The Dirty Shepherdess (cont.)
(see previous page for audio)But the King's son thought often of the lovely maiden whom he had only seen for a moment though she seemed to him much more fascinating than any lady of the Court. At last he dreamed of nothing else and grew thinner day by day till his parents inquired what was the matter, promising to do all they could to make him as happy as he once was. He dared not tell them the truth, lest they should laugh at him, so he only said that he should like some bread baked by the kitchen girl in the distant farm.
Although the wish appeared rather odd, they hastened to fulfil it, and the farmer was told the request of the King's son. The maiden showed no surprise at receiving such an order, but merely asked for some flour, salt, and water, and also that she might be left alone in a little room adjoining the oven where the kneading- trough stood. Before beginning her work, she washed herself carefully and even put on her rings but, while she was baking, one of her rings slid into the dough. When she had finished, she dirtied herself again and let the lumps of the dough stick to her fingers so that she became as ugly as before.
The loaf, which was a very little one, was brought to the King's son, who ate it with pleasure. But in cutting it, he found the ring of the Princess and declared to his parents that he would marry the girl whom that ring fitted.
So the King made a proclamation through his whole kingdom and ladies came from afar to lay claim to the honour. But the ring was so tiny that even those who had the smallest hands could only get it on their little fingers. In a short time, all the maidens of the kingdom, including the peasant girls, had tried on the ring, and the King was just about to announce that their efforts had been in vain when the Prince observed that he had not yet seen the shepherdess.
They sent to fetch her, and she arrived covered with rags but with her hands cleaner than usual so that she could easily slip on the ring. The King's son declared that he would fulfil his promise, and when his parents mildly remarked that the girl was only a keeper of sheep, and a very ugly one too, the maiden boldly said that she was born a princess and that, if they would only give her some water and leave her alone in a room for a few minutes, she would show that she could look as well as anyone in fine clothes.
They did what she asked, and when she entered in a magnificent dress, she looked so beautiful that all saw she must be a princess in disguise. The King's son recognized the charming damsel of whom he had once caught a glimpse and, flinging himself at her feet, asked if she would marry him. The Princess then told her story and said that it would be necessary to send an ambassador to her father to ask his consent and to invite him to the wedding.
The Princess's father, who had never ceased to repent his harshness towards his daughter, had sought her through the land but, as no one could tell him anything of her, he supposed her dead. Therefore it was with great joy he heard that she was living and that a king's son asked her in marriage, and he quitted his kingdom with his elder daughter so as to be present at the ceremony.
By the orders of the bride, they only served her father at the wedding breakfast bread without salt and meat without seasoning. Seeing him make faces and eat very little, his daughter, who sat beside him, inquired if his dinner was not to his taste.
'No,' he replied, 'the dishes are carefully cooked and sent up, but they are all so dreadfully tasteless.'
'Did not I tell you, my father, that salt was the best thing in life? And yet, when I compared you to salt, to show how much I loved you, you thought slightingly of me and you chased me from your presence.'
The King embraced his daughter and allowed that he had been wrong to misinterpret her words. Then, for the rest of the wedding feast, they gave him bread made with salt and dishes with seasoning, and he said they were the very best he had ever eaten.