Tales of Old Lusitania/The Prince A Toad
THE PRINCE A TOAD.
There once lived a king who had been married many years, but had no family, and that was a great sorrow to him. The queen felt unhappy on her husband's account, and one day, as she was brooding over their trouble, she prayed to God to give her a son, even if he should be born a toad.
Her prayer was heard, and before long she gave birth to a son, who was immediately changed into a toad. The queen then wanting a nurse for her son, messengers were sent out to every part of the country, but no woman would undertake to nurse an ugly toad, however much of a prince he might be. The king next proclaimed that he would marry his son to any maiden that would take charge of the prince, and would make her the heir to his kingdom besides.
After much delay and loss of time, a very poor girl presented herself for the post, and the king, delighted to find a nurse at last, engaged her without more ado, and a handsome set of rooms was got ready for the use of the maiden and the prince.
Several years had passed, and the toad had grown to a good size, but the girl still nursed and washed him as if he were a mere child. The prince had beautiful sparkling eyes, and could speak; and the girl often wondered how that could be if he were nothing but a toad, and she would say to herself, "His eyes and speech are not those of a toad."
When the prince had grown to his full size, the girl dreamt one night that the prince, though bearing the outward shape of a toad, was really a man, but that on account of the sinful prayer of his mother he had been changed into a toad; and in her dream she was advised to take the prince for her husband, and all would turn out happily—that on the first night of their wedded life, on retiring to rest, she was to wear seven petticoats, because the prince had seven skins upon him, and that when the prince told her to take them off, she was to insist on his removing one of his skins for every petticoat that she pulled off.
Everything happened as she had dreamt. She married the toad, and the first night they were together, when the prince told her to divest herself of her petticoats she insisted on his removing the seven skins that covered him, and when the last skin was off he was changed before her eyes into a handsome and elegant prince. The girl was nearly wild with delight, and she fell on her husband's neck and kissed him. But in the morning the prince put his seven skins on again, which grieved the little wife very much, for it changed him back into an ugly toad; and though she entreated him to throw them off and never to put them on again, the only reply he gave was this: "It is needful that it should be so; say no more about it."
She went and related to the king and queen what had happened, and they told her to get him to take off his skins again next night, but to leave her door open, as they wished to see him as a perfect man. The girl did as they told her, and when the prince was asleep their majesties entered the chamber and gazed upon their handsome son, and rejoiced to find that he was truly a human being. In the morning, the prince again clothed himself with the skins; and the king complained to him for willingly transforming himself into an ugly toad, and asked him why he did so. The prince replied that he wished to remain a toad, because he knew that his father had a hard heart, and that if he saw his son presenting a handsome appearance, he would kill the poor girl and make him marry some beautiful princess; but no, he meant to be true to the kind-hearted girl who had taken pity on him while he was a toad.
The king protested that he had no such intentions, but only desired to see him look handsome and princely as he really was.
The prince was deaf to all entreaties, so the king ordered the young wife to gather up the skins when the prince had taken them off at night, and bring them to him. She waited till he was fast asleep, and then took the skins to the king, who instantly threw them into the blazing fire.
In the morning, the prince, not finding the skins, asked his wife what she had done with them, and she told him that the king had entered his chamber and carried them away to burn them. "No doubt," he rejoined, "it was you that gave them to him to burn, and I want to know who gave you leave to do so? Good-bye, I must leave you; but if ever you meet me again, mind you imprint a kiss on my lips."
The poor little wife remained in the palace, truly sad and disconsolate, not daring to follow her husband; but when the king and queen found that their son was gone, they turned her out of doors without food or anything but the clothes she had on, so you can imagine the wretched state she was in. She wandered from place to place, not knowing where to go; and to everyone she met, she put this question: "Have you seen a prince, who is my husband?" describing his appearance most minutely. A number of blind beggars passed her on the road, and she accosted them with these words: "Have you met with a very handsome princely-looking man?" The young men who were leading the blind men replied that they had seen a man on the river Jordan, who answered to her description, adding that he was engaged in throwing pieces of bread on the water, and saying, "This piece goes for the repose of my father's soul, this goes for the repose of my mother's soul, and this one for the good of my dear wife."
The girl waited on the road till the men should return to the spot, and she then joined them and went with them until she reached the river Jordan.
There she found the prince sitting by the river-side, musing and wrapped up in thought. She went up to him, and before he had time to notice her she imprinted a kiss on his lips; and he, leaping up from his seat, said to her, "Now let us return home, for the spell is broken and the period of our enchantment is expired."
They returned to the palace, and the king and queen, who had had time to repent of their cruel behaviour to their daughter-in-law, welcomed their son and daughter amid much rejoicing and merry making. They lived happily together ever after.