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The Four Clever Brothers

from Grimms' Fairy Tales





'Dear children,' said a poor man to his four sons, 'I have nothing to
give you; you must go out into the wide world and try your luck. Begin
by learning some craft or another, and see how you can get on.' So the
four brothers took their walking-sticks in their hands, and their little
bundles on their shoulders, and after bidding their father goodbye, went
all out at the gate together. When they had got on some way they came
to four crossways, each leading to a different country. Then the eldest
said, 'Here we must part; but this day four years we will come back
to this spot, and in the meantime each must try what he can do for
himself.'

So each brother went his way; and as the eldest was hastening on a man
met him, and asked him where he was going, and what he wanted. 'I am
going to try my luck in the world, and should like to begin by learning
some art or trade,' answered he. 'Then,' said the man, 'go with me, and
I will teach you to become the cunningest thief that ever was.' 'No,'
said the other, 'that is not an honest calling, and what can one look
to earn by it in the end but the gallows?' 'Oh!' said the man, 'you need
not fear the gallows; for I will only teach you to steal what will be
fair game: I meddle with nothing but what no one else can get or care
anything about, and where no one can find you out.' So the young man
agreed to follow his trade, and he soon showed himself so clever, that
nothing could escape him that he had once set his mind upon.

The second brother also met a man, who, when he found out what he was
setting out upon, asked him what craft he meant to follow. 'I do not
know yet,' said he. 'Then come with me, and be a star-gazer. It is a
noble art, for nothing can be hidden from you, when once you understand
the stars.' The plan pleased him much, and he soon became such a skilful
star-gazer, that when he had served out his time, and wanted to leave
his master, he gave him a glass, and said, 'With this you can see all
that is passing in the sky and on earth, and nothing can be hidden from
you.'

The third brother met a huntsman, who took him with him, and taught him
so well all that belonged to hunting, that he became very clever in the
craft of the woods; and when he left his master he gave him a bow, and
said, 'Whatever you shoot at with this bow you will be sure to hit.'

The youngest brother likewise met a man who asked him what he wished to
do. 'Would not you like,' said he, 'to be a tailor?' 'Oh, no!' said
the young man; 'sitting cross-legged from morning to night, working
backwards and forwards with a needle and goose, will never suit me.'
'Oh!' answered the man, 'that is not my sort of tailoring; come with me,
and you will learn quite another kind of craft from that.' Not knowing
what better to do, he came into the plan, and learnt tailoring from the
beginning; and when he left his master, he gave him a needle, and said,
'You can sew anything with this, be it as soft as an egg or as hard as
steel; and the joint will be so fine that no seam will be seen.'

After the space of four years, at the time agreed upon, the four
brothers met at the four cross-roads; and having welcomed each other,
set off towards their father's home, where they told him all that had
happened to them, and how each had learned some craft.

Then, one day, as they were sitting before the house under a very high
tree, the father said, 'I should like to try what each of you can do in
this way.' So he looked up, and said to the second son, 'At the top of
this tree there is a chaffinch's nest; tell me how many eggs there are
in it.' The star-gazer took his glass, looked up, and said, 'Five.'
'Now,' said the father to the eldest son, 'take away the eggs without
letting the bird that is sitting upon them and hatching them know
anything of what you are doing.' So the cunning thief climbed up the
tree, and brought away to his father the five eggs from under the bird;
and it never saw or felt what he was doing, but kept sitting on at its
ease. Then the father took the eggs, and put one on each corner of the
table, and the fifth in the middle, and said to the huntsman, 'Cut all
the eggs in two pieces at one shot.' The huntsman took up his bow, and
at one shot struck all the five eggs as his father wished.

'Now comes your turn,' said he to the young tailor; 'sew the eggs and
the young birds in them together again, so neatly that the shot shall
have done them no harm.' Then the tailor took his needle, and sewed the
eggs as he was told; and when he had done, the thief was sent to take
them back to the nest, and put them under the bird without its knowing
it. Then she went on sitting, and hatched them: and in a few days they
crawled out, and had only a little red streak across their necks, where
the tailor had sewn them together.

'Well done, sons!' said the old man; 'you have made good use of your
time, and learnt something worth the knowing; but I am sure I do not
know which ought to have the prize. Oh, that a time might soon come for
you to turn your skill to some account!'

Not long after this there was a great bustle in the country; for the
king's daughter had been carried off by a mighty dragon, and the king
mourned over his loss day and night, and made it known that whoever
brought her back to him should have her for a wife. Then the four
brothers said to each other, 'Here is a chance for us; let us try
what we can do.' And they agreed to see whether they could not set the
princess free. 'I will soon find out where she is, however,' said the
star-gazer, as he looked through his glass; and he soon cried out, 'I
see her afar off, sitting upon a rock in the sea, and I can spy the
dragon close by, guarding her.' Then he went to the king, and asked for
a ship for himself and his brothers; and they sailed together over the
sea, till they came to the right place. There they found the princess
sitting, as the star-gazer had said, on the rock; and the dragon was
lying asleep, with his head upon her lap. 'I dare not shoot at him,'
said the huntsman, 'for I should kill the beautiful young lady also.'
'Then I will try my skill,' said the thief, and went and stole her away
from under the dragon, so quietly and gently that the beast did not know
it, but went on snoring.

Then away they hastened with her full of joy in their boat towards the
ship; but soon came the dragon roaring behind them through the air; for
he awoke and missed the princess. But when he got over the boat, and
wanted to pounce upon them and carry off the princess, the huntsman took
up his bow and shot him straight through the heart so that he fell down
dead. They were still not safe; for he was such a great beast that in
his fall he overset the boat, and they had to swim in the open sea
upon a few planks. So the tailor took his needle, and with a few large
stitches put some of the planks together; and he sat down upon these,
and sailed about and gathered up all pieces of the boat; and then tacked
them together so quickly that the boat was soon ready, and they then
reached the ship and got home safe.

When they had brought home the princess to her father, there was great
rejoicing; and he said to the four brothers, 'One of you shall marry
her, but you must settle amongst yourselves which it is to be.' Then
there arose a quarrel between them; and the star-gazer said, 'If I had
not found the princess out, all your skill would have been of no use;
therefore she ought to be mine.' 'Your seeing her would have been of
no use,' said the thief, 'if I had not taken her away from the dragon;
therefore she ought to be mine.' 'No, she is mine,' said the huntsman;
'for if I had not killed the dragon, he would, after all, have torn you
and the princess into pieces.' 'And if I had not sewn the boat together
again,' said the tailor, 'you would all have been drowned, therefore she
is mine.' Then the king put in a word, and said, 'Each of you is right;
and as all cannot have the young lady, the best way is for neither of
you to have her: for the truth is, there is somebody she likes a great
deal better. But to make up for your loss, I will give each of you, as a
reward for his skill, half a kingdom.' So the brothers agreed that this
plan would be much better than either quarrelling or marrying a lady who
had no mind to have them. And the king then gave to each half a kingdom,
as he had said; and they lived very happily the rest of their days, and
took good care of their father; and somebody took better care of the
young lady, than to let either the dragon or one of the craftsmen have
her again.





Next: Lily And The Lion

Previous: The Fox And The Cat



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