Big Peter and Little Peter


Once there were two brothers, both named Peter; the older one was called Big Peter, and the younger one Little Peter. When their father died, Big Peter took over the farm and found himself a wealthy wife. Little Peter, however, stayed at home with his mother, and lived from her pension until he came of age. Then he received his inheritance, and Big Peter said that he could stay in the old house no longer, living from his mother. It would be better for him to go out into the world and do something for himself.

Little Peter agreed; so he bought himself a fine horse and a load of butter and cheese, and set off to the town. With the money he got for his goods he bought brandy and other drinks, and as soon as he arrived home, he threw a great feast, inviting all of his relatives and acquaintances. They in turn invited him for drinking and merrymaking. Thus he lived in fun and frolic so long as his money lasted. But when his last farthing was spent, and Little Peter found himself sitting high and dry, he went back home again to his old mother, and there he had nothing but one calf. When spring came he turned out the calf and let it graze on Big Peter's meadow. But this made Big Peter angry, and he struck the calf, killing it. Little Peter skinned the calf, and hung the hide up in the bathroom until it was thoroughly dry; then he rolled it up, stuffed it into a sack, and went about the area trying to sell it; but wherever he went, people only laughed at him, saying that they had no need of smoked calfskin. After walking a long way, he came to a farm, where he asked for a night's lodging.

"No," said the old woman of the house, "I can't give you lodging, for my husband is at the hut in the upper pasture, and I'm alone in the house. You will have to ask for shelter at the next farm; but if they won't take you in, you may come back, because you can't spend the night out of doors."

As Peter passed by the living-room window, he saw that there was a priest in there, whom the woman was entertaining. She was serving him ale and brandy, and a large bowl of custard. But just as the priest had sat down to eat and drink, the husband came back home. The woman heard him in the hallway, and she was not slow; she put the bowl of custard under the fireplace mantel, the ale and brandy into the cellar, and as for the priest, she locked him inside a large chest that was there. Little Peter was standing outside the whole time and saw everything. As soon as the husband had entered, Little Peter went to the door and asked if he might have a night's lodging.

"Yes," said the man, "you can stay here," and he asked Little Peter to sit down at the table and eat. Little Peter sat down, taking his calfskin with him, which he laid under his feet.

When they had sat a while, Little Peter began to step on the skin.

"What are you saying now? Can't you be quiet?" said Little Peter.

"Who are you talking to?" asked the man.

"Oh," answered Little Peter, "it's only the fortuneteller that I have here in my calfskin."

"And what does she foretell?" asked the man.

"Why, she says that there is a bowl of custard under the fireplace mantel," said Little Peter.

"Her prediction is wrong," answered the man. "We haven't had custard in this house for a year and a day."

But Peter asked him to take a look; he did so and found the custard. So they proceeded to enjoy it, but just as they were eating, Peter stepped on the calfskin again.

"Hush!" he said, "can't you hold your mouth?"

"What is the fortuneteller saying now?" asked the man.

"Oh, she says there is probably some ale and brandy just under the cellar door," answered Peter.

"Well, if she never predicted wrong in her life, she's predicting wrong now," said the man. "Ale and brandy! We have never had such things in the house!"

"Just take a look," said Peter. The man did so, and there, sure enough, he found the drinks, and was very pleased indeed.

"How much did you pay for that fortuneteller?" said the man, "for I must have her, whatever you ask for her."

"I inherited her from my father, and never thought that she was worth much," answered Peter. "Of course, I am not eager to part with her, but you may have her nonetheless, if you'll give me that old chest in the living room."

"The chest is locked and the key is lost," cried the old woman.

"Then I'll take it without the key," said Peter, and he and the man quickly struck the bargain.

Peter got a rope instead of the key. The man helped him load the chest onto his back, and off he stumbled with it. After he had walked a while, he came to a bridge. Beneath the bridge ran a raging stream, foaming, gurgling, and roaring until the bridge shook.

"That brandy, that brandy!" said Peter. Now I can tell that I've had too much. Why should I be dragging this chest about? If I hadn't been drunk and crazy, I would not have traded my fortuneteller for it. But now this chest is going into the river, and quickly!"

And with that he began to untie the rope.

"Au! Au! For God's sake save me. It is the priest that you have in the chest," screamed someone from inside.

"That must be the devil himself," said Peter, "and he wants to make me believe he has become a priest; but whether he claims to be a priest or a sexton, into the river he goes!"

"Oh, no! Oh no! I am in truth the parish priest. I was visiting the woman for her soul's health, but her husband is rough and wild, so she had to hide me in the chest. I have a silver watch and a gold watch with me. You can have them both, and eight hundred dollars beside, if you will only let me out," cried the priest.

"Oh, no!" said Peter. "Is it really your reverence after all?" With that he picked up a stone, and knocked the lid of the chest into pieces. The priest got out and ran home to his parsonage quickly and lightly, for he no longer had his watches and money to weigh him down.

Then Little Peter went home and said to Big Peter, "Today at the market there was a good price for calfskins."

"What did you get for your shabby one?" asked Big Peter.

"Shabby as it was, I got eight hundred dollars for it, but those from larger and fatter calves were bringing twice as much," said Little Peter, and showed his money.

"It is good that you told me this," answered Big Peter. He then slaughtered all his cows and calves, and set off to town with their skins and hides. When he arrived at the market, and the tanners asked what he wanted for his hides, Big Peter said "eight hundred dollars for the small ones, and more for the big ones." But they all laughed at him and made fun of him, and said he should not have come there, that he could get a better bargain at the madhouse. Thus he soon found out that Little Peter had tricked him.

But when he got home again he was not very gentle; he swore and cursed, threatening to strike Little Peter dead that very night. Little Peter stood and listened to all this. After he had gone to bed with his mother, and the night had worn on a little, he asked her to change sides with him, saying that he was cold and that it would be warmer next to the wall. Yes, she did that, and a little later Big Peter came with an ax in his hand, crept up to the bedside, and with one blow chopped off his mother's head.

The next morning, Little Peter went into Big Peter's room.

"Heaven help you," he said. "You have chopped our mother's head off. The sheriff will not be pleased to hear that you are paying mother's pension in this way."

Then Big Peter became terribly frightened, and he begged Little Peter, for God's sake, to say nothing about what he knew. If he would only keep still, he should have eight hundred dollars.

Well, Little Peter swept up the money; set his mother's head on her body again; put her on a sled, and pulled her to market. There he set her up with an apple basket on each arm, and an apple in each hand. By and by a skipper came walking along; he thought she was a market woman, and asked if she had apples to sell, and how many he might have for a penny. But the old woman did not answer. So the skipper asked again. No! She said nothing.

"How many may I have for a penny?" he cried the third time, but the old woman sat there, as though she neither saw nor heard him. Then the skipper flew into a rage and slapped her, causing her head to roll across the marketplace. At that moment, Little Peter came running. Weeping and wailing, and threatened to make trouble for the skipper, for having killed his old mother.

"Dear friend, keep still about what you know," said the skipper, "and I'll give you eight hundred dollars," and thus they made a deal.

When Little Peter got home again, he said to Big Peter, "Old women were bringing a good price at the market today; I got eight hundred dollars for our mother," and he showed him the money.

"It is good that I came to know this," said Big Peter. He had an old mother-in-law, and he killed her, and then set forth to sell her. But when people heard how he was trying to sell dead bodies, they wanted to hand him over to the sheriff, and it was all he could do to escape.

When Big Peter arrived home again, he was so angry with Little Peter, that he threatened to strike him dead there and then, without mercy.

"Yes, indeed" said Little Peter, "we must all go this way, and between today and tomorrow there is only the night. But if I must set off now, I've only one thing to ask; put me into that sack that's hanging over there, and carry me to the river."

Big Peter had nothing against that; he stuffed him into the sack, and set off. But he hadn't gone far before it came into his mind that he had forgotten something which he had to go back and fetch; meanwhile, he set the sack down by the side of the road. Just then came a man driving a big flock of fine sheep,

To the Kingdom of Heaven, to Paradise.
To the Kingdom of Heaven, to Paradise!
cried out Little Peter from inside the sack, and he kept mumbling and muttering the same words over and over.

"May I not go with you?" asked the man with the sheep.

"Of course you may," said Little Peter. "Just untie the sack, and trade places with me, and you'll get there enough. I can wait until next time. But you must keep on calling out what I was saying, or you'll not go to the right place."

Then the man untied the sack, and took Little Peter's place. Peter tied the sack up again, and the man began to cry out,

To the Kingdom of Heaven, to Paradise.
To the Kingdom of Heaven, to Paradise!
and repeated the saying over and over again.

After Peter got him positioned in the sack, he wasn't slow; off he went with the flock of sheep, making a broad turn. Meantime, Big Peter, returned, took the sack on his shoulders, and carried it to the river, and all the while he went, the shepherd sat inside crying:

To the Kingdom of Heaven, to Paradise!

"Yes, indeed! Now try now to find the way for yourself," said Big Peter, and with that he tossed him out into the stream.

When Big Peter had done that, and was going back home, he met his brother, who was driving the flock of sheep before him. Big Peter could hardly believe his eyes, and asked how Little Peter had gotten out of the river, and where he had found the fine flock of sheep.

"That was an act of brotherly love that you did for me when you threw me into the river," answered Little Peter. I sank right down to the bottom like a stone, and there I saw flocks of sheep, believe me. Down there they go about by the thousands; each flock is finer than the others. And just see what splendid wool they have!"

That is good of you to tell me that, said Big Peter. Then he ran home to his wife; made her come with him to the river; crept into a sack, and asked her to quickly tie it up, and throw him over the bridge.

"I'm going after a flock of sheep," he said. "If I stay too long, it's because I can't manage the flock by myself; then you'll have to jump in and help me."

"Well, don't stay too long," said his wife, "for I am looking forward to those sheep."

She stood there and waited a while, but then she thought that her husband couldn't gather the flock together, and so she jumped in after him.

Now Little Peter was rid of them all, and he inherited their farm and fields, and horses and tools too; and besides, he had money enough to buy cattle as well.

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Revised January 5, 2020.