Marxists Internet Archive: Subjects: Marxism and Art: Literature: Children's Literature

The Baron and the Shepard

Latvian Fairy Tale

Source: Tales of the Amber Sea: Fairy Tales of the Peoples of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Progress Publishers, 1974;
Translated: Irina Zheleznova;
HTML Markup: For in February, 2002.

A young shepherd lad was once out with his herd while his father was ploughing the field nearby, for what else is a peasant to do in spring, when all of a sudden who should come riding up to them but the baron himself. With his pot belly and spindly legs and his stuck-up airs, he was a baron like any other, and he opened his eyes wide and gaped at the peasant.

"Hey, there, shepherd! " he called. "What is that peasant yonder doing? "

"That's my father, my lord, and he's turning the earth's overcoat inside out, for it is badly worn on top," the shepherd replied.

"What does that mean?" asked the baron, surprised.

"Just this, my lord! My father is ploughing the field, for if he leaves it unploughed the foolish baron will never get a penny."

The baron was ill pleased with the shepherd's words.

"What is your mother doing, my lad? " he asked.

"Baking bread that's already been eaten."

"What does that mean? " And the baron stared at the shepherd, goggle-eyed.

"Just this, my lord! She borrowed some bread from the neighbours last week, and now she is baking some in order to give back what she owes. But no sooner has she done so than she'll borrow some again so that my father can plough your land."

"And what is your sister doing, my lad? "

"Weeping over lost hopes."

"What does that mean? "

"Just this, my lord! She was married last year and as happy as can be. But this year she weeps, for you've sent her husband off to the army and she has nothing to feed her young child with."

The baron was ill pleased with the shepherd's words. He glanced at his riding crop and then at the lad's stick, and, thinking, "You wait, I'll teach you how to speak like that to me! " said in kindly tones:

"Come to my house tomorrow, my lad, and I'll give you a rare treat to reward you for the way you answered my questions."

"Thank you, my lord, I' be glad to come," the lad replied.

On the next morning the baron had no sooner opened his eyes than there was the shepherd before him.

"Go to my cellar! " said the baron. "You will get what is owing you there."

And he ordered his servant to lead the way and to take a whip with him.

The shepherd followed the servant into the cellar, and, seeing the whip sticking out from under his livery coat, knew at once what he was to expect.

Said the servant:

"See that wine cask, my lad? Well, just you go up to it, take out the spigot and drink your fill! "

"I don't know how to take out the spigot," the shepherd replied. "Show me how it's done."

The servant bent over the cask, took out the spigot and stopped up the gimlet hole with his finger.

"That is how! " he said. At this the shepherd snatched the whip from under the servant's coat and went at him with it, and the servant only stood there and did nothing, for he was afraid to take his finger out of the cask lest all his master's wine run out of it.

So soundly did the shepherd lay to that he soon had the servant stretched out by the cask more dead than alive. After that he picked a good ham for himself, slipped it under his shirt and left the cellar.

The baron stood gazing out of the window and he saw the shepherd walking away, holding on to what looked like a hump on his back. The baron was very pleased.

"Well, how did you like your treat? " he called.

"Very much, my lord, thank you. I'll never forget your kindness."

The shepherd left the yard, and the servant crawled out of the cellar barely alive. Oh, how angry the baron was! To be made a fool of by a mere lad--why, it was more than anyone could stand.

On the next day the baron set out to find the shepherd and teach him a lesson. Now, the shepherd had been making gruel--he had put some fine-ground barley in a pot, cooked it till it was soft and then added milk to it--and was now carrying it in a wooden jug to the field for his father to have at dinner-time. He looked and he saw the baron, windbag that he was, come riding toward him on horseback with his long hunting crop in his hand. The shepherd knew very well what this could mean. He put the jug of gruel down on a tree-stump, ran to the blacksmith's, snatched a piece of red-hot iron out of the forge, and, running back again, threw it in the gruel. The gruel boiled up, and as it flowed over the edge of the jug, the shepherd began running round the tree-stump.

The baron came riding up and his eyes widened at the sight of the shepherd running round a tree-stump on which stood a boiling, steaming jug of gruel. This was a miracle indeed! For was the gruel not cooking without a fire.

"What are you doing? " the baron asked.

"Cooking gruel, my lord."

"Without a fire?"

"Yes. All you have to do is put the jug on a tree-stump and run around it and whatever is in the jug will get cooked."

The baron tried the gruel and found that it was done and very good. He could hardly restrain himself, so eager was he to get the jug for himself. How his friends would stare when he showed it them! Up till then he had only surprised them by his foolishness.

"Sell me your jug! " he begged.

But the shepherd would not, saying that he could not get on without it. Only when the baron had offered him a bag of gold and a horse in return for the jug did he finally agree to part with it.

"Here you are! " he said.

And giving the jug to the baron, he got on the baron's horse, jingled the baron's gold coins in his pocket and was off!

As for the baron, he felt very proud of himself, and, going back to his house, invited people from all over the countryside to come and look at the magic jug that he had got a foolish young peasant to give up to him.

He put the jug of gruel down on a tree-stump and de a servant of his run around it in a circle. Round till he was soaking wet with perspiration, but the gruel did not boil. The baron sent his coachman to help out the servant, and the two of them ran round the tree-stump together, and still the gruel did not boil. The baron then sent his huntsman to help them out, and the three of them ran round the tree-stump together, the servant first, gasping and fighting for breath as he ran, the coachman behind him and the huntsman behind the coachman, but the gruel was as cold as ever. There was nothing for it, so the baron himself now joined them, and the four of them began running round the tree-stump together, the baron behind the huntsman, the huntsman behind the coachman, the coachman behind the servant, and bade a servant of his run and round ran the servant perspiration, but the gruel his coachman to help out the servant behind the baron.

Never had the baron surprised his guests quite so much before. There they stood, holding on to their sides and fit to burst with laughter, some of the ladies laughing so hard that they nearly swooned away. But the baron went on running round the tree-stump, hopping and skipping as he did so and never losing hope that the gruel would come to the boil at last!

In fact, he may be at it still--shall we go and see?