How a Man Stepped Into His Wife’s Shoes

An Estonian fairy tale, this version is from Tales of The Amber Sea, compiled and translated by Irina Zheleznova in 1974.

A nagging husband was always telling his wife what an easy time she had of it.

“I am in the field all day working like a mule,” he would say to her, While you loll about the house and fritter away the time. You do live in clover, I must say!”

Said his wife in reply one day:

“Well, then, why don’t you and I change places? I’ll go out to the field for the day and you’ll stay at home and take care of the house. Then we’ll see whose life is easier.”

The man was overjoyed.

“Good”” said he. “I’ll stay home and do the housework tomorrow and you’ll go out and mow the grass.”

The next day was a Saturday, and the wife prepared to go out to do the mowing while her husband stayed home in her place.

Before leaving, not being sure that he knew what to do, she explained his duties to him.

“When the shadow thrown off by a man gets to be two steps long I’ll come home for dinner, ” said she.

“Today is a Saturday, so make some porridge for dinner and churn some butter for it. Ad don’t forget to drive the cow out to pasture.”

The man only smiled.

“Don’t worry, I’ll manage. I know what to do.”

The wife went away and the husband lighted a pipe and bean to think what he should do for a start. Deciding to make the porridge first, he washed the cooking pot, filled it with water and put in the cereal.

All would have been well had not the pipe kept going out all the time, forcing him to interrupt his work and relight it again and again. Still, he did manage to start a fire under the pot, and he fanned the flames that the porridge might cook the faster.

The water in the pot soon began to gurgle and the man stood over it, and stirred the porridge to keep it from burning. He forgot all about the cow that, wanting to be let out of the cow-house, began to moo.

“By the time I take the cow out to pasture and comeback again, the porridge might burn,” thought the man. “I think I’d better add some water to it.”

He went to the well for water, brought it back and began pouring it in the pot, but before he could stop himself had poured in so much that it overflowed and put out the fire. There was nothing to do but start one anew, and as he was doing it the cow began mooing again louder than ever.

“You wait, I’ll let you out in a moment!” the man cried. “Just let me start the fire.”

But the wood was wet and refused to burn and he had to ad some chips to it before it caught firer at last. The cow was mooing loudly again, and the man was forced to go to her. He came up to the cow-house and said to himself:

“While I’m driving the cow out to pasture, either the porridge will burn or the fire till go out. I think I’ll tie the cow by the outhouse somewhere and let her pick at the grass that grows near it, it’s as nice and thick there as anywhere.”

And throwing a rope round the cow’s neck, the man led her to the outhouse, tied her there by the leg and himself went back again to cook the porridge.

As he was on his way to the kitchen he remembered that he had not yet churned the butter. So he went to the bard to get the sour-cream and the churn.

He began churning the butter, but feeling thirsty, threw down the spoon, jumped up and ran to the barn again were stood a barrel of kvass, forgetting in his haste to close the door to the kitchen. Now a sow and her seven piglets were out walking in the yard at the time. Seeing the door standing open, the sow decided to see what was behind it. She slipped into the kitchen and the seven piglets ran in after her.

The man saw them just when he had tipped the barrel of kvass and put his lips to it. Remembering that the bowl of sour-cream was standing on the kitchen floor, he jumped up and rushed to the house, leaving the barrel tap open.

He ran into the kitchen and what did he see but the sow sloshing the sour-cream over the floor. Snatching up a log, he flung it at the sow and struck her on the snout, and the sow fell flat on her back and died. The man flew into a rage, drove the piglets out of th kitchen and dragged the dead sow out into the yard.

All of a sudden it came to him that he had left the barrel tap open. He rushed into the barn only to find the barrel empty and the floor flooded with kvass. What was he to do?

He looked round the barn to see if there was any more sour-cream left to make butter of and, finding some, set to work when it suddenly occurred to him that the empty barrel might crack as it dried.

He ran to the well for water, but, fearing that one of the other animals might get into the kitchen, took the churn with him. He put it on the edge of the well and letting down the pail knocked it against the churn which fell into the well with a splash!

A fine kettle of fish this had turned out to be! Now that the sour-cream was in the well, there was no way of getting it out again and they would have to do without butter.

As he was filling the barrel with water the man remembered the porridge. A smell of something burning came from the kitchen.

Said the man, trhing to comfort himself:

“The smell doesn’t really matter. The important thing is for the porridge to taste good.”

He tried the porridge and decided that it was passable and if butter were added to it would be quite good. So off he went to the barn again to see if there wasn’t some butter of the old stock left over. He looked but found nothing. At last, seeing a large barrel, he thought that his wife might have put a jug of butter in it. He bent over the edge of the barrel to see and fell in head first!

Now, as it happened, there was flour on the bottom of the barrel, and it made the man sneeze again and again. He badly wanted to climb out of the barrel, but struggle hard as he would, could not.

The wife came home for dinner. she bagan looking for her husband but did not see him anywhere.

The sow lay in the yard, dead, the kitchen floor was sticky with sour-cream, the cow was stretched out by the outhouse, her leg broken, and the porridge in the pot was burnt to a cinder, but he was nowhere to be found.

Off went the wife to the barn, she looked in the barrel, and lo! – there he was. She helped him out of it and shook the flour off him and she had the good sense not to scold him for having made such a mess of things. She tidied everything, cooked some more porridge, had some herself and fed her husband, and thus the day ended.

From that day on the man nagged his wife no more and never said that she had an easier time of it than he.

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