Gateway to the Classics: The Fairy Ring by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith
The Fairy Ring by  Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith

The Table, the Ass, and the Stick

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a Tailor and his three sons; but they only had one Goat, which, as it had to give milk enough for all, had to feed well every day. The sons had to lead it to pasture in turns, and one morning, when it was the turn of the eldest, he took it into the churchyard, where grew the richest grass, and let it eat its fill. In the evening, when it was time to return, he said:

"Goat, have you eaten well?

And the Goat answered:

" 'Tis said that enough is as good as a feast,

And I've had enough for a wise little beast."

"Then we will go home," said the youth; and he led the Goat home by its halter, and tied it up in the stable for the night.

"Well," said the Tailor, "has the Goat eaten well?"

"It has eaten as much as it can," answered the boy.

But the father wanted to make sure; so he went into the stable and stroked the Goat, saying:

"Goat, have you eaten well?"

The wicked Goat replied:

"How can I have eaten well?

I wandered where the dead lie,

But nothing found to feed upon."

"What do you say?" cried the Tailor, and running in to his son he cried, "Oh, you wicked boy! you told me the Goat had eaten well, and I find him shivering in the stable almost famished!" and seizing his yard measure, he chased the boy out of the house in great wrath.

The next day it was the second son's turn, and he chose a place under the hedge in the garden where there grew some fine rich grass, which the Goat was not long in eating up completely. When the evening came, and it was time to go home, this lad, too, asked the Goat if it had had enough, and it answered as before:

" 'Tis said that enough is as good as a feast,

And I've had enough for a wise little beast."

"Then we will go home," said the boy, and he took it to the stable and tied it up. When he went into the house, the Tailor met him, and asked him:

"Has the Goat eaten well?"

"It has eaten as much as it can," answered his son.

But the Tailor would make sure for all that, and nothing would satisfy him but that he should go to the stable and ask the Goat for himself.

"How can I have eaten well?

I roamed all day long along the hedge,

And nothing found to feed upon."

answered the Goat.

"You bad rascal, to starve such a splendid animal!" cried the Tailor, running back to the house and catching up his yard measure. Then with cuffs and blows he chased his second son out of the house.

The next day it was the third boy's turn, and he found a spot where there was some lovely young grass; and when it was time to go home, he asked the Goat the same question, and obtained the same answer:

" 'Tis said that enough is as good as a feast.

And I've had enough for a wise little beast."

So the lad led the Goat home, and he put it in the stable; and soon the Tailor came and asked if the Goat had had enough.

"Yes," replied the boy.

But the old man would go and make sure for all that.

"How can I have eaten well?

I sought all day among the leaves,

And nothing found to feed upon,"

was the wicked Goat's answer.

"The scamp!" cried the Tailor in a fury; "he is as bad as the others, and out he shall go!" and he drove the poor boy out with the yard measure, dealing him fearful blows.

Now the Tailor was left alone to look after the Goat, and next day he went to it and said:

"Come, pretty creature, I will take you myself to pasture," and he took it to the lettuce bed, and there it fed all day. When night came he asked it, as the boys had done, if it had eaten well, and it said:

" 'Tis said that enough is as good as a feast,

And I've had enough for a wise little beast."

So they went home, and he put it in the stable; but as he was going, he said once more:

"Goat, have you eaten well?"

The wicked animal, not thinking for the moment to whom he was replying, answered with the usual complaint:

"How can I have eaten well?

I only frisked about the bed,

And nothing found to feed upon."

When the old man heard this he was horrified, for he saw at once how things had stood all the time, and that he had driven his boys away for no reason whatever.

"Oh, you brute!" he said. "You, too, shall be driven out; and I will take care that you never dare to appear among honest tailors again."

So he rushed into the house for his razor, and shaved the Goat's head as smooth as your face; and because the yard measure was too good to use upon him, he fetched his whip and gave the Goat such a sound thrashing that it was only too glad to scamper out of the stable and make off as fast as its legs could carry it.

When the Tailor returned into his house he was overcome with sorrow for the three sons whom he had driven from home, and who were wandering no one knew where.

However, the eldest boy had apprenticed himself to a carpenter, and he worked with him well and merrily till his time was out. Then his master gave him a table, which, though it looked only like an ordinary common wooden one, yet if its owner stood before it and said, "Table, Table, spread yourself," it at once became covered with all sorts of good things, meat and wine and everything necessary for a splendid meal.

"Now I shall never want again," the young man said to himself, and he went on journeying merrily, never troubling himself whether his lodging was good or bad, or whether there was anything to eat or not.

Sometimes he did not go to an inn at all, but just stopped where he was, under a hedge or in a wood, and there he would put down his table and cry, "Table, Table, spread yourself," and then in the twinkle of an eye he had before him as much as he liked to eat and drink.

One day he made up his mind to turn his steps homeward, as his father's anger, he knew, was sure to have died down by then, and they could live very comfortably together with his lucky table. It happened that one evening he came to an inn that was full of people, who invited him to eat in their company.

"No, not a mouthful, unless you consent to be my guests," answered the boy.

The people of course laughed, and thought he was joking; but their mirth soon changed to wonder when he set down his table in their midst, and saw that at his command, "Table, Table, spread yourself," it at once covered itself with all sorts of delicious things, quite as good as the host could have given them, and smelling very tempting to the hungry guests.

"Pray be seated, friends," said the Carpenter cheerily; and the people, seeing he really meant it, sat down at once and began to ply their knives and forks very merrily.

The thing that surprised them the most was, that whenever they emptied one dish, another full one always appeared immediately in its place; and the innkeeper, who was looking on, said to himself, "My friend, you could do very well with such a table as that in your own kitchen"; but he kept his own counsel. The guests sat up very late that night, but at last they went to bed. The Carpenter lay down, too, with his magic table beside him.

Now the landlord couldn't get to sleep that night at all for thinking and wishing, till suddenly he remembered that in the lumber room there was a table that he didn't use, and which was as like the one he coveted as two pins. Breathlessly and very cautiously he made his way to the garret and fetched it, and put it beside the lad's bed in place of the lucky table, which he carried away and hid in a safe place. The next day the Carpenter paid for his lodging and went on his way, not noticing any difference in the table, which he hoisted on his back. At midday he reached his home, and his father was overjoyed to see him.

"Well, my dear boy," said the old man, "what have you been doing all these months?"

"I have been apprenticed to a carpenter," answered the lad.

"And a very good trade, too; and what have you brought home with you?"

"The most wonderful thing I ever set eyes on," said his son, setting down the table.

"Uhm! I don't think much of that; it looks a very common piece of furniture," said the father, looking at it all around.

"But," cried the boy, "it is a magic table, and when I say, 'Table, Table, spread yourself,' it is at once covered with good things, which will make your mouth water. Invite all our friends in, and you will see what a feast there will be."

When the guests had all arrived, he fetched his table, and placing it in the middle of the room, he commanded it to spread itself. But the table remained just like any other table, which takes no notice when you speak to it; and the poor lad saw at once that somebody had robbed him. Of course the guests thought he was an impostor and laughed at him, and went home without any feast, to the poor Carpenter's shame. So the Tailor had to take up his needle again and stitch away as fast as ever, and the boy had to leave home again and work for another carpenter.

Meantime, the second son had taken service with a miller, and when he learned everything, his master said:

"Because you have worked for me faithfully I will give you this ass, which, though it can neither draw nor carry, is a clever beast, nevertheless."

"What can it do, then?" said the boy.

"Why, if you only pat it and cry 'Bricklebit,' gold will drop out of its mouth like potatoes into a sack," replied the Miller.

"That is grand," said the boy, so thanking his master, he started on his journey. Now he was rich, for he only had to say "Bricklebit" and a torrent of gold pieces came out of the ass's mouth, and were there for the picking up. Wherever he went he ordered the best of everything, and the more he had to pay for it, the better he was pleased.

Soon he got tired of wandering about the world and thought he would like to go home and see his father, whose anger had, no doubt, died down by this time; or, if not, it certainly would when he saw what a rich ass he had brought home with him.

Now it chanced that he came to the very same inn where his brother had lost his table, and when the landlord came out and offered to take the animal to the stable he said: "No, I will take him myself, for I want to see where he goes."

The landlord was surprised, but thought that one who would look after his own beast must be a poor man. But the boy, putting his hand in his pocket, drew out two gold pieces, and ordered the best the house contained. The landlord was very much astonished indeed, and ran and fetched him the best of everything. When he had eaten his fill the boy asked what more he owed, and the landlord, being a greedy man, said that two more gold pieces would pay the bill. The youth put his hand in his pocket and found it empty.

"Wait a moment, my friend, and I will fetch some gold," he said carelessly, and picking up the tablecloth, he went out.

The landlord didn't at all understand what was going on, but being inquisitive he crept out after the youth, and as the stable door was bolted carefully, the landlord had to glue his eye to a hole in the wall. Then he saw the boy spread out the cloth and say "Bricklebit," and immediately gold began to drop out of the ass's mouth in showers, as if it were hailing.

"Thunder and lightning!" gasped the landlord, running back to the house, "did one ever see the like of this! Why, that is the finest and fattest purse I ever set eyes on, and I must see what I can do to obtain it."

Later in the evening the lad paid his bill and went to bed; but when he was well asleep, the wicked landlord crept into the stable and took away the ass, and tied up an ordinary one in its stead.

The next day the youth went on his way with the ass, which he never noticed had been changed, and arrived at midday at his father's house. His father was delighted to see him again, and asked what trade he had learned. The boy told him that he was a miller.

"And what have you brought home with you?" said the old man.

"Only an ass," replied the boy.

"Ah, my lad, you had better have brought a goat. We have asses enough about already."

"Perhaps so," retorted the boy; "but wait till you see what this ass can do. I have only to say 'Bricklebit' and gold drops out of his mouth in heaps. Just send for all your friends, and we will make them rich in a trice."

"Indeed," said the Tailor, "that is not a bad idea. If what you say is true, I shall never need to do any more tailoring," and he hurried out and gathered all his friends in.

They arrived in high excitement, as you may be sure, and the youth bade them stand in a circle while he spread out a cloth under the ass's head.

"Now," he said proudly, "listen to me," and he called, "Bricklebit!"

But nothing happened, and it seemed that the ass could not coin gold after all; for it is not an easy thing to do, as you will agree.

The poor youth was very rueful, for he saw that some one had robbed him, and he was obliged to apologize to the guests, who only sneered and jeered at him and departed as poor as they came.

So the Tailor had to take up his needle once more and stitch away as fast as ever, and the boy had to go and work for another miller.

Meantime, the third son had apprenticed himself to a turner. But it takes a long time to learn to be a turner, and he was still with his master when his brothers sent a message to tell him how they had fared, and all about the wicked landlord who had robbed them of their precious belongings.

Time went on, and soon he had learned everything, and he took leave of his master, who gave him a sack, saying:

"In the sack lies a stick."

"I will take the sack gladly," said the youth, "for it will be handy. But of what use is the stick, except to make the sack heavier?"

"This is the use of the stick: if you want to punish anything at any time, you have only to say, 'Come forth, Stick!' and the stick will slip out of the sack and lay about your enemy's shoulders in such a lively fashion that he will be as quiet as a tortoise for days afterwards, and it will not cease beating till you say, 'Stop, Stick, and into the sack!' "

The youth thanked him and went on his way, and when any rogue interfered with him, he only had to cry, "Come forth, Stick!" and out it came and gave them a sound thrashing, until he told it to stop, and then it slipped back so quickly that nobody saw where it went.

One night he arrived at the very inn where his brothers had been deceived, and putting his sack on the table, he began to boast of all the curious things he had seen.

"Yes," he said, "I have even known of a table which covers itself with food and wine in a twinkling. But that is not all, for I have seen an ass which coins gold, and scores of other wonderful things besides. But, when all is said and done, none have compared with what I carry in my sack."

The landlord opened his round eyes, saying:

"I wonder what it is?" and he thought to himself: "The sack must be full of precious stones, I must get hold of it, for all good luck runs in threes, and there is no reason why I should not succeed this time as I have done before."

As soon as it was time to go to bed the youth lay down on a bench and pillowed his head on his sack, and when the landlord thought he was fast asleep he came creeping softly to his side and pulled ever so gently at the sack to see if he could exchange it for another which he had all ready in his hand.

However, the boy was only waiting for this, and suddenly he called out, "Come forth, Stick!" Immediately it sprang out and beat the landlord right merrily.

The landlord howled for mercy, but the Stick only hit the faster, till at last the rogue fell down exhausted.

"Now," said the Turner, ordering the stick to return to its bag, "if you do not deliver up to me the magic table and the lucky ass, the Stick shall begin again."

"No, no!" gasped the wretched man. "I will give them up if you will only spare me!"

"I will pardon you if you keep your word," said the youth; "but beware if you try to deceive me!"

Early next morning the Turner went on his way with the ass and the table to his father's house. When he arrived his father was overjoyed to see him, and asked him what trade he had learned.

"Dear father," he said, "I have become a turner."

"That is a difficult trade. And what have you brought home with you?"

"A sack and a stick, and a very valuable stick, too," said the son.

"What!" cried the old man. "A stick! Why, you can cut a stick off any tree!"

"Not a stick like this, for I have only to say, 'Come forth, Stick!' and it immediately slips out and lays about the shoulders of anyone who would injure me, so that he has to cry for mercy. By the aid of my stick I have got back the magic table and lucky ass which the thief of a landlord stole from my brothers. Now send for them, and call in all your friends, and I will give them a feast and fill their pockets with money as well."

The old Tailor could scarcely believe him, but he did as he was told. Then the youth spread a cloth on the floor and brought in the ass, telling his brother to speak to it.

The Miller called out, "Bricklebit!" and immediately the gold pieces began dropping out on to the floor in showers, till they all had as much as they could carry.

Then the table was brought in and the Carpenter said, "Table, be spread!" and at once it was covered with all sorts of dainties. Then they had such a feast as the Tailor had never seen, and they all remained till late at night making merry.

The next day the happy Tailor gathered together all his needles and thread and measures and goose and put them away, and he lived happily with his sons forever after.

Now we must see what became of the Goat, whose fault it was that the brothers had been driven away. It was so ashamed of its shaven head that it crept into a fox's hole to hide itself. When the Fox came home he saw two great eyes glittering out of the blackness, and he was so terrified that he ran away. Soon he met a bear, who, noticing how frightened he looked, said:

"What has happened, Brother Fox, to make you look like that?"

"Oh!" he said, "in my lair is a fearful monster that rolled flaming eyes at me."

"We will soon turn him out," said the brave Bear. But when he looked in, he also was terrified at the glittering eyes and took to flight. He soon met a bee, and seeing that it was no good to sting him through his thick coat she said, in friendly fashion:

"You look very solemn, Mr. Bear. What has come over you?"

"Oh!" said the Bear, "in Brother Fox's lair is a fearful monster which rolls flaming eyes at us, and we daren't drive him out."

"Well, Mr. Bear," said the Bee, "I am sorry for you, and I believe I can help, though I am such a little creature that nobody thinks I can do any good in the world."

So she flew off to the Fox's lair, and dropping on to his bald head, stung him so terribly that the poor Goat rushed out madly, and he has never been heard of since.

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