The Old Woman and the Fish
There was once upon a time an old woman who
lived in a miserable cottage on the brow of a
hill overlooking the town. Her husband had been
dead for many years, and her children were in
service round about the parish, so she felt rather
lonely and dreary by herself, and otherwise she
was not particularly well off either.
But when it has been ordained that one shall
live, one cannot think of one’s funeral; and so
one has to take the world as it is, and still be satisfied;
and that was about all the old woman
could console herself with. But that the road up
which she had to carry the pails from the well
should be so heavy; and that the axe should have
such a blunt and rusty edge, so that it was only
with the greatest difficulty that she could cut the
little firewood she had; and that the stuff she
was weaving was not sufficient—all this grieved
her greatly, and caused her to complain from
time to time.
So one day, when she had pulled the bucket up
from the well, she happened to find a small pike
in the bucket, which did not at all displease
“Such fish does not come into my pot every
day,” she said; and now she could have a really
grand dish, she thought. But the fish that she
had got this time was no fool; it had the gift of
speech, that it had.
“Let me go!” said the fish.
The old woman began to stare, you may be
sure. Such a fish she had never before seen in
“Are you so much better than other fish,
then?” she said, “and too good to be eaten?”
“Wise is he who does not eat all he gets hold
of,” said the fish; “only let me go, and you shall
not remain without reward for your trouble.”
“I like a fish in the bucket better than all those
frisking about free and frolicsome in the lakes,”
said the old woman. “And what one can catch
with one hand, one can also carry to one’s
mouth,” she said.
“That may be,” said the fish; “but if you do
as I tell you, you shall have three wishes.”
“Wish in one fist, and pour water in the other,
and you’ll soon see which you will get filled
first,” said the woman. “Promises are well
enough, but keeping them is better, and I sha’n’t
believe much in you till I have got you in the
pot,” she said.
“You should mind that tongue of yours,” said
the fish, “and listen to my words. Wish for three
things, and then you’ll see what will happen,” he
Well, the old woman knew well enough what
she wanted to wish, and there might not be so
much danger in trying how far the fish would
keep his word, she thought.
She then began thinking of the heavy hill up
from the well.
“I would wish that the pails could go of themselves
to the well and home again,” she said.
“So they shall,” said the fish.
Then she thought of the axe, and how blunt it
“I would wish that whatever I strike shall
break right off,” she said.
“So it shall,” said the fish.
And then she remembered that the stuff she
was weaving was not long enough.
“I would wish that whatever I pull shall become
long,” she said.
“That it shall,” said the fish. “And now, let
me down into the well again.”
Yes, that she would, and all at once the pails
began to shamble up the hill.
“Dear me, did you ever see anything like it?”
The old woman became so glad and pleased that
she slapped herself across the knees.
Crack, crack! it sounded; and then both her
legs fell off, and she was left sitting on the top
of the lid over the well.
Now came a change. She began to cry and
wail, and the tears started from her eyes, whereupon
she began blowing her nose with her apron,
and as she tugged at her nose it grew so long, so
long, that it was terrible to see.
That is what she got for her wishes! Well,
there she sat, and there she no doubt still sits, on
the lid of the well. And if you want to know
what it is to have a long nose, you had better
go there and ask her, for she can tell you all
about it, she can.