Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Peasant And His Ass

The Peasant And His Ass [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The Peasant And His Ass [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

There once lived a poor peasant. I do not know his name, but he earned a living by gathering dead wood in the forest, and he had a donkey who was no bigger ass than himself. Perhaps by this you will be able to recognize him.

One day the peasant hitched his donkey into the shafts of his little cart and went off as usual to the wood for his day’s toil. Arrived there, he tied the donkey to a tree and then, by way of the cart, climbed the trunk in order to break off some dead branches which he had noticed above. As he sat there, legs astraddle on the branch, busily breaking away the dead wood, along through the forest came a lord dressed in fine clothes, with his manservant behind him.

“Hallo! my man,” cried the lord, “if you don’t come down from that tree pretty soon you’ll get a tumble. The branch you are sitting on is cracked.”

“Cracked, is it?” answered the peasant. “Well, so much the worse for me.” And he went on calmly with his work.

The lord went away shrugging his shoulders at the peasant’s stupidity; and, sure enough, before he had gone very far, crack! crack! the branch broke, and down fell the peasant to the foot of the tree, giving himself a fine blow on the nose, which immediately swelled almost to the size of a turnip.

“My word,” muttered the peasant, tenderly feeling the sore place, “that man must have been a sorcerer! He can foretell the future! He said I’d fall and I certainly have fallen! I must run after him and ask him to tell me something else. This is a chance not to be missed!”

So off he ran as fast as his bruised limbs would allow, in pursuit of the lord, and presently came up with him. “Hi, sir, wait a minute!” he cried. “You told me the truth about the tree. The branch broke right enough and I fell on my nose. Won’t you tell me something else?”

“Willingly,” answered the lord, “and I hope this time that you will pay heed to what I say. Take care not to load your ass too heavily, for if you do so he will bray, and if he brays three times running I predict that you will suddenly die.”

“Oh dear me!” sighed the peasant. “I am the most unfortunate of men. Each prediction about my future seems to be an unhappy one. Nevertheless, I am very much obliged to you, sir. Good day.” And he took off his cap to the lord and bowed, and lurched off back to his tree.

For a long time he worked busily, and found so much wood that his little cart soon became full. Then he remembered what the lord had told him about loading his ass too heavily, but he was so avaricious that he could not make up his mind to stop. “One more branch won’t make any difference,” he kept on saying as he piled more and more wood into the cart. At last the poor donkey could stand no more and, lifting his head, he uttered a loud “Hee-haw!”

At this the peasant turned pale with fright. “Stop, stop, what are you doing?” he cried. “Oh, my dear little ass, I beg you not to bray again. I will not put another branch into the cart. We will go home straight away and you shall have carrots for supper!”

The Peasant And His Ass [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

So saying, he climbed to his seat and shook the reins as a signal for departure. The donkey pulled and pulled, but not an inch would the cart budge, although he strained his muscles to the utmost. Finding all his efforts vain, he turned his head and once again gave utterance to a loud bray of protest.

“Oh, dear me, that’s twice!” cried the peasant, jumping down from his perch. “If he brays once more I’m a dead man. Do you hear that, little ass? For goodness’ sake, remain dumb until we reach home, and I’ll help you pull the cart!” Freed of the peasant’s weight, the load for a time was easier to pull, but at the end of another ten minutes the weight began to tell again. The ass stopped and brayed loudly for the third time.

“That’s finished it!” cried the peasant. “I am dead!” And he fell flat to the ground.

Left to himself, the ass wandered slowly on, dragging the load behind him. Soon he came to the gates of the town, and the guard took him and put him into the pound. After a time, as nobody claimed him, he was sold.

Meanwhile the peasant lay where he had fallen. Presently a carriage drove up, and the coachman was forced to pull in his horses because of the body that lay stretched across the road.

“Come,” he cried, thinking that the peasant was drunk, “rouse yourself, swill-tub! Get up, unless you want to be run over!”

“I can’t get up!” moaned the peasant.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m dead!”

“Dead, are you?” cried the coachman, jumping from his seat in anger. “Well I’ve something here that will bring you to life again!” And he took his whip and laid on to the peasant with such a will that  in less than ten seconds the fellow was capering about all over the road. Having thus effectively brought the dead man to life, he remounted his box and drove off grumbling.

In the roadway the peasant continued to dance about until the pain of his beating had somewhat subsided. Then he looked around, and for the first time missed his donkey.  

The Peasant And His Ass [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Dear, dear, dear!” he cried, “one trouble after another! When I was dead I wished I was alive; now I’m alive I wish I was dead again, for I’m sore all over, and I’ve lost my donkey. Whatever shall I do?” And, groaning and grumbling, he set off along the road in search of his beast.

After a time he came to the gates of the town, where a sentry was standing with his pike on his shoulder. “Good morning, good man,” said the peasant. “Have you seen my little ass?”

“Your ass!” answered the sentry, smiling. “The only ass that has passed through these gates to-day is already become burgomaster!”

“What! Burgomaster!” cried the peasant. “My ass Burgomaster! Tell me quickly, where does he live? I must go to him at once!”

Hardly able to control his amusement, the sentry pointed out the way to the Burgomaster’s house, and thither went the peasant in all haste. Arrived at the door, he sounded the great bell— Darlindindin! —and a maidservant appeared.

“Is the Burgomaster at home?” asked the peasant. Yes, he was at home, and the maidservant led the peasant to the room where he sat  behind a big table loaded with documents.

“Good morning, Ass!” said the peasant, with a grin of delight that twisted his swollen and discoloured features.

“Eh! what, what!” stammered the Burgomaster, turning purple with anger.

“I beg your pardon,” said the peasant, “I should have said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Ass, Esquire,’ for you have become a great man now, while I am still a poor woodcutter. I don’t envy you your good fortune, I am sure, although your promotion has left me without a donkey. Since you have become such a great lord, won’t you give me back the ten florins you cost me, so that I may buy another?”

At this the Burgomaster’s rage exploded. Leaping over the table with one bound, he seized the hapless peasant by the collar of his coat, threw open the door, and, with one mighty kick, sent him sprawling from top to bottom of the stairs.

The Peasant And His Ass [Folk Tales Of Flanders]