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

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Maria Wood (Maria di Legno): First Version


ONCE again my story is of a widower father; this time, however, a king, and having one only daughter, Maria, the apple of his eye and the pride of his heart. The one concern of his life was to marry her well and happily before he died.

               The queen, whom he believed to be wise above mortal women, had left him when she died a ring, with the advice to listen to the addresses of no one on Maria's behalf but his whose finger a gold ring which she gave him should fit, for that he whom it alone should fit would be a noble and a worthy husband indeed.

               Maria's teacher was very different from those we have had to do with hitherto; she was a beneficent fairy, whose services her good and clever mother had obtained for her under this disguise, and all her lessons and actions were directed entirely for her benefit, and she was able to advise and look out for her better than her father himself.

               Time went by, and no one who came to court Maria had a finger which the ring would fit. It was not that Maria was not quite young enough to wait, but her father was growing old and feeble, and full of ailments, and he hasted to see her settled in life before death called him away.

               At last there came to sue for Maria's hand a most accomplished cavalier, who declared himself to be a prince of a distant region, and he certainly brought costly presents, and was attended by a brilliant retinue well calculated to sustain the alleged character.

               The father, who had had so much trouble about fitting the ring, was much disposed not to attend any more to this circumstance when the prince objected to be subjected to so trivial a trial. After some days, however, as he hesitated finally to make up his mind to bestow her on him without his having fulfilled this condition, he suddenly consented to submit to it, when, lo and behold, the ring could not be found!

               'If you have not got the ring,' said the prince, 'it really is not my fault if it is not tried on. You see I am perfectly willing to accept the test, but if you cannot apply it you must not visit it on me.'

               'What you say is most reasonable,' said the father. 'But what can I do? I promised her mother I would not let the girl marry anyone but him the ring fitted.'

               'Do you mean then that the girl is never to marry at all, since you have lost the ring! That would be monstrous indeed. You may be sure, however, in my case, the ring would have fitted if you had had it here, because I am so exactly the kind of husband your wife promised the ring should fit. So what more reasonable than to give her to me? However, to meet your wishes and prejudices to the utmost, I am willing to submit to any other test, however difficult, the young lady herself likes to name. Nay, I will say--three tests. Will that satisfy you?'

               All this was so perfectly reasonable that the father felt he could not but agree to it, and Maria was told to be ready the next day to name the first of the tests which she would substitute for that of the ring.

               Though the prince was so handsome, so accomplished, so rich, and so persevering with his suit, Maria felt an instinctive dislike to him, which embarrassed her the more that she had no fault of any sort to find with him which she could make patent to her father.

               To the compassionate and appreciative bosom of her teacher she poured out all her grief, and found there a ready response.

               The teacher, who by her fairy powers knew what mortals could not know, knew that the prince was no other than the devil, [2] and that the marriage must be prevented at any price, but that it would be vain for her to give this information to the father, as he would have laughed in her face, and told her to go and rule copy-books and knit stockings. She must, therefore, set to work in a different way to protect her charge from the impending evil.

               In the first instance, however, and without mentioning the alarming disclosure of who her suitor really was, she merely bid Maria to be of good courage and all would come right; and for the test she had to propose, she bid her ask him to produce a dress woven of the stars of heaven.

               The next morning, accordingly, when the prince came to inquire what her good pleasure was, she asked him to bring her a dress woven of the stars of heaven.

               The prince bit his lip, and a look of fierceness it had never worn before stole over his face at hearing this request. And though he instantly put on a smile, there was much suppressed anger perceptible in the tone with which he answered,

               'This is not your own idea. Some one who has no good will towards me has told you this.'

               'It was no part of the condition, I think, that I should act without advice, and certainly no part of it that I should say whether I took advice or not,' replied Maria discreetly; and then her desire to break from the engagement making her bold, she added, 'But, you know, if you do not like the test, or consider it in any way unfair, I do not press you to accept it. You will meet with no reproach from me if you renounce it.'

               'Oh dear no! I have no such wish,' the prince hastened to reply. 'The dress woven of the stars of heaven will be here by to-morrow morning, and you have only to be ready by the same time to name what is the second test you propose.'

               Maria hastened back to her teacher to recount the story of the morning's work; to tell of the moment of hope she had had that the prince would renounce the attempt, and then his final acceptance of the undertaking. 'Dear teacher mine! Cannot you think of something else so very, very difficult I can give him to do to-morrow that he may be obliged to refuse it?'

               'To-morrow I would have you ask him for a dress woven of moonbeams,' replied the teacher; 'which will be very difficult to supply; but I fear he will yet find the means of accomplishing it.'

               The next morning the dress woven of the stars of heaven was brought in by six pages, and it was all they could do to carry it, for the dazzling of the rays of the stars in their eyes. When the dress of moonbeams was asked for, the prince showed little less impatience than at the first request, but yet undertook to supply it, and reminded Maria that the next day she must be ready with her third test.

               Once more Maria had recourse to her sage teacher's counsels, and this time was advised to ask for a dress woven of sunbeams.

               The next day the dress woven of moonbeams was produced, but it required twelve pages to bring it in, for it was so dazzling they could only hold it for ten minutes at a stretch, and they had to carry it in relays, six at a time. When Maria now asked for the dress woven of sunbeams, the prince grew so angry that she was quite frightened, and at the same time entertained for a moment a confident hope that now, at last, he would own himself baffled. Nevertheless, at the end of a few moments' hesitation, he pronounced his intention of complying, but added in almost a threatening tone, 'And remember that when it comes to-morrow morning you will not then have any more ridiculous tests to prefer, but will belong to me for ever, and must be prepared to go away with me in the carriage that will be at the door.' He turned on his heel as he spoke and stalked away, without saying good-bye, or so much as turning to look at her, or he would have seen she had sunk down on the ground in an agony of despair.

               Her father came in and found her thus, and asked her what could possibly put her into such a state on the eve of such a brilliant marriage. Maria threw herself in his arms and told him all her distress, but when it was told it sounded childish and unreasonable.

               'Can anything be more absurd?' replied the old man. 'To-morrow I may be dead, and what will become of you? What can you desire more than a husband suited to you in age and person, with every advantage the world can offer? And you would throw all this away for the sake of a foolish fancy you cannot even explain! Dry your tears and do not listen to such fancies any more, and keep your pretty little face in good order for looking as smiling and as pleasing as such a devoted husband deserves you should look on your wedding morning. It is I who have to lament; I who shall be left alone in my old age; but I do not repine, I shall be quite happy for my few remaining days in knowing that you have all the happiness life can afford you;' and as he spoke he clasped her fondly in his arms.

               Maria, reassured by his words, began to think he was in the right, and she was thus as cheerful as he could wish that last night they were to spend together.

               But when night came and she found the teacher who understood her so well, waiting to put her to bed for the last time, all her own true feelings came back, and, bursting into tears, she entreated her to find some way of delivering her.

               'The time has come,' replied the teacher, 'that I should tell you all. The innocence and truthfulness of your heart guided you right in believing that the prince was no husband for you. You did not, and could not, know who he was; but now I must tell you he is the devil himself. Nay; do not shudder and tremble so; it remains entirely with yourself to decide whether you shall be his or not; he can have no sort of power over any against their will.'

               'But, of course, I will have nothing to do with him,' replied the child, simply. 'Why don't you tell papa, and make him send him away?'

               'Because, for one thing, he would not believe me. As I have said, the prince being what he is can have no power over you against your own will. Your breaking from him must be your own act. Further, you must understand the terms of the struggle. Power is given him to deceive, and thus he has deceived your father. I have been set by your mother to watch over you, and I can tell you what he is, but I have no power to undeceive your father. If I were to attempt it it would do no good, he would not believe me, and it would break his heart to see you renounce so promising an union. On the other hand, you must understand that when the devil wooes a maiden in this form he does not suddenly after appear with horns and hoofs and carry her off to brimstone and fire. For the term of your life he will behave with average kindness and affection, and he will abundantly supply you with the good things of this world. After that I need not say what the effect of his power over you will be. On the other hand, if you give him up you must be prepared to undergo many trials and privations. It is not merely going on with your present life such as it has been up till now. Those peaceful days are allowed for youthful strength to mature, but now the time has come that you have to make a life-choice. What do you say? Have you courage to renounce the ease and enjoyment the prince has to offer you and face poverty, with the want and the insults which come in its train?'

               Poor little Maria looked very serious. She had never felt any great attraction for the prince, it is true, but now the question was placed upon a new issue. She had learnt enough about duty and sacrifice, and she had always intended to do right at all costs, but now that the day of trial had come it seemed so different from what she had expected, she knew not what to say.

               'You are tired to-night, my child; and it is late,' said the teacher. 'We will say no more till the morning. I will wake you betimes and you shall tell me your mind then.'

               In the morning Maria's mind was made up. She had chosen the good part; but how was she to be delivered from the prince?

               'This is what you will have to do,' replied the teacher, after commending her good resolution. 'I have had made ready for you a wooden figure of an old woman, inside which I will stow away all that you have valuable, for it may be of use some day, but especially I will bestow there the dresses woven of the stars of heaven, of moonbeams, and that of sunbeams, which, I doubt not, the prince will bring you, according to promise, in the morning. When you have driven with him in his carriage all day, towards evening you will find yourself in a thick wood. Say to him you are tired with sitting in the carriage all day, and ask to be allowed to walk a little way in the wood before sundown. I, meantime, will place ready my wooden figure of an old woman, which you will find there, and, watching for a moment when he has his head turned, place yourself inside the figure and walk away. There is another thing which you must do, which is very important. When the ring was lost, you must know it was he who took it, and, though he kept it studiously concealed all the while he was in your father's palace, he will now carry it boldly slung on the feather in his cap; this you must find means of possessing yourself of during the journey, because it is essential to you that you should have it in your own hands. And fear nothing either, in making your escape, for the ring is your own property, which he has falsely taken; and, in leaving him, remember he can have no power over you against your will. I may not inform you what may befall you in your new character as poor Maria Wood, but be good and courageous; always, as now, choose the right bravely in all questions and doubts, and you shall not go unrewarded.'

               There was little time for leave-taking between the good teacher and her affectionate pupil, for the prince almost immediately after came to claim his bride, and all the neighbours and friends came, too, to the festivities. The dress woven of sunbeams was brought by four-and-twenty pages, for it was so dazzling they could not hold it for more than five minutes at a time, and they had to carry it by relays.

               At last leave-takings and festivities were over, and, amid the good-wishes and blessings of all, Maria drove away in the prince's carriage. On they drove all day, and towards the end of it, as it was getting dark, Maria contrived to twitch the ring from the prince's cap without his being aware of it; presently after she exclaimed, 'Oh dear! how cramped I feel from sitting all day in this carriage; cannot I walk a little way in this wood before it gets dark?'

               'Most certainly you can, if you wish,' replied the prince, who, having everything his own way, was in a very accommodating humour.

               When they had walked a little way down the forest-path, Maria espied the wooden form she was to assume, placed ready under a tree.

               'That old woman will have a longish way to go to get a night's shelter, I fancy,' exclaimed the prince, with a laugh which made Maria shudder, both from its heartlessness and also because it reminded her that she would soon find herself alone, far from shelter, in that dark wood. But was it not better to be alone in the dark than in such company as that she was about to leave, she said to herself. Then she turned once more to look at it. The figure looked so natural she could not forbear saying mechanically, 'Poor old woman! give me a little coin to bestow on her that she may wish us Godspeed on our night-journey.'

               'Nonsense!' replied the prince. 'Never let me hear you talk such idle stuff. And, come, it is time to go back into the carriage; it is getting quite dark.'

               'Oh! what a beautiful firefly!' exclaimed Maria, reminded by the speech to hasten her separation from her uncongenial companion, 'Oh, do catch it for me!'

               The prince lifted his cap, and ran a few steps after the insect. 'Oh, I see another, and I shall catch it before you catch yours--you'll see!' So saying, she darted towards the tree where the wooden figure stood ready, and placing herself inside, walked slowly and freely along, counterfeiting the gait of an aged and weary woman.

               The prince had soon caught the firefly and was bringing it back in triumph, when, to his dismay, Maria was nowhere to be seen. He ran this way and that, called and shouted in vain. The servants with the carriage were too far off to have seen anything; there was no witness to appeal to but the old woman.

               'Which way did the young lady run who was walking with me just now?' he eagerly inquired.

               'Down that path there to the right, as fast as the firefly itself could fly, and if she comes back as quickly as she went she will be back presently,' replied Maria Wood, feigning the voice of an old woman.

               The prince ran in the direction indicated, and was soon himself lost in the mazes of the forest, where he wandered hopelessly all night; and only when the morning light came was he able to make his way back to his carriage, and drive home ashamed and crestfallen, giving up his conquest in despair, and vowing useless vengeance against the fairy godmother, whose intervention he now recognised it was had baffled him.

               Maria meantime walked steadily and fearlessly along, guided by the stars which peeped here and there through the tall trees. Nor was shelter so far off as the prince had said. Before very long a party of charcoal-burners hailed her, and offered a share of such poor hospitality as they could command. It was very different from the comforts of her father's house; but Maria took it as the first instalment of the hardships she had accepted.

               Maria's wooden form was very skilfully made; the limbs had supple joints, which could be moved by the person inside just like those of a living being; and the clothes the teacher had provided being just like those of the country people about, no one entertained the least suspicion that Maria Wood, as she had now become, was anything different from themselves.

               The charcoal-burners were kind, simple people, and, finding Maria willing to assist them in their labours to the extent of her powers, proposed to her to stay and cast in her lot with them as long as the season for their work lasted; and she did their hard work and shared their poor fare with never a word of complaint.

               At last, one day, when she was on I know not what errand, at some distance from the encampment, the young king of the country, who had lately been called to the throne, came through the forest hunting, with a large retinue of followers. Crash, crash, like thunder, went the brushwood as the wild boar trampled it down, and the eager dogs bounded after him with lightning speed. They passed close to Maria, who was as much alarmed as if she had really been the old woman she seemed to be: but when she saw the riders bearing down upon her, their horses' hoofs tearing up the soil, and the branches everywhere giving way before their impetuosity, her heart failed her entirely, and she swooned away upon the grass. The king, however, was the only one whose course passed over the spot where she was, and he only perceived her in time to rein up his mount just before it might have trampled on her.

               'See here to this old body, whom we have nearly frightened to death,' he cried; and the huntsmen came and lifted her up.

               'Some of you carry her home to the palace, that she may be attended to,' said the king further; and they carried her home to the palace, and laid her on a bed, and restored her senses.

               When the king came home from the hunt, he would go himself to see how it had fared with her; and when he found her almost restored he asked her whither she would wish to be sent.

               'Little it matters to me where I go,' replied Maria Wood, in the saddened voice of grief-stricken age; 'for home and kindred have I none. Little it matters where I lay my weary bones to rest.'

               When the king heard her speak thus he compassionated her, and inquired if there was any service in the household that could be offered her.

               'Please your Majesty, there is not much strength in her for work,' replied the steward; 'but, if such is your royal will, she can be set to help the scullions in the kitchen.'

               'Will that suit you, old dame?' inquired the king. 'They shall not ask too much of you, and a good table and warm shelter shall never be wanting.'

               'All thanks to your Majesty's bounty. My heart could desire nothing more than to live thus under the shadow of your Majesty,' replied Maria, making a humble obeisance.

               And thus Maria, from a princess, became a servant of servants.

               'What's the use of giving us such a cranky old piece as that for a help?' said the scullion to the turnspit, as Maria was introduced to her new quarters.

               'Why, as to that, as she has taken the service she must do it, cranky or not cranky,' answered the turnspit.

               'Aye, I dare say we shall be able to get it out of her one way or another,' replied the scullion.

               And they did get it out of her; and Maria had more put upon her, and less of kind words and scarcely better food than with the charcoal-burners. But she took it all in silence and patience, and no complaint passed her lips. She had no fixed duties, but one called her here and another there; she was at everyone's bidding, but she did her best to content them all.

               Then came the Carneval; and on the last three days every servant had license to don a domino and dance at the king's ball. What an opportunity for Maria Wood! After serving in her unbecoming disguise with so much endurance and perseverance for now a full year, here was one day on which she might wear a becoming dress, and enjoy herself according to the measure of her age and sex, and due position in the world.

               All the household, all royal as it was, was in a hubbub of confusion. No one was at work--no one at his post; and there was no one to notice that Maria Wood was absent, like the rest.

               Locking herself into the loft which served her for a sleeping-place, Maria not only came out of her wooden disguise, but took out of it the garment woven of the stars of heaven--a most convenient dress for the occasion. At a masqued ball no one can recognise anybody else, except by a guess suggested by familiar characteristics which the domino fails to disguise. But no one at the king's court was familiar with the characteristics of Maria Wood; and wherever she passed the whole company was in an excitement to know whose was the elegant figure shrouded in such a marvellous costume. But there was so much majesty in her air, that no one durst ask her to dance or so much as approach her.

               Only the king himself felt conscious of the right to offer to lead her to the dance; and she, who had not forgotten how handsome he was, and how kind he had been on the night that his huntsmen had nearly frightened her to death in the forest, right willingly accepted the favour. But even he was so awed by her grace and dignity, that, charmed as he was with her conversation, and burning to know her style and title, he yet could not frame the question that would ascertain whence she had come.

               Very early in the evening, while the other masquers reckoned the amusement was only beginning, Maria, with characteristic moderation, chose an opportunity for withdrawing unperceived from the ballroom.

               It will readily be imagined that the next night every one was full of curiosity, and the king most of all, to know whether the lady in the starry dress would appear again; and the more that, though everybody had been talking of her to the exclusion of everyone else the whole intervening day through, no one could offer a satisfactory conjecture as to who she could possibly be.

               While all eyes were full of expectation, accordingly, the second evening, suddenly and unannounced there appeared in their midst a form, graceful and mobile like hers they had so much admired, but draped in a still more dazzling dress (for Maria this night wore her garment woven of moonbeams); and it was only the king who had the certainty that it was really the same person.

               'Why did you take away all the light of our ball so early last night?' inquired the king, as they were dancing together.

               'I have to be up early, and so I must go to bed early,' replied Maria.

               'And what can a sylph-like creature like you have to get up early in the morning for? You are only fit to lie on a bed of roses, with nightingales to sing to you,' pursued the king.

               'My occupations are very different, I can assure your Majesty,' said Maria, with a hearty laugh.

               'What can those occupations possibly be?' inquired the king eagerly; 'I am dying to know.'

               'Oh, fie! You must not ask a domino such a direct question as that; it is as bad as asking her name, and that is against all rules. But see, the dancers await your Majesty; we are putting them all out.'

               Thus she put him off, and she fenced so well that he succeeded no better in searching out the mystery in all his subsequent attempts. Though he had determined, too, never to leave her side all the evening, that he might certainly observe which way she went, she was so alert that she defeated his plans. Kings have a certain etiquette to observe, even at a Carneval ball; and while social exigencies demanded that he should bestow a salute on one and another of the distinguished personages present, Maria contrived to gather her shining raiment round her so as to invert its dazzling folds, and glide away unperceived.

               The king was beside himself with vexation when he found she was gone; nor could he sleep all the succeeding night, or rather those hours which must be stolen out of the day to make a night of when the real night has been spent in revels. One thought occupied him, which was that the succeeding night was the last in which he could expect to have the chance of obtaining an explanation from his fair partner of the dance. The next day began the gloom of Lent, and she would disappear from his sight forever. He arranged in his head a dozen forms of conversation by which to entrap her into some admission by which he could find out who she could possibly be; he determined to be more vigilant than ever in observing her movements; and, to provide against every possible chance of failure, he stationed guards at every exit of the ballroom, with strict orders to follow her when she passed.

               In the midst of the ball on the third night Maria entered more radiant than ever, having on her dress woven of sunbeams. The masquers put their hands up to shade their eyes as she passed, and the chandeliers and torches were paled by its brilliance. The king was at her side immediately, but though he put in requisition all the devices he had prepared, Maria succeeded in evading them all, and the evening passed away without his being a bit wiser about how to see more of her than he had been at the beginning. The only thing that gave him a little hope that she did not mean absolutely to abandon him, was that in the course of the evening she took out a ring, which she told him had never fitted anyone yet, and begged him, as a matter of curiosity, to try it on his hand; and then when it strangely happened that it fitted him perfectly, she could not altogether conceal the pleasure it seemed to give her. Nevertheless, she put up the ring again, and would give no further explanation about it any more than about herself.

               By-and-by, choosing her moment as dexterously as before, she made her escape without exciting the king's attention. The guards, however, were all expectation, and notwithstanding that she had taken the precaution of turning the sunbeams inwards, they recognised her, and followed softly after her as they had been bidden. Maria, however, did not fail to perceive they were following her, and, to divert their attention, took off a string of precious pearls she wore round her throat, and, unthreading them on the ground, escaped swiftly to her loft while the guards were occupied in gathering up the treasure.

               The king was disconsolate beyond measure when he found that all his schemes were foiled, and that his radiant maiden had passed away like the rays in which she was clothed, leaving only darkness and weariness for him. So disconsolate he grew that nothing could distract him. He would no more occupy himself with the affairs of the state, still less with any minor occupations. He could not bear the light of the sun because its beams reminded him of his loss, and he dreaded similarly the sight of the moon or the stars, but, shut up in a dark room almost hopeless, he wept the weary days away.

               So remarkable a change in the habits of the young king became the subject of general comment, and could not fail to reach the ears of even so insignificant a menial as Maria. She, indeed, had every reason to hear of it, for scarcely could the afflicted king be induced to take the simplest food, and the attendants of the kitchen were reduced to complete inactivity. Maria was no longer called hither and thither at everyone's pleasure, and as long as this inactivity lasted she knew the king was still of the same mind about herself. But at last the talk of the kitchen took a more alarming character; it was reported that physicians had been called in, and had pronounced that unless means were found to distract him his state of despondency would prove fatal, but that nothing which had been tried had the least effect in rousing him from his melancholy.

               Meantime Lent was passing away and Easter was close at hand. Maria thought she might now be satisfied with his constancy, and determined to take the step which she had good reason to believe would restore all his vigour.

               Accordingly, while the cooks and scullions were all dispersed about one thing and another, she went into the kitchen and made a cake, into which she put the ring, and took it up herself to the queen-mother. It was not very easy for such a haggard old woman to obtain admission to the private apartments, but when she declared she had come about a remedy for the king, she was made welcome. Having thus obtained the ear of the queen-mother, she assured her, with many protestations, that if the king could he made to eat the whole of the cake, without giving the least piece of it to anyone, he would be immediately cured. But that if he gave away the least piece the virtue might be lost. This was lest he should thus give away the ring to anyone. The ladies waiting on the queen laughed at the old woman's pretensions, and would have driven her away with contumely, but the queen said: 'Nay, who knows but there may be healing in it. Experience often teaches the old remedies which science has failed to discover.'

               Then she dismissed Maria with a present, and took the cake in to the king, trying to amuse him with the old woman's story; but the king refused to be amused, and let the cake be. Only as he took no notice of what food he ate, and they gave him this cake for all his meals, he took it as he would have taken anything else that had been set before him. When he cut it, his knife struck against something hard, and when he had pulled this out, he found it was the very ring his sylphlike partner had given him the night she wore the dress woven of sunbeams.

               At the sight he started like one waking from a trance.

               'How came this ring here?' he exclaimed; and the queen-mother, who had stood by to see the effect of the remedy, replied,

               'A certain old woman, whom you befriended in the forest and told the servants to shelter in the palace, brought me the cake, saying it would prove a remedy for your melancholy, which she had prepared out of gratitude.'

               'Let her be called instantly hither,' then said the king; and they went to fetch Maria Wood; but Maria could nowhere be found.

               The king was at this announcement very nearly relapsing into his former condition; but the idea came to his mind to find something out by means of the ring itself. Therefore he summoned together all the goldsmiths, and refiners, and alchemists of his kingdom, and bid them tell him the history of the ring.

               At the end of seven days' trial the oldest of the alchemists brought it back to the king and said:

               'We find, O King, that this ring is made of gold which comes from afar. Moreover, that the workmanship is such as is only produced in the kingdoms of the West, and the characters on it pronounce that its owner is a princess of high degree, whose dominions exceed greatly those of the King's Majesty in magnitude.'

               The king now ordered a more urgent search to be made for Maria Wood, as the only clue by which to reach the fair owner of the ring; and Maria, having heard by report of the alchemists' announcement, thought it was time to let herself be known. Habiting herself, therefore, in becoming attire, with jewels befitting her rank, with all of which the fairy had amply provided her, she entered for the last time her wooden covering, and went up to the king in answer to his summons.

               'Come hither, good woman,' said the king encouragingly; 'you have indeed done me good service in sending me this ring, and have repaid a hundredfold the little favour I bestowed on you in taking you into the palace. If, now, you will further bring me hither her to whom this ring belongs, or take me where I may find her, you shall not only live in the palace, but shall live there in royal state and luxury, and whatsoever more you may desire.'

               At these words Maria stepped out of her wooden case, and stood before the king in all her youthful beauty, telling him all her story.

               The proofs that supported it were sufficient to silence every doubt; and when the people were called together to celebrate her marriage with the king, the whole nation hailed her accession as their queen with the greatest delight.

               Soon after, the royal pair went to visit Maria's father, who had the joy of knowing that his child was really well established in life. They stayed with him till he died; and then his dominions were added to those of the king, Maria's husband. Maria did not forget to inquire for her good mistress, but she had long ago gone back to Fairyland.


Prior to the taleNext, are four stories in which many incidents of the Cinderella type are set in a different framework; they are represented in the Gaelic by 'The King who wanted to marry his Daughter;' at the end of which reference will be found to other versions, where are details occurring in one or other of the following: that from Straparola is naturally the most like the Roman, but it is not like any one of them all throughout, and forms a remarkable link between the first Roman and the two Gaelic versions. The girl's answer, that she 'came from the country of candlesticks,' in the second version, is noteworthy, because it connects it with the Roman story of the 'Candeliera,' at the same time that it conveys no sense in its own. The box in the Gaelic versions recalls, just as Mr. Campbell says, the fine old chests which served for conveying home the corredo (including much more than trousseau in its modern use) of the bride, which are not only preserved as heirlooms and curiosities in many an Italian palace, but in many a museum also; there are some very handsome ones at Perugia. And yet it is just in the Italian versions that the box loses this character. In Straparola's, it is a wardrobe; in the two versions of 'Maria di Legno,' a wooden statue; in 'La Candeliera,' it has the shape of a candlestick. In the third version of 'Maria di Legno,' the box used is only an old press that happens to be in the deserted tower.

               Mr. Ralston, pp. 77-8, supplies a Russian counterpart, in which it is a prince, and not a maiden, who is conveyed in a provisioned box, and this is linked hereby with the Hungarian story of Iron Ladislas, who descends by such means to the underground world in search of his sisters; and this again connects this story both with those in which I have already had occasion to mention him and with one to follow called 'Il Rè Moro,' one I have in MS. called 'Il Cavolo d'oro,' &c. The first and more elaborate of the four Roman stories, 'Maria di Legno,' does the same.


[1] Maria di Legno.

[2] This is one of the very rare instances in which the Devil appears in Roman stories in this kind of character, so common in Northern popular tales.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Maria Wood (Maria di Legno): First Version
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 510B: Peau d'Asne

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