kicking its feet into the air.
The old woman gazed after the cow in speechless bewilderment till it was fairly out of sight. "Well," she said at last, "I surely am the luckiest body hereabouts. Fancy my seeing a fairy cow all to myself, and making so free with it too! I never in all my life felt so grand!"
Then she went into her cottage and sat down by the fire to think over her good luck.
Once on a time there was an inn at Ponthou. It was known as the White Inn. The people who kept it were both good and honest. It was at the White Inn that travellers would stop to sleep; and horses knew the place so well that they would draw up of their own accord before the stable-door.
Autumn had brought in short gloomy days; and one evening, as Flochi the landlord was standing at the White-Inn door, a traveller who was mounted on a steed, reined up his horse and lifted his hand to his hat, saying courteously,
"I want a supper and a bed-chamber."
Flochi first drew his pipe from his mouth and then his hat from his head, and answered, "A supper you shall have; but as to a room, we cannot give it you; for we have six muleteers who have taken all the beds of the White Inn."
The traveller then said, "Well, I would be grateful if you help me to sleep somewhere. The dogs have a kennel, and it is not fitting that people are without a bed in such weather as this."
The host said again, "I can only tell you that the inn is full." He added, "We have no place for you but the red room."
"Well, give me that," replied the stranger.
But the landlord rubbed his forehead and looked grieved; for he could not let the traveller sleep in the red chamber.
"Since I have been at the White Inn," said he at last, "only two men have ever spent the night in that room; and even though their hair was black when they went to bed, next morning their hair was snow-white."
"Is your house haunted by spirits from another world, is that what you try to tell me?" he asked.
"It is," faltered the landlord.
"Then may heaven be merciful, for I will sleep there. But make me a fire and warm my bed; for I am cold."
The landlord did as he was ordered, and when the traveller had finished supper, he bade good night to all at table and went up to the red chamber. The landlord and his wife trembled.
When the stranger reached his room he began to look about him. It was a large flame-coloured chamber with great shining stains on the walls. They might well have been taken for the marks of fresh-spilt blood. At the further end there stood a four-post bed, surrounded by heavy curtains. The rest of the room was empty; and a mournful whistling of the wind came down the chimney and the corridors.
The traveller got to bed and soon slept soundly. But when the hour of midnight sounded from a distant church-tower, he suddenly awoke, heard the curtain-rings sliding on their iron poles, and saw them open at his right hand. He was going to get out of bed, but when his feet struck against something cold, he recoiled in terror. A coffin stood there before him. It had four lighted candles at the corners, and was covered with a great black pall that glittered as with tears.
The stranger turned to try the other side of his bed, but the coffin at once changed places and barred his way out as before. Five times he made an effort to escape, and every time the bier was there beneath his feet with the candles and the funeral pall.
The traveller then thought it was a ghost who had some boon to ask, and said, "Who are you? I am listening."
A voice answered from the coffin, "I am a traveller who was murdered here by those who kept this inn before the one who owns it today, and now I suffer."
"What will it take to give you rest?"
"Some masses said for my soul. Such masses matter."
No sooner were these words said than the lights went out, the curtains closed, and all was silent.
Next morning the stranger told the landlord everything, and added, "I will see to it that such masses are said."
Within a month the red room lost its crimson hue and became white and cheerful as the others. No sound was heard there but the swallows twittering in the chimney, and nothing could be seen but a fair white bed.
The traveller had kept his word.