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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Traditional Legend

The Fortunate Shepherd

From Hrase’s Collection

ONE day, when the Lord was walking upon earth with Saint Peter, they met a shepherd tending his sheep. They were both hungry, and so they asked the shepherd to give them some food, adding that God would reward him. The shepherd did not know to whom he was speaking, but he had a good heart. He drew from his wallet a large piece of bread, which he had kept for his own evening meal, and gave it to them.

“Eat,” said he, “and may God bless you, for hunger is a bitter thing.”

The Lord and Saint Peter ate heartily. When their hunger was appeased, the Lord said to the shepherd:

“I thank you. You are a good man. You gave us your last morsel of bread, at the risk of going hungry yourself. Such a good act deserves to be rewarded. We will do all we can to leave you a token of it. Make three wishes, and all three shall be granted. But reflect carefully, lest some day you regret your choice.”

The shepherd was a great smoker; his first wish was for a fine pipe, always lit, and never having to be refilled. Scarcely had he uttered this wish, than he held in his hand a superb pipe, over which floated a bluish haze of smoke.

“And your second wish?” asked the Lord.

The shepherd reflected. Saint Peter approached him and silently pointed toward heaven. The shepherd paid no attention. Either he did not understand, or he preferred to stay here below. He remembered that he was fond of playing at dice, and that he had had but little luck at the game.

“I wish,” said he, after a moment, “always to be a winner at dice.”

“It shall be according to your wish,” said the Lord. “And now the third?”

Saint Peter made signs to the shepherd, and pointed to heaven, as before; but it was in vain.

“I wish,” said the shepherd, “to have a bag into which I can force any one to go, and keep him there till I allow him to come out.”

The Lord consented. Saint Peter was angry. “Some day,” he thought, “you will ask for salvation, and then it will be too late.”

Suddenly the Lord and Saint Peter disappeared. At first the shepherd believed that he had been fooled by a dream; but he saw the fine pipe, and at his side the bag made of beautiful new leather. That put him into a good humor. He left his sheep, and went out into the world. He went to the right, he went to the left. Everywhere he played dice, and since he was always winner his pockets were always full of money. One day he came to a castle of which strange things were related. Strange, fearful noises arose in it at night, so that the whole house shook. The master of the castle was a rich knight. He had it announced everywhere that he would give a great sum to any one who would restore peace to his castle. Many came and tried, but no one succeeded. The shepherd conceived the idea of trying. The knight received him well, and had him led to the chamber where most of the horrors took place. Food and drink were given him, and he waited quite happily.

At the stroke of midnight a loud noise arose. Something fell from the ceiling: it was a human foot! It walked toward the shepherd.

“Ah, ah,” sneered the shepherd, “why do you come alone? Where have you left your companion?”

Another noise arose. Crack! a second foot tumbled down.

“Where there are feet there must be hands, and where there are hands, the rest of the body cannot be far behind.”

He had hardly uttered these words when a hand fell down, then another, then two sides of a trunk, and then a head. All the bones joined themselves together, and a complete skeleton stood before the shepherd.

“If that’s the whole business,” said the latter, “and nothing worse comes, I need not be afraid.”

He had not finished these words when the skeleton began to move. The shepherd had not time to bethink himself—a devil stood before him. The first instant he was afraid; but he soon came to himself again, and began observing what the devil was going to do.

First of all the latter made a commotion that shook the whole house.

“We will play at dice,” said the skeleton; “look out that you win. If you lose, you are a dead man, like all the others who have ventured here before you.”

“Very well, very well,” said the shepherd.

And so they started to play, the shepherd always winning. The devil became furious. Hoping to retrieve himself, he threw a heap of ducats on the table. He lost all. Enraged, he sprang upon the shepherd, intending to strangle him. The latter remained unmoved, and merely cried, “Into the bag with you!” And there was the devil in the bag. He cried, groaned, threatened—all in vain. He had to remain in the bag. The shepherd lay down quietly, and slept till morning.

On the following night he was at his post. This time two devils fell from the ceiling, invited the shepherd to play, lost their money to him, tried to strangle him, and were promptly clapped into the bag. The following night three devils came, one of whom was Satan in person. They fared no better, and also ended in the bag. On the fourth night nobody came.

The shepherd went to the master of the castle, who was deeply astonished. At first the shepherd’s story was not believed, but he showed the horns and splay hoofs of the devils sticking out of the bag, and that was irrefutable proof. The devils were carried to the nearest smithy, and were there beaten and hammered by ten strong fellows. The devils begged and prayed for their liberty. At last the men got so tired beating them that the devils were released after they had sworn all manner of infernal oaths never to return. From that time on they were seen no more.

Nothing was now lacking to our shepherd. He had received magnificent presents, and had won an immense fortune from the devils. He lived very happily. But one fine morning Death, who forgets no one, paid him a visit. The shepherd was not thinking of death; for those who are happy do not want to die.

He received Death rudely. The latter became insistent, and was clapped into the bag.

“Let me go,” said Death; “I promise to spare you.”

But the shepherd was not to be moved.

Then strange things came to pass. No one died. Men and beasts accumulated like moss in the woods. Everybody asked what had become of Death. Then came a great famine, and men perished without dying. The shepherd pitied their misery. He let Death go, after exacting an oath never to seek him out again.

He lived long thereafter, without any care. But at last he grew weary of life, and resolved to start for heaven. He traveled for a long time, and at last arrived at the gate of paradise. He knocked. Saint Peter appeared.

“Who are you, traveler?” he asked through the wicket of the gate.

“A good man. Let me in.”

But Saint Peter recognized the shepherd.

“Impossible. You have no business here. You forgot heaven, and preferred temporal goods. I cannot give you what you have despised. Seek those with whom you have played at dice.”

And Saint Peter closed the wicket.

The poor shepherd started out on the road to hell.

When he came to the door he met one of the devils whom he had beaten. This fellow raised such an alarm that the whole of hell broke loose. The guards at the gates were doubled, in order that the enemy might not enter. What was to be done now? You may well believe that our shepherd was embarrassed.

He thought it best to return to heaven and try to soften Saint Peter’s heart. He shed tears, said prayers, omitted nothing to get salvation. The gatekeeper was finally moved, let the shepherd enter, and assigned him a place near himself. And since then, whenever Saint Peter sleeps, it is the shepherd who performs his duties.