Once upon a time there was a youth named Peter. He was the son of a rich farmer but on his father's death his stepmother robbed him of his inheritance and drove him out into the world, penniless and destitute.
"Begone with you now!" she shouted. "Never let me see your face again!"
"Where shall I go?" Peter asked.
"Go to the Devil, for all I care!" the stepmother cried and slammed the door in his face.
Peter felt very sad at being driven away from the farm that had always been his home, but he was an able-bodied lad, industrious and energetic, and he thought he would have no trouble making his way in the world.
He tramped to the next village and stopped at a big farmhouse. The farmer was standing at the door, eating a great hunk of buttered bread.
Peter touched his hat respectfully and said:
"Let every one praise Lord Jesus!"
"Until the Day of Judgment!" Then in a different tone he demanded: "What do you want?"
"I'm looking for work," Peter said. "Do you need a laborer?"
Peter was well dressed for he had on the last clothes his kind father had given him. The farmer looked him over and sneered.
"A fine laborer you would make! You would do good work at meals—I see that, and spend the rest of your time at cards and teasing the maids! I know your kind!"
Peter tried to tell the farmer that he was industrious and steady but with an oath the farmer told him to go to the Devil. Then stepping inside the house he slammed the door in Peter's face.
In the next village he applied for work at the bailiff's house. The bailiff's wife answered his knock.
"The master is playing cards with two of his friends," she said. "I'll go in and ask him if he has anything for you to do."
Peter heard her speak to some one inside and then a rough voice bellowed out:
Without waiting for the bailiff's wife, Peter turned away. Tired and discouraged he took a path into the woods and sat down.
"There doesn't seem to be any place for me in all the world," he thought to himself. "They all tell me to go to the Devil—my stepmother, the farmer, and now the bailiff. If I knew the way to hell I think I'd take their advice. I'm sure the Devil would treat me better than they do!"
Just then a handsome gentleman, dressed in green, walked by. Peter touched his hat politely and said:
"Let every one praise Lord Jesus."
The man passed him without responding. Then he looked back and asked Peter why he looked so discouraged.
"I have reason to look discouraged," Peter said. "Everywhere I ask for work they tell me to go to the Devil. If I knew the way to hell I think I'd take their advice and go."
The stranger smiled.
"But if you saw the Devil, don't you think you'd be afraid of him?"
Peter shook his head.
The man suddenly turned black.
"Look at me!" he cried. "Here I am, the very person we've been talking about!"
With no show of fear Peter looked the Devil up and down.
Then the Devil said that if Peter still wished to enter his service, he would take him. The work would be light, the Devil said, and the hours good, and if Peter did as he was told he would have a pleasant time. The Devil promised to keep him seven years and at the end of that time to make him a handsome present and set him free.
Peter shook hands on the bargain and the Devil, taking him about the waist, whisked him up into the air, and, pst! before Peter knew what was happening, they were in hell.
The Devil gave Peter a leather apron and led him into a room where there were three big cauldrons.
"Now it's your duty," the Devil said, "to keep the fires under these cauldrons always burning. Keep four logs under the first cauldron, eight logs under the second, and twelve under the third. Be careful never to let the fires go out. And another thing, Peter: you're never to peep inside the cauldrons. If you do I'll drive you away without a cent of wages. Don't forget!"
So Peter began working for the Devil and the treatment he received was so much better than that which he had had on earth that, sometimes, it seemed to him he was in heaven rather than hell. He had plenty of good food and drink and, as the Devil had promised him, the work was not heavy.
For companions he had the young apprentice devils, a merry black crew, who told droll stories and played amusing pranks.
Time passed quickly. Peter was faithful at his work and never once peeped under the lids of his three cauldrons.
At last he began to grow homesick for the world and one day he asked the Devil how much longer he had still to serve.
"Tomorrow," the Devil told him, "your seven years are up."
The next day while Peter was piling fresh logs under the cauldrons, the Devil came to him and said:
"Today, Peter, you are free. You have served me faithfully and well and I am going to reward you handsomely. Money would be too heavy for you to carry, so I am going to give you this bag which is a magic bag. Whenever you open it and say: 'Bag, I need some ducats,' the bag will always have just as many as you need. Good luck go with you, Peter. However, I don't believe you'll have a very good time at first for people will think you're a devil. You know you do look pretty black for you haven't washed for seven years and you haven't cut your hair or nails."
"That's true," said Peter. "I just remember I haven't washed ever since I've been down here. I certainly must take a bath and get my hair cut and my nails trimmed."
The Devil shook his head.
"No, Peter, one bath won't do it. Water won't wash off the kind of black you get down here. I know what you must do but I won't tell you just yet. Go up into the world as you are and, if ever you need me, call me. If the people up there ask you who you are, tell them you're the Devil's little brother-in-law. This isn't a joke. It's true as you'll find out some day."
Peter then took leave of all the little black apprentices and the Devil, lifting him on his back, whisked him up to earth and set him down in the forest on exactly the same spot where they had met seven years before.
The Devil disappeared and Peter, stuffing the magic bag in his pocket, walked to the nearest village.
His appearance created a panic. On sight of him the children ran screaming home, crying out:
"The Devil! The Devil is coming!"
Mothers and fathers ran out of the houses to see what was the matter but on sight of Peter they ran in again, barred all the doors and windows, and making the sign of the cross prayed God Almighty to protect them.
Peter went on to the tavern. The landlord and his wife were standing in the doorway. As Peter came toward them, they cried out in fright:
"O Lord, forgive us our sins! The Devil is coming!"
They tried to run away but they tripped over each other and fell down, and before they could scramble to their feet Peter stood before them.
He looked at them for a moment and laughed. Then he went inside the tavern, sat down, and said:
"Landlord, bring me a drink!"
Quaking with fright the landlord went to the cellar and drew a pitcher of beer. Then he called the little herd who was working in the stable.
Yirik took the pitcher of beer and started in. He opened the door and then, as he caught sight of Peter, he dropped the pitcher and fled.
The landlord scolded him angrily.
"What do you mean," he shouted, "not giving the gentleman his beer? And breaking the pitcher, too! The price of it will be deducted from your wages! Draw another pitcher of beer and place it at once before the gentleman."
Yirik feared Peter but he feared the landlord more. He was an orphan, poor lad, and served the landlord for his keep and three dollars a year.
So with trembling fingers he drew a pitcher of beer and then, breathing a prayer to his patron saint, he slowly dragged himself into the tavern.
"There, there, boy," Peter called out kindly. "You needn't be afraid. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not the Devil. I'm only his little brother-in-law."
Yirik took heart and placed the beer in front of Peter. Then he stood still, not daring to raise his eyes.
Peter began asking him about himself, who he was, how he came to be working for the landlord, and what kind of treatment he was receiving. Yirik stammered out his story and as he talked he forgot his fear, he forgot that Peter looked like a devil, and presently he was talking to him freely as one friend to another.
Peter was touched by the orphan's story and, pulling out his magic money bag, he filled Yirik's cap with golden ducats. The boy danced about the room with delight. Then he ran outside and showed the landlord and the people who had gathered the present which the strange gentleman had made him.
"And he says he's not the Devil," Yirik reported, "but only his brother-in-law."
When the landlord heard that Peter really hadn't any horns or a flaming tongue, he picked up courage and going inside he begged Peter to give him, too, a few golden ducats. But Peter only laughed at him.
Peter stayed at the tavern overnight. Just as he fell asleep some one shook his hand and, as he opened his eyes, he saw his old master standing beside him.
"Quick!" the Devil whispered. "Get up and hurry out to the shed! The landlord is about to murder the orphan for his money."
"You sinner!" Peter cried. "I've caught you at last! Off to hell you go with me this instant to stew forever in boiling oil!"
The landlord fainted with terror. Peter dragged him senseless into the house. When he came to himself he fell on his knees before Peter and begged for mercy. He offered Peter everything he possessed if only Peter would grant him another chance and he solemnly vowed that he would repent and give up his evil ways.
At last Peter said:
"Very well. I'll give you another chance provided that, from this time on, you treat Yirik as your son. Be kind to him and send him to school. The moment you forget your promise and treat him cruelly, I'll come and carry you off to hell! Remember!"
There was no need to urge the landlord to remember. From that night he was a changed man. He became honest in all his dealings and he really did treat Yirik as though he were his own son.
Peter stayed on at the tavern and stories about him and his golden ducats began to spread through the country-side. The prince of the land heard of him and sent word that he would like to see him at the castle. Peter answered the prince's messenger that if the prince wished to see him he could come to the tavern.
"Who is this prince of yours," Peter asked the landlord, "and why does he want to see me?"
"He'd probably like to borrow some money from you," the landlord said. "He's deep in debt for he has two of the wickedest, most extravagant daughters in the world. They're the children of his first marriage. They are proud and haughty and they waste the money of the realm as though it were so much sand. The people are crying out against them and their wasteful ways but the prince seems unable to curb them. The prince has a third daughter, the child of his second wife. Her name is Angelina and she certainly is as good and beautiful as an angel. We call her the Princess Linka. There isn't a man in the country that wouldn't go through fire and water for her—God bless her! As for the other two—may the Devil take them!"
Suddenly remembering himself, the landlord clapped his hand to his mouth in alarm.
Peter laughed good-humoredly.
The landlord shook his head.
"Yes, I know, but I must say it seems much the same to me."
One afternoon the prince came riding down to the tavern and asked for Peter. He was horrified at first by Peter's appearance, but he treated him most politely, invited him to the castle, and ended by begging the loan of a large sum of money.
Peter said to the prince:
"I'll give you as much money as you want provided you let me marry one of your daughters."
The prince wasn't prepared for this but he needed money so badly that he said:
"H'm, which one of them?"
"I'm not particular," Peter answered. "Any of them will do."
When he gave the prince some money in advance, the prince agreed and Peter promised to come to the castle the next day to meet his bride to be.
"He isn't so very ugly," the prince said, "really he isn't. If he washed his face and trimmed his hair and nails he'd be fairly good-looking. In fact I rather like him."
He then talked to them very seriously about the state of the treasury and he told them that unless he could raise a large sum of money shortly there was danger of an uprising among the people.
"If you, my daughters, wish to see the peace of the country preserved, if you want to make me happy in my old age, one of you will have to marry this young man, for I see no other way to raise the money."
At this the two older princesses tossed their heads scornfully and laughed loud and long.
"You may rest assured, dear father, that neither of us will marry such a creature! We are the daughters of a prince and won't marry beneath us, no, not even to save the country from ruin!"
"Then I don't know what I'll do," the prince said.
"Father," whispered Linka, the youngest. Her voice quavered and her face turned pale. "Father, if your happiness and the peace of the country depend on this marriage, I will sacrifice myself, God help me!"
"My child! My dear child!" the prince cried, taking Linka in his arms and kissing her tenderly.
The two elder sisters jeered and ha-ha-ed.
"Little sister-in-law of the Devil!" they said mockingly. "Now if you were to marry Prince Lucifer himself that would be something, for at least you would be a princess! But only to be his sister-in-law—ha! ha!—what does that amount to?"
And they laughed with amusement and made nasty evil jokes until poor little Linka had to put her hands to her ears not to hear them.
The next day Peter came to the castle. The older sisters when they saw how black he was were glad enough they had refused to marry him. As for Linka, the moment she looked at him she fainted dead away.
When she revived the prince led her over to Peter and gave Peter her hand. She was trembling violently and her hand was cold as marble.
"Don't be afraid, little princess," Peter whispered to her gently. "I know how awful I look. But perhaps I won't always be so ugly. I promise you, if you marry me, I shall always love you dearly."
Peter saw this and made his visit short. He handed out to the prince as much money as he needed and then, after agreeing to return in eight days for the wedding, he hurried off.
He went to the place where he had met the Devil the first time and called him by name with all his might.
The Devil instantly appeared.
"What do you want, little brother-in-law?"
"I want to look like myself again," Peter said. "What good will it do me to marry a sweet little princess and then have the poor girl faint away every time she looks at me!"
"Very well, brother-in-law. If that is how you feel about it, come along with me and I'll soon make you into a handsome young man."
Peter leaped on the Devil's back and off they flew over mountains and forests and distant countries.
They alighted in a deep forest beside a bubbling spring.
"Now, little brother-in-law," the Devil said, "wash in this water and see how handsome you'll soon be."
Peter threw off his clothes and jumped into the water and when he came out his skin was as beautiful and fresh as a girl's. He looked at his own reflection in the spring and it made him so happy that he said to the Devil:
"Brother-in-law, I'm more grateful to you for this than for all the money you've given me. Now my dear Linka will love me!"
He put his arms about the Devil's neck and off they flew once again. This time they went to a big city where Peter bought beautiful clothes and jewels and coaches and horses. He engaged servants in fine livery and, when he was ready to go to his bride, he had a following that was worthy of any prince.
At the castle the Princess Linka paced her chamber pale and trembling. The two older sisters were with her, laughing heartlessly and making evil jokes, and running every moment to the window to see if the groom were coming.
At last they saw in the distance a long line of shining coaches with outriders in rich livery. The coaches drew up at the castle gate and from the first one a handsome youth, arrayed like a prince, alighted. He hurried into the castle and ran straight upstairs to Linka's chamber.
At first Linka was afraid to look at him for she supposed he was still black. But when he took her hand and whispered: "Dear Linka, look at me now and you won't be frightened," she looked and it seemed to her that Peter was the very handsomest young man in all the world. She fell in love with him on sight and I might as well tell you she's been in love with him ever since.
The two older sisters stood at the window frozen stiff with envy and surprise. Suddenly they felt some one clutch them from behind. They turned in fright and who did they see standing there but the Devil himself!
"Don't be afraid, my dear brides," he said. "I'm not a common fellow. I'm Prince Lucifer himself. So, in becoming my brides you are not losing rank!"
Then he turned to Peter and chuckled.
"You see now, Peter, why you are my brother-in-law. You're marrying one sister and I'm taking the other two!"
With that he picked up the two wicked sisters under his arm and puff! with a whiff of sulphur they all three disappeared through the ceiling.
The Princess Linka as she clung to her young husband asked a little fearfully:
"Not if you make me a good wife," Peter said.
And you can understand what a good wife Linka became when I tell you that never again all her life long did she see the Devil.
Notes: Contains 20 Czechoslovak folktales.
Author: Parker Fillmore
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York