Three army surgeons, who thought they knew their art perfectly, were traveling about the world.
When they came to an inn where they wanted to pass the night. The host asked from where they came, and where they were going?
“We are roaming about the world and practicing our art.”
“Show me what you can do,” said the host.
The first said he would cut off his hand, and put it on again early next morning; the second said he would tear out his heart, and replace it next morning; the third said he would cut out his eyes and heal them again next morning.
“If you can do that,” said the innkeeper, “you have learnt everything.”
The surgeons had a salve which joined parts together, and they carried the little bottle of the salve constantly with them. So they cut the hand, heart and eyes from their bodies as they had said they would, and laid them all together on a plate, and gave it to the innkeeper. The innkeeper gave the plate to a girl servant who was to set it in the cupboard and take good care of it.
The servant, however, had a secret lover who was a soldier. When the innkeeper, the three army-surgeons, and everyone else in the house were asleep, the soldier came and wanted something to eat. The girl opened the cupboard and brought him some food and forgot to shut the cupboard-door again. She seated herself at the table by her lover, and they chatted away.
As she sat next to her love, thinking of no ill luck, a cat came creeping in, found the cupboard open, took the hand and heart and eyes of the three army surgeons, and ran off with them.
After the soldier had finished eating, when the girl had cleaned up and went to shut the cupboard she saw that the plate the innkeeper had given her to take care of was empty.
Then she said in a fright to her lover, “Ah, what shall I do? The hand is gone, the heart and the eyes are gone too, what will become of me in the morning?”
“Do not worry,” said he, “I will help you! There is a thief hanging outside on the gallows, I will cut off his hand. Which hand was it?”
“The right one.”
The girl gave him a sharp knife, and he went and cut the poor sinner’s right hand off, and caught the cat and cut its eyes out. Nothing but the heart was missing.
“Haven’t you been butchering? Aren’t the dead pigs in the cellar?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the girl.
“Good,” said the soldier, and he went down and fetched a pig’s heart.
The girl placed all the organs together on the plate, and put it in the cupboard. Her lover left, and she went quietly to bed.
In the morning when the three army-surgeons got up, they told the girl to bring them the plate on which the hand, heart, and eyes were lying.
The first army surgeon fixed the thief’s hand on and smeared it with his salve, and it grew to his arm directly. The second took the cat’s eyes and put them in his head. The third fixed the pig’s heart firm in the place where his own had been. The innkeeper stood by, admired their skill, and said he had never seen such a thing and would sing their praises and recommend them to everyone. Then they paid their bill, and traveled farther.
As they were on their way, the one with the pig’s heart did not stay with them at all, but wherever there was a corner he ran to it and rooted about in it with his nose as pigs do. The others wanted to hold him back by the tail of his coat, but that did no good; he tore himself loose, and ran wherever the dirt was thickest.
The second also behaved very strangely; he rubbed his eyes, and said to the others, “Comrades, what is the matter? I don’t see at all. Will one of you lead me, so that I do not fall?”
They traveled on till evening, when they reached another inn. They went into the bar together, and there at a table in the corner sat a rich man counting money. The one with the thief’s hand walked round about him, made a sudden movement twice with his arm, and at last when the stranger turned away, he snatched at the pile of money, and took a handful from it.
“Comrade, what are you doing? You must not steal and bring shame upon yourself!” said one of the surgeons.
“Eh,” said he, “but how can I stop myself? My hand twitches, and I am forced to snatch things whether I want to or not.”
After this, all three went to sleep, the night so dark that no one could see his own hand. All at once the one with the cat’s eyes woke the others.
“Brothers, just look up, do you see the white mice running about there?”
The two sat up, but could see nothing.
“Something is not right with us, we have not gotten back again what was ours. We must return to the innkeeper, he has deceived us.”
They went back the next morning and told the host they had not been given back what was their own; the first had a thief’s hand, the second a cat’s eyes, and the third a pig’s heart.
The innkeeper said that the girl must be to blame, and went to call her. But when she had seen the three coming she ran out the backdoor, never to come back.
The three surgeons told the innkeeper that he must give them a great deal of money, or they would set his house on fire. He gave them whatever he had and the three went away with it.
It was enough for the rest of their lives, but they would rather have had their own proper organs.