The Devil and His Grandmother
There was a great war, and the king had many soldiers, but gave them
small pay, so small that they could not live upon it, so three of them agreed among
themselves to desert. One of them said to the others, "If we are caught we shall be
hanged on the gallows, how shall we manage it?" Another said, "Look at that
great cornfield, if we were to hide ourselves there, no one could find us, the troops are
not allowed to enter it, and to-morrow they are to march away." They crept into the
corn, only the troops did not march away, but remained lying all round about it. They
stayed in the corn for two days and two nights, and were so hungry that they all but died,
but if they had come out, their death would have been certain. Then said they, "What
is the use of our deserting if we have to perish miserably here?"
But now a fiery dragon came flying through the air, and it came down
to them, and asked why they had concealed themselves there. They answered, "We are
three soldiers who have deserted because the pay was so bad, and now we shall have to die
of hunger if we stay here, or to dangle on the gallows if we go out." "If you
will serve me for seven years," said the dragon, "I will convey you through the
army so that no one shall seize you." "We have no choice and are compelled to
accept," they replied. Then the dragon caught hold of them with his claws, and
carried them away through the air over the army, and put them down again on the earth far
from it, but the dragon was no other than the devil. He gave them a small whip and said,
"Whip with it and crack it, and then as much gold will spring up round about as you
can wish for, then you can live like great lords, keep horses, and drive your carriages,
but when the seven years have come to an end, you are my property."
Then he put before them a book which they were all three forced to
sign. "But first I will ask you a riddle," said he, "and if you can guess
it, you shall be free, and released from my power." Then the dragon flew away from
them, and they went away with their whip, had gold in plenty, ordered themselves rich
apparel, and traveled about the world. Wherever they were they lived in pleasure and
magnificence, rode on horseback, drove in carriages, ate and drank, but did nothing
wicked. The time slipped quickly by, and when the seven years were coming to an end, two
of them were terribly anxious and alarmed, but the third took the affair easily, and said,
"Brothers, fear nothing, I still have my wits about me, I shall guess the
riddle." They went out into the open country and sat down, and the two pulled
sorrowful faces. Then an aged woman came up to them who inquired why they were so sad.
"Well," said they, "what has that got to do with you? After all, you cannot
help us." "Who knows?" said she. "Just confide your trouble to
me." So they told her that they had been the devil's servants for nearly seven years,
and that he had provided them with gold as though it were hay, but that they had sold
themselves to him, and were forfeited to him, if at the end of the seven years they could
not guess a riddle.
The old woman said, "If you are to be saved, one of you must go
into the forest, there he will come to a fallen rock which looks like a little house, he
must enter that, and then he will obtain help." The two melancholy ones thought to
themselves, "That will still not save us," and stayed where they were, but the
third, the merry one, got up and walked on in the forest until he found the rockhouse. In
the little house a very aged woman was sitting, who was the devil's grandmother, and asked
the soldier where he came from, and what he wanted there. He told her everything that had
happened, and as he pleased her well, she had pity on him, and said she would help him.
She lifted up a great stone which lay above a cellar, and said, "Conceal yourself
there, you can hear everything that is said here, only sit still, and do not stir. When
the dragon comes, I will question him about the riddle, he tells everything to me, so
listen carefully to his answer."
At twelve o'clock at night, the dragon came flying thither, and
asked for his dinner. The grandmother laid the table, and served up food and drink, so
that he was pleased, and they ate and drank together. In the course of conversation, she
asked him what kind of a day he had had, and how many souls he had got. "Nothing went
very well to-day," he answered, "but I have laid hold of three soldiers, I have
them safe." "Indeed? Three soldiers, they're clever, they may escape you
yet." The devil said mockingly, "They are mine. I will set them a riddle, which
they will never be able to guess." "What riddle is that?" she inquired.
"I will tell you, in the great north sea lies a dead dogfish, that shall be your
roast meat, and the rib of a whale shall be your silver spoon, and a hollow old horse's
hoof shall be your wineglass."
When the devil had gone to bed, the old grandmother raised up the
stone, and let out the soldier. "Did you give heed to everything?"
"Yes," said he, "I know enough, and will save myself." Then he had to
go back another way, through the window, secretly and with all speed to his companions. He
told them how the devil had been outwitted by the old grandmother, and how he had learned
the answer to the riddle from him. Then they were all delighted, and of good cheer, and
took the whip and whipped so much gold for themselves that it ran all over the ground.
When the seven years had fully gone by, the devil came with the
book, showed the signatures, and said, "I will take you with me to hell. There you
shall have a meal. If you can guess what kind of roast meat you will have to eat, you
shall be free and released from your bargain, and may keep the whip as well." Then
the first soldier began and said, "In the great north sea lies a dead dogfish, that
no doubt is the roast meat."
The devil was angry, and began to mutter, "Hm. Hm. Hm."
And asked the second, "But what will your spoon be?" "The rib of a whale,
that is to be our silver spoon." The devil made a wry face, again growled, "Hm.
Hm. Hm." He said to the third, "And do you also know what your wineglass is to
be?" "An old horse's hoof is to be our wineglass." Then the devil flew away
with a loud cry, and had no more power over them, but the three kept the whip, whipped as
much money for themselves with it as they wanted, and lived happily to their end.