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IT is an old saying, that he who seeks what he should not, finds what he would not; and every one has heard of the ape, who, in trying to pull on the boots, was caught by the foot. And it happened in like manner to a wretched slave, who, though she never had shoes to her feet, wanted to wear a crown on her head. But as the straight road is the best, and, sooner or later a day comes which settles all accounts, at last, having by evil means usurped what belonged to another, she fell to the ground; and the higher she had mounted, the greater was her fall, as you will presently see.

Once upon a time, the king of Woody Valley had a daughter named Zoza, who, like another Zoroaster or Heraclitus, was never seen to laugh. The unhappy father, who had no other comfort in life but this only daughter, left nothing untried to drive away her melancholy. Accordingly he sent for folks who walk on stilts, for fellows who jump through hoops, for boxers, for Master Roggiero[1], for jugglers who perform sleight-of-hand tricks, for men as strong as Hercules, for dancing dogs, for leaping clowns, for the jackass that drinks out of a tumbler, for Lucia-canazza[2],—and in short he tried first one thing and then another to make her laugh. But all was time lost, for neither Master Grillo's[3] remedy, nor the Sardonic plant, nor a skilful punch on the diaphragm, could have brought a smile upon her lips.

So at length the poor father, to make a last trial, and not knowing what else to do, ordered a large fountain of oil to be made in front of the palace gates; thinking to himself, that when the oil ran down the street, along which the people passed to and fro like a troop of ants, they would be obliged, in order not to soil their clothes, to skip like grasshoppers, leap like goats, and run like hares; while one would go picking and choosing his way, and another go creeping along close to the wall. In short, he hoped that something might come to pass that would make his daughter laugh.

So the fountain was made; and as Zoza was one day standing at the window, grave and demure, and looking as sour as vinegar, there came by chance an old woman, who, soaking up the oil with a sponge, began to fill a little pitcher which she had brought with her. And as she was labouring hard at this ingenious device, a pert young page of the court, passing by, threw a stone so exactly to a hair, that he hit the pitcher and broke it in pieces. Whereupon the old woman, who had no hair upon her tongue, turned to the page full of wrath, and exclaimed, "Ah! you impertinent young dog, you mule, you gallows-rope, you spindle-legs, at whom even the fleas cough! ill luck to you! may you be pierced by a Catalan lance! may you be hung with a rope's-end, and your blood be not spilt—may a thousand ills befall you, and something more to boot, you thief, you knave!"

The lad, who had little beard and less discretion, hearing this string of abuse, repaid the old woman in the same coin, saying, "Have you done, you devil's grandmother, you old hag, you child-strangler?"

When the old woman heard these compliments, she flew into such a rage, that losing hold of the bridle, and escaping from the stable of patience, she acted like a mad woman, cutting capers in the air and grinning like an ape. At this strange spectacle, Zoza burst into such a fit of laughter that she well nigh fainted away. But when the old woman saw herself played this trick, she flew into a passion, and turning a fierce look on Zoza, she exclaimed, "May you never have the least little bit of a husband, unless you take the Prince of Roundfield."

Upon hearing this, Zoza ordered the old woman to be called, and desired to know whether in her words she had laid on her a curse, or had only meant to insult her. And the old woman answered, "Know then, that the prince whom I spoke of is a most handsome creature, and is named Taddeo, who, by the wicked spell of a fairy, having given the last touch to the picture of life, has been placed in a tomb outside the walls of the city; and there is an inscription upon a stone, saying, that whatever woman shall in three days fill with her tears a pitcher which hangs there upon a hook, will bring the prince to life again, and shall take him for a husband. But as it is impossible for two human eyes to weep so much as to fill a pitcher that would hold half a barrel, unless it were those of Egeria, who, as I've heard say, was turned into a fountain of tears at Rome, I have wished you this wish, in return for your scoffing and jeering at me; and I pray Heaven that it may come to pass, to avenge the wrong you have done me." So saying she scudded down the stairs, for fear of a beating.

Zoza pondered over the words of the old woman, and after ruminating and turning over a hundred thoughts in her mind, until her head was like a mill full of doubts, she was at last struck by a dart of the passion which blinds the judgement and puts a spell upon the reason of man; and taking with her a handful of dollars from her father’s coffers, she left the palace, and walked on and on, until she arrived at the castle of a fairy, to whom she unburdened her heart. The fairy, out of pity for such a fair young girl, who had two spurs to make her fall—little help, and plenty of love for an unknown object—gave her a letter of recommendation to a sister of hers, who was also a fairy. And this second fairy received her likewise with great kindness; and on the following morning, when Night commands the birds to proclaim, that whoever has seen a flock of black shadows gone astray shall be well rewarded, she gave her a beautiful walnut, saying, "Take this, my dear daughter, and keep it carefully; but never open it except in time of the greatest need." And so saying, she in like manner gave her a letter, commending her to another sister.

After journeying a long way, Zoza arrived at the fairy's castle, and was received with the same affection as before. And the next morning this fairy likewise gave her a letter to another sister, together with a chestnut; but cautioning her at the same time as before.

After travelling on for some time, Zoza came to the castle of the fairy, who showered on her a thousand caresses. The next morning, at her departure, the fairy gave her a filbert, cautioning her in like manner never to open it, unless the greatest necessity obliged her. Then Zoza set out upon her journey, and travelled so far, and passed so many forests and rivers, that at the end of seven years, just at the time of day when the Sun, awakened by the crowing of the cocks, has saddled his steeds to run his accustomed stages, she arrived almost lame at Roundfield.

There, at the entrance to the city, she saw a marble tomb, at the foot of a fountain, which was weeping tears of crystal at seeing itself shut up in a porphyry prison. And lifting up the pitcher, which hung over it, she placed it in her lap, and began to weep into it, and imitating the fountain to make two little fountains of her eyes. And thus she continued without ever raising her head from the mouth of the pitcher; until, at the end of two days, it was full within two inches of the top. But being wearied with so much weeping, she was unawares overtaken by sleep, and was obliged to rest for an hour or two under the canopy of her eyelids.

Meanwhile a certain Slave, with the legs of a grasshopper, came, as she was wont, to that fountain, to fill her water-cask. Now she knew the meaning of the inscription, which was talked of everywhere; and when she saw Zoza weeping so incessantly, and making two little streams from her eyes, she was always watching and spying until the pitcher should be full enough for her to add the last drops to fill it, and thus to leave Zoza with a handful of flies[4]. Now therefore, seeing Zoza asleep, she seized the opportunity, and dextrously removing the pitcher from under Zoza, and placing her own eyes over it, she filled it in four seconds. But hardly was it full, when the prince arose from the white marble shrine, as if awakened from a deep sleep, and embraced that mass of black flesh; and carrying her straightways to his palace, feasts and marvellous illuminations were made, and he took her for his wife.

When Zoza awoke, and saw the pitcher gone, and her hopes with it, and the shrine open, her heart grew so heavy that she was on the point of unpacking the bales of her soul at the custom-house of Death. But at last, seeing that there was no help for her misfortune, and that she could blame only her own eyes, which had so ill watched the calf of her hopes[5], she went her way, step by step, into the city. And when she heard of the feasts which the Prince had made, and the dainty creature he had taken to wife, she instantly conceived how all this mischief had come to pass; and said to herself, sighing, "Alas, two dark things have brought me to the ground—sleep and a black slave." Then, in order to try all means possible to avert death, against whom every animal defends itself all in its power, she took a handsome house facing the palace of the Prince; from whence, although she could not see the idol of her heart, she viewed at least the walls of the temple, wherein the treasure she sighed for was enclosed.

But Taddeo, who was constantly flying like a bat around that black night of a Slave, chanced to perceive Zoza, and he became an eagle, to gaze fixedly at her person, the casket of the graces of Nature, and the ne-plus-ultra of the bounds of Beauty. When the Slave perceived this, she was beside herself with rage; and being now in the family way, she threatened her husband, that if he did not instantly leave the window, the child should not be born alive.

Taddeo, who was anxiously expecting the birth of the child, trembled like a reed at offending his wife, and tore himself away, like a soul from the body, from the sight of Zoza; who, seeing this little balm for the sickness of her hopes taken from her, knew not what to do in her extreme need. But recollecting the gifts which the fairies had given her, she opened the walnut, and out of it hopped a little dwarf, like a doll, the most graceful toy that ever was seen in the world. Then, seating himself upon the window, the dwarf began to sing with such a trill, and gurgling, and passavolants, that he seemed a second Juuno, surpassed Pizzillo, and did not yield a hair to the Blindman of Potenza, or the King of the Birds[6].

The Slave, when she saw and heard this, was so enraptured, that, calling Taddeo, she said, "Bring me the little fellow who is singing yonder, or the child shall not be born alive." So the Prince, who allowed the ugly woman to put the saddle on his own back, sent instantly to Zoza, to ask if she would sell the little dwarf. Zoza answered that she was not a merchant, but that he was welcome to it as a gift. So Taddeo accepted the offer; for he was anxious to keep his wife in good humour, in order that she might bring the child safely to light.

Four days after this Zoza opened the chestnut, when out came a hen with twelve little chickens, all of pure gold. And being placed on the same window, the Slave saw them, and took a vast fancy to them; then calling Taddeo, she showed him the beautiful sight, and said, "Get me the hen and chickens, or depend upon it the child shall not be born alive." So Taddeo, who let himself be caught in the net, and become the sport of the ugly creature, sent again to Zoza, offering her any price she might ask for the beautiful hen. But Zoza gave the same answer as before, that he might have it as a gift, but that as for selling, it was only a loss of time. Taddeo therefore, who could do no otherwise, made necessity kick at discretion; and taking the beautiful present, he was obliged to confess himself outdone by the liberality of woman, who is by nature so greedy that not all the gold of India contents her.

But after four days paore Zoza opened the hazel-nut, and forth came a doll, which spun gold,—a sight indeed to amaze one. And as soon as it was placed at the same window, the Slave saw it, and calling to Taddeo, said, "Bring me the doll, or I promise you the child shall not be born alive." Taddeo, who let his proud hussy of a wife toss him about like a shuttle, and lead him by the nose, had nevertheless not the heart to send to Zoza for the doll, but resolved to go himself, recollecting the saying, 'No messenger is better than yourself;' and, 'If a man wants a thing, let him go for it,—if he does not want it, let him send;' and, 'Let him who would eat a fish take it by the tail.' So he went and besought Zoza to pardon his impertinence, on account of the caprices of his wife; and Zoza, who was in ecstacies at beholding the cause of her sorrow, put a constraint upon herself, so as to let him entreat her the longer, and to keep in her sight the object of her love, who was stolen from her by an ugly slave. At length she gave him the doll, as she had done the other things; but before placing it in his hands, she prayed the little doll to put a desire into the heart of the Slave to hear stories told her. And when Taddeo saw the doll in his hand, without his paying a single carlino, he was so filled with amazement at such courtesy, that he offered his kingdom and his life in exchange for the gift. Then, returning to the palace, he gave the doll to his wife, who had no sooner placed it in her bosom, to play with it, than it seemed to be Love in the form of Ascanius in Dido's bosom[7], who shot a dart into her breast; for instantly such a longing seized her to hear stories told, that, being unable to resist, and fearing to give birth to a son who should fill a ship with beggars, she called her husband, and said, "Bid some story-tellers come and tell me stories, or I promise you the child shall not be born alive."

Taddeo, to get rid of this March malady, ordered a proclamation instantly to be made, that all the women of the land should come on an appointed day. And on that day, at the hour when the star of Venus appears, who awakes the Dawn, to strew the road along which the Sun has to pass, the ladies were all assembled at the appointed place. But Taddeo, not wishing to detain such a rabble for the mere amusement of his wife, and being moreover suffocated by the crowd, chose ten only of the best of the city, who appeared to him most capable and eloquent. These were. Bushy-haired Zeza, bandy-legged Cecca, wen-necked Meneca, long-nosed Tolla, humpbacked Popa, bearded Antonella, dumpy Ciulla, blear-eyed Paola, bald-pated Ciommetella, and square-shouldered Jacova. These he wrote down on a sheet of paper, and then, dismissing the others, he arose with the Slave from under the canopy, and they went gently gently to the garden of the palace, where the leafy branches were so closely interlaced, that the Sun could not separate them with all the industry of his rays. And seating themselves under a pavilion, formed by a trellis of vines, in the middle of which ran a great fountain—the schoolmaster of the courtiers, whom he taught every day to murmur—Taddeo thus began:—

"There is nothing in the world more glorious, my gentle dames, than to listen to the deeds of others; nor was it without reason that the great philosopher placed the highest happiness of man in listening to pretty stories; since, in hearing pleasing things told, griefs vanish, troublesome thoughts are put to flight, and life is lengthened. And for this reason you see the artisans leave the workshops, the merchants their counting-houses, the lawyers their causes, the shopkeepers their business, and all repair with open mouth to the barbers' shops and the groups of chatterers, to listen to stories, fictions and gazettes in the air. I cannot therefore but pardon my wife, who has gotten this strange fancy into her head of hearing stories told; and so, if you will please to satisfy the whim of my princess, and comply with my wishes, you will, during these four or five days until the birth takes place, each of you relate daily one of those tales which old women are wont to tell for the amusement of the little ones. And you will come regularly to this spot, where, after a good repast, you shall begin to tell stories, so as to pass life pleasantly, and sorrow to him that dies!"

At these words, all present bowed assent to the commands of Taddeo. And the tables being meanwhile set out, and the feast spread, they sat down to eat; and when they had done eating, the Prince made a sign to bushy-haired Zeza to set fire to the train; upon which, making a low bow to the Prince and his wife, she began.

  1. A conjuror.
  2. A Neapolitan dance.
  3. A noted physician.
  4. i.e. cheated of her hopes.
  5. Alluding probably to the story of Argos.
  6. These were all famous singers.
  7. Alluding to Æneid i. 685.