On a cold winter night, long ago, Mars took a walk along with his favorite bird on earth. Towards nightfall he let the bird knocked at a rich peasant’s door. The farmer’s wife was busy making pancakes in her cozy kitchen. Her little chubby baby was watching her as she poured the batter into the frying-pan. She spied the stranger through the window, and said to herself, “This fellow is attracted by the good smell, but I do not waste my pancakes on strangers.” She sent Mars and his woodpecker away, wishing them God-speed.
Mars and his favorite bird soon arrived at a little cabin where a poor widow lived with her six children. The woodpecker knocked with great energy at the door again, and on hearing Mars asking to spend the night there, she opened the door and bade the both of them come in. “Night is falling,” she said. “It is bitterly cold, stay with us. You will have my bedroom. I will doze in a chair near the fire.” The guest with the bird on his shoulder gratefully accepted her offer, and after having supped, they retired to bed.
Before leaving the next day, Mars thanked the good woman and said to her, “Listen, little mother: as you welcomed me in your house, I give you a wish; ask anything you like and you shall have it.”
The good woman thought at once of an unfinished roll of cloth that her dead husband was weaving shortly before his death, and answered, “Well, in such a case, kindly grant that the work which I begin the first thing in the morning may go on all day.”
“It shall be as you wish,” said Mars and bade her good-bye. Her six children walked with him to the outskirts of the village. There the children bade Mars and his bird God-speed.
Very early the next day the busy little woman began to measure the piece of cloth her husband had left her. It was about twelve yards long. As she measured – and measured – she found that when she had measured a certain length of cloth the pattern, texture, and designs changed. She then cut it off carefully and rolled it up. In such a way the day passed. After some hours she had rolls of cloth of many shades, designs, and materials. They filled the whole cabin to the rafters. There was scarcely room to move. Her children were huddled together in one spot and stared with open mouths as she went on measuring. The neighbors came to say good day, but the cloth blocked the door, so it was with the greatest difficulty that they could squeeze their heads through the crack. Others were craning their necks on tiptoe to gaze amazed through the window, which was half hidden in cloth. By midnight she had enough cloth to supply ten villages.
The wonderful news soon spread far and wide. When it reached the ears of the mean, rich peasant woman who had turned the stranger so roughly from her door, she was disgusted with herself and did not sleep a wink that night. She thought up many plans to benefit from that stranger, but could do nothing but to wait till he might return. “Maybe he will be around next year,” she said; “a year soon passes.”
One Christmas Eve she was again making pancakes, looking up from time to time to see if the other appeared. And there he came through the gate! Before he had time to knock, she opened the door, welcomed him in, and gave him a seat near the fire. “This time you must stay the night with us,” she said; “it is too cold and too dark to go farther.”
“Thank you,” said the stranger, “but I only wanted to ask the way.”
“No, no,” said the peasant, “you must certainly stay, you cannot be better cared for. Draw up to the table and eat some pancakes; it will do you good. Tomorrow you can go as early as you like.”
There was nothing more to be said. A chair was drawn up to the table and the guest had to eat and drink. At bedtime they showed him into the best bedroom.
The next day the stranger thanked the woman and her husband, and said goodbye. He had already reached the gate when he said, “Woman, in return for the hospitality I grant that the first work you undertake tomorrow will last all day.” Then he went on his way.
The woman was overjoyed. “Tomorrow we shall be very rich,” she said to her husband. “I’ll do better than my neighbor; I shall count money all day and not waste a minute. I shall get up at midnight, for before daybreak I must make some bags to pour our fortune into.”
All that night she never closed her eyes; on the stroke of midnight she sprang from her bed, and seizing the scissors she began to cut out the bags. But she felt she had to cut and cut until all the stuff was in fragments. Still she had to go on cutting. She seized linen, shirts, sheets, tablecloths, napkins, handkerchiefs; even the window curtains did not escape.
Then it was the turn of the wardrobe. Throwing it open, she took out her husband’s wedding suit. “Look!” she said, as she cut off his coat-tails, “these will make two more bags. Here are strings for the bags,” she added, snipping off her best bonnet-strings.
She went on cutting without a pause. By night she had cut up everything except the clothes she was wearing. Her husband looked on at this terrible scene, howling with rage, while his wife sighed and cried with vexation. There was nothing left; her husband only managed to save the shirt he was wearing by running up the stairs as midnight struck.
The news of this disaster spread like wild-fire far and wide, but no one pitied the woman.