THERE were once upon a time a man and a woman who agreed so well together that a harsh word had never passed between them since the beginning of their married life; for whatever the husband did the wife thought right and proper, and everything that she did the husband thought the best that could be done. They had not much to manage with, so they had to be very careful, even with the crumbs; but no matter how black things looked, they were always happy and contented.
But envy seems to find her way into every corner, be it ever so humble, and if there is no one else who begrudges people living in peace Old Nick always tries to get his foot inside. So he lay in wait outside their house, wondering how he should be able to sow ever so little dissension there.
He tried in one way and he tried in another and he tried in every way; but although he was always hovering about the house they kept so well together that he could not find a single chink through which he could slip in, however small he made himself.
But what Old Nick himself cannot accomplish wicked women may manage. In the same neighbourhood there lived one called Katie Grey,  who was one of the right sort. To her he went, and asked if she could set the old couple against each other.
That wouldn't be very difficult, she thought; and if only he would give her a new jacket and a petticoat with red and green and blue stripes she would be sure to manage it so that Old Nick himself should not be able to do it better. Well, Old Nick agreed to that, and so they parted.
Early next morning, as soon as the husband had set out for the forest, Katie Grey rushed off to see the wife.
"Good morning, and well met!" she said, making herself as pleasant as possible.
"Good morning!" said the wife.
"You have a very good husband, you have, haven't you?" said Katie Grey.
"Yes, the Lord be praised!" said the wife. "When the first snow falls this autumn it will be six and thirty years since we were married, and never during all these years has a single harsh word fallen from his lips."
Katie Grey quite agreed with her, as you may guess. "Yes, he is no doubt one of the best men one can meet in a day's walk," she said. "But I know people who have got on just as well as you two, and yet trouble came in the end."
"Poor people!" said the wife. "But just as soon will the mouse lie down with the cat, as such things will be heard about us," she said.
Well, that might be. Katie Grey was not one to believe all that people said, but "better wise beforehand than hasty afterwards," and "those who remedies know, can well kill illness, I trow;" and as she knew of a remedy against such a misfortune, she thought she ought to mention it, for when they had lived together like a pair of turtle doves for six and thirty years it would be both "sin and shame" if they were now to begin to bicker and quarrel.
The wife could not say anything to that.
"Well, you see," said Katie Grey, for now she thought she had got the better of the wife, "if you take a razor and draw it three times along a strop against the sun, and then cut off six hairs from your husband's beard just under his chin one night when he is asleep, and afterwards burn them, he will never be angry with you."
The wife said she did not think she would ever be in need of that remedy, but she thanked her for her good advice all the same.
Katie Grey then set out for the forest, where the husband was making osier-bands.
"Good morning, and well met!" she said.
"Good morning to you!" said the man.
"What a very kind and good wife you have got!" she said.
"That's true enough," said the man. "There isn't a better woman on this side of the sun, nor has there ever been one either."
"That may be," said Katie Grey, "but so was Eve also before the Evil One got the better of her."
"Yes, that's true; but my wife, you see, is not one of that sort, for she never puts her foot where such wickedness is going on," he said.
"Don't be so sure about that, for the Evil One can creep through the eye of a needle," she said, "so that no one is secure against him. Not that I want to make any mischief between people,--no one can say that about me,--but those who will run into danger had better be well looked after. 'All is not gold that glitters,' and 'outside mild, inside wild,' often go together," she said.
"You talk according to the sense you have," said the man, who began to feel angry. "My wife is no more likely to wish me evil than the sun to shine in the middle of the night--that I may tell you," he said.
"Thinking and believing do no harm to anybody," she said. "But I think you will do a wise thing in not closing your eyes to-night when your wife comes and draws a razor across your throat. But not a word about this to any one, do you hear?" she said, and off she went.
One gets to hear a good deal before one has done with this world--but did one ever hear the like of this? Could it be possible? The man felt as strange in his head as if he had rolled down the church steeple; but whatever it was that ailed him, there he stood pondering and brooding.
Pshaw! She was after all only a wicked woman, who wanted to set them against each other. Yes, that was it; and he was very sorry he had not given her a good thrashing for her trouble.
But although he worked away and toiled his best with his osiers, he could not get out of his head what Katie Grey had put into it; and when he came home in the evening he was so depressed and silent that his wife had never seen him in such a state before, so strange was he.
"Goodness knows, what can be the matter with my husband?" she thought; and then she suddenly recollected what Katie Grey had told her.
"I may as well take three hairs from his beard," she thought, "for when you have had a happy home for six and thirty years, it isn't likely you'll let it slip through your fingers all at once." But she did not dare to speak to her husband,--she only asked him to lend her his razor.
He let her have it, but he sighed and thought to himself: "I wonder if she would do me any harm? I wonder if she really could? Oh, no! that's quite impossible."
But he put his axe close to his bed, and then they both lay down to rest.
Later on in the night she asked:
"Are you asleep, husband?"
This startled the man, but he did not say a word, and the wife stole out of bed and lighted a candle.
The man's heart began to beat violently.
The wife then took the razor and drew it three times along the leather belt of her husband's apron, and went towards the bed.
The blood rushed to the man's head, so that he almost lost his senses, but he lay as quiet as a stone, and only moved his hand towards the axe.
The wife then came close to the bed to cut the three hairs from his beard.
But as she leaned forward the man suddenly jumped up and seized his axe, with which he struck his wife, who fell down dead on the floor.
He felt he had done a very wicked deed, but he had not thought that things would come to this pass.
He became much distressed--for what was he going to do?
It was perhaps best he followed his wife, and so he took a knife and cut his throat.
Just then he heard some one laughing outside the window, and he looked in that direction. There he saw Katie Grey, and then he died.
Katie Grey was now quite proud that she had been able to do more than the Evil One himself.
Old Nick was not far off either. He came with a petticoat and a jacket hanging on a long, long pole, which he held out towards her.
"Come nearer, so that I may shake hands with you and thank you," she said.
"No, keep away from me!" he cried, and kept her back with his pole, which he poked at her.
"You call me the Wicked One and the Evil One and such things, but I am not as wicked as you are, at any rate. Look here," he said, "take what belongs to you, so that I can have done with you." And with this he threw the pole and the clothes at her, and took to his heels as fast as ever he could, so afraid was he of her.
Katie Grey stood wondering and staring after him. Just then two white pigeons came flying out of the cottage, and flew right up into the clouds above. They were the man and his wife; for though Old Nick had wished them evil, the Lord would take care of them. But what would become of Katie Grey, seeing that the Evil One himself did not dare to go near her, it is not easy to say.