IT is a well-known fact, that the cruel man is generally
his own hangman; and he who throws stones at Heaven, frequently comes
off with a broken head. But the re verse of the medal shows us that innocence
is a shield of fig-tree wood, upon which the sword of malice is broken,
or blunts its point; so that, when a poor man fancies himself already
dead and buried, he revives again in hone arid flesh, as you shall hear
in the story which I am going to draw from the cask of memory with the
tap of my tongue.
THERE was once a great lord, who, having a daughter
born to him named Talia, commanded the seers and wise men of his kingdom
to come and tell him her fortune; and after various counsellings they
came to the conclusion, that a great peril awaited her from a piece of
stalk in some flax. Thereupon be issued a command, prohibiting any flax
or hemp, or such-like thing, to be brought into his house, hoping thus
to avoid the danger.
When Talia was grown up, and was standing one day at the
window, she saw an old woman pass by who was spinning; and never having
seen a distaff or a spindle, and being vastly pleased with the twisting
and twirling of the thread, her curiosity was so great that she made the
old woman come upstairs. Then taking the distaff in her hand Talia began
to draw out the thread, when by mischance a piece of stalk in the flax
getting under her finger nail, she fell dead upon the ground at which
sight the old woman hobbled downstairs as quickly as she could.
When the unhappy father heard of the disaster that had
befallen Talia, after paying for this cask of Asprino with a barrel of
tears, he placed her in that pa lace in the country, upon a velvet seat
under a canopy of brocade; and fastening the doors, he quitted for ever
that place which had been the cause of such misfortune to him, in order
to drive all remembrance of it from his mind.
Now a certain king happened to go one day to the chace,
and a falcon escaping from him flew in at a window of that palace. When
the king found that the bird did not return at his call, he ordered his
attend ants to knock at the door, thinking that the palace was inhabited;
and after knocking for some time, the king ordered them to fetch a vinedresser's
ladder, wishing himself to scale the house and see what was in side. Then
he mounted the ladder, and going through the whole palace, he stood aghast
and looked just like a mummy, at not finding there any living person.
At last he came to the room where Talia was lying, as if enchanted; and
when the king saw her, he called to her, thinking that she was asleep,
but in vain, for she still slept on, however loud he called. So, after
admiring her beauty awhile, the king returned home to his kingdom, where
for a long time he forgot all that had happened.
Meanwhile Talia gave birth to little twins, one a boy
and the other a girl, who looked like two little jewels; and two fairies
appeared in the palace, who took care of the children, and placed them
at their mother's breast. But once, when they wanted to suck, not finding
the breast, they seized by mistake her finger, and went on sucking until
they drew out the splinter. Thereupon she seemed to awake as from a deep
sleep; and when she saw those little jewels at her side, she took them
to her heart, and loved them more than her life; but she wondered greatly
at seeing herself quite alone in the palace with the two children, and
food and refreshment brought her by unseen hands.
After a time the king, calling Talia to mind, took occasion
one day when he went to the chace to go and see her; and when he found
her awakened, and with two beautiful little creatures by her side, he
was struck dumb with rapture. Then the king told Talia who he was, and
they formed a great league and friendship, and he remained there for several
days, promising as he took leave to return and fetch her.
When the king went back to his own kingdom, he was for
ever repeating the names of Talia and her little ones, insomuch that,
when he was eating he had Talia in his mouth, and Sun and Moon (for so
he named the children); nay, even when he went to rest he did not leave
off calling on them, first one and then the other.
Now the king's wife had grown suspicious at her husband's
long absence at the chace, and when she heard him calling thus on Talia,
Sun and Moon, she waxed wrath, and said to the king's secretary, "Hark-ye,
friend, you stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the hinge and
the door, between the axe and the block; tell me who it is that my husband
is enamoured of, and I will make you rich; but if you conceal the truth
from me, I'll make you rue it."
The man, moved on the one side by fear, and on the other
pricked by interest, which is a bandage to the eyes of honour, the blind
of justice, and an old horseshoe to trip up good-faith, told the queen
the whole truth, calling bread bread and wine wine. Whereupon she sent
the secretary in the king's name to Talia, saying that he wished to see
the children. Then Talia sent them with great joy; but the queen, with
the heart of a Medea, commanded the cook to kill them, and serve them
up in various ways for her wretched husband to eat.
Now the cook, who had a tender heart, seeing the two pretty
little golden pippins, took compassion on them, and gave them to his wife,
bidding her keep them concealed: then he killed and dressed two little
kids in a hundred different ways. When the king came, the queen quickly
ordered the dishes to be served up; and the king fell to eating with great
delight, exclaiming, "By the life of Lanfusa how good this is! Oh
how excellent, by the soul of my grandfather!" And. the queen all
the while kept saying, "Eat away! for you eat what is your own."
At first the king paid no attention to what she said; but at last, hearing
the music continue, he replied, "Ay, I know well enough that what
I eat is my own, for you brought nothing to the house." And at last
getting up in a rage, he went off to a villa at a little distance to cool
Meanwhile the queen, not satisfied with what she had done,
called the secretary again, and sent him to fetch Talia, pretending that
the king wished to see her. At this summons Talia went that very instant,
longing to see the light of her eyes, and not knowing that only the smoke
awaited her. But when she came before the queen, the latter said to her,
with the face of a Nero and full of poison as a viper, "Welcome,
Madam Slycheat! are you indeed the pretty mischief-maker? are you the
weed that has caught my husband's eye and given me all this trouble? So
so, you are come at last to purgatory, where I'll make you pay for all
the ill you have done me."
When Talia heard this she began to excuse herself; but
the queen would not listen to a word; and having a large fire lighted
in the courtyard, she commanded that Talia should be thrown into the flames.
Poor Talia, seeing matters come to a bad pass, fell on her knees be fore
the queen, and besought her at least to grant her time to take the clothes
from off her back. Where upon the queen, not so much out of pity for the
un happy girl, as to get possession of her dress, which was embroidered
all over with gold and pearls, said to her, "Undress yourself-I allow
you." Then Talia began to undress, and as she took off each garment
she uttered an exclamation of grief; and when she had stripped off her
cloak, her gown and her jacket, and was proceeding to take off her petticoat,
they seized her and were dragging her away. At that moment the king came
up, and seeing the spectacle be demanded to know the whole truth; and
when he asked for the children, and heard that his wife had ordered them
to be killed, in revenge for his unfaithfulness, the unhappy king gave
himself up to despair, exclaiming, Alas then, I have myself been the wolf
to my little lambs Woe is me! why did not my veins recognize that they
were the fountain of their blood? Ah, renegade Turk, what barbarous act
have you done? but your wickedness shall be punished; you shall do penance
without being sent to the Coliseum."
So saying he ordered her to be thrown into the same fire
which had been lighted for Talia, and the secretary with her, who was
the handle of this cruel game and the weaver of this wicked web. Then
he was going to do the same with the cook, thinking that lie had killed
the children; but the cook threw himself at the king's feet and said,
"Truly, sir king, I would desire no other sinecure in return for
the service I have done you than to be thrown into a furnace full of live
coals, I would ask no other gratuity than the thrust of a spike, I would
wish for no other amusement than to be roasted in the fire, I would desire
no other privilege than to have the ashes of a cook mingled with those
of a queen. But I look for no such great reward for having saved your
children, and brought them back to you in spite of that wicked creature
who wished to kill them."
When the king heard these words he was quite beside himself;
he appeared to dream, and could not believe what his ears had heard. Then
he said to the cook, "If it is true that you have saved the children,
be assured I will take you from turning the spit, and place you in the
kitchen of this breast, to turn my will as you please, rewarding you so
that you shall call yourself the happiest man in the world."
As the king was speaking these words, the wife of the
cook, seeing the dilemma her husband was in, brought Sun and Moon before
the King, who playing at the game of three with his wife and children,
went round and round kissing first one and then another. Then giving the
cook a large reward, he made him his chamberlain: and he took Talia to
wife, who enjoyed a long life with her husband and children, acknowledging
"He who has luck may go to bed,
And bliss will rain upon his head."