ONCE upon a time there were five women who were standing in a field, mowing. Heaven had not given a single one of them a child, and each of them wanted to have one. And suddenly they saw a goose-egg of quite unheard-of size, well-nigh as large as a man's head. "I saw it first," said the one. "I saw it at the same time that you did," insisted another. "But I want it, for I saw it first of all," maintained a third. And thus they went on, and fought so about the egg that they nearly came to blows. Finally they agreed that it should belong to all five of them, and that all of them should sit on it, as a goose would do, and hatch out the little gosling. The first remained sitting on the egg for eight days, and hatched, and did not move or do a thing; and during this time the rest had to feed her and themselves as well. One of them grew angry because of this and scolded.
"You did not crawl out of the egg either before you could cry peep!" said the one who was sitting on the egg and hatching. "Yet I almost believe that a human child is going to slip out of the egg, for something is murmuring inside it without ever stopping: 'Herring and mush, porridge and milk,'" said she. "And now you can sit on it for eight days, while we bring you food."
When the fifth day of the eight had passed, it was plain to her that there was a child in the egg, which kept on calling: "Herring and mush, porridge and milk," and so she punched a hole in the egg, and instead of a gosling out came a child, and it was quite disgustingly homely, with a big head and a small body, and no sooner had it crawled out than it began to cry: "Herring and mush, porridge and milk!" So they named the child Murmur Goose-Egg.
In spite of the child's homeliness, the women at first took a great deal of pleasure in him; but before long he grew so greedy that he devoured everything they had. When they cooked a dish of mush or a potful of porridge that was to do for all six of them, the child swallowed it all by himself. So they did not want to keep him any longer. "I have not had a single full meal since the changling crawled out," said one of them; and when Murmur Goose-Egg heard that, and the rest agreed, he said that he would gladly go his own gait, for "if they had no need of him, then he had no need of them," and with that he went off. Finally he came to a farmstead that lay in a rocky section, and asked for work. Yes, they needed a workman, and the master told him to gather up the stones in the field. Then Murmur Goose-Egg gathered up the stones in the field; he picked up some that were so large that a number of horses could not have dragged them, and large and small, one and all, he put them in his pocket. Before long he had finished his work, and wanted to know what he was to do next.
"You have picked up the stones in the field?" said his master. "You cannot possibly have finished before you have really begun!"
But Murmur Goose-Egg emptied his pockets, and threw the stones on a pile. Then his master saw that he had finished his work, and that one would have to handle such a strong fellow with kid gloves. So he told him to come in and eat. That suited Murmur Goose-Egg, and he ate up everything that was to have supplied the master and his family, and the help, and then he was only half satisfied.
He was really a splendid worker; but a dangerous eater, like a bottomless cask, said the peasant. "Such a serving-man could eat up a poor peasant, house and ground, before he noticed it," said he. He had no more work for him, and the best thing to do would be to go to the king's castle.
So Murmur Goose-Egg went to the king, and was at once given a place, and there was enough to eat and drink in the castle. He was to be the errand-boy, and help the maids fetch wood and water, and do other odd jobs. So he asked what he was to do first.
For the time being he could chop fire-wood, said they. So Murmur Goose-Egg began to chop fire-wood, and hewed to the line in such fashion that the chips fairly flew. Before long he had chopped up all that there was, kindling wood and building wood, beams and boards, and when he was through with it, he came and asked what he was to do now.
"You can finish chopping the fire-wood," said they.
"There is none left," said Murmur Goose-Egg.
That could not be possible, said the superintendent, and looked into the wood-bin. Yes, indeed, Murmur Goose-Egg had chopped up everything, large and small, beams and boards. That was very bad, and therefore the superintendent said that Murmur Goose-Egg should have nothing to eat until he had chopped down just as much wood in the forest as he had just chopped up for fire-wood.
Then Murmur Goose-Egg went into the smithy, and had the smith make an iron ax of five hundred-weights. With that he went into the forest and began to chop. He chopped down big pine and fir trees, as thick as masts, and all that he found on the king's ground, as well as what he found on that of his neighbors. But he cut off neither the branches nor the tree-tops, so that all lay there as though felled by the storm. Then he loaded a sizable stack on the sled, and put to the horses. But they could not move the load from the spot, and when he took them by the heads, in order to pull them forward, he tore off their heads. So he unharnessed them, and left them lying in the field, and put himself to the sled, and went off alone with the load. When he came to the king's castle, there stood the king with the master carpenter in the entrance, and they were ready to give him a warm reception, because of the destruction he had wrought in the forest. For the master carpenter had been there and seen the havoc he had made. But when Murmur Goose-Egg came along with half the forest, the king grew frightened as well as angry, and he thought that if Murmur was so strong, it would be best to handle him with care.
"Why, you are a splendid workman," said the king, "but tell me, how much do you really eat at once," he continued, "for I am sure you are hungry?"
If he were to have enough porridge, they would have to take twelve tons of meal to make it; but after he had eaten that, then he could wait a while, said Murmur Goose-Egg.
It took some time before so much porridge could be prepared, and in the meantime Murmur was to carry wood into the kitchen. So he piled the whole load of wood on a sled, but when he drove it through the door, he did not go to work about it very gently. The house nearly broke from its joints, and he well-nigh tore down the entire castle. When at last dinner was ready, they sent him out into the field, to call the help. He called so loudly that hill and vale reëchoed the sound. But still the people did not come quick enough to suit him. So he picked a quarrel with them, and killed twelve.
"You kill twelve of my people, and you eat for twelve times twelve of them, but how many men's work can you do?" asked the king.
"I do the work of twelve times twelve, too," said Murmur. When he had eaten, he was to go to the barn and thresh. So he pulled the beam out of the roof-tree, and made a flail out of it, and when the roof threatened to fall in, he took a pine-tree with all its boughs and branches, and set it up in place of the roof-beam. Then he threshed corn and hay and straw, all together, and it seemed as though a cloud hung over the royal castle.
When Murmur Goose-Egg had nearly finished threshing, the enemy broke into the land, and war began. Then the king told him to gather people about him, and go to meet the foe, and do battle with him, for he thought the enemy would probably kill him.
No, said Murmur Goose-Egg, he did not want to have the king's people killed, he would see that he dealt with the enemy himself.
All the better, thought the king, then I am sure to get rid of him. But he would need a proper club, said Murmur.
So they sent to the smith, and he forged a club of two hundred-weights. That would only do for a nut-cracker, said Murmur Goose-Egg. So he forged another that weighed six hundred-weights, and that would do to hammer shoes with, said Murmur Goose-Egg. But the smith told him that he and all his workmen together could not forge a larger one.
Then Murmur Goose-Egg went into the smithy himself, and forged himself a club of thirty hundred-weights, and it would have taken a hundred men just to turn it around on the anvil. This might do at a pinch, said Murmur. Then he wanted a knapsack with provisions. It was sewn together out of fifteen ox-skins, and stuffed full of provisions, and then Murmur wandered down the hill with the knapsack on his back, and the club over his shoulder.
When he came near enough for the soldiers to see him, they sent to ask whether he had a mind to attack them.
"Just wait until I have eaten," said Murmur, and sat him down behind his knapsack to eat. But the enemy would not wait, and began to fire at him. And it fairly rained and hailed musket-balls all around Murmur.
"I don't care a fig for these blueberries," said Murmur Goose-Egg, and feasted on quite at ease. Neither lead nor iron could wound him, and his knapsack stood before him, and caught the bullets like a wall.
Then the enemy began to throw bombs at him, and shoot at him with cannon. He hardly moved when he was struck. "O, that's of no account!" said he.
But then a bomb flew into his wind-pipe. "Faugh!" said he, and spat it out again, and then came a chain-bullet and fell into his butter-plate, and another tore away the bit of bread from between his fingers.
Then he grew angry, stood up, took his club, pounded the ground with it, and asked whether they wanted to take the food from his mouth with the blueberries they were blowing out at him from their clumsy blow-pipes. Then he struck a few more blows, so that the hills and valleys round about trembled, and all the enemy flew up into the air like chaff, and that was the end of the war.
When Murmur came back and asked for more work, the king was at a loss, for he had felt sure that now he was rid of him. So he knew of nothing better to do than to send him to the devil's place.
"Now you can go to the devil, and fetch the tribute from him," said the king. Murmur Goose-Egg went off with his knapsack on his back, and his club over his shoulder. He had soon reached the right spot; but when he got there the devil was away at a trial. There was no one home but his grandmother, and she said she had never yet heard anything about a tribute, and that he was to come back some other time.
"Yes, indeed, come again to-morrow," said he. "I know that old excuse!" But since he was there, he would stay there, for he had to take home the tribute, and he had plenty of time to wait. But when he had eaten all his provisions, he grew weary, and again demanded the tribute from the grandmother.
"You will get nothing from me, and that's as flat as the old fir-tree outside is fast," said the devil's grandmother. The fir-tree stood in front of the gate to the devil's place, and was so large that fifteen men could hardly girdle it with their arms. But Murmur climbed up into its top and bent and shook it to and fro as though it were a willow wand, and then asked the devil's grandmother once more whether she would now pay him the tribute.
So she did not dare to refuse any longer, and brought out as much money as he could possibly carry in his knapsack. Then he set out for home with the tribute, and now no sooner had he gone than the devil came home, and when he learned that Murmur had taken along a big bag of money, he first beat his grandmother, and then hurried after Murmur. And he soon caught up to him, for he ran over sticks and stones, and sometimes flew in between; while Murmur had to stick to the highway with his heavy knapsack. But with the devil at his heels, he began to run as fast as he could, and stretched out the club behind him, to keep the devil from coming to close quarters. And thus they ran along, one behind the other; while Murmur held the shaft and the devil the end of the club, until they reached a deep valley. There Murmur jumped from one mountain-top to another, and the devil followed him so hotly that he ran into the club, fell down into the valley and broke his foot--and there he lay.
"There's your tribute!" said Murmur Goose-Egg, when he had reached the royal castle, and he flung down the knapsack full of money before the king, so that the whole castle tottered. The king thanked him kindly, and promised him a good reward, and a good character, if he wanted it; but Murmur only wanted more work to do.
"What shall I do now?" he asked. The king reflected for a while, and then he said Murmur should travel to the hill-troll, who had robbed him of the sword of his ancestors. He lived in a castle by the sea, where no one ventured to go.
Murmur was given a few cart-loads of provisions in his big knapsack, and once more set out. Long he wandered, though, over field and wood, over hills and deep valleys, till he came to a great mountain where the troll lived who had robbed the king of the sword.
But the troll was not out in the open, and the mountain was closed, so Murmur could not get it. So he joined a party of stone-breakers, who were working at a mountainside, and worked along with them. They had never had such a helper, for Murmur hewed away at the rocks till they burst, and stone bowlders as large as houses came rolling down. But when he was about to rest and eat up the first cart-load of his provisions, it had already been eaten up. "I have a good appetite myself," said Murmur, "but whoever got hold of it has an even better one, for he has eaten up the bones as well!"
Thus it went the first day, and the second was no better. On the third day he went to work again, and took along the third cart-load, lay down behind it, and pretended to be sleeping.
Then a troll with seven heads came out of the hill, began to smack his lips, and eat of his provisions.
"Now the table is set, so now I am going to eat," said he.
"First we'll see about that," said Murmur, and hewed away at the troll so that the heads flew from his body.
Then he went into the hill out of which the troll had come, and inside stood a horse eating out of a barrel of glowing ashes, while behind him stood a barrel filled with oats.
"Why don't you eat out of the barrel of oats?" asked Murmur Goose-Egg.
"Because I cannot turn around," said the horse.
"I will turn you around," said Murmur Goose-Egg.
"Tear my head off instead," pleaded the horse.
Murmur did so, and then the horse turned into a fine-looking man. He said that he had been enchanted, and turned into a horse by the troll. Then he helped Murmur look for the sword, which the troll had hidden under the bed. But in the bed lay the troll's grandmother, and she was snoring.
They went home by water, and just as they sailed off the old troll grandmother came after them; but she could not get at them, hence she commenced to drink, so that the water went down and grew lower. But at last she could not drink up the whole sea, and so she burst.
When they came ashore, Murmur sent to the king, and had him told to have the sword fetched; but though the king sent four horses, they could not move it from the spot. He sent eight, he sent twelve, but the sword remained where it was, and could not be moved from the spot by any means. Then Murmur Goose-Egg took it up, and carried it alone.
The king could not believe his eyes when he saw Murmur once more; but he was very friendly and promised him gold and green forests. But when Murmur asked for more work, he told him to travel to his troll's castle, where no one dared go, and to remain there until he had built a bridge across the sound, so that people could cross. If he could do that, he would reward him well, yes, he would even give him his daughter, said the king. He would attend to it, said Murmur.
Yet no human being had ever returned thence alive; all who had gotten so far, lay on the ground dead, and crushed to a jelly, and the king thought, when sending him there, that he would never see him again.
But Murmur set out. He took with him his knapsack full of provisions, and a properly turned and twisted block of pine-wood, as well as an ax, a wedge and some wooden chips.
When he reached the sound, the river was full of drifting ice, and it roared like a waterfall. But he planted his legs firmly on the ground, and waded along until he got across. When he had warmed himself and satisfied his hunger, he wanted to sleep; but a tumult and rumbling started, as though the whole castle were to be turned upside down. The gate flew wide open, and Murmur saw nothing but a pair of yawning jaws that reached from the threshold to the top of the door.
"Let's see who you may be? Perhaps you are an old friend of mine," said Murmur. And sure enough, it was Master Devil. Then they played cards together. The devil would gladly have won back some of the tribute Murmur had forced from his grandmother for the king. Yet, no matter how he played, Murmur always won; for he made a cross on the cards. And after he had won all the devil had with him, the latter had to give him some of the gold and silver that was in the castle.
In the midst of their game the fire went out, so that they could no longer tell the cards apart.
"Now we must split wood," said Murmur. He hewed into the block of pine-wood with his ax, and drove in the wedge, but the tree-stump was tough, and would not split at once, though Murmur gave himself all manner of pains.
"You are supposed to be strong," he said to the devil. "Spit on your hands, slap in your claws here, and pull the block apart, so that I can see what you can do!"
The devil obediently thrust both hands into the split, and tore and clawed with all his might; but suddenly Murmur Goose-Egg knocked out the wedge, and there the devil was caught in a vice, while Murmur belabored his back with the ax. The devil wailed, and begged Murmur to let him go; but Murmur would hear nothing of it until he had promised never to come back and make a nuisance of himself again. Besides that, he had to promise to build a bridge over the sound, on which one could go back and forth at all seasons of the year. And the bridge was to be completed immediately after the breaking up of the ice-drift.
"Alas!" said the devil, but there was nothing for it but to promise if he wished to go free. Yet he made one condition, that he was to have the first soul that crossed the bridge as sound-toll.
He could have it, said Murmur. Then he let the devil out, and he ran straight home. But Murmur lay down and slept until far into the following day.
Then the king came to see whether Murmur Goose-Egg were lying crushed on the ground, or had merely been badly beaten. He had to wade through piles of money before he could reach the bed. The money was stacked up high along the walls in heaps and in bags, and Murmur lay in the bed and snored.
"May heaven help me and my daughter!" cried the king, when he saw that Murmur Goose-Egg was in the best of health. Yes, and no one could deny that everything had been well and thoroughly done, said the king; but there could be no talk of marriage as long as the bridge had not been built.
Then one day the bridge was finished; and on it stood the devil, ready to collect the toll promised him.
Murmur Goose-Egg wanted the king to be the first to try the bridge with him; but the king had no mind to do so, therefore Murmur himself mounted a horse, and swung up the fat dairy-maid from the castle before him on the saddle-bow--she looked almost like a gigantic block of wood--and dashed across the bridge with her so that the planks fairly thundered.
"Where is my sound-toll? Where is the soul?" cried the devil. "Sitting in this block of wood! If you want her, you must spit on your hands and catch hold of her," said Murmur Goose-Egg. "No, thank you! If she does not catch hold of me, then I'll certainly not catch hold of her," said the devil. "You caught me in a vice once, but you can't fool me a second time," said he, and flew straight home to his grandmother, and since then nothing more has been heard or seen of him.
But Murmur Goose-Egg hurried back to the castle and asked for the reward the king had promised him. And when the king hesitated and began to make all sorts of excuses, in order not to have to keep his promise, Murmur said it would be best to have a substantial knapsackful of provisions made ready, since now he, Murmur, was going to take his reward himself. This the king did, and when the knapsack was ready, Murmur took the king along with him in front of the castle, and gave him a proper shove, so that he flew high up into the air. And he threw the knapsack up after him, so that he would not be left altogether without provisions; and if he has not come down yet, then he, together with the knapsack, is floating between heaven and earth to this very day.