The Good Bargain

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A peasant had driven his cow to the fair and sold her for seven talers. On the way home he had to walk past a pond, and already from afar he heard the frogs crying, "ak, ak, ak, ak" [which in his language sounded like, "eight, eight, eight, eight"].

"Well," he said he to himself, "they are talking nonsense. It is seven that I was paid, not eight."

When he reached the water, he shouted to them, "You are stupid creatures. Don't you know any better than that? It is seven talers, not eight."

The frogs, however, kept up with their "ak, ak, ak, ak."

"Now then, if you won't believe it, I can count it out for you." Then taking his money out of his pocket, he counted out the seven talers, twenty-four groschens in each one.

However, the frogs paid no attention to his counting, and again cried out, "ak, ak, ak, ak."

"Aha!" shouted the peasant, quite angry. "If you think that you know better than I do, then count it yourselves," and he threw all the money at them into the water. He stood still, wanting to stay there until they were finished and had returned his money to him, but the frogs did not budge from their opinion, and continued to cry out, "ak, ak, ak, ak." And furthermore, they did not throw the money back to him.

He waited a long time, until evening finally came, and he had to go home. Then he cursed the frogs, shouting at them, "You water-splashers, you thick-heads, you goggle-eyes, you have big mouths and can shout until a person's ears hurt, but you cannot count seven talers. Do you think that I want to stand here until you are finished?"

Then he walked away, with the frogs still crying out after him, "ak, ak, ak, ak." He arrived at home in a sour mood.

Some time later he bought himself another cow, which he slaughtered. He calculated that if he sold the meat for a good price, he could earn as much as the two cows had been worth together, and have the hide as well.

He went to town with the meat. An entire pack of dogs had gathered together just outside the town gate, with a large greyhound at the head of the pack. The greyhound jumped at the meat, sniffing and barking, "bow, wow, bow, wow."

When the dog would not stop, the peasant said to him, "Yes, I understand that you are saying, "bow, wow," because you want some of the meat, but I would be in a fine state if I gave it to you."

The dog's only answer was, "bow, wow."

"Will you not eat it all up, and will you be responsible for your companions?"

"Bow, wow, " said the dog.

"Well, if you insist on it, I will leave it with you. I know you well, and I know who your master is. But I am telling you, I must have my money in three days, or you will be sorry. You can just bring it out to me."

With this he unloaded the meat and turned back toward home. The dogs jumped on the meat, barking loudly, "bow, wow."

The peasant heard them from afar and said to himself, "Listen, they all want some, but the big dog will be responsible for it."

When three days had passed, the peasant thought, "Tonight you'll have the money in your pocket," and was quite satisfied. But no one came to pay him.

"No one is to be trusted nowadays," he said.

Finally he lost his patience and went to town and to the butcher, from whom he demanded his money. The butcher thought it was a joke, but the peasant said, "All joking aside, I want my money. Did not the big dog bring home to you an entire slaughtered cow three days ago?"

Then the butcher grew angry, picked up a broomstick and chased him out.

"Wait," said the peasant. "There is still some justice in the world," and he went to the royal palace and asked for a hearing. He was led before the king, who was sitting there with his daughter. The king asked him what injury he had suffered.

"Alas," he said, "the frogs and the dogs stole my belongings from me, and the butcher paid me for my losses with a stick." Then he told them everything that had happened.

At this the king's daughter began to laugh out loud, and the king said to him, "I cannot make that right for you, but instead you shall have my daughter for your wife. She had never laughed before in her whole life, until just now at you, and I have promised her to the man who could make her laugh. You can thank God for your good fortune."

"Oh," answered the peasant, "I do not want her. I have one wife at home already, and she is too much for me. Whenever I go home, it is just as if I had a wife standing in every corner."

Then the king grew angry, and said, "You are a lout."

"Alas, your majesty," answered the peasant, "what can you expect from an ox, but beef?"

"Wait," replied the king. "You shall have another reward. Get out of here for now, but come back in three days, and then five hundred shall be counted out for you in full."

When the peasant passed through the gate, the sentry said, "You made the king's daughter laugh, so you must have received something very good."

"Yes, that is right," answered the peasant. "Five hundred are to be counted out to me."

"Listen," said the soldier. "Give me some of it. How can you spend all that money?"

"Because it is you," said the peasant, "you shall have two hundred. In three days report to the king, and have it counted out for you."

A Jew, who had been standing nearby and had overheard the conversation, ran after the peasant, took hold of his coat, and said, "Miracle of God, what a child of fortune you are! I will change it for you. I will change it for you into smaller coins. What do you want with hard talers?"

"Jew," said the peasant, "You can have three hundred. Give it to me right now in coins. Three days from now you will be paid for it by the king."

The Jew was delighted with his small profit, and brought the sum in bad groschens, three of which were worth two good ones. After three days had passed, in keeping with the king's order, the peasant went before the king.

"Pull off his coat," said the king "He shall have his five hundred."

"Alas," said the peasant, "they no longer belong to me. I gave two hundred of them to the sentry, and the Jew has changed three hundred for me, so rightfully nothing more belongs to me."

In the meantime the soldier and the Jew entered and demanded what they had received from the peasant, and they received the blows carefully counted out.

The soldier bore it patiently, for he already knew how it tasted, but the Jew cried out pitifully, "Oh my, oh my, are these the hard talers?"

The king had to laugh at the peasant, and when his anger had subsided, he said, "Because you lost your reward even before you received it, I will replace it for you. Go into my treasure chamber and take as much money for yourself as you want."

The peasant did not need to be told twice, and he stuffed as much as would fit into his big pockets. After that he went to an inn and counted out his money.

The Jew had crept after him and heard him muttering to himself, "That rascal of a king has cheated me after all. If he himself had given me the money, then I would know how much I have. Now how can I know if what I had the luck to put into my pockets is right?"

"God forbid," said the Jew to himself, "he is speaking disrespectfully of his majesty. I will run and report him, and then I shall get a reward, and furthermore he will be punished."

When the king heard what the peasant had said he fell into a rage, and ordered the Jew to go and bring the offender to him.

The Jew ran to the peasant and said, "You are to go to his majesty the king at once, and just as you are."

"I know better than that what is right," answered the peasant. "First let me have a new coat made for myself. Do you think that a man with so much money in his pockets should go before the king in this tattered old coat?"

The Jew, seeing that the peasant could not be moved without another coat, and fearing that if the king's anger cooled, he himself would lose his reward, and the peasant his punishment, said, "Out of pure friendship I will lend you a handsome coat for a little while. What people will not do for love!"

The peasant was satisfied with this, put on the Jew's coat, and went off with him.

The king confronted the peasant with the evil things the Jew had accused him of saying.

"Oh," said the peasant, "what a Jew says is always a lie. No true word ever comes out of his mouth. That rascal there is even capable of claiming that I have his coat on."

"What are you saying?" shouted the Jew. "Is that coat not mine? Did I not lend it to you out of pure friendship, so that you could appear before his majesty the king?"

When the king heard this, he said, "For sure the Jew has deceived one of us, either myself or the peasant." And once again he had the Jew paid out in hard talers.

The peasant, however, went home wearing the good coat and with the good money in his pockets, saying to himself, "This time I made it."

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Revised September 1, 2002.