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International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 357


A Son of Adam

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More English Fairy Tales

Tradition: England

A man was one day working. It was very hot, and he was digging. By and by he stopped to rest and wipe his face; and he was very angry to think he had to work so hard only because of Adam's sin. So he complained bitterly, and said some very hard words about Adam.

It happened that his master heard him, and he asked, 'Why do you blame Adam? You'd ha' done just like Adam, if you'd a-been in his place.'

'No, I shouldn't,' said the man; 'I should ha' know'd better.'

'Well, I'll try you,' said his master; 'come to me at dinnertime.'

So come dinner-time, the man came, and his master took him into a room where the table was a-set with good things of all sorts. And he said: 'Now, you can eat as much as ever you like from any of the dishes on the table; but don't touch the covered dish in the middle till I come back.' And with that the master went out of the room and left the man there all by himself.

So the man sat down and helped himself, and ate some o' this dish and some o' that, and enjoyed himself finely. But after a while, as his master didn't come back, he began to look at the covered dish, and to wonder whatever was in it. And he wondered more and more, and he says to himself, 'It must be something very nice. Why shouldn't I just look at it? I won't touch it. There can't be any harm in just peeping.' So at last he could hold back no longer, and he lifted up the cover a tiny bit; but he couldn't see anything.

Then he lifted it up a bit more, and out popped a mouse. The man tried to catch it; but it ran away and jumped off the table and he ran after it. It ran first into one corner, and then, just as he thought he'd got it, into another, and under the table, and all about the room. And the man made such a clatter, jumping and banging and running round after the mouse, a-trying to catch it, that at last his master came in.

'Ah!' he said; 'never you blame Adam again, my man!'

Comments:

SOURCE From memory, by Mr E. Sidney Hartland, as heard by him from his nurse in childhood.

PARALLELS Jacques de Vitry, Exempla, ed. Prof. Crane, No. xiii, and references given in notes, p. 139. It occurs in Swift and in modern Italian folk-lore.

REMARKS The Exempla were anecdotes, witty and otherwise, used by the monks in their sermons to season their discourse. Often they must have been derived from the folk of the period, and at first sight it might seem that we had found still extant among the folk the story that had been the original of Jacques de Vitry's Exemplum. But the theological basis of the story shows clearly that it was originally a monkish invention and came thence among the folk.

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