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The Greatest Thing in the World

ONE day a good and wise old king called his three sons together and said:  "My sons, I wish you to go forth and search for the greatest thing in the world. The one who finds it shall rule over my kingdom, for he will rule wisely."

"Very well," agreed the brothers, "we will begin our search at once."

So they set out and journeyed along the highway, till they came to the first three corners, where sat an old woman.

"Tell us, dame," asked the brothers, "what is the greatest thing in the world?"

"One must choose for oneself," replied she. "Who follows that road, finds gold; who follows that road, finds happiness; who follows this road finds what he is worthy of."

"Ho!" cried the first brother, "I know the one I will take." And without more ado, he chose the first road.

"I will take the second," said the next brother, – a bit wiser than the first.

"I will take the third," said the last brother, "for if I am worthy of the greatest thing in the world, I shall find it; and if I am not, it will profit me nothing to take another road." So they went their ways.

After the first brother had journeyed a way he saw something glittering before him, and there indeed was a great heap of gold. On top of it sat an old man with a little mill, from which the gold pieces poured forth as fast as he could turn the handle.

"Why do you grind out so much gold?" asked the prince.

"I have nothing else to do," replied the old man.

"And what does it buy for you?"

"No more than a merry tune now and then," an­swered the old man. "Let us have a good song, and all the gold you can carry is yours for the taking."

Now as this first prince was a master hand at sing­ing, he sang a tune so merry that the old man's legs twitched, and he up and jigged till the gold pieces flew all about, but never stopped grinding a moment.

When the song was finished the prince was all haste to be off with his gold.

"Stay and sing," begged the old man, "and I will grind you enough to fill your coffers and more!" The prince would not be persuaded; but loaded four asses with all they could carry, and started off for his father's kingdom.

When he approached the castle the king came to meet him, saying:

"What have you in those sacks?"

"The greatest thing in the world!" answered the prince.

"What is that?"

"Gold! and enough to last till the castle falls about our ears!"

"And what will it buy?"

"Everything!" answered the prince.

"Will it buy happiness?" asked the wise old king. No, it would not buy happiness, and now the prince saw how foolish he had been, and that the kingdom was not for him.

"Alack!" he cried, "had I taken the second road, I might have done better."

But how fared the second brother?

On he went till he came to a queer little house, where sat an old woman sewing so fast that she seemed to have twenty fingers.

"What are you making, dame?" asked the prince. "Sacks," she replied.

"Sacks for what?"

"To hold happiness."

"How could one find happiness to put in sacks?"

"Easy enough," answered the dame. "Plenty floats about for want of those who know how to use it."

"What might be the price of a sack?"

"It is yours for the taking."

The prince could hardly believe his ears; and mak­ing haste to pick out the largest sack, he slung it over his shoulder, – for it was as light as a feather, – and started off in high spirits.

"As sure as peas grow in a pod," thought he, "the kingdom will be mine for my cleverness."

"What have you in your sack?" asked the king, coming to meet him.

"Happiness!" replied the prince.

"Good!" exclaimed the king. "Now what will you do with it?"

"Why, one can always use happiness," cried the prince.

"How?"

Though that seemed a simple enough question the prince could not find an answer to suit the king.

"You are no wiser, my son, than those who let hap­piness float about when they might be using it. See, you have a sack full and know not what to do with it. The kingdom is not for you, for only a wiser than I may have my kingdom to rule, and I long ago learned that happiness, unless it be shared with others, is like so much dough without leaven."

Now the third brother, a strapping fellow with a kind word for those he liked, but hate for his brothers, strode along till nightfall, when he came to a little house, with a sign, reading:

"Here may one gain wisdom."

"Wisdom," thought he, "is what I need in my search," and he knocked at the door.

"Welcome!" cried an old man, opening it.

"Come in and sup with me. I have soup enough for two, – well flavoured with wisdom. It does not agree with fools, so you had best think twice before you eat."

"I am wise enough to know," said the prince, as he took his fill, "that I still have something to learn, and perhaps you can tell me what is the greatest thing in the world?"

"Ah!" exclaimed the old man, "I know very well, but it is not for me to tell you. Look! yonder in the sky is a beautiful star that burns night and day. If you can reach it, you will find the greatest thing in the world."

The prince was for starting at once, and would learn the way.

"Hold!" cried the old man. "Some go one way, and some another. You have a long journey, and must cross a dark forest. At the entrance is a huge dragon. Destroy him, or he will destroy you. If you are still of a mind to go, take this smooth peb­ble, and when in doubt cast it upon the ground."

The prince thanked the old man, and putting the pebble in his pocket, started on his journey.

On he went, and on and on, till he came to the for­est. There across the path lay a great dragon, and in its four heads blazed these letters of fire, – H-A-T-E.

"Hui!" cried the prince, "one must think twice before stirring up such a foe!" And bethinking him of the pebble, he took it from his pocket and cast it on the ground.

Straightway a beautiful fairy arose before him.

"How shall I slay the dragon?" asked the prince. "My sword is the finest that skilled hand ever made, and never was blade keener, but it will not cut through the dragon's brazen scales."

"Ah!" replied the fairy, "yonder, over the three high mountains, lies the sword of Truth. Its edge and none other will cut through the dragon's brazen scales."

"Then there is work to be done!" said the prince. And putting the fairy pebble in his pocket, he started for the three high mountains.

The first and the second he crossed with nothing to hinder; but at the top of the third was a great wall, as high as ten men, and as smooth as glass. Beyond rose the turrets and towers of a castle of glittering steel. There was no getting around the wall, for on either side was a steep precipice. Seeing a great iron gate, the prince gave it three thundering raps, and a hideous old man appeared.

"What will you have?" asked the old man.

"The sword of Truth!" answered the prince.

Oh! if it was a sword he wanted, here was as fine a one as ever hung at a body's side. And the old man drew from its scabbard a beautiful sword with a hilt of silver, set with precious stones.

If the fine young fellow wished, they might strike a bargain, as he was willing to sell.

"I asked for the sword of Truth!" cried the prince, who was about to belabour the old man, when he drew another sword, with a hilt of gold set with diamonds, that shone like the frost on a starlit night.

"Perhaps," said he, as smooth-tongued as ever, "the other sword is not fine enough for so fine a young man."

But the prince was not to be fooled, even with a golden sword.

"I want the sword of Truth!" he roared, "and will have none other. Tell me where it is to be found, or it will go ill with you!"

Now the old man was as sly as a fox, and he said: "That is right, my fine fellow, take none but the best. I see I cannot fool you, so here is the sword of Truth."

With that he drew a sword that flashed as if it were made of a white ray of the moon.

"We will have a look at this," thought the prince. And taking the sword in his hand he examined it closely.

"There is a flaw in it!" he cried. "The sword of Truth has no flaw! How dare you deceive me?"

He rushed upon the old man, but before he could strike the hideous fellow disappeared, like a puff of smoke! Crash! bang! fell the iron gate. The wall crumbled and all tumbled down the precipice!

The way was now clear and the prince strode to­ward the castle. The great door swung back as he approached, and a beautiful white light streamed forth.

There was no mistaking that light, for compared to it, the light from the false sword was as a night without a star, to the radiance of noonday.

Within the castle, on a table of pure gold, lay the sword of Truth. Its brilliancy dazzled the prince.

Suddenly the room was filled with whispering voices:

"Beware!"

"Do not touch it!"

"It will do you harm!"

The prince did not heed the voices, but picked up the sword as if it belonged to him, as it really did, – for the sword of Truth serves well whoever scales high mountains to find it.

Hardly had the prince crossed the threshold to re­trace his steps to the forest, when he found himself there without the trouble of going. At sight of him the dragon came forth, smoke and fire pouring from his eight nostrils!

"Ho! ho!" cried the prince, raising his sword aloft. "If Truth cannot destroy hate, nothing can!"

The sword's dazzling rays smote and blinded the terrible creature, and in less time than it takes to tell it, the dragon was consumed to nothing.

"Truth is a mighty weapon," declared the prince. Then putting the sword in its scabbard he turned to enter the forest.

Lo! it had vanished!

"So there was nothing to it after all!" he declared, and was about to cast the pebble on the ground, that he might ask the fairy what to do, when he saw his first brother trudging along with a great load of gold on his back.

"Oh, brother," exclaimed the prince, "how glad I am to see you! Let me carry your load, for it seems to weigh you down." And he swung the sack over his own broad shoulders.

"Where are you bound?" he asked.

"I have nowhere to go," replied the first brother. "I have wandered about homeless since I failed to win our father's kingdom."

"Then come with me, and together we will find the greatest thing in the world."

Surprised enough was the first brother, and glad too, to take the younger's strong arm; so they jour­neyed thus for a great way, as happy as if they had always loved each other.

"If we could but meet our other brother," said the youngest, "how happy our father would be to see us together."

And scarcely were the words out of his mouth, when they saw the second brother coming toward them, carrying his sack, now grown to be a heavy burden.

"You are well met!" cried the young prince, embracing him. "Let me carry your load, too." Then the three walked along, the two older brothers wondering at the change in the younger.

"Now, brothers," said the young prince, "let us hasten on our way, for we must journey till we reach a bright star, burning night and day, to lead us to the greatest thing in the world."

He looked up to find the star, and there it shone ,directly above his head.

For a moment the young prince could not speak for wonder. Then he threw his arms around his two brothers, crying joyously:

"Oh, my brothers, we have found the greatest thing in the world! Let us go home and share the kingdom!"

You may well believe that the older brothers wondered, for they could not see what they had done to share the kingdom. Nevertheless they were eager to return, for whatever could make such a change in the youngest brother was well worth sharing.

As they approached the castle, the great gates opened and their father received them, embracing each one tenderly.

"Ah, my sons," he cried, placing the crown upon the head of the youngest, "you have indeed made me happy, for you have found LOVE, – the greatest thing in the world."

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