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

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Princess and the Gentleman, The


THERE was a princess whose mother had died of vexation because she was in love with a simple gentleman of the chamber, and would not hear of marrying anyone else, nor would she look at any prince who came to sue for her hand.

               The king, not only vexed at her perversity, but still more at the loss of his wife, determined to devise a punishment to cure them both. He had two suites of apartments walled up, therefore; in one he had the princess imprisoned, and in the other the gentleman of the chamber with whom she was in love. The latter, he commanded, should see no one, thinking thereby to weary him out; the former he allowed only to see such persons as he should appoint, these persons being the princes one or other of whom he wished her to marry; for he thought that in her weariness at being so shut up, she would welcome the hand of anyone who would be her deliverer. It was not so, however. When the cook came in to the princess with her dinner, she begged him to give her a chicken that had been killed several days, and kept till it had a bad smell.

               When her father now sent any prince to visit her she said, 'It is no use my father sending you here, the reason why I cannot marry anyone is that I have a great defect; my breath smells so bad that it is not pleasant for anyone to live with me.'

               As the bad smell from the chicken was readily to be perceived in the room, they all believed her words and went away. There was one, indeed, who was so much pleased with her seeming candour that he thought he would excuse her defect, but on a second visit the smell of the dead chicken drove him away too.

               The cooks in the kitchen talked together after the manner of cooks, and thus the cook who waited on the princess told what had happened to the cook who waited on the other prisoner, and thus it came round to his ears also, what the princess had done for love of him. Her stratagem then suggested another to him. Accordingly he sent to crave urgently an audience of the king.

               When the king came in to him he said:

               'Sire, closely as I have been confined and guarded, yet something of what goes on in the outer world has reached my ears, and the fact which has the greatest interest for me has naturally been told to me. I now learn that the reason why your daughter has refused the suit of all the princes is not as we thought, her love for me, but a certain personal defect, which in politeness I will not name more particularly. But that being so, my desire to marry her is, of course, cured like that of others; so if your majesty will give me my liberty I will go away to a far country, and your majesty would never hear of me any more.'

               The king was delighted to get rid of him, for he believed that if he were at a distance the great obstacle to his daughter's happiness would be removed. As he knew nothing about the chicken, he thought that all the suitors had believed the princess's representations upon her simple word; and as he very well knew she had no defect, he thought the time would come when some prince should please her, whom she also should please. Therefore, he very willingly gave the gentleman his liberty, and bid him godspeed on his journey.

               The gentleman, however, before setting out, went to his friend the cook, and, giving him three hundred scudi, begged him to house him for a few nights, while he dug out an underground passage between the garden and the apartment where the princess was imprisoned.

               In the garden was a handsome terrace, all set out with life-sized statues; under one of these the gentleman worked his way, till he had reached the princess's chamber.

               'You here!' exclaimed the princess in great astonishment, as soon as he had made his way through.

               'Yes; I have come to fetch you,' he replied.

               She did not wait for a second injunction to escape from prison, but gathering all the money and jewels she had at command, she followed him through the underground way he had made.

               As soon as they had reached the free air, the gentleman replaced the statue, and no one could guess by which way they had passed. Then they went to a church to be married, and, after that, to a city a long way off, as the gentleman had promised the king he would.

               For a long time they lived very happily on the money and jewels each had brought from home; but, by-and-by, these came to an end, and neither durst write for more, for fear of betraying where they were. So at last, having no means of living, they engaged themselves to a rich lady who had a large mansion; [1] the one as butler, [2] and the other as nurse. [3] Here they were well content to live at peace; and the lady was well content to have two such faithful and intelligent dependents, and they might have lived here till the end of their lives, but for a coincidence [4] which strangely disconcerted them, as you shall hear, as well as what came of it.

               One day there came to visit the lady, their mistress, a nobleman belonging to the king's court. At dinner time the princess had to come to table along with the little daughter of the house, of whom she had the charge. Great was her terror when she recognised in the guest of the day one so familiar to herself and so near the sovereign. In conformity with the lowliness of the station she had assumed, she could escape actually talking to him, and she did her best to withdraw herself from his notice. She half hoped she had succeeded, when suddenly the butler had to come into the room to communicate an important despatch which had just arrived, to the mistress of the house. The princess could not restrain an anxious glance at the stranger, to see if he betrayed any sign of recognition; but he was used to courts, and therefore to dissemble; nor could she satisfy herself that he had discovered either of them. It was so likely that he should, however, that she was filled with fear, and he was no sooner gone than she held a long consultation with her husband as to what course they should pursue.

               In the end, the difficulty of finding other employment decided them to remain, for the probability that they would be tracked seemed remote. After all, they reasoned, was it likely that the nobleman should think it worth while to observe two persons occupying such humble posts with sufficient attention to see who they were or who they were not?

               The king meantime had been searching everywhere for his daughter, not being able by any means to divine how she could have escaped. Then one morning, all this time after, the nobleman comes down upon him with the news:

               'I have found the princess. She is living as nurse to the Duchessa such a one, and her husband is the butler.'

               The king could not rest a moment after he had heard the news; his travelling carriage was ordered round, and away he drove. It was just dinner-time when he arrived at the Duchessa's palace. If the princess had been terrified before, at being called to sit at table with a nobleman of the court, judge how much greater was her alarm when she saw her father himself seated at the board!

               Great as had been his indignation, however, the joy of again meeting his child after the long separation blotted out all his anger, and after embracing her tenderly, he placed her by his side at the table. It was only when he came to take leave, and realised that she really belonged to another that his ire broke forth again. At this point the Duchessa put in a word. She highly extolled the excellent qualities of her butler, and declared he had been so skilful in the administration of her affairs, that he deserved to have a kingdom committed to him. In short, she softened the king's heart so completely that she brought him to own that, as he had now grown very old and feeble, he could not do better than recognise him for his son-in-law, and associate him with himself in the government.

               And so he did, [5] and they all lived happily.



[1] 'Palazzo.'

[2] 'Credenziere,' confidential servant.

[3] 'Aia,' upper nurse, nursery governess.

[4] 'Combinazione.'

[5] 'E così fece' (and thus he did) is another of the expressions in universal use in Rome in tale-telling, forming a sort of refrain.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Princess and the Gentleman, The
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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