A VERY rich widow had three children, a step-son, a fine young fellow, a step-daughter of wonderful beauty, and a daughter who was not so bad. The three children lived under the same roof, and took their meals together. At length the time came when the children were treated very differently. Although the widow’s daughter was bad-tempered, obstinate, vain, and a chatterer, her mother loved her passionately, praised her, and covered her with caresses. She was favoured in every way. The step-son, who was a good-natured lad, and who did all kinds of work, was for ever grumbled at, checked, and treated like a sluggard. As for the step-daughter, who was so wonderfully pretty, and who had the disposition of an angel, she was tormented, worried, and ill-treated in a thousand ways. Between her sister and her step-mother her life was made miserable.
It is natural that one should love one’s own children better than those of other folk; but it is only right that liking and disliking should be indulged in with moderation. The evil step-mother, however, loved her child to distraction, and equally detested her step-children. To such a pitch did she carry these feelings that when she was angry she used to say how she would advance the fortune of her daughter even at the orphans’ expense.
An old proverb says, “Man sets the ball rolling, but Heaven directs it,” and we shall see what happened.
One Sunday morning the step-daughter, before going to church, went out into the garden to pluck some flowers to place on the altar. She had gathered some roses, when, on lifting up her eyes, she saw, right in front of her, three young men who sat upon a grassy bank. They were clothed in garments of dazzling white which shone like sunshine. Near by them was an old man, who came and asked the girl for alms.
The girl was a little frightened when she saw the three men, but when the old man came to her she took her last piece of money out of her pocket and gave it to him. The poor man thanked her, put the piece of money into his bag, and, laying his hand on the girl’s head, said to the young men—
“You see this little orphan; she is good and patient in suffering, and has so much pity for the poor that she gives them even the last penny she has. What do you wish for her?”
The first one said—
“I wish that when she cries her tears may turn to pearls.”
“I wish,” said the second, “that when she laughs the most delicately perfumed roses may fall from her lips.”
“And I,” said the third, “wish that when she touches water golden fish spring up in it.”
“So shall it be,” said the old man, and he and his companions vanished.
When the girl saw that, she gave thanks to Heaven, and ran joyfully into the house. Hardly had she entered when her step-mother met her and gave her a slap on the face, saying—
“Where are you running to?”
The poor girl began to cry, but behold! instead of tears pearls fell from her eyes. The step-mother forgot her rage, and set herself to gather them up as quickly as possible. The girl could not help laughing at the sight, and from her lips there fell roses of such a delightful scent that the step-mother was beside herself with pleasure. After that the girl, wishing to preserve the flowers she had plucked in the garden, poured some water into a glass: as soon as she touched the water with her finger, it was filled with beautiful golden fish.
From that time the same things never failed to happen. The girl’s tears turned to pearls, when she laughed roses, which did not die, fell from her lips; and water which she only touched with her little finger became filled with golden fish.
The step-mother became better disposed towards her, and by little and little learned from her the secret of how she had obtained these gifts.
On the following Sunday she sent her own daughter into the garden to pluck flowers as if for the altar. Hardly had the girl gathered some roses, when, lifting up her eyes, she saw the three young men sitting on a grassy bank, beautiful, and shining like the sun, and by them was the old man, clad in white, who asked her for alms. When she saw the young men, the girl pretended to be afraid, but when the old man spoke to her, she ran to him, took out of her pocket a gold piece, looked hard at it, and then gave it to him, but evidently very much against her will. The old man put the money in his bag, and said to the three others—
“You see this girl who is her mother’s spoilt child? She is bad-tempered, wicked, and is hard-hearted as regards the poor. We know very well why she has been so charitable, for the first time in her life, to-day. Tell me then what you wish for her.”
The first said—
“I wish that when she cries her tears may change to lizards.”
“I,” said the second, “wish that when she laughs, hideous toads may fall from her lips.”
“And I,” said the third, “wish that when she touches water with her hand it may be filled with serpents.”
“It shall be as you wish,” said the old man, and he and his companions disappeared.
The girl was terrified, and ran into the house to tell her mother what had happened. All occurred as had been said. When she laughed toads sprang from her lips, when she cried her tears changed to lizards, and when she touched water it became full of serpents.
The step-mother did not know what to do. She paid greater attention than ever to her daughter, and hated the orphans more and more, and so tormented them that the lad, not being able to put up with it, took leave of his sister, praying Heaven to guard her, and, leaving his step-mother’s house, set out to seek his fortune. The wide world was before him. He knew not where to go, but he knew that Heaven, that sees all men, watches over the orphans. He prayed, and then walking down to the burial-ground where slept his father and mother, he knelt at the grave. He wept and prayed for a time, and having kissed the earth which covered them three times, he rose and prepared to set out on his journey. All of a sudden he felt, in the folds of his dress on his bosom, something he had not perceived there before. He put his hand up, and was so astonished that he could scarcely believe his eyes, for he found there a charming little picture of his much-loved sister, surrounded by pearls, roses, and little golden fish. Delighted at the sight, he kissed the picture, looked around the burial-ground once more, made the sign of the cross, and set out on his way.
A story is soon told, but events move slowly.
After many adventures of little importance he came to the capital of a kingdom situated on the sea-shore. There he sought to obtain a living, and he was not unsuccessful, for he was engaged to look after the king’s garden, and was both well fed and well paid. This good fortune did not, however, make him forget his poor sister, about whom he was much troubled. When he had a moment to himself, he would sit down in some quiet spot and look at his picture, sometimes melting into tears, for he looked upon the portrait of his sister as a precious legacy given to him by his parents at their grave.
One day while the lad sat thus by a brook, the king saw him, and creeping up to him from behind very softly, he looked over his shoulder at the likeness that the young man was regarding so attentively.
“Give me the portrait,” said the king.
The lad gave it to him.
The king looked at it and was delighted.
“Never,” said he, “in all my life did I see such a beautiful girl, never have I heard of such a one, never did I dream there was such. Tell me, does she live?”
The lad burst into tears, and told the king that the picture was the portrait of his sister, who some time ago had been so favoured by Heaven that when she cried her tears became pearls, when she laughed roses sprang from her lips, and when she touched water it was filled with golden fish.
The king ordered him to write at once to his step-mother, to tell her to send her lovely step-daughter to his palace, where the king waited to make her his wife. On the occasion of his marriage he declared he would heap rewards on the step-mother and on the brother of his bride. The lad wrote the letter, and the king sent a servant with it.
A story is quickly told, but events move slowly.
After she had read the letter, the step-mother did not show it to the orphan, but to her own daughter.
So they plotted together, and the step-mother went to an old sorceress to consult her, and to be instructed in magic. She then set out with her two daughters. As they came near to the capital of the king’s dominions, in a place near to the sea, the step-mother suddenly threw the step-daughter out of the carriage, muttered some magic words, and spat three times behind her. All at once the poor girl became very little, covered with feathers, and changed into a wild duck. She commenced to cackle, threw herself into the sea, just as ducks do, and began to swim about there. The step-mother dismissed her with these words: “By the force of my hate, I have done what I wished! Swim away upon the shore like a duck, happy in liberty, and in the meantime my daughter, clothed in your beauty, shall marry the king, and enjoy all that was meant for you.”
Hardly had she finished these words when her daughter found herself clothed in all the charms of the unfortunate girl. So they went on their way, came to the palace, which they reached at the time named in the letter, and there the king received the daughter from the hands of the treacherous step-mother, in place of the orphan. After the marriage, the step-mother, loaded with presents, returned to her home. The king, looking upon his wife, could not imagine how it was that he did not feel that love and tenderness that had been aroused in him at the sight of the portrait. However, there was no remedy, what was done was done. Heaven sees one, and knows of what malady one shall die, and what woman one shall marry! The king admired his wife’s beauty, and thought of the pleasure he would have when he saw the pearls drop from her eyes, the roses from her lips, and the golden fish spring up in the water she touched. During the feast, however, the queen chanced to laugh at her husband, and a mass of hideous toads sprang forth! The king ran off quickly. Then the queen commenced to cry, and instead of pearls, lizards dropped from her eyes. An attendant presented a basin of water to her, but she had no sooner dipped the tip of her finger in the water than it became a mass of serpents, which began to hiss and dart into the middle of the wedding party. Every one was afraid, and all was in confusion. The guards were at last called in, and by their aid the hall was cleared of the horrible reptiles.
The king had gone into the garden, where he met with the orphan lad; and so enraged was the king at the trick that he thought had been played him, that he gave the lad a blow on the head with his stick. The poor lad, falling down upon the ground, died at once.
The queen came running to the king, sobbing, and, taking him by the hand, said—
“What have you done? You have killed my brother, who was altogether guiltless. Is it his fault or mine that, since I have been married to you, I have lost the wonderful powers I once had? They will come back again in time, but time will not bring my brother to me more.”
“Pardon me, my dear wife,” said the king. “In a moment of rage I thought he had betrayed me, and I wished to punish him. I am sorry for what I have done; now, however, it is beyond recall. Forgive me, and I forgive you with all my heart.”
“I pardon you,” said the queen, “but I beg you to order that my brother shall be honourably buried.”
The queen’s wish was carried out. The poor lad, who was thought to be the queen’s brother, was put in a fine coffin, and laid on a magnificent catafalque in the church. When night came on a guard of honour was placed around the coffin and at the gates to watch till morning. Towards midnight the doors of the church opened of their own accord and without any noise, and, at the same moment, an irresistible drowsiness came over the soldiers, who all went to sleep. A pretty little wild duck entered, stopped in the middle of the church, shook its feathers, of which it freed itself one by one, and there stood the orphan girl in her former shape. She approached the coffin of her brother, and shed very many tears over him, which all changed to pearls. After she had wept for some time, she reassumed the feathers once more, and went out. When the guards awoke, great was their surprise to find a number of beautiful pearls on the coffin. The next day they told the king how the gates of the church had opened of themselves at midnight, how an irresistible desire to sleep had overtaken them, and how the pearls had been discovered upon the coffin. The king was surprised at their story, and more so when he saw the pearls. He doubled the guard, and told them to watch more carefully the second night.
At the same time the doors opened again of themselves, and the soldiers again fell asleep. The wild duck entered, shook off its feathers, and became the lovely girl. At the sight of the double guard, all of them fast asleep, she could not help laughing, and beautiful roses fell from her lips. As she approached her brother her tears broke forth and fell in a shower of pearls to the ground. At length she took her feathers again and flew away. When the guards awoke they collected the roses and pearls and took them to the king, who was now more surprised than before, seeing not only the pearls but the roses also. He again doubled the guards, and he threatened them with the most severe punishment if they did not keep awake. They did their best, but all was of no use. At the end of their nap on the third night they found not only pearls and roses, but also golden fish swimming in the church font. The king was now very much astonished, and began to think that there must be some magic in the matter. When night came on he again doubled the number of the guards, and hid himself in the chapel, after having put up a mirror in which he could see everything reflected without being himself seen.
At midnight the doors opened of themselves, the soldiers dropt their arms, lay down on the ground, and fell fast asleep. The king did not take his eyes off the mirror, and he saw a little wild duck enter, and look timidly around it. When it saw the guards all asleep it seemed to take courage, and came into the middle of the church. Then it cast off its feathers and became a girl of extraordinary loveliness. The king was transported with joy and wonder, and felt that this must be his true bride. When she had come to the coffin the king rushed forward with a wax taper in his hand and set fire to the feathers, the flame leaping up and waking the guards. When the girl saw what was done she ran to the king wringing her hands, while pearls dropped from her eyes.
“What have you done?” she cried. “How shall I now escape the fury of my step-mother, by whose magic arts I was turned into a wild duck?”
Then she told the king all, and he at once ordered some of his guards to seize the woman who had so treacherously married him, and to conduct her out of the kingdom. He also sent some soldiers to take the step-mother and burn her as a sorceress. While the king gave these orders the girl took from her bosom three little vessels, which she had brought with her from the sea, full of different liquids. She sprinkled the liquid in one of them over her brother, and he became supple and warm; his cheeks took their colour again, and the warm red blood began to run from his wound. His sister sprinkled him again with the second liquid, which had the property of healing, and his wound at once closed. She sprinkled him the third time with the water which had the property of calling back to life. The young man opened his eyes, looked on his sister with astonishment, and threw himself, full of happiness, into her arms.
At the sight of this the king was overjoyed. He took the young man by the hand, and, leading his sister, the three went to the palace.
In a short time he married his true bride, and he lived happily with her and her brother for many years.