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Serpent Prince.

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'My dear Grannmia,' he said, for that was her name, 'for your sake I have twice broken my royal pledge, and now I greatly fear you must keep it. It is a small matter--just to marry a serpent, the adopted son of a poor forester.' The Princess, who was very young and very dutiful, and surpassingly fair to look upon, agreed cheerfully, as though marrying serpents was quite an ordinary everyday duty like laying foundation stones and receiving bouquets. So the King told Matteo to send the serpent along and marry his daughter, and for goodness' sake not to bother him any further with golden palaces, and jewelled orchards, and carbuncles on his favourite courtier's big toe. When the serpent heard this from Matteo, it seemed beside itself with joy, and there and then set off for the palace. But before it left the humble cottage in which it had received so much care and affection, it bade farewell to Sapatella and Matteo, and thanked them very heartily for all their goodness, finishing up with these words: 'Now my task you have done full well, Good fortune shall upon you dwell.' And it did; for, from that time till the day they died, both Sapatella and Matteo were happy and contented and prosperous, and never ailed or suffered pain or disappointment.

When Grannmia saw her strange lover, she alone remained calm and courageous--the only one in the palace who did. All the servants ran shrieking when they saw the great golden monster entering the doors, and, when it got to the presence-chamber, the King and Queen fled in one direction and the courtiers in another. Only the Princess remained, trembling with astonishment, and awaited the pleasure of the serpent. Slowly it came gliding towards her, and then, when it was almost near enough for her to touch it, it reared up--the golden skin fell apart, and a young and most handsome Prince stood bowing before her. Now, of course, everything would have been happy and joyous if it had not been for the silly old King, who, partly out of anxiety for his daughter, but chiefly from curiosity, stole back and peeped into the room just as the Prince emerged from the golden skin which had disguised him as a serpent. He did just what you should never do with disenchanted princes: rushed forward and threw the discarded skin into the fire, where it flashed and burned like a resinous torch.

At the sound of the crackling the Prince turned, and, when he saw what had happened, he was furiously angry, more angry, in fact, than he had been when, as a serpent, he had reflected on the unreliability of the promises of kings. Then, with a sad look at the Princess, he turned to the King and said: 'This act of yours renews the spell, May fortune never with you dwell.' And, turning himself into a dove, he circled three times round the Princess and then flew through the window. At least, he would have flown through the window, only it did not happen to be open. In consequence he broke the pane and very nearly his own head; but he got out, and flew straight away over the golden orchard, while the Princess, who had rushed to the window, stood gazing after him until he could no longer be seen. Then she turned and gave the unhappy King her views of his meddlesome prying. Then she burst into tears and cried until the sun went down, so that the tears formed a stream and ran down into the fountain-court, and all the poor little goldfish died because of too much salt in their fresh water.

But crying does not help any one, so, after all the palace servants had gone to bed, she gathered up all her treasures and set out to find her elusive husband, who had come to her as a serpent with a wriggly tail, and flown away as a dove with a bit of a broken window-pane in his head. When she got out of the palace grounds into the woods behind, she met a fox who was also looking for a dove, or a fowl, or any other winged thing. The fox said, 'Good evening, pretty Princess. May I travel with you for company?' 'Yes, do,' said the Princess. 'I am not used to the woods at night, and I may not be able to find my way.' So the fox led her through the wood and far away from the palace until they had gone miles and miles, and the Princess was so tired that she would not go another step, not even to find a dove with a bandaged head. So they both lay down and went to sleep. It was late in the morning when she awoke and heard the birds singing all around her. Their song pleased her very much, and the fox, noticing this, remarked: 'Ah, if you could only understand what they are saying you would be much more pleased.' 'Oh, do tell me, dear fox,' pleaded the Princess; and, after he had made her ask him a sufficient number of times, the fox replied:


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