Tales of Old Lusitania/Maria Silva

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MARIA SILVA.




A young prince one day went out hunting, and as he entered the forest he heard what seemed the piteous cry of a little child. As he approached the spot whence the cry seemed to proceed he heard a voice saying—

Ay, seek her, prince, for, come what may,
She that weeps you'll wed one day.

The prince laughed at this, and said, "Very well, we shall see if those words come true." He continued, however, to search for the child, and at last came to a grass plot, where he saw a little girl amusing herself by playing and rolling about on the soft grass. He raised her up from the ground, and that he might know her again he cruelly marked her with a heated iron, cut off one of her little fingers, and then laid her down in a bush and left her to her fate. This poor child had been deserted by her unnatural mother, and left there with no one to care for her.

A shepherd belonging to that part of the country was in the habit of taking his flock to pasture near the thicket where the poor child had been laid by the prince. One day, when calling his flock together at sunset to go home, he found that his best and finest goat was missing; it was only after much seeking and calling that she returned to him. Next day the goat did the same thing, and day after day she would absent herself until called for. The shepherd, who could not imagine the reason of the goat's strange behaviour, and was afraid of losing her altogether, said to his wife one day, when he came home more concerned and puzzled than usual, "Do you know, wife, that I am afraid we shall lose our best goat one of these fine days; however sharply I may look after her, she manages to slip away from the flock every day, and only returns when I call out for her. What do you think I had better do?" The wife replied that she would go next day and watch the goat, while he minded the rest of the flock. She did so, and great was her surprise and interest to find the goat lying on the ground suckling a beautiful little child. The good woman and the shepherd, who had no children, were delighted at the discovery; they took the little girl home, and reared and brought her up as their own.

Maria Silva (Woodland Mary) grew up to be a most beautiful maiden; and when the shepherd and his wife died, she entered the service of a princess who was about to marry the very prince who had found her in the forest. Now the prince, who paid the princess many visits before their marriage, happened on one of these occasions to meet Maria Silva as he entered the palace; and instantly, as by some spell of fascination, he was struck with love for her. But he noticed the mark of a brand on her forehead, and that one of her little fingers was wanting; and this brought back to his mind the cruel thing he had done to a little child in the forest, when a voice had prophesied to him that some day that very child would be his wife. Determined to defy and defeat this prediction, he stifled the passion he felt for her, and to get her out of his way altogether, he began even to plot against the life of the innocent girl. He bought three splendid gold rings, and gave one to each of the princess's handmaids, but explained to them that they would have to produce the rings in three days' time, when he would demand to see them; and he warned them that if any one of them failed to produce her ring she would forfeit her life. After this he secretly offered Maria's fellow-servants a handsome reward if they could by any means bring about the loss of Maria Silva's ring. The two servants carried out the prince's design and managed to make Maria drop her ring into the sea. But great was their astonishment to find that the loss of the ring, which was to be the cause of her death, did not seem to trouble her in the least. Next day, when the fish that had been caught for the royal dinner were brought into the palace, she asked if she might help to clean them for cooking. The cook, who was glad of some help, readily agreed; and Maria, while preparing a large chad which had come in with the rest of the fish, found her lost ring in the fish's belly.

The day arrived when the three servants were to produce their rings; and Maria Silva, with a happy face and beaming with joy, presented hers to the prince, which so astonished both the wicked prince and the two servants that they all nearly fainted away.

When the prince had sufficiently recovered from his surprise, he asked Maria how she had got her ring back which had fallen into the sea; but her only answer was—

Left alone in the wood,
By a prince I was found;
A kind goat gave me food,
And the goatherd was good,
And here I am safe and sound.

The prince found that instead of shaking off the spell under which he was laid he was more than ever in love with Maria Silva, and resolved no longer to resist his fate. Filled with remorse, he made a full confession to Maria of all he had done to her, asked to be forgiven, and said he would give up the princess and make her his wife instead, promising to atone for his crimes towards her by making her happy ever after.

Coimbra.