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The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple.1

I can tell you a story,2  or two perhaps. What a number I used to know, to be sure! But what can I do? It is thirty years and more since anyone has asked me for them, and it's hard to put one's ideas together after such a time. You mustn't  mind if I put the wrong part of the story before, and have to go backwards and forwards a little.

I know there was one that ran thus:—

There was a married couple who lived so happy and content and fond of each other, that they never had a word of dispute about anything the live-long day, but only thought of helping and pleasing each other.

The Devil saw this, and determined to set them by the ears; but how was he to do it? Such love and peace reigned in their home, that he couldn't find any way into the place. After prowling and prowling about, and finding no means of entrance, what does he do? He went to an old woman,—she must have been one of those who dabble with things they have no business to touch,—and said to her:

‘You must do this job for me!'

‘That's no great matter,' answered the old hag.3  ‘Give me ten scudi for my niece and a new pair of shoes for me, and I'll settle the matter.'

‘Here are the ten scudi,' said the Devil; ‘it will be time enough to talk about the shoes when we see how you do the business.'

The bad old woman set off accordingly with her niece and the ten scudi, instructing her by the way what she was to do.

This husband and wife lived in a place where there was a house on one side and a shop on the other, so that through a window in the house where they lived they could give an eye to anything that went on in the shop.

Choosing a moment when the man was alone in the shop, she sent the girl in with the ten scudi; and the girl, who had been told what to do, selected a dress, and a handkerchief, and a number of fine things, and paid her ten scudi. Then she proceeded leisurely to put them on, and to walk up and down the shop in them. Meantime the bad old woman went up to the wife:—

‘Poor woman!' she said. ‘Poor woman! Such a good woman as you are, and to have such a hypocrite of a husband!'

‘My husband a hypocrite!' answered the wife. ‘What can you mean—he is the best man that ever was.'

‘Ah! he makes you think so, poor simple soul. But the truth is, he is very different from what you think.'

So they went on conversing, and the bad old woman all the time watching what was going on in the shop till the right moment came. Just as the girl was flaunting about and showing herself off, she said:

‘Look here, he has given all those things to that girl there.'

And though the wife did not believe a word, curiosity prompted her to look, and there she saw the girl bowing herself out with as many thanks and adieus as if the poor man had really given her the things she had bought.

‘Perhaps you will believe that!' observed the bad old woman.

‘Indeed, I cannot help believing it,' answered the wife, ‘but never otherwise should I have thought it; and I owe you a great deal for opening my eyes;' and she gave her a whole cheese.4  ‘I know what I shall do,' she continued, as she sobbed over her lost peace of mind; ‘I shall show him I know his bad conduct by having no dinner ready for him when he comes up by-and-by.'

‘That's right,' said the bad old woman. ‘Do so, and show him you are not going to be trampled on for the sake of a drab of a girl like that;' and she tied her cheese up in a handkerchief, and went her way.

Down she went now to the husband, and plied him with suspicions of his wife, similar to those she had suggested to her against him. The husband was even less willing to listen to her than the wife had been, and when at last he drove her away, she said:

‘You think she's busy all the morning preparing your dinner; but instead of that, she's talking to those you wouldn't like her to talk with. And you see now if to-day she hasn't been at this game so long that she has forgotten your dinner altogether.'

The husband turned a deaf ear, and continued attending to his shop; but when he went into the house and found no dinner ready, it seemed as if all that the bad old woman had said was come true.

He was too sad for words, so they didn't have much of a quarrel, but there could not but be a coldness after such an extraordinary event as a day without dinner.

The husband went back to his shop and mused. The wife sat alone in her room crying; presently the old hag came back to her.

‘Well, did you tell him you had found him out?' she inquired.

‘No! I hadn't courage to do that. And he was so patient about there being no dinner, that I felt quite sorry to have suspected him. Oh, you who have been so clever in pointing out my misery to me, can you not tell me some means of reconciliation?'

‘Yes, there is one; but I don't know if you can manage it.'

‘Oh yes; I would do anything !'

‘Then you must watch till he is quite sound asleep, and take a sharp razor and cut off three hairs from the undergrowth of his beard, quite close to the skin. If you do that it will all come right again.'

‘It seems a very odd remedy,' said the wife; ‘but if you say it will do, I suppose it will, and thank you kindly for the advice;' and she gave her another cheese.

Then the witch went back to the husband.

‘I suppose I was mistaken, and you found your dinner ready after all?' she said.

‘No!' he replied; ‘you were right about there being no dinner; but I am certain there was some cause for there being none, other than what you say.'

‘What other cause should there be?' exclaimed the old woman.

‘That I don't know,' he replied. ‘But some other cause I am persuaded there must have been.'

‘Well, if you are so infatuated, I will give you another token that I am right,' replied the old woman. ‘You don't deserve that I should save your life, but I am so goodnatured, I can't help warning you. To-night, I have reason to know, she intends to murder you. You just give some make-believe snoring, but mind you don't sleep, whatever you do; and you see if she doesn't take up one of your razors to stab you in the throat.'

The good husband refused to believe a word, and drove her away. Nevertheless, when night came he felt not a little anxious; and if he had tried to sleep ever so much he could not, for he felt so excited. Then curiosity to see if the woman's words would come true overcame him, and he pretended to snore.

He had not been snoring thus long, when the wife took up the razor and came all trembling to the bedside, and lifted up his beard.

A cold sweat crept over the poor husband as she approached—not for fear of his life, which he could easily rescue, as he was awake—but because the proof seemed there that the old hag had spoken the truth. However, instead of taking it for granted it was so, and refusing to hear any justification—perhaps killing her on the spot, asshe had hoped and expected,—he calmly seized her arm, and said:

‘Tell me, what are you going to do with that razor?'

The wife sank on her knees by his side, crying:

‘I cannot expect you to believe me, but this is really how it was. An old woman came and told me you were making love to a young girl in the shop, and showed me how she was bowing and scraping to you. I was so vexed, that to show you my anger I got no dinner ready; but afterwards, I felt as if I should like to ask you all about it, to make sure there was no mistake: only after what I had done, I didn't know how to begin speaking to you again. Then I asked the old woman if she couldn't tell me some means of bringing things straight again; and she said, if I could cut off three hairs from the undergrowth of your beard, all would come right. But I can't expect you to believe it.'

‘Yes, I do,' replied the husband. ‘The same old wretch came to me, and wanted me in like manner to believe all manner of evil things of you, but I refused to believe you could do anything wrong. So I had more confidence in you than you had in me. But still we were both very nearly making ourselves very foolish and very unhappy; so we will take a lesson never to doubt each other again.'

And after that there never was a word between them any more.

When the Devil saw how the old woman had spoilt the affair, he took the pair of shoes he was to have given her, and tied them on to a long cane which he fastened on the top of a mountain, and there they dangled before her eyes, but she could never get at them.

[This is just the Siddi Kür story of the mischief-making fox, which I have given as ‘The Perfidious Friend' in ‘Sagas from the Far East,' and similar to the first Pantcha Tantra story.]

1 ‘I sposi Felici.' 

2 ‘Esempio,' see preface. ‘Esempiuccio,' a termination of endearment, meaning in this place ‘a nice “esempio”.' 

3 ‘Vecchiaccia,' bad old woman. 

4 ‘Forma di formaggio,' a whole cheese. ‘Cacio,' the proper word for cheese, is almost entirely superseded by ‘formaggio,' which comes from ‘forma,' the press or mould in which it is made.