How an Old Man Waited for Death

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

There was once a farmer who had many children. Time passed and his sons and daughters were all married, and the oldest son and his wife waited for him to give them his farm. But the old man was still strong and had no wish to give up farming.

Still, he did have thoughts of death and knew that sooner or later the farm would pass into his son’s hands.

So off he went to see a sage and learn from him how many years of life were left to him.

The sage looked at the old man and said :

“You’ll know your death has come when you have sneezed three times.”

Much saddened, the old man went off home. On he walked and all he thought about was how to keep from sneezing.

He had only just come into his own front yard, when he suddenly felt a tickling in his nose and gave a great sneeze!

“O Heavens me, I’ve only two more sneezes left! ” sighed the old man.

On the following day he went to the mill to grind grain. The dust there got into his nose and he sneezed again.

“There is nothing to be done! ” sighed the old man. “I have one last sneeze left and then my end will come.”

And out he ran from the mill so as not to sneeze for the third and last time. But the flour was ready and had to be taken away. So back he came inside again, threw the sack of flour over his shoulder and made for the door.

By that time his nose was full of dust and the old man felt that he was going to sneeze. He tried not to but could not stop himself.

“A-tishoo! ” went he.

“O Heavens me, here am I dead! ” sighed the old man, and, dropping his sack, stretched himself out on the ground.

Seeing the sack of flour, the miller’s hogs came running up and began tearing at it.

The old man looked at them and sighed.

“You villains you! ” thought he. “Were I alive I’d have shown you, but what can a dead man do! “

Just then the miller came out into the yard. What was his surprise when he saw the hogs tearing at the sack of flour while its owner lay there and did nothing.

“What are you doing? ” asked he.

Said the old man in reply:

“Why, just lying here, of course! What else can I do now that I’m dead? Were I alive I’d have driven off your hogs. Do me a favour, will you, and drive them off for me.”

The miller was more surprised than ever.

“Oh, so you’re dead! ” said he. “How very sad that is.”

He took a whip and began flogging the hogs and he sent the whip flying over the old man’s back, too.

Up jumped the old man from the ground.

“Thank you for bringing me back to life,” said he. “If it weren’t for you I’d be dead still.”

With this he heaved the sack of flour on to a wagon and drove home. And he won’t hear about dying to this day!

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