You know, I grew up in an area that used to be inhabited by mound-building Native American tribes. It’s an interesting piece of American history, but mound builders have come from all over the world at various points in history. What this story is talking about is not a Native American burial mound, but the mound of dirt that would be over your grave after a fresh burial. I don’t think modern grave yards do this, but you used to have a mound over your grave until the rain beat it down.
Once upon a time there was a rich man who had many things. He had a great iron chest full of his riches. He profited in everything. He had plenty of food. He had a nice house. He had nice things. One night while sitting among his worldly possessions there was a knock. It was not a knock at the door of his house, but a knock to the door of his heart. He answered. The voice asked him why he had not imparted any of his wealth to the poor or needy. The man had to admit that he had been very greedy with his excess. It shocked him to know that he was such a stingy person.
Not long after, there was a real knock at the door of the house. The man opened it and there was a poor man. The man prefaced his plea knowing that the rich man usually did not give anything away, but he thought he would try anyway. The poor man asked to borrow four measures of corn. The rich man remembered what he had realized about himself and instead told the man that he would not lend him four measures of corn, but give him eight measures of corn. There was a condition though, if the man died the poor man must watch over his grave mound for three nights. The poor man thought this was a strange condition and it did freak him out a little, but he consented.
As it turns out, the rich man was a bit prophetic and he died three days later. The poor man didn’t like the idea of sitting by a grave all night, but did so anyway. The first night, nothing happened. The second night, nothing happened. The third night the man met another man in the churchyard. The man was old and battle-scarred. The poor man told him that if he was brave to stay the night and guard the grave with him. The old soldier complied because he didn’t know what fear was just as the youth who went out into the world to learn fear. Soldiers were best at guarding things.
They stayed for a while guarding, until just after midnight, when they heard a whistle and perceived the evil one. The evil one tried to chase them away saying that the man in the grave belonged to him, but they would not leave. The soldier said that the devil was not his captain and he would not obey him. The devil thought money might do the trick and went into town to find some money.
Meanwhile, the soldier took off one of his boots, cut the bottom out and put it over a hole in the ground because the devil had promised enough money to fill one of the soldiers boots. The devil came back with the money and he poured and poured it into the boot, but the boot never filled up. The devil told the man he should be ashamed to have such big calves. The devil ran out of money and had to go out and get more. He was gone for a while. The devil returned straining under a large weight of gold. The devil starting filling the boot again, which would not fill up, but as he was doing so the first rays of the sun broke over the horizon. The devil fled from the light.
The poor man wanted to divide the gold with the soldier, but the soldier told the poor man to give his lot to the poor. The soldier then went with the poor man to live out his days.
I liked this story. I think it’s sweet actually, even though it does involve the devil and a battle-scarred soldier.
Notice that this story references a previous Grimm’s fairy tale The Youth who Went Forth to Learn what Fear Was. That means that A) the other tale predated this tale and B) these tales were circulating around each other and inspiring other stories.
I really liked how the soldier put his boot over a hold and kept getting more gold and more gold. That’s clever and great.
Why does the devil have to go looking for money? Shouldn’t he just be able to conjure money up from somewhere like those guys who can pull coins out of your ears?
I already talked about the grave mound. Freshly dug graves used to have a large mound on the top, like I said. I think current grave diggers do something with the extra dirt. I live near two memorial gardens and neither one has mounds over fresh graves. In fact, I think they even put sod right down over new graves right away so you can’t tell anyone has been recently buried. I guess it’s just another way we try to distance ourselves from the idea of death.
Let’s get to the good stuff. This rich man had a change of heart. He had been greedy but realized his wealth was helping no one else. He resolved to help the first person he saw. He gave this man twice as much corn as he asked for. He did ask for a favor in return for his generosity.
This man wasn’t all bad. He had his heart softened and he was able to help this poor man out, not once, but twice. By keeping watch over the man’s grave the peasant not only kept the Devil from taking his soul, he acquired enough money to provide for himself for a long time. He also earned a friend. I really like that this one good deed on the rich man’s part led to so much more goodness on the poor man’s part. We have to consider that if we have more, just a little bit of that excess can go so far with someone who isn’t used to so much.
One little thought, one little word, and, yes, even one twenty-dollar bill can change another person’s life. It really may seem like such an insignificant thing on our parts, but it can be so big to someone who is looking for a blessing. It can mean so much. So the next time you kind of get that feeling that you should do this small insignificant thing for another person, don’t ignore it. Go with it. You may never known what it meant to the other person, but you helped in some way.
I like this story, a lot. Darn devil, doesn’t he know that the soldier has muscular calves?