The Cattle that Came

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.

Then James began to get his head turned by the compliments strangers paid the family on the pretty things in their homes; every one marvelled to hear that James had made everything, and several took him aside and said it was absurd such a clever fellow should be at the beck and call of a whole circle of relations and he ought to go to the city for his children’s sake, and make a name for himself and a big fortune and give them a good education and see that they advanced in the world. Even Rozsa and her husband were not left in peace, for when the family sallied out to church or a merry-making, every one remarked on the quality and beauty of their clothes, and when they heard they were made at home, cried that Rozsa ought to set up a shop and make for all the grand people roundabout. It was sheer waste to put such clever work into the clothes of her own family.

Pille and her husband were approached by men from foreign parts who wanted cargoes for their ships, and thought the casks of cheese and butter would be all the better for a trip across the ocean; and Baby Blue-eyes and her husband received a visit from no other than the steward of the King of the land, saying he had heard of their skill, and desired their services for the State banquets. When Baby Blue-eyes and her husband explained this excellent cooking was just for home use, and the delicious sweetmeats were tasted by no one but the children of the family, and the jellies and delicacies were everyday fare, and at the service of any sick neighbour or any one else who was hungry, the steward threw up his hands and cried he had never heard of such wicked waste. Such excellence should be reserved for Royal banquets.

So one night when they were gathered together, all sitting silent with no more jokes or stories or friendly help, Peter broke out with the news that he was not going to be a fool any longer, but would take his share of the farm and do the best he could for himself; and then the others joined in, repeating the compliments they had received on their cleverness, and every one saying they were doing too much for the others, more than their fair share, and could do very much better for themselves and their children.

So the next thing was to divide the property; and you may be sure each held a very different opinion from what the others did, about what he or she deserved, and finally they came to the six pairs of cattle, and found they could not divide them up for there were only twelve cattle and there were no less than forty-three members of the family. Besides they could not forget their father’s warning that if the cattle were divided their prosperity would end. So at last Peter proposed that they should all drive the cattle from the meadows, and the one whose cottage they stopped nearest to should have the lot. After much wrangling they agreed to this, and all set out to drive the cattle home. But of course no one would let the cattle stop at any one else’s cottage and they belaboured the poor beasts so unmercifully that at last the cattle threw up their heads, lashed their tails, and broke into a frenzied gallop, right over the mountain top. Up flew the family after them, and found themselves standing on the edge of a great precipice with the poor cattle sinking in the swamp far below.

From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.

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