folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 237
translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
There was once a grocer who had a beautiful parrot with green feathers, and it hung in a cage at his shop door. It was a very shrewd, sensible bird, and very observing. But it was a female, and as such could not hold its tongue, but proclaimed aloud all that it knew, announcing to everyone who entered the shop the little circumstances which had fallen under its observation.
One day the parrot observed its master sanding the sugar. Presently in came a woman and asked for some brown sugar. "Sand in the sugar! Sand in the sugar!" vociferated the bird, and the customer pocketed her money and rushed out of the shop.
The indignant grocer rushed to the cage and shook it well. "You abominable bird, if you tell tales again, I will wring your neck!" And again he shook the cage till the poor creature was all ruffled, and a cloud of its feathers was flying about the shop.
Next day it saw its master mixing cocoa powder with brick dust. Presently in came a customer for cocoa powder. "Brick dust in the cocoa!" cried the parrot, eagerly and repeatedly, till the astonished customer believed it, and went away without his cocoa. A repetition of the shaking of the cage ensued, with a warning that such another instance of tale-telling should certainly be punished with death. The parrot made internal resolutions never to speak again.
Presently, however, it observed its master making shop butter of lard colored with a little turmeric. In came a lady and asked for butter.
"Nice fresh butter, ma'am, fresh from the dairy," said the shopman
"Lard in the butter! Lard in the butter!" said the parrot.
"You scoundrel, you!" exclaimed the shopman, rushing at the cage. Opening it, drawing forth the luckless bird, and wringing its neck, he cast it into the ash pit. But Polly was not quite dead, and after lying quiet for a few minutes, she lifted up her head and saw a dead cat in the pit.
"Halloo!" called the parrot. "What is the matter with you, Tom?"
No answer, for the vital spark of heavenly flame had quitted the mortal frame of the poor cat.
"Dead!" sighed the parrot. "Poor Tom! He too must have been afflicted with the love of truth. Ah me!"
She sat up and tried her wings. "They are sound. Great is truth in my own country, but in this dingy England it is at a discount, and lies are at a premium."
Then spreading her wings, Polly flew away. But whether she ever reached her own land, where truth was regarded with veneration, I have not heard. No, she flew twice round the world in search of it, and could not find it. I wonder whether she has found it now!
There was a woman who had a caged magpie that could talk, and it told everything that it saw and whatever anyone did.
Now it happened that her husband was saving a fine, large eel in a tub, planning to serve it to a friend for dinner. But one day while he was away, his wife caught the eel, cooked it, and ate it herself.
She planned to claim that an otter had stolen the eel, but when her husband came home, her magpie said, "Master, my mistress ate the eel."
He went to the tub, and not finding the eel, he asked his wife what had happened to it. She started to make an excuse, but he interrupted her, "I know that you ate it, because the magpie told me so!" And he scolded her with angry words.
As soon as the man left, the woman grabbed the magpie and pulled every last feather from its head. "That's your punishment for telling about the eel," she said.
From that time forth, whenever the magpie saw bald-headed person, it would cry out, "You too must have told about the eel!"
However, once when the husband was out the wife said to her maid, "Let us eat the large eel, and we will tell my husband that the otter ate it."
When the husband came home the magpie told him how the wife had eaten the eel.
He went to the pond, but could not find the eel. He then asked his wife what had become of the eel. She tried to make an excuse for herself, but he said, "Don't make excuses, because I know that you have eaten it, for the magpie told me so."
Then he scolded his wife severely for eating the eel.
After the husband left the wife and her maid went to the magpie and plucked out all the feathers on its head, saying, "This is for telling on us about the eel." Thus the poor magpie had its head-feathers plucked out.
From that time forth whenever the magie saw a bald man, or a woman with a high forehead, it would say, "You must have told about the eel."
When her master returned and saw the havoc made among his goods he fetched the parrot a blow that knocked out all her head feathers, and from that day she sulked on her perch. The oilman, missing the prattle of his favorite, began to shower his alms on every passing beggar, in hopes that some one would induce the parrot to speak again.
At length a bald-headed mendicant came to the shop one day, upon seeing whom, the parrot, breaking her long silence, cried out, "Poor fellow! Poor fellow! Hast thou, too, upset some oil-jar?"
Revised May 11, 2011.