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 night.

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 and grumbling.

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 day.”

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 like before.

“That’s something for poor people to know,” she said, “and I should like to learn how to make it.”

“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 the pot.

Then all at once the tramp took out the nail.

“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 useful thing.

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 said.