Translated by: Antonia Lloyd Jones
In the town of Taydarayda there once lived a tailor by the name of Mr Joseph Threddie. He had a little pointy beard just like a billy goat, and he was always jolly. He was very thin indeed. Every tailor in the world is thin, and that’s a fact, because a tailor has to look like a needle and thread. But Mr Threddie was so extremely thin that he could get through the eye of the very needle that he was holding in his own hand. The only thing he could eat was spaghetti, because nothing else could get down his throat. He was a good man, always smiling. In his beard he had one hundred and thirty-six hairs, and sometimes on holidays he plaited them into little pigtails. And then he was tremendously handsome.
He would have lived happily enough, if it weren’t for a gypsy woman who had injured her foot. She had a very big wound, but Mr Threddie darned her skin so beautifully that you couldn’t see a thing. In gratitude, she told his fortune by reading the palm of his hand, and said:
“If you leave this town on Sunday and keep going west, eventually you’ll come to a place where they’ll proclaim you king!”
Mr Threddie laughed out loud at the idea. But that night he had a dream in which he really had become king, and thanks to his great prosperity he had grown so fat that he looked like an enormous barrel. He woke up and thought:
“But perhaps it’s the truth? Who knows? Up you get, then, Mr Threddie, and off you go to the west!”
He took a small bundle, a hundred needles and a thousand kilometres of thread, he took a thimble, an iron and a very large pair of scissors, and went out among the people to ask them how to go west. Nobody in the town of Taydarayda knew the answer, until one very old man, who was a hundred and six, thought about it and said:
“The west must surely be the place where the sun sets.”
At once it was plain to see that this was wisely said, so Mr Threddie the tailor started walking in that direction. He hadn’t gone far when suddenly the wind began to blow in the fields, just a light breeze in fact, but as Mr Threddie was so exceedingly thin, the wind picked him up and carried him away. As he flew through the air, he laughed and laughed at this mode of transport. But then the wind got tired, and let the tailor drop to the ground. Everything went spinning before his eyes, and he couldn’t think what had happened to him. All he could tell was that he had fallen into someone’s arms, because somebody angrily shouted:
“What do you mean by attacking me?”
Mr Threddie looked up and saw that he was in the middle of cornfield, and that the wind had tossed him into the arms of a Scarecrow. The Scarecrow was very smart – he had trousers that were only a little bit torn, a green jacket and a crumpled top hat. He had two legs made of sticks, and two arms made of the same kind of sticks as well.
Mr Threddie doffed his cap, bowed very low and said in a reedy little voice:
“A very good day to you, my dear Sir. Please excuse me for stepping on your foot. I am Mr Threddie the tailor.”
“How very nice to meet you,” said the Scarecrow. “I am Count Scary, of the noble house of the Four Sticks, and I keep watch here to make sure the crows don’t steal the wheat, but they don’t take up much of my time. I am extraordinarily brave, and I’d prefer to fight nothing but lions and tigers, but this year very few of them have come to eat the wheat. So where are you on your way to, Mr Threddie?”
Mr Threddie bowed again and jumped three times, because he was very polite and knew that grand gentlemen bow to each other that way.
“Where am I going, your Lordship? I’m going to the place where I shall become king.”
“Can that be possible?”
“Yes indeed! I was born to be king. Maybe you’d like to come along with me, your Lordship? That will be jollier for both of us.”
“All right,” replied the Scarecrow, “I’ve grown weary of standing here. But would you please mend me a little, Mr Threddie? Would you please sew up the holes in my clothing, because I’d like to get married along the way, and I must look handsome.”
“With pleasure!” said Mr Threddie.
He got down to work, and an hour later the Scarecrow had lovely clothes, and his top hat was nearly as good as new. The crows from all over the field did start to poke a bit of fun at him, but taking no notice of them, with great dignity he set off with Mr Threddie. Along the way they had a very nice chat and grew extremely fond of each other, as they kept on walking to the west. Mostly they slept in wheat fields, and at night Mr Threddie tied himself with a piece of thread to the Scarecrow, who was heavier, so that he wouldn’t be carried away by the wind again. And whenever dogs attacked them, the Scarecrow, who by reason of his profession was very courageous, would tear off his own leg and hurl it at the animals. Then he’d tie it onto his trunk again with a bit of string.
One day towards evening they looked about, and there in the forest they saw a little light.
“Let’s go over there ‒perhaps they’ll put us up for the night!” said Mr Threddie.
“Let us do them the honour!” replied the Scarecrow.
As they looked, they noticed that the house was rather strange, because it was able to walk. It was standing on four paws, and constantly turning on the spot.
“The owner of this house must be a merry fellow ‒” whispered Mr Threddie, “he never stops dancing.”
They waited until the door came to them, and then they went inside. It was a very strange house indeed. Although it was summer, there were some immense logs burning in the hearth, and on top of the fire sat a fine gentleman, warming himself. Now and then he gathered a handful of glowing coals and swallowed them with great relish. On catching sight of the travellers, he went up to them, bowed and said:
“So you must be Mr Threddie and Count Scary?”
They were amazed to find that he knew who they were, but they didn’t say anything; Mr Threddie just jumped three times, and the Scarecrow took off his top hat. And then the gentleman said:
“Do stay here with me for supper, and tomorrow you can be on your way. I’ll just call my wife, my daughter and our other relatives.”
He clapped his hands, and suddenly a large company appeared. Their host’s daughter was very beautiful, but when she laughed it was as if a horse were whinnying in the meadow. She took a great liking to Mr Threddie, and told him she would love to have a husband like him. Then they sat down to supper, Mr Threddie and the Scarecrow on a bench, and all the others on iron pots full of red-hot coals, which filled the guests with great astonishment.
Then their host said to them:
“Honoured guests, please don’t be surprised by the way we sit ‒ it’s just that our family always feels the cold badly.”
Soup was served in an enormous cauldron, and Mr Threddie had already raised his spoon to his lips when the Scarecrow tugged at his coat tail and whispered:
“Mr Threddie, don’t eat it – it’s boiling hot pitch!”
So secretly, while pretending they found the soup very tasty, they poured it away under the table. After that a very strange servant brought in the next dish: rats in savage sauce; then they served fried locust, earthworms with Parmesan cheese, like spaghetti, and rotten eggs for pudding. Feeling extremely scared, Mr Threddie and the Scarecrow threw it all under the table. Suddenly their host said:
“Mr Threddie, did you know that the king has died in Plonkerville?”
“Where is this Plonkerville? Is it far?” asked the tailor.
“From here a slaughtered rooster could run there in two days. And did you know that they’re looking for a new king, and the man who’s going to be king there is the man who marries my daughter?”
At this point the young lassie whinnied with joy, like an ancient horse, and threw her arms around Mr Threddie’s neck.
“Let’s run for it!” whispered the Scarecrow.
“But I don’t know where the door is. There’s nothing to be done!”
The whole family became very jolly, and then suddenly the host said:
“Let’s drink a glass of wine to your health and let’s have a merry sing-song. Mr Threddie, perhaps you know a song?”
“Indeed I do!” said Mr Threddie. “And a very fine one too.”
As he spoke, he winked at the Scarecrow and whispered:
“Keep watch, brother, and as soon as the door is behind us, shout!”
Then he stood up, doffed his cap, and in a reedy little voice he began to sing the only song he knew:
“Come now, our lips, and praise Our Holy Mother, sing of Her flawless virtue like no other!”
At this point something dreadful happened. The entire family sprang to their feet and began to howl and squeal, and hop about, and curse. But Mr Threddie took no notice – he just went on singing. He could feel the house trying its best to run away with them, just to escape this song, so he drew a deep breath into his lungs and sang like the thinnest pipe in an organ. As soon as he reached the end of the song, he started to sing it all over again. Until finally everything disappeared ‒ the house collapsed into a heap of dust, and a terrible wind sprang up.
Horrified, they looked about, and saw that they were standing in a meadow. They thanked God for their salvation, and then Mr Threddie said:
“Those were some horrible devils, but we defeated them!”
“They scared me dreadfully!” said the Scarecrow.
And they went on their way. Mr Threddie had learned from the old devil that the king had died in Plonkerville. So they headed towards that fabulous city, famous for its blacksmiths who shoe goats. For seven days they wandered, having various adventures, until finally they caught sight of a city, and realized that this was the famous one. But they were greatly amazed, and actually stopped in their tracks with astonishment: throughout the world there was nice weather, but over this city alone the rain was coming down extremely hard, bucketing out of the sky.
“I’m not going there,” said the Scarecrow, “or my top hat will get wet.”
“And I don’t really want to be king in a place as damp as that!” said the tailor.
But they had already been seen from the city, and a crowd of people came running out towards them. The Mayor arrived on a shod goat, and everyone was in tears before them.
“Venerable Sirs! Perhaps you can save us!”
“What has happened to you?” asked Mr Threddie.
“We’re in danger from a deluge that will wipe us out! Our king died a week ago, and ever since torrential rain has been pouring down on our fabulous city. There’s so much water coming down our chimneys that nobody can light a fire at home. We’re all going to die!”
“That’s bad!” said Mr Threddie very wisely.
“Oh yes, it’s very bad! But we’re feeling sorriest of all for the daughter of our late lamented king, because the poor girl is inconsolable, and won’t stop weeping – thanks to her tears there’s even more water than ever.”
“That’s even worse!” said Mr Threddie even more wisely.
“Oh, venerable Sir!” cried the Mayor, “save us, please save us! Have you heard what an inestimable reward the Princess has promised to the man who stops the rain? She has promised that she will marry him and he will become king.”
“Oh?” cried Mr Threddie. “Is that so? Count Scary, let’s go to the city. We must have a try.”
So they were escorted through the downpour to the daughter of the late king, who as soon as she set eyes on Mr Threddie exclaimed:
“Oh, what a handsome young man!”
He jumped three times very high and said:
“Is it true, O Princess, that you will marry the man who can stop the rain?”
“I have sworn an oath.”
“And what if I were to do it?”
“I’ll keep my promise.”
“And I’ll become king?” asked Mr Threddie.
“You shall, you fine young gentleman.”
“All right,” cried the tailor, “I’m going to stop the rain.”
He winked at the Scarecrow, and they were off. Full of hope, the entire city came pouring outside, wanting to see this great deed.
But Mr Threddie and the Scarecrow were walking under an umbrella, having the following conversation:
“Listen, Scary, what do we have to do to make the rain stop falling?”
“We’ve got to make good weather.”
“Hmm, let’s give it some thought.”
They thought and thought for three days, while the rain went on pouring and pouring and pouring!
Suddenly Mr Threddie clapped himself on the forehead, bleated with joy like a goat and exclaimed:
“I know where the rain is coming from!”
“From the sky!”
“Huh!” muttered the Scarecrow. “Even I am wise enough to think of that. It definitely doesn’t fall from down to up, but the other way around.”
“Yes!” said Mr Threddie, “but why is it only falling on the city, and not anywhere else?”
“Because everywhere else there’s good weather!”
“You silly twit!” said the tailor. “But tell me, since when has the rain been falling?”
“They say it’s ever since the king died.”
“Exactly! Now I can see it all! And it goes like this: the king was so great and mighty that when he died it made a hole in the sky.”
“Oh! Oh! That’s right!”
“The rain came gushing through the hole and it’ll keep on falling until the end of the world unless the hole is sewn up.”
The Scarecrow opened his eyes wide and said:
“Never in all my life have I seen such a wise tailor before.”
They were very pleased, and went to the Mayor to tell him to announce that Mr Threddie, from the town of Taydarayda, promised that the rain would stop.
“Long live Mr Threddie! Long live Mr Threddie!” cried all the citizens.
Then Mr Threddie told them to bring all the ladders there were in the entire city, tie them together, and put them up to the sky. He took his hundred needles and a reel of thread a hundred miles long, and climbed up the ladder, while the Scarecrow unreeled the thread from below. Mr Threddie climbed to the very top and saw that indeed there was a great big hole in the sky, just as big as the city; the torn piece of sky was hanging down, and the rain water was gushing through the opening. So he got to work, and sewed and sewed for two whole days on end. Even though his fingers were going numb with the effort, he never stopped. Then he smoothed the sky with his iron, and very wearily climbed back down the ladder.
And there in the city the weather was lovely! The Scarecrow almost went mad with joy, just like all the citizens of Plonkerville. The Princess wiped her eyes, which were almost half cried out by now, threw her arms around Mr Threddie’s neck and kissed him affectionately.
Mr Threddie was very happy, and then he saw the Mayor and the councillors bringing him a golden sceptre and a wonderful crown.
“Long live King Threddie!” they cried.
“Long live the King! Long live the King! May he marry the Princess, and may he reign happily!”
And indeed this merry king ruled the land for a very long time, and in his kingdom it never rained again. He appointed his good friend the Scarecrow to be Grand Scarier of State, to scare the crows away from his royal head.
*This translation is courtesy of the Polish Institute in Israel.
*Original text © published by kind permission of Wiesław Kwiatkowski.
Image: Talia Baer
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