This tale appears to be Celtic in origin, and is classified by some as an Irish tale and by others as a Cornish tale. In it, a man has to choose between gold and good advice.
The bones of the story:
- John taken on as a farmhand at a local farm in order to feed his family (in the case of the Cornish version, the result of his work as a tin miner falling away)
- Agrees to work for a year/period of time for a piece of gold.
- At the end of the year, farmer says pleased with John’s work, and can either pay him the gold they agreed, or he can offer him a piece of advice worth more all the gold and silver the man could ever earn.
- John chooses advice: Never to take a new road when an old road exists.
- Works for another year, same offer: farmer can pay the gold, or he can offer him a piece of advice worth more all the gold and silver the man could ever earn.
- John chooses advice: Never overnight in a place where an old man is married to a young woman.
- Another year goes by, same question: gold or advice.
- John chooses advice, and also chooses to leave: he misses his family and has had enough of working.
- Advice: Honesty is the best policy.
- John leaves the farm on good terms, carrying with him the three pieces of advice and a cake baked by the farmer’s wife, with strict instructions to eat it in a moment of great joy.
- On the road, John joins a small party of travellers. They come to a fork in the road, travellers take the new road, John remembers the advice and takes the old road. No sooner have they separated than the travellers are set upon by robbers. John hears his companions shouting for help, and he races back shouting and making a noise. Robbers terrified and run away. Travellers join John on old road and continue on their way, very grateful for his help.
- When they come to the next town, the decide to take a room at a guesthouse. John remembers second piece of advice, and before agreeing, asks for the owners to be pointed out to him. They turn out to be a beautiful young woman at the bar, and a wizened old man turning the spit. John decides to sleep in the stables whilst his travelling companions choose to stay in guesthouse. Just as settling down for the night, he hears footsteps and a loud conversation between the the young wife and a young man. They talk in detail how they plan to murder the old man, blame it on the guests, and then marry and live a new life together. John unsure of what to do, but makes a note of all they say. He remains awake all night, and witnesses the two throwing their blood-stained clothing behind hay bales before calling for the law. The crime is duly blamed on John’s travelling companions, and John attends their trial where the young woman accuses them before the judge. John stands up, asks to speak, and tells his tale, producing the blood-stained dress and clothes of the woman and man. They are arrested, his companions are released, and in thanks, they each give him several gold pieces before they part ways.
- John feels the advice has more than paid off. Arrives home to great excitement because his wife and children had found a purse full of gold. It turns out that the local landowner had been riding and had lost his purse and would never know where. John recalled the last piece of advice, and he and his wife made a trip to the landowner’s home, where they discovered he was away. Left purse in the safekeeping of a servant and returned home. The next day, the landowner stopped by to ask if a purse had been found – he had been riding and lost it, and was trying to re-trace his steps. John explained that they had visited the day before and left the purse at the big house. Landowner surprised as no one had returned it. John and his wife accompanied him back to the big house, identified the servant, and lo and behold, the purse was found in his room. Man was dismissed, and John given gold pieces as a reward and him and his wife offered jobs at the big house.
- John and wife accepted but asked for one more day together to enjoy his home coming. On returning home, sliced open cake to celebrate the good news, and there in the center were John’s wages from the last three years – doubled!
- John and his wife lived a long and happy life, and on his deathbed, John offered his children and grandchildren three pieces of advice to live by:
- Never to take a new road when an old road exists.
- Never overnight in a place where an old man is married to a young woman.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- T. Crofton Croker, “The Three Advices: An Irish Moral Tale,” Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, vol. 4, no. 173 (May 23, 1835), pp. 131-32.
- The same story is found in The Rural Repository, vol. 12-13, new series (Hudson, New York: William B. Stoddard, 1835-36), pp. 107-108.
- Joseph Jacobs (1892) recorded the tale as “The Tale of Ivan” in Celtic Fairy Tales.
- A Cornish version appears in Mike O’Connor’s Cornish Folk Tales, pp.72-74 (2011).
- D. L. Ashliman’s folktexts
ATU 910B: Good Advice Well Taken