THERE was once upon a time a poor fellow who was troubled with a wife, with whom he lived on the worst terms imaginable. She paid not the slightest attention to what he told her, but was always contrary. If he told her to get up early, she was sure to lie in bed later than ever, or perhaps even for three days at a time. If he asked her to make some cakes, she would say—
“Cakes, you villain! What do you want with cakes? Do you think you deserve them?”
“All right,” the man would say; “don’t make them, then.”
Then off would go his wife, make three times as many cakes as could be eaten, and plumping them down before her husband—
“Eat,” she would cry—“eat, you gluttonous fellow! They must be finished up.”
The man spent most of his time disputing with her; but his wife used to wear him out and get the better in the end.
One day, wearied by his wife’s jangle, and utterly dispirited, he went off to the wood to look for some berries. As he went on he came at last to a wild currant-bush, and looking at it he saw beside it a deep hole. He looked down, but could discover no bottom to it.
“Dear me!” said he, “I wish my wife were down there! What is the use of living as I do in continual misery? I will see if I can get her down the hole.”
Off he went home. There he found his wife.
“Wife,” said he, “I want you to keep out of the wood. Don’t go looking about there for berries.”
“You want me!” said she. “Indeed, I shall go where I please.”
“Well,” said the man, “I have found a currant-bush there, and I want to keep the currants. Don’t eat them.”
“Won’t I?” said his wife. “I will eat them all. You shall not have a single one.”
The man went out, and his wife came after him to find the currant-bush. On they went till the man came to the place where the bush was, when his wife, hurrying past him, got to it first.
“Now don’t you come near,” said she. “I warn you to stand off.”
On she went; all at once her husband heard a crack and a crash. He looked about, but could not see his wife. Sure enough, she had fallen down the hole.
The man returned home rejoicing at the success of his plan. For some days he lived in peace. Then he became curious to know where his wife had really gone to. So he got a very long cord, and set off with it to the forest. He came to the currant-bush and found the hole, and, letting down one end of his cord, tried to touch the bottom. The cord went down and down—the hole seemed to have no bottom at all. Then the man drew the cord up. As he pulled out the last piece of it, he fell back astounded, for there, clinging to it, was a little devil. After the first surprise, the man was about to lay his hands on the imp in order to throw him down the hole again; but it addressed him in a pitiful tone, saying—
“My good man, I beseech you do not throw me down the hole again. No tongue can tell what I have suffered there. A few days since there came a woman amongst us, and she has led us such a time of it that our lives are not worth living. Let me stay aboveground, and I will reward you for it.”
The peasant, when he heard the imp’s tale, felt sorry for him, and had not the heart to send him back again. So he let him go where he would.
No sooner was the imp at liberty than he began to torment the wives and daughters of the wealthy folk, entering into them, and making them so whimsical and sick that they seemed beside themselves. While they were in this condition the peasant would present himself as a physician and undertake to cure the afflicted persons. As soon as he was called in, before he had almost stepped across the threshold of the house in which the sick person lay, the imp would scuttle away as fast as he could, the patient recovered, and the whole place rang with the marvellous cure effected by the doctor. So they went on for some time. The peasant was now rich. Money and all good things were heaped upon him by the relations of those whom he restored to health.
One day the imp said to him—
“My man, I have had enough of this kind of thing. I am now going to take possession of a rich man’s daughter. Don’t you come to heal her, for I warn you that if you do so I will tear you to pieces.”
Away he went. The daughter was possessed, and was so beside herself that no one dare venture near her. Away sent her relations for the wonderful doctor. The peasant, however, was unwilling to take the case in hand. He would not come. At last the folk sent their servants to bring him to the house by force, declaring that if he refused to come they would kill him.
The man did not know what to do; at last he thought he saw his way out of the difficulty.
In the road running beside the house he collected a number of coachmen, grooms, and others, and ordered them to run up and down, smacking their whips and crying as loudly as they could—
“That wretched woman has come again! that wretched woman has come again!”
When the hubbub was at its full height the peasant went into the house.
“What!” cried the imp. “You have come, have you? Well then, now, I will make you repent it.”
“My dear friend,” said the man, “it is true I have come, but I came to do you a service. I came to tell you that that miserable woman has come back again.”
“What!” cried the imp.
He leaped to the window, looked out, and listened. When he saw the confusion, and heard the cries—“That wretched woman has come again! that wretched woman has come again!” he turned to the peasant, and said to him, in a tone full of anxiety and mournfulness—
“What shall I do? Where can I hide from her?”
“I don’t know,” said the man, “but I should say the hole would be the safest place. She will hardly search there a second time for you.”
Away went the imp at full speed, and, coming to the hole, down he went headlong. He was never seen again. The girl was completely cured when he left her, and was as happy as ever, and her parents heaped rewards on the wonderful physician.
The bad-tempered woman, too, never made her appearance again, so it seems as if she would remain down the pit for ever.