His first step was to look for the doorwray through which he had followed his goat; but to his astonishment, not the least trace of an opening of any sort was to be seen. There stood the wall, without chink or crack big enough for a rat to pass through. Again he paused and scratched his head. His hat was full of holes : " Why, it was new last Shrove-tide ! " said he. By chance his eye fell next on his shoes, which were almost new when he last left home; but now they looked so old, that they were likely to fall to pieces before he could get home. All his clothes seemed in the same sad plight. The more he looked, the more he pondered, the more he was at a loss to know what could have happened to him.
At length he turned round, and left the old walls to look for his flock. Slow and out of heart he wound his way among the mountain steeps, through paths where his flocks were wont to wander: still not a goat was to be seen. Again he whistled and called his dog, but no dog came. Below him in the plain lay the village where his home was; so at length he took the downward path, and set out with a heavy heart and a faltering step in search of his flock.
"Surely," said he, "I shall soon meet some neighbour, who can tell me where my goats are ?" But the people who met him, as he drew near to the village, were all unknown to him. They were not even dressed as his neighbours were, and they seemed as if they hardly spoke the same tongue. When he eagerly asked each, as he came up, after his goats, they only stared at him and stroked their chins. At last he did the same too; and what was his wonder to find that his beard was grown at least a foot long! "The world," said he to himself, " is surely turned upside down, or if not, I must be bewitched " : and yet he knew the mountain, as he turned round again, and looked back on its woody heights; and he knew the houses and cottages also, with their little gardens, as he entered the village. All were in the places he had always known them in; and he heard some children, too (as a traveller that passed by was asking his way), call the village by the very same name he had always known it to bear.
Again he shook his head, and went straight through the village to his own cottage. Alas! it looked sadly out of repair; the windows were broken, the door off its hinges, and in the courtyard lay an unknown child, in a ragged dress, playing with a rough, toothless old dog, whom he thought he ought to know, but who snarled and barked in his face when he called to him. He went in at the open doorway; but he found all so dreary and empty, that he staggered out again like a drunken man, and called his wife and children loudly by their names: but no one heard, at least no one answered him.
A crowd of women and children soon flocked around the strange-looking man with the long grey beard ; and all broke upon him at once with the questions, " Who are you ? " " Who is it that you want ?" It seemed to him so odd to ask other people, at his own door, after his wife and children, that, in order to get rid of the crowd, he named the first man that came into his head. " Hans the blacksmith ?" said he. Most held their tongues and stared; but at last an old woman said, "He went these seven years ago to a place that you will not reach to-day." "Fritz the tailor, then?" " Heaven rest his soul!" said an old beldam upon crutches; "he has lain these ten years in a house that he'll never leave."
Karl Katz looked at the old woman again, and shuddered, as he knew her to be one of his old gossips; but saw she had a strangely altered face. All wish to ask further questions was gone; but at last a young woman made her way through the gaping throng, with a baby in her arms, and a little girl of about three years old clinging to her other hand. All three looked the very image of his own wife. " What is thy name ? " asked he, wildly. " Liese! " said she. " And your father's?" "Karl Katz! Heaven bless him!" said she: " but, poor man ! he is lost and gone. It is now full twenty years since we sought for him day and night on the mountain. His dog and his flock came back, but he never was heard of any more. I was then seven years old."
Poor Karl could hold no longer: "I am Karl Katz, and no other! " said he, as he took the child from his daughter's arms and kissed it over and over again.
All stood gaping, and hardly knowing what to say or think, when old Stropken the schoolmaster hobbled by, and took a long and close look at him. " Karl Katz! Karl Katz! " said he slowly: " why it is Karl Katz, sure enough ! There is my own mark upon him ; there is the scar over his right eye, that I gave him myself one day with my oak stick." Then several others also cried out, "Yes it is! it is Karl Katz! Welcome neighbour, welcome home!" "But where," said or thought all, " can an honest steady fellow like you have been these twenty years ?"
And now the whole village had flocked around; the children laughed, the dogs barked, and all were glad to see neighbour Karl home alive and well. As to where he had been for the twenty years, that was a part of the story at which Karl shrugged up his shoulders ; for he never could very well explain it, and seemed to think the less that was said about it the better. But it was plain enough that what dwelt most on his memory was the noble wine that had tickled his mouth while the knights played their game of nine-pins.