Why the Sea is Salt
Now, his old dame, who was in the field tossing hay, thought it a long time to dinner, and at last she said,—
“Well! though the master doesn’t call us home, we may as well go. Maybe he finds it hard work to boil the broth, and will be glad of my help.”
The men were willing enough, so they sauntered homewards; but just as they had got a little way up the hill, what should they meet but herrings, and broth, and bread, all running, and dashing, and splashing together in a stream, and the master himself running before them for his life, and as he passed them he bawled out,—“Would to heaven each of you had a hundred throats! but take care you’re not drowned in the broth.”
Away he went, as though the Evil One were at his heels, to his brother’s house, and begged him for God’s sake to take back the quern that instant; for, said he,—
“If it grinds only one hour more, the whole parish will be swallowed up by herrings and broth.”
But his brother wouldn’t hear of taking it back till the other paid him down three hundred dollars more.
So the poor brother got both the money and the quern, and it wasn’t long before he set up a farm-house far finer than the one in which his brother lived, and with the quern he ground so much gold that he covered it with plates of gold; and as the farm lay by the seaside, the golden house gleamed and glistened far away over the sea. All who sailed by put ashore to see the rich man in the golden house, and to see the wonderful quern, the fame of which spread far and wide, till there was nobody who hadn’t heard tell of it.
So one day there came a skipper who wanted to see the quern; and the first thing he asked was if it could grind salt.
“Grind salt!” said the owner; “I should just think it could. It can grind anything.”
When the skipper heard that, he said he must have the quern, cost what it would; for if he only had it, he thought he should be rid of his long voyages across stormy seas for a lading of salt. “Well, at first the man wouldn’t hear of parting with the quern; but the skipper begged and prayed so hard, that at last he let him have it, but he had to pay many, many thousand dollars for it. Now, when the skipper had got the quern on his back, he soon made off with it, for he was afraid lest the man should change his mind; so he had no time to ask how to handle the quern, but got on board his ship as fast as he could, and set sail. When he had sailed a good way off, he brought the quern on deck and said,—
“Grind salt, and grind both good and fast.” Well, the quern began to grind salt so that it poured out like water; and when the skipper had got the ship full, he wished to stop the quern, but whichever way he turned it, and however much he tried, it was no good; the quern kept grinding on, and the heap of salt grew higher and higher, and at last down sunk the ship.
There lies the quern at the bottom of the sea, and grinds away at this very day, and that is the reason why the sea is salt.
From Popular Tales from the Norse, by George Webbe Dasent.
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1859.