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Main > English folktales > Fairy tale "Coat o' Clay"

Coat o' Clay

Once on a time, in the parts of Lindsey, there lived a wise woman. Some said she was a witch, but they said it in a whisper, lest she should overhear and do them a mischief, and truly it was not a thing one could be sure of, for she was never known to hurt any one, which, if she were a witch, she would have been sure to do. But she could tell you what your sickness was, and how to cure it with herbs, and she could mix rare possets that would drive the pain out of you in a twinkling; and she could advise you what to do if your cows were ill, or if you'd got into trouble, and tell the maids whether their sweethearts were likely to be faithful.

But she was ill-pleased if folks questioned her too much or too long, and she sore misliked fools. A many came to her asking foolish things, as was their nature, and to them she never gave counsel—at least of a kind that could aid them much.

Well, one day, as she sat at her door paring potatoes, over the stile and up the path came a tall lad with a long nose and goggle eyes and his hands in his pockets.

"That's a fool, if ever was one, and a fool's luck in his face," said the wise woman to herself with a nod of her head, and threw a potato skin over her left shoulder to keep off ill-chance.

"Good-day, missis," said the fool. "I be come to see thee."

"So thou art," said the wise woman; "I see that. How's all in thy folk this year?"

"Oh, fairly," answered he. "But they say I be a fool."

"Ay, so thou art," nodded she, and threw away a bad potato. "I see that too. But wouldst o' me? I keep no brains for sale."

"Well, see now. Mother says I'll ne'er be wiser all my born days; but folks tell us thou canst do everything. Can't thee teach me a bit, so they'll think me a clever fellow at home?"

"Hout-tout!" said the wise woman; "thou 'rt a bigger fool than I thought. Nay, I can't teach thee nought, lad; but I tell thee summat. Thou 'lt be a fool all thy days till thou gets a coat o' clay; and then thou 'lt know more than me."

"Hi, missis; what sort of a coat's that?

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