Hans and Frieda Baumgardt were farmers and worked hard to eke out a meager living. For too many years Hans waited and hoped for a son to help with the farm but alas none came. Their only child, a daughter, Matilda, had very poor vision so she was unable to help with the farm chores.
Hans and Frieda determined that their best option was to find a suitable husband for Matilda; one who could help with the farm and care for their daughter. Now Matilda was an attractive girl so finding an interested match should not have been difficult.
They searched the local villages for potential suitors but word of Matildas’ visual impairment had spread and while many a man would welcome inheriting a farm, none was prepared for the life of toil sure to accompany this one. Farming was a hard living. The crops had been poor for many years and with Hans and Frieda aging the work was sure to fall on the next generation. A wife unable to work side by side in the fields would be a liability for certain, so there were no takers of Matildas’ hand. Over the years many young men passed through the small farm house but none could be convinced to marry Matilda.
One day, in the midst of a storm, a traveling salesman came upon the farm house seeking shelter. Realizing the salesman likely had no knowledge of the local people Frieda saw this as an opportunity to market her daughter. While Hans showed the young man the fields, Frieda and her daughter prepared a sumptuous meal to entice him. Matilda took great care dressing and looked quite fetching in her Sunday best but Frieda, cautious of how word traveled, wanted to ensure the young man saw no fault with Matilda, so she devised a plan to trick him. Frieda placed a sewing needle on the floor far across the room and said to Matilda, “after dinner I want you to point over there and mention that you see a needle on the floor. Then the young man will surely see that your eyes are clear.”
Armed with this plan they sat down to dinner with their young guest. Just after the dishes had been cleared and when there was a lull in the conversation, Matilda said, “oh mother, I see that you dropped one of your sewing needles on the floor” and she pointed clear across the room. The young man stood and walked over to the corner, stooping to pick up the needle, clearly startled that she could see something so small from so far away.
Now the salesman wasn’t as naïve as the farmers believed. He had, in passing through the village, heard the rumours about the farmers’ daughter and her poor eyes, but this proved it was just rumour. The girl appeared to have exceptional vision. How else could she have spotted the small needle from across the room? Feeling suddenly more opportunistic the salesman returned to the dinner table, anxious to engage in conversation with the farmer regarding his daughter, and the farm.
Freida, delighted at the obvious success of their trick, set about getting dessert on the table. She laid out a platter of sweets and thought to accompany them with sweet wine – after all, this was a celebration, no? But wine was expensive and in short supply and she wanted to make sure the deal was sealed before imbibing. Deciding to take no chances she put a big pitcher of fresh milk on the table and no sooner had she sat down than Matilda jumped up and flung her arm across the pitcher, knocking it to the floor, as she screamed “get off the table you damn cat!”
Realizing he had been tricked the young man immediately left the farmhouse grateful that he uncovered the deception before he’d committed himself. Hans and Frieda were heartbroken at the lost opportunity and duly shamed by their attempted deception.
There is a lesson to be learned from this. The salesman hoped to shamelessly capitalize on a situation to enhance his own financial well being….and the Baumgardts’ thought to use trickery to secure their daughters, and their farms financial future. At the end of the day there is only one true lesson, one moral to be gained. Never serve milk when you can have wine.