Once, there was an old woman much given to boasting and gossip. She sat all day in the market, trying to sell her wares to passersby, for she was a seamstress. She had many takers, too, for she was, indeed, very good at what she did, when she was not busy wagging her tongue.
One fine day, a tall, handsome stranger happened by, and, seeing the old woman at her place in the market, approached her, saying, “I have heard it said, here and about, that you are the finest seamstress in all the land, and that you can do any job anyone sees fit to hire you for. Is there any truth to this?”
And the old woman, full of pride and not a little foolhardy bravery, said, “Oh indeed, sir! I am the finest seamstress in all the land! Why, there is none finer than me! I work diligently, sunup to sunset, and the clothes and curtains and other fine things I turn out always fetch top price! Why, I fancy I could please the Devil himself, if given half the chance!”
At this the man laughed gleefully, his strange, dark eyes turning black inside his pale, skull-like face. He said, “Well, it appears you are going to get the chance to prove what you’ve just said! You see: I’m the Devil.”
And at this, the entire market place was shrouded in shadow, and the old woman, suddenly not so brave, took to a fit of trembling. She stammered “But, what dost thou want from ME, oh Son of Iniquity? I am but a poor, humble seamstress in a small market town!”
And the Devil laughed again, nodding his head, saying, “A seamstress thou art. But, humble? Methinks not. Ah well, Madam Seamstress, we have a little chore for you, to test the truth of your own boastful claims. If you succeed, riches and a long life are ahead of you. BUT, if you fail…I shall take your immortal soul.”
And the old woman, confused as to what to do, and not a little awestruck by her famous visitor, said, “What, oh Prince of Evil, wilt thou ask of me?”
At this the Devil said, “Ah, it is simplicity itself. I want you to sew for me a shroud, a burial shroud. And it must be the most excellent burial shrould ever conceived. Sound like a bargain?”
And the old woman, who had sewed many a burial shroud in her time (and who, at any rate, was so full of herself she couldn’t possibly refuse a challenge) said, “Why, all I have to do is sew a burial shroud, and I might attain all the riches I want, and a long life to boot? Why, I think you have yourself a bargain, oh Dark Prince of the Underworld!”
And the Devil smiled, put out his long, talon-like fingers (his nails were razor-sharp), and shook the old woman’s hand. Then, pulling at his beard and laughing to himself, he said, “There is, however, just one catch. This burial shroud, you see, is to be the biggest, grandest, most incredible burial shroud ever sewn together by human hands. It will be long enough to bury everyone ever killed in any war or famine! So you must sew, without ceasing, every day, and every night, for forty days and nights!”
And the old woman, now realizing just what she had agreed to, threw up her hands in horror, and implored, “Oh, Fallen One, I beseech thee, release me from this unworthy task. For, it is not in my meager power to accomplish it!”
But the Devil would not relent, and, stamping one foot in the dirt, said, “Quiet, thou fool! A bargain is a bargain! I will return in forty days time, and, if thou hast not woven for me the most magnificent of all burial shrouds, I will take thy soul with me to Hell, forever and ever!”
And then the Devil disappeared, in a puff of smoke and a strong whiff of rotten eggs. The old woman was left weeping and moaning in despair, but, seeing no way out of her predicament, went immediately to her little hovel and began to sew. And sew. And sew.
It was not long, however, before she began to feel very sleepy. Of course, she knew she could not stop sewing the Devil’s shroud, so she kept going, keeping her eyelids open with toothpicks.
Suddenly, she conceived of an idea.
“I know! I shall get one of the neighbor children to come in, and sew for me, and I will use the time to get some rest and sleep. And, when I awake, I will be able to begin sewing where I have left off!”
So, with both of her hands still busy, she leaned her old, grey head out the window, and, seeing a fat little boy walking across the weed-choked yard for a shortcut, she called, “Oh! Little boy, little boy! Come and help your old Mama sew this immense burial shroud. For, if you do so, there is surely a klopin in it for you!”
And upon hearing this, and imagining all the candy he could buy with his single klopin, the little boy came inside the hovel, and straightway began to sew the shroud in the old woman’s place. And the old woman was so tired she fell immediately to sleep. And the poor little boy was tasked to weave, day and night, and not stop, while the old woman slept.
The old woman had warned the boy, “You must sew and sew this shroud, while I get some sleep! And you must not stop for anything, lest the Devil come and take thy soul to Hell!”
And the little boy, suddenly terrified, did as he was told.
Soon though, tired and in tears, the little boy summoned his courage, and roused the old woman from her deep slumber. In a torrent of tears, he exclaimed, “Oh Missus, I am so tired, and my little fingers are so sore! Couldst thou not rouse thyself from thy slumber, and take my place here, sewing and sewing this accursed burial shroud?”
At hearing this, and being roused, the old woman grew exceedingly wroth, and, without thinking, smote the little child upon the head; whereupon, he fell into the great folds of the shroud.
The old woman was horrified, but, not for a moment daring to cease the sewing of the shroud, straightway sewed the corpse of the little boy into the folds of the shroud–like a fly caught in the web of a great spider. And she began again to sew.
Soon, she was again very tired, though, but she thought to herself, “I know! I shall get one of the neighbor children to come in and help sew, while I rest! I have done it before, and I can do so again!”
And so she did. And, while the unlucky little chap sewed and sewed furiously, she slept. But, first, this time she laid out a plan so as to allow her to sleep the rest of the forty days and nights until the Devil came.
She baked three blueberry pies, and laid them, one after the other, upon her porch. Soon, the delicious aroma of the pie drew a fat little boy to her porch, investigating what it was that smelled so good.
“Oh, Missus, pray tell what is it that smells so delicious?” asked the little boy.
“Methinks it is this delicious pie, my little friend.”
And to this, the child asked, “May I not have a taste of this delicious pie, Missus?”
And to that, the old woman replied, “You may. But first, you must come inside and visit me awhile, my little friend.”
To which the child replied, “Okay, I will come inside and visit thee awhile, Missus, and then you will give me a taste of your delicious pie!”
And so the rosy-cheeked little chap went inside, and the old woman fell upon him, and, grabbing him about the throat, exclaimed, “Now you must sew, and sew, and sew this shroud! And you must not stop, or else the Devil will appear and take thy soul to Hell!”
And so, weeping, the little boy began to sew the shroud; and the old woman slept. And, when she awoke, the little boy, frantically begging her to come and take his place, so infuriated the mad old woman that she smote him on the head, just as she had done to the one before him.
He fell over, stone dead. She was not at all concerned this time, however, for she simply began to sew him into the shroud, as she had done previously, and in no time, his little body was hidden in the massive folds.
She smiled to herself (a hideous sight to behold) and, carefully laid out the other two pies, in no time attracting more children to put to work sewing the shroud. Soon, she had little slaves working day and night as they wept, and she was able to lie down and get her much-needed “beauty sleep” (not that it would have helped her looks very much).
Well, forty days and nights passed rather more quickly than what she expected, and the shroud grew and grew until it spilled out of doorways, and across the yard, and into the woods, and down the hill…until there was hardly any room to move.
Noting that it was now the fortieth day, the old woman busily went about preparing for the Devil’s visit. She took a great rolling pin, and, sneaking up behind each of her little slaves, forthwith pounded them on top of their noggins, until each fell bleeding into the shroud. Then, she sewed up their bodies in the immense cloth, and busily sewing up the last few stitches, then sat herself down to wait.
Well, it was a matter of only a few minutes before the dogs in the neighborhood began to howl dismally, and the room grew colder, as the wind outside grew hot, and a curious smell of rotten eggs pervaded the room. Suddenly, in a flash of light and a puff of smoke, the Devil appeared, dressed in his long, flowing black cloak and cap.
“Well, have you done as I instructed, and sewed for forty days and forty nights, unceasing, and made for me the finest and largest burial shroud that the world has ever seen?”
And at this the old woman smiled, and folding her hands under her chin as if in prayer, she said, “Oh yes, Prince of evil, I most certainly have! Why, just look and see for yourself how enormous this shroud is, how it spills forth from every doorway, and out the house and across the garden, and down the hill, and all the way to town!”
And at hearing this, the Devil smiled, and said, “Very well! it appears as if you have done exactly what I asked. For such devotion and loyalty, riches and a long life shall certainly be yours!”
And the Devil began to take up the folds of his great shroud when, suddenly, a weird, whimpering cry could be heard from within the cloth.
it was one of the children! The old woman had thought she had brained them all, but she was mistaken. One was till alive, and had woken up, sewed tight into the shroud.
it took only a bare minute for the Devil to realize what she had done. He howled in a terrific rage, his face growing dark, “Accursed fool! You tried to trick me into thinking YOU had sewn the shroud by yourself, when, in reality, you kept these children your prisoner, and made THEM do it for you. And then, MURDERED them to boot!”
And, though the old woman tried to deny it, she knew she was done for.
“Fool! Do you know that you can NOT TRICK THE DEVIL?” He raged, and stamped his foot, and, outside, the dogs sent up a torrent of howls, and birds dropped dead from the sky, and huge blast of rotten egg stink blew in with the wind.
He then calmed himself, and said, “For your cowardly, dishonest act, you shall pay with your immortal soul. And worse! Now, prepare thyself for unending PAIN!”
And with that, he took immense sewing needles and jammed them in the old woman’s eyes, and jammed more into her fingers. He then produced two iron boots, red hot, and put them on her feet, so that the pain was incredible.
Then, gathering up his shroud and his captive, he set the old woman’s hut alight with a snap of his fingers, and disappeared back to Hell, where he and the old woman are down to present times.
And the moral of this story? Could be, “Watch out what you boast about,” or “Put your money where your mouth is.” Or, if you want to consider it from the viewpoint of the children, lured by the promise of a klopin and blueberry pie, it might be, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” or “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Or, taken from the perspective of the Devil, it might be “Never trust a braggart,” or, “Always be wary when people make fantastic claims about themselves.”
Or YOU might think of another moral for our little tale. We simply wanted to tell the tale. Really, can YOU think of what it all might really mean?