THERE was once upon a time a man and his wife, and they wanted to sow their fields, but they had neither seed nor money to buy it with. However, they had one cow, and so they decided that the man should drive it to the town and sell it, so that they might buy seed with the money. When the time came, however, the woman was afraid to let her husband take the cow, fearing he would spend the money in drink. So she set off herself with the cow, and took a hen with her also.
When she was near the town she met a butcher, who said--
"Do you want to sell the cow, mother?"
"Yes," answered she, "I do."
"How much do you want for it?"
"I want a mark for the cow, and you shall have the hen for sixty marks."
"Well," said he, "I have no need of the hen. You can get rid of that when you come to the town, but I will give you a mark for the cow."
She sold him the cow and got the mark for it, but when she came to the town she could find no one who would give her sixty marks for a tough lean hen. So she went back to the butcher and said--
"I cannot get this hen off, master, so you had better take it also with the cow."
"We will see about it," said the butcher. So he gave her something to eat, and gave her so much brandy that she became tipsy and lost her senses, and fell asleep.
When he saw that, the butcher dipped her in a barrel of tar, and then laid her on a heap of feathers.
When she awoke she found herself feathered all over, and wondered at herself.
"Is it me or some one else?" said she. "No, it cannot be me. It must be a strange bird. How shall I find out whether it is me or not? Oh, I know. When I get home, if the calves lick me, and the dog does not bark at me, then it is me myself."
The dog had no sooner seen her than he began to bark, as if there were thieves and robbers in the yard.
"Now," said she, "I see it is not me."
She went to the cow-house but the calves would not lick her, for they smelt the strong tar.
"No," said she, "I see it cannot be me. It must be some strange bird."
So she crept up to the top of the barn, and began to flap her arms as if they had been wings, and tried to fly. Her husband saw her, so he came out with his gun and took aim.
"Don't shoot, don't shoot," called his wife. "It is me."
"Is it you?" said the man. "Then don't stand there like a goat. Come down and tell me what account you can give of yourself."
She crept down again; but she had not a shilling, for she had lost the mark the butcher had given her while she was drunk.
When the man heard that he was very angry, and declared he would leave her, and never come back again until he had found three women as big fools as his wife.
So he set off, and when he had gone a little way he saw a woman who ran in and out of a newly built wood hut with an empty sieve. Every time she ran in she threw her apron over the sieve, as if she had something in it.
"Why do you do that, mother?" asked he.
"Why, I am only carrying in a little sun," said she, "but I don't understand how it is, when I am outside I get the sunshine in the sieve, but when I get in I have somehow lost it. When I was in my old hut I had plenty of sunshine, though I never carried it in. I wish I knew some one who would give me sunshine. I would give him three hundred dollars."
"Have you an axe?" asked the man. "If so I will get you sunshine."
She gave him an axe and he cut some windows in the hut, for the carpenter had forgotten them. Then the sun shone in, and the woman gave him three hundred dollars.
"That's one," said the man, and he set out once more.
Some time after he came to a house in which he heard a terrible noise and bellowing. He went in and saw a woman who was beating her husband across the head with a stick with all her might. Over the man's head there was a shirt in which there was no hole for his head to go through.
"Mother," said he, "will you kill your husband?"
"No," said she, "I only want a hole for his head in the shirt."
The man called out and, struggling, cried--
"Heaven preserve and comfort all such as have new shirts! If any one would only teach my wife some new way to make a head-hole in them I would gladly give him three hundred dollars."
"That shall soon be done. Give me a pair of scissors," said the other.
The woman gave him the scissors, and he cut a hole in the shirt for the man's head to go through, and took the three hundred dollars.
"That is number two," said he to himself.
After some time he came to a farm-house, where he thought he would rest a while. When he went in the woman said--
"Where do you come from, father?"
"I am from Ringerige (Paradise)," said he.
"Ah! dear, dear! Are you from Himmerige (Heaven)?" said she. "Then you will know my second husband, Peter; happy may he be!"
The woman had had three husbands. The first and third had been bad and had used her ill, but the second had used her well, so she counted him as safe.
"Yes," said the man, "I know him well."
"How does he get on there?" asked the woman.
"Only pretty well," said the man. "He goes about begging from one house to another, and has but little food, or clothes on his back. As to money he has nothing."
"Heaven have mercy on him!" cried the woman. "He ought not to go about in such a miserable state when he left so much behind. There is a cupboard full of clothes which belonged to him, and there is a big box full of money, too. If you will take the things with you, you can have a horse and cart to carry them. He can keep the horse, and he can sit in the cart as he goes from house to house, for so he ought to go."
The man from Ringerige got a whole cart-load of clothes and a box full of bright silver money, with meat and drink, as much as he wanted. When he had got all he wished, he got into the cart, and once more set out.
"That is the third," said he to himself.
Now the woman's third husband was ploughing in a field, and when he saw a man he did not know come out of his yard with his horse and cart, he went home and asked his wife, who it was that was going off with the black horse.
"Oh," said the woman, "that is a man from Himmerige (Heaven). He told me that things went so miserably with my second Peter, my poor husband, that he had to go begging from house to house and had no money or clothes. I have therefore sent him the old clothes he left behind, and the old money box with the money in it."
The man saw how matters were, so he saddled a horse and went out of the yard at full speed. It was not long before he came up to the man who sat and drove the cart. When the other saw him he drove the horse and cart into a wood, pulled a handful of hair out of the horse's tail, and ran up a little hill, where he tied the hair fast to a birch-tree. Then he lay down under the tree and began to look and stare at the sky.
"Well, well," said he, as if talking to himself, when Peter the third came near. "Well! never before have I seen anything to match it."
Peter stood still for a time and looked at him, and wondered what was come to him. At last he said--
"Why do you lie there and stare so?"
"I never saw anything like it," said the other. "A man has gone up to heaven on a black horse. Here in the birch-tree is some of the horse's tail hanging, and there in the sky you may see the black horse."
Peter stared first at the man and then at the sky, and said--
"For my part, I see nothing but some hair out of a horse's tail in the birch-tree."
"Yes," said the other, "you cannot see it where you stand, but come here and lie down, and look up, and take care not to take your eyes off the sky."
Peter the third lay down and stared up at the sky till the tears ran from his eyes. The man from Ringerige took his horse, mounted it, and galloped away with it and the horse and cart. When he heard the noise on the road, Peter the third sprang up, but when he found the man had gone off with his horse he was so astonished that he did not think of going after him till it was too late.
He was very down-faced when he went home to his wife, and when she asked him what he had done with the horse, he said--
"I gave it to Peter the second, for I didn't think it was right he should sit in a cart and jolt about from house to house in Himmerige. Now then he can sell the cart, and buy himself a coach, and drive about."
"Heaven bless you for that," said the woman. "I never thought you were so kind-hearted a man."
When the Ringerige man reached home with his six hundred dollars, his cart-load of clothes, and the money, he saw that all his fields were ploughed and sown. The first question he put to his wife was how she had got the seed.
"Well," said she, "I always heard that what a man sowed he reaped, so I sowed the salt the North-people left here, and if we only have rain I don't doubt but that it will come up nicely."
"You are silly," said the man, "and silly you must remain, but that does not much matter, for the others are as silly as yourself."