Once upon a time there lived a poor farmer who had one trusted treasure. This was his daughter Hannah. One day the farmer became involved in a dispute over a cow with his neighbor. Because they couldn't agree on a solution, the two men traveled to the palace to seek the magistrate's help.
The magistrate was a kind man, but he was young and inexperienced. He listened carefully to both sides of the story. At last he said: "Instead of deciding the case, I will put a riddle to you. The man who answers best shall win the dispute. Do you agree to this?"The two men nodded, certain that they could answer whatever question the magistrate might pose.
Then the magistrate said, "Tell me this. What is the swiftest thing in the world? What is the sweetest thing? And what is the richest? Bring me your answers tomorrow."
Back home, the neighbor asked his wife to help him solve the riddle. "Easy," she said as she scooped porridge into a bowl. "Our gray mare is the swiftest thing in the world, for no one ever passes us on the road. As for the sweetest thing, that is our honey. And nothing can be richer than our chest full of gold that I've been saving these many years."
The farmer, in his turn, told his daughter of the magistrate's riddle. Hannah sat down beside him and touched his hand. "Please, father, let me help," she said, for she wished nothing more than her father's happiness. When the farmer told her the three questions, she smiled. "That's easy," she said, and she explained to her father how to answer the riddle.
The next day the two men returned to the magistrate to answer the riddle. First the neighbor offered his answers. Then the farmer said, "I humbly answer, sir. The swiftest thing in all the world is thought, for thought can run any distance in the twinkling of an eye. The sweetest thing is sleep, for when one is tired, nothing is sweeter. The richest thing is the Earth, for it provides us with all our riches."
The magistrate was impressed. "Tell me, good man, how did you know these answers?" The farmer proudly told the magistrate of his intelligent, clever daughter.
The magistrate listened thoughtfully and said, "I would like to make another test of your daughter's cleverness." He sent for 10 eggs, and these he gave to the farmer. "Take these eggs to Hannah and tell her to have them hatched by tomorrow."
The farmer dashed home and gave the eggs to Hannah. She laughed. "Father, take a handful of millet and return to the magistrate at once. Say to him, `My daughter sends you this millet and says that if you plant, grow and harvest it by tomorrow, she will bring you the chicks.' "
When the magistrate heard Hannah's answer, he laughed heartily. "Clever girl she is. I would like to meet her, but one more test. Tell her she must come to me, but she must come neither by day nor by night, neither riding nor walking, neither dressed nor undressed."
Once again the farmer ran home to tell his daughter of the magistrate's request. Hannah waited until dawn, then, when night was past but day not yet begun, she wrapped herself in fish netting, threw one leg over a goat's back and the other she kept on the ground. And she traveled in this way to the magistrate's home.
When she arrived she cried out, "Sir, I am here, neither riding nor walking, neither dressed nor undressed, neither by day nor by night."
The magistrate was so taken by Hannah's cleverness and so pleased with her wit that he proposed marriage to her at once, and in a short time they were wed.
"Understand, dear Hannah," said the magistrate on their wedding day, "you are not to use that cleverness of yours at my expense. You must not interfere in my cases. And if you ever give advice to anyone who comes to me for a judgment, I will turn you out of my house and send you back to your father."
"I promise you that," said Hannah, "but I ask you one promise in return. If you ever choose to send me away, allow me to take with me the one thing that I most treasure."
The magistrate readily promised, for he was not a selfish man. And for a long time the magistrate and Hannah lived together happily.
Then one day two farmers came to the magistrate hoping he might settle a dispute. One of the farmers owned a mare that had foaled in the marketplace. The colt had run beneath the wagon of the other farmer. Now the owner of the wagon claimed the colt as his own.
The magistrate was preoccupied with other matters and was not listening closely. "The man who found the colt under his wagon is the true owner," he said carelessly.
As the owner of the mare was leaving the palace, he met up with Hannah who was wandering in the palace garden. The farmer looked so sad that Hannah could not help herself. "What is wrong, good man?" she asked. And the farmer told his tale.
Saddened by her husband's decision, Hannah said, "Come back this afternoon, good sir. Bring with you a fishing net and stretch it across the road outside the garden gate. When the magistrate sees you, he will ask how you expect to catch fish on a dusty road. You must tell him it is just as easy to catch fish in a road as it is for a wagon to foal. In this way he shall see the injustice of his decision."
That afternoon the farmer returned to the magistrate's home. He stretched his fishing net across the road. When the magistrate saw him, he shouted, "What's this foolishness? How do you expect to catch fish on a road?"
And when the magistrate heard the farmer's answer, he frowned and said: "My decision was wrong. The colt belongs to the owner of the mare, of course."
The farmer, dancing with delight, cried, "Ah, your wife is a fine woman!"
When the magistrate heard this, he grew furious with Hannah. He ran to her and said, "You have broken your promise to me. Home you must go, this very day."
Hannah looked steadily at her husband. "You are right," she said sadly, "but I ask you one favor. Share one last supper with me. We have been happy together, and I wish to part as friends."
The magistrate could not say no, for he truly loved Hannah. That night the two sat down together, and to the magistrate's delight, before him was spread a meal of all his favorite dishes. He ate and he ate until at last, so full he could not move, he fell fast asleep in his chair.
Quickly Hannah rose from the table. Without waking her husband, she had him carried out to her carriage.
The next morning the magistrate opened his eyes and saw, to his amazement, that he lay in a bed in Hannah's father's cottage. "What's this?" he roared.
"My dear husband," said Hannah gently, coming to his bedside, "You told me I might take the one thing I liked best in your house. I took you. It is you I most treasure."
In the next moment the magistrate was laughing long and loud, for Hannah had again outwitted him. "Hannah, I have been a fool. Please come home with me." And he got down on his knees and begged for her forgiveness.
Afterward, whenever the magistrate had to make a difficult decision, he announced to one and all, "We shall consult my wife, for she is a clever woman, and very wise."