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.
But at last the farmer and his wife grew full of years and one day the farmer called his children to his bedside and told them he was leaving for the long journey, and made them promise to continue in loving fellowship and to hold all things in common and remember their prosperity depended on keeping the six pairs of cattle, which had never grown old or feeble, all these years.
For some time after the farmer had passed away, the family remembered his words, and shared the harvests and the land without thought of private profit or possession. Peter, the eldest, looked after the animals, and with his son, attended to the marketing of the extra produce. John saw to the gardens and the fields, with his strapping boys and girls. James and his family cut down the trees, and made the furniture they needed, also the boots and shoes, and further, painted gay flowers on the chairs and chests, and were always around with their tools or paint brush, improving the insides or outsides of the homes when they were not busy at shoemaking. Rozsa and her husband carded and spun and wove the wool from the sheep, and the flax from the field, and with their children, made good strong clothes for every one, on which Rozsa’s little girls and boys embroidered pretty patterns and letters so that every one was gay for Sundays and holidays.
Pille managed the dairy, and made the best butter and cheese ever tasted, while her children drove the cows and milked them, and her husband attended to the chickens, the geese, the turkeys, the ducks, and all the other fowl about the place. And Baby Blue-eyes married a pastry cook, and the two of them cooked the fine dinners they all enjoyed in the big house, and their little ones ran in the woods and found mushrooms and berries and herbs.
Never was there a happier set of people, and, of course, all were always ready to lend a hand when any one wanted help, and glad to teach what they knew, so that in the winter evenings, one might see every one round the fire having an embroidery lesson, or learning how to make some sweetmeat, or hearing stories of the market town where Peter went every month on their business; and in the summer all the children would go nutting or picking berries, and every one would make the hay or cut the crops together.
There was nothing on earth left for them to desire, and how discontent began to grow up amongst them, like some evil weed, none could say. But grow it certainly did.
It started when Peter began to listen to the other farmers boast of the money each was making and the triumphs they were winning over one another. Some bragged of the fine things they were doing for their children, but Peter noticed they never rejoiced at hearing of the fine things the other farmers were doing for their children. No, every man seemed bent on getting all he could for himself and his, and Peter was told he was a poor sort of father, to work so hard for other people’s children, and give his own no more than he gave to the others.
Then John talked with the neighbours who came to see his crops and his vegetables, and he found they were all boasting of the profit they made from this crop or that, and were especially glad when they made more than another had; and they thought John very foolish to let all the family enjoy the things he raised, without setting apart the best for his own use, and his children’s use.
From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.