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After supper, accordingly, she put the serpent's request to the
'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
'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
'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.