There was once a poor man who cried and cried because he did not have enough money. He cried in the morning because he had no fresh butter to put on his bread. He cried in the afternoon because he had no horse on which to ride into town. He cried at night because he had no hired servant to prepare his dinner.
Every day the man toiled at his house, alone but for the stray dog he’d adopted some months ago. Every day he went through the motions of caring for his needs: cooking his food, washing his clothes, tending his garden, caring for his cow and chickens. And every day the man dreamed of having more money.
“Oh, for a fine carriage, with four graceful steeds to dance ahead of it.” The man sighed and looked at his dog. “Then I would not have to stay at this house all day. Oh, for a stately mansion in which to live, instead of this hovel.” On and on the man would dream, crying all the while for that which he did not have.
One day the man heard of an old witch who lived in a cave some distance from his home. “I will visit this witch,” said the old man. “Surely she will see that I must have more money. Perhaps she can cast a spell to make my poor life more bearable.”
So the man and his dog took a journey to that cave. The old witch stood near the opening, leaning upon a stick. She fixed a shrewd eye upon the man. “Hah,” she cackled, “you want money.”
The poor man looked up, astonished. “Truly, she is a wise woman,” thought he. He began to cry. “Take pity on me, kind lady,” he said. “I have never had enough money and have lived a hard life. Can you help me?”
“Are you starving?” asked the witch.
The man stopped crying, shocked. “Of course not. I work hard to provide myself with something to fill my belly.”
“And your dog?”
“He gets the scraps from my table.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
The tears began to flow again. “Every day I must get up, milk my cow, feed my chickens, tend my garden, cook my own meals, and keep my house clean. When finally I tumble into bed at night, I scarce have time to enjoy a good book before I am fast asleep, so tired am I after the day’s exertions.”
“What do you need money for?”
The poor man mopped his eyes and blew his nose, to no avail. The tears flowed faster than ever as he described to the witch what he could do with some money. “Alas, I am able to enjoy only the barest of life’s necessities. With more money I could buy a horse to travel to town. I could buy some of the delicacies sold there, to embellish my dinner table. I could hire someone to help me with my huge workload at home. Ah, woman, the things I could do with a little money.”
The witch was silent. She looked at the man as she chewed her lip with toothless gums. She spoke. “I have good news for you, Friend. You will be a rich man, indeed. Go home now. I must work my spell. When you wake up in the morning, you will see the magic I weave for you.”
The tears dried up. “I’m going to be rich?” the man asked delightedly. “How much will I get?”
“I said go home!” The witch answered fiercely. “But leave the dog here.”
“What?” the man asked, blankly.
“I said, the dog stays.”
The man shrugged. “Do I need to do anything else?”
“Nothing. Go home.” She spun around and disappeared into her cave with the dog.
“Hee, hee!” The man danced all the way back to his house.
Early the next morning, he awoke, eager to find his riches. Without stopping to get dressed, he raced about his house, looking for the money. Not on the table. Hurry. Not under the bed. Hurry, hurry. Not in the closet. Where could it be? He flung open the front door. Not in his garden. Run, run. Not in his shed. Maybe in the barn? No! He ran back into the house and began tearing the place apart. Everything out of the dresser. Everything out of the cupboards. Nothing!
Finally, the man sat down at his table, panting. That witch! Nothing. Nothing! He began to cry. He wept and wept that the witch had tricked him so.
Suddenly the man opened his eyes. Something was happening. Gold! There was gold on the table, gold on the floor, gold in his lap! From where had it come? He reached up to wipe a tear from his cheek and drew his hand away. There on his finger was a teardrop of gold. His eyes darted to the other gold pieces. They were all shaped like teardrops.
“Why, this is too fantastic,” exclaimed the man! “Surely… Surely… But it is true! I am a rich man!” He pranced about in his nightshirt with glee, tossing golden teardrops into the air. He listened to their tinkling music as they danced with him on the cobblestone floor.
Now the man’s dreams began to become reality. He spent his gold with a flourish. Ah, what fineries he enjoyed. First, a fine white horse and a small carriage. New pieces of furniture for his house, and new clothes cut in the latest fashions were fast to follow. He ordered the tastiest delicacies from the baker and butcher.
The man threw away his old clothing, threw away his gardening tools. He burned his rickety old furniture. Soon all the gold he had cried that first morning was gone.
“Oh, my!” he wailed. “I have not bought nearly all the things I most desperately need.” The tears flowed again. He opened his eyes, hoping. He was ecstatic to see that his tears were still of gold. He would be the richest man in the world! He would never run out of gold!
Immediately, he started planning how he would spend his fortune. Why spend so much trying to fix up this old hut? Why not buy a new house? And, he would certainly be very busy with his money; far too busy to worry about mundane household chores. Servants! He would need an army of servants to staff his new mansion. And more horses and carriages. He would need more and finer clothing: he was a man of import now.
And so it went. The man spent his gold, and then cried more. Soon he was having a hard time thinking of reasons to cry. He couldn’t cry because of lack of money – he knew he could produce more any time he needed it. He tried crying for other people’s problems, things he’d heard about in the town, but those were hard tears to squeeze out. He had a hard time feeling sorrow for that which did not touch his own life.
One time he tried rubbing onions in, but the tears that came to his stinging eyes were only wet. No, to produce gold, his tears had to be those of true sorrow.
“Wretched, wretched life!” The man screamed. “How am I to cry if I cannot feel sorry for myself?” Tears began to flow again before he realized it, and quite a pile of gold was all about him before he stopped to wipe his eyes.
He used this tactic again and again, but soon found himself walking always in sorrow, trying to eke out a few more bits of gold. He would stroll aimlessly about the echoing halls of his mansion, take excursions in his fine carriage pulled by six graceful steeds, spend hours in his counting house, sifting through his gold. All this he did with dry-eyed sadness.
He found he did not want to cry again. How did he no longer enjoy his mansion, his horses and servants? Why did he always feel he had to cry, had to have more gold? What was to become of him?
The man went for a walk one day. He found himself at the cave of the old witch.
She hobbled out and leaned on a rock, her gnarled hands gripping her stick.
“So,” she said slowly, “you return.”
The man kicked the dirt with his tooled leather boot and hung his head. “I have everything I need now,” he said, “everything I’ve always wanted.” He shrugged.
“Yet you still are not happy.”
The man sighed. “I thought if only I could buy whatever I wanted, then I would be happy.”
“And you aren’t’?”
The man was silent.
“You must be very careful what you wish for. Sometimes it’s not something you truly want.” She gave her toothless smile. “But sometimes it is. You are a rich man.” She turned and went back into her cave.
The man left and wandered through the fields. He stopped by a tree and sank to the ground. “Money!” he spat out. “How could I have thought it would make me happy? This is not what I had in mind.”
Money and sorrow were now forever linked as one in his soul. Perhaps he could go back to his garden, his cow and chickens. At least work could take his mind off his sorrows, off his money. Where was happiness? Joy was not to be found in money; he had at least learned that. Contentment, maybe, could be found in the work of his hands.
He was just starting to rise when he heard rustling behind him. He looked around, and there was his dog, tail wagging. His dog! A friend! The man felt instantly guilty, knowing he had not given the dog a second thought after leaving him with the witch. Yet, here was this dog, a gift sticking its nose under his arm. Maybe this is what the witch had meant, a gift to make him rich. He pulled the dog to him, hugged him and nuzzled his head against the dog’s. The touch, the willingness of the dog to come close to him, suddenly overwhelmed the man, and he began to shake deep inside.
He felt tears welling up in his eyes. “No! No more gold!” He pushed his hands against his eyes. Try as he might, he could not stop the tears. He sobbed and sobbed with grief, rocking back and forth as he held his dog.
Suddenly he stopped. He rubbed his eyes. His hands came away wet. Wet! Wet tears! The words of the old witch rang in his ears, and he smiled. “I am a rich man, indeed.” He laughed and laughed as the tears of joy ran down his cheeks. They rolled onto his fingers and he held them up. Truly, these were tears of gold.