|photo Agustin Berocal|
Tess Kincaid’s Magpie 177
In the days when people undertook long journeys overland on foot a goldsmith and a tailor were travelling together. One evening they had reached the edge of a wood when they heard music and laughter. They decided that such jolly sounds meant jolly company, so they entered the wood and soon came upon a group of little people, dancing and singing in a clearing, by the light of the harvests moon.
The two travellers stood full of astonishment, watching the dance. The tallest of the little people, an old man, who whirled and stomped the hardest, beckoned them to join in. The goldsmith, brave as only a hunchback can be, jumped at the chance whereas the tailor held back at first, but when he saw how merrily all was going he plucked up the courage to step into the circle.
The travellers sang and danced and leaped about, all fear having vanished. Then the old man drew a large knife from his belt, whetted it and jumped upon them. Instantly terrified the pair crouched and cringed but from within the circle of little people there was no escape. The old man seized the goldsmith and with the greatest speed shaved the hair off his head and then did the same to the tailor. The little people laughed and slapped the travellers on the back, as if to say how brave they had been and what good sports. The old man laughed the hardest and then pointed to a heap of potatoes to one side and urged the travellers to stuff their pockets with them.
Not knowing what to make of it the travellers did and then continued on their journey. They found a poor inn where they spent the night on straw pallets, covering themselves with their coats. Waking up hungry in the morning a baked potato seemed a good idea. They went to the fireplace and were just about to put a potato each into the ashes when they noticed a golden glow: the potatoes had turned to nuggets of pure gold! They had become rich beyond their wildest dreams. Happily, too, the hair on their heads was there again, thick as ever.
The tailor wept tears of joy but the goldsmith, being a greedy man, instantly wanted more. He belaboured the tailor to go back with him when night fell and bring back still greater treasure from the old man with the knife. The tailor refused. He stayed at the inn and promised to wait for the goldsmith to return from the wood.
In the evening the goldsmith hung a couple of bags over his shoulders so that he could stow away a great deal and took to the road they had travelled the day before. He found the little folks at their singing and dancing, and the old man again shaved him clean and signed to him to take some potatoes away with him. He was not slow about stuffing as much into his bags as would go, came back to the inn quite delighted and covered himself with his coat. He fell asleep with the sweet anticipation of waking an enormously rich man.
O the folly of greed! The potatoes in his bags remained potatoes and what’s more, the previous night’s gold had turned back into nothing more than wholesome, earthy tubers. The goldsmith wept bitter tears, and his wailing became even louder when he rubbed his head and found himself as bald as a coot.
The good tailor felt sorry for him. He comforted the goldsmith who was as contrite as any poor sinner facing up to the error of his ways and promised to share his own wealth with him. He kept his word and the two of them continued on their journey, steering well clear of singing and dancing and all such temptation they might later come to regret.
(With a nod and a wink in the direction of the Brothers Grimm, two old men who might well have told a morality tale along similar lines)