Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Covetous Man
THE COVETOUS MAN
HERE once lived a man who was so covetous that all who knew him despised him with all their heart, either openly or secretly. He was one of those men who would be glad to put their wives and children, or their old shoes, or worn-out clothes, out on high interest. When his wife died, and he needed some one to attend his house, he decided to choose another wife. His desire was, above all, to find one who would eat as little as possible—namely, one-fourth of a pea each day. She could under no circumstances have more, for things must be saved up and kept in store.
At length he found a woman who promised to marry him, declaring that one-fourth of a pea every day would satisfy her hunger abundantly.
When about a month had passed, the man thought it singular that she was looking as stout and well as when she came. He wondered how she could live on so little. We understand, of course, that he was careful to reserve for himself all that he wished.
Thinking the matter carefully over, he decided upon asking his groom if he suspected her of eating the contents of the pots and pans while she prepared the meals. The groom answered that of course it might be so; no one knew. His master asked him, further, if he had any idea how she could manage to satisfy her hunger without being caught in the act. The groom replied that the best way to watch her was to take a seat on the scraper while she was busy with the dinner. This the man decided to do, and see if his suspicion should be confirmed.
The groom was, however, a double-tongued fellow; he went straight to the man's wife and warned her against eating from the pots and pans, as her husband would be watching her from the scraper.
In the forenoon, the next day, the groom helped his master to creep into the chimney, where he seated himself on the scraper. But his wife ordered the servant-girls to heap a good deal of turf on the fire, so that he might be snug and warm in his lofty seat. Of course she affected not to know of his presence in the chimney. The fire became very bright and warm, and the man suffered fearfully from heat and smoke, without daring to sneeze or call any one. At length his faithful servant came back and helped him down. But he was obliged to keep in bed for the next fourteen days, so much had he suffered.
Some time afterwards he was struck by the idea that his wife might eat one thing or another when she dealt with the different articles in the pantry. He again asked his groom how he might observe her, and the faithful servant advised him to hide in a feather-bed which was lying in the pantry. This feather-bed could be opened at one end, and when he had slipped through the hole, the latter could be sewed together—a small opening being left through which he could command a view. At the same time the groom told the wife all, and advised her to be careful. When she came into the pantry she called the servant-girls and bid them hang the feather-bed over a line in the yard and beat it thoroughly, in order to free it from dust and prevent the feathers from being spoiled. The girls obeyed, beating the feather-bed to their hearts' content; but the man who was inside writhed like a worm under the blows without daring to utter a sound. When at length he escaped from his narrow prison, he was so severely bruised that he was obliged to seek his bed and to stay there for over a fortnight. His wife seemed much afflicted by his sickness, and asked him what was the matter. He answered that he was sick. "You ought not to eat more than I am eating every day," said she, "and you would feel much better."
When he arose he was again vexed by her good and healthy looks, so he again asked his groom what was to be done. No doubt she drank something when she went into the cellar and drew the glass of beer and wine which he had with every meal; this, no doubt, was the reason why she was as stout as when she first arrived. But how could he watch her? The groom advised him to knock the bottom out of a hogshead and creep into it; when the bottom had been replaced the man could watch his wife by peeping through the bung-hole. He then told the woman of this plan.
When the wife came into the cellar she went from one end to the other, soliloquizing: "That hogshead needs a good cleaning." She called the girls and bid them bring some hot water, and when they came they were ordered to clean and shake the hogshead well. The girls did their best, and when they had finished their work the man was so scalded and blistered that there was hardly any skin left on his body. He remained sick for over four weeks. While he was confined to his bed it happened that a couple of cows belonging to the groom's parents died, and as their owners were very good and honest people, the covetous man's wife gave them two fine cows from her husband's stable to show how thankful she was for his kindness to her.
When her husband arose and missed his two best cows he became so vexed as to declare that he would lie down and die. His wife sent for a coffin and had him placed in it, and now every one thought him dead and gone. But on the day of his burial, when his coffin was lowered into the grave, he became terribly frightened and shouted to be set free, promising that he would allow his wife to eat all that she wished, and would take care of the poor and think of something else than hoarding money. "What does he say?" inquired the minister, who was a little deaf. "He promises to become a better man," answered the mourning widow. "Then make haste, children, and set him free," cried the minister. So the man came forth, and now he smiled and nodded pleasantly at every one. He kept his word to the letter. All who knew him agreed that, although rich, he was a model of a man and a husband. He lived long and happily with his wife, and the groom had his wages increased.