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

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Pot of Rue, The (Il Vaso di Ruta)


THEY say there was once a rich merchant who had three daughters. Two of them were very gay and fond of dancing and theatres, but the youngest was very stay-at-home and scarcely ever went beyond the garden.

               One day when the father was going abroad to buy merchandise, he asked his three daughters what he should bring them home. The two eldest asked for all manner of dresses and ornaments, but the youngest asked only for a pot of rue.

               'That's a funny fancy,' said the father, 'but an easy one to satisfy at all events; so be sure you shall have it.'

               'Not so easy, perhaps, as you think,' replied the maiden; 'only now you have promised it, mind you bring it, as you will find you will not be able to get home unless you bring it with you.'

               The father did not pay much heed to her words, but went to a far country, bought his merchandise, taking care to include the fine clothes and jewels for his two eldest daughters, and, forgetting about the pot of rue, set out to come home.

               They were scarcely a day's journey out at sea when the ship stood quite still, nor was the captain able by any means to govern it, for neither sail nor oar would move it an inch.

               'Some one on board has an unfulfilled promise on him,' declared the captain; and he called upon whoever it was to come forward and own it, that he might be thrown overboard, and that the lives of all the passengers and crew should not be put in jeopardy by his fault.

               Then the merchant came forward and said it was true he had forgotten to bring with him something he had promised to his little daughter, but that it was so slight a matter he did not think it could be that which was stopping the ship.

               As no one else had anything of the sort to accuse themselves of, the captain judged that it was indeed the merchant's fault that had stopped the ship; only, as he was such a great merchant and a frequent trader by his vessel, he agreed to put back with him instead of throwing him overboard. He first, however, asked,--

               'And what may the thing be that you have to take to your daughter?'

               'Nothing but a pot of rue,' replied the merchant.

               'A pot of rue!' answered the captain; 'that is no easy matter. In the whole country there is no one has a plant of it but the king, and he is so choice over it that he has decreed that if anyone venture to ask him only for a single leaf he shall instantly be put to death.'

               'That is bad hearing,' said the merchant. 'Nevertheless, as I have promised to get it I must make the trial, and if I perish in the attempt I might have had a worse death.'

               So they landed the merchant, and he went straight up to the king's palace.

               'Majesty!' he said, throwing himself on his knees before the throne. 'It is in no spirit of wantonness I break the decree which forbids the asking a single leaf of the precious plant of rue. A promise was on me before I knew the king's decree, and I am bound thereby to ask not merely a single leaf but the whole plant, of the king, even though it be at peril of my life.'

               Then said the king,--

               'To whom hadst thou made this promise?'

               And the merchant made answer,--

               'Though it was only to my youngest daughter I made the promise, yet having made it, I will not leave off from asking for it.'

               Then the king answered,--

               'Because thou hast been faithful to thy promise, and courageous in risking thy life rather than to break thy word, behold I give the whole plant at thy desire; and this without breaking my royal decree. For my decree said that whoso desired a single leaf should be put to death, but in that thou hast asked the whole plant thou hast shown a courage worthy of reward.'

               So he took the plant of rue and gave it to the merchant to give to his daughter; moreover, he bade him tell her that she should every night burn a leaf of the plant. With that he dismissed him.

               The merchant returned home and distributed the presents he had brought to his daughters, and not more pleased were the elder ones with their fine gifts than was the younger with her simple pot of rue. In the evening they went with their father to the ball as usual, but the youngest staid at home as she was wont to do, and this night she burnt a leaf of the rue as the king had bidden her. But the king had three beautiful sons, and no sooner had she burnt the rue leaf than the eldest son of the king appeared before her, and sitting beside her, said so many kind things that no evening had ever passed so pleasantly. This she did every evening as the king had bidden.

               But the other merchants said to the merchant her father,--

               'How is it that only two daughters come to the balls?'

               And the merchant, not knowing how to account for the youngest daughter's preference for staying at home, answered,--

               'I have only two daughters old enough to come to the balls?'

               But the other merchants said,--

               'Nay, but bring now thy youngest daughter.'

               So the next evening the merchant made the youngest daughter go with him to the ball, and the two elder daughters were left at home.

               As the youngest was wont never to leave her room, the others, how jealous soever they were of her, were never able to do her any harm. But now that they felt secure she was absent for a considerable space, they went into her apartment and set fire to it, and the whole place was burnt, and also the garden, and the plant of rue.

               If the king's son had come in haste for the burning of a single leaf, I leave it to be imagined with what speed he came for the burning of the whole plant. With such impetus, indeed, he came, that he was bruised and burnt all over with the flaming beams of which the apartment was built, and cut all over with the broken glass; so that when he reached home again he was in a sorry plight indeed.

               But the youngest daughter, coming home with her father from the ball, and finding all her apartment burnt to the ground, as well as all the plants in the garden, and with them the pot of rue, she said, 'I will stay no more in this place.' So she dressed herself in man's clothes and wandered forth.

               On, on, on, she went, till night came, and she could go no further, but she laid herself to sleep under a tree. In the middle of the night came an ogre and an ogress, [2] and laid themselves down also under the tree. Then she heard the ogre speaking to the ogress, and saying, 'Our king's eldest son, the flower of the land, is sore ill and like to die, having fallen through the window of the highest story of the palace, and is cut with the glass, and bruised all over. What shall be done to heal the king's eldest son, the flower of the land?'

               And the ogress made answer: 'This is what should be done--but it is well no one knows it. They should kill us, and take the fat that is round our hearts and make an ointment, and anoint therewith the wounds of the king's son.'

               When the merchant's daughter heard this, she waited till the ogre and ogress were gone to sleep; then she took out a brace of pistols--for with the man's dress she had also a brace of pistols--and with one in each hand she killed the ogre and ogress together, and with her knife she ripped them open, and took out the fat that was round their hearts. Then she journeyed on till she came to the king's palace. At the door of the palace stood a guard, who told her there was no entrance for such as her; but she said, 'To heal the wounds of the king's eldest son am I come.'

               Then the sentinel laughed, and said, 'So many great and learned surgeons have come, and have benefited him nothing, there is no entrance for a mountebank like thee. Begone! begone!'

               But she, knowing certainly that she had the only means of healing, would not be sent away; and when the sentinel would have driven her off she struggled so bravely that he had to call out all the guard to resist her; and when they all used their strength against her, she protested so loudly that the noise of the struggle made the king himself begin to inquire what was the matter. Then they told him, 'Behold, there stands without a low and base fellow, who would fain pretend to heal the wounds of the king's son.'

               But the king answered: 'As all the great and learned surgeons have failed, let even the travelling doctor try his skill; maybe he knows some means of healing.'

               Then she was brought into the apartment of the king's son, and she asked for all she needed to make the ointment, and linen for bandages, and to be left alone with him for the space of a week. At the end of a week the king's son was perfectly cured and well. Then she dressed herself with care, but still in the garb of a travelling doctor--for she had no other--and stood before him, and said, 'Know you me not?' And when he looked at her he said, 'Ah! yes; the maiden of the rue plant!' For till then she had been so soiled with the dust of travel that he could not recognise her. Then when he had recognised her he protested he would marry her, and, sending to the king his father, he told him the same.

               When the king heard of his resolve, he said, 'It is well that the prince is healed of his wounds; but with the return of bodily health it is evident he has lost his reason, in that he is determined to marry his surgeon. Nevertheless, as nothing is gained in this kind of malady by contradiction, it is best to humour him. We must get this surgeon to submit to be dressed up like a princess, and we must amuse him by letting him go through the form of marrying her.'

               It was done, therefore, as the king had said. But when the ladies of the court came to attend the supposed surgeon, and saw her dressed in her bridal robes, they saw by the way they became her that she was indeed a woman and no surgeon, and that the prince was by no means distempered in his mind.

               But the prince silenced their exclamations, saying: 'Nay, but say nothing; for perchance if my father knew that this should be a real marriage, and no mere make-believe to humour a disordered whim, he might withhold his consent, seeing the maiden is no princess. But I know she is the wife destined for me, because my mother, before she died, told me I should know her by the pot of rue; and because, by devoting herself to healing me, she has deserved well of me. So let the marriage go through, even as the king my father had devised.'

               So the marriage was celebrated, and when the king learnt afterwards that the pretended surgeon was a real maiden, he knew the thing could not be altered, and said nothing. So the merchant's daughter became the prince's wife.



[1] 'Il Vaso di Ruta.'

[2] 'Orco ed orchessa.'

The following is a third variant of this story, but so like the last, that I only give an abbreviated version of it.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Pot of Rue, The (Il Vaso di Ruta)
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: unclassified

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