Tales of Old Lusitania/Grain-o'-Maize
Once upon a time there lived a good honest man and his wife, who, although much attached to one another, yet lacked the happiness and blessing of having a family. There were no bright merry faces around to cheer and gladden them, no joyous shouts of laughter through their cottage, nothing in fact that could solace and enliven them after their daily work.
The wife unceasingly prayed to God to give them a son; it would not matter, she said, if he were no bigger than a grain of Indian corn, so long as they had a child to love and cherish.
At last the poor woman's faith was rewarded, and her prayer was heard; and in due time a son was born to them, a chubby little fellow, but so small and tiny that he was no larger than a grain of Indian corn; and years passed by and yet he never grew an inch bigger, and from this circumstance he was named "Grain-o'-Maize."
While the good man was at work in the fields his son used regularly to bring him his breakfast. But it was a laughable sight to see our tiny Grain-o'-Maize trudging along with the basket on the top of him, for it covered him entirely, and you could not see what made it move as it came tilting and dancing merrily down the road.
The father was in constant fear lest some accident should happen to his tiny son, and repeatedly cautioned him not to go too near the oxen that were working in the fields. But the droll little fellow was always full of tricks and games, and heeded not his father's warnings.
One day, after he had brought the breakfast to his father and was more than usually frolicsome, he climbed up a stalk of Indian corn that grew in the field, and which still had some of its long leaves upon it. An ox that stood near took the tiny little fellow for a grain of Indian corn, and ate him up. When the time drew near for the good man to leave off work for the day, he looked about for his little son, and not seeing him anywhere near, he called out several times, but no answer came to his repeated calls. This so alarmed him that he made a thorough search for him under every leaf and blade of grass in the field, and not finding him he began to fear some accident had befallen him. At last, happening to come near the ox that had swallowed the child, he heard his voice crying from inside the animal: "Father, I am here; the ox has swallowed me up. Father, father! I am here."
The poor man was in great distress of mind, not knowing what to do to extricate his child, but decided, after deep and anxious reflection, to kill the animal. He accordingly ripped up the ox and examined every part of the inside most carefully, but to his great disappointment failed to find any trace of his missing son in the animal, though he felt certain he had heard his voice coming from it.
When he had given up all hopes of finding him he left the dead ox in the field and returned home, greatly distressed, as may be supposed, and with a sad tale to tell his wife. During the night a wolf was attracted to the spot by the smell of the carcase, and ate voraciously all the inside of the ox, till he heard some noise, and fearing to be discovered he decamped. Soon after his meal the wolf began to feel great pains in his inside; he rolled on the ground in agony, and so sharp were the pains he felt that he really believed his last hour had come.
Presently he heard a shrill cry inside him: "Let me out! Oh, let me out!" This so frightened the wolf that, forgetting his pains, he flew about the country in the greatest terror like one possessed. But the more he ran the shriller sounded the voice inside him, calling to be released.
At last, exhausted with his race and nearly dead with fright, he succeeded in bringing up the little fellow that had caused him so much annoyance, much to his relief and the little man's contentment, who, it seems, had fallen asleep inside the ox, and only awoke to find himself imprisoned in the wolf.
Grain-o'-Maize now sought a puddle where he might give himself a good bathe. When he came to one the first thing he did was to undress and wash his clothes, and while they were drying in the sun he washed himself clean. When he had finished this operation he set out for home. On the road he met some drovers who were driving mules laden with bags of money; he instantly went up to them and said:—
Some highway robbers, who had been watching the drovers with their treasure from a secret place behind the hedges, suddenly fell upon them, and after a hard fight the brigands, who outnumbered the poor drovers, managed to shoot them down dead. They then hurried away from the road, with the mules and their treasure, to their hiding place in a thick forest, uninhabited except by these brigands.
I must tell you that the moment Grain saw the brigands approach he slipped into one of the panniers which contained the bags of money; and when the robbers reached their hiding place, which was an old deserted mansion, as he was so tiny, he got out of the pannier and hid himself in a fold of one of the bags, from which he saw the robbers, with huge bunches of keys, let themselves into the house and go through several rooms and as many doors, leading into stone corridors and grim paved yards, until they reached one massive door which led into a dark chamber, scantily furnished with a few chairs and a large table; on this table they laid the money bags and counted their treasure. At this moment Grain, unperceived, hid himself under the table, and suddenly cried in a shrill voice: "Stop thieves! stop thieves!"
On hearing this the brigands were alarmed, and took to their heels, leaving the bags of money behind them and thinking only of saving their lives. Grain was so amused at the big fellows all scampering away for fear of him that he was nearly choked with laughter. But on finding himself sole possessor of so much money, he instantly went to the stables for the mules, filled their panniers with the money bags, and started off without loss of time towards home.
On arriving at his father's house, as it was still night, Grain-o'-Maize thumped and kicked at the door several times before he was heard. At last the repeated knocks awoke his father, who, looking out of the window, inquired: "Who is there?"
Grain replied: "It is I, dear father, it is your son; open quickly!"
The father, overjoyed, came down and opened the door and embraced his son, whom he had long given up for lost. Grain related everything that had happened to him since they parted, and gave up to his father the mules and the bags of money. The poor labourer had no need after this to work for his living, and he, his wife, and tiny son were prosperous and happy ever after.
Our jolly little friend settled down to a quiet life, and never attempted any more adventures.
- The person who narrated this story to the author, when he came to this point of it, forgot what came next and what it was that Grain said to the drovers.