Page:The Red Fairy Book.djvu/143

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123



THE WONDERFUL BIRCH


ONCE upon a time there were a man and a woman, who had an only daughter. Now it happened that one of their sheep went astray, and they set out to look for it, and searched and searched, each in a different part of the wood. Then the good wife met a witch, who said to her:

'If you spit, you miserable creature, if you spit into the sheath of my knife, or if you run between my legs, I shall change you into a black sheep.'

The woman neither spat, nor did she run between her legs, but yet the witch changed her into a sheep. Then she made herself look exactly like the woman, and called out to the good man:

'Ho, old man, halloa! I have found the sheep already!'

The man thought the witch was really his wife, and he did not know that his wife was the sheep; so he went home with her, glad at heart because his sheep was found. When they were safe at home the witch said to the man:

'Look here, old man, we must really kill that sheep lest it run away to the wood again.'

The man, who was a peaceable quiet sort of fellow, made no objections, but simply said:

'Good, let us do so.'

The daughter, however, had overheard their talk, and she ran to the flock and lamented aloud:

'Oh, dear little mother, they are going to slaughter you!'

'Well, then, if they do slaughter me,' was the black sheep's answer, 'eat you neither the meat nor the broth that is made of me, but gather all my bones, and bury them by the edge of the field.'

Shortly after this they took the black sheep from the flock and slaughtered it. The witch made pease-soup of it, and set it before the daughter. But the girl remembered her mother's warning.