There was once a man who had three sons, the youngest of whom was
called the Simpleton. He was laughed at and despised and neglected
on all occasions. Now it happened one day that the eldest son wanted
to go into the forest, to chop wood, and his Mother gave him a
beautiful cake and a bottle of wine to take with him, so that he
might not suffer from hunger or thirst. When he came to the wood he
met a little old grey man, who, bidding him good-day, said: "Give me
a small piece of the cake in your wallet, and let me drink a
mouthful of your wine; I am so hungry and thirsty." But the clever
son answered: "If I were to give you my cake and wine, I should have
none for myself, so be off with you," and he left the little man
standing there, and walked away.
Hardly had he begun to chop down a
tree, when his axe slipped and cut his arm, so that he had to go
home at once and have the wound bound up. This was the work of the
little grey man.r />
Thereupon the second son went into the wood, and the Mother gave
him, as she had given to the eldest, a sweet cake and a bottle of
wine. The little old man met him also, and begged for a small slice
of cake and a drink of wine. But the second son spoke out quite
plainly. "What I give to you I lose myself—be off with you," and he
left the little man standing there, and walked on. Punishment was
not long in coming to him, for he had given but two strokes at a
tree when he cut his leg so badly that he had to be carried home.
Then said the Simpleton: "Father, let me go into the forest and
wood." But his Father answered him: "Your brothers have done
themselves much harm, so as you understand nothing about
wood-cutting you had better not try." But the Simpleton begged for
so long that at last the Father said: "Well, go if you like;
experience will soon make you wiser." To him the Mother gave a cake,
but it was made with water and had been baked in the ashes, and with
it she gave him a bottle of sour beer. When he came to the wood the
little grey man met him also, and greeted him, and said: "Give me a
slice of your cake and a drink from your bottle; I am so hungry and
thirsty." The Simpleton replied: "I have only a cake that has been
baked in the ashes, and some sour beer, but if that will satisfy
you, let us sit down and eat together." So they sat themselves down,
and as the Simpleton held out his food it became a rich cake, and
the sour beer became good wine.
So they ate and drank together, and
when the meal was finished, the little man said: "As you have a good
heart and give so willingly a share of your own, I will grant you
good luck. Yonder stands an old tree; chop it down, and in its roots
you will find something." Saying this the old man took his
departure, and off went the Simpleton and cut down the tree. When it
fell, there among its roots sat a goose, with feathers of pure gold.
He lifted her out, and carried her with him to an inn where he
intended to stay the night.
Now the innkeeper had three daughters, who on seeing the goose were
curious to know what wonderful kind of a bird it could be, and
longed to have one of its golden feathers. The eldest daughter
thought to herself, "Surely a chance will come for me to pull out
one of those feathers"; and so when the Simpleton had gone out, she
caught the goose by the wing. But there her hand stuck fast! Shortly
afterwards the second daughter came, as she too was longing for a
golden feather. She had hardly touched her sister, however, when she
also stuck fast. And lastly came the third daughter with the same
object. At this the others cried out, "Keep off, for goodness' sake,
keep off!" But she, not understanding why they told her to keep
away, thought to herself, "If they go to the goose, why should not
I?" She sprang forward, but as she touched her sister she too stuck
fast, and pull as she might she could not get away; and thus they
had all to pass the night beside the goose.
The next morning the Simpleton took the goose under his arm and went
on his way, without troubling himself at all about the three girls
who were hanging to the bird. There they went, always running behind
him, now to the right, now to the left, whichever way he chose to
In the middle of the fields they met the parson, and when he saw
the procession he called out, "Shame on you, you naughty girls, why
do you run after a young fellow in this way? Come, leave go!" With
this he caught the youngest by the hand, and tried to pull her back,
but when he touched her he found he could not get away, and he too
must needs run behind. Then the sexton came along, and saw the
parson following on the heels of the three girls. This so astonished
him that he called out, "Hi! Sir Parson, whither away so fast? Do
you forget that today we have a christening?" and ran after him, and
caught him by the coat, but he too remained sticking fast.
As the five now ran on, one behind the other, two labourers who were
returning from the field with their tools, came along. The parson
called out to them and begged that they would set him and the sexton
free. No sooner had they touched the sexton, than they too had to
hang on, and now there were seven running after the Simpleton and
In this way they came to a city where a King reigned who had an only
daughter, who was so serious that no one could make her laugh.
Therefore he had announced that whoever should make her laugh should
have her for his wife. When the Simpleton heard this he went with
his goose and his train before the Princess, and when she saw the
seven people all running behind each other, she began to laugh, and
she laughed and laughed till it seemed as though she could never
Thereupon the Simpleton demanded her for his wife, but the
King was not pleased at the thought of such a son-in-law, and he
made all kinds of objections. He told the Simpleton that he must
first bring him a man who could drink off a whole cellarful of wine.
At once the Simpleton thought of the little grey man, who would be
sure to help him, so off he went into the wood, and in the place
where he had cut down the tree he saw a man sitting who looked most
miserable. The Simpleton asked him what was the cause of his
"I have such a thirst," the man answered, "and I cannot quench it. I
cannot bear cold water. I have indeed emptied a cask of wine, but
what is a drop like that to a thirsty man?"
"In that case I can help you," said the Simpleton. "Just come with
me and you shall be satisfied."
He led him to the King's cellar, and the man at once sat down in
front of the great cask, and drank and drank till before a day was
over he had drunk the whole cellarful of wine. Then the Simpleton
demanded his bride again, but the King was angry that a mean fellow
everyone called a Simpleton should win his daughter, and he made new
conditions. Before giving him his daughter to wife he said that the
Simpleton must find a man who would eat a whole mountain of bread.
The Simpleton did not stop long to consider, but went off straight
to the wood. There in the same place as before sat a man who was
buckling a strap tightly around him, and looking very depressed. He
"I have eaten a whole ovenful of loaves, but what help is that when
a man is as hungry as I am? I feel quite empty, and I must strap
myself together if I am not to die of hunger."
The Simpleton was delighted on hearing this, and said: "Get up at
once and come with me. I will give you enough to eat to satisfy your
He led him to the King, who meanwhile had ordered all the meal in
the Kingdom to be brought together, and an immense mountain of bread
baked from it. The man from the wood set to work on it, and in one
day the whole mountain had disappeared.
For the third time the Simpleton demanded his bride, but yet again
the King tried to put him off, and said that he must bring him a
ship that would go both on land and water.
"If you are really able to sail such a ship," said he, "you shall at
once have my daughter for your wife."
The Simpleton went into the wood, and there sat the little old grey
man to whom he had given his cake.
"I have drunk for you, and I have eaten for you," said the little
man, "and I will also give you the ship; all this I do for you
because you were kind to me."
Then he gave the Simpleton a ship that went both on land and water,
and when the King saw it he knew he could no longer keep back his
daughter. The wedding was celebrated, and after the King's death,
the Simpleton inherited the Kingdom, and lived very happily ever
after with his wife.