Fairy Tales from the Swedish of G. Djurklou | Annotated Tale

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Old Nick and the Pedlar

THERE was once a pedlar who travelled all over the world with his bag on his back, and a yard measure in his hand. But he did not get on as well as other pedlars, for while they got rid of two or three bagfuls, he was not able to get one bag emptied.

                So one evening, as he dragged himself wearily along the roadside, he happened to meet Old Nick, who was lying in wait; for since people had become so Christian, Old Nick had to content himself with pedlars, and such like.

                "How is business?" asked Old Nick.

                "Oh, times are very bad," said the pedlar. "Wherever I put my head in through the door, I find some of my mates have been before me, and the womenfolk will buy no more, and the men look angry," he said.

                "Well, there's a remedy for that," said Old Nick. "If you will come to an arrangement with me you'll find that things will be different," he said.

                Yes, the pedlar had no objection to that, for Old Nick would be sure to have him in the end at any rate; and so they made a bargain that the pedlar should sell all he bought, but if the bags ever became quite empty he should belong to Old Nick there and then.

                That was a good bargain, thought the pedlar, for he would take care to manage it so that his bags never became quite empty; and then he set off home and got a horse and cart and goods of all kinds on credit. Then he drove from farm to farm and from one fair to another, and before long he had to go into town again for more goods. But however briskly business went, he always managed to have something left in his bags.

                But Old Nick is not one to let anything slip through his fingers if he has once got hold of it, and so he followed close upon his heels, although the pedlar could not see him.

                So one day he came to Hinnersmess fair, where there were crowds of people, and business was so brisk that it was as much as he could do to get out his stuff and measure what they wanted. For no doubt Old Nick had managed it so that his goods attracted the people's attention most.

                There were other pedlars at the fair, of course; but neither words nor tricks were of any avail, for, in spite of all their gesticulations and persuasive ways, they sold little or nothing, as most of the people went to Old Nick's pedlar.

                In order to get some share of the business they had to sell their goods to him, and no sooner were they on his stall than they were sold there and then.

                But a pedlar is also a human being, if not exactly one of the best sort; and although he was doing a brisk business he was obliged to leave his stall for a short time, and so he asked one of his mates to attend to his customers in his absence.

                While he was away, a man came and asked how much the whole lot would cost, for he wanted to buy it all, and the horse and cart and the bags as well.

                "Six hundred crowns," said the pedlar, for you see he thought he might be beaten down. But the man did not even try to bargain by as much as a penny; he put the money at once on the stall.

                "And now it's all mine, you understand," he said; and then he laughed. "Tell your mate I shall come to-night to fetch the goods, and then we shall have a drink together on the strength of the bargain," he said; and then he laughed once more, and to such an extent that it sounded like thunder, and the next moment he was gone. It was easy to guess who the person was, for the whole market-place smelt of sulphur.

                When the pedlar came back, he asked: "Have you sold anything?"

                "Yes, of course I have," said his mate. "I have done a grand business, too! I have sold the whole lot, and the horse and cart, and the bags as well, for four hundred crowns; and here they are," he said, and gave them to him. But the other two hundred crowns he put in his own pocket, for he wasn't a pedlar for nothing, you see.

                "The Lord have pity on me then, poor wretch that I am!" moaned the pedlar. "Now I am completely undone."

                "Have you gone out of your senses?" said his mate. "He was one of the right sort, I can tell you. He did not even beat me down a stiver, and to-night he is coming to have a drink with you on the strength of the bargain."

                "Oh dear, oh dear!" cried the pedlar; and he wailed and moaned so terribly that everybody pitied him, for they thought he had gone out of his mind.

                Just then a woman came by.

                "What is it you are crying and groaning about?" she asked. But the pedlar went on moaning, for now he felt there was no help for him.

                "Be quiet!" said the woman; "don't go on like that, my man! It can never be so bad but it can be bettered, I say; for I am Katie Grey, [1] and I can always help people out of their trouble, even if it be Old Nick himself you have fallen out with," she said. "Come, let me only hear what's the matter, and we'll find a way out of it."

                The pedlar then told her all about his trouble.

                "If that was all," she said, "she would be able to help him, if he only did what she told him; which he, of course, was willing to do, as long as he could save his skin."

                When the night had set in Old Nick lost no time in coming to fetch him.

                "You thought perhaps you could cheat me, but now you'll have to come with me after all," he said.

                "There's no help for it, I suppose," said the pedlar; "but tell me, master, what did we arrange? Was it the whole lot you bought?" he asked.

                "Yes, of course," said Old Nick; "I bought the whole lot, and horse and cart, and the bags too, and you remember the contract, I suppose?"

                "Well, then, you bought what I have got here in this bag as well," said the pedlar, pointing to a great big bag which stood in a corner.

                "Yes, it's all mine," said Old Nick. "But what sort of goods have you got in that bag? It looks so strange!"

                "It's the best of all I have," said the pedlar, and opened the bag, and who should peep out but Katie Grey!

                But then Old Nick opened his eyes and gave a start like a scared hare.

                "Whew!" he shouted. "I haven't bought that bag, for any one who knows that fiendish creature would not have her as a gift."

                "Yes, but then you haven't bought all of it," said the pedlar, "for she is mine as well, and she must go with the lot," he said.

                "No, thank you!" said Old Nick. "I can easily do without a pedlar, for there are more of them; but if I take Katie Grey into the bargain I shall never have any peace. I know that terrible creature," he said.

                With that he released the pedlar from his bond, and flew up through the chimney, carrying off the roof with him.

                What happened afterwards I have never been able to find out; but if Old Nick could not get on with Katie Grey, the pedlar is not likely to have been any the better by the exchange either.



[1]: Under the name of Titta, or Katie Grey, there appears in many Swedish legends a witch of the worst kind, but still perfectly human in form. In her popular tradition has desired to personify that malice, coupled with cunning, which was likely to be found in a wicked woman, while at the same time it has endeavoured to show that before such a one even the prince of darkness must tremble.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Old Nick and the Pedlar
Tale Author/Editor: Djurklou, Nils Gabriel
Book Title: Fairy Tales from the Swedish of G. Djurklou
Book Author/Editor: Djurklou, Nils Gabriel
Publisher: William Heinemann
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1901
Country of Origin: Sweden
Classification: unclassified

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