24. How the Devil Lost His Wager
A peasant, ploughing his field, was panting with fatigue, when the devil appeared before him and said, “Oh, poor man! You complain about your life and it’s no wonder. Your work is more suitable for an animal than a man. Now I have made a wager that I shall find a contented man; so give me the handle of your plough so that I can do the work for you.”
The peasant agreed and the devil touched the oxen and in one turn of the plough all the furrows of the field were opened up and the work finished.
“Is it well done?” asked the devil.
“Yes,” replied the man, “but seed is very dear this year.”
In answer to this, the devil shook his long tail in the air, and lo, little seeds began to fall like hail from the sky.
“I hope,” said the devil, “that I have won my bet.”
“Bah,” answered the peasant, “what’s the good of that? These seeds might be lost. You do not take into consideration frost, winds, drought, damp, storms, diseases of plants, and other things. How can I judge as yet?”
“Look,” said the devil, “in this box are both sun and rain, take it and use it as you please.”
The peasant did so and it worked well, for his corn soon ripened and up to that time he had never seen so good a harvest. But the corn of his neighbors had also prospered from the rain and sun.
At harvest time the devil came, and saw that the man was looking with envious eyes at his neighbor’s fields where the corn was as good as his own.
“Have you been able to obtain what you desired?” asked the devil.
“Alas!” answered the man, “all the barns will break down under the weight of the harvest. The grain will be sold at a low price. This fine harvest will make me sit on ashes.”
While he was speaking, the devil had taken an ear of corn from the ground and was crushing it in his hand, and as soon as he blew on the grains they all turned into pure gold. The peasant took up one and examined it attentively on all sides, and then in a despairing tone cried out, “Oh, my God! I must spend money to melt all these and send them to the mint.”
The devil wrung his hands in despair. He had lost his wager. He could do everything, but he could not make a contented man.