Kronach – even at the beginning of the last century, it was not only in the remote corners of the frankenwald that people believed that the animals could speak in the language of man at the twelfth hour of christmas eve, and that in the minutes when the bells called for the harvest, they would predict what joy and sorrow the coming year would bring to their lord’s house. Once upon a time, heiner, a one-odd farmer high above the steinbachgrund, wanted to risk a glimpse into the future at the holy night.
Long before midnight he crept into the stable, sat down on a milk stool and stared into the darkness. All of a sudden, the farmer felt uneasy. Wasn’t it holland nonsense to wait here for the sound of the christmas eve bells? It could not possibly be anything good that he was hearing.
In a dire situation
Heiner put his elbows on his knees and dug his head into his hands. It was only now that he really became aware of his dire situation. The farm was in a bad state of disrepair and his wife did not help a bit to make it economically prosperous again. On the contrary. It was her wish to bring the once beautiful property under the hammer. She hated her husband for refusing to sign over the land to her half-grown son, whom she had brought into the marriage. So the three of them quarreled day after day.
The boy had raised his hand against his stepfather more than once, and the farmer’s wife was not ashamed to say that she wanted to poison the farmer or strangle him one night. The farmer himself believed that this family life could end badly.
Boiling blood shot through his veins and began to surge through his body. What did he need to know about the calamity that would befall him in the new year?? Wasn’t it best to get up and rush out into the night and then ask for god’s help in the church?? The farmer clutched the seat of the harness left and right as if he wanted to leap up with a jerk. But he could not muster the will to rise. As if paralyzed he sat there and stared in front of him.
Dream or reality?
All at once he flinched. He jerked his head up and listened intently into the darkness. No doubt what he was hearing was the sound of bells from up the valley. But they seemed to be the last ones to die in the stable. The next moment he was surrounded by dead silence again.
Now he was annoyed that he had dozed off for a little while, and didn’t quite know whether he had been dreaming or whether he had really heard, half asleep, his favorite cow, zenzi, murmuring to her neighbor: "if the farmer doesn’t get the oxen out of the barn, it could easily be that they will soon drive him to the cemetery.
The farmer turned on the lantern. The oxen and cows lay as peacefully as on other nights, chewing comfortably. He paced slowly up and down the stables. It was quite possible that one day he would have an accident with the oxen. Many a time the saddle-hole in particular had been barking like mad. He lashed out and lunged if the harness was not put on him gently enough and shied away from every little thing on the straw. Even if it was only a dream, the farmer decided to get the oxen out of the stable.
The farmer and her plan
When he brought this up on a suitable occasion, the farmer’s wife would not allow the oxen to be sold. She called the farmer a superstitious and fearful man who did not know what he wanted. For herself, however, she firmly believed that the saddle hole would one day finish off his master. Then the farm with forest, fields and meadows belonged to her and her boy and they could finally do as they pleased.
When the farmer and her son spent a few days with relatives in the city, the farmer went to get a cowhandler to change the oxen. The farmer’s wife, of course, could find no pleasure in the new ones, who were as pious as lambs. They wouldn’t let up until the farmer drove the oxen back to the market and traded them for another pair. They did not suit her either, and the quarrel about the oxen would not end day or night.
Then the farmer went out for the third time to look for oxen for the farmer’s wife to enjoy. But she found fault with them even more than with all the others. Then the farmer lost his patience and shouted, "then go away in the name of the devil and buy the animals yourself!"
The farmer had been waiting for this for a long time. She went to the cattleman and asked him to tell her where her old, stubborn saddle-hole was. And she went and bought him back again, and another one with similar aggressive qualities. The farmer was horrified when he saw the team and clasped his hands over his head. But for the sake of peace he did not say a word. If they pleased the farmer, then they had to please him as well.
But as he was hitching up the wagon one late autumn morning, the saddle hole swung out and hit the farmer so badly that he fell down as if dead and had to be put to bed. When the farmer came halay back to his senses, he implored his wife to call the doctor immediately. But instead of going for help, she went to the barn and fetched an armful of the best hay to throw to the saddle ox as thanks for his good deed. The farmer’s wife was already counting on the fact that the farmer would die in a few hours. As far as she could tell, he had several broken ribs and half of his rib cage was crushed.
Cries for help from the stables
When the farmer entered the barn with the hay, the two oxen that she had forgotten to hitch up in a hurry were scuffling with each other. She called her boy to separate the two of them.
And now the uncanny happened: the oxen love on the spot from each other and went at those who dared to interfere in their quarrel, and drove them with their heads against the wall. Mother and son cried for help. And the louder they shouted, the wilder the oxen became. They drilled the horns into the bodies of their victims, hurled them against walls and ceilings, and did not love them until they no longer made a sound.
As fate would have it, blob the farmer escaped with his life and was soon able to look after the house and the field again. His second wife was a good and hardworking farmer, so that happiness and prosperity returned to the farm. Every year on christmas night, the farmer thought back to those eerie hours that would change his life forever. Until old age, he wrote on the barn door on christmas eve with consecrated chalk: "god’s ways are wondrous!"
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