A fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm
There was once a poor shepherd-boy whose father and mother
were dead, and he was placed by the authorities in the house
of a rich man, who was to feed him and bring him up. The man and
his wife, however, had bad hearts, and were greedy and jealous of
their riches, and vexed whenever anyone put a morsel of their
bread in his mouth. The poor young fellow might do what he
liked, he got little to eat, but only so many blows the more.
One day he had to watch a hen and her chickens, but she escaped
through a hedge with them, and a hawk darted down instantly,
and carried her off through the air. The boy called, "Thief,
thief, rascal," with all the strength of his body. But what good
did that do? The hawk did not bring its prey back again. The
man heard the noise, and ran to the spot, and as soon as he
saw that his hen was gone, he fell into a rage, and gave the boy
such a beating that he could not stir for two days.
had to take care of the chickens without the hen, but now his
difficulty was greater, for one ran here and the other there.
He thought he was doing a very wise thing when he tied them
all together with a string, because then the hawk would not
be able to steal any of them away from him. But he was very
much mistaken. After two days, worn out with running about and
hunger, he fell asleep. The bird of prey came, and seized one
of the chickens, and as the others were tied fast to it, it
carried them all off together, perched itself on a tree, and
devoured them. The farmer was just coming home, and when he saw
the misfortune, he got angry and beat the boy so unmercifully
that he was forced to lie in bed for several days.
When he was on his legs again, the farmer said to him, "You are
too stupid for me, I cannot make a herdsman of you, you must
go as errand-boy." Then he sent him to the judge, to whom he
was to carry a basketful of grapes, and he gave him a letter as
well. On the way hunger and thirst tormented the unhappy boy
so violently that he ate two grapes. He took the basket to the
judge, but when the judge had read the letter, and counted the
grapes he said, "Two are missing." The boy confessed quite honestly
that, driven by hunger and thirst, he had devoured the two which
were missing. The judge wrote a letter to the farmer, and asked
for the same number of grapes again. These also the boy had
to take to him with a letter. As he again was so extremely
hungry and thirsty, he could not help it, and again ate two grapes.
But first he took the letter out of the basket, put it under a
stone and seated himself thereon in order that the letter might
not see and betray him. The judge, however, again made him give
an explanation about the missing grapes. "Ah," said the boy,
"how have you learnt that? The letter could not know about it,
for I put it under a stone before I did it." The judge could
not help laughing at the boy's simplicity, and sent the man a
letter wherein he cautioned him to look after the poor boy better,
and not let him want for meat and drink, and also that he was to
teach him what was right and what was wrong.
"I shall soon show you the difference," said the hard man, "if
you will eat, you must work, and if you do anything wrong, you
will be quite sufficiently taught by blows."
The next day he set him a hard task. He was to chop two bundles
of hay for food for the horses, and then the man threatened, "In
five hours, I shall be back again, and if the hay
is not chopped by that time, I shall beat you until you cannot
move a limb." The
farmer went with his wife, the man-servant and the girl, to the
yearly fair, and left nothing behind for the boy but a small bit
of bread. The boy seated himself on the bench, and began to
work with all his might. As he got warm over it he put his little
coat off and threw it on the hay. In his terror lest he should
not get done in time he kept constantly cutting, and in his
haste, without noticing it, he chopped his little coat as well as
the hay. He became aware of the misfortune too late. There was
no repairing it. "Ah," cried he, "now all is over with me. The
wicked man did not threaten me for nothing. If he comes back
and sees what I have done, he will kill me. Rather than that I
shall take my own life."
The boy had once heard the farmer's wife say, "I have a pot
with poison in it under my bed." She, however, had only said
that to keep away greedy people, for there was honey in it.
The boy crept under the bed, brought out the pot, and ate all
that was in it. "I don't know," said he, "folks say death is
bitter, but it tastes very sweet to me. It is no wonder
that the farmer's wife has so often longed for death." He seated
himself in a little chair, and was prepared to die. But instead
of becoming weaker he felt himself strengthened by the nourishing
food. "It cannot have been poison," thought he, "but the
farmer once said there was a small bottle of poison for flies in
the closet in which he keeps his clothes. That, no doubt, will
be the true poison, and bring death to me." It was, however, no
poison for flies, but Hungarian wine. The boy got out the bottle,
and emptied it. "This death tastes sweet too," said he, but shortly
after when the wine began to mount into his brain and stupefy
him, he thought his end was drawing near. "I feel that I must die,"
said he, "I shall go away to the churchyard, and seek a grave."
staggered out, reached the churchyard, and laid himself in a newly
dug grave. He lost his senses more and more. In the neighbourhood
was an inn where a wedding was being held. When he heard the
music, he fancied he was already in paradise, until at length
he lost all consciousness. The poor boy never awoke again. The
heat of the strong wine and the cold night-dew deprived him of
life, and he remained in the grave in which he had laid himself.
When the farmer heard the news of the boy's death he was terrified,
and afraid of being brought to justice - indeed, his distress took
such a powerful hold of him that he fell fainting to the ground.
His wife, who was standing by the hearth with a pan of hot fat,
ran to him to help him. But the flames enveloped the pan, the
whole house caught fire, in a few hours it lay in ashes, and
the rest of the years they had to live they passed in poverty
and misery, tormented by the pangs of conscience.