: OLD-FASHIONED STORIES
: 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
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!