THERE was a man who had three sons, the youngest of whom was called Dummling,2 and was despised, mocked, and put down on every occasion.3
It happened that the eldest wanted to go into the forest4 to hew wood, and before he went his mother gave him a beautiful sweet cake5 and a bottle of wine in order that he might not suffer from hunger or thirst.
When he entered the forest there met him a little grey-haired old man6 who bade him good-day, and said, "Do give me a piece of cake out of your pocket, and let me have a draught of your wine; I am so hungry and thirsty." But the prudent7 youth answered, "If I give you my cake and wine, I shall have none for myself; be off with you," and he left the little man standing and went on.
But when he began to hew down a tree,8 it was not long before he made a false stroke, and the axe9 cut him in the arm,10 so that he had to go home and have it bound up. And this was the little grey man's doing.11
After this the second son went into the forest, and his mother gave him, like the eldest, a cake and a bottle of wine. The little old grey man met him likewise, and asked him for a piece of cake and a drink of wine. But the second son, too, said with much reason, "What I give you will be taken away from myself;12 be off!" and he left the little man standing and went on. His punishment,13 however, was not delayed; when he had made a few strokes at the tree he struck himself in the leg,14 so that he had to be carried home.
Then Dummling said, "Father, do let me go and cut wood." The father answered, "Your brothers have hurt themselves with it, leave it alone, you do not understand15 anything about it." But Dummling begged so long that at last he said, "Just go then, you will get wiser by hurting yourself." His mother gave him a cake made with water and baked in the cinders,16 and with it a bottle of sour beer.
When he came to the forest the little old grey man met him likewise, and greeting him, said, "Give me a piece of your cake and a drink out of your bottle; I am so hungry and thirsty." Dummling answered, "I have only cinder-cake and sour beer; if that pleases you, we will sit down and eat."17 So they sat down, and when Dummling pulled out his cinder-cake, it was a fine sweet cake, and the sour beer had become good wine. So they ate and drank, and after that the little man said, "Since you have a good heart, and are willing to divide what you have, I will give you good luck. There stands an old tree,18 cut it down, and you will find something at the roots." Then the little man took leave of him.
Dummling went and cut down the tree, and when it fell there was a goose19 sitting in the roots with feathers of pure gold.20 He lifted her up, and taking her with him, went to an inn where he thought he would stay the night. Now the host had three daughters,.21 who saw the goose and were curious to know what such a wonderful bird might be, and would have liked to have one of its golden feathers.
The eldest thought, "I shall soon find an opportunity of pulling out a feather," and as soon as Dummling had gone out she seized the goose by the wing, but her finger and hand remained sticking fast to it.22
The second came soon afterwards, thinking only of how she might get a feather for herself, but she had scarcely touched her sister than she was held fast.
At last the third also came with the like intent, and the others screamed out, "Keep away; for goodness' sake keep away!" But she did not understand why she was to keep away. "The others are there,"23 she thought, "I may as well be there too," and ran to them; but as soon as she had touched her sister, she remained sticking fast to her. So they had to spend the night with the goose.
The next morning Dummling took the goose under his arm and set out, without troubling himself about the three girls who were hanging on to it. They were obliged to run after him continually, now left, now right, just as he was inclined to go.
In the middle of the fields the parson24 met them, and when he saw the procession he said, "For shame, you good-for-nothing girls, why are you running across the fields after this young man? is that seemly?" At the same time he seized the youngest by the hand in order to pull her away, but as soon as he touched her he likewise stuck fast, and was himself obliged to run behind.
Before long the sexton25 came by and saw his master, the parson, running behind three girls. He was astonished at this and called out, "Hi, your reverence, whither away so quickly? do not forget that we have a christening to-day!" and running after him he took him by the sleeve, but was also held fast to it.
Whilst the five were trotting thus one behind the other, two labourers26 came with their hoes from the fields; the parson called out to them and begged that they would set him and the sexton free. But they had scarcely touched the sexton when they were held fast, and now there were seven27 of them running behind Dummling and the goose.