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A MISER’S HIRED MAN
TOM escaped, but it was a rough life he led, and he was always in fear of punishment. for his many misdeeds. At last he concluded he had had enough of depending on his wits for a livelihood and decided he would go to work.
So he hired himself to an old miser of a farmer with whom he continued several years. On the whole he made a good servant, and though he sometimes played tricks on those about him, it was his habit to make good any damage he did.
His master was a miser, as I have said, and he and his help ate supper with no other light than that of the fire, for he would not furnish candles. Tom did not like this, and one night he thrust his spoon into the middle of the soup dish where the soup was hottest and clapped a spoonful into his master’s mouth.
“You rascal!” his master cried, “my mouth is all burned.”
“Then why do you keep the house so dark?” Tom asked. “I can’t half see, and what wonder is it if I missed the way to my own mouth and got the spoon in your mouth, instead?”
After that they always had a candle on the table at supper, for his master would feed no more in the dark while Tom was present.
One day a butcher came and bought a fine fat calf from Tom’s master. He tied its legs, took it on the horse’s back in front of him, and off he went.
“Master,” Tom said, “what do you say to playing a joke on that fellow? With your leave I’ll get that calf away from him before he has gone two miles, and he won’t know what has become of it either.”
“You can try,” the master said, “but I don’t believe you can do it.”
So Tom went into the house, got a pretty shoe with a silver buckle to it that belonged to the servant maid and ran across a field till he got ahead of the butcher. He threw the shoe into the middle of the highway and hid behind a hedge. The butcher came riding along with the calf before him.
“Hey!” he said, “there’s a fine lady’s shoe. If it wasn’t that this calf makes it a great trouble to get off and on I’d alight and pick the shoe up. But after all what is the use of one shoe without its neighbor?” On he rode and let it lie. Tom then slipped out from behind the hedge, secured the shoe, and ran across the fields till he again got before the butcher. He threw the
shoe into the middle of the road and once more crouched behind the hedge and waited.
Along came the butcher, and saw the shoe. “Now,” he said, “I can have a pair of good shoes for the lifting. I’ll take them home and put my old woman in a good humor for once.”
Down he got, lifted off the calf, tied his horse to the hedge, and ran back, thinking to get the other shoe. While he was gone Tom picked up the calf and the shoe and tramped off home.
The butcher did not find the shoe he went back to get, and when he returned to his horse the other shoe was gone and so was his calf. “No doubt the calf has broken the rope that was about its feet,” he said, “and has run into the fields.”
So he spent a long time searching for it amongst the hedges and ditches. Finally he returned to Tom’s master and told him a long story of how he had lost the calf by means of a pair of shoes, which he believed the devil himself must have dropped in the roadway and had picked up later and the calf too.
“I suppose I ought to be thankful,” he said in concluding, “that I have my old horse left to carry me home so that I don’t have to walk.”
“Wouldn’t you like to buy another calf?” Tom asked.
“Why, yes,” the butcher responded, “if you have one to sell.”
Tom then brought from the barn the very calf that the butcher had lost, but as Tom had made a fine white face on it with chalk and water, the butcher did not recognize it. So the sale was made, its legs were tied and it was hoisted onto the horse in front of the butcher. As soon as he was gone, Tom told his master he believed he could get the calf again.
“Oh, no!” the farmer said, “you’ve fooled him once and he’ll be on the lookout for mischief now. But you can try if you want to.”
Away ran Tom through the fields until he got ahead of the butcher near where he had taken the calf from him. There he hid behind the hedges and as the butcher was passing he put his hand on his mouth and cried, “Baw, baw!” like a calf.
When the butcher heard this he stopped his horse. “There’s the calf I lost,” he said.
Down he got, lifted the calf from his horse to the ground, and scrambled hastily through the hedge, thinking he would lay his hands on the lost calf in a few moments. But as he went through one part of the hedge, Tom went through another, got the calf on his back and hurried through the fields home.
The poor butcher spent his time in vain running hither and thither seeking his calf. At last he returned to his horse, and when he found his other calf gone he concluded the place was bewitched.
“Oh, misfortunate day!” he cried, “what shall I do now? and what'll Joan say when I get home, for my money’s gone, and the two calves are gone, and I can’t buy her the shawl I promised to get.”
Back he went to the farmer lamenting his loss. But the farmer thought the joke had been carried far enough now. He told him what had happened and gave him his calf and the second payment of money. So the butcher went off well satisfied, for he had had a good deal of fun for his trouble, had he not?