Once upon a time, in a tiny village with thatched cottages scattered along a rocky hillside, two sisters sat by their fire, mourning the death of their father. They were alone now and destitute, for the gravedigger had taken their last penny, even their cow.
“What ever shall we do?” wailed IdaMae. “Surely we will die from hunger!”
Joybelle shook her head at her older sister, “Things are never that hopeless. We still have a roof over our head, a warm fire, and a well of sweet, clean water. In fact, tomorrow I will take a barrel of water to the side of the road and sell it, a penny for a drink.”
“Sell water? Who would buy water?”
The next morning, the sun beat down from a cloudless sky, and many a traveler appreciated a refreshing sip from the girl’s barrel. As the afternoon shadows lengthened, a tired shepherd paused for a drink. Joybelle pitied the poor man.
“You don’t have to pay,” she offered.
“On the contrary, I have a gift for you.” He dropped in her lap a small silk bag containing one gold coin.
She gasped at its beauty as she examined the crown stamped on its face. “Thank you, kind sir. I have never seen such a coin. What is it worth?”
“It is worth more when it is given than when it is saved.”
She carefully tucked it away. “Thank you, sir.”
“And here is another for your sister.” As he disappeared with his flock of sheep, he called back, “Watch for me, for I will be back someday.”
IdaMae sniffed in disgust. “Worth more given than saved? How foolish! How can something you don’t have be worth more than something you do have?”
“I don’t know, but already I am happier than I was yesterday.”
Again Joybelle sold her cold water for a penny a drink. An old woman shuffled by on her way to market. She was so hot and tired from her long climb that Joybelle offered her the gold coin instead of asking for a penny.
“Thank you, my dear!” the woman exclaimed. “Take this laying hen in return.”
Surprisingly, on the morrow, the coin appeared in the silk bag. Day by day, she sold cold water by the side of the road, finding worthy souls to give the wonderful coin. In return, she was repaid in clothes, garden seeds, firewood, and many friends. Each morning, she found a coin in the bottom of the silk bag.
IdaMae couldn’t understand Joybelle. “How can you sit in the heat and dust all day? I’m saving my coin, and someday I will go to the city and buy a fancy dress. I’ll marry a rich man and never sleep beneath a straw roof again!”
She locked her coin in an oaken chest, but in the morning she found it again in her silk bag. Puzzled, she returned it to the locked chest and found the first coin glittering in its depths! Now, she had two! Day by day, she gleefully added another coin to her collection, dreaming of an elegant life.
One day, as Joybelle worked in her garden, having no more need of selling water, she saw the shepherd approaching. She welcomed him and served him a plate of meat and bread and cold milk. He looked about the small room. There were carved cupboards, woven blankets, and fur rugs; all gifts from those she called her friends.
“I see you have used my coin wisely.”
IdaMae, wanting to be considered wise also, brought him her heavy chest. “I have saved every coin, and soon I will go to the city, where I will live in a mansion and have many servants to do my work.” But when she opened the lid, the coins had turned to fine sand, dusty and worthless. She clutched at it, wailing bitterly.
“Had you heeded my words, you would have done as well as your sister.” He stood and removed his shepherd’s cloak to reveal a purple tunic, trimmed with gold. “I am not always a shepherd. I am the king’s son, searching for a worthy wife.”
Turning to Joybelle, he bowed and kissed her work-stained hand. “Will you come with me and live with me in my palace?”
The older sister was left to tend the fire and milk the cow and weed the garden, as Joybelle and her prince rode into the hills, to live happily ever after.
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