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Poor Peter

Poor Peter [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

Poor Peter [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

There was once a man named Jaco Peter who was so poor that he had not two sous to rub together. His clothes were rags, his boots were shocking, and as for his house, it was nothing but a miserable hovel hardly fit for a dog. The only friend poor Peter had in the world was a big fox who was called Reynard the Red because of the colour of his hide.

One day as Poor Peter was walking along the road looking out for stray scraps of food which he could pick up for his dinner, whom should he meet but Reynard, who was going off to spy round a farmhouse where, he had been told, there were some fine fat chickens.

“How now, Peter,” said Reynard, “you look very miserable to-day!  What is the matter?”

“I have fallen on bad luck,” answered Peter gloomily. “I have found nothing to-day but two cabbage-stalks and a half-gnawed bone, and to make matters worse, the bone has no marrow in it.”

“Why do you eat such stuff?” asked Reynard disgustedly. “Look at me—I am just as poor as you, yet I live on the fat of the land! And how do I do it, Peter? Why, by using my wits! Cheer up, my friend, you shall be a man of fortune yet, for I’ll take your case in hand myself!”

Reynard was as good as his word. The same day he called at the King’s palace and asked if he might borrow a bushel measure. Such an unusual request from a fox caused some amazement and the matter was brought to the notice of the King himself, who sent for Reynard and asked him what he wanted with such a thing.

“The fact is,” answered Reynard, “that a friend of mine, a certain Lord Jaco Peter, has come by a good deal of money, and he wishes to measure it.”

“Very well,” said the King, “you may take the measure, but I would like to have it back when you have done with it, if you do not mind.”

Off went Reynard with the bushel basket, and the same night, having stuck a couple of sous to the bottom of it with a bit of grease, he sent it back with a message to say that it was not large enough, and might he have another? In reply, the King sent a two-bushel measure, and after a time Reynard sent this back also, with a request for a larger one still. “If I have to measure the money with a thing like this,” said he, “I shall be a month over the task.”

“That friend of yours must be an enormously wealthy man,” said the King. “Let me see—what did you say his name was? Lord Jaco Peter? I do not seem to remember a lord of that name in my dominions!”

“He is a foreign noble,” said Reynard glibly, “who has only lately arrived in this country. He will shortly be coming to pay his respects to your Majesty, for it is his intention to ask for the hand of the Princess, your daughter, in marriage.”

“That is a thing one must consider,” replied the King, “but in the meantime I will gladly give your noble friend an audience.”

Away went Reynard in high feather and recounted to Poor Peter all that had happened. “The affair is as good as finished,” said he, “you shall marry the Princess and sit at the King’s right hand!”

Poor Peter [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

Peter looked down at his clothes, which indeed, were too well ventilated to be quite seemly, and made a grimace. “A fine lord I shall look!” said he, “with my toes sticking out of my boots and holes in my breeches.”

“Never mind about that,” Reynard answered. “Just leave everything to me, and all be well.”

The next day, when the time came for the pair to set out for the palace, Reynard said to his friend: “Now pay great attention to what I have to say. Close by the King’s palace there is a big muddy puddle in the middle of the road. When you come to that puddle I want you to trip over yourself and fall plump into it. Don’t let there be any half measures! Get right into the mud—wallow in it, and smear yourself from head to foot!”

“But why … ?” asked Peter.

“Never mind about why. Do as I tell you!”

Poor Peter carried out his directions to the letter. When they reached the puddle he pretended to slip, and fell souse into it, covering himself with a thick layer of mud. At sight of the disaster Reynard began to cry out in dismay, and the guards at the King’s palace, who had seen the accident, came running up to offer their aid.

“Did you fall down?” asked one of them politely. Peter was wiping the mud out of his mouth and could not answer, but the fox cried: “Of course he has fallen down, oaf! Do you think he sat in the puddle for amusement. Don’t stand gaping there, but run to the palace quickly, and borrow a change of clothes, for this is Lord Jaco Peter who is on his way to visit the King. And look you,” he added, as the guards ran off, “see that you bring some robes worthy of my lord’s great estate, or it will be the worse for you!”

Away went the guards, and told the King’s Chamberlain about the catastrophe. A few minutes later they returned bearing with them a magnificent robe of cloth-of-gold, beautifully embroidered and sewn with precious stones. Then they led Peter to a chamber, where he bathed himself and donned his new finery. Unfortunately the Chamberlain had forgotten to send any shoes, so there was Peter with his toes sticking out of his boots under his magnificent gown.

“Never mind,” said Reynard, “you must keep your feet out of sight,” and he led him before the King, who was immensely taken with his appearance.

Poor Peter [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Tell me,” he said to Reynard, after greetings had been exchanged, “why does your friend keep staring at his clothes. One would think he was not used to them!”

Reynard smiled. “As a matter of fact, your Majesty,” he answered, “he is not. This dress of his came out of your Majesty’s wardrobe, for  he had the ill-fortune to spoil his own on the way here, by falling into a puddle. The gown is good enough, as it goes, of course; but my friend is used to something far finer. I would wager a thousand crowns he is thinking this very moment that he has never been so poorly clad before in his life! Is it not so, my lord?” he added, turning to Peter.  

Peter gave a grin and a nod of the head, and the affair passed without further comment, but on their way in to dinner Reynard seized the opportunity to warn his friend against further faults of deportment. But, as the saying goes, it is no use trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and no sooner were they seated at table, and Peter saw the magnificent golden dishes, the delicate cut glass, and the fine candlesticks, than he opened his eyes wide, and gave an exclamation of astonishment.

Poor Peter [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“What is the matter now?” asked the King, staring at him.

“I crave your Majesty’s pardon,” said Reynard. “My friend is a little overwhelmed, for your customs are new to him. In his own palace, you see, he is used to a certain degree of luxury—such a service of plate, for instance, as this on the table, would there only be found in  the servant’s quarters. Come, come, my lord,” he added, clapping Peter on the shoulder, “it will do you good to live the simple life. Spartan fare, my lord, Spartan fare!”

Peter rolled his eyes and grinned again, before falling to, with a fairly good appetite, upon the rich food spread before him.

“This lord must certainly be of enormous wealth,” thought the King. “True, he has certain curious tricks of manner, such as supping his gravy with a table-knife, but what does a little thing like that matter! In other countries, other ways! That is a very good proverb.”

After dinner was over Reynard broached the matter of Peter’s marriage with the King’s daughter, and the King gave his consent. He begged Reynard and his friend to remain at the palace as his guests until the ceremony should take place, and apportioned to them a magnificent suite of rooms. A week later Peter and the Princess were married. The poor man could hardly believe his good luck as he stood before the altar dressed out in gorgeous robes. All he could do was to stare like one who is dazed, and Reynard had to nudge him from behind to get him to make the responses. After the wedding a splendid feast was held, to which all the greatest and wealthiest lords in the kingdom were invited, and then the King’s carriages arrived to conduct the happy pair to Peter’s castle.

Now what was to be done? Peter’s castle was a broken-down hovel at the edge of the forest. He shivered with fear when he thought of what the Princess would say when she saw it, with its mud floor, and its furniture consisting of one chair with no back, one battered table, and a heap of brushwood covered with a ragged pallet which served as a bed. Could Reynard overcome this difficulty as he had overcome all the others?

Of course he could, and he did! Away went the coaches, with Reynard sitting proudly on the box of the foremost, and presently the whole cortège halted before the gates of an enchanted castle, which Reynard had borrowed from the fairies of the forest. There Lord Jaco Peter and his bride lived for many happy years. They had six children, three boys and three girls, and Reynard was the friend of them all.

Poor Peter [Folk Tales Of Flanders]


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