The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

p. lxxix

thou laughest?' He replied to his wife, 'I shall not tell thee what I hear, and why I laugh.' The woman said to her husband, 'I know why thou laughest; thou laughest at me because I am one-eyed.' The man then said to his wife, 'I saw that thou wast one-eyed before I loved thee, and before we married and sat down in our house.' When the woman heard her husband's word she was quiet.

"But once at night, as they were lying on their bed, and it was past midnight, it happened that a rat played with his wife on the top of the house, and that both fell to the ground. Then the wife of the rat said to her husband, 'Thy sport is bad; thou saidst to me that thou wouldst play, but when we came together we fell to the ground, so that I broke my back.

"When the servant of God heard the talk of the rat's wife, as he was lying on his bed, he laughed. Now, as soon as he laughed his wife arose, seized him, and said to him as she held him fast, 'Now this time I will not let thee go out of this house except thou tell me what thou hearest and why thou laughest.' The man begged the woman, saying, 'Let me go;' but the woman would not listen to her husband's entreaty."

The husband then tells his wife that he knows the language of beasts and birds, and she is content; but when he wakes in the morning he finds he has lost his wonderful gift; and the moral of the tale is added most ungallantly, "If a man shows and tells his thoughts to a woman, God will punish him for it." Though, perhaps, it is better, for the sake of the gentler sex, that the tale should be pointed with this unfair moral, than that the African story should proceed like all the other variations, and save the husband's gift at the cost of the wife's skin,

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Take other African instances. How is it that the wandering Bechuanas got their story of "The Two Brothers," the ground-work of which is the same as "The Machandelboom" and "The Milk-white Doo," and where the incidents and even the words are almost the same? How is it that in some of its traits that Bechuana story embodies those of that earliest of all popular tales, recently published from an Egyptian Papyrus, coeval with the abode of the Israelites in Egypt? and how is it that that same Egyptian tale has other traits which remind us of the Dun Bull in "Katie Woodencloak," as well as incidents which are the germ of stories long since reduced to writing in Norse Sagas of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? 1 How is it that we still find among the Negroes in the West Indies 2 a rich store of popular tales, and the Beast Epic in full bloom, brought with them from Africa to the islands of the West; and among those tales and traditions, how is it that we find a "Wishing Tree," the counterpart of that in a German popular tale, and "a little dirty scrub of a child," whom his sisters despise, but who is own brother to Boots in the Norse Tales, and like him outwits the Troll, spoils his substance, and saves his sisters? How is it that we find the good woman who washes the loathsome head rewarded, while the bad man who refuses to do that dirty work is punished for his pride; the very groundwork, nay the very words, that we meet in "Bushy Bride,"

1. The Story of the Two Brothers Anesou and Satou, from the D'Orbiney Papyrus, by De Rougé: Paris, 1852.
2. See the Ananzi Stories in the Appendix, which have been taken down from the mouth of a West Indian nurse.

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another Norse tale? How is it that we find a Mongolian tale, which came confessedly from India, made up of two of our Norse Tales, "Rich Peter the Pedlar," and "The Giant that had no heart in his body"? 1 How should all these things be, and how could they possibly be, except on that theory which day by day becomes more and more a matter of fact: this, that the whole human race sprung from one stock, planted in the East, which has stretched out its boughs and branches, laden with the fruit of language, and bright with the bloom of song and story, by successive offshoots to the utmost parts of the earth.

1. "The Deeds of Bogda Gesser Cham," by I. J. Schmidt, Petersburg and Leipzig, 1839.

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