The Three Army Surgeons – A Story from the Brothers Grimm

Three army surgeons with magical healing powers, a troublesome servant, and a thieving cat.

The Three Army Surgeons

– A Story from the Brothers Grimm –

THREE Army Surgeons were once on their travels, confident that they had learnt their profession perfectly; and one day they arrived at an inn where they wished to pass the night. The landlord asked them whence they came and whither they were going; and one of them replied that they were travelling about in search of employment for their talents. “In what do your talents consist?” inquired the landlord. The first said he could cut off his hand, and in the morning put it on again without difficulty; the second said he could take out his eyes, and in the morning replace them without injury; and the third declared he could take out his own heart and put it back again.

“Can you do these things?” said the landlord: “then indeed you are well taught.” But they had a salve which healed whatever it touched; and the bottle which contained it they always carried carefully with them. So the one cut off his hand, another took out his eyes, and the third cut out his heart, as they had said, and gave them on a dish to the landlord, who delivered them to the servant to put them by in a cupboard till the morning. Now this servant had a sweetheart on the sly, who was a soldier; and he, coming in, wanted something to eat. As soon as the landlord and the Three Surgeons had gone to bed, the maid opened the cupboard and fetched her lover something; but in her hurry she forgot to shut the door again, and sat down to table with the soldier, and they made themselves merry. While she sat thus, expecting no misfortune, the cat stole in, and, seeing the cupboard door open, snatched the hand, heart, and eyes of the Three Surgeons, and ran away with them. As soon as the Soldier had finished, the maid went to put the dish away in the cupboard, and she then saw that the plate which her master had given into her care was gone. She was terribly frightened and exclaimed, “Oh! what will become of me? The hand is gone, the heart is gone, and the eyes too; how shall I manage in the morning?” 

“Be quiet,” said her sweetheart, “I will help you out of your difficulty; on the gallows outside hangs a thief, whose hand I can cut off; which was it?” “The right,” said she, and gave him a sharp knife, with which he went and cut off the right hand of the criminal, and brought it in. Then he caught the cat and took out her eyes; but what was to be done for the heart? “Did you not kill a pig to-day and put the carcase in the cellar?” asked the soldier. “Yes,” said the maid. “Then that is just the thing,” returned the soldier; “go and fetch the heart from it.” The servant did so, and they placed all three on the plate and put them in the cupboard, and then her sweetheart having taken leave, the maid went to bed.

The Three Army Surgeons, Gordon Browne

On the morrow when the three Army Surgeons were up, they bade the servant fetch the plate on which lay the hand, heart, and eyes. She brought it from the cupboard, and the first man spread the hand with his salve, and immediately it joined to his wrist as if it had grown there. The second took up the cat’s eyes and placed them in his head, while the third put the pig’s heart where his own came from. The landlord meanwhile stood by, wondering at their learning, and saying he would never have believed them had he not seen what they did. Afterwards they paid their bill and went away.

They had not gone far before the man with the pig’s heart began to run about and snuff in every corner after the manner of swine. The others tried to hold him by the coat, but it was of no use, he would run about among the thickest brushwood. The second Surgeon all this while kept rubbing his eyes and could not make out what was amiss. “What have I done?” said he to his comrades. “These are not my eyes, I cannot see; you must lead me or I shall fall.” So they travelled till evening with great trouble to themselves, when they came to another inn. They stepped into the parlour, and there in the corner sat a rich man at a table counting his money. The Surgeon with the thief’s hand went up to him and peered at him, and as soon as his back was turned, made a grasp at the gold and took a handful. “For shame, comrade,” cried the others; “you must not steal; what are you doing?” “Oh, how can I help myself?” he asked. “My hand is drawn to it, and I must take it whether I will or not!” Soon after this they went to bed, and it was so dark that one could not see his hand before his eyes. All at once the Surgeon with the cat’s eyes woke up, and disturbing the others, cried out, “See, see, how the white mice are running about in the room!” The two others thereupon raised their heads, but they could see nothing. “It is evident to me now,” said the first Surgeon, “that we have not got our own; we must go back to the landlord who deceived us.”

The following morning they rode back to the first inn, and told the landlord they had not received their own things again, for one had got a thief’s hand, another a pig’s heart, and the third a cat’s eyes. The landlord thereupon went to call the servant-maid, but she had escaped out of the backdoor as soon as she saw the Surgeons coming, and did not return. The three now threatened to set fire to the house if the landlord did not give them a large sum of money, and the poor man was compelled to give them all he could scrape together, with which they went away. But although they had enough to last them their lifetime, each would rather have had his own hand, heart, or eyes, than all the money in the world.

The Three Army Surgeons, Gordon Browne

This story was taken from the book:

This collection of ‘Fairy Tales from Grimm’ contains forty-five of their best-known stories, beautifully illustrated throughout, by Gordon Browne. It includes the narratives of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘The Frog Prince’, ‘The Valiant Little Tailor’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, and many more.


Fairy Tales From Grimm – Illustrated by Gordon Browne

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