Once upon a time there were three brothers, all named Hugh. Now, their mother, who was named Louisa, had died two years before, leaving their father a widower and the boys half orphans. The three Hughs loved their father very much, and he them, but he loved his wife more, and so with her death lost all his will to live, and began to pine. Because he was a proud man, this he tried to hide from his sons, and so they gamboled and were schooled and squabbled much as before, while their father, who was called Dashiell, wasted slowly away from the inside, growing paler and weaker and sicklier. After two years of this he died, quite suddenly as it appeared to the Hughs, but as a matter of mournful expectation for all of Dashiell’s friends.
They had never been a wealthy family, and the cost of the funeral ate up all of the savings they otherwise would have had, so that, in the end, the three Hughs were left with merely the shirts on their backs and an empty house in which to live. In this time of trial their father’s friends would give no help, for everyone considered the boys arrant asses and scapegraces.
The eldest Hugh, who was fifteen, called a meeting. “We cannot live on air and sunlight, my dear brothers,” he said. “We must go out into the world and seek our fortunes, wheresoever we might find them.”
The two younger Hughs, aged twelve and thirteen, agreed sadly, and swore to meet back in their house at the end of two years time.
The first Hugh, now seventeen, arrived in a glistening carriage, drawn by four proud and fiery horses, attended by three footmen and seven guards. “I have done well, my dearest brothers, in finance, and in the market, and so have made three fortunes, enough and more than enough to live on.”
The second Hugh, now fifteen, returned wearing the long black gown of a scholar, hung about with medals and ribbons, his eyes wise and gentle. “I have learned much these two years, Big Hugh and Little Hugh, and am sought after and petted by the young and the old, the rich and the poor alike. Surely we shall never lack for company, nor the company of the wise.”
The third Hugh, Little Hugh, fourteen years old, came back holding hands with another boy. “This is Frederic,” said Little Hugh, “and he is kind and gentle and skillful, and knows the language of the birds, and the clouds in the sky, and how to find running water, and how to win and keep hearts.”
And so they had a grand feast, Big Hugh, Middle Hugh, Little Hugh, and Frederic, there in the little empty house, while outside the footmen and the soldiers and the scholars of the town sat and listened and made mock of the three brothers.