folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1343
(formerly Aarne-Thompson type 1066)
translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
Some years ago, when driving past a gallows standing in a field at Melton Ross, an old man told me a curious tale. He said, "Some hundred of years ago, three or four boys were playing at hanging, and seeing who could hang the longest in a tree. Just as one of them got up and put the noose on, a three-legged hare (the devil, sir) came limping past, and off the other lads ran after him, and forgot their comrade. They very nearly caught the hare several times, but he got away. And when they came back the lad in the tree was dead. That's what the gallows was put up for."
In Damsdorf many years ago a number of boys were herding cattle in a field. One Sunday morning Farmer Bruhnke was suddenly overcome by an uncanny fear, and he rushed out to the field to see what the herders were doing. He had scarcely left the village when a little man came his way who asked him where he was going. Bruhnke told him, and the little man replied that he had just passed the boys, who were passing the time by playing a game.
Bruhnke was relieved, but as he took leave of the little man, he noticed that the latter had a hen's foot. He ran as fast as his feet would carry him to the herding place, but it was too late. The head of one of the herders was already dancing on the ground.
The boys had wanted to see how beheading went. To this end they built themselves an actual guillotine, fastening an old blade from a straw cutter onto a platform to serve as an ax. They all tried it, but just as they tied the last one to the block, a three-legged hare came limping by, and the boys ran after it, completely forgetting their comrade and the cattle. The prisoner tried to free himself of his bonds, but his motions released the blade, and the unfortunate boy paid for his game with his life.
At that same moment a magnificent bird with glistening feathers flew out of the willow tree. The boys who first saw it chased after it, and the others heard music that was so seductively tempting that they ran to the place where the sound seemed to be coming from. When both groups disappointedly returned to the meadow, their comrade was hanging motionless from the cord.
One of them said to the others, "I'll back myself to make that girl laugh," and a supper was at once staked by both sides on the result.
Our hero then ran out in front of the pony, and kept on shouting "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!" at the same time pulling out from over the top of a wall a stalk of millet, to which he attached his own waistband, and tying the latter round his neck, made a pretence of hanging himself.
The young lady did laugh as she passed by, to the great amusement of the assembled company; but as when she was already some distance off their friend did not move, the others laughed louder than ever. However, on going up to him they saw that his tongue protruded, and that his eyes were glazed; he was, in fact, quite dead.
Was it not strange that a man should be able to hang himself on a millet stalk?
It is a good warning against practical joking.
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Revised July 12, 2014.