The Golden Goose
There was once an honest laborer who had three sons. The two eldest were stout clever lads, but as to the youngest one, John, he was little better than a simpleton.
One day their mother wanted some wood from the forest, and it was the eldest lad who was to go and get it for her. It was a long way to the forest, so the mother filled a wallet with food for him. There was a loaf of fine white bread, and a bit of cheese, and a leathern bottle of good red wine as well.
The lad set off and walked along and walked along and after awhile he came to the place where he was going, and there under a tree sat an old, old man. His clothes were gray, and his hair was gray, and his face was gray, so he was gray all over.
"Good-day," said the man.
"Good-day," said the lad.
"I am hungry," said the gray man. "Have you not a bite and sup that you can share with me?"
"Food I have, and drink too," said the lad, "but it is for myself, and not for you. It would be a simple thing for me to carry it this far just to give it to a beggar"; and he went on his way.
But it was bad luck the lad had that day. Scarcely had he begun chopping wood when the head of the ax flew off, and cut his foot so badly that he was obliged to go limping home, with not even so much as a fagot to carry with him.
The next day it was the second son who said he would go to the forest for wood.
"And see that you are more careful than your brother," said his mother. Then she gave him a loaf of bread, and a bit of cheese, and a bottle of wine, and off he set.
Presently he came to the forest, and there, sitting in the same place where he had sat before, was the old gray man.
"Good-day," said the man.
"Good-day," said the lad.
"I am hungry," said the gray man. "Have you not a bite or a sup to share with me?"
"Food I have and drink as well, but I am not such a simpleton as to give it away when I need all for myself."
The lad went on to the place where he was going, and took his ax and began to chop, but scarcely had he begun when the ax slipped and cut his leg so badly that the blood ran, and he could scarcely get home again.
That was a bad business, for now both of the elder brothers were lame.
The next day the simpleton said he would go to the forest for wood.
"You, indeed!" cried his mother. "It is not enough that your two brothers are hurt? Do you think you are smarter than they are? No, no; do you stay quietly here at home. That is the best place for you."
But the simpleton was determined to go, so his mother gave him an end of dough that was left from the baking and a bottle of sour beer, for that was good enough for him. With these in his wallet John started off, and after awhile he came to the forest, and there was the gray man sitting just as before.
"Good-day," said the man.
"Good-day," answered the simpleton.
"I am hungry," said the gray man. "Have you not a bite or sup that you can share with me?"
Oh yes, the simpleton had both food and drink in his wallet. It was none of the best, but such as it was he was willing to share it.
He reached into his wallet and pulled out the piece of dough, but what was his surprise to find that it was dough no longer, but a fine cake, all made of the whitest flour. The old man snatched the cake from John and ate it all up in a trice. There was not so much as a crumb of it left.
"Poor pickings for me!" said John.
And now the old gray man was thirsty. "What have you in that bottle?" he asked.
"Oh, that was only sour beer."
The old man took the bottle and opened it. "Sour beer! Why it is wine," he cried, "and of the very best, too."
And the simpleton could tell it was by the smell of it. But the smell of it was all he got, for the old man raised the bottle to his lips, and when he put it down there was not a drop left in it.
"And now I may go thirsty as well as hungry," said John.
"Never mind that," said the old man. "After this you may eat and drink of the best whenever you will. Go on into the forest and take the first turning to the right. There you will see a hollow oak tree. Cut it down, and whatever you find inside of it you may keep; it belongs to me, and it is I who give it to you."
Then of a sudden the old man was gone, and where he went the simpleton could have told no one.
The lad went on into the forest, as the gray man had told him, and took the first turn to the left, and there sure enough was a hollow oak tree. The lad could tell it was hollow from the sound it made when his ax struck it.
John set to work, and chopped so hard the splinters flew.
After awhile he cut through it so that the tree fell, and there, sitting in the hollow, was a goose, with eyes like diamonds, and every feather of pure gold.
When John saw the goose he could not wonder enough. He took it up under his arm and off he set for home, for there was no more chopping for him that day.
But if the goose shone like gold it weighed like lead. The farther John went the wearier he grew. After awhile he came to an inn, just outside of the city where the King lived. There the simpleton sat him down to rest. He pulled a feather from the golden goose, and gave it to the landlord and bade him bring him food and drink, and with such payment as that it was the very best that the landlord sat before him you may be sure.
While the simpleton ate and drank the landlord's wife and daughter watched him from a window.
"Oh, if we only had a second feather," sighed the daughter.
"Oh, if we only had!" sighed the mother.
Then the two agreed between them that when the simpleton had finished eating and drinking, the daughter should creep up behind him and pluck another feather from the bird.
Presently John could eat and drink no more. He rose up and tucked the golden goose under his arm, and off he set.
The landlord's daughter was watching, and she stole up behind him and caught hold of a feather in the goose's tail. No sooner had she touched it, however, than her fingers stuck, and she could not let go. Off marched John with the goose under his arm, and the girl tagging along after him.
The mother saw her following John down the road, and first she called, and then she shouted, and then she ran after her and caught hold of her to bring her home. But no sooner had she laid hands on the girl than she, too, stuck, and was obliged to follow John and the golden goose.
The landlord was looking from the window. "Wife, wife," he cried, "where are you going?" And he hurried after her and caught her by the sleeve. Then he could not let go any more than the others.
The simpleton marched along with the three tagging at his heels, and he never so much as turned his head to look over his shoulder at them.
The road ran past a church, and there was the clergyman just coming out of the door. "Stop, stop!" he cried to the landlord. "Have you forgotten you have a christening feast to cook to-day?" And he ran after the landlord and caught hold of him, and then he too stuck.
The sexton saw his master following the landlord, and he ran and caught hold of his coat, and he too had to follow. So it went. Everyone who touched those who followed the golden goose could not let go, and were obliged to tag along at John's heels.
Now the King of that country had a daughter who was so sad and doleful that she was never known to smile. For this reason a gloom hung over the whole country, and the King had promised that any one who could make the Princess laugh should have her as a wife and a half of the kingdom as well.
It so chanced the simpleton's way led him through the city and by the time he came in front of the King's palace the whole street was in an uproar, and John had a long train of people tagging along after him.
The Princess heard the noise in the room where she sat sighing and wiping her eyes, and as she was very curious she went to the window and looked out to see what all the uproar was about.
When she saw the simpleton marching along with a goose under his arm and a whole string of people after him, all crying and bawling and calling for help, it seemed to her the funniest thing she had ever seen. She began to laugh, and she laughed and laughed. She laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks and she had to hold her sides for laughing.
But it was no laughing matter for the King, as you may believe. Here was a poor common lad, and a simpleton at that, who had made the Princess laugh; so now, by all rights, he might claim her for a wife, and the half of the kingdom, too.
The King frowned and bit his nails, and then he sent for John to be brought before him, and the lad came in alone, for he had set the people free at the gates.
"Listen, now," said the King to John. "It is true I promised that anyone who made the Princess laugh should have her for a wife, but there is more to the matter than that. Before I hand over part of the kingdom to anyone, I must know what sort of friends he has, and whether they are good fellows. If you can bring here a man who can drink a whole cellar full of wine at one sitting then you shall have the Princess and part of the kingdom, just as promised; but if you cannot you shall be sent home with a good drubbing to keep you quiet."
When John heard that he made a wry face. He did not know where he could find a man who could drink a whole cellar full of wine at one sitting.
He went out from the castle, and suddenly he remembered the old gray man who had given him the golden goose. If the old man had helped him once perhaps he might again.
He set out for the forest, and it was not long before he came to it. There, sitting where the old gray man had sat before, was a man with a sad and rueful face. He looked as though he had never smiled in all his life. He was talking to himself, and when the simpleton drew near he found the man was saying over and over, "How dry I am! How dry I am! Not even the dust of a summer's day is as dry as I."
"If you are so thirsty, friend," said John, "rise up and follow me. Do you think you could drink a whole cellar full of wine at one sitting?"
Yes, the man could do that, and glad to get it, too. A whole cellar full of wine would be none too much to satisfy such a thirst as his.
"Then, come along," said John.
He took the man back to the castle and down into the cellar where all the casks of wine were stored. When the man saw all that wine his eyes sparkled with joy. He sat him down to drink, and one after another he drained the casks until the very last one of them was empty. Then he stretched himself and sighed. "Now I am content," said he.
As for the King his eyes bulged with wonder that any one man could drink so much at one sitting.
"Yes, that is all very well," said he to the simpleton. "I see you have a friend who can drink. Have you also a friend who can eat a whole mountain of bread without stopping? If you have, you may claim the Princess for your wife, but if you have not, then you shall be sent home with a good drubbing."
Well, that was not in the bargain, but perhaps the simpleton might be able to find such a man.
He set off for the forest once more, and when he came near the place where the thirsty man had sat he saw there another man, and he was enough like the thirsty man to be his brother.
As John came near to where he sat he heard him talking to himself, and what he was saying over-and-over was, "How hungry I am. Oh, how hungry I am."
"Friend," said the simpleton, "are you hungry enough to eat a whole mountain of bread? If you are I may satisfy you."
Yes, a whole mountain of bread would be none too much for the hungry man.
So John bade the stranger follow him and then he led the way back to the castle.
There all the flour in the kingdom had been gathered together into one great enormous mountain of dough. When John saw how big it was his heart failed him.
"Can you eat that much?" he asked of the hungry man.
"Oh, yes, I can eat that much, and more, too, if need be," said the man.
Then he sat down before the mountain of bread and began to eat. He ate and he ate, and he ate, and when he finished not so much as a crumb of bread was left.
As for the King he was a sad and sorry man. Not only was his daughter and part of the kingdom promised to a simpleton, but he had not even a cupful of flour left in the palace for his breakfast.
And still the King was not ready to keep the promises he had made. There was one thing more required of the simpleton before he could have the Princess and part of the kingdom for himself. Let him bring to the King a ship that would sail both on land and water, and he should at once marry the Princess, and no more words about it.
Well, John did not know about that, but he would do the best he could. He took the road that led back to the forest, and when he reached the place where the old man had sat, there was the old man sitting again just as though he had never moved from that one spot.
"Well," said the old man, "and has the golden goose made your fortune?"
"That," answered John, "is as it may be. It may be I am to have the half of a kingdom and a princess for a wife, and it may be that I am only to get a good drubbing. Before I win the Princess I must find a ship that will sail on land as well as on water, and if there is such a thing as that in the world I have never heard of it."
"Well, there might be harder things than that to find," said the old man. It might be he could help John out of that ditch, and what was more he would, too, and all that because John had once been kind to him. The old man then reached in under his coat and brought out the prettiest little model of a ship that ever was seen. Its sails were of silk, its hull of silver, and its masts of beaten gold.
The old man set the ship on the ground, and at once it began to grow. It grew and grew and grew, until it was so large that it could have carried a score of men if need be.
"Look," said the old man. "This I give to you because you were kind to me and willing to share the best you had. Moreover it was I who drank the wine and ate the mountain of bread for you. Enter into the ship and it will carry you over land and water, and back to the King's castle. And when he sees this ship he will no longer dare to refuse you the Princess for your wife."
And so it was. John stepped into the ship and sailed away until he came to the King's palace, and when the King saw the ship he was so delighted with it that he was quite willing to give the Princess to the simpleton for a bride.
The marriage was held with much feasting and rejoicing, and John's father and mother and his two brothers were invited to the feast. But they no longer called him the simpleton; instead he was His Majesty, the wise King John.
As for the old gray man he was never seen again, and as the golden goose had disappeared also, perhaps he flew away on it.
End of The Golden Goose - Traditional