folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 237
translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
However, once when the husband was out the wife said to her maid: "Let us eat the large eel, and we will tell my husband that the otter ate it."
When the husband came home the magpie told him how the wife had eaten the eel.
He went to the pond, but could not find the eel. He then asked his wife what had become of the eel. She tried to make an excuse for herself, but he said, "Don't make excuses, because I know that you have eaten it, for the magpie told me so."
Then he scolded his wife severely for eating the eel.
After the husband left the wife and her maid went to the magpie and plucked out all the feathers on its head, saying, "This is for telling on us about the eel." Thus the poor magpie had its head-feathers plucked out.
From that time forth whenever the magie saw a bald man, or a woman with a high forehead, it would say: "You must have told about the eel."
In Meissen happened on a time
The story of this simple rhyme:
A fine, fat eel one day was caught,
And to a noble's castle brought.
This high-born Epicurean sought
For dainty things. Well pleased was he,
To friends who came to sup or dine
With him on tidbits and choice wine.
So he was greatly charmed to feel
He had this marvel of an eel
To make a feast that would not fail
His choice companions to regale.
For safety, in a box he stored
His prize till it might grace his board;
But first he showed his wife how fine
The eel on which they were to dine
When he returned from woodland ways
With princely friends in a few days.
When he, according to his wont,
With noble friends had gone to hunt,
His young wife, tempted, came to feel
Insatiate craving for the eel,
Which yet she did not dare to steal;
Her courage was not quite enough;
For her good spouse was sometimes rough;
And well she knew he would not choose
His feast upon the eel to lose.
She had a gossip much more bold,
The steward's wife, to whom she told
Her longing; and that comrade bade
Her lady let her heart be glad,
For she would find an easy way
To make excuse, and they could say
An otter ate the eel, or that
A beaver found the eel was fat:
So did these women thus agree
To cook the eel to nicety;
Then ate the dainty greedily,
Enjoying the delicious dish,
For which the lady had such wish.
From hunting, to his castle, came
Its lord, his bags well filled with game.
When boots and spurs were laid aside
He stood by the hall-window wide,
In which his pet, a magpie, swung,
Her cage upon an antler hung.
"Well, magpie," quoth the castle-lord,
"What news, my bird, while I abroad
Have been a-hunting?" This the bird
Answered at once, "Oh, have you heard
How mistress made a merry meal,
Enjoying much the big fat eel,
She and the steward's wife? The two
Have made a fairy tale for you. "
He doubted this; but when he knew
The eel was gone he thought it true.
Then to his wife he said, "My dear,
Where is the eel that I left here?"
She said, "Indeed I do not know
How, from the box, thy eel could go:
An otter, or a beaver, may
Perchance have stolen it away."
"Thou wast the otter, and 'tis true
The steward's wife was beaver, too;
These are the water-beasts that took
My eel. Thou hast a guilty look!"
Her lord exclaimed in waking ire,
Her falsehood rousing anger's fire.
The wife, with temper, tossed her head,
And, full of scorn, indignant, said,
How dar'st thou say such thing? O fie!
Thou know'st the charge is stupid lie."
Now, angered more, he slapped her cheek:
"Thou huzzy! thou so dar'st to speak!"
She, white with rage, caught in her clutch
His beard, and pulled; it hurt him much;
He seized her hair; then, blow on blow,
They fought, and bruised each other so
She loudly screamed, he roughly swore,
As now they rolled upon the floor
Until the servants came, and they,
In shocking plight, were pulled away.
Again a-hunting rode the lord;
And, while her husband was abroad,
The wife and gossip met once more,
And talked the dreadful story o'er:
"Who told of us?" the lady cried;
"When I the fault at once denied
He said that it was you and I."
Quoth then the gossip "'Twas the pie;
None other could have been the spy:
She ever blabs to him each thing,
Stories of every happening."
"Oh!" cried the lady, "none but she
Our feasting on the eel could see;
She is the traitor, and must pay
Treason's full price without delay."
The gossip held the magpie's head;
The lady plucked it while she said, --
As, one by one, she pulled and tore
Each feather that the magpie wore
Out of its head till it was bare --
"So! will you blab of eels? I swear
You shall remember me, you spy,
With a bald head, until you die!
Now blab again of eels!" At last
Into her cage the bird was cast
With head quite bald; and, drooping there,
Was heard to mutter, and to swear
Never to blab. But when her eye
A priest, or bald man, chanced to spy,
In hoarse, rough voice, was heard her cry,
"Oh, you and I are pretty pair!
I lost my feathers, you your hair,
By blabbing; so two fools are we:
You babbled of an eel, like me.
A blabber by his head one knows,
For a bald head a babbler shows."
MoralTell not all things that you may see,
Is this tale's wise morality;
Blabbing may end in painful woe:
The magpie lost her feathers though
She merely gave an answer true;
Such luck may chance to me, or you.
Truth is a medicine so strong
It often does not good, but wrong;
It is not safe to give it pure,
For it may kill instead of cure;
And one may pinch his hand before
He quite can close an open door.
Of married folk, remember this,
Though they may quarrel, they will kiss
And make it up, while he who takes
The part of either, often makes
An enemy of both, and so
Presents a very foolish show.
Who chops for others finds his axe
May cut himself, remarks Hans Sachs.
However, wine became more expensive, so then he taught it to call out: "Wine costs six. Wine costs six."
One market day the magpie forgot to call out: "Wine costs six," and returned instead to its old song: "Wine costs four. Wine costs four."
Many people came inside thinking that the wine there was a very good buy. When the innkeeper wrote out their bills for six, everyone became angry and refused to pay more than what the magpie had called out.
The innkeeper grabbed the magpie and threw it out onto the street, where it fell into the muck. It was just pulling itself from the mess when a filthy sow came walking by.
The magpie said: "Oh, you poor sow, did you too call out the wine for four?"
Now the baker had a talking bird hanging in its cage, and the bird said to the authorities that there were other loaves of bread in the small closet, and that these too should be weighed. The authorities found the small loaves of bread, weighed them, and found them too light. Thus the baker had to pay a five-thaler fine. He got angry, seized the bird's cage, and threw it into the muck in front of the house.
The pigs had been rolling in the mud all day, and when they came home that evening, the bird called out to them from the muck: "You pigs are filthy! Tell me, did you too tell the truth about our master's dishonesty? Did he throw you into the muck?"
When the master baker heard this he was ashamed. He picked up the bird's cage and hung back it in its normal place. And he never again cheated his customers, as he had done before.
If someone came back with a loaf and complained that it was too light, the baker responded by saying: "This is not from my bread. My loaves are marked with my name and have full weight. For all I care, you can have your loaf weighed."
One day a man who had been cheated with a bread that was too light came to the baker, and he brought a dragoon with him. The baker didn't admit that anything was wrong. They weighed all the loaves that could be found, and all were of the correct weight. They could not bring any charges against the baker.
Then the parrot spoke up, calling out several times in a row: "The light bread is in the cellar!"
The dragoon understood the situation and went into the cellar where he found about a hundred loaves of bread. None of them were marked with a name, and all of them were too light.
This, of course, made the baker very angry. He was infuriated against the poor rascal, the parrot, who until now had been his darling. He took it out of the cage and fiercely beat it. Then, thinking the parrot was dead, he threw it out of the house.
It was gently raining outside, and the parrot recovered. It sat up again, shook itself, and was very sorry that the rain had made it so ugly.
Just then a cat came out of the garden. It too had gotten very wet from the rain and didn't look at all pretty.
Then the parrot asked: "My poor cat, did you too tell about that light bread?"
She had just baked some wheat bread, and she took one of the loaves and hid it in a cupboard to keep it for her boyfriend. There was a parrot in the house, and it saw that she had hidden the wheat bread. When the master and mistress returned home, the parrot was sitting up on a shelf.
These animals can talk a little bit, and it told them: "Bread in the cupboard. Bread in the cupboard."
The servant girl heard it and became mad at the parrot, but the master of the house probably wouldn't do anything aboug that. Some time later, when no one was looking, she grabbed the parrat and sewed two stitches over its behind. This didn't kill it, but it was never the same afterward.
Whenever the master and mistress came in, the parrot would sit in its place and say: "The girl steals your bread! The girl steals your bread!"
The girl heard this, and she did not know what she should do to get revenge, and to escape punishment.
One day when no one was looking, she took the parrot and threw it out onto the manure pile. A little later an old sow came and lay down next to it.
The parrot could not understand why it wanted to lie there, and said to it: "Have you also told about the bread in the cupboard? Have you also told about the bread in the cupboard?"
"Yes!" answered someone from behind the stove.
"Shall I unload it in the courtyard?" asked the farmer.
"Yes!" answered the same voice.
The farmer was satisfied, brought his peat to the courtyard and stacked it into the shed. When he was done, he went back into the room to get his money. The mayor was now sitting at his desk and was very surprised when the farmer asked him for money for the peat.
"I didn't buy any," he said.
But the farmer insisted that the mayor had bought the peat and told how the deal had come about.
"My parrot did that," said the mayor, laughing, and counted out the money for the farmer.
Then he took a feather duster and began to beat the parrot, who was sitting on the back of a chair, laughing mockingly. With that the parrot crept sadly back to his favorite place behind the stove.
In the afternoon the family was sitting in the same room over coffee. Earlier the cat had slyly licked the cream off the milk. Without further ado, the housewife stuck the cat's tail through the heart-shaped hole in the backrest of one of their old-fashioned household chairs, held its tail with her left hand and smacked its backside firmly with a slipper.
"Ouch!" cried the cat, and with three leaps was behind the stove, where the parrot was still groaning and moaning.
The parrot, who had seen what had happened, glanced over at the coffee table, and said: "You! Did you too sell some peat?"
The girl was angry about this, so one time she lifted her skirts above her head so that the parrot would not recognize her.
However, the parrot knew what was happening, and it called out: "Funny! Funny! Fat thighs! Fat legs!"
There was once a grocer who had a beautiful parrot with green feathers, and it hung in a cage at his shop door. It was a very shrewd, sensible bird, and very observing. But it was a female, and as such could not hold its tongue, but proclaimed aloud all that it knew, announcing to everyone who entered the shop the little circumstances which had fallen under its observation.
One day the parrot observed its master sanding the sugar. Presently in came a woman and asked for some brown sugar. "Sand in the sugar! Sand in the sugar!" vociferated the bird, and the customer pocketed her money and rushed out of the shop.
The indignant grocer rushed to the cage and shook it well. "You abominable bird, if you tell tales again, I will wring your neck!" And again he shook the cage till the poor creature was all ruffled, and a cloud of its feathers was flying about the shop.
Next day it saw its master mixing cocoa powder with brick dust. Presently in came a customer for cocoa powder. "Brick dust in the cocoa!" cried the parrot, eagerly and repeatedly, till the astonished customer believed it, and went away without his cocoa. A repetition of the shaking of the cage ensued, with a warning that such another instance of tale-telling should certainly be punished with death. The parrot made internal resolutions never to speak again.
Presently, however, it observed its master making shop butter of lard colored with a little turmeric. In came a lady and asked for butter.
"Nice fresh butter, ma'am, fresh from the dairy," said the shopman
"Lard in the butter! Lard in the butter!" said the parrot.
"You scoundrel, you!" exclaimed the shopman, rushing at the cage. Opening it, drawing forth the luckless bird, and wringing its neck, he cast it into the ash pit. But Polly was not quite dead, and after lying quiet for a few minutes, she lifted up her head and saw a dead cat in the pit.
"Halloo!" called the parrot. "What is the matter with you, Tom?"
No answer, for the vital spark of heavenly flame had quitted the mortal frame of the poor cat.
"Dead!" sighed the parrot. "Poor Tom! He too must have been afflicted with the love of truth. Ah me!"
She sat up and tried her wings. "They are sound. Great is truth in my own country, but in this dingy England it is at a discount, and lies are at a premium."
Then spreading her wings, Polly flew away. But whether she ever reached her own land, where truth was regarded with veneration, I have not heard. No, she flew twice round the world in search of it, and could not find it. I wonder whether she has found it now!
When her master returned and saw the havoc made among his goods he fetched the parrot a blow that knocked out all her head feathers, and from that day she sulked on her perch. The oilman, missing the prattle of his favorite, began to shower his alms on every passing beggar, in hopes that some one would induce the parrot to speak again.
At length a bald-headed mendicant came to the shop one day, upon seeing whom, the parrot, breaking her long silence, cried out, "Poor fellow! Poor fellow! Hast thou, too, upset some oil-jar?"
Revised November 27, 2022.