a poor peasant named peter lived a long time ago in the old forest.
he lived with a cow, named elizabeth, a rooster, named ralph, and three hens, named faith , hope and charity.
one night the archangel jehudiel appeared to peter and told him he had only a short time to live.
this was not a surprise to peter as he was not so young as he had been, but he took the heavenly messenger’s words to heart.
he decided to take elizabeth the cow, a faithful beast who had served him well, to market, and attempt to trade her for a young wife.
he found a surprising number of young women available, as times were hard and poor folk were divesting themselves of extra mouths to feed.
but despite this, peter found no takers for elizabeth, who, like peter himself, was no longer young.
peter finally found a menacing looking fellow, named moloch, with a supposedly young woman for trade. the woman had a bag over her head and was wearing a baggy garment that completely covered her body.
moloch agreed to trade for elizabeth, but stipulated that peter must take the young woman sight unseen.
when peter objected to this condition, moloch grew angry and asked if peter was impugning, his, moloch’s honor.
frightened, peter agreed to the exchange. he led his new bride back to his hut, as darkness fell.
when they reached the hut, the bride pleaded that she was tired after her long journey, and she retired to a corner of the hut to sleep on some straw, without taking the bag off her head.
peter dozed off.
when he awoke in the morning, he discovered that the bride had turned into a toad, which was staring at him sullenly from a corner of the hut.
peter attempted to trap the toad in the bag the bride had worn over her head, but it evaded him and hopped out of the door of the hut and into the forest which surrounded the hut and peter’s small patch of land.
after he had done cursing his fate, peter decided to take one of the three hens, faith, to the market to see if he could trade her for a young bride, or any kind of bride.
moloch was again at the market, and when peter upbraided him, moloch not only laughed at him, but invited the other denizens of the market to hear the tale and join him in his laughter, which they were happy to do.
but look here, my friend, moloch addressed peter, after wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, i am a just man and will do what i can to make it up to you. here is another bride, perhaps a little less comely than the first, but i will take your scrawny hen in exchange for her, to show you i mean you no ill will.
the second bride, like the first, had a bag over her head and loose garments covering her body, but was much thinner than the first and had a bent back.
wishing to escape the continued laughter of the marketgoers, peter agreed to the exchange, and made his way back to the hut with the second bride, this time with a heavy rain adding to the falling darkness.
the second bride, like the first, made her excuses, and retired to the corner of the hut. peter was too wet and tired to argue with her, and quickly fell asleep himself, expecting the worst in the morning.
his fears were realized when, on awakening, he discovered the new bride had turned into a large spider, which he made no attempt to prevent from leaving the hut.
peter decided to give it one more try. he took the two remaining hens, hope and charity, and set out to the market, under a blue sky.
moloch was at his accustomed spot, and greeted peter like an old friend.
i know i have had my fun, he told peter, but i am ready to make amends. i will happily take these two plump chickens off your hand, and here is what i will give you in return.
a third bride appeared, again with a bag on her head, but at first glance shapelier than the first two.
go ahead, my friend, moloch exclaimed. i have no wish to cheat or deceive you. take the bag off her head yourself.
with trembling hand, peter did as moloch bid. he plucked the bag off the bride’s head, and beheld -
a young woman of radiant beauty, with a pink complexion and long soft blonde locks, who smiled at him enticingly!
what monstrous magic and trickery was this? peter’s blood froze, and he turned and ran back down the road to his hut as fast as his old legs could carry him.
ralph, the rooster, was waiting for him and the two of them escaped into the forest, where, according to different versions of the tale, they either joined a band of wolves, or were devoured by those same wolves.