NCE UPON A time there were five women who were in a field reaping corn. None of them had any children, but they were all wishing for a child. All at once they found a big goose egg, almost as big as a man's head.
"I saw it first," said one. "I saw it just as soon as you did," shouted another. "But I'll have it," screamed the third, "I saw it first of all."
Thus they kept on quarrelling and fighting about the egg, and they were very near tearing each other's hair. But at last they agreed that it should belong to them all, and that they should sit on it as the geese do and hatch a gosling. The first woman sat on it for eight days, taking it very comfortably and doing nothing at all, while the others had to work hard both for their own and her living. One of the women began to make some insinuations to her about this.
"Well, I suppose you didn't come out of the egg either before you could chirp," said the woman who was on the egg, "But I think there is something in this egg, for I fancy I can hear some one inside grumbling every other moment: 'Herring and soup! Porridge and milk!' You can come and sit for eight days now, and then we will sit and work in turn, all of us."
So when the fifth in turn had sat for eight days, she heard plainly some one inside the egg screeching for "Herring and soup! Porridge and milk!" And so she made a hole in it; but instead of a gosling out came a baby, but it was awfully ugly, and had a big head and a tiny little body. The first thing it screamed out for, as soon as it put its head outside the egg, was "Herring and soup! Porridge and milk!" And so they called it "the greedy youngster."
Ugly as he was, they were fond of him at first; but before long he became so greedy that he ate up all the meat they had. When they boiled a dish of soup or a pot of porridge which they thought would be sufficient for all six, he finished it all by himself. So they would not have him any longer.
"I have not had a decent meal since this changeling crept out of the eggshell," said one of them, and when the youngster heard that they were all of the same opinion, he said he was quite willing to go his way; "if they did not want him, he was sure he did not want them," and with that he left the place.
After a long time he came to a farm where the fields were full of stones, and he went in and asked for a situation. They wanted a labourer on the farm, and the farmer put him to pick up stones from the field. Yes, the youngster went to work and picked up the stones, some of which were so big that they would make many cart-loads; but whether they were big or small, he put them all into his pocket. It did not take him long to finish that job, so he wanted to know what he should do next.
"You will have to get all the stones out of the field," said the farmer. "I suppose you can't be ready before you have commenced?"
But the youngster emptied his pockets and threw all the stones in a heap. Then the farmer saw that he had finished the work, and he thought he ought to look well after one who was so strong. He must come in and get something to eat, he said. The youngster thought so too, and he alone ate what was prepared both for master and servants, and still he was only half satisfied.
"He is the right sort of man for a labourer, but he is a terrible eater, to be sure," thought the farmer. "A man like him would eat a poor farmer out of house and home before anybody knew a word about it," he said. He had no more work for him; it was best for him to go to the king's palace.
The youngster set out for the palace, where he got a place at once. There was plenty of food and plenty of work. He was to be errand boy, and to help the girls to carry wood and water and do other odd jobs. So he asked what he was to do first.
"You had better chop some wood in the mean time," they said. Yes, he commenced to chop and cut wood till the splinters flew about him. It was not long before he had chopped up everything in the place, both firewood and timber, both rafters and beams, and when he was ready with it, he came in and asked what he was to do now.
"You can finish chopping the wood," they said.
"There is no more to chop," he answered.
That could not be possible, thought the overlooker, and had a look into the wood-shed. But yes, the youngster had chopped up everything; he had even cut up the timber and planks in the place. This was vexatious, the overlooker said; and then he told the youngster that he should not taste food until he had gone into the forest and cut just as much timber as he had chopped up for firewood.
The youngster went to the smithy and got the smith to help him to make an axe of five hundredweight of iron, and then he set out for the forest and began to make a regular clearance, not only of the pine and the lofty fir trees, but of everything else which was to be found in the king's forests, and in the neighbours' as well. He did not stop to cut the branches or the tops off, but he left them lying there as if a hurricane had blown them down. He put a proper load on the sledge and put all the horses to it, but they could not even move it; so he took the horses by the heads to give the sledge a start, but he pulled so hard that the horses' heads came off. He then turned the horses out of the shafts and drew the load himself.
When he came to the palace, the king and his overlooker were standing in the hall to give him a scolding for having destroyed the forest—the overlooker had been there and seen what he had been doing. But when the king saw the youngster dragging half the forest after him, he got both angry and afraid; but he thought he had better be a little careful with him, since he was strong.
"Well, you are a wonderful workman, to be sure," said the king; "but how much do you eat at a time, because I suppose you are hungry now?"