Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why is the dove a homing bird?

The Story of the Bewitched Calf and the Wicked Step-mother.

It is very curious that, so far, very few tales and legends have been collected referring to the dove, a bird which plays so prominent a part in Ancient Greek and heathen worship. I have not been able hitherto to discover more than passing references to the dove in legendary tales, nor is there anything in Rumanian folk-lore that would explain the origin of the dove. There is only one legend, which is in a way a distinct variant of the Cinderella cycle.

I will give it here briefly.

THE beginning agrees on the whole with the usual type. There is the bad step-mother, who has an ugly daughter, and persecutes the beautiful daughter of her second husband. Among other trials, besides keeping her unkempt and dirty and sending her out to feed the cattle, she gives her one day a bag full of hemp, and tells her that in the evening she is to bring it home carded, spun, woven into cloth and bleached. The poor girl did not know what to do. Her father had given her a calf. This calf was "a wise one." So the calf came to the girl and said, "Do not fear; look after the other cows: by the evening it will be all ready." So it was.

               When she brought the white cloth home, her step-mother did not know what to say. The next day she gave her two bags full of hemp, and again the little calf worked at it and got it ready by the evening. When the woman saw what had happened, she said, "This is uncanny; no human being can do such work in one day. I must find out what is happening."

               The next morning she gave her three bags full of hemp and followed her stealthily to the field to see what she was doing. There, hidden in a bush, she overheard the conversation between the little calf and the girl. Straightway she went home, put herself to bed, and said that she was very ill and was sure to die.

               Her husband, coming home and finding her in what he thought was a very sorry plight, believed that she was really very ill. She called him to her bedside, and said, "I know I am dying; there is only one way, however, by which I can be saved, and that is to kill the little calf and to give me some of its meat roasted." The poor man did not know what to do, and he said to his wife, "Why, that is all that my little girl has, and if that calf is killed she will remain with nothing."

               "Do as you like," she replied, "if you prefer a calf to my life." The little calf, which was "wise," knew what was going to happen, and told the girl that the step-mother was sure to have it killed, but she must not grieve. The only thing the calf wanted her to do was to gather up all the bones after the meal, and to hide them in a hollow of a tree not far from the field. Everything happened as the calf had foretold, and on the next day the woman ate as one who had been starving for a week, as ravenously as if the wolves were fighting at her mouth. The old man also ate of the calf, but the girl refused to touch the meat. After the meal was over she took all the bones and put them in the hollow of a tree as she was told.

               Soon afterwards, the step-mother again put her to a trial. Going with her husband and her own daughter to church, she left her at home in her dirty clothes, and giving her a bag full of linseed and poppy-seed mixed, she told her that she must sweep the room, get the meal ready, wash the plates, clean the pots and separate the linseed from the poppy seed.

               Now the bones of the calf had turned into three white doves. These came to her and did all the work, and told her at the same time to go to the hollow tree; there she would find a carriage and pair and beautiful clothes waiting for her. She did so, went to church in state, left before the others, and was at home to meet her people coming back from church and found the house swept and clean, and the linseed separated from the poppy seed. They spoke of the beautiful girl who had come to church, and chided their poor daughter for staying at home.

               The second week the same thing happened. This time there were two sacks of poppy seed and linseed which she had to separate. And again the doves helped. And so on the third Sunday. The son of the squire, who had seen her on the former two Sundays, tried to stop her on her way out of church, and trod on her slipper, which was knocked off her foot. She did not wait to recover it, but returned home as fast as she could. The young man went round with the slipper to find the person whom it would fit. When he came near the house, the step-mother, fearing lest he see her step-daughter, hid her under a big trough behind the door. When the young man, after having tried the slipper on her daughter, whom it did not fit, asked whether there was another girl in the house, and she replied, "None," but a cock who was standing by began to sing: "O that old crone is telling lies; there is another girl hidden under the trough behind the door."

               The young man, hearing the words of the cock, which the old woman tried in vain to drive away, sent his servant into the house to find out whether it was so. He lifted the trough and found there the other girl, clothed in dirty rags and huddled up. The woman, seeing that the girl had been discovered, said to the man, "Do not take any notice of her; she is a dirty slut and an idiot." But the cock again sang out, "O that old crone is telling lies; it is the daughter of the old man, and she is very wise." The young man, who was waiting outside, became impatient, and calling for the servant, he told him to bring the girl out. He tried the slipper, which fitted like a glove, and there and then he married her.

               And this is the origin of the dove.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why is the dove a homing bird?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: ATU 510A: Cinderella

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