Home Tales from the Grimm Brothers


Once upon a time a poor fisherman lived in a humble cottage near the sea. One day, he set off as usual with his load of nets to go fishing. "Don't you dare come home empty-handed!" shouted his nagging wife from the door.

Down on the shore, he had just thrown the nets into the sea, when something glittering in the meshes caught his eye.

"What a strange fish!" he said to himself, picking up a golden yellow fish. And his amazement grew when he heard the fish say these words:

"Kind fisherman, let me go free! I'm the son of the Sea King, and if you let me go, I'll grant any wish you care to make!" Alarmed at this miracle, without a second thought, the fisherman tossed the fish back into the water. But when he went home and told his wife what had happened she scolded him soundly:

"What! When the fish said your wishes could come true, you should have asked it for something! Go back to the beach and if you see it, ask for a new washtub! Just look at the state of ours!"

The poor man went back to the shore. As soon as he called the fish, it popped up from the water.

"Where you calling me? Here I am!" it said. The fisherman explained what his wife wanted, and the fish quickly replied:

"You were very good to me! Go home, and you'll see that your wish has come true!" Certain that his wife would be pleased, the fisherman hurried home. But the minute he opened the door, his wife screeched:

"So it really is a magic fish that you allowed to go free! Just look at that old washtub! It's brand new! But if that little fish has such powers, you can't possibly be content with such a miserable little wish! Go straight back and get it to give you a new house!"

The fisherman hurried back to the shore.

"I wonder if I'll see it again! I hope it hasn't gone away! Little fish! Little fish!" he began to call from the water's edge.

"Here I am! What do you want this time?" he heard it ask.

"Well, my wife would like . . ."

"I can imagine!" remarked the fish. "And what does she want now?"

"A big house!" murmured the fisherman, hesitantly.

"All right! You were kind to me and you shall have your wish!" The fisherman lingered on the way home, enjoying the feeling of making his wife happy with a new house. The roof of the splendid new house was already in sight, when his wife rushed up to him in a fury.

"Look here! Now that we know how really powerful this fish is, we can't be content with only a house! We must ask for more! Run back and ask for a real palace, not an ordinary house like this one! And fine clothes! And jewels too!" The fisherman was quite upset. However, he had been henpecked for so many years that he was unable to say "no", so he trudged back to the water's edge. Full of doubts, he called the little fish, but it was some time before it leapt from waves. In the meantime, the sea had begun to foam . . .

"I'm sorry to trouble you again, but my wife has had second thoughts, and she'd like a fine palace, and . . . and also. . ." Again the little fish granted fisherman his wishes, but he seemed less friendly than before. At last, relieved at having been able to see his wife's desires fulfilled, the good fisherman turned homewards. Home was now a magnificent palace. How wonderful it was! At the top of a flight of steps leading to the palace, stood his wife, dressed like a great lady and dripping with jewels, impatiently waiting for him.

"Go back and ask for . . ." But the fisherman broke in:

"What? Such a fine palace! We must be content with what we have! Don't you think that's asking too much? . . ."

"Go back, I said! Do as you're told! And ask the fish to make me an Empress!" The poor fisherman set off unhappily for the seashore. In the meantime, a storm had blown up. The sky was black and terrible flashes of lightning lit the darkness, while the waves crashed angrily on the beach. Kneeling on the rock amidst the spray, in a low voice the fisherman began to call the little fish. And when it came, he told it his wife's latest request. But this time, after listening in silence, the little golden fish disappeared beneath the waves without saying a word. And though the fisherman waited, the little fish never came back. A great flash of lightning, much brighter than all the others lit up the sky, and the fisherman saw that both the new house and the palace had vanished without trace. The humble old cottage stood where it had always been. But this time, his wife was waiting for him in tears.

"It serves you right! We should have been pleased with what we had, instead of always asking for more!" grumbled the fisherman angrily. But in the depths of his heart, he was glad that everything had gone back to normal.

Next day and every day, he went back to his fishing, but he never saw the little golden fish again.

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