The Cleverest TuneThe Cleverest Tune
A British Folktale

Once upon a time a wealthy merchant had three children, two boys and one girl. Sadly, the merchant's wife had died long ago, and now he had grown terribly ill. He understood he would soon die, and one problem vexed him terribly. His mansion was enormous, all marble floors and high ceilings, 200 vast rooms with fireplaces and balconies, and another 100 hallways. The merchant wished to leave his estate to one of his children, but which one? He pondered the problem for a long time, and he discussed it with his advisers. "Which of my children will care best for this place I so love?"

The first advisor suggested he split the mansion among all three children, but the merchant shook his head. "I fear they would bicker among themselves, and I wish them all to leave in peace."

The second advisor shook his head. He had no idea how to resolve this problem.

And so the merchant thought and thought and thought, and at long last he came up with an idea. He called the children to his bedside, and when they were gathered around, he looked at them and smiled.

"Barnaby, Henry and Beatrice, in my will I shall leave each one of you exactly one pound."

Barnaby was the eldest, and he thought he must speak up. "Father, you're a wealthy man, what can you be thinking leaving us a single pound?"

The merchant raised a finger to his lips. "Patience, my son, there is more to come. With that single pound, each of you will purchase something to fill every room in this mansion, something that will spread from corner to corner, ceiling to floor, wall to wall, something that will complete this place."

Now Barnaby and Henry exchanged a glance. What could their father be thinking?

"Whoever finds something that will saturate every space in this mansion will inherit my entire estate."

Now the brothers looked at each other, and then turned to look at their sister. All three were sad to see their father's suffering, and all three were thinking hard.

Now Barnaby was thinking about the many degrees he had earned. He was a brilliant lad, and he had studied everything under the sun. Naturally, he thought he could outsmart his brother and sister, and so he said, "Do not fear, father. I shall take good care of our home."

The younger brother shook his head. Henry was a creative fellow; he had won prizes for his wit and for his guile. He knew this task called not for mere intellect but for a limber imagination. "Barnaby, don't be too quick to think you shall win. Father, I can promise, your home shall be in fine, competent hands."

Now the youngest child, Beatrice was a fun-loving, lively young woman. She had a beautiful voice and a large, warm heart. She sang, she played lute and harp and hornpipes, but she had won no degrees or contests. Beatrice adored her father, and so she leaned close and kissed his cheek. "Father, when I win, I promise I will care for our home, and I shall also care for my beloved brothers."

A few days later the merchant passed away, and after days of mourning, the merchant's advisors read his will. Then the advisors gave each of the children one pound, and the three set off into the world to find the perfect thing to fill that enormous space.

Now, Barnaby had given much thought to the matter, and the moment he had his pound in hand, he traveled around the country buying up bags of fine feathers, the sort that people stuff into their pillows and comforters and mattresses. Then he hurried back home, and into each of the 200 rooms he tossed feathers. The feathers flew everywhere, filling the rooms, ceiling to floor, wall to wall, corner to corner.

Then Barnaby called to the advisors. "Go on now gents, check each room, and you shall see I have won."

And so the advisors began their search. In the first few rooms, sure enough, they found feathers stuffed into every corner, piled high, ceiling to floor, but by the time they reached room 100, the feathers had settled to the floor.

Alas, Barnaby had failed.

Meantime, clever Henry was traveling about the country purchasing candles, and then he hurried home and walked from room to room. In each room he set a candle upon a tabletop or windowsill. These he lit, and before long each room was filled, ceiling to floor, wall to wall, corner to corner, with glowing light.

Once again the advisors walked through the mansion, peering into each and every room. Sure enough, each room was suffused with light, but by the time they reached room 150, the candles had burned to puddles of wax. The last 50 rooms were filled with nothing but darkness.

Now it was Beatrice's turn. With her pound, she purchased a harmonica, another instrument she loved to play. Back home she walked through the mansion, opening every door. Then she sat down in the central hallway, beneath a shimmering chandelier, and she began to play a lively, lovely tune.

Those beautiful notes drifted everywhere, through the entire mansion. The tunes she played were exquisite, and when the servants and advisors and the mourners heard the sound, they smiled, and some of them danced.

When Beatrice had finished her tune, the chief advisor nodded and smiled at the girl with the lovely blue eyes.

Alas, he shook his head. "Beloved Beatrice, that is a lovely tune, but you did not fulfill your father's promise. You did not fill every room ceiling to floor, wall to wall, corner to corner."

Beatrice laughed. "Oh yes, I did. I filled each room ceiling to floor, wall to wall, corner to corner. And I did so three times over."

Puzzled the advisors asked, "My dear, what can you mean?"

"First I filled each room, ceiling to floor, wall to wall, corner to corner, with the sound of the lilting harmonica music. And everyone began to smile, and some to dance, and so I filled each room a second time, ceiling to floor, wall to wall, corner to corner. This time I filled them with joy."

"Go on, my dear," the advisor said, and a smile spread across his face. "How did you fill the rooms a third time then?"

Beatrice nodded. "We are all saddened by my father's death, but now each room in this house brims with life just as it did when Father was alive."

"I see," the advisor said, and he could not help but agree.

And so it was lively, lovely, loving Beatrice who inherited her father's estate. And just had she had promised her father, she always looked after her brothers.