Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Devil and the Bailiff

Once upon a time, there was a bailiff, a flayer of the worst sort. One day, the devil came to take him.

“I never hear anything,” he said, “other than people saying: ‘I wish the devil would take that bailiff!’ so now you must come with me; and as wicked as you are, I don’t think you may be any meaner or worse than you already are,” said the devil.

“Yes, if you listen to what people say, then you will have more to fly about after than you will be able to manage,” said the bailiff. “But if you’re so kind a man that you do whatever people ask of you, then may I be so bold as to claim that I will get away with it on this occasion, too?” he said.

Well, the bailiff spoke well for himself, and the devil was quite indulgent, and so they agreed at last that they should go together some way; and the first person they met, whom someone wanted the devil to take, the devil would take him, and the bailiff would escape. But the wish should be from the heart, said the devil.

First, they came to a cabin where there stood an old woman churning butter; but as she saw strangers, she just had to take a look. Meanwhile, her small parlour pig came and sniffed at everything; and it put its snout into the churn, tipped it over, and began to lap at the sour cream.

“Is there a worse pest than a pig?” said the woman. “The devil take it!” she said.

“So take the pig!” said the bailiff.

“Do you think she wants me to have pork flesh?” said the devil. “What would she have to eat at the weekends during the winter? No, that was not from her heart.”

Then they came to another cabin. Here, a small child had caused some trouble.

“Just now, I am sick of you!” said the woman. “I don’t do anything other than serve and dry and tidy after that terrible child. The devil take him!” she said.

“So take the child!” the bailiff said.

“Oh, it’s not from the heart, the way the mother curses her child,” said the devil.

They walked further still, and they met two farmers.

“There’s our bailiff,” said one of them.

“The devil take him alive, the farmer-flayer!” said the other.

“That was from the heart, that was,” said the devil, “so come with me,” he said.

This time, neither prayers nor supplications were of any help.

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