O NCE upon a time there were three brothers, and the youngest of them was named Peter. The two bigger boys treated him very badly. Almost every day they beat him until he cried aloud.
One day as he was crying an old woman passed by. She felt sorry for the poor boy, and said that she would help him to become rich and happy.
Peter thanked her, and then the old woman said: "To-morrow morning, when the sun rises, go to the cross-roads, and there you will find a large swan tied to a tree. Untie it and bring it away with you. The first man that you meet will wish to have a feather from the swan's tail. You must let him try to take one. As soon as he touches the swan it will scream. Then you must say, 'Swan, hold fast,' and the man will be stuck fast until you touch him with this little stick I will give you. All the people who try to set the man free will be held fast in the same way.
"When a number of people have been held fast you must go to the king's palace. There you will find a poor, sad princess, who has never been known to laugh. If you can make her laugh the king will give you a rich reward, and you will be happy ever after."
Peter thanked the old lady, and at sunrise he went to the cross-roads, where he found the swan. At once he untied it, and, putting it under his arm, walked away.
Soon he met a man who said: "I want a feather from that swan."
"Take it," cried Peter.
When the man took hold of the swan's tail the bird screamed and Peter said, "Swan, hold fast!" At once the man found himself stuck to the swan so tightly that he could not get free. He pulled his hardest, but all in vain.
A girl who was washing clothes in the brook thought she would come to the help of the man; but as soon as she touched him Peter cried, "Swan, hold fast!" Then the girl was caught, too.
On they went, and soon they met a chimney-sweep. "Come and help me to get free," cried the girl. The sweep took hold of the girl, and at once the swan screamed. "Swan, hold fast!" said Peter, and the sooty man found that he was stuck fast, too.
Soon they came to a village where a fair was going on. A clown saw the three people following Peter and the swan, and began to make fun of them. "Don't laugh at us," said the sweep, "but help us to get free."
The clown did so; but no sooner had he touched the sweep than the swan screamed, and Peter said, "Swan, hold fast!" Then the clown found that he could not get free and that he was forced to go with the others.
Just then a policeman came up. "What is the matter here?" he asked, and then he took hold of the clown's arm, meaning to take him off to prison. Once more the swan screamed, and once more Peter said, "Swan, hold fast!" Then the policeman found himself stuck fast to the clown.
The policeman's wife, who was looking out of the window, saw her husband being dragged along. At once she rushed out and took hold of his hand, and tried to pull him away; but the swan screamed, and Peter cried, "Swan, hold fast!" So the policeman's wife had to follow Peter, too.
On they went until they came to the king's palace. Looking out of the window was a beautiful princess, with the saddest face you could ever see. When she saw Peter and the people behind him she began to laugh. At once the servants told the king, and he was very glad to hear the joyful news.
When he saw the man, the girl, the chimney-sweep, the clown, the policeman, and the policeman's wife all struggling to get free, he laughed, too, and could hardly stop.
"Set these people free," said he, "and I will give you a great reward for making the princess laugh."
Then Peter touched them with his little stick, and away they ran as fast as they could. At this the princess and the king laughed louder than ever.
Then the king gave Peter much gold and silver, and made him a great man in the land. In time the princess became his wife, and when her father died Peter became king.
He did not forget the old lady who had told him what to do that he might become rich and great. He gave her a house and servants to wait upon her, and she and the princess and Peter lived happily ever after.