True and Untrue

By Jørgen Moe and Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

Once on a time there were two brothers; one was called True, and the other Untrue. True was always upright and good towards all, but Untrue was bad and full of lies, so that no one could believe what he said. Their mother was a widow, and hadn’t much to live on; so when her sons had grown up, she was forced to send them away that they might earn their bread in the world. Each got a little scrip with some food in it, and then they went their way.

Now, when they had walked till evening, they sat down on a windfall in the wood, and took out their scrips, for they were hungry after walking the whole day, and thought a morsel of food would be sweet enough.

“If you’re of my mind,” said Untrue, “I think we had better eat out of your scrip, so long as there is any thing in it, and after that we can take to mine.”

Yes! True was well pleased with this, so they fell to eating, but Untrue got all the best bits, and stuffed himself with them, while True got only the burnt crusts and scraps.

Next morning they broke their fast off True’s food, and they dined off it too, and then there was nothing left in his scrip. So when they had walked till late at night, and were ready to eat again, True wanted to eat out of his brother’s scrip, but Untrue said “No,” the food was his, and he had only enough for himself.

“Nay! but you know you ate out of my scrip so long as there was anything in it,” said True.

“All very fine, I daresay,” answered Untrue; “but if you are such a fool as to let others eat up your food before your face, you must make the best of it; for now all you have to do is to sit here and starve.”

“Very well!” said True, “you’re Untrue by name and untrue by nature; so you have been, and so you will be all your life long.”

Now when Untrue heard this, he flew into a rage, and rushed at his brother, and plucked out both his eyes. “Now, try if you can see whether folks are untrue or not, you blind buzzard!” and so saying, he ran away and left him.

Poor True! there he went, walking along and feeling his way through the thick wood. Blind and alone, he scarce knew which way to turn, when all at once he caught hold of the trunk of a great bushy lime-tree; so he thought he would climb up into it, and sit there till the night was over for fear of the wild beasts.

“When the birds begin to sing,” he said to himself, “then I shall know it is day, and I can try to grope my way farther on. So he climbed up into the lime-tree. After he had sat there a little time, he heard how some one came and began to make a stir and clatter under the tree, and soon after others came; and when they began to greet one another, he found out it was Bruin the bear, and Greylegs the wolf, and Slyboots the Fox, and Longears the hare, who had come to keep St. John’s eve under the tree. So they began to eat and drink, and be merry; and when they had done eating, they fell to gossipping together. At last the Fox said:—

“Shan’t we, each of us, tell a little story while we sit here?”

Well! the others had nothing against that. It would be good fun, they said, and the bear began; for you may fancy he was king of the company.

“The king of England,” said Bruin, “has such bad eyesight, that he can scarce see a yard before him; but if he only came to this lime-tree in the morning, while the dew is still on the leaves, and took and rubbed his eyes with the dew, he would get back his sight as good as ever.”

“Very true!” said Greylegs. “The king of England has a deaf and dumb daughter too; but if he only knew what I know, he would soon cure her. Last year she went to the communion. She let a crumb of the bread fall out of her mouth, and a great toad came and swallowed it down; but if they only dug up the chancel floor, they would find the toad sitting right under the altar rails, with the bread still sticking in his throat. If they were to cut the toad open and take and give the bread to the princess, she would be like other folk again as to her speech and hearing.”

“That is all very well,” said the Fox; “but if the king of England knew what I know, he would not be so badly off for water in his palace; for under the great stone, in his palace-yard, is a spring of the clearest water one could wish for, if he only knew to dig for it there.”

“Ah!” said the Hare, in a small voice; “the king of England has the finest orchard in the whole land, but it does not bear so much as a crab, for there lies a heavy gold chain in three turns round the orchard. If he got that dug up, there would not be a garden like it for bearing in all his kingdom.”

“Very true, I daresay,” said the Fox; “but now it’s getting very late, and we may as well go home.”

So they all went away together.

After they were gone True fell asleep as he sat up in the tree; but when the birds began to sing at dawn, he woke up, and took the dew from the leaves, and rubbed his eyes with it, and so got his sight back as good as it was before Untrue plucked his eyes out.

Then he went straight to the king of England’s palace, and begged for work, and got it on the spot. So one day the king came out into the palace-yard, and when he had walked about a bit, he wanted to drink out of his pump; for you must know the day was hot, and the king very thirsty; but when they poured him out a glass, it was so muddy, and nasty, and foul, that the king got quite vexed.

“I don’t think there’s ever a man in my whole kingdom who has such bad water in his yard as I, and yet I bring it in pipes from afar, over hill and dale,” cried out the king.

“Like enough, your Majesty;” said True, “but if you would let me have some men to help me to dig up this great stone which lies here in the middle of your yard, you would soon see good water, and plenty of it.”

Well! the king was willing enough; and they had scarcely got the stone well out, and dug under it a while, before a jet of water sprang out high up into the air, as clear and full as if it came out of a conduit, and clearer water was not to be found in all England.

A little while after the king was out in his palace-yard again, and there came a great hawk flying after his chickens, and all the king’s men began to clap their hands and bawl out, “There he flies! There he flies!” The king caught up his gun and tried to shoot the hawk, but he couldn’t see so far, so he fell into great grief.

From Popular Tales from the Norse, by George Webbe Dasent.
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1859.

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Folk tales

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