Nail Soup.

One dark and stormy night, a tramp knocked on the door of a cottage and asked for shelter. An old woman answered the door and told the tramp sourly that he could come in if he wanted, but he must not expect any food for she had none in the house.

"And don't think you'll get a bed to sleep on either", she added, "as I only have one and that is where I sleep".

The tramp was hungry, but he could see he wasn't going to get any food, so he sat by the fire and took an old nail out of his pocket and tossed it from hand to hand.

"Do you see this nail here?" he said at last. "You'd never believe it, but last night I made the finest soup I have ever eaten by cooking this nail, and what is more I still have it to make more tonight. Would you like me to make you some nail soup?"

"Nail soup!" snorted the old woman. "I have never heard of such a thing. Don't talk nonsense". But the tramp could see she was curious.

"All I did", he told her, "was to boil it up in an old saucepan, and it was delicious".

"Well, since we have nothing else to do, and I have no food in the house, perhaps you would be good enough to show me how you do it", she said after a few moments.

"You haven't a large pot and some water, have you?" asked the tramp.

"Why yes", said the old woman, handing a big cooking pot to the tramp and showing him where the water was. She watched as the tramp carefully filled the pot half full with water, placed it on the stove, and dropped in the nail. Then he sat down to wait.

From time to time, the old woman peeped into the pot to see how the soup was doing, and once when she lifted the lid the tramp said, "Last night all that was needed was a little salt and pepper. I don't suppose you have any in the house?"

"I might have", said the old woman ungraciously, and from a cupboard she took salt and pepper which she dropped into the water with the nail.

The next time she lifted the lid, the tramp sighed, "What a pity you haven't got half an onion for that would make the soup even better than it was last night".

"I think I might have an onion", said the old woman, quite excited by now at the thought of the nail soup, and she went to the larder to fetch an onion. As she opened the door, the tramp caught a glimpse of shelves stacked with food, but he said nothing until the onion had been in the pot for about ten minutes.

Then, stirring the soup again, he murmured to himself, "How sad that this fine onion has no carrots and potatoes to go with it". Just as he had hoped, the old woman quickly fetched some carrots and potatoes from the larder.

By now, the soup was beginning to smell good, and it was not long before the tramp said that on nights when he could add a little meat to his nail soup, it was fit even for kings and queens. In a flash, the old woman had fetched some meat for the pot.

While the soup was bubbling, the tramp looked round at the table. "It's a funny thing", he remarked, "but my nail soup always tastes better when I eat it at a table that is laid with pretty china and when there is a candle or two on the table".

The old woman, not to be outdone, put out her best table cloth and got the best china off the dresser.

What a shame, said the tramp, "that we have no bread to eat with this nail soup, but I remember you telling me there is no food in the house".

"I'll just look in the bread crock", said the old woman, and she pulled out a loaf that had been baked that morning.

The soup now smelled quite delicious, and the tramp was longing to eat it, but he waited a few more minutes before saying, "I am sorry there is no wine to drink with our nail soup, as I would have liked you to enjoy it with a glass of wine".

"Just a minute", said the old woman, and she fetched a fine looking bottle of wine from the back of a cupboard and put it on the table with two glasses.

"Now the soup is ready. I hope you enjoy it", said the tramp heartily, and he fished the nail out with a spoon and put it in his pocket before carrying the soup over to the table.

They both had a wonderful meal. After the soup, which the old woman agreed was the best she'd ever tasted, she found some cheese and other good things in the larder. They told each other many stories, laughed a lot and had a very pleasant evening.

As the candles burnt low, the old woman told the tramp to go and sleep in her bed, saying that she would be quite comfortable in a chair by the fire. They both slept soundly.

The next morning, the tramp thanked the old woman for her kindness, but she said.

"No, no, I must thank you for showing me how to make soup from an old nail".

"It's what you add that makes the difference!" said the tramp, smiling.