German fairy tales

Brother Merry

brother merry

In days of yore there was a war, and when it was at an end a great number of the soldiers that had been engaged in it were disbanded. Among the rest Brother Merry received his discharge, and nothing more for all he had done than a very little loaf of soldier's bread, and four halfpence in money. With these possessions he went his way. Now a saint had seated himself in the road, like a poor beggar man, and when Brother Merry came along, he asked him for charity to give him something. Then the soldier said—

"Dear beggar man, what shall such as I give you? I have been a soldier, and have just got my discharge, and with it only a very little loaf and four halfpence. When that is gone I shall have to beg like yourself."

However, he divided the loaf into four parts, and gave the saint one, with a halfpenny. The saint thanked him, and having gone a little further along the road seated himself like another beggar in the way of the soldier. When Brother Merry came up the saint again asked alms of him, and the old soldier again gave him another quarter of the loaf and another halfpenny.

The saint thanked him, and seated himself in the way a third time, like another beggar, and again addressed Brother Merry. Brother Merry gave him a third quarter of the loaf, and the third halfpenny.

The saint thanked him, and Brother Merry journeyed on with all he had left—one quarter of the loaf and a single halfpenny. When he came to a tavern, being hungry and thirsty, he went in and ate the bread, and spent the halfpenny in beer to drink with it. When he had finished, he continued his journey, and the saint, in the disguise of a disbanded soldier, met him again and saluted him.

"Good day, comrade," said he; "can you give me a morsel of bread, and a halfpenny to get a drop of drink?"

"Where shall I get it?" answered Brother Merry. "I got my discharge, and nothing with it but a loaf and four halfpence, and three beggars met me on the road and I gave each of them a quarter of the loaf and a halfpenny. The last quarter I have just eaten at the tavern, and I have spent the last halfpenny in drink. I am quite empty now. If you have nothing, let us go begging together."

"No, that will not be necessary just now," said the saint. "I understand a little about doctoring, and I will in time obtain as much as I need by that."

"Ha!" said Brother Merry, "I know nothing about that, so I must go and beg by myself."

"Only come along," replied the saint, "and if I can earn anything, you shall go halves."

"That will suit me excellently," replied Brother Merry.

So they travelled on together.

They had not gone a great distance before they came to a cottage in which they heard a great lamenting and screaming. They went in to see what was the matter, and found a man sick to the death, as if about to expire, and his wife crying and weeping loudly.

"Leave off whining and crying," said the saint. "I will make the man well again quickly enough," and he took a salve out of his pocket and cured the man instantly, so that he could stand up and was quite hearty. Then the man and his wife, in great joy, demanded—

"How can we repay you? What shall we give you?"

The saint would not, however, take anything, and the more the couple pressed him the more firmly he declined. Brother Merry, who had been looking on, came to his side, and, nudging him, said—

"Take something; take something. We want it badly enough."

At length the peasant brought a lamb, which he desired the saint to accept, but he declined it still. Then Brother Merry jogged his side, and said—

"Take it, you foolish fellow; take it. We want it badly enough."

At last the saint said—

"Well, I'll take the lamb, but I shall not carry it. You must carry it."

"There's no great hardship in that," cried Brother Merry. "I can easily do it;" and he took it on his shoulder.

After that they went on till they came to a wood, and Brother Merry, who was very hungry, and found the lamb a heavy load, called out to the saint—

"Hallo! here is a nice place for us to dress and eat the lamb."

"With all my heart," replied his companion; "but I don't understand anything of cooking, so do you begin, and I will walk about until it is ready. Don't begin to eat until I return. I will take care to be back in time."

"Go your ways," said Brother Merry; "I can cook it well enough. I'll soon have it ready."

The saint wandered away, while Brother Merry lighted the fire, killed the lamb, put the pieces into the pot, and boiled them. In a short time the lamb was thoroughly done, but the saint had not returned; so Merry took the meat up, carved it, and found the heart.

"That is the best part of it," said he; and he kept tasting it until he had finished it.

At length the saint came back, and said—

"I only want the heart. All the rest you may have, only give me that."

Then Brother Merry took his knife and fork, and turned the lamb about as if he would have found the heart, but of course he could not discover it. At last he said, in a careless manner—

"It is not here."

"Not there? Where should it be, then?" said the saint.

"That I don't know," said Merry; "but now I think of it, what a couple of fools we are to look for the heart of a lamb. A lamb, you know, has not got a heart."

"What?" said the saint; "that's news, indeed. Why, every beast has a heart, and why should not the lamb have one as well as the rest of them?"

"No, certainly, comrade, a lamb has no heart. Only reflect, and it will occur to you that it really has not."

"Well," replied his companion, "it is quite sufficient. There is no heart there, so I need none of the lamb. You may eat it all."

"Well, what I cannot eat I'll put in my knapsack," said Brother Merry.

Then he ate some, and disposed of the rest as he had said. Now, as they continued their journey, the saint contrived that a great stream should flow right across their path, so that they must be obliged to ford it. Then said he—

"Go you first."

"No," answered Brother Merry; "go you first," thinking that if the water were too deep he would stay on the bank where he was. However, the saint waded through, and the water only reached to his knees; but when Brother Merry ventured, the stream seemed suddenly to increase in depth, and he was soon up to his neck in the water.

"Help me, comrade," he cried.

"Will you confess," said the saint, "that you ate the lamb's heart?"

The soldier still denied it, and the water got still deeper, until it reached his mouth. Then the saint said again—

"Will you confess, then, that you ate the lamb's heart?"

Brother Merry still denied what he had done, and as the saint did not wish to let him drown he helped him out of his danger.

They journeyed on until they came to a kingdom where they heard that the king's daughter lay dangerously ill.

"Holloa! brother," said the soldier, "here's a catch for us. If we can only cure her we shall be made for ever."

The saint, however, was not quick enough for Brother Merry.

"Come, Brother Heart," said the soldier, "put your best foot forward, so that we may come in at the right time."

But the saint went still slower, though his companion kept pushing and driving him, till at last they heard that the princess was dead.

"This comes of your creeping so," said the soldier.

"Now be still," said the saint, "for I can do more than make the sick whole; I can bring the dead to life again."

"If that's true," said Brother Merry, "you must at least earn half the kingdom for us."

At length they arrived at the king's palace, where everybody was in great trouble, but the saint told the king he would restore his daughter to him. They conducted him to where she lay, and he commanded them to let him have a caldron of water, and when it had been brought, he ordered all the people to go away, and let nobody remain with him but Brother Merry. Then he divided the limbs of the dead princess, and throwing them into the water, lighted a fire under the caldron, and boiled them. When all the flesh had fallen from the bones, the saint took them, laid them on a table, and placed them together in their natural order. Having done this, he walked before them, and said—

"Arise, thou dead one!"

As he repeated these words the third time the princess arose, alive, well, and beautiful.

The king was greatly rejoiced, and said to the saint—

"Require for thy reward what thou wilt. Though it should be half my empire, I will give it you."

But the saint replied—

"I desire nothing for what I have done."

"O thou Jack Fool!" thought Brother Merry to himself. Then, nudging his comrade's side, he said—

"Don't be so silly. If you won't have anything, yet I need somewhat."

The saint, however, would take nothing, but as the king saw that his companion would gladly have a gift, he commanded the keeper of his treasures to fill his knapsack with gold, at which Brother Merry was right pleased.

Again they went upon their way till they came to a wood, when the saint said to his fellow-traveller—

"Now we will share the gold."

"Yes," replied the soldier, "that we can."

Then the saint took the gold and divided it into three portions.

"Well," thought Brother Merry, "what whim has he got in his head now, making three parcels, and only two of us?"

"Now," said the saint, "I have divided it fairly, one for me, and one for you, and one for him who ate the heart."

"Oh, I ate that," said the soldier, quickly taking up the gold. "I did, I assure you."

"How can that be true?" replied the saint. "A lamb has no heart."

"Ay! what, brother? What are you thinking of? A lamb has no heart? Very good! When every beast has why should that one be without?"

"Now that is very good," said the saint. "Take all the gold yourself, for I shall remain no more with you, but will go my own way alone."

"As you please, Brother Heart," answered the soldier. "A pleasant journey to you, my hearty."

The saint took another road, and as he went off—

"Well," thought the soldier, "it's all right that he has marched off, for he is an odd fellow."

Brother Merry had now plenty of money, but he did not know how to use it, so he spent it and gave it away, till in the course of a little time he found himself once more penniless. At last he came into a country where he heard that the king's daughter was dead.

"Ah!" thought he, "that may turn out well. I'll bring her to life again."

Then he went to the king and offered his services. Now the king had heard that there was an old soldier who went about restoring the dead to life, and he thought that Brother Merry must be just the man. However, he had not much confidence in him, so he first consulted his council, and they agreed that as the princess was certainly dead, the old soldier might be allowed to see what he could do. Brother Merry commanded them to bring him a caldron of water, and when every one had left the room he separated the limbs, threw them into the caldron, and made a fire under it, exactly as he had seen the saint do. When the water boiled and the flesh fell from the bones, he took them and placed them upon the table, but as he did not know how to arrange them he piled them one upon another. Then he stood before them, and said—

"Thou dead, arise!" and he cried so three times, but all to no purpose.

"Stand up, you vixen! stand up, or it shall be the worse for you," he cried.

Scarcely had he repeated these words ere the saint came in at the window, in the likeness of an old soldier, just as before, and said—

"You impious fellow! How can the dead stand up when you have thrown the bones thus one upon another?"

"Ah! Brother Heart," answered Merry, "I have done it as well as I can."

"I will help you out of your trouble this time," said the saint; "but I tell you this, if you ever again undertake a job of this kind, you will repent it, and for this you shall neither ask for nor take the least thing from the king."

Having placed the bones in their proper order, the saint said three times—

"Thou dead, arise!" and the princess stood up, sound and beautiful as before. Then the saint immediately disappeared again out of the window, and Brother Merry was glad that all had turned out so well. One thing, however, grieved him sorely, and that was that he might take nothing from the king.

"I should like to know," thought he, "what Brother Heart had to grumble about. What he gives with one hand he takes with the other. There is no wit in that."

The king asked Brother Merry what he would have, but the soldier durst not take anything. However, he managed by hints and cunning that the king should fill his knapsack with money, and with that he journeyed on. When he came out of the palace door, however, he found the saint standing there, who said—

"See what a man you are. Have I not forbidden you to take anything, and yet you have your knapsack filled with gold?"

"How can I help it," answered the soldier, "if they would thrust it in?"

"I tell you this," said the saint, "mind that you don't undertake such a business a second time. If you do, it will fare badly with you."

"Ah! brother," answered the soldier, "never fear. Now I have money, why should I trouble myself with washing bones?"

"That will not last a long time," said the saint; "but, in order that you may never tread in a forbidden path, I will bestow upon your knapsack this power, that whatsoever you wish in it shall be there. Farewell! you will never see me again."

"Adieu," said Brother Merry, and thought he, "I am glad you are gone. You are a wonderful fellow. I am willing enough not to follow you."

He forgot all about the wonderful property bestowed upon his knapsack, and very soon he had spent and squandered his gold as before. When he had but fourpence left, he came to a public-house, and thought that the money must go. So he called for three pennyworth of wine and a pennyworth of bread. As he ate and drank, the flavour of roasting geese tickled his nose, and, peeping and prying about, he saw that the landlord had placed two geese in the oven. Then it occurred to him what his companion had told him about his knapsack, so he determined to put it to the test. Going out, he stood before the door, and said—

"I wish that the two geese which are baking in the oven were in my knapsack."

When he had said this, he peeped in, and, sure enough, there they were.

"Ah! ah!" said he, "that is all right. I am a made man."

He went on a little way, took out the geese, and commenced to eat them. As he was thus enjoying himself, there came by two labouring men, who looked with hungry eyes at the one goose which was yet untouched. Brother Merry noticed it, and thought that one goose would be enough for him. So he called the men, gave them the goose, and bade them drink his health. The men thanked him, and going to the public-house, called for wine and bread, took out their present, and commenced to eat. When the hostess saw what they were dining on, she said to her goodman—

"Those two men are eating a goose. You had better see if it is not one of ours out of the oven."

The host opened the door, and lo! the oven was empty.

"O you pack of thieves!" he shouted. "This is the way you eat geese, is it? Pay for them directly, or I will wash you both with green hazel juice."

The men said—

"We are not thieves. We met an old soldier on the road, and he made us a present of the goose."

"You are not going to hoax me in that way," said the host. "The soldier has been here, but went out of the door like an honest fellow. I took care of that. You are the thieves, and you shall pay for the geese."

However, as the men had no money to pay him with, he took a stick and beat them out of doors.

Meanwhile, as Brother Merry journeyed on, he came to a place where there was a noble castle, and not far from it a little public-house. Into this he went, and asked for a night's lodging, but the landlord said that his house was full of guests, and he could not accommodate him.

"I wonder," said Brother Merry, "that the people should all come to you, instead of going to that castle."

"They have good reason for what they do," said the landlord, "for whoever has attempted to spend the night at the castle has never come back to show how he was entertained."

"If others have attempted it, why shouldn't I?" said Merry.

"You had better leave it alone," said the host; "you are only thrusting your head into danger."

"No fear of danger," said the soldier, "only give me the key and plenty to eat and drink."

The hostess gave him what he asked for, and he went off to the castle, relished his supper, and when he found himself sleepy, laid himself down on the floor, for there was no bed in the place. He soon went to sleep, but in the night he was awoke by a great noise, and when he aroused himself he discovered nine very ugly devils dancing in a circle which they had made around him.

"Dance as long as you like," said Brother Merry; "but don't come near me."

But the devils came drawing nearer and nearer, and at last they almost trod on his face with their misshapen feet.

"Be quiet," said he, but they behaved still worse.

At last he got angry, and crying—

"Holla! I'll soon make you quiet," he caught hold of the leg of a stool and struck about him.

Nine devils against one soldier were, however, too much, and while he laid about lustily on those before him, those behind pulled his hair and pinched him miserably.

"Ay, ay, you pack of devils, now you are too hard for me," said he; "but wait a bit. I wish all the nine devils were in my knapsack," cried he, and it was no sooner said than done.

There they were. Then Brother Merry buckled it up close, and threw it into a corner, and as all was now still he lay down and slept till morning, when the landlord of the inn and the nobleman to whom the castle belonged came to see how it had fared with him. When they saw him sound and lively, they were astonished, and said—

"Did the ghosts, then, do nothing to you?"

"Why, not exactly," said Merry; "but I have got them all nine in my knapsack. You may dwell quietly enough in your castle now; from henceforth they won't trouble you."

The nobleman thanked him and gave him great rewards, begging him to remain in his service, saying that he would take care of him all the days of his life.

"No," answered he; "I am used to wander and rove about. I will again set forth."

He went on until he came to a smithy, into which he went, and laying his knapsack on the anvil, bade the smith and all his men hammer away upon it as hard as they could. They did as they were directed, with their largest hammers and all their might, and the poor devils set up a piteous howling. When the men opened the knapsack there were eight of them dead, but one who had been snug in a fold was still alive, and he slipped out and ran away to his home in a twinkling.

After this Brother Merry wandered about the world for a long time; but at last he grew old, and began to think about his latter end, so he went to a hermit who was held to be a very pious man and said—

"I am tired of roving, and will now endeavour to go to heaven."

"There stand two ways," said the hermit; "the one, broad and pleasant, leads to hell; the other is rough and narrow, and that leads to heaven."

"I must be a fool indeed," thought Brother Merry, "if I go the rough and narrow road;" so he went the broad and pleasant way till he came at last to a great black door, and that was the door of hell.

He knocked, and the door-keeper opened it, and when he saw that it was Merry he was sadly frightened, for who should he be but the ninth devil who had been in the knapsack, and he had thought himself lucky, for he had escaped with nothing worse than a black eye. He bolted the door again directly, and running to the chief of the devils, said—

"There is a fellow outside with a knapsack on his back, but pray don't let him in, for he can get all hell into his knapsack by wishing it. He once got me a terribly ugly hammering in it."

So they called out to Brother Merry, and told him that he must go away, for they should not let him in.

"Well, if they will not have me here," thought Merry, "I'll e'en try if I can get a lodging in heaven. Somewhere or other I must rest."

So he turned about and went on till he came to the door of heaven, and there he knocked. Now the saint who had journeyed with Merry sat at the door, and had charge of the entrance. Brother Merry recognised him, and said—

"Are you here, old acquaintance? Then things will go better with me."

The saint replied—

"I suppose you want to get into heaven?"

"Ay, ay, brother, let me in; I must put up somewhere."

"No," said the saint; "you don't come in here."

"Well, if you won't let me in, take your dirty knapsack again. I'll have nothing that can put me in mind of you," said Merry carelessly.

"Give it me, then," said the saint.

Brother Merry handed it through the grating into heaven, and the saint took it and hung it up behind his chair.

"Now," said Brother Merry, "I wish I was in my own knapsack."

Instantly he was there; and thus, being once actually in heaven, the saint was obliged to let him stay there.

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