Doctor Know-All

and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1641
about
being in the right place
at the right time

selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2013


Contents

  1. Harisarman (India).

  2. The Stolen Treasure (India).

  3. Crab (Italy).

  4. Doctor Know-All (Germany).

  5. Doctor and Detective (Denmark).

  6. The Charcoal Burner (Norway).

  7. Black Robin (Wales).

  8. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Harisarman

India

There was a certain Brahman in a certain village, named Harisarman. He was poor and foolish and in evil case for want of employment, and he had very many children, that he might reap the fruit of his misdeeds in a former life. He wandered about begging with his family, and at last he reached a certain city, and entered the service of a rich householder called Sthuladatta. His sons became keepers of Sthuladatta's cows and other property, and his wife a servant to him, and he himself lived near his house, performing the duty of an attendant. One day there was a feast on account of the marriage of the daughter of Sthuladatta, largely attended by many friends of the bridegroom, and merrymakers. Harisarman hoped that he would be able to fill himself up to the throat with ghee and flesh and other dainties, and get the same for his family, in the house of his patron. While he was anxiously expecting to be fed, no one thought of him.

Then he was distressed at getting nothing to eat, and he said to his wife at night, "It is owing to my poverty and stupidity that I am treated with such disrespect here; so I will pretend by means of an artifice to possess a knowledge of magic, so that I may become an object of respect to this Sthuladatta; so, when you get an opportunity, tell him that I possess magical knowledge." He said this to her, and after turning the matter over in his mind, while people were asleep he took away from the house of Sthuladatta a horse on which his master's son-in-law rode. He placed it in concealment at some distance, and in the morning the friends of the bridegroom could not find the horse, though they searched in every direction. Then, while Sthuladatta was distressed at the evil omen, and searching for the thieves who had carried off the horse, the wife of Harisarman came and said to him, "My husband is a wise man, skilled in astrology and magical sciences. He can get the horse back for you. Why do you not ask him?"

When Sthuladatta heard that, he called Harisarman, who said, "Yesterday I was forgotten, but today, now the horse is stolen, I am called to mind," and Sthuladatta then propitiated the Brahman with these words, "I forgot you, forgive me," and asked him to tell him who had taken away their horse. Then Harisarman drew all kinds of pretended diagrams, and said, "The horse has been placed by thieves on the boundary line south from this place. It is concealed there, and before it is carried off to a distance, as it will be at close of day, go quickly and bring it." When they heard that, many men ran and brought the horse quickly, praising the discernment of Harisarman. Then Harisarman was honored by all men as a sage, and dwelt there in happiness, honored by Sthuladatta.

Now, as days went on, much treasure, both of gold and jewels, had been stolen by a thief from the palace of the king. As the thief was not known, the king quickly summoned Harisarman on account of his reputation for knowledge of magic. And he, when summoned, tried to gain time, and said, "I will tell you tomorrow," and then he was placed in a chamber by the king, and carefully guarded. And he was sad because he had pretended to have knowledge. Now in that palace there was a maid named Jihva (which means tongue), who, with the assistance of her brother, had stolen that treasure from the interior of the palace. She, being alarmed at Harisarman's knowledge, went at night and applied her ear to the door of that chamber in order to find out what he was about. And Harisarman, who was alone inside, was at that very moment blaming his own tongue, that had made a vain assumption of knowledge. He said, "Oh tongue, what is this that you have done through your greediness? Wicked one, you will soon receive punishment in full." When Jihva heard this, she thought, in her terror, that she had been discovered by this wise man, and she managed to get in where he was, and falling at his feet, she said to the supposed wizard, "Brahman, here I am, that Jihva whom you have discovered to be the thief of the treasure, and after I took it I buried it in the earth in a garden behind the palace, under a pomegranate tree. So spare me, and receive the small quantity of gold which is in my possession."

When Harisarman heard that, he said to her proudly, "Depart, I know all this; I know the past, present and future; but I will not denounce you, being a miserable creature that has implored my protection. But whatever gold is in your possession you must give back to me." When he said this to the maid, she consented, and departed quickly. But Harisarman reflected in his astonishment, "Fate brings about, as if in sport, things impossible, for when calamity was so near, who would have thought chance would have brought us success? While I was blaming my jihva, the thief Jihva suddenly flung herself at my feet. Secret crimes manifest themselves by means of fear." Thus thinking, he passed the night happily in the chamber. And in the morning he brought the king, by some skillful parade of pretended knowledge into the garden, and led him up to the treasure, which was buried under the pomegranate tree, and said that the thief had escaped with a part of it. Then the king was pleased, and gave him the revenue of many villages.

But the minister, named Devajnanin, whispered in the king's ear, "How can a man possess such knowledge unattainable by men, without having studied the books of magic. You may be certain that this is a specimen of the way he makes a dishonest livelihood, by having a secret intelligence with thieves. It will be much better to test him by some new artifice."

Then the king of his own accord brought a covered pitcher into which he had thrown a frog, and said to Harisarman, "Brahman, if you can guess what there is in this pitcher, I will do you great honor today." When the Brahman Harisarman heard that, he thought that his last hour had come, and he called to mind the pet name of "Froggie" which his father had given him in his childhood in sport, and, impelled by luck, he called to himself by his pet name, lamenting his hard fate, and suddenly called out, "This is a fine pitcher for you, Froggie; it will soon become the swift destroyer of your helpless self." The people there, when they heard him say that, raised a shout of applause, because his speech chimed in so well with the object presented to him, and murmured, "Ah! a great sage, he knows even about the frog!" Then the king, thinking that this was all due to knowledge of divination, was highly delighted, and gave Harisarman the revenue of more villages, with gold, an umbrella, and state carriages of all kinds. So Harisarman prospered in the world.




The Stolen Treasure

India

Once upon a time three jars full of money were stolen from a raja's palace. As all search was fruitless the raja at last gave notice that whoever could find them should receive one half of the money. The offer brought all the jans [witch-finders] and ojhas in the country to try their hand, but not one of them could find the treasure.

The fact was that the money had been stolen by two of the raja's own servants, and it fell to the duty of these same two men to entertain the ojhas who came to try and find the money. Thus they were able to keep watch and see whether any of them got on the right track.

Not far from the raja's city lived a certain tricky fellow. From his boyhood he had always been up to strange pranks, and he had married the daughter of a rich village headman. At the time that the raja's money was stolen his wife was on a visit to her father, and after she had been some time away, he went to fetch her home. However, on his way, he stopped to have a flirtation with a girl he knew in the village, and the result was that he did not get to his father-in-law's house till long after dark. As he stood outside he heard his wife's relations talking inside, and from their conversation he learned that they had killed a capon for supper, and that there was enough for each of them to have three slices of capon and five pieces of the vegetable which was cooked with it.

Having learned this he opened the door and went in. The household was amazed at his arriving so late at night, but he explained that he had dreamed that they had killed a capon and were having a feast, and that there was enough for them each to have three slices of capon and five pieces of vegetable, so he had come to have a share. At this his father-in-law could do nothing but have another fowl killed and give him supper. He was naturally astonished at the trickster's powers of dreaming and insisted that he must certainly go and try his luck at finding the raja's stolen money.

The trickster was taken aback at this, but there was no getting out of it. So the next morning he set out with his father-in-law to the raja's palace. When they arrived they were placed in charge of the two guilty servants, who offered them refreshments of curds and parched rice. As he was washing his hands after eating, the trickster ejaculated, "Find or fail, I have at any rate had a square meal."

Now the two servants were named Find and Fail, and when they heard what the trickster said, they thought he was speaking of them, and had by some magic already found out that they were the thieves.

This threw them into consternation, and they took the trickster aside and begged him not to tell the raja that they were the thieves. He asked where they had put the money, and they told him that they had hidden it in the sand by the river. Then he promised not to reveal their guilt, if they would show him where to find the money when the time came. They gladly promised and took him the raja.

The trickster pretended to read an incantation over some mustard see, and then taking a bamboo went along tapping the ground with it. He refused to have a crowd with him ,because they would spoil the spell, but Find and Fail followed behind him and showed him where to go. So he soon found the jars of money and took them to the raja, who according to his promise gave him half their contents.




Crab

Italy

There was once a king who had lost a valuable ring. He looked for it everywhere, but could not find it. So he issued a proclamation that if any astrologer could tell him where it was he would be richly rewarded.

A poor peasant by the name of Crab heard of the proclamation. He could neither read nor write, but took it into his head that he wanted to be the astrologer to find the king's ring. So he went and presented himself to the king, to whom he said, "Your majesty must know that I am an astrologer, although you see me so poorly dressed. I know that you have lost a ring and I will try by study to find out where it is."

"Very well," said the king, "and when you have found it, what reward must I give you?"

"That is at your discretion, your majesty."

"Go, then, study, and we shall see what kind of an astrologer you turn out to be."

He was conducted to a room, in which he was to be shut up to study. It contained only a bed and a table on which were a large book and writing materials. Crab seated himself at the table and did nothing but turn over the leaves of the book and scribble the paper so that the servants who brought him his food thought him a great man. They were the ones who had stolen the ring, and from the severe glances that the peasant cast at them whenever they entered, they began to fear that they would be found out. They made him endless bows and never opened their mouths without calling him "Mr. Astrologer."

Crab, who, although illiterate, was, as a peasant, cunning, all at once imagined that the servants must know about the ring, and this is the way his suspicions were confirmed. He had been shut up in his room turning over his big book and scribbling his paper for a month, when his wife came to visit him. He said to her, "Hide yourself under the bed, and when a servant enters, say, 'That is one.' When another comes, say, 'That is two,' and so on."

The woman hid herself. The servants came with the dinner, and hardly had the first on entered when a voice from under the bed said, "That is one." The second one entered; the voice said, "That is two," and so on.

The servants were frightened at hearing that voice, for they did not know where it came from, and held a consultation. One of them said, "We are discovered. If the astrologer denounces us to the king as thieves, we are lost."

"Do you know what we must do?" said another.

"Let us hear."

"We must go to the astrologer and tell him frankly that we stole the ring, and ask him not to betray us, and present him with a purse of money. Are you willing?"

"Perfectly."

So they went in harmony to the astrologer, and making him a lower bow than usual, one of them began, "Mr. Astrologer, you have discovered that we stole the ring. We are poor people and if you reveal it to the king, we are undone. So we beg you not to betray us, and accept this purse of money."

Crab took the purse and then added, "I will not betray you, but you must do what I tell you, if you wish to save your lives. Take the ring and make that turkey in the courtyard swallow it, and leave the rest to me."

The servants were satisfied to do so and departed with a low bow. The next day Crab went to the king and said to him, "Your majesty must know that after having toiled over a month I have succeeded in discovering where the ring has gone to."

"Where is it, then?" asked the king.

"A turkey has swallowed it."

"A turkey? Very well, let us see."

They went for the turkey, opened it, and found the ring inside. The king, amazed, presented the astrologer with a large purse of money and invited him to a banquet. Among the other dishes, there was brought on the table a plate of crabs. Crabs must then have been very rare, because only the king and a few others knew their name. Turning to the peasant the king said, "You, who are an astrologer, must be able to tell me the name of these things which are in this dish."

The poor astrologer was very much puzzled, and, as if speaking to himself, but in such a way that the others heard him, he muttered, "Ah! Crab, Crab, what a plight you are in!" All who did not know that his name was Crab rose and proclaimed him the greatest astrologer in the world.




Doctor Know-All

Germany

Once upon a time there was a poor peasant by the name of Crab who drove two oxen with a load of wood into town where he sold it to a doctor for two thalers. He received his money just as the doctor was sitting down to eat. When the peasant saw how well the doctor ate and drank, his heart took a longing for the same things, and he decided that he would like to have been a doctor. He stood there for a while, and then asked if he too could not become a doctor.

"Certainly," said the doctor, "in no time at all."

"What do I have to do?" asked the peasant.

First of all, buy yourself an ABC-book, one that has a picture of a rooster up front. Second, sell your wagon and your two oxen and buy yourself some clothing and other things that doctors use. Third, have yourself a sign painted with the words 'I am Doctor Know-All' and nail it above the door to your house."

The peasant did everything he was told to do. After he had doctored a little -- but not very much -- some money was stolen from a great and wealthy nobleman. Someone told him about the Doctor Know-All who lived in such and such a village, and who must know where the money had gone. So the nobleman had his carriage hitched up, rode out to the village, and asked him if he were Doctor Know-All.

"Yes, that I am."

"Then you must come with me and recover my stolen money."

"Yes, but my wife Grete must come along too."

The nobleman agreed and had them take their places in his carriage. They rode away together.

They arrived at the nobleman's court just at mealtime, and the nobleman invited him to eat.

"Yes, but include my wife Grete," he replied, and the two of them sat down behind the table.

When the first servant brought out a platter of fine food the peasant nudged his wife and said, "Grete, that's the first one," meaning the meal's first course.

However, the servant thought that he meant, "That's the first thief," and because that is indeed what he was, he took fright, and outside he said to his comrades, "The doctor knows everything. It's going to go badly for us. He said that I'm the first one."

The second one did not want to go inside at all, but finally he had to, and when he entered, the peasant nudged his wife and said, "Grete, that's the second one."

This servant took fright as well, and went outside. It did not go any better for the third one. Once again the peasant said, "Grete, that's the third one."

The fourth one brought in a covered platter, and the nobleman told the doctor that he should demonstrate his art by guessing what it contained. It was crabs. The peasant looked at the platter, and seeing no way out of his dilemma, he said to himself, "Oh, poor Crab!"

Hearing this, the nobleman called out, "If he knows that then he must know who has the money as well!"

The servant grew very fearful and motioned to the doctor to go outside. There all four of them confessed to him that they had stolen the money. They offered to give it all to him and a handsome sum in addition, if he would not turn them in. Otherwise they would all hang. They showed him where the money was hidden. The doctor was satisfied with this, and he went back inside and sat down again at the table.

"My lord," he said, "Now I will look in my book to see where the money is hidden.

However, the fifth servant climbed into the stove in order to hear if the doctor knew anything else. The doctor leafed back and forth in his book looking for the picture of the rooster. Not finding it, he said, "I know that you are in there. Come on out."

The man in the stove thought that the doctor was talking to him, and terrified, he jumped out, saying, "The man knows everything!"

Then Doctor Know-All showed the nobleman where the money was, but he did not tell who had stolen it. Thus he received a large reward from each side and became a famous man.




Doctor and Detective

Denmark

There was once an old farmer who had a great deal of turf, which he sold to customers in town. One day, when he drove to town with a large wagonload, he chanced to meet a doctor. This worthy man came walking along in a stately manner, with a long pipe in his mouth, a cane in his hand, and a doctor's hat on his head. Under his arm he had a thick doctor-book. He was wrapped in a long, loose mantle.

The farmer tipped his hat reverently, whereupon the doctor addressed him and said that he would like to buy the turf. They talked back and forth for some time, and finally came to an agreement in regard to the price. The farmer was to have the long mantle, the pipe and the cane, the doctor's hat and the book, and the doctor was to receive the turf. The bargain was closed. The farmer secured the doctor's articles and the doctor the farmer's turf, and then each went his own way.

It was late before the farmer returned home to his wife. She asked him at once if he had made a good bargain. When he produced the entire doctor's outfit she was not at all pleased, but wept, and asked, plaintively, how they would now obtain their bread and butter, since he had received no money for the turf.

Her husband did his best to comfort her, saying that in a little while they would have all that they needed, for now he had decided to take up a doctor's profession. He put on the mantle and the doctor's hat, and with the long pipe dangling from between his teeth he sat from morning to night reading diligently in the large doctor-book. He looked exactly like a real doctor. No one would notice the slightest difference. But, nevertheless, no one came to consult him.

Thinking the reason might be that no one knew of him, he at length decided to place a sign above his door stating, "Here Lives the Greatest Doctor in the World," as he was sure this would at once turn the general attention towards him. He began to paint these letters on an old board. But as he had a very faint idea of writing -- in fact, this was the first time he had ever tried the art -- he wrote instead, "Here Lives the Greatest Detective in the World."

A few days afterwards the king happened to pass the house of the "Greatest Detective."

"What in all the world is written on that sign?" said he, dispatching one of his servants over to examine it closely. The servant reported that the sign advertised the greatest detective in the world. "Well," said the king, "I shall remember him and employ his services some day."

Some time after, it happened that a thief entered the royal stables and stole two of the king's best horses. A thorough search was made throughout the land, both for the thief and the horses, but without success. At length someone reminded the king of the detective whose house they had passed.

"Exactly so!" cried the king. "Now we shall find both thief and horses." He at once bid one of his men go and seek the wise man's advice in the difficult problem. The man rode back, found the house, knocked at the door, and walked in. Here he saw the detective sitting in front of the table, reading in the large doctor-book. He took off his hat, bowed politely, and presented the king's compliments. "I have come," he said, "to ask --"

"That is all very well," interrupted the doctor. "I know it already."

"Oh yes, of course you do," answered the messenger. "Will you kindly direct me where to go and find them?"

"Ye-es," replied the wise man, turning the leaves in the large book before him. "I will tell you what to do. Wait a moment." Now he took out a slip of paper which he had found among the leaves in the book, folded it, and handed it to the messenger, directing him to go to the drugstore and have this prescription filled. "Take the medicine promptly," he concluded, "then you will find them!" He looked just as wise and important as any doctor in the land and waved his hand graciously at the messenger as a sign that the audience was at an end.

The messenger lost no time in having the prescription filled, and as soon as the medicine was in his hand he took a drink from the bottle, and rode along as rapidly as he could, anxious to return to the king and relate his interview with the extraordinary man who seemed to know all beforehand.

He had not gone very far, however, before the medicine began to act. Of a sudden he was seized with a terrible headache, and was obliged to seek refuge in a house near the road, where he was very kindly received. Thinking that a little rest would do him good, he lay down on a sofa in a room facing the yard. The headache became more and more severe, however, and the poor fellow cursed the wise man and his medicine with all his heart. But just as he complained of his evil fate, he heard the neighing of a horse in the stable across the yard.

He arose quietly and approached the window, listening attentively, as the neighing seemed familiar to him. Now the horse neighed once more. His doubts vanished, and as the same moment his headache seemed to also completely vanish. Silently he opened the window, jumped into the yard, crept into the stable, and at once found the stolen horses, which he immediately untied. A few hours later he stood before the king, who did not know how to praise and reward the wisdom of the Great Detective before whom nothing was, of course, concealed. He lost no time in sending him two hundred dollars as a token of his high esteem and his gratitude.

When the doctor received the money he said to his wife that a doctor's trade seemed to be a very easy one, and she answered that his bargain, which had seemed to her a foolish one, was, after all, quite satisfactory so far.

Some time passed, when one day a beautiful gold ring belonging to the princess was stolen. A diligent search was made, but it seemed to have vanished altogether, with the thief. At length the Great Detective was named to the king as the right man to be consulted in this difficult affair. His majesty lost no time in sending a beautiful carriage and a messenger, with an invitation to the great man. Would he kindly assist in finding the gold ring which had been stolen?

"Yes, I know it all," said he to the messenger who stood before him, bowing politely, "and I am willing to come."

So he entered the carriage in his complete doctor's outfit, followed by his wife, whereupon they drove to the royal palace. The king himself stepped forward and opened the carriage door to the worthy couple, bowing and scraping and making himself agreeable.

He invited them to partake of a dinner. The following day they would begin the search for the ring. The wise man assented to this, and they proceeded to the dinner table, which was, of course, laid in a splendid and gorgeous manner. The doctor whispered to his wife that she must remember how many dishes they had. When all had been seated, the door was opened and in came the servant with the first dish.

The wise man looked at his wife, nodded, and said, "This is the first one." He did not see -- in fact no one did -- that the servant turned as pale as a sheet, but busied himself with doing justice to the excellent things before him.

The servant, however, was fearfully frightened, and before returning to the kitchen he stopped behind the chair of the Great Detective, plucking him by the sleeve in order to attract his attention, but without apparent result. The dismayed man had nothing to do but return to the kitchen.

He was one of the thieves, and, with two other servants, had stolen the ring and buried it in the royal gardens under a large apple tree. Pale and trembling from fear, he told his two friends how the Great Detective had said to his wife, "This is the first one" -- meaning of course, the first thief.

As the second servant was to carry in the next dish, his two comrades told him to do his best and ask the wise man to step into the kitchen. Perhaps he could be induced to spare their lives. As the servant entered the dining hall, the doctor said to his wife, "This is the second one." She nodded.

The servant grew white from fear and pulled him from behind by the sleeve. The great man thought, however, of nothing but the dishes, and did not feel the servant's endeavor to attract his attention. Thus the poor fellow was obliged to return to the kitchen without having accomplished his errand.

When the third servant entered, the doctor said to his wife, "This is the third one."

The servant pulled him, however, so violently by the sleeve that he turned in his chair, asking what he wanted. "Would he," whispered the unfortunate man, "go with him into the kitchen?" So he arose and followed him.

When he entered the kitchen the three servants implored him to spare them. He was right. They had stolen the ring. The wise man looked keenly at the three culprits, bit his lips, and said that of course he had know it all the time. They were great rascals who deserved a severe punishment. He did not know whether he could really save them from the gallows.

They now fell upon their knees and implored him to show mercy. They would be willing to give back the ring and pay him two hundred dollars if he would agree to keep their secret. This he promised, and before leaving them he told them to put the ring into a cake and serve it to the king's dog the next morning. They promised to do as he bid them.

Next morning the king began to speak of the lost ring. The Great Detective assumed his most important air, looked around him, and finally fixed his glance upon the big dog which was walking about on the floor. They were just eating breakfast, and when one of the servants carried around the dishes he stole a glance at the doctor and nodded, thus assuring him that the dog had eaten the cake. "Can you tell me where to find the thief and the ring?" pursued the king.

"Both are in this room!" answered he.

The king looked around in great astonishment. "Both in this room?" repeated he.

"There is the thief," continued the doctor, pointing to the dog.

Now the king was thoroughly amazed, and even angry. He thought the wise man made fun of him. "Kill the thief," said the doctor, sternly, "and you will be sure to find the ring." They did so at once, and, indeed, found the ring in the stomach of the animal.

The wise man received a great sum of money from the king, and afterward the three servants paid him the two hundred dollars which they had promised him for keeping their secret.

But from this day the doctor became so famous that no one dared to steal. His very name frightened the thieves and made them control their evil instincts. Although he was no more called upon to detect stolen goods, he had already earned money enough for the rest of his lifetime. He lived happily many years, honored by everyone in the land.




The Charcoal Burner

Norway

There was once upon a time a charcoal burner who had a son, and he was also a charcoal burner. When the father died, the son got married, but he would not do any work, and he neglected also to look after his kilns, and very soon no one would have him to burn charcoal any more for them.

But one day he had got a kiln of charcoal ready burnt, and he set out for town with some loads of it and sold them. When he had done his business, he loitered down some of the streets and looked about him. On his way home he fell in with some neighbors and other people from the same parish, and he talked and bragged to them about all that he had seen in town.

The most remarkable thing he saw, he said, was the great number of parsons he met, and all the people in the streets took off their hats to them. "I wish I was a parson," he said, "perhaps the people would take off their hats to me too; now, they don't appear to see me at all."

"Well, your clothes are black enough, anyhow," said his neighbors; "but now that we are on the way, we may as well call in at the sale at the old parson's, and get a glass with the others, and you can buy yourself a gown and ruff at the same time."

Yes, he did so, and when he came home he hadn't a penny left.

"I suppose you have brought both money and good manners home with you from town this time?" said his wife.

"Good manners! yes, I should think so," said the charcoal burner. "Just look here! I am a parson now. Here is both the gown and the ruff!"

"Yes, very likely!" said his wife; "strong beer makes big words, it appears! You don't care how things go!"

"You shouldn't boast or bother about the coals you are burning, till they are ready," answered the husband.

But one day a great many people, dressed like parsons, passed the charcoal burner's house on their way to the palace, and it was plain to see that something was going to take place there, so the charcoal burner thought he would go as well, and put on the old parson's clothes. His wife thought it would be wiser of him to stay at home, for even if he got the chance to hold a horse for some grand person, she was afraid the sixpence he got for it would vanish down his throat, which usually was the case.

"Yes, everybody talks about the drink, but no one about the thirst, do they, mother?" said the husband; "the more one drinks, the more one thirsts," and with that he started for the palace. All the strangers were invited to come into the presence of the king, and the charcoal burner entered with the others.

The king then told them that he had lost his most costly ring, and he felt sure it had been stolen. He had therefore called together all the learned clergy in the country, to hear if any of them could tell him who the thief was. And the king promised that he would handsomely reward the one who could tell him about it; if he was a curate, he should get a living; if he was a rector, he should be made a dean; if he was a dean, he should be made a bishop; and if he was a bishop, he should be the first man after the king. So the king went from one to the other, and asked them all if they could tell him who the thief was, and when he came to the charcoal burner, he said, "Who are you?"

"I am the wise parson and the true prophet," said the charcoal burner.

"Then you can tell me who has taken my ring?" said the king.

"Well, it isn't beyond sense and reason, that what has happened in the dark might be brought to light," said the charcoal burner; "but it isn't every year that the salmon plays in the fir-tops. I have now been studying and working for seven years to get bread for myself and my family, but I haven't got a living yet, so if the thief is to be found, I must have plenty of time and paper, for I must write and reckon early and late."

Yes, he should have as much time and paper as he wished, if he only could find the thief.

So he got a room to himself in the palace, and before long they found out that he must know something more than writing a sermon, for he used so much paper that it lay about in heaps; but there wasn't one who could make out a word of all he had written, for it was only pothooks and marks like a crow's toes. But the time wore on, and he could not find any trace of the thief.

So the king got tired of waiting, and told him that if he couldn't find the thief in three days, he should lose his life.

"Ah, but he that rules must not be hasty, but wait till his temper cools," said the charcoal burner. "One can't begin and rake out the coals, till they are thoroughly burnt and the fire has gone out."

But the king stuck to what he said, and the charcoal burner felt his life wasn't worth much. Now it so happened, that it was three of the king's servants who waited upon him day by day in turn that had stolen the ring between them.

So one day, when one of the servants came into his room and cleared away the table after supper, and was just about leaving the room, the charcoal burner heaved a deep sigh and looked after him and said, "There goes the first of them." But he only meant the first of the three days he still had to live.

"This parson knows all about it," said the servant, when he got his comrades by themselves, and told them that the parson had said, "that he was the first of them."

The second servant, who was to wait upon him the next day, was to notice what he would say then, and sure enough, as he was going out after having cleared the table, the charcoal burner gazed steadily at him, sighed and said, "There goes the second of them."

So the third servant was to observe what happened the third day; it got worse and worse he thought, for when the servant came to the door and was going out with all the plates and dishes, the charcoal burner folded his hands and said, "There goes the third of them," and then he sighed as if his heart would break.

The servant came breathlessly out to his comrades and told them it was clear enough that the parson knew all about it, and so they went into his room and fell on their knees before him, and prayed and begged of him, that he would not tell it was they who had taken the ring; they would give him a hundred dollars each, if he only would not bring them into trouble.

He promised faithfully, that no one should get into trouble if he got the money, the ring, and a lump of porridge. He put the ring into the porridge, and told one of them to give it to the biggest pig belonging to the king.

Next morning the king came; it was easy to see he would not be played with; he would know all about the thief.

"Well, I have written and reckoned far and wide," said the charcoal burner, "but I find it's not a man who has stolen the ring."

"Pooh! Who is it then?" said the king. "Oh, it's that big pig which belongs to your majesty," said the charcoal burner.

Well, they brought out the pig and killed it, and, sure enough, the ring was found inside it. So the charcoal burner got a living, and the king was so pleased that he gave him a farm and horse and a hundred dollars in the bargain.

It did not take the charcoal burner long to move, and the first Sunday after he had settled in his parish he was going to church to read his first sermon. But before he started he had to get some breakfast, and so he put the sermon on the bread plate; but he made a mistake and took the sermon instead of the bread, and dipped it into the soup, and when he felt it was so tough to chew, he gave it all to his dog, and the dog made short work of it and swallowed it all.

When he found out his mistake, he was at a loss what to do. But he had to go to church, for his congregation was waiting for him; and when he came there, he went straight up into the pulpit He put on such a grand air while he was getting ready for the sermon, that all thought he must be a very fine preacher. But when he did begin, it wasn't so very fine after all.

"The words, my dear brethren, which you were going to hear this day, have gone to the dogs; but come again, some other Sunday, my dear parishioners, and you shall hear something else! And thus endeth this sermon!"

Well, all the people thought he was a queer parson, for they had never heard such a sermon; but then they thought he might improve, and if not -- why, they would know how to deal with him.

Next Sunday the church was so crowded by people who wanted to hear the new parson, that there was scarcely room for them all in the church. As soon as the parson arrived, he went straight up into the pulpit, and then he stood for some time without saying a word, but all at once he made a start and cried out, "I say, old mother Berit, why do you sit so far back in the church?"

"Oh, my boots are in such a bad state, your reverence!" said she.

"But you could have got an old pig's skin and made yourself a new pair of boots, and then you could have come to the front like other decent people. Besides, I wish you would all consider which way you are going, for I see that some of you, when you are coming to church, come from the north, and others come from the south, and the same when you leave church; but I suppose you stop and gossip on the way, and then they wonder at home what has become of you. Yea! who knows what will become of us all? And then I have to give notice, that the old parson's widow has lost her black mare. She had fetlocks round her hoofs, and a long mane, and more of this kind which I shan't mention in this place. And then I have a big hole in my old breeches pocket, which I know, but you don't! But whether any of you have a piece of some stuff, which would suit the hole, neither you nor I know."

Some of the people were well satisfied with the sermon, and believed that he in time would make a good parson, but most of them thought it was really too bad; and when the dean came round on one of his visits, they complained to him of the parson and said that such sermons were never heard before, and one of them happened to recollect the last one about the old widow's mare and repeated it all to the dean.

"That was a very good sermon," said the dean. "He spoke very likely in parables and impressed upon you to seek the light and to shun the darkness and its deeds, when he spoke about those who were walking on the broad or the narrow road; and particularly do I consider his notice about the old widow's mare a splendid parable as to how it will fare with us all in the end. The breeches pocket with the hole in it referred to his wants, and the piece of stuff was the offerings and gifts he expected from his congregation," said the dean.

"Yes, we thought as much," they said. "It was all about his offerings, sure enough!"

And so the dean said that he thought the parish had got such a good, sensible parson, that they should not complain of him, and the end was, that they got no other parson; but as time wore on he got worse instead of better, and so they complained to the bishop.

Well, after a long time the bishop came round on a visitation, but the charcoal burner had been in the church the day before without anybody knowing of it, and had sawed the pulpit in several places, so it only hung together when one walked up the steps carefully.

So when the congregation had assembled, and the parson was to preach before the bishop, he stole quietly up the steps and began his sermon in his usual style, but after having gone on for some time he spoke up, threw up his arms, and cried out, "If there is any one here, who has any evil deed or thought in his mind, it were better he left this place, for today, this very day, there will be a fall, the like of which has not taken place since the creation of the world." And with that he struck the pulpit with his hands, and down tumbled both pulpit and parson with such a crash, that the congregation took to their heels and ran out of the church, as if the day of judgment had come.

So the bishop told the people that he wondered that the congregation could complain of a parson, who was so gifted and had such wisdom, that he could prophesy things that were to come. He thought he ought at least to be dean, and it was not long before he was made one. There was no help for it; they had to put up with him.

Now it so happened, that the king and queen in that country had no children, but when the king heard that he was to have one he was curious to know whether he was to get a son and heir to his broad lands and acres, or if he only would get a princess. So all the learned men in the land were called to the palace to say which it would be. But as none of them were able to do this, both the king and the bishop happened to think of the new dean, and it did not take long till they had him brought before them and began questioning him. No, he could not tell, he said, for it wasn't easy to guess what no one could know anything about.

"Well, well!" said the king, "I don't care whether you know it or not; but you are the wise parson and the true prophet, who can foretell things to come, and if you won't tell me, you'll lose both your gown and your ruff! But never mind, I'll give you a trial first," and so he took the biggest silver tankard he had and went down to the sea shore with the parson. "Can you tell me now, what I have got in this tankard?" said the king; "and if so, you can tell me the other thing I asked you as well," and he held the lid of the tankard tight.

The charcoal burner wrung his hands in despair and cried, "Oh, you unfortunate crawling crab of this earth, what have you now in return for all your toil and trouble!"

"Ah, there you see! You did know it after all!" said the king, for he had put a crab in the tankard.

So the charcoal burner had to go back to the palace, where he was shown, into the queen's drawing room. He took a chair and sat down in the middle of the room, while the queen walked up and down the floor.

"One should never make a stall for the unborn calf, and never quarrel about the baby's name before it is born," said the charcoal burner, "but I never saw anything like this before; when the queen comes towards me, I fancy it will be a prince, and when she walks away from me, it seems to me as if it will be a princess."

It turned out in time to be twins, and so the charcoal burner had made a lucky hit that time also. And thus for telling what no one could know anything about he got loads of money, and he became next man to the king.

Snip, snap, snout, that man knew what he was about.




Black Robin

Wales

There was once an old man in North Wales called Robin Ddu, or Black Robin. He pretended to be a wizard, and though he had no magical power, he was so cunning that he made people believe he had, and his fame spread over the whole of Wales.

A lady in the Vale of Towy lost three precious gems. They had been given to her by a dead sister, and she valued them all the more on that account. Every search was made for them, but they could not be found.

The lady had not heard of the Well of Llanbedrog. (By means of that it is quite easy to discover who has stolen your property. All you have to do is to kneel by it, and after throwing in a bit of bread, name all whom you suspect. When the thief's name is mentioned, the bread sinks.)

But she had heard of Black Robin, and at last she decided to send for him. She dispatched a servant to North Wales to offer him fifty pounds if he would restore her lost diamonds to her, and Robin traveled south with the messenger. When he arrived, he said he would not begin his work unless fifty pounds were given to him beforehand.

"Fifty pounds is a lot of money," said the lady. "I should like to test your power before giving it you."

To this Robin reluctantly agreed. The lady put a tame robin redbreast under a dish on the table. Sending for the supposed magician, she asked him to say what was under the vessel. He did not know what to say or do, and thought the best thing he could do was to confess his ignorance.

"Robin is caught," he said.

Thinking he referred to the bird and not to himself, the lady was astounded at what she regarded as a wonderful display of power, and Robin was too cunning to confess. The money was paid over, and the process of finding the gems began.

First of all he inquired carefully into all the circumstances of the disappearance of the gems, cross-examining all the inmates of the house minutely. This investigation convinced him that one of the servants had stolen them, but for some time he could not find out the actual thief.

One day, as he was taking the air with one of the menservants, he happened to enter the churchyard. The sexton in digging a grave had come across a quantity of old bones, among them being a skull. Robin took the skull back with him to his room, and his startled companion told the servants' hall about it.

Then Robin called all the servants to him, and looking very stern, "Tomorrow night," said he, "I will summon a legion of devils, and they will punish the guilty with all the tortures of hell. But the innocent shall not suffer with the guilty. Take these," and with this he handed to each a tooth which he had wrenched from the skull. "By Friday morning" (it was then Wednesday) "the guilty, after suffering unspeakable anguish and pain, will be as dead as the body from which these teeth have been taken. But I will not invoke my devils if the gems are brought to me before midnight, nor will I disclose to any living soul who took them."

Sure enough, before midnight on Thursday a trembling maidservant brought the diamonds to his room. The next thing to devise was how to restore them to their owner without disclosing the manner in which hey had been recovered, and at the same time in such a way as to reflect credit on himself as a magician.

Looking out of his window in the morning he saw a flock of geese feeding in a field not far from the mansion. Going out he took with him a small piece of bread, in which he placed the stones. He threw the piece of bread to the gander, which at once greedily swallowed it.

Some time after, summoning the lady, "Kill that gander," he said, "and you will find inside him your lost treasure."

This was done and the diamonds were found.

"They were dropped on the floor and accidentally swept out with the dust," he explained, "and this greedy bird swallowed them. By means of the skull which the sexton dug out of the grave on Wednesday I was able to divine the mystery."




Links to related sites

  1. W. A. Clouston, "The Lucky Imposter," Popular Tales: Their Migrations and Transformations, vol. 2 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1887), pp. 413-31.

  2. Twigmuntus, Cowbelliantus, Perchnosius, the tale (type 1641C) of a simple lad who confounds a group of scholars by pretending to know Latin.

  3. The Emperor's New Clothes and other folktales of type 1620.


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Revised August 24, 2013.