Once there was a young farmer who could not make a living with his farm. One day he was sitting on his
plow resting for a moment and wiping the sweat from his brow. Right then an ugly old witch came walking
by and spoke to him asking: "Why are you tormenting yourself with a farm that brings no profit? Get up
and walk straight down this road for two days until you come to a big fir tree that is standing all alone in
the forest, a tree that is taller than all the others. If you cut it down, you will be the luckiest person in the
Without hesitating, the farmer did as he was told, took his axe and started off. Two days later he found the
fir tree. He immediately started to cut it down and at the moment it fell and slammed against the ground a
nest with two eggs in it fell from the top branches of the tree. The eggs rolled onto the ground and broke
open and out of one came an eaglet and from the other a little golden ring. The eaglet grew quickly until it
stood as high as a man's waist, then it fluttered its wings and, as if testing them, it lifted off the ground
and at the same time called out:
"You saved my life! Take the ring that is in the other egg as a sign of my gratitude. With it you can make a
wish for whatever you want. If you rotate the ring on your finger and when making your wish it will soon be
fulfilled. But the ring is only good for one wish. Once you wish is made the ring will have lost its magic power
and just be an ordinary ring. So think carefully what you want lest you regret it later on.
With that the eagle took flight and flew in wide circles high overhead and then shot off like an arrow.
The farmer took the ring, put it on his finger and started for home. When it was evening he came a town
where he saw a goldsmith in his shop and the many precious rings he was selling. The farmer showed him
his ring and asked how much it was worth. "Next to nothing! answered the goldsmith. Then the farmer
laughed out loud and told him that it was a wishing ring and was more valuable than all his rings put
together. Now the goldsmith was a dishonest, deceitful man. He invited the farmer to stay with him
overnight and said "It will bring me good luck if I accommodate someone like you who has such a treasure.
Stay here with me! The goldsmith showed the farmer great hospitality with wine and compliments but when
he was asleep that night he stole the ring from off his finger and substituted it with a similar, ordinary ring.
Next morning the goldsmith could hardly wait for the farmer to depart. He woke him in the very early and
said: "You have a long way to go. It would be best for you get on the road as soon as possible."
And as soon as the farmer had departed the goldsmith went into his room, closed the shutters so that no
one could see him, locked the door behind him and sat down in the middle of the room, rotated the ring on
his finger and said out loud: "I want to have a hundred thousand thalers here and now."
Hardly had he spoken these words when it started to rain thalers, hard, shiny thalers and they came down
by the bucketfuls and the coins bounced off his head, shoulders and arms. He began to scream painfully
and headed for the door, but before he could get there and unlock it he fell to the floor, his body bruised
covered with blood. But the rain of thalers would not stop and soon the floor caved in under the enormous
weight, and the goldsmith together with all his money plunged down into cellar. But it kept on raining coins
until all the hundred thousand thalers were there, and in the end the goldsmith lay dead on the floor with all
the money on top of him. On hearing the loud commotion the neighbors came running to the goldsmith's
house, and when they found him dead under all the coins they said: "What a great misfortune it is when
blessings come all at once and in such abundance." After that the heirs came and divided up the money.
Meanwhile, the farmer returned home and was happy at heart and showed his wife the ring. "Now there will
be nothing we lack, my dear", he said. "Our happiness is guaranteed. All we have to do is consider carefully
what we would like to have."
Right away his wife had some advice for him. "How would it be," she said, "if we wished for a bit more land?
We have so little space. A little strip of land between our fields; that would be a good choice."
"That is something we can strive for", replied her husband. "If we work hard for a year and have some luck
we could maybe buy some land." So they worked hard all that year and when harvest time came there was
so much to bring in that they were able to buy the land and even had some money left over. "Do you see
how it is!" said the husband, "we have what we want and still have our wish to make."
Then his wife thought that it would be a good idea if they wished for a cow and maybe a horse. "My dear",
answered her husband as he jangled the remaining coins in his pocket, "why should we sacrifice our wish for
something so trivial? We can get a cow and a horse without any trouble."
And so it was, for in the span of a year they had earned more than enough to buy a horse and a cow. The
farmer rubbed his hands together triumphantly and said: "We have saved our wish for yet another year and
have everything we want. How fortunate we are!" But his wife urged him in all seriousness to finally make
the magic wish.
"You have changed so much recently", his wife said angrily. "In the past you always growned and
complained and had wishes for this and that, but now, when you have the chance to fulfill them you
stammer and stall and say you are satisfied and let the best years of your life pass by. King, Kaiser, Count
— you could be a prosperous farmer with barrels of money — and now you can't make up your mind what
"Stop your ceaseless coaxing and nagging", replied the farmer. "We are both young and life is long. We
have only one wish to make, not two. Who knows what our future will bring, and maybe we will need the
wish later on. Are we lacking anything right now? Ever since we have had that ring have we have been
getting along so well that all our neighbours are astonished with our success? Come now, be reasonable. In
the meantime you can spend your time thinking about what would be the best wish for us."
"With that the matter was decided, at least for a time being. For it was a fact that along with that ring a
great blessing had come upon their house because every year the barns and storerooms filling up more and
more, and as the years went by the poor farmer had really become a wealthy man. But he still worked
alongside his farmhands like he always had, although there was no need to. And when work was over he
would sit in front of his house contented and satisfied and the passers-by would tip their hats to him.
So the years went by. Every so often when they were alone and no one could hear they talking, the
farmer's wife would make a remark about the ring and then make some suggestions. But because her
husband always said that there was still time and that the best ideas always come at the end, she gradually
stopped bothering him and almost forgot about the ring. It is true that the farmer rotated the ring on his
finger twenty times a day and would look at it intently, but he was always careful not to make a wish.
And so thirty and then forty years passed and the farmer and his wife were now old and gray and still they
had never made their wish. It was then that the Good Lord did them the favor of letting them die in their
Their children and their grandchildren stood around their caskets and wept, and when one of them wanted
to take off the ring and keep it, the eldest son said:
"Let our father be buried with the ring on his finger. All his life there was something mysterious about it. It
is a fitting tribute. Remember how our mother would often take out that ring and look at it; for all we know
she might have given it to our father when they were young."
And so the old farmer was buried wearing the ring that was supposed to be a wishing ring and never was,
but one that had brought much more happiness into their lives than one could ever wish for. For it is up to
the person who possesses something to know what to do with it. A bad thing in good hands is still of much
more value than a good thing in bad. —
|The Wishing Ring
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides