70 – The Three Children of Fortune

KHM 70 - The Three Children of Fortune

Once upon a time a father sent for his three sons. He gave to the eldest a cock, to the second a scythe, and to the third a cat.
“I am now old,” said he, “my end is approaching, and I would like to provide for you before I die. Money I have none, and what I now give you seems of but little worth. Yet it rests with yourselves to turn my gifts to good account. Go to a country where what you have is as yet unknown, and your fortune is made.”
After the death of the father, the eldest set out with his cock. But wherever he went, in every town he saw from afar off a cock sitting upon the church steeple, and turning round with the wind. In the villages he always heard plenty of them crowing, and his bird was therefore nothing new; so there did not seem much chance of his making his fortune. At length it happened that he came to an island where the people who lived there had never heard of a cock, and knew not even how to reckon the time. They knew, indeed, if it were morning or evening; but at night, if they lay awake, they had no means of knowing how time went.
“Behold,” said he to them, “what a noble animal this is! How like a knight he is! He carries a bright red crest upon his head, and spurs upon his heels; he crows three times every night, at stated hours, and at the third time the sun is about to rise. But this is not all. Sometimes he screams in broad daylight, and then you must take warning, for the weather is surely about to change.”
This pleased the natives mightily. They kept awake one whole night, and heard to their great joy how gloriously the cock called the hour, at two, four, and six o’clock. Then they asked him whether the bird was to be sold, and how much he would sell it for. “About as much gold as an ass can carry,” said he. “A very fair price for such an animal,” they cried with one voice, and agreed to give him what he asked.
When he returned home with his wealth, his brothers wondered greatly; and the second said, “I will now set forth likewise, and see if I can turn my scythe to as good an account.” There did not seem, however, much likelihood of this; for go where he would, he was met by peasants who had as good a scythe on their shoulders as he had. At last, as good luck would have it, he came to an island where the people had never heard of a scythe. There, as soon as the com was ripe, they went into the fields and pulled it up with their hands, but this was very hard work, and a great deal of it was lost. The man then set to work with his scythe, and mowed down their whole crop so quickly that the people stood staring open-mouthed with wonder. They were willing to give him what he asked for such a marvelous thing; but he only took a horse laden with as much gold as it could carry.
Now the third brother had a great longing to go and see what he could make of his cat. So he set out. At first it happened to him as it had to the others; so long as he kept upon the main land, he met with no success. There were plenty of cats everywhere, indeed too many, so that the young ones were for the most part, as soon as they came into the world, drowned in the water. At last he passed over to an island, where, as it chanced most luckily for him, nobody had ever seen a cat, and they were overrun with mice to such a degree, that the little wretches danced upon the tables and chairs, whether the master of the house were at home or not. The people complained loudly of this grievance; the King himself knew not how to rid himself of them in his palace. In every comer mice were squeaking, and they gnawed everything that their teeth could lay hold of. Here was a fine field for Puss. She soon began her chase, and had cleared two rooms in the twinkling of an eye. Then the people besought their King to buy the wonderful animal for the good of the public, at any price. The King willingly gave what was asked – a mule laden with gold and jewels. And thus the third brother returned home with a richer prize than either of the others.
Meantime the cat feasted away upon the mice in the royal palace, and devoured so many that they were no longer in any great numbers. At length, quite spent and tired with her work, she became extremely thirsty; so she stood still, drew up her head, and cried, “Miau, Miau!”
The King gathered together all his subjects when they heard this strange cry, and many ran shrieking in a great fright out of the palace. But the King held a council below as to what was best to be done; and it was at length fixed to send a herald to the cat, to warn her to leave the castle forthwith, or that force would be used to remove her. “For,” said the counsellors, “we would far more willingly put up with the mice (since we are used to that evil), than get rid of them at the risk of our lives.” A page accordingly went, and asked the cat, whether she were willing to quit the castle. But Puss, whose thirst became every moment more and more pressing, answered nothing but “Miau! Miau!” which the page interpreted to mean “No! No!” and therefore carried this answer to the King.
“Well,” said the counsellors, “then we must try what force will do.” So the guns were planted, and the palace was fired upon from all sides. When the fire reached the room where the cat was, she sprang out of the window and ran away. But the besiegers did not see her, and went on firing until the whole palace was burnt to the ground.