Gateway to the Classics: The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by Clifton Johnson
The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by  Clifton Johnson

The Fate of a Little Old Woman

L AST Monday morning at six o'clock in the evening, as I was sailing over the tops of the mountains in my little boat, I met two men on horseback riding on a donkey; and I asked them could they tell me whether the little old woman was dead yet who was hanged a week ago Friday for drowning herself in a shower of feathers.

"No," said they, "we cannot inform you; but if you will go to the next town beyond the mountains and call on Sir Gammer Vans he can tell you all about it."

"But how am I to know his house?" I asked.

"Ho! 'tis easy enough," they replied, "for 'tis a wooden house built of brick, standing alone by itself in the midst of sixty or seventy other houses just like it."

"Then nothing in the world can be easier," said I, and I went on my way.

This Sir Gammer Vans was a giant, and when I got to his house he popped out of a little thumb-bottle from behind the door.


"How d' ye do?" says he.

"Very well, I thank you," says I.

"Have some supper with me this morning," says he.

"Certainly," says I.

So he gave me a slice of coffee and a cup of cold beef; and there was a big dog under the table who picked up all the crumbs.

When we had finished drinking the beef and eating the coffee, I said, "Sir Gammer, do you happen to know whether the little old woman is—"

But I said no more, for at that moment we heard a distant shouting and Sir Gammer Vans interrupted me by saying, "I wonder if that can be my bird-hunter who catches fish for me?"

"Why not go to the door and look out of the window and see?" I asked.

"So I would," said he, "but I have the gout in my left foot a trifle above my right knee which makes it painful for me to move about. Pray, go in my stead and tell me if you can see any one just out of sight beyond the woods that grow in the bare field where my wheat is ripening for the harvest."

I looked as he requested. "Yes," I replied, "I see a man running in this direction as fast as he can walk."

"Ah," said Sir Gammer Vans, "he is no doubt bringing me a fish."

Soon the man arrived and was admitted to the house. At once he took a fine salmon from an empty basket he carried, and said, "I shot that salmon with my club as it was flying over a barn in the valley on the next hilltop."

"Very good!" says Sir Gammer, "and now you may get it ready for us to eat for breakfast this evening."

So the man put the fish in a pot of water turned bottom upwards on the fire, and when it had boiled for three hours he took the salmon out hard frozen and made it into the best apple-pie I ever tasted.

We ate the pie all up that evening for breakfast. Then I rode away in my little boat over the mountain tops, and Sir Gammer Vans had not told me whether or not the little old woman was dead who had been hanged for drowning herself in a shower of feathers; for I had forgotten to ask him.

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