A fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm
A rich farmer was one day standing in his yard inspecting his
fields and gardens. The corn was growing up vigorously
and the fruit-trees were heavily laden with fruit. The grain
of the year before still lay in such immense heaps in the loft that
the rafters could hardly bear it. Then he went into the stable,
where were well-fed oxen, fat cows, and horses bright as
looking-glass. At length he went back into his sitting-room, and
cast a glance at the iron chest in which his money lay.
Whilst he was thus standing surveying his riches, all at once there
was a loud knock close by him. The knock was not at the door of
his room, but at the door of his heart. It opened, and he heard
a voice which said to him, "Have you done good to your family with
it? Have you considered the necessities of the poor? Have you
shared your bread with the hungry? Have you been contented with
what you have, or did you always desire to have more?" The heart
was not slow in answering, "I have been hard and pitiless, and have
never shown any kindness to my own family. If a beggar came, I
turned away my eyes from him. I have not troubled myself about
God, but have thought only of increasing my wealth. If everything
which the sky covers had been mine own, I should still not have
When he was aware of this answer he was greatly alarmed, his
knees began to tremble, and he was forced to sit down.
Then there was another knock, but the knock was at the door of
his room. It was his neighbour, a poor man who had a number of
children whom he could no longer satisfy with food. "I know," thought
the poor man, "that my neighbour is rich, but he is as hard as he is
rich. I don't believe he will help me, but my children are
crying for bread, so I shall venture it." He said to the rich man,
"You do not readily give away anything that is yours, but I stand
here like one who feels the water rising above his head. My
children are starving, lend me four measures of corn."
The rich man
looked at him long, and then the first sunbeam of mercy began to
melt away a drop of the ice of greediness. "I shall not lend you
four measures, he answered. I shall make you a present of eight,
but you must fulfil one condition."
"What am I to do?" said the poor
"When I am dead, you will watch for three nights by my
grave." The peasant was disturbed in his mind at this request, but
in the need in which he was, he would have consented to anything.
He accepted, therefore, and carried the corn home with him.
It seemed as if the rich man had foreseen what was about to happen,
for when three days were gone by, he suddenly dropped down dead.
No one knew exactly how it came to pass, but no one grieved for him.
When he was buried, the poor man remembered his promise. He
would willingly have been released from it, but he thought,
"After all, he acted kindly by me. I have fed my hungry children
with his corn, and even if that were not the case, where I have
once given my promise I must keep it." At nightfall he went into
the churchyard, and seated himself on the grave-mound. Everything
was quiet, only the moon appeared above the grave, and frequently
an owl flew past and uttered her melancholy cry. When the sun
rose, the poor man betook himself in safety to his home, and in the
same manner the second night passed quietly by. On the evening
of the third day he felt a strange uneasiness, it seemed to him that
something was about to happen. When he went out he saw, by the
churchyard-wall, a man whom he had never seen before. He
was no longer young, had scars on his face, and his eyes looked
sharply and eagerly around. He was entirely covered with an old
cloak, and nothing was visible but his great riding-boots.
are you looking for here?" the peasant asked. "Are you not afraid
of the lonely churchyard?"
"I am looking for nothing," he answered, "and I am afraid of
nothing. I am like the youngster who went forth to learn how to
shudder, and had his labour for his pains, but got the king's
daughter to wife and great wealth with her, only I have remained
poor. I am nothing but a paid-off soldier, and I mean to pass
the night here, because I have no other shelter."
"If you are without
fear," said the peasant, "stay with me, and help me to watch that
"To keep watch is a soldier's business," he replied, "whatever we
fall in with here, whether it be good or bad, we shall share it
between us." The peasant agreed to this, and they seated themselves
on the grave together.
All was quiet until midnight, when suddenly a shrill whistling
was heard in the air, and the two watchers perceived the evil one
standing bodily before them. "Be off, you scoundrels," cried he to
them, "the man who lies in that grave belongs to me. I want to
take him, and if you don't go away I shall wring your necks."
with the red feather," said the soldier, "you are not my captain,
I have no need to obey you, and I have not yet learned what fear
is. Go away, we shall stay sitting here."
The devil thought to himself, "Money is the best means with which
to lay hold of these two vagabonds." So he began to play a
softer tune, and asked quite kindly if they would not accept
a bag of money, and go home with it. "That is worth listening
to," answered the soldier, "but one bag of gold won't serve us. If
you will give as much as will go into one of my boots, we shall quit
the field for you and go away."
"I have not so much as that about me," said the devil, "but I shall
fetch it. In the neighbouring town lives a money-changer who is a
good friend of mine, and will readily advance it to me." When the
devil had vanished the soldier took his left boot off, and said,
"We shall soon pull the charcoal-burner's nose for him, just give me
your knife, comrade." He cut the sole off the boot, and put it
in the high grass near the grave on the edge of a hole that was
half over-grown. "That will do," said he. "Now the chimney-sweep
They both sat down and waited, and it was not long before the
devil returned with a small bag of gold in his hand. "Just pour
it in," said the soldier, raising up the boot a little, "but that
won't be enough."
The black one shook out all that was in the bag. The gold fell
through, and the boot remained empty. "Stupid devil," cried the
soldier, "it won't do. Didn't I say so at once. Go back again, and
bring more." The devil shook his head, went, and in an hour's
time came with a much larger bag under his arm.
"Now pour it in,"
cried the soldier, "but I doubt the boot will be full."
clinked as it fell, but the boot remained empty. The devil looked
in himself with his burning eyes, and convinced himself of the
truth. "You have shamefully big calves to your legs," cried he,
and made a wry face.
"Did you think," replied the soldier, "that I had
a cloven foot like you? Since when have you been so stingy? See
that you get more gold together, or our bargain will come to
nothing." The wicked one went off again. This time he stayed
away longer, and when at length he appeared he was panting under
the weight of a sack which lay on his shoulders. He emptied it into
the boot, which was just as far from being filled as before. He
became furious, and was just going to tear the boot out of the
soldier's hands, but at that moment the first ray of the rising
sun broke forth from the sky, and the evil spirit fled away with
loud shrieks. The poor soul was saved.
The peasant wished to divide the gold, but the soldier said,
"Give what falls to my lot to the poor, I shall come with you to your
cottage, and together we will live in rest and peace on what
remains, as long as God is pleased to permit."