The Maiden from whose Head Pearls fell on combing herself
(A Portuguese Tale)
THERE lived once a woman who had a son and a daughter. The son was a sailor. One day the mother, feeling very ill, and at death's door, called her daughter to her and said, "There, I give you this towel and comb; never use another towel but this one to wipe yourself with, or other comb to smooth your hair with." After saying this she died. After her mother's death, the girl always complied with the injunction of her mother. Whenever she used the comb many seed pearls and large-sized ones fell from her head; and when she wiped herself with the towel the same thing happened always. The maiden related this to her brother, and he advised her to keep all the pearls that fell and string them up in bunches. The maiden then formed six bunches with the pearls she had, and the brother told her he would take and sell them to some king next voyage he should make. And so it happened that after a time he embarked, and on reaching a certain country he went to the palace to offer the six bunches of pearls for sale to the king. A servant appeared and offered to take them and show them to his majesty, but the sailor refused to allow him to do so, saying that he must himself present them to the king in person, in order to settle about the price. He entered the king's apartment, and his majesty found the pearls to be very precious and rare, and paid him a large sum for them, asking him where he had been to discover such a valuable article. The young man told his majesty everything, relating how his mother, when she was dying, gave his sister a towel and a comb, and that every time she combed herself or used the towel, many large pearls and a number of seed pearls f from her head. The king said that he must bring his sister and present her to him, together with the towel and comb; and that if what he said was true, he would marry his sister; if it was all false, he should die.
The young sailor returned home happy and delighted, and gave his sister an account of what had occurred. The sister, very pleased at the result of his interview with the king, resolved to take the towel and the comb with her, and accompany her brother to the said country to marry the king. Before her departure she informed a neighbour of hers that she was going to be a queen. The neighbour asked her to do her a good turn, seeing that she was now going to be so rich and noble, and to allow her and daughter to go in her company.
The day arrived for the departure, and they all embarked; the maiden and brother, the neighbour and the daughter. When they were sailing far at sea the neighbour gave the maiden a drink to poison her. As the maiden became very ill, the brother, anxious for her safety, every day came to inquire how she was getting on. One day the neighbour gave her such a quantity of poison in the beverage that the maiden remained like one dead. The brother, believing that she was dead, had her corpse, with much grief, thrown into the sea, as was the custom. After that he began to lament, saying that he was very wretched and un fortunate now, as in his sister were centred his only hopes of advancing in life. The wily neighbour, hearing this, advised him to pass off her daughter as his sister to the king, and take her to the palace to present her. The brother replied, that the difficulty did not consist in that, but that he feared the towel and comb would not act with her as with his sister. They tested the girl, but no pearls or anything else ever fell when she made use of them. The neighbour then said that it was not to be expected that they would work there, but the moment they were in presence of the king the towel and comb would without a doubt work the miracle. They reached the said land, and they all three directed their steps to the palace. The young sailor presented his neighbour's daughter, the towel, and the comb to the king, saying she was his sister. The king ordered her at once to use the towel, but nothing fell. She combed herself with the comb, but instead of pearls, scurf fell from her head. The king being very angry, said to the sailor, "Then, you have deceived me. Now you must go to prison, and afterwards you shall be put to death." Just at this interval, a servant who had gone to the beach with his net to catch a fish for his majesty's service, on reaching the sea, saw a large whale which had been thrown on the beach and was dead. But inside the fish he saw something move, and heard a voice that said, "Take me out of this, take me out of this." The servant fetched a knife, and very carefully cut the skin of the whale, and, he then saw the head of a maiden, and he continued to rip up the fish, greatly astonished at what he saw, and at last extricated alive the maiden from the belly of the great fish. He took her with him, but told her she must for the present remain shut up in a room of the palace, and let no one know that she was there. The maiden told him her history, and all that had happened to her during the voyage, and how she had been in the depth of the sea, and a whale had saved her. The servant, on his part, related to her what her neighbour had been at in the palace, presenting her daughter under false colours to the king, and all that followed; and he informed her that her brother was on her account imprisoned and sentenced to die. On reaching the palace the maiden was locked up in an apartment. She looked out of her window every day towards the prison door where her brother was detained, and on one occasion as she did so she saw a little bitch belonging to herself and her brother, and calling out to her pet she spoke to it thus: "Cylindra, tell me how my brother is to-day?" The bitch replied: "He is daily expecting to be sent to execution; and to-day is the first day the town crier publishes it." The next day the maiden again looked out of the window, and again asked her bitch: "Cylindra, tell me how my brother is to-day?" The bitch replied: "To-day the crier publishes his sentence of death for the second time!" But the servant who had delivered the maiden, on hearing this, went up to the king and revealed the whole plot against the maiden. The king, on hearing it, said: "If what you say be true, call me to-morrow when the maiden speaks to the dog, for I wish to listen to what she says." Next day, at the right time, the king stood close to the window of his chamber to observe and listen to the maiden. He heard her say: "Cylindra, how is my brother to-day?" The bitch replied: "To-day the execution is published for the last time!" When the king heard this, he ordered that the brother and sister should be brought before him into his presence; and on seeing the maiden he told her to wipe her face with the towel, and instantly that she did so showers of seed pearls began to fall from her head. He ordered her to comb herself with the wonderful comb, and immediately large and rare pearls fell in profusion of the same class as the ones in the bunches. The king then commanded the wily neighbour and daughter to be put to death, and he married the maiden. And the brother had the great honour to be brother-in-law to the king.
Pedroso, Consiglieri. Portuguese Folk-Tales. Folk Lore Society Publications, Vol. 9. Miss Henrietta Monteiro, translator. New York: Folk Lore Society Publications, 1882.
[Reprinted: New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1969.] Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.