Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition) | Annotated Tale

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Lying for a Wager

ONE day a father sent his son to the mill with corn to grind; but before he went he recommended him not to grind it in the mill in which he should happen to meet with a man named 'Beardless.' [1] The boy came to a mill, but there he found Beardless.

               'God bless you, Beardless,' said he.

               'God bless you too, my son,' replied the man.

               'Can I grind my corn here?' asked the boy.

               'Why not?' responded Beardless; 'my corn will be soon ready, and you can grind yours as long as you like.'

               But the boy recollected his father's advice, and left the mill and went to another. But Beardless took some corn, and hurried by a shorter way, to the mill towards which the boy had gone, and reached there before him, and put some of his corn into the mill to be ground. When the boy arrived, he was greatly surprised to find Beardless there, and so he went away from this and approached a third mill. But Beardless hurried by a short cut, and reached this mill also before the boy, and gave some of his corn to be ground. He did the same at a fourth mill; so the boy got tired, and, thinking that he should find Beardless in every mill, put down his sack, and resolved to grind in this mill, although Beardless was there.

               When the boy's corn came to be ground, Beardless said to him, 'Hearken, my son. Let us make a cake of your flour.'

               The boy was thinking all the time of his father's words, but he could not help himself. So he said, 'Very good, we will make one.'

               Beardless got up and began to mix the flour with water, which the boy brought him, and he kept mixing till all the corn was ground, and all the flour made into a very large loaf. Then they made a fire, put the bread to bake, and, when it was baked, took it and placed it against a wall.

               Then Beardless said, 'My son, listen to me. If we were to divide the loaf between us, it would not be enough for either of us, so let us tell each other some lies, and whoever tells the greatest lie shall have the whole loaf for himself.'

               The boy thought, 'I cannot now draw back, so I may as well do my best and go on.' So he said aloud to Beardless, 'Very well, but you must begin.'

               Then Beardless told many different lies, and when he got quite tired of lying, the boy said to him, 'Eh! my dear Beardless, if that is all you know, it is not much. Only listen, and have patience a little, whilst I tell you a real truth. In my young days, when I was an old man, we had very many beehives, and it was my business every morning to count them. Now I always counted the bees easily enough, but I never could count the beehives. One morning, whilst counting the bees, I saw that the best bee was missing, so I put a saddle on the cock and mounted, and started in search of my bee. I traced it to the sea-shore, and saw that it had gone over the sea, so I followed it. When I got over, I saw that a man had caught my bee, and was ploughing a field with it in which he was about to sow millet. I called to him, "That is my bee! How did you get her?" And the man said, "Well, brother, if it is yours, take it." And he gave me back my bee, and also a sack full of millet. Then I put the sack on my back, and moved the saddle from the cock to the bee. Then I mounted it, and led the cock behind me, that he might rest a little. Whilst I was crossing the sea, somehow one of the strings of the sack broke, and all the millet fell into the water.

               'When I had got over it was already night, so I dismounted and let the bee loose to graze. The cock I fastened near me, and gave him some hay; after that I lay down to sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I found the wolves had killed my bee and eaten it up; and the honey was lying all about the valley ankle-deep; and on the hills it lay knee-deep. Then I began to think in what I could gather up all the honey. I remembered I had a little axe by me, so I went into the forest to try to kill some beast, in order to make a sack from its skin. In the forest I saw two deer dancing on one leg; so I broke the leg with my little axe and caught them both. From the two deer I drew three skins and made three bags, wherein I gathered up all the honey. I put the sacks full of honey on the cock's back, and hastened home. When I reached home I found that my father had just been born, and they sent me to heaven to bring some holy water. Whilst I was thinking how I should go up to heaven, I remembered the millet which had fallen into the sea. When I reached the sea I found the millet had grown up quite to heaven, so I climbed it and reached the sky. And on getting into heaven I saw the millet was quite ripe, and that one whom I met there had reaped it, and had already made a loaf from it, and had broken some pieces into warm milk, which he was eating. I greeted him, saying, "God help you!" and he answered, "God help thee also!" and then he gave me holy water and I returned. But I found that meanwhile there had been a great rain, so that the sea had risen and carried away my millet. Then I grew very anxious as to how I should get down again to earth. At last I remembered that I have long hair, so long that when I stand upright it reaches down to the ground, and when I sit it reaches to my ears; so I took my knife and cut one hair after another, and tied them together as I went down them. Meanwhile it grew dark, so I tied a knot in the hair, and resolved to rest on that knot through the night. But how should I do without a fire? The tinder-box I had by me, but I had no wood! Then I remembered I had somewhere in my overcoat a sewing-needle, so I found it, cut it in pieces and made a great fire, and when I was well warmed laid myself down near the fire to sleep. I slept soundly, but, unfortunately, a spark of fire burnt the hair through, and so head over heels I fell to the ground, and sank into the earth up to my girdle. I looked about to see how I could get out, and, seeing no help near, I hurried home for a spade and came back and dug myself out. Then I took the holy water to my father. When I arrived at home I found the reapers working in the corn-field. The corn was so high, that the reapers were almost burnt up. Then I shouted to them, "Why do you not bring our mare here which is two days' long and a day and a half broad, and on whose back large trees are growing? Bring her that she may make a little shadow on the field!" My father quickly brought the mare, and the reapers worked on quite pleasantly in her shadow. Then I took a vessel to bring some water. But the water was frozen, so I took my head and broke the ice with it. Then I filled the vessel with water, and carried it to the reapers. When they saw me they all shouted, "But where is your head?" I put up my hand to feel for my head, and found, alas, that I had no head on my shoulders. I had forgotten it, and had left it by the water. So I returned quickly, but a fox had got there before me, and was drawing the brains from my head to eat. Then I approached slowly and struck the fox furiously, and he began to run, and, in running, dropped a little book from his pocket. I opened the book, and there I read, "The whole loaf is for me, and Beardless is to get nothing!"' So the boy caught up the loaf and ran off home, and Beardless remained looking after him.



[1] The 'Beardless,' in Serbian national tales, is the personification of craft and sharpness.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Lying for a Wager
Tale Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Book Title: Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition)
Book Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Publisher: Columbus Printing, Publishing and Advertising Company
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1899
Country of Origin: Serbia
Classification: unclassified

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