There was once a ferryman who was so hard of hearing he could neither hear nor catch anything that any one said to him. He had a goody and a daughter, and they did not care a pin for the goodman, but lived in mirth and jollity so long as there was aught to live on, and then they took to running up a bill with the inn-keeper, and gave parties, and had feasts every day.
So when no one would trust them any longer, the sheriff was to come and seize for what they owed and had wasted. Then the goody and her child set off for her kinsfolk, and left the deaf husband behind, all alone, to see the sheriff and the bailiff.
Well, there stood the man and pottered about and wondered what the sheriff wanted to ask, and what he should say when he came.
'If I take to doing something,' he said to himself, 'he'll be sure to ask me something about it. I'll just begin to cut out an axehaft, so when he asks me what that is to be, I shall answer, "Axehaft." Then he'll ask how long it is to be, and I'll say, "Up as far as this twig that sticks out." Then he'll ask, "What's become of the ferry-boat?" and I'll say, "I am going to tar her; and yonder she lies on the strand, split at both ends." Then he'll ask, "Where's your grey mare?" and I'll answer, "She is standing in the stable, big with foal." Then he'll ask, "Whereabouts is your sheepcote and shieling?" and I'll say, "Not far off; when you get a bit up the hill you'll soon see them."'
All this he thought well-planned.
A little while after in came the sheriff; he was true to time, but as for his man, he had gone another way round by an inn, and there he sat still drinking.
'Good-day, sir,' he said.
'Axehaft,' said the ferryman.
'So, so," said the sheriff. 'How far off is it to the inn?'
'Right up to this twig,' said the man, and pointed a little way up the piece of timber.
The sheriff shook his head and stared at him open-mouthed.
'Where is your mistress, pray?'
'I am just going to tar her,' said the ferryman, 'for yonder she lies on the strand, split open at both ends.'
'Where is your daughter?'
'Oh, she stands in the stable, big with foal,' answered the man, who thought he answered very much to the purpose.
'Oh, go to hell with you,' said the sheriff.
'Very good; 'tis not so far off; when you get a bit up the hill, you'll soon get there,' said the man.
So the sheriff was floored, and went away.