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The Three Sons of Fortune
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
A father once called his three sons before him, and he gave to the
first a cock, to the second a scythe, and to the third a cat. I am
already aged, said he, my death is nigh, and I have wished to provide
for you before my end, money I have not, and what I now give you
seems of little worth, but all depends on your making a sensible use
of it. Only seek out a country where such things are still unknown,
and your fortune is made.
After the father's death the eldest went away with his cock, but
wherever he came the cock was already known, in the towns he saw him
from a long distance, sitting upon the steeples and turning round
with the wind, and in the villages he heard more than one crowing, no
one would show any wonder at the creature, so that it did not look as
if he would make his fortune by it.
At last, however, it happened that he came to an island where the
people knew nothing about cocks, and did not even understand how to
divide their time. They certainly knew when it was morning or
evening, but at night, if they did not sleep through it, not one of
them knew how to find out the time.
Look. Said he, what a proud creature. It has a ruby-red crown upon
its head, and wears spurs like a knight, it calls you three times
during the night, at fixed hours, and when it calls for the last
time, the sun soon rises. But if it crows by broad daylight, then
take notice, for there will certainly be a change of weather.
The people were well pleased, for a whole night they did not sleep,
and listened with great delight as the cock at two, four, and six
o'clock, loudly and clearly proclaimed the time. They asked if the
creature were for sale, and how much he wanted for it. About as much
gold as an ass can carry, answered he. A ridiculously small price
for such a precious creature. They cried unanimously, and willingly
gave him what he had asked.
When he came home with his wealth his brothers were astonished, and
the second said, well, I will go forth and see whether I cannot get
rid of my scythe as profitably. But it did not look as if he would,
for laborers met him everywhere, and they had scythes upon their
shoulders as well as he.
At last, however, he chanced upon an island where the people knew
nothing of scythes. When the corn was ripe there, they took cannon
out to the fields and shot it down. Now this was rather an uncertain
affair, many shot right over it, others hit the ears instead of the
stems, and shot them away, whereby much was lost, and besides all
this, it made a terrible noise. So the man set to work and mowed it
down so quietly and quickly that the people opened their mouths with
astonishment. They agreed to give him what he wanted for the scythe,
and he received a horse laden with as much gold as it could carry.
And now the third brother wanted to take his cat to the right man. He
fared just like the others, so long as he stayed on the mainland
there was nothing to be done. Every place had cats, and there were
so many of them that new-born kittens were generally drowned in the
At last he sailed over to an island, and it luckily happened that no
cats had ever yet been seen there, and that the mice had got the
upper hand so much that they danced upon the tables and benches
whether the master were at home or not. The people complained
bitterly of the plague, the king himself in his palace did not know
how to protect himself against them, mice squeaked in every corner,
and gnawed whatever they could lay hold of with their teeth.
But now the cat began her chase, and soon cleared a couple of rooms,
and the people begged the king to buy the wonderful beast for the
country. The king willingly gave what was asked, which was a mule
laden with gold, and the third brother came home with the greatest
treasure of all.
The cat made herself merry with the mice in the royal palace, and
killed so many that they could not be counted. At last she grew warm
with the work and thirsty, so she stood still, lifted up her head and
cried, mew. Mew.
When they heard this strange cry, the king and all his people were
frightened, and in their terror ran all at once out of the palace.
Then the king took counsel what was best to be done, at last it was
determined to send a herald to the cat, and demand that she should
leave the palace, or if not, she was to expect that force would be
used against her. The councillors said, rather will we let ourselves
be plagued with the mice, for to that misfortune we are accustomed,
than give up our lives to such a monster as this. A noble youth,
therefore, was sent to ask the cat whether she would peaceably quit
the castle. But the cat, whose thirst had become still greater,
merely answered, mew. Mew. The youth understood her to say, "Most
certainly not. Most certainly not." And took this answer to the king.
Then, said the councillors, she shall yield to force. Cannon were
brought out, and the palace was soon in flames. When the fire
reached the room where the cat was sitting, she sprang safely out of
the window, but the besiegers did not leave off until the whole
palace was shot down to the ground.