There was once upon a time a king who reigned over a country called ‘Bello Puojo.’ He was very rich and powerful, and had everything in the world he could desire except a child. But at last, after he had been married for many years, and was quite an old man, his wife Renzolla presented him with a fine daughter, whom they called Cannetella.
She grew up into a beautiful girl, and was as tall and straight as a young fir-tree. When she was eighteen years old her father called her to him and said: ‘You are of an age now, my daughter, to marry and settle down; but as I love you more than anything else in the world, and desire nothing but your happiness, I am determined to leave the choice of a husband to yourself. Choose a man after your own heart, and you are sure to satisfy me.’ Cannetella thanked her father very much for his kindness and consideration, but told him that she had not the slightest wish to marry, and was quite determined to remain single.
The king, who felt himself growing old and feeble, and longed to see an heir to the throne before he died, was very unhappy at her words, and begged her earnestly not to disappoint him.
When Cannetella saw that the king had set his heart on her marriage, she said: ‘Very well, dear father, I will marry to please you, for I do not wish to appear ungrateful for all your love and kindness; but you must find me a husband handsomer, cleverer, and more charming than anyone else in the world.’
The king was overjoyed by her words, and from early in the morning till late at night he sat at the window and looked carefully at all the passers-by, in the hopes of finding a son-in-law among them.
One day, seeing a very good-looking man crossing the street, the king called his daughter and said: ‘Come quickly, dear Cannetella, and look at this man, for I think he might suit you as a husband.’
They called the young man into the palace, and set a sumptuous feast before him, with every sort of delicacy you can imagine. In the middle of the meal the youth let an almond fall out of his mouth, which, however, he picked up again very quickly and hid under the table-cloth.
When the feast was over the stranger went away, and the king asked Cannetella: ‘Well, what did you think of the youth?’
‘I think he was a clumsy wretch,’ replied Cannetella. ‘Fancy a man of his age letting an almond fall out of his mouth!’
When the king heard her answer he returned to his watch at the window, and shortly afterwards a very handsome young man passed by. The king instantly called his daughter to come and see what she thought of the new comer.
‘Call him in,’ said Cannetella, ‘that we may see him close.’
Another splendid feast was prepared, and when the stranger had eaten and drunk as much as he was able, and had taken his departure, the king asked Cannetella how she liked him.
‘Not at all,’ replied his daughter; ‘what could you do with a man who requires at least two servants to help him on with his cloak, because he is too awkward to put it on properly himself?’
‘If that’s all you have against him,’ said the king, ‘I see how the land lies. You are determined not to have a husband at all; but marry someone you shall, for I do not mean my name and house to die out.’
‘Well, then, my dear parent,’ said Cannetella, ‘I must tell you at once that you had better not count upon me, for I never mean to marry unless I can find a man with a gold head and gold teeth.’
The king was very angry at finding his daughter so obstinate; but as he always gave the girl her own way in everything, he issued a proclamation to the effect that any man with a gold head and gold teeth might come forward and claim the princess as his bride, and the kingdom of Bello Puojo as a wedding gift.
Now the king had a deadly enemy called Scioravante, who was a very powerful magician. No sooner had this man heard of the proclamation than he summoned his attendant spirits and commanded them to gild his head and teeth. The spirits said, at first, that the task was beyond their powers, and suggested that a pair of golden horns attached to his forehead would both be easier to make and more comfortable to wear; but Scioravante would allow no compromise, and insisted on having a head and teeth made of the finest gold. When it was fixed on his shoulders he went for a stroll in front of the palace. And the king, seeing the very man he was in search of, called his daughter, and said: ‘Just look out of the window, and you will find exactly what you want.’
Then, as Scioravante was hurrying past, the king shouted out to him: ‘Just stop a minute, brother, and don’t be in such desperate haste. If you will step in here you shall have my daughter for a wife, and I will send attendants with her, and as many horses and servants as you wish.’
‘A thousand thanks,’ returned Scioravante; ‘I shall be delighted to marry your daughter, but it is quite unnecessary to send anyone to accompany her. Give me a horse and I will carry off the princess in front of my saddle, and will bring her to my own kingdom, where there is no lack of courtiers or servants, or, indeed, of anything your daughter can desire.’
At first the king was very much against Cannetella’s departing in this fashion; but finally Scioravante got his way, and placing the princess before him on his horse, he set out for his own country.
Towards evening he dismounted, and entering a stable he placed Cannetella in the same stall as his horse, and said to her: ‘Now listen to what I have to say. I am going to my home now, and that is a seven years’ journey from here; you must wait for me in this stable, and never move from the spot, or let yourself be seen by a living soul. If you disobey my commands, it will be the worse for you.’
The princess answered meekly: ‘Sir, I am your servant, and will do exactly as you bid me; but I should like to know what I am to live on till you come back?’
‘You can take what the horses leave,’ was Scioravante’s reply.
When the magician had left her Cannetella felt very miserable, and bitterly cursed the day she was born. She spent all her time weeping and bemoaning the cruel fate that had driven her from a palace into a stable, from soft down cushions to a bed of straw, and from the dainties of her father’s table to the food that the horses left.
She led this wretched life for a few months, and during that time she never saw who fed and watered the horses, for it was all done by invisible hands.
One day, when she was more than usually unhappy, she perceived a little crack in the wall, through which she could see a beautiful garden, with all manner of delicious fruits and flowers growing in it. The sight and smell of such delicacies were too much for poor Cannetella, and she said to herself, ‘I will slip quietly out, and pick a few oranges and grapes, and I don’t care what happens. Who is there to tell my husband what I do? and even if he should hear of my disobedience, he cannot make my life more miserable than it is already.’
So she slipped out and refreshed her poor, starved body with the fruit she plucked in the garden.
But a short time afterwards her husband returned unexpectedly, and one of the horses instantly told him that Cannetella had gone into the garden, in his absence, and had stolen some oranges and grapes.
Scioravante was furious when he heard this, and seizing a huge knife from his pocket he threatened to kill his wife for her disobedience. But Cannetella threw herself at his feet and implored him to spare her life, saying that hunger drove even the wolf from the wood. At last she succeeded in so far softening her husband’s heart that he said, ‘I will forgive you this time, and spare your life; but if you disobey me again, and I hear, on my return, that you have as much as moved out of the stall, I will certainly kill you. So, beware; for I am going away once more, and shall be absent for seven years.’
With these words he took his departure, and Cannetella burst into a flood of tears, and, wringing her hands, she moaned: ‘Why was I ever born to such a hard fate? Oh! father, how miserable you have made your poor daughter! But, why should I blame my father? for I have only myself to thank for all my sufferings. I got the cursed head of gold, and it has brought all this misery on me. I am indeed punished for not doing as my father wished!’
When a year had gone by, it chanced, one day, that the king’s cooper passed the stables where Cannetella was kept prisoner. She recognised the man, and called him to come in. At first he did not know the poor princess, and could not make out who it was that called him by name. But when he heard Cannetella’s tale of woe, he hid her in a big empty barrel he had with him, partly because he was sorry for the poor girl, and, even more, because he wished to gain the king’s favour. Then he slung the barrel on a mule’s back, and in this way the princess was carried to her own home. They arrived at the palace about four o’clock in the morning, and the cooper knocked loudly at the door. When the servants came in haste and saw only the cooper standing at the gate, they were very indignant, and scolded him soundly for coming at such an hour and waking them all out of their sleep.
The king hearing the noise and the cause of it, sent for the cooper, for he felt certain the man must have some important business, to have come and disturbed the whole palace at such an early hour.
The cooper asked permission to unload his mule, and Cannetella crept out of the barrel. At first the king refused to believe that it was really his daughter, for she had changed so terribly in a few years, and had grown so thin and pale, that it was pitiful to see her. At last the princess showed her father a mole she had on her right arm, and then he saw that the poor girl was indeed his long-lost Cannetella. He kissed her a thousand times, and instantly had the choicest food and drink set before her.
After she had satisfied her hunger, the king said to her: ‘Who would have thought, my dear daughter, to have found you in such a state? What, may I ask, has brought you to this pass?’
Cannetella replied: ‘That wicked man with the gold head and teeth treated me worse than a dog, and many a time, since I left you, have I longed to die. But I couldn’t tell you all that I have suffered, for you would never believe me. It is enough that I am once more with you, and I shall never leave you again, for I would rather be a slave in your house than queen in any other.’
In the meantime Scioravante had returned to the stables, and one of the horses told him that Cannetella had been taken away by a cooper in a barrel.
When the wicked magician heard this he was beside himself with rage, and, hastening to the kingdom of Bello Puojo, he went straight to an old woman who lived exactly opposite the royal palace, and said to her: ‘If you will let me see the king’s daughter, I will give you whatever reward you like to ask for.’
The woman demanded a hundred ducats of gold, and Scioravante counted them out of his purse and gave them to her without a murmur. Then the old woman led him to the roof of the house, where he could see Cannetella combing out her long hair in a room in the top story of the palace.
The princess happened to look out of the window, and when she saw her husband gazing at her, she got such a fright that she flew downstairs to the king, and said: ‘My lord and father, unless you shut me up instantly in a room with seven iron doors, I am lost.’
‘If that’s all,’ said the king, ‘it shall be done at once.’ And he gave orders for the doors to be closed on the spot.
When Scioravante saw this he returned to the old woman, and said: ‘I will give you whatever you like if you will go into the palace, hide under the princess’s bed, and slip this little piece of paper beneath her pillow, saying, as you do so: “May everyone in the palace, except the princess, fall into a sound sleep.”’
The old woman demanded another hundred golden ducats, and then proceeded to carry out the magician’s wishes. No sooner had she slipped the piece of paper under Cannetella’s pillow, than all the people in the palace fell fast asleep, and only the princess remained awake.
Then Scioravante hurried to the seven doors and opened them one after the other. Cannetella screamed with terror when she saw her husband, but no one came to her help, for all in the palace lay as if they were dead. The magician seized her in the bed on which she lay, and was going to carry her off with him, when the little piece of paper which the old woman had placed under her pillow fell on the floor.
In an instant all the people in the palace woke up, and as Cannetella was still screaming for help, they rushed to her rescue. They seized Scioravante and put him to death; so he was caught in the trap which he had laid for the princess — and, as is so often the case in this world, the biter himself was bit.
[From the Italian, Kletke.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57