Tales of Old Lusitania/The Magic Slippers
THE MAGIC SLIPPERS.
A long time ago there lived a very beautiful woman, who was the landlady of a roadside inn, principally patronised by muleteers and merchants who passed that way with their merchandise. This woman had a daughter whose great misfortune it was to be still fairer than her mother. The mother was so jealous of this daughter that she kept her shut up in a dark room with all the windows closed, so that no one should see her. Poor girl, she often wished she had been born very plain, so that she might have her liberty, and enjoy life like other young people.
When any muleteers entered her inn, the first question the landlady would put to them was, if they had ever seen any woman more beautiful than her self? and as they generally answered "No," she was satisfied they had not seen her daughter. One day the girl, however, contrived to open a window, and a muleteer, who came to the inn and was questioned as usual, replied that he had just seen a girl at a window, who far surpassed her in loveliness.
"Ah, I know who that is, then," said the woman; "what business had she to be looking out of the window? she shall pay me for it"; and full of spite and rage, she resolved to kill her daughter. She ordered two of her men to take her to a lonely place on a mountain, a few miles off, and there put her to death.
The men took the girl to the spot indicated; but just as one of them was raising the hatchet to sever her head from her body the girl sank on her knees, and, with tears rolling down her beautiful cheeks, pleaded to have her life spared, promising never to return to her mother, so that they could pretend they had executed her commands. The men were touched by the appeal, and having no ill feeling against her, they raised her from the ground, and said to her, "No, no, we have not the heart to kill you; but you must leave this part of the country, for, if your mother finds you are alive, we shall get into trouble with her."
"I thank you for this good deed," replied the girl, "and I trust some day to have the means of rewarding you."
The girl, being left alone, determined to leave the neighbourhood as quickly as possible. She took a winding path that led to a stream at the foot of the mountain, and followed its course till she came in sight of a house situated between two hills. It being now dark, she went up to the house, and finding the door open, she entered as far as the great hall, but seeing no one, she called out, "Will anyone here give a poor girl shelter for the night?" As no one answered her call, she walked in further, and roaming from chamber to chamber through dark passages, she found the place was deserted and empty of furniture, except here and there a broken chair, or a tumble-down table. She determined to take up her quarters there till the morning, and make herself as comfortable as the place admitted. Feeling hungry, she went down to the kitchen, and as she pried into every hole and corner in the store room in hopes of finding some food, she discovered among some rubbish and broken crockery, a brown earthen pot containing meal, and a cruse with rancid oil, which to her then was as good as the best and finest. She then went to the garden, and after gathering some sticks and lighting a fire, she made herself a hearth-cake with the meal and oil. But, just as she was laying out her frugal supper on the kitchen table, which, besides the cake, consisted of a few small radishes she had dug up in the garden, and a cupful of water from the well, she heard a noise which so frightened her that she hid herself and listened. She soon found that the noise was made by a band of robbers who were bringing in their booty to hide it in the house.
When they saw supper laid, they cried: "Halloo! Who prepared this supper? If any one is here, let them show themselves."
The poor girl came out of her hiding place trembling with fear, and stood before the robbers. But the men, struck with admiration at her beautiful face and charming figure, asked her what great distress had brought her there alone and apparently friendless. She then told them her history and how she was without a friend in the world; and the robbers, full of compassion, kindly said to her: "Fear not, and grieve no more; you shall stay with us and we promise to protect you and treat you as our sister."
What could the poor girl do but consent to their proposal. She stayed with the men and made herself useful by preparing their meals and keeping house for them. The robbers became every day more fond of their newly adopted sister, who was so gentle and good; they treated her with all respect, and were careful she should enjoy every comfort they could afford her.
I must now tell you that the girl's mother knew an old woman who often came to her inn, and whose business was to go about doing errands and carrying messages.
"Tell me," said the landlady one day to the old woman, "You, who travel everywhere and see so many different faces, did you ever see a woman more beautiful than myself?"
"Well, if I must tell you the truth, I have seen a handsomer face than yours. Once, at a town in Tras-os-Montes, I saw a girl more charming than any woman I ever saw in my life. She had a lovely figure, and the sweetest and smallest feet possible."
"Indeed," replied the landlady, "then I know who she is. I want you to take a present to her the first time you go that way." She then took out of a drawer a small pair of slippers and gave them to the old woman, saying, "Here, take these to her, and tell her that it is her loving mother who sends them. But you must on no account leave them with her till you have seen her put them on; be very particular about that point, and I assure you that I shall pay you well if you follow my instructions faithfully."
The woman did as she was told, and going into the house where the girl was living, accosted her thus: "My dear girl, I bring you some slippers which your loving mother sends you, that you may wear them for her sake."
"I am not in want of shoes, as my brothers supply me with them whenever I require any, so you may, if you please, take them back to my mother."
But the old woman insisted on her putting them on, just to see if they fitted her, and so teased her to do it that at last the girl, to get rid of the old woman, consented, and began to try them on. She had hardly put one of the shoes on when one of her eyes was completely closed. She put on the other shoe, and the other eye was also closed, and that instant she fell on the floor, dead. The old woman, surprised and frightened at what she saw, ran away, and left the neighbourhood as fast as she could.
When the robbers came home and saw their beloved sister lying dead on the floor, they wondered how she had come by her death; they were sorely grieved and wept over her corpse.
"But," said they, "it is a shame for such a face and figure to be hidden underground; we must put her in a coffin with a glass lid, and place it on the hills where the king's son comes to hunt with his nobles; it is right he should see such a rare and lovely flower."
The robbers had a beautiful coffin made, in which they laid the body of their dear sister, and strewed flowers over her, and then, fastening the glass cover down, they carried her to a retired spot on the hills.
Now it so happened that the king's son, as he was hunting one day with a number of courtiers, passed the very spot where the girl's body was laid, and seeing the coffin, they wondered why it was placed in such an unusual way and locality. The prince looked into the coffin and was at once fascinated by the beauty of the dead girl's countenance and the eyelids that were fringed with long silken lashes. He admired her pretty hands and feet and the silver band twined in the luxuriant tresses of her hair. His heart beat fast as he looked into her face and wondered if it were possible to call down a fairy who, with her magic wand, would bring back to life the little beauty whom he sighed to snatch from death and call his own. When the prince had recovered from his reverie, he determined at least to take with him a keepsake of the beautiful figure, and uncovering the coffin he pulled off one of the pretty little slippers. But he had hardly done so when one of the girl's eyes opened, and the king's son seeing this, immediately pulled off the other slipper, and behold, the other eye opened also, and the girl came to life again. The prince, in the greatest delight, took her by the hand and helped her out of the coffin; and she came forth, if possible, fresher and fairer than ever.
The prince now sent one of his attendants for a carriage to take the maiden to the palace and present her to the king. And a few weeks after this event the prince married the girl amid great rejoicings. Among all the Court beauties, there was not one to compare with the sweet little bride in grace and loveliness.
The prince then took his bride to her mother's inn, that the cruel woman might know that she had not succeeded in killing her daughter, who, by her matchless beauty, had captivated and married a prince of royal blood.
The chronicles of those times relate that the wicked landlady, steadfast in her stern resolve, tried once more to destroy her daughter, so full was she of jealousy and revenge.
But her daughter was now so far removed from her clutches and her sphere that she could not carry out her cruel purpose; and thus ends this wonderful history of a beauty and her magical slippers.