(An English Tale)
Once upon a time there was a young peasant woman named Maggie whose husband, Alfie, died. After a few years had passed, Maggie fell in love and married again. Her second husband, John, was a blacksmith and a kind and generous man. Maggie felt very happy, yet she missed poor old Alfie.
One day, a man dressed in ragged clothes knocked on the couple’s door. John was at the shop, so Maggie answered.
When she saw the poor fellow, her heart broke. “Oh poor man, what can I do to help?”
“I’d like some water, ma’am, if I could trouble you.”
“Of course,” Maggie said. She was as kind and generous as John. “Please come in. I’ll make you some food as well.”
So the fellow walked inside and Maggie started fussing about the kitchen. “Where are you from?” she asked the fellow.
“Paris,” he said.
Maggie had never heard of Paris, but she was a bit hard of hearing, so she thought he’d said Paradise.
She whirled around. “Paradise? My heavens, that’s far away! My poor old first husband lives there now. How on earth did you get here?”
“Oh,” the man sighed, playing along, “I had to walk a long, long time. That’s why I’m so hungry and thirsty.”
“Of course,” Maggie agreed, cutting up a hunk of cheese, slicing the bread and preparing to make him a feast. “I wonder, sir, did you know my first husband by any chance? His name was Alfie — Alfie Smith.”
The stranger recognized an opportunity, so he grinned and said, “Of course. Alfie was a buddy of mine. We’re thick as thieves, he and I!”
Maggie was overjoyed to hear this, and she said, “Poor man, do you know if is there anything he needs up there?”
The man rubbed his chin and pretended to think hard on this. “Well,” he said, “we don’t have much up there in Paradise, so if you’d like to send some things with me, I’d be glad to take them. I’m returning tonight.”
Maggie quickly put together some treats for the stranger to take back on his trip to Paradise. She also packed a bag with shirts, and added a pipe, a watch and a jug. She added nice, warm socks, a pair of shoes, a bottle of wine and a bottle of stout, and this she handed to the stranger.
He shook his head. “How can I carry all that?” he said. “I’d need a horse.”
“Oh, we have one!” Maggie said. “You can take the horse. It belonged to poor old Alfie anyway.”
After the fellow had eaten his fill, Maggie led him to the stable and gave him the old gray mare, and off he rode.
An hour later, John returned home.
Maggie told him of the wonderful story. “A man from Paradise was here, and he’s taking a package to Alfie! I gave him the horse.”
John listened carefully, and he shook his head. Maggie was so kind, but the story sounded suspicious to him. “Which way did he go, my dear? I’ll go to make sure he’s all right.”
“That way,” Maggie said, pointing to the hills in the west.
John’s horse was faster than the old gray mare, and before long the stranger saw the man riding behind him. He guessed that he might be in trouble, so he climbed off the mare and hid it in the bush. Then he lay down on the road and stared up into the bright blue sky.
When John reached the spot, he looked down at the stranger and asked, “What are you doing in the road?”
The stranger shook his head. “The most peculiar thing just happened. A fellow rode by on an old, tired horse. He was carrying a big package. When he reached the top of that hill, he rode straight up into the sky, right on the back of that horse! I’ve never seen such a thing.”
John looked up, amazed, staring as hard as he could, but he saw only the sun and a few scattered clouds. “Don’t see him,” he said.
“Yeah, he just vanished,” said the stranger. “Must’ve gone to Paradise.”
So John rode home and told Maggie the tale. “Alfie’s in Paradise, all right,” he said. “Glad for that.”
Maggie clapped with joy. Forever after that day, John and Maggie often talked of the visitor from Paradise. A generous fellow, they said, a kind man who surely had made Paradise a better place for dear old Alfie.