Air Castles

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1430
about daydreams of wealth and fame
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1998-2022


  1. The Broken Pot (India, The Panchatantra).

  2. The Poor Man and the Flask of Oil (India, Bidpai).

  3. The Story of the Devotee Who Spilt the Jar of Honey and Oil (India / Persia).

  4. What Happened to the Ascetic When He Lost His Honey and Oil (Kalilah and Dimnah).

  5. The Daydreamer (India, Cecil Henry Bompas).

  6. Sheik Chilli (India, Alice Elizabeth Dracott).

  7. The Fakir and His Jar of Butter (1001 Nights).

  8. The Barber's Tale of His Fifth Brother (1001 Nights).

  9. Day-Dreaming (1001 Nights, retold by Joseph Jacobs).

  10. The Milkmaid and Her Pail (Aesop).

  11. Story of an Old Woman, Carrying Milk to Market in an Earthen Vessel (France, Jacques de Vitry).

  12. What Happened to a Woman Called Truhana (Spain, Prince Don Juan Manuel).

  13. The Dairywoman and the Pot of Milk (France, Jean de La Fontaine).

  14. Lazy Heinz (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  15. Lean Lisa (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  16. Buttermilk Jack (England, Thomas Hughes).

  17. Story (Ireland, The Schools' Collection).

  18. Air Castles (Denmark, Evald Tang Kristensen).

  19. Great Expectations (Denmark, Evald Tang Kristensen).

  20. The Egg (Denmark, Jens Kamp).

  21. The Lad and the Fox (Sweden, Gabriel Djurklou).

  22. The Peasant and the Cucumbers (Russia, Leo Tolstoy).

  23. The Milkmaid and Her Bucket (USA, Ambrose Bierce).

  24. Link to The $30,000 Bequest (Mark Twain).

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

The Broken Pot

The Panchatantra

In a certain place there lived a Brahman by the name of Svabhâvakripana, which means "luckless by his very nature." By begging he acquired a quantity of rice gruel, and after he had eaten what he wanted, there was still a potful left. He hung this pot on a nail in the wall above his bed. As night progressed, he could not take his eyes from the pot. All the while he was thinking:

This pot is filled to overflowing with rice gruel. If a famine should come to the land, then I could sell it for a hundred pieces of silver. Then I could buy a pair of goats. They have kids every six months, so I would soon have an entire herd of goats. Then I would trade the goats for cattle. As soon as the cows had calved, I would sell the calves. Then I would trade the cattle for buffalo. And the buffalo for horses. And when the horses foaled, I would own many horses. From their sale I would gain a large amount of gold. With this gold I would buy a house with four buildings in a rectangle.

Then a Brahman would enter my house and give me a very beautiful girl with a large dowry for my wife. She will give birth to a son, and I will give him the name Somasarman. When he is old enough to be bounced on my knee, I will take a book, sit in the horse stall, and read. In the meantime, Somasarman will see me and want to be bounced on my knee. He will climb down from his mother's lap and walk toward me, coming close to the horses hooves. Then, filled with anger, I will shout at my wife, "Take the child! Take the child!"

But she, busy with her housework, will not hear me. So I will jump up and give her a kick!

And, buried in his thoughts, he struck out with his foot, breaking the pot, and painting himself white with the rice gruel that had been in it. Therefore I say:

He who dreams about unrealistic projects for the future will have the same fate as Somasarman's father: He will find himself lying there painted white with rice gruel.

The Poor Man and the Flask of Oil


There was once a poor man, who lived in a house next to a wealthy merchant who sold oil and honey. As the merchant was a kind neighbor, he one day sent a flask of oil to the poor man. The poor man was delighted, and put it carefully away on the top shelf.

One evening, as he was gazing at it, he said half aloud, "I wonder how much oil there is in that bottle. There is a large quantity. If I should sell it, I could buy five sheep. Every year I should have lambs, and before long I should own a flock. Then I should sell some of the sheep, and be rich enough to marry a wife. Perhaps we might have a son. And what a fine boy he would be! So tall, strong, and obedient! But if he should disobey me," and he raised the staff which he held in his hand, "I should punish him thus!"

And he swung the staff over his head and brought it heavily to the ground, knocking, as he did so, the flask off the shelf so that the oil ran over him from head to foot.

The Story of the Devotee Who Spilt the Jar of Honey and Oil


They have related that a pious man had a house in the vicinity of a merchant, and lived happily through favor of his neighborly kindness. The merchant continually sold honey and oil, and made his profits by that traffic in unctuous and sweet commodities. Inasmuch as the pious man lived a blameless life, and ever sowed in the field of his guileless heart the seed of the love of God, the merchant reposed implicit confidence in him, and took the supply of his wants upon himself. And in this very thing is the use of riches: to win over the hearts of the poor, and to raise up a perpetual provision from perishable wealth.

The merchant, too, considering the opportunity of doing good a blessing, sent every day somewhat from the stock, in the buying and selling of which he was occupied, for the support of the devotee. The latter used somewhat of this and stored up the rest in a corner. In a short time a jar was filled by these means.

One day the pious man looked into that jar, and thought thus to himself, "Well, now! What quantity of honey and oil is collected in this vessel?"

At last he conjectured ten mans to be there, and said:

If I can sell these for ten dirhams, I can buy for that sum five ewes, and these five will each have young every six months, and each will have two lambs. Thus in a year there will be twenty-five, and in ten years from their progeny there will be herds upon herds. So by these means I shall have an abundant supply, and will sell some, and lay in a handsome stock of furniture, and wed a wife of a noble family.

After nine months, I shall have a son born to me, who will study science and polite manners. However, when the weakness of infancy is exchanged for the strength of youth, and that graceful cypress grows up in the garden of manhood, it is probable that he may transgress my orders, and begin to be refractory, and in that case it will be necessary for me to correct him, and I will do so with this very staff which I hold in my hand.

He then lifted up his staff, and was so immersed in thought, that, fancying the head and neck of his rebellious son before him, he brought down the staff, and struck it on the jar of honey and oil. It happened that the jar was placed on a shelf, beneath which he sat with it facing him. As soon as his staff reached the jar, it broke it, and let out the honey and oil all over the head and face and vest and hair of the pious man.

What Happened to the Ascetic When He Lost His Honey and Oil

Kalilah and Dimnah

It is said that an ascetic derived his nourishment from a king, that is, the governor of a town, every day so much oil and so much honey. And whatever he had remaining, he used to pour into an earthenware vessel which he hung on a peg above the bedstead on which he slept. One day while sleeping on the bedstead, with the earthenware vessel full of oil and honey, he began to say within himself:
If I sold this honey and oil, I might sell it for a dinar and with the dinar I might buy ten she-goats, and after five months they would have young, and after a lapse of five years these would have young and their number would become very large, and I should buy two yoke of oxen and a cow, and I should sow my fields and reap much corn and amass much oil, and I should buy a certain number of servants and maid-servants, and when I had taken to myself a wife of beautiful appearance and she had borne me a handsome son, I should instruct him and he would be secretary to the king.
Now in his hand, was a staff, and while he was saying these things, he kept brandishing the staff with his hand, and struck the earthenware vessel with it and broke it, whereupon the oil and honey ran down on his head as he slept. So all his plans came to naught, and he was confounded.

The Daydreamer

India, Henry Cecil Bompas

Once an oil man was going to market with his pots of oil arranged on a flat basket, and he engaged a Santal for two annas to carry the basket. And as he went along, the Santal thought:

With one anna I will buy food and with the other I will buy chickens, and the chickens will grow up and multiply, and then I will sell some of the fowls and eggs, and with the money I will buy goats. And when the goats increase, I will sell some and buy cows, and then I will exchange some of the calves for she-buffaloes, and when the buffaloes breed, I will sell some and buy land and start cultivation, and then I will marry and have children, and I will hurry back from my work in the fields, and my wife will bring me water, and I will have a rest, and my children will say to me, "Father, be quick and wash your hands for dinner," but I will shake my head and say, 'No, no, not yet!"

And as he thought about it he really shook his head, and the basket fell to the ground, and all the pots of oil were smashed.

Then the oil man abused him and said that he must pay two rupees for the oil and one anna for the pots. But the Santal said that he had lost much more than that, and the oil man asked him how that could be, and the Santal explained how with his wages he was going to get fowls and then goats and then oxen and buffaloes and land, and how he came to spill the basket, and at that the oil man roared with laughter and said, "Well, I have made up the account, and I find that our losses are equal, so we will cry quits." And so saying they went their ways laughing.

Sheik Chilli

India, Alice Elizabeth Dracott

The hero of this story was one day walking along with a vessel of oil upon his head. As he walked he kept thinking of the future:
I will sell the oil, and with the money I shall buy a goat, and then I shall sell the kids, and then I shall buy a cow, and sell the milk, till I get a large sum of money; then I shall buy a pair of buffaloes, and a field, and plough the field, and gain more money, and build myself a house, and marry a wife, and have many sons and daughters. And when my wife comes to call me to dinner, I'll say: "Dhur, away! I'll come when I think fit!"
And with that he held up his head suddenly, and away fell the chattie with the oil, and it was all spilt.

This upset Sheik Chilli so much that he began to yell: "I have lost my goats, I have lost my cows, I have lost my buffaloes, and my house, and my wife and children."

That such dire calamity should befall a man caused great pity, so the bystanders took Sheik Chilli to the Rajah, who asked him how it had all happened. When he heard the story he laughed, and said: "This boy has a good heart, let him be given a reward to compensate him for the loss of his oil."

The Fakir and His Jar of Butter

The 1001 Nights

A fakir abode once with one of the nobles of a certain town, who made him a daily allowance of three scones and a little clarified butter and honey. Now such butter was dear in those parts and the devotee laid all that came to him together in a jar he had, till he filled it and hung it up over his head for safekeeping. One night, as he sat on his bed staff in hand, he fell a-musing upon the butter and the greatness of its price and said in himself:
I sell all this butter I have accumulated and with the proceeds buy a ewe. The first year she will bear a male lamb and a female and the second a female and a male and these in their turn will bear other males and other females. The males I will sell and buy with them bulls and cows, which will also increase and multiply; after which I will purchase a piece of land and plant a garden therein and build thereon a fine palace.

Moreover, I will purchase robes and raiment and slaves and slave-girls, and then hold a wedding exceeding all that have ever been seen. I will slaughter cattle and make rich meats and confections and assemble all the musicians and mimes and performers and invite rich and poor to the celebration.

Lastly I will go in to my bride, after her unveiling and enjoy her beauty and loveliness.

In due time my wife will bear me a boy, and I shall rejoice in him and make banquets in his honor and rear him daintily and teach him philosophy and mathematics and polite letters, so that I shall make his name renowned among men and glory in him among the assemblies of the learned; and I will bid him do good and he shall not contradict me, and I will forbid him from lewdness and iniquity and exhort him to piety and the practice of righteousness; and, I will bestow on him rich and goodly gifts. I will reward his obedience with rich gifts, but if I should ever see him incline to disobedience, I will come down on him with this staff.

So saying, he raised his hand to beat his son, but the staff hit the jar of butter hanging above his head, and broke it. The shards fell upon him, and the butter ran down upon his head, his beard, his clothes, and his bed.

The Barber's Tale of His Fifth Brother

1001 Nights

When our father died, he left each of us one hundred dirhams. My fifth brother invested his inheritance in glassware, hoping to resell it at a handsome profit. He exhibited the glassware on a large tray, then fell to musing:

These pieces will bring me two hundred dirhams, which I can use to buy more glass, which I will then sell for four hundred dirhams. With this money I can buy more glass and other merchandise to sell, and so on and so on until I have amassed a hundred thousand dirhams. Then I will purchase a fine house with slaves and eunuchs, and when my capital has grown to a hundred thousand dinars, I will demand to marry the Prime Minister's eldest daughter, and if he refuses consent, I will take her by force.

On my wedding night I will don my finest attire and seat myself on a cushion of gold brocade to receive my bride. She will present herself in her most beautiful clothing, lovely as the full moon, but I will not even glance at her until her attendants kiss the ground before me and beg me to look at her, and then I will cast at her one single glance.

When they leave us alone I will neither look at her nor speak to her, but will show my contempt by lying beside her with my face to the wall. Presently her mother will come into the chamber and beg of me, "Please, my lord, your handmaid longs for your favor." I will give no answer. Then she will kiss my feet and say, "My lord, my daughter is truly a beautiful maid who has never before been with a man. Do speak to her and soothe her mind and spirit." Then she will bring a cup of wine, hand it to her daughter, saying, "Take this to your lord."

I will say nothing, leaning back so that she may see in me a sultan and a mighty man. She will say to me, "My lord, do not refuse to take this cup from the hand of your servant." I will say nothing, and she will insist, "You must drink it," and press the cup to my lips. Then I will shake my fist in her face and kick her with my foot.

With that he struck out, catching the tray of glassware with his foot. It crashed to the ground and everything broke to pieces, and thus my brother lost both his capital and his profit.


The 1001 Nights

Now there was once a man at Bagdad who had seven sons, and when he died he left to each of them one hundred dirhams; and his fifth son, called Alnaschar the Babbler, invested all this money in some glassware, and, putting it in a big tray, from which to show and sell it, he sat down on a raised bench, at the foot of a wall, against which he leant back, placing the tray on the ground in front of him. As he sat he began day-dreaming and said to himself:
I have laid out a hundred dirhams on this glass. Now I will surely sell it for two hundred, and with it I will buy more glass and sell that for four hundred; nor will I cease to buy and sell till I become master of much wealth. With this I will buy all kinds of merchandise and jewels and perfumes and gain great profit on them till, God willing, I will make my capital a hundred thousand dinars or two million dirhams. Then I will buy a handsome house, together with slaves and horses and trappings of gold, and eat and drink, nor will there be a singing girl in the city but I will have her to sing to me.
This he said looking at the tray before him with glassware worth a hundred dirhams. Then he continued:
When I have amassed a hundred thousand dinars I will send out marriage-brokers to demand for me in marriage the hand of the Vizier's daughter, for I hear that she is perfect in beauty and of surpassing grace. I will give her a dowry of a thousand dinars, and if her father consent, 'tis well; if not, I will take her by force, in spite of him. When I return home, I will buy ten little slaves and clothes for myself such as are worn by kings and sultans and get a saddle of gold, set thick with precious jewels. Then I will mount and parade the city, with slaves before and behind me, while the people will salute me and call down blessings upon me: after which I will go to the Vizier, the girl's father, with slaves behind and before me, as well as on either hand.

When the Vizier sees me, he will rise and seating me in his own place, sit down below me, because I am his son-in-law. Now I will have with me two slaves with purses, in each a thousand dinars, and I will give him the thousand dinars of the dowry and make him a present of another thousand dinars so that he may recognize my nobility and generosity and greatness of mind and the littleness of the world in my eyes; and for every ten words he will say to me, I will answer him only two.

Then I will return to my house, and if anyone come to me on the bride's part, I will make him a present of money and clothe him in a robe of honor; but if he bring me a present I will return it to him and will not accept it so that they may know how great of soul I am.

After a while Alnaschar continued:
Then I will command them to bring the Vizier's daughter to me in state and will get ready my house in fine condition to receive her. When the time of the unveiling of the bride is come, I will put on my richest clothes and sit down on a couch of brocaded silk, leaning on a cushion and turning my eyes neither to the right nor to the left, to show the haughtiness of my mind and the seriousness of my character.

My bride shall stand before me like the full moon, in her robes and ornaments, and I, out of my pride and my disdain, will not look at her, till all who are present shall say to me: "O my lord, thy wife and thy handmaid stands before thee; deign to look upon her, for standing is irksome to her."

And they will kiss the earth before me many times, whereupon I will lift my eyes and give one glance at her, then bend down my head again. Then they will carry her to the bride-chamber, and meanwhile I will rise and change my clothes for a richer suit. When they bring in the bride for the second time, I will not look at her till they have implored me several times, when I will glance at her and bow down my head; nor will I cease doing thus, till they have made an end of parading and displaying her. Then I will order one of my slaves to fetch a purse, and, giving it to the tire-women, command them to lead her to the bride-chamber.

When they leave me alone with the bride, I will not look at her or speak to her, but will sit by her with averted face, that she may say I am high of soul.

Presently her mother will come to me and kiss my head and hands and say to me: "O my lord, look on thy handmaid, for she longs for thy favor, and heal her spirit."

But I will give her no answer; and when she sees this, she will come and kiss my feet and say, "O my lord, verily my daughter is a beautiful girl, who has never seen man; and if thou show her this aversion, her heart will break; so do thou be gracious to her and speak to her."

Then she will rise and fetch a cup of wine, and her daughter will take it and come to me; but I will leave her standing before me, while I recline upon a cushion of cloth of gold, and will not look at her to show the haughtiness of my heart, so that she will think me to be a sultan of exceeding dignity and will say to me: "O my lord, for God's sake, do not refuse to take the cup from thy servant's hand, for indeed I am thy handmaid."

But I will not speak to her, and she will press me, saying: "Needs must thou drink it," and put it to my lips.

Then I will shake my fist in her face and spurn her with my foot thus.

So saying, he gave a kick with his foot and knocked over the tray of glass, which fell over to the ground, and all that was in it was broken.

The Milkmaid and Her Pail


A farmer's daughter had been out to milk the cows, and was returning to the dairy carrying her pail of milk upon her head. As she walked along, she fell a-musing after this fashion:

The milk in this pail will provide me with cream, which I will make into butter and take to market to sell. With the money I will buy a number of eggs, and these, when hatched, will produce chickens, and by and by I shall have quite a large poultry yard. Then I shall sell some of my fowls, and with the money which they will bring in I will buy myself a new gown, which I shall wear when I go to the fair; and all the young fellows will admire it, and come and make love to me, but I shall toss my head and have nothing to say to them.

Forgetting all about the pail, and suiting the action to the word, she tossed her head. Down went the pail, all the milk was spilled, and all her fine castles in the air vanished in a moment!


Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.

Story of an Old Woman, Carrying Milk to Market in an Earthen Vessel.

Jacques de Vitry

An old woman, while carrying milk to market in an earthen vessel, began to consider in what way she could become rich. Reflecting that she might sell her milk for three pence (obolos), she thought she would buy with them a young hen, from whose eggs she would get many chickens, which she would sell and buy a pig. This she would fatten and sell and buy a foal, which she would rear until it was suitable to ride.

And she began to say to herself, "I shall ride that horse and lead it to pasture and say to it, 'Io! Io!'"

While she was thinking of these things she began to move her feet and heels as if she had spurs on them, clapped her hands for joy, so that by the motion of her feet and the clapping of her hands she broke the pitcher, and the milk was spilled on the ground, and she was left with nothing in her hands.

What Happened to a Woman Called Truhana

Spain, Prince Don Juan Manuel

A woman named Truhana, who was not very rich, went one day to market, carrying on her head a jar of honey. Along the road she was calculating how she could sell the honey and buy eggs, these eggs would produce chickens, and with the produce of the sale of these latter she would buy lambs; and in this way was calculating how she would become richer than her neighbors, and looked forward with anxiety to well marrying her sons and daughters, and how she would go through the streets, accompanied by her sons and daughters-in-law, and how the people would say what a fortunate woman she was to become so rich, having been so very poor.

Under the influence of these pleasurable thoughts, she laughed heartily; when, suddenly striking the jar with her hand, it fell to the ground and was broken.

Seeing this, she was in great grief at being so suddenly deprived of all her flattering anticipations; for, having fixed all her thoughts upon an illusion, she lost that which was real.

The Dairywoman and the Pot of Milk

France, Jean de La Fontaine

A pot of milk upon her cushion'd crown,
Good Peggy hasten'd to the market town;
Short clad and light, with speed she went,
Not fearing any accident;
Indeed, to be the nimbler tripper,
Her dress that day,
The truth to say,
Was simple petticoat and slipper.

And, thus bedight,
Good Peggy, light, --
Her gains already counted, --
Laid out the cash
At single dash,
Which to a hundred eggs amounted.

Three nests she made,
Which, by the aid
Of diligence and care were hatch'd.
"To raise the chicks,
I'll easy fix,"
Said she, "beside our cottage thatch'd.
The fox must get
More cunning yet,
Or leave enough to buy a pig.
With little care
And any fare,
He'll grow quite fat and big;
And then the price
Will be so nice,
For which the pork will sell!
'Twill go quite hard
But in our yard
I'll bring a cow and calf to dwell --
A calf to frisk among the flock!"

The thought made Peggy do the same;
And down at once the milk-pot came,
And perish'd with the shock.

Calf, cow, and pig, and chicks, adieu!
Your mistress' face is sad to view;
She gives a tear to fortune spilt;
Then with the downcast look of guilt
Home to her husband empty goes,
Somewhat in danger of his blows.

Who buildeth not, sometimes, in air
His cots, or seats, or castles fair?
From kings to dairywomen, -- all, --
The wise, the foolish, great and small, --
Each thinks his waking dream the best.
Some flattering error fills the breast:

The world with all its wealth is ours,
Its honors, dames, and loveliest bowers.
Instinct with valor, when alone,
I hurl the monarch from his throne;
The people, glad to see him dead,
Elect me monarch in his stead,
And diadems rain on my head.

Some accident then calls me back,
And I'm no more than simple Jack.

Lazy Heinz

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Heinz was lazy, and although he had nothing else to do but to drive his goat out to the pasture every day, he nevertheless groaned every evening when he returned home after finishing his day's work.

"It is in truth a heavy burden," he said, "and a tiresome job, to drive such a goat out to the field year in and year out until late in the fall. If I could only lie down and sleep at it! But no, I must keep my eyes open so it won't damage the young trees, or force its way through the hedge into a garden, or even run away altogether. How can I get some rest and enjoy life?"

He sat down, collected his thoughts, and considered how he could lift this burden from his shoulders. For a long time his thoughts led to nothing, but suddenly it was as if scales were removed from his eyes.

"I know what I will do," he shouted. "I will marry Fat Trina. She too has a goat, and she can drive mine out with hers, and then I shall no longer have to torment myself."

So Heinz got up, set his weary limbs into motion, and walked across the street, for it was no further than that, to where Fat Trina's parents lived, and asked for the hand in marriage of their industrious and virtuous daughter.

Her parents did not think about it for long. "Birds of a feather, flock together," they thought, and gave their consent.

So Fat Trina became Heinz's wife, and drove out both of the goats. Heinz now enjoyed life, having no work to rest from, but his own laziness.

He went out with her only now and then, saying, "I'm doing this so that afterwards I will enjoy resting more. Otherwise I shall lose all feeling for it."

However, Fat Trina was no less lazy.

"Dear Heinz," she said one day, "why should we make our lives so miserable, ruining the best days of our youth, when there is no need for it? The two goats disturb our best sleep every morning with their bleating. Wouldn't it be better for us to give them to our neighbor, who will give us a beehive for them? We will put the beehive in a sunny place behind the house, and then not give it any more thought. Bees do not have to be taken care of, nor driven into the field. They fly out and find their way home again by themselves, and they collect honey without any effort at all on our part."

"You have spoken like a sensible woman," replied Heinz. "We will carry out your proposal without delay. And furthermore, honey tastes better and is more nourishing than goat's milk, and it keeps longer too."

The neighbor willingly gave them a beehive for the two goats. The bees flew tirelessly in and out from early morning until late evening, filling the hive with the best honey. Thus that fall-time, Heinz was able to take out a whole jugful.

They placed the jug on a shelf on their bedroom wall. Fearing that it might be stolen, or that the mice might get into it, Trina brought in a stout hazel stick and put it beside her bed, so that she would be able to reach it without having to get up, and then from her place in bed drive away the uninvited guests.

Lazy Heinz did not like to get out of bed before noon. "He who rises early," he would say, "wastes his wealth."

One morning when he was still lying in the feathers in broad daylight, resting from his long sleep, he said to his wife, "Women are fond of sweets, and you have been snacking on the honey. It would be better for us to exchange it for a goose with a young gosling, before you eat it all up."

"But not before we have a child to take care of them." replied Trina. Am I to torment myself with the young geese, wasting all my energy on them for no reason?"

"Do you think," said Heinz, "that the boy will tend geese? Nowadays children no longer obey. They do just as they please, because they think that they are smarter than their parents, just like that servant who was supposed to look for the cow and chased after three blackbirds."

"Oh," replied Trina, "he will get it if he does not do what I say. I will take a stick and tan his hide with more blows than can be counted."

"See here, Heinz," she shouted in her fervor, seizing the stick that she intended to use to drive away the mice. "See here! This is how I will beat him."

She struck forth, unfortunately hitting the jug of honey above the bed. The jug struck against the wall and fell down in pieces. The fine honey flowed out onto the floor.

"There lies the goose with the young gosling," said Heinz. "And they do not need to be tended. But it is lucky that the jug did not fall on my head. We have every reason to be satisfied with our fate."

Then noticing that there was still some honey in one of the pieces of the jug, he reached out for it, saying quite happily, "Wife, let us enjoy the leftovers, and then we will rest a little from the fright we have had. What does it matter if we get up a little later than usual? The day will be long enough."

"Yes," answered Trina, "there is always time enough. You know, the snail was once invited to a wedding and started on his way, but arrived at the child's baptism. In front of the house it fell over the fence, and said, 'Haste makes waste.'"

Lean Lisa

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Lean Lisa was not at all like Lazy Heinz and Fat Trina, who would not allow anything to disturb their rest. She burned herself out from morning until evening and loaded so much work on her husband, Lanky Lenz, that it was harder for him than for a donkey loaded with three sacks. But it was all for naught. They had nothing, and they got nothing.

One evening she was lying in bed, too tired to move a muscle but still unable to fall asleep, when she poked her husband in the side with her elbow and said, "Lenz, listen to what I just thought of. If I were to find a florin, and you were to give me another one, then I'd borrow yet another one, and you'd give me still another one, and then I would take the four florins and buy a young cow."

The man agreed. "I don't know," he said, "where I'm to get that florin I'm supposed to give you, but after you have the money to buy a cow, it will be a good thing." Then he added, "I'm looking forward to the time after the cow calves, so I can have some good refreshing milk to drink."

"The milk is not for you," said the woman. "We will let the calf suck, so it will grow large and fat, and we can sell it for a good price."

"Of course," said the man, "but it won't hurt anything if we take a little milk."

"Who taught you about cows?" said the woman. "I won't allow it, whether it will hurt anything or not. You can stand on your head, but you won't get a single drop of milk. Lanky Lenz, just because you are always hungry, you think that you can devour everything that my hard work brings in."

"Woman," said the man, "be quiet, or I'll plant one on the side of your face."

"What!" she cried. "Are you threatening me! You glutton! You good-for-nothing! You lazybones!"

She was reaching for his hair, but Lanky Lenz raised himself up, took hold of both her skinny arms with one hand, then pushed her head into the pillow with the other one. He held her there and let her scold until she fell asleep from exhaustion.

The next morning when she woke up, I do not know whether she continued to quarrel, or whether she went out to look for the florin that she wanted to find.

Buttermilk Jack

England, Thomas Hughes
Ther wur an owld 'oman as had but one son,
And thay lived together as you med zee;
And they'd nought but an owld hen as wanted to sett,
Yet somehow a landlord he fain would be.
Oh, I've been and begged me some buttermilk, mother,
Off of an owld 'oman as has girt store;
And I shall well rewarded be,
Vor she's g'in me haf a gallon or mwore.

Oh mother, my buttermilk I will sell,
And all for a penny as you med zee;
And with my penny then I will buy eggs,
Vor I shall have seven for my penney.

Oh mother, I'll set them all under our hen,
And seven cock chickens might chance for to be;
But seven cock chickens or seven cap hens,
There'll be seven half-crownds for me.

Oh, I'll go carry them to market, mother,
And nothing but vine volk shall I zee;

And with my money then I will buy land, Zo as a landlord I med be.

"Oh my dear zon, wilt thee know me,
When thee hast gotten great store of wealth?"
"Oh, my dear mother, how shall I know thee,
When I shall hardly know my own self?"

With that the owld 'oman she flew in a passion,
And dashed her son Jack up agin the wall,
And his head caught the shelf where the buttermilk stood,
So down came the buttermilk, pitcher and all.

Zo aal you as has got an old hen for to sett,
Both by night and by day mind you has her well watched,
Lest you should be like unto Buttermilk Jack,
To reckon your chickens before thay are hatched.



Once upon a time there was a very poor woman and her son living together. The son was a young lad of eleven or twelve years. One day however the young fellow got a present of a chicken from some of the neighbours, and he was delighted. He ran home and the mother was delighted too.

"Oh Johnny," she says, "that's great, now the chicken will lay eggs and we'll hatch the eggs and when the chickens come out we'll sell them. Then we'll buy a suck pig and when we sell that we'll get a little calf. We won't feel it growing up, and we can sell it and buy a nice little pony."

"Oh, yes, Mother," says the lad, "and I'll ride him."

"Indeed you won't, you young ruffian, you won't to break his back."

And she gave the son a slap in the ear.

Air Castles


A poor girl sat and wove in Haverslev. When she had woven a piece of cloth for the lady at Torstedlund, she received her payment plus a little bonus, including a whole jug of milk. She made her way homeward, and when she came to the Tollevase Bridge she sat down to rest. Here she began to take stock of all the good things she had received from the lady, and what she would do with them.

She would make cheese from the milk, which she would sell and buy a hen. The hen would lay eggs and hatch chicks. These she would sell and buy a sheep. She would sell the sheep's wool. The sheep would have lambs, which would grow old and have more lambs as well. Now she would have enough money to buy a cow, and then more cows.

Finally she would buy a large farm and get married and have two sons. One would be named Thor and the other one Bøje. One of them would live at Torstedlund and the other one at Nørlund.

"But then the cursed farmworkers would come and complain to me about my bad children."

They would angrily say to her: "How in the devil can we deal with what Thor and Bøje are doing!"

This so outraged her that she struck out with her stick, hitting the milk jug and breaking it to pieces.

Now all of her glorious things lay there on the ground.

Great Expectations


There was an old woman who went begging for milk with two jars. At the Lundergaard farm she got them both full. On her way home she got tired and sat down on a hill that lies southeast of the Lundergaard field. She sat there wondering what she would do with the milk when she got home.

Finally she decided that she would put the milk to good use by making cheese from it. She would then sell the cheese a buy a hen that could hatch chicks. The hen should produce fourteen chicks -- that wasn't too much to expect. She would then sell the chicks and buy a goose, and it would produce fourteen goslings. When she sold them she would buy a sheep. It would have two lambs, and she thought she would be able to get a cow for the three of them. She would milk the cow for almost a whole year, and this would bring in so much money that she could gradually buy a larger herd, and it would multiply so much for her, that eventually she would be able to buy the Lundergaard farm.

"But this is the most important thing: The peasants will come and want to borrow grain from me; but I won't do that, because then I could easily lose all my fortune."

In her eagerness to save her fortune she smashed the jars together. They broke into pieces and spilled all the milk.

So you see, now she was poorer than before.

The Egg


Once there was a poor woman who went out into a field with her son to gather bunches of yarrow flowers along the hedgerows. She had knitted a white cap for the boy, and he wanted to have it dyed. As they walked along a hedgerow, the boy found an egg that a duck had laid there.

"Oh, mother, mother!" cried the boy. "Can I have a scrambled egg?"

"You should have the cat, you should," replied the mother. "Do you think that you can live on the fat of the land like the gentry? No, we will put that egg in grandmother's bed. She will hatch it, and a duckling will come out of it."

"But mother, who will take care of the duckling?" asked the boy.

"You will have to, my boy. You have nothing better to do. This egg will turn into a duck, and it too will lay eggs."

"Yes, mother, but what if it turns into a drake?"

"Don't talk nonsense, boy. It will be a female duck, and it will lay eggs, a whole dozen, and it will hatch them and produce many ducklings."

"Yes, mother, but I'll get tired of looking after all of those ducklings, I will!"

"Don't say that, boy. Who else would look after them? When the ducklings get big and fat, we'll sell them and buy a goose, a really big goose, you see, and it too will lay eggs. Then we'll get goslings, and for them we'll get a sheep, and the sheep will have a lamb. We can mate two sheep, and then we'll have whole herd of sheep. Then we'll buy a cow. It will have a calf, and then we'll have two cows. We'll sell them, and then we'll buy a colt -- --."

"Oh, mother, mother, can I ride the colt?"

"Ride! Who do you think that you are? To the devil with you!" cried the mother, and she slapped the boy under his ear, causing him to drop the egg, and it shattered into pieces.

The Lad and the Fox


There was once upon a time a little lad, who was on his way to church, and when he came to a clearing in the forest he caught sight of a fox, who was lying on the top of a big stone fast asleep, so that the fox did not know the lad had seen him.

"If I kill that fox," said the lad, taking a heavy stone in his fist, "and sell the skin, I shall get money for it, and with that money I shall buy some rye, and that rye I shall sow in father's cornfield at home. When the people who are on their way to church pass by my field of rye they'll say, 'Oh, what splendid rye that lad has got!' Then I shall say to them, 'I say, keep away from my rye!' But they won't heed me. Then I shall shout to them, 'I say, keep away from my rye!' But still they won't take any notice of me. Then I shall scream with all my might, 'Keep away from my rye!' and then they'll listen to me."

But the lad screamed so loudly that the fox woke up and made off at once for the forest, so that the lad did not even get as much as a handful of his hair.

No, it's best always to take what you can reach, for of undone deeds you should never screech, as the saying goes.

The Peasant and the Cucumbers

Leo Tolstoy

A peasant once went to the gardener's, to steal cucumbers. He crept up to the cucumbers, and thought, "I will carry off a bag of cucumbers, which I will sell; with the money I will buy a hen. The hen will lay eggs, hatch them, and raise a lot of chicks. I will feed the chicks and sell them; then I will buy me a young sow, and she will bear a lot of pigs. I will sell the pigs, and buy me a mare; the mare will foal me some colts. I will raise the colts, and sell them. I will buy me a house, and start a garden. In the garden I will sow cucumbers, and will not let them be stolen, but will keep a sharp watch on them. I will hire watchmen, and put them in the cucumber patch, while I myself will come on them, unawares, and shout, 'Oh, there, keep a sharp lookout!'"

And this he shouted as loud as he could. The watchmen heard it, and they rushed out and beat the peasant.

The Milkmaid and Her Bucket

Ambrose Bierce

A senator fell to musing as follows: "With the money which I shall get for my vote in favour of the bill to subsidise cat-ranches, I can buy a kit of burglar's tools and open a bank. The profit of that enterprise will enable me to obtain a long, low, black schooner, raise a death's-head flag and engage in commerce on the high seas. From my gains in that business I can pay for the presidency, which at $50,000 a year will give me in four years --" but it took him so long to make the calculation that the bill to subsidise cat-ranches passed without his vote, and he was compelled to return to his constituents an honest man, tormented with a clean conscience.

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Revised December 16, 2022.