translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
A very wealthy old man, imagining that he was on the point of death, sent for his sons and divided his property among them. However, he did not die for several years afterwards; and miserable years many of them were. Besides the weariness of old age, the old fellow had to bear with much abuse and cruelty from his sons. Wretched, selfish ingrates! Previously they vied with one another in trying to please their father, hoping thus to receive more money, but now they had received their patrimony, they cared not how soon he left them -- nay, the sooner the better, because he was only a needless trouble and expense. This, as we may suppose, was a great grief to the old man.
One day he met a friend and related to him all his troubles. The friend sympathized very much with him, and promised to think over the matter, and call in a little while and tell him what to do. He did so; in a few days he visited the old man and put down four bags full of stones and gravel before him.
"Look here, friend," said he. "Your sons will get to know of my coming here today, and will inquire about it. You must pretend that I came to discharge a long-standing debt with you, and that you are several thousands of rupees richer than you thought you were. Keep these bags in your own hands, and on no account let your sons get to them as long as you are alive. You will soon find them change their conduct towards you. Salám. I will come again soon to see how you are getting on."
When the young men got to hear of this further increase of wealth they began to be more attentive and pleasing to their father than ever before. And thus they continued to the day of the old man's demise, when the bags were greedily opened, and found to contain only stones and gravel!
Small wonder was it, then, that the mother, unable to bear the severity of her son's wife, made up her mind to quit his house for her daughter's. When the son heard this, though cut to the quick, he was at a loss as to what he should do to remedy matters, for he was a hen-pecked husband.
That night sleep fled from his eyes, and, as he lay awake pondering over this unfortunate state of affairs, a beautiful idea struck him, and he was anxiously waiting till it dawned to carry it out.
Early in the morning, while his wife was yet sleeping, he called his mother aside, and giving her a bag bade her fill it with stones and when parting to make much ado and carry it away with her, pretending the while there was something valuable in it. When the time came she, with sufficient tact, wished them all manner of good and together with her bag full of treasures, wended her way to her daughter's abode.
Scarce had she gone a few yards, when the son rated his wife soundly, and opened her eyes to her folly in allowing his mother to depart for, said he, "You saw ber carrying away that bag of gold, and now she would leave it all to my sister, and we would be such losers by it."
When the wife heard this, her sorrow and mortification know no bounds, and she resolved to bring the old woman home at any cost. So, on the morrow, she prepared some rice-cakes and other sweetmeats and, with all possible haste, she went to her whom she had so cruelly driven away and with artful language coaxed her back. For, had she not a bag full of glittering gold!
Ever afterwards she swallowed her wrath in silence and treated her with kind concern, attending to all her wants.
One evening, the old woman took seriously ill, and the daughter-in-law, finding she was breathing her last, and her husband had run in search of medicine -- so great was her avarice and eagerness to get at the treasures ere his return -- rushed into an inner chamber and in the deep recesses of a wooden box found -- horror of horrors! -- the bag filled not with gold but with stones. Angry with herself, and angry with the man who had deceived her, she went out into the verandah of her house with her crying infant in her arms.
After a while the poor woman expired and the neighbors had come to make preparations for the funeral. Seeing her mother also hurrying up and not wishing to outrage the feelings of those assembled by an open recital of the stratagem her husband had practised on her, and yet being impatient to acquaint her mother of it -- for she, too, was in the secret about the bag of gold -- she hushed the little one to sleep by chanting a nursery rhyme and artfully introducing into it the following line:
Mother, the wretch, who gave the villain birth,
Had but a bag of stones as hers on earth!
In a certain city there was a nobleman. He had been very wealthy, but his goods were destroyed, and he became indigent, and in this condition he died.
When his son came of full age, the mother said to him, "Son, I am now approaching old age, but you are unable to provide for me by yourself. Therefore you must take in marriage a woman from a suitable family."
He married, but his wife did not exert herself for his mother. To counter this, the husband collected fragments of plates from the whole village. These he put in a bag made of skin. Then he said, "When you come near that woman, my wife, take this bag from its box as though there were great wealth in it, shake it, then put it away again."
The mother took her son's words to heart. She shook the skin bag as he had told her to, so as to be noticed by his wife, and then carefully replaced it in the box. From that day on the son's wife began to exert herself for her mother-in-law. During this time leprosy attacked the mother-in-law.
The son said, "Mother, place the skin bag near the place where you sleep, then say to your relatives and to my wife, 'I have saved the articles in this bag from the time I was very little until now, and for the sole purpose of giving them, at the end of my life, to a person who has most exerted herself for me.'"
Then the mother gathered together her relatives and her daughter-in-law, and said to them what her son had proposed, that she would give the bag of coins to the person who most exerted herself for her. After this each one of them attended the leprous woman, and the son's mind was put at ease. A little later the leprous woman died.
The son's wife stole the bag of coins and hid it. After the corpse was buried, the son's wife took out the bag of coins. Upon discovering that it contained only fragments of plates she was greatly saddened.
At this time that woman's mother also arrived, and she noisily asked, "Did my daughter receive the bag of coins?" Her daughter told her that she had been cheated. She showed her the bag of plate fragments, and they both wept. That woman, now angry with her husband, separated from him, and returned to her own house.
They have a tradition at Winterton that there was formerly one Mr. Lacy, that lived there and was a very rich man, who, being grown very aged, gave all that he had away unto his three sons, upon condition that one should keep him one week, and another another.
But it happened within a little while that they were all weary of him, after that they had got what they had, and regarded him no more than a dog.
The old man perceiving how he was slighted, went to an attorney to see if his skill could not afford him any help in his troubles. The attorney told him that no law in the land could help him nor yield him any comfort, but there was one thing only which would certainly do, which, if he would perform, he would reveal to him. At this the poor old man was exceeding glad, and desired him for God's sake to reveal the same, for he was almost pined and starved to death, and he would willingly do it rather than live as he did.
"Well," says the lawyer, "you have been a great friend of mine in my need, and I will now be one to you in your need. I will lend you a strongbox with a strong lock on it, in which shall be contained 1000 pounds. You shall on such a day pretend to have fetched it out of a closet, where it shall be supposed that you had hidden it, and carry it into one of your son's houses, and make it your business every week, while you are sojourning with such or such a son, to be always counting of the money, and rattling it about, and you shall see that, for love of it, they'll soon love you again, and make very much of you, and maintain you joyfully, willingly, and plentifully, unto your dying day."
The old man, having thanked the lawyer for this good advice and kind proffer, received within a few days the aforesaid box full of money, and having so managed it as above, his graceless sons soon fell in love with him again, and made mighty much of him, and perceiving that their love to him continued steadfast and firm, he one day took it out of the house and carried it to the lawyer, thanking him exceedingly for the loan thereof. But when he got to his sons he made them believe that he had hidden it again, and that he would give it to him of them whom he loved best when he died. This made them all so observant of him that he lived the rest of his days in great peace, plenty, and happiness amongst them, and died full of years.
But a while before he died, he unbraided them for their former ingratitude, told them the whole history of the box, and forgave them.
In Jüterbog a wooden cudgel, several feet in length, hangs from town gate. Beneath it is fastened a tablet upon which is written the following:
Wer seinen Kindern gibt das Brot
He who gives his children bread
About this it is told that there was once a rich man who had three sons. During his lifetime he gave them all his wealth, but afterward he himself suffered need, for not one of his children would support him.
After he died, his children quickly appeared at court to see if there was not something else for them to inherit, but they found nothing but a large, heavy chest. Opening it, they found that it was filled with stones, beneath which were the cudgel, the tablet, and instructions that both should be hung from the town gate. And so it was done.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
See also Aging and Death in Folklore. An essay by D. L. Ashliman, with supporting texts from proverbs, folktales, and myths from around the world.
Revised June 1, 2011.