Tales of Old Lusitania/The Child and the Fig

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THE CHILD AND THE FIG.




There was once a lady who had a step-daughter—a pretty child with a fair complexion and golden hair, which fell gracefully in long ringlets over her white shoulders. This lady had a house with a fine garden, planted with roses, tulips, camellias, and all manner of creepers, which wreathed the poles and trellises with living garlands of fragrance and bloom. In the centre of this delightful garden stood a large fig-tree, which stretched out its green branches, laden in summer with delicious fruit that hung like so many pendant dark pearls, but melted in the mouth more easily than that jewel. Once this prolific tree produced a fig of uncommon size, and perfect in shape and colour. The mistress was very proud of this fig, and wished it to ripen well on the tree before she gathered it; but she was afraid the birds, who are good judges of fruit, would single out this splendid fig, peck at it, and spoil it. She therefore ordered her stepdaughter to watch it, telling her at the same time that if she allowed the birds to touch it and spoil it, she would kill her instantly. The poor child, terrified at the threat of her cruel stepmother, kept an anxious watch over the fig, armed with a long cane, to frighten away the feathered thieves; but one day, when her attention was drawn away for a moment, a bold bird came, and before she had time to perceive what it was about, flew away with the luscious fruit in its beak. The child, in great distress, ran to tell her stepmother of the robbery, and besought her with many tears to spare her life, for she had done her best to save the fruit, but the naughty bird must have been watching his opportunity to take the fig. The cruel stepmother would not be appeased, and, in a fit of anger, killed the child, and then buried her in the garden. In a few days a beautiful rose-tree grew up over the grave, as though wishful to mark the sacred spot where the innocent child lay. Meanwhile, the mistress of the school that the child attended, having for several days missed her from her usual place, and fearing that she was ill, resolved to go to the house and enquire for her, which she did one day when out walking with her young ladies; but the only answer the lady would give her was that she did not know where her stepdaughter had gone to, and that if she thought proper to run away from home she was welcome to do so. The lady, however, invited the schoolmistress to take a walk round the garden with her pupils. The schoolmistress, glad to give her pupils a treat, went with them into the garden, which was so bright with blossoms and flowering shrubs; and as they rambled through the walks, admiring the parterres so well laid out in patches of lovely colours, one of the children was attracted towards the rose-tree which grew over the stepdaughter's grave, and plucked one of the deep yellow roses. The instant she did so, she heard a plaintive voice, coming from under the rose-tree, which sang—

Stay that cruel hand, I pray,
Pluck not the golden locks away
That a mother once tenderly dressed,
That a father has fondly caressed!
Oh, why did my stepmother slay me,
And cold in the moist earth lay me?
'Twas the fault of the feather'd thief,
That filch'd the ripe fruit from beneath the broad leaf
Of the wide-spreading fig-tree, and brought me to grief.

The little girl in a fright dropped the rose she had plucked, and ran to tell the mistress what she had heard from under the rose-tree. The mistress went to the magistrate and related to him what had occurred, and he had the ground dug up where the rose-tree grew, and there they found the body of the child, which was still breathing. The stepmother was taken up and punished for her crime, and the kind schoolmistress took charge of the unfortunate little girl, who lived with her ever after, happy and well cared for.

Coimbra.