Stories & Tales
Three Sons and a Bedcover

A wealthy merchant had three sons. He himself was growing old and started thinking how best to arrange for the manage¬ment of his business and property after his death. He had three grown sons, and although his sons were industrious and dutiful, he knew that they were too good-natured. They had from their childhood been brought up in comfort, and might not really realize the value of money. He decided to try and find out which of his sons was gifted with most common sense.

He pretended to be very ill, and sent word to his sons, who worked in different branches of his extensive business. He said to them that they must take turns in nursing him, for his days were numbered.

The eldest son came at once. When he reached his father"s bedside the old man complained that his feet were very cold. He saw that his father’s feet were uncovered, and so the young man pulled the ilhaf , the quilted cotton cover which in the East takes the place of blankets, over them. A few minutes later the father complained that his shoulders were cold, so the son drew the ilhaf over the shoulders. The cover was too short to cover both feet and shoulders at the same time, and the son wanted to fetch a longer quilt, of which there were plenty in the house. But the old man angrily refused to let him do this, and said that he could not bear a heavier weight of covering, and preferred the quilt he had to all others. Unwilling either to disobey or to provoke his father, the eldest son dutifully spent a whole day and night in drawing the scanty covering first over his father’s shoulders, then over his bare feet. He was quite worn out when the second brother came to relieve him.

The second son endured the same experiences as his older brother. In spite of suggesting and coaxing and insisting to his father that a longer cover would work better, the old merchant refused to accept and nevertheless complained constantly that first his shoulders, then his feet, were cold.

Finally it was the turn of the third and youngest son. He also tried in vain to persuade his father to let him fetch a longer quilt. He began as his brothers had, pulling the ilhaf up and then down, till he saw his father greatly enjoying his meals, and not particularly in any special pain. He grew suspicious. He left the bedside for a minute, and went to the garden. There he cut a good young branch from a pome¬granate tree. When he returned to his father’s room, he was greeted with the usual complaint of cold in the extremities. He suddenly brought down the stick to just above his father’s feet and said, "Very well, Father! Stretch your legs according to your cover."

The effect was magical. The old man jumped out of bed, completely cured. He made arrangements that at his death the supervision and management of the estate should go to his youngest son, who, without failing in duty, had proved to be the cleverest and shrewdest of the sons.

This incident is said to have inspired the proverb: "Stretch your legs according to the length of your cover."


Adapted from Folklore of the Holy Land, J.E.Hanauer, Dover Publications