The Three Peaches
Once there lived a king who had one daughter. She was beautiful but very wilful. Many young princes fell in love with her and wished to marry her, but she refused all of them with a toss of the head. At last, in despair, her father said to her, “How will you know which one you wish to marry in the end?”
“I shall marry whoever brings me at Christmas a beautiful ripe peach plucked straight from the tree,” she said.
This was soon known throughout the kingdom, and everyone said, “That is as much as to say she will never marry anyone.”
In the country, there lived a good man who had three sons. The eldest was a shoemaker, the second was a tailor, and the youngest was a scullery lad in the royal kitchens.
It happened that on Christ- mas Eve the old father was passing through the wood, and to his surprise, he saw three magnificent ripe peaches hanging from the branch of a tree. Quickly he plucked them and returned home.
He called his eldest son and gave him one of the peaches. “Put on your best clothes and take them at once to the princess,” he said.
The young man did as he was told. He put the peach in a delicate basket and set out to take it to the princess. On the way through the wood, he met a strange older man. “What have you got in your basket?” the old man asked.
“That is none of your business,” replied the young man rudely and went on his way.
When he reached the palace, he presented the basket to the princess. She opened it and removed the leaves which covered the peach, but to her horror, she found that the fruit was rotten, unpleasant to look at and to touch.
The king was furious and ordered the young man to be beaten as a punishment.
Sad and subdued, the young man returned home and told all that had happened to him.
Then the father called his second son and gave him one of the peaches. “Put on your best clothes and take them to the princess,” he said.
The young man did so, and on his way through the wood, he too met the strange older man, who asked him what was in his basket. “Mind your own business,” said the young man rudely and went.
When he reached the palace, he presented his basket to the princess, but when she pulled aside the leaves, she found the peach was rotten and mildewed, unpleasant to smell and look at. The second young man was beaten as a punishment for daring to offer such a gift to the princess, and he, too, returned home sad and subdued.
The old father drew out the third peach and gave it to his third son, telling him to take it to the princess. He, too, met the funny older man on his way through the wood.
“What have you in your basket?” asked the old man.
“I have a fine, ripe peach,” the young kitchen boy replied. “I am taking it to the princess because I hope she will marry me when she has seen it.”
“You are a fine young man, kind and courteous,” said the old man. “Here, take this tiny whistle. You have only to blow on it, and everyone who hears will follow you.”
The young man thanked him, took the whistle, and went to the king’s palace. He gave his basket to the princess, and a delicate, ripe peach was inside it.
The princess was horrified at the thought of marrying a mere scullery lad, so she quickly said, “I will marry you but on one condition. In the royal park are one hundred hares. You must take them to the pasture, guard them carefully for a week, and bring them back without losing one. If you do this successfully, I will marry you.”
The young man went to the pasture, and when he blew his magic whistle, the hares followed wherever he went so that he had no difficulty keeping them together. On the third day, the princess, disguised as a servant girl and riding a little donkey, visited him.
“Will you sell me one of those fine hares?” she asked.
“No, they are not for sale,” said the young man. “I will give you one if you kiss your donkey on the muzzle.”
The princess wrinkled up her nose at this, but she was so upset at the thought of marrying an ordinary scullery lad that she finally did so and went away with a hare under her arm.
However, before she had gone very far, the young man blew a blast on his magic whistle, and the hare leapt to the ground and raced back to join the others.
The next day, the queen arrived, disguised as a maid, but she had no more success. On the third day, the king disguised himself as a groom and tried to get one of the hares, but again without success.
At the end of the week, the young man returned, and not one of the hares was missing; the king, however, still refused to let his daughter marry a scullery lad. “First, bring me three sacks full of truth, then you can marry my daughter,” he said.
The young man went away and puzzled over this. Suddenly the older man from the forest appeared before him.
“Take three sacks and return to the king,” he said. “Tell him about the three visitors you had at the pasture, who each wanted to buy a hare. They were the princess, the queen and the king in disguise. As you tell each story, blow your whistle, and they will jump into the sack.”
The young man went back to the king with the three sacks. He told the story of his first visitor, who had pretended to be a servant girl and had agreed to kiss her donkey on the muzzle to get one of the hares. As he did so, he blew his whistle, and the princess jumped into the sack. Then he told how he had been visited by a maid who wanted to buy a hare, and when he blew his whistle, the queen jumped into the sack.
“Enough, enough,” cried the king, but the young man went on to tell of the groom who had come to him, and when he blew his whistle, the king jumped into the third sack.
“You have told the truth. You shall marry my daughter at once,” cried the king, greatly alarmed, so the young man let them out of the three sacks, and the wedding was arranged in grand style.
The princess soon found that she had such a kind, clever and honest young man. She had to marry a scullery lad for a husband she was not sorry for.