The Woman Who Did Not Know Herself

folktales of type 1383 translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2021

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


  1. Hans's Katie (Germany).

  2. Clever Elsie (Germany).

  3. Admann and His Wife (Germany).

  4. Lazy Catherine (Germany).

  5. How the Shoemaker Got Rid of His Hussy (Denmark).

  6. All Women Are Alike (Norway).

  7. Gidske (Norway).

  8. There Was an Old Woman (England).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Hans's Katie


Hans's Katie was lazy and didn't want to do anything. She said to herself, "What should I do? Should I eat? Or should I sleep? Or should I work? -- Oh! I'll eat first!"

After she had eaten her fill, she said once again, "What should I do? Should I work, or should I sleep? -- Oh! I want to get some sleep first."

Then she lay down and slept, and when she woke up it was night, and she couldn't go out to work.

One day Hans came home in the afternoon and once again found Katie lying in the room asleep, so he took his knife and cut off her skirt, up to her knees.

Katie woke up and thought, "Now it's time to go out to work."

But upon going out she saw how short her skirt was. This frightened her, and she was confused as to whether or not she was really Katie.

She asked herself, "Am I me or am I not me?"

Not knowing the answer, she just stood there in doubt. Finally she thought, "I'll just go home and ask if it's me. They'll surely know."

So she went back home, knocked on the window, and called in, "Is Hans's Katie at home?"

The others answered, "Yes, she's lying in the room and is asleep."

"Well then I'm not me," said Katie, now convinced.

She walked out to the village and never came back. Thus Hans got rid of his Katie.

Clever Elsie


There was a man who had a daughter who was called Clever Elsie.

When she came of age her father said, "We will get her married."

"Yes," said the mother, "if only someone would come by who would have her."

At length a man named Hans came from afar and wooed her, under the condition that Clever Elsie should prove to be very intelligent.

"Oh," said her father, "she has brains in her head."

Her mother added, "She even can see the wind running up the street, and hear the flies coughing."

"Well," said Hans, "if she is not really intelligent, I won't have her."

Later, after they had eaten but were still sitting at the table, the mother said, "Elsie, go down into the cellar and fetch some beer."

Clever Elsie took a pitcher and went down into the cellar, loudly clapping the lid to amuse herself. Once in the cellar she set a stool before the barrel so that she that she would not have to bend down and possibly hurt her back or injure herself in some other way. She placed the pitcher before her, and opened the tap. While the beer was running she passed the time by looking up at the wall. She saw a pickax hanging directly above her. The masons accidentally had left it there.

Clever Elsie began to cry and said, "If I marry Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and we send him into the cellar to draw beer here, then the pickax will fall on his head and kill him."

She sat there weeping and crying out with all her strength about the coming misfortune.

The people upstairs were waiting for their drink, but Clever Elsie did not come up. Finally the wife said to the maid-servant, "Go down into the cellar and see what is keeping Elsie."

The maid-servant went and found her sitting in front of the barrel, screaming loudly.

"Elsie, why are you crying?" asked the servant.

"Ah," she answered, "why should I not be crying? If I marry Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, perhaps the pickax will fall on his head, and kill him."

Then the maid-servant said, "What a clever Elsie we have!" She sat down next to Elsie, and she too began to cry about the misfortune.

After a while, as the maid-servant had not come back, and those upstairs were thirsty for the beer, the husband said to the farmhand, "Go down into the cellar and see what is keeping Elsie and the maid-servant."

The farmhand went down, and there sat Clever Elsie and the girl both crying together.

He asked, "Why are you two crying?"

"Ah," said Elsie, "why should I not be crying? If I marry Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, the pickax will fall on his head, and kill him."

With that the farmhand said, "What a clever Elsie we have!" Then he too sat down and began to wail loudly.

Upstairs they waited for the farmhand, but as he still did not return, the husband said to the wife, "Go down into the cellar and see what is keeping Elsie!"

The woman went down and found all three sobbing piteously. She asked the cause of their sorrow, and Elsie told her too that her future child would be killed by the pickax, when he grew big and had to draw beer, and the pickax would fall down.

Then said the mother likewise, "What a clever Elsie we have!" then she sat down and cried with them.

The man upstairs waited a short time, but as his wife did not come back and his thirst grew ever greater, he said, "I myself must go into the cellar and see what is keeping Elsie."

But when he got into the cellar, and they were all sitting together crying, and he heard the reason, and that the cause was the child that Elsie might perhaps bring into the world some day. This child might be killed by the pickax if he should happen to be sitting beneath it, drawing beer at the very time when it fell down.

Hearing this the father cried out, "Oh, what a clever Elsie!" Then he sat down with the others and cried along with them.

The bridegroom stayed upstairs alone for a long time. When no one came back, he thought, "They must be waiting for me; I too must go down and see what they are doing."

In the cellar he saw all five of them sitting together, piteously weeping and crying, each one outdoing the others.

"What misfortune has happened here?" he asked.

"Oh, dear Hans," said Elsie, "if we get married and have a child, and he is big, and we perhaps send him here to draw something to drink, then the pickax that has been left up there might fall down and split his head open. Is that not reason enough for us to be crying?"

"Indeed," said Hans, "that is intelligence enough for my household. Because you are such a clever Elsie, I shall marry you."

With that he took her by the hand, led her upstairs with him, and married her.

After they had been married for some time, Hans said, "Wife, I am going out to work and earn some money for us. You go to the field and harvest the grain so that we can have some bread."

"Yes, my dear Hans, I shall do that."

After Hans had left, she cooked herself some good porridge and took it to the field with her.

Arriving at the field she said to herself, "What shall I do? Shall I harvest first, or shall I eat first? Oh, I will eat first."

After eating all of her porridge she was no longer hungry, and once again she said, "What shall I do? Shall I harvest first, or shall I sleep first? Oh, I will sleep first."

Then she lay down in the grain field and fell asleep.

By now Hans had been at home for a long time, but Elsie did not come home.

Finally he said, "What a clever Elsie I have; she is so industrious that she does not even come home to eat."

Evening came and Elsie had not yet come home, so Hans went out to see what she had harvested. Nothing had been harvested, and she was lying there asleep in the grain field.

Then Hans hurried back home and brought a fowler's net with little bells and hung it around her, but she did not wake up. Then he ran home, locked the front door, and sat down in his chair and worked. When it was quite dark Clever Elsie woke up. She stood up, and there was a jingling all around her. The bells rang with every step that she took. This frightened her, and was not sure whether she really was Clever Elsie or not.

She, said "Am I me, or am I not me?"

Not knowing the answer, she stood there for a time in doubt. Finally she thought, "I'll just go home and ask if I am me or if I am not me. They'll be sure to know."

She ran to the door of her own house, but it was locked.

She knocked at the window and cried, "Hans, is Elsie in there?"

"Yes," answered Hans, "she is here."

Hearing this she was frightened, and said, "Dear God! Then I am not me!"

She went to another house; but when the people heard the jingling bells they would not open the door, and no one would let her inside. Then she ran out of the village, and no one has seen her since.

Admann and His Wife


Admann sends his wife out to weed the flax. In the field she asks herself the question, "Should I weed or should I eat?" and decides to do the latter. Then, having refreshed herself with food and drink she asks, "Should I weed or should I sleep?" and once again decides to do the latter. Thus it continues day in and day out.

Then one day her husband follows her, and when he discovers her asleep, he cuts off her long skirts.

Awakening, she bewilderedly asks herself, "Is this me, or not?"

Finally she goes to her house in order to convince herself, knocks on the window, and asks, "Admann, is your wife at home?"

When he answers, "yes," she replies, "Then it's not me," and walks away, never to be seen again.

Lazy Catherine


Once upon a time there was a woman named Catherine, and she was as lazy as a clump of lead. Every day she went to the vineyard so as not to have to work at home. Here she did nothing at all, but just took her hoe, struck it into the ground, and said, "Dig, hoe!"

Then she lay down and slept until dinnertime. Waking up hungry, she sat up a little, ate well, and then turned onto her other side and slept until evening when it was time to go home. She picked up her hoe and went home quickly, pretending to be sweating from hard work. At suppertime she once again ate well.

One day her husband secretly followed her to the vineyard to see what she was actually doing. There he saw no sign of her work, nor his wife herself. He finally found her asleep beneath a large nut tree.

"Aha," he thought, "perhaps I can rid myself of this lazy beast in a clever way."

He silently crept up to her, took out his pruning knife, and cut off her long braid without her noticing it. He then took her hoe and went home.

Here he said to his children, who were still young, "If a woman without a braid and without a hoe comes and asks, 'Is your mother at home?' then just say 'Yes!'"

With that he went into the mill and closed the door behind him.

When the woman in the vineyard woke up around noon, she rubbed her eyes and shook her head. It felt different. She reached for her braid, but it wasn't there.

"This must not be me!" she thought. "When I went to sleep I had a braid. But I'll have to convince myself. I had a hoe as well!"

When she could not find the hoe, she was stunned and called out, "No! In truth this isn't me! But before I run away I'll have to be sure!"

With that she hurried home as quickly as a lazy, half-asleep woman is able to walk.

Walking along she said to herself again and again, "Is it me, or not?"

Arriving at home she found the door locked, so she went to the window and knocked. The children immediately jumped up and saw the woman without a braid and without a hoe, just as their father had described.

When the woman asked, "Is your mother at home?" they said, "Yes, yes!"

"So," she said to herself, "it is clear that I am not me. I must go and look for myself. I'll be easy to recognize, I have a long braid and and a hoe in the vineyard, and I am not at home."

Thus she went out into the wide world to look for herself. She is still looking to this day, and she cannot find herself.

In the evening when her husband came home from the mill and heard that such and such a woman had been there and then left, he said happily, "Praise God, who has redeemed me! I would a thousand times prefer to feed myself and my children by sweat of my own brow, than to have such a rotten carcass in my house any longer."

How the Shoemaker Got Rid of His Hussy


Under the shelter of a low hill, on the edge of a great forest, there stood a wretched hovel, wherein lived a poor shoemaker -- a proper old reprobate!

He was as irritable and angry as a demon, and the hussy that he had was just as bad. They lived together like a dog and a cat, as I trow, with constant rows from morning to evening.

The hussy was only a little more than half-witted -- "as wise as seven fools," as they say -- and therewithal she was so disgusting and filthy that if a man had thrown her against a wall, she would have stuck to it, and stayed there, hanging.

Lately she had got a taste for brandywine, which didn't do much for their domestic life, because when the man sat at his workbench hurling insults and abuse at her, as was his wont, the drunken wench sang ever louder and wilder the worse he scolded. Yea, they led a wretched life!

One morning the shoemaker told his hussy: "Listen, Mother Salke, today the hemp shall be pulled, and thou shalt do it!"

Sure, that she would. She made a few turns with the broom across the floor, then the house was swept, and when she had turned the eiderdown, the bed was made, and then she left. However, she first took the flask of brandywine and slipped it in her pocket.

When she came out to the hemp-patch, she took off the skirt in which the flask was, and began to pull the hemp. It was terribly hot that day, and when she had worked a good while, she thought she was missing something, but she couldn't work out what it was. She therefore set to again, but when she had worked a while longer, a little bird, a wheatear, alighted on a fence beside her, and sang out, as was its wont: Trik-trik-trik!

"Faith, to be sure," said the hussy, "'twas a drink [Drik] that I was missing. The little bird knew it. Where's my flask now?"

She found the flask and took a good swig of it.

"Sure, how hot it is on this good Sunday!" exclaimed the hussy, and she took another swig.

"So that I do not forget again the remedy for what ails me, I'd better take it all while I'm about it!" she said, and drained the flask completely.

She gave herself to the task again, but soon thereafter she became heavy in the head, and collapsed in the hemp-patch and slept like a stone.

Back at the house, the shoemaker wondered that she did not come home for dinner, as she did not usually forget, and he had made such a delicious barley-meal porridge for them to have -- it was the only thing he knew how to make! When some time had passed, and she still hadn't come, he thought he must go out and see how far she had got with the hemp. He hobbled out to the hemp-patch, and then he found her where she lay, fast asleep.

"Thou jade!" said the shoemaker, "I wish the crows would fly off with thee, rather today than tomorrow!"

He shook her, but she couldn't be woken; she slept as if she'd been hired to sleep for a whole week.

Then the shoemaker became so angry that he ripped the lower half of her clothing off her, and then he ran home, fetched the shoe-brush and blackened her, to give her a fright, and he left her lying there like that.

Late in the afternoon the hussy awoke, with her head completely in a daze, because of both the brandywine and the strong smell of hemp. She rubbed her eyes and stared in horror at herself, half-naked and black as she was.

"What the Devil is this!" she exclaimed. "Is this myself, or is it not myself lying here? Faith and begob, it can't be myself, for I wasn't half-naked, and to be sure I'm not after being black."

She thought then that it couldn't be herself, but that it must be someone else. She wanted to be sure of her case, however, and therefore she staggered homeward, back to the cabin.

When she came near the low hill under whose shelter the house lay, she said: "Now I must take heed whether the cat is sitting on the door-step; for if it is sitting there, then the shoemaker's wife is most likely not at home" -- she was always kicking it -- "and then it may be that I am she; but if the cat's not sitting there, then most likely she is at home, and I must be someone else."

No, the cat was not sitting on the door-step, and so she thought that she was probably not the shoemaker's wife after all.

She then caught sight of the shoemaker, who was sitting inside the window, pulling on the waxed thread.

"He looks as evil as the crucifixion today!" she thought; "If I'm going to find out whether the shoemaker's wife is at home or not, I shall have to ask him very nicely. That way I'll find out, because he will probably give me a civil answer."

So she went to the window and asked ever so politely if the shoemaker's wife was at home.

"Aye, that she is," replied the shoemaker; "she's sitting by the hearth, eating bread and dripping!"

Well, then she knew that she was not the shoemaker's wife, and she said goodbye and thanked him for the good explanation.

She kept on walking, wondering continually who she could be.

Thus she entered a road, where she met with a certain pack of ruffians, who wandered in the hours of darkness and had no homes.

They asked her who she was, and why she looked so queer -- more like a troll than a human being.

"Sure, you tell me," she replied, "and I'll tell you!" So they asked her if she would join their band. Yea, she was all for that, and thought that she'd found a good place.

Late at night they reached a village, where they thought there might be a good opportunity to steal something. They sneaked around between the houses until they found a place where a hatch down to the cellar was open, and they could smell that there were cheeses down there.

Now they discussed which of them should go down and toss the cheeses up to the others, and soon they agreed that she, the black wench who had come to them on the country road, should do so.

They got her and put her down through the hatch, telling her only to take the new and soft cheeses, but to leave the old and hard. Sure, she would take care of that.

When they had got a whole lot up and soon had the sack full, the hussy down below shouted, so loudly that it echoed: "Now there are no more of the soft cheeses, but if you want some of the hard ones, can you tell me?"

"Shut up, bitch!" they replied, but she did not hear them and thought they had not heard her, and so she shouted even louder: "Now there are no more of the soft cheeses, but if you want some of the hard ones, can you tell me?"

At that, the ruffians hurried away with what they had, and left her standing down there shouting.

The man in the house woke up to all that noise, and he grabbed the swipple of a flail, and came down with a lantern to the cellar, where he found the hussy, still standing there and shouting.

He asked her how she had got there.

"To be sure, that I can tell thee, darling," she replied; "there were some good lads with whom I came in fellowship, and they helped me to get down here."

The man wanted to know what she meant to do there.

"Sure, that was to do with those same good lads," she said. "They're awful fond of soft cheeses, and so I'm after throwing a whole sackful of cheeses up to them; but now there are no more of the soft cheeses, begob, and I'm asking if they want some of the hard."

But the man did not like that explanation at all; he grabbed hold of her and bashed her with his swipple. Then he locked her in the stable, where he let her lie until the next morning.

All the men of the village were called together to decide what to do with her.

The council-leader had her brought before him and asked: "Who art thou and whence art thou come?"

"Sure, you tell me, and I'll tell you!" she replied. "I thought I was the shoemaker's hussy, but I'm not, for she was sitting at home by the hearth eating bread and dripping."

"Well, what shall we do with her?" said the men of the council, looking at each other in uncertainty.

"I'll tell you what, men," said the smith, who came forward at once, "I need a scarecrow over yonder in my hemp-patch; she might be good for that."

So the smith got her, and he set her up in the middle of his hemp-patch, and if she hasn't flown off with the crows, she may well be standing there even now.

All Women Are Alike


Once upon a time a man and a woman were going to sow, but they had no seed-corn and no money to buy any with either. They had only one cow and this the man was to go to town with and sell to get money for the seed-corn.

But when the time came the wife would not let the man go, for she was afraid he would spend the money on drink. So she set off herself with the cow and took with her a hen as well.

Close to the town she met a butcher.

"Are you going to sell that cow, mother?" he asked.

"Yes, that I am," she said.

"How much do you want for it then?"

"I suppose I must have a shilling for the cow, but the hen you can have for two pounds," she said.

"Well," said the butcher, "I haven't any use for the hen, and you can easily get rid of that when you get to the town, but I'll give you a shilling for the cow."

She sold the cow and got her shilling, but nobody in the town would give two pounds for a tough, old hen.

So she went back to the butcher and said, "I can't get rid of this hen, father. You'll have to take that as well since you took the cow."

"We'll soon settle that," said the butcher, and asked her to sit down. He gave her something to eat and so much brandy to drink that she became tipsy and lost her wits. While she slept it off the butcher dipped her into a barrel of tar and then put her in a heap of feathers.

When she woke up she found that she was feathered all over and she began to wonder, "Is it me? or is it not me? It must be a strange bird! But what shall I do to find out whether it is me, or whether it isn't me? Now I know -- if the calves will lick me and the dog doesn't bark at me, when I get home, then it is me."

The dog no sooner saw such a monster than it began barking with all its might as if there were thieves and vagabonds about the place.

"No, surely, it cannot be me," she said.

When she came to the cowhouse the calves would not lick her, because they smelt the tar.

"No, it cannot be me; it must be a strange bird," she said; and then she climbed up on top of the storehouse and began to flap with her arms as if she had wings and wanted to fly. When the man saw this he came out with his rifle and took aim at her.

"Don't shoot, don't shoot," cried his wife;" it is me.

"Is it you?" said the man. "Then don't stand there like a goat, but come down and tell me what you have been about."

She climbed down again, but found she had not a single penny left, for the shilling she got from the butcher she had lost while she was tipsy.

When the man heard this he said, "You are more mad than ever you were," and he became so angry that he said he would go away from everything and never come back if he did not find three women who were just as mad.

He set out and when he had got a bit on the way he saw a woman running in and out of a newly built hut with an empty sieve. Every time she ran in she threw her apron over the sieve, as if she had something it, and then she turned it over on the floor.

"What are you doing that for, mother?" asked he.

"Oh, I only want to carry in a little sun," she answered; "but I don't know how it is, when I am outside I have the sun in the sieve, but when I get inside I have lost it. When I was in my old hut I had plenty of sun, although I never carried in any. If anyone could get me some sun I'd willingly give him three hundred dollars."

"Have you an axe?" said the man, "and I'll soon get you some sun."

He got an axe and cut out the openings for the windows which the carpenters had forgotten to do. The sun shone into the room at once and he got his three hundred dollars.

"That was one of them!" thought the man, and set out again.

In a while he came to a house where there was a terrible screaming and shouting going on. He went in and saw a woman, who was beating her husband on the head with a bat; and over his head she had pulled a shirt in which there was no hole for the neck.

"Do you want to kill your husband, mother?" he asked.

"No," she said, "I only want to make a hole for the neck in his shirt."

The man moaned and groaned and said, "Oh dear, oh dear! I pity those who have to try on new shirts. If any one could teach my wife how to make the hole for the neck in a different way, I'd willingly give him three hundred dollars."

"I'll soon do that," said the man; "only let me have a pair of scissors."

He got a pair and cut the hole, and then he took his money and went his way.

"That was the second of them!" he said to himself.

After a long while he came to a farm, where he thought he would rest awhile, so he went in.

"Where do you come from?" asked the woman.

"I come from Ringerige [a district in the south of Norway]," answered the man.

"Oh dear, oh dear! Are you from Himmerige [heaven]? Then you must know Peter, my second husband, poor soul!" said the woman.

She had been married three times; the first and the last husbands were bad men, so she thought that the second, who had been a good husband, was the only one likely to go to heaven.

"Yes, I know him well," said the man. "How is it with him there?" asked the woman.

"Oh, things are rather bad with him," said the man.

"He knocks about from place to place, and has neither food nor clothes to his back, and as for money ----"

"Goodness gracious!" cried the woman, "there's no need that he should go about in such a plight -- he that left so much behind him. Here is a large loft full of clothes, which belonged to him, as well as a big chest of money. If you'll take it all with you you shall have the horse and trap to take it in; and he can keep both horse and trap, so that he can drive about from place to place; for he has no need to walk, I'm sure."

The man got a whole cartload of clothes and a chest full of bright silver dollars, and as much food and drink as he wanted. When he had finished he got into the trap and drove off.

"That's the third of them!" he said to himself.

But the woman's third husband was over in a field plowing, and when he saw a stranger driving off with the horse and trap, he went home and asked his wife who it was who drove away with the horse.

"Oh," she said, "that was a man from heaven; he said that Peter, my second, poor dear soul, is so badly off that he walks about there from place to place, and has neither clothes nor money; so I sent him all his old clothes, which have been hanging here ever since, and the old money chest with the silver dollars."

The man understood at once what all this meant, and saddled a horse and set off at full gallop.

Before long he was close behind the man in the trap; who when he discovered he was pursued, drove the horse and trap into a thick part of the wood, pulled a handful of hair out of the horse's tail, and sprang up a hill, where he tied the horse's hair to a birch-tree, and lay down on his back under it, gaping and staring up into the clouds.

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!" he said, as if talking to himself, when the woman's third husband came riding up. "Well, I've never seen anything so wonderful! I've never seen the like of it!"

The husband stopped and looked at him for a while and wondered if the man was crazy, or what he was up to.

At last he asked him, "What are you staring at?"

"Well, I never saw the like!" exclaimed the man. "I've just seen someone driving straight into heaven, horse and all! There, you see part of the horse's tail hanging on the birch tree, and up among the clouds you can see the horse."

The husband looked up at the clouds and then at him and said, "I don't see anything but the horse-hair on the birch-tree."

"No, of course you can't see it, where you stand," said the man, "but come and lie down here and look straight up; you must not take your eyes away from the clouds."

While the husband lay staring into the sky till the water ran from his eyes, the man jumped on the horse and set off, both with that and the horse and trap.

When the husband heard the rumbling noise on the road, he jumped up, but was so bewildered because the man had gone off with his horses that he did not think of setting after him till it was too late.

He did not feel very proud, as you can imagine, when he came home to his wife, and when she asked him what he had done with the horse he said, "Oh, I told the man he could take that with him as well to Peter, for I did not think it was right that he should jolt about in a trap up there; now he can sell the trap and buy a carriage."

"Oh, thank you for that! Never did I think you were such a kind husband," said the woman.

When the man who had got the six hundred dollars and the cartload of clothes and money, came home, he saw that all the fields were plowed and sown.

The first thing he asked his wife was, where she had got the seed-corn from.

"Oh," said she, "I have always heard, that he who sows something gets something. So I sowed the salt which the carrier left here the other day, and if we only get rain soon, I think it will grow up nicely."

"Mad you are, and mad you'll be as long as you live," said the man; "but it doesn't much matter, for the others are no better than you."



Once there was a widower, who had a housekeeper named Gidske. She wanted to have him as a husband, and she begged him night and day to marry her. At last the man grew tired of this, but he did not know how to get rid of her.

It was between hay time and the grain harvest. The hemp was ripe, and the two went out to harvest it. Gidske thought herself good-looking, clever, and capable. She worked away at the hemp until she grew giddy from the strong smell of the ripe seeds. At last she lay down on the ground and fell fast asleep among the hemp plants. While she slept, the man got a pair of scissors and cut off her skirts. Then he smeared her all over, first with tallow and then with soot, until she looked worse than the devil himself.

When Gidske woke up and saw how ugly she was, she didn't recognize herself.

"Can this be me?" she asked. "No! It cannot be me. I have never looked this ugly. I must be the devil himself."

Wanting to know the truth, she went off and knocked at her master's door, and asked, "Is your Gidske at home today?"

"Yes, our Gidske is safely here at home," said the man, who wanted to be rid of her.

"Then I can't be his Gidske," she said to herself and stole away.

The man was happy to be rid of her.

After she had walked some distance she came to a great forest, where she met two thieves.

"I'll join up with those two," thought Gidske, "Since I am the devil, thieves are the right companions for me."

But the thieves did not think so. When they saw Gidske, they ran off as fast as they could, for they thought the Evil One had come to capture them. But it did them no good, for Gidske was long-legged and fast on her feet. She caught up with them before they knew it.

"If you're going out to stealing things, I'll go with you and help," said Gidske. "I know this area very well."

When the thieves heard that, they thought they had found a good mate, and they were no longer afraid of her. They said they were off to steal a sheep, only they didn't know where to get one.

"Oh!" said Gidske. "That's easy. I was in service for a long time with a farmer over there beyond the woods. I could find his sheep shed even on the darkest night.

The thieves liked to hear this. When they got there, Gidske was to go into the shed and push out a sheep, and they were to take hold of it. Now, the sheep shed lay close to the wall of the house where the farmer was asleep, so Gidske crept in quietly and with caution.

But, as soon as she was inside, she shouted out to the thieves, "Do you want a ram or a ewe? There are many to choose from in here!"

"Shh! Shh!" said the thieves. "Just take one that is good and fat."

"Yes! But but do you want a ram or a ewe? Do you want a ram or a ewe? There are many to choose from in here!" shouted Gidske.

"Shh! Shh!" said the thieves again "Just take one that's good and fat. We don't care whether it's a ram or a ewe."

"Yes!" insisted Gidske. "But do you want a ram or a ewe -- a ram or a ewe? There are many to choose from in here!"

"Shut up!" said the thieves, "and take a good fat one. Ram or ewe, we don't care which."

All of this noise woke the farmer, and he came out in his nightshirt to see what was going on. The thieves took to their heels, and Gidske rushed after them, knocking the farmer off his feet as she fled.

"Stop, boys! Stop, boys!" she shouted.

The farmer, who had only seen the black creature, was so frightened that he could hardly stand upright, for he thought it was the devil himself that had been in his sheep shed. He went indoors, woke up the whole household, and they all began to pray, for the farmer had heard that this was the way to protect oneself from the devil.

The next night the thieves planned to go and steal a fat goose. Gidske was to show them the way. When they came to the goose coop, Gidske was to go inside and send one out, for she knew the ways of the place. The thieves were to stand outside and catch it.

As soon as she was inside she began to shout, "Do you want a goose or gander? There are plenty to choose from in here!"

"Shh! Shh! Just choose a nice fat one," said the thieves.

"Yes! But do you want a goose or gander -- goose or gander? There are plenty to choose from in here!" shouted Gidske.

"Shh! Shh! Just choose one that's nice and fat. We don't care whether it's a goose or a gander; but do shut up," they said.

While Gidske and the thieves were arguing about this, one of the geese began to cackle, and then another cackled, and then the whole flock cackled and hissed. The farmer came out to see what was causing the noise, and the thieves ran off at full speed, with Gidske following after them. This farmer too thought that it was the devil himself fleeing away, for Gidske was long-legged, and she had no skirts to hamper her.

"Hold up, boys!" she shouted. "You should have said whether you wanted a goose or a gander!"

But the thieves did not stop. As for the farmer, he ran back home and began pleading and praying with all the household, for they all thought that the devil had been there.

On the third day at nightfall the thieves and Gidske were so hungry that they did not know what to do. They decided to go to the storehouse of a rich farmer who lived at the edge of the woods, and steal some food.

Off they went The thieves did not dare to go inside, so Gidske was to go up the steps into the storehouse, and hand out the food. The others would stand below and take it from her. When Gidske got inside, she saw that the storehouse was full of all sorts of things: beef, pork, sausages, and pea-bread.

The thieves begged her to be quiet, and just throw out something to eat. She should remember how everything had gone so wrong on the two previous nights.

But Gidske paid no attention to them. "Will you have beef, pork, sausages, or pea-bread? Look at this lovely pea-bread!" she shouted out, until it rang. "You may have whatever you want! There's plenty to choose from here!"

All this noise woke up the farmer, and he ran out to see what was the matter. The thieves ran off as fast as they could. Gidske came down from the storehouse, all black and ugly.

"Stop, boys! Stop!" she shouted." You can have whatever you want! There's plenty to choose from here!"

When the farmer saw that ugly monster, he too thought that the devil was on the loose, for he had heard what had happened to his neighbors the nights before. He too began plead and pray, and every one in the whole parish did the same thing, for they all knew that you could banish the devil with prayers.

The next evening was a Saturday, and the thieves wanted to steal a fat ram for their Sunday dinner. The had not eaten for many days, but this time they wouldn't take Gidske with them at any price. Her loud mouth brought them bad luck, they said.

On Sunday morning Gidske was walking about waiting for the thieves to return. Having fasted for three days, she was very hungry, so she went into a turnip field and pulled up some turnips to eat. The farmer who owned the turnips went out to the field to see if everything was in order there. When he got there he saw something black walking about in the field and pulling up his turnips. He thought that it was the devil, so he ran home as fast as he could, and said that the devil in his turnip field. This frightened the whole household, so they decided to send for the priest, and get him to restrain the devil.

"That won't do," said the famer's wife. "This is Sunday morning. You'll never get the priest to come. He'll still be in bed; or if he's up, he'll be learning his sermon."

"Oh!" said the farmer, "I'll promise him a fat loin of veal, and he'll come fast enough."

Off he went to the priest's house; but when he got there, sure enough, the priest was still in bed.

The maid told the farmer to step into the parlor, then she ran up to the priest, and said, "Farmer So-and-So is downstairs, and wishes to have a word with you."

Well! When the priest heard that such an important man was downstairs, he got up at once and came down just as he was, in his slippers and nightcap.

So the farmer related how the devil was loose in his turnip field; and if the priest would only come and restrain him, he would give the priest a fat loin of veal. Yes! The priest was willing enough and called out to his groom to saddle his horse, while he dressed himself.

"No, no, father!" said the farmer. "The devil won't wait for us. No one knows where we'll find him if we miss him now. Your reverence must come at once, just as you are."

So the priest followed him just as he was, in his nightcap and slippers. They came to a swampy area, and it was so wet that the priest couldn't cross it in his slippers. So the farmer took him on his back to carry him over. They made their way from one clump to another, until they got to the middle.

Gidske caught sight of them, and thought it was the thieves bringing the ram.

"Is he fat?" she screamed. "Is he fat?" and made such a noise that the wood rang again.

"The devil knows if he's fat or lean; I'm sure I don't," said the farmer, when he heard her. "But, if you must know, come and see for yourself."

Then the farmer became so afraid, he threw the priest head over heels into the swamp, and then ran off.

If the priest hasn't gotten out, he must still be lying there.

There Was an Old Woman


There was an old woman, as I've heard tell,
She went to market her eggs for to sell;
She went to market all on a market-day,
And she fell asleep on the king's highway.

There came by a pedlar whose name was Stout,
He cut her petticoats all round about;
He cut her petticoats up to the knees,
Which made the old woman to shiver and freeze.

When this little woman first did wake,
She began to shiver and she began to shake,
She began to wonder and she began to cry,
"Lauk a mercy on me, this is none of I!

"But if it be I, as I do hope it be,
I've a little dog at home, and he'll know me;
If it be I, he'll wag his little tail,
And if it be not I, he'll loudly bark and wail."

Home went the little woman all in the dark,
Up got the little dog, and he began to bark;
He began to bark, so she began to cry
"Lauk a mercy on me, this is none of I!"

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised February 22, 2021.