Once on a time there was a skipper who was so wonderfully lucky in everything he undertook; there was no one who got such freights, and no one who earned so much money, for it rolled in upon him on all sides, and, in a word, there was no one who was good to make such voyages as he, for whithersoever he sailed he took the wind with him;--nay! men did say he had only to turn his hat and the wind turned the way he wished it to blow.
So he sailed for many years, both in the timber trade and to China, and he had gathered money together like grass. But it so happened that once he was coming home across the North sea with every sail set, as though he had stolen both ship and lading; but he who wanted to lay hold on him went faster still. It was Old Nick, for with him he had made a bargain, as one may well fancy, and that very day the time was up, and he might look any moment that Old Nick would come and fetch him.
Well! the skipper came up on deck out of the cabin and looked at the weather; then he called for the carpenter and some others of the crew, and said they must go down into the hold and hew two holes in the ship's bottom, and when they had done that they were to lift the pumps out of their beds and drive them down tight into the holes they had made, so that the sea might rise high up into the pumps.
The crew wondered at all this, and thought it a funny bit of work, but they did as the skipper ordered; they hewed holes in the ship's bottom and drove the pumps in so tight that never a drop of water could come to the cargo, but up in the pump itself the North sea stood seven feet high.
They had only just thrown the chips overboard after their piece of work when Old Nick came on board in a gust of wind and caught the skipper by the throat.
'Stop, father!' said the skipper, 'there's no need to be in such a hurry,' and as he said that he began to defend himself and to loose the claws which Old Nick had stuck into him by the help of a marling-spike.
'Haven't you made a bargain that you would always keep the ship dry and tight?' asked the skipper. 'Yes! you're a pretty fellow; look down the pumps, there's the water standing seven feet high in the pipe. Pump, devil, pump! and pump the ship dry, and then you may take me and have me as soon and as long as you choose.'
Old Nick was not so clever that he was not taken in; he pumped and strove, and the sweat ran down his back like a brook, so that you might have turned a mill at the end of his backbone, but he only pumped out of the North sea and into the North sea again. At last he got tired of that work, and when he could not pump a stroke more, he set off in a sad temper home to his grandmother to take a rest. As for the skipper, he let him stay a skipper as long as he chose, and if he isn't dead, he is still perhaps sailing on his voyages whithersoever he will, and twisting the wind as he chooses only by turning his hat.