The Old Woman and the Tramp
There was once a tramp who went plodding his
way through a forest. The distance between the
houses was so great that he had little hope of
finding a shelter before the night set in. But all
of a sudden he saw some lights between the trees.
He then discovered a cottage, where there was a
fire burning on the hearth. How nice it would
be to roast one’s self before that fire, and to get
a bite of something, he thought; and so he
dragged himself toward the cottage.
Just then an old woman came toward him.
“Good evening, and well met!” said the tramp.
“Good evening,” said the woman. “Where do
you come from?”
“South of the sun, and east of the moon,” said
the tramp; “and now I am on the way home
again, for I have been all over the world with
the exception of this parish,” he said.
“You must be a great traveler, then,” said the
woman. “What may be your business here?”
“Oh, I want a shelter for the night,” he said.
“I thought as much,” said the woman; “but
you may as well get away from here at once, for
my husband is not at home, and my place is not
an inn,” she said.
“My good woman,” said the tramp, “you must
not be so cross and hard-hearted, for we are both
human beings, and should help one another, as
it is written.”
“Help one another?” said the woman, “help?
Did you ever hear such a thing? Who’ll help
me, do you think? I haven’t got a morsel in the
house! No, you’ll have to look for quarters
elsewhere,” she said.
But the tramp was like the rest of his kind; he
did not consider himself beaten at the first rebuff.
Although the old woman grumbled and complained
as much as she could, he was just as persistent
as ever, and went on begging and praying
like a starved dog, until at last she gave in,
and he got permission to lie on the floor for the
That was very kind, he thought, and he
thanked her for it.
“Better on the floor without sleep, than suffer
cold in the forest deep,” he said; for he was a
merry fellow, this tramp, and was always ready
with a rhyme.
When he came into the room he could see that
the woman was not so badly off as she had pretended;
but she was a greedy and stingy woman
of the worst sort, and was always complaining
He now made himself very agreeable, of
course, and asked her in his most insinuating
manner for something to eat.
“Where am I to get it from?” said the woman.
“I haven’t tasted a morsel myself the whole
But the tramp was a cunning fellow, he was.
“Poor old granny, you must be starving,” he
said. “Well, well, I suppose I shall have to ask
you to have something with me, then?”
“Have something with you!” said the woman.
“You don’t look as if you could ask any one to
have anything! What have you got to offer
one, I should like to know?”
“He who far and wide does roam sees many
things not known at home; and he who many
things has seen has wits about him and senses
keen,” said the tramp. “Better dead than lose
one’s head! Lend me a pot, granny!”
The old woman now became very inquisitive,
as you may guess, and so she let him have a pot.
He filled it with water and put it on the fire,
and then he blew with all his might till the fire
was burning fiercely all round it. Then he took
a four-inch nail from his pocket, turned it three
times in his hand, and put it into the pot.
The woman stared with all her might.
“What’s this going to be?” she asked.
“Nail broth,” said the tramp, and began to stir
the water with the porridge-stick.
“Nail broth?” asked the woman.
“Yes, nail broth,” said the tramp.
The old woman had seen and heard a good deal
in her time, but that anybody could have made
broth with a nail, well, she had never heard the
“That’s something for poor people to know,”
she said, “and I should like to learn how to make
“That which is not worth having will always
go a-begging,” said the tramp, but if she wanted
to learn how to make it she had only to watch
him, he said, and went on stirring the broth.
The old woman squatted on the ground, her
hands clasping her knees, and her eyes following
his hand as he stirred the broth.
“This generally makes good broth,” he said;
“but this time it will very likely be rather thin,
for I have been making broth the whole week
with the same nail. If one only had a handful
of sifted oatmeal to put in, that would make
it all right,” he said. “But what one has to go
without, it’s no use thinking more about,” and
so he stirred the broth again.
“Well, I think I have a scrap of flour somewhere,”
said the old woman, and went out to
fetch some, and it was both good and fine.
The tramp began putting the flour into the
broth, and went on stirring, while the woman
sat staring now at him and then at the pot until
her eyes nearly burst their sockets.
“This broth would be good enough for company,”
he said, putting in one handful of flour
after another. “If I had only a bit of salted beef
and few potatoes to put in, it would be fit for
gentlefolks, however particular they might be,”
he said. “But what one has to go without, it’s
no use thinking more about.”
When the old woman really began to think it
over, she thought she had some potatoes, and
perhaps a bit of beef as well; and these she gave
the tramp, who went on stirring, while she sat
and stared as hard as ever.
“This will be grand enough for the best in the
land,” he said.
“Well, I never!” said the woman; “and just
fancy—all with a nail!”
He was really a wonderful man, that tramp!
He could do more than drink a sup and turn the
tankard up, he could.
“If one had only a little barley and a drop of
milk, we could ask the king himself to have some
of it,” he said; “for this is what he has every
blessed evening—that I know, for I have been
in service under the king’s cook,” he said.
“Dear me! Ask the king to have some! Well,
I never!” exclaimed the woman, slapping her
knees. She was quite awestruck at the tramp
and his grand connections.
“But what one has to go without, it’s no use
thinking more about,” said the tramp.
And then she remembered she had a little barley;
and as for milk, well, she wasn’t quite out
of that, she said. And then she went to fetch
both the one and the other.
The tramp went on stirring, and the woman
sat staring, one moment at him and the next at
Then all at once the tramp took out the
“Now it’s ready, and now we’ll have a real
good feast,” he said. “But to this kind of soup
the king and the queen always take a dram or
two, and one sandwich at least. And then they
always have a cloth on the table when they eat,”
he said. “But what one has to go without, it’s
no use thinking more about.”
But by this time the old woman herself had
begun to feel quite grand and fine, I can tell you;
and if that was all that was wanted to make it
just as the king had it, she thought it would be
nice to have it exactly the same way for once,
and play at being king and queen with the tramp.
She went straight to a cupboard and brought out
the brandy bottle, dram glasses, butter and
cheese, smoked beef and veal, until at last the
table looked as if it were decked out for company.
Never in her life had the old woman had such
a grand feast, and never had she tasted such
broth, and just fancy, made only with a nail!
She was in such a good and merry humor at
having learned such an economical way of making
broth that she did not know how to make
enough of the tramp who had taught her such a
So they ate and drank, and drank and ate, until
they became both tired and sleepy.
The tramp was now going to lie down on the
floor. But that would never do, thought the old
woman; no, that was impossible. “Such a grand
person must have a bed to lie in,” she said.
He did not need much pressing. “It’s just like
the sweet Christmas time,” he said, “and a nicer
woman I never came across. Ah, well! Happy
are they who meet with such good people,” said
he; and he lay down on the bed and went asleep.
And next morning, when he woke, the first
thing he got was a good breakfast.
When he was going, the old woman gave him
a bright dollar piece.
“And thanks, many thanks, for what you have
taught me,” she said. “Now I shall live in comfort,
since I have learned how to make broth
with a nail.”
“Well, it isn’t very difficult if one only has
something good to add to it,” said the tramp as
he went his way.
The woman stood at the door staring after him.
“Such people don’t grow on every bush,” she