HIS is the way that this story begins:
Once upon a time there was a rich brother and a poor brother, and the one lived across the street from the other.
The rich brother had all of the world's gear that was good for him and more besides; as for the poor brother, why, he had hardly enough to keep soul and body together, yet he was contented with his lot, and contentment did not sit back of the stove in the rich brother's house; wherefore in this the rich brother had less than the poor brother.
Now these things happened in the good old times when the saints used to be going hither and thither in the world upon this business and upon that. So one day, who should come travelling to the town where the rich brother and the poor brother lived, but Saint Nicholas himself.
Just beside the town gate stood the great house of the rich brother; thither went the saint and knocked at the door, and it was the rich brother himself who came and opened it to him.
Now, Saint Nicholas had had a long walk of it that day, so that he was quite covered with dust, and looked no better than he should. Therefore he seemed to be only a common beggar; and when the rich brother heard him ask for a night's lodging at his fine, great house, he gaped like a toad in a rain-storm. What! Did the traveller think that he kept a free lodging house for beggars? If he did he was bringing his grist to the wrong mill; there was no place for the likes of him in the house, and that was the truth. But yonder was a poor man's house across the street, if he went over there perhaps he could get a night's lodging and a crust of bread. That was what the rich brother said, and after he had said it he banged to the door, and left Saint Nicholas standing on the outside under the blessed sky.
So now there was nothing for good Saint Nicholas to do but to go across the street to the poor brother's house, as the other had told him to do. Rap! tap! tap! he knocked at the door, and it was the poor brother who came and opened it for him.
"Come in, come in!" says he, "come in and welcome!"
So in came Saint Nicholas, and sat himself down behind the stove where it was good and warm, while the poor man's wife spread before him all that they had in the house—a loaf of brown bread and a crock of cold water from the town fountain.
"And is that all that you have to eat?" said Saint Nicholas.
Yes; that was all that they had.
"Then, maybe, I can help you to better," said Saint Nicholas. "So bring me hither a bowl and a crock."
You may guess that the poor man's wife was not long in fetching what he wanted. When they were brought the saint blessed the one and passed his hand over the other.
Then he said, "Bowl be filled!" and straightway the bowl began to boil up with a good rich meat pottage until it was full to the brim. Then the saint said, "Bowl be stilled!" and it stopped making the broth, and there stood as good a feast as man could wish for.
Then Saint Nicholas said, "Crock be filled!" and the crock began to bubble up with the best of beer. Then he said, "Crock be stilled!" and there stood as good drink as man ever poured down his throat.
Down they all sat, the saint and the poor man and the poor man's wife, and ate and drank till they could eat and drink no more, and whenever the bowl and the crock grew empty, the one and the other became filled at the bidding.
The next morning the saint trudged off the way he was going, but he left behind him the bowl and the crock, so that there was no danger of hunger and thirst coming to that house.
Well, the world jogged along for a while, maybe a month or two, and life was as easy for the poor man and his wife as an old shoe. One day the rich brother said to his wife. "See now, Luck seems to be stroking our brother over yonder the right way; I'll just go and see what it all means."
So over the street he went, and found the poor man at home. Down he sat back of the stove and began to chatter and talk and talk and chatter, and the upshot of the matter was that, bit by bit, he dragged out the whole story from the poor man. Then nothing would do but he must see the bowl and the crock at work. So the bowl and the crock were brought and set to work and—Hui!—how the rich brother opened his eyes when he saw them making good broth and beer of themselves.
And now he must and would have that bowl and crock. At first the poor brother said "No," but the other bargained and bargained until, at last, the poor man consented to let him have the two for a hundred dollars. So the rich brother paid down his hundred dollars, and off he marched with what he wanted.
When the next day had come, the rich brother said to his wife, "Never you mind about the dinner to-day. Go you into the harvest-field, and I will see to the dinner." So off went the wife with the harvesters, and the husband stayed at home and smoked his pipe all the morning, for he knew that dinner would be ready at the bidding. So when noontide had come he took out the bowl and the crock, and, placing them on the table, said, "Bowl be filled! crock be filled!" and straightway they began making broth and beer as fast as they could.
In a little while the bowl and the crock were filled, and then they could hold no more, so that the broth and beer ran down all over the table and the floor. Then the rich brother was in a pretty pickle, for he did not know how to bid the bowl and the crock to stop from making what they were making. Out he ran and across the street to the poor man's house, and meanwhile the broth and beer filled the whole room until it could hold no more, and then ran out into the gutters so that all the pigs and dogs in the town had a feast that day.
"Oh, dear brother!" cried the rich man to the poor man, "do tell me what to do or the whole town will soon be smothered in broth and beer."
But, no; the poor brother was not to be stirred in such haste; they would have to strike a bit of a bargain first. So the upshot of the matter was that the rich brother had to pay the poor brother another hundred dollars to take the crock and the bowl back again.
See, now, what comes of being covetous!
As for the poor man, he was well off in the world, for he had all that he could eat and drink, and a stockingful of money back of the stove besides.
Well, time went along as time does, and now it was Saint Christopher who was thinking about taking a little journey below. "See, brother," says Saint Nicholas to him, "if you chance to be jogging by yonder town, stop at the poor man's house, for there you will have a warm welcome and plenty to eat."
But when Saint Christopher came to the town, the rich man's house seemed so much larger and finer than the poor man's house, that he thought that he would ask for lodging there.
But it fared the same with him that it had with Saint Nicholas. Prut! Did he think that the rich man kept free lodgings for beggars? And—bang!—the door was slammed in his face, and off packed the saint with a flea in his ear.
Over he went to the poor man's house, and there was a warm welcome for him, and good broth and beer from the bowl and the crock that Saint Nicholas had blessed. After he had supped he went to bed, where he slept as snug and warm as a mouse in the nest.
Then the good wife said to the husband, "See, now, the poor fellow's shirt is none too good for him to be wearing. I'll just make him another while he is sleeping, so that he'll have a decent bit of linen to wear in the morning."
So she brought her best roll of linen out of the closet, and set to work stitching and sewing, and never stopped till she had made the new shirt to the last button. The next morning, when the saint awoke, there lay the nice, new, clean shirt, and he put it on and gave thanks for it.
Before he left the house the poor man took him aside, and emptied the stockingful of silver money on the table, and bade the saint take what he wanted, "for," says he, "a penny or two is never amiss in the great world."
After that it was time for the traveller to be jogging; but before he went he said, "See, now, because you have been so kind and so good to a poor wayfarer, I will give you a blessing; whatever you begin doing this morning, you shall continue doing till sunset." So saying, he took up his staff and went his way.
After Saint Christopher had gone the poor man and his wife began talking together as to what would be best for them to be doing all of the day, and one said one thing and the other said the other, but every plug was too small for the hole, as we say in our town, for nothing seemed to fit the case.
"Come, come," said the good woman, "here we are losing time that can never be handled again. While we are talking the matter over I will be folding the linen that is left from making the shirt."
"And I," said the good man, "will be putting the money away that the holy man left behind him."
So the wife began folding the linen into a bundle again, and the man began putting away the money that he had offered in charity. Thus they began doing, and thus they kept on doing; so that by the time that the evening had come the whole house was full of fine linen, and every tub and bucket and mug and jug about the place was brimming with silver money. As for the good couple, their fortune was made, and that is the heart of the whole matter in four words.
That night who should come over from across the street but the rich brother, with his pipe in his mouth and his hands in his pockets. But when he saw how very rich the poor man had become all of a sudden, and what a store of fine linen and silver money he had, he was so wonder-struck that he did not know whither to look and what to think.
Dear heart's sake alive! Where did all these fine things come from? That was what he should like to know.
Oh! there was nothing to hide in the matter, and the poor man told all about what had happened.
As for the rich brother, when he found how he had shut his door in the face of good-fortune, he rapped his head with his knuckles because he was so angry at his own foolishness. However, crying never mended a torn jacket, so he made the poor brother promise that if either of the saints came that way again, they should be sent over to his house for a night's lodging, for it was only fair and just that he should have a share of the same cake his brother had eaten.
So the poor brother promised to do what the other wanted, and after that the rich brother went back home again.
Well, a year and a day passed, and then, sure enough, who should come along that way but both the saints together, arm in arm. Rap! tap! tap! they knocked at the poor man's door, for they thought that where they had had good lodging before they could get it again. And so they could and welcome, only the poor brother told them that his rich brother across the street had asked that they should come and lodge at the fine house when they came that way again.
The saints were willing enough to go to the rich brother's house, though they would rather have stayed with the other. So over they went, and when the rich brother saw them coming he ran out to meet them, and shook each of them by the hand, and bade them to come in and sit down back of the stove where it was warm.
But you should have seen the feast that was set for the two saints at the rich brother's house! I can only say that I never saw the like, and I only wish that I had been there with my legs under the table. After supper they were shown to a grand room, where each saint had a bed all to his very own self, and before they were fairly asleep the rich man's wife came and took away their old shirts, and laid a shirt of fine cambric linen in the place of each. When the next morning came and the saints were about to take their leave, the rich brother brought out a great bag of golden money, and bade them to stuff what they would of it into their pockets.
Well, all this was as it should be, and before the two went on their way they said that they would give the same blessing to him and his wife that they had given to the other couple—that whatsoever they should begin doing that morning, that they should continue doing until sunset.
After that they put on their hats and took up their staffs, and off they plodded.
Now the rich brother was a very envious man, and was not contented to do only as well as his brother had done, no indeed! He would do something that would make him even richer than counting out money for himself all day. So down he sat back of the stove and began turning the matter over in his mind, and rubbing up his wits to make them the brighter.
In the meantime the wife said to herself, "See, now, I shall be folding fine cambric linen all day, and the pigs will have to go with nothing to eat. I have no time to waste in feeding them, but I'll just run out and fill their troughs with water at any rate."
So out she went with a bucketful of water which she began pouring into the troughs for the pigs. That was the first thing she did, and after that there was no leaving off, but pour water she must until sunset.
All this while the man sat back of the stove, warming his wits and saying to himself, "Shall I do this? shall I do that?" and answering "No" to himself every time. At last he began wondering what his wife was doing, so out he went to find her. Find her he did, for there she was pouring out water to the pigs. Then if anybody was angry it was the rich man. "What!" cried he, "and is this the way that you waste the gifts of the blessed saints?"
So saying, he looked around, and there lay a bit of a switch on the ground near by. He picked up the bit of a switch and struck the woman across the shoulders with it, and that was the first thing that he began doing. After that he had to keep on doing the same.
So the woman poured water and poured water, and the man stood by and beat her with the little switch until there was nothing left of it, and that was what they did all day.
And what is more, they made such a hubbub that the neighbors came to see what was going forward. They looked and laughed and went away again, and others came, and there stood the two—the woman pouring water and the man beating her with the bit of a switch.
When the evening came, and they left off their work, they were so weary that they could hardly stand; and nothing was to show for it but a broken switch and a wet sty, for even the blessed saints cannot give wisdom to those who will have none of it, and that is the truth.
And such is the end of this story, with only this to tell: Tommy Pfouce tells me that there are folks, even in these wise times, who, if they did all day what they began in the morning, would find themselves at sunset doing no better work than pouring pure water to pigs.
That is the small kernel to this great nut.