ONCE upon a time there was a certain king who had an only daughter, whom he greatly wished to see married; but the girl had been completely spoilt, and was very self-willed: she would not marry. If her father had wished her to keep single, then she would have determined to marry at once.
One day, as she came out of church, she met a beggar, very old, ugly, hunchbacked, and so persevering, that she was annoyed and would not give him any alms. The poor man, in order to revenge himself, put a flea on her; the princess, who had never seen one of these nasty little insects before, took it to the palace with her, and put it into a small bottle; she fed it with drops of milk, so that it became too fat for its prison. Then the princess ordered it to be killed, dried its skin, and out of it had a small drum made and put into a bracelet.
One day when her father came in to urge her to marry, she replied that she would only marry the man who could tell what the little drum in her bracelet was made of.
“Very well,” said her father, “let it be so; but on my faith as a king, and an old Christian, I swear that you shall marry the person who ascertains it, let him be who he may.”
Proclamation was accordingly made that the princess was ready to marry whoever could tell what the drum in her bracelet was made of; and from all the four parts of the world came kings, princes, dukes, counts, and gentlemen of good estate, and all to see the fleas skin, though not one could say what it was. The most extraordinary thing about it was, that whenever it was struck, the sound the little drum gave forth was similar to that uttered by beggars when they solicit alms. Then the king ordered that everybody, rich or poor, who came should be allowed to see the drum in order to try and ascertain what it was made of.
Among the princes who came there happened to be one who was very handsome, and for whom the princess took a desperate liking; so, when she was in her balcony and saw him passing, she cried out:—
“A flea’s skin
My bracelet is in.”
The prince did not hear her voice; but she was heard by the horrible old beggar to whom she had denied alms. The old fellow at once comprehended what the words she said signified, for he was very cunning; so he at once entered the palace and said that he had come to see what was in the bracelet of the king’s daughter. Scarcely had he seen it, than he said:—
“A flea’s skin
The bracelet is in!”
There was no escape from it: the princess would have objected, but she was given by her father to the dirty old beggar, for he had guessed the enigma she herself had insisted upon.
“Go away at once with your husband,” said the king, “and I do not wish you ever again to remember that you have a father.”
Weeping and ashamed, the princess had to go off with the hunchback, and they travelled farther and farther, until they came to a river through which they had to wade.
“Take me on your shoulders and carry me across the river,' because that is my wife’s duty,” said the old man to her.
The princess did what her husband commanded; but when they were in the middle of the stream, she began shaking herself in order to shake him off, and he began falling off in fragments, first his head, then his arms and legs, and at last, all but his hump, which remained stuck fast on the princess’s shoulders.
When she had crossed the river, she inquired the way; and whenever she spoke the hump on her back mimicked her voice and repeated what she said, as if, instead of a hump on her back, she had an echoing stone there. Some of the folks she met laughed, and others were angry, thinking that she was mocking them, so that at last there was nothing to be done but to pretend to be mute. In this state she went on her way begging, until she arrived at a city that belonged to the prince for whom she had taken so great a liking. She went to the palace to ask them to employ her, and she was taken on as a maidservant. The prince saw her, and was so struck with her beauty that he said:—
“That girl has such a beautiful face that if she were not a hunchback and mute, I would marry her.”
The prince’s marriage with a foreign princess was much talked about, so the pain and jealousy of the hunchback, who became every day more enamoured of the heir to the kingdom, may be well imagined. At last the matrimonial contract was arranged with another princess, who was as upright as a dart and as talkative as a magpie. The prince went forth with a grand retinue to bring her home, and great preparations were made in the palace for the wedding. The supposed mute had to fry some cakes; and as she was frying them she said to her hump:—
“Dear little hump, would you like a nice little cake?”
The hump, which was that of an old mar very fond of sweet things, replied that it would like it.
“Then look into my pocket,” said she.
The hump made a leap off her back to her pocket, when the princess, who was already prepared with the tongs in her hand, seized the hump and popped it into the boiling oil, where it quickly melted into a lump of lard.
As soon as the princess found herself freed from the hump, she went to her room, and dressed, and adorned herself with a robe of green and gold.
When the prince arrived he was delighted to see the mute girl without her hump, and so well and magnificently attired.
The bride, who noticed this, said:—
“Behold the mute in her new array
Upon her mistress’s bridal day!”
To which the princess haughtily replied:—
“And then behold the shamelessness
Of her who’d be master before she’s mistress;”
As soon as the prince found that the mute could speak, and that there was no trace left of her hump, he gave up the other princess and married her, and they had many children, and lived happily ever afterwards.