There was once a young huntsman who went into the forest to lie in
wait. He had a fresh and joyous heart, and as he was going thither, whistling upon a leaf,
an ugly old crone came up, who spoke to him and said, "Good-day, dear huntsman, truly
you are merry and contented, but I am suffering from hunger and thirst, do give me an
alms." The huntsman took pity on the poor old creature, felt in his pocket, and gave
her what he could afford.
He was then about to go further, but the old woman stopped him and
said, "Listen, dear huntsman, to what I tell you. I will make you a present in return
for your good heart. Go on your way now, but in a little while you will come to a tree,
whereon nine birds are sitting which have a cloak in their claws, and are fighting for it,
take your gun and shoot into the midst of them. They will let the cloak fall down to you,
but one of the birds will be hurt, and will drop down dead. Carry away the cloak, it is a
wishing-cloak. When you throw it over your shoulders, you only have to wish to be in a
certain place, and you will be there in the twinkling of an eye. Take out the heart of the
dead bird and swallow it whole, and every morning early, when you get up, you will find a
gold piece under your pillow." The huntsman thanked the wise woman, and thought to
himself, "Those are fine things that she has promised me, if all does but come
true." And verily when he had walked about a hundred paces, he heard in the branches
above him such a screaming and twittering that he looked up and saw there a swarm of birds
who were tearing a piece of cloth about with their beaks and claws, and tugging and
fighting as if each wanted to have it all to himself. "Well," said the huntsman,
"this is amazing, it has really come to pass just as the old crone foretold,"
and he took the gun from his shoulder, aimed and fired right into the midst of them, so
that the feathers flew about. The birds instantly took to flight with loud outcries, but
one dropped down dead, and the cloak fell at the same time. Then the huntsman did as the
old woman had directed him, cut open the bird, sought the heart, swallowed it down, and
took the cloak home with him.
Next morning, when he awoke, the promise occurred to him, and he
wished to see if it also had been fulfilled. When he lifted up the pillow, the gold piece
shone in his eyes, and next day he found another, and so it went on, every time he got up.
He gathered together a heap of gold, but at last he thought, "Of what use is all my
gold to me if I stay at home? I will go forth and see the world."
He then took leave of his parents, buckled on his huntsman's pouch
and gun, and went out into the world. It came to pass, that one day he traveled through a
dense forest, and when he came to the end of it, in the plain before him stood a fine
castle. An old woman was standing with a wonderfully beautiful maiden, looking out of one
of the windows. The old woman, however, was a witch and said to the maiden, "There
comes one out of the forest, who has a wonderful treasure in his body. We must filch it
from him, daughter of my heart, it is more suitable for us than for him. He has a bird's
heart about him, by means of which a gold piece lies every morning under his pillow."
She told her what she was to do to get it, and what part she had to play, and finally
threatened her, and said with angry eyes, "And if you do not attend to what I say, it
will be the worse for you." Now when the huntsman came nearer he noticed the maiden,
and said to himself, "I have traveled about for such a long time, I will take a rest
for once, and enter that beautiful castle. I have certainly money enough."
Nevertheless, the real reason was that he had caught sight of the beautiful picture.
He entered the house, and was well received and courteously
entertained. Before long he was so much in love with the young witch that he no longer
thought of anything else, and only saw things as she saw them, and liked to do what she
desired. The old woman then said, "Now we must have the bird's heart, he will never
miss it." She brewed a potion, and when it was ready, poured it into a goblet and
gave it to the maiden, who was to present it to the huntsman. She did so, saying,
"Now, my dearest, drink to me."
So he took the goblet, and when he had swallowed the draught, he
brought up the heart of the bird. The girl had to take it away secretly and swallow it
herself, for the old woman would have it so. Thenceforward he found no more gold under his
pillow, but it lay instead under that of the maiden, from whence the old woman fetched it
away every morning, but he was so much in love and so befooled, that he thought of nothing
else but of passing his time with the girl.
Then the old witch said, "We have the bird's heart, but we must
also take the wishing-cloak away from him." The girl answered, "We will leave
him that, he has lost his wealth." The old woman was angry and said, "Such a
mantle is a wonderful thing, and is seldom to be found in this world. I must and will have
it." She gave the girl several blows, and said that if she did not obey, it should
fare ill with her. So she did the old woman's bidding, placed herself at the window and
looked on the distant country, as if she were very sorrowful. The huntsman asked,
"Why do you stand there so sorrowfully?" "Ah, my beloved," was her
answer, "over yonder lies the garnet mountain, where the precious stones grow. I long
for them so much that when I think of them, I feel quite sad, but who can get them. Only
the birds, they fly and can reach them, but a man never." "Have you nothing else
to complain of?" said the huntsman. "I will soon remove that burden from your
heart." With that he drew her under his mantle, wished himself on the garnet
mountain, and in the twinkling of an eye they were sitting on it together. Precious stones
were glistening on every side so that it was a joy to see them, and together they gathered
the finest and costliest of them.
Now, the old woman had, through her sorceries, contrived that the
eyes of the huntsman should become heavy. He said to the maiden, "We will sit down
and rest awhile, I am so tired that I can no longer stand on my feet." Then they sat
down, and he laid his head in her lap, and fell asleep. When he was asleep, she unfastened
the mantle from his shoulders, and wrapped herself in it, picked up the garnets and
stones, and wished herself back at home with them.
But when the huntsman had slept his fill and awoke, and perceived
that his sweetheart had betrayed him, and left him alone on the wild mountain, he said,
"Oh, what treachery there is in the world," and sat down there in trouble and
sorrow, not knowing what to do. But the mountain belonged to some wild and monstrous
giants who dwelt thereon and lived their lives there, and he had not sat long before he
saw three of them coming towards him, so he lay down as if he were sunk in a deep sleep.
Then the giants came up, and the first kicked him with his foot and
said, "What sort of an earth-worm is this, lying here contemplating his inside?"
The second said, "Step upon him and kill him." But the third said,
contemptuously, "That would indeed be worth your while, just let him live, he cannot
remain here, and when he climbs higher, toward the summit of of the mountain, the clouds
will lay hold of him and bear him away." So saying they passed by. But the huntsman
had paid heed to their words, and as soon as they were gone, he rose and climbed up to the
summit of the mountain, and when he had sat there a while, a cloud floated towards him,
caught him up, carried him away, and traveled about for a long time in the heavens. Then
it sank lower, and let itself down on a great cabbage-garden, girt round by walls, so that
he came softly to the ground on cabbages and vegetables.
Then the huntsman looked about him and said, "If I had but
something to eat. I am so hungry, and to proceed on my way from here will be difficult. I
see here neither apples nor pears, nor any other sort of fruit, everywhere nothing but
cabbages, but at length he thought, at a pinch I can eat some of the leaves, they do not
taste particularly good, but they will refresh me." With that he picked himself out a
fine head of cabbage, and ate it, but scarcely had he swallowed a couple of mouthfuls than
he felt very strange and quite different.
Four legs grew on him, a thick head and two long ears, and he saw
with horror that he was changed into an ass. Still as his hunger increased every minute,
and as the juicy leaves were suitable to his present nature, he went on eating with great
zest. At last he arrived at a different kind of cabbage, but as soon as he had swallowed
it, he again felt a change, and resumed his former human shape.
Then the huntsman lay down and slept off his fatigue. When he awoke
next morning, he broke off one head of the bad cabbages and another of the good ones, and
thought to himself, this shall help me to get my own again and punish treachery. Then he
took the cabbages with him, climbed over the wall, and went forth to look for the castle
of his sweetheart. After wandering about for a couple of days he was lucky enough to find
it again. He dyed his face brown, so that his own mother would not have known him, and
begged for shelter, "I am so tired," said he, "that I can go no
further." The witch asked, "Who are you, countryman, and what is your
business?" "I am a king's messenger, and was sent out to seek the most delicious
salad which grows beneath the sun. I have even been so fortunate as to find it, and am
carrying it about with me, but the heat of the sun is so intense that the delicate cabbage
threatens to wither, and I do not know if I can carry it any further."
When the old woman heard of the exquisite salad, she was greedy, and
said, "Dear countryman, let me just try this wonderful salad." "Why
not?" answered he. "I have brought two heads with me, and will give you one of
them," and he opened his pouch and handed her the bad cabbage. The witch suspected
nothing amiss, and her mouth watered so for this new dish that she herself went into the
kitchen and dressed it. When it was prepared she could not wait until it was set on the
table, but took a couple of leaves at once, and put them in her mouth, but hardly had she
swallowed them than she was deprived of her human shape, and she ran out into the
courtyard in the form of an ass.
Presently the maid-servant entered the kitchen, saw the salad
standing there ready prepared, and was about to carry it up, but on the way, according to
habit, she was seized by the desire to taste, and she ate a couple of leaves. Instantly
the magic power showed itself, and she likewise became an ass and ran out to the old
woman, and the dish of salad fell to the ground.
Meantime the messenger sat beside the beautiful girl, and as no one
came with the salad and she also was longing for it, she said, "I don't know what has
become of the salad." The huntsman thought, the salad must have already taken effect,
and said, "I will go to the kitchen and inquire about it." As he went down he
saw the two asses running about in the courtyard, the salad, however, was lying on the
ground. "All right," said he, "the two have taken their portion," and
he picked up the other leaves, laid them on the dish, and carried them to the maiden.
"I bring you the delicate food myself," said he, "in order that you may not
have to wait longer." Then she ate of it, and was, like the others, immediately
deprived of her human form, and ran out into the courtyard in the shape of an ass.
After the huntsman had washed his face, so that the transformed ones
could recognize him, he went down into the courtyard, and said, "Now you shall
receive the wages of your treachery," and bound them together, all three with one
rope, and drove them along until he came to a mill. He knocked at the window, the miller
put out his head, and asked what he wanted. "I have three unmanageable beasts,
answered he, which I don't want to keep any longer. Will you take them in, and give them
food and stable room, and manage them as I tell you, and then I will pay you what you
ask?" The miller said, "Why not? But how am I to manage them?" The huntsman
then said that he was to give three beatings and one meal daily to the old donkey, and
that was the witch, one beating and three meals to the younger one, which was the
servant-girl, and to the youngest, which was the maiden, no beatings and three meals, for
he could not bring himself to have the maiden beaten. After that he went back into the
castle, and found therein everything he needed.
After a couple of days, the miller came and said he must inform him
that the old ass which had received three beatings and only one meal daily was dead. The
two others, he continued, are certainly not dead, and are fed three times daily, but they
are so sad that they cannot last much longer. The huntsman was moved to pity, put away his
anger, and told the miller to drive them back again to him. And when they came, he gave
them some of the good salad, so that they became human again. The beautiful girl fell on
her knees before him, and said, "Ah, my beloved, forgive me for the evil I have done
you, my mother drove me to it. It was done against my will, for I love you dearly. Your
wishing-cloak hangs in a cupboard, and as for the bird's-heart I will take a vomiting
potion." But he thought otherwise, and said, "Keep it. It is all the same, for I
will take you for my true wife." So the wedding was celebrated, and they lived
happily together until their death.