Trading Up (2)

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1655
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2010


Contents

  1. The Dead Mouse (The Jataka).

  2. All Change (Europe).

  3. The Sexton's Nose (Italy).

  4. With One Centavo Juan Marries a Princess (Philippines).

  5. How the King Recruited His Army (African-American).

  6. The Boy Who Was Called Thick-Head (Native American).

  7. The Story of Hlakanyana (Kaffir -- South Africa).

  8. Links to related sites.

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


The Dead Mouse

The Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares in Kāsi, the Bodhisatta was born into the Treasurer's family, and growing up, was made Treasurer, being called Treasurer Little. A wise and clever man was he, with a keen eye for signs and omens. One day on his way to wait upon the king, he came on a dead mouse lying on the road; and, taking note of the position of the stars at that moment, he said, "Any decent young fellow with his wits about him has only to pick that mouse up, and he might start a business and keep a wife."

His words were overheard by a young man of good family but reduced circumstances, who said to himself, "That's a man who has always got a reason for what he says." And accordingly he picked up the mouse, which he sold for a farthing at a tavern for their cat.

With the farthing he got molasses and took drinking water in a waterpot. Coming on flower gatherers returning from the forest, he gave each a tiny quantity of the molasses and ladled the water out to them. Each of them gave him a handful of flowers, with the proceeds of which, next day, he came back again to the flower grounds provided with more molasses and a pot of water. That day the flower gatherers, before they went, gave him flowering plants with half the flowers left on them; and thus in a little while he obtained eight pennies.

Later, one rainy and windy day, the wind blew down a quantity of rotten branches and boughs and leaves in the king's pleasaunce, and the gardener did not see how to clear them away. Then up came the young man with an offer to remove the lot, if the wood and leaves might be his. The gardener closed with the offer on the spot. Then this apt pupil of Treasurer Little repaired to the children's playground and in a very little while had got them by bribes of molasses to collect every stick and leaf in the place into a heap at the entrance to the pleasaunce. Just then the king's potter was on the look out for fuel to fire bowls for the palace, and coming on this heap, took the lot off his hands. The sale of his wood brought in sixteen pennies to this pupil of Treasurer Little, as well as five bowls and other vessels.

Having now twenty-four pennies in all, a plan occurred to him. He went to the vicinity of the city gate with a jar full of water and supplied 500 mowers with water to drink. Said they, "You've done us a good turn, friend. What can we do for you?"

"Oh, I'll tell you when I want your aid," said he; and as he went about, he struck up an intimacy with a land trader and a sea trader.

Said the former to him, "Tomorrow there will come to town a horse dealer with 500 horses to sell."

On hearing this piece of news, he said to the mowers, "I want each of you today to give me a bundle of grass and not to sell your own grass till mine is sold."

"Certainly," said they, and delivered the 500 bundles of grass at his house. Unable to get grass for his horses elsewhere, the dealer purchased our friend's grass for a thousand pieces.

Only a few days later his sea-trading friend brought him news of the arrival of a large ship in port; and another plan struck him. He hired for eight pence a well appointed carriage which plied for hire by the hour, and went in great style down to the port. Having bought the ship on credit and deposited his signet ring as security, he had a pavilion pitched hard by and said to his people as he took his seat inside, "When merchants are being shewn in, let them be passed on by three successive ushers into my presence."

Hearing that a ship had arrived in port, about a hundred merchants came down to buy the cargo; only to he told that they could not have it as a great merchant had already made a payment on account. So away they all went to the young man; and the footmen duly announced them by three successive ushers, as had been arranged beforehand. Each man of the hundred severally gave him a thousand pieces to buy a share in the ship and then a further thousand each to buy him out altogether. So it was with 200,000 pieces that this pupil of Treasurer Little returned to Benares.

Actuated by a desire to shew his gratitude, he went with one hundred thousand pieces to call on Treasurer Little. "How did you come by all this wealth?" asked the Treasurer.

"In four short months, simply by following your advice," replied the young man; and he told him the whole story, starting with the dead mouse. Thought Lord High Treasurer Little, on hearing all this, "I must see that a young fellow of these parts does not fall into anybody else's hands." So he married him to his own grownup daughter and settled all the family estates on the young man. And at the Treasurer's death, he became Treasurer in that city. And the Bodhisatta passed away to fare according to his deserts.




All Change

Europe

There was once a man who was the laziest man in all the world. He wouldn't take off his clothes when he went to bed because he didn't want to have to put them on again. He wouldn't raise his cup to his lips but went down and sucked up his tea without carrying the cup. He wouldn't play any sports because he said they made him sweat. And he wouldn't work with his hands for the same reason.

But at last he found that he couldn't get anything to eat unless he did some work for it. So he hired himself out to a farmer for the season. But all through the harvest he ate as much and worked as little as he could. And when the fall came and he went to get his wages from his master all he got was a single pea.

"What do you mean by giving me this?" he said to his master.

"Why, that is all that your labor is worth," was the reply. "You have eaten as much as you have earned."

"None of your lip," said the man. "Give me my pea. At any rate I have earned that."

So when he got it he went to an inn by the roadside and said to the landlady, "Can you give me lodging for the night, me and my pea?"

"Well, no," said the landlady, "I haven't got a bed free, but I can take care of your pea for you."

No sooner said than done. The pea was lodged with the landlady, and the laziest man went and lay in a barn nearby.

The landlady put the pea upon a dresser and left it there, and a chicken wandering by saw it and jumped up on the dresser and ate it. So when the laziest man called the next day and asked for his pea the landlady couldn't find it. She said, "The chicken must have swallowed it."

"Well, I want my pea," said the man. "You had better give me the chicken."

"Why, what, when, how?" stammered the landlady. "The chicken is worth thousands of your pea."

"I don't care for that. It has got my pea inside it, and the only way I can get my pea is to have that which holds the pea."

"What, give you my chicken for a single pea? Nonsense!"

"Well, if you don't, I'll summon you before the justice."

"Ah, well, take the chicken and my bad wishes with it."

So off went the man and sauntered along all day, till that night he came to another inn, and asked the landlord if he and his chicken could stop there.

He said, "No, no, we have no room for you, but we can put your chicken in the stable if you like."

So the man said yes and went off for the night. But there was a savage sow in the stable, and during the night she ate up the poor chicken. And when the man came the next morning he said to the landlord, "Please give me my chicken."

"I am awfully sorry, sir," said he, "but my sow has eaten it up."

The laziest man said, "Then give me your sow."

"What, a sow for your chicken? Nonsense! Go away, my man."

"Then if you don't do that, I'll have you before the justice."

"Ah, well, take the sow and my curses with it," said the landlord.

And the man took the sow and followed it along the road till he came to another inn, and said to the landlady, "Have you room for me and my sow?"

"I have not," said the landlady, "but I can put your sow up."

So the sow was put in the stable, and the man off to lie in the barn for the night. Now the sow went roaming about the stable, and coming too near the hoofs of the mare, was hit in the forehead and killed by the mare's hoofs.

So when the man came in the morning and asked for his sow the landlady said, "I'm very sorry, sir, but an accident has occurred. My mare has hit your sow in the skull, and she is dead."

"What, the mare?"

"No, your sow."

"Then give me the mare."

"What, my mare for your sow? Nonsense!"

"Well, if you don't I'll take you before the justice. You'll see if it's nonsense."

So after some time the landlady agreed to give the man her mare in exchange for the dead sow.

Then the man followed on in the steps of the mare till he came to another inn, and asked the landlord if he could put him up for the night, him and his mare.

The landlord said, "All our beds are full, but you can put the mare up in the stable if you will."

"Very well," said the man, and tied the halter of the mare into the ring of the stable.

Next morning early the landlord's daughter said to her father, "That poor mare has had nothing to drink. I'll go and lead it to the river."

"That is none of your business," said the landlord. "Let the man do it himself."

"Ah, but the poor thing has had nothing to drink. I'll bring it back soon."

So the girl took the mare to the river brink and let it drink the water. But, by chance, the mare slipped into the stream, which was so strong that it carried the mare away. And the young girl ran back to her mother and said, "Oh mother, the mare fell into the stream and it was carried quite away What shall we do? What shall we do?"

When the man came round that morning he said, "Please give me my mare."

"I'm very sorry indeed, sir, but my daughter -- that one there -- wanted to give the poor thing a drink and took it down to the river and it fell in and was carried away by the stream. I'm very sorry indeed."

"Your sorrow won't pay my loss," said the man. "The least you can do is to give me your daughter."

"What, my daughter to you because of the mare!"

"Well, if you don't, I will take you before the justice."

Now the landlord didn't like going before the justice. So after much haggling he agreed to let his daughter go with the man. And they went along, and they went along, and they went along, till at last they came to another inn, which was kept by the girl's aunt, though the man didn't know it. So he went in and said, "Can you give me beds for me and my girl here?"

So the landlady looked at the girl, who said nothing, and said, "Well, I haven't got a bed for you but I have a bed for her. But perhaps she'll run away."

"Oh, I will manage that," said the man. And he went a got a sack and put the girl in it and tied her up. And then he went off.

As soon as he was gone the girl's aunt opened the bag and said, "What has happened, my dear?" And she told the whole story.

So the aunt took a big dog and put it in the sack. And when the man came the next morning, he said, "Where's my girl?"

"There she is, so far as I know."

So he took the sack and put it on his shoulder and went on his was for a time. Then as the sun grew high he sat down under the shade of a tree and thought he would speak to the girl. And when he opened the sack, the big dog flew out at him, and he fell back, and that's the last I heard of him.




The Sexton's Nose

Italy

A sexton, one day in sweeping the church, found a piece of money (it was a fifth of a cent) and deliberated with himself as to what he would buy with it. If he bought nuts or almonds, he was afraid of the mice; so at last he bought some roasted peas, and ate all but the last pea.

This he took to a bakery nearby, and asked the mistress to keep it for him. She told him to leave it on a bench, and she would take care of it. When she went to get it, she found that the cock had eaten it. The next day the sexton came for the roast pea, and when he heard what had become of it, he said they must either return the roast pea or give him the cock.

This they did, and the sexton, not having anyplace to keep it, took it to a miller's wife, who promised to keep it for him. Now she had a pig, which managed to kill the cock. The next day the sexton came for the cock, and on finding it dead, demanded the pig, and the woman had to give it to him.

The pig he left with a friend of his, a pastry cook, whose daughter was to be married the next day. The woman was mean and sly, and killed the pig for her daughter's wedding, meaning to tell the sexton that the pig had run away. The sexton, however, when he heard it, made a great fuss, and declared that she must give him back his pig or her daughter. At last she had to give him her daughter, whom he put in a bag and carried away.

He took the bag to a woman who kept a shop, and asked her to keep for him this bag, which he said contained bran. The woman by chance kept chickens, and she thought she would take some of the sexton's bran and feed them. When she opened the bag she found the young girl, who told her how she came there. The woman took her out of the sack, and put in her stead a dog.

The next day the sexton came for his bag, and putting it on his shoulder, started for the seashore, intending to throw the young girl in the sea. When he reached the shore, he opened the bag, and the furious dog flew out and bit his nose.

The sexton was in great agony, and cried out, while the blood ran down his face in torrents, "Dog, dog, give me a hair to put in my nose, and heal the bite."

The dog answered, "Do you want a hair? Give me some bread."

The sexton ran to a bakery, and said to the baker, "Baker, give me some bread to give the dog. The dog will give a hair. The hair I will put in my nose, and cure the bite."

The baker said, "Do you want bread? Give me some wood."

The sexton ran to the woodman. "Woodman, give me wood to give the baker. The baker will give me bread. The bread I will give to the dog. The dog will give me a hair. The hair I will put in my nose, and heal the bite."

The woodman said, "Do you want wood? Give me a mattock."

The sexton ran to a smith. "Smith, give me a mattock to give the woodman. The woodman will give me wood. I will carry the wood to the baker. The baker will give me bread. I will give the bread to the dog. The dog will give me a hair. The hair I will put in my nose, and heal the bite."

The smith said, "Do you want a mattock? Give me some coals."

The sexton ran to the collier. "Collier, give me some coals to give the smith. The smith will give me a mattock. The mattock I will give the woodman. The woodman will give me some wood. The wood I will give the baker. The baker will give me bread. The bread I will give the dog. The dog will give me a hair. The hair I will put in my nose, and heal the bite."

"Do you want coals? Give me a cart."

The sexton ran to the wagon maker. "Wagon maker, give me a cart to give the collier. The collier will give me some coals. The coals I will carry to the smith. The smith will give me a mattock. The mattock I will give the woodman. The woodman will give me some wood. The wood I will give the baker. The baker will give me bread. The bread I will give to the dog. The dog will give me a hair. The hair I will put in my nose, and heal the bite."

The wagon maker, seeing the sexton's great lamentation, is moved to compassion, and gives him the cart. The sexton, well pleased, takes the cart and goes away to the collier. The collier gives him the coals. The coals he takes to the smith. The smith gives him the mattock. The mattock he takes to the woodman. The woodman gives him wood. The wood he carries to the baker. The baker gives him bread. The bread he carries to the dog. The dog gives him a hair. The hair he puts in his nose, and heals the bite.




With One Centavo Juan Marries a Princess

Philippines

In ancient times, in the age of foolishness and nonsense, there lived a poor gambler. He was all alone in the world: he had no parents, relatives, wife, or children. What little money he had he spent on cards or cock-fighting. Every time he played, he lost. So he would often pass whole days without eating. He would then go around the town begging like a tramp. At last he determined to leave the village to find his fortune.

One day, without a single cent in his pockets, he set out on his journey. As he was lazily wandering along the road, he found a centavo, and picked it up. When he came to the next village, he bought with his coin a small native cake. He ate only a part of the cake; the rest he wrapped in a piece of paper and put in his pocket. Then he took a walk around the village; but, soon becoming tired, he sat down by a little shop to rest. While resting, he fell asleep. As he was lying on the bench asleep, a chicken came along, and, seeing the cake projecting from his pocket, the chicken pecked at it and ate it up. Tickled by the bird's beak, the tramp woke up and immediately seized the poor creature. The owner claimed the chicken; but Juan would not give it up, on the ground that it had eaten his cake. Indeed, he argued so well, that he was allowed to walk away, taking the chicken with him.

Scarcely had he gone a mile when he came to another village. There he took a rest in a barber-shop. He fell asleep again, and soon a dog came in and began to devour his chicken. Awakened by the poor bird's squawking, Juan jumped up and caught the dog still munching its prey. In spite of the barber's protest and his refusal to give up his dog, Juan seized it and carried it away with him. He proceeded on his journey until he came to another village. As he was passing by a small house, he felt thirsty: so he decided to go in and ask for a drink. He tied his dog to the gate and went in. When he came out again, he found his dog lying dead, the iron gate on top of him. Evidently, in its struggles to get loose, the animal had pulled the gate over. Without a word Juan pulled off one of the iron bars from the gate and took it away with him. When the owner shouted after him, Juan said, "The bar belongs to me, for your gate killed my dog."

When Juan came to a wide river, he sat down on the bank to rest. While he was sitting there, he began to play with his iron bar, tossing it up into the air, and catching it as it fell. Once he missed, and the bar fell into the river and was lost. "Now, river," said Juan, "since you have taken my iron bar, you belong to me. You will have to pay for it." So he sat there all day, watching for people to come along and bathe.

It happened by chance that not long after, the princess came to take her bath. When she came out of the water, Juan approached her, and said, "Princess, don't you know that this river is mine? And, since you have touched the water, I have the right to claim you."

"How does it happen that you own this river?" said the astonished princess.

"Well, princess, it would tire you out to hear the story of how I acquired this river; but I insist that you are mine."

Juan persisted so strongly, that at last the princess said that she was willing to leave the matter to her father's decision. On hearing Juan's story, and after having asked him question after question, the king was greatly impressed with his wonderful reasoning and wit; and, as he was unable to offer any refutation for Juan's argument, he willingly married his daughter to Juan.




How the King Recruited His Army

African-American

One time there was a boy named Tinktum Tidy, and this boy was mighty smart. He was like a slick three-cent piece: little but old. I don't know what they called him in those times, but in these days we'd call him a runt, and laugh at him. Well, this boy had a head on him. He looked like he was all dried up, but never mind that. Those who got ahead of him had to get up long before day, and if they didn't take care, they'd find him up before them.

One season, when the blackberries were ripe, he went around and told the folks that if they'd take their baskets and their buckets and go out and get the blackberries, he'd give them half of what they picked.

It was so seldom that the folks got a chance to make any extra money that they were mighty glad to have the chance to pick blackberries. So they all went out and picked and picked until they picked two wagonloads of them. Well, this shrunk-up boy, who looked like he scarcely had any sense, he divided fair, there are no two ways about that. He took half and gave them their half back.

There was no disputing about it. But then when the folks got their half, they asked themselves what they were going to do with them. They wanted to sell them to Tinktum Tidy, but he said that he had more blackberries than he knew what to do with. After a while the folks said that if they couldn't sell their share of the blackberries, they might just as well put them in Tinktum Tidy's pile, and that is what they did. And then he took the two wagonloads to town and sold them for cash money.

By and by some of the longer-headed folks sat down and got to studying about it, and they asked themselves how come they got to go out and pick blackberries for that little bit of a shrunk-up chap. They studied and studied, but the more they studied, the more foolish they felt.

Well, the tale got out, and it traveled around and around until the king got wind of it, and he took and sent for Tinktum Tidy. This made the folks that picked the blackberries mighty glad, because they got the idea that the king was going to put the little shrunk-up chap in the calaboose for fooling them. But Tinktum Tidy wasn't scared. He wrapped up a change of clothes in his handkerchief, and put out to where the king stayed. Some of the folks went along to see what was going to come of the little shrunk-up chap that had fooled them.

By and by they got to where the king lived, and Tinktum Tidy just marched right in and told them that the king had sent for him. They took him into a big room where there was a whole passel of other folks, and told him to wait there until the king came. Everybody looked at him hard, he was so shrunk-up and puny, and he looked right back at them, just like he was someone of quality. After a while, here came the king. By the time he got settled on the platform, his eye dropped on Tinktum Tidy, and he asked what that runt was doing there.

They up and told the king that that was the chap who was making folks pick so many blackberries. When the king heard this, he lay back and laughed fit to kill himself. He called Tinktum Tidy up and asked him all about how he was doing, and then he said, the king did, that Tinktum Tidy must be mighty smart. But Tinktum tidy said that he wasn't the one who was smart. It was the folks who picked the blackberries, because folks than can pick so many in so little time must be smart.

Then king put his hand into his pocket and pulled out eleven grains of corn. He said, "Take this corn and do what you please with it, but what I want from it are eleven strong men to put in my army."

Tinktum Tidy took the corn and tied it up in one corner of his handkerchief. He said, "Not counting hurricanes and high water, I'll be back in a fortnight. If eleven strong men were as easy to pick as blackberries, I'd send some other folks, but I'll have to go after these men myself."

With that he made his bow, he did, and took his foot in his hand and put out. He traveled all that day, and about night he come to a tavern, and there he stopped. The man asked him where he came from, what his name was, and where he was going. He said he came from Chuckerluckertown, and he name was Tinktum Tidy, and he was going on a long journey.

When bedtime came, he called the man into the room and showed him the corn. He said, "Here are the eleven grains of corn the that king gave me. I'll lay it on the table. I'm afraid the big gander is going to eat it."

The man said he would shut the door so the big gander couldn't get it. Then they all went to bed. Tinktum Tidy waited until everybody was still, and then he got up and dropped the corn through a crack in the floor. Then he went to sleep.

The next morning he woke up early and alarmed the neighborhood. He hollered out, "I told you so! I told you so! The big gander ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me! The big gander ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me!"

Tinktum Tidy hollered so loud and so long that he scared the man. Then the man's old woman stuck her head out of the window and set up a squall. She said, "Take the big gander and go away from here! Take him and go!"

Tinktum Tidy took the big gander under his arm and went poling down the big road. He traveled all that day until night, and he came to another town, and he went and put up at the tavern.

When bedtime came, he tied the gander by the leg to the bedstead, and then he called the man. "Here is the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me. I'll tie him here, because I'm afraid the bah-bah black sheep will kill him."

The man said, "The black sheep can't get him here."

In the middle of the night Tinktum Tidy got up and broke the big gander's neck and flung him out into the barnyard.

The next morning he got up early and began to holler. He said, "I told you so! I told you so! Bah-bah black sheep has killed the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me!"

When the man heard him talk of the king, he got scared. It made him shake in his shoes. He said, "Take bah-bah black sheep and go along! You have fetched me bad luck!"

Then Tinktum Tidy fastened bah-bah black sheep with a rope and led him off down the big road. By and by he came to where there was another town, and he went and put up at the tavern.

When bedtime came, he called the man. He said, "Here is the bah-bah black sheep that killed the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me. I'll tie him here to the bedstead because I'm afraid the brindle cow will hook him."

The man said, "The brindle cow can't get him in here."

Between midnight and day, Tinktum Tidy got up and killed the black sheep and put him in the lot with the brindle cow.

Then he got up early in the morning and began to holler. He said, "I told you so! I told you so! The brindle cow has killed the bah-bah black sheep that killed the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn the king gave me!"

This made the man feel scared. He said, "Take the brindle cow and go!"

Tinktum Tidy led the brindle cow off down the road and made his way to the next town. He got there by the time night came, and put up at the tavern.

When bedtime came he took and called the man. He said, "Here is the brindle cow that killed the bah-bah black sheep that killed the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me. I'll tie her here by the chimney where the roan horse can't get her."

The man said, "I know mighty well the roan horse can't get her here."

Just before day Tinktum Tidy took the brindle cow into the stable and made away with her.

Then when daylight came he began to holler. He said, "I told you so! I told you so! The roan horse has killed the brindle cow that killed the bah-bah black sheep that killed the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me."

The man got scared when he heard the name of the king, and he said, "Take the roan horse and go on where you are going!"

Tinktum Tidy got on the roan horse and went trotting down the big road. He went on and went on, he did, until he came a place where he had to cross a creek. Close by the road he saw an old man sitting. He looked at the old man, and the old man looked an him.

By and by the old man said, "Howdy, son!"

Tinktum Tidy said, "Howdy, grandsir!"

The man said, "Son, come wipe my eyes!"

Tinktum Tidy said, "I'll wife them, grandsir, if it will do you any good." Then he got down off the roan horse and wiped the old man's eyes.

The old man said, "Thank you, son! Thank you!"

Tinktum Tidy said, "You are more than welcome, grandsir!" Then he got on the roan hors and was about to ride off.

The old man said, "Son, come scratch my head!"

Tinktum Tidy said, "I'll scratch your head, grandsir, if it will do you any good." Then he got down off the roan horse and scratched the old man's head.

The old man said, "Thank you, son! Thank you!"

Tinktum Tidy said, "You are more than welcome, grandsir!"

Then he started to ride off again, but the old man said, "Son, come help me up!"

Tinktum Tidy said, "I'll help you up, Grandsir, if it will do you any good!"

So he went and helped him up, and it seemed like that when the old man got on his feet he strength came back. He straightened up, he did, and looked lots younger than what he had.

He said, "Son I have been sitting here going on ten years, and you the only one that ever did what I asked him. Some laughed at me and some cussed at me, but all went on their way, and everyone that passed fell in with the eleven robbers that live down the road a piece, and got robbed. Now beings you did what I asked you, I'm more than willing to do what you ask of me."

With that Tinktum Tidy up and told the old man how come he was going along there, and about how the kind wanted him to fetch back eleven strong men to go into the army.

The man said, "Son, they are waiting for you right down the road. Keep right on until you come to where there's a big white house. Ride around that house seven times one way and seven time the other way, and say the words that come into your head. Don't get scared, because I won't be so might far off."

Tinktum Tidy road off down the road, he did, and went on until he came to the big white house. Then he rode around it seven times one way and seven times the other way.

He said, "This is the roan horse that killed the brindle cow that killed the bah-bah black sheep that killed the big gander that ate the eleven grains of corn that the king gave me. I want eleven strong men for the king's army."

And the door of the big white house flew open, and eleven strong men came marching out. By that time the old man had come up, and they asked him what they were to do.

He said, "Mount your horses, sons, and go join the king's army!"

So they went, and the king was mighty proud. He looked around at everybody and said, "I told you so! and He fixed it up so that Tinktum Tidy had just as much as he could eat and mighty little work to do all the rest of his days.




The Boy Who Was Called Thick-Head

Native American

Three brothers lived with their old Indian mother in the forest near the sea. Their father had long been dead. At his death he had little of the world's goods to his credit and his widow and her sons were very poor. In the place where they dwelt, game was not plentiful, and to get food enough to keep them from want they had often to go far into the forest.

The youngest boy was smaller and weaker than the others, and when the two older sons went far away to hunt, they always left him behind, for although he always wished to accompany them they would never allow him to go. He had to do all the work about the house, and all day long he gathered wood in the forest and carried water from the stream. And even when his brothers went out in the springtime to draw sap from the maple trees he was never permitted to go with them. He was always making mistakes and doing foolish things.

His brothers called him Thick-Head, and all the people round about said he was a simpleton because of his slow and queer ways.

His mother alone was kind to him and she always said, "They may laugh at you and call you fool, but you will prove to be wiser than all of them yet, for so it was told me by a forest fairy at your birth."

The chief of the people had a beautiful daughter who had many suitors. But her father spurned them all from his door and said, "My daughter is not yet of age to marry; and when her time of marriage comes, she will only marry the man who can make great profit from hunting."

The two older sons of the old woman decided that one of them must win the girl. So they prepared to set out on a great hunting expedition far away in the northern forest, for it was now autumn, and the hunter's moon had come.

The youngest boy wanted to go with them, for he had never been away from home and he wished to see the world. And his mother said he might go.

His brothers were very angry when they heard his request, and they said, "Much good Thick-Head can do us in the chase. He will only bring us bad luck. He is not a hunter but a scullion and a drudge fit only for the fireside."

But his mother commanded them to grant the boy's wish and they had to obey. So the three brothers set out for the north country, the two older brothers grumbling loudly because they were accompanied by the boy they thought a fool.

The two older brothers had good success in the chase and they killed many animals deer and rabbits and otters and beavers. And they came home bearing a great quantity of dried meat and skins.

They each thought, "Now we have begun to prove our prowess to the chief, and if we succeed as well next year when the hunter's moon comes again, one of us will surely win his daughter when she is old enough to marry."

But all the youngest boy brought home as a result of his journey into the game country was a large earth-worm as thick as his finger and as long as his arm. It was the biggest earth-worm he had ever seen. He thought it a great curiosity as well as a great discovery, and he was so busy watching it each day that he had no time to hunt.

When he brought it home in a box, his brothers said to their mother, "What did we tell you about Thick-Head? He has now surely proved himself a fool. He has caught only a fat earth-worm in all these weeks." And they noised it abroad in the village and all the people laughed loudly at the simpleton, until "Thick-Head's hunt" became a by-word in all the land.

But the boy's mother only smiled and said, "He will surprise them all yet."

The boy kept the earth-worm in a tiny pen just outside the door of his home. One day a large duck came waddling along, and sticking her bill over the little fence of the pen she quickly gobbled up the worm.

The boy was very angry and he went to the man who owned the duck, and said, "Your duck ate up my pet worm. I want my worm."

The man offered to pay him whatever price he asked, but the boy said, " I do not want your price. I want my worm."

But the man said, " How can I give you your worm when my duck has eaten it up? It is gone forever."

And the boy said, "It is not gone. It is in the duck's belly. So I must have the duck."

Then to avoid further trouble the man gave Thick-Head the duck, for he thought to himself, "What is the use of arguing with a fool?"

The boy took the duck home and kept it in a little pen near his home with a low fence around it. And he tied a great weight to its foot so that it could not fly away. He was quite happy again, for he thought, "Now I have both my worm and the duck."

But one day a fox came prowling along looking for food. He saw the fat duck tied by the foot in the little pen. And he said, "What good fortune! There is a choice meal for me," and in a twinkling he was over the fence. The duck quacked and made a great noise, but she was soon silenced. The fox had just finished eating up the duck when the boy, who had heard the quacking, came running out of the house. The fox was smacking his lips after his good meal, and he was too slow in getting away. The boy fell to beating him with a stout club and soon killed him and threw his body into the yard behind the house.

And he thought, "That is not so bad. Now I have my worm and the duck and the fox."

That night an old wolf came through the forest in search of food. He was very hungry, and in the bright moonlight he saw the dead fox lying in the yard. He pounced upon it greedily and devoured it until not a trace of it was left. But the boy saw him before he could get away, and he came stealthily upon him and killed him with a blow of his axe.

"I am surely in good luck," he thought, "for now I have the worm and the duck and the fox and the wolf."

But the next day when he told his brothers of his good fortune and his great skill, they laughed at him loudly and said, "Much good a dead wolf will do you. Before two days have passed it will be but an evil-smelling thing and we shall have to bury it deep. You are indeed a great fool."

The boy pondered for a long time over what they had said, and he thought, "Perhaps they are right. The dead wolf cannot last long. I will save the skin."

So he skinned the wolf and dried the skin and made a drum from it. For the drum was one of the few musical instruments of the Indians in those old times, and they beat it loudly at all their dances and festivals. The boy beat the drum each evening, and made a great noise, and he was very proud because he had the only drum in the whole village.

One day the chief sent for him and said to him, "I want to borrow your drum for this evening. I am having a great gathering to announce to all the land that my daughter is now of age to marry and that suitors may now seek her hand in marriage. But we have no musical instruments and I want your drum, and I myself will beat it at the dance."

So Thick-Head brought his drum to the chief's house, but he was not very well pleased, because he was not invited to the feast, while his brothers were among the favored guests.

And he said to the chief, "Be very careful. Do not tear the skin of my drum, for I can never get another like it. My worm and my duck and my fox and my wolf have all helped to make it."

The next day he went for his drum. But the chief had struck it too hard and had split it open so that it would now make no sound and it was ruined beyond repair.

He offered to pay the boy a great price for it, but the boy said, "I do not want your price. I want my drum. Give me back my drum, for my worm and the duck and the fox and the wolf are all in it."

The chief said, "How can I give you back your drum when it is broken? It is gone forever. I will give you anything you desire in exchange for it. Since you do not like the price I offer, you may name your own price and you shall have it."

And the boy thought to himself, "Here is a chance for good fortune. Now I shall surprise my brothers." And he said, "Since you cannot give me my drum, I will take your daughter in marriage in exchange."

The chief was much perplexed, but he had to be true to his word. So he gave his daughter to Thick-Head, and they were married, and the girl brought him much treasure and they lived very happily. And his brothers were much amazed and angered because they had failed.

But his mother said, "I told you he was wiser than you and that he would outwit you yet although you called him Thick-Head and fool. For the forest fairy said it to me at his birth."


  • Source: Cyrus Macmillan, Canadian Fairy Tales (Toronto: S. B. Gundy; London: John Lane, 1922), pp. 40-46.

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    The Story of Hlakanyana

    Kaffir (South Africa)

    Hlakanyana met a boy tending some goats. The boy had a digging-stick with him. Hlakanyana proposed that they should pursue after birds, and the boy agreed. They pursued birds the whole day.

    In the evening, when the sun set, Hlakanyana said, "It is time now to roast our birds."

    The place was on the bank of a river.

    Hlakanyana said, "We must go under the water and see who will come out last."

    They went under the water, and Hlakanyana came out last.

    The cunning fellow said, "Let us try again."

    They boy agreed to that. They went under the water. Hlakanyana came out quickly and ate all the birds. He left the heads only. Then he went under the water again. The boy came out while he was still under the water.

    When Hlakanyana came out he said, "Let us go now and eat our birds."

    They found all the birds eaten.

    Hlakanyana said, "You have eaten them, because you came out of the water first, and you have left me the heads only."

    The boy denied having done so, but Hlakanyana said, "You must pay for my birds with that digging-stick."

    The boy gave the digging-stick, and Hlakanyana went on his way.

    He saw some people making pots of clay. He said to them, "Why do you not ask me to lend you this digging-stick, instead of digging with your hands?"

    They said, "Lend it to us."

    Hlakanyana lent them the digging-stick. Just the first time they stuck it in the clay it broke.

    He said, "You have broken my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

    They gave him a pot.

    Hlakanyana carried the pot till he came to some boys who were herding goats. He said to them, "You foolish boys, you only suck the goats. You don't milk them in any vessel. Why don't you ask me to lend you this pot?"

    The boys said, "Lend it to us."

    Hlakanyana lent them the pot. While the boys were milking, the pot broke. Hlakanyana said, "You have broken my pot, the pot that I received from the people who make pots, the people who broke my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

    The boys gave him a goat.

    Hlakanyana came to the keepers of calves said, "Allow us to suck this goat."

    Hlakanyana gave the goat into their hands. While they were sucking, the goat died.

    Hlakanyana said, "You have killed my goat, the goat that I received from the boys that were tending goats, the boys that broke my pot, the pot that I received from the people who make pots, the people who broke my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

    They gave him a calf.

    Hlakanyana came to the keepers of cows.

    He said to them, "You only suck the cows without letting the calf suck first. Why don't you ask me to lend you this calf, what the cows may be induced to give their milk freely?"

    They said, "Lend us the calf."

    Hlakanyana permitted them to take the calf. While the calf was in their hands it died.

    Hlakanyana said, "You have killed my calf, the calf that I received from the keepers of calves, the keepers of calves that killed my goat, the goat that I received from the boys that were tending goats, the boys that broke my pot, the pot that I received from the people who make pots, the people who broke my digging-stick, the digging-stick that I received from my companion, my companion who ate my birds and left me with the heads."

    They gave him a cow.

    Hlakanyana continued on his journey.




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    Revised August 2, 2010.