The Silver Tracks

: The Laughing Prince Jugoslav Folk And Fairy Tales

There were once three brothers who lived in the same village. One of

them was very rich. He had houses and fields and barns. He had nothing

to spend his money on for he had no children and his wife was as saving

and hardworking as himself. The second brother was not so rich but he,

too, was prosperous. He had one son and all his thought was to

accumulate money and property in order to leave his son rich. He schemed

worked and slaved and made his wife do the same.

The third brother was industrious but very poor. He worked early and

late and never took a holiday. He couldn't afford to for he had a wife

and ten children and only by working every hour of the day and often far

into the night could he earn enough to buy food for so large a family.

He was a simple man and a good man and he taught his children that the

most important thing for them to do in life was to love God and be kind

to their fellowmen.

Now it happened that once, when our Lord Christ was on earth testing out

the hearts of men, he came in the guise of a beggar to the village

where the three brothers lived. He came in a brokendown cart driving a

wheezy old horse. It was cold and raining and night was falling.

The Beggar knocked at the door of the richest brother and said:

I pray you in God's name give shelter for the night to me and my


What! cried the rich man, do you suppose I have nothing better to do

than give shelter to such as you! Be off with you or I'll call my men

and have them give you the beating you deserve!

The Beggar left without another word and went to the house of the next

brother. He was civil at least to the Beggar and pretended that he was

sorry to refuse him.

I'd accommodate you if I could, he said, but the truth is I can't. My

house isn't as big as it looks and I have many people dependent on me.

Just go on a little farther and I'm sure you'll find some one who will

take you in.

The Beggar turned his horse's head and went to the tiny little house

where the poor brother lived with his big family. He knocked on the door

and begged for shelter.

Come in, brother, said the Poor Man. We're pretty crowded here but

we'll find a place for you.

And my horse, the Beggar said; I'm afraid to leave him out in the

rain and cold.

We'll stable him with my donkey, the Poor Man said. Do you come in

here by the fire and dry off and I'll see to the horse.

The Poor Man pulled out his own cart until it was exposed to the rain in

order to make a dry place in the shed for the Beggar's cart. Then he led

the Beggar's gaunt horse into his tiny stable and fed him for the night

out of his own slender store of oats and hay.

He and his family shared their evening meal with the Beggar and then

made up for him a bed of straw near the fire where he was able to pass

the night comfortably and warmly.

The next morning as he was leaving he said to the Poor Man:

You must come sometime to my house and visit me and let me return the

hospitality you have shown me.

Where do you live? the Poor Man asked.

You can always find me, the Beggar said, by following the tracks of

my cart. You will know them because they are broader than the tracks of

any other cart. You will come, won't you?

Yes, the Poor Man promised, I will if ever I have time.

They bade each other good-by and the Beggar drove slowly off. Then the

Poor Man went to the shed to get his own cart and the first thing he saw

were two large silver bolts lying on the ground.

They must have fallen from the Beggar's cart! he thought to himself

and he ran out to the road to see whether the Beggar were still in

sight. But he and the cart had disappeared.

I hope he has no accident on account of those bolts! the Poor Man


When he went to the stable to get his donkey he found four golden

horse-shoes where the Beggar's horse had been standing.

Four golden horse-shoes! he exclaimed. I ought to return them and the

silver bolts at once! But I can't to-day, I'm too busy. Well, I'll hide

them safely away and some afternoon when I have a few hours to spare

I'll follow the tracks of the cart to the Beggar's house.

That afternoon he met his two rich brothers and told them about the


Silver bolts! cried one.

Golden horse-shoes! cried the other. Take us home with you and let us

see them!

So they went home with the Poor Man and saw for themselves the silver

bolts and the golden horse-shoes.

Brothers, the Poor Man said, if either of you have time I wish you'd

take these things and return them to the Beggar.

They both said, no, no, they hadn't time, but they would like to know

where the Beggar lived.

He said I could always find him, the Poor Man said, by following the

tracks of his cart.

The tracks of his cart! echoed the other two. Show us the tracks of

his cart!

They went to the shed where the cart had been and followed the tracks

out to the road. Even on the road they were easy to see for besides

being wider than any other cart tracks they shone white like glistening


H'm! H'm! murmured the two rich brothers.

You don't think either of you have time to follow them to the Beggar's

house? the Poor Man said.

No! Of course not! Of course not! they both answered.

But in his heart each had already decided to go at once and see for

himself what kind of a Beggar this was who had silver bolts in his cart

and golden shoes on his horse.

The oldest brother went the very next day driving a new wagon and a fine

horse. The silver tracks led through woods and fields and over hills.

They came at last to a river which was spanned by a wooden bridge. It

was cunningly constructed of timbers beautifully hewn. The rich man had

never seen such wood used on a bridge.

By the roadside beyond the bridge there was a pigsty with one trough

full of corn and another full of water. There were two sows in the sty

and they were fighting each other and tearing at each other and paying

no attention whatever to all the good food in the trough.

A little farther on there was another river and over it another

wonderful bridge, this one made entirely of stone.

Beyond it the rich man came to a meadow where there was a hayrick around

which two angry bulls were chasing each other and goring each other

until the blood spurted.

I wonder some one doesn't stop them! the rich man thought to himself.

The next river had an iron bridge, more beautiful than the rich man had

ever supposed an iron bridge could be.

Beyond the iron bridge there was a field and a bush and two angry rams

that were chasing each other around the bush and fighting. Their horns

cracked as they met and their hides were torn and bleeding where they

had gored each other.

I never saw so many angry fighting animals! the rich man thought to


The next bridge glowed in the sun like the embers of a fire for it was

built entirely of shining copper--copper rivets, copper plates, copper

beams, nothing but copper.

The silver tracks led over the copper bridge into a broad valley. By the

roadside there was a high crossbar from which depended heavy cuts of

meat--lamb and pork and veal. Two large bitch dogs were jumping at the

meat and then snarling and snapping at each other.

The next bridge was the loveliest of them all for it was built of white

gleaming silver.

The rich man climbed down from his wagon and examined it closely.

It would be worth a man's while to carry home a piece of this bridge!

he muttered to himself.

He tried the rivets, he shook the railing. At last he found four loose

bolts which he was able to pull out. The four together were so heavy

that he was scarcely able to lift them. He looked cautiously about and

when he saw that no one was looking, he slipped them one by one into the

bottom of his wagon and covered them with straw. Then he turned his

horse's head and drove home as fast as he could. It was midnight when he

got there and nobody about to spy on him as he hid the silver bolts in

the hay.

The next day when he went out alone to gloat over his treasure he found

instead of four heavy silver bolts four pieces of wood!

So that's what the rich brother got for following the silver tracks.

A day or two later without saying a word to any one, the second brother

decided that he would follow the silver tracks and have a look at the

strange Beggar whose cart had silver bolts and whose wheezy horse had

golden shoes.

Perhaps if I keep my wits about me I'll be able to pick up a few golden

horse-shoes. Not many boys inherit golden horse-shoes from their


Well, the second brother went over exactly the same route and saw

exactly the same things. He crossed all those wonderful bridges that his

brother had crossed--the wooden bridge, the stone bridge, the iron

bridge, the copper bridge, the silver bridge, and he saw all those

angry animals still trying to gore each other to death.

He didn't stop at the silver bridge for he thought to himself:

Perhaps the next bridge will be golden and if it is I may be able to

break off a piece of it!

Beyond the silver bridge was another broad valley and the second brother

saw many strange sights as he drove through. There was a man standing

alone in a field and trying to beat off a flock of ravens that were

swooping down and pecking at his eyes. Near him was an old man with

snow-white hair who was making loud outcries to heaven praying to be

delivered from the two oxen who were munching at his white hair as

though it were so much hay. They ate great wisps of it and the more they

ate the more grew out.

There was an apple-tree heavily laden with ripe fruit and a hungry man

forever reaching up and plucking an apple. The apples were apples of

Sodom and always as the hungry man raised each new one to his mouth it

turned to ashes.

In another place a thirsty man was reaching with a dipper into a well

and always, just as he was about to scoop up some water, the well moved

away from under the dipper.

What a strange country this is! thought the second brother as he drove


At last he reached the next bridge and sure enough it was shining gold!

Every part of it--bolts and beams and pillars, all were gold. In great

excitement the second brother climbed down from his wagon and began

pulling and wrenching at various parts of the bridge hoping to find some

loose pieces which he could break off. At last he succeeded in pulling

out four long bolts which were so heavy he could scarcely lift them.

After looking about in all directions to make sure that no one saw him,

he put them into his wagon and covered them up with straw. Then he drove

homewards as fast as he could.

Ha! Ha! he chuckled as he hid the golden bolts in the barn. My son

will now be a richer man than my brother!

He could scarcely sleep with thinking of his golden treasure and at the

first light of morning he slipped out to the barn. Imagine his rage when

he found in the straw four bolts of wood!

So that was all the second brother got for following the silver tracks.

Well, years went by and the Poor Man worked day after day and all day

and often far into the night. Some of his children died and the rest

grew up and went out into the world and married and made homes of their

own. Then at last his good wife died and the time came when the Poor Man

was old and all alone in the world.

One night as he sat on his doorstep thinking of his wife and of his

children when they were little and of all the years he had worked for

them to keep them fed and clothed, he happened to remember the Beggar

and the promise he had made to visit him sometime.

And to think of all the years I've kept his golden horse-shoes and his

silver bolts! Well, he'll forgive me, I know, thought the Poor Man,

for he'll understand that I've always been too busy up to this time

ever to follow the tracks of his cart. I wonder are they still there.

He went out to the roadside and peered down and how it happened I don't

know, but to his dim eyes at least there were the silver tracks as clear

as ever.

Good! cried the Poor Man. To-morrow morning bright and early I'll

hitch up the donkey and visit my old friend, the Beggar!

So the next day he took out the silver bolts and the golden horse-shoes

from the place where he had kept them hidden all these years and he put

them in a bag. Then he hitched his old donkey to his old cart and

started out to follow the silver tracks to the Beggar's home.

Well, he saw just exactly the same things that his brothers had seen

those many years before: all those terrible fighting animals and all

those unfortunate men.

I'll have to remember and ask the Beggar what ails all these

creatures, he thought to himself.

Like his brothers he passed over the wooden bridge and the stone bridge

and the iron bridge and the copper bridge and the silver bridge and even

the golden bridge. Beyond the golden bridge he came to a Garden that was

surrounded by a high wall of diamonds and rubies and sapphires and all

kinds of precious stones that blazed as brightly as the sun itself. The

silver tracks turned in at the garden gate which was locked.

The poor man climbed down from his cart, unhitched the donkey, and set

him out to graze on the tender grass that grew by the wayside.

Then he took the bag that held the golden horse-shoes and the silver

bolts and he went to the garden gate. It was a very wonderful gate of

beaten gold set with precious stones. For a moment the Poor Man wondered

if he dare knock at so rich a gate, then he remembered that his friend

the Beggar was inside and he knew that he would be made welcome.

It was the Beggar himself who opened the gate. When he saw the Poor Man

he smiled and held out his hands and said:

Welcome, dear friend! I have been waiting for you all these years! Come

in and I will show you my Garden.

So the Poor Man went inside. And first of all he gave the Beggar his

golden horse-shoes and his silver bolts.

Forgive me, he said, for keeping them so long, but I've never had

time until now to return them.

The Beggar smiled.

I knew, dear friend, that they were safe with you and that you would

bring them some day.

Then the Beggar put his arm over the Poor Man's shoulder and led him

through the Garden showing him the wonderful golden fruits and beautiful

flowers. They sat them down beside a fountain of crystal water and while

they listened to the songs of glorious birds they talked together and

the Poor Man asked about the strange things he had seen along the road.

All those animals, the Beggar said, were once human beings who

instead of fearing God and being kind to their fellowmen passed all

their time fighting and cheating and cursing. The two sows were two

sisters-in-law who hated each other bitterly. The two bulls and the two

rams were neighbors who fought for years and years over the boundary

lines of their farms and now they keep on fighting through eternity. The

two bitches were two sisters who fought until they died over the

inheritance left them by their father. The old man whose hair the oxen

eat was a farmer who always pastured his cattle on his neighbors'

fields. Now he has his reward. The man at whose eyes the ravens peck was

an ungrateful son who mistreated his parents. The man with the awful

thirst that can never be quenched was a drunkard, and the one at whose

lips the apples turn to ashes was a glutton.

So they talked on together, the Poor Man and the Beggar, until it was

late afternoon and the Beggar said:

And now, dear friend, you will sup with me as I once supped with you.

Thank you, the Poor Man said, I will. But let me first go out and see

how my donkey is.

Very well, the Beggar said, go. But be sure to come back for I shall

be waiting for you.

So the Poor Man went out the garden gate and looked for his donkey. But

the donkey was gone.

He must have started home, the Poor Man thought. I'll hurry and

overtake him.

So he started back afoot the way he had come. He went on and on but saw

no donkey. He crossed the golden bridge and the silver bridge and the

copper bridge and the iron bridge and the stone bridge and last of all

the wooden bridge, but still there was no donkey.

He must have got all the way home, he thought.

When the Poor Man reached his native village things looked different.

Houses that he remembered had disappeared and others had taken their

places. He couldn't find his own little house at all. He asked the

people he met and they knew nothing about it. And they knew nothing

about him, either, not even his name. And nobody even knew about his

sons. At last he did meet one old man who remembered the family name and

who told him that many years before the last of the sons had gone to

another village to live.

There's no place here for me, the Poor Man thought. I better go back

to my friend the Beggar and stay with him. No one else wants me.

So once again he followed the silver tracks all that long way over all

those bridges and when at last he reached the garden gate he was very

tired, for he was old and feeble now. It was all he could do to give one

faint little knock. But the Beggar heard him and came running to let

him in. And when he saw him, how tired he was and how feeble, he put his

arm around him and helped him into the Garden and he said:

You shall stay with me now forever and we shall be very happy


And the Poor Man when he looked in the Beggar's face to thank him saw

that he was not a beggar at all but the Blessed Christ Himself. And then

he knew that he was in the Garden of Paradise.