Once, there was a foolish, raggedy man who entered a village. He worked hard for a stupid master, but after earning a little money, quickly set himself up in business as a costermonger, but soon became lonely for the comforts afforded by a wife.
One day, while trundling his cart along the village square, he spied a plump, stupid girl with a bucket of milk. Pushing his cart up to her, he asked her her name.
“Myrtle,” she replied. “Myrtle Wormhead.”
To which he replied, “Oh, my! That is the loveliest name that ever I heard! We should be married!”
And the plump, stupid girl consented immediately. Off they went to the village priest, but, bot having the money for a wedding, and the girl having no dowry, were soon turned away.
Down cast, the foolish costermonger said, “We shall run away together, and seek our fortune on the continent. Then, when we have suffcient funds to arrange a wedding, we shall return, be married. And live happily ever after!”
And so the two luckless fools went out of their village, walking the weed-choked paths through the forest, until they became hungry, and settled in a dark place.
Now, close by lived a vicious ogre, and his wife, a deadly witch. Climbing through the brush, he spied the two hapless fools walking, and said to himself, “My, she is fat and plump, and would make a juicy morsel for me and my wife. I will capture her, and steal her away, and put her ina cage to fatten her up. The man I do not want, as he is too lean and tough-looking.”
And so he followed them stealthily, and soon they came to a place where there was a little cave, and the fool said to his wife, “We can live here in this cave! It will shelter us from the rain and the scorching sun, when it is too hot.”
And the foolish girl, thinking this a wonderful idea, set about making their home in the cave.
Now, it so happened that a terrible hermit lived in a cave nearby, and he had a terrible appetite for human flesh. He came upon the fool and his wife while they were out gathering firewood one day, and he said to himself, “Mm, that young girl looks as if she would be delicious to eat! I will steal her, and take her back to my cave, and keep he in a cage! Then, I will fatten her on cream until she is ready to be gutted and stewed!”
And so the terrible, crazed hermit hid int he bushes, waiting, and watching. Finally, seeing his chance, as the fool told his wife he was going deeper int he woods–“To gather more wood for the fire, as what we have been able to find out her, so far, is mostly wet!”–he left his foolish wife alone.
Very quietly,t he hermit crept from his hiding place amid the bushes and shrubs, and, going sneakily down to where the foolish girl sat on a rock byt he tream, picking flowers, said to her, “And how now, my pretty one! Where do you come from, and where are you going?”
And the foolish girl, startled by this, looked up, but dare not turn around for fear fo what she would see standing behind her.
“Oh,” she said, “I come from yonder village, and I live in yonder cave. Who art thou to ask such questions?”
And to this the terrible hermit replied, “I am one who has admired you from afar. But now, I am close, oh so close to you!”
And to this, the foolish girl replied, “Oh! And how close art thou?”
And to this the hermit said, “Clsoe enough to smell your sweet scent!” and then said, “…and it smells delicious!”
And the foolish girl said, “Oh, my, whatever can you mean by that? How, in fact, does it smell?”
And the terrible hermit replied, “Like broasted beef on a summer day!”
And the foolish girl giggled, and said, “Oh, that is mere foolishness! How can I smell so? Tell me truthfully, how does my scent strike thee?”
And the hermit said, “Like succulent lamb on a winter morn!”
And the foolish girl said, yet again, “Oh! That is nonsense! How can my scent be compared to succulent lamb! Tell me truthfully, how does my scent strike thee?”
And the hermit finally said, “Like the stew I will make of thy flesh, the bread of they bones, and the wine of thy blood! Now, come!”
And with a cry he reached forward,a nd grabbed her in his hairy, dirty arms, carrying her away as she cried for her husband.
The hermit put his hand over the foolish girl’s mouth, but her husband (who was picking and poking around amid the trees, not far away) heard some rustling in the bushes. He got the distinct feeling (despite the fact that he was so foolish), that his wife migth have met with some trouble, perhaps with a wild animal. So, dropping the kindling he was carrying, he raced back through the trees to the mouth of the old cave.
The hermit had carried off the unfortunate young woman, kicking and screaming. He tied her with vines, thrust some old rags in her mouth, and told her to wait for him (what else could she do?). Then, he went back to where he had found her and, a sudden idea striking him across his big hairy noggin, scouted around in the bushes until he found a log that was quite in the shape of a young woman. He placed this log where he had taken the foolish man’s wife, and waited until the young man came bounding back through the trees.
“What ho!” exclaimed the young man. “Where is my wife?”
The hermit, clasping his hands in front of him, said, with tears glistening down his cheeks.
“Oh it is terrible sir, terrible! I happened along when, seeing the Old Witch if the forest, I hid behind a tree to see what she would do. Well, your wife was busy picking boison berries, and when the Old Witch approached her, she asked for the little basket of berries! Oh, your wife was very loath to give it up, and told the witch so. So, in anger the witch turned her into…into this log!”
And the devious old hermit began to weep and sob. The young fool raised his hands to his head in anguish, exclaiming, “Oh! How terrible. Oh, love of my life! How terrible a fate you have suffered for a little basket of boison berries. If only I could find some way to turn you back into a living woman. Alas! I am no great wizard, and know not where one can be found!”
He wept bitterly at what he thought must be the unhappy death of his wife. Then, a thought possessed the fool. He wondered if, just because she was turned into a log, she might not still, in some manner, be considered “alive.”
“For,” he said to himself, “I do not know of a powerful wizard who could reverse this evil spell, BUT IF I DID, sould she not simply change back into her former self, and be as good as ever she was before?”
And, thinking that, he realized she was still, after all, his wife, and must be treated as such. So he took the log into his arms, and, huffing and puffing and sweating, carried the thing back to town.
He went back to his former master, and, imploring him for his old job back, was grudgingly let in the door, still carrying his log.
The old master looked puzzled at what the young fool was carrying in his arms,a nd, after a time, straightaway asked him, “Fool, why are you carrying that log in your arms?”
To which the fool replied, “Oh, this? This, I am afraid, is no mere log. It is my wife! An evil witch happened upon her while she was picking boison berries, and, because she would not give her the basket, turned her into this log. But, for all that, she is still a rather wonderful wife, wouldn’t you agree?”
The fool’s master, thinking the man quite mad, simply nodded his assent and said, “Why, yes. Of course! She is a most excellent wife for a man such as yourself!”
And the fool, somewhat mollified now, went about doing his master’s bidding. During the day, he carefully dressed the log up in an old dress and bonnet, and, carrying her about in one arm, took her with him to the market, and to the pub, and even to church.
Everyone who met the man thought him quite mad; but no one wanted to risk angerign such an obviously mad man. So they always pretended to respect and recognize the log as his wife, each and every oneof them.
When he had friends over to dinner, the log, dressed in her plain old wrap of a dress, was seated at table just as if it had been a real, livign and breathing woman. The fool even took to feeding it, and asked it if it would like some more gravy, or another helping of pot roast, and would then answer for it in a shrill, weird, womanly voice.
And the guests got to where they expected this strange ritual, and took very little notice of it when they came over for impromptu dinners and gatherings. It even got so that the fool found himself quite a popular gent, a sort of local curiousity, and some folks were quite eager to get a chance to have dinner with “The Man Who Took a Log as a Wife.”
Well, unbeknownst to the fool, his actual wife was locked up in the hideous cave of the old hermit, who passed her porridge and delectable vittles, and which she always refused.
“All the better to fatten you up, my dear! You are much, much too thin!”
The old hermit would lick his withered lips, and with drool dripping down his chin, would pace around the cage, muttering to himself about buttered parsnips and boiled potatoes, and wondering just how big of a broiler he would need for the fool’s wife.
The fool’s wife, realizing just why the hermit wanted her to gin weight, let the dishes pile up until she was starving. The hermit, seeing this, grew angry, exclaiming, “You’ll eat soon enough! Why, even that fool of a husband could see how skinny and hungry you are!”
And with that, the hermit stormed out one day ina huff, and did not immediately return, leaving the fool’s wife to ponder just how she could ever hope to free herself from her cage.
Well, as the sun came down, she lifted her weeping eyes to heaven, and prayed, “Oh Lord, please let me find a way from this terrible cage and back to my husband! For, I do not wish to die as the dinner for some terrible old man!”
It was just then that the fool’s wife spied the pots of slipper, slimy mush that had accrued, uneaten, day after day since she’d been imprisoned by the hermit. THey were sitting there on the floor of the cage, uneaten, stinking and drawing flies. She bent over, dipped her fingers in the mush. It was slippery as butter. She then looked at the lock of her cage. An idea came to her.
She carefully began to work the slippery, nasty stuff into the lock, between the bars, and greased the cage down until the mechanism of the lock became quite slippery and loose.
“Incredible!” she exclaimed to herself. “It is a miracle!”
Indeed, it did seem to be a miracle. She pulled at the door of the cage, heard the bars slip and slide, and. suddenly, the door popped…open!
She carefully looked out into the darkness of the cave. It seemed as if the hermit was still out for the night.
“He is probably out gathering roots or herbs for his potions!”
And, in truth, he was doing just that. The poor girl slipped from the mouth of the dark cave, and made her way across hill and down thorough dipping valley, and across the dark ravine, and through the thick shrubs and trees until,a t long last, she found herself at the gates of the town, and begged and pleaded withe the guard to le her in.
He, seeing no threat involved, did just that, and the terrified girl made her way down the quiet, deserted main street, until she came to he house of the fool’s former master, who was inside snoozing. The fool was in his attic room, curled up in bed next to the log. The girl, not wanting to wake the master, picthed pebbles up at the fools window until, his eyes cloudy with sleep, he came over and, throwing open the wondow, yelled below, “Hello down there! Do you have any ide what time it is?”
To which his wife replied, “Thou fool! Worry not about the time, for it is I, your wife, come home to you from being imprisoned by a fiend!”
At this the fool goggle and, throwing a glance back over his shoulder at the log in his bed, turned again tot he window and exclaimed, “How can this be? For, were you not changed into this log by the Old Witch of the Forest? And have I not kept this log with me, day and night, and cared for it as if it were thee, oh wife of my bosom? And so, how canst thou be standing there, int he flesh, and be, at the same time, a log lying in my bed?”
and, at hearing this, the fool’s wife spat, “Oh, cursed am I that I should have married such a fool! I haven’t time to explain to thee! But, here: so that we will not wake the master of the house, make a rope of knotted sheets, and throw it down, and I will climb up to thee!”
And so he did. In a short time, the fool and his wife were reunited at the window overlooking the street. Unbeknownst to them, however, as they stood there, the mad hermit had followed the fool’s wife back to town, and right to the door of the house where they were presently reunited. Shouting from below, he exclaimed, “Ha! You thought to get away from me, dod you! Well, I’ll show you! Just as soon as I climb up this rope made of tied-together old sheets, I’ll kill one and carry the other back to my lair! And then, when you’re good and fat, I’ll EAT YOU FOR DINNER WITH TURNIPS AND BUTTER! Do you hear me? TURNIPS AND BUTTER!”
And the mad old hermit began to climb. The fool, for once in his foolish life suddenly thinking of the right thing to do, rushed over to the bed, grabbed the log, and rushed back to the window. With a heave and a ho, he sent the log hurtling out the window and straight into the wrinkled old forehead of the mad hermit. The blow brained him, killing him instantly. He fell to the ground in great gush of blood.
Later, the fool and his wife told everyone that the spell had finally worn off.