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From The Brown Fairy book by Andrew Lang.
Start of Story
Age Rating 8 Plus.
Once upon a time there lived a man who had nearly as many children as
there were sparrows in the garden. He had to work very hard all day
to get them enough to eat, and was often tired and cross, and abused
everything and everybody, so that people called him 'Father Grumbler.'
By-and-by he grew weary of always working, and on Sundays he lay a long
while in bed, instead of going to church. Then after a time he found it
dull to sit so many hours by himself, thinking of nothing but how to pay
the rent that was owing, and as the tavern across the road looked bright
and cheerful, he walked in one day and sat down with his friends. 'It
was just to chase away Care,' he said; but when he came out, hours and
hours after, Care came out with him.
Father Grumbler entered his house feeling more dismal than when he left
it, for he knew that he had wasted both his time and his money.
'I will go and see the Holy Man in the cave near the well,' he said
to himself, 'and perhaps he can tell me why all the luck is for other
people, and only misfortunes happen to me.' And he set out at once for
It was a long way off, and the road led over mountains and through
valleys; but at last he reached the cave where the Holy Man dwelt, and
knocked at the door.
'Who is there?' asked a voice from within.
'It is I, Holy Man, Father Grumbler, you know, who has as many children
as sparrows in the garden.'
'Well, and what is it that you want?'
'I want to know why other people have all the luck, and only misfortunes
happen to me!'
The Holy Man did not answer, but went into an inner cave, from which he
came out bearing something in his hand. 'Do you see this basket?' said
he. 'It is a magical basket, and if you are hungry you have only got to
say: "Little basket, little basket, do your duty," and you will eat the
best dinner you ever had in your life. But when you have had enough, be
sure you don't forget to cry out: "That will do for to-day." Oh!--and
one thing more--you need not show it to everybody and declare that I
have give it to you. Do you understand?'
Father Grumbler was always accustomed to think of himself as so unlucky
that he did not know whether the Holy Man was not playing a trick upon
him; but he took the basket without being polite enough to say either
'Thank you,' or 'Good-morning,' and went away. However, he only
waited till he was out of sight of the cave before he stooped down and
whispered: 'Little basket, little basket, do your duty.'
Now the basket had a lid, so that he could not see what was inside, but
he heard quite clearly strange noises, as if a sort of scuffling was
going on. Then the lid burst open, and a quantity of delicious little
white rolls came tumbling out one after the other, followed by a stream
of small fishes all ready cooked. What a quantity there were to be sure!
The whole road was covered with them, and the banks on each side were
beginning to disappear. Father Grumbler felt quite frightened at the
torrent, but at last he remembered what the Holy Man had told him,
and cried at the top of his voice: 'Enough! enough! That will do for
to-day!' And the lid of the basket closed with a snap.
Father Grumbler sighed with relief and happiness as he looked around
him, and sitting down on a heap of stones, he ate till he could eat no
more. Trout, salmon, turbot, soles, and a hundred other fishes whose
names he did not know, lay boiled, fried, and grilled within reach of
his hands. As the Holy Man had said, he had never eaten such a dinner;
still, when he had done, he shook his head, and grumbled; 'Yes, there is
plenty to eat, of course, but it only makes me thirsty, and there is not
a drop to drink anywhere.'
Yet, somehow, he could never tell why, he looked up and saw the tavern
in front of him, which he thought was miles, and miles, and miles away.
'Bring the best wine you have got, and two glasses, good mother,' he
said as he entered, 'and if you are fond of fish there is enough here to
feed the house. Only there is no need to chatter about it all over
the place. You understand? Eh?' And without waiting for an answer he
whispered to the basket: 'Little basket, little basket, do your duty.'
The innkeeper and his wife thought that their customer had gone suddenly
mad, and watched him closely, ready to spring on him if he became
violent; but both instinctively jumped backwards, nearly into the fire,
as rolls and fishes of every kind came tumbling out of the basket,
covering the tables and chairs and the floor, and even overflowing into
'Be quick, be quick, and pick them up,' cried the man. 'And if these are
not enough, there are plenty more to be had for the asking.'
The innkeeper and his wife did not need telling twice. Down they went on
their knees and gathered up everything they could lay hands on. But busy
though they seemed, they found time to whisper to each other:
'If we can only get hold of that basket it will make our fortune!'
So they began by inviting Father Grumbler to sit down to the table,
and brought out the best wine in the cellar, hoping it might loosen his
tongue. But Father Grumbler was wiser than they gave him credit for, and
though they tried in all manner of ways to find out who had given him
the basket, he put them off, and kept his secret to himself.
though he did not SPEAK, he did drink, and it was not long before he
fell fast asleep. Then the woman fetched from her kitchen a basket, so
like the magic one that no one, without looking very closely, could tell
the difference, and placed it in Father Grumbler's hand, while she hid
the other carefully away.
It was dinner time when the man awoke, and, jumping up hastily, he set
out for home, where he found all the children gathered round a basin of
thin soup, and pushing their wooden bowls forward, hoping to have the
first spoonful. Their father burst into the midst of them, bearing his
basket, and crying:
'Don't spoil your appetites, children, with that stuff. Do you see this
basket? Well, I have only got to say, "Little basket, little basket,
do your duty," and you will see what will happen. Now you shall say it
instead of me, for a treat.'
The children, wondering and delighted, repeated the words, but nothing
happened. Again and again they tried, but the basket was only a basket,
with a few scales of fish sticking to the bottom, for the innkeeper's
wife had taken it to market the day before.
'What is the matter with the thing?' cried the father at last, snatching
the basket from them, and turning it all over, grumbling and swearing
while he did so, under the eyes of his astonished wife and children, who
did not know whether to cry or to laugh.
'It certainly smells of fish,' he said, and then he stopped, for a
sudden thought had come to him.
'Suppose it is not mine at all; supposing--Ah, the scoundrels!'
And without listening to his wife and children, who were frightened at
his strange conduct and begged him to stay at home, he ran across to the
tavern and burst open the door.
'Can I do anything for you, Father Grumbler?' asked the innkeeper's wife
in her softest voice.
'I have taken the wrong basket--by mistake, of course,' said he. 'Here
is yours, will you give me back my own?'
'Why, what are you talking about?' answered she. 'You can see for
yourself that there is no basket here.'
And though Father Grumbler DID look, it was quite true that none was to
'Come, take a glass to warm you this cold day,' said the woman, who
was anxious to keep him in a good temper, and as this was an invitation
Father Grumbler never refused, he tossed it off and left the house.
He took the road that led to the Holy Man's cave, and made such haste
that it was not long before he reached it.
'Who is there?' said a voice in answer to his knock.
'It is me, it is me, Holy man. You know quite well. Father Grumbler, who
has as many children as sparrows in the garden.'
'But, my good man, it was only yesterday that I gave you a handsome
'Yes, Holy Man, and here it is. But something has happened, I don't know
what, and it won't work any more.'
'Well, put it down. I will go and see if I can find anything for you.'
In a few minutes the Holy Man returned with a cock under his arm.
'Listen to me,' he said, 'whenever you want money, you only have to say:
"Show me what you can do, cock," and you will see some wonderful
things. But, remember, it is not necessary to let all the world into the
'Oh no, Holy Man, I am not so foolish as that.'
'Nor to tell everybody that I gave it to you,' went on the Holy Man. 'I
have not got these treasures by the dozen.'
And without waiting for an answer he shut the door.
As before, the distance seemed to have wonderfully shortened, and in a
moment the tavern rose up in front of Father Grumbler. Without stopping
to think, he went straight in, and found the innkeeper's wife in the
kitchen making a cake.
'Where have you come from, with that fine red cock in your basket,'
asked she, for the bird was so big that the lid would not shut down
'Oh, I come from a place where they don't keep these things by the
dozen,' he replied, sitting down in front of the table.
The woman said no more, but set before him a bottle of his favourite
wine, and soon he began to wish to display his prize.
'Show me what you can do, cock,' cried he. And the cock stood up and
flapped his wings three times, crowing 'coquerico' with a voice like
a trumpet, and at each crow there fell from his beak golden drops, and
diamonds as large as peas.
This time Father Grumbler did not invite the innkeeper's wife to pick up
his treasures, but put his own hat under the cock's beak, so as to
catch everything he let fall; and he did not see the husband and wife
exchanging glances with each other which said, 'That would be a splendid
cock to put with our basket.'
'Have another glass of wine?' suggested the innkeeper, when they had
finished admiring the beauty of the cock, for they pretended not to have
seen the gold or the diamonds. And Father Grumbler, nothing loth, drank
one glass after another, till his head fell forward on the table, and
once more he was sound asleep. Then the woman gently coaxed the cock
from the basket and carried it off to her own poultry yard, from which
she brought one exactly like it, and popped it in its place.
Night was falling when the man awoke, and throwing proudly some grains
of gold on the table to pay for the wine he had drunk, he tucked the
cock comfortably into his basket and set out for home.
His wife and all the children were waiting for him at the door, and as
soon as she caught sight of him she broke out:
'You are a nice man to go wasting your time and your money drinking in
that tavern, and leaving us to starve! Aren't you ashamed of yourself?'
'You don't know what you are talking of,' he answered. 'Money? Why, I
have gold and diamonds now, as much as I want. Do you see that cock?
Well, you have only to say to him, "Show me what you can do, cock," and
something splendid will happen.'
Neither wife nor children were inclined to put much faith in him after
their last experience; however, they thought it was worth trying, and
did as he told them. The cock flew round the room like a mad thing,
and crowed till their heads nearly split with the noise; but no gold or
diamonds dropped on the brick floor--not the tiniest grain of either.
Father Grumbler stared in silence for an instant, and then he began to
swear so loudly that even his family, accustomed as they were to his
language, wondered at him.
At last he grew a little quieter, but remained as puzzled as ever.
'Can I have forgotten the words? But I KNOW that was what he said! And
I saw the diamonds with my own eyes!' Then suddenly he seized the cock,
shut it into the basket, and rushed out of the house.
His heavy wooden shoes clattered as he ran along the road, and he made
such haste that the stars were only just beginning to come out when he
reached the cave of the Holy Man.
'Who is that knocking?' asked a voice from within.
'It is me! It is me! Holy Man! you know! Father--'
'But, my good fellow, you really should give some one else a chance.
This is the third time you have been--and at such an hour, too!'
'Oh, yes, Holy Man, I know it is very late, but you will forgive me!
It is your cock--there is something the matter. It is like the basket.
'THAT my cock? THAT my basket? Somebody has played you a trick, my good
'A trick?' repeated Father Grumbler, who began to understand what had
happened. 'Then it must have been those two--'
'I warned you not to show them to anybody,' said the Holy Man. 'You
deserve--but I will give you one more chance.' And, turning, he unhooked
something from the wall.
'When you wish to dust your own jacket or those of your friends,' he
said, 'you have only got to say, "Flack, flick, switch, be quick," and
you will see what happens. That is all I have to tell you.' And, smiling
to himself, the Holy Man pushed Father Grumbler out of the cave.
'Ah, I understand now,' muttered the good man, as he took the road
home; 'but I think I have got you two rascals!' and he hurried on to the
tavern with his basket under his arm, and the cock and the switch both
'Good evening, friends!' he said, as he entered the inn. 'I am very
hungry, and should be glad if you would roast this cock for me as soon
as possible. THIS cock and no other--mind what I say,' he went on. 'Oh,
and another thing! You can light the fire with this basket. When you
have done that I will show you something I have in my bag,' and, as he
spoke, he tried to imitate the smile that the Holy Man had given HIM.
These directions made the innkeeper's wife very uneasy. However, she
said nothing, and began to roast the cock, while her husband did his
best to make the man sleepy with wine, but all in vain.
After dinner, which he did not eat without grumbling, for the cock was
very tough, the man struck his hand on the table, and said: 'Now listen
to me. Go and fetch my cock and my basket, at once. Do you hear?'
'Your cock, and your basket, Father Grumbler? But you have just--'
'MY cock and MY basket!' interrupted he. 'And, if you are too deaf and
too stupid to understand what that means, I have got something which
may help to teach you.' And opening the bag, he cried: 'Flack, flick,
switch, be quick.'
And flack! flick! like lightening a white switch sprang out of the bag,
and gave such hearty blows to the innkeeper and his wife, and to Father
Grumbler into the bargain, that they all jumped as high as feathers when
a mattress is shaken.
'Stop! stop! make it stop, and you shall have back your cock and
basket,' cried the man and his wife. And Father Grumbler, who had no
wish to go on, called out between his hops: 'Stop then, can't you? That
is enough for to-day!'
But the switch paid no attention, and dealt out its blows as before, and
MIGHT have been dealing them to this day, if the Holy Man had not heard
their cries and come to the rescue. 'Into the bag, quick!' said he, and
the switch obeyed.
'Now go and fetch me the cock and the basket,' and the woman went
without a word, and placed them on the table.
'You have all got what you deserved,' continued the Holy Man, 'and I
have no pity for any of you. I shall take my treasures home, and perhaps
some day I may find a man who knows how to make the best of the chances
that are given to him. But that will never be YOU,' he added, turning to