Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

Baa-Lambs, The

THERE was once, somewhere or in some other place, I don't know where, over seven times seven countries, or even beyond them, a poor widow, and she had three unmarried sons who were so poor that one had always to go out to service. First the eldest went, and, as he was going and going over seven times seven countries, and even beyond them, he met an old man, who accosted him, saying, "My younger brother, where are you going?" The lad answered, "My father, I am going to look for work." "And I am in need of a servant," the old man replied; so he engaged the lad on the spot to tend his baa-lambs. In the morning, as the lad went out with them, the old man told him not to drive them and not to guide them, but simply to go after them, as they would graze quietly if left to themselves. The lad started with the baa-lambs; first they came to a splendid meadow, he went in and trotted after them as his master had told him; then they came to a swift stream and the baa-lambs went over it, but the lad had not the courage to go into the water, but walked up and down the bank till evening, when the baa-lambs returned of their own accord, recrossed the water, and, as night had set in, he drove them home. "Well, my dear son," said his master, "tell me where you have been with the baa-lambs." "My dear father, I only followed after them. First of all they went into a large plain; after that we came to a great, swift stream; they got over the large sheet of water, but I remained on this side, as I did not dare to go into the deep water." As the poor lad finished his tale the master said, "Well, my dear son, I shall send you away, as I can see very well that you are not fit for service," and he sent him off without any pay. The lad went home, very much cast down. When he got home his two brothers asked him, "Well, dear brother, how did you get on in service?" "Hum, how did I get on, and what did I do? You'd better go yourselves and you will soon know." "Very well," they replied, and the second son went to look for service, met the same old man, and fared the same as his brother, and was sent home without anything. As he arrived home his younger brother met him and asked, "Well, dear brother, what sort of service did you get?" "Hum," replied he, "What sort of a place did I get? You had better go and then you also will know." "Very well," replied the youngest, and he too went to try his luck. As he went along he met the same old man, and was engaged by him to tend his baa-lambs for a year; the old man told him, too, to walk after them, and not to leave them under any circumstances. Next morning the old man prepared the lad's bag, and let the baa-lambs out of the fold; they started off, and the lad followed them, step by step, till they came to a pretty, green plain: they walked over it, quietly grazing along as they went, till they came to the swift stream; the baa-lambs crossed it, and the lad followed them; but the moment he entered the water the swift current swept off his clothes and shrivelled his flesh, so that, when he got to the other side, he was only skin and bones; so soon as he reached the other bank the baa-lambs turned back and began to blow on him, and his body was at once fairer than it ever was before. The baa-lambs started off again till they came to a large meadow where the grass was so high that it was ready for the scythe, and still the cattle grazing on it were so ill-fed that a breath of wind would have blown them away; the baa-lambs went on to another meadow which was quite barren, and the cattle there had nothing to eat, yet they were as fat as butter; thence the baa-lambs went into a huge forest, and there, on every tree, was such a lamentation and crying and weeping as one could not conceive of; the lad looked to see what the meaning of the loud crying could be, and lo, on every bough there was a young sparrow, quite naked! and all were weeping and crying. From here the baa-lambs went sauntering on till they came to a vast garden; in this garden there were two dogs fighting, so that the foam ran from their mouths; still they could not harm each other. The baa-lambs went on further till they came to a great lake, and there the lad saw a woman in the lake, scooping with a spoon something from the water incessantly, and still she was not able to scoop the thing up. From there the baa-lambs went further, and, as they went, he saw a brook of beautiful, running water, clear like crystal, and, as he was very thirsty, he had half a mind to drink of it, but, thinking that the spring-head was very much better, he went there, and saw that the water was bubbling out of the mouth of a rotting dead dog, which so frightened him that he did not taste a drop. From there the baa-lambs went into another garden, which was so wonderfully pretty that human eye had never seen the like before. Flowers of every kind were blooming, but the baa-lambs left them untouched, only eating the green grass, and, as they ate, he sat down under the shade of a beautiful flowering tree in order to partake of some food, when suddenly he saw that a beautiful white pigeon was fluttering about in front of him; he took his small blunderbuss, which he had with him, and shot at the pigeon, knocking off a feather, but the pigeon flew away; he picked up the feather and put it in his bag. From thence the baa-lambs started off home, the lad following them. When they arrived, the old man asked: "Well, my son, and how did the baa-lambs go?" "They went very well," answered the lad, "I had no trouble with them. I had merely to walk after them." As he said this, the old man asked him: "Well, my son, tell me where you have been with the baa-lambs." Then he told him that the baa-lambs first went into a pretty green plain, then they went through a swift stream; and he told him all--where he had been with them and so on. When he had finished his tale, the old man said: "My dear son, you see that wonderful pretty green plain where you went first with the baa-lambs represents your youth up to this day. The water through which you went is the water of life which washes away sin: that it washed away all your clothes and dried up your flesh means that it washes away all your previous sins: that on the other shore, upon the baa-lambs breathing on you, your body became purer, means that the holy faith, by the water of life, has penetrated all over your soul, and you have become purified from your sins, regenerate in all; the baa-lambs who breathed upon you are angels, and your good and pious teachers. The ill-fed cattle amidst the luxuriant grass means that the avaricious, whilst surrounded by plenty, even begrudge themselves food; they will be misers even in the other world: they will have plenty to eat and drink, they will partake of both, and still will be eternally hungry and thirsty. Those beasts who fed in the barren field, and were so fat, means that those who have given from their little to the poor in this world, and have not chastised their bodies with hunger and thirst, will feed heartily in the other world out of little food, and will never know hunger or thirst. That the young birds cried so mournfully in the woods, my son, means that those mothers in this world who do not have their children baptised, but have them buried without, will, in the other world, eternally weep and cry. The two dogs who fought so in the garden means that those relatives who in this world fight and squabble over property will eternally fight in the other world, and never come to terms. That woman who was fishing in a lake so busily for something with a spoon, and could not catch it, is he who in this world adulterates milk with water and sells it in this state to others; he will in the other world continually be in a lake, and will eternally fish about with a spoon, in order to fish the milk out of the water, and will never succeed. That you saw a pretty clear brook and did not drink of it, but went to the spring where the water flowed out of the mouth of a dead dog, that means, my dear son, the beautiful sermons of the clergy and their holy prayers. The dead dog from whose mouth the clear water flowed represents the priests who preach pious and wise lessons, but never keep them themselves. The garden into which you went is Heaven. Those who live without sin in this world will come into such a beautiful garden in the other world. But now, my dear son, can you show me some proof that you have really been in that garden?"

               The lad quickly took from his bag the white pigeon's feather, and handed it to him, saying, "Look here, my old father, I shot this from a white pigeon there." The old man took the pigeon's feather, and said to him, "You see, my son, I was that white pigeon, and I have been following you all the journey through, and always kept watch over you, to see what you did. So God also follows man unknown to him, to see what he does. The feather you shot away was one of my fingers; look here, I have not got it!" and as he looked he saw that the little finger was missing from the old man's hand; with this, the old man placed the feather there, blew upon it, and the finger was once more all right. In the meantime the year came to an end--for if I may mention it here the year consisted of but three days then--so the old man said to the lad: "Well, my son, the year is now ended; hand me over the bag, and then you can go. But first let me ask you would you rather have heaven, or so much gold as you can carry home?" To this the lad replied that he did not wish for gold, but only desired to be able to go to heaven. Thereupon the old man at once filled a sack with gold for him, lifted it upon the lad's back, and sent him home. The lad thanked the old man for his present, betook himself home with his sack of gold, and became such a rich farmer with six oxen that not in the whole village, nay, not even in the whole neighbourhood, was there such a one who came near him. He also took to himself a suitable girl as his wife, who was as pretty as a flower; he is alive to this very day, if he has not died since. May he be your guest to-morrow!


Kriza xiv.

                Cf. "Saint Peter's Goddaughter," in Portuguese Folk-Tales. Folk-Lore Society, 1882, p. 54.

               Dasent, Tales from the Norse, "The Seven Foals," p. 349.

               Naaké, Slavonic Tales: "The Three Brothers", p. 254.

               Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales, "The King's Son," p. 234; and the Servian tale quoted on p. 294.

               Page 93. Kriza notes that the "rotting, dead dog's head" occurs in the "Historiae Tripartitae ex Socrate, Sozomeno et Theodorico in unum collectae," by Cassiodorus; ii. 12. The first edition appeared in 1472.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Baa-Lambs, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Book Title: Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Publisher: Elliot Stock
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1889
Country of Origin: Hungary
Classification: unclassified

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