THERE was once upon a time an old woman who lived in a miserable cottage on the brow of a hill overlooking the town. Her husband had been dead for many years, and her children were in service round about the parish, so she felt rather lonely and dreary in her cottage, and otherwise she was not particularly well off either.
But when it has been ordained that one shall live, one cannot think of one's funeral; and so one has to take the world as it is, and still be satisfied; and that was about all the old woman could console herself with. But that the road up which she had to carry the pails from the well should be so heavy; and that the axe should have such a blunt and rusty edge, so that it was only with the greatest difficulty that she could cut the little firewood she had; and that the stuff she was weaving was not sufficient;--all this grieved her greatly, and caused her to complain from time to time.
So one day, when she had pulled the bucket up from the well, she happened to find a small pike in the bucket, which did not at all displease her.
"Such fish does not come into my pot every day," she said; but now she could have a really grand dish, she thought. But the fish which she had got this time was no fool; it had the gift of speech, that it had.
"Let me go!" said the fish.
The old woman began to stare, you may be sure. Such a fish she had never before seen in this world.
"Are you so much better than other fish, then?" she said, "and too good to be eaten?"
"Wise is he who does not eat all he gets hold of," said the fish; "only let me go and you shall not remain without reward for your trouble."
"I like a fish in the bucket better than all those frisking about free and frolicsome in the lakes," said the old woman. "And what one can catch with one hand, one can also carry to one's mouth," she said.
"That may be," said the fish; "but if you do as I tell you, you shall have three wishes."
"Wish in one fist, and spit in the other, and you'll soon see which you will get filled first," said the woman. "Promises are well enough, but keeping them is better, and I sha'n't believe much in you till I have got you in the pot," she said.
"You should mind that tongue of yours," said the fish, "and listen to my words. Wish for three things, and then you'll see what will happen," he said.
Well, the old woman knew well enough what she wanted to wish, and there might not be so much danger in trying how far the fish would keep his word, she thought.
She then began thinking of the heavy hill up from the well.
"I would wish that the pails could go of themselves to the well and home again," she said.
"So they shall," said the fish.
Then she thought of the axe, and how blunt it was.
"I would wish that whatever I strike shall break right off," she said.
"So it shall," said the fish.
And then she remembered that the stuff she was weaving was not long enough.
"I would wish that whatever I pull shall become long," she said.
"That it shall," said the fish. "And now, let me down into the well again."
Yes, that she would, and all at once the pails began to shamble up the hill.
"Dear me, did you ever see anything like it?" The old woman became so glad and pleased that she slapped herself across the knees.
Crack, crack it sounded; and then both her legs fell off, and she was left sitting on the top of the lid over the well.
Now came a change. She began to cry and wail, and the tears started from her eyes, whereupon she began blowing her nose in her apron, and as she tugged at her nose it grew so long, so long that it was terrible to see.
That is what she got for her wishes! Well, there she sat, and there she no doubt still sits on the lid of the well. And if you want to know what it is to have a long nose, you had better go there and ask her, for she can tell you all about it, she can.