Once upon a time there was a poor woman who had a great fancy for eating parsley. To her it was the greatest luxury, and as she had no garden of her own, and no money to spend on anything not an absolute necessity of life, she had to go about poaching in other people’s gardens to satisfy her fancy.
Near her cottage was the garden of a great palace, and in this garden grew plenty of fine parsley; but the garden was surrounded by a wall, and to get at it she had to carry a ladder with her to get up by, and, as soon as she had reached the top of the wall, to let it down on the other side to get down to the parsley-bed. There was such a quantity of parsley growing here that she thought it would never be missed, and this made her bold, so that she went over every day and took as much as ever she liked.
But the garden belonged to a witch, who lived in the palace, and, though she did not often walk in this part of the garden, she knew by her supernatural powers that some one was eating her parsley; so she came near the place one day, and lay in wait till the poor woman came. As soon, therefore, as she came, and began eating the parsley, the witch at once pounced down, and asked her, in her gruff voice, what she was doing there. Though dreadfully frightened, the poor woman thought it best to own the whole truth; so she confessed that she came down by the ladder, adding that she had not taken anything except the parsley, and begged forgiveness.
“I know nothing about forgiveness,” replied the witch. “You have eaten my parsley, and must take the consequences; and the consequences are these: I must be godmother to your first child, be it boy or girl; and as soon as it is grown to be of an age to dress itself without help, it must belong to me.”
When, accordingly, the poor woman’s first child was born, the witch came, as she had declared she would, to be its godmother. It was a fine little girl, and she gave it the name of Filagranata; after that she went away again, and the poor woman saw her no more till her little girl was grown up old enough to dress herself, and then she came and fetched her away inexorably; nor could the poor mother, with all her tears and entreaties, prevail on her to make any exchange for her child.
So Filagranata was taken to the witch’s palace to live, and was put in a room in a little tower by herself, where she had to feed the pigeons. Filagranata grew fond of her pigeons, and did not at all complain of her work, yet, without knowing why, she began to grow quite sad and melancholy as time went by; it was because she had no one to play with, no one to talk to, except the witch, who was no very delightful companion. The witch came every day, once in the day, to see that she was attending properly to her work, and as there was no door or staircase to the tower—this was on purpose that she might not escape—the witch used to say when she came under the tower—
Filagranata, so fair, so fair,
Unloose thy tresses of golden hair:
I, thy old grandmother, am here;
and as she said these words, Filagranata had to let down her beautiful long hair through the window, and by it the witch climbed up into her chamber to her. This she did every day.
Now, it happened that about this time a king’s son was travelling that way searching for a beautiful wife; for you know it is the custom for princes to go searching all over the world to find a maiden fit to be a prince’s wife; at least they say so.
Well, this prince, travelling along, came by the witch’s palace where Filagranata was lodged. And it happened that he came that way just as the witch was singing her ditty. If he was horrified at the sight of the witch, he in proportion enchanted when Filagranata came to the window. So struck was he with the sight of her beauty, and modesty, and gentleness, that he stopped his horse that he might watch her as long as she stayed at the window, and thus became a spectator of the witch’s wonderful way of getting into the tower.
The prince’s mind was soon made up to gain a nearer view of Filagranata and with this purpose he rode round and round the tower seeking some mode of ingress in vain, till at last, driven to desperation, he made up his mind that he must enter by the same strange means as the witch herself. Thinking that the old creature had her abode there, and that she would probably go out for some business in the morning, and return at about the same hour as on the present occasion, he rode away, commanding his impatience as well as he could, and came back the next day a little earlier.
Though he could hardly hope quite to imitate the hag’s rough and tremulous voice so as to deceive Filagranata into thinking it was really the witch, he yet made the attempt and repeated the words he had heard—
Filagranata, so fair, so fair,
Unloose thy tresses of golden hair:
I, thy old grandmother, am here.
Filagranata, surprised at the soft modulation of voice, such as she had never heard before, ran quickly to the window with a look of pleasure and astonishment which gave her face a more winning expression than ever.
The prince looked up, all admiration and expectation; and the thought quickly ran through Filagranata’s head—“I have been taught to loose my hair whenever those words are said; why should not I loose it to draw up such a pleasant-looking cavalier, as well as for the ugly old hag?” and, without waiting for a second thought, she untied the ribbon that bound her tresses and let them fall upon the prince. The prince was equally quick in taking advantage of the occasion, and, pressing his knees firmly into his horse’s flanks, so that it might not remain below to betray him, drew himself up, together with his steed, just as he had seen the witch do.
Filagranata, half frightened at what she had done the moment the deed was accomplished, had not a word to say, but blushed and hung her head. The prince, on the other hand, had so many words to pour out, expressive of his admiration for her, his indignation at her captivity, and his desire to be allowed to be her deliverer, that the moments flew quickly by, and it was only when Filagranata found herself drawn to the window by the power of the witch’s magic words that they remembered the dangerous situation in which they stood.
Another might have increased the peril by cries of despair, or lost precious time in useless lamentations; but Filagranata showed a presence of mind worthy of a prince’s wife by catching up a wand of the witch, with which she had seen her do wonderful things. With this she gave the prince a little tap, which immediately changed him into a pomegranate, and then another to the horse, which transformed him into an orange. These she set by on the shelf, and then proceeded to draw up the witch after the usual manner.
The old hag was not slow in perceiving there was something unusual in Filagranata’s room.
“What a stink of Christians! What a stink of Christians!” she kept exclaiming, as she poked her nose into every hole and corner. Yet she failed to find anything to reprehend; for as for the beautiful ripe pomegranate and the golden orange on the shelf, the Devil himself could not have thought there was anything wrong with them. Thus baffled, she was obliged to finish her inspection of the state of the pigeons, and end her visit in the usual way.
As soon as she was gone Filagranata knew she was free till the next day, and so once more, with a tap of the wand, restored the horse and his rider to their natural shapes.
From Roman legends: a collection of the fables and folk-lore of Rome, by Rachel Harriette Busk.
Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1877.