Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Charcoal Burner

There was, upon a time, a charcoal burner who had a son, and he was also a charcoal burner. When his father was dead, the son married, but he did not want to do anything; he was terrible at watching the stacks, too, and finally no one wanted him to burn charcoal any more. But then he did burn a stack once, and travelled to town with some loads of charcoal for sale, and when he had sold them, he wandered out on to the town street, and looked around. On the way home, he fell in with some neighbours and village folk, and boasted and drank and talked of everything he had seen in the town. The funniest thing he had seen, he said, was that there were so many parsons there, and all the folk went up to them to greet them and doffed their caps for them; “I wish I were a parson, too, so perhaps they would greet me, too; now they pretend not to see me,” he said.

“Well, if nothing else, then you are black enough,” said the charcoal burner’s neighbours; “but as we are out travelling anyway, then we can go to the auction after the old parson, and have us a dram, and meanwhile, you can buy a gown and collar,” they said. So they did so, and when he came home, he had not one shilling left.

“I suppose you have both means of living and shillings, now,” said his wife.

“Yes, now there shall be means of living, mother,” said the charcoal burner, “for now I have become a parson,” he said. “Here you can see both gown and collar.”

“You want me to believe that; strong beer makes for strong words,” said his wife. “You are just as happy, no matter which end turns up,” she said.

“You shall neither complain nor boast of the stack before the kiln is cool,” said the charcoal burner.

Then there came a day that so many parson-dressed folk went past the charcoal burner’s, on their way to the king’s farm, that they understood that something was going on there. Yes, the charcoal burner wanted to go with them, he too, and dressed in his parson clothes. His wife said that it was just as well to remain at home, for if he got a shilling for holding some big fellow’s horse, then she supposed the tobacco-shilling would go down his throat.

“Everyone talks of drink, but none of the thirst, mother,” said the charcoal burner; “the more one drinks, the more one thirsts,” he said, sweeping out to the king’s farm.

There all the strangers were bidden into the king, and the charcoal burner followed along, he too.

Then the king said to them that he had lost his costliest finger ring, and he thought it had been stolen. Therefore he had bidden all the parson-schooled in the land, to see if one of them could tell him who the thief was. And then he promised to reward the one who could tell him: were he still a student parson, he would receive a position; were he a parson, he would be a provost; were he a provost, he would be a bishop; were he a bishop, he would be second only to the king. Then the king went from one to the next, and asked them every one, and when he came to the charcoal burner, then he said: “Who are you?”

“I am the wise parson, and the true prophet,” said the charcoal burner.

“So I suppose you can tell me who has taken my ring, then,” said the king.

“Yes, it is not completely meaningless that nothing is kept secret, but that it should come abroad,” said the charcoal burner, “but it is not every year that the salmon plays in the pine tops,” he said. “Now, I have read for seven years for me and mine, and have not received a position yet, so if the thief should be exposed, then I must have good time and a lot of paper, for I must write and calculate through many a land.”

Yes, he should have good time, and as much paper as he wanted, so long as he could bring forth the thief.

So he came up to a chamber in the king’s farm, and it was not long before they understood that he must know more than “Our Father,” for he wrote on so much paper that it lay there in huge heaps and piles, and there was not one who understood a word of what he wrote, for it just looked like hooks and crow’s feet. But time passed, and he did not get to know of any thief. So the king grew weary of it, and so he said that if he could not bring forth the thief in three days, then he should lose his life.

“He who will rule should not be in a hurry; one should not shovel the charcoal out before the stack is extinguished,” said the charcoal burner. But the king insisted, and the charcoal burner understood that his life was worth little.

Now, there were three king’s servants, who served for him on each their day, and these three had agreed together to steal the ring. When the first servant came in and cleared the table or tidied after supper, and went out again, the charcoal burner sighed a deep sigh, looking after him: “That was the first,” he said; he meant the first of three days he had left of his life.

“This parson can do more than feed himself,” said the servant, when he got his comrades by himself, and then he told them how he had said that, “I was the first, he said.”

The second, who served him the next day, should take note of what he said, and right enough, when he took out the supper things, the charcoal burner glared greatly at him, and sighed deeply, and then he said: “That was the second.”

Then the third should take note of how he behaved himself on the third day, and things went worse, not better; for when the servant took hold of the door to go out with the cups and plates, then the charcoal burner folded his hands and said: “That was the third,” and then he sighed as if his heart would break.

He came out so frightened that he could hardly breathe, and said that it was obvious that the parson knew it, and so they went in and fell on their knees and beseeched and blessed that he must not tell who it was who had taken the ring; they would gladly give him a hundred dollars each if he would not send them to their ruin. He promised so, both certainly and well; they would not come to ruin when he got the money and the ring and a great dollop of porridge. This he balled properly around the ring and then he let one of them give it to the king’s biggest boar, and tend it so that it did not give it from itself again.

In the morning, the king came, and he was not pleased, and wanted the thief immediately.

“Yes, now I have calculated and written through many countries,” said the charcoal burner, “but it is no person who has stolen the ring,” he said.

“Puh! Who is it, then?” said the king.

“Oh, it is the king’s biggest boar,” said the charcoal burner. So they took and slaughtered the boar, and it had the ring in it, that was true enough.

So the charcoal burner received a position as parson, and the king was so glad that he gave him horses and a farm and a hundred dollars, too. The charcoal burner was not slow to move, and the first Sunday he took up his position, he should go to church to read out his commission; but before he went, he was to have some lunch, so he laid his commission from him on the flatbread, but made a mistake, and dipped the letter into his soup, and when he felt how tough it was to chew, he gave the dog the whole thing, and it gulped it all down at once.

Now he did not know what to do. But to church he had to go, for the congregation was waiting, and when he arrived there, he went straight up into the pulpit. There he began to assert himself such that everyone thought: this certainly is a fine parson. But as things continued, it was not so fine any more.

“The words, my audience, that you should have heard this day, fed the dogs; but come another Sunday, my dear parishioners, then you will hear something else! And this sermon is over.”

This, thought everyone, was an odd parson, for such a sermon had they never heard; but then they said: he had better improve, and does he not, then there shall be a meeting with him.

The next Sunday there was a new mass; it was so full of folk who would listen to the parson that there was hardly room for them in the church. Yes, he came then, too, and immediately went up into the pulpit; there he stood a while without saying a word; but then he thundered all at once: “Listen, you, old buck-Berit, why do you sit so far back in the church?”

“Oh, my shoes are all broken, father,” she said.

“Oh, you could take an old sow skin and make yourself new shoes, so you could come as far forward in the church as the other gentlewomen—. Besides, you must consider which way you take; for I see when you come to church, then some come from the north, and some from the south; and the same it is when you leave church again; but you stop, I suppose, and thus I ask you where you go. Yes, who knows where any of us go? And I should inform you of a black mare that has been lost to our old parson-mother. She has feathered hoofs and a hanging mane and more of such which I will not mention in this place. And also, I have a hole in my trouser pocket, I know so, but you do not; but if you have a patch that might fit the hole, that neither you nor I know.”

This sermon were some of the congregation well-satisfied with. They thought nothing other than that he might make a good parson out of himself, in time, they said. But most of them thought it was far too bad, and when there was a meeting with the provost, then they complained about the parson, and said that these were sermons the like of which no one had heard before, and there there was one who remembered the last one, and read it up for the provost.

This was a very good sermon, said the provost; given that he had spoken in parables of seeking the light and eschewing the darkness and its deeds, of those who walk the broad and the narrow paths; and especially, he said, it was how he informed of the black parson’s mare, a glorious parable of how things should turn out for us in the end. The pocket with the hole in, that should mean his need, and the patch was the sacrifice and mild gifts he expected from the church, said the provost.

“Yes, we understood so much, we too, it was the parson’s pouch, it was,” they also said.

Finally, the prevost said he thought the church had got such a good and wise parson that they should not complain about him, and finally, that they would not get another; but as they thought things grew worse rather than better, they complained to the bishop.

Yes, after a long, long while, he came too, and there there was to be a conference with the bishop. But the day before, the charcoal burner had been in the church, so that no one knew about it, and had sawn loose the pulpit, so that it barely hung there when one carefully went up on to it. Then, when the church was gathered, and he should preach for the bishop, he hobbled up into the pulpit, and began to expound, as he was wont to; but when he had carried on a while, he began to go harder, struck out with his arms and cried loudly: “If there be any here who has any evil misdeed against them, then it is best that he leave this place; for on this day there shall be an occurrance the like of which has not taken place since the creation of the world.” And with that, he struck the pulpit so that it thundered, and the pulpit and the parson and the whole lot fell down off the church wall with a crash, so the congregation rushed out of the church as if the last day had come.

But then the bishop said to the congregation that he wondered how the church could complain against such a parson who had such gifts in the pulpit, and so much wisdom that he could foretell coming events. He thought he ought at least be a provost, and it was not long before he was that, either. So there was nothing for it; they had to put up with him.

Now it was such that the king and queen there in the country had no children, but when the king heard that there might be one on the way, he was curious to know if it was to be an heir to the country and kingdom, or if it was merely to be a princess. So all the learnéd men in the land gathered to the castle, so they might tell what it would be. But when there was none of them who could, then both the king and the bishop remembered the charcoal burner, and it was not long before they called him in, to ask him about it. No, he could not do it either, he said, for it was no good to guess what no one could know.

“Yes, yes,” said the king, “I am just as happy whether you know it or not, I am, but you are the wise parson and the true prophet, and can foretell approaching things, and if you will tell it, then you shall lose both gown and collar,” said the king. “But it does not matter; I will try you first,” he said, and he took the largest silver goblet he owned and went down to the strand. “Can you tell me what is in this goblet,” said the king, “then you can probably tell the other thing, too,” he said, holding the lid of the goblet.

The charcoal burner wrung his hands and misbehaved: “Oh you unhappiest of creeps and crabs on this earth; what do you have to show for all your wear and tear?” he said.

“Yes, there you see that you know it,” said the king, for he had a large crab in the silver goblet. So the charcoal burner had to go into the queen’s hall. He took a chair and sat down in the middle of the floor, and the queen walked back and forth in the hall.

“One should not make a stall for an unborn calf, neither argue about a name before the child is born,” said the charcoal burner; “but such have I never seen nor heard,” he said. “When the queen walks towards me, then I think it is to be a prince, and when she walks away from me, then it looks as if it will be a princess.”

It was twins, so the charcoal burner was right on this occasion, too. And for foretelling what no one could guess, he got money by the load, and then he was the highest next to the king.

Trip, trap, trill; here is more than he will.

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