¡°But if you wish time to pass more quickly,
you have only to pull the thread a little way
and an hour will pass like a second.¡±
The magic thread
J. Bennett (France)
Once there was a widow who had a
son called Peter. He was a strong, able boy, but he did not
enjoy going to school and he was forever daydreaming.
"Peter, what are you dreaming
about this time?" his teacher would say to him.
"I'm thinking about what I'll be
when I grow up," Peter replied.
"Be patient. There's plenty of
time for that. Being grown up isn't all fun, you know," his
But Peter found it hard to enjoy
whatever he was doing at the moment, and was always hankering
after the next thing. In winter he longed for it to be summer
again, and in summer he looked forward to the skating, sledging,
and warm fires of winter. At school he would long for the day to
be over so that he could go home, and on Sunday nights he would
sigh, "If only the holidays would come." What he enjoyed most
was playing with his friend Liese. She was as good a companion
as any boy, and no matter how impatient Peter was, she never
took offense. "When I grow up, I shall marry Liese," Peter said
Often he wandered through the
forest, dreaming of the future. Sometimes he lay down on the
soft forest floor in the warm sun, his hands behind his head,
staring up at the sky through the distant treetops. One hot
afternoon as he began to grow sleepy, he heard someone calling
his name. He opened his eyes and sat up. Standing before him was
an old woman. In her hand she held a silver ball, from which
dangled a silken golden thread.
"See what I have got here,
Peter," she said, offering the ball to him.
"What is it?" he asked curiously,
touching the fine golden thread.
"This is your life thread," the
old woman replied. "Do not touch it and time will pass normally.
But if you wish time to pass more quickly, you have only to pull
the thread a little way and an hour will pass like a second. But
I warn you, once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be
pushed back in again. It will disappear like a puff of smoke.
The ball is for you. But if you accept my gift you must tell no
one, or on that very day you shall die. Now, say, do you want
Peter seized the gift from her
joyfully. It was just what he wanted. He examined the silver
ball. It was light and solid, made of a single piece. The only
flaw in it was the tiny hole from which the bright thread hung.
He put the ball in his pocket and ran home. There, making sure
that his mother was out, he examined it again. The thread seemed
to be creeping very slowly out of the ball, so slowly that it
was scarcely noticeable to the naked eye. He longed to give it a
quick tug, but dared not do so. Not yet.
The following day at school,
Peter sat daydreaming about what he would do with his magic
thread. The teacher scolded him for not concentrating on his
work. If only, he thought, it was time to go home. Then he felt
the silver ball in his pocket. If he pulled out a tiny bit of
thread, the day would be over. Very carefully he took hold of it
and tugged. Suddenly the teacher was telling everyone to pack up
their books and to leave the classroom in an orderly fashion.
Peter was overjoyed. He ran all the way home. How easy life
would be now! All his troubles were over. From that day forth he
began to pull the thread, just a little, every day.
One day, however, it occurred to
him that it was stupid to pull the thread just a little each
day. If he gave it a harder tug, school would be over
altogether. Then he could start learning a trade and marry Liese.
So that night he gave the thread a hard tug, and in the morning
he awoke to find himself apprenticed to a carpenter in town. He
loved his new life, clambering about on roofs and scaffolding,
lifting and hammering great beams into place that still smelled
of the forest. But sometimes, when payday seemed too far off, he
gave the thread a little tug and suddenly the week was drawing
to a close and it was Friday night and he had money in his
Liese had also come to town and
was living with her aunt, who taught her housekeeping. Peter
began to grow impatient for the day when they would be married.
It was hard to live so near and yet so far from her. He asked
her when they could be married.
"In another year," she said.
"Then I will have learned how to be a capable wife."
Peter fingered the silver ball in
"Well, the time will pass quickly
enough," he said, knowingly.
That night Peter could not sleep.
He tossed and turned restlessly. He took the magic ball from
under his pillow. For a moment he hesitated; then his impatience
got the better of him, and he tugged at the golden thread. In
the morning he awoke to find that the year was over and that
Liese had at last agreed to marry him. Now Peter felt truly
But before their wedding could
take place, Peter received an official-looking letter. He opened
it in trepidation and read that he was expected to report at the
army barracks the following week for two years' military
service. He showed the letter to Liese in despair.
"Well," she said, "there is
nothing for it, we shall just have to wait. But the time will
pass quickly, you'll see. There are so many things to do in
preparation for our life together."
Peter smiled bravely, knowing
that two years would seem a lifetime to him.
Once Peter had settled into life
at the barracks, however, he began to feel that it wasn't so bad
after all. He quite enjoyed being with all the other young men,
and their duties were not very arduous at first. He remembered
the old woman's warning to use the thread wisely and for a while
refrained from pulling it. But in time he grew restless again.
Army life bored him with its routine duties and harsh
discipline. He began pulling the thread to make the week go
faster so that it would be Sunday again, or to speed up the time
until he was due for leave. And so the two years passed almost
as if they had been a dream.
Back home, Peter determined not
to pull the thread again until it was absolutely necessary.
After all, this was the best time of his life, as everyone told
him. He did not want it to be over too quickly. He did, however,
give the thread one or two very small tugs, just to speed along
the day of his marriage. He longed to tell Liese his secret, but
he knew that if he did he would die.
On the day of
his wedding, everyone, including Peter, was happy. He could
hardly wait to show Liese the house he had built for her. At the
wedding feast he glanced over at his mother. He noticed for the
first time how gray her hair had grown recently. She seemed to
be aging so quickly. Peter felt a pang of guilt that he had
pulled the thread so often. Henceforward he would be much more
sparing with it and only use it when it was strictly necessary.
A few months
later Liese announced that she was going to have a child. Peter
was overjoyed and could hardly wait. When the child was born, he
felt that he could never want for anything again. But whenever
the child was ill or cried through the sleepless night, he gave
the thread a little tug, just so that the baby might be well and
hard. Business was bad and a government had come to power that
squeezed the people dry with taxes and would tolerate no
opposition. Anyone who became known as a troublemaker was thrown
into prison without trial and rumor was enough to condemn a man.
Peter had always been known as one who spoke his mind, and very
soon he was arrested and cast into jail. Luckily he had his
magic ball with him and he tugged very hard at the thread. The
prison walls dissolved before him and his enemies were scattered
in the huge explosion that burst forth like thunder. It was the
war that had been threatening, but it was over as quickly as a
summer storm, leaving behind it an exhausted peace. Peter found
himself back home with his family. But now he was a middle-aged
For a time
things went well and Peter lived in relative contentment. One
day he looked at his magic ball and saw to his surprise that the
thread had turned from gold to silver. He looked in the mirror.
His hair was starting to turn gray and his face was lined where
before there had not been a wrinkle to be seen. He suddenly felt
afraid and determined to use the thread even more carefully than
before. Liese bore him more children and he seemed happy as the
head of his growing household. His stately manner often made
people think of him as some sort of benevolent ruler. He had an
air of authority as if he held the fate of others in his hands.
He kept his magic ball in a well-hidden place, safe from the
curious eyes of his children, knowing that if anyone were to
discover it, it would be fatal.
As the number
of his children grew, so his house became more overcrowded. He
would have to extend it, but for that he needed money. He had
other worries too. His mother was looking older and more tired
every day. It was of no use to pull the magic thread because
that would only hasten her approaching death. All too soon she
died, and as Peter stood at her graveside, he wondered how it
was that life passed so quickly, even without pulling the magic
One night as
he lay in bed, kept awake by his worries, he thought how much
easier life would be if all his children were grown up and
launched upon their careers in life. He gave the thread a mighty
tug, and the following day he awoke to find that his children
had all left home for jobs in different parts of the country,
and that he and his wife were alone. His hair was almost white
now and often his back and limbs ached as he climbed the ladder
or lifted a heavy beam into place. Liese too was getting old and
she was often ill. He couldn't bear to see her suffer, so that
more and more he resorted to pulling at the magic thread. But as
soon as one trouble was solved, another seemed to grow in its
place. Perhaps life would be easier if he retired, Peter
thought. Then he would no longer have to clamber about on
drafty, half-completed buildings and he could look after Liese
when she was ill. The trouble was that he didn't have enough
money to live on. He picked up his magic ball and looked at it.
To his dismay he saw that the thread was no longer silver but
gray and lusterless. He decided to go for a walk in the forest
to think things over.
It was a long
time since he had been in that part of the forest. The small
saplings had all grown into tall fir trees, and it was hard to
find the path he had once known. Eventually he came to a bench
in a clearing. He sat down to rest and fell into a light doze.
He was woken by someone calling his name, "Peter! Peter!"
He looked up
and saw the old woman he had met so many years ago when she had
given him the magic silver ball with its golden thread. She
looked just as she had on that day, not a day older. She smiled
have you had a good life?" she asked.
sure," Peter said. "Your magic ball is a wonderful thing. I have
never had to suffer or wait for anything in my life. And yet it
has all passed so quickly. I feel that I have had no time to
take in what has happened to me, neither the good things nor the
bad. Now there is so little time left. I dare not pull the
thread again for it will only bring me to my death. I do not
think your gift has brought me luck."
ungrateful you are!" the old woman said. "In what way would you
have wished things to be different?"
you had given me a different ball, one where I could have pushed
the thread back in as well as pulling it out. Then I could have
relived the things that went badly."
The old woman
laughed. "You ask a great deal! Do you think that God allows us
to live our lives twice over? But I can grant you one final
wish, you foolish, demanding man."
that?" Peter asked.
old woman said. Peter thought hard.
At length he
said, "I should like to live my life again as if for the first
time, but without your magic ball. Then I will experience the
bad things as well as the good without cutting them short, and
at least my life will not pass as swiftly and meaninglessly as a
"So be it,"
said the old woman. "Give me back my ball."
out her hand and Peter placed the silver ball in it. Then he sat
back and closed his eyes with exhaustion.
When he awoke
he was in his own bed. His youthful mother was bending over him,
shaking him gently.
Peter. You will be late for school. You were sleeping like the
He looked up
at her in surprise and relief.
"I've had a
terrible dream, Mother. I dreamed that I was old and sick and
that my life had passed like the blinking of an eye with nothing
to show for it. Not even any memories."
laughed and shook her head.
never happen," she said. "Memories are the one thing we all
have, even when we are old. Now hurry and get dressed. Liese is
waiting for you and you will be late for school."
walked to school with Liese, he noticed what a bright summer
morning it was, the kind of morning when it felt good to be
alive. Soon he would see his friends and classmates, and even
the prospect of lessons didn't seem so bad. In fact he could