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The Four Clever Brothers

«Dear children,» said a poor man to his four sons, «I have nothing togive you; you must go out into the wide world and t...

The Four Clever Brothers

«Dear children,» said a poor man to his four sons, «I have nothing togive 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, andtheir little bundles on their shoulders, and after bidding theirfather goodbye, went all out at the gate together. When they had goton some way they came to four crossways, each leading to a differentcountry. Then the eldest said, «Here we must part; but this day fouryears we will come back to this spot, and in the meantime each musttry what he can do for himself.»

So each brother went his way; and as the eldest was hastening on a manmet him, and asked him where he was going, and what he wanted. «I amgoing to try my luck in the world, and should like to begin by learningsome art or trade,» answered he. «Then,» said the man, «go with me, andI 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 lookto earn by it in the end but the gallows?» «Oh!» said the man, «you neednot fear the gallows; for I will only teach you to steal what will befair game: I meddle with nothing but what no one else can get or careanything about, and where no one can find you out.» So the young managreed to follow his trade, and he soon showed himself so clever, thatnothing could escape him that he had once set his mind upon.

The second brother also met a man, who, when he found out what hewas setting out upon, asked him what craft he meant to follow. «I do notknow yet,» said he. «Then come with me, and be a star-gazer. It is anoble art, for nothing can be hidden from you, when once you understandthe stars.» The plan pleased him much, and he soon became such askilful star-gazer, that when he had served out his time, and wantedto leave his master, he gave him a glass, and said, «With this you cansee all that is passing in the sky and on earth, and nothing can behidden from you.»

The third brother met a huntsman, who took him with him, and taught himso well all that belonged to hunting, that he became very clever in thecraft 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 tohit.»

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

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

Then, one day, as they were sitting before the house under a veryhigh tree, the father said, «I should like to try what each of you cando in this way.» So he looked up, and said to the second son, «Atthe top of this tree there is a chaffinch’s nest; tell me how many eggsthere 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 eggswithout letting the bird that is sitting upon them and hatching themknow anything of what you are doing.» So the cunning thief climbed upthe tree, and brought away to his father the five eggs from under thebird; and it never saw or felt what he was doing, but kept sitting onat its ease. Then the father took the eggs, and put one on each cornerof 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 hisbow, 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 andthe young birds in them together again, so neatly that the shot shallhave done them no harm.» Then the tailor took his needle, and sewed theeggs as he was told; and when he had done, the thief was sent to takethem back to the nest, and put them under the bird without itsknowing it. Then she went on sitting, and hatched them: and in a fewdays they crawled out, and had only a little red streak across theirnecks, where the tailor had sewn them together.

«Well done, sons!» said the old man; «you have made good use of yourtime, and learnt something worth the knowing; but I am sure I do notknow which ought to have the prize. Oh, that a time might soon comefor you to turn your skill to some account!»

Not long after this there was a great bustle in the country; forthe king’s daughter had been carried off by a mighty dragon, and theking mourned over his loss day and night, and made it known thatwhoever brought her back to him should have her for a wife. Then thefour brothers said to each other, «Here is a chance for us; let us trywhat we can do.» And they agreed to see whether they could not setthe princess free. «I will soon find out where she is, however,’said the star-gazer, as he looked through his glass; and he sooncried 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 tothe king, and asked for a ship for himself and his brothers; and theysailed together over the sea, till they came to the right place. Therethey found the princess sitting, as the star-gazer had said, on therock; and the dragon was lying asleep, with his head upon her lap. «Idare not shoot at him,» said the huntsman, «for I should kill thebeautiful young lady also.» «Then I will try my skill,» said thethief, and went and stole her away from under the dragon, so quietlyand gently that the beast did not know it, but went on snoring.

Then away they hastened with her full of joy in their boat towardsthe 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, thehuntsman took up his bow and shot him straight through the heart sothat he fell down dead. They were still not safe; for he was such agreat beast that in his fall he overset the boat, and they had toswim in the open sea upon a few planks. So the tailor took hisneedle, 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 piecesof the boat; and then tacked them together so quickly that the boatwas soon ready, and they then reached the ship and got home safe.

When they had brought home the princess to her father, there wasgreat rejoicing; and he said to the four brothers, «One of you shallmarry her, but you must settle amongst yourselves which it is tobe.» 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 ofno use; therefore she ought to be mine.» «Your seeing her would havebeen of no use,» said the thief, «if I had not taken her away from thedragon; therefore she ought to be mine.» «No, she is mine,» said thehuntsman; «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 sewnthe boat together again,» said the tailor, «you would all have beendrowned, 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, thebest way is for neither of you to have her: for the truth is, there issomebody she likes a great deal better. But to make up for your loss, Iwill give each of you, as a reward for his skill, half a kingdom.» Sothe brothers agreed that this plan would be much better than eitherquarrelling or marrying a lady who had no mind to have them. And theking then gave to each half a kingdom, as he had said; and they livedvery happily the rest of their days, and took good care of theirfather; and somebody took better care of the young lady, than tolet either the dragon or one of the craftsmen have her again.

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