HERE were three brothers left behind when the father died. The two elder, whose names were John and James, were as clever lads as ever ate pease with a fork.
As for the youngest, his name was Caspar, he had no more than enough sense to blow his potatoes when they were hot. Well, when they came to divide things up between themselves, John and James contrived to share all of the good things between them. As for Caspar, "why, the little black hen is enough for him," says John and James, and that was all the butter he got from that churn.
"I'll take the little black hen to the fair," says Caspar, "and there I'll sell her and buy me some eggs. I'll set the eggs under the minister's speckled hen, and then I'll have more chicks. Then I'll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and then I'll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and after that I'll be richer than Uncle Henry, who has two cows and a horse, and will marry my sweetheart into the bargain." So off he went to the fair with the black hen under his arm as he had promised himself to do.
"There goes a goose to the plucking," says John and James, and then they turned no hairs grey by thinking any more about the case.
As for him, why, he went on and on until he came to the inn over the hill not far from the town, the host of which was no better than he should be, and that was the long and the short of it.
"Where do you go with the little black hen, Caspar?" says he.
"Oh," says Caspar, "I take it to the fair to sell it and buy me some eggs. I'll set the eggs under the minister's speckled hen, and then I'll have more chicks. Then I'll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and then I'll buy me more eggs and have more chicks, and after that I'll be richer than Uncle Henry, who has two cows and a horse, and will marry my sweetheart into the bargain."
Prut! And why should Caspar take his hen to the fair? That was what the landlord said. It was a silly thing to tramp to the river for water before the well was dry at home. Why, the landlord had a friend over yonder who would give ten pennies to one that he could get at the fair for his black hen. Now, had Caspar ever heard tell of the little old gentleman who lived in the old willow-tree yonder?
No, Caspar had never heard tell in all of his life. And there was no wonder in that, for no more had anybody else, and the landlord was only up to a bit of a trick to get the little black hen for himself.
But the landlord sucked in his lips—"tsch"—so! Well, that was a pity, for the little old gentleman had said, time and time again, that he would give a whole bagful of gold and silver money for just such a little black hen as the one that Caspar carried under his arm.
Dear, dear! How Caspar's eyes did open at this, to be sure. Off he started for the willow-tree. "Here's the little black hen," said he, "and I'll sell her for a bagful of gold and silver money." But nobody answered him; and you may be sure of that, for there was nobody there.
"Well," says Caspar, "I'll just tie the hen to the tree here, and you may pay me to-morrow." So he did as he had said, and off he marched. Then came the landlord and took the hen off home and had it for his supper; and there was an end of that business.
An end of that business? No, no; stop a bit, for we will not drive too fast down the hill. Listen: there was a wicked robber who had hidden a bag of gold and silver money in that very tree; but of that neither Caspar nor the landlord knew any more than the chick in the shell.
"Hi!" says Caspar, "it is the wise man who gets along in the world." But there he was wrong for once in his life, Tommy Pfouce tells me.
"And did you sell your hen?" says John and James.
Oh, yes; Caspar had done that.
And what had he got for it?
Oh, just a bag of gold and silver money, that was all. He would show it to them to-morrow, for he was to go and get it then from the old gentleman who lived in the willow-tree over yonder by the inn over the hill.
When John and James heard that they saw as plain as the nose on your face that Caspar had been bitten by the fool dog.
But Caspar never bothered his head about that; off he went the next day as grand as you please. Up he marched to the willow-tree, but never a soul did he find there; for why, there was nobody.
Rap! tap! tap! He knocked upon the tree as civil as a beggar at the kitchen door, but nobody said, "Come in!"
"Look," says he, "we will have no dilly-dallying; I want my money and I will have it," and he fetched a kick at the tree that made the bark fly. But he might as well have kicked my grandfather's bedpost for all the good he had of it. "Oh, very well!" says he, and off he marched and brought the axe that stood back of the stable door.
Hui! how the chips flew! for Caspar was bound to get to the bottom of the business. So by and by the tree lay on the ground, and there was the bag of gold and silver money that the wicked robber had hidden. "So!" says Caspar, "better late than never!" and off he marched with it.
By and by whom should he meet but John and James. Bless me, how they stared! And did Caspar get all of that money for one little black hen?
Oh, yes; that he had.
And where did he get it?
Oh! the little old man in the willow-tree had paid it to him.
So good! that was a fine thing, and it should be share and share alike among brothers; that was what John and James said, and Caspar did not say "No;" so down they all sat on the grass and began counting it out.
"This is mine," said John.
"And this is mine," said James.
"And this is mine," said John.
"And this is mine," said James.
"And where is mine?" says Caspar. But neither of the others thought of him because he was so simple.
Just then who should come along but the rogue of a landlord. "Hi! And where did you get all that?" says he.
"Oh," says Caspar, "the little old man in the willow-tree paid it to me for my little black hen."
Yes, yes the landlord knew how much of that cake to eat. He was not to have the wool pulled over his eyes so easily. See, now, he knew very well that thieving had been done, and he would have them all up before the master mayor for it. So the upshot of the matter was that they had to take him in to share with them.
"This is mine," says the landlord.
"And this is mine," says John.
"And this is mine," says James.
"And where do I come in?" says poor Caspar. But nobody thought of him because he was so simple.
Just then came along a company of soldiers—tramp! tramp! tramp!—and there they found them all sharing the money between them, except Caspar.
"Hi!" says the captain, "here are a lot of thieves, and no mistake!" and off he marched them to the king's house, which was finer than any in our town, and as big as a church into the bargain.
And how had they come by all that money? that was what the king would like to know.
As for the three rogues, they sang a different tune now than they had whistled before.
"It's none of mine, it's his," said the landlord, and he pointed to John.
"It's none of mine, it's his," said John, and he pointed to James.
"It's none of mine, it's his," said James and he pointed to Caspar.
"And how did you get it?" says the king.
"Oh!" says Caspar, "the little old man in the willow-tree gave it to me for my little black hen;" and then he told the whole story without missing a single grain.
Beside the king sat the princess, who was so serious and solemn that she had never laughed once in all her life. So the king had said, time and time again, that whoever should make her laugh should have her for his wife. Now, when she heard Caspar's story, and how he came in behind all the rest, so that he always had the pinching, like the tail of our cat in the crack of the door, she laughed like everything, for she could not help it. So there was the fat in the fire, for Caspar was not much to look at, and that was the truth. Dear, dear, what a stew the king was in, for he had no notion for Caspar as a son-in-law. So he began to think about striking a bargain. "Come," says he to Caspar, "how much will you take to give up the princess instead of marrying her?"
Well, Caspar did not know how much a princess was worth. So he scratched his head and scratched his head, and by and by he said that he would be willing to take ten dollars and let the princess go.
At this the king boiled over into a mighty fume, like water into the fire. What! did Caspar think that ten dollars was a fit price for a princess!
Oh, Caspar had never done any business of this kind before. He had a sweetheart of his own at home, and if ten dollars was too much for the princess he would be willing to take five.
Sakes alive! what a rage the king was in! Why, I would not have stood in Caspar's shoes just then—no, not for a hundred dollars. The king would have had him whipped right away, only just then he had some other business on hand. So he paid Caspar his five dollars, and told him that if he would come back the next day he should have all that his back could carry—meaning a whipping.
As for Caspar and his brothers and the rogue of a landlord, they thought that the king was talking about dollars. So when they had left the king's house and had come out into the road again, the three rogues began to talk as smooth and as soft as though their words were buttered.
See, now, what did Caspar want with all that the king had promised him; that was what they said. If he would let them have it, they would give him all of their share of the money he had found in the willow-tree.
"Ah, yes," says Caspar, "I am willing to do that. For," says he to himself, "an apple in the pocket is worth three on the tree." And there he was right for once in his life.
Well, the next day back they all tramped to the king's house again to get what had been promised to Caspar.
So! Caspar had come back for the rest, had he?
Oh, yes he had come back again but the lord king must know that he had sold all that had been promised to him to these three lads for their share of the money he had found in the willow-tree over yonder.
"Yes," says the landlord, "one part of what has been promised is mine."
"And one part of it is mine," says John.
"Stop a bit, brother," says James; "remember, one part of it is mine too."
At this the king could not help laughing, and that broke the back of his anger.
First of all he sent the landlord for his share, and if his back did not smart after he had it, why, it was not the fault of those who gave it to him. By and by he came back again, but he said nothing to the others of what had been given to him; but all the same he grinned as though he had been eating sour gooseberries. Then John went, and last of all James, and what they got satisfied them, I can tell you.
After that the king told Caspar that he might go into the other room and fill his pockets with money for what he had given up to the others; so he had the cool end of that bargain, and did not burn his fingers after all.
But the three rogues were not satisfied with this. No, indeed! Caspar should have his share of the smarting, see if he shouldn't! So back they went to the king's house one fine day, and said that Caspar had been talking about the lord king, and had said that he was no better than an old hunks. At this the king was awfully angry. And so off he sent the others to fetch Caspar along so that he might settle the score with him.
When the three came home, there was Caspar lying on a bench in the sun, for he could take the world easy now, because he was so rich.
"Come along, Caspar," said they, "the king wants to see you over at his house yonder."
Yes, yes, but there was too much hurrying in this business, for it was over-quick cooking that burned the broth. If Caspar was to go to the king's house he would go in fitting style, so they would just have to wait till he found a horse, for he was not going to jog it afoot; that was what Caspar said.
"Yes," says the landlord, "but sooner than you should lose time in the waiting, I will lend you my fine dapple-grey."
But where was the bridle to come from? Caspar would have them know that he was not going to ride a horse to the king's house without a good bridle over the nag's ears.
Oh, John would lend him the new bridle that he bought in the town last week; so that was soon settled.
But how about the saddle?—that was what Caspar wanted to know—yes, how about the saddle? Did they think that he was going to ride up to the king's house with his heels thumping against the horse's ribs as though he were no better than a ploughman?
Oh, James would lend him a saddle if that was all he wanted.
So off they went, all four of them, to the king's house.
There was the king, walking up and down, and fussing and fuming with anger till he was all of a heat.
"See now," says he, as soon as he saw Caspar, "what did you call me an old hunks for?"
"I didn't call you an old hunks," said Caspar.
"Yes, you did," said the king.
"No, I didn't," said Caspar.
"Yes, you did," said the king, "for these three lads told me so."
"Prut!" said Caspar, "who would believe what they say? Why, they would just as lief tell you that this horse and saddle and bridle belong to them."
"And so they do!" bawled the three rogues.
"See there, now," said Caspar.
The king scratched his head, for here was a tangled knot, for certain. "Yes, yes," said he, "these fellows are fooling either Caspar or me, and we are both in the same tub, for the matter of that. Take them away and whip them!" So it was done as he said, and that was all that they got for their trouble.
Wit and Luck are not always hatched in the same nest, says Tommy Pfouce, and maybe he is right about it, for Caspar married his sweetheart, and if she did not keep his money for him, and himself out of trouble, she would not have been worth speaking of, and I, for one, would never have told this story.