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Serpent Prince.

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After supper, accordingly, she put the serpent's request to the forester. 'Our serpent wants to get married, Cola,' she said; 'so you must find him a wife.' 'Very well,' said Matteo. 'I will hunt through the forest when I am out, and try and find another serpent for him to mate with.' 'Oh, that will not do at all,' said the serpent, who had been listening very intently to its adopted parents' conversation, though it seemed to be sleeping peacefully all over the floor in front of the fire. 'I do not mate with serpents. You must get the King's daughter for me. To-morrow you must set out to the palace, and tell the King that I require his daughter in marriage.' Naturally Matteo did not at all care about his errand; but his wife entreated him to go, and so on the morrow the good man set forth, the serpent watching him depart from the cottage door, chanting all the while: 'To the King my message tell, And fortune will upon you dwell.'



Well, Matteo walked along through the forest on his way to the King's palace, and the nearer he got to his journey's end the more difficult and dangerous his errand seemed to grow. He thought the King would be sure to be very angry, and he might even order him to be hanged for a knave, or beaten off the palace grounds for a fool. But he kept thinking of what the serpent had said, and, as good fortune dwelling upon us is something we all like to have, the forester kept on his way and resolved faithfully to carry out his errand. He came at last to the palace gates, and as, in those days, in that country, any one who wanted to could walk in and speak to the King, this simple old fellow passed in with the crowd who were going to seek help or justice, and in due time he came before the King. 'O great King!' he said, 'a serpent who is my adopted son has sent me to ask your daughter's hand in marriage.' The King stared, and then he frowned, and then he stared again. Kings are accustomed to receiving strange requests; but never anything so strange as this.



Fortunately for Cola, the King was a good-humoured, easy-going man, and, thinking that he had to do with some harmless old lunatic, he only laughed, as did all the courtiers and people who stood about him. 'Very well,' he said. 'I will grant your request, only your adopted son must first of all turn all the fruit in my orchard into gold. Then will I give him my daughter in marriage.' Matteo thanked the King for his great clemency and kindness in not having him hanged or beaten out of the palace, and then started off home again. 'I am well out of that,' he thought to himself; 'but my adopted son will have to be contented with a wife of less degree. Who ever heard of turning apples and flowers and cherries into gold? Why, they can only make copper and silver of them in Covent Garden.' But the serpent didn't seem in the least bit concerned when the forester told him the result of his errand. 'That is a small matter,' it said. 'To-morrow morning you must go into the city with a basket, and gather up all the fruit-stones you can find, and take them and scatter them in the orchard. 'Do this thing and do it well, And fortune will upon you dwell.'



So Matteo went once more to the town and did exactly as the serpent had told him. Not knowing anything of magic, he did not in the least expect anything to happen; so you may imagine his surprise when not only the fruit, but every tree and leaf and bough in the whole orchard, turned into solid gold, and glittered so in the sunlight that one could scarcely bear to look at them. It chanced that the King was walking on the terrace with his courtiers when Matteo entered the orchard. 'There is that silly old man come back again who wants me to wed my daughter to a serpent,' he said. 'Is he going to turn my fruit into gold by stealing it and selling it in the market-place?' The courtiers laughed at this excellent jest, as courtiers will; but the next moment they stopped laughing, and each one rubbed his eyes and ejaculated in astonishment and delight at the marvellous beauty and value of the King's orchards. The King himself could say nothing, and he said nothing, until Matteo came before him and humbly begged his Majesty to fulfil his promise now that the serpent, his adopted son, had done the task assigned to him.

       



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