Italian Popular Tales
by Thomas Crane
THERE was once a king and queen who had no son, and they were always making vows to obtain one; and they promised that if they had a son, or even a daughter, they would maintain two fountains for seven years: one running wine, the other oil. After this vow the queen gave birth to a handsome boy.
As soon as the child was born, the two fountains were erected, and everybody went and took oil and wine. At the end of seven years the fountains began to dry up. An ogress, wishing to collect the drops that still fell from the fountain, went there with a sponge and pitcher. She sopped up the drops with the sponge and then squeezed it in the pitcher. After she had worked so hard to fill this pitcher, the little son of the king, who was playing ball, from caprice threw a ball and broke the pitcher. When the old woman saw this, she said: "Listen. I can do nothing to you, for you are the king's son; but I can bestow upon you an imprecation: May you be unable to marry until you find Snow-white-fire-red!" The cunning child took a piece of paper and wrote down the old woman's words, put it away in a drawer, and said nothing about it. When he was eighteen the king and queen wished him to marry. Then he remembered the old woman's imprecation, took the piece of paper, and said: "Ah! If I do not find Snow-white-fire-red I cannot marry!" When it seemed fit, he took leave of his father and mother, and began his journey entirely alone. Months passed without meeting any one. One evening, night overtook him, tired and discouraged, in a plain in the midst of which was a large house.
At daybreak he saw an ogress coming, frightfully tall and stout, who cried: "Snow-white-fire-red, lower your tresses for me to climb up!" When the prince heard this he took heart, and said: "There she is!" Snow-white-fire-red lowered her tresses, which seemed never to end, and the ogress climbed up by them. The next day the ogress descended, and when the prince saw her depart, he came from under the tree where he had concealed himself, and cried: "Snow-white-fire-red, lower your tresses for me to climb up!" She, believing it was her mother (for she called the ogress mother), lowered her tresses, and the prince climbed boldly up. When he was up, he said: "Ah! My dear little sister, how I have labored to find you!" And he told her of the old woman's imprecation when he was seven years old.
She gave him some refreshments, and then said: "You see, if the ogress returns and finds you here, she will devour you. Hide yourself." The ogress returned, and the prince concealed himself.
After the ogress had eaten, her daughter gave her wine to drink, and made her drunk. Then she said: "My mother, what must I do to get away from here? Not that I want to go, for I wish to stay with you; but I want to know just out of curiosity. Tell me!" "What you must do to get away from here!" said the ogress. "You must enchant everything that there is here, so that I shall lose time. I shall call, and instead of you, the chair, the cupboard, the chest of drawers, will answer for you. When you do not appear, I will ascend. You must take the seven balls of yarn that I have laid away. When I come and do not find you, I shall pursue you; when you see yourself pursued, throw down the first ball, and then the others. I shall always overtake you until you throw down the last ball."
Her daughter heard all that she said, and remembered it. The next day the ogress went out, and Snow-white-fire-red and the prince did what they had to do. They went about the whole house, saying: "Table, you answer if my mother comes; chairs, answer if my mother comes; chest of drawers, answer if my mother comes;" and so she enchanted the whole house. Then she and the prince departed in such a hurry that they seemed to fly. When the ogress returned, she called: "Snow-white-fire- red, let down your tresses that I may climb up!" The table answered: "Come, come, mother!" She waited a while, and when no one appeared to draw her up, she called again: "Snow-white-fire-red, lower your tresses for me to climb up!" The chair answered: "Come, come, mother!" She waited a while, but no one appeared; then she called again, and the chest of drawers replied: "Come, come, mother!" Meanwhile the lovers were fleeing. When there was nothing left to answer, the ogress cried out: "Treason! Treason!" Then she got a ladder and climbed up. When she saw that her daughter and the balls of yarn were gone, she cried: "Ah, wretch! I will drink your blood!" Then she hastened after the fugitives, following their scent. They saw her afar off, and when she saw them, she cried: "Snow-white-fire-red, turn around so that I can see you." (If she had turned around she would have been enchanted.)
When the ogress had nearly overtaken them, Snow-white-fire-red threw down the first ball, and suddenly there arose a lofty mountain. The ogress was not disturbed; she climbed and climbed until she almost over took the two again. Then Snow-white-fire-red, seeing her near at hand, threw down the second ball, and there suddenly appeared a plain covered with razors and knives. The ogress, all cut and torn, followed after the lovers, dripping with blood.
When Snow-white-fire-red saw her near again, she threw down the third ball, and there arose a terrible river. The ogress threw herself into the river and continued her pursuit, although she was half dead. Then another ball, and there appeared a fountain of vipers, and many other things. At last, dying and worn out, the ogress stopped and cursed Snow- white-fire-red, saying: "The first kiss that the queen gives her son, may the prince forget you!" Then the ogress could stand it no longer, and died in great anguish.
The lovers continued their journey, and came to a town near where the prince lived. He said to Snow-white-fire-red: "You remain here, for you are not provided with proper clothes, and I will go and get what you need, and then you can appear before my father and mother." She consented, and remained.
When the queen beheld her son, she threw herself on him to kiss him. "Mother," said he, "I have made a vow not to allow myself to be kissed." The poor mother was petrified. At night, while he was asleep, his mother, who was dying to kiss him, went and did so. From that moment he forgot all about Snow-white-fire-red.
Let us leave the prince with his mother, and return to the poor girl, who was left in the street without knowing where she was. An old woman met her, and saw the poor girl, as beautiful as the sun, weeping. "What is the matter, my daughter?" "I do not know how I came here!" "My daughter, do not despair; come with me." And she took her to her house. The young girl was deft with her hands, and could work enchantment. She made things, and the old woman sold them, and so they both lived. One day the maiden said to the old woman that she wanted two bits of old cloth from the palace for some work she had to do. The old woman went to the palace, and began to ask for the bits, and said so much that at last she obtained them. Now the old woman had two doves, a male and a female, and with these bits of cloth Snow-white-fire-red dressed the doves so prettily that all who saw them marveled. The young girl took these doves, and whispered in their ears: "You are the prince, and you are Snow-white-fire-red. The king is at the table, eating; fly and relate all that you have undergone."
While the king, queen, prince, and many others were at the table, the beautiful doves flew in and alighted on the table. "How beautiful you are!" And all were greatly pleased. Then the dove which represented Snow-white-fire-red began: "Do you remember when you were young how your father promised a fountain of oil and one of wine for your birth?" The other dove answered: "Yes, I remember." "Do you remember the old woman whose pitcher of oil you broke? Do you remember?" "Yes, I remember." "Do you remember the imprecation she pronounced on you,-that you could not marry until you found Snow-white-fire-red?" "I remember," replied the other dove. In short, the first dove recalled all that had passed, and finally said: "Do you remember how you had the ogress at your heels, and how she cursed you, saying that at your mother's first kiss you must forget Snow-white-fire-red?" When the dove came to the kiss, the prince remembered everything, and the king and queen were astounded at hearing the doves speak.
When they had ended their discourse, the doves made a low bow and flew away. The prince cried: "Ho, there! Ho, there! See where those doves go! See where they go!" The servants looked and saw the doves alight on a country house. The prince hastened and entered it, and found Snow- white-fire-red. When he saw her he threw his arms about her neck, exclaiming: "Ah! My sister, how much you have suffered for me!" Straightway they dressed her beautifully and conducted her to the palace. When the queen saw her there, she said: "What a beauty!" Things were soon settled and the lovers were married.