Clever Maria (cont.)
(see previous page for audio)Meanwhile, the two elder sisters had married the two friends of the king and were the mothers of little daughters.
Now one day Maria stole secretly to the house where her elder sister lived and, snatching up the children, put them into a beautiful basket she had with her, covered with flowers inside and out so that no one would ever guess it held two babies. Then she dressed herself as a boy and, placing the basket on her head, she walked slowly past the palace, crying as she went: 'Who will carry these flowers to the king, who lies sick of love?'
And the king in his bed heard what she said and ordered one of his attendants to go out and buy the basket. It was brought to his bedside, and, as he raised the lid, cries were heard, and, peeping in, he saw two little children.
He was furious at this new trick which he felt had been played on him by Maria and was still looking at them, wondering how he should pay her out, when he was told that the merchant, Maria's father, had finished the business on which he had been sent and returned home.
Then the king remembered how Maria had refused to receive his visit and how she had stolen his fruit, and he determined to be revenged on her. So he sent a message by one of his pages that the merchant was to come to see him the next day and bring with him a coat made of stone, or else he would be punished.
Now the poor man had been very sad since he got home the evening before, for though his daughters had promised that nothing should happen while he was away, he had found the two elder ones married without asking his leave. And now there was this fresh misfortune, for how was he to make a coat of stone?
He wrung his hands and declared that the king would be the ruin of him when Maria suddenly entered. 'Do not grieve about the coat of stone, dear father, but take this bit of chalk and go to the palace and say you have come to measure the king.'
The old man did not see the use of this, but Maria had so often helped him before that he had confidence in her, so he put the chalk in his pocket and went to the palace.
'That is no good,' said the king, when the merchant had told him what he had come for.
'Well, I can't make the coat you want,' replied he.
'Then if you would save your head, hand over to me your daughter Maria.'
The merchant did not reply but went sorrowfully back to his house where Maria sat waiting for him.
'Oh, my dear child, why was I born? The king says that, instead of the coat, I must deliver you up to him.'
'Do not be unhappy, dear father, but get a doll made, exactly like me, with a string attached to its head, which I can pull for "Yes" and "No."'
So the old man went out at once to see about it.
The king remained patiently in his palace, feeling sure that this time Maria could not escape him, and he said to his pages, 'If a gentleman should come here with his daughter and ask to be allowed to speak with me, put the young lady in my room and see she does not leave it.'
When the door was shut on Maria, who had concealed the doll under her cloak, she hid herself under the couch, keeping fast hold of the string which was fastened to its head.
'Senhora Maria, I hope you are well,' said the king when he entered the room. The doll nodded.
'Now we will reckon up accounts,' continued he, and he began at the beginning, and ended up with the flower-basket, and at each fresh misdeed Maria pulled the string, so that the doll's head nodded assent.
'Who-so mocks at me merits death,' declared the king when he had ended and, drawing his sword, cut off the doll's head. It fell towards him, and as he felt the touch of a kiss, he exclaimed, 'Ah, Maria, Maria, so sweet in death, so hard to me in life! The man who could kill you deserves to die!'
And he was about to turn his sword on himself when the true Maria sprung out from under the bed and flung herself into his arms.
And the next day they were married and lived happily for many years.
Next: Blue Beard