THE UNJUST JUDGE
Many years ago, there dwelt in a certain city a man of great worldly riches and possessions, but withal such a wicked cheat and usurer, that people wondered the earth did not open under his feet and swallow him up. He was also a magistrate; but his decisions were so unrighteous, that he was always spoken of as the “Unjust Judge.”
One market day, in the early part of the morning, this judge rode out to see a fine vineyard which he possessed; and as he was returning, Death habited as a rich man, met him on the way. The Judge knew not who the stranger was that accosted him, and therefore asked his name and business.
“It were better for you neither to know me nor my business with you,” was Death’s reply.
“Oh, oh!” exclaimed the Judge, “be you who you may, I must know, or you are a lost man; for I am one who has power in this place, and there is no one who will dare to dispute my authority. So, if you do not choose to tell me your name, I shall take your life and forfeit your property.”
“If that be the case,” said the other, smiling grimly, “I will tell you—my name is—Death!”
“Humph!” growled the Judge. “Pray, then, what is your business here?”
“To take whatever is given in real earnest to me this day.”
“Very well,” said the Judge; “but I must be witness that you get neither more nor less than your due.”
“Do not ask to be near me when I take what is given me,” replied Death in a warning voice.
The Judge, however, took no heed of Death’s words. “I must and will be witness,” said he; and then he began to swear. So Death said no more, except to warn him again that he could not release himself from the bargain which he had made, however much he might wish; and so both took their way to the market-place. The market was thronged with people, and every now and then the Judge and companion, whom nobody knew, were stopped and asked to share a bottle of wine.
The Judge always took a glass; but his companion, well-knowing it was not offered in earnest, refused all that was proffered to him. By chance, it happened that a woman was driving along a herd of swine, which, like most pigs, would not go as she wanted them, but another way. “I wish Death had you all, skin and hair!” she cried at last in a rage.
“Do you hear that?” said the Judge to his companion.
“Yes,” answered Death; “but that woman does not mean what she says. She would become miserably poor were I to take her swine. I only dare take what is given to me in earnest.”
Soon afterwards they me a woman and her child; and the latter, like the swine, would not go any way but his own. “You naughty boy,” she exclaimed; “I could wish you were dead!”
“Do you hear that?” again asked the Judge; “take the child; is it not given to you in earnest?”
“Oh, no, no!; she would bitterly lament it, were I to take her at her word,” answered Death.
In a little while they met a second woman dragging along a child, who struggled and cried lustily. “You good-for-nothing little vagabond,” she exclaimed; “it would be a happy thing for me to lose you altogether!”
“Now, will you not take even this child?” said the Judge.
“I have no power,” replied his companion; “for this woman would not take fifty, nay, not a hundred pounds for her child, much less would she give it to me.”
They came now to the thickest part of the crowd, and soon they were wedged in, unable to go forward or backward. Just then a woman, old and poor, and suffering under heavy misfortunes, caught sight of the Judge. As soon as she saw him she cried out, “Woe to thee, Judge, woe to thee, that thou art so rich and I am so poor! Without cause, thou hast taken from me the cow which was my only support, forgetful alike of the mercy of God or man. Woe to thee! I would to Heaven that He would now hear my prayer, and send Death to take thee from the world thou hast done so much injustice to!”
The Judge returned no answer to all this; but Death led him away in triumph, saying, “See now, Master Judge, this is in earnest, and this you must be witness to.”
So Death struck him in the midst of the crowd at the feet of the old woman whose cow he had so unjustly taken; and people said,
Once upon a time there lived three brothers. Godfrey was the youngest, and the brunt of all his brothers’ mischievous tricks. When anything thwarted them, Godfrey was made to pay. Weaker than his brothers, he never dared refuse to do as he was told. Miserable, he dreamed of an opportunity to change his life. One day while cutting wood in the forest, and lamenting his hard lot, an old woman appeared who inquired the cause of his tears. He told her of his troubles. “Ah, my lad,” said she, “the world is wide; why do you not try your fortune somewhere else?”
These words never left him and early one fine morning he set off to find his way. Ascending the hill which led from his village, he gained the peak. Settled upon a log, he wished farewell to his native place, remembering at least a happy childhood. Suddenly, the woman once again tapped his shoulder. “You have done well so far, my boy. But what will you seek now?”
Godfrey was startled, for, in fact, he had commenced his journey with no idea where he should go. He thought luck would follow his way. His companion sensed his puzzlement. “I will help guide your path,” she promised; “and why? Because I have regard for you, and I believe you will not forget me when good fortune comes your way.” Godfrey promised he would not forget her kindness.
“This evening,” she said, “take your way to that old oak tree that shades the cross-way. Beneath it you will find a man lying fast asleep, and tied to the tree will be a beautiful swan. Be there at sunset, and take care not to awaken the man. Untie the swan and lead it away. Soon everyone you pass will wish to have a feather from such a fine bird, and you may allow them to pluck one. But if the swan cries out, you must say, “Swan, hold fast!” Immediately anyone who touches the swan will find himself it’s prisoner, who will not be able to get away until you tap him with this little wand, which I now offer to you. Then, when you have collected behind you a train of human birds, go straight forward, and you will arrive at a certain city where a princess dwells who has not been seen to laugh for many years. If your procession causes her even so little as a smile, your fortune is made. Then mind you well that you do not forget me.”
Godfrey promised he would not. At sunset, he arrived at the tree. Finding the sleeping man, he took care not to waken him as he loosed the swan and led her away. Soon he came to a building-yard where he found men with trousers rolled up to their knees, tramping on lime. They all admired the beauty of Godfrey’s swan, especially one young man besmeared all over with lime. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “how I should like to have a feather!”
“Pull one out,” urged Godfrey; and when the boy seized hold of the swan’s wing, she screamed. “Swan, hold fast!” said Godfrey; and the lad was caught and forced to follow. When he cried out to his companions for help, they only laughed. A girl washing linen at a stream nearby ran to assist and caught the boy by the collar to pull him away. When the swan screamed, again Godfrey said, “Swan, hold fast!” and the girl was compelled to follow. Soon they passed a chimney-sweep, who chuckled at the comical train.
“Alas, my good Hans,” she cried, “give me a hand here, and free me from this horrid wretch.”
“I will,” declared the chimney-sweep, catching her hand.
“Swan, hold fast!” shouted Godfrey, as the bird screamed, and the dusty sweep was caught as well. Entering a village, they passed a church in festival where a company of rope-dancers performed on the green. As a clown repeated jokes, he grinned at the three who hung onto the swan’s tail. “Are you turned fool?” he demanded of the sweep.
“There is nothing to laugh at,” cried the sweep; “the girl clasps my hand so tightly, it seems nailed to hers. Loose me, clown, and I will assist you when you need.”
Grabbing the sweep’s neck to pull him away, the clown found himself bound as well; for when the swan screamed, Godfrey again said, “Swan, hold fast!”
The stately mayor of the village was foremost among the spectators of this strange scene. “To the beadle with you!“ he cried, so incensed at the folly before him that he grabbed onto the clown. But “Swan, hold fast!” said Godfrey a fifth time, as the bird screamed; and the angry mayor was made prisoner with the rest. The lady mayoress, a tall, thin dame, was horrified at seeing her lord in this evil plight; and she yanked his pigtail to pull him away from his companions. “Swan, hold fast!” exclaimed Godfrey; in spite of her cries, the lady mayoress had to follow in the train.
The towers of the city were in sight when Godfrey and his human train finally met a carriage, in which sat a lovely but sedate-appearing young lady. Observing the motley crew, she burst out laughing, which her servants joined in spite of themselves. “The princess laughs!” exclaimed all. Observing the strange procession and its still stranger evolutions, the princess laugh some more. As the carriage turned round, Godfrey followed it slowly into the city. When the king heard the good news that his daughter had laughed, he went to see the cause. At the sight of Godfrey and his train, the king laughed till tears ran out his eyes. “You silly fellow,” said he to Godfrey, “Do you know what I promised to whomever should make my daughter smile? A thousand gold dollars or a fine estate: choose between the two.”
Joyfully, Godfrey chose the estate. With his wand he touched the boy, the maiden, the sweep, the clown, the mayor and his lady, and set them all free. Liberated, they ran away as if a wild bull was at their heels; while those who witnessed this burst out in peals of laughter.
The princess herself took a fancy now to stroke the swan, and to admire its feathers; but it screamed at her touch, and Godfrey cried, “Swan hold fast!” Thus he won the king’s daughter; but the swan rose in the air and disappeared from sight. Godfrey received a duchy for himself; and when he went to reside on it, he remembered the old woman who had been the origin of his good fortune, and brought her to live out her life in his noble establishment.
ONCE upon a time there lived a poor woman who earned her livelihood by picking up sticks in the forest to sell for firewood. One day, as she was returning home with a bundle, she saw a kitten lying against the trunk of a tree and mewing piteously. She took compassion on it, and putting it in her apron, carried it home. On her way her two children met her, and asked her what she had in her apron; but she would not let them have the kitten, fearing they might tease and distress it. So she took it carefully home, and laying it on some soft rags, gave it some milk to drink. The kitten stayed in the house till it was quite recovered, and then suddenly disappeared. Some time afterwards, when the woman was again in the forest, and was returning home with her bundle of firewood at her back, just as she passed the place where she had found the kitten, there stood there an old dame who beckoned to her, and gave her five knitting needles. The poor woman knew not what to make of this gift, and thought the needles were not of much value to her. However, she carried them home, and laid them on the table at night.
The next morning she found a pair of newly made stockings on the table close by the needles. The poor woman was much astonished, and left the needles the following evening in the same place. A second pair of stockings was the result; and she now supposed that the wonderful needles were given her as a reward for her kindness to the kitten. Every night a fresh pair of stockings was produced; and as they found a ready sale, the woman gained for herself and her children an honest livelihood without the hard drudgery to which she had formerly been accustomed.