There are causes and effects, actions and reactions. But “evil”? Evil is a chimera, a phantasm; it has about as much objective meaning as “hate,” which is another favorite term bandied about by politicians, media shills and other assorted pimps and whores of the establishment, all to their own purposes. What is “evil”? Is it predation? If so, then all of nature must therefore be a reeking quagmire of this metaphysical stuff, this “evil”; as all of nature is, essentially, predatory, locked in Darwinian struggle. When the State determines what is lawful, it determines what is “evil,” and thus, everything “evil” is only that which contravenes the interests of the State; which is only rooted in its own self-serving interests and need to propagate and maintain its power and coercion through brutality, force and violence. Thus, it will wield the very cudgel that, in another’s hands, it would decry as an instrument of “evil.” Hypocrites all.
Peter and Susie were walking along the weird, overgrown path, wondering at the purple plants and all the other strange things arrayed about them.
Since they had come to this enchanted place, this Valley of Kirk-Havens, or whatever the sign back there had said precisely (the letters seemed to keep shifting as they had tried to read them), they had seen no end to strange and unusual things; so many, in fact that, at one point, Susie had turned to Peter and said, “I do wish the rabbits wouldn’t babbit, and the snabbits wouldn’t crabbit, and the plants weren’t purple, and the grass would stand in one spot under your feet. For, the way everything around here is always shifting and snoozling, and sneezingly oozling, it fairly gives one a tummy ache trying to keep up with it all!”
Peter, who, under different circumstances, might have scolded his sister for coming up with nonsense words like “snoozling” and “oozling”, let the matter lie, as the world they had awoken to find themselves wandering (After falling asleep in the meadow reading a smashing great book of stories, all about knights and the like) seemed to be just the appropriate place for sneezing out a mouthful of nonsense words (like “snizzlepickle,” “snatbrat,” or “scrumcuddlyrumptious”…all of which, thought Peter, sounded like perfectly delicious words to him).
“It’s okay Sue. I suppose it’s something you just have to get use to if you find yourself lost here.”
Susan looked frightened suddenly.
“Then we are lost! Oh, whatever shall we do? It will be getting dark soon, and we’ll be hungry and cold, and Mother will miss us and be terribly worried and afraid!”
Peter frowned, leapt forward in front of her path, and wagged his finger.
“Don’t you go losing your head on me, Sue!”, he exclaimed, and then said, “We’ll find our way back out of this, soon. That is, if we aren’t simply having a huge, fantastic dream!” He stopped, put his finger to his bottom lip, and considered.
“Why, for all we know, right now, you or I are back home, cuddled up in bed, with visions of sugar plums and sweets taking a little break dancing around in our heads, waiting for Christmas morning and all the sugar plum cookies we ate last night to wear off. Pretty soon, we’ll be dreaming something merry and cheery, and forget all about this place, and it will be time to open our eyes–”
“And our presents?” Sue suddenly asked, brightening. Peter didn’t know if anything he just told his sister was true or not, but he thought it was better to have her cheery and smiling than gloomy and crying, and so he said, “Why, of course! You don’t think a bad dream can last forever, do you!”
Sue said, “Of course not!
And Peter replied, “Of course not!”
And then, as the wind shifted, and the woods grew darker, and the breeze seemed to carry odd laughter and tinkling music up and down the dark, twisting path, Peter peeped up and said, “Sue? Do you smell that?”
Sue raised her nose to the air and sniffed.
“Jam cake!” She said, her dark blue eyes brightening. “Why, I smell jam cake!”
Peter nodded his head, and agreed, saying, “Yea, and hot baked cross buns! And buttered scones!”
And Sue quickly added, “And lemon tarts!”
And Peter replied “And peach ice cream!”
And the children (who, if they weren’t merely dreaming, realized they had not had any food for hours) raced forward, following their noses.
Soon, they found themselves standing on the crest of a little hill, looking down into a hollow. At the bottom of the hollow nestled a little cottage.
“Hey, look! I bet you that’s where the delicious smell is coming from, Sue!”
And Sue said, “Sure enough! Why, I can smell it coming out in delicious waves of smell! I bet they’re cooking up a feast fit for a king inside. Say, Peter: do you think they would overmind so very much if we happened in on them, two little kids like us, and maybe, well, we COULD do the dishes or something in exchange for whatever we eat…”
Peter looked at his sister, half annoyed, and half frightened at the prospect of going up to a strange door, in a strange land, and begging to be let in for dinner. Plus, “overmind” was another of the little words she was always making up, so that following what she said often became a spot of bother. Little wonder her nickname was “Miss Malaprops.”
“Well, well I suppose you’re right, Sue! But, at any rate, if we don’t at least ask them, we’ll starve to death out here! Of course, they could be crazy people, or even hideous trolls or monsters–”
And Sue, upon hearing this, put her hands to her mouth and exclaimed, “Oh no, don’t say that!”
Peter frowned. “Well,” he stated matter-of-factly, “it’s true. We don’t know that they are, but they COULD be!” He paused for a moment, shuffled his feet, puffed out his lower lip, and said, “Well, I guess since I’m the oldest one, and a boy, it falls on me to go up and knock! You wait here, just in case–”
And Sue almost squeaked out, “Just in case WHAT?” in mounting fear and terror; but, somehow, she found her voice catching in her throat.
Peter went up to the door, his little heart hammering in his throat. He was amused to note that the door was perfectly round, and green, with all sorts of lovely and weird flowers painted on it in bright colors. In the center, of course, was a little round brass knob.
Above this was a knocker, designed to look like a ring in a boar’s snout. He put his fingers to it (they were shaking a bit, to be perfectly honest), and he made three stout raps and then waited. It seemed as if he waited there a long, long time, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
Finally, after what seemed like a terribly long, long period of time, he could hear some shuffling and wheezing from behind the door. His heart began to race a little in anticipation. Then, the wooden door began to squeak and squeal open, with a shuddering shriek of rusted hinges and creaking wood, and, standing there, half hidden in the dark, was the form of a bent, crooked old crone, with a long crooked nose. (And, of course, with a wart on the tip.)
She stood in the doorway wheezing and puffing for awhile, her seamed, wrinkled and warty face working in consternation and puzzlement. Hoarsely, she spat out, “Well? What in the world do you want?”
Peter fidgeted, his hands in his pockets. Behind him, Sue looked as if she might burst out bawling. Peter then worked up the courage to speak.
“Oh, Missus, you must help us! My sister and I have taken a wrong turn somewhere, and gotten ever-so-lost in this strange, wonderful country. We smelled the delicious smell of tea and blackberry jam as we were walking past, and we thought that you might see fit to give a slice of bread and jam to us!”
At this, the old woman fidgeted and fadgeted, and scratched her noggin, and shook her head a little warily, rolling her eyes and twisting her face up into a look that rendered it almost inscrutable. (And, as ugly as it was, it was a darn hard thing to try and make out, really, just what in the world was going on beneath the flowing mop of greyish hair atop her head, to be perfectly honest.)
“Oh, well, come on in, the both of you! But, be quick about it! It’s sundown, soon…”
Peter didn’t know what she meant by that, but he and Susie went, a little cautiously, through the round little door and into the kitchen, which was rather clean and neat, but which, weirdly seemed to lean one way, and then another, the walls seeming…off somehow. In fact, a person really couldn’t tell, exactly, just how the walls intersected or held together.
“Oh Missus,” said Peter, his thumb on his lower lip. “These walls are so very peculiar!”
And the old woman said, “Why, what on earth could you possibly mean?”
And Peter scratched his head, and fidgeted around, tossing the weight of his body on one foot and then the other. Finally he said, “Well, Missus, it’s just that the walls seem…funny to me. It seems they are off, somehow.”
“Off,” said the old woman, her voice a rasping croak. “How do you mean off?”
“Well,” said Peter, scratching his chin, “it’s just that, they don’t seem to join together at proper angles, and it confuses the eyes. I mean, one wall seems to join up with the other over here, which is ALL wrong, and then when you blink or get a different perspective, it seems to join up with that one over there. And, at first, it seems to lean this-a-way, and that wall, fer instance, seems to lean that-a-way; but then you blink again, or shift around a bit and find out that you were completely wrong. Wrong. Wrong.”
And Peter thrust his hands into his pockets with a little “humph” of consternation.
The old woman considered a moment, casting her gaze about the crazily leaning walls and doors, and the dipping and rolling ceiling, before blowing air through her puffed-up cheeks and exclaiming, “Stuffin’ nonsense!”
Susie came up behind Peter cautiously, but then, sliding one of the kitchen chairs across the rickety, uneven wooden floor, she exclaimed, “Oh, whatever you’re baking smells so frightfully, frightfully good, Missus! Why, it smells like gooseberry pie! Why, it’s been so dreadfully long since we’ve had supper, and it’s almost time for tea, and, my gosh!” Susie scrunched her little face up into a pitiful state, managed a tear or two, and said, “Might we not have a taste of your so-delicious pie?”
The ugly old woman cogitated a moment before slapping her open palms against her apron, smiling a toothless smile, and exclaiming, “Oh, my yes! Missy! My, where are my manners! Here, I’ll just be a moment.”
And, before either of them knew it, the old woman had opened a creaking round door into the kitchen, revealing a quaint little sideboard stacked with tea kettle, saucers and cups, and a truly MASSIVE iron stove, so big it seemed to almost fill the entire little room. The front of the stove looked, for all the world, like an angry iron face.
The old woman rustled around a few moments, her bum stuck in the air, before emerging again with a silver tea service and setting it carefully on the table.
Then, she went back through the creaking door. Peter and Susie could hear her huff and puff and strain, but, soon, she emerged from the kitchen with the most ENORMOUS gooseberry pie either Peter or Susie had EVER seen in their lives. The two kids goggled at each other in stupefied wonderment.
The old woman carried the thing over her head with two hands, heaving and straining and sweating before setting it down on the little table (which, on the whole didn’t look large enough to hold it, or even sturdy enough); she then took out two comically little plates and forks, asking Peter and Sue if they wanted a slice of cheese on top–but then, putting her finger to her chin in a quizzical manner, she said to herself, “Oh, oh my no. I guess not. I fed it all to the mouse of the house. He gets so dreadfully hungry and fed-up just nibbling away at the cheese crumbs, old bits of stale bread and the woodwork and whatnot, I felt rather bad for him. So I gave him some of the smelly cheese. Oh, never fear: you wouldn’t have liked it anyway; it stank to high heaven…Phew!”
And, as if to demonstrate, the old woman put her fingertips to her nose and squeezed. Peter and Sue both began to devour their square sections of gooseberry pie, ravenously hungry both.
The two kids both tried to fill their tea cups. But, to their shock and amazement, the little things quite quickly took legs and skittered up the wall! The tea itself went gushing after, trying as best as it could to land its wet bottom in the terrified porcelain cups. Peter and Sue looked at the old woman quizzically.
She laughed, and waved her hand as if to shoo away their doubts and wonder.
“Oh, don’t mind them, children. Happens around here all the time. Why, them cups is scared half to death of that hot burbling tea! Afraid it will burn them good and proper. And it would!
“So the tea kettle and tea goes chasing the cups, and the saucers join in because they must, simply MUST have someone sit on them to keep them company.
Don’t you pay it no nevermind!” Lacking anything to say to that, Sue and Peter looked at each other like baffled little orphans before turning to their food again.
It was not long after that a weird, snorting and scuffling sound could be heard coming from the overgrown yard outside.
Sue looked up from her plate through one of the weird, crooked windows that looked out on the dark, weed-choked backyard. She patted brother Peter on the arm.
“Oh Peter! Lookity-look-look-look!”
There were a troop of weird little men marching, single file, across the wide expanse of yard. Each seemed to be wearing an identical little suit, each had their perfectly slicked, black hair parted down the middle and combed over side to side, and each had a terribly ugly, gnome-like little face. As a matter of fact, thought Susie to herself, they quite look like gnomes if one gets right down to it!
These were the sounds that seemed to be emerging from outside, as the strange little line of dwarfs came up to the crazily-leaning backdoor. The door was then thrust open (it seemed to hang precariously from the hinges), and the little troop of strange men came pounding in with their terrible heavy-soled, hobnailed boots banging on the floor.
“Hi Ma!” said the first.
“Hi Ma!” croaked the second.
“Hi Ma!” wheezed the third, and on and on as they entered.
There were maybe two dozen of them, all remarkably similar, all very small and grunting and wheezing and stamping and snorting as they went. They all came through the door, still single-file, like a troupe of overgrown infants; and, as each of them entered, they all said, in the same croaking grunt, “Hi Ma!” one after another.
Ma nodded pleasently, a toothless smile crossing her face. Seemingly from out of nowhere, a huge table and chairs was produced, and the place where Sue and Peter was sitting eating was swept out of sight. The boys, all of them, sat down their grubby mits at the table, while Ma went around, scolding them, calling them “Damned little piglets!” and wiping behind their ears with a damp sponge.
“Look at them! Will you just look at them? D-mned little piglets every one! Think they’d bother washing their filthy little hands before they come in to dinner? Think so? Why, of course they don’t! D-mned little oinkers!”
Suddenly, Ma threw up her hands in the air, causing her apron to flutter up to her surprised face. “Oh! The soup is burning!” she exclaimed.
As she rushed into the kitchen. her strange little sons soon began to pass out the plates from a strange little cupboard which Peter and Sue hadn’t seen before. They set the table, and Ma set the huge soup kettle on the table, which sent the plates and spoons rattle-clattering, and the table skittering a bit.
She ladled out heaping hot bowls full, passing each bowl back across the line of her weird, dwarfish little troupe. She then went to retrieve a loaf. Peter and Sue were also offered a bowl, but Peter was woozy and full from all the gooseberry pie, and Sue didn’t quite like the smell of the stuff. So they both said no.
The piggish sons bent their noses into their bowls, and each began to slurp and slurp, with soup running down their chins, and some snorted as they sucked soup up through their nostrils occasionally; and some stopped to belch, long and loud and free, and rather rudely, considering they were all still sitting at the table.
The old woman bounded back into the kitchen for the bread and jam. She brought both out, heaving and puffing and huffing under the weight of the heaviest and largest jam pot either Peter or Susie had ever seen.
“There, you little piggies,” she said, wiping her greasy jam hands, dripping with butter, on her apron. “Now, I hope you and your filthy fingers are all satisfied!”
The boys fell upon the bread, not bothering to use the knife, but pulling sweet handfuls of the huge loaf (Peter and Sue could not yet see how such an immense pot of jam, loaf of bread, and kettle of soup could all fit on such a tiny table; but, as the walls and floors also seemed curiously out-of-whack, they should probably not have wondered too much.) out and stuffing it in their gobs.
Soon, the boys were belching and rubbing their big bellies in contentment. One boy piped up, “Shnat! Shnat! do something what entertains us as we let our food crawl around our guts!”
To which was replied: “Shprat, I’m too derned stuffed to even get up out of my seat! Bolger, Bolger ain’t there a song ye keed sing, or a tune whistle, to keep us all entertained while the soup sloshes around in out bellies?”
To which Bolger replied: “Nah, Molger! Tis too early for whistling and too late to sing! Anyway, I’m fair fit to be tied! Fit to be tied, I tells ya! Duffle, can’t you come up with something to keeps our guesteses entertained?”
To which Duffle replied, “Aye, Fluffle, I think I’ve got just the thing. Oh, Willwee! Williewee, my dear…”
And he approached the littlest brother, and put his arm on his back, and said, “Why don’t you show ’em that gooseberry pie trick you showed us at three-thirty on the a and ’em yesterday? Fair kept us in stitches for forty-five minutes, twelve seconds…” and, considering a moment, he raised one finger and added, “and a hair and a click!”
And with that Williwee got up, and, dusting off his trousers, swooped over to Sue’s half full plate of gooseberry pie; and, greasing his hands and feet down with the delicious filling, and blossoming up his puffy cheeks with the stuff, began to skate around on the wooden floor, trailing a slug trail of black gooseberry filling behind him.
He’d skate by on one foot, and skate by on another, holding his leg behind him as he went, doing circles and somersaults and leaving a sluggish gooseberry trail of slime in his wake. This spectacle was greeted by shouts and claps and cheers from the other sons, and wonderment from Peter and Sue, who each stared at the spectacle other with faces agoggle.
“Why it gets madder and madder every minute here!” exclaimed Sue.
“Yes, most curious, isn’t it? As if we’ve really fallen down the rabbit hole, like Alice.” Peter tsk-tsked like a grownup, almost in disapproval.
“Yes,” retorted Sue again. “A real life, Alice in Wonderland hole in the ground!”
Ma came blundering, with her big, huffy bulk, out of the kitchen; and, when she saw the sort of mess that Williewee was making of the floor, threw her hands in the air and exclaimed, “Tarnations, boy, look what you’re doing to my nice clean floors! Why, I’ve a mind to make you scrub it all up with your tie! Now, stop that! Stop it right now!”
But no sooner had she taken a step forward when, her heavy feet caught in the slug-like trail of gooseberry innards, she began to slip and slide.
She jerked this-a-way, and that-a-way, flailing her arms out and sending black splatters of gooseberry all over everything, and saying to herself, “Oh dear!”
and “Oh my!”, and even, “How arfully, bleedin’ undignified!” But, wonder of wonders, the woman and her great bulk managed to keep their balance (although, truth be told, a few of her sons surrounded her, their arms out thrust, in terror of her falling and not being able to get back up!).
Soon, she righted herself, and managed to say, “Well, it’s too messy is all. Going to take all day and night to clean these floors!” And she snapped her fingers imperiously.
“You, Fadget! Fetch the mop! And you, Dadget! get the bucket!”
She held her old crooked fingers out, then turned her attention back to Peter and Sue.
“As for you two…well…” She rubbed her hairy chin. “I suppose we DO have to make sure you’re nice and entertained until it is time for you to leave. Now, anyone have any idea how we should go about doing that?”
The sons ambled around for a moment, muttering amongst themselves, scratching their oily headed, slicked-down hair, seemingly without a solid idea of how this could be done. Finally, one of them piped up, exclaiming, “I know, I know!”
Ma put her fists on her hips and, leaning over to meet his gaze, asked, “What?”
“Well gussie up the gander and lay claim of the goose!”
And Ma considered this a moment, her face twisting up into a pretzel of consternation. After a few moments, she replied: “No. No, I don’t think that will do at all.”
Another son then piped up, “We’ll mollify the Mock Turtle as it meanders in the mire!”
To which Ma retorted: “Oh! Do come on! Can’t any of you think of any better ideas than that?”
And then yet another son piped up and said, “We’ll scrutinize the scrutable! We’ll dutify the dutiful! We’ll magnify the beautiful! We’ll multiply the fruitable! We’ll…”
Ma threw up her hands in exasperation, her apron fluttering upaward as she did so.
“Oh, now I’ve heard everything! None of these darned ideas are worth a plug nickel in a brass bucket. Oh, my, I thought I raised all of you better than that!”
Then she considered, putting one knobby old finger to her chin. She turned to Peter and Sue, who were sitting at table still, a little sleepy, but quite amused for all of that.
“I suppose we’ll ask you two. Now, Petey and Susie, what sort of things do you two like to do? What do you think of as fun?”
And Sue and Peter both scrunched up their faces in consideration. Why, they seemed to say to each other with their eyes, we enjoy all sorts of things and find them to be fun; but, seeing as how we don’t have our jump rope, or toy soldiers, our jacks or badmitton set handy, we certainly are at a loss as to how we could manage to have fun right here, right now.
And then Peter said, “Well, Sue and I, sometimes, when we’re alone in the treehouse, and the wind is blowing, and the sky is darkling, and the lark is larkling, we like to…we like to…”
“Tell fairy tales!” Sue suddenly chimed in.
Peter’s face brightened.
“Yeah, that’s the ticket! Why, Sue and I just love to tell those old stories. ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella.’ Mum use to lull us to sleep with them when we were wee little tots!”
A huge grin stretched across Ma’s face at hearing this, and she clasped her gnarled old hands together and exclaimed, “Why, what a wonderful Idea! And, you know: my boys are just chock-full of old tales to tell, great stories they share with each other on those long, hot days when they are down in the peppermint mines!”
Sue exclaimed, “Peppermint mines?”
“Yes,” answered Ma. “They’re very near the butterscotch lakes. Now, all of my boys know a tale or two, so if you’ll just settle in by the fire…”
And, before Peter or Sue could even be surprised by this, they saw, as if by magic, a crackling fire and a pleasant hearth in the far wall of that very strange house; though, said Sue later, she was certain it had not been there before.
Regardless, everyone settled around the fire, and Ma said:
“Now, I’m off to the kitchen to make tea and scones. You chaps keep our little guests entertained while I’m away. Ahem.”
And with that she disappeared. There was a long moment of silence, as if, silently, the sons were communicating who was to go first at storytelling. Then, one slowly opened his mouth and began to speak.
Bub and Dub Taylor went out on the porch, Bub Talor lighting the wet end of an old cigar. Bub smelled terrible, as always. But he never spent much time with anyone except his brother and the old woman that owned the farm, so he hardly cared.
They walked across the yard to the old field adjacent, grabbing their pitchforks as they went. Mighty lot of hay to bail this afternoon. Dub looked up in the sky.
“Say Bub,” them sure are some mighty strange-looking birds what’s flying up there! You see ’em?”
Bub stopped, put his hand above his eyes to shade them from the sun, and said, “Nah, I don’t see nothin’! It’s all in your head! Now, get to work. You want to be out here come sun down?”
The two started bailing the hay. One turned his back to the other to pitch the hay, and then the other did likewise. Peter and Susie continued to fall, fall, fall, faster and faster, from the sky. Dub kept a shady eye on them,a s he still thought them some species of strange, flapping bird.
In one split second when they both had their back turned, Peter and Sue came plummeting down into the huge hay stack; which, broke their fall, and good thing it did. Otherwise, they’d have a lot of broken bones to heal.
Bub Taylor turned around and started to thrust his pitchfork into the haystack.
“Wait! Stop! Don’t!”
Bub’s heart was thrust into his throat, and he reeled backward, dropping his fork.
Dub stood stock-still in terror. Two strange figures, both covered in hay, climbed slowly from the haystack, and Dub Taylor suddenly exclaimed, “Martians! I swar it’s Martians, Bub! Come down to haunt us!”
Soon, the two little surprises in the haystack had cleaned themselves off, and Bub Taylor swiped his brother across the arm with his hat.
“Quieten down, you idjit!” he spat. “Can’t you see it’s just Master Peter and little Sue?”
The children’t aunt was watching all of this curiously from the front porch. At seeing her two lost little lambs emerge from the haystack, she picked up her apron and skirts, and clicking her heels, ran across the yard to sweep them into her arms.
“Oh, oh you dear little lost lambs! You’re home again! You’re really home again”
“Oh yes, Auntie, we are! And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be at home again!”
Once upon a time there was a poor girl from a poor family, living in a very poor village at the edge of a vast barren plain. This girl was cursed from birth, it would seem, for, whenever the clock struck the hour of half-past-noon, her body would begin to shake and tremble, and jars of jelly would fly from the shelves, and pots of butter would crack, and the thatch of the roof would come cascading down, and plaster would peel from the walls.
“Oh, woe is me,” thought the girl to herself, “for I have been cursed to have a fit of trembles, every day, at half-past-noon; and so I will never marry, for if I grasped my husband at half-past-noon, I would tremble and shake, and break the bones in his precious body. Likewise, I can never have children, as at half-past-noon, just as I am to feed them their bottles, or spoon them their curds and whey, I will have another fit of trmebles, and shake the milk from the bottle, and splash and splosh the curds and whey all over the floor and ceiling!”
And with that, she began to cry, and soon she became so discosolate that her father implored her mother to do something.
“Alas,” said the mother. “There is nought that can be done, my husband. For, when I was pregnant, I went to the witch woman, for thou hast said I should bare a daughter, like as not, as I had, hitherto, borne only sons. And so I went to the woman and asked, ‘Oh, couldst thou not use thy sorceries to ensure I bare a daughter now, instead of the sons I have givern birth to hitherto?’
“And she replied, ‘Why, the thing is simplicity itself!’ And passing her wand over my belly, she spake an incantation, and throwing sea salt and baby’s breath into the air in a pinch, said, ‘It is accomplished!’ Then she said, ‘There is just one thing! Thou must needs leave one dram of goat’s milk and two of cream at thy doorr every night for a fortnight, six months after the babe is born. You must do this every night, and NEVER FORGET, lest ill-tidings fall upon thee!’ And with that, I knew that the thing had been accomplished, and so I left.
“Oh my husband, how I would delight in telling thee I did the thing she asked without fail! Alas, it was not to be! For, as the babe was born, and was our delightful daughter, I grew petty and forgetful, and likened the birth to something, anything but the incantations of the olde witch. I wanted so badly to forget that I had relied on her strange spells, that I soon was lax in leaving out the dram of milk and two of cream, and clean forget them several nights in a row.
“Well, I began to feel afraid, so I started putting them out again. And I thought, my husband, that this should be sufficient in mollifying the old witch. But, one day, while I was slaving for thee in the kicthen, a terrible gust of wind and a smelly smoke wafted up from nowhere; and, who should I see therein, but the terrible form of the old witch herself!
“Her face gleamed with a terrible rage, and she exclaimed, ‘Curses upon thee! thou wast instructed, as per our agreement, that thou shouldst leave for me one dram of milk and two of cream at thy door, every night, for a fortnight, as payment for the infant wench; and did I not, likewise warn thee, if thou shouldst fail to do so, a curse would fall upon thee, so that thou wouldst rend thy garb, and tear thy hair, and curse the day of thy birth?”
“And, fallimg to my knees, I implored her, with upraised, folded hands, as if to heaven, to forgive my impudence, and spare me her wrathe.
“Alas, she would have none of it. Instead, her eyes became blazing coals, and her face a hideous, death-like mask; and heaving to and fro, and smoke flying out her nostrils, she shrieked, ‘I curse thee, thou impudent old wretch, that thy newborn suckling shall have not a day of rest, nor a moment of peace, all the days of her life; instead, she shall tremble and quake ere the coming of midday, when the devil is let loose to walk with earthly feet!’
“And with that, oh my husband, she disappeared in a cloud of reeking smoke.
Well, I cursed my ignorance, and gnashed my teeth, and pulled my hair, and rent my garment fore certain; but, these things were to no avail. For, ever since the fateful day, our daughter has trembled and shaken so that the dishes fall from the shelves, the Bible flaps open like a huge brown bird, the boards of the house crack and creak, the floorboards moan and cry in pain, and the mouth of stove flies open like a snuffling iron snout. Oh, husband, whatever are we to do?”
Well, the husband was most disturbed by all of this. So he paced the floors for a few hours, pulling thoughtfully at his pipe, before exclaiming, “I shall have to take her away, deep, deep into the forest, and leave her for the animals.
For, we cannot very well have her here, where she causes the dishes to fly from the shelves and shatter, the Bible to flap like a bird, the plaster to chip and moan, the floorboards to groan, and the stove to shudder and frown! Come, now, and say your goodbyes!”
And the woman was beside herself with griwf. But, realizing that what the husband said was true, she quickly got hold of herself and, taking a kerchief from the cupboard, wrapped for her daughter some bread and cheese, and then told her, “I am sending all the luck I have in the world with you, though, as you cna see by looking around you, that isn’t much!”
And, weeping madly, she fell to her knees, beating her fists on the floor as the husband lead his poor daughter away to abandon her in the forest; where, he surely must know, she would never be eaten alive by the wolves.
Well, the strange duo journeyed high and low. They walked by night, and rested by day. Soon, as they were deep in the forest, down a lonely trail, the man realized it was midday. He said, “Oh, we should not tarry here long, for, we are standing under an acorn tree, and thou art about to be taken with a fit of trembles!”
As if in reply, the unfortunate daughter suddenly began to shake and tremble so violently that the ground felt as if it were moving beneath them. The trees above them, heavy with acorns, suddenly began to rain them down, and the father exclaimed, as squirrels and birds began to fall from the trees,”Come, before we are pelted to death with acorns, or have chipmunks fall upon our brows!” And so they ran down the path, arm in arm, but, before long, they were met with the presence of Tom the Cotter.
Tom said, “Lo, I have traveled high and low, looking for a wife to bear my children and be my mate. And, just a few moments ago, as I traveled, I could feel the ground rumble beneath me, and the trees shake like fingers above me, and I know that I had received a sign from the Lord above!”
And with that, the girl’s father, suddenly realizing the opportunity he had been granted here, said, “Yes, indeed, “’tis a sign from above. Here, take my fine daughter to be the wife of your youth. For, is she not comely and young, prim and demure, and will she not bear thee stout children, and be a good woman and friend?”
And Tom the Cotter said, “Oh, indeed, she is a fine lass to behold! Why, I think she’ll do quite nicely!”
And so, without further ceremony, the young woman was lead off to be married to Tom the Cotter.
After the wedding, as the young woman was being placed in her new position as mistress of the house, Tom the Cotter was home from the fields one day, taking his lunch, when the clock struck noon.
He was amazed to see his wife begin to tremble uncontrollably, shaking violently, so that the dishes fell from the shelves above, the dog hid behind the bureau in terror, the windows cracked in their frames, the plaster fell from the walls, the boards fell from the ceiling, and Tom the Cotter fell from his chair!
“Alas!” he cried, “what deviltry is this?”
And, turning to her new husband shamefully, the woman implored him, “Oh, good my husband, thou hast been decieved most dreadfully. For, I am a woman suffering under the dreaded curse of an ancient witch, who has burdened me grievously! For an imagined slight she has made it so that, at noonday every day, I am took with a ‘fit of trembles,’ so that I shake with such violence that all standing anywhere near me are effected by it!”
Upon hearing this the new husband was wroth; but, straightway divining what he must do, he took the wife by the hand and, leading her out the door, went through the forest until, passing by the shop of Stuart the Smithy, stopped when he heard, “Ho! Who is it leads such a fair and comely maiden outside my door at noon of the clock?”
And to this Tom the Cotter replied, “Oh, ’tis but an errand I am on.” And, introducing his wife, the Cotter said, “Takest thou this woman for thy helpmeet? For, she is a lax and lazy dullard, and her I cannot abide!”
And upon saying this, Tom the Cotter quickly turned and fled back through the forest. (And, after so humiliating himself, he must have decided to move on to another hamlet, for he was never seen in those parts again.)
Well, seeing how beautiful and comely the fine but unfortunate trembling daughter was, he opened wide his door, and said, “Comest thou inside, and be mine helpmeet, oh daughter of Eve. For, I am a lonely smithy, and am wanton, and thus, must have a wife.”
And with that she entered. But, seeing as how it was midday, soon the terrible change began to come over her. Her body began to shake, and tremble, and soon the hammers and saws and instruments of iron began to rattle and shake on the walls.
The Smithy became outraged. “Oh thou miserable and tortured wretch! I cannot keep thee as my wife. Why, to do so would destroy everything in my shop, and ruin me, and would cause me to pull down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave! I’ll have to throw thee out of doors to wander, alone and disconsolate as Demeter looking for Persephone!”
And the Smithy began to move forward. But, before he could reach her to throw her out of doors, the trembling and shaking disloged a heavy iron hammer where it hung from the wall.
It came crashing down on the poor Smithy’s head, sending him reeling back into the fire of his own forge! His head exploded in a ball of flame!
Fearing for her life, Trembles ran screaming from the Smithy shop. She flew through the forest as fast as her legs could carry her, her arms flung above her head, until, stumbling over a craggy bit of rock, she went tumbling, head first, into a sodden bundle of old rags.
To her astonishment, the rags jumped up and yelled.
She sat back heavily on the ground. Getting up before her was the dirtiest, foulest-looking man she had ever seen. His hair was matted and filthy, his beard was long and scraggly, and his body was covered in smelly rags that looked as if they might badly itch. This was Vincent the Vagrant, the village idiot.
“Howdee doo, missy?” said Vernon, beating the dust from his trouser legs. As she looked up into his craggy, care-worn, sunblasted face, Trembles could see that the man had only a few teeth left in his head. His smile, nonetheless, was oddly infectious. She began to smile too.
“Missy, I see that you’re a feller down on his luck, just as am I. Come! We’ll sit on yonder wall together, facing the passersby. And we’ll hoot, and we’ll holler, and we’ll beg bread, and we’ll beg cheese, and they’ll throw tomatoes and raw eggs; and if they aren’t too rotten, we can eat our fill of those.”
And so, starving as she was, she decided to join Vincent atop the wall. All day long they wailed like banshees, and clucked like chickens, and barked like dogs, and crowed like roosters, and grunted like pigs, and generally, played the daft fools so well that disgusted travelers, when passing by, would,
indeed, throw eggs and acorns, tomatoes and old, rotten fruit. Occasionally, too, children passed in little gangs to tease and throw rocks.
Whenever food was thrown, in between throwees, Vincent would climb down from the wall and collect the boiled eggs and old raspberries, and acorns, and half-rotted tomatoes, and gather them in his apron, and then the two of them would eat. But, thought Trembles, it is, none of it, very good.
All the same, she was happy enough to have it.
Well, everything was going along swimmingly until the next day, when noontime came. Then, Trembles began to shake and tremble as always, and the wall that her and Vincent the Vagrant sat on began to crumble and sway.
“Oh my!” exclaimed Vincent. “Young lady, this is no good. No good at all! Why are you doing that? You must quit doing that!”
But it was too late, for the wall soon came tumbling down, dashed into smithereens. Clouds of dust flew upward, and Trembles coughed to clear it from her throat.
When the dust had finally settled, she was amazed to see a little knot of villagers gathered around.
“Look!” one of them exclaimed, pointing, “Vincent the Vagrant! Why, HE’S DEAD!”
A little tow-headed boy with snot dribbling from his chin stepped forward and excaimed, pointing, “She did it! She killed him! I saw it all!”
“It’s Trembles,” excalimed another. “She’s cursed!”
“She starts to tremble and shake, and things fly all over the place, as if there is an earthquake.”
And, so, not knowing exactly how best to deal with trembles, the mob of villagers quickly bound her head and foot, and the Burgomaster, a rather fat, pompous and stupid fellow, exclaimed, “Come! We’ll imprison her in the old stone tower in the middle of the cursed, thorny vines! Then, if she is guilty, she will be eaten by the ogre.”
And one man peeped out, “What if she is innocent?”
The Burgomaster considered a moment, putting his fat finger to his wobbly chin, and then said, “Then, surely, she will not be eaten. Instead, she may jump down from the tower window, and thus find the mercy she was denied in life.”
And another villager said,’But…but if she jumps she’ll be killed!”
To which the Burgomaster replied, “That, my friend, is no business of mine!”
And so they carted Trembles off to the stone tower, which rose great and grey and grim in the center of a huge forest of thorny bushes and vines. (How, precisely, they got her to the tower, and inside, without having to pass through the forest of murderous thorns, we are not told. Rest assured, however, the thing was accomplished.)
Trembles sat in the uppermost room of the tower, weeping. She was cold and hungry and alone, and knew that she would, most assuredly, die here, alone and unloved. Soon, she heard heavy steps outside, and the heavy wooden door suddenly flew open.
Standing there, horrible beyond horrible, with bald, peeling head, red eyes, blazing lips, huge, tusk-like teeth, filthy beard, ragged clothes, and hobnailed boots, was the Ogre, who lived in the tower, having been banished here by magic spells, many years ago.
“You!” he growled, pointing one filthy, scaly, crooked, claw-like fingernail at her. “Don’t go thinking you’re gonna sit around here all day weeping and wailing and not doing any work! No! Thou shalt earn thy keep by the sweat of thy brow! Seest thou that spinning wheel, yonder?”
And, spittle flying out his mouth, the Ogre pointed his crooked, filthy, claw-like finger at the wheel; which, as it was really the only other item in the room, was rather hard to miss.
Trembles nodded tearfully. Beside the wheel was a huge pile of flax.
“Thou shalt toil day and night, spinning this magic wheel, spinning this flax into gold! And thou durst not ever cease, for I’ll be coming up here to make certain thou art working most dilligently. And if thou shirkest thy toil, I shall grind thy bones to powder, and thy flesh to clay, and eat thee for dinner that night!”
And with that the foul, reeking Ogre blew out the door. Weeping bitterly at her sorry lot in life, Trembles sat at the spinning wheel and began to spin the flax, which she was amazed to see actually did turn to long, ropy strands of gold as she worked.
“Oh, wailings and lamentations! MIsery and hardship seem to be my lot in life! Whatever shall I do? For, if I work ceaselessy spinning flax into gold, I shall surely drop dead from exhaustion, hunger or thirst! Bit, if I stop, the Ogre will find out, and he’ll grind my bones, and drink my blood, and bake me in an oven, and turn me into stew!”
And she began to weep loudly and long,. And she wept all the night through.
That morning, just before dawn, a young nobleman came riding by on his noble steed, when he heard the tears and imprecations of the so-distressed damsel.
“Hark!” he exclaimed, cupping his hand with his ear. “Methinks me hears the sorrowful tears of some distressed damsel, some unmerry maiden who requires the immediate attention of a strapping young palladin to come to her aid in her hour of distress?”
And, following the sound of her weeping, and the plop-plop of her copious tears on the stones below her window, the young nobleman used his sharpest dirk to cut a path through the thorny brambles; although, to be honest, it was damn hard work, he was stuck more than once, bled all over his sharp, expensive leather jerkin, and carefully avoided looking at the hanging skeletons of men who had braved the thorny jungle before and had not survived. Finally, dripping with sweat, sore and bleeding, the young nobleman stood beneath the high window of Trembles.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Why weepest thou so, oh sweet and bounteous young maiden? Dost thou not know that in Spring the roses bloom, and the trees grow full, the snow melts and the weather brightens? Happiness waxes and weariness wanes.
Wealth increases, and merriment reigns?”
But, alas, the poor maiden could not halt the flow of her tears. She exclaimed, choking on her sobs, “Oh, my Lord! I am a poor unfortunate girl held captive here for a crime she did not commit. Now I am doomed to spend the rest of my days spinning flax into gold, lest the ogre of this foul tower keep come and gobble me up straigtways. Og, coudst thou not see fit, oh brave and noble man, to climb up this golden spun flax, as if it were a sort of rope, and rescue a maiden sore beset in this cruel world, plagued by one terrible tragedy after another!”
And, upon saying this, Trmebles threw down a knotted rope of spun gold, affixing the other end to a hook in the wall opposite. (The hook was, most likely, used to chain up prisoners in the terror in years gone by.)
She then went back to the window and called down.
“There my Lord! It is really quite strong and secure. I think that thou shalt surely not fall and tumble to thy death if thou dost climb to my rescue. But, do hurry! The hour grows late, and something tells me the ogre comes!”
And, never having seen a maiden quite so lovely as Trembles, the handsome young nobleman grabbed onto the golden rope, and slowly and carefully began to make his ascent. He huffed and he puffed, and he was already quite tired from having to have had to cut his way through the thorny brambles.
“Oh, my Lord! Dost thou come?” asked Trembles, cautiously. The young nobleman answered in the affirmative, exclaiming, “Never fear thou miserable maid! I shall be there in one, two, three shakes of a horse’s tail!”
Finally, sweating and heaving, and scratched and bleeding from head to foot, the young nobleman climbed up to the window, seated himself on the ledge, and finally entered the tower room in a bleeding, filthy heap.
“Oh!” exclaimed Trembles in exultation. “Oh my handsome, brave and bold savior! Come to me! I want to throw my arms around you and smother you in kisses!”
But, before she could do this, the door of the tower room blew open; and, standing there, smoke blowing from his nostrils and his eyes blazing in fire, was the Ogre!
He pointed his clawed fingers at the two, and yelled, “You think to escape me, is that it? You shall not, I swear. leave this tower alive!”
The vicious Ogre flew forward, his teeth bared and his claws gripping a heavy hammer with which to crush his enemies. The young nobleman was prepared for this , though, and, with a speed and strength that Trembles could not have believed he posssessed, he drew his sword and, with a magnificent swing, chopped the charging Ogre into two bloody, horrible halves (so that one half of him fell one way, and one half the other).
Trembles, who had been holding her breath in terror, said, ‘Oh, my, thou hast slain the most terrible Ogre, oh my Lord! I did not think, truly, that the thing were possible! But, come, let us now leave this terrible, terrible stone tower, and be away!”
“Yes,” said the young nobleman. “I shall make thee my wife, and thou shalt bear me a son, an heir to my fortune and lands. We both shall live ever after–happily. Now, come, it is almost midday…”
But, at hearing that it was almost midday, the unfortunate Trmebles suddenly remembered her curse. Her heart caught in her throat as her body began to shake horribly. Suddenly, the force of her shaking was so powerful that the stones of the tower began to fall from the ceiling and wall, and the tower bgan to wobble first one way, then another.
The shaking and trembling then brought the tower crashing down, killing the two young romantics within, before they even had a chance to truly be in love.
“Oh my!” cried Sue. “That was terrible! Terrible! Terrible ! You’re a horrible, horrible person, Peter Sampson, and I hope your life is like one long winter which never finds Spring!”
And she folded her arms across her chest, puffing her bottom lip out in defiance. Peter laughed, shrugged, and looked far, far below them.
“Sorry if my story upset you, Sue. But, hey, look, it’s out house! Down below! And Bub Drubb, bailing hay!”
Once, there was a rhino, a crocodile and a flea. The three animals were all sunning themselves at the edge of the swamp when they got into a bitter argument.
“I,” declared the Rhino, “am, without any doubt, the grandest and most powerful of all the beasts. And so, I should be king of the swamplands!”
To this, the Crocodile replied, “No, sorry old timer, but it is I who am greatest of all the great animals of the swamp. For I can stalk my prey quietly, buried half in the muck, and steal upon them stealthily, and then I can devour them with ease!”
But, to this, the rhinocerous grew indignant. Puffing out his chest and thrusting his horn in the air, he exclaimed, “Thou fool, what good is it to have iron jaws and stealthy tread against one who, by simply rolling over upon thee, can crush thee flat into the earth?”
And, not knowing how to answer this, the Crocodile said nothing. Just then the Flea, who was so tiny he could barely be heard above the racket being made by the other two, piped up and squeaked, “Pardon me, but you are both in error. For you see, it is I, and I alone, who am most powerful of all the animals of the swamp.”
At this, the Rhino and the crocodile grew incredulous.
“You, why, you’re nothing but an insignificant little pipsqueak. Why, you couldn’t harm a fly, Mr. Flea! How is it that you claim to be the greatest, most powerful and fearsome of all the animals of the swamp?”
And with that, the flea puffed out his chest, and stretched out his wings, and exclaimed:”I’ll show you how!” And he straightaway flew to the Crocodile, and, flying ove rhis scaly back, found the one spot on his body where the scale was missing, and the flesh exposed. Then, he dove straight for that spot.
The Crocodile was so shocked by the sudden bite of the Flea that he thrashed about, and his huge, powerful tail snapped the neck of the Rhoncerous, killing him instantly.
The huge animal wobbled on his legs for a moment, before falling over and rolling over the uneven ground. The slow-moving crocodile was caught beneath him, and thus, bith of them were killed!
And the moral of this story is: Sometimes, it is the smallest actor that can upset the balance of things in the most significant way.
“Ah Sue,” said Peter, as they continued flying over farmlands that looked like little squares of mush and pudding, far below, “That wasn’t a proper tale. More like a kiddie tale. Whtachamacalit? A, a…”
“A fable?” Sue offered helpfully.
“Yeah,” answered Peter, snapping to. “A fable! That’s it. That’s it exactly! it was a fable!”
below them, tyhey could see the tops of the trees, and feel the tippy-top of the nranches brush against the soles of their shoes. Sue said:
“Well, if you’re such a doggone expert storyteller, then do give us one more before we land! Whenever that will happen to be!”
Peter answered, “Must be pretty soon, I’ll wager. See, over there! It’s the theater! And, over there, the row of shops! And, look Sue, over there, it’s the baseball diamond in McGreely Park!”
Sure enough, they could see all these things fromt heir vantage point flying through the air.
“Well, gee Sue, I didn’t have anything prepared really, but, well, here goes–”
And, with that, he began the tale of–
Once upon a time there was a sore-besotted husband with a fantasticly lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife, who spent her days lolling in bed while her idiot children drolled and quacked, and flapped their feet, and tracked mud across the floor, and spilt their food and drink everywhere. The husband beat his breast against the inscrutable workings of God, saying, “Oh Lord, why hast thou seen fit to burden me so? For, I have a good-fer-nuthin’ layabout wife, and two idiot children, and a shovel to wield, and bitter tears to spill!”
And so it went, on and on, the husband working like a dray horse all day in the fields, and his wife sleeping the entire day away while the idiot brats ruined the place: making the house filthy and letting the dogs loose, and rooting with the hogs when they were hungry, and leaving the popholes closed against the baby chicks.
Well, one day, the husband, noting the rack and ruin about him, decided that he should teach his wife a lesson by playing a trick on her. To that end, he bundled up some soaking wet rags, and, going to the stove, stuffed them carefully up the flue. Then, using the bellows, he coaxed the fire until it was a roaring inferno.
The smoke, trapped, as it were, by the burning rags, began to fill the room. The husband ran to his wife, exclaiming “Get up, get up my dear! The house has caught fire, and the children have run away!”
The children he had bundled up to hide away in the closet. The lazy wife peeped her eyes open, rolled over on one arm, hoisted herself up, and said, “Oh husband! Dost thou endeavor to deceive me? For, thou hast simply stuffed a rag up the flue, causing all of this smoke to fill the house. And the children thou hast bundled into the closet, to hide! Now, leave me be, for it is still early, and I need my beauty rest!”
And with that, the incorrigible, lazy woman rolled over, soonfalling back to sleep.
Well, at hearing this, the husband gnashed his teeth, and pulled his hair, and rent his clothes, and exclaimed, “Oh Lord, why hast thou burdened me so? For I have a lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife, and two idiot children, and a shovel in a hovel, and not so much as a dram of whiskey to quench my thirst!”
And at that, he broke down in weeping. Well, things went on like this for many, many days, until, one day, the husband, feeling he could stand it no longer, conceived of a plan whereby he might arouse his wife from slumber and teach her a lesson.
“I know!” he exclaimed to no one but himself. “I shall have my idiot children run the length and breadth of the house, and war-whoop like savages, and throw stones at the house! Then, when my wife awakes, I shall tell her that ruffians are attacking the place! And, she’ll be so took with surprise that she’ll fly from her bed in a fit of trembles!”
And, to that end, the man (who was really rather a pathetic fool in his own right) took his children into the yard, and, instructing them as best he was able on how to war-whoop like savages, and throw stones at the walls, went back inside and gave the signal that they should begin. And so they did.
Well, the noise they made was fantastic, and the stones they threw pounded the walls, cracking the plaster and sending pebbles and dust flying across the room.
Waving his arms, the husband exclaimed, ‘Get up, get up, my dear! For, a gang of ruffians is attacking the place, war-whooping like savages, and throwing stones at the house!”
The lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife peeped above her elbow, where her head lay resting, and, yawning said, “Oh thou most foolish husband! Thous seekst to deceive me still! Tis no band of savages are attacking the house, but only our two idiot children, whom thou has set to being mischievious and loathsome, and whom with deviltry stone the walls of our humble cottage, and likewise raise up war-whoops to the heavens! Now, get thee hence and leave me be! I need my beauty rest!”
And with that, the horrible woman rolled back over, and was again fast asleep.
Well, at hearing this the bitter, sore-besot husband rent his garment, and gnashed his teeth, and bit his tongue, and blew spittle out his nose, and turned a bright, bright red, and then said, “Curses! Ghastly curses! Why, oh Lord, hast thou seen fit to burthen me so? For, I have a lazy, good-fer-nuthin; wife, and two idiot children, and a filthy hovel, and a shovel, and not a drop of cider to cool my tongue!
, beating his fists on the floor and stamping his feet like a child, he went sullenly to bed, to curse his ill-starred life and draw up further plans.
It was not long after that that a new, even more clever idea came to him. Or, at least he judged it clever himself.
“I have it!” he exclaimed. “I shall spin webs and dust across the walls, and paint the childrens’ faces with mud, and tie tent posts to their feet, and I myself shall put on a robe and a wig, and likewise paint my own face, so that I migth appear to be an aged and doddering fool! Then, when my lazy wife awakes from her slumber, she will think that she has slept for ten or twenty years! THEN she will be sorry she has slept her life away!”
And so he set about doing just that. First, he went down to the river for a few handfuls of wet clay, then, he rubbed it all over the faces of himself and his idiot children, making sure to spread it nice and thin so the flesh would look old, and seamed. Then, he boosted his children up a few feet by tieing tent pegs to their little legs, and covering them with long breeches. After that, he strewn across the house stringy cotton for webs, and spread dirt and debris across the floor, cracking the plaster to make it look as if time had worn away the floorboards and walls.
Then, in a fit of panic, the stupid man went about yelling at the top of his old, rheumy lungs, “Get up, my precious pet! For, thou has slept through the decades,a nd now thy husband is a doddering,a ncient fool,a nd thy children are old and grey!”
And the lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife rolled over on one fat arm,a nd yawning, said, “Oh my husband! I have not slept through the decades! Thou has simply caked thy face with mud from the river, and the faces of our idiot children, as well! And thou hast tied stilts to their legs, to make them taller, and hast strewn dust and cobwebs about the walls and doors, to make it seem as if the passage of time has been very, very great! Now, leave me be! I must needs have my beauty rest!”
And with that, the old woman rolled back onto her side, and was once again fast asleep.
At hearing this the old man rent his garment, and tore his hair out by the handfuls, and beat his breast, and fell to the floor, and rolled over in the dirt, and bit his tongue; and his eyes popped from his head, and spittle flew from his mouth as he screamed, “Oh God why hast thou seen fit to burden me so! For I have a lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife that sleeps all the day, and a hovel and a shovel, and a scoot and a boot, and two idiot children to the bargain!”
And with that, he considered taking himself to the cliffside and casting himself down to his death, in utter despair. But, just then, an idea occured to him. He said to himself, “I finally have it! I shall make three coffins, and powder the faces of my idiot children, instructing them to lie within, as though they were dead. And then I shall demolish my house, so that it shall look as if the ravages of time have laid it low. I shall then get into the third box, as though I were finally dead, and, when my lazy wife awakes, she will think that she has slept so long that she has missed out on our deaths and funerals. And, well, perhaps THEN she will learn and mend her ways!”
And, with this mad plan in mind, the man went about making his final preparations. They became more elaborate, though, as he proceded. He first went and fetched dirt from the local burial yard, scattering it about the floor.
Then he dressed the idiot children in winding sheets, making their faces up with powder so that they looked ghastly and corpse-like. He then went to hammer together three stout pine boxes, one for himself, and one for each of the children.
He then went about the town, hiring drunks and lagards to come and play the part of mourners.
Lastly, he went about the house with a mallet, smahing the windows and doors, pounding holes in the walls, flinging dirt, smearing and caking mud and blowing dust and debris to hell and gone. He even brought in mouldy furnishings to complete the task, before finally settling on what he saw before him.
“Oh, it is excellent!” he exclaimed. “When my lazy wife awakes, she will look about her, and think that the decades have passed while she was asleep! And, oh, won’t she be regretful then for all the hours she has wasted?”
And so, to a chorus of howls and sobs from the hired mourners, the man laid out the three caskets, and getting his idiot children to climb each into theirs, he likewise did the same; and then, ringing a brass funeral bell, he beat his hands against his breast as if he were a mourner at his own funeral, exclaiming, “Oh my wife! Get thee from thy bed in haste! For, thou has slept through the ages, and thy husband and children now lay here stone dead!”
And, upon hearing this, the old woman bolted up from her bed in terror.
Upon seeing the chorus of mourners sobbing and beating their breasts, the general total destruction of her house, and her two children laid out in caskets, she exclaimed, “Oh my! What have I done? For I have been lazy and indolent, and have slept for decades and decades, and missed the growing old and dying of my idiot children!”
And, upon seeing her husband sitting in his own casket, yet seemingly as animate as a corspe returned from the dead, speaking and beating his breast in grief, she exlaimed, “Oh my husband! Thou art dead, but, thou sittest up and beath thy breast, and mourn thy own passing!”
And the shock of this was all too much for the woman, who fell over onto her own comfortable bed, stone dead now herself.
And the moral of this story is: Laziness never profits the lazy. Or, perhaps, sometimes the cure is more damaging than the disease. Or, it never pays to try and solve a simple problem with a complex solution. Or, really, what do YOU think the moral should be?
Once there lived a king, the love of whose life was his precious young daughter.
He was forever giving the daughter presents; but, strange to say, her favorite was a simple silver ball, which she liked to play with while she was out walking through the gardens.
One fine day, while she was playing in the garden, tossing her ball up and down, she tossed it a bit too far, and it fell into a well. The young girl immediately burst into tears; firstly, because it was her favorite toy, and secondly, because she feared her father would scold her for losing his present to her.
Just then she heard a ribbity sound, and what should she see perched upon the side of the old stone well but a huge, hideous bullfrog.
“Why weepest thou, fair maiden?” asked the Frog. He was really a very cordial, polite fellow, she realized, for just being an ugly old bullfrog.
She wiped her eyes and said, “Because I have lost my ball down the well, and my father will be angry with me, and scold me and send me to bed without supper!”
And, at that she began to weep all the harder, until the Frog said, “Oh, fiddlesticks! Do not weep, fair maiden! I will retrieve thy ball for thee.”
And with that, the Frog dove face-first into the well, and, in no time, emerged with the silver ball held on the end of his snout.
At seeing this, the Princess was overjoyed, and said, “Oh, Mr. Bullfrog, whatever shouldst thou ask of me, I will give to thee!”
At this the Bullfrog curled up his froggy nose, and, ribbiting hard, said finally, “I ask that thou takest me back to thy palace. And when thou dost eat thy dinner, have me eat beside thee. And, when thou takest to thy bed, have me sleep beside the on thy pillow.”
And, not at all liking the terms, yet, honor-bound by her words, the young princess agreed to all of this. But, then, running off bouncing her ball, she just as quickly forgot her promises to the hideous bullfrog, “Who,” she considered, while being a rather nice fellow, is hideously ugly and warty, after all.”
It was many days later, while she was sitting down with her father and his courtiers to a hearty repast that, while the servants were serving, and her chops were fairly watering with hunger, a strange knock came at the dining room door.
At this, the courtiers and the guards were immediately put on alert, and men drew their swords and prepared to defend the King. How amazed they were, then, when, upon throwing open the door, they saw not some grim assassin waiting, but nothing more than a peculiar little bullfrog.
The Bullfrog quickly hopped inside, and the King asked him, “Mr. Bullfrog, eh, what exactly is it that brings you to our fair and humble abode?”
To this the Bullfrog replied, “Oh, Good My King, thy little daughter lost her silver ball the other day, and, whenI did retrieve it for her, promised to let me eat with her, and sleep on her pillow, and be her pet.”
Well, at seeing the ugly bullfrog come home to roost (as it were) the Princess was horrified. She began to protest, “Papa, I cannot do this thing of which he asks!”
But her father was resolute.
“Daughter, if thou hast so promised the Bullfrog these things, then, surely, thou must keep thy word. Come, friend Bullfrog, and share our meal with us!”
And so the Bullfrog, much to the Princess’s displeasure, sidled himself up to the edge of her plate, and nibbled a bit here and there, and made her feel increasingly ill. She put the best face on it, though, and somehow made it thorough dinner.
She carefully avoided the Bullfrog the rest of the evening, sitting with her father glumly as he was advised by his advisers. Finally, though, she became very tired and yawned and stretched, and decided it was time to go to bed.
Remembering that she would have to sleep with the bullfrog upon her pillow made bedtime seem a little less happy, but, she was too tired to care.
She went to her bed chamber and curled beneath the covers. In a moment, the Bullfrog made his appearance, and, hopping up on the coverlet, climbed to her pillow.
This made her skin crawl.
Soon, she was awakened by a ribbiting.
“Kiss me goodnight,” ribbited the Bullfrog.
The Princess, unable to believe her ears, said, “Oh, Mr. Bullfrog, thou dost ask too much of me. Why, what if thou givest me a wart on my nose?”
To which the Bullfrog replied, “Kiss me goodnight. Quickly. If thou so doest, thou wilt have for thy bedtime a surprise!”
And so, just to stop his infernal ribbiting, the Princess bent and gave the Bullfrog a little peck on his fat Bullfrog cheek.
Then, a strange thing occurred.
The Bullfrog began to grow in size, and change shape, and was soon transformed before the Princess’s astounded eyes. Soon, lying next to her on her pillow, was not a Bullfrog at all, but the figure of a tall, handsome man!
“Oh heavens,” she cried, “What trickery is this?”
But the young man said, “Oh, fair maiden! I did not mean to deceive thee! I am but a poor, unfortunate prince, who, owing to a horrible curse from an evil sorceress, was long ago transformed into a hideous frog. Thy dainty kiss has lifted this awful curse from me, and restored me to what once I was! Come, let us be married, as I feel I have fallen instantly in love with thee, and wish thee to be my queen!”
And so, the overjoyed princess married the handsome young prince.
And they all lived happily ever after. (Or, at least, we suppose they did.)
(Source: The Brothers Grimm)