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Howard Pyle



Peterkin and the Little Grey Hare

T HERE was a man who died and left behind him three sons, and nothing but two pennies to each. So, as there was little to be gained by scraping the dish at home, off they packed to the king's house, where they might find better faring. The two elder lads were smart fellows enough; as for Peterkin, he was the youngest—why, nobody thought much of him.

So off they went—tramp! tramp! tramp!—all three together. By and by they came to a great black forest where little was to be seen either before or behind them.

There old Father Hunger met them, and that was the worse for them, for there was nothing at all to eat. They looked here and there, and, after a while, what should they come across but a little grey hare caught in a snare.

Then, if anybody was glad, it was the two elder brothers. "Here is something to stay our stomachs," said they.

But Peterkin had a soft heart in his breast. "See, brothers," said he, "look how the poor thing turns up its eyes. Sure it would be a pity to take its life, even though our stomachs do grumble a bit."

But the two elder brothers were deaf in that ear. They had gone without their dinners long enough, and they were no such foolish fellows as to throw it away, now that it had come to them.

But Peterkin begged and begged, until, at last, the two said that they would let the Little Grey Hare go free if he would give them the two pennies that he had in his pocket.

Well, Peterkin let them have the pennies, and they let the hare go, and glad enough it was to get away, I can tell you.

"See, Peterkin," it said, speaking as plainly as a Christian, "you shall lose nothing by this. When you are in a tight place, whistle on your fingers—thus—and perhaps help will come to you."

Then it thumped its feet on the ground and away it scampered.

As for Peter's brothers, they laughed and laughed. A fool and his money were soon parted, said they. How could a little grey hare help him, they should like to know?

After a while they came to the town, where Peterkin's brothers took up their lodgings at a good inn. As for Peterkin, he had to go and sleep in the straw, for one cannot spend money and have it both. So while the brothers were eating broth with meat in it, Peterkin went with nothing.

"I wonder," said he, "if the Little Grey Hare can help me now." So he whistled on his fingers, just as it had told him.

Then who should come hopping and skipping along but the Little Grey Hare itself. "What do you want, Peterkin?" it said.

"I should like," said Peterkin, "to have something to eat."

"Nothing easier than that," said the Little Grey Hare; and before one could wink twice a fine feast, fit for a king, was spread out before him, and he fell to as though he had not eaten a bite for seven years.

After that he slept like a fat stone, for one can sleep well even in the straw, if one only has a good supper within one.

When the next morning had come, the two elder brothers bought them each a good new coat with brass buttons. Peterkin they said would have to go as he was, for patches and tatters were good enough for such a spendthrift.

But Peterkin knew a way out of that hole. Back of the house he went, and there he blew on his fingers.

"What will you have?" said the Little Grey Hare.

"I should like," said Peterkin, "to have a fine new suit of clothes, so that I can go to the king's house with my brothers and not be ashamed."

"If that is all that you want," said the Hare, "it is little enough;" and there lay the finest suit of clothes that Peterkin had ever seen, for it was all of blue silk sewed with golden threads. So Peterkin dressed himself in his fine clothes, and you may guess how his brothers stared when they saw him.


Off they all went to the king's house, and there was the king feeding his chickens; for that was all the work he had upon his hands, and an easy life he led of it. The king looked at Peterkin, and thought that he had never seen such fine clothes. Did they want service? Well, the king thought that he might give it to them. The oldest brother might tend the pigs, the second might look after the cows. But as for Peterkin, he was so spruce and neat that he might stay in the house and open the door when folks knocked. That was what his fine clothes did for him.

So Peterkin had the soft feathers in that nest, for he sat in the warm chimney all day, and had the scraping of the pipkins when good things had been cooked.

Well, things went quietly enough for a while, but the elder brothers kept up a great buzzing in their heads, I can tell you; for one does not like to see another step in front of one, and that is the truth.

So, one day, who should come to the king but the two elder brothers. Perhaps, said they, the king did not know it, but there was a giant over yonder who had a grey goose that laid a golden egg every day of her life. Now Peterkin had said more than once, and over and over again, that he was man enough to get the grey goose for the king whenever the king wanted it. You can guess how this tickled the king's ears. Off he sent for Peterkin, and Peterkin came.

Hui! how Peterkin opened his eyes when he heard what the king wanted. He had never said that he could get the giant's goose; he vowed and swore that he had not. But it was to no purpose that he talked, the king wanted the grey goose, and Peterkin would have to get it for him. He might have three days for the business, and that was all. Then, if he brought the grey goose, he should have two bags of gold money; if he did not bring it he should pack off to the prison.

So Peterkin left the king, and if anybody was down in the mouth in all of the world it was Peterkin.

"Perhaps," said he, "the Little Grey Hare can help me." So he blew a turn or two on his fingers, and the Little Grey Hare came hopping and skipping up to him.

What was Peterkin in the dumps about now? That was what it wanted to know.

Why, the king wanted him to get such and such a grey goose from over at the giant's house, and Peterkin knew no more about it than a red herring in a box; that was the trouble.

"Oh, well," says the Little Grey Hare, "maybe that can be cured; just go to the king and ask for this and that and the other thing, and we will see what can be done about the business."

So off went Peterkin to the king; perhaps he could get the grey goose after all, but he must have three barrels of soft pitch, and a bag of barley-corn and a pot of good tallow.

The king let him have all that he wanted, and then the Little Grey Hare took Peterkin and the three barrels of soft pitch and the bag of barley-corn and the pot of good tallow on its back, and off it went till the wind whistled behind Peterkin's ears.

(Now that was a great load for a little grey hare; but I tell the story to you just as Time's Clock told it to me.)

After a while they came to a river, and then the Little Grey Hare said:

"Brother Pike! Brother Pike! Here are folks would like to cross the wide river."

Then up came a great river pike, and on his back he took Peterkin and the Little Grey Hare and the three barrels of pitch and the sack of barley-corn and the pot of good tallow, and away he swam till he had brought them from this side to that.

(Now that was a great load for a river pike to carry; but as Time's Clock told the story to me I tell it to you.)

Then the Little Grey Hare went on and on again until it came to a high hill, and on the top of the high hill was a great house; that was where the giant lived.

Then Peterkin took the soft pitch and made a wide pathway of it. After that he smeared his feet all over with the tallow, so that he stuck to the soft pitch no more than water sticks to a cabbage leaf. Then he shouldered his bag of barley-corn and went up to the giant's castle, and hunted around and hunted around until he had found where the grey goose was; and it was in the kitchen and would not come out. But Peterkin had a way to bring it; he scattered the barley-corn all about, and when the grey goose saw that, it came out quickly enough and began to eat the grains as fast as it could gobble. But Peterkin did not give it much time for this, for up he caught it, and off he went as fast as he could scamper.

Then the grey goose flapped its wings and began squalling. "Master! master! Here I am! here I am! It is Peterkin who has me!"

Out ran the giant with his great iron club, and after Peterkin he came as fast as he could lay foot to the ground. But Peterkin had the buttered side of the cake this time, for he ran over the pitch road as easily as though it were made of good stones; that was because his boots were smeared with tallow. As for the giant, he stuck to it as a fly sticks to the butter so that it was very slow travelling that he made of it.

Then the hare took Peterkin up on its back, and away it scampered till the wind whistled behind his ears. When it had come to the river it said:


"Brother Pike! Brother Pike! Here are folks would like to cross the wide river."

Then the pike took them on its back and away they went. But it was a tight squeeze through that crack, I can tell you, for they had hardly left the shore when up came the giant, fuming and boiling like water in the pot.

"Is that you, Peterkin?" said he.

"Yes; it is I," said Peterkin.

"And did you steal my grey goose?" said the giant.

"Yes; I stole your grey goose," said Peterkin.

"And what would you do if you were me and I were you?" said the giant.

"I would do what I could," said Peterkin.

After that the giant went back home, shaking his head and talking to himself.

So the king got the grey goose, and was as glad as glad could be. And Peterkin got the bags of gold, and was glad also. Thus there were two in the world pleased at the same time.

And now the king could not make too much of Peterkin. It was Peterkin here and Peterkin there, till Peterkin's brothers were as sour as bad beer over the matter.

So, one day, they came buzzing in the king's ear again; perhaps the king did not know it, but that same giant had a silver bell, and every time that the bell was rung a good dinner was spread ready for the eating. Now, Peterkin had been saying to everybody that he could get that bell for the king just as easily as he had gotten the grey goose. At this the king pricked up his ears, for it tickled them to hear such talk. He sent for Peterkin to come to him, and Peterkin came. He vowed and swore that he had said nothing about getting the giant's bell. But it was of no use; he only wasted his breath. The king wanted the silver bell, and the king must have it. Peterkin should have three days in which to get it. If he brought it at the end of that time, he should have half of the kingdom to rule over. If he did not bring it he should have his ears clipped; so there was an end of that talk.

It was a bad piece of business, but off Peterkin went and blew on his fingers, and up came the Little Grey Hare.

"Well," said the Little Grey Hare, "and what is the trouble with us now?"

Why, the king wanted a little silver bell that was over at the giant's house, and he had to go and get it for him; that was the trouble with Peterkin.

"Well," says the Little Grey Hare, "there is no telling what one can do till one tries; just get a little wad of tow and come along, and we will see what we can make of it."

So Peterkin got the wad of tow, and then he sat him on the Little Grey Hare's back, and away they went till the wind whistled behind his ears. When they came to the river the Little Grey Hare called on the pike, and up it came and carried them over as it had done before. By and by they came to the giant's house, and this time the giant was away from home, which was a lucky thing for Peterkin.

Peterkin climbed into the window, and hunted here and there till he had found the little silver bell. Then he wrapped the tow around the clapper, but, in spite of all that he could do, it made a jingle or two. Then away he scampered to the Little Grey Hare. He mounted on its back, and off they went.

But the giant heard the jingle of the little silver bell, and home he came as fast as his legs could carry him.

He hunted here and there till he found the track of Peterkin, then after him he went, three miles at a step.

When he came to the river, there was Peterkin, just out of harm's way.

"Is that you, Peterkin?" bawled the giant.

"Yes; it is I," said Peterkin.

"And have you stolen my silver bell?" said the giant.

"Yes; I have stolen your silver bell," said Peterkin.

"And have you stolen my grey goose too?" said the giant.

Yes; Peterkin had stolen that too.

"And what would you do if you were me and I were you?" said the giant.

"I would do what I could," said Peterkin.

At this the giant went back home, grumbling and muttering to himself, and if Peterkin had been by it would have been bad for Peterkin.

Dear, dear! but the king was glad to get the silver bell; as for Peterkin, he was a great man now, for he ruled over half of the kingdom.


But now the two elder brothers were less pleased than ever before; they grumbled and talked together until the upshot of the matter was that they went to the king for the third time. Peterkin had been bragging and talking again. This time he had said that the giant over yonder had a sword of such a kind that it gave more light in the dark than fourteen candles, and that he could get the sword as easily as he had gotten the grey goose and the little silver bell.

After that nothing would satisfy the king but for Peterkin to go and get the sword. Peterkin argued and talked, and talked and argued, but it was for no good; he might have talked till the end of all things. The king wanted the sword, and the king must have it. If Peterkin could bring it to him in three days' time he might have the princess for his wife; if he came back empty-handed he should have a good thong of skin cut off of his back from top to bottom; that was what the king said.

So there was nothing for it but for Peterkin to whistle on his fingers for the Little Grey Hare once more.

"And what is it this time?" said the Little Grey Hare.

Why, the king wanted such and such a kind of sword, and Peterkin must go and get it for him; that was the trouble.

Well, well; there might be a hole in this hedge as well as another. But this time Peterkin must borrow one of the princess's dresses and her golden comb; then one might see what could be done.

So Peterkin went to the king and said that he must have the dress and the comb, and the king let him have them. Then he mounted on the little Grey Hare and—whisk!—away they went as fast as before.

Well, they crossed the river and came to the giant's house once more. There Peterkin dressed himself in the princess's dress, and combed his hair with her golden comb; and as he combed his hair it grew longer and longer, and the end of the matter was that he looked for all the world like as fine and strapping a lass as ever a body saw. Then he went up to the giant's house, and—rap! tap! tap!—he knocked at the door as bold as brass. The giant was in this time, and he came and opened the door himself. But when he saw what he thought was a fine lass, he smiled as though he had never eaten anything in all his life but soft butter.

Perhaps the pretty lass would come in and sit down for a bit; that was what he said to Peterkin.

Oh, yes! that suited Peterkin; of course he would come in. So in he came, and then he and the giant sat down to supper together. After they had eaten as much as they could the giant laid his head in Peterkin's lap, and Peterkin combed his hair and combed his hair, until he fell fast asleep and began to snore so that he made the cinders fly up the chimney.


Then Peterkin rose up softly and took down the Sword of Light from the wall. After that he went out on tiptoes and mounted the Little Grey Hare, and away they went till the chips flew behind them.

By and by the giant opened his eyes and saw that Peterkin was gone, and, what was more, his Sword of Light was gone also. Then what a rage he was in! Off he went after Peterkin and the Little Grey Hare, seven miles a step. But he was just a little too late, though there was no room to spare between Peterkin and him, and that is the truth.

"Is that you, Peterkin?" said he.

"Yes; it is I," said Peterkin.

"And have you stolen my Sword of Light?" said the giant.

Oh, yes; Peterkin had done that.

"And what would you do if you were me and I were you?" said the giant.

"I would drink the river dry and follow after," said Peterkin.

"That is good," said the giant. So he laid himself down and drank and drank and drank, until he drank so much that he burst with a great noise, and there was an end of him!

The king was so pleased with the Sword of Light that it seemed as though he could not look at it and talk about it enough. As for Peterkin, he got the princess for his wife, and that pleased him also, you may be sure. The princess was pleased too, for Peterkin was a good, smart, tight bit of a lad, and that is what the girls like. So it was that everybody was pleased except the two elder brothers, who looked as sour as green gooseberries. But now Peterkin was an apple that hung too high for them to reach, and so they had to let him alone.

The next day after the wedding, whom should Peterkin come across but the Little Grey Hare.

"See, Peterkin," it said, "I have done much for you; will you do a little for me?"

"Yes, indeed that I will," said Peterkin.

"Then take the Sword of Light and cut off my head and feet," said the Little Grey Hare.

No, no; Peterkin could never do such a thing as that; that would be a pretty way to treat a good friend.

But the Little Grey Hare begged and begged and begged, until at last Peterkin did as he asked; he cut off his head and his feet. Then who should stand before him but a handsome young prince, with yellow hair and blue eyes. That was what the Little Grey Hare had been all the time, only the giant had bewitched him.

As for Peterkin—well, this is the way of it; the youngest will step ahead of the others sometimes.