ONCE upon a time there was a peasant who lived in great poverty with his wife. He was as dull as a sheep, but she was as wily as a serpent, and she was so bad tempered that she used to beat him for any little thing that put her out.
One day the woman begged some corn of a neighbour so that she might make some bread, and she sent her husband off to the mill with it to get it ground. The miller knew they were very poor, so he ground the corn for nothing, and the man set off to go home with the flour. As he was on his way there came all of a sudden such a fierce blast of wind that all the flour was, in a moment, blown away out of the pan which he carried on his head. So the man went home and told his wife what had happened. When she heard his story she set upon him and gave him a hearty beating, and then, having scolded and thrashed till she could do no more, she told him to be off to the wind and ask it either to give him the flour back again or to pay him for it.
The man went off out of the house, weeping; and, not knowing in what direction to go, he went to a great dark forest. There he wandered about, here and there. At last an old woman met him.
“Good man,” said she, “where are you going? How came you in these parts, where no bird ever flies, and scarce a wild animal runs?”
“My mother,” said he, “I have been forced to come here. I carried some corn to the mill to be ground, and when it was finished, as I carried the flour home, the wind came and scattered it all out of the pan. I had no flour when I got home, and I told my wife what had happened; so she beat me, and sent me off to the wind to ask it to give me the flour again or to pay me for it. So I came here to look for the wind, but I do not know where to find it.”
“Come with me,” said the woman. “I am the mother of the winds, and I have four sons. The first is the East-wind, the second the South-wind, the third the West-wind, and the fourth the North-wind. Tell me, now, which wind was it that took your flour?”
“It was the South-wind,” said the man.
The old woman led the man deep into the forest, and bringing him to a little hut, said—
“Here we are, my man. Climb up upon the stove and cover yourself up, for my children will soon be here.”
“Why should I cover myself?” asked the man.
“Because, my son, the North-wind, will be here,” said the woman, “and he will otherwise freeze you up.”
In a short time the sons began to come in. When the South-wind had arrived, the old woman told the man to come off the stove, and said to her son—
“South-wind, my dear son, this man has a complaint against you. Why do you hurt the poor? You have taken this man’s flour out of his pan. Now give him money for it, or make him some recompense.”
“Very well, mother,” said the South-wind, “I will buy the flour of him.”
So saying, he turned to the man, and said—
“Here, my man. Take this basket. It has in it all you most want—money, bread, food, and drink of all kinds. You have only to say to it, ‘Basket, give me so and so,’ and it will give you whatever you wish. Take it to your house. I give it you for your flour.”
The peasant bowed to the Wind, thanked it for the basket, and set off homewards.
He gave the basket to his wife, and said—
“Wife, here is a basket which contains everything, whatever you most want. You only have to ask for it.”
The woman took the basket, and said to it—
“Basket, give me some good flour, so that I may make bread.”
The basket gave her as much as she wished. She continued asking for very many things, and everything she named the basket gave her.
Now it chanced that one day a nobleman was passing by the peasant’s hut. When the woman saw him she said to her husband—
“Go and ask the nobleman to dine with us. If you do not bring him in I will beat you till you are half dead.”
The man was afraid of his wife carrying out her threat, so he set off and asked the stranger in to dinner.
His wife meanwhile watched him from the window, having taken out of the basket all that was required for the dinner. There she sat, with her hands in her lap, awaiting her husband’s return with the guest.
The nobleman was astonished, and laughed at the invitation. He would not accept it himself, but told his attendants they might go if they wished, and he should like to know how they dined.
So the attendants went, thinking they should fare very badly, for the appearance of the hut would not have led any one to suppose that there was much feasting to be had within it. When they entered they were vastly astonished. The dinner was such as would have done credit had it been provided by a host of some rank. The men sat down, and ate and drank and made merry; and, keeping their eyes open the while, they observed that when the woman wanted anything for the table she went to the basket and got it given to her by it. The men began to think how they could get the prize for themselves. As they feasted they sent off one of their number to look for a basket just like the one in the room. Off went the man as quickly as he could, found what he wanted, and brought it with him to the cottage. Then while the peasant and his wife were busy, the men slipped the new basket in the place of the other. When they left they carried away the treasure-basket with them, and coming to their master they told him how they had been entertained.
After the feast was over and the guests had gone, the peasant’s wife cast away the food that was left, for what was the use of keeping it when fresh could be so easily got? The next morning she went to the basket and asked it for various things, but a great change seemed to have come over it, for it paid no heed to her.
“Old Greyhead,” cried she to her husband, “this is a nice basket you have got us! What is the good of it if it does not do what we tell it? Be off to the wind again, and tell it to give you back your flour, or I will thrash you till you are half dead.”
There was nothing for it but he must go. He came to the old woman’s hut, and there he began to tell her what a terrible wife he had got, and the old woman told him to wait a while till her son, the South-wind, came home.
Not long after in came the South-wind, and the peasant told him all about his trouble.
“Well,” said the wind, when he had heard him to an end, “I am sorry, old man, that you have such a bad wife, but I will help you, and your wife shall thrash you no more. Here now is a cask. Take it home with you, and when your wife threatens to beat you, stand behind the cask and say, ‘Five, come out of the cask and beat my wife!’ When you think they have punished her sufficiently, say, ‘Five, go back to your cask!’”
The peasant was very grateful to the Wind, made him his best bow, and went home. When he got there, he said—
“There, wife, now you have a cask instead of the basket.”
His wife flew into a rage, and said—
“What do I want with your cask? Why didn’t you bring the flour with you?”
She grasped a weapon as she said this, and got ready to lay on her husband, but he slipped behind the cask, and when he saw how matters were, he said—
“Five, come out of the cask and beat my wife!”
In an instant out sprang five big fellows, who set to to thrash the wife. The husband looked on till he thought she had had enough. Then he listened to her cries for mercy, and said—
“Five, go back to your cask!”
In the twinkling of an eye the men ceased their labour, and disappeared into the cask again. From that hour the woman was much improved, and the peasant, seeing that he should not want the cask in order to preserve quiet at home, began to think whether he could not somehow obtain his basket by means of it. He concluded that the nobleman’s servants must have taken the basket away, and he and his wife set their heads together to think how they could get it from them.
“Since you have such a marvellous cask,” said she, “you need not be afraid even of a thousand men. Why not then go to the nobleman and make him give you the basket.” Her husband thought the idea was a good one, so he went off to the nobleman’s house and asked him to come outside and fight him. He laughed at the peasant, but thought he would have a joke with him, so he told him to await him outside. Off went the peasant, took his cask under his arm, and came to the spot where the nobleman was to meet him. In a short time he came, bringing with him several of his servants. As soon as he had come up he ordered his attendants to set on the peasant and give him a good thrashing; but he, when he saw the gentleman’s trickery, fell in a rage, and shouted out—
“Look you, sir, will you give me back my basket, or will you not? It shall be better for you all if you do!”
When, however, he saw that no one paid any attention to what he said, and that the attendants were about to thrash him, he cried out—
“Five to each man come out of the cask, and beat them thoroughly!”
In an instant there sprang forth five stout fellows for each of them, and they laid upon them most unmercifully. The nobleman was afraid he should be beaten till there was no life in him, and so he called out—
“Good fellow, for Heaven’s sake, do not beat us any more!”
When the peasant heard that, he said—
“Go back to the cask, you fellows.”
In a moment the cudgels ceased to play, and the men disappeared into the cask. The gentleman had had enough. He ordered that the basket should be given up to the peasant as quickly as possible, and the man taking it home with him, he and his wife lived very happily ever after.