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Serpent Prince.

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The King was in a quandary. He was not greedy or avaricious; but to have a serpent for a son-in-law was, for a king, clearly impossible. 'Softly,' he said. 'You have fulfilled your task, it is true; but so fair an orchard requires a better setting. Golden trees should not grow out of common ground and be enclosed by common walls. Let your adopted son first turn all the ground and the walls into diamonds and rubies and precious stones, so that I may have orchards whereof the like is not known in all the world, and then will I give him my daughter to wife.' The forester again thanked his Majesty for his great condescension and retired, while the King and his courtiers went into the orchard and picked golden apples and plums and peaches from golden boughs, and marvelled at the wonderful thing that had been done before their eyes. It was in the King's mind that this could be no common or forest serpent, and he was troubled to think what his position would be if the second task was performed as readily and thoroughly as the first had been. When Matteo reached home and told the serpent what had befallen him, the serpent shook his tail and seemed about to fly into a passion.

'You see how well kings keep their word,' it said angrily. 'But it is a small matter after all. Do you go again to the town on the morrow, and gather all the broken bits of china and glass you can find. These you must take in a basket, and lay a piece on each wall and between each tree and bush. 'Do this thing and do it well, And fortune will upon you dwell.' So Matteo set out at daybreak, and did exactly as the serpent had told him. He had no difficulty in finding plenty of material for his purpose, and it was still early when he reached the orchard with a heavy load of broken tea-cups and plates and oddments of basins and teapots and water-jugs. Early as it was, it was not too early for the King to be present. The wonder of this new possession had kept his Majesty awake nearly all night, and he was impatient until he could get into the orchard and satisfy himself that it was all really and actually true.

When he saw Matteo approach and lay down his fragments of china, he grew thoughtful, for he realised that it was all true enough, and that the second condition would be likely to be performed. But he said nothing, and Matteo walked from tree to tree, dropping here a piece of cup, there a fragment of plate; and, wherever the china fell, the ground between the trees turned to diamond or sapphire or ruby. With the walls it was just the same. Every kind of precious stone known and unknown was to be found in that wonderful orchard, even to a carbuncle which grew on a courtier's toe in consequence of his incautious action in putting his foot just where Matteo was dropping a tiny bit of china. The King was delighted and depressed at the same time. He had got orchards surpassing in beauty and value anything that was known to be in the whole world; also he had to give his daughter in marriage to a serpent, and the last seemed to the poor King of greater consideration than the former. 'Tell the serpent, your adopted son, that, although he has accomplished the task I set him, yet will I not give him my daughter to wed unless he also turns my palace into gold,' he said to Matteo, and again the forester thanked the King for his great clemency and condescension, and returned to his home.

Again the serpent grew angry and said shrewd things concerning the value of the word of kings, and the trust which is not to be found in princes--not even German princes. 'But,' said he, 'it is a small matter. Do you go at daybreak and gather in the forest herbs of this kind and that, and make them into a broom, and sweep therewith the whole length of the palace walls, and so shall it be even as the King wishes. 'Go do this thing and do it well, And fortune shall upon you dwell.' So Matteo went into the forest and gathered herbs of this kind and that, and swept the palace well round as the serpent had directed, and when the King and his courtiers and the servants--even down to the scullery wench--arose, the whole palace was golden from the front step of the main entrance to the topmost ridge of the chimney. And it was not gold plate either: it was all solid gold of the purest kind. This time the King saw that there was no way of escape when Matteo asked for the fulfilment of the royal promise, so he called his daughter to him and told her of the matter.


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