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Georgian Folk Tales, by Marjory Wardrop [1894], at


The Countryman and the Merchant

A COUNTRYMAN caught a pheasant, and was carrying it home to cook it for himself and his wife. Suddenly the pheasant spoke like a man, and said: 'Let me go, goodman, and I shall repay you.'

The countryman was astonished, and asked:

'What could you do for me?'

The pheasant replied: 'You are an old man, and must soon die; when you are dead, I shall gather together all the birds of the air, and follow you to the grave. Since the world began, no king ever had such an honour paid to him at his funeral.'

The countryman was pleased at the offer, and set the pheasant free. When he reached home, he told his wife what had happened, and, although she scolded him at first for

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letting the bird go, yet she was pleased when the pheasant sent, every morning, birds to ask after the old man's health.

A happy thought soon occurred to the wife, and she said to her husband: 'Listen to me, we are almost dying of hunger, and we have a good chance of getting plenty of food. Pretend that you are dead; I shall begin to cry, and all the birds will come to your funeral, I shall entice them into our cottage, shut the doors and windows; we can knock them down with sticks, and thus lay in a store of food to last us for a long time.'

So the countryman covered himself with a sheet, and lay down, while his wife went outside and wept loudly.

A hoopoe flew down, and asked after her husband's health; when the wife announced his death, the hoopoe at once flew away, and, within an hour, there flew into the yard, in long lines, some thousands of pheasants, the same number of doves, snipe, quails, woodcock, etc., and even eagles, kites, hawks, etc.

Some of the birds settled in the cottage, some in the barn, some in the stable, some in the yard, and the rest, for which there was no room, remained in serried ranks in the air.

Then the wife shut the doors, and, with her husband, set about killing the birds; only those that were outside escaped.

In the evening, there came a merchant, and asked to be allowed to spend the night in the cottage. At supper, the merchant saw a great abundance of game of all kinds, and asked the countryman how such luxury was within the reach of a poor man. The countryman replied: 'I have a cat of a famous breed, which has never yet failed me. When I want game for my table, I tell her what kind of birds I should like, and how many, and she goes into the forest and gets them. I do not know what was the matter with her

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last night, but see! she went into the wood of her own will, and killed all the birds in the neighbourhood, and brought them to us.' The countryman then showed a whole heap of dead game.

The merchant at once began to bargain with the countryman for the cat, and finally purchased it for a large sum. When the merchant reached home, he went about his business, and told his wife that he would not leave her any money for housekeeping, for she had only to give her orders, and the cat would bring all sorts of game for food. But when he came in, he was astonished to find that his wife had eaten nothing, the cat had brought no birds, but had even stolen what was in the house already. So he went back to ask the countryman about it.

The countryman saw him coming, filled a pot with millet and hung it over the fire. He then sat down near it, put a grain of millet in the palm of his hand, and began to wash it. The merchant came in and stood by him; the countryman pretended not to see the merchant, muttered an incantation, and dropped the grain into the pot. Then he stirred it with a spoon, and behold the pot was full. The merchant did not know whether to quarrel with the countryman or to get this magic pot from him.

'What is this you have done to me?' said he. 'Your cat is useless, it brings nothing, and steals what we have.'

'Have you been feeding it with roast meat? I forgot to warn you that you must not do this.'

'Well, it is my fault then,' said the merchant. 'But will you sell me that pot?'

'I have already lost my famous cat. It is not likely that I shall now let you have this pot, in which I can make a dish of porridge with only one grain.'

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However, they began bargaining, and at last the countryman sold his pot for a large sum. When the merchant reached home, he consoled his wife by telling her that from one barleycorn she could now make as much porridge as she wanted; he then set out again. When he returned, his wife complained that the pot was of no use. So he called again on the countryman, to ask for an explanation.

The countryman, foreseeing that the merchant would come, got two hares exactly alike, and tied ribbons of the same colour round their necks. He left one hare at home, and took the other out into the fields with him. He told his wife that if the merchant came, she was to send him out to the field, and in an hour bring him a dinner consisting of two boiled fowls, a roast turkey, ten eggs, wine, and bread.

The merchant came, and the woman sent him to the field where her husband was working. In reply to the reproaches of the merchant, the countryman said: 'You have probably made some stupid mistake with the pot as you did with the cat. But let us sit down and dine while we talk it over, for I cannot suffer you to come to me without feeding you.' The merchant looked round and said: 'How can we get anything to eat out here in the fields?'

The peasant went to a bush, untied the hare, and said to it: 'Run at once, little hare, to my wife, and tell her to come with you and bring us a pair of fowls, a roast turkey, ten eggs, wine, and bread.'

The hare ran off as fast as it could. It is easy to understand the astonishment of the merchant when the woman came with the hare, bringing all that the man had ordered. When they had eaten, the merchant said: 'You have cheated me about the cat and the pot, but I forgive you if

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you let me have the hare.' The countryman refused at first, but finally agreed to sell the hare for a large sum. 1

On his way home with the hare, the merchant met some friends whom he asked to sup with him, but seeing that he would not arrive until it was late, he ordered the hare to run and tell his wife that he was coming with some guests, and that she was to prepare supper. When he and his friends reached home, they found the house quite dark, and had difficulty in rousing the wife from her sleep. She told him that no hare had been there, and that she did not know what he was talking about.

The merchant was now furious, and determined to punish the countryman severely. But the countryman guessed what would happen, and arranged with his wife what should be done. He took the intestine of a small calf, filled it with blood, and tied it round his wife's neck, telling her to cover it up with a kerchief. The merchant came in, and without saying a word rushed at the countryman, who, in his turn, attacked his wife, accusing her of being the guilty party, and with a knife pierced the intestine under her throat. She fell on the ground, and pretended that she was dying. The merchant was alarmed, and cried: 'What have you done, you wretched man? I would willingly have lost the money rather than have this innocent blood shed.' The countryman answered: 'That is my affair. Though I have killed my wife I can raise her to life again.' 'I believe you no longer,' said the merchant, but if you perform this miracle I shall forgive you all.' The countryman approached his wife with the knife in his hand, muttered something, and his wife opened her eyes, and, to the surprise of the merchant, rose up.

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The merchant bought the wonderful knife, saying that his wife, too, needed a lesson sometimes. When the merchant reached home, his wife asked where he had been. He told her to be silent and mind her own business. 'If you are not quiet I will cut your throat.' The woman looked at him with astonishment, and wondered whether he had gone out of his mind. The merchant threw down his wife, and cut her throat. All the neighbours flocked in, and raised a great cry. The merchant said: 'What if I have killed my wife? I can bring her to life again.' The neighbours stood by while he muttered the invocations he had learnt, but he could not raise her. Then he flew to the countryman, tied his hands, and dragged him into the forest, saying: 'I wish to prolong your sufferings, and will not kill you at once. I shall starve you, drag you about in the woods, and, when I have worn you out with tortures, I shall throw you into the sea.' On the road there was a town, in which a king had just died, and his funeral was then taking place. Having bound the countryman to a tree in the depths of the forest, the merchant returned to the town to see the royal funeral. Just then, a shepherd happened to drive his flock near the tree to which the countryman was tied. Seeing the shepherd a little way off, the countryman began to shout: 'I will not be king! I will not be king! No! No! No!' The shepherd came up and asked what was wrong. The countryman replied: 'You know, brother, that the king is dead in the town: they want me to take his place, but I will not, for I have been king twice, and know what it is. Ah, brother! one has so many cares, so much work, that one's head swims. I had rather be tied to this tree than consent to be king.' The shepherd thought for a moment, and replied: 'I, brother, would give anything in the world to have a trial of the life of a king.' 'I gladly give you my place,

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but, so that people may not know, put on my clothes, and I shall bind you to the tree, and by to-morrow you shall be king.' The shepherd gladly gave him his flock, and took his place at the tree.

As soon as the countryman was free, he drove away the flock.

When it was quite dark, the merchant appeared, loosed his victim, and drove him on. When they came to the steep seashore, the shepherd saw that the merchant wished to drown him, and cried: 'Do not drown me! I had rather consent to be king.' The merchant thought his prisoner had lost his wits through fatigue and ill-treatment; without more ado he threw him into the sea.

A fortnight later, the merchant was travelling on business, when he met on the road the same countryman whom he, as he thought, had drowned, and who was now driving a flock. 'What do I see!' cried the merchant. 'Are you there? Did I not drown you in the sea?'

'My benefactor!' replied the countryman. 'I wish you would drown me again. You cannot imagine what a quantity of cattle there is down there at the bottom of the sea. It is a pity I had no stick with me, for I could not drive out more than these with my hands.'

The merchant besought the countryman, saying: 'You have ruined me. The cat, the pot, the hare, the knife, have all cost money; thanks to you, I am a beggar and a widower. If you remember the place where I threw you into the sea, drown me there, but let me have a stick, so that I may repair my fortune.' To get rid of the troublesome merchant, the countryman agreed to fulfil his request, and so drowned him with a very long switch in his hand. 1


157:1 Cf. Jacobs: More English Fairy Tales, p. 209, and note on p. 242.

159:1 Cf. the last incident with the end of 'Little Fairly,' in Samuel Lover's Legends and Stories of Ireland.

Next: IV. The King and the Sage