Petrea The Fool

excerpt What happened, happened; had it not happened, there would be no story to tell. Once, there was a man, who was so rich that he lost count of his riches. He had such a large courtyard that seven times seven carts pulled by oxen could move in circles, and surrounding the courtyard were large houses, barns and granaries, stables and sheds and all sorts of other outhouses; he had wide fields, vineyards and orchards, groves and hayfields; he had plenty of yoked oxen and draught horses, a whole herd of milk cattle, droves of pigs, sheep and goats; one cannot say what he didn't have, for he had plenty of everything. On top of this, God bestowed upon him three sons as well, one worthier than the other: the eldest – no one could be like him, the second eldest – there was no match for him, and the youngest, Petrea – the most foolish for, well, however long he would have lived, he still remained the youngest child. It so happened that the man, rich as he was, lived, like everyone else, as long as the thread of his life lasted, then he died, asking, on his deathbed, that his three sons should divide the riches left to them like brothers, without quarreling."Hmmm! What's that?!" asked Petrea wonderingly. "What do you do when you divide things like brothers?""What do you do?" answered the eldest brother, who was cleverer. "It's very easy! The brotherly partition: divide everything in three and say: 'one for me, one for you and one for him' and make sure that all three parts are equal. Did you understand?""I understood," said Petrea, enlightened. "You said: you take, and you willfully make sure that all is equal.""So that," the second eldest brother, also clever, added "you shouldn't be cheated and neither should you cheat someone else.""Neither, nor!" said Petrea, who now understood completely. After they gave their father an appropriate funeral for a man of his position, the three brothers started the brotherly sharing of the inheritance left to them, "one for me, one for you and one for him."Still, it's harder to do it than to say it. Beside the fact that the things they had to divide were so many and so different that they sat and looked at each other in bewilderment, not knowing where to start and how to go about it, there was something else as well."Well!" said Petrea. "All things are ours and we will divide them one way or another; but where should I put all my things?""You're right!" said the two brothers, the eldest and the second eldest, who were cleverer. "Where should each of us put his things?"It was commonsensical that they should, first of all, divide the large courtyard, so that each of them would have a place to put his things. How should they divide it, though?"The same for me as for you and for him," said Petrea, who was very keen on carrying out his father's will and knew now how to deal with this brotherly sharing.After much trouble, the brothers agreed that the eldest brother, being the oldest, should settle in the right side, Petrea, as the youngest should move to the left, and the second eldest, as being in the middle, should remain in the middle of the courtyard; then they started measuring their parts with their steps, Petrea and the eldest brother going towards the middle and the second eldest towards Petrea, "one for me, one for you and one for him." When Petrea's chest was against his second eldest brother's chest, the sharing was made, and each of them had a place to put his belongings. There was left, however, the middle part, up to the eldest brother's share, but this one was divided between the elder brothers, so that there would be no quarrel."That's right!" said Petrea. "Each of us has his right share: let's move on to the others.""Let's do that!" said his brothers.Since the hens were running in all directions and didn't take heed of the distribution made, and were scratching both here and there, they decided to divide them, so that each of them should keep his in his own part of the courtyard."One for me, one for you and one for him – nothing easier." At last, a rooster was left: what should they do with it?I'll take it, you take it, he takes it…"Let's kill it, pluck out its feathers, roast it and eat it!" said Petrea.One could not have seen a more brotherly sharing.They cut its throat, pluck its feathers, thrust a spit into it and roast it."Wait!" Petrea shouted. "Since I was at the margin before, let me be in the middle this time.""All right," the eldest brother said and grabbed a leg; the second eldest grabbed another leg, and Petrea was left with the rump; the eldest brother – a wing and half of the chest, the second eldest the other wing and half of the chest, and Petrea was left with the neck, on which there is so much meat, as they say, that no one can peck it all.Once they started this way, they carried on like this and divided everything in the house and around the household, ducks, geese, turkey hens, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, oxen and tools of all sorts, and things from inside the house; for days on end they kept saying "one for me, one for you and one for him" and each of them took his rightful share, as it suits brothers.Eventually, they had to divide the house, the barns, the hangars, the stables, the sheds and the other outhouses that lay around the wide courtyard."That's it!" the eldest and cleverest brother said. "How should we divide the house, which is big, beautiful and very wide, but it's only one?!""Right, you see!?" said the second eldest brother. "How should each of us take his share?"Petrea looked in amazement at each of them in turn."How?!" he said. "The same way we divided the others: one for me, one for you and one for him and you make sure that they are equal."They twisted it and turned it, they thought it over and over, weighed things up on and on, and finally came to realize, as they were sensible people, that the only solution was to pull down the houses and barns, the stables and sheds, hangars and the other outhouses and each of them should take his share: "one for me, one for you and one for him."Thus, they started toiling and sweated that day and the following days, and they didn't give up until the brotherly allotment was made."That's well done!," the eldest and more sensible brother said. "Much was there to be done and little is now left: let's go to the fields and orchards, now, to the vineyards and groves, hayfields and grazing grounds." "Let's go!" said the second eldest brother."Let's go!" said Petrea, who also understood that this was the only thing left.However, there is no way to reconcile people when they have something to share. Even if they are brothers, they quarrel for God knows what trifle when something goes against their wish.The three brothers went out and started to measure their share, using the method they had used before with the steps, "one for me, one for you and one for him." They divided the vineyard as well, log by log, and the orchards – tree by tree, and the groves – pollard by pollard and bush by bush, but when they got to the grazing ground where the cattle herd was grazing, they got tangled. They divided, of course, the cows and calves, also "one for me, one for you and one for him," "one here, one there and one over there." There was, however, the bull as well, only one in the whole herd and what a bull that was: however long you might have searched and whatever you might have chosen, you could not find such a big bull, with such a wide chest and strong nape, with a small head and big thorny horns, and with such large eyes that would set you running the moment you looked into them. If you searched all kingdoms, you could not find such a bull."What do we do with this one?" asked the eldest brother, who knew what a fine bull meant – nothing less that a nice reputation."That's right, you see, what are we going to do with this one?!" asked the second eldest brother, who also knew."What can we do?!" answered Petrea. "We do what we did with the rooster: we kill it, skin it, roast it and eat it.""God forbid!" the two brothers shouted in one voice. "The rooster is a rooster, the bull is a bull!"Yes, we do, no, we don't; one said something, the other said something else: each of them wanted the bull to remain alive and to be his, and only his, and the brothers would have started a fight if God hadn't given Petrea a good thought."You know what?" he said. "Let's leave this to the one who's lucky. Let's build a stable for each of us and when the stables are ready, we will let the bull out: whose stable it will enter, his will be the bull!""Done!" said the other two, who had no doubt that they would know how to set things so that the bull will enter their stable.The eldest brother, extremely clever, looked for the most famous masons and masters of all kinds and made a deal with them to build the finest stable that had ever been, with all sorts of turrets and fleurettes, so that the bull would run to it with its eyes closed, after having seen it.The second eldest brother didn't want to fall behind either, and peeked at his brother's stable, to make sure that his stable would be finer than the one of his elder brother.Petrea, foolish as he was, peeked as well, but sat bemused; he didn't know how to begin, what to do next, and he put things off until the next day and the day after. In vain did the other two rush him, for he was always saying: "It's my business! Starting tomorrow, you won't need to worry about a thing!"After the elder brothers finished their stables, each of them so beautiful that you were left speechless, they didn't want to wait any longer and Petrea had no choice but to scrape up something that looked like a stable. Hence, he went to his grove, cut some trees, loaded three carts of branches with leaves and quickly put up some kind of shelter with the walls made of boscage and the roof of green mace reed.His brothers were laughing stealthily, but he was also laughing with joy when he looked at the beautiful greenery.But when they brought the bull and let it loose in the middle, between the three stables and let it choose the shelter at its own liking, guess what happened?!It was a warm summer day, a little sultry; midges of all kinds stormed in on the poor dumb animal, who kept shaking its head and defending itself, as much as possible, by waving its tail. However fine and strong, it still had the nature of an ox, and saw neither the turrets, nor the fleurettes, but kept walking here and there through the courtyard for some time, then headed directly for the greenery shadow and entered Petrea's hut, and in such a way did it enter that not even with a fire whip could one have taken it out.The two brothers, the eldest and the second eldest, were flabbergasted, outraged, fuming."Stupid dumb animal!" the eldest brother said. "So, to put it bluntly, that's it: it came to you, Petrea, and it's yours.""That's right, you see, that's it!" said the second eldest brother. "It went there senselessly and there's nothing you can do about it."It's not without reason people say that the fool and luck walk on the same road and they always meet.Quite some grudge felt the two elder brothers when they saw Petrea taking pride in his bull! Leaving aside the fact that each of them craved for it, such a fine bull was not for the mug of a dolt like Petrea. What could he do? How could he take care of it?!"Petrea," said the eldest brother, "let's do something sensible: give me the bull and I will give you the fourth part of my share in return.""I will give you the same, if you give it to me!" shouted the second eldest brother. "I am only human."Petrea looked at each of his brothers in turn, baffled. He would have given the bull with all his heart, to prevent the quarrel, but he didn't know to whom of the two he should give it, as the sharing had been made in a brotherly way, and the fourth part of one was exactly the fourth part of the other."Well! What is there to be done?" he said. "He who gives more shall have and keep it.""I'll give you half!" shouted the eldest."I'll give you half, too!" shouted the second eldest."I'll give you three quarters!" shouted the eldest."I'll give you exactly the same!" shouted the second eldest obstinately."I'll give you everything I have!""Me too!"This is how people are when they hold on to one thing: even if they are brothers, they will not step aside or give up and if the eldest brother would have given his fur cap as well, the second eldest brother would have given his, too. Peace and brotherly understanding was not possible any more unless Petrea kept the bull for himself.Not even.Whenever Petrea took his bull out to the grazing field and the two brothers saw it, the quarrel was on. It was enough for the second eldest brother to look at the bull, that the eldest blew his top and shouted: "Why are you looking at it like this?! Forget it, it's not yours!""But it's not yours either!" the second eldest brother replied, and from then onwards, the quarrel grew stronger and bigger, that the night would find them insulting each other.And if the second eldest brother did not look at the bull and pretended not to care, the eldest became green with envy and shouted:"Can't you see it? You, blind fool!""It doesn't matter, you do!" the other one replied and again, the quarrel grew stronger and bigger. "Alas!" Petrea said to himself. "What a big nuisance this bull is! What shall I do with it, to get rid of the squabble?! It would have been better still, if we had slain it, as I had said."Woe would have been on him, if he had dared to thrust the knife in its chest, for the eldest and the second eldest brothers would have cut him to pieces."I shall go to the fair and sell it to the one who offers more, so as to get rid of it," he said.This is exactly what he did.One morning, when he took it out to the grazing field, he didn't make it stop where the cows were, but left with it for the fair, to sell it.Petrea at the fair! Big trouble! The dolt of the fair, for sure.Petrea had never been at the fair before, didn't know what the fair is like, and how people bargain: he only knew from hearsay that there are many people at the fair and even more chatting, that one of them asks and the other answers, and that the one who wants to sell lets the price down if he isn't given the sum asked first."Leave it to me, I can handle it," he said to himself. "No one will fool me."Taking the country road, which led to the fair, he walked slowly, as someone who was in no rush and knew his own business, the bull trotting ahead and he following it, the bull bellowing from time to time, and he – whistling here, playing the leaf there.After some time, he started running into people who were coming back from the fair."Good to see you, coz!" said one, more willing to start a conversation. "Fine bull! Are you taking it to the fair? Is it for sale? How much do you ask?""Oops! I came to the fair!" Petrea said to himself. "Now, hold on and don't give in.""Thank you, sir!" he replied to the passer-by. "It is, and I am taking it there, and I demand one thousand lei, one hundred pence and ten rhinos – and I demand this much so that I can let it down eventually.""A lot of money, but the bull is fine," said the man, who had no intention of buying, and minded his own business.After a while, Petrea came across another man."This is how it is at the fair: one leaves and another one comes," he said to himself."Fine bull!" said this one, too. "It is for sale and you're taking it to the fair: how much do you ask for it?""Nine hundred ninety-nine lei, ninety-nine pence and nine rhinos," answered Petrea, to show that he knew how to haggle.The passer-by looked at him from the corner of his eye and minded his way.Again, Petrea came across another passer-by, and then another, and at each and every step he met someone, he met many, and all said that the bull was fine and asked how much he demanded for it, and he, a man who knew how to haggle, let the price down every time, and kept doing so until he had nothing to let down from."What a big trouble this bull is to me!" he said to himself, embittered. "Everyone asks, but no one wants to make a deal. What's wrong with this bull that no one wants to buy it?!"He would have been capable of giving it for free in the long run, only to get rid of it.Look, finally, someone who wanted to buy it.The man fretted and turned around the bull.He looked at its chest and said:"Fine chest!"He looked at the nape and said:"Lovely nape!"He looked at the head and the horns and said:"What a head, what horns – that's more like it! Well, how much do you ask?""One leu," Petrea answered, "and one penny and one rhino: I have nothing left to let down from."The man frowned at him."Speak sensibly," he said "and don't mock at me. The bull is too fine for you to sell it at such a price and it is clear you take me for the wrong person.""Right!" Petrea said to himself, enlivened. "Now I know why no one wants to buy it: it is too good-looking and they are all afraid, obviously, that it will be the cause for squabble, as it was for me, at home.""Come later," he said to the man, "we'll make a deal."After the man went his way and took some distance, Petrea found a way and tore down one of the two horns, so that no one could say they were too good-looking."Fine bull!" said one passer-by. "Too bad it's got only one horn."Again, Petrea found a way and tore down the second horn, too, so that people's eyes should not fall on it any longer. He walked on, like this, with the hornless sloven bull. He strutted along, haughtily, like someone who knew how to do a good job. Now, however, the passers-by moved along without asking if he sold the bull or not and how much he demanded."One can tell that the big ears, hanging sideways, and one can see them from afar, are not to their liking," he said and cut off first the bull's right ear and then the left one, and finally the tail as well, so that nothing should be hanging.One was overwhelmed with pity when one looked at the poor dumb animal, mangled and maimed, but Petrea was still strutting behind it, for he knew that no one would now say it was too good-looking, no one will squabble for it.But even so, no one asked him any more what the price was, and he got tired of walking it and following behind."Poor me!" he said to himself. "Why did this bull come upon me as a nuisance?! I feel like hitting it in the head, and get it over and done with!"He didn't do this, but, in order to set things right with the bull, he did what he could and he broke off one of its back legs, so that the poor bovine was limping and could hardly walk from one place to the next.

by Ioan Slavici (1848-1925)