Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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THEY say there was a peasant whose wife had died and left him one little girl, who was the most beautiful creature that ever was seen; no one on earth could compare with her for beauty. After a while the peasant married again: this time he married a peasant-woman who had a daughter who was the most deformed object that ever was seen; no cripple on earth could compare with her for deformity; and, moreover, her skin was quite black and shrivelled, and altogether no one could bear to look at her, she was so hideous.

               One day when everyone was out, and only the fair daughter at home, the king came by from hunting thirsty, and he stopped at the cottage and asked the fair maid for a glass of water. When he saw how fair she was and with what grace she waited on him, he said, 'Fair maiden, if you will, I will come back in eight days and make you my wife.' The maiden answered, 'Indeed I will it, your Majesty!' and the king rode away.

               When the stepmother came home the simple maiden told her all that had happened, and she answered her deceitfully, congratulating her on her good fortune. Before the day came round, however, she shut the fair maiden in the cellar. When the king came she went out to meet him with a smiling face, saying, 'Good day, Sire! What is your royal pleasure?' And the king answered, 'To marry your daughter am I come.' Then the stepmother brought out her own daughter to him, all wrapped up in a wide mantle, and her face covered with a thick veil, and a hood over that.

               'Rest assured, good woman, that your daughter will be my tenderest care,' said the king; 'but you must take those wrappers off.'

               'By no means, Sire!' exclaimed the stepmother. 'And beware you do it not. You have seen how fair she is above all the children of earth. But this exceeding beauty she has on one condition. If one breath of air strike her she loses it all. Therefore, Oh, king! let not the veil be removed.'

               When the king heard that he called for another veil, and another hood, and wrapping her still more carefully round, handed her into the carriage he had brought for her, shut the door close, and rode away on horseback by her side.

               When they arrived at the palace the hideous daughter of the stepmother was married to the king all wrapt up in her veils.

               The stepmother, however, went into her room, full of triumph at what she had done. 'But what am I to do with the other girl!' she said to herself; 'somehow or other some day she will get out of the cellar, and the king will see her, and it will be worse for my daughter than before.' And as she knew not what to do she went to a witch to help her. 'This is what you must do,' said the witch; 'take this pin' (and she gave her a long pin with a gold head), 'and put it into the head of the maiden, and she will become a dove. Then have ready a cage, and keep her in it, and no one will ever see her for a maiden more.'

               The stepmother went therefore, and bought a cage, and taking the large pin [2] down into the cellar, she drove the pin into the fair maiden's head, holding open the cage as she did so.

               As soon as the pin entered the maiden's head she became a dove, but instead of flying into the cage she flew over the stepmother's head far away out of sight.

               On she flew till she came to the king's palace, right against the window of the kitchen where the cook was ready preparing a great dinner for the king. The cook looked round as he heard the poor little dove beating its frightened breast against the window, and, fearful lest it should hurt itself, he opened the window.

               In flew the dove as soon as he opened the window, and flew three times round his head, singing each time as she did so:--'O cook! O cook! of the royal kitchen, what shall we do with the Queen? All of you put yourselves to sleep, and may the dinner be burnt up!' [3]

               As soon as she had sung this the third time the cook sank into a deep sleep; the dinner from want of attention was all burnt up; and when the king sat down to table, there was nothing to set before him.

               'Where is the dinner?' exclaimed the king, as he looked over the empty table to which he had brought his bride, still wrapt up in her thick veils.

               'Please your Majesty, the dinner is all burnt up as black as charcoal,' said the chamberlain; 'and the cook sits in the kitchen so fast asleep that no one can wake him.'

               'Go and fetch me a dinner from the inn,' said the king; 'and the cook, when he comes to himself, let him be brought before me.'

               After a time the cook came to himself, and the chamberlain brought him before the king.

               'Tell me how this happened,' said the king to the cook. 'All these years you have served me well and faithfully; how is it that to-day, when the dinner should have been of the best in honour of my bride, everything is burnt up, and the king's table is left empty?'

               'Indeed, the dinner had been of the best, Sire,' answered the cook. 'So had I prepared it. Only, when all was nearly ready, there came a dove flying in at the window, and flew three times round my head, singing each time,

Cook of the royal kitchen,           
     What shall we do with the Queen?         
Sleep ye all soundly, and burnt be the meal           
     Which on the King's board should have been.

                After that a deep sleep fell on me and I know nothing more of what happened.'

               'That must have been a singular dove,' said the king; 'bring her to me and you shall be forgiven.'

               The cook went down to look for the dove, and found her midway, flying to meet him.

               'There is the dove, Sire,' said the cook, handing the dove to the king.

               'So you spoilt my dinner, did you palombelletta,' said the king. 'But never mind; you are a dear little dove, and I forgive you,' and he put her in his breast and stroked her. Thus, as he went on stroking and fondling her, calling her 'palombelletta bella!' he felt the gold head of the stepmother's big pin through the feathers. 'What have you got in your head, palombelletta dear?' he said, and pulled the pin out.

               Instantly the fair maiden stood before him in all her surpassing beauty as he had seen her at the first. 'Are you not my fair maiden who promised to marry me?' exclaimed the king.

               'The very same, and no other,' replied the maiden.

               'Then who is this one?' said the king, and he turned to the stepmother's daughter beside him, and tore off her veil. Then he understood the deceit that had been played on him, and he sent for the stepmother, and ordered that she and her daughter should be punished with death.


The next group most prolific in variety of incidents is that in which the stepmother represents the evil genius of the story; sometimes there is a daughter only, sometimes a daughter and a son, and sometimes, but less frequent, a son only. Allied to it is that in which the character devolves on two elder sisters, not specified to be stepsisters, and the incidents in these two branches are closely interwoven. I give the first place to Cinderella, because it has acquired a homely importance.


[1] 'Palombelletta,' dear little dove.

[2] 'Spillone,' big pin. This magic use of long pins driven into the head is one of the frequent charges against witches. See numerous instances at various epochs given by Del Rio, 'Disquisitionum Magicarum,' lib. iii. p. 1, 2 iv. s. II., where he mentions among others the cases of two midwives who were convicted in Germany of having destroyed, the one forty, the other innumerable, new-born infants in this manner.

[3]    Cuoco! cuoco! di reale cucina         
Che faremo della regina?         
Tutti posse a dormentar',         
E la pranza posse bruciar'.

               The words have been clipt in repetition. 'Posse,' in the third line, must be a corruption of 'si pongono,' from the verb 'ponere;' and in the fourth line, of 'si puo,' from the verb 'potere.'

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Palombelletta
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 403: The Black and the White Bride

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