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Main > Dutch folktales > Fairy tale "When Wheat Worked Woe"

When Wheat Worked Woe

In Dantzig, all the ship's men had a good time, for the captain made "goed koop" (a fine bargain). Then the vessel, richly loaded with grain, turned its prow homeward. Arriving at Stavoren, the skipper reported to the merchant, to tell him of much money made, of a sound cargo obtained, of safe arrival, and, above all, plenty of what would please his wife; for what on earth could be more valuable than wheat, which makes bread, the staff of life?

At lunch time, when the merchant came home, his wife wanted to know what made him look so joyful. Had he made "goed koop" that day?

Usually, at meal time, this quiet man hardly spoke two words an hour. To tell the truth, he sometimes irritated his wife because of his silence, but to-day he was voluble.

The man of wealth answered, "I have a joyful surprise for you. I cannot tell you now. You must come with me and see."

After lunch, he took his wife on board the ship, giving a wink of his eye to the skipper, who nodded to the sailors, and then the stout fellows opened the hatches. There, loaded to the very deck, was the precious grain. The merchant looked up, expecting to see and hear his wife clap her hands with joy.

But the greedy woman turned her back on him, and flew into a rage.

"Throw it all overboard, into the water," she screamed. "You wretch, you have deceived me."

The husband tried to calm her and explain that it was his thought to get wheat, as the world's best gift, hoping thus to please her.

At that moment, some hungry beggars standing on the wharf, heard the lady's loud voice, and falling on their knees cried to her:

"Please, madame, give us some of this wheat; we are starving."

"Yes, lady, and there are many poor in Stavoren, in spite of all its gold," said the captain. "Why not divide this wheat among the needy, if you are greatly disappointed? You will win praise for yourself. In the name of God, forgive my boldness, and do as I ask. Then, on the next voyage, I shall sail as far as China and will get you anything you ask!

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