Turkish: The Imp of the Well

To see all the illustrations for this story, you can read the online edition of the book at Internet Archive: The Imp of the Well.

In the same way that stories sometimes have a formulaic ending (like at the end of the Fish-Peri tale, where the storyteller says "Three apples fell from the sky: one belongs to me, another to Husni, the third to the storyteller. Which belongs to me?"), this story starts off with a formulaic about a miller and his cat, just to set the mood. The actual story will be about the woodcutter who, the storyteller tells us, lives near the miller and that cat.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Turkish Fairy Tales unit. Story source: Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales by Ignacz Kunos, with illustrations by Willy Pogany (1913).

The Imp of the Well

THE incident I am going to relate happened a very long time ago. We were on a journey, and we went up hill and down dale six months without interruption, and on looking backward, we found we had travelled the length of a barley-stalk. Setting off again, we wandered on until we came to the garden of the Padishah of Chinimatchin.

We entered; there stood a miller grinding meal, a cat by his side. The cat — oh, its eyes! The cat — oh, its nose! The cat — oh, its mouth! The cat — oh, its forelegs! The cat oh, its hind-legs! The cat — oh, its throat! The cat — oh, its ears! The cat — oh, its whiskers! The cat — oh, its long tail!

Nearby lived a woodcutter who, besides his poverty, had nothing but a most cantankerous wife. All the money this poor man earned, his wife took from him, so that he had never a single para for himself. When the supper was too salt — and this happened very often — if the man dared to say, "You have oversalted the food, mother!" he might be quite certain that the next day there would not be so much as a pinch of salt in it. Now if he dared to say, "You have forgotten the salt, mother!" on the following day it would be so salty that he would be unable to eat it.

It once happened to this poor man that he kept back a piastre from his wages, intending to buy a rope. His wife found this out and began to scold him furiously.

"But, my dear," said the woodcutter gently, "I only wanted the money to buy a rope. Do not be so violent."

"What I have done to you hitherto is as nothing to what I intend to do," snapped the woman and sprang at him, whereon a great uproar ensued, and how either escaped with their life is more than I can understand.

Next morning the husband, determined to endure it no longer, saddled an ass and went into the mountains.

All he said to his wife was that she must not follow him. He had not been gone long, however, before she also got upon an ass and set off after him.

"Who knows," she mumbled to herself, "what he will be up to if I am not with him?"

Presently the man became aware that his wife was behind him, but he pretended not to notice her. When he arrived in the mountains, he immediately set to work woodcutting. The woman walked to and fro restlessly, examining every nook and corner; only an old well escaped her vigilant eye, and she was upon it before anyone could have stopped her.

"Take care!" shouted her husband; "mind the well! Come back!" But the woman paid no heed to the warning, though she heard well enough. Another step, she last her balance, then presto! she found herself at the bottom of the well. Her husband, deciding she was not worth troubling about further, bestrode his ass and went home.

Next day he returned to his work in the mountains and, thinking of his wife, he said to himself: "I will just see what has happened to the poor woman."

Going to the top of the well, he peeped down, but could see no trace of her. He now repented his unfeeling conduct of the previous day, reflecting that, though a shrew, she was after all his wife. What could have become of her?

He took a rope, let it down the well, and shouted: "Take hold of the rope, mother, and I will pull you up." Presently the man perceived by the tightening of the rope that someone had grasped it, and he commenced to haul with all his might.

He pulled away until he was nearly exhausted and brought to the surface — a horrible imp! The miserable woodcutter was terribly frightened.

"Fear me not, poor man," said the imp. "May the Almighty bless you for your deed. You have rescued me from great peril, and I shall always remember your kindness." Astounded, the poor man inquired the nature of the peril from which he had chanced to rescue the imp.

"For many years," answered the imp, "I had lived peacefully in this old well. Until last night, nothing had ever happened to disturb the calm of my existence. Then an old woman fell down upon me. She seized me by the ears, and held on so tightly that I could not free myself from her grasp. By good fortune, when you let down the rope, I was the first to seize it — praised be the most merciful Allah! For your kindness I will reward you."

So saying, the imp brought forth three leaves and gave them to the woodcutter. "I will now creep into the Sultan's daughter," he proceeded. "She will then become very ill. They will send for physicians and hodjas, but all will be in vain. When you hear of it, go to the Padishah and produce these three leaves. As soon as you touch her face with them, I will come out of her; she will be restored to health, and you will be richly rewarded."

The woodcutter, who considered this a capital plan, now parted from the imp, and gave no further thought to his wife in the well.

(900 words)

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