There were once three brothers who had fallen deeper and deeper into poverty, and at last their need was so great that they had to endure hunger, and had nothing to eat or drink. Then said they, "We cannot go on thus, we had better go into the world and seek our fortune."
They therefore set out, and had already walked over many a long road and many a blade of grass, but had not yet met with good luck. One day they arrived in a great forest, and in the midst of it was a hill, and when they came nearer they saw that the hill was all silver. Then spoke the eldest, "Now I have found the good luck I wished for, and I desire nothing more."
He took as much of the silver as he could possibly carry, and then turned back and went home again. But the two others said, "We want something more from good luck than mere silver," and did not touch it, but went onwards. After they had walked for two days longer without stopping, they came to a hill which was all gold. The second brother stopped, took thought with himself, and was undecided.
"What shall I do?" he said; "shall I take for myself so much of this gold, that I have enough for all the rest of my life, or shall I go farther?" At length he made a decision, and putting as much into his pockets as would go in, said farewell to his brother, and went home.
But the third said, "Silver and gold do not move me that much. Perhaps something better will be given me."
He travelled onwards, and when he had walked for three days, he got into a forest. It was still larger than the one before, and he did not soon find the end of it. He found nothing to eat or to drink either, and got exhausted. Then he climbed up a high tree to find out if up there he could see the end of the forest. However, he saw only tops of trees. Then he began to climb downthe tree again.
Hunger tormented him, and he thought to himself, "If I could but eat my fill once more!" When he got down he was astonished to find a table beneath the tree, and the table was richly spread with steaming food.
"This time my wish has been fulfilled at the right moment," he said. And without asking who had brought the food, or who had cooked it, he went up to the table, and ate with enjoyment until he had stilled his hunger.
When he was done, he thought, "It would after all be a pity if the pretty little table-cloth were to be spoilt in the forest here," and folded it up tidily and put it in his pocket.
Then he went onwards, and in the evening, when hunger once more made itself felt, he wanted to test his little cloth, spread it out and said, "I wish you to be covered with good cheer again," and scarcely had the wish crossed his lips than as many dishes with the finest food on them stood on the table as there was room for.
"Now I see where the food comes from," he said, for he understood that it was a wishing-cloth. "Cloth, you shall be dearer to me than the mountains of silver and gold."
The cloth, however, was still not enough to enable him to sit down quietly at home; he preferred to wander about the world and pursue his fortune farther.
One night he met, in a lonely wood, a dusty, black charcoal-burner, who was burning charcoal there, and had some potatoes by the fire, on which he was going to make a meal.
"Good evening, blackbird!" said the youth. "How do you get on in your solitude?"
"One day is like another," replied the charcoal-burner, "and every night potatoes! Would you like to have some as my guest?"
"Many thanks," replied the traveller, "I won't rob you of your supper; you did not reckon on a visitor. However, if you will put up with what I have, you can have a good meal with me."
"Who is to prepare it for you?" said the charcoal-burner. "I see that you have nothing with you, and there is no one within a two hours' walk who could give you anything."
"And yet there shall be a meal," answered the youth, "and better than any you have ever tasted."
He brought his cloth out of his knapsack, spread it on the ground, and said, "Little cloth, cover yourself," and at once boiled meat and baked meat stood there, and as hot as if it had just come out of the kitchen.
The charcoal-burner stared, but did not need to be pressed or encouraged. He fell to, and thrust larger and larger mouthfuls into his black mouth. When they had eaten everything, the charcoal-burner smiled contentedly, and said, "Listen, I approve of your table-cloth; it would be a fine thing for me in this forest, where no one ever cooks me anything good. Therefore I will exchange a soldier's knapsack for it. The knapsack is certainly old and shabby, but it has wonderful, hidden powers. And since I no longer use it, I will give it to you for the table-cloth."
"I must first know what these wonderful powers are," answered the youth.
"Yes, I will you," replied the charcoal-burner. "Every time you tap it with your hand, a corporal comes with six men armed from head to foot, and they do whatever you command them."
"So far as I am concerned," said the youth, "if nothing else can be done, we will exchange," and he gave the charcoal-burner the cloth, took the knapsack from the hook, put it on, and bade farewell.
When he had walked a while, he wished to test the powers of his knapsack and tapped it. At once the seven warriors stepped up to him, and the corporal said, "What does my lord and ruler wish for?"
"Can you find hidden treasures by the use of rods?"
Yes, one of them was skilled in that art.
"Go away and find a hidden gold treasure, dig it up and offer it to the charcoal-burner for my wishing-cloth back."
It was not long before the seven men came across a treasure and then brought the table-cloth back from the charcoal-burner, who now was a rich man. The young man bade his seven men retire, went onwards, and hoped fortune would shine even more brightly on him.
By sunset he came to another charcoal-burner, who was making his supper ready by the fire.
"If you will eat some potatoes with salt, but with no dripping, come and sit down with me," said the sooty fellow.
"No," the young man answered, "be my guest instead." He spread out his cloth, and at once it was covered with the most wonderful dishes. They ate and drank together and enjoyed themselves heartily.
After the meal was over, the charcoal-burner said, "Up there on that shelf lies a little, old worn-out hat. When anyone puts it on and turns it round on his head, cannons appear next to you, and they shoot down everything so that no one can withstand them. The hat is of no use to me, but your table-cloth would be nice to have."
"That suits me very well," the young man answered, took the hat, put it on, and left his table-cloth behind him. However, he had hardly walked away than he tapped on his knapsack and his soldiers appeard He told them to buy back the cloth in exchange for a gold treasure they had to search out and dig up and buy the cloth back without delay.
It was not many days before they were back with the cloth and he let them go into the knapsack again to rest.
"One thing comes on the top of another," thought the young man, "and I feel as if my luck had not yet come to an end."
He walked on for the whole of one day, he came to a third charcoal-burner. Like the previous ones, he invited the young fellow to potatoes without dripping. The young man let him dine with him instead, and the wishing-cloth swiftly had many splendid dishes spread out. The charcoal-burner liked it so well, that at last he offered the young man a horn for it. When anyone blew the horn, all walls and fortifications fell down ahead of it, and the towns and villages for some miles around became ruins.
The young man gave the charcoal-burner the cloth in exchange for the horn, and afterwards sent his soldiers to find more hidden treasure and buy back the table-cloth with it. So they did, and after some weeks he had the knapsack, hat, horn and table-cloth.
"Now," he said, "I can live well. It is time for me to go home and see how my brothers are getting on."
When he reached home, his brothers had built themselves a handsome house with their silver and gold, and were living without cares. He went to see them, but as he came in a ragged coat, with his shabby hat on his head and his old knapsack on his back, they would not atmit he was their brother. Instead they mocked: "You give out that you are our brother who despised silver and gold, and craved for something still better for himself. He will come in his carriage in full splendour like a mighty king, not like a beggar," and they drove him out of doors.
He fell into a rage and tapped his knapsack until a hundred and fifty men stood before him, armed from head to foot. He commanded them to surround his brothers' house until they knew who he was. .
Now people came running to help their two neighbours, but they could do nothing against the soldiers. At last the king heard of this, and he got very angry of the disturbance of the peace in his kingdom. He commanded a captain to march out with his troop and drive this disturber of the peace out of town. However, the man with the knapsack soon got a greater body of men together, and his men made the captain and his men retire with bloody noses. .
The king said, "This vagabond is not brought to order yet," and next day sent a still larger troop against him. The youth set still more men against them, and turned his hat twice round on his head, and heavy guns began to play. The king's men were beaten and put to flight.
"And now," he said, "I will not make peace till the king gives me his daughter to wife and I govern the whole kingdom in his name."
He let this to be announced to the king, who said to his daughter, "It is a hard nut to crack, this. If I want peace and to keep the crown on my head, I think I must give you away."
So the wedding was celebrated, but the king's daughter was vexed that her husband wore a shabby hat and an old knapsack. She wished to get rid of him, and night and day studied how she could accomplished this.
Then she thought to herself, "Is it possible that his wonderful powers lie in the knapsack?" She started to caress him, and when his he had softened enough, she said, "If you would but lay aside that ugly knapsack we could have it cosier together."
"Dear one," he said, "this knapsack is my greatest treasure; as long as I have it, I feel safe." Then he told her why. While he explained it, she threw herself in his arms as if she would kiss him, but it was the knapsack she was after. She took it off his shoulders and ran away with it.
As soon as she was alone, she tapped it and commanded the warriors that emerged from it, to seize their former master and take him out of the royal palace. They obeyed, and then she sent still more men after him: they were to drive him out of the country.
He would have been ruined if he had not had the little hat. He turned it twice. At once a cannon began to thunder, and the king's daughter herself was forced to come and beg for mercy. She entreated in such moving ways, that he let himself to be persuaded to give her a new chance. She acted as if she loved him very much, so one day he confided to her that even if someone got the knapsack into his power, he could do nothing against him so long as the old hat was still his.
When she knew the secret, she waited until he was asleep, and then she took the hat away from him and had it thrown out into the street.
But he still had the horn. In great anger he blew it a little bit, aiming it at the castle. At once all the castle walls toppled down and accidentally crushed the king and his daughter. Had the young man blown just a little longer, there would have been ruins for miles around.
Now no one opposed him any longer.
There was once a poor man who had four sons, and when they were grown up, he said to them, "My dear children, you must now go out into the world, for I have nothing to give you, so set out, and go to some distance and learn a trade, and see how you can make your way."
So the four brothers took their sticks, bade their father farewell, and went through the town-gate together. When they had travelled about for some time, they came to a cross-way which branched off in four different directions. Then said the eldest, "Here we must separate, but on this day four years, we will meet each other again at this spot, and in the meantime we will seek our fortunes."
Then each of them went his way, and the eldest met a man who asked him where he was going, and what he was intending to do? "I want to learn a trade," he replied. Then the other said, "Come with me, and be a thief."
"No," he answered, "that is no longer regarded as a reputable trade, and the end of it is that one has to swing on the gallows."
"Oh," said the man, "you need not be afraid of the gallows; I will only teach you to get such things as no other man could ever lay hold of, and no one will ever detect you."
So he allowed himself to be talked into it, and while with the man became an accomplished thief, and so dexterous that nothing was safe from him, if he once desired to have it. The second brother met a man who put the same question to him what he wanted to learn in the world.
"I don't know yet," he replied.
"Then come with me, and be an astronomer; there is nothing better than that, for nothing is hid from you."
He liked the idea, and became such a skillful astronomer that when he had learnt everything, and was about to travel onwards, his master gave him a telescope and said to him, "With that you can you see whatever takes place either on earth or in heaven, and nothing can remain concealed from you."
A huntsman took the third brother into training, and gave him such excellent instruction in everything which related to huntsmanship, that he became an experienced hunter. When he went away, his master gave him a gun and said, "It will never fail you; whatever you aim at, you are certain to hit."
The youngest brother also met a man who spoke to him, and inquired what his intentions were.
"Would you not like to be a tailor?" he said.
"Not that I know of," said the youth; "sitting doubled up from morning till night, driving the needle and the goose backwards and forwards, is not to my taste."
"Oh, but you are speaking in ignorance," answered the man; "with me you would learn a very different kind of tailoring, which is respectable and proper, and for the most part very honorable."
So he let himself be persuaded, and went with the man, and learnt his art from the very beginning. When they parted, the man gave the youth a needle, and said, "With this you can sew together whatever is given you, whether it is as soft as an egg or as hard as steel; and it will all become one piece of stuff, so that no seam will be visible."
When the appointed four years were over, the four brothers arrived at the same time at the cross-roads, embraced and kissed each other, and returned home to their father.
"So now," he said, quite delighted, "the wind has blown you back again to me."
They told him of all that had happened to them, and that each had learnt his own trade. Now they were sitting just in front of the house under a large tree, and the father said, "I will put you all to the test, and see what you can do."
Then he looked up and said to his second son, "Between two branches up at the top of this tree, there is a chaffinch's nest, tell me how many eggs there are in it?" The astronomer took his glass, looked up, and said, "There are five."
Then the father said to the eldest, "Fetch the eggs down without disturbing the bird which is sitting hatching them."
The skillful thief climbed up, and took the five eggs from beneath the bird, which never observed what he was doing, and remained quietly sitting where she was, and brought them down to his father. The father took them, and put one of them on each corner of the table, and the fifth in the middle, and said to the huntsman, "With one shot you shall shoot me the five eggs in two, through the middle."
The huntsman aimed, and shot the eggs, all five as the father had desired, and that at one shot. He certainly must have had some of the powder for shooting round corners.
"Now it's your turn," said the father to the fourth son; "you shall sew the eggs together again, and the young birds that are inside them as well, and you must do it so that they are not hurt by the shot." The tailor brought his needle, and sewed them as his father wished. When he had done this the thief had to climb up the tree again, and carry them to the nest, and put them back again under the bird without her being aware of it. The bird sat her full time, and after a few days the young ones crept out, and they had a red line round their necks where they had been sewn together by the tailor.
"Well," said the old man to his sons, "I begin to think you are worth more than breen clover; you have used your time well, and learnt something good. I can't say which of you deserves the most praise. That will be proved if you have but an early opportunity of using your talents."
Not long after this, there was a great uproar in the country, for the king's daughter was carried off by a dragon. The king was full of trouble about it, both by day and night, and caused it to be proclaimed that whoever brought her back should have her to wife. The four brothers said to each other, "This would be a fine opportunity for us to show what we can do!" and resolved to go forth together and liberate the king's daughter.
"I will soon know where she is," said the astronomer, and looked through his telescope and said, "I see her already, she is far away from here on a rock in the sea, and the dragon is beside her watching her."
Then he went to the king, and asked for a ship for himself and his brothers, and sailed with them over the sea till they came to the rock. There the king's daughter was sitting, and the dragon was lying asleep on her lap. The huntsman said, "I dare not fire, I should kill the beautiful maiden at the same time."
"Then I will try my art," said the thief, and he crept there and stole her away from under the dragon, so quietly and dexterously, that the monster never remarked it, but went on snoring. Full of joy, they hurried off with her on board ship, and steered out into the open sea; but the dragon, who when he awoke had found no princess there, followed them, and came snorting angrily through the air. Just as he was circling above the ship, and about to descend on it, the huntsman shouldered his gun, and shot him to the heart. The monster fell down dead, but was so large and powerful that his fall shattered the whole ship. Fortunately, however, they laid hold of a couple of planks, and swam about the wide sea. Then again they were in great peril, but the tailor, who was not idle, took his wondrous needle, and with a few stitches sewed the planks together, and they seated themselves on them, and collected together all the fragments of the vessel. Then he sewed these so skilfully together, that in a very short time the ship was once more seaworthy, and they could go home again in safety.
When the king once more saw his daughter, there were great rejoicings. He said to the four brothers, "One of you shall have her to wife, but which of you it is to be you must settle among yourselves."
Then a warm contest arose among them, for each of them preferred his own claim. The astronomer said, "If I had not seen the princess, all your arts would have been useless, so she is mine."
The thief said, "What would have been the use of your seeing, if I had not got her away from the dragon? so she is mine."
The huntsman said, "You and the princess, and all of you, would have been torn to pieces by the dragon if my ball had not hit him, so she is mine."
The tailor said, "And if I, by my art, had not sewn the ship together again, you would all of you have been miserably drowned, so she is mine."
Then the king uttered this saying, "Each of you has an equal right, and as all of you cannot have the maiden, none of you shall have her, but I will give to each of you, as a reward, half a kingdom."
The brothers were pleased with this decision, and said, "It is better thus than that we should be at variance with each other."
Then each of them received half a kingdom, and they lived with their father in the greatest happiness as long as it pleased God.