In Denmark, far out in the country, there once lived a farmer and his wife. Their farm cottage was overgrown with moss, and a stork’s nest perched on its ridge. The walls were crooked, the windows were small, and only one of them could be opened. An oven for baking bread jutted out of one wall. Outside, a hedge of elderberries and willow trees surrounded a tiny pond where a duck and some ducklings swam, and in the yard there was an old dog that barked at everyone who went by.
They did without a lot of things, but they did have a horse that grazed along the edge of the road since they had no paddock for it. Sometimes the farmer rode his horse to town, and sometimes his neighbor borrowed it. This the farmer believed was to his advantage, for country people believed that one good turn deserves another. But one day the farmer thought he’d be doing himself a good turn if he traded the horse for something more useful, though he didn’t know what it could be.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” said his wife. “There’s a market in town today. Why don’t you ride the horse to town and there you can trade it for something else. Whatever you do I’m sure will be all right.”
She tied his tie in a double bow to make her husband look more handsome. Then she brushed his hat with the palm of her hand, gave him a kiss good-bye, and off he rode on the horse that was to be sold or traded, just as he saw fit.
The sun was shining, it was hot, and there was not a scrap of shade along the way. The dusty road was filled with people traveling to market. Some had wagons, some rode horses, but many were on foot. And as he rode along, the farmer noticed a man leading a cow that was as beautiful as any cow could be.
“I’ll bet that cow gives a lot of good milk,” he said to himself. Then he called to the man, “You there with the cow, I’d like to talk with you!” And when the man turned around, the farmer continued, “I know that a horse is worth more than a cow, but a cow would be more useful to me. Shall we trade?”
“Why not?” said the man.
Now the farmer had done what he had set out to do so he should have turned around and gone back home with his new cow. But since he had meant to go to the market, he decided it would be a pity to miss it.
He and the cow walked quickly along, and soon they caught up with a man who was leading a goat. Such a fine animal it was. A goat like that I wouldn’t mind owning, the farmer thought. In the winter when it’s cold we could always take it inside. Besides, I don’t have enough grazing for a cow but I would for a goat. The more he looked at the goat, the better the farmer liked it.
“How would you like to trade your goat for my cow?” he finally asked. And the bargain was made.
He hadn’t gone far with his goat when he spied a man sitting on a big stone resting. He had good reason to rest for he was holding a very large goose.
“A fine fat goose!” the farmer cried as he lifted his hat. “How pretty it would look on our pond and then Mother could feed it our potato peelings.” She has often said that we ought to have a goose, he thought to himself, and now we shall have one! “I’ll trade you my goat for your goose and throw a thank-you into the bargain,” he said to the man.
“A goat for my goose!” exclaimed the stranger. “It’s a deal, but you can keep your thank-you for I don’t like to drive too hard a bargain.”
The farmer tucked the goose under his arm and walked on. People and animals were milling all about him as he came near the market.
The town’s gatekeeper had tied his hen in his potato patch so that it wouldn’t become frightened and run away in all the confusion. Its tail was as finely feathered as that of a cock. “Cluck! Cluck,” she said and winked at the farmer.
“That hen is a beautiful bird,” said the farmer, “I wish it were mine.” A hen can always find a grain of corn on the ground where she can scratch for her food, he thought to himself. Then she’ll lay eggs for us. I think I’ll see if I can strike a bargain for her.
It was no sooner said than done. After the farmer traded his goose for the gatekeeper’s white hen, he decided he was thirsty and hungry.
Entering an inn, the farmer bumped into one of the servants who was carrying a sack over his shoulder. “What do you have in the sack?” the farmer asked.
“Rotten apples,” the servant replied. “I’m on my way to the pigpen with them.”
A whole sackful, what an awful waste! thought the farmer. I wish Mother could see it. He remembered that last year their old apple tree only had one apple. Mother had put it in the cupboard and there it lay until it was all dried up and no bigger than a walnut. Then one day she had said to him, “I feel rich just looking at it.” He began to think how good she would feel if she had a whole sackful of apples so he asked the servant for them.
“What will you give me for them?” asked the servant.
“My hen,” the farmer replied. He hardly spoke the words before he found a sack of rotten apples in his arms instead of a hen.
The inn was crowded with butchers, farmers, merchants, horse dealers, and even a couple of rich Englishmen. The farmer sat down and, without giving it a thought, he put his sack of apples down on the stove and soon they began to simmer and sizzle.
“What’s that?” asked one of the rich Englishmen, pointing to the sack on the stove.
The farmer told him how he had traded his horse for a cow, his cow for a goat, his goat for a goose, his goose for a hen, and finally the hen for a sack of rotten apples.
“Your wife will be angry when you get home,” the Englishman scoffed.
“No,” the farmer insisted. “She’ll just kiss me and say that what Father does is always right.”
“I’ll bet a barrel of gold and a sackful of silver that she won’t,” said both Englishmen at once.
“The barrel of gold is enough and, if I lose, I’ll fill a barrel for you with rotten apples and you can have Mother and me for good measure,” the farmer declared.
So the Englishmen hired the innkeeper’s horses and carriage, and off they all went to the farmer’s house. When they arrived they drove right up to the door, where a barking dog and the farmer’s wife came out to greet them.
“Good evening, Mother,” said the farmer.
“I’m glad you arrived home safely,” she answered.
“Well, I traded the horse for a cow,” said the farmer.
“Trading is a man’s business,” she said and threw her arms around him. “Now we’ll have milk, butter, and cheese.”
“But I traded the cow for a goat.”
“How clever of you,” she said happily. “We have just enough grass for a goat, and the goat’s milk will be delicious for our supper. I can knit socks and a nightshirt from the goat’s wool. What a wise and thoughtful husband you are!”
“Then I traded the goat for a fat goose,” the farmer told her.
“Oh, my good husband, are we really going to have a fat goose in November for St. Martin’s Eve?” she asked. “You are always thinking of ways to please me.”
“I traded the goose for a hen,” the farmer said proudly, for now he realized how very well he had done.
“That was a good exchange,” said the wife. “Hens lay eggs and from eggs come little chicks. Soon we’ll have a real henyard and that is something I have always wanted.”
“But I traded the hen for a sackful of rotten apples.”
“Now I must kiss you, my dear husband!” his wife said, “for while you were away I decided to make a fine supper. I wanted to make an omelet with chives, but I had no chives. Our neighbor has some but she wouldn’t loan any to me. She declared that I could never return even so much as a rotten apple, because nothing grew in our garden. Now I can trade her many rotten apples. You have made the best bargain of all.”
The Englishmen held their sides with laughter. “From bad to worse and they don’t even know it. Always happy, always contented. It’s worth the money to see such people,” they said and gave the barrelful of gold coins to the farmer.
Yes, it pays for a wife to admit that her husband is clever. And now you know that “what father does is always right!”