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The King Who Goes Out to Dinner

The King Who Goes Out to Dinner.1

They say there was a well-to-do peasant whose wife died leaving him two children—a boy and a girl. Both were beautiful children, but the girl was of the most inconceivable beauty.

As both were still young, and the father did not know how to supply a mother's place to them, he sent them to a woman, who was to teach them and train them, and do all that a mother would have done for them. So to her they went every day. The woman, however, was bent on marrying their father, and used to send a message every day to ask why he did not marry her. The father sent in answer that he did not want to marry; but the woman continued to repeat the same message so frequently that, wearied by her importunity, he sent an answer to the effect that when a pair of strong woollen stockings, which he also gave the children to take to her, were rotted away he would marry her, and not before. The woman took the pair of stockings and hung them up in a loft and damped them with water twice a day till they were soon quite rotted; then she showed them to the children, and told them to tell their father what they had seen. When the children went home they said, ‘Papa! we saw your pair of stockings to-day; they are all rotted away.' But the father said, ‘Nonsense! Those thick stockings could not have rotted in this time; there must be some unfair play.'

The next morning he gave them a large pitcher of water, and told them to take it to their teacher, saying that when all the water had dried up he would marry her, and not before. The teacher took the children up every day to see how rapidly the water diminished in the jug; but the fact was she used to go first and pour out a little every day.2 At last she showed them the pitcher empty, and bid them tell their father that they had seen it so. ‘Impossible!' said their father; but when they assured him they had seen the water in it gradually diminish day by day, he saw there was no way of disputing the fact, and that he was bound by the condition he himself had fixed.

Accordingly he married the teacher. No sooner, however, was she in possession of the house than she told the father she would not have the children about the place; they were not her children, and she could not bear the sight of them. The father expostulated, saying he had no place to send them to, but the stepmother continued so persistently in her representations that, for the sake of peace, he ceased to oppose her, and she took upon herself the task of disposing of them.

One day, therefore, she made them a large cake,3  and putting it in a basket with a bottle of wine, she took them for a walk outside the gates. When they had gone a long, long way, she proposed that they should sit down and lunch off their cake and wine. The children were nothing loth; but, while they were eating, the stepmother slipped away unperceived, and left them alone, thinking that they would be lost. But the fact was the boy had overheard their father and mother talking about getting rid of them, and he had provided himself with a paper parcel 4  of ashes, and had strewn them all along the road they had come, unperceived by his stepmother, and so now by this track they found their way home again.

The stepmother was furious at seeing them come back, but she said nothing in order not to rouse their suspicions. A few days after, however, she made another cake and proposed to take them another walk. The children accompanied her willingly; but the little boy provided himself with a parcel of millet, and strewed the grain on the ground as they walked along. They were in no haste, therefore, to finish their refection. But, alas! when they came to trace the track by which they were to return, there was no means of finding it, for the birds had come meanwhile and eaten up all the grain. The little girl was appalled when she saw they were lost, and sat down to cry; but the little boy said, ‘Never mind; our stepmother was very cross and unkind to us; perhaps we shall meet with some one who will behave better to us. Come, let us look for shelter before night comes on.' The little girl took courage at her brother's words, and, joining hands, they walked on together.

Before night they came to a little cottage, the only one in sight; so they knocked at the door. ‘Who's there?' said a voice within, and when they answered ‘Friends,' an old man opened the door. ‘Will you please take us in and give us shelter for the night, for our stepmother has turned us out of our home?' said the little boy. ‘Come in, and welcome,' answered the old man, ‘and you shall be my children.' So they went in and lived with him as his children.

When they had been living there some time, it happened that one day when the old man and her brother were both out, the king came by hunting, and he came to the hut and asked for some water to drink. The extraordinary beauty of the maiden astonished the king, and he asked her whence she was, and so learnt all her story. When he went home he told his mother, saying, ‘When I was out to-day I saw the most beautiful maiden that ever was created. You must come and see her.' The queen-mother did not like going to the poor hut, but the prince urged her so much that at last she consented to accompany him. The king drove out beforehand to the cottage and gave notice that he would like to dine there, and, giving the maiden plenty of money, told her to prepare the best dinner that ever she could for him and the queen-mother. The maiden tidied up the cottage so neatly, and prepared the dinner so well, and did the honours of it so gracefully, that the queen-mother was won to admire her as much asher son had been, and when the king told her of his intention to make the girl his wife she was well pleased. So Albina (such was her name) was married to the king, and her brother was made viceroy.

In the meantime, the stepmother had begun to wonder what had become of the children. But she was a witch, and had a divining rod;5  this rod she struck, and asked it where the children were. The answer came, ‘The girl is married to the king, and the lad is made viceroy.'

When she heard this she went to her husband and said, ‘Do you know a sort of remorse has taken me that we let those poor children go we know not whither. I am resolved to put on a pilgrim's dress and go and seek them that I may bring them home to us again.' The father was very glad to hear her speak thus, and gave his consent to her taking the journey. The next day, therefore, she put on a pilgrim's dress and went forth.

On, on, on she went till she came to the city where Albina was married to the king. Here she took up her stand opposite the palace windows, and with her divining rod she called up a golden hen with golden chickens,6  and made them strut about under the palace window. When Queen Albina looked out and saw the wonderful brood, she sent down at once to call the pilgrim-woman to her and offered to buy them of her. ‘My hen and chickens I neither sell nor pledge,' answered the pretended pilgrim; ‘I only part with them at one price.'

‘And what is the price, good pilgrim, say?' answered the queen.

‘My price is that the queen herself take me down to the palace garden and show me the whale which I know there is in the fish-pond.'7

‘That is a condition easily accepted,' answered Albina. ‘I will take you there at once, good woman.'

The queen and the pretended pilgrim then went down together to the pond. The pretended pilgrim no sooner came in sight of the whale than she touched the water with her rod and bade the whale swallow the queen. The whale obeyed the stroke of the wand imparted through the water, and the stepmother went up and threw herself on the queen's bed. When she had well wrapped herself in the coverlets so as to be hidden, she called the maids to her and bid them tell the king that the queen was sick. The king immediately came in all haste to assure himself of the state of the queen. ‘I am ill indeed, very ill!' cried the pretended queen, groaning between whiles; ‘and there is no hope for me, for there is only one remedy for my malady, and that I cannot take.'

‘Tell me the one remedy at least,' said the king.

‘The one only remedy for me is the blood of the viceroy, and that I could not take.'

‘It is a dreadful remedy indeed,' said the king; ‘but if it is the only thing to save your life, I must make you take it.'

‘Oh, no! I could not take it!' exclaimed the pretended queen, for the sake of appearing genuine.

But the king, bent on saving her life at any price, sent and had the viceroy taken possession of and secured, ready to be slain,8  in one of the lower chambers of the palace. The windows of this chamber looked out upon the fish-pond.

The viceroy looked out of the window on to the fishpond, and immediately there came a voice up to him, speaking out of the whale, and saying, ‘Save me, my brother, for here am I imprisoned in the whale, and behold two children are born to me.'

But her brother could only answer, ‘I can give help to none, for I also am in peril of death, being bound and shut up ready to be slain!'

Then a voice of lamentation came up from within the whale saying, ‘Woe is me that my brother is to be slain, and I and my children are shut up in this horrible place! Woe is me!'

Presently, the gardener hearing these lamentations, went to the king, saying, ‘O, king! come down thyself and hear the voice of one that waileth, and the voice cometh as from within the whale.'

The king went down, and at once recognised the voice of the queen; then he commanded that the whale should be ripped open; no sooner was this done than the queen and her two children were brought to light. The king embraced them all, and said, ‘Who then is she that is in the queen's bed?' and he commanded that she should be brought before him. When the queen had seen her she said, ‘This is my stepmother;' and when the pilgrim's weeds, which she had taken off, were also found, and it was shown that it was she who had worked all this mischief, the king pronounced that she was a witch, and she was put to death, and the viceroy was set at liberty.

[I now come to three stories more strictly of the Cinderella type than the two last, but no stepmother appears in them.]

1 ‘Il Rè che va a Pranzo.' 

2 I am inclined to think there was some forgetfulness here on the part of the narrator; such artifices always fulfil the conditions they evade in some underhand way—they never set them utterly at defiance, as in the instance in the text. Such conditions also always go in threes; the third was probably forgotten in this instance. 

3 ‘Pizza,' a cake made of Indian corn. 

4 ‘Cartoccio,' a conical paper parcel. 

5 ‘Bacchettino da comando.' 

6 ‘Biocca cogli polsini d'oro,' a hen and chickens all of gold; ‘biocca' is a word used by peasants for ‘gallina,' and ‘polsini' for ‘pollastri.' 

7 ‘Pescheria,' ordinarily ‘fish-market,' but sometimes, as in this place, a tank or piece of water for preserving fish for table. That so large a fish as a whale should be kept in one, is only one of the exaggerations proper to the realm of fable. 

8 The very incident which occurs in the stepmother story of ‘How the Serpent-gods were Propitiated,' in ‘Sagas from the Far East.'