Alois Zoschg was a peasant who lived with his daughter Katharina in a cottage in the Sarnthal. The little family had all they needed, and Katharina was bright enough to make any home happy. She was thoughtful, prudent and thrifty and did worthy work at the place. At the same time she was always ready with her joke and her song. Her father had great love for her. During the daily toil he used to look forward to evenings spent in cheerful conversation with her.
Alois' temper was violent and ungovernable when he was seriously provoked. He had a rich, jealous neighbour, Andrä Margesin, who owned a great farm a little away from the cottage. The two men were often in conflict. Tthe fault generally lay, in the first place on the side of the greedy and domineering Andrä Margesin, but once Alois Zoschg was roused, he would never let a quarrel rest. The conflicts between the two men often disturbed the peace of the whole neighbourhood. No one could say where such quarrels might have ended, what crimes might perhaps have resulted, had it not been for Katharina, who knew how to soothe her father without disrespect, and to mollify the rich neighbour in a nice way without servility.
Time after time she calmed down the two men by her keen, good sense and good temper.
Once, however, the two men had a dispute that she was not the right person to decide for them, for it involved a question of law. Andrä Margesin accused Alois Zoschg of an encroachment, while Alois Zoschg maintained he had a legal right to do what he had done. All Katharina could do in this case to restore peace, was to make them promise to carry the matter to the judge in Botzen so that he could settle their dispute for them.
When the day of hearing came on, they said so much about each other and the case that they kept on the whole day long and five more days, and still the judge could not settle the case, saying, "It is impossible for me to say which of you is right, or, rather, which is least in the wrong, for good proof is missing." However, the judge asked them to accept a test that could give him some clues as to their ability and judgement.
Since the two neighbours could not get the affair decided on any other terms, they accepted what the judge proposed.
"By tomorrow morning at this hour you must tell me what is the Strongest, the Richest and the most Beautiful," said the judge. With these words he left the judgment-seat and the two peasants were left standing opposite each other, looking very foolish.
After a few moments' thought, however, Andrä Margesin, who was a very vain man, thought he had the answer. He clapped his and gesticulated a lot as he stalked off homewards, He had no doubt of the result, he told those he met.
But Alois Zoschg thought, the more puzzled he got. The boasts of Andrä Margesin only made him more furious. There he stood, crying out against the judge and against his ill-luck till it was necessary to close the court and his friends persuaded him to go home. But all the way home his passion grew more and more outrageous. By the time he reached his cottage the other men had slunk away one by one, some in disgust, some in despair.
Now it was Katharina's turn. She came out to meet him with her brightest smile and her filial greeting, just as if he had been in the best humour in the world.
But, for the first time, the sight of Katharina seemed rather to increase his anger; for she was dressed up as for a joyful occasion, and there he was, worn out by his own ill-humour and the case in court and his neighbour's very annoying ways.
Nevertheless, he gulped down the rising annoyance until he had heard what Katharina had to say.
"Well, father, so you're all right!" she cried and flung her arms round him with an embrace.
"'Right,' what do you mean?"
"It only remains for you to hear the wearisome case settled by the judge tomorrow," she said consolingly. She had heard what the judge had asked the two neighbours from another neighbour who came home hours before, while Alois was still standing in the court after the judge had asked them the question.
"I should tell him by tomorrow morning," answered Alois, "what is the strongest, the richest and the most beautiful – and how am I ever to guess all that?" He went on, "And what's more," he went on, vexed, "that fellow Andrä Margesin has guessed it and is gone off proclaiming his triumph already!"
"Father," exclaimed Katharina, "you don't mean to say you believe that Andrä Margesin could have guessed the right answer?"
"But he went off telling everyone so," rejoined Alois.
"Oh, dear, simple father! Do you really believe it is so because he boasts of it? I don't think so."
"But if he hasn't, I haven't either." "Now just think what answer you'll give."
"Uh, what would you say?"
Katharina had a ready answer, "I would say the strongest is the earth we stand on, and bears the mighty mountains. The richest I can think of is autumn, with its gifts that make us glad and satisfied for all the year - autumn's bursting ears of grain, its clustered grapes, its abundant olives and luscious fruits. And the most beautiful to me is spring - its fresh blossoms and flower, promises and hopes."
Her father got enthusiastic, saying, "Katharina, you might have got it!" and clasped her in his arms. He was able to go to bed with the idea she had given him a chance of not being beaten.
In the morning he was up early arrived at the court in a quite good mood.
Andrä was there already. As soon as the judge had taken his seat and even before he had called on him for his answer, he began:
"Sir judge, I have the answer to your enigma. Here it is: The most beautiful on earth is my wife, of course; the strongest are my oxen; and the richest am I."
The judge listened without moving a muscle of his face, as was quite fit for a judge. Then he turned to Alois and asked for his answer.
Andrä scratched a bit, but stood forward and repeated word for word the answer Katharina had taught him.
The judge had only proposed the riddle as a way to get rid of a perplexing case. But he did not see how he could escape from giving judgement in Andräs favour.
The session over, the judge called Alois aside and asked how he had come to find such a good answer. Alois at once told he owed it to his daughter Katharina.
"That is it, is it?" answered the judge. "Now, go home and tell your daughter that if she finds out how to come to me without any clothes on and yet not naked; not by day and yet not by night; and by a way which shall be neither a high-road nor yet a by-path, I shall ask her to be my wife."
Alois returned home to tell the news to his daughter. "I suppose it is a sort of proposal," he thought. When he had told her the news, she said, "So the noble, handsome judge really means to marry a peasant girl if she is clever?"
"He might do worse," answered her father. "And he was in earnest!"
"In that case, trust me for doing what he asks for!"
She took off all her clothes and then covered herself with fishing-nets. Then she timed her journey in the dusk of evening, which is neither called day nor night; and, third, she had the road covered with boards to walk on, so that she neither trod the high-road nor yet a by-path. In this way she came as she found best to the judge.
Delighted at seeing her pass the test so well, the judge married Katharina before the end of the month. There were great rejoicings at the wedding, but the judge made one condition: she should never interfere in any case brought before him in court, but let him settle cases and decide there.
Years passed by happily enough. The judge rejoiced more and more over being Katharina's husband, and she stuck to their deal and never interfered with her husband's dealings in the court.
Nevertheless, one day a peasant she had known since she was a little girl had a case before the judge, and the case did not go his way. Despairing, the peasant came to Katharina and begged her to give him one of those good counsels she had been so famous for at home earlier years.
Katharina did not want to break her promise to her husband, but the farmer persuaded her to it at last, and made him promise he would never tell anyone she had helped him.
The case was this. Her friend's herdsman had been visited in the night by a siren who promised to milk his cow for him. When a siren milks a cow, it gives three times more milk than usual, some people say. But the herdsman had only one milking-pail, and when the siren had milked his pail full, he to take a pail that belonging to another man in those pastures. The other herdsman swore that the milk in the second pail had been milked from one of his cows and refused to give it up, and would not be paid for the use of the pail.
Though the case had been argued in court since the morning. In a pause, the poor peasant sought Katharina's counsel to rescue his milk before it turned sour.
"There may be one way to outwit the owner of the other pail," said Katharina. "After the pause, seem indifferent about the result and say that perhaps the siren was a mischievous one and the milk she milked was bewitched, so that all who drank of it, as little as one drop of it, would be turned into donkeys. Then add, 'But of course, if your pailful is really the milk of your own cow, you have nothing to fear from drinking it.'"
The peasant had scarcely got back to the court when the case was called on again. He carried out the advice he had got, confounded his opponent, and the judge was pleased to see the end of such an enervating case.
A few minutes after the case was closed, thought, he came to suspect his own dear wife had anything to do with it. He called the peasant apart and made him confess who had helped him win the case.
The discovery made the judge angry, for his wife had broken her promise, and out of his house she must go, out of his sight.
Katharina tried to talk him out of it, but he only agreed to having one more dinner together with her, and that she should take away with her what she liked the most from their house.
Dinner-time came, and the judge would not yield. They sat down to a silent meal. As the time to say goodbye drew nearer he comforted himself with red wine..
Finally the steward came into the room. He was ready to drive Katharina to wherever she wanted, and had head she could take with her what she liked best, and offered to help her with it. Katharina thanked the man for it, and pointed to her husband, who now slumped senselessly in his seat without noticing anything. He had drunk too much wine.
The steward got the help of a couple of serving-men to place the judge safely in a lumbering old carriage. Katharina took her place beside him, and directed the steward to drive over one of the worst and most uneven roads in the neighbourhood. The shaking of the carriage soon woke up the sleeper. He was ashamed to ask his wife where they were. She sat by his side and said nothing.
At last he asked what all this meant.
Katharina in a few words reminded him of what he had decreed, and also reminded him of his promise that she might take with her what she liked best. Then, throwing her arms round him, asked him if there could be any doubt as to what that could be.
The judge saw she had once again got the better of him and said, "I should say we may start anew."
They drove back home to live together until they were old.
Everyone deserves his consideration. (Trentino)