There was once a poor man who had an only son, and the boy was as simple-minded and ignorant as they come. When his father was about to die, he said to the youth, whose name was Joseph, "Son I am dying, and I have nothing to leave you but this cottage and the pear tree beside it."
The father died, and Joseph lived on in the cottage alone, selling the pears from the tree to provide for himself. But once the season for pears was over, it looked as though he would starve to death, since he was incapable of earning his bread any other way. Strangely enough, the season for pears ended, but not the pears. When they’d all been picked, others came out in their place, even in the middle of winter; it was a charmed pear tree that bore fruit all year long, and so the youth was able to go on providing for himself.
On morning Joseph went out a usual to pick the ripe pears and discovered they’d already been picked by somebody else. "How will I manage now?" he wondered. "If people steal my pears, I’m done for. Tonight I shall stay up and keep watch." When it grew dark he stationed himself under the pear tree with his shotgun, but soon fell asleep; he woke up to find that all the ripe pears had been picked. The next night he resumed his watch, but fell asleep right in the middle of it, and the pears were again stolen. The third night, in addition to the shotgun, he carried along a shepherd’s pipe and proceeded to play it under the pear tree. Then he stopped playing, and Giovannuzza the fox, who was stealing the pears, thinking Joseph had fallen asleep, cam running out and climbed the tree.
Joseph aimed his gun at her, and the fox spoke. "Don’t shoot, Joseph. If you give me a basket of pears, I will see to it that you prosper."
"But, Giovannuzza, if I let you have a basketful, what will I then eat myself?"
"Don’t worry, just do as I say, and you will prosper for sure."
So the youth gave the fox a basket of his finest pears, which she then carried to the king.
"Sacred Crown," she said, "my master sends you this basket of pears and begs your gracious acceptance of them."
"Pears at this time of year?" exclaimed the king. "It will be the first time I’ve ever eaten any in this season! Who is your master?"
"Count Peartree," replied Giovannuzza.
"But how does he manage to have pears in this season?" asked the king.
"Oh, he has everything," replied the fox. "He’s the richest man in existence."
"Richer than I am?" asked the king.
"Yes, even richer than you, Sacred Crown."
The king was thoughtful. "What could I give him in return?" he asked.
"Don’t bother, Sacred Crown," said Giovannuzza. "Don’t give it a thought; he’s so rich that whatever present you made him would look paltry."
"Well, in that case," said the king, very embarrassed, "tell Count Peartree I thank him for his wonderful pears."
When he saw the fox back, Joseph exclaimed, "But Giovannuzza, you’ve brought me nothing in return for the pears, and her I am starving to death!"
"Put your mind at rest," replied the fox. "Leave everything to me. Again I tell you that you will prosper!"
A few days later, Giovannuzza said, "You must let me have another basket of pears."
"But, sister, what will I eat if you carry off all my pears?"
"Put your mind at rest and leave everything to me."
She took the basket to the king and said, "Sacred Crown, since you graciously accepted the first basket of pears, my master, Count Peartree, takes the liberty of offering you a second basket."
"I can’t believe it!" exclaimed the king. "Pears freshly picked at this time of year!"
"That’s nothing," replied the fox. "My master takes no account of the pears, he has so much else far more precious."
"But how can I repay his kindness?"
"Concerning that," said Giovannuzza, "he instructed me to convey his request to you for one thing in particular."
"Which is? If Count Peartree is so rich, I can’t imagine what I could do that would be fitting."
"Your daughter’s hand in marriage," said the fox.
The king opened his eyes wide. "But even that is too great an honor for me, since he is so much richer than I am."
"Sacred Crown, if it doesn’t him, why should it worry you? Count Peartree truly wants you daughter, and it makes no difference to him whether the dowry is large or not so large, since no matter how big it is, beside all his wealth it will only be a drop in the bucket."
"Very well, in that case, please ask him to come and dine here."
So Giovannuzza the fox went back to Joseph and said, "I told the king that you are Count Peartree and that you wish to marry his daughter."
"Sister, look at what you’ve done! When the king sees me, he will have me beheaded!"
"Leave everything to me, and don’t worry," replied the fox. She went to a tailor and said, "My master, Count Peartree, wants the finest outfit you have in stock. I will pay you in cash, another time."
The tailor gave her clothing fit for a great lord, and the fox then visited a horse dealer." Will you sell me, for Count Peartree, the finest horse in the lot? We won’t look at prices, payment will be made on the morrow."
Dressed as a great lord and seated in the saddle of a magnificent horse, Joseph rode to the palace, with the fox running ahead of him. "Giovannuzza," he cried, "when the king speaks to me, what shall I reply? I’m too scared to say a word in front of important people."
"Let me do the talking and don’t worry about a thing. All you need to say is, ‘Good day’ and ‘Sacred Crown,’ and I’ll fill in the rest."
They arrived at the palace, where the king hastened up to Count Peartree, greeting him with full honors. "Sacred Crown," said Joseph.
The king escorted him to the table, where his beautiful daughter was already seated. "Good day," said Count Peartree.
They sat down and began talking, but Count Peartree didn’t open his mouth. "Sister Giovannuzza," whispered the king to the fox, "has the cat got your master’s tongue?"
"Oh, you know, Sacred Crown, when a man has so much land and so much wealth to think about, he worries all the time."
So, throughout the visit, the king was careful not to disturb Count Peartree’s thoughts.
The next morning, Giovannuzza said to Joseph, "Give me one more basket of pears to take to the king."
"Do as you wish, sister," replied the youth, "but it will be my downfall, you will see."
"Put your mind at rest!" exclaimed the fox. "I assure you that you will prosper."
He therefore picked the pears, which the fox carried to the king, saying, "My master, Count Peartree, sends you this basket of pears, and would like an answer to his request."
"Tell the count that the wedding can take place whenever he likes," replied the king. Overjoyed, the fox returned to Joseph with the answer.
"But, sister Giovannuzza, where will I take this bride to live? I can hardly bring her here to this hovel!"
"Leave that up to me. What are you worried about? Haven’t I done all right so far?"
Thus a grand wedding was performed, and Count Peartree took the king’s beautiful daughter to be his wife.
A few days later Giovannuzza the fox announced: "My master intends to carry the bride to his palace."
"Fine," said the king. "I will go along with them, so I can finally see all of Count Peartree’s possessions."
Everyone mounted horses, and the king was accompanied by a large body of knights. As they rode toward the plain, Giovannuzza said, "I shall run ahead and order preparations made for your arrival." As she raced onward, she met a flock of thousands upon thousands of sheep, and asked the shepherds, "Whose sheep are these?"
"Papa Ogre’s," they told her.
"Keep your voice down," whispered the fox. "Do you see that long cavalcade approaching? That’s the king who’s declared war on Papa Ogre. Tell him the sheep are Papa Ogre’s, and the knights will slay you."
"What are we to say, then?"
"I don’t know! Try, ‘They belong to Count Peartree!’ "
When the king came up to the flock, he asked, "Who owns this superb flock of sheep?"
"Count Peartree!" cried the shepherds.
"My heavens, the man really must be rich!" exclaimed the king, overjoyed.
A bit further on, the fox met a herd of thousands upon thousands of pigs. "Whose pigs are these?" she asked the swineherds.
"Shhhhhhhh, see all those soldiers coming down the road on horseback? Tell them they are Papa Ogre’s and they’ll kill you. You must say they are Count Peartree’s"
When the king approached and asked the swineherds whose pigs those were, they told him, "Count Peartree’s," and the king was quite glad to have a son-in-law so rich.
Next the king’s party met a vast herd of horses. "Whose horses are these?" asked the king. "Count Peartree’s." Then they saw a drove of cattle. "Whose cattle?" "Count Peartree’s." And the king felt ever happier over the fine match his daughter had made.
Finally Giovannuzza reached the palace where Papa Ogre lived all alone with his wife, Mamma Ogress. Rushing inside, she exclaimed, "Oh, you poor things, if you only knew what a horrible destiny is in store for you!"
"What has happened?" asked Papa Ogre, scared to death.
"See that cloud of dust approaching? It’s a regiment of cavalry dispatched by the king to kill you!"
"Sister fox, sister fox, help us!" whimpered the couple.
"Know what I advise?" said Giovannuzza. "Go hide in the stove. I’ll give the signal when they’ve all gone."
Papa Ogre and Mamma Ogress obeyed. They crawled into the stove and, once inside, pleaded with Giovannuzza. "Giovannuzza dear, close up the mouth of the stove with tree branches, so they won’t see us." That was just what the fox had in mind, and she completely stopped up the opening with branches.
Then she went and stood on the doorstep, and when the king arrived, she curtseyed and said, "Sacred Crown, please deign to dismount; this is the palace of Count Peartree."
The king and the newlyweds dismounted, climbed the grand staircase, and beheld such wealth and magnificence as to leave the king speechless and pensive. "Not even my palace," he said to himself, "is half so beautiful." And Joseph, poor man, stood gaping beside him.
"Why," asked the king, "are there no servants around?"
In a flash, the fox answered, "They were all dismissed, since my master wanted to make no arrangements whatever before first knowing the wishes of his beautiful new wife. Now she can command what best suits her."
When they had scrutinized everything, the king returned to his own palace, while Count Peartree remained behind with the king’s daughter in Papa Ogre’s palace.
Meanwhile Papa Ogre and Mamma Ogress were still closed up in the stove. At night the fox went up to the stove and whispered, "Papa Ogre, Mamma Ogress, are you still there?"
"Yes," they answered in a weak voice.
"And there you will remain," replied the fox. She lit the branches, made a big fire, and Papa Ogre and Mamma Ogress burned up in the stove.
"Now you are rich and happy," said Giovannuzza to Count Peartree and his wife, "and must promise me one thing: when I die, you must lay me out in a beautiful coffin and bury me with full honors."
"Oh, sister Giovannuzza," said the king’s daughter, who had grown quite fond of the fox, "why do you talk about death?"
A little later, Giovannuzza decided to put the couple to the test. She played dead. When the king’s daughter saw her stretched out stiff, she exclaimed, "Oh, Giovannuzza is dead! Our poor dear friend! We must have a very beautiful coffin built at once for her."
"A coffin for an animal?" said Count Peartree. "We’ll just pitch her out the window!" And he grabbed her by the tail.
At that, the fox jumped up and cried, "Penniless man! Faithless, ungrateful wretch! Have you forgotten everything? Forgotten that your prosperity is due to me? You’d still be living on charity, if it hadn’t been for me! You stingy thing! Ungrateful, faithless wretch!"
"Fox," begged Count Peartree all flustered, "forgive me, dear friend, please forgive me. I meant no harm, the words just slipped out, I spoke without thinking…"
"This is the last you’ll see of me"—and she made for the door.
"Forgive me, Giovannuzza, please, remain with us…" But the fox ran off down the road, disappeared around the bend, and was never seen again.