A Fit of Trembles!

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.
The end.
***
“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!”
***

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The Woman that Slept All Day

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?

Home Again, Home Again, Lickety-Split!

Soon the sun started to dip beneath the trees, and the tales began to sputter out, drawing to a close. Susie yawned, and Peter looked at his watch.
“Oh my Sue! We had better get going if we hope to have any hope of getting home before supper!”

To which Susie replied, “But, Peter, it’s such a frightfully long way home, and such an oorfelly-awferly queer country to be lost in, and I don’t see how we can possibly make it back before nightfall! And, oh,” she added, shivering, “It is frightfully dark and fearsome in the woods–and not to mention cold!”

Suddenly, one of the squat, ugly sons cried out, “Ma! Dees folks, dey, dey need to leave, Ma! Ma! You know howsabout they can get home in time for supper? Right Ma?”

And the huge old woman came out of the kitchen, where, presumably, she had been baking. It must have been sweltering hot in there, too, because she was sweating quite badly; little beads like glistening dew drop pearls were rolling down her fat chins and dampening her blouse.

She said, “Well, mayhap I do and mayhap I don’t. But, say: ain’t you boys forgetting something?” she asked, a little hint of smug exasperation creeping into her voice.

The little toad-like men scratched their oily, slicked-over heads, and looked at eachother with puzzled consternation. Then one of them snapped his fingers, pointed to the ceiling with a most comic look on his face, and exclaimed, “I got it! I got it! It’s ‘Will O’ Wispoween’!”

His other brothers erupted in a general murmur of approval, slapping the “smart one” (which they seemed to instantly have christened him) on the back, before Peter piped up with, “Will O’ Wispoween? Why, what is that? I’ve never even heard of that before!”

And one of the sons croaked in his little bullfroggy voice: “Why, it’s a special day, is what it is!”

And another said, “It’s a day of days! A day when snuggs and guggs–”
“And duggs!” added one.

“And luggs that eat buggs!” croaked in a third.

“Roam about, roam about, roam about roam! They roam about, roam about, far from their home!”

And the little men began to walk around eachother like vengeful little ghouls, their arms raised, moaning and groaning as if they were the lost souls of the VERY BAD PLACE.

“Peter,” said Sue, rolling her eyes, “I’m not sure I’m getting any of this!” She suddenly felt, he could tell, very tired and cross and exasperated. Soon she would stamp her foot and demand, “I just want to go home!” She might even cry.

As if realizing what the two were thinking, the old woman (still sweating pretty heavily) wiped her hands on her apron, and, bending close to Sue and Peter, said, “It’s the day of days, alright, and most likely the reason you two managed to find your lonesome way here at all. It’s a day when the invisible gate between two worlds is left open, swinging wide like a rose garden fence in a summer storm. And the Will O’ Wisp comes out to play, he does. And those that seek passage from this world, to the next, are eager to pass on through!”

Peter and Sue looked at each other in fear and puzzlement, before Peter said, “Missus, do…do you think the Will O’ Wisp could help us get home? We’re awfully tired and, well, walking back from here seems as if it is just too arfully-oorferlly far for one night!”

And the old woman smiled a strange little smile, and, turning to her weird brood of sons, said, “Boys! Take these young pups down to the Great T-Bone, and see if you can’t find a way to see them home, safe and sound!”

And the ugly little men began to hustle and bustle and fustle, for they had been given a task to perform, and were not sure they were up to it. After a few minutes of pointless bustling and occasional bumping into each other, they lined up single-file and, marching out the door, the first one in line pointed his finger in front of him and ribbited “Please follow us!” Which, since they had little choice, Peter and Susie did.

***
They hastily thanked and said goodbye to the old woman, who, on the whole, seemed neither glad nor sad to see them off, and then followed the single-file, snakelike line out the door and through the yard.

They tromped through trees and up rolling hills and down tiny, craggy dips. The single file line of little men was curiously quiet as they went. Finally, they seemed to come to the edge of a small lake. Peter could see a weird shape casting a long shadow against the setting sun.

“Hey Sue, look!” he said, pointing at the thing. It really looked a little like a giant cross with the arms raised upward. When they approached closer, Peter could see, to his utter atonishment, that it seemed ot be a giant bone, stuck into the earth.

Peter asked the last little man in line about it. The man, who, like his brothers, was breaking formation now that they had arrived, said, “Oh, that’s the Great Wishbone. It’s been stuck here for–” And then he scratched his head and, turning to his brother, said, “Say Gog, how long has the Great T-Bone been here, anyhow?”

Gog considered, before qanswering, “As long as a buck’s hind leg.”

Which, on the whole, made absolutely no sense, but to which his brother Mog observed, “Well, my that is a long time!”

One of the little men came up to them, and, thrusting his hands in his pockets nervously, said, “It was here in the Long Ago Days, long ago. They say two giants were fighting over a piece of meat when one of them decided to cram the whole thing into his mouth. And then the other giant, who had a hold of the other end of the meat, did the same! And they each started chomping and swallowing that meat, which was the biggest piece of meat in the whole world at the time, now or forever, and then they got down to a single wishbone, and they each tried to swallow the other’s end. And darned if it didn’t KILL both of them! Well, scavengers came and dragged away the carcasses of the two giants…but, still,w as left this great bloody bone! So someone got the bright idea to turn it into a sort of giant slingshot. Now,” and the little man pointred out across the lake at some strange, twinkling orbs that seemed to be shining in the sky distantly, “out there is the gateway between our world, and your world. A sort of thin place, see? A place where many slip in, and few slip out. But, now, miss, if you’ll just stand up on our shoulders–”

And the little men made a sort of pyramid, with the sturdiest of them huffing and puffing below while their brothers crawled atop their backs.

“You can walk up this pyramid of our bodies,” said one below, who seemed to really be straining under all the weight.

Sue looked at Peter, and Peter looked at Sue. Both of them had their mouths hanging open in wonderment.

“You mean you want to launch us out of a giant slingshot, out across the water, into the mouth of some…some, whatchamacalit? Some sort of portal or gateway between worlds? A, a ‘thin space’?”

The little men, even the huffers and puffers, all nodded in agreement, and murmured that, indeed, that was the only way to see them both home.

“There really is no other alternative, miss,” said one of the little men, who was sweating profusely under the weight of his brothers. “But, you’ll have to be quick about it, as we can’t hold this position much longer, I fear.

“Peter,” began Sue.

“Sue,” began Peter.

Then: “I guess we don’t have any other choice but to trust them. I guess.

Anyway, I guess I’ll go first!” Sue began to climb over the pile of little men.

Peter called up to her as she climbed, “Okay Sue, best of luck to you. Be careful! See you over on the other side!”

Sue waved back. She stepped carefullty from the pyramid of little man bodies into the crook of the giant wishbone. She leaned back into the huge leather strap, which was fastened by two lengths of rubber to each side of the bone.

“Hold on tight, my dear!” cried one of the little men, as the others got behind to form yet another human pyramid. Several of their brothers ascended, and, grabbing the leather strap by the back, began to pull Sue backward as their brothers beneath them began to groan and moan, changing positions painfully so the pullers could pull the thing back further; hopefully, to launch Sue like a good-sized rock out across the river.

“Alright, hold tight! Here we go, Miss!”

And with that, they let the stretchy, rubbery stuff stretch to enormous stretchiness, until Sue was leaning, far, fa back, ready to be launched–

“Into space! They’re trying to launch me into orbit!” she excalimed.

But, indeed they were not. One of the little men cried out, “Now! On my signal, at the count of three. One…two…three!”

And with a trmeendouc springing sound, and a shout of excitement from Sue, Sue was launched into the air in a tremendous arc.

sailed through the sky, over the lake, to the glimmer in the distance. Soon, she was quite out of sight.

“Sue!” cried Peter, worrying that he might never see his beloved sister again. But, then he realized it was his turn to sit in the sling, and so, as the little men arranged themselves again into a pyramid of bodies, Peter began to climb up them, not liking the way they moaned and puffed and groaned beneath his feet.
***
Sue sailed through the air, watching in wonder below as vast fields of wheat and grain looked like squares of multi-colored mush, all divied up neatly, she supposed by God.

“Hey Sue! Is that you over there? Here I am!”

Sue heard Peter’s voice crying over the rushing wind. She called back, “Why, don’t be such a silly goosey! Of course it is me! Who else would you meet flying over the earth after having been launched in a giant slingshot at precisely,” and she looked at her watch, “–precisely seven thirty o’clock?”
And Peter called back, “Well, I suppose you do have a point about that. Oh, Sue! Isn’t it just so marvellously strange! Why, I feel as if I’m swimming in jelly!”

And, as if to demonstrate, Peter flapped and flopped his arms and legs until he had swam up right beside Sue.

“Frightfully good little fellows those dwarfs, or whatever they were. Why, they all lined up to wave me goodbye when I launched!”

Sue looked a little irritated at hearing that, and siad, “Hm. Well, they must be those most frightfully bad chauvanists, as they didn’t wave me bye-bye at all!”

Peter started to say, “Ah, don’t take it so hard, Sue!” but then thought better of it. Instead, he looked down at the earth far below, and said,”My everything is so frightfully far below us. And, well it is all farm fields and the like; but, up here, it looks like a hospital tray of different colors of mash and mush–porridge, pudding…all done up in different-sized squares.” Peter puffed out his bottom lip in wonderment, in a manner that Sue found particularly undignified.

Sue answered, “Yes, well, it is rather dull, though, simply flying through the air all day and all night, hoping against hope that we will ever see home again. Say, Peter, do you want to tell a few more stories, maybe, just to pass the time?”

Peter puffed out his bottom lip even further, sighed, and said, “I suppose I could think of a one or two, if you could as well. Might give us something to do as we are waiting to see if we shall ever make it back down to the ground alive and in one piece!

And with that, Peter began to to tell a tale he had squirrled away like a rather succulent chestnut.

The Foolish Husbands; or, “I Should Laugh, If I Were Not Dead!”

Once, two old women were trying to decide amongst tthemselves whose husband was the bigger fool. “Surely it is mine,” said the one, “as my husband is such a fool, he could go about naked, and not realize he wore no clothes!”

But the other protested this, saying, “Oh no, for it is my husband who is the bigger fool! Why, the man will be in his grave an hour before he even realizes he is dead!”

So the two women, not being able to decide exactly whose husband was indeed a bigger fool, decided to test it for the record.

One women got her spinning wheel, and, as her husband came in through the door that evening, was busily spinning…nothing. She simply operated the wheel with no cotton thread, and pretended she was spinning a beautiful set of breeches.

Her husband, indeed a monstrous fool, inquired curiously as to what she was doing.

“Can’t you see I’m spinning you a new suit of clothes?” she said crossly, continuing her bizarre work.

“But,” protested the foolish husband, “there is no thread on the loom!”

The wife smiled, and then replied, “Oh yes there is! It is just so fine you cannot see it! Why, with this thread, I’m making you a suit of clothes so fantastic, they will rival anything anyone is wearing out on the streets. And, they will be woven of thread so fine, you will scarce be able to catch a glimpse of them!”

Now the husband, who we must repeat, was a first-rate fool, accepted this explanation with a smile and a shrug. After a short time, his wife had woven her imaginary garments to her satisfaction, and so commanded him to strip bare so that she might put his new clothes upon him. For she said, “You look such a ragged mess in your old clothes, I want to see you in these new things I have made for you.”

So the monstrous, foolish husband stripped bare, and the scheming wife put his imaginary suit over his nakedness, and the fool really believed himself to be clothed in “magical” garments that were invisible to the human eye. (How he thought such garments would cover his nakedness, we can only guess.)
So, after that, he went about naked.

Now, down the lane, at the home of the other woman, the fool husband was greeted with a shudder by wife, who commanded him to get into bed at once, as “He looked peaked and sickly, like he was took with the pox!”

The worthless fool of a husband did as he was told, and the wife sat by his bedside. After he had fallen asleep, she suddenly sprang to her feet, waking him in terror and proclaiming, “I have to go find someone to perform last rites!”

The foolish husband (who felt, for all his “sickness,” absolutely fine) asked her whatever the reason for.

She asked, “Why are you speaking? Don’t you realize you died this morning?”

“No,” answered the colossal fool, “I wasn’t aware of it.”

And she flew out the door to find the undertaker.

Well, while she was out, she made arangements for his funeral the next day.

Her neightbor, the one with the husband so foolish he didn’t know he was naked, decided they must attend. So, the next day, she lead her naked husband to the chapel, and the coffin was brought in by the pall bearers and laid out on the catafalque, and the dead man (who could see his naked neighbor through a special window in the side of the casket) sat up and said, “Now, I should laugh at him, if I were not dead!”

Several mourners and nervous persons fainted. The village priest, realizing what had occured, ordered the two women to be jailed. It was later that they were soundly thrashed.

But, on the whole, as foolish as they were, they were still not bigger fools than their fool husbands.

Clever Elsie

Once, there was a man with a very foolish young daughter, whom everyone, out of mockery, called Clever Elsie. Her father, grimly determined to marry her off, invited a neighbor boy, Hans, to have dinner with them. He sincerely hoped that Hans would take a liking to Clever Elsie, and ask for her hand.

“Well,” Hans told them, “If Clever Elsie is not really clever, I wont have her.”

And the parents thus assured him, “Oh, she is so clever, our Elsie! Why, she can see the wind coming up the street, and hear the flies coughing.”

Unconvinced, the young man came to dinner anyway. Seating himself at the table, he turned a wary eye to Clever Elsie, and drank quite a lot of beer in the bargain. Wanting some more, he held out his cup, to which the mother said, “Elsie, dear, go down into the cellar and fetch Hans another cup of beer from the keg down there.”

Elsie went to do as she was told. Funny to say, though, as she filled up the cup her eyes cast about out of boredom, and by chance they happened to fall upon the pick-axe that was hung, ceremoniously, from the wall above.

Suddenly, a terrible thought occurred to her.

“If Hans and I are married and have a child, when he comes down here to fetch some beer, that pickaxe may fall from the wall, and injure or even kill him.

Oh, how terrible that would be!”

And with that, she began to weep.

It was not many minutes hence that Elsie’s father, suspecting something was amiss, told the maid, “Go down and see what is keeping Elsie!”

And so the maid went downstairs, and, seeing the girl blubbering and balling, asked her what was the matter.

“Oh,” exclaimed Elsie, “if I get Hans, we may have a child, and when he comes down here for beer, he may be injured by that pickaxe, which may fall from the wall…”

To this the maid replied, “Oh what a Clever Elsie we’ve got!’ Then she sat down beside her, and began to wail as well.

Well, Elsie’s father and mother began to wonder what had happened to the other two, so they sent the son down into the cellar. Upon seeing the two women crying loudly, he asked them why on earth they were so distraught.

To this Elsie once again said, “If I get Hans, we will have a child who will have to come down here to fetch the beer. If he is standing here and the pickaxe on yonder wall slips and falls, he could be badly hurt or killed!”

And Elsie’s brother said, “My, what a clever Elsie we have!” and sat down, and began to weep as well.

Well, by now the father, as well as Hans, were getting quite upset for their lack of beer. He told his wife, “Go downstairs and see what’s keeping them.

We’re both thirsty, and the dinner is getting cold!”

And so Elsie’s mother went downstairs, and was shocked to see the three crying. When she asked why they were crying so, Elsie once again said, “Oh, Mother! It s so sad! If I get Hans, we may have a child who will have to come down here for beer. If he is standing here and the pickaxe falls from the wall, he will be injured or killed!”

And the mother, who hadn’t before thought of this, exclaimed, holding her hands to her cheeks, “My, what a clever Elsie we have!” And with that, she sat down beside the others and began to weep as loudly as they did.

Finally, after some minutes, the father, throwing down his napkin in disgust, told Hans, “I am going down there to see what is going on! I’ll be right back!”

And with that, he got up from his seat, and, going down to the cellar, saw the others crying. He asked, of course, why the four loonies were behaving so badly, and Elsie said…

(You already know the rest, we assume.)

Hans, twisting and squirming uncomfortably in his seat, could hear that there was some sort of commotion going on down in the cellar, but he had no idea what it was exactly. It almost sounded, egad! like weeping?

He finally decided to go down and investigate for himself. He went down into the dark, dank cellar, and there found the whole family and the maid, weeping their eyes out. When he asked, quite curiously, why they were weeping so, Elsie said, “Oh Hans! It is so sad! If I get you, we may have a child, and that child will surely have to come down here to fetch the beer for Father. If he is standing here, and the pickaxe falls, well…”

And she let out a great blubbering sob. Hans was struck dumb by surprise, but shortly said, “This is all I need for my household. Come, I will make you my wife!”

And so the two were married.

One day, Hans said, “I am going out to earn us some money. Go into the field and cut the corn, so that we may have some bread.”

And with that, he left. Clever Elsie fixed her some broth, and, taking it out to the field, decided that she would certainly have to eat before she did anything. And so she ate.

Then she said to herself, “Should I cut first, or sleep first? Oh, I’ll sleep first!”

And, feeling tired, she lay down amongst the corn, and fell fast asleep.

Later that night, Hans returned home, and said to himself, “Oh, what a clever Elsie I’ve got! She hasn’t even come home from the field, she is so busy cutting. I will go and fetch her!”

Hans was no doubt surprised to find his wife fast-asleep in the field, with no sign she had cut anything at all. Angered greatly, he went and fetched an old fowlers’ net that had little bells attached to it, and slipped it on her sleeping form. Then he departed for home.

Soon, when it was quite dark, Clever Elsie awoke, and, getting up, hearing the tinkling of the bells, became quite concerned.

“How unusual. I wonder: Is it I? Or is it not I?”

She had no idea, so she rushed home and knocked frantically at the door. Hans, inside bent over his workbench, called out, “Yes! What do you want?”

To which Elsie answered, “Oh Hans! Is Elsie in there with you?”

Hans answered, “Yes!”

Elsie’s hands flew to her head in terror and shock.

“Then it is NOT I!” she exclaimed, and raced home to her parents. However, hearing the weird tinkling of the bells, her parents were afraid, and refused to let her enter.

Clever Elsie then ran away in shame.

And she was never seen in the village again. Never. Not ever.

Seven at a Blow

Once upon a time there was a poor tailor, who one day was interrupted in his work by a woman selling pots of delicious honey.

“Here,” he said to himself, “is a purchase that will make the day a little sweeter!”

And, reaching into his pocket, he brought forth a single guilder to give to the old woman, who was poor and blind and happy to get whatever she could.

Settling down to wait for his bread to bake, the cobbler went back to his craft. Suddenly, he found that he was not alone, but joined by seven horseflies attracted by the scent wafting up from the pots of honey.

“I’ll teach them to interrupt my work!” he said to himself angrily, and, grabbing up a rag, smashed his hand down on the lid of the pot, shattering it!

Of course, he lost some of his honey, but, as he pulled back the cloth, he was most pleased to find that he had managed to kill all of the pestiferous flies! “Ah ha!” he cried. “What a good man am I! Why, I’ve killed SEVEN AT A BLOW!”

Indeed, the little tailor was so impressed with himself that (as business was rather slow) he quickly set about embroidering a special sash with the phrase “Seven at a Blow!” written on it in large, flaming letters. Then, a beacon of pride, he took to wearing the thing everywhere.

He then went out into the street, brandishing his new belt, and all the people wondered after him. “Seven at a blow!” they exclaimed. “Why, it isn’t safe to even have such a man around us, if he could slay seven of us at one blow!”

In truth, the Tailor had decided to leave his little village and go in search of his fortune, reasoning that he was cut out for something a darn sight better than being a tailor. He had brought nothing with him except a brick of old cheese; for, in searching high and low in his little shop, he could find nothing worth taking along on his journey.

Along the way, while making his way through the weeds and brambles, he spied a little blackbird caught in the hedge.

He said to himself, “You might as well come along too, and keep my cheese company.” So he carefully rescued the little blackbird and put it in his pocket.

It was not long after, while scaling a large hill, he chanced to run across a terrible giant. The Tailor, however, was anything but afraid, and the giant, upon spying the belt the Tailor wore, shuddered to himself, saying “Seven at a blow, eh? That is a pretty grand number to kill in one blow, I must admit. But, here, let’s see if you can do this.”

And with that, the Giant picked up a stone and squeezed until water ran from between his great grimy fingers.

“Pshaw!” said the Tailor. “It is mere child’s play for some one who can slay seven at one blow!”

And with that, he thrust his hand into his pocket and brought out the cheese.

Squeezing this with all his might, he brought forth the milk from which it was made. The Giant, though, thought he had squeezed milk from a stone, and was duly impressed.

He said, “Well, now that is something. However, can you throw a stone so far it disappears into the sky?”

And with that, the Giant picked up a huge stone, and threw it so far it became a speck in the sky, and finally disappeared. The Tailor again laughed, and said “It is nothing! Not for a man who can slay seven at one blow!”

And with that he thrust his hand into his pocket and brought forth the blackbird, throwing the little curled-up thing into the sky. There it took flight, disappearing into the distance.

The Giant, though, thought that the Tailor had merely thrown a stone he had hidden in his pocket, and was even more impressed than before. He said, “Well, a man as mighty as you must come and stay the night in our cave! Come, be my guest!

“But first,” began the Giant, “One more test, to truly judge how strong a man you are. Here, help me lift this mighty tree.”

And so the giant hefted a felled oak. The wise little Tailor made sure to jump up in the branches of the tree when the Giant’s back was turned, and sat, happy as a clam in the branches, causing the Giant to strain under the extra weight.

And with that, the Giant lead the little Tailor into the mouth of a nearby cavern, wherein were sleeping seven more giants, each more terrible than the last. The little Tailor was given some tough, tasteless food, and shown to his bunk. There, he stretched out, but he did not sleep, for he did not like the maniacal glint that he saw in the Giant’s eye.

“He is surely waiting for me to sleep,” said the Tailor to himself, “and when I do, he will creep up on me, and kill me.”

And so the Tailor waited until the Giant’s family was all asleep. Then, he slipped quietly out of his bed, leaving some pillows under the blanket to make the giant think it was he sleeping under the covers. Then he slipped out of the mouth of the cave, into the night.

He journeyed long and far, and soon found himself drowsy and wanting to sleep.

He curled up next to a burbling brook. In time, some wandering servants of the King approached, and, seeing the little tailor and his magnificent belt which proclaimed “Seven at a Blow,” woke him saying, “Certainly, a man such as thee, who canst perform such a deed as is proclaimed on thy belt, belongs in the service of the King.”

And so the little Tailor was unceremoniously commanded to accompany the royal troupe back to the palace, where the King greeted with great amusement (and not a little fear) a man that could kill “seven at a blow.”

His royal guard, though, were all in a fit of trembles. “What are we to do,” they reasoned, “if he becomes angered? Why, the man can kill “seven at a blow”!

It says so right on his belt! We can not tolerate such a man in our midst: if it came down to it, he could strike seven of us dead at one time, leaving us no defense!”

The King, reasoning that there might be some dissension in the ranks of his troops (and no King would risk losing the support of his fighting men. Not if he were smart.) told the little Tailor, “I will accept thee into my service; but first, I ask of the to perform a task. In a neighboring kingdom live two giants, who sleep in the forest and terrorize the towns on the border of our own land. If thou canst slay seven at a blow, thou shouldst make of two giants short work.”

The Tailor, hitching his thumbs onto his fancy leather belt, agreed quite readily.

So the King sent him on his way. Along with him he sent one hundred of his bravest horsemen, who all rode far back of the Tailor, as they knew he was setting out to conquer the fearsome giants.

“Never fear,’ he told them. “What are two giants to a man that can conquer and claim ‘seven at a blow’? I shall return shortly, my saber washed in giants’ blood.”

And with that he was off, trudging through the forest and keeping his eyes and ears open, in case he should run into any fearsome giants.

He had not far to go before he found the two he was sent for. Both of them lie, arm-in-arm, upon the ground, both fast asleep. He quietly, stealthily climbed up in the branches of the tree, and, shielding his eyes from the blazing sun, pondered what to do.

Suddenly, it occurred to him exactly what he was going to do. Climbing down from the tree, he gathered together pocketsful of stones, and then climbed carefully back to his perch. Then, after few minutes deliberation, he threw one of the stones with all his might at the sleeping giant on the left, who quickly came awake.

“Ho, brother,” said the awakened giant. “Why art thou pelting me?”

His irritable, ugly brother (truth be told, both giants were quite hideous), snapped, “Thou fool! I would never pelt thee! Now, lie down and sleep, for we have much to do on the morrow!”

So both giants relaxed again. Soon, the little tailor let fly with another of the loose stones. The giant lying on the left suddenly snapped awake and said, “Durst thou pelt me with stones while yet I sleep?”

To which his companion replied, “I do not! Now, arise and take thy punishment for speaking falsely against me!”

And so the giants rose to their feet, making the earth tremble, and sending huge clods of dirt and stone flying everywhere, and shaking the trees, and breaking off their branches and hitting each other over the head with them.

It was not long before both of the fools were lying on the ground unconscious, dripping and wet in pools of their own blood. (Proving, once again, that, instead of fighting your enemies, it is often better to get them to destroy each other.)

The valiant Tailor stepped forward and thrust his saber into the breasts of the twin giants, making short work of them. Then he went back to the one hundred horsemen and said, “Go and see for yourselves! The two giants are dead.”

And so, fearfully the men went and saw. And lo! They saw the two giants swimming in pools of their own blood, and they were much amazed by the derring-do and the powerful fighting skills of the little tailor.

And thus they returned to the king, and their complaints were double what they were before, as they were now very much afraid of the Tailor, as they thought that, surely, one day they would manage to anger him, and he would kill them off “seven at a blow.”

So the king, wishing he could rid himself of the pesky problem told the Tailor, “Before I can accept thee into my service, I must needs have thee perform another task. In yonder woods there lives a terrible unicorn, the cause of much fear and trembling amongst my people. Go and capture this strange beast, and thou shalt have the hand of my own daughter in marriage, and half of my kingdom in the bargain!”

And so the Tailor was off again, and with him the hundred horsemen, and he went into yonder woods, which were enchanted, and wherein lived the terrible unicorn that put so many strong men in a fit of trembles.

“Hark!” said the little Tailor. “I shall go into yonder wood and seek out the unicorn! Stay and wait for one who is always ready to slay, be it giant, unicorn, or ‘seven at a blow’!”

And so he went into the deep woods, and, before long, while hiding in a duck blind, he spied the terrible unicorn; and he did, indeed, agree that it put one in a “fit of trembles.”

He carefully approached the beast, not knowing, exactly, what he should do. It snorted, bent its head, stomped its hoof and–charged!

He looked about in panic, and spying a skinny tree directly behind him, leapt suddenly for cover behind it. It was a foolish move he knew (the tree could hardly be considered proper cover), but it turned out to be the right one.

The beast, too enraged and moving too swiftly to avoid a collision, thrust her single horn into the skinny elm, where it was promptly caught. The Tailor, his chest heaving, backed away from the tree. Realizing that, through sheer luck, he had just managed to ensnare the dreaded unicorn, he smiled and took out his dagger. Then, he promptly slayed the beast, finally taking its horn (how did he get it out?) along with him as proof.

At this the hundred horsemen were astonished. They rode back to their king glumly, and then grumbled to him about the seemingly superhuman little tailor, who had slain not only two fearsome giants, but a unicorn, and the aforementioned “seven at a blow,” as well.

The King was sorely vexed, but finally came up with an idea that he thought to be foolproof. He told the Tailor, “Before I consent to give thee my daughter’s precious hand, and half my kingdom, I should have of thee one final test . In yonder forest, past the craggy dark hills, there doth live the Wild Boar, the presence of which does indeed put my most stout-hearted knights into a fit of trembles. Slay the beast, bring me back proof that thou hast done this, and the way is clear for thee to one day become king of this mighty land.”

And the Tailor, hitching his thumbs into his belt, said, “It is simplicity itself. For, what is a wild boar to a man who can slay two giants and a unicorn? Seven at a blow is MY kind of affair, after all.”

And so he set out once again with the one hundred horsemen (who must have, by this point, seemed an entirely useless retinue), and went past the craggy hills into the deep forest.

He said, “Hark! I go to slay the Wild Boar. It is the work of a moment for me. After all, am I not the man who once slew ‘seven at a blow’?”

And with that, he ventured on alone. Soon, in a clearing, he saw the Wild Boar grazing. His legs shaking like jelly, he approached the animal cautiously, hiding in the brush with his saber drawn.

The Boar, however, must have caught wind of him, for it turned, its eyes blazing and its snout belching fire, its razorback mane sticking straight up, as it gave a wild snort and a monstrous howl, charging forward, sending up dust and dirt.

The Tailor thought he might, this time, actually be done for; so he turned, and screaming, headed back through the brush and up a hill, and down a hillock, and across dips and over crags and tussles. Finally, on a low hill, he found what appeared to him to be an abandoned chapel.

It was a dark, drab, crumblingand evil-looking little place, but at that moment the Tailor didn’t care, as he was being chased by the angry boar. He flew through the decrepit doorway and into the musty, dusty dark, slamming the door behind him.

Just as quickly as he had entered, so entered the Wild Boar, whose little piggy eyes scanned the darkness for its prey.

The Tailor, however, had had other ideas. Rather than stay there trapped, and be most assuredly killed, he dived out of a small window.

Then, racing around to the entrance, he shut up the old wooden doors tightly, securing them with a stout branch. The Wild Boar, unable (because of being a boar) to climb from the windows, raced around in the gloomy old chapel, snorting in terrific anger, trapped.

Thus, the Tailor was able to return to the horsemen and proclaim, “He has not hurt a single hair on my head! Yet, I have captured the Wild Boar! Go to yonder chapel, and see!”

And so they did. And, astonished, they shot arrows through the windows to kill the monster, then took the carcass back to the king for proof.

The King finally hung his head in defeat and proclaimed, “I have given thee my word, and so must keep it. Thou shalt have my daughter’s hand in marriage, and half my kingdom too.”

And so the King prepared a royal wedding the likes of which had never before been seen in that land. The Tailor walked down the aisle arm-in-arm with the princess, and was soon her husband.

The reader might be forgiven for thinking that this was, by and by, the end of the story. BUT THE READER WOULD BE WRONG.

One night, as the little Tailor was sleeping, he began to talk in his sleep.

Upon awakening, and listening to him speak of “getting the measurements right.” and “preparing the yard cloth,” and “Boy! bring me my scissors and tape!”, the Princess realized he was no heroic character after all, but a simple tailor.

In anger she went to her father, and said, “Thou hast married me off to a common tailor, Father, and shamed me forever! Oh, whatever shall I do?”

To which the King replied, “Fear not! I have a plan. When thou has retired for the evening, I will send to thy bedchamber an assassin, who will slay the little Tailor, and rid us of his presence!”

And so, that night, when the little Tailor was asleep, his wife crept from bed and crept to the door, opening it when she heard the approach of the assassin.

The footpad crept inside with his sword drawn, ready to kill, when, suddenly, the little Tailor began to talk in his sleep again:

“Boy! Take the Lord Mayor’s coat to him, or I’ll box your ears! Have I not slain seven at a blow? What do I care for some assassin lurking near my bed? Have I not likewise slain two giants, a unicorn, and a wild boar?”

At hearing this, the assassin became so frightened he turned and ran for his life, never to be seen in the kingdom again. Upon the death of the King, the little Tailor ascended the throne; and it was known, far and wide, that he was the one and only killer of SEVEN AT A BLOW.

And they all lived happily ever after.

(Source: Brothers Grimm)

Sade’s Justine Chapter 1: Justine and Juliette

Note: Finally getting around to writing my own adaptation of this forbidden, gothic masterpiece. But, it will be faithful, trust me.

Chapter 1 Justine and Juliette

There were once two sisters, very much unlike each other. The eldest, Juliette, was a ravishing, raven-haired little minx just yet out of her early teens; even at her tender age, she was already world-wise as a woman of thirty. Moreover, she was a vain, frivolous and inordinately cruel, tempestuous creature. She was possessed of a firm, supple figure, flashing dark eyes, and these fine attributes were too-frequently and unfortunately brought to her attention.

Her sister, Justine, by contrast, was a deeply melancholy, serious and brooding creature, possessed of fine, upright moral sentiments and educated in religious principles that she steadfastly adhered to. Thus, while her sister Juliette was a gay, wanton, selfish creature, Justine was possessed of a virtue that marked her out as a chaste maiden, beyond moral and ethical reproach.

Alas! It was a misfortunate turn of the screw that lead these two striking young beauties down their wildly divergent pathways in life, one to fortune, one to ruin. Their father, man of great wealth, possessing a vast estate, found himself in a series of financial reversals. Seeing his fortune dwindle away and increasingly despondent, he ended his own life. In short order, his wife, the girls’ mother, followed him to a cold, cheerless grave.

The two girls, soon finding themselves possessed of a meager inheritance, were of no longer any interest or use to their relatives, he just as quickly decided to turn them out of doors.

The prospect of sudden freedom effected both of these girls in a very different manner. Juliette, for her part, was delighted, truly delighted, to be able to abandon herself to what she felt would surely be a carefree adventure, one in which she could cast off all moral obligations, responsibilities and restraints, and give vent to the inner longings that beckoned her down the pathway of a liberated woman. “I’m no Nun,” she thought to herself, “and I’ve never taken a vow of poverty. I’ll do whatever it takes to become a wealthy, worldly woman, no matter what the wicked wantonness, I will willingly work it!”
And inside she was thrilled to be free of the yoke of parental restraint–and she knew she could give vent to the fiery pangs of perverse temptation, the tormented inner yearnings she knew as STRANGE DESIRE. Oh, my yes! She was ready, was she not?
Her sister Justine, on the other hand–poor innocent, virginal Justine; pure as the driven snow, frugal and frigid and reserved and quiet and religious as Hell–Justine was not overly-happy to be so suddenly cast out onto the uncaring, tempestuous tidal waves of a cold, tormented and terrible world. It seemed so mockingly cold and cruel.
She found herself prostrate with the sheer horrific magnitude of their dire straits, sinking into lackadaisical gloom, hardly able to contain her tears; she quickly became the butt of her sister’s cruel, withering, sarcastic taunts.
‘Oh, boo hoo to you too, poor little angel!” taunted Juliette. You are too easily a prey to tender emotions!”

Juliette went on to relate her philosophy that the sources of pleasure they could find within themselves were so numerous that there was. literally, no reason to concern themselves with anything or anyone outside themselves–that they could both find pleasures aplenty, in other words, to distract themselves. Justine was horrified and sickened by her sister’s cold, callous attitude and her amoral way of thought.

“It is far more urgent, my sister, to double one’s pleasure than to increase one’s pain! We should do everything in our power to deaden the effects of such gloom!”

And Juliette continued. “Besides, with our firm, young figures, it will be mere child’s play to find some lusty young bhagatur or debauched old rakehell to take in two luscious young pretties such as ourselves. Why, with our fine figures, good looks and youth, we should never have to worry about starving!”

Juliette then began to heap ridicule on Justine’s pious notions about the only happiness a girl could find being in the sanctimonious embrace of holy matrimony. ‘Posh, stuff and nonsense!” sneered her libertine sister. “A girl would be miserable under such barbaric captivity! Miserable I tell you! Girls today should be more modern, more with it, more up to snuff, more up to speed, get with the times. See what I mean?”

But Justine most certainly did not; and, furthermore, was scandalized by her sister’s insinuations that the abandon themselves to lives as courtesans.

“Whores! You’d have us become nothing more than whores! Oh, I’d rather die than be so dishonored!”

And Juliette, seeing there was no turning her sister, said, “You’d rather die, you say? Very well then. I suppose you had better go and do so. I don’t want you hanging around, embarrassing me. Off with you! We shall go our separate ways!”

And Justine, who likewise didn’t want to follow her sister’s dark and and hellish path down the avenue of debauchery and vice, agreed. The two girls thus parted company, and did not see each other for many, many years.
End of Chapter 1, Justine.