All About Twopence

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There lived once a poor man who endeavoured to get his living by various means. One day he filled up a bag with moss, put a little wool on the top of it, and then started to market to try to sell it all as wool. On the road he met another man who was also going to market and carrying a bag full of acorns, which he wished to sell as nuts, and the top of which he had, indeed, carefully covered with nuts. Upon mutual inquiry as to what each had in his bag, the first man said that he was carrying wool, and the second that he was carrying nuts to market for sale; hereupon they agreed to exchange their goods on the spot. The owner of the moss, however, demanded some money into the bargain, maintaining that wool was more valuable than nuts; but when he perceived that the owner of the acorns would not give anything extra, but only wanted to exchange one thing for the other, he thought that, after all, nuts were better than moss. After bargaining for a long time, the man who had the acorns agreed to give the other an extra twopence; but as he had no money with him, he agreed to owe him that sum, and as a pledge that he would pay the debt faithfully, they entered into a bond of friendship. Having exchanged the bags, the men parted, each thinking that he had cheated the other, but when they had come home and removed the goods out of the bags, then they saw that, in reality, neither of them was cheated.

Some time afterwards the vendor of the moss went out in search of his confederate in order to get the twopence out of him, and having found him in the employment of a certain village parson, he addressed him thus: “Brother, you have cheated me.” And the other answered: “And you, brother, have also cheated me.” Then the first man demanded the twopence, saying, that it was only just to pay that which had been agreed upon, and strengthened by a bond of friendship. The other acknowledged the debt, but excused himself, saying, that he had no money wherewith to pay it; “however,” he added, “behind my master’s house there is a deep hole in the ground, down which he often goes, and in which, doubtless, he has hidden either some money or some other valuable property. We will go there after dark, and you shall let me down into the hole; after I have ransacked it we will share the plunder, and then I will pay you your twopence. This proposition was accepted. In the evening the parson’s servant took up a sack and a rope, and having come with his confederate to the hole, he got into the sack, and the confederate fastened the rope round his waist and let him down into the hole. When the man reached the bottom he came out of the sack. Having examined the hole and not finding anything but corn, he said to himself, “If I tell my brother that there is nothing in the hole, he is likely to go away and leave me here; what would my master say to-morrow if he were to find me in this hole?” He quickly got into the sack again, fastened the rope to it, and then called out to his confederate, “Brother, pull up the sack, it is full of various things.”

As the man was pulling up the sack, he said to himself, “Why should I divide these things with my confederate? I had better take it myself, and he may come out of the hole as well as he can.” Having lifted up the sack, with the confederate in it, he put it on his shoulders and hastened through the village; he was followed by a large number of dogs barking furiously. As he grew tired he allowed the sack to slip close to the ground, upon which the confederate in the sack called out,—

“Brother, pull up the sack, the dogs are biting me.”

When the man who carried the sack heard this, he threw it down on the ground. Then he in the sack said,—”Thus, brother, you wanted to cheat me.” And the other answered,—”By heaven, you have again cheated me.” After a long dispute the man who owed the twopence promised to pay them faithfully to the other whenever he would come again, and then they parted.

Some time afterwards the man who was in the service of the clergyman made himself a home and got married. One day as he was sitting with his wife before the hut, he observed his confederate walking directly towards it; then he said to his wife,—

“Wife, here comes my confederate; I owe him twopence. Now, I do not know what to do, for I promised to pay them to him as soon as ever he found me out. I will go in, lie down on my back, and you must cover me up; then you must begin to cry and to lament, and tell him that I am dead; then, surely, he will go away.”

Having said this he went into the hut, lay on his back, and crossed his arms; his wife covered him up, and then began to lament. Meanwhile the confederate approached the hut, and wishing to the woman heaven’s blessing, asked her whether this was the house of So-and-so; the woman, writhing in agony on the ground, answered him,—


“Yes, woe is me! This is his house, and here he lies dead in it.”Then the confederate said, “Heaven have mercy upon his soul! He was my confederate. We have worked and transacted business together, and since I have found him in such a state, it is only right that I should stop and accompany him to his grave, and throw a handful of earth over his coffin.”

The woman told him that he would have to wait a long time for the funeral, and that he had better go away. But he answered,—

“Heaven forbid! How could I leave my former confederate like this? I will wait, be it even three days, until he is buried.”

When the woman whispered this to her husband in the hut, he told her to go to the clergyman, tell him that he was dead, and have him removed to the church in the cemetery; then, perhaps, his confederate would go away. The woman went to the clergyman and told him of her husband’s death. The clergyman came up with some of his men, who put the pretended dead on a bier, carried him off and left him in the middle of the church, so that he might spend the night there according to custom, and then on the following day receive the benediction and be buried. When the clergyman with the other people were about to leave the church, the confederate said that he could not leave his brother unguarded, with whom he had transacted business, and had eaten bread and salt, but that he would watch over him the whole night. Thus he remained in the church.

Now it happened that night that some robbers were passing near who had plundered a castle not far off, and had carried away a large sum of money, with quantities of clothes and arms. When the robbers approached the church and saw that there was a light in it, they said among themselves,—

“Let us go into this church and there divide our booty.”

The confederate, when he perceived that armed men had entered into the church, hid himself in a corner. The robbers sat down on the ground, divided the money with a helmet and the clothes and arms, as well as they could. They were perfectly satisfied with the division of all their plunder, with the exception of one sword, which all of them believed to be of a very great value. One of the robbers took it in his hand, rose up and said,—

“Wait a moment; I will try the sword on this dead person, whether it is really so good as you suppose. If I can cut off his head at one blow, then it is really good.”

Having said this, the robber approached the bier, but in the same moment the pretended dead jumped up and cried with a terrible voice,—

“Dead, where are you?”

And his confederate in the corner answered,—

“Here we are; all ready to fight.”

At the sound of these words, the robber who held the sword threw it down and fled; his companions left all their booty, which they had collected in heaps on the ground, jumped up and also fled away without daring to look behind. Having run away a long way off, the robbers stopped, and their captain cried out,—

“Stop! comrades, stop! We have walked over mountains and valleys, by day and by night; we have fought with men and attacked castles and palaces, and we have never been afraid so much of anybody as we have been this night of the dead. Is there not a brave man among us who would go and see what is going on in that church?”

Then one of the robbers said, “I won’t do it.” Another said, “I do not dare to do it.” “And I,” said a third, “would rather fight with ten living than one dead man.”

At last there was found one robber who said that he would go back. Having returned, he approached carefully to a window in the church in order to see what was taking place inside it. In the church, meantime, the confederates divided all the robbers’ money, clothes, and arms among themselves, but, in the end, could not agree about the twopence, and almost came to blows. All that the robber could hear behind the window was,—

“Where is my twopence? Give me my twopence.”

Suddenly the man who owed the twopence observed the robber standing close by; in an instant he stretched out his arm through the window, pulled off the robber’s cap, and, giving it to his confederate, said,—

“Confound your twopence! Take this instead of your twopence!”

The robber, terrified, fled away without daring to look behind, and, having reached his companions, he cried out half dead with fear,—

“Oh, comrades! Thank heaven that we have escaped alive from that dreadful place. We have divided the money among ourselves with the helmet, but there is risen such an enormous number of dead people that, when they had divided the money among themselves, there was scarcely left twopence for each of them. In fact, that was even wanting for one of them, so they pulled off my cap and gave it to him instead of the twopence!”

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