The Cattle that Came
Once upon a time, a young couple went up on a great mountain to build a little home. They had no money at all, and a spade and an axe were their sole possessions, but they knew the world was full of good things for those who have courage and kindness, and they set out bravely to fell the trees and dig the ground until they had cleared a little space for a cottage. They lived on wild berries and nuts until their first crops rose, and by dint of working, early and late, they presently had a fine cottage and then a prosperous farm. They exchanged berries for seed, and their crops for clothes and furnishings, until six children had been born to them, each as pretty as a forest flower and as sturdy. By the time Peter, the eldest, was seven, the trees in the orchard were laden with fruit, roses climbed over the roof and the chimney of the cottage, and flowers grew along the garden path; and the farmer and his wife often turned their eyes to the meadows on the mountain and wondered if they would ever have enough to buy cattle to graze thereon.
One fine afternoon in the time of harvest the children were helping their parents gather the cherries and early apples. Suddenly the mother, looking up, saw a great eagle high overhead carrying something, and on gazing closely she perceived the bird held a baby. She gave a loud shriek and called her husband who rushed out with his spade waving and calling, but the bird still hovered overhead. Just then, however, the children hearing their parents’ cries, popped their heads out of the trees to see what was happening. Out of the top of the cherry tree, came Peter and John and James, from the apple tree peeped little Rozsa and Pille, and Baby Blue-eyes rolling on the grass, sat up and stared.
On seeing the poor little baby high in the air, the children shrieked with their parents, and frightened at the noise, Baby Blue-eyes lifted her voice in the most ear-piercing wail the family had ever heard. Apparently the eagle had never heard anything like it either, for it rose with a great swoop, dropping the baby to the ground. Fortunately, the farmer’s wife held out her apron in time to save it, and then all the family clustered round to behold a most beautiful child, in the finest silken clothes, laughing and crowing and in no way hurt.
As they stood admiring it, who should come out of the forest but an elegant lady, magnificently dressed, with jewels glittering on her outstretched hands. It was plain she was the mother of the little one, and coming up, she thanked them a thousand times for rescuing the child, and begged to know if there was anything they wanted which she could provide. The farmer kept shaking his head, saying they wanted nothing from her for they had done nothing for her beyond their simple duty to the innocent baby, but little Peter piped out suddenly that they were always wishing they had a cow so that they might have milk for breakfast.
On hearing this the lady said six pairs of cattle should arrive, a pair for every child. “But,” she added, “they must always be kept together, and belong to all of you. If you sell them or separate them, your prosperity will vanish. It was by calling together, that you were able to frighten the eagle, even the baby’s screams being needed, and it is by living and working together that good will come to you. As long as the cattle graze in your fields your fortune will be secure.”
With this the lady departed, and one evening some days after, when the farmer and his wife were resting on the garden bench, what should they see but six magnificent pairs of cattle coming up from the meadows, with the children driving them.
From that day, they enjoyed marvellous prosperity. The farmer and his wife now had absolute confidence that everything they sowed would bear fine harvests. They lost all fear of the future or misfortune, planted boldly, marketed their produce wisely, and by the time the children were grown up, the farmer’s estate extended over the mountain, and every child had married and brought his bride or her husband to a snug cottage, near the parents’ home. But all ate together in the parents’ house, worked together, and shared the produce equally.
Soon each cottage was blessed with children, and a happy circle of little ones carried on the good work of helping in the general good.
From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.