There was once a woman named Katcha who lived in a village where she owned her own cottage and garden. She had money besides but little good it did her because she was such an ill-tempered vixen that nobody, not even the poorest laborer, would marry her. Nobody would even work for her, no matter what she paid, for she couldn”t open her mouth without scolding, and whenever she scolded she raised her shrill voice until you could hear it a mile away. The older she grew the worse she became until by the time she was forty she was as sour as vinegar.
Now as it always happens in a village, every Sunday afternoon there was a dance either at the burgomaster”s, or at the tavern. As soon as the bagpipes sounded, the boys all crowded into the room and the girls gathered outside and looked in the windows. Katcha was always the first at the window. The music would strike up and the boys would beckon the girls to come in and dance, but no one ever beckoned Katcha. Even when she paid the piper no one ever asked her to dance. Yet she came Sunday after Sunday just the same.
One Sunday afternoon as she was hurrying to the tavern she thought to herself: “Here I am getting old and yet I've never once danced with a boy! Plague take it, today I'd dance with the devil if he asked me!”
She was in a fine rage by the time she reached the tavern, where she sat down near the stove and looked around to see what girls the boys had invited to dance.
Suddenly a stranger in hunter”s green came in. He sat down at a table near Katcha and ordered drink. When the serving maid brought the beer, he reached over to Katcha and asked her to drink with him. At first she was much taken back at this attention, then she pursed her lips coyly and pretended to refuse, but finally she accepted.
When they had finished drinking, he pulled a ducat from his pocket, tossed it to the piper, and called out:
“Clear the floor, boys! This is for Katcha and me alone!”
The boys snickered and the girls giggled hiding behind each other and stuffing their aprons into their mouths so that Katcha wouldn”t hear them laughing. But Katcha wasn”t noticing them at all. Katcha was dancing with a fine young man! If the whole world had been laughing at her, Katcha wouldn”t have cared.
The stranger danced with Katcha all afternoon and all evening. Not once did he dance with any one else. He bought her marzipan and sweet drinks and, when the hour came to go home, he escorted her through the village.
“Ah,” sighed Katcha when they reached her cottage and it was time to part, “I wish I could dance with you forever!”
“Very well,” said the stranger. “Come with me.”
“Where do you live?”
“Put your arm around my neck and I'll tell you.”
Katcha put both arms about his neck and instantly the man changed into a devil and flew straight down to hell.
At the gates of hell he stopped and knocked.
His comrades came and opened the gates and when they saw that he was exhausted, they tried to take Katcha off his neck. But Katcha held on tight and nothing they could do or say would make her budge.
The devil finally had to appear before the Prince of Darkness himself with Katcha still glued to his neck.
“What”s that thing you”ve got around your neck?” the Prince asked.
So the devil told how as he was walking about on earth he had heard Katcha say she would dance with the devil himself if he asked her. “So I asked her to dance with me,” the devil said. “Afterwards just to frighten her a little I brought her down to hell. And now she won”t let go of me!”
“Serve you right, you dunce!” the Prince said. “How often have I told you to use common sense when you go wandering around on earth! You might have known Katcha would never let go of a man once she had him!”
“I beg your Majesty to make her let go!” the poor devil implored.
“I will not!” said the Prince. “You”ll have to carry her back to earth yourself and get rid of her as best you can. Perhaps this will be a lesson to you.”
So the devil, very tired and very cross, shambled back to earth with Katcha still clinging to his neck. He tried every way to get her off. He promised her wooded hills and rich meadows if she but let him go. He cajoled her, he cursed her, but all to no avail. Katcha still held on.
Breathless and discouraged he came at last to a meadow where a shepherd, wrapped in a great shaggy sheepskin coat, was tending his flocks. The devil transformed himself into an ordinary looking man so that the shepherd didn”t recognize him.
“Hi, there,” the shepherd said, “what”s that you”re carrying?”
“Don”t ask me,” the devil said with a sigh. “I'm so worn out I'm nearly dead. I was walking yonder not thinking of anything at all when along comes a woman and jumps on my back and won”t let go. I'm trying to carry her to the nearest village to get rid of her there, but I don”t believe I'm able. My legs are giving out.”
The shepherd, who was a good-natured chap, said: “I tell you what: I'll help you. I can”t leave my sheep long, but I'll carry her halfway.”
“Oh,” said the devil, “I'd be very grateful if you did!”
So the shepherd yelled at Katcha: “Hi, there, you! Catch hold of me!”
When Katcha saw that the shepherd was a handsome youth, she let go of the devil and leapt upon the shepherd”s back, catching hold of the collar of his sheepskin coat.
Now the young shepherd soon found that the long shaggy coat and Katcha made a pretty heavy load for walking. In a few moments he was sick of his bargain and began casting about for some way of getting rid of Katcha.
Presently he came to a pond and he thought to himself that he”d like to throw her in. He wondered how he could do it. Perhaps he could manage it by throwing in his greatcoat with her. The coat was so loose that he thought he could slip out of it without Katcha”s discovering what he was doing. Very cautiously he slipped out one arm. Katcha didn”t move. He slipped out the other arm. Still Katcha didn”t move. He unlooped the first button. Katcha noticed nothing. He unlooped the second button. Still Katcha noticed nothing. He unlooped the third button and kerplunk! he had pitched coat and Katcha and all into the middle of the pond!
When he got back to his sheep, the devil looked at him in amazement.
“Where”s Katcha?” he gasped.
“Oh,” the shepherd said, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb, “I decided to leave her up yonder in a pond.”
“My dear friend,” the devil cried, “I thank you! You have done me a great favor. If it hadn”t been for you I might be carrying Katcha till doomsday. I'll never forget you and some time I'll reward you. As you don”t know who it is you”ve helped, I must tell you I'm a devil.”
With these words the devil vanished.
For a moment the shepherd was dazed. Then he laughed and said to himself: “Well, if they”re all as stupid as he is, we ought to be able for them!”
The country where the shepherd lived was ruled over by a dissolute young duke who passed his days in riotous living and his nights in carousing. He gave over the affairs of state to two governors who were as bad as he. With extortionate taxes and unjust fines they robbed the people until the whole land was crying out against them.
Now one day for amusement the duke summoned an astrologer to court and ordered him to read in the planets the fate of himself and his two governors. When the astrologer had cast a horoscope for each of the three reprobates, he was greatly disturbed and tried to dissuade the duke from questioning him further.
“Such danger,” he said, “threatens your life and the lives of your two governors that I fear to speak.”
“Whatever it is,” said the duke, “speak. But I warn you to speak the truth, for if what you say does not come to pass you will forfeit your life.”
The astrologer bowed and said: “Hear then, oh Duke, what the planets foretell: Before the second quarter of the moon, on such and such a day, at such and such an hour, a devil will come and carry off the two governors. At the full of the moon on such and such a day, at such and such an hour, the same devil will come for your Highness and carry you off to hell.”
The duke pretended to be unconcerned but in his heart he was deeply shaken. The voice of the astrologer sounded to him like the voice of judgment and for the first time conscience began to trouble him.
As for the governors, they couldn”t eat a bite of food and were carried from the palace half dead with fright. They piled their ill-gotten wealth into wagons and rode away to their castles, where they barred all the doors and windows in order to keep the devil out.
The duke reformed. He gave up his evil ways and corrected the abuses of state in the hope of averting if possible his cruel fate.
The poor shepherd had no inkling of any of these things. He tended his flocks from day to day and never bothered his head about the happenings in the great world.
Suddenly one day the devil appeared before him and said: “I have come, my friend, to repay you for your kindness. When the moon is in its first quarter, I was to carry off the former governors of this land because they robbed the poor and gave the duke evil counsel. However, they”re behaving themselves now so they”re to be given another chance. But they don”t know this. Now on such and such a day do you go to the first castle where a crowd of people will be assembled. When a cry goes up and the gates open and I come dragging out the governor, do you step up to me and say: “What do you mean by this? Get out of here or there”ll be trouble!” I'll pretend to be greatly frightened and make off. Then ask the governor to pay you two bags of gold, and if he haggles just threaten to call me back. After that go on to the castle of the second governor and do the same thing and demand the same pay. I warn you, though, be prudent with the money and use it only for good. When the moon is full, I'm to carry off the duke himself, for he was so wicked that he”s to have no second chance. So don”t try to save him, for if you do you”ll pay for it with your own skin. Don”t forget!”
The shepherd remembered carefully everything the devil told him. When the moon was in its first quarter he went to the first castle. A great crowd of people was gathered outside waiting to see the devil carry away the governor.
Suddenly there was a loud cry of despair, the gates of the castle opened, and there was the devil, as black as night, dragging out the governor. He, poor man, was half dead with fright.
The shepherd elbowed his way through the crowd, took the governor by the hand, and pushed the devil roughly aside.
“What do you mean by this?” he shouted. “Get out of here or there”ll be trouble!”
Instantly the devil fled and the governor fell on his knees before the shepherd and kissed his hands and begged him to state what he wanted in reward. When the shepherd asked for two bags of gold, the governor ordered that they be given him without delay.
Then the shepherd went to the castle of the second governor and went through exactly the same performance.
It goes without saying that the duke soon heard of the shepherd, for he had been anxiously awaiting the fate of the two governors. At once he sent a wagon with four horses to fetch the shepherd to the palace and when the shepherd arrived he begged him piteously to rescue him likewise from the devil”s clutches.
“Master,” the shepherd answered, “I cannot promise you anything. I have to consider my own safety. You have been a great sinner, but if you really want to reform, if you really want to rule your people justly and kindly and wisely as becomes a true ruler, then indeed I will help you even if I have to suffer hellfire in your place.”
The duke declared that with God”s help he would mend his ways and the shepherd promised to come back on the fatal day.
With grief and dread the whole country awaited the coming of the full moon. In the first place the people had greeted the astrologer”s prophecy with joy, but since the duke had reformed their feelings for him had changed.
Time sped fast as time does whether joy be coming or sorrow and all too soon the fatal day arrived.
Dressed in black and pale with fright, the duke sat expecting the arrival of the devil.
Suddenly the door flew open and the devil, black as night, stood before him. He paused a moment and then he said, politely:
“Your time has come, Lord Duke, and I am here to get you!”
Without a word the duke arose and followed the devil to the courtyard, which was filled with a great multitude of people.
At that moment the shepherd, all out of breath, came pushing his way through the crowd, and ran straight at the devil, shouting out:
“What do you mean by this? Get out of here or there”ll be trouble!”
“What do you mean?” whispered the devil. “Don”t you remember what I told you?”
“Hush!” the shepherd whispered back. “I don”t care anything about the duke. This is to warn you! You know Katcha? She”s alive and she”s looking for you!”
The instant the devil heard the name of Katcha he turned and fled.
All the people cheered the shepherd, while the shepherd himself laughed in his sleeve to think that he had taken in the devil so easily.
As for the duke, he was so grateful to the shepherd that he made him his chief counselor and loved him as a brother. And well he might, for the shepherd was a sensible man and always gave him sound advice.