We were in the chestnut woods; I swinging lazily in my hammock, Clementina with her knitting, sitting on the grass beside me, a pretty clear pool reflecting the trees at our feet.
“Do you know the story of Monte Rochettino?” asked Clementina, taking a piece of dry bread to keep her mouth moist.
“No,” said I.
So she settled herself comfortably and began the following curious tale, in which ever and anon one seems to recognise a likeness to the old Greek legend of Cupid and Psyche; but a likeness all distorted in transmission through ignorant, unimaginative minds:—
ONCE upon a time there was a widow with three daughters. (“Women always have three daughters in fairy tales,” she added, by way of parenthesis.) This widow was very poor, so that when a famine came over the country she and her children were almost dying with hunger, and had to go out into the fields and get grass to eat. Once as they were looking for food they found a beautiful golden cabbage. The eldest girl took a zappa (a sort of pickaxe with only one arm to it) and tried to root up the cabbage. This she could not succeed in doing, but she broke off a leaf which she took to the market, and sold for a hundred gold scudi.
The next day the second daughter went, worked all day at the cabbage, and broke off two leaves. Away she went with them to the market, and got two hundred gold scudi.
The third morning the youngest daughter took the zappa, and went into the field. At the very first stroke the whole cabbage came up, and a little man jumped out of the earth; a very tiny little man he was, but beautifully dressed. He took the maiden by the hand, and led her down a flight of stairs underground. There she found herself in a beautiful palace, such as she had never dreamt of, all golden and shining. The little man gave her a bunch of keys, and said:—
“This palace is yours, you may do what you like, and go where you like in it. You are the mistress of it. The master of it, your husband, you will not see, he will only come to you at night. Be happy, and make no effort to look at him, or you will lose everything. If you want anything in the daytime call Monte Rochettino.”
With that the little man vanished. The maiden wandered all over the new dwelling, and when it was dark she laid herself down and waited for her husband, the master of the palace. So time went on. She loved her husband, although she had never seen him, and felt that she would be very happy if only she could know something about her mother and sisters.
At last she could bear the suspense no longer, and one morning she called “Monte Rochettino!”
In an instant the little man stood before her.
“Oh, Monte Rochettino,” said she, “let me go home and see my mother and sisters. Poor things, they must be so sad at losing me; they’ll think I am dead.”
“You’ll betray me,” said Monte Rochettino.
“No, no, I won’t: I promise you: only let me just go and see them.”
“Well, go, but be sure you don’t betray me, and be back in three days.”
So the girl went home, and her mother and sisters did all they could to prove their joy at seeing her, poor things. Then they asked her where she lived, and she told them she lived with her husband in a beautiful palace underground; but that her husband came to her at night, and she had never seen him. Then her mother said to her:—
“I will give you these matches and this candle. When he is asleep, light the candle, and see what he has round his neck.”
So the girl took the matches and the candle and went back to the palace.
“Well, have you betrayed me?” said Monte Rochettino.
“No,” said she.
“The better for you,” answered the little man.
That night while her husband was asleep, the girl got up softly, lighted the candle, and saw a box round her husband’s neck. The key was in the lock, she turned it, and went in.  She found herself in a room where was a woman weaving.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I am weaving swaddling clothes for the king’s son, who is about to be born.”
Then she went into another room and found a woman sewing.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I am making robes for the king’s son, who is about to be born.”
In the next room she found a shoemaker.
“What are you doing?” she asked again.
“Making shoes for the king’s son, who is about to be born.”
Then she went back, locked the box again, and held the candle low down to look at her husband. As she did so a drop of wax fell on his neck, and he woke.
“You have betrayed me,” said he, “and must lose me.”
In an instant she found herself standing above-ground, her zappa over her shoulder, and clad only in her nightdress, poor thing. She went a little way, and found the king’s washerwomen at work. They gave her some clothes and said:—
“You see that hill yonder? Walk all day till you come to it, and there you will find a shepherd, who will take you in for to-night.” (But really, they had been sent by her husband, and so had the shepherd.)
The poor girl walked all day, and in the evening came to the shepherd. He received her kindly, gave her supper and a bed, and in the morning made her some coffee and gave her breakfast. Then he said:—
“You see that other hill, over there? Walk all day till you come to it, there you will find my brother” (but really it was himself) “who will be kind to you. And now take this chestnut, but be sure you don’t open it unless you are in great need.”
So the poor thing walked all day until she reached the second hill and found the second shepherd. He gave her supper, a bed, and coffee in the morning, and then said:—
“Go on to the next hill, where you will find a third shepherd, my brother; ask him to take you in. Now take this nut, but be sure you don’t crack it unless you are in great need.”
That evening she reached the third shepherd, who treated her as the others had done. In the morning he said to her:—
“You must pass this first hill, and then you will find another; go up that, and you will come to a palace. In the palace lives a queen, who lost her little son, and who now receives poor women, and has them taken care of for forty days; she will be kind to you.” Then he gave her a walnut, saying:—“Mind you don’t crack it, unless you are in great need.”
So the poor creature walked and walked and walked, and in the evening reached the palace.
The queen received her kindly, and had her taken care of for forty days. Then she sent a servant, who said:—
“The queen says you must be off, she can’t keep you any longer.”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said the poor woman, “whatever shall I do? I have nowhere to go. I’ll crack the chestnut.”
She did so, and out jumped a lovely little golden dog, which capered about and caressed her and fawned on her. She sent it as a present to the queen, who said:—
“Why, this woman is richer than I am; let her stay forty days more.”
So the poor thing remained forty days longer, and then the servant came again to send her away. This time she cracked the nut, and out came two beautiful golden capons. These, too, she sent to the queen, who said:—
“This is certainly a wonderful woman, let her stay another forty days.”
At the end of the forty days the queen sent the servant again, saying:—
“You’ll eat up all my kingdom. Be off with you.”
Then the woman cracked the walnut, and found a beautiful golden wool-winder, which she sent to the queen.
“I never had such things,” said the queen, “this woman is richer than I am. Let her stop as long as she likes.”
Then the poor woman was glad indeed, and stayed there quietly until she gave birth to a little daughter. The servant took the baby into the kitchen to put on the swaddling-bands; while she was doing so a beautiful white dove alighted on the window-sill, and said:—
“If the cocks no longer sang, If the bells no longer rang, If you knew this, oh mother mine, Lovely you’d be, oh daughter mine.”
Then the servant went to the queen and told her what had happened.
“To-morrow I’ll come myself,” said she, “and see the dove, and hear what it says.”
As soon as she had heard it, she had all the cocks in the town killed, and all the bells tied up: and the next morning she carried the babe into the kitchen herself. No sooner had she sat down than the dove alighted on her shoulder. She unswaddled the baby, and the little thing stretched out its tiny arms in joy at feeling itself free. As it did so, it touched the dove, who was instantly changed into a handsome young man. The queen knew him for her son, the poor woman for her husband, and there was great feasting and joy in all the palace. If they’re not alive, they must be dead: if they’re not dead, they’re still living.