A Folk Tale from Switzerland
The Robbers and the Farm Animals
Once upon a time there was a miller’s servant who had served his master faithfully and diligently for many years. He had grown old in the mill, and the heavy work that he had to do there finally surpassed his strength. So one day he said to his master: “I can no longer serve you; I am too weak. I am therefore asking you for my dismissal and my wages.”
The miller said: “The time of wandering servants has passed. You are free to leave if you wish, but you will receive no wages.”
Now the old servant would sooner give up his wages than to continue to be tormented in the mill, so he took leave from his master. Before leaving home he went to the animals that until now he had fed and tended, in order to bid them farewell.
While taking leave from the horse, it said to him: “Where are you going?”
“I have to leave,” he said. “I cannot take it here any longer.” And when he set forth, the horse followed along after him.
He then went to the ox, stroked him once again, and said: “God be with you, old fellow!”
“Where are you going?” spoke the ox. ”
Oh, I must leave. I cannot take it here any longer,” said the miller’s servant and sadly went on his way to take leave from the dog. The ox followed along behind, just as the horse had done. And the other animals to whom he said farewell — the dog, the cat, and the goose — all did the same thing.
He made his way out into the country, where he first noticed that the faithful animals were following him. He spoke to them in a friendly manner, asking them to turn around and return home. “I have nothing more for myself,” he said, “and I can no longer care for you.” But the animals told him that they would not abandon him, and they contentedly followed along behind.
After several days they came to a great forest. Here the horse and the ox found good grass, which the goose and the rooster enjoyed as well. However, the other animals — the cat and the dog — had to suffer hunger, as did the old miller’s servant; but they did not grumble and complain.
Finally, after having gone very deep into the forest, they suddenly saw a large, beautiful house before them. It was locked up securely. Only an empty stall was open, and from here they could go through the barn into the house itself. Because no one could be seen in the house, the servant decided to stay there with his animals, and he assigned each one to a place. He put the horse up front in the stall. He led the ox to the other side. The rooster was given a place on the roof, the dog on the manure pile, the cat on the hearth, and the goose behind the stove. Then he gave each one his feed, which was plentifully stored in the house. He himself ate and drank all he wanted, then fell asleep in a good bed, which was all made up in the bedroom.
During the night, while he was fast asleep, the robber — who owned the forest house — returned. As he stepped into yard, the dog jumped on him furiously, and barked at him. The rooster cried down from the roof: “Cock-a-doodle-doo, cock-a-doodle-doo!” All this terrified the robber, for he had never seen farm animals that live with people, knowing instead only the wild animals of the forest. He fled hurriedly into the stall, but there the horse kicked out from behind, hitting him in the side. He staggered around and around, and only with difficulty could he retreat into the back part of the stall. He scarcely arrived there when the ox turned around and tried to pick him up on his horns. This frightened him anew, and he ran as fast as he could through the barn and into the kitchen, where he wanted to strike a light and see what was there. Feeling around the hearth, he touched the cat, which jumped on him and scratched him with its claws until jumped away head over heels, and tried to hide behind the stove in the main room. The goose jumped up, screaming and beating its wings. The terrified robber fled into the bedroom. There the miller’s servant was snoring mightily like a purring spinning wheel, and the robber thought the entire room was filled with strangers. You had better believe that he was overcome by a terrible fear. He rushed out of the house and ran into the woods, not stopping until until he had found his fellow robbers.
He began talking: “I don’t know what has happened in our house. Some strange people are living there. When I stepped into the yard a large wild man jumped at me, yelling and bellowing so terribly that I thought he would kill me. And another one cheered him on, calling down from the roof: ‘Hit him for me too! Hit him for me too!’ The first one was bad enough; I wasn’t going to wait for more of them to jump me, so I fled into the stall. There a shoemaker threw a last at my side, and I can still feel where it hit. I ran to the back of the stall. A pitchfork maker was standing there who tried to impale me on his pitchfork. I ran into the kitchen, where a hackle maker beat me with his hackle [a sharp-toothed tool for combing flax]. I tried to hide behind the stove, but there was a shovel maker there who beat me with his shovel. Finally I ran into the bedroom, but there were so many others snoring in there that was happy to escape with my life.”
When the robbers heard this, they were so horrified that not a one of them had any desire to enter the house. To the contrary, they believed that the entire region was threatened by these strange people. That same night they departed for another country, and they never returned. The miller’s servant lived in peace in the robbers’ house with his faithful animals. He no longer had to suffer in his old age, for the beautiful garden next to the house produced more fruit, vegetables, and all kinds of food every year than he and his animals could eat.
From Animals in Exile, Folktales of Aarne-Thompson, translated and edited by D.L. Ashliman. His source: Otto Sutermeister. Kinder- und Hausmärchen aus der Schweiz (Aarau: Druck und Verlag von H. R. Sauerlaender, 1873), pp. 91-94.