THE DEVIL’S GIFTS
THERE were once two men, a shoemaker and a farmer, who had been close friends in youth. The shoemaker married and had many children to whom the farmer stood godfather. For this reason the two men called each other “Godfather.” When they met it was “Godfather, this,” and “Godfather, that.” The shoemaker was an industrious little man and yet with so many mouths to fill he remained poor. The farmer on the other hand soon grew rich for he had no children to eat into his savings.
Years went by and money and possessions began to change the farmer’s disposition. The more he accumulated, the more he wanted, until people were whispering behind his back that he was miserly and avaricious. His wife was like him. She, too, saved and skimped although, as I have told you, they had neither chick nor child to provide for.
The richer the farmer grew, the less he cared for his poor friend and his poor friend’s children. Now when they called him “Godfather,” he frowned impatiently, and whenever he saw any of them he pretended to be very busy for fear they should ask him a favor.
One day when he had slaughtered beef, the poor shoemaker came to him and said:
“My dear Godfather, you have just made a killing. Won’t you please give me a little piece of meat? My wife and children are hungry.”
“No!” roared the rich man. “Why should I feed your family? You ought to save as I do and then you wouldn’t have to ask favors of any one.”
Humiliated by the refusal, the shoemaker went home and told his wife what his friend had said.
“Go back to him,” his wife insisted, “and tell him again that his godchildren are hungry. I don’t think he understood you.”
So the poor little shoemaker returned to the rich man. He cleared his throat apologetically and stammered:
“Dear Godfather, you—you don’t want your poor godchildren to go hungry, do you? Give me just one small piece of meat that’s all I ask.”
In a rage, the rich man picked up a hunk of meat and threw it at his poor friend.
“There!” he shouted. “And now go to hell, you and the meat with you, and tell the Devil I sent you.”
The shoemaker picked up the piece of meat. It was all fat and gristle.
“No use carrying this home,” he thought to himself. “I think I better do as Godfather says. Yes, I’ll go to hell and give it to the Devil.”
So he tramped down to hell and presented himself at the gate. The little devil who stood on guard greeted him merrily.
“Hello, shoemaker! What do you want here?”
“I have a present for the Devil, a piece of meat that Godfather gave me.”
The little devil of a guard nodded his head understandingly.
“I see, I see. Very well then, come with me and I’ll lead you to Prince Lucifer. But I’ll give you a bit of advice first. When the Prince asks you what present you’d like in return, tell him you’d like the tablecloth off his own table.”
The little devil of a guard then conducted the shoemaker into Prince Lucifer’s presence and the Prince received him with every mark of consideration. The shoemaker told him what Godfather had said and presented him the hunk of meat. Lucifer received it most graciously. Then he said:
“Now, my dear shoemaker, let me make you a little present in return. Do you see anything here that you’d like?”
“If it pleases your Highness,” the shoemaker said, “give me that cloth that is spread over your table.”
Lucifer at once handed him the cloth and dismissed him with many wishes for a pleasant journey back to earth.
As the shoemaker was leaving the friendly little devil of a guard said to him:
“I just want to tell you that’s no ordinary tablecloth that the Prince has given you. No, indeed! Whenever you’re hungry, all you’ve got to do is spread out that cloth and say: ‘Meat and drink for one!’ or, for as many as you want, and instantly you will have what you ask.”
Overjoyed at his good fortune the little shoemaker hurried back to earth. As night came on he stopped at a tavern. He thought this was a good place to try the tablecloth. So he took it out of his bag, spread it over the table, and said:
“Meat and drink for one!”
Instantly a fine supper appeared and the shoemaker ate and drank his fill.
Now the landlord of the tavern was an evil, covetous fellow and when he saw how the tablecloth worked his fingers itched to own it. He called his wife aside and told her in guarded whispers what he had seen.
Her eyes, too, filled with greed.
“Husband,” she whispered back, “we’ve got to get possession of that tablecloth! Think what a help it would be to us in our business! I tell you what we’ll do: tonight when the shoemaker is asleep we’ll steal his tablecloth and slip in one of our own in its place. He’s a simple fellow and will never know the difference.”
So that night while the shoemaker was asleep, they tip-toed in, stole the magic tablecloth out of the bag, and substituted one of their own.
The next morning when the shoemaker awoke and spread out the cloth which he found in his bag and said: “Meat and drink for one!” of course nothing happened.
“That’s strange,” he thought to himself. “I’ll have to take this back to the Devil and ask him to give me something else.”
So instead of going home he went back to hell and knocked at the gate.
“Hello, shoemaker!” the little devil of a guard said. “What do you want now?”
“Well, you see it’s this way,” the shoemaker explained: “this tablecloth of the Devil’s worked all right last night but it doesn’t work this morning.”
The little devil grinned.
“Oh, I see. And you want Prince Lucifer to take it back and give you something else, eh? Well, I’m sure he will. If you want my advice, I should say to ask him for that red rooster that sits in the chimney corner.”
The Prince received the shoemaker as kindly as before and was perfectly willing to exchange the tablecloth for the red rooster.
When the shoemaker got back to the gate, the little devil of a guard said:
“I see you’ve got the red rooster. Now I just want to tell you that’s no ordinary rooster. Whenever you need money, all you have to do is put that rooster on the table and say: ‘Crow, rooster, crow!’ He’ll crow and as he crows a golden ducat will drop from his bill!”
“What a lucky fellow I am!” the little shoemaker thought to himself as he hurried back to earth.
As night came on he stopped again at the same tavern and, when it was time to pay for his supper, he put the red rooster on the table and said:
“Crow, rooster, crow!”
The rooster crowed and sure enough a golden ducat dropped from his bill.
The covetous landlord licked his greedy lips and hurried off to his wife.
“We’ve got a red rooster,” the wife said. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do: when the shoemaker’s asleep we’ll trade roosters. He’s a simple fellow and will never know the difference.”
So the next morning after breakfast, when the shoemaker put what he thought was his own rooster on the table and said: “Crow, rooster, crow!” of course nothing happened.
“I wonder what’s the matter with you,” he said to the rooster. “I’ll have to take you back to the Devil.”
So again he tramped down to hell and explained to the little devil of a guard that the rooster no longer dropped golden ducats from his bill.
The little devil listened and grinned.
“I suppose you want Prince Lucifer to give you something else, eh?”
The shoemaker nodded.
“I’m sure he will,” the little devil said. “He seems to have taken quite a fancy to you. Now take my advice and ask him for the pair of clubs that are lying under the oven.”
So the shoemaker when he was led again into Lucifer’s presence explained to the Prince that the red rooster no longer worked and please would His Highness give him something else instead.
The Prince was most affable.
“Certainly,” he said.
“Well then. Your Highness, I’d like that pair of clubs I see under the oven.”
Lucifer gave him the clubs and wished him a pleasant journey home.
When the shoemaker got back to the gate, the little devil of a guard wagged his head and blinked his eyes.
“Shoemaker,” he said, “those are fine clubs! You don’t know how fine they are! Why, they’ll do anything you tell them! If you point to a man and say to them: ‘Tickle that fellow!’ they’ll jump about and tickle him under the ribs. If you say: ‘Strike that fellow!’ they’ll hit him. And if you say: ‘Beat him!’ they’ll give him a terrible drubbing. Now I want you to try these clubs on that landlord and his wife for they have been playing tricks on you. They stole your tablecloth and your rooster. When you reach the tavern tonight, they’ll be entertaining a wedding party and they’ll say they haven’t any room for you. Don’t argue but quietly take out your clubs and order them to knock about among the wedding guests. Then order them to beat the landlord and his wife and those two will soon cry for mercy and be more than willing to return you your property.”
The shoemaker thanked the little devil of a guard for his good advice and, putting the clubs in his bag, climbed back to earth. When he reached the tavern, sure enough he found a wedding party feasting and dancing.
“Get out of here!” the landlord cried. “There’s no room for you!”
Without a word the shoemaker took out his clubs and said:
“Clubs, knock around among the wedding guests!”
Instantly the two clubs went knocking about among the wedding guests, tickling some and throwing down others, until the place was in an uproar.
“Now beat the landlord and his wife!” the shoemaker cried.
At that the clubs hopped over to the landlord and his wife and began beating them over the head and shoulders until they both dropped on their knees before the shoemaker and begged for mercy.
“Are you ready to give me back my tablecloth and rooster?” the shoemaker asked.
“Yes, yes!” they cried. “Only call off your clubs and we’ll give you back your tablecloth and rooster we swear we will!”
When he thought he had punished them enough, the shoemaker ordered the clubs to stop and the landlord and his wife tottered off as fast as their trembling legs could carry them. Presently they returned with the tablecloth and the rooster.
So the shoemaker, when he got home, had all three of the Devil’s presents tucked safely away in his bag.
“Now, wife!” he cried. “Now, children! Now we are going to have a feast!”
He spread out the tablecloth and said:
“Meat and drink for ten!”
Instantly such a feast appeared that for a moment the poor wife and the hungry children couldn’t believe their eyes. Then they set to, and, oh! I can’t begin to tell you all they ate!
When they could eat no more, the shoemaker said:
“That isn’t all. I’ve got something else in my bag.”
He took out the clubs and said:
“Clubs, tickle the children!”
Instantly the clubs hopped around among the children and tickled them under the ribs until they were all roaring with laughter.
“And that isn’t all!” the shoemaker said. “I’ve got something else in my bag.”
He pulled out the red rooster, put him on the table, and said:
“Crow, rooster, crow!”
The rooster crowed and a golden ducat dropped from his bill.
“Oh!” the children cried, and the youngest one begged: “Make him do it again! Make him do it again!”
So again the shoemaker said: “Crow, rooster, crow!” and again a golden ducat dropped from the rooster’s bill.
The children were so amused that the shoemaker kept the rooster crowing all night long until the room was overflowing with a great heap of shining ducats.
The next day the shoemaker said to his wife:
“We must measure our money and see how much we have. Send one of the children over to Godfather to borrow a bushel measure.”
So the youngest child ran over to the rich man’s house and said:
“Godfather, my father says will you please lend us a bushel measure to measure our money.”
“Measure your money!” the rich man growled. “Pooh, pooh, what nonsense! Wife, where’s that old wornout measure that we’re going to throw away? It’s the very thing to lend these beggars.”
The woman who was just as disagreeable as the man handed the child an old broken measure and said, severely:
“See you bring it back at once!”
In a short time the little girl returned the measure.
“Thanks, Godfather,” she said. “We’ve got a hundred bushels.”
“A hundred bushels!” the farmer repeated scornfully after the child was gone. “A hundred bushels of what? Look inside the measure, wife, and see if you find a trace of anything.”
The woman peered inside the measure and found a golden ducat lodged in a slit. She took it out and the mere sight of it made her face and her husband’s face turn sick and pale with envy.
“Do you suppose those beggars really have got some money?” he said. “We better go over at once and see.”
So they hurried over to the shoemaker’s cottage and they shook hands with him and his wife most effusively and they rubbed their hands together and they smiled and they smiled and the rich man said:
“I owe it all to you,” the shoemaker said.
“To me?” the farmer repeated and, although he began to feel sick inside to think that any one had benefited through him, he kept on smiling and rubbing his hands. “Tell me about it, dear Godfather.”
“You know that piece of meat you gave me,” the shoemaker said. “You told me to give it to the Devil. I took your advice and made the Devil a present of it and he gave me all these wonderful things in return.”
The shoemaker made the tablecloth spread itself, he made the rooster crow and drop a golden ducat, and he made the clubs dance merrily around the room and tickle the children under the ribs.
The farmer and his wife grew sicker and sicker with envy but they kept on smiling and rubbing their hands and asking questions.
“Tell us, dear Godfather,” they said, “what road do you take to go to hell? Of course we’re not expecting to go ourselves but we’d just like to know.”
The shoemaker told them the way and they hurried home. They slaughtered their finest cattle and then, packing on their backs all the choicest cuts of the meat, they staggered down to hell.
When the little devil of a guard saw them coming, he grinned and chuckled.
“Welcome!” he cried. “We’ve been waiting for you a long time! Come right in!”
He led them to Prince Lucifer and the Prince recognized them instantly.
“It’s very good of you coming before you had to,” he said. “This saves me a trip to earth. I was thinking just the other day it was time to go after you. And see all that fine meat you’ve brought with you! I certainly am glad to see you! It isn’t often I have the pleasure of meeting people as avaricious, as greedy, as mean, as you two have been. In fact, both of you are such ornaments to hell that I think I’ll just have to keep you here forever!”
So the rich farmer and his wife were never again seen on earth.
As for the shoemaker he and his family lived long and merrily. They shared their good fortune with others, never forgetting the time when they, too, suffered from poverty. And because they were good and kind, the Devil’s gifts brought them only happiness.