The Godfather

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A poor man had so many children that he had already asked everyone in the world to be godfather, and when still another child was born, no one else was left whom he could ask. He did not know what to do, and, in his sorrow, he lay down and fell asleep. Then he dreamed that he should go outside the gate and ask the first person he met to be godfather. When he awoke he decided to obey his dream, and he went outside the gate and asked the first person who came his way to be godfather.

The stranger gave him a little bottle of water, and said, "This is miraculous water. You can heal the sick with it. But you must see where Death is standing. If he is standing by the patient's head, give the patient some of the water and he will be healed, but if Death is standing by his feet all efforts will be in vain, for then the sick man must die."

From this time forth, the man could always say whether a patient could be saved or not. He became famous for his skill, and earned a great deal of money. Once he was called in to the king's child, and when he entered, he saw Death standing by the child's head, and he cured it with the water. The same thing happened a second time, but the third time Death was standing by its feet, so the child had to die.

Now the man wanted to visit his godfather one time and tell him what had happened with the water. He entered the house, but the strangest things were going on there. On the first flight of stairs, the dustpan and the broom were fighting, and violently hitting one other.

He asked them, "Where does the godfather live?"

The broom answered, "Up one more flight of stairs."

When he came to the second flight, he saw a heap of dead fingers lying. He asked, "Where does the godfather live?"

One of the fingers answered, "Up one more flight of stairs."

On the third flight lay a heap of dead men's heads, and they directed him still another flight higher. On the fourth flight, he saw fish on the fire, sizzling in a pan and baking themselves. They too said, "Up one more flight of stairs."

And when he had climbed the fifth, he came to the door of a room and peeped through the keyhole. There he saw the godfather who had a pair of long horns. When he opened the door and went in, the godfather quickly got into bed and covered himself up.

The man then said, "Godfather, sir, strange things are going on in your house. When I came to your first flight of stairs, the dustpan and the broom were fighting, and violently hitting one another."

"How stupid you are," said the godfather. "That was the servant-boy and the maid talking to each other."

"But on the second flight I saw dead fingers lying there."

"Oh, how silly you are. Those were some roots of scorzonera."

"On the third flight lay a heap of dead men's heads."

Foolish man, those were heads of cabbage."

"On the fourth flight I saw fish in a pan, which were sizzling and baking themselves." When he had said that, the fish came and served themselves up.

"And when I got to the fifth flight, I peeped through the keyhole of a door, and there, Godfather, I saw you and you had long, long horns."

"Oh, that is not true."

The man became frightened and ran out, and if he had not done so, who knows what the godfather would have done to him?

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Revised September 4, 2002.