ONCE upon a time there was a very powerful Goblin, who haunted a little house just outside the gates of a city. Nobody else lived in this house. There was a big black beam that ran across from one side to the other, up in the roof; and there this Goblin perched. For twelve years he had served the King of the Goblins faithfully, and as a reward he was now permitted to gobble up any man who sneezed inside that house; and, indeed, that is why these creatures are called Goblins. But if, when a man sneezed, some one else said, "God bless you!" as people do say, or "May you live a hundred years!" then the man who said it was free; and if the other answered, "The same to you!" he was free too. Everybody but these the Goblin might gobble up for a single sneeze.
Now it fell out that one day a father and son were travelling along the road, and they came to the city gates just as the sun went down. I must tell you that in those days the people used to shut the city gates fast at sunset, and nothing would make them open again till the morning--they were horribly afraid of robbers or wild soldiers, who might come and damage them in the night. So when these two wayfarers came up to the gates, and wanted to go in, the porter said no.
"Now, do we look like robbers?" asked the father. Certainly they did not, dusty and grimy with their trudge, and a bag of tools over the shoulder.
"Robbers or no robbers, orders are orders," said the porter, "and this gate doesn't open for the King himself."
"Well, what are we to do?" The poor fellow was in despair.
"Oh, there's an empty house outside; there it is among the trees. It is haunted, they say; but I daresay the Goblin won't hurt you."
"Goblin!--well, we must take our chance, I suppose." Indeed, there was nothing for it; so to the house they went. They rested, and cooked a meal for themselves on a fire of sticks, and then prepared to go to sleep.
The Goblin, however, was not going to let them off so easily; he wanted his dinner too. After waiting a long time, with never a sneeze from one or the other, he raised a cloud of fine dust; that was rather mean of him, but still he was very hungry, and did not stick at trifles. Sure enough, the father nearly sneezed his head off.
The Goblin chuckled, and made ready to pounce from his perch and devour the pair of them. But the son happened to see him, and, being a sharp lad, he guessed the truth. "God bless you, father!" says he; "may you live a hundred years!"
How the Goblin gnashed his teeth! However, if his pudding was lost, his meat was left; so he stretched out a great claw to clutch the father and tear him to pieces.
Just then the father cried, "Thank you, my son, and the same to you!"
He was only just in time; the claw was within an inch of his throat; but the Goblin, baffled, flew up to his perch again, and sat mouthing and mumbling there.
Then the son began to talk to this Goblin, and showed him the error of his ways, and how cruel he was to eat men; and the end of it was, he persuaded the Goblin to become a vegetarian, and to follow him about, and be his errand-boy. You will think this was a very soft-hearted Goblin. Perhaps no one had ever spoken kindly to him before; anyhow, whatever the reason was, he went out with the two travellers, as tame as a tabby cat; and for all I know, they may be travelling together to this very day.