The Tale of Ivan, by Joseph Jacobs
There were formerly a man and a woman living in the parish of
Llanlavan, in the place which is called Hwrdh. And work became scarce,
so the man said to his wife, "I will go search for work, and you may
live here." So he took fair leave, and travelled far toward the East,
and at last came to the house of a farmer and asked for work.
"What work can ye do?" said the farmer. "I can do all kinds of work,"
said Ivan. Then they agreed upon three pounds for the year's wages.
When the end of the year came his master showed him the three pounds.
"See, Ivan," said he, "here's your wage; but if you will give it me
back I'll give you a piece of advice instead."
"Give me my wage," said Ivan.
"No, I'll not," said the master; "I'll explain my advice."
"Tell it me, then," said Ivan.
Then said the master, "Never leave the old road for the sake of a new
After that they agreed for another year at the old wages, and at the
end of it Ivan took instead a piece of advice, and this was it: "Never
lodge where an old man is married to a young woman."
The same thing happened at the end of the third year, when the piece of
advice was: "Honesty is the best policy."
But Ivan would not stay longer, but wanted to go back to his wife.
"Don't go to-day," said his master; "my wife bakes to-morrow, and she
shall make thee a cake to take home to thy good woman."
And when Ivan was going to leave, "Here," said his master, "here is a
cake for thee to take home to thy wife, and, when ye are most joyous
together, then break the cake, and not sooner."
So he took fair leave of them and travelled towards home, and at last
he came to Wayn Her, and there he met three merchants from Tre Rhyn, of
his own parish, coming home from Exeter Fair. "Oho! Ivan," said they,
"come with us; glad are we to see you. Where have you been so long?"
"I have been in service," said Ivan, "and now I'm going home to my
"Oh, come with us! you'll be right welcome." But when they took the new
road Ivan kept to the old one. And robbers fell upon them before they
had gone far from Ivan as they were going by the fields of the houses
in the meadow. They began to cry out, "Thieves!" and Ivan shouted out
"Thieves!" too. And when the robbers heard Ivan's shout they ran away,
and the merchants went by the new road and Ivan by the old one till
they met again at Market-Jew.
"Oh, Ivan," said the merchants, "we are beholding to you; but for you
we would have been lost men. Come lodge with us at our cost, and
When they came to the place where they used to lodge, Ivan said, "I
must see the host."
"The host," they cried; "what do you want with the host? Here is the
hostess, and she's young and pretty. If you want to see the host you'll
find him in the kitchen."
So he went into the kitchen to see the host; he found him a weak old
man turning the spit.
"Oh! oh!" quoth Ivan, "I'll not lodge here, but will go next door."
"Not yet," said the merchants, "sup with us, and welcome."
Now it happened that the hostess had plotted with a certain monk in
Market-Jew to murder the old man in his bed that night while the rest
were asleep, and they agreed to lay it on the lodgers.
So while Ivan was in bed next door, there was a hole in the pine-end of
the house, and he saw a light through it. So he got up and looked, and
heard the monk speaking. "I had better cover this hole," said he, "or
people in the next house may see our deeds." So he stood with his back
against it while the hostess killed the old man.
But meanwhile Ivan out with his knife, and putting it through the hole,
cut a round piece off the monk's robe. The very next morning the
hostess raised the cry that her husband was murdered, and as there was
neither man nor child in the house but the merchants, she declared they
ought to be hanged for it.
So they were taken and carried to prison, till a last Ivan came to
them. "Alas! alas! Ivan," cried they, "bad luck sticks to us; our host
was killed last night, and we shall be hanged for it."
"Ah, tell the justices," said Ivan, "to summon the real murderers."
"Who knows," they replied, "who committed the crime?"
"Who committed the crime!" said Ivan. "If I cannot prove who committed
the crime, hang me in your stead."
So he told all he knew, and brought out the piece of cloth from the
monk's robe, and with that the merchants were set at liberty, and the
hostess and the monk were seized and hanged.
Then they came all together out of Market-Jew, and they said to him:
"Come as far as Coed Carrn y Wylfa, the Wood of the Heap of Stones of
Watching, in the parish of Burman." Then their two roads separated, and
though the merchants wished Ivan to go with them, he would not go with
them, but went straight home to his wife.
And when his wife saw him she said: "Home in the nick of time. Here's a
purse of gold that I've found; it has no name, but sure it belongs to
the great lord yonder. I was just thinking what to do when you came."
Then Ivan thought of the third counsel, and he said "Let us go and give
it to the great lord."
So they went up to the castle, but the great lord was not in it, so
they left the purse with the servant that minded the gate, and then
they went home again and lived in quiet for a time.
But one day the great lord stopped at their house for a drink of water,
and Ivan's wife said to him: "I hope your lordship found your
lordship's purse quite safe with all its money in it."
"What purse is that you are talking about?" said the lord.
"Sure, it's your lordship's purse that I left at the castle," said Ivan.
"Come with me and we will see into the matter," said the lord.
So Ivan and his wife went up to the castle, and there they pointed out
the man to whom they had given the purse, and he had to give it up and
was sent away from the castle. And the lord was so pleased with Ivan
that he made him his servant in the stead of the thief.
"Honesty's the best policy!" quoth Ivan, as he skipped about in his new
quarters. "How joyful I am!"
Then he thought of his old master's cake that he was to eat when he was
most joyful, and when he broke it, to and behold, inside it was his
wages for the three years he had been with him.
STORY OF IVAN.
Source.—Lluyd, Archaeologia Britannia, 1707, the first comparative
Celtic grammar and the finest piece of work in comparative philology
hitherto done in England, contains this tale as a specimen of Cornish
then still spoken in Cornwall. I have used the English version
contained in Blackwood's Magazine as long ago as May 1818. I have
taken the third counsel from the Irish version, as the original is not
suited virginibus puerisque, though harmless enough in itself.
Parallels.—Lover has a tale, The Three Advices. It occurs also in
modern Cornwall ap. Hunt, Drolls of West of England, 344, "The
Tinner of Chyamor." Borrow, Wild Wales, 41, has a reference which
seems to imply that the story had crystallised into a Welsh proverb.
Curiously enough, it forms the chief episode of the so-called "Irish
Odyssey" ("Merugud Uilix maiec Leirtis"—"Wandering of Ulysses
M'Laertes"). It was derived, in all probability, from the Gesta
Romanorum, c. 103, where two of the three pieces of advice are "Avoid
a byeway," "Beware of a house where the housewife is younger than her
husband." It is likely enough that this chapter, like others of the
Gesta, came from the East, for it is found in some versions of "The
Forty Viziers," and in the Turkish Tales (see Oesterley's parallels
and Gesta, ed. Swan and Hooper, note 9).