"Y ES, Peter is clever." So said his mother; but then every goose thinks her own gosling a swan.
The minister and all of the people of the village said Peter was but a dull block. Maybe Peter was a fool; but, as the old saying goes, never a fool tumbles out of the tree but he lights on his toes. So now you shall hear how that Peter sold his two baskets of eggs for more than you or I could do, wise as we be.
"Peter," said his mother.
"Yes," said Peter, for he was well brought up, and always answered when he was spoken to.
"My dear little child, thou art wise, though so young now; how shall we get money to pay our rent?"
"Sell the eggs that the speckled hen has laid," said Peter.
"But when we have spent the money for them, what then?"
"Sell more eggs," said Peter, for he had an answer for everything.
"But when the speckled hen lays no more eggs, what shall we do then?"
"We shall see," said Peter.
"Now indeed art thou wise," said his mother, "and I take thy meaning; it is this, when we have spent all, we must do as the little birds do, and trust in the good Heaven." Peter meant nothing of the kind, but then folks will think that such wise fellows as Peter and I mean more than we say, whence comes our wisdom.
So the next day Peter started off to the town, with the basket full of nice white eggs. The day was bright and warm and fair; the wind blew softly, and the wheatfields lay like green velvet in the sun. The flowers were sprinkled all over the grass, and the bees kicked up their yellow legs as they tilted into them. The garlic stuck up stout spikes into the air, and the young radishes were green and lusty. The brown bird in the tree sang, "Cuckoo! cuckoo!" and Peter trudged contentedly along, kicking up little clouds of dust at every footstep, whistling merrily and staring up into the bright sky, where the white clouds hung like little sheep, feeding on the wide blue field. "If those clouds were sheep, and the sheep were mine, then I would be a great man and very proud," said Peter. But the clouds were clouds, and he was not a great man; nevertheless, he whistled more merrily than ever, for it was very nice to think of these things.
So he trudged along with great comfort until high noontide, against which time he had come nigh to the town, for he could see the red roofs and the tall spires peeping over the crest of the next green hill. By this time his stomach was crying, "Give! give!" for it longed for bread and cheese. Now, a great gray stone stood near by at the forking of the road, and just as Peter came to it he heard a noise. "Click! clack!" he turned his head, and, lo and behold! the side of the stone opened like a door, and out came a little old man dressed all in fine black velvet.
"Good-day, Peter," said he. "Good-day, sir," said Peter, and he took off his hat as he spoke, for he could see with half an eye that this little old gentleman was none of your cheese-paring fine folks.
"Will you strike a bargain with me for your eggs?" said the little old man. Yes, Peter would strike a bargain; what would the little gentleman give him for his eggs? "I will give you this," said the little old man, and he drew a black bottle out of his pocket.
Peter took the bottle and turned it over and over in his hands. "It is," said he, "a pretty little, good little, sweet little bottle, but it is not worth as much as my basket of eggs."
"Prut!" said the little gentleman, "now you are not talking like the wise Peter. You should never judge by the outside of things. What would you like to have?"
"I should like," said Peter, "to have a good dinner."
"Nothing easier!" said the little gentleman, and he drew the cork. Pop! pop! and what should come out of the bottle but two tall men, dressed all in blue with gold trimmings. "What will you have, sir?" said the first of these to the little gentleman.
"A good dinner for two," said the little man.
No sooner said than done; for, before you could say Frederic Strutzenwillenbachen, there stood a table, with a sweet, clean, white cloth spread over it, and on this was the nicest dinner that you ever saw, for there were beer and chitterlings, and cheese and good white bread, fit for the king. Then Peter and the little man fell to with might and main, and ate till they could eat no more. After they were done, the two tall men took table and dishes and all back into the bottle again, and the little gentleman corked it up.
"Yes," said Peter, "I will give you my basket of eggs for the little black bottle." And so the bargain was struck. Then Peter started off home, and the little man went back again into the great stone and closed the door behind him. He took the basket of eggs with him; where he took it neither Peter nor I will ever be able to tell you.
So Peter trudged along homeward, until, after a while, the day waxing warm, he grew tired. "I wish," said he, "that I had a fine white horse to ride."
Then he took the cork out of the bottle. Pop! pop! and out came the two tall fellows, just as they had done for the little old man. "What will you have, sir?" said the first of them.
"I will have," said Peter, "a fine white horse to ride."
No sooner said than done; for there, before him in the road, stood a fine white horse, with a long mane and tail, just like so much spun silk. In his mouth was a silver bit; on his back was a splendid saddle, covered all over with gold and jewels; on his feet were shoes of pure gold, so that he was a very handsome horse indeed.
Peter mounted on his great horse and rode away home, as grand as though he were a lord or a nobleman.
Every one whom he met stopped in the middle of the road and looked after him. "Just look at Peter!" cried they; but Peter held his chin very high, and rode along without looking at them, for he knew what a fine sight he was on his white horse.
And so he came home again.
"What didst thou get for thy eggs, my little duck?" said his mother.
"I got a bottle, mother," said Peter.
Then at first Peter's mother began to think as others thought, that Peter was a dull block. But when she saw what a wonderful bottle it was, and how it held many good things and one over, she changed her mind again, and thought that her Peter was as wise as the moon.
And now nothing was lacking in the cottage; if Peter and his mother wanted this, it came to them; if they wished for that, the two tall men in the bottle fetched it. They lined the house all inside with pure gold, and built the chimneys of bricks of silver, so that there was nothing so fine between all the four great rivers. Peter dressed in satin and his mother in silk, and everybody called him "Lord Peter." Even the minister of the village said that he was no dull boy, for nobody is dull who rides on horseback and never wears wooden shoes. So now Peter was a rich man.
One morning Peter said to his mother, "Mother, I am going to ask the King to let me marry his daughter."
To this his mother said nothing, for surely her Peter was as good as any princess that ever lived.
So off Peter rode, dressed all in his best and seated astride of a grand horse.
At last he came to the palace, which was finer than the handsome new house of Herr Mayor Kopff. Rap! rap! rap! Peter knocked at the door, and presently came a neat servant girl and opened it to him. "Is the King at home, my dear?" said Peter.
Yes, the King was at home; would he come into the parlor and sit down? So Peter went into the parlor and sat down, and then the King came in, dressed all in his best dressing-gown, with silver slippers upon his feet, and a golden crown upon his head.
"What is your name?" said the King.
"Peter Stultzenmilchen," said Peter.
"And what do you want, Lord Peter," said the King; for, as I have said, Peter was dressed in his best clothes, and the old King thought that he was a great lord.
"I want to marry your daughter," said Peter.
To this the King said "Hum-m-m," and Peter said nothing. Then the King said that he had determined that no one should marry his daughter without bringing him a basketful of diamonds, rubies, topazes, emeralds, pearls, and all manner of precious stones; for he thought by this to get rid of Peter.
"Is that all?" said Peter. "Nothing is easier."
So off he went, until he came to a chestnut woods just back of the royal kitchen-garden. There he uncorked his bottle. Pop! pop! and out came the two tall men. "What will you have, sir?" said they. Peter told them what he wanted, and it was no sooner said than done; for, there on the ground before him, stood a basketful of all kinds of precious stones; each of them was as large as a hen's egg, and over all of them was spread a nice clean white napkin. So Peter took the basket on his arm and went back again to the palace.
But how the King did open his eyes, to be sure, and how he stared! "Now," said Peter, "I should like to marry your daughter, if you please."
At this the King hemmed and hawed again. No, Peter could not marry the Princess yet, for the King had determined that no man should marry his daughter without bringing him a bird all of pure silver that could sing whenever it was wanted, and that more sweetly than a nightingale; for he thought that now he should be rid of Peter, at any rate.
"Nothing easier," said Peter, and off he went again.
When he had come to the chestnut woods, he uncorked his bottle and told the two tall men what he wanted. No sooner said than done; for there was a bird all of pure silver. And not only that, but the bird sat in a little golden tree, and the leaves of the tree were emeralds, and rubies hung like cherries from the branches.
Then Peter wrapped this up in his handkerchief and took it to the palace. As for the King, he could not look at it or listen to it enough.
"Now," said Peter, "I should like to marry your daughter, if you please."
But at this the King sang the same tune again. No, Peter could not marry his daughter yet, for the King had determined that the man who was to marry his daughter should first bring him a golden sword, so keen that it could cut a feather floating in the air, yet so strong that it could cut through an iron bar.
"Nothing easier," said Peter, and this time the men of the bottle brought him such a sword as he asked for, and the hilt was studded all over with precious stones, so that it was very handsome indeed. Then Peter brought it to the King, and it did as the King would have it—it cut through a feather floating in the air; as for the iron bar, it cut through that as easily as you would bite through a radish.
And now it seemed as though there was nothing else to be done but to let Peter marry the Princess. So the King asked him in to supper, and they all three sat down together, the King and the Princess and Peter.
And it was a fine feast, I can tell you, for they had both white and red wine, besides sausages and cheese, and real white bread and puddings, and all manner of good things; for kings and princesses eat and drink of the best.
As for Peter, he made eyes at the Princess, and the Princess looked down on her plate and blushed, and Peter thought that he had never seen such a pretty girl.
After a while the King began to question Peter how he came by all these fine things—the precious stones, the silver bird, and the golden sword; but no, Peter would not tell. Then the King and the Princess begged and begged him, until, at last, Peter lost his wits and told all about the bottle. Then the King said nothing more, and presently, it being nine o'clock, Peter went to bed. After he had gone the King and the Princess put their heads together, and the end of the matter was that the wicked King went to Peter's room and stole the bottle from under the pillow where he had hidden it, and put one in its place that was as empty as a beer barrel after the soldiers have been in the town; for the King and the Princess thought that it would be a fine thing to have the bottle for themselves.
When the next morning had come, and they were all sitting at their breakfast together, the King said, "Now, Lord Peter, let us see what your bottle will do; give us such and such a kind of wine."
"Nothing easier," said Peter. Then he uncorked the bottle, but not so much as a single dead fly came out of it.
"But where is the wine?" said the King.
"I do not know," said Peter.
At this the King called him hard names and turned him out of the palace, neck and heels; so back poor Peter went to his mother with a flea in his ear, as the saying is. Now he was poor again, and everybody called him a dull block, for he rode no great white horse and he wore wooden shoes.
"Never mind," said his mother, "here is another basket of eggs from the speckled hen." So Peter set off with these to the market town, as he had done with the others before. When he had come to the great stone at the forking of the road, whom should he meet but the same little gentleman he had met the first time. "Will you strike a bargain?" said he. Yes, Peter would strike a bargain, and gladly. Thereupon the little old man brought out another black bottle.
"Two men are in this bottle," said the little old man; "when they have done all that you want them to do, say 'brikket-ligg' and they will go back again. Will you trade with me?" Yes, Peter would trade. So Peter gave the little man the eggs, and the little man gave Peter the second bottle, and they parted very good friends.
After a while Peter grew tired. "Now," said he to himself, "I will ride a little"; and so he drew the cork out of the bottle. Pop! pop! out came two men from the bottle; but this time they were ugly and black, and each held a stout stick in his hand. They said not a word, but, without more ado, fell upon Peter and began threshing him as though he was wheat on the barn floor.
"Stop! stop!" cried Peter, and he went hopping and skipping up and down, and here and there, but it seemed as though the two ugly black men did not hear him, for the blows fell as thick as hail on the roof. At last he gathered his wits together, like a flock of pigeons, and cried, "Brikket-ligg! brikket-ligg!" Then, whisk! pop! they went back into the bottle again, and Peter corked it up, and corked it tightly, I can tell you.
The next day he started off to the palace once more. Rap! rap! rap! he knocked at the door. Was the King at home? Yes, the King was at home; would he come and sit in the parlor?
Presently the King came in, in dressing-gown and slippers. "What! are you back again?" said he.
"Yes; I am back again," said Peter.
"What do you want?" said the King.
"I want to marry the Princess," said Peter.
"What have you brought this time?" said the King.
"I have brought another bottle," said Peter.
Then the King rubbed his hands and was very polite indeed, and asked Peter in to breakfast, and Peter went. So they all three sat down together, the King, the Princess, and Peter.
"My dear," said the King, to the Princess, "the Lord Peter has brought another bottle with him." Thereat the Princess was very polite also. Would Lord Peter let them see the bottle? Oh yes! Peter would do that: so he drew it out of his pocket and sat it upon the table.
Perhaps they would like to have it opened. Yes, that they would. So Peter opened the bottle.
Hui! what a hubbub there was! The King hopped about till his slippers flew off, his dressing-gown fluttered like great wings, and his crown rolled off from his head and across the floor, like a quoit at the fair. As for the Princess, she never danced in all of her life as she danced that morning. They made such a noise that the soldiers of the Royal Guard came running in; but the two tall black men spared them no more than the King and the Princess. Then came all of the Lords of the Council, and they likewise danced to the same music as the rest.
"Oh, Peter! dear Lord Peter! cork up your men again!" they all cried.
"Will you give me back my bottle?" said Peter.
"Yes! yes!" cried the King.
"Will you marry me?" said Peter.
"Yes! yes!" cried the Princess.
Then Peter said "brikket-ligg!" and the two tall men popped back into the bottle again. So the King gave him back his other bottle, and the minister was called in and married him to the Princess.
After that he lived happily, and when the old King died he became King over all of the land. As for the Princess, she was as good a wife as you ever saw, but Peter always kept the bottle near to him—maybe that was the reason.
Ah me! if I could only take my eggs to such a
market and get two such bottles for them!
What would I do with them? It would
take too long to tell you.