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Fairy Stories and Fables by  James Baldwin
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PETER AND THE MAGIC GOOSE

THERE was once a man who had three sons. The eldest of these sons was called Jacob, the second John, and the youngest Peter. Now Peter was a good-natured lad and not very wise, and so his brothers liked to play tricks on him. When there was hard work to be done, it was Peter that had to do it; and when anything went wrong about the farm, it was Peter that had to bear the blame for it.

One day in summer Jacob wanted to go into the woods to cut down a tree. So his mother gave him a nice cake and a bottle of milk for his luncheon, and told him that as soon as he felt tired he must come home and let Peter finish the job.

While he was looking at the trees and wondering which one he should cut down, a little red-faced man came along. He seemed to be very old and feeble, and he said to Jacob: "Kind sir, will you not give me a piece of that nice cake which is in your pocket? I have not had anything to eat since yesterday."

"Not a bit of it," said Jacob. "I have nothing for beggars. If you want food, you must work for it as I do."

The little man said not a word but hobbled away, [86] and Jacob began to chop his tree. He had hardly made a dozen strokes when his foot slipped; he fell against his axe and cut his arm so badly that he had to go home to have it bound up.

The next day John said that he would go out and finish cutting the tree. So his mother baked a nice cake for him, and gave him a bottle of milk for his luncheon, and told him to take care and not hurt himself, as Jacob had done.

John had hardly reached the wood, when he met the little red-faced man, hobbling along among the trees.

"Please give me a bite of the nice cake which your mother made for you, and let me have a taste of the milk in that bottle," said the man; "for I am almost dead with hunger and thirst."

"Why should I give you anything?" said John; "I have no more than I want for myself."

The little man made no answer, and John walked on through the woods, until he found the tree which his brother had begun to chop down. At the very first stroke, his axe glanced and struck his foot, and cut so deep a gash that the blood rushed out in a stream. Some men who were not far off heard his cries and came to him; if they had not bound up his wound and carried him home, he would have died.

The next day Peter's mother said: "Peter, do you [87] see what you have made your brothers suffer by your idleness? If you had gone into the woods as you should have done in the first place, this would not have happened. So take the axe and go now, and don't come home till you have cut that tree down." And then she gave him a hard crust of bread, and a small flask of sour milk for his luncheon.

It was a long time before Peter found the tree which his brothers had begun to chop, and when he came to it, he was both hungry and tired. He took the crust of bread from his pocket and was just going to taste of it, when the little red-faced man stood before him.

"Please give me one little crumb of your bread and a drop of the milk in your flask; for I am dying of hunger and thirst," said the poor fellow.

"Come and sit down with me on this log," said Peter, "and I will share it all with you."

So the two sat together, side by side, and ate their luncheon, and Peter thought that he had never tasted anything so good. When they had finished, the little man said:

"You are a very kind-hearted lad, and I will tell you a secret. When you have cut the tree down look in the hollow stump. There you will find a very strange creature which you must take up in your arms and carry to the King. It may be that [88] some people will try to touch the creature as you are walking along; and so you must be sure whenever it cries out, to say, 'Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!' "

Peter took up his axe and began to chop with all his might. The chips flew first this way and then that, and it was not long till the tree began to tremble, and soon it fell with a crash to the ground. There was a round hollow place in the stump, and in it sat—a goose.

Peter thought that this was not a very strange creature after all, for he had seen geese all his life. If he had been wiser, he would have laughed at the idea of carrying it to the King; but, since the little man had told him to do so, he was foolish enough to believe that it was all right. So he picked the goose up in his arms and started at once.

He made his way out of the woods, and soon came to the great road which led to the King's town. By the side of the road there was an inn, and some men were standing in the wagon yard near by. When Peter came up with the goose in his arms, the innkeeper's daughter, who was looking out at the door, called to him, and said:

"Where did you get that pretty goose? Give me one of its feathers, won't you?"

"Come and pull one out," said Peter, kindly. [89] The girl ran out and tried to get one of the long white feathers from the bird's wing; but the moment that she touched it the goose screamed, and Peter remembered what the little man had told him to say.

"Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!" he cried; and the young lady's fingers stuck so fast to the goose that she could not let go. She screamed and tried her best to pull away; but Peter walked along and took no more notice of her at all.

The men who were standing in the yard laughed, for they thought that she was only making believe; but the stable boy, when he heard her cries, ran out into the road to see what was the matter.

"Oh, Tommy, Tommy!" cried the poor girl, "give me your hand and set me free from this horrid goose."

"Of course I will," said Tommy, and he seized the girl's hand. But at that very moment the goose screamed again, and Peter, without looking back, cried out:

"Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!"

The stable boy could not let go of the girl's hand, but was obliged to follow after; and although he howled and tried to pull away, Peter walked steadily along and seemed not to notice him.

They soon came to a village where there were a [90] great many people out for a holiday. A circus show was about to open, and the clown was in the street doing some of his funny tricks. When he saw Peter and the girl and the stable boy passing by, he cried out:

"What's the matter there? Have three more clowns come to town?"

"I am no clown," cried the stable boy; "but this girl holds my hand so tight that I can't get away. Come, set me free, and I will do you as good a turn some day."

The clown, in his droll way, seized the stable boy by the string of his apron. The goose screamed, and Peter cried out:

"Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!"

[91] Of course the clown could not let go. But Peter walked on, and looked neither to the right nor to the left. When the people saw the clown trying to pull away, they thought he was only at his tricks again, and everybody laughed. Just then the Mayor of the village came walking up the street. He was a very grave, sober man who was never known to smile, and the clown's silly actions did not please him at all.


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"What do you mean by grinning at me?" he said; and he seized the fellow's coat tail and tried to stop him. But at that moment the goose screamed, and Peter cried out:

"Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!"

What could the Mayor do but follow Peter with the rest? For, try as hard as he would, he could not let go.

The wife of the Mayor, a tall, spare woman, was greatly vexed when she saw her husband marching along and hanging to the clown's coat tail. She ran after him and seized his free arm and tried her best to pull him away. The goose screamed, and Peter, without looking back, cried out:

"Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!"

The good lady could not help herself. She had to walk along whether she would or not, and make the best of it. A great many people followed, [92] laughing and wondering, but none of them wanted to touch the Mayor's wife; for she kept her tongue going very fast, you may be sure.

In a little while, Peter came in sight of the King's palace. Just before reaching the gates he met a fine carriage drawn by four white horses; and in the carriage sat a young lady, as beautiful as a summer day, but with a sad and solemn look.

Peter and his train stepped aside to let the carriage pass, and just then the young lady looked out. When she saw the goose, and the funny way in which so many people had to walk behind it, she burst into a loud laugh. Then she ordered the coachman to stop, so that she might see better, and the longer she looked, the harder she laughed.

"The Princess has laughed! The Princess has laughed!" cried all the servants that were with her; and one of them ran back to tell the King about it.

When the King heard what had happened he was so delighted that he ran out to see and hear for himself; and when he saw Peter and his train he was so amused that he laughed louder than anybody else.

"My good friend," he said to Peter, "which will you choose?"

Peter stared at him and said nothing, for he did not know what the King meant.

[93] "Do you know what I promised to the one who would make my daughter laugh?" said the King.

"No, I don't think I do," said Peter.

"I promised a thousand dollars or a piece of land," said the King. "Which will you choose?"

"I think I'll take the land," said Peter.

Then he stroked the goose's head, and in a moment the girl and the stable boy and the clown and the Mayor and the Mayor's wife were free. They were so glad to get away that they ran home as though a fire were behind them.

"What a pretty bird!" said the Princess as she stepped out of her carriage and came to look at the goose. Then she reached out her pretty white hand to stroke its neck. The goose screamed, and Peter cried out:

"Hold fast! hold fast! hold fast!"

And the Princess thought that Peter was the handsomest lad she had ever seen. The King, too, was pleased with him and gave him a fine suit of clothes, and took him into the palace to be a page and wait on the ladies at the table.

When Peter grew up to be a strong and handsome man, he became a brave knight; and he and the Princess were married. But the goose flew up into the air and winged its way back to the forest, and nobody has seen it from that day to this.


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