The four skilful brothers



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 canst thou see whatsoever takes place either on earth or in heaven, and nothing can remain concealed from thee." 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; whatsoever 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?" said he. "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," said he, 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 thou shalt 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 whosoever 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 until 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 thither 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 upon 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.
老大和弟弟们分手后便抓紧时间赶路。 在路上,他遇到一个人问他准备到哪里去,想干什么。 他回答说:"我想在这个世界闯荡闯荡,学一门手艺来充实自己。"那人说道:"你就跟着我吧,我将教你如何成为一名前所未有的最精明的小偷。"老大说道:"不!这不是正当的职业,靠这种本事谋生最终都免不了要被绞死。"那人解释说:"嗨!你不必担心什么绞刑架,因为我只是教你如何找出最适合的方式方法和对象,取到别人得不到的东西,来无影,去无踪,让别人找不着你的踪迹。"听完之后,年青人被说服了,他跟着这位师傅学习,很快表现了他的天赋,只要是他想得到的东西,没有一样能逃过他的手心。
老二在路上也遇到一个人,当那人了解到他此行的目的之后,就问他想学什么本领,老二回答说:"我心里还没有底哩。"那人说道:"你就跟着我学做一名占星学家吧,这是一种崇高的职业 ,因为当你了解了星象后,就没有什么事情能够瞒过你了。 "一席话令他非常高兴,老二便在他那位老师的教导下,成了一名非常出色的占星学家。他学业有成后,他准备告别老师回家去。老师给了他一个望远镜,说道:"用这架望远镜,你能看清天上和地上所有的东西,没有什么事物能瞒过你。 "
老三遇到的是一个猎人,他跟着猎人学到了各种打猎的本领,成为一个极有能耐的猎手。 当他离开师傅时,师傅给了他一付弓箭,并告诉他说:"用这付弓箭,无论你想射什么,就一定能射中它。"
同样,小儿子也遇到一个人,这人问他想做什么,并问他说:"你愿意做一个裁缝吗?"小儿子回答说:"不,不!裁缝一天到晚都盘腿坐在那儿,拿着针穿来穿去,提着熨斗推来推去。那工作不适合我来做。"那人解释说道:"嗨!我可不是那种裁缝,跟我学吧,你会学到一种完全不同于普通做服装的裁缝手艺。"尽管他还没有完全了解这人的手艺有什么特别之处,好奇心与求学心促使他还是答应跟他去学,而且,学会了他的全部本领。 离别师傅之时,师傅送给他一根针说:"用这根针,你能把任何东西缝合起来,从软的鸡蛋到坚硬的钢铁,被缝合后真可以说是天衣无缝,毫无破绽。"
四年以后,到了他们约定的日子,四个兄弟在十字路口相会了,他们欢欢喜喜地互道离别之情,一起回到了父亲的家里 ,将各自分别后的经历,学到了什么手艺,都告诉了父亲,一家人非常高兴。 一天,他们一起坐在屋前的一棵非常高大的树下,父亲说:"我想考考你们每一个人所学到的本领。"说着他抬头向树上望去,对第二个儿子说道:"在这棵树顶上,有一个苍头燕雀的巢,你告诉我鸟巢里有几个鸟蛋。"占星学家拿出他的望远镜向上一看,说道:"五个。"父亲转过头对大儿子说:"现在你去把蛋拿下来,但不能惊动趴在鸟蛋上正在孵化的雌鸟。"于是精明灵巧的小偷爬上树从鸟的身子下面把五个鸟蛋掏下来给了他父亲,那只雌鸟既没有看见,也没有感觉到鸟蛋给人掏走了,仍然静静地趴在巢内。 父亲拿着五个鸟蛋在桌子的每个角上放了一个,余下的一个放在了桌子的中间,对猎手说:"你要一箭把所有的鸟蛋都击成两半。"猎手取弓在手,只一箭就把所有的鸟蛋按他父亲的要求射成了两半。 最后,父亲对最小的裁缝儿子说:"你把鸟蛋和蛋里面的小鸟都缝好,不要让它们有任何受到伤害的痕迹留下。"裁缝拿出针,按父亲的要求把蛋都缝好了。 接着,妙手神偷把鸟蛋又放回鸟巢内雌鸟的下面,那鸟竟毫不知晓,好像它腹下的蛋不曾被动过一般,仍在继续孵着那些蛋。 几天以后,小鸟出壳时,它们的脖颈由裁缝缝合的地方仅只有一点点淡红色的条纹。
过了不久,这个国家出了一个大乱子。 国王的女儿被一条巨龙抓走了,国王为失去女儿日夜悲伤不已,发出通告说:无论谁把他的女儿救了回来,就将女儿许配给他作为妻子。
四个兄弟互相一商量,说道:"我们的机会来了,让我们各展所能吧。"他们都愿意试一试,看自己是否能够把公主救回来。 占星学家老二说:"我很快就能找出她在哪儿了。"说着,他拿起望远镜一看 ,叫道:"我看到她了,她正坐在很远的大海中的一块礁石上,我还看见那条龙就在她身边守卫着。"为了他们兄弟能到达那儿,他找国王配备了一条船出海了。 按照老二的指点,船在海上航行很久之后,到达了礁石旁。 正和老二说的一样,他们发现公主正坐在礁石上,那条龙躺在她身边睡觉,龙头就枕在公主的大腿上。 猎人说:"我不敢射杀那条龙,因为我怕会把年青美丽的公主也一起射死。"神偷说道:"就让我来试一试我的技能吧!"说完,他跳上礁石,从龙的头下把公主偷偷移了出来。 他的手法又快又轻,龙一点也不知道,仍然在那里鼾声大作。
救出公主后,他们非常高兴,急忙带着她上船返航。 不久那条龙醒来发现公主不见了,马上腾在空中,在他们的后面大声咆哮追了过来。 当飞到船的上空时,它张牙舞爪向他们猛扑了下来。 说时迟那时快,猎人举起弓箭,一箭射去,正好射中它的心脏,龙掉下来死去了。 可他们仍未摆脱危险,因为那条巨龙的庞大尸体正好落在船上,把整条船给打碎了。 他们全都掉到了无边无际的大海里,不得不抓着几块船板茫然地漂游。 这时,裁缝拿出他的针,只几下就把一些船板缝在一起了,他爬在上面,把四下漂浮的碎块统统捞起来,将它们全部缝合在一起,很快使船恢复了原貌。 接着,他们兄弟几个和公主都上了船,有说有笑地继续向目的地航行,一路顺风,他们很快就安全地回到了自己的家园。
当他们把公主带回王宫交给她父亲时,国王大喜过望,对他们四兄弟说:"你们中的一个将和公主结婚,但必须由你们自己确定是哪一位。"这一来,他们兄弟之间引起了一场争论。 占星学家说:"如果不是我找出公主在哪里,你们的本领都毫无用处,因此,公主应该属于我。"妙手神偷说:"如果不是我把公主从龙头下偷出来,你看到她又有什么用呢?所以说,公主应该是属于我的。"猎手说:"不对,她应该是我的,如果不是我把龙射死,它就会把你们和公主都撕成碎块。"裁缝说:"如果不是我把船再缝好的话,你们都会被淹死,因此,她应该是我的人了。"国王听了他们的争论说道:"你们每一个人都有道理,但你们不能够都娶我的女儿,最好的办法是你们谁也不娶我的女儿。作为对你们的回报,我就把王国的一部分划给你们。"四个兄弟都认为这比互相争斗要好得多,就同意了这个方案。
于是,国王履行了他自己的诺言,划给了他们每人一部分土地。 四个兄弟过上了幸福的生活,他们对自己的父亲非常孝顺,使他也享受到了晚年的快乐。

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