Once upon a time something very extraordinary happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.
There was once a husband and wife. The husband had a son by a former marriage, and the wife had a daughter by her first husband. This wicked woman could not bear the sight of her husband's son. One day she said: "Husband! If you don't send that boy away, I can't eat at the same table with you any longer."
"But where shall I send him, wife? Let him stay till he is a little older, then he will set up housekeeping for himself."
"I mean just what I told you—choose."
When the man saw that he could do nothing with his wife, he said to the boy: "My dear son, you see I am growing old. I can no longer do work enough to need no assistance. Your mother won't have you here. So go wherever the Lord may lead you to earn your daily bread, and, if it is His will, I'll come to see you now and then if I can."
"I see, dear father, that my step-mother can't bear the sight of me, yet I don't know why. I have never been disobedient to her, but have always done every thing she told me; still, it is all in vain, she can't endure me. So I will go and work wherever God may guide me. I shall be able to earn my daily bread, for I'm a stout, capable lad. But come and see me if you can, father, for I feel as if I should die of longing for you."
"Go and prosper, my dear son; may the Lord help you."
"May we have a happy meeting, dear father."
And the poor boy, with tears streaming down his cheeks, left his father's house. He walked on till at last he met a rich man, to whom he hired himself as a servant. He remained in service seven years, and his master was well satisfied, but suddenly such a longing for his father seized upon him that he could bear it no longer. He told his employer that he was going to see his parents, and his master said:
"Boy, you have worked on my farm seven years, and served me well. Does the place no longer suit you, or have you been offered higher wages elsewhere, that you want to leave me?"
"No indeed, master. But I long to go home,—I feel as if I wanted to see my father again. If you think you still owe me any thing, please settle my account."
"Well, my boy, one can't keep a servant by force, and you fixed no rate of wages when you came to me. As a reward for the services you have rendered, you may choose from my herds two head of horned cattle and ten smaller ones."
When the boy heard this, he hardly knew what to do with himself in his delight at the thought of having earned so much by his labor. He went among the herds and flocks, looking up and down, and wondering which animals he should choose. He did not want to take the best ones, because he thought his services were not worth so much. But neither did he want to select the worst, he could not make up his mind to that. So he chose from those of medium value. He did the same with the horned cattle. But in searching his eyes fell upon an ox, which also gazed longingly at the youth. So he took this ox and a cow.
Now he had no other thought in his mind except to go to his parents, believing that his step-mother would no longer look askance at him. So he bade his master good-by and went away. Just think, the ox was bewitched, but the boy did not know it. He named the animal Tellerchen.
He reached home. His father died of joy and came to life again when he saw his son, who had grown tall and handsome, and so sensible too. But the wicked old step-mother behaved like seven evil demons,—nay, like the witch she was. The youth staid in his father's house, helped him work in the fields, drove the cattle to pasture, and made himself very useful. Whenever he went to the pasture with the cattle his mother gave him a cake; but it was made of ashes, and he could not eat it. What was he to do? At noon, instead of having something to eat like every body else, he sat under the shade of a tree and wept over his lot, but he could not bring himself to tell his father, lest he should make trouble between him and his wife. He had no comfort at home, no companions abroad, and so he grew sad and thoughtful. One day, when he was crying with hunger, and even the herdsmen who had left their oxen were eating, Tellerchen suddenly began to speak and said:
"Master, don't grieve any longer, throw the ash-cake away, seize my right horn, and eat and drink what you will find there."
"Why, Tellerchen," replied the youth, "there must be witchcraft about you too. Where was such a thing ever heard of, and how long have you been able to talk?"
"Mind what I tell you. I see you are an excellent lad, and I am sorry you should weep your youth away. Just try my advice, and you'll see that it will be profitable to you."
And it was. The youth seized Tellerchen's right horn. Behold what happened! He drew out a roll as white as snow, and a glass of wine which would have made any one's mouth water. The lad ate and drank.
The step-mother noticed that the youth's face had grown fuller, that he was in good spirits, and did all his work cheerily. Instead of seeing him grow thinner day by day, as she had expected, he constantly gained flesh. She soon discovered that Tellerchen must be at the bottom of the mystery, for she perceived that the boy took much better care of him than of the other cattle. How should she manage to find out what he did and ate in the woods? She secretly sent her daughter after him, and ordered her to watch what the youth did while pasturing the cattle. The girl followed her step-brother without his knowledge, watched him, returned to her mother and said, "Mother, what I have seen to-day is beyond telling!"
"You met the Wood Witch?"
"A wrong guess," the daughter replied.
"You have seen a wizard, a dragon, or a griffin?"
"No indeed! Heaven forbid!"