Boots and His Brothers
Illustrated By: Elizabeth Rocha
Listen to the story while you read along!
Once upon a time there was a man who had three sons called Peter, Paul, and Boots. The father was so poor he didn't even have one penny to rub against the other. So one day he told his sons they must go out into the world, for at home there was nothing to look forward to but starving to death.
Now, the land was ruled by a king whose palace stood on top of a high hill. A great oak tree had sprung up against the king's windows, and this oak tree was so wide and so tall that it blocked all the sunlight and so no light could come in through the palace windows. The king declared he would give a fortune to anyone who could chop down the oak, but no one could do it, for as soon as one chip of the oak's trunk flew off, two more grew back in its stead. Also, the King said he would give both money and treasures to whoever could dig a well in his palace-yard. Because the king's palace was on top of a high hill, and because the hill was made of solid rock, no well water could come up through the rock. The king was beside himself that everyone else in his kingdom lived near plenty of fresh well water, and he, of all people, was the only one who had to do without.
The King set his heart on having these two things done, so he had it announced far and wide that whoever could fell the big oak in the king's courtyard and dig a well, should have half the kingdom. Well! as you can imagine there was many a man who came to try his luck; but all the chopping and hacking, and all the digging came to naught. The oak tree only got wider and taller at every stroke, and the bedrock didn't get any softer for well water to come through, either.
So one day the three brothers decided to set off and try, too. The father was delighted, for even if they didn't get half the kingdom it might happen they might find a place somewhere with a good master, and that was surely more than what he could provide for them at home. So Peter, Paul and Boots said good-bye to their father and set off.
They hadn't gone far before they came to a forest of fir trees. Along one side of the woods rose a steep hillside. As they walked, they heard something chopping and hacking away on the hillside among the trees.
"I wonder what it is that's chopping away up yonder?" said Boots.
"Since when is it so unusual for a woodcutter to chop away up on a hillside?" said Peter and Paul together.
"This sound is different," said Boots. "I'd like to find out what it is."
"You think you're so clever," laughed his brothers, but Boots didn't care what they said. He climbed the steep hillside towards where the noise came, and when he reached the place, what do you think he saw? Why, an axe that stood there hacking and chopping, all by itself, at the trunk of a fir tree.
"Good day!" said Boots. "So you stand here all alone and chop, do you?"
"Yes; here I've stood and chopped and hacked a long long time, waiting for you," said the Axe.
"Well, here I am at last," said Boots. He took the axe and tucked it under his belt. Then he hurried on to catch up with his brothers.
When they had gone on a bit farther, they traveled beneath a steep rocky overhang. Up above the overhang they heard a noise that sounded like digging.
"I wonder now," said Boots, "what it is that would be digging and shoveling up yonder at the top of the rock."
"There you go again, with your idiotic wondering," laughed Peter and Paul again, "as if you never heard a woodpecker before."
"This one sounds different," said Boots. "I think I'll go see what it is for myself."
And so off he set to climb the rock, while the others laughed and made fun of him. But he didn't let that bother him. Up he climbed, and when he got near the top, what do you think he saw? Why, a shovel that stood there digging all by itself.
"Good day!" said Boots. "So you stand here all alone, and dig and shovel!"
"Yes, that's what I do," said the Shovel, "and that's what I've done this many a long day, waiting for you."
"Well, here I am," said Boots again. He took the shovel and, slinging it over his shoulder, hurried to catch up with his brothers.
So they went on again a good bit, till they came to a brook. They were all thirsty, the three of them, after their long walk, and so they lay down beside the brook to have a drink.
"I wonder where all this water comes from," said Boots.
"We wonder if you're right in the head," jeered Peter and Paul in one breath. "If you're not mad already, you'll go mad soon. Where the brook comes from, indeed! The brook's here, that's all that matters. Who cares where it comes from?"
"Still, I've a fancy to see where this brook comes from, just the same," said Boots. So away he went.
Following alongside the brook he went, as the laughter from his brothers faded behind him. As he went up and up, the brook got smaller and smaller. At last, farther on, what do you think he saw? Why, a great walnut, and out of that the water trickled.
"Good-day!" said Boots again. "So you lie here, and trickle and run down all alone?"
"Yes, I do," said the Walnut; "and here have I trickled and run this many a long day, waiting for you."
"Well, here I am," said Boots. He plugged the hole with moss, so the water wouldn't run out anymore. Then he stuffed the walnut into his pocket and ran down to catch up to his brothers.
But his brothers had already gone ahead to the city. As everyone in the kingdom had heard how they might win half the realm if they could only chop down the big oak and dig the king's well, so many had come to try their luck that the oak was now twice as wide and twice as tall as it had been at first, for two chips grew for every one chopped out, as I daresay you remember.
So the King had now laid it down as a punishment that if anyone tried and couldn't chop down the oak, he should be sent in disgrace to a faraway island. By the time Boots had reached the city, his two brothers had already tried and failed. They had already climbed on board ship, in disgrace, headed to the faraway island.
So now it was Boots' turn to try.
"If you are going to perform as well as your brothers," snapped the King, for he was angry that all the young men had tried and failed, "you might as well save us all the trouble of watching you fail and go directly aboard ship to the island."
"Well, I'd just like to try first," said Boots, and so he got permission. Then he took the axe out from under his belt.
"Chop away!" said he to the axe, and away it chopped, making the chips fly. It wasn't long before down came the oak.
When that was done, Boots reached for the shovel slung over his shoulder.
"Dig away!" said he to the shovel. And so the shovel began to dig and dig till the earth and rock flew out in splinters. Soon he had the well dug out, as you may imagine.
When he got the well as big and deep as he chose, Boots took out his walnut and laid it in one corner of the well. Then he pulled out the plug of moss.
"Trickle and run," said Boots. And so the nut trickled and ran, till the water gushed out of the hole in a stream, and in a short time fresh cool well water bubbled as high as a fountain, and the king had all the well water he could ever want.
Well, since Boots was the one who chopped down the oak which shaded the king's palace, and since Boots was the one who dug a well in the palace-yard, so Boots was the one who was awarded half the kingdom as the King had promised.
Soon after he began his new duties at the palace, Boots talked the king into releasing all the prisoners held captive on the faraway island, since, after all, the tree was chopped down and the well water was flowing. The king reluctantly agreed. His two brothers Peter and Paul were glad to return to the mainland, though in later years they often wondered if they hadn't been better off back on the island, where they didn't have to listen all day long to everyone's saying, "Well, that Boots sure was a clever fellow to wonder about things and go in search of the answers."
- Why did Boots choose to go off on his own, despite what his brothers thought?
- Tell about a time when there was something you wanted to do that your friends thought was strange or different. What did you do?
"Boots and His Brothers" is based on a story of the same name from A Collection of Popular Tales from the Norse and North German by George Webbe Dasent (London, 1907), pp. 259-265.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy ©1999. All rights reserved.