Honest Hans, or The Cabbage Thief
One late night a shepherd stole a cabbage to feed to his sheep. It had been dry in the pasture and the sheep had grazed most of it down to bare earth.
He passed by the old man's garden every day and knew the man had watered his garden. His vegetables were plump and green.
The young man went out by the dark of the moon feeling his way though the undergrowth of the forest to the clearing. There he made out the shape of the old man's hut looming in the starlight.
He crept to the garden and crawled on his hands and knees through the rows of carrots and turnips until he found what he wanted.
Each head he found was examined. Some were still too small. Others to big and awkward to carry. But he thought of the sheep and what a treat it would be for them and he persevered until he found just the right cabbage.
The next morning the sheep gathered round the boy bleating for the toothsome treat. They ate it up and went out to the pasture to nibble on the few mean blades of grass that remained.
He was fond of his charges and wanted them to grow and do well in the world. If the sheep were healthy, then the farmer would keep him on.
The young man wanted this. Minding sheep was all he'd ever done and all he wanted to do. It required little schooling and that is exactly how much he had. He could read and enjoyed it, but that was about it. He could count well enough to see to it he had all the sheep, but even then he used the names he'd given them, not numbers to keep track.
He liked to be out of doors winter or summer. He loved the feeling of fresh air on his face and the grass beneath his feet. He had no one but himself to look after and no matter how little he made he earned his living his way.
He was know as an honest fellow. Those who saw him in the village as he gathered his charges for the day's grazing remarked, "There goes Honest Hans."
He smiled his big wide smile when he heard this and he refused to think about his nightly excursions to the garden.
"It's for the sheep," he told himself as he crept about the ground looking for a juicy cabbage to take.
The sheep had liked their treat so much Hans knew he had to get more. He crept back among the cabbages the next night, and the night after that, and the night after that again.
Soon all that were left were the smaller heads. He wanted to leave those for later. The bigger the cabbage the more sheep it would feed.
He rarely had a day off during grazing season. If he needed to attend to other business he had to find another shepherd for his flock. But one day the farmer who owned most of the sheep Hans looked after decided he'd take the sheep to the pasture himself.
"My flock is doing well at your hand. You've earned a day off. I will see for myself where you find this tender grass for them."
Hans had no choice but to walk away.
He thought about the cabbage under his coat. He'd have to save it for the next day.
He had a whole day in front of him with nothing to do. It was one thing to have all the free time you wished while you earned a living, but this was different. When he didn't work he did not earn any money. If that happened too often he'd have to steal cabbage for himself.
He decided not to think about it. One day would not matter. He went to the village and searched through the shops for cheese and meat and wondered if he could afford a new pair of boots.
He looked at his feet. His boots were holding together well enough on the sides, but the soles were worn. He might get the rest of the summer out of them, but he'd need new ones for winter.
Winter was still far away. He'd have money enough. He kept his money in a sock under his mattress in the loft of Mr. Lauer's barn. Hans had lived there since his parents died many years earlier.
The sock held enough for a pair of boots already, he decided, and perhaps a bit of joy at the local tavern. He went to his loft to get the money and remembered he still carried the cabbage with him.
He set it on his pillow and drew up the covers just enough to make it look like someone was sleeping and then went on his way.
The tavern was warm and noisy and the tavern keeper friendly and quick to draw his beer. Since Hans had no where to go or to be until the next morning he sat back and enjoyed his day off.
By late evening Hans had drunk all the money he'd taken with him and had convinced the tavern owner to let him run a tab. It was late when he left the tavern and very dark out. As he stumbled along on the cobblestone streets singing to himself he thought about the sheep.
"They must have been very disappointed to only have thin grass," he thought. "This will never do."
He turned around and made his way back through the village and along the path in the forest to the old man's garden.
He crawled around the rows, but could only find a small head to take with him.
As he was wresting it off the stem the hut door opened. A gruff voice called, "Who's stealing my cabbage? I'll show you."
Hans heard a click and the report of a gun, and he felt a curious stinging in his backside.
He yelped and stumbled to his feet. The cabbage rolled out of his arms to the ground. He had no time to pick it up. He stumbled and jerked and reeled as fast as he could to the path and through the forest and all the way to his loft.
He threw himself on the bed forgetting all about the cabbage he'd left there in the morning.
As he reached over to pull his thin pillow under his head he found the cabbage instead.
It rolled toward him.
"Ayyyyyyeeeee. There's a bodiless head in my bed."
And he screamed and ran from his loft into the forest.
The shepherd was never seen again. The old-timers in the village say if you venture into the woods on a night in pasture season you'll hear Hans stumbling and screaming about the bodiless head.