Monday, 16 March 2009
There was once a man who had three daughters. When he was very old, he decided to see which of his daughters could manage on her own, for he could not leave them knowing that they would end up destitute. He gave each of them a certain amount of money and told them they must make their way in the world with that money alone.
Now it was not a lot of money so the three daughters were suddenly thrown upon their own resources to increase it. The eldest bought a fine dress and shoes. She went to a ball and managed to attract a handsome gentleman whom she married. Imagine her surprise and shock when she discovered him to be very handsome but also a bully and a brute. Her fine dress was removed from her and sold. She was given a poor, homespun dress to wear and commanded to serve him or he would beat her. That was that - at least for the moment.
The second daughter became a banker and earned lots of money. She spent liberally and had the best of everything. When the credit crunch hit, she was one of the first to go and found that somewhat ironically, she had saved very little. She was forced to re-examine her options and re-engineer herself into the curve. Or so she said to her youngest sister. In the meantime, she moved in with her youngest sister.
The youngest sister bought nine chickens. But they were no ordinary chickens, they were sold to her by one of the faerie who had given her a riddle. He saw that she was mostly uneducated, so he thought he might fool her. He asked her,
"What starts on four legs, goes on to two legs and at the end cannot stand at all."
The youngest daughter answered him, "A human being is on all fours as an infant, two legs through life and at the end death lies him down to rest."
The faerie was impressed and told her, "I know why you are going to market, but save your money. I will give you these beans. Do not plant them, but lay them in straw and they will hatch into chickens. They are not ordinary chickens though. Treat them kindly and leave them one egg each for all that they lay. When you need their help, they will help you. But should you ever speak a harsh word to them or lay a hand in anger upon them and they will vanish and you will never see them again."
The youngest daughter swore that she would do what the faerie had told her and thanked him from her heart. She took the beans home and sure enough they hatched into the prettiest chickens you ever saw. She took care of them and fed them corn. She was kind and good to them all the day long and strangely, she never went short of food or drink. They would bring home loose duck down which she put into a quilt for her bed. They provided her with more than enough eggs and she always left nine eggs safely laid in straw so that they might hatch. But she never saw them hatch and there were never any chicks. Still, she minded the faerie's words and did not worry about it.
Her middle sister told her that she cosseted the chickens and they needed a firm hand. But her youngest sister was adamant. They were not her sister's chickens, but hers and she would treat them with as much kindness as she could. If her sister did not like it, she might go and live with her older sister instead. The middle daughter grumbled but gave way.
Now the old man grew older but his eldest daughter could not take him in, for fear of what her brutal husband might say. She was covered in bruises for every imagined slight her husband saw in her. He treated her no better than a servant and less well than anyone would treat a dog. One day when he had left to go to a town far away, the eldest daughter climbed out of a window and went to visit her sisters. They were shocked to hear of the treatment she had received and the youngest daughter was much distressed. She begged her older sister to stay with them, but the oldest daughter dared not, for she was too afraid of her husband.
She went home and slipped in through the window almost adding to her bruises as she did so. When her husband returned home drunk, he beat her, more out of habit than anything else. She begged him not to, pleaded, but all his callousness filled him with contempt and he hit her harder until she fell senseless to the floor and he thought her dead and left her.
Now the middle and the youngest daughter took their father in and fed him on the fine food from the larder. The father eyed up the chickens and asked if he might have one of them roasted. His youngest daughter was horrified and said that she would never slaughter her chickens for anyone - not even her father. At first the old man was furious, but on reflection he realised that she must have a good reason for her refusal. Would that all parents could be so trusting.
The next morning, in the larder, the youngest daughter found a slaughtered fowl and in distress she counted her chickens only to find that none were missing. She fed them all and spoke kindly to them. She let them out into the yard and they strutted about talking to each other with their clucking. While they were outside, the youngest daughter cooked the fowl and fed it to her father and sister. They laughed and told her that they were glad she was not so sentimental with the birds. She rebuked them both and said that none of her chickens had been slaughtered nor ever would be for she loved them. The fowl had turned up in the larder as all the food did from where she knew not. The middle daughter humphed, but the old man suspected that the chickens were magical.
Now the youngest daughter could not get the plight of her oldest sister out of her mind. It distressed her to think of all the cheap bullies that beat their wives. When she fed the chickens, she would talk to them and she told them of her sister's plight and how she wished she might rescue her sister from such a situation.
One night, the bullying husband went out to get drunk. Before he got to the pub a young woman clucked at him and winked. He leered at her and she crooked her finger at him and winked again. He followed her into an alley and was suddenly set upon by nine women. He fell to the ground and they tore him to pieces. It was as if he had been pecked and clawed at as the constable said the following morning. He went to give the news to the widow and found her thickly plastered with make-up. Her husband had beaten her before going out. She could not quite believe that he was dead and moreover that he had left her a very rich woman.
She sold the house and moved in with her sisters and her father. All of them learned from their mistakes which is the least one can say of anyone. The oldest sister became a counsellor and ran a refuge for beaten women to give them back their confidence and inner fire. The middle sister became a lawyer and the youngest sister?
She looked after her father until he died and she cared for her chickens until a handsome woman fell in love with her and wed her. Then they cared for the chickens and each other ever after.