Bedtime Stories

Clever Manka

Long ago in Ceskoslovensko, there lived a wealthy farmer who was always getting the best of his poor neighbors. One of these neighbors was a very poor shepherd, whose only delight in the world was his very clever and very beautiful daughter, Manka.

Now, the shepherd had done some work for the farmer, who had promised him a calf in return. However, the rich farmer would not give the shepherd the calf.

So the shepherd went before the mayor of the town with his problem. The mayor, who was new at the job, said to the shepherd, “I will ask both you and the farmer a riddle. Whoever answers correctly gets the calf.”

The mayor first turned to the farmer. “This is my riddle,” he said. “What is the fastest thing in the world? What is the sweetest thing? And what is the richest thing?”

The rich farmer, who was a very proud man, smiled, for he thought he knew the correct answers. “The fastest thing is my gray mare, for nothing can pass her. My honey is the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted. And the chest of gold coins that I’ve been saving has to be the richest.” 

As the farmer spoke, clever Manka told her father, the shepherd, how to respond. When it was the shepherd’s turn, he said, “The fastest thing is thought, for it can run any distance in no time at all. The sweetest thing is sleep, when one is sad and tired. And the richest thing is the ground, for out of it come all the riches of the world.”

“What fine answers,” the mayor said to the shepherd. “The shepherd gets the calf!”After the farmer had trudged away, disappointed that he had lost his calf, the mayor turned to the shepherd. “Tell me, you shepherd, how did you know the answers?”

The shepherd confessed that it was his clever and beautiful daughter, Manka, who had known the answers.

The mayor turned to Manka and said, “I think I would like to marry you. Please come see me tomorrow. But come neither at day nor at night, neither riding nor walking, and neither clothed nor unclothed.”

So the next day Manka went to the mayor at dawn, when the night was done and the day hadn’t yet come. She wrapped herself in a fishnet and came with one leg on a goat’s back and one leg on the road. The mayor smiled at Manka’s cleverness. It wasn’t day or night, a fishnet is not clothing, and she neither rode nor walked. Pleased that she was so clever, the mayor married Manka that very day. Now the mayor and Manka had been married for a short time when the mayor said, “Manka, you cannot use your cleverness to meddle with any of the cases I must judge. If you ever give advice to someone who comes to me, I’ll put you out of my house and send you home to your father.”

Manka did as she was asked for quite some time. One day a man came out of the mayor’s house looking very sad. Manka, who had a kind heart, asked the man what was troubling him.

“I have just been telling the mayor my problem,” the man said. “I am a farmer. I once owned a mare who had her foal in the market. The foal ran underneath another farmer’s wagon. That farmer then claimed that it was his foal. I came to the mayor hoping to get my foal back.”

“And did he give you your foal?” Manka asked.

“No, he didn’t,” the farmer said. “He was thinking of something else while I told him my troubles. And without even listening, he gave the foal to the other farmer.”

Manka was sad that this farmer had lost the foal that was rightfully his. And she was angry that her husband, the mayor, had not made a wise choice in this case. So she decided to use her cleverness to help the farmer, even though her husband had told her not to .”Come inside for some tea and I will tell you how to get your foal,” said Manka. “Come back this afternoon with your fishing pole. Sit in front of our house, casting the fishing line onto the dry, dusty road. When the mayor asks how you expect to catch fish on a dry, dusty road, answer him in this way: Tell him that it’s as easy to catch fish on a dry, dusty road as it is for a wagon to have a foal. But you must not tell him that I told you to do this.”

That afternoon, the farmer came back to the mayor’s house with his fishing pole. He cast the line onto the dry, dusty road. When the mayor saw this, he asked, “Why are you fishing on the dry, dusty road? Are you crazy?”The farmer replied, “It is as easy to fish on a dry, dusty road as it is for a wagon to have a foal.”

The mayor realized that he had been wrong and said, “Of course that foal belongs to you. But tell me, who was clever enough to tell you to do this?”

The farmer forgot what Manka had asked him and blurted out her name. This made the mayor very angry.

The mayor went inside and said to Manka, “Do you remember what I told you about giving advice to those who come to me? You must go back to live with your father, but you may take the one thing that you like the best from my house.” With that, the mayor went to bed.The next morning, the mayor awoke to find himself somewhere other than his own bed and own house. He looked around and rubbed his eyes. He was in the poor shepherd’s small cottage!

Seeing Manka standing before him, the mayor asked, “What have you done, taking me from my own house?”

Manka smiled and replied, “You told me that I could take the one thing that I liked the best from your house. And because I love you with all my heart, I took you. That is why you are here in my father’s cottage.”

The mayor thought about this for a moment and then began to laugh and laugh. “Manka,” he said, “you are far more clever than I am. Let’s go home.”

From that day forth, the mayor always accepted clever Manka’s advice whenever he had a case that was particularly difficult or puzzling.

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