M R. and Mrs. Vinegar were very poor, and they lived in a shabby little house that they had built with their own hands. It was made of old boards and other rubbish which they had picked up, and it rattled and shook in every high wind. One morning, Mrs. Vinegar, who was a very good housewife, was busily sweeping her kitchen floor when an unlucky thump of the broom against the walls brought down the whole house, clitter-clatter about her ears. Mr. Vinegar had gone to a neighboring thicket to gather some fagots, and she hurried off with much weeping and wailing to tell him of the disaster. When she found him she exclaimed, "Oh, Mr. Vinegar! Mr. Vinegar! we are ruined, we are ruined! I have knocked the house down and it is all to pieces!"
"My dear," said Mr. Vinegar, "pray do not weep any more. I will go back with you and see what can be done."
So they returned, and Mr. Vinegar said, "Yes, wife, the house is all in bits and we can never live in it again; but here is the door. I will take that on my back and we will go forth to seek our fortune.
With his wife's help he got the door on his back and off they started. They walked all that day, and by nightfall they were both very tired. They had now come to a thick forest and Mr. Vinegar said, "My love, I will climb up into a tree with this door and you shall follow after."
So he climbed up among the branches of a great tree, and when he had adjusted the door at a level Mrs. Vinegar climbed up also, and they stretched their weary limbs on it and were soon fast asleep. But in the middle of the night Mr. Vinegar was awakened by the sound of voices directly below him. He looked down and, to his dismay, saw that a party of robbers were met under the tree to divide some money they had stolen. "Jack," said one, "here's five pounds for you; and Bill, here's ten pounds for you; and Bob, here's three pounds for you."
Mr. Vinegar was so frightened he could listen no longer, and he trembled so violently that he shook the door off the branches on which it lay, and he and Mrs. Vinegar had to cling to the tree to save themselves from a bad tumble. When the door began to drop the noise it made startled the robbers and they looked up to learn the cause, but no sooner did they do this than the door came down on their heads and they all ran away greatly terrified.
Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar, however, dared not quit their tree till broad daylight. Then Mr. Vinegar scrambled down. "I hope the door was not broken by its fall," said he as he lifted it.
Just then he espied a number of golden guineas that had been beneath the door where they had been dropped on the ground by the robbers in their haste to get away. "Come down, Mrs. Vinegar!" he cried, "come down, I say! Our fortune is made! Come down, I say!"
Mrs. Vinegar came down as quickly as she could and saw the money with great delight, and when they counted it they found they were the possessors of forty guineas. "Now, my dear," said she, "I'll tell you what you shall do. You must take these forty guineas and go to the nearest town and buy a cow. I can make butter and cheese which you shall sell at market, and we shall then be able to live very comfortably."
"I will do as you say," replied Mr. Vinegar, "and you can stay here till I return."
So he took the money and went off to the nearest town; and there was a fair in the town, and crowds of people. When he arrived he walked about until he saw a beautiful red cow that he thought would just suit him. "Oh, if I only had that cow," said Mr. Vinegar, "I should be the happiest man alive." Then he offered the forty guineas for the cow and the owner was quite ready to part with it at that price, and the bargain was made. Mr. Vinegar was proud of his purchase, and he led the cow backwards and forwards to show it. But by and by he saw a man playing some bag-pipes—tweedledum, tweedledee. The children followed after the bagpipe man, and he appeared to be pocketing a great deal of money.
"What a pleasant and profitable life that musician must lead," said Mr. Vinegar. "If I had that instrument I should be the happiest man alive, and I could earn far more than with this cow."
So he went up to the man and said, "Friend, what a charming instrument that is, and what a deal of money you must make!"
"Why, yes," said the man; "I make a great deal of money, to be sure, and it is a wonderful instrument."
"Oh!" cried Mr. Vinegar, "how I should like to possess it!"
"Well," said the man, "I will exchange it for your red cow."
"Done!" said the delighted Mr. Vinegar.
So the beautiful red cow was given for the bagpipes. Mr. Vinegar walked up and down with his purchase, but in vain he attempted to play a tune, and the children, instead of giving him pennies, hooted and laughed at him. The day was chilly and poor Mr. Vinegar's fingers grew very cold. At last, heartily ashamed and mortified, he was leaving the town when he met a man wearing a fine, thick pair of gloves.
"Oh, my fingers are so very cold!" said Mr. Vinegar to himself. "If I had those warm gloves I should be the happiest man alive."
Then he went up to the man and said to him, "Friend, you seem to have a capital pair of gloves there."
"Yes, truly," replied the man, "these are excellent gloves."
"Well," said Mr. Vinegar, "I should like to have them. I will give you these bagpipes for them."
"All right," said the man, and he took the bagpipes and Mr. Vinegar put on the gloves and felt entirely contented as he trudged along toward the forest.
But the farther he walked the more tired he became, until presently he saw a man coming toward him with a good stout cane in his hand. "Oh!" said Mr. Vinegar, "if I had that cane I should be the happiest man alive."
Then he said to the man, "Friend, what a rare good cane you have."
"Yes," the man responded, "I have used it for many a mile and it has been a great help."
"How would it suit you to give it to me in exchange for these gloves?" asked Mr. Vinegar.
"I will do so willingly," replied the man.
"My hands had become perfectly warm," said Mr. Vinegar as he went on with his cane, "and my legs were very weary. I could not have done better."
As he drew near to the forest where he had left his wife he heard an owl on a tree laughing, "Hoo, hoo, hoo!" Then it called out his name and he stopped to ask what it wanted.
"Mr. Vinegar," said the owl, "you foolish man, you blockhead, you simpleton! you went to the fair and laid out all your money in buying a cow. Not content with that, you changed the cow for some bagpipes on which you could not play and which were not worth one tenth as much as the cow. Ah, foolish, foolish man! Then you no sooner had the bagpipes than you changed them for the gloves that were worth not one quarter as much as the bagpipes; and when you got the gloves you exchanged them for a cane, and now for your forty guineas you have nothing to show but that poor miserable stick which you might have cut in any hedge. Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo!"
The bird laughed loud and long, and Mr. Vinegar became very angry and threw his cane at its head. The cane lodged in the tree, and Mr. Vinegar returned to his wife without money, cow, bagpipes, gloves, or stick, and she said things to him that he liked even less than what the bird had said.