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  1. Fortunate Cricket
  2. The Snake, the Fox and the Man

Fortunate Cricket

There was once a family people called the Crickets, perhaps because the father was stocky and dark like a cricket. Good people they were, but they didn't get much of a living out of their bit of soil that had more rocks in it than earth. You could see the crickets scampering between the tufts of grass. The parents kept the eldest to take over the farm. But as soon as the second son was old enough, they explained to him that he'd have to go elsewhere to seek his fortune.

He sought his fortune wherever he could. Skinny and hungry he was, but he could run like a goat, and he ran and ran, and looked and looked. But he did not soon find his fortune. All over the countryside he worked, and ended up peddling thread and almanacs. He dined whenever he found food, but the poor boy was as thin as a rail still. It seemed to him he'd been hungry ever since he was born. At nights, when he'd try to fall asleep on an empty stomach behind a bush or in the hollow of a rick of wheat, he always thought: "If only I could eat and sleep at ease, all I want, for three days, I wouldn't care if they hung me afterwards. I'd at least have had three days of good meals."

The idea of eating three royal meals bored into his brain like a worm into an apple. One day he noticed the people he met were talking of something that had just happened in the biggest castle thereabouts. That morning the lady had had it cried abroad that she had lost her treasured gold and diamond ring. She promised a fine reward to anyone who helped her find it.

Somehow this prospect of a reward and the desperate desire to eat a good dinner, hooked themselves up in the younger Cricket boy's head. He saw his chance: "Look sharp now, Cricket, you've got to jump at it. You may try to find the ring and fail and not try so that you go on living like you do, starving all the time, so there may not be much to lose anyway."

On the way out of the village, he sat down in a little wood. There he thought things over again,and set out resolutely for the castle.

A maid opened the door. He showed his almanacs, then managed to let out that he was a bit of a diviner. Divining was a gift that ran in his family. If the lady liked, he might well be able to help her find that diamond ring. Oh yes, he'd find it for her, no doubt about it, if he could just eat for three days at the castle.

The maid listened well, then signaled him to follow her, then rushed to the lady. From the hall outside, even before she opened the door, she cried, "Madam, there's a magician here who's going to find you your diamond!"

"Yes, madam," added Cricket, "all I need is to dine here three times." That was all the poor fellow wanted.

Anxious as the lady was to get back her diamond, she agreed right away. Three dinners? Fine. And the should be real dinners. Young Cricket would be served both fish and meat. He would spend three days and three nights in the castle, eating like a great lord during the day, and sleeping at night in a feather bed. The lady asked just one thing: that on the fourth day he should tell her where she might find her lost ring.

For the moment, Cricket cared no more about that ring than about his first pair of pants. His main concern was to clean off dishes and empty bottles for three days on end to still his hunger.

The first day, they sat him down at table with the castle people, and brought his a whole suckling pig, crispy and golden brown; and after that, everything you could imagine in the way of meats roasted, boiled, or cured, of game, and of stews or skewered morsels. He didn't leave his share of these dishes to the dogs. He ate everything they offered him, and all he said was, "Bring on a little more."

Finally he got up from table, the last of all, and happily patted his stomach. The valet, just behind him, heard him say, "That's one I've got, of the three!"

Next day he appeared again, looking like a man who had thoroughly digested last night's dinner. Another valet brought him different dishes - nothing was too salty or too hot, for he ate like a horse, he drank to match. And at last he got up from table and patted his stomach again as he had the evening before. "That's two I've got now, of the three!"

The third day, at dinnertime, he got to work again at the table. Still another valet brought him dishes,as delicious as ever. At last he arose from the table and patted his stomach expansively. "Now I've got all three of them!"

But that evening, in his feather bed, he didn't fall asleep too quickly. He couldn't help thinking about what awaited him the next day.

"Well," he told himself, "I've had three good days, and I'll have one more good night." Then he fell asleep.

Suddenly he woke up. Someone was tugging at his arm. By the moonlight pouring into his room, he recognized the three valets who ha served him those dinners. They had found the ring on the tablecloth where the lady had left it when she washed her hands on sitting down to eat. They knew the magician had asked for three meals to solve the mystery, and had also heard him say after the first meal, "That's one I've got, of the three," "That's two I've got now, of the three," and on the third day, "Now I've got all three of them." And each time the valet who served him, thought that he had been found out, and did not dare to go near Cricket again at the table. They had put their heads together that third night and beg the magician for mercy. There they were, kneeling before him on the floor, begging him to keep it all quiet.

His first thought had been that the lady had sent them to seize him, and it had made him shake all over for a little. But when the valets fell on their knees and implored, ""You found us out, sir! Here is the diamond ring. We will pay you for not giving us away!" They offerend him in turn two, four and six crowns each.

He said, "Everyone can make a mistake, but to betray one's master's confidence like that! And you: the ring, your lady's ring! A hemp necktie, that's what all three of you deserve."

The valets, still kneeling, began shivering there in the moonlight.

"Oh, pity, sir! We'll never steal from our masters again in all our lives!"

"All right, then. I'll have six good crowns from each. A man may at timesforgive others' sins. But what am I going to tell the lady? Hmm, I think I have an idea. Give me my trousers and take me down to the barnyard."

The lady had hardly slept that night, for she had such a fervent hope of getting back her ring. In the morning she summoned the magician.

He came before her, hat in hand, and announced that he thought he knew where the diamond ring could be found. They should simply parade before him all the livestock from the poultry yard, and he'd speak more precisely.

The lady led the way with her maid. Next came the valets, then the swineherd and the turkey girl, then the scullery boys and the kitchenmaids. Down they all trooped and lined up in the poultry yard, together with the chickens, the guinea fowl, the ducks and drakes, and the geese and ganders. Every one of them had to parade past the magician. He never moved. Finally, a great big goose came waddling along a goose as fat as the mother of all geese. The magician stopped her with his hazel switch.

"There you are, madam," he said. "I'll be much mistaken if you don't find your diamond in this goose's gizzard. Didn't you come down here one evening last week and throw the poultry some feed?"

"Certainly, I come here every evening."

"Well then, madam, your ring might have slipped into the feed. And when you tossed it out, your ring could have gone with it and a goose might have gulped it down. Now, have the goose opened up. I would like to see if the ring is in her."

He was quite sure of that, for with the help of the valets he had forced the ring down that goose's throat himself the night before.

The cook slit the goose open that minute. There the diamond ring was in the gizzard. The lady was so happy that she had no words to thank Cricket. She pulled out her purse, took a fistful of perhaps sixty crowns, and dropped them into his hands. Not a word did she say meanwhile, but sixty crowns talk too!

At this point the lord of the castle came back from Paris. The lady rushed to him. After they'd kissed and asked after each other's health, she took him straight to the garden, and there she told him all that had happened.

The lord listened, twirling his mustache. "A diviner, is he?" said he. "Aha! I'd like to see what he looks like!"

"Dear husband, this man worked wonders!"

"Well, just don't believe it. I'd like to see him do some divining. Now, now, run after him and bring him back! We'll see what happens."

Cricket was on his way home with the crowns in his pocket, just as pleased as a king. They ran after him.

"Come, come! Our master wants you!"

"So, you're the diviner?" said the lord. "Well, you're going to tell me what I have in my fist. Sixty crowns are yours if you can do it. If you can't, you'll have sixty blows of the rod."

Cricket suddenly wanted very much to confess that he was just like anyone else. Mind reeling, he stared at this fist with the mystery in it. He could already feel the rod on his back.

"Oh!" he blurted, "This looks very bitter to me!"

The lord opened his palm. There was a bitter plum that he'd picked off the nearest branch. He silently counted out sixty crowns and gave them to the magician.

You can imagine Cricket's relief. But he was just making a quick exit when he heard himself called back again.

"Perhaps you were just lucky," said the lord. "I'm still not quite convinced. Let's double the stakes. If you divine what I have in my fist this time, you'll have a hundred and twenty crowns. If not, my servants will take you out and hang you."

Cricket twisted his brain and was not wiser for it. Finally, he gave up and cried out, "Poor Cricket, they've got you now!"

The lord opened his hand. There was a cricket that he'd just caught in a flowerbed.

"Well divined, my friend!"

Now it rained crowns, with an invitation to stay for dinner and eat the fat goose.

Armed with all those crowns, Cricket asked to marry the nice chambermaid, and luck was with him. The wedding was celebrated the next day.

He was no sooner married than he let it be known that he had lost the gift, and he never played diviner again. But he had pastures and farmland, plenty of cows, and more children than he knew what to do with. Finally, people gave him the name of the property where he had settled, and called him Master de Cricket of Cricketon.

[Retold from Pourrat]

TO TOP

The Snake, the Fox, and the Man

There was once a man who was coming home through the woods. Walking under a pine tree, he heard someone call his name. It was a big snake. The snake had crept up the tree, from branch to branch, and now was wound around the very top. It could not get back down again.

"But snake, if I help you out of the tree, you'll bite me as soon as you're back down, won't you."

"Oh no - I promise."

Gripping with his knees and pulling with his arms, the man clambered up to the top of the tree. "Wrap yourself around my neck," he told the snake. "Don't worry, you won't fall."

The man clambered down again with his snake necktie on, and jumped to the ground.

"And now," said the snake, "I want to bite you!"

"But you promised you wouldn't bite me!"

"Have you heard a snake is upright?"

"No, no, I won't take that! We must get a judgment!"

Just then a fox popped out from among the rocks and junipers of the ravine.

"Tell us, fox. Is it right to harm someone who has helped you?" said the man.

"Well," replied the fox, "that depends on one thing and another. Let's see. Tell me what happened."

They told him. He thought it all over and flicked his ears.

"Listen," he said, "this is rather a special case. If I'm to judge it properly, I'll have to have you two go back to where you were when you first met."

The snake went to the pine tree and slithered up to the top.

"Is that how you were a while ago, all the way up there?"

"Yes, fox."

"All right, snake, then stay there!"

The man thanked the fox. "That was a spot of trouble you got me out of!" he said. "I won't forget what you've done for me. I'll run home and bring you something!"

The fox waited among the junipers, licking his chops. But when the fox saw the man returning with a gun, he said to himself, "I won't wait. After all, a judge shouldn't take gifts."

He stole off that minute and disappeared. "Do a good turn to someone who is not upright and decent, and watch out for what may be your lot in return.

[Adapted, from Pourrat]

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