Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Clever Wife

The Clever Wife

 The Clever Wife

There was a man, he was called Friedel, and his young wife, she was called Kotti. Newly wedded they were, these two, and had just set up housekeeping on a farm of their own.

Said Friedel one day, “Now I’m off to the fields, Kotti. When I return I shall expect to find some meat on the table for my hunger, and a cool drink beside it for my thirst.”

“But the meat is raw, Friedel!” said the young wife who had not yet learned to cook and who was none too bright besides.

“Raw it is, to be sure,” said Friedel. “You must cook it.”

“But how, Friedel?” asked Kotti.

“That’s easy enough,” said Friedel. “Just sprinkle it with salt and pepper, put it in a pan with some butter, then lay it in among the coal, and soon it will be roasted fine and brown. Now I’m off to my ploughing, Kotti-girl, and don’t forget to do what I told you.”

“Oh don’t worry, Friedel,” said his wife. “Just run along and leave it to me.”

 After he had gone, Kotti swept the kitchen and went out to gather a handful of flowers. As dinner-time drew near, she spread a clean cloth on the table, set the bouquet of flowers on it, and placed a jug of cool water beside Friedel’s plate.

 “And now I must roast our meat just as Friedel told me,” said Kotti. After sprinkling the meat with salt and pepper, she put it in a pan with some butter and carried it out into the vegetable garden where grew many fine heads of cole, which, as you know, is a kind of cabbage. Carefully she placed the pan of meat on the ground in the midst of the cole plants and then stood looking at it.

“I really don’t see how the meat can cook out here in the garden,” she thought, “but Friedel told me to lay it in among the cole, and he must know.”

With this she turned back to the house, but before she had gone very far she heard a noise in the garden, and look! there was their dog swallowing the meat in big greedy gulps.

“A bad business!” cried Kotti. “Now Friedel won’t have anything to eat. But it’s not my fault, that’s certain—I did just as he said.”

 At noontime when Friedel returned from his work, he sat down at the table and said, “Now then, my little wife, what have you fixed up for my dinner?”

“Well,” said Kotti. “Here is a jug of cool water for you to drink, and some pretty flowers to look at while you drink it.”

“But where is the meat?” asked her husband. “Oh, Friedel,” said Kotti. “I didn’t have any luck with that. I took it out into the garden and laid it down among the cole just as you said; but before it even started to cook, the dog found it and ate it up before my eyes. But don’t worry, Friedel, next time I’ll do it better. I’ll tie the dog up first and then everything will go as it should.”

“Oh Kotti, Kotti!” cried Friedel. “You shouldn’t have done it that way. You should have put the meat among the coal in the fireplace, not among the cole plants in the garden. Then it would have roasted fine and brown and the dog couldn’t have stolen it.”

“Yes, Friedel, that I didn’t know,” said Kotti. “You should have told me not to do those things.”

At this Friedel shook his head and thought, “Well, well, if this is the way it will go with your young wife, you’ll have to be more careful after this.”

Now Friedel was a thrifty man and he had saved a tidy bagful of dollars. These he had exchanged for gold pieces, but since he saw that his new wife had but little sense in her head he thought it best to keep this a secret from her. So the next day before going off to the fields he took the bag of gold pieces and said, “Look, wife, do you see these yellow chips? I will put them in a crock which I’ll bury under the cow’s manger in the barn. But don’t you dare go near it, or it will go ill with you!”

“Oh no, Friedel,” said Kotti, “you can set your mind at rest about that. I surely won’t go near the place, that I’ll promise you.”

“Good!” said Friedel and buried the crock of gold under the cow’s manger.

After he had gone off to the fields, there came three pedlars who were loaded down with earthenware and crockery of all kinds.

 “Look,” they said to Kotti, “we have beautiful wares for sale or exchange. Bowls and pots and jugs—red, yellow, brown and green and blue. Don’t you want to buy some?”

 “Oh, you dear people!” cried Kotti. “I would gladly help you out but I have no money.”

“That’s too bad,” said the pedlars. “You don’t get such a bargain every day.”

“Wait!” said Kotti, “I’ve just thought of something. If you would care to take some yellow chips in exchange, why then I could buy something from you.”

“Yellow chips, why not?” said the pedlars. “Let’s have a look at them.”

“Just go into the barn,” said Kotti, “and dig around under the cow’s manger. There in a crock you’ll find the yellow things. As for me, I’m not allowed to go near them.”

The rascals went to the barn and dug around for a while. When they found the crock and saw it was full of pure gold, they ran off with it as fast as they could, leaving all their bowls and pots and jugs behind them.

“Oh, men!” called Kotti. “You forgot your wares.” Then, seeing they paid no heed to her words, she shouted, “All right then, if you’re so set on cheating yourselves! But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She turned to the heap of crockery at her feet wondering what she should do with it, for her kitchen was so well stocked with dishes that she had no need for more. Still, these were so gay and pretty that she felt she ought to use them in some way, so she knocked out their bottoms and stuck them on the fence posts all around the house.

She stood and looked at her handiwork.

“What a nice trimming for our yard!” she cried. “Friedel will like that. How lucky it was that I thought of those old yellow chips in the barn!”

When Friedel came home and saw the strange sight he cried, “Wife, what have you been up to now? Where did you get all that crockery?”

“Bought it,” said Kotti proudly. “With those old yellow chips you buried under the cow’s manger. But don’t worry, Friedel, I did just as you said, and never went near them myself—the pedlars had to dig them out for themselves.”

“Oh Kotti, Kotti!” moaned Friedel. “What have you done? Those weren’t really yellow chips in that crock. Gold it was, pure gold, and it’s taken me years of hard work to save it.”

“Yes, Friedel, that I didn’t know,” said Kotti. “You should have told me so before.”

 She stood and thought for a while, then she said, “Listen, Friedel, we can easily get the gold back. Let’s run after the thieves.”

“Come then,” said Friedel. “We’ll try it. But take some bread and butter and cheese with you so we’ll have something to eat on the way.”

“Yes, Friedel, I’ll do that,” said Kotti.

They hurried off and, because Friedel could walk faster, Kotti was soon left some distance behind. “It’s to my advantage,” she said. “When we turn around to go home I will already be a good ways ahead.”

 At length she came to a steep mountain road and when she reached the top she saw it was full of deep, rough ruts.

“Well, just look at that!” said Kotti to herself. “How they have torn and flayed and squeezed the poor earth. That will never heal up in all its life!” And out of pity for the road she took her pat of butter and greased the ruts right and left so the wheels wouldn’t scrape and hurt them so much. As she bent down to do this kind deed, one of the cheeses fell out of her pocket and rolled down the steep mountain road.

“Well now!” cried Kotti as she watched it bounce out of sight. “I’ve climbed this hill once; I’m not going back down there to get that cheese. Let another one roll down and bring it back.”

With this she took a second cheese out of her pocket and rolled it down the steep road. But the cheeses did not return, neither the first nor the second, so she sent down a third cheese to fetch the other two, thinking, “Maybe those two down there are waiting for some company and don’t want to travel alone.”

 When all three cheeses stayed away she said, “What can it mean? Still, it may be that the last one lost its way and hasn’t found the others. I guess I had better send down a fourth to call the third and bring back the first two.”

But the fourth cheese did no better than the rest; at this Kotti became so angry that she threw down the fifth and the sixth also, and those were the last ones. For a while she stood there watching and waiting for the six runaway cheeses to return but as they didn’t come and didn’t come, she cried, “Oh, you’re fine ones—you certainly take your time about things! Do you think I’ll wait any longer for you? I’m going on my way; you can run after me, you’ve got younger legs than I have.”

Kotti trotted on and soon caught up with Friedel who had stopped to wait for her because he was getting hungry. 

“Well now, let’s have some of that food you brought with you,” he said.

She handed him the loaf of bread.

“But where is the butter and the cheese?” he asked.

“Oh Friedel,” said Kotti, “the butter I used for greasing the poor torn-up ruts in the road, and the cheeses ought to be here any minute. One ran away from me and rolled down the hill, so I sent the others after it. You might try calling them; your voice is louder than mine.”

“Oh wife!” cried Friedel. “You shouldn’t have done such a thing—to smear our good butter on the ruts, and to roll all our cheeses down the hill, that wasn’t right.”

 “Yes, Friedel, that I didn’t know,” said Kotti. “You should have told me not to do those things.”

They ate the dry bread and then Friedel thought of something. “You were the last to leave the house, Kotti,” he said. “Did you make the doors safe before you went?”

“No, Friedel, that I didn’t. You should have told me.”

“Well, go back and do it now, before we go any farther,” said Friedel. “And bring back something else to eat. I’ll wait for you here.”

Kotti trotted back, thinking, “Friedel asked for something else to eat—I guess he doesn’t like butter and cheese; so I’ll bring something different this time: a kerchief full of dried pears for him to eat and a jug full of vinegar for him to drink.”

When she reached their home, she carefully bolted the upper half of the door. The lower half she lifted off its hinges, loaded it on her back and set out once more. She was in no hurry, and took her time on the way, thinking, “The longer it takes me, the longer my Friedel can rest himself.” When she reached him at last, she said, “Well, Friedel—here you have the house door. Now you can keep an eye on it yourself.”

Friedel looked at her. “Ah me!” he groaned. “What a clever wife I have! Bolts the top half of the door and takes off the lower half, so anything and anybody can run into the house. Well, it’s too late to go back once more, but since you’ve brought the door so far, you’ll have to keep on carrying it.”

“Yes, Friedel, I’ll carry the door; but the dried pears and the vinegar jug are too heavy for me to carry. I’ll load them on the door and let it carry something too.”

“As you will,” said her husband, and walked on.

Now they went into the forest and searched for the rascally pedlars but couldn’t find them. At length as it was getting late, and too dark to find their way home, they climbed a big tree, planning to spend the night there.

Hardly were they settled high among the dense, big branches when who should come slinking through the woods but three men. They were the kind of fellows who take what doesn’t want to come along, and who manage to find things before they are even lost. Yes, thieves—that’s what they were, and the very ones who had run off with Friedel’s gold. As luck would have it, they stopped under the same tree in which Friedel and Kotti were hiding; and after building a fire, the three rogues sat around it where, with much arguing and quarrelling, they began dividing their booty among them.

Friedel, hearing the clink of his hard-earned gold, was full of anger. He crawled down the farther side of the thick tree trunk and gathered stones, then climbed back up among the branches and began tossing the stones at the thieves, hoping to kill them or scare them away. But he missed his aim and the pedlars said calmly, “There must be a storm coming up; the wind is shaking down some pine cones.”

In the meantime poor Kotti still had the door on her back. It was getting heavier and heavier all the time and she thought the kerchief full of dried pears must be the cause of it.

“Friedel!” she whispered, “I’ll just have to throw down those pears.”

“No, not now, Kotti,” said her husband. “That would give us away—the thieves might guess that we’re up here.”

“But Friedel, I’ll have to do it,” said poor Kotti. “Those pears are getting heavier and heavier; I can’t stand it any longer.”

“Oh well, do it then!” said Friedel crossly.

Down went the dried pears, and as they dropped through the branches and fell to the ground the thieves said to one another, “The birds are nesting up there.”

But even after the pears were gone, something still pressed heavily on Kotti’s back, so a little later she said, “Friedel, I see it wasn’t the pears, after all, that were so heavy. It must be the vinegar. I’ll have to pour it out.”

“No, Kotti-wife, that you can’t do,” said Friedel. “It would surely give us away.” 

“But Friedel,” moaned Kotti, “I must. It’s too heavy for me; I can’t stand it any longer.”

“Oh well then, if you must, you must!” grumbled Friedel.

As Kotti poured out the vinegar, it besprinkled the heads of the thieves below, but all they said was, “It must be almost morning; the dew is dripping already.”

Up in the tree Kotti wriggled and squirmed under her heavy load, and at last she thought: “Something is still pressing on my back. I wonder, could it be the door?” Then she said, “Friedel, I’ll have to throw down the door too.”

“No, Kotti! Not now! That will give us away for certain. If those rascals find us here they’ll surely kill us.”

 “But Friedel, I must—I can’t stand it a minute more.”

“No, Kotti, hold on to it a little longer.”

“Oh Friedel, I can’t! There it goes!”

“So be it then,” moaned Friedel. “May Heaven protect us!”

Down went the door, and as it came crashing through the branches with a noise like thunder, the thieves below jumped to their feet, shrieking in terror.

“Howli-ow!” they cried. “The Evil One is coming down out of the tree. We’re done for! Howli-ow! ow! ow!”

And so, not even daring to look behind them, they scurried away, leaving their booty scattered around on the ground.

As soon as the three rascals were out of sight, Friedel and Kotti scrambled down from their high perch and started gathering up their gold. Not a single coin was lost, and so the happy pair—Friedel with the full crock under his arm, and Kotti with the house door on her back once more—went back to their farm where, let us hope, they lived contentedly ever after.