In a hut at the farther end of a village, close to the forest, there once lived a man with his wife. Although they were very poor—the man was a daily labourer and the woman spun for sale—yet they were continually wishing for children, and saying, “Would we had a child.”
“Be thankful that heaven has not granted you one,” said the neighbours: “you yourselves have not enough to eat.”
But the man and the woman said,—
“When we eat and are satisfied there would be always something left for our child. Would we had one.”
One morning, as the man was digging out stumps of trees in the forest, he came across a small root which looked exactly like a little child—it had a head, body, arms, and legs,—he had only to smooth its forehead a little with his axe to make it round, and to cut off the roots from its little arms and legs to give them shape, and then the child was perfect, and wanted only voice to scream. The man took this root home, and said to his wife,—
“Here you have what you wished for—an Otesanek. If you like, you can bring him up.”
The woman put the child into swaddling clothes, then took it up, nursed it in her arms and sang to it:
“Bye, bye, my little Otesanek! When you awake, my little boy, I will boil you some food. Bye, bye!”
Suddenly the child began to kick about, raised up its head and cried,—
“Mother, I want something to eat!”
The woman was overjoyed. She put the child quickly in bed and hastened to prepare its food. When the food was ready Otesanek ate it all up, and then screamed again,—
“Mother, I want something to eat.”
“Wait a moment, my dear child, wait a moment,” said the woman, “and I will bring you something to eat.”
She then ran to a neighbour’s and brought in a basin of milk. Otesanek drank the milk, and then screamed again that he wanted something more to eat. The woman was greatly surprised at this, and said,—
“What, my child, have you not yet had enough?”
She then went out and borrowed in the village a loaf of bread, put it on the table, and again left the room to boil some water and make soup. As soon as she was gone, Otesanek, seeing the bread on the table, scrambled out of the swaddling clothes, jumped upon a bench, and in an instant swallowed up the bread, and then screamed again,—
“Mother, I want something to eat!”
The woman came in to cut the bread for the soup,— she looked about for it everywhere, but it was gone! In a corner stood Otesanek looking like a small barrel and staring at her.
“Heaven have mercy upon us!” cried the woman; “Otesanek, surely you have not eaten the loaf of bread?”
“Yes, mother,” answered Otesanek; “I have eaten it, and now will eat you too.”
He opened his mouth, and before the woman could recover from her astonishment, swallowed her up.
In a short time the man returned home. As soon as he had entered in, Otesanek screamed,—
“Father, I want something to eat!”
The man was greatly alarmed at the sight of a child with open mouth and rolling eyes, and looking as big as an oven. Having, however, recognised Otesanek, he said,—
“O-ho! is it you? Where is your mother?”
“I have eaten her,” answered Otesanek; “and now it is your turn.”
He opened his mouth and in an instant swallowed up the man. But the more Otesanek ate the more he wanted. There being nothing now in the hut that he could swallow up, he went into the village to look about him. He met a girl wheeling from the field a wheelbarrow full of clover.
“What have you eaten,” cried the girl full of wonder, “that you look so big?”
Otesanek answered: “I am an eater, and have eaten some grits from a saucepan, a basinful of milk, a loaf of bread, my mother and father, and now will eat you too.”
He rushed up to her, and the girl with the wheelbarrow disappeared. Afterwards Otesanek met a peasant who was driving a cart loaded with hay from the meadow. He advanced into the middle of the road and the horses stopped.
“Can’t you get out of the way, you monster? I shall drive over you,” cried the peasant angrily, and began to urge the horses forward. Otesanek, however, did not pay the least attention to him, but began to say,—
“I am an eater, and have eaten some grits from a saucepan, a basinful of milk, a loaf of bread, my mother and father, a girl with the wheelbarrow, and now will eat you too.”
Before the peasant recovered from his surprise he himself, with the horses and cart, was swallowed up by Otesanek. Then Otesanek went farther on. In the field there was a man watching pigs. Otesanek took a fancy to them and swallowed them all up, together with the man—there was not a sign left of them. Afterwards he perceived on a hill not far off a shepherd with a flock of sheep.
“Having already eaten so much,” said Otesanek to himself, “I will eat these too.”
He came nearer and swallowed them all up—the sheep, the shepherd, and his dog Vorish. Then he staggered forward and at last came to a field where an old woman was attending to cabbages. Otesanek did not reflect long, he went into the field, began to break off cabbages from the stumps and eat them up.
“Why are you destroying my property, Otesanek?” cried the old woman. “Surely you have eaten enough to be satisfied.”
Otesanek looked at her with a grin and said: “I am an eater, and have eaten some grits from a saucepan, a basinful of milk, a loaf of bread, my father and mother, a girl with a wheelbarrow, a peasant and a cart loaded with hay, a swineherd and pigs, a shepherd and his sheep, and now will eat you too.” And he wanted to swallow her up. But the old woman was too sharp for Otesanek,—she struck him with her mattock and cut him in half. Otesanek fell down dead.
Then there was a sight to see! First jumped out of the body the dog Vorish, after him came out the shepherd, and after the shepherd jumped out the sheep. Vorish collected the sheep together, the shepherd whistled and drove them home. Afterwards the herd of pigs rushed out, after them jumped out the swineherd, who cracked his whip and drove them after the shepherd. Then came out the horses drawing the cart loaded with hay; the peasant shook the reins angrily, and drove after the swineherd also to the village. After the cart came out the girl with the wheelbarrow, and after the girl jumped out the man and his wife, and carried home, alternately, under their arms the borrowed loaf of bread. From that moment neither of them ever said, “Would we had a child.”