The Hunchback and His Two Brothers French folktale

Once on a time there was a king who had three sons. Two of whom were fine, handsome young men, and the third was a hunchback whose name was Alain. His father did not love him, but sent him off to the kitchen with the cooks while the two older brothers ate with him at his own table and went with him everywhere.

One day the old king sent for his three sons and said to them, "I am getting old, children, and I want to spend the rest of my days in peace and quiet. I wish to give up my crown and the administration of my kingdom, to that one of you three who will bring me the finest piece of linen. Set out, then, travel far away, and return in a year and a day."

The three brothers started off on three different routes. The two elder brothers had each a fine horse to carry him, and pockets full of gold and silver. They went first to see their sweethearts and bid them good-bye. But there they forgot their quest, and led merry lives as long as their money lasted.

The hunchback, who had received only a six-franc piece from his father, and no horse, walked bravely on. When he was hungry he gnawed a crust of bread, gathered hazel-nuts, whortleberries, and wild mulberries from the bushes along the road, and drank out of the hollow of his hand from the wayside springs.

One day as he was crossing a great moor he heard a clear, fresh voice singing an old song. He stopped to listen, and said, "I must see who it is that sings like that;" and he followed the sound of the voice. He soon came on a young girl of great beauty, who addressed him thus, "Good morning, Alain, youngest son of the king of France."

"You know me, then?" asked the astonished prince.

"Yes, I know you; I even know where you are going and what you seek; your father has told you and your two brothers that he will give up his crown and his kingdom to that one of you three who will bring him the finest piece of linen: is it not so?"

"It is quite true," replied Alain, more and more astonished.

"Well, your two brothers have gone to see their sweethearts, and are having a good time with them, without caring anything about the search for the fine linen. You, who have no ladylove, have resolutely set to work, and you deserve to succeed. Come with me to my castle, and I will tell you what to do."

Alain followed her to what she called her castle, but which was only a miserable hut of mud and clay. He remained there some time with her, and, before he left, she gave him a little box, not larger than his fist, and said to him,

"It is time for you to return home. Take this little box to your father."

Alain returned with his box. When he reached the court of his father's palace, he saw his two brothers at the windows, quite happy and content with themselves. They had returned, with their horses laden with fine pieces of linen.

"See! Alain has come, too," they cried; "he comes without the smallest piece of linen, as ugly and miserable as when he set out, and has not even lost his hunch by the way!"

The two elder brothers then spread out their linens before their father. They were very fine and expensive.

"And you, Alain," said his father, "do you refuse to compete? For you have brought nothing."

Then Alain drew the small box from his pocket, and presented it to his father, saying, "Take this box, father, and open it."

The old king took the box, opened it, and at once there fell out of it a piece of white linen, smooth to the touch, soft and shining as silk. And for more than an hour, piece after piece fell out, so that the box seemed inexhaustible.

"Alain has won!" said the king. "My crown is his!"

"There is sorcery in this," said the two elder brothers, much put out, "and there must be three trials."

"I agree," said the king, who was displeased at the idea of leaving his crown to a hunchback.

"Give us another test," they cried.

"Very well; to him who brings me the finest horse."

And the three brothers set out, each by himself. The two older ones went, as before, to see their ladyloves, and the hunchback took once more the road across the moor, where he had met the beautiful young girl who had gained him his first victory. When, after much trouble, he reached it, he heard the same voice singing its song. "All's well," said he, comforted and full of hope. And he hastened toward the singer's clay house.

"Good morning," said he, as he entered; "I have come to see you again."

"Good morning, young son of the king," replied the young girl; "I know why you have come! Your brothers, beaten in the first contest, have demanded that there shall be three, and the second test is to bring to your father the finest horse."

"That is true; but how can I get a fine horse without money?"

"You got the finest linen without money; why should you not also have the finest horse without money? Remain here with me till the time comes to return, and do not be at all uneasy."

Alain took courage and remained with the young girl. When the day arrived, she gave him another box, bidding him be sure not to open it till he should be in the courtyard of his father's palace.

Then he departed. But he had not gone far when he yielded to curiosity. He opened his box to see what was in it; and at once a beautiful horse jumped out - swift as lightning - and disappeared in a moment. At this he began to cry. What should he do now? He resolved to return to the young girl, as he had not gotten very far from her house, and tell her of his misfortune. His kind friend gave him a second box, bidding him again not to open it till he should be in the courtyard of his father's palace, and holding it between his knees.

This time he did not open it. When he reached the court of the palace, his two brothers had been there already some time, and each of them had a magnificent horse. When they saw Alain arrive, they cried,

"Here is the hunchback at last, but he has no horse!"

"I have a box, as before," answered Alain, drawing his box from his pocket.

"Your fine horse is in that, no doubt," said they.

"Perhaps," said Alain.

"Open it, then, that we may see your mouse."

Alain put his box between his knees, opened it, and at once he found himself in the saddle on a superb horse with a golden bridle on his head, fiery and spirited, and with sparks flying from his four feet, his nostrils, and his eyes.

"Alain has won it this time, too," cried the old king, filled with astonishment; and Alain's victory was indeed so apparent that his brothers did not dream of disputing it. But they cried out spitefully,

"Now for the third trial. What shall it be, father?"

"Well," said the king, "this time to him who shall bring the most beautiful princess."

Then the three brothers set out again at once. The two elder ones went as before to see their fair ladies, and Alain returned to his mysterious friend in the great moor.

"Good morning, young son of the king," said she, seeing him return. "Your father has said that his crown shall be given to that one of his three sons who shall bring him the most beautiful princess."

"Yes," said the prince, "and I do not even know a princess."

"That makes no difference; stay here with me till the time comes to present yourself to your father, and have faith in me."

So Alain remained again with his friend, and when the time was come, she said to him, "Here is a hen with a linen cloth on her back; return with it to your father's house, and be very sure not to lose the hen and the linen."

"But shall I have no princess, then?"

"Go on with your hen, and trust me for the rest."

So Alain set out with the hen. But as he was going through a dark forest, she flew away, and then he began to cry. A lovely princesses suddenly appeared beside him.

"Why do you weep thus?" she said.

"I have lost my hen!" said Alain.

"I will find her for you."

And sure enough, the hen came back at a sign from the princess, and the hen still had her linen on her back. The princess touched the hen with the end of a white wand she had in her hand, and at once the hen was changed into a fine gilded carriage drawn by six superb horses. At the same time Alain saw his hunch disappear, and became a rather handsome young man, well dressed, and seated in the coach by the side of the princess. Another woman, a maid, was seated on the coachman's seat, holding the reins and driving the coach.

In this way they came to the king's palace. The two elder brothers had already arrived, and were waiting for the hunchback at the windows, each having a lovely princess by his side.

When Alain entered the courtyard with his splendid, shining coach and his two companions, it seemed as if the sun himself had driven in there. The two elder brothers and their princesses almost burst with envy at seeing their youngest brother return as he did, and covered their faces with their hands. But the old king, formerly so cross and full of pains, brightened up, and slowly walked down to the court to receive Alain and his princess.

"My crown and my kingdom are yours, Alain," he cried. Then he gave his hand to the princesses to help them alight, and led them into the palace.

The two elder sons and their princesses hid themselves for shame and envy, but they had to come to a great feast which the old king ordered to be prepared. All the court and the great men of his kingdom were invited. But during the feast, Alain's beautiful princess made such a good impression on all others that in the end Alain's brothers and their princesses ran away and appeared no more.

Soon afterward the marriage of Alain and his beautiful princess was celebrated, and the holidays and plays and feasts lasted for about a month.