The Three Languages


An aged count once lived in Switzerland, who had an only son, but he
was stupid, and could learn nothing. Then said the father: 'Hark you,
my son, try as I will I can get nothing into your head. You must go
from hence, I will give you into the care of a celebrated master, who
shall see what he can do with you.' The youth was sent into a strange
town, and remained a whole year with the master. At the end of this
time, he came home again, and his father asked: 'Now, my son, what
have you learnt?' 'Father, I have learnt what the dogs say when they
bark.' 'Lord have mercy on us!' cried the father; 'is that all you
have learnt? I will send you into another town, to another master.'
The youth was taken thither, and stayed a year with this master
likewise. When he came back the father again asked: 'My son, what have
you learnt?' He answered: 'Father, I have learnt what the birds say.'
Then the father fell into a rage and said: 'Oh, you lost man, you have
spent the precious time and learnt nothing; are you not ashamed to
appear before my eyes? I will send you to a third master, but if you
learn nothing this time also, I will no longer be your father.' The
youth remained a whole year with the third master also, and when he
came home again, and his father inquired: 'My son, what have you
learnt?' he answered: 'Dear father, I have this year learnt what the
frogs croak.' Then the father fell into the most furious anger, sprang
up, called his people thither, and said: 'This man is no longer my
son, I drive him forth, and command you to take him out into the
forest, and kill him.' They took him forth, but when they should have
killed him, they could not do it for pity, and let him go, and they
cut the eyes and tongue out of a deer that they might carry them to
the old man as a token.

The youth wandered on, and after some time came to a fortress where he
begged for a night's lodging. 'Yes,' said the lord of the castle, 'if
you will pass the night down there in the old tower, go thither; but I
warn you, it is at the peril of your life, for it is full of wild
dogs, which bark and howl without stopping, and at certain hours a man
has to be given to them, whom they at once devour.' The whole district
was in sorrow and dismay because of them, and yet no one could do
anything to stop this. The youth, however, was without fear, and said:
'Just let me go down to the barking dogs, and give me something that I
can throw to them; they will do nothing to harm me.' As he himself
would have it so, they gave him some food for the wild animals, and
led him down to the tower. When he went inside, the dogs did not bark
at him, but wagged their tails quite amicably around him, ate what he
set before them, and did not hurt one hair of his head. Next morning,
to the astonishment of everyone, he came out again safe and unharmed,
and said to the lord of the castle: 'The dogs have revealed to me, in
their own language, why they dwell there, and bring evil on the land.
They are bewitched, and are obliged to watch over a great treasure
which is below in the tower, and they can have no rest until it is
taken away, and I have likewise learnt, from their discourse, how that
is to be done.' Then all who heard this rejoiced, and the lord of the
castle said he would adopt him as a son if he accomplished it
successfully. He went down again, and as he knew what he had to do, he
did it thoroughly, and brought a chest full of gold out with him. The
howling of the wild dogs was henceforth heard no more; they had
disappeared, and the country was freed from the trouble.

After some time he took it in his head that he would travel to Rome.
On the way he passed by a marsh, in which a number of frogs were
sitting croaking. He listened to them, and when he became aware of
what they were saying, he grew very thoughtful and sad. At last he
arrived in Rome, where the Pope had just died, and there was great
doubt among the cardinals as to whom they should appoint as his
successor. They at length agreed that the person should be chosen as
pope who should be distinguished by some divine and miraculous token.
And just as that was decided on, the young count entered into the
church, and suddenly two snow-white doves flew on his shoulders and
remained sitting there. The ecclesiastics recognized therein the token
from above, and asked him on the spot if he would be pope. He was
undecided, and knew not if he were worthy of this, but the doves
counselled him to do it, and at length he said yes. Then was he
anointed and consecrated, and thus was fulfilled what he had heard
from the frogs on his way, which had so affected him, that he was to
be his Holiness the Pope. Then he had to sing a mass, and did not know
one word of it, but the two doves sat continually on his shoulders,
and said it all in his ear.

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