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The Finest Liar In The World

from The Violet Fairy Book





At the edge of a wood there lived an old man who had only one
son, and one day he called the boy to him and said he wanted some
corn ground, but the youth must be sure never to enter any mill
where the miller was beardless.

The boy took the corn and set out, and before he had gone very
far he saw a large mill in front of him, with a beardless man
standing in the doorway.

'Good greeting, beardless one!' cried he.

'Good greeting, sonny,' replied the man.

'Could I grind something here?'

'Yes, certainly! I will finish what I am doing and then you can
grind as long as you like.'

But suddenly the boy remembered what his father had told him, and
bade farewell to the man, and went further down the river, till
he came to another mill, not knowing that as soon as his back was
turned the beardless man had picked up a bag of corn and run
hastily to the same mill before him. When the boy reached the
second mill, and saw a second beardless man sitting there, he did
not stop, and walked on till he came to a third mill. But this
time also the beardless man had been too clever for him, and had
arrived first by another road. When it happened a fourth time
the boy grew cross, and said to himself, 'It is no good going on;
there seems to be a beardless man in every mill'; and he took his
sack from his back, and made up his mind to grind his corn where
he was.

The beardless man finished grinding his own corn, and when he had
done he said to the boy, who was beginning to grind his,
'Suppose, sonny, we make a cake of what you have there.'

Now the boy had been rather uneasy when he recollected his
father's words, but he thought to himself, 'What is done cannot
be undone,' and answered, 'Very well, so let it be.'

Then the beardless one got up, threw the flour into the tub, and
made a hole in the middle, telling the boy to fetch some water
from the river in his two hands, to mix the cake. When the cake
was ready for baking they put it on the fire, and covered it with
hot ashes, till it was cooked through. Then they leaned it up
against the wall, for it was too big to go into a cupboard, and
the beardless one said to the boy:

'Look here, sonny: if we share this cake we shall neither of us

have enough. Let us see who can tell the biggest lie, and the
one who lies the best shall have the whole cake.'

The boy, not knowing what else to do, answered, 'All right; you
begin.'

So the beardless one began to lie with all his might, and when he
was tired of inventing new lies the boy said to him, 'My good
fellow, if THAT is all you can do it is not much! Listen to me,
and I will tell you a true story.

'In my youth, when I was an old man, we had a quantity of
beehives. Every morning when I got up I counted them over, and
it was quite easy to number the bees, but I never could reckon
the hives properly. One day, as I was counting the bees, I
discovered that my best bee was missing, and without losing a
moment I saddled a cock and went out to look for him. I traced
him as far as the shore, and knew that he had crossed the sea,
and that I must follow. When I had reached the other side I
found a man had harnessed my bee to a plough, and with his help
was sowing millet seed.

' "That is my bee!" I shouted. "Where did you get him from?" '
"Brother," replied the man, "if he is yours, take him." And he
not only gave me back my bee, but a sack of millet seed into the
bargain, because he had made use of my bee. Then I put the bag
on my shoulders, took the saddle from the cock, and placed it on
the back of the bee, which I mounted, leading the cock by a
string, so that he should have a rest. As we were flying home
over the sea one of the strings that held the bag of millet broke
in two, and the sack dropped straight into the ocean. It was
quite lost, of course, and there was no use thinking about it,
and by the time we were safe back again night had come. I then
got down from my bee, and let him loose, that he might get his
supper, gave the cock some hay, and went to sleep myself. But
when I awoke with the sun what a scene met my eyes! During the
night wolves had come and had eaten my bee. And honey lay
ankle-deep in the valley and knee-deep on the hills. Then I
began to consider how I could best collect some, to take home
with me.

'Now it happened that I had with me a small hatchet, and this I
took to the wood, hoping to meet some animal which I could kill,
whose skin I might turn into a bag. As I entered the forest I
saw two roe-deer hopping on one foot, so I slew them with a
single blow, and made three bags from their skins, all of which I
filled with honey and placed on the back of the cock. At length
I reached home, where I was told that my father had just been
born, and that I must go at once to fetch some holy water to
sprinkle him with. As I went I turned over in my mind if there
was no way for me to get back my millet seed, which had dropped
into the sea, and when I arrived at the place with the holy water
I saw the seed had fallen on fruitful soil, and was growing
before my eyes. And more than that, it was even cut by an
invisible hand, and made into a cake.

'So I took the cake as well as the holy water, and was flying
back with them over the sea, when there fell a great rain, and
the sea was swollen, and swept away my millet cake. Ah, how
vexed I was at its loss when I was safe on earth again.

'Suddenly I remembered that my hair was very long. If I stood it
touched the ground, although if I was sitting it only reached my
ears. I seized a knife and cut off a large lock, which I plaited
together, and when night came tied it into a knot, and prepared
to use it for a pillow. But what was I to do for a fire? A
tinder box I had, but no wood. Then it occurred to me that I had
stuck a needle in my clothes, so I took the needle and split it
in pieces, and lit it, then laid myself down by the fire and went
to sleep. But ill-luck still pursued me. While I was sleeping a
spark from the fire lighted on the hair, which was burnt up in a
moment. In despair I threw myself on the ground, and instantly
sank in it as far as my waist. I struggled to get out, but only
fell in further; so I ran to the house, seized a spade, dug
myself out, and took home the holy water. On the way I noticed
that the ripe fields were full of reapers, and suddenly the air
became so frightfully hot that the men dropped down in a faint.
Then I called to them, "Why don't you bring out our mare, which
is as tall as two days, and as broad as half a day, and make a
shade for yourselves?" My father heard what I said and jumped
quickly on the mare, and the reapers worked with a will in the
shadow, while I snatched up a wooden pail to bring them some
water to drink. When I got to the well everything was frozen
hard, so in order to draw some water I had to take off my head
and break the ice with it. As I drew near them, carrying the
water, the reapers all cried out, "Why, what has become of your
head?" I put up my hand and discovered that I really had no head,
and that I must have left it in the well. I ran back to look for
it, but found that meanwhile a fox which was passing by had
pulled my head out of the water, and was tearing at my brains. I
stole cautiously up to him, and gave him such a kick that he
uttered a loud scream, and let fall a parchment on which was
written, "The cake is mine, and the beardless one goes
empty-handed." '

With these words the boy rose, took the cake, and went home,
while the beardless one remained behind to swallow his
disappointment.

[Volksmarchen der Serben.]





Next: The Story Of Three Wonderful Beggars

Previous: A Tale Of The Tontlawald



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