In a little village that stood on a wide plain, where you could see the sun from the moment he rose to the moment he set, there lived two couples side by side. The men, who worked under the same master, were quite good friends, but the wives were always quarrelling, and the subject they quarrelled most about was — which of the two had the stupidest husband.
Unlike most women — who think that anything that belongs to them must be better than what belongs to anyone else — each thought her husband the more foolish of the two.
‘You should just see what he does!’ one said to her neighbour. ‘He puts on the baby’s frock upside down, and, one day, I found him trying to feed her with boiling soup, and her mouth was scalded for days after. Then he picks up stones in the road and sows them instead of potatoes, and one day he wanted to go into the garden from the top window, because he declared it was a shorter way than through the door.’
‘That is bad enough, of course,’ answered the other; ‘but it is really NOTHING to what I have to endure every day from MY husband. If, when I am busy, I ask him to go and feed the poultry, he is certain to give them some poisonous stuff instead of their proper food, and when I visit the yard next I find them all dead. Once he even took my best bonnet, when I had gone away to my sick mother, and when I came back I found he had given it to the hen to lay her eggs in. And you know yourself that, only last week, when I sent him to buy a cask of butter, he returned driving a hundred and fifty ducks which someone had induced him to take, and not one of them would lay.’
‘Yes, I am afraid he IS trying,’ replied the first; ‘but let us put them to the proof, and see which of them is the most foolish.’
So, about the time that she expected her husband home from work, she got out her spinning-wheel, and sat busily turning it, taking care not even to look up from her work when the man came in. For some minutes he stood with his mouth open watching her, and as she still remained silent, he said at last:
‘Have you gone mad, wife, that you sit spinning without anything on the wheel?’
‘YOU may think that there is nothing on it,’ answered she, ‘but I can assure you that there is a large skein of wool, so fine that nobody can see it, which will be woven into a coat for you.’
‘Dear me!’ he replied, ‘what a clever wife I have got! If you had not told me I should never have known that there was any wool on the wheel at all. But now I really do seem to see something.’
The woman smiled and was silent, and after spinning busily for an hour more, she got up from her stoop, and began to weave as fast as she could. At last she got up, and said to her husband: ‘I am too tired to finish it to-night, so I shall go to bed, and to- morrow I shall only have the cutting and stitching to do.’
So the next morning she got up early, and after she had cleaned her house, and fed her chickens, and put everything in its place again, she bent over the kitchen table, and the sound of her big scissors might be heard snip! snap! as far as the garden. Her husband could not see anything to snip at; but then he was so stupid that was not surprising!