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  • 9/8/2004

The Reward of Good Deeds

There was once a man who went into the woods to cut some firewood. He went from one tree to another, but they were all too good for his purpose, as they would make good timber if allowed to stand. At last he found a tree which seemed good for nothing; it was gnarled and partly decayed, so he began to hew away at it. But just as he began to cut, he heard a voice calling to him, "Help me out, my good man." And as he turned he saw a large viper that was caught in a cleft of the tree and could not free itself.

"No, I will not help you," said the man, "for you would harm me."
But the viper said that it would not hurt him, if he would only free it. Then the man put his axe into the cleft under the snake, and so freed it. But hardly was it free, when it coiled itself up, hissed, put out its tongue, and prepared to strike him.
"Did I not tell you," said the man, "that you were a rascal who would reward good with evil!"
"Yes," answered the viper, "you may well say that; but so it is in the world, that all good deeds are rewarded with evil."
"That is not true," said the man, "good deeds are rewarded with good."
"You will not find anybody to agree with you there," said the viper. "I know better how it goes in the world."
"Let us inquire about it," said the man.
"Very well," said the viper. So it did not bite him, but went with him through the forest until they came to an old, worn out horse that was grazing. It was lame, and blind in one eye, and had only a few broken teeth in its mouth. They asked him whether good deeds were rewarded with good, or with evil.
"They are rewarded with evil," said the horse. "For twenty years I have served my master faithfully; I have carried him on my back, and drawn his wagon, and have taken care not to stumble lest he fall. As long as I was young and strong, I had kind treatment; I had a good stall, and plenty of food, and was well curried. But now that I am old and weak, I must work in the treadmill the livelong day; I never have a roof to cover me, and all the food I have is what I get for myself. No, indeed, good deeds are rewarded only with evil."
"There now, you hear," said the viper, "Now I shall bite you."
"Oh, no! Wait a moment," said the man, "there comes the fox; let us ask him for his opinion." The fox came up and stopped and looked at them, for he saw that the man was in serious trouble. Then the viper asked the fox whether good deeds were rewarded with evil or with good.

"Say 'with good,'" whispered the man, "and I will give you two fat geese."
Then the fox said, "Good deeds are rewarded with good," and as he said that he jumped on the viper and bit its neck so that it fell to the ground. But as it was dying it insisted, "No, good deedsare rewarded with evil; that I have experienced, I, who spared the man's life, who has now cheated me out of mine."
Now the viper was dead and the man was free. Then he said to the fox, "Come home with me and get your geese."
"No, I thank you," said the fox, "I will not go to town, for there the dogs would get me."
"Then wait here until I come with the geese," said the man. He ran home and said to his wife, "Hasten and put two fat geese into a sack, for I have promised them to the fox for his breakfast today."
The woman took a sack and put something into it; but it was not geese she put in, but two fierce dogs.
The man then ran out with the bag to the fox, and said, "Here you have your reward."
"Thank you," said the fox, "then it was not a lie after all, what I said first -- that good deeds are rewarded with good." Then taking the bag on his back he ran off into the woods.
"That sack is heavy," said the fox, so he sat down and tore it open with his sharp teeth. But as he did so the two dogs leaped from the bag and fixed their teeth in his throat. There was no escape from them, so he was bitten to death, but not until he had said, "No, what I said first was a lie, after all; good deedsarerewarded with evil."

Source: Sven Grundtvig, Danish Fairy Tales, translated by J. Grant Cramer (Boston: Four Seas, 1919), pp. 113-115.

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