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T He King Who Would Have A Beautiful Wife

from The Pink Fairy Book





Sicilianische Mahrchen.


Fifty years ago there lived a king who was very anxious to get married;
but, as he was quite determined that his wife should be as beautiful as
the sun, the thing was not so easy as it seemed, for no maiden came up
to his standard. Then he commanded a trusty servant to search through
the length and breadth of the land till he found a girl fair enough to
be queen, and if he had the good luck to discover one he was to bring
her back with him.

The servant set out at once on his journey, and sought high and low-in
castles and cottages; but though pretty maidens were plentiful as
blackberries, he felt sure that none of them would please the king.

One day he had wandered far and wide, and was feeling very tired and
thirsty. By the roadside stood a tiny little house, and here he knocked
and asked for a cup of water. Now in this house dwelt two sisters, and
one was eighty and the other ninety years old. They were very poor, and
earned their living by spinning. This had kept their hands very soft and
white, like the hands of a girl, and when the water was passed through
the lattice, and the servant saw the small, delicate fingers, he said to
himself: 'A maiden must indeed be lovely if she has a hand like that.'
And he made haste back, and told the king.

'Go back at once,' said his majesty, 'and try to get a sight of her.'

The faithful servant departed on his errand without losing any time,
and again he knocked at the door of the little house and begged for some
water. As before, the old woman did not open the door, but passed the
water through the lattice.

'Do you live here alone?' asked the man.

'No,' replied she, 'my sister lives with me. We are poor girls, and have
to work for our bread.'

'How old are you?'

'I am fifteen, and she is twenty.'

Then the servant went back to the king, and told him all he knew. And
his majesty answered: 'I will have the fifteen-year-old one. Go and
bring her here.'

The servant returned a third time to the little house and knocked at the
door. In reply to his knock the lattice window was pushed open, and a
voice inquired what it was he wanted.

'The king has desired me to bring back the youngest of you to become his
queen,' he replied.

'Tell his majesty I am ready to do his bidding, but since my birth no
ray of light has fallen upon my face. If it should ever do so I shall
instantly grow black. Therefore beg, I pray you, his most gracious
majesty to send this evening a shut carriage, and I will return in it to
the castle.

When the king heard this he ordered his great golden carriage to be
prepared, and in it to be placed some magnificent robes; and the old
woman wrapped herself in a thick veil, and was driven to the castle.

The king was eagerly awaiting her, and when she arrived he begged her
politely to raise her veil and let him see her face.

But she answered: 'Here the tapers are too bright and the light too
strong. Would you have me turn black under your very eyes?'

And the king believed her words, and the marriage took place without the
veil being once lifted. Afterwards, when they were alone, he raised the
corner, and knew for the first time that he had wedded a wrinkled old
woman. And, in a furious burst of anger, he dashed open the window and
flung her out. But, luckily for her, her clothes caught on a nail in the
wall, and kept her hanging between heaven and earth.

While she was thus suspended, expecting every moment to be dashed to the
ground, four fairies happened to pass by.

'Look, sisters,' cried one, 'surely that is the old woman that the king
sent for. Shall we wish that her clothes may give way, and that she
should be dashed to the ground?'

'Oh no! no!' exclaimed another. 'Let us wish her something good. I
myself will wish her youth.'

'And I beauty.'

'And I wisdom.'

'And I a tender heart.'

So spake the fairies, and went their way, leaving the most beautiful
maiden in the world behind them.

The next morning when the king looked from his window he saw this lovely
creature hanging on the nail. 'Ah! what have I done? Surely I must have
been blind last night!'

And he ordered long ladders to be brought and the maiden to be rescued.
Then he fell on his knees before her, and prayed her to forgive him, and
a great feast was made in her honour.

Some days after came the ninety-year-old sister to the palace and asked
for the queen.

'Who is that hideous old witch?' said the king.

'Oh, an old neighbour of mine, who is half silly,' she replied.

But the old woman looked at her steadily, and knew her again, and said:
'How have you managed to grow so young and beautiful? I should like to
be young and beautiful too.'

This question she repeated the whole day long, till at length the queen
lost patience and said: 'I had my old head cut off, and this new head
grew in its place.'

Then the old woman went to a barber, and spoke to him, saying, 'I will
give you all you ask if you will only cut off my head, so that I may
become young and lovely.'

'But, my good woman, if I do that you will die!'

But the old woman would listen to nothing; and at last the barber took
out his knife and struck the first blow at her neck.

'Ah!' she shrieked as she felt the pain.

'Il faut souffrir pour etre belle,' said the barber, who had been in
France.

And at the second blow her head rolled off, and the old woman was dead
for good and all.





Next: Catherine And Her Destiny

Previous: The Cunning Shoemaker



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