A young fellow came to the door. He smelled like a living man, but he didn’t have the smell of fear on him. No fear at all.
I asked him what sort of business he had with us. He said he wanted three golden hairs from the devil’s head, or else he’d lose his wife.
“That’s a good deal to ask for,” I said. “And it might cost you your life.” But I felt sorry for him, so I let him in. I changed him into an ant and told him to creep up into my apron where he’d be safe.
Then he said he had three questions he wanted the devil to answer. He wasn’t asking for himself. A town watchman wanted to know why the town fountain had dried up when it once flowed with water and wine. A town gatekeeper wanted to know why a tree that once bore golden apples stopped putting forth leaves. And finally, a ferryman wanted to know why he had to keep going back and forth across the river between the living and the dead. Why was he never set free?
“Those are difficult questions,” I said. “Just be quiet and pay attention to what the devil says when I pull out the three golden hairs.”
When the devil came home, he went round to every corner, sniffing because the air wasn’t pure.
“Nonsense, I just swept the house,” I said. “I put things in order and you come in upsetting things because you’ve always got a man’s flesh up your nose. Sit down and eat your supper.”
I can handle the devil, you see. That young fellow was right to come to me.
The Devil’s Grandmother in The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs, Grimms. Illustration by John Gruelle.