HERE ONCE LIVED a farmer who was so avaricious and miserly, and so hard and close in all his dealings that, as folks say, he would skin a flint. A Jew and a Yorkshireman had each tried to bargain with him, and both had had the worst of it. It is needless to say that he never either gave or lent.
Now, by thus scraping, and saving, and grinding for many years, he had become almost wealthy; though, indeed, he was no better fed and dressed than if he had not a penny to bless himself with. But what vexed him sorely was that his next neighbour's farm prospered in all matters better than his own; and this, although the owner was as open-handed as our farmer was stingy.
When in spring he ploughed his own worn-out land, and reached the top of the furrow where his field joined one of the richly-fed fields of his neighbour, he would cast an envious glance over the hedge, and say, "So far and no farther?" for he would have liked to have had the whole under his plough. And so in the autumn, when he gathered his own scanty crop and had to stop his sickle short of the close ranks of his neighbour's corn, he would cry, "All this, and none of that?" and go home sorely discontented.
Now on the lands of the liberal farmer (whose name was Merryweather) there lived a dwarf or hillman, who made a wager that he would both beg and borrow of the covetous farmer, and out-bargain him to boot. So he went one day to his house, and asked him if he would kindly give him half a stone of flour to make hasty pudding with; adding, that if he would lend him a bag to carry it in to the hill, this should be returned clean and in good condition.
The farmer saw with half an eye that this was the dwarf from his neighbour's estate, and as he had always laid the luck of the liberal farmer to his being favoured by the good people, he resolved to treat the little man with all civility.
"Look you, wife," said he, "this is no time to be saving half a stone of flour when we may make our fortunes at one stroke. I have heard my grandfather tell of a man who lent a sack of oats to one of the fairies, and got it back filled with gold pieces. And as good measure as he gave of oats so he got of gold;" saying which, the farmer took a canvas bag to the flour-bin, and began to fill it. Meanwhile the dwarf sat in the larder window and cried--"We've a big party for supper to-night; give us good measure, neighbour, and you shall have anything under the sun that you like to ask for."
When the farmer heard this he was nearly out of his wits with delight, and his hands shook so that the flour spilled all about the larder floor.
"Thank you, dear sir," he said; "it's a bargain, and I agree to it. My wife hears us, and is witness. Wife! wife!" he cried, running into the kitchen, "I am to have anything under the sun that I choose to ask for. I think of asking for neighbour Merryweather's estate, but this is a chance never likely to happen again, and I should like to make a wise choice, and that is not easy at a moment's notice."
"You will have a week to think it over in," said the dwarf, who had come in behind him; "I must be off now, so give me my flour, and come to the hill behind your house seven days hence at midnight, and you shall have your share of the bargain."
So the farmer tied up the flour-sack, and helped the dwarf with it on to his back, and as he did so he began thinking how easily the bargain had been made, and casting about in his mind whether, he could not get more where he had so easily got much.
"And half a stone of flour is half a stone of flour," he muttered to himself, "and whatever it may do with thriftless people, it goes a long way in our house. And there's the bag--and a terrible lot spilled on the larder floor--and the string to tie it with, which doubtless he'll never think of returning--and my time, which must be counted, and nothing whatever for it all for a week to come." And the outlay so weighed upon his mind that he cleared his throat and began:
"Not for seven days, did you say, sir? You know, dear sir, or perhaps, indeed, you do not know, that when amongst each other we men have to wait for the settlement of an account, we expect something over and above the exact amount. Interest we call it, my dear sir."
"And you want me to give you something extra for waiting a week?" asked the dwarf. "Pray, what do you expect?"
"Oh, dear sir, I leave it to you," said the farmer. "Perhaps you may add some trifle--in the flour-bag, or not, as you think fit--but I leave it entirely to you."
"I will give you something over and above what you shall choose," said the dwarf; "but, as you say, I shall decide what it is to be." With which he shouldered the flour-sack, and went his way.
For the next seven days, the farmer had no peace for thinking, and planning, and scheming how to get the most out of his one wish. His wife made many suggestions to which he did not agree, but he was careful not to quarrel with her; "for," he said, "we will not be like the foolish couple who wasted three wishes on black-puddings. Neither will I desire useless grandeur and unreasonable elevation, like the fisherman's wife. I will have a solid and substantial benefit."
And so, after a week of sleepless nights and anxious days, he came back to his first thought, and resolved to ask for his neighbour's estate.
At last the night came. It was full moon, and the farmer looked anxiously about, fearing the dwarf might not be true to his appointment. But at midnight he appeared, with the flour-bag neatly folded in his hand.
"You hold to the agreement," said the farmer, "of course. My wife was witness. I am to have anything under the sun that I ask for; and I am to have it now."
"Ask away," said the dwarf.
"I want neighbour Merryweather's estate," said the farmer.
"What, all this land below here, that joins on to your own?"
"Every acre," said the farmer.
"Farmer Merryweather's fields are under the moon at present," said the dwarf, coolly, "and thus not within the terms of the agreement. You must choose again."
But as the farmer could choose nothing that was not then under the moon, he soon saw that he had been outwitted, and his rage knew no bounds at the trick the dwarf had played him.
"Give me my bag, at any rate," he screamed, "and the string--and your own extra gift that you promised. For half a loaf is better than no bread," he muttered, "and I may yet come in for a few gold pieces."
"There's your bag," cried the dwarf, clapping it over the miser's head like an extinguisher; "it's clean enough for a nightcap. And there's your string," he added, tying it tightly round the farmer's throat till he was almost throttled. "And, for my part, I'll give you what you deserve;" saying which he gave the farmer such a hearty kick that he kicked him straight down from the top of the hill to his own back door.
"If that does not satisfy you, I'll give you as much again," shouted the dwarf; and as the farmer made no reply, he went chuckling back to his hill.