24 September 2010

Friday Night Folklore: The Parsimonious Farmer

Once upon a time there was a farmer and his wife. They were well-off and had many children but only kept a few necessary farm hands. The farmer was a terrible skinflint and it was his habit to guard the food supplies and hand his wife whatever food he wanted cooked each day, which was always too little to satisfy anyone. Likewise all his other actions were designed to save money and conserve supplies. His wife was greatly wexed by this behaviour, but there was little she could do, as he held the keys to the larder.

Once the farmer decided to test his wife and see if she would follow his instructions to save and scrimp when he was not there. He told her that he had to go away on some business for two days and gave her instructions on how much food to use while he was gone. As soon as he was out of sight the good woman ordered the shepherd to bring the sheep home to the farm so she could choose the fattest animal for slaughter, to relieve the hunger pangs her husband’s cheeseparing had given everyone in the household. This was done and the sheep was cooked and everyone was able to fill his or her belly that night, their first solid meal in a long time.

When the meal was over and everything had been put back in its place there was a knock on the door. The good woman was surprised, as she was not expecting any visitors, but hesitantly answered the door. Outside stood her husband with a sullen look on his face, and she remarked that his business must have been been finished sooner than he expected. He gave her no answer but pushed past her and into the common room and started sniffing around and looking closely at everything, but could find nothing out of the ordinary until one of the youngest children walked past, holding a well-gnawed sheep’s rib-bone. The farmer snatched the rib from the child, examined it closely and asked: “Wherefrom did this rib come?”
The good woman said she did not know where the child ad found it, maybe under the bed or on the trash heap, but the farmer said that no, this rib had not been in the trash for long, in fact it was brand new. The woman said she knew nothing about this, and simply offered him some food. He ignored this offer and repeated: “But wherefrom did this rib come?”
The woman asked him to stop blathering on about the bone, it was worst for himself if he refused to eat, and he should go and rest now. But he was upset and no matter what she offered him, all he would say was: “Wherefrom did this rib come?”
But finally she was able to make him go to bed to get some sleep.

The next morning he did not get out of bed, but lay there for several days, moaning and groaning, before finally he died. The good woman sent messages to the minister, the judge and a few more of the more substantial farmers in the neighbourhood to tell them her husband was dead and to ask them to come visit her to make the funeral arrangements.

The shepherd took the messages and the men she had sent for arrived. She invited them into the common room and asked them to help her get her husband buried as soon as possible because the house was too small for her to keep the body there for long. She also asked them to plan the funeral and spare no expense so that her husband would get a proper burial and that she would pay them handsomely for all their troubles and reimburse their expenses to the fullest, because “thank the good Lord we have enough money to do so.” They promised her their full assistance and made arrangements to have a coffin built and the body put in it and taken to the church.

The burial service was performed, the minister made a speech and the coffin was taken to the grave.
When the coffin was in the grave the good woman walked to the open grave and said: “What the hell are you thinking man, to let yourself to buried alive?”
A faint answer came from the coffin: “Then wherefrom did the rib come?”
The coffin was then pulled up and opened and the armer given a restorative, because he was very weak. The minister and the other men then had a word with him and told him not to let his stinginess continue to make his own life as well as those of his loved ones miserable.

This adventure caused a change in the farmer for the better, and never again did he try to meddle with his wife’s duties or tell her how to portion out the food. They lived happily and prosperously after this, and to his second and real dying day the farmer never again enquired about the rib-bone.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

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