Now I should laugh if I were not dead!

Icelanders did not only tell tales of the supernatural but also of outlaws and Icelandic comedy tales. The following story is rather silly, and the poor men who are tricked are the ones who get punished for it, rather than the tricksters.

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Now I should laugh if I were not dead!

Once two married women had a dispute about which of their husbands was the biggest fool. At last, they agreed to try if they were as foolish as they seemed to be.

One of the women then played this trick. When her husband came home from work, she took a spinning wheel and carders, sat down, and began to card and spin, but neither the farmer nor anyone else saw any wool in her hands. Her husband observing this, asked if she was mad to scrape the teasels together and spin the wheel without having the thread and asked her to tell him what this meant. She said it was scarcely to be expected that he should not see what she was doing, for it was a kind of linen too fine to be seen with the eye. Of this, she was going to make him clothes.

He thought this an excellent explanation and wondered much at how clever his good wife was. He looked forward to the joy and pride he would feel in having on these marvellous clothes.

When his wife had spun, as she said, enough for the clothes, she set up the loom and wove the stuff. Her husband used, now and then, to visit her, wondering at the skill of his good lady. She was amused and made haste to carry out the trick nicely. She took the cloth from the loom when it was finished, washed and dried it, and last, sat down to work, cut it, and sewed the clothes out of it.

When she had finished all this, she bade her husband come and try the clothes on but did not dare let him put them on alone, wherefore she would help him. So, she made believe in dressing him in his fine clothes. Although the poor man was, in reality, naked, he firmly believed that it was all his own mistake and thought his clever wife had made him these wondrous-fine clothes. He was so happy with the clothes that he could not help jumping about for joy.

Now we turn to the other wife. When her husband came home from work, she asked him why in the world he was up and going about upon his feet. The man was startled at this question and said: “Why on earth do you ask this?’ She persuaded him that he was very ill and told him he had better go to bed. He believed this and went to bed as soon as he could.

When some time had passed, the wife said she would do the last services for him. He asked why and prayed to her by all means not to do so. She said: “Why do you behave like a fool; don’t you know that you died this morning? I am going at once to have your coffin made. The poor man, believing this to be true, rested thus till he was put into his coffin. His wife then appointed a day for the burial, hired six coffin- carriers, and asked the other couple to follow her dear husband to his grave.

She had a window on one side of the coffin so her husband could see all that passed around him. When the hour came to remove the coffin, the naked man came there, thinking everybody would admire his delicate clothes. But far from it; although the coffin-bearers were in a sad mood, nobody could help to laugh when they saw this naked fool. And when the man in the coffin caught a glance of him, he cried out as loud as he could: “Now I should laugh if I were not dead!” The burial was put off, and the man was let out of the coffin.

Now it came out that these women had thus tricked their husbands, and they got for it a public whipping at a parish court.

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