Tales of Old Lusitania/St. Anthony's Goddaughter

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ST. ANTONY'S GODDAUGHTER.




There once lived a good, honest man, who had had so many children that all the men in the neighbourhood had been asked to stand godfather to one or another of them.

So, when another child, a girl, was born to him, the poor man, not knowing whom to ask to be godfather, went out into the high road, and walked along with the child in his arms, with the intention of asking the first man he met to be godfather. It so happened that the first man he met in the road was a friar, who not only acceded to his request, but took the child to be baptised, and gave her the name of Antonia. The friar then took leave of the man with these words: "Bring up the girl with the greatest care, and when she is thirteen years old I shall return for her, and see that she gets a good situation."

Thirteen years had elapsed, and the man, finding that the godfather did not return as he had promised, resolved to send his daughter into service; and, having obtained for her a good post in a respectable family, he started from home with his daughter to her new employers. When they were out of the city, and already in the high road, the godfather suddenly stood before them like an apparition, and addressing the father, he said: "I have secured an excellent situation for my goddaughter in the king's palace, and she must not delay in going to it. But it is requisite that she should be attired in men's clothes, and be known by the name of Antonio instead of Antonia; otherwise she may run great risks in the king's palace, on account of her beauty." Before leaving them, the godfather gave the girl some good advice—to be of modest behaviour, and fulfil her duties faithfully in the palace; and he moreover told her, whenever she found herself in any strait or difficulty, to call upon him and say: "Oh godfather, hasten to help me!"

The girl entered upon her duties in the palace as page to the queen, and was thought by everyone to be a boy.

Antonia, as she grew into womanhood, increased in cleverness and beauty; by her natural gift of pleasing she gained the affections of all, and was soon the general favourite in the palace; and she even unconsciously attracted the admiration of the queen, who was foolish enough to fall in love with her handsome page. But the queen found that her favour and attentions were received with indifference and sometimes with disdain, and, unwilling to brook the affront, she began to intrigue against her with the purpose of getting the king to dismiss her.

On one occasion the queen went to the king and said: "My page has been conceited enough to say, 'I am able to gather in all the wheat from his majesty's cornfields in one night.'"

The king summoned Antonia before him, and said: "Is it true, master page, that you can perform this wonderful feat of gathering all the wheat crop in my fields in one night?"

"I never said anything of the kind, sire; but I am willing to try what I can do."

That same night Antonia repaired to the cornfields, and, when she surveyed the work before her, her heart sank within her; but presently, recollecting her godfather's injunction, she lifted her hands to heaven and cried: "Come, my good godfather, and help me!"

That very instant the friar appeared to her, and said: "Do not be troubled, child, retire to your bed and sleep free of anxiety, for in the morning you will find the work done." And so it actually came to pass.

The king was delighted to find that all his wheat had been garnered with so little trouble; but the queen, who was every day more and more in love with her page, felt annoyed, and said to Antonia: "If you do not respond to my passion for you I shall set the king against you."

The only reply that Antonia made was: "Your majesty may act as it best pleases you, but I could not respond to your majesty's love without being disloyal to my king."

The queen in a rage went and sought the king, saying: "I have let a ring fall into the sea, and Antonio says that he is sure he can dive to the bottom of the sea and find my ring. If he is so clever, tell him, O king, to go and do it."

Antonia was again called up before the king, who said: "The queen tells me that you boast of being able to find her ring which has fallen into the sea. What say you to this?"

"I have not said that I could, but I am willing to try, sire."

Antonia called upon her godfather to assist her, and he appeared to her as before, and said: "Go to the beach, and throw out a line; the first fish you catch, cut it open and inside it you will find the ring."

Antonia did as she was instructed, and having found the ring, gave it back to the queen. The queen, exasperated to find that all her plans to ruin her page were thwarted by some unaccountable adroitness in him, tried once more to bring Antonia into disgrace with the king: "Do you know, oh king! that my page has the impudence to boast that he can rescue our daughter, who is a captive with the Moors? Did you ever hear of such arrogance? Call him, and tell him that if he is unable to accomplish the feat you will bring him to grief."

The king then spoke to Antonia: "Have you the power to rescue my daughter from the hands of the Moors?"

"I have," replied Antonia firmly.

"Then go, but recollect that your life is at stake if you do not succeed."

Antonia set out on her perilous adventure, but first she implored her godfather's assistance. He came, and said: "Yes, go on your errand. When you reach the castle where the princess is detained, you will find the guard asleep; walk in without fear and lead her out, for no harm will befall you. Take this switch, and strike the princess with it thrice. Strike her the first time when you are out of Morocco; the second time when you are half way home; and the third when you enter the palace on your return."

Antonia followed her godfather’s directions, and succeeded in delivering the princess from the hands of the Moors, and brought her back safe to her parents.

Now the princess was deaf and dumb; and among the many accusations the queen had brought against Antonia one was that she had said she could cure the princess; and the king, seeing that Antonia had hitherto accomplished whatever was proposed to her, however difficult of execution, said to her: "Antonio, if you can loosen the tongue of the princess, and cure her of her deafness, you shall marry her."

Antonia, raising her hands to heaven, cried: "Oh, godfather, help me!"

The godfather instantly came, and said: "Ask the princess why you struck her thrice with the switch, and she will answer you."

Antonia then came before the king and queen, and in their presence asked the princess:

"Oh, princess! why did I strike you with the switch on leaving the land of the Moors?"

"Because my mother had tried three times to injure you."

"And why did I strike you on our way home?"

"Because Saint Antony is your godfather?"

"And why, oh, princess! did I strike you the third time as we entered the palace?"

"Because you wished it to be known that you are a woman, and not a man as you seem to be."

The king was struck with wonder and delight; embraced his daughter, who had been cured in such a marvellous manner, and stretched out his hand to Antonia, saying: "I thank you, Antonio, for your loyalty to me, and I now fully comprehend how cruel the queen has been to you, at the same time that she was faithless to me. I discard her from this moment, and will make you my queen instead."

Antonia lived very happily with the king, who never for a single day regretted the change. All the jewels and rich robes that the queen had worn were taken from her and given to Antonia: and she governed jointly with the king, dealing justly with her subjects, and ever ready to better their condition in every possible way. She was virtuous and kind to the end of her days, for Saint Antony was her constant protector and intercessor.

Coimbra.


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