The Three Army-surgeons
February 23, 2007 6:55am CST
There were once three army-surgeons who reckoned that they had nothing more to learn about the art of surgery. They were on their travels., and stopped for the night at an inn. The landlord asked them where they had come from and where they were going, and they answered, "We're on our travels and living by our skill." "Well, just show me what you do," said the landlord. The first said he would cut off his hand and put it back on again next morning and make it heal; the second said he would tear out his heart and put it back in again next morning so that it would heal; the third said he would gouge out his eyes, and they too would heal when he replaced them next morning. "If you can do that," said the landlord, "then you've nothing more to learn." Now they had with them an ointment which was able to close and heal any wound they smeared it on, and they always carried the flask containing it wherever they went. So they cut from their bodies the hand and the heart and the eyes as they had said they would, put them all together on a plate and gave it to the landlord; and the landlord gave it to a maidservant, telling her to put it aside in the larder and keep it carefully. But this maidservant secretly had a sweetheart who was a soldier. So when the landlord and the three surgeons and everyone else in the house were asleep, the soldier came and asked her for something to eat. So the girl opened the larder and brought in something from it, and she was so much in love with him that she forgot to close the larder door. she sat down with her sweetheart at the table and they had a good chat, but as she sat there without a care in the world the cat came creeping in, found the larder open, snatched the hand and the heart and the eyes that belonged to the three surgeons and made off with them. So when the soldier had finished eating and the girl got up to clear away the dishes and lock the larder, she saw at once that the plate the landlord had given her to look after was empty. She took fright and said to her young man: "Oh, heaven save me, what am I to do? The hand's gone, and the heart and the eyes are gone, whatever will happen to me tomorrow morning!" "Stop crying," he said, "I'll get you out of this. There's a thief hanging on the gallows out there, and I'll cut his hand off; which hand was it?" "The right hand." So the girl gave him a sharp knife and he went outside, cut the poor sinner's right hand off and brought it in. Then he seized the cat and gouged out its eyes; now all that was needed was the heart. "Haven't you just slaughtered some pigs and put their carcasses in the cellar?" "Yes," said the girl, "Well, that's all right then," said the soldier, and he went down to the cellar and came back with a pig's heart. The maid put all the things together on a plate and left it in the larder: then her sweetheart took his leave and she went to bed thinking all was well. When the three surgeons got up next morning, they told the maid to fetch them the plate with the hand and the heart and the eyes. So she fetched it out of the cupboard, and the first surgeon held the thief's hand in place and smeared the join with his ointment, whereupon the hand at once grew back on to his arm. The second took the cat's eyes and fitted them into his head, and the third put the pig's heart in place. The landlord stood and watched their skill with admiration, saying that he had never seen such a thing in his life and that he would praise and recommend them to all and sundry. Then they paid their bill and travelled on. As they were walking along, the one who had the pig's heart kept on leaving the others; every time they passed some corner he would trot over to it and root around in it like a pig. The other two tried to hold him back by the coat tails, but it was no good, he kept running off to wherever the filth was thickest on the ground. The second of them also began to behave strangely, rubbing his eyes and saying to the other: "My dear fellow, what's the matter with me? These aren't my eyes, I can't see a thing, for heaven's sake one of you hive me your arm or I'll fall." And they struggled on till evening, when they came to another inn. They all went into the parlor, and there in one corner a rich gentleman was sitting at the table counting money. The surgeon with the thief's hand sidled round behind him, his arm twitched a few times and finally, when the gentleman had his back turned, he reached out and snatched a handful of coins from the pile. One of the others saw this and said: "My dear fellow, what are you doing? It's wrong to steal, you ought to be ashamed." "Yes, but I can't stop myself," said his friend. "My hand keeps twitching and just has to help itself whether I want to or not." Then they went to bed, and as they lay there it was so dark that you couldn't have seen your hand in front of your face. Suddenly the one with the cat's eyes woke up, wakened the others and said: "My dear friends, look at this, do you see all these white mice running about?" The other two sat up in bed but couldn't see a thing. Then he said: "There's something wrong with us: we didn't back our own parts, that landlord cheated us and we must go back to him." So next morning they set off back and told the landlord that their right organs hadn't been returned to them: one of them had a thief's hand, the second cat's eyes and the third a pig's heart. The landlord said that it must be the maid's fault and was going to call her, but when the girl had seen the three surgeons returning she had fled through the back door, and she didn't reappear. Then the three of them told the landlord that unless he paid them a great deal of money they'd make a bonfire of his house; so he gave them all he had and all he could raise, and off they went with it. It was enough to keep them for the rest of their lives, but they'd still rather have had their own organs back.