In the heart of the colonial era, Hans, a gold-hearted and naive optimist, toils loyally for a merchant trading in colonial wares. After seven rigorous years, he is drawn by the siren call of his coastal hometown. His master, in a gesture of generous gratitude, rewards him with a hefty gold nugget. However, the weight of the gold burdens Hans, sparking envy for a passing squire's horse. In a moment of impulsive bartering, he swaps his gold for the horse.
Yet, Hans, unaccustomed to horse-riding, is promptly thrown off. A farmer's delight at the sight of the horse presents another opportunity for trade - this time, a cow. However, when another farmer insists the cow is past its prime, Hans trades the bovine for a pig. A chance encounter with a journeyman raises the specter of the pig being stolen, leading Hans to trade it for a goose.
The journey of exchanges continues as Hans swaps the goose for a spare grindstone, dreaming of a new profession as a scissor grinder, only to discard it in a pit due to its unbearable weight. Having traded his way from wealth to nothing, Hans arrives penniless at the sea. Coincidentally, he meets Elisabeth, the beautiful and business-savvy daughter of the avaricious merchant Knudsen, who has been indulging in unprofitable ventures.
In the end, Hans, now free from the weight of material possessions, finds himself thanking Heaven for his newfound 'freedom', mirroring the paradox of his journey from gold-laden servant to a man bereft of everything but his untarnished optimism.