This folktale shows that making a deal with the devil in a folktale sometimes turns out well for you. But you better put your affairs in order before death. But it is also about not being too greedy and being kind to others. As always, there’s a message in this folktale.

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The Wonderful Quern

There was once a wealthy man who owned a grand manor. He was married and had by his wife two sons. The two sons were also married when these things came to pass. One of these brothers was rich as his father had been and had by his wife four children. But the other was poor, living only on what his father granted him. When the father died, the brothers began to divide their inheritance. By the end of this affair, the rich brother got the manor and the rest of the estate. He said that his brother had well got his due in a scrap after scrap and draught after draught.

Hereafter held the rich brother the manor, and the poor one often paid a visit to him from his cottage to ask of him for what he needed at the time. His brother was wont to grant something to him, but never with a smile. And thus did he keep up the wretched life of his brother and his wife.

Once, the rich brother slaughtered a goodly ox, and the poor one deemed it as well to take this chance of asking his brother for a piece. But his wife kept him back from going, for, said she, he would get nothing but his brother’s harsh growling.

He said he didn’t care about that and went to his brother’s, despite all she could say.

He arrived first when they had dismembered the beast, and all the limbs lay on the slaughter field, and when he came, his brother was walking to and fro about the goodly carcass of his ox.

The poor brother begged him to give him enough meat for one meal of soup, “for,” said he, “it is easy enough for you now that you have so much at your hand.”

The rich brother answered him harshly and said it was useless for him to go on with his begging; his ox had never been meant for his jaws.

But the poor brother still went on with his begging, till the rich one, at last, in a fit of rage, took one of the thighs of the ox and threw it into his face, saying: —

“Go, with this thigh, to the devil!”

So, the poor brother took the thigh and went home with it.

His wife was glad when she saw him coming with his great burden. However, she could not understand his brother’s kindness, but she made everything ready to put the thigh into the pot and boil it.

Her husband prayed for her to wait for a while. His brother had not given him the thigh but bidden him to give it to the devil himself. He was in no mind to steal this charge out of hand from the devil. He bade her provide him with journey needs and new shoes, for he would begin his journey to render it to the devil.

The good wife bade him not to make a fool of himself, for his brother had given him the thigh. However, he had expressed himself awkwardly, being wearied by entreaties.

Her husband said she might interpret the matter how she would, but he was bent on doing with the thigh as he had been bidden.

She, therefore, equipped her husband as best she could. The man started off with the thigh and walked for a long time, not knowing whither to go, to be sure of finding the devil.

The Poor Brother Meets a Stranger

At last, he met on his way a man who asked why he was carrying the thigh on his back.

He answered that he was going with it to the devil.

Then the stranger asked if he knew where the devil lived.

The other answered “no” and begged the stranger to tell him the way if he knew it.

He replied that, in truth, that way was utterly unknown to him, but he would, nevertheless, try to help the man by giving him a ball of thread. He should hold to the end in his hand and let the ball run before him till he came to a certain hillock. When the ball stopped, he should knock with the staff (which the stranger gave him likewise), and the hillock would open itself at the knock. He should cast the thigh into the gap, taking good heed not to be too near himself. He would then see two querns coming up into the hole, one black and the other white. This one he should take, not heeding the other. After that, he should take the ball, let it run before him, and follow it with his quern.

The poor man thanked the stranger for his advice, took leave of him, and went afresh on his way. Now everything went as the stranger had foretold. He found the hillock, opened it with the staff, and flung the thigh into the yawning rift, saying, “Take, Fiend! My brother sends you this thigh of his ox.”

A type of quern. Photo: Cherubino, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Then out rolled two querns, and when he had managed to catch hold of the white one. He went on his way after the ball till he came to the spot where he had before met the stranger, who was still there. The poor man greeted him, asking him what he should do with the quern.

The other answered that he should make a strong and roomy case for it and put it in a fit place, where it would grind of its own accord all it was bidden to grind, the only thing needed being to repeat this verse:

Grind neither malt nor salt;
Grind in the name of the Lord.

After this, they parted when the poor man heartily thanked the stranger for his advice and aid.

The Poor Becomes Rich

He now came home to his wife and told her all about his travels. He next made a solid case for the quern, a fine piece of furniture for the house, and put the quern in thorough trim. Then it ground everything he bade it; food and all needful things for the home and the farming, so they lacked nothing.

Once, it came into the farmer’s mind that it would be a good thing to have some money to spend, although, in truth, they needed none, as they had plenty of everything.

So he bade the quern grind gold and repeated the same verse. And the quern ground on, and ground pure gold. This was done time after time, so he became mighty rich in gold.

Then he told his wife he wanted to know how much gold they had. She answered that she deemed that unnecessary; she only knew they had plenty of it, like everything else. But the farmer had no peace until he discovered how to measure his gold.

As they had no measure, he ran to his brother’s house and asked him for a measure.

The rich brother bade his wife to lend him the measure. She did so but said to herself, “What, in the wide world, can they have to measure?’ And so saying, she took resin and smeared the measure with it, where the sides and the bottom meet, and then gave it to her brother-in-law.

He went home and, when he had measured his gold dust, gave back the measure.

When he was gone, his sister-in-law took the measure and looked at it within and found that all around the bottom clave gold dust to it. She then took it to her husband and said, “Your brother measures gold, while we measure rye, and he noticed that his brother had not, for a long while, begged aught of him, not, indeed, since he had got the ox-thigh. There was no question that the cottage folk had something, for they looked well, and everything thrived. Then the good wife bade the husband ask how matters might be with the others. His brother’s happiness and welfare could not be in the ordinary.

Now the rich brother went off, as he yearned to know how his brother had come into his wealth. So, when they met, the manor farmer asked his brother what he had been measuring the other day.

The latter told him the truth about it all.

The wealthy farmer asked him how this came about.

He answered that the devil had given him a quern, which ground every possible thing, obeying the afore-said verse, which he also told the other quite truthfully. “This,” he said, “the devil does because I gave him the thigh of the ox, which you asked me to take to him.”

His brother did not understand this, nor could he confess that he had ever sent his poor brother, with an ox thigh on his shoulders, to the devil; he had, said he, given him the thigh.

“Nay, nay!” answered the other, “you bade me take it to the devil, and so I did. For this, he gave me the quern. Since this goodness of his, I have needed neither yours nor anyone else’s help.”

After this, they parted, and the rich man went home, pondering and wondering what he had heard.

The Couple Were Filled with Jealousy

And the couple was jealous of the cottage folk and thought long how they could manage to get the quern. At last, they agreed to offer the farmer all they had for it, and when they got it, they should buy a ship and leave the country with their quern.

The husband, therefore, went to try the bargain with his brother. However, he did not listen to his offers. Then he offered him his manor and all his goods and chattels.

The other answered that the manor had no great charm for him, as he could buy an estate quite as good whenever he liked. But as his brother eagerly wished for the quern and was already rich enough, he would yield to his wishes and let him have the quern for all he had.

They made the bargain, and the cottage farmer moved to the manor and took all his brother’s possessions to himself. But the other bought himself a vessel and embarked in it, taking nothing with him but his wife, his children, and his quern, thinking that he had made a marvellous gain by his bargain.

The Quern Worked and Worked

When he was at a reasonable distance from the coast, he set to work to put the quern in trim, in order, that it might grind for them all they needed, and he repeated this verse: —

Grind neither malt nor salt;
Grind in the name of the Lord.

But do and say whatever he would, the quern stood still and immovable, till at last he grew angry and cried out, in a wild rage: —

Grind, then, both malt and salt;
Grind in the name of the devil.

Then the quern began grinding malt and salt and, in a short while, overcharged the vessel. As there were no means of stopping the quern, the ship sank with all on board and has never since been seen. And it is told that the devil said he did not regret the change of quern-owners, for thereby he had got six souls for one.

But of the first quern-owner, it is told that he had always riches and wealth enough after the loss of his quern and, at last, began to think of his future and the fare of his soul. So he took two orphan children, gave them teaching, and bequeathed them his fortune at his and his wife’s death, and they were fortunate and happy all their lives.

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