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CANNETELLA.

 

It is an evil thing, my Lord, to seek for better than wheaten bread; for a man comes at last to desire what others throw away, and must content himself with honesty. He who loses all, and walks on the tops of the trees, has as much madness in his head as danger under his feet; as was the case with the daughter of a king, who is the subject of the story I have now to tell you.

 

 

There was once on a time a king of High-Hill, who longed for children more than the porters do for a funeral, that they may gather wax[1]; insomuch that he made a vow to the goddess Syrinx, that if she would cause him to have a daughter, he would name her Cannetella, to commemorate her having been turned into a reed[2]. And he prayed and prayed, until at length he found favour, and his wife Renzolla presented him with a little girl, to whom he gave the name he had promised.

The child grew by palms, and when she was as tall as a pole, the king said to her, "My daughter, you are now grown (Heaven bless you!) as large as an oak, and it is full time to provide you with a husband worthy of that pretty face. Since therefore I love you as my own life, and desire to please you, tell me I pray what sort of a husband you would like, what kind of a man would suit your fancy? Will you have him a scholar or a dunce? a boy, or a man in years? brown, or fair and ruddy? tall as a maypole, or short as a spigot? small in the waist, or round as an ox? Do you choose, and I am satisfied."

Cannetella, hearing these lavish offers, thanked her father, but told him that she would on no account encumber herself with a husband. However, being urged by the king again and again, she said, "Not to show myself ungrateful for so much love, I am willing to comply with your wish, provided I have such a man as that he has no like in the world."

Her father, delighted beyond measure at hearing this, took his station at the window from morning till evening, looking out and surveying, measuring and examining every one that passed along the street. And one day seeing a good-looking man go by, the king said to his daughter, "Run, look out, Cannetella! and see if yon man comes up to the measure of your wishes." Then she desired him to be brought up, and they made a most splendid banquet for him, at which there was everything he could desire. And as they were feasting away, an almond fell out of the youth's mouth, whereupon stooping down, he picked it up dextrously from the ground and put it under the cloth; and when they had done eating, he went away. Then the king said to Cannetella, "Well, my life, how does this youth please you?"—"Take the fellow away!" said she; "a man so tall and so big as he should never have let an almond drop out of his mouth."

When the king heard this he returned to his place at the window, and presently seeing another well-shaped youth pass by, he called his daughter, to hear whether this one pleased her. Then Cannetella desired him to be shown up; so he was called, and another entertainment was made. And when they had done eating, and the man had gone away, the king asked his daughter whether he had pleased her; whereupon she replied, "What in the world should I do with such a miserable fellow, who wants at least to have a couple of servants with him to take off his cloak?"

"If that be the case," said the king, "it is plain that these are merely the excuses of a bad paymaster, and you are only looking for pretexts to refuse me this pleasure. So resolve quickly, for I am determined to have you married." To these angry words Cannetella replied, "To tell you the truth plainly[3], papa, and as I really feel, you are digging in the sea and making a wrong reckoning on your fingers; for I never will subject myself to any man living who has not a golden head and teeth." The poor king, seeing his daughter's head thus turned, issued a proclamation, bidding any one in his kingdom who should answer to Cannetella's wishes to appear, and he would give him his daughter and the kingdom.

Now this king had a mortal enemy named Fioravante, whom he could not bear to see so much as even painted on a wall, who, when he heard of this proclamation, being a cunning magician, called a parcel of that evil brood to him, and commanded them forthwith to make his head and teeth of gold. So they did as he desired; and when he saw himself with a head and teeth of pure gold[4], he walked past under the window of the king, who when he saw the very man he was looking for, called his daughter: and as soon as Cannetella set eyes upon him, she cried out, "Ay, that is he! he could not be better if I had kneaded him with my own hands."

When Fioravante was getting up to go away, the king said to him, "Wait a little, brother,—why in such a hurry? one would think you had a pledge in the hands of a Jew, or quicksilver in your body, or a branch of furze tied behind you. Fair and softly! I will give you my daughter, and baggage and servants to accompany you, for I wish her to be your wife."

"I thank you," said Fioravante, "but there is no necessity: a single horse is enough, if the beast will carry double; for at home I have servants and goods as numerous as the sands on the seashore." So after arguing awhile, Fioravante at last prevailed, and placing Cannetella behind him on a horse he set out.

In the evening, when the red horses are taken away from the corn-mill of the sky, and the white oxen are yoked in their place, they came to a stable where some horses were feeding; and leading Cannetella into it, Fioravante said to her, "Listen! I have to make a journey to my own house, and it will take me seven years to get there. Mind therefore and wait for me in this stable, and do not stir out, nor let yourself be seen by any living person, or else I will make you remember it as long as you live." Cannetella replied, "You are my lord and master, and I will perform your command to a tittle; but I should like merely to know what you will leave me to live upon in the meantime." And Fioravante answered, "What the horses leave of their corn will be enough for you."

Only conceive how poor Cannetella now felt, and guess whether she did not curse the hour and the moment when she was born! cold and frozen, she made up with her tears what she wanted in food, cursing her fate and abusing the stars, which had brought her down from a royal palace to a stable, from mattresses of Barbary wool to straw, and from nice delicate morsels to the leavings of horses. And she led this miserable life for several months, during which time corn was given to the horses by an unseen hand, and what they left supported her.

But at the end of this time, as she was standing one day looking through a hole, she saw a most beautiful garden, in which there were so many espaliers of lemons, and grottos of citrons, and beds of flowers, and fruit-trees and trellises of vines, that it was a joy to behold. At this sight a great longing seized her for a fine bunch of grapes that caught her eye, and she said to herself, "Come what will, and if the sky fall, I will go out silently and softly and pluck it: what will it matter a hundred years hence? who is there to tell my husband? and should he by chance hear of it, what will he do to me? moreover these grapes are none of the common sort." So saying she went out, and refreshed her spirits, which were weakened by hunger.

A little while afterwards, and before the appointed time, her husband came back, and one of his horses accused Cannetella of having taken the grapes; whereat Fioravante in a rage, drawing a knife from his breeches pocket, was going to kill her; but falling on her knees upon the ground, she besought him to stay his hand from the deed, since hunger drives the wolf from the wood. And she begged so hard, that Fioravante replied, "I forgive you this time, and grant you your life out of charity; but if ever again you are tempted to disobey me, and I find that you have let the sun see you, I will make mincemeat of you. Now mind me,—I am going away once more, and shall for certain be gone seven years; so take care and plough straight, for you will not escape so easily again, but I shall pay you off the new and the old scores together."

So saying he departed, and Cannetella shed a river of tears; and wringing her hands, beating her breast, and tearing her hair, she cried, "Oh that ever I was born into the world, to be destined to this wretched fate! O father, how have you ruined me! but why do I complain of my father, when I have brought this ill upon myself? I alone am the cause of my misfortunes. Here have I been wishing for a head of gold, only to fall into trouble[5] and die by iron. Alas, how richly I deserve it! by wishing my teeth of gold, I am making the golden tooth. This is the punishment of Heaven, for I ought to have done my father's will, and not have had such whims and fancies: he who minds not what his father and mother say, goes a road he does not know."

Not a day passed that she did not make this lament, until her eyes were become two fountains, and her face was so thin and sallow that it went to one's heart to see her. Where now were those sparkling eyes? where those rosy apples? where the little smile upon that mouth? her own father would not have known her.

At the end of a year the king's locksmith, whom Cannetella knew, happening to pass by the stable, she called to him, and went out. The smith hearing himself called by his name, and not recognizing the poor girl (she was so altered), was in utter amazement; but when he heard who she was, and how she had become thus changed, partly out of pity for the maiden and partly to gain the king's favour, he put her into an empty cask, which he had with him on a pack-horse, and trotting off towards High-Hill, he arrived at midnight at the king's palace. Then he knocked at the door, and the servants, going to the window and hearing that it was the locksmith, fell to abusing him soundly, calling him an ill-mannered fellow for coming at such an hour to disturb the sleep of the whole house; adding, that he would come off cheaply if they did not pelt him with stones and give him a broken pate.

The king, hearing the uproar, and being told by a chamberlain what was the matter, ordered the smith to be instantly admitted; judging that since he made bold to come at such an unusual hour, something extraordinary must have happened. Then the smith, unloading his beast, knocked out the head of the cask, and forth came Cannetella, who required something more than words to make her father recognize her; and had it not been for a wart on her right arm, she might have taken herself off. But as soon as he was assured of the whole truth, he embraced her and kissed her a thousand times; then he instantly commanded a warm bath to be got ready, and when she was washed from head to foot, and had drest herself, he ordered breakfast to be brought, for she was dying with hunger. Then her father said to her, "Who would ever have told me, my child, that I should see you in this plight? what a face indeed! who has brought you to this sad condition?" And she answered, "Alas, my dear sir! that Barbary Turk has made me lead the life of a dog, so that I was every hour on the point of giving up the ghost[6]. But I will not tell you all I have suffered, for greatly as it exceeds human endurance, so much does it pass human belief. Enough, my father, that I am here! and never again will I stir from your feet; rather will I be a servant in your house, than a queen in the house of another; rather will I wear sackcloth where you are, than a golden mantle away from you; rather will I turn a spit in your kitchen, than hold a sceptre under the canopy of another."

Meanwhile Fioravante returning home, was told by the horses that the locksmith had carried off Cannetella in the cask; on hearing which, burning with shame and all on fire with rage, of he ran towards High-Hill; and meeting an old woman who lived opposite to the king's palace, he said to her, "What will you take, good mother, to let me see the king's daughter?" Then she asked a hundred ducats; and Fioravante putting his hand in his purse instantly counted them out, one a-top of another; whereupon the old woman led him up on to the roof, from whence he saw Cannetella out on a balcony drying her hair. But—just as if her heart had whispered to her—the maiden turned that way, and perceiving the snare, rushed down the stairs and ran to her father, crying out, "My lord, if you do not this very instant make me a chamber with seven iron doors, I am lost and undone!"

"I will not lose you for such a trifle," said her father; "I would pluck out an eye to gratify such a dear daughter." So, no sooner said than done, the doors were instantly made.

When Fioravante heard of this, he went again to the old woman, and said to her, "What shall I give you now? go to the king's house under pretext of selling cups of rouge, and entering the room where his daughter is, contrive to slip this little piece of paper among the bed-clothes, saying in an under tone as you place it there,

 

'Let every one now soundly sleep,
But Cannetella awake shall keep!'"

 

So the old woman agreed for another hundred ducats, and she served him faithfully. Woe to him who allows these vile jades to come to his house! for under the pretence of carrying about articles of dress, they dress your very life and honour into morocco-leather.

Now as soon as the old woman had done this good office, such a sound sleep fell on the people of the house, that they seemed just as if they had all their throats cut. Cannetella alone remained awake, and when she heard the doors bursting open, she began to cry aloud as if she were burnt; but no one heard her—there was no one to run to her aid; so Fioravante threw down all the seven doors, and entering the chamber seized up Cannetella, bed-clothes and all, to carry her off; but as luck would have it, the paper which the old woman had put among them fell on the ground, and the powder was spilt; whereupon the people of the house awoke, and hearing Cannetella's shrieks, they ran—cats, dogs, and all—and laying hold on the ogre, quickly cut him in pieces like a pickled tunny. Thus he was caught in the same trap that he had prepared for poor Cannetella, learning to his cost that

 

"No one suffereth greater pain
Than he who by his own weapon is slain."

 

 

When Zeza had ended her story, all were of opinion that Cannetella deserved this, and even worse, for seeking a hair inside the egg: they rejoiced however to see her at length freed from all her troubles, and observed, that she who had held her head so high and scorned all men, was brought at last to humble herself to a smith, and beg him to help her out of trouble. But the desire to hear Ciulla put a stop to the conversation, and the ears of all present stood erect at the motion of her lips.


  1. At funerals and in public processions the poor people pick up the wax that falls from the tapers, and the flowers that are dropt by the way.
  2. Canna
  3. Fora de li diente—'out of the teeth.' In Ireland folks say in like manner 'out of the face.'
  4. Literally, 'four-and-twenty carats fine'—the standard of pure gold.
  5. Literally, pe cadere 'nchiummo—'to fall into lead.'
  6. Co lo spireto a li diente,—'with the breath between my teeth.'