Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Boiled Eggs

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A CATTLE-DRIVER once undertook to bring a herd of cattle to town, where the animals were to be sold at the market. The way was long and tiresome, and the roads bad, so one evening he resolved upon stopping at an inn to get a good night's rest. He slept well, and before taking leave ate a hearty breakfast of bread and eggs. But as he was about to draw forth his pocket-book for the purpose of paying the sum due the landlord for lodging and meals, the thought struck him that if he made this payment he might run short of money before arriving in town. As such an event was by no means agreeable, he asked the innkeeper to trust him until he returned, in a few days. This favor was readily granted, and so the cattle-driver pursued his way.

Having sold his stock at a good price, on returning home he arrived at the inn, and inquired for his bill, but to his great surprise, the landlord referred him to an immense sheet of paper covered with calculations and numbers: this was the bill, and the amount due was exactly four thousand dollars.

The cattle-driver at first supposed this to be a joke, but the landlord assured him in full earnest that it could not be calculated a cent less. "You ate ten eggs," said he, "and if those had been hatched, there would have been ten chickens. They, too, might have laid eggs and hatched them, and—well, in four years it would all have amounted to four thousand dollars. I am reasonable, and won't carry the calculation beyond the four years."

The poor fellow protested, and said that such a sum was more than he possessed, or could ever earn, but all in vain. He was promptly summoned to appear before the chief judge or magistrate, on the following day, to defend his case if he could.

As he strolled about in the streets of the village late in the afternoon, a man stopped and asked the reason why he looked so crestfallen and dejected.

"Oh," replied the cattle-driver, "it is useless to tell; no one can give me any help."

"Don't be so sure of that," said the stranger; "I am a lawyer, and we men of the law are generally able to assist others in their troubles."

The cattle-driver, thus persuaded, now told the lawyer how the landlord of the inn had dragged him into the court because he was unwilling, and unable, to pay for the ten eggs and their offspring.

"Well," at length said the lawyer, "is that all?"

"Yes, that is all; and bad enough it is."

"Then put your mind to rest," continued he; "I shall appear in the court and settle the matter for you. You may present yourself at the time set for the case, but the judge is obliged to wait one hour for my arrival; such is the law. I am always busy, so don't expect me before the hour is out."

At the fixed time the driver promptly put in appearance, explaining that some one would be there to speak for him. So the judge waited and waited, and finally, when the hour was about out the lawyer hastily entered, panting and wiping his forehead, as though he had almost run himself out of breath.

"Are you the lawyer who has undertaken to speak for this man?" asked the judge—sternly, too, for judges don't like to be kept waiting.

"Certainly I am."

"Why did you not come before?" pursued the magistrate; "do you think we have nothing to do but wait for such persons as you?"

The lawyer humbly begged pardon; he had been detained in his cornfields.

"Cornfields!" cried the judge; "why, the corn is not half ripe yet."

"No," admitted the lawyer; "it is not ripe, but I was sowing. I boiled two bushels of corn this morning, and at noon I expect to sow it, in order that it may be ripe and ready for the harvest next week."

These words called forth a roar of laughter in the court-room, and the landlord said that most likely the lawyer had lost his reason, since he supposed that boiled corn would grow in the field and become ripe in a week's time.

"It is no more remarkable than that chickens can be hatched from boiled eggs," remarked the lawyer, looking straight at the judge.

Now the judge began to understand. He turned around and asked the cattle-driver whether the eggs he had eaten were boiled.

Of course they were.

The result was that the cunning landlord was fined a hundred dollars, fifty of which were paid to the clever lawyer, and fifty to the man whom the landlord had intended to cheat so shamefully.

The cattle-driver merrily returned home, well contented with the result of his journey. He often used to tell his friends of the time when he received five dollars for each boiled egg he had eaten.