THERE was once a man who had three sons, and no other possessions beyond the house in which he lived. Now the father loved his three sons equally, so that he could not make up his mind which of them should have the house after his death, because he did not wish to favour any one more than the others. And he did not want to sell the house, because it had belonged to his family for generations; otherwise he could have divided the money equally amongst them. At last an idea struck him, and he said to his sons: ‘You must all go out into the world, and look about you, and each learn a trade, and then, when you return, whoever can produce the best masterpiece shall have the house.’
The sons were quite satisfied. The eldest wished to be a blacksmith, the second a barber, and the third a fencing-master. They appointed a time when they were to return home, and then they all set out.
It so happened that each found a good master, where he learnt all that was necessary for his trade in the best possible way. The blacksmith had to shoe the king’s horses, and thought to himself, ‘Without doubt the house will be yours!’ The barber shaved the best men in the kingdom, and he, too, made sure that the house would be his. The fencing-master received many a blow, but he set his teeth, and would not allow himself to be troubled by them, for he thought to himself, ‘If you are afraid of a blow you will never get the house.’
When the appointed time had come the three brothers met once more, and they sat down and discussed the best opportunity of showing off their skill. Just then a hare came running across the field towards them. ‘Look!’ said the barber, ‘here comes something in the nick of time!’ seized basin and soap, made a lather whilst the hare was approaching, and then, as it ran at full tilt, shaved its moustaches, without cutting it or injuring a single hair on its body.
‘I like that very much indeed,’ said the father. ‘Unless the others exert themselves to the utmost, the house will be yours.’
Soon after they saw a man driving a carriage furiously towards them. ‘Now, father, you shall see what I can do!’ said the blacksmith, and he sprang after the carriage, tore off the four shoes of the horse as it was going at the top of its speed, and shod it with four new ones without checking its pace.
‘You are a clever fellow!’ said the father, ‘and know your trade as well as your brother. I really don’t know to which of you I shall give the house.’
Then the third son said, ‘Father, let me also show you something;’ and, as it was beginning to rain, he drew his sword and swung it in cross cuts above his head, so that not a drop fell on him, and the rain fell heavier and heavier, till at last it was coming down like a waterspout, but he swung his sword faster and faster, and kept as dry as if he were under cover.
When the father saw this he was astonished, and said, ‘You have produced the greatest masterpiece: the house is yours.’
Both the other brothers were quite satisfied, and praised him too, and as they were so fond of each other they all three remained at home and plied their trades: and as they were so experienced and skilful they earned a great deal of money. So they lived happily together till they were quite old, and when one was taken ill and died the two others were so deeply grieved that they were also taken ill and died too. And so, because they had all been so clever, and so fond of each other, they were all laid in one grave.