The brilliance of this fairy tale, which was “told in Picardy by Narcisso Dufaux, aged 48 years, a cap-maker at Warloy-Baillon (Somme)”, lays in the punch line. Read for yourselves!
One day a poor man sent.his son, Skilful John, to carry some buttered rolls to his parents, who lived three miles off, telling him not to stop by the way. John sauntered along the road and lost his way. Seeing a light, he followed it and came to a little hut. He knocked at the door.
Open to a poor lost boy.
God therefor will have great joy.”
The door opened; an old woman with a grinning face appeared and asked, “Who are you ?” “I am Skilful John; will you lodge me for the night?”
“If I lodge you, what will you pay me?” “I will give you a piece of buttered roll.” The old woman made him come in; he seated himself in a corner while the old woman made him some broth.
“I bet,” said she to him after a few moments, “that with my old legs I can reach my garden wall before you do. If I win, I will eat your buttered roll; and if I lose, you shall keep your roll, and have my broth into the bargain.”
“Very well,” said the child; and, darting out, he soon reached the garden wall. But the old woman, instead of running, shut and bolted her door, and took possession of the buttered roll that John had left on his bench. John knocked in vain; the door was not opened for him a second time; and, as it was raining very hard, he got into a bee-hive. In the middle of the night some thieves came to steal the hives. John heard a voice say, —
“Lift the hives, and take away the heaviest.”
As the hive in which John was, was one of the heaviest, it was taken away by the thieves, who put it in a bag.
When the thieves came to a wood, they put down their burdens, John took his knife, made a hole in the bag and escaped.
After wandering for some time, he met a shepherd who gave him a piece of bread, and took him afterwards to sleep in the barn of a farmhouse. During the night the floor fell in, and John woke up in a stable astride of an ox. Just at that moment the thieves were busy unfastening the oxen ; seeing John, they took him and carried him away with them to the forest. Not wishing to kill him, they shut him up in an old cask and abandoned him to his unhappy fate. A pack of wolves came up to devour the remains of the thieves’ repast: one of them passed near the cask. John put his hand out of the bung-hole and seized him by his tail. The frightened wolf fled through the woods, dragging behind him the cask, which was soon broken into a thousand pieces. John, once more set free, went wandering around till he came to a hut. It was the same old woman’s hut. Its door was only latched. John entered softly; the old woman, who was asleep, did not hear him. He took his buttered roll and ate all there was left of the broth, then went out singing as loud as he could, —
“Old woman! old woman!
I have eaten your broth.
Old woman! old woman!
I am sharp enough!”
Text source: Fairy legends of the French provinces. Transl. by Martha Ward Carey. With an introd. note by J.F. Jameson. New York: T.Y. Crowell, 1887.
Image: Henry William Banks Davis’ On the Cliffs (1869)
I love how it leads you full-circle and you realise that it will soon enough – but still have no idea how it will work. 🙂