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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS

 

THE THREE BROTHERS

By Hermann R. Kletke

THERE was once upon a time a witch who in the shape of a hawk used
every night to break the windows of a certain village church. In the
same village there lived three brothers, who were all determined to
kill the mischievous hawk. But in vain did the two eldest mount guard
in the church with their guns; as soon as the bird appeared high above
their heads sleep overpowered them, and they only awoke to hear the
windows crashing in.

Then the younger brother took his turn of guarding the windows, and to
prevent his being overcome by sleep he placed a lot of thorns under his
chin, so that if he felt drowsy and nodded his head they would prick
him and keep him awake.

The moon was already risen and it was as light as day, when suddenly he
heard a fearful noise, and at the same time a terrible desire to sleep
overpowered him.

His eyelids closed and his head sank on his shoulders, but the thorns
ran into him and were so painful that he awoke at once. He saw the
hawk swooping down upon the church, and in a moment he had seized his
gun and shot at the bird. The hawk fell heavily under a big stone,
severely wounded in its right wing. The youth ran to look at it and
saw that a huge abyss had opened below the stone. He went at once to
fetch his brothers, and with their help dragged a lot of pine wood and
ropes to the spot. They fastened some of the burning pine wood to the
end of the rope and let it slowly down to the bottom of the abyss. At
first it was quite dark, and the flaming torch only lit up dirty gray
stone walls. But the youngest brother determined to explore the abyss,
and letting himself down by the rope he soon reached the bottom. Here
he found a lovely meadow full of green trees and exquisite flowers.

In the middle of the meadow stood a huge stone castle, with an iron
gate leading to it, which was wide open. Everything in the castle
seemed to be made of copper, and the only inhabitant he could discover
was a lovely girl, who was combing her golden hair; and he noticed that
whenever one of her hairs fell on the ground it rang out like pure
metal. The youth looked at her more closely, and saw that her skin was
smooth and fair, her blue eyes bright and sparkling, and her hair as
golden as the sun. He fell in love with her on the spot, and kneeling
at her feet he implored her to become his wife.

The lovely girl accepted his proposal gladly; but at the same time she
warned him that she could never come up to the world above till her
mother, the old witch, was dead. And she went on to tell him that the
only way in which the old creature could be killed was with the sword
that hung up in the castle; but the sword was so heavy that no one
could lift it.

Then the youth went into a room in the castle where everything was made
of silver, and here he found another beautiful girl, the sister of his
bride. She was combing her silver hair, and every hair that fell on
the ground rang out like pure metal. The second girl handed him the
sword, but though he tried with all his strength he could not lift it.
At last a third sister came to him and gave him a drop of something to
drink, which she said would give him the needful strength. He drank
one drop, but still he could not lift the sword; then he drank a second
and the sword began to move; but only after he had drunk a third drop
was he able to swing the sword over his head.

Then he hid himself in the castle and awaited the old witch's arrival.
At last as it was beginning to grow dark she appeared. She swooped
down upon a big apple tree, and after shaking some golden apples from
it she pounced down upon the earth. As soon as her feet touched the
ground she became transformed from a hawk into a woman. This was the
moment the youth was waiting for, and he swung his mighty sword in the
air with all his strength and the witch's head fell off, and her blood
spurted upon the walls.

Without fear of any further danger, he packed up all the treasures of
the castle into great chests and gave his brothers a signal to pull
them up out of the abyss. First the treasures were attached to the
rope and then the three lovely girls. And now everything was up above
and only he himself remained below. But as he was a little suspicious
of his brothers, he fastened a heavy stone on to the rope and let them
pull it up. At first they heaved with a will, but when the stone was
halfway up they let it drop suddenly, and it fell to the bottom broken
into a hundred pieces.

"So that's what would have happened to my bones had I trusted myself to
them," said the youth sadly; and he cried bitterly, not because of the
treasures, but because of the lovely girl with her swanlike neck and
golden hair.

For a long time he wandered sadly all through the beautiful underworld,
and one day he met a magician who asked him the cause of his tears.
The youth told him all that had befallen him, and the magician said:

"Do not grieve, young man! If you will guard the children who are
hidden in the golden apple tree I will bring you at once up to the
earth. Another magician who lives in this land always eats my children
up. It is in vain that I have hidden them under the earth and locked
them into the castle. Now I have hidden them in the apple tree; hide
yourself there, too, and at midnight you will see my enemy."

The youth climbed up the tree and picked some of the beautiful golden
apples, which he ate for his supper. At midnight the wind began to
rise and a rustling sound was heard at the foot of the tree. The youth
looked down and beheld a long thick serpent beginning to crawl up the
tree. It wound itself round the stem and gradually got higher and
higher. It stretched its huge head, in which the eyes glittered
fiercely, among the branches, searching for the nest in which the
little children lay. They trembled with terror when they saw the
hideous creature and hid themselves beneath the leaves.

Then the youth swung his mighty sword in the air, and with one blow cut
off the serpent's head. He cut up the rest of the body into little
bits and strewed them to the four winds.

The father of the rescued children was so delighted over the death of
his enemy that he told the youth to get on his back, and thus he
carried him up to the world above.

With what joy did he hurry now to his brothers' house! He burst into a
room where they were all assembled, but no one knew who he was. Only
his bride, who was serving as cook to her sisters, recognized her lover
at once.

His brothers, who had quite believed he was dead, yielded him up his
treasures at once and flew into the woods in terror. But the good
youth forgave them all they had done and divided his treasures with
them. Then he built himself a big castle with golden windows, and
there he lived happily with his golden-haired wife till the end of
their lives.



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