: Boys And Girls Bookshelf

It was Christmas eve, and in the great house on the hill there was much

rejoicing and preparation for the feasting on the morrow. A knock came

at the door, and two strangers stood there. "We have lost our way," they

said, "and the night is dark and cold, and we do not know where to go,

and we would be glad to be allowed to stay for the night."

But the farmer and his wife said "No!" very shortly. They had no room

for beggars.

So the strangers went to the foot of the hill where stood the small

cottage of a laborer and his wife. In this house there was much

happiness, but there was no preparation for feasting on the morrow. They

were poor folk, who could not keep the feast.

But when the strangers came the laborer opened the door wide and bade

them enter and draw near the fire and warm themselves. And, because

there was but one bed in the house, the laborer and his wife gave that

to their guests, and themselves slept on straw in an outer room; but,

strange to say, they never slept better in all their lives.

In the morning they urged the strangers to stay with them, as it was a

feast-day, and a sorry time for travelers to be on the road. And,

because there was no meat in the house, the laborer went out and killed

the one goat which they owned, and his wife dressed it, and cooked it,

and made a feast. Then the strangers and the laborer and his wife went

to church together, and all came home and sat down to the good dinner.

And when they were departing one of the strangers said to the laborer:

"How many horns had the little goat?"

The laborer looked a bit confused, for he had not meant that his guests

should know that he had sacrificed his last goat for them, but he

answered: "Why, there were but two, of course."

"Then," said the guests, "you and your wife shall have two wishes, one

for each of you."

The laborer and his wife looked at each other, at first in perplexity,

and then they smiled. They were very contented, they said. They had

looked into each other's eyes, and had seen that which made for

happiness and contentment. So they told the guests that they had no

wishes to make: if they might but have their daily bread, and the hope

of heaven when they died, there was nothing more.

The strangers said that these things should certainly be fulfilled, and

took their leave, promising to come again next year, and spend the

night, and attend church, and share the feast with their friends.

From that day on everything that the laborer and his wife did prospered.

Their pigs were fat, and brought good prices on the market; their corn

grew thick and tall, and the barns were filled with golden grain; their

hens laid more and bigger eggs than ever before, so that soon the couple

were no longer poor, but prosperous.

They knew quite well to whom they owed such good fortune, and often

spoke about it, and looked forward to the time when their friends should

come again next year. For it seemed to them that they could hardly enjoy

the good things that had been given to them until they had thanked those

through whose favor the good fortune had come.

Now, the farmer and his wife remembered that these strangers had first

come to them; and when they heard the story they were envious, for,

although they were rich, they were not content.

So one day the farmer went down the hill to the laborer's cottage and


"After all, your house is but small to entertain such guests. When they

come again this year, send them up to our house, and we will give them a

grand feast, and soft beds to sleep on, and take them to the church in

our fine carriage."

The laborer and his wife thought that it was very nice that their

friends were to be so well entertained, and were very willing to promise

to send them to the house of the farmer.

So when the Christmas season was come the farmer and his wife killed an

ox, and prepared a great feast. And when the strangers came they were

right royally entertained; but the next morning they said that they must

hasten, as they were to enter the church with the friends of the year

before. This was very satisfactory to the farmer and his wife, for they

did not want to go to church on Christmas Day, but the farmer said that

since the strangers were going to the church he would drive them there

in his carriage.

So the finest horses on the farm were harnessed to the carriage and it

stood at the door. And just as they were about to drive away one of the

strangers turned to the farmer, asking: "Did you kill the ox for us?"

"Oh, yes," answered the farmer, eagerly.

"And how many horns did he have?"

This was the question that the farmer and his wife had been waiting for,

and the farmer's wife whispered in her husband's ear: "Say four--there

will be that much more for us."

So the farmer answered: "Indeed, it was a very peculiar ox; it had four


"Then," said the stranger, "you shall have four wishes, two for each of


Then they mounted into the carriage and were driven off to the church,

the farmer driving very fast, for he was eager to get back home to his

wife so that they might talk over what they were to wish for.

So when he started back the horses were pretty well "blown," and could

not go fast, and the farmer whipped them, and at last one of them

stumbled and a trace broke. This was most provoking, and he could not

wait to fix it right, but fastened it hastily, for he wanted to be at

home again. Then the other horse stumbled, and the other trace broke, so

both of them were down.

At this the farmer was very angry. "The wicked elves take you! I wish--"

But the words were not all out of his mouth before the horses had gone,

leaving the harness dangling to the carriage.

The farmer was indeed angry now, but there was nothing to be done about

it, and he knew that he had but one wish left and he wanted to make that

one very carefully, so he packed the harness on his back, left the wagon

standing, and started home on foot.

Now, at home the farmer's wife was very impatient for him to come, for

she wanted to talk over with him what her two wishes should be, and at

last she exclaimed: "Oh, I wish that he would hurry!"

No sooner were the words spoken than the farmer shot through the air and

into the house, angry at having been brought so speedily, and at his

wife for having so foolishly wasted a wish. So immediately they began to

quarrel about it, and the farmer said that it was all her fault for

making him lie about the number of horns on the ox.

"Plague take the woman!" he exclaimed, "I wish that two of the horns

were growing out of her head this minute!"

No sooner were the words spoken than the woman threw her hands to her

head and cried aloud in pain, for two horns were growing rapidly, one on

each side of her head, and soon they were pushing through her hair and

shoving her cap aside.

But the farmer clapped his hand to his mouth exclaiming: "Oh, that was

my last wish. Do you now quickly wish for a million dollars!"

"Much good a million dollars would do me!" said his wife, "with horns on

my head like an ox!"

"But you could buy bonnets of silk and of velvet and cover them up,"

pleaded her husband, who saw his last hope of riches disappearing, as,

indeed, it did, for he had hardly stopped speaking when his wife

exclaimed: "I wish that the horns were gone off of my head."

And in a moment the horns were gone, and so was the last wish, and so

was the hope for great riches, and so, also, were the two fine horses!