ONCE there was a widower who had three daughters. The two eldest thought of nothing but dress and finery, and going to amusements, or sitting at the window doing nothing; whilst the youngest occupied herself with the household management, and was fond of assisting the servant in the kitchen, and for which reason her sisters called her the "Hearth-Cat." One day the father caught a fish and brought it home alive, and as the youngest daughter was the one who occupied herself in cooking, and was besides his favourite child, he gave her the fish to prepare for their supper. As the fish was alive, and she took a great liking to it on account of its pretty yellow colour, she placed it in a large pan with water, and begged her father to allow her to keep it for herself, and not kill it. As soon as the father consented to her keeping it, she at once took it to her own room and gave it plenty of water to swim in; and when the sisters saw what had been done with the fish they began to cry out and complain that, for the sake of pleasing the "Hearth-Cat," they were to be deprived of eating that excellent fish.
At night, when the little maiden had already laid herself down to sleep, the fish began to say to her, "Oh! maiden, throw me into the well! Oh! maiden, throw me into the well!" The fish repeated this so often and so imploringly that at length she rose and threw the fish into the well. The following day she took a walk in the garden to try and see the fish, as she quite yearned to have a look at it once more; and as she drew close to the well she heard a voice inside which said: "Oh! maiden, come into the well! Oh! maiden, come into the well!" She ran away with fear; but on the following day, when the sisters were gone to the festival, the maiden again approached the border of the well, and she heard once more the same voice calling for her, and, impelled by it, she went into the well; and she had hardly reached the bottom when the fish appeared to her, and, laying hold of her hand, he conducted her to a palace of gold and precious stones, and said to her: "Go into that chamber and attire yourself in the best and most elegant robe you find there, and put on a pair of gold slippers which are ready for you, as you will see, for I mean you to go to the same festival as your sisters are gone to. You will proceed to it in a splendid state carriage which you will find ready for you at the door when you leave this palace. At the conclusion of the festival be careful to take your departure before your sisters do, and return here to take off your robes, for I promise you that a time is in store for you when you will be very happy indeed." When the maiden had put on garments worked in gold and precious stones of very great value, she came out of the well, and on reaching the palace door she found a splendid carriage ready for her. She stepped in and proceeded to the festival. When she entered the edifice every one there was in admiration, and wondered from whence had come such a lovely, comely maiden with such rich robes. She left the edifice without loss of time the very moment that the festival was concluded; but in her hurry to get out she lost one of her slippers, and the king, who was following close behind her, picked it up, and ordered an edict to be issued that he would marry the maiden to whom that slipper belonged. When she reached home she went into the well at once to take off her rich garments, and when she left the enchanted palace the fish told her to return in the evening, for he wished to ask her something. The maiden promised to comply with his wish, and departed. When her sisters returned home she was seen busy in the kitchen, and they gave her a glowing account of the beautiful lady they had seen at the feast, who had on such rich robes full of gold ornaments and precious stones such as they had never seen before in their lives, and how this fair and lovely maiden had dropped one of her dainty slippers in her hurry to leave the edifice, which the king had picked up, and now signified his intention of marrying the maiden to whom it belonged. They told her that such being the state of affairs, they would go to the palace to try the slipper, and were certain that it would fit one of them, who would then be made a queen! and then would she give the "Hearth-Cat" a new dress. The moment the sisters left for the palace the maiden went to the well to see the fish, who said to her the moment he saw her, "Oh, maiden! will you marry me?" The maiden replied, "I cannot possibly marry a fish!" but he so entreated her, and urged his suit so ardently, that she at last consented. That very instant the fish was transformed into a man, who said to her, "Know, then, that I am a prince who was enchanted here, and am the son of the sovereign who governs these realms. I know that my father has published an edict, ordering all the maidens of his kingdom to repair to the palace and try on the slipper which you dropped to-day on coming away from the feast; go, therefore, there yourself, and when the king tells you that you must marry him, inform him that you are already engaged to the prince, his son, who was enchanted, for his majesty will then send for me on hearing this." The maiden left the well, and shortly after her sisters returned from the palace looking very downcast and disappointed because the slipper after all did not fit them. The maiden then hinted to them that she also thought of repairing to the palace, to try on the slipper in case it should fit her. The sisters indignantly said: "Just see what airs the 'Hearth-Cat' is putting on, and is not ashamed of herself. Go, and show your tiny, dainty foot! go." The maiden went to the palace, nevertheless; and the sentinels, seeing her so shabbily dressed, would not let her pass; but the king, who just happened to be at the window, ordered them to let her enter. He had hardly given her the tiny slipper to try on when his majesty remained struck with wonder to see how soon she drew it on, and how beautifully the slipper fitted her, and he that moment told her that he would make her his queen. The maiden, however, very respectfully signified to him that it could not be, as she was already engaged to be the bride of his majesty's son, the prince who had been spell-bound so long. The king, on hearing her, could scarcely contain his delight to think that he would soon see his son again, disenchanted as he was now. He immediately sent a retinue of the grandees of the realm to bring hi son out of the well, and he married him to the beautiful maiden. There were great rejoicings and much feasting in honour of the occasion; and the sisters of the "Hearth-Cat," filled with jealousy and bitterness at the sudden turn of affairs, were punished, and commenced to throw all manner of filth out of their mouths. The "Hearth-Cat" remained in the palace the bride of the prince, who afterwards succeeded to the throne, and became king.
Pedroso, Consiglieri. Portuguese Folk-Tales. Folk Lore Society Publications, Vol. 9. Miss Henrietta Monteiro, translator. New York: Folk Lore Society Publications, 1882.
[Reprinted: New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1969.]
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