The Four Clever Brothers


'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

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.

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