The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/A Chilian Folk-tale

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A Chilian Fairy Tale in Spanish, el Culebroncito, literally Big Snake.

(Collected in Concepcion, Chili, by T. H. Moore.)

THOU must know to tell, and understand in order to know that there was a gentleman who had three children; two sons, and a daughter whose name was Mariquita. This one was precisely the darling of her father and brothers. One day when she was in the garden she found a little snake; she took it up and put it in her bosom. There she nursed it, and when it was bigger she kept it inside a trunk. Every day she kept a plate of food, went to the trunk, opened it, and said to the snake, "Sister mine, Florita!" The snake answered, "What wantest thou, sweetheart?" put out its head and ate the food. Her father noticed this—for whom should she hide away food? and set his servants to spy upon her. When they saw the serpent, that had grown ever so big, they were very frightened, and went running to the master to tell him that the food was for a very horrid animal. The gentleman went to see it; and indeed the sight of the serpent put one in a fright; he ordered a servant to go with it to a wooded height and to kill it. In vain the maiden begged him to leave it her, since she had brought it up from a very little one, but her father was not willing, only he told the servant instead of killing it, to cast it alive into the wood. The maiden remained weeping very much for her snake, for she liked it as if it were a sister; so she passed many days very sorrowful.

One day her father had to send his two sons with a message to the king, who lived in a neighbouring town. Being one day at the king's table, they were relating many things to him (for they were very well instructed in everything), and amongst others they said to him, "We have a very singular sister, for when she laughs she lets fall fine pearls; when she washes her hands, the water next day changes into a block of silver; and when she combs her hair, the hair that falls off becomes golden threads." "Is this possible?" said the king. "So possible is it," said the young men, "that we will lose our heads if it be not as we have said." "Very well," said the king, "I am going to ask for your sister in marriage, and if what you have told me does not turn out true, I will order your heads to be cut off, as a punishment for having deceived me." Soon after he sent messengers to their father, asking him for Mariquita, to become the king's wife. Now, besides the gifts which her brothers had talked of, she was beautiful as the sun, and good.

Her father consented, highly pleased; and sent her to the king, accompanied by her nurse. The latter had a daughter named Estefania, and she and her daughter were very bad-hearted and envious. When they had travelled half-way, Mariquita fell asleep; so Estefania said to her mother, "Can you tell what I am thinking about?" "What is it?" said she to her. "That it would be a good thing if we were to put out Mariquita's eyes, and cast her off in this wooded height (now just then they were passing through a thickly-wooded spot), and as the king does not know which is Mariquita, we will tell him that I am she, and I shall be married to him." "Very well," said the old woman to her; so they did so, but seeing that the eyes were very beautiful, they put them in a glass to keep them.

The maiden passed a dreadful night in the wood, for that night it rained and thundered a great deal; she was half dead with pain and cold. The following day there came a little old man to the wood with his little donkey, to get a load of firewood to take to sell in the town, and with the money to buy a bag of bran for his family, for he could not do any better for them. Instead of getting firewood he found the maiden, and moved by pity he took her to his house on his little donkey. The little old man had three bad-hearted daughters, who treated him very badly. When they saw him coming without firewood and a woman in its stead they began to cry out, "Bad old man, what wilt thou give us to eat to-day? it will be this woman mayhap? She is coming to bring another mouth to the house that we may come to an end once for all by dying of hunger! Of what use is this blind wench who cannot gain her living?" The little old man said to them, "Have patience, daughters; this poor creature was in the wood, and I have brought her out of pity; I am going quickly for the load of firewood, and you shall soon have your dinners. I will leave my share and will give it to her." But his daughters scolded him more and more; for that blind wench he would die of want, and then who was going to work for them? At last he managed to pacify them a little, went for the firewood, sold it, and brought them their food.

Meanwhile the daughters illtreated Mariquita in all sorts of ways, until at last one of them more merciful than the others got them to leave her in peace. The maiden said to this one, "Little sister, bring me a little water to wash my hands." She brought it to her in a broken earthen pot. But the others cried out, "What a fine lady! she does not like to go and wash herself in the river!" But the kind one said, "There now, don't you see that the poor little thing is blind, and might fall into the water?" She washed her hands, and said, "Keep this water, little sister, till to-morrow." The old man's daughter said, "But to-morrow I will bring thee fresh water." Mariquita said, "But I want the same." At last the girl put it away among some shrubs, spilling a little on the ground. The next day Mariquita said, "Little sister, bring me the water that I asked thee yesterday to keep for me." She went to bring it, and found in its stead a block of silver, and silver on the ground where the water was spilt; and in bringing it the potsherd came to pieces from the weight of the silver. "What is this," said she, "that I have found instead of the water?" Mariquita said, "This is silver; tell daddy to go to the town and sell it, for it is worth a great deal; and let him buy for you clothes and food." The little old man did as Mariquita said; they bought it of him for a great deal of money; he bought plenty of clothes and plenty of food, and went home well pleased, for he had never even dreamed of so much riches.

Mariquita laughted heartily at the surprise of these people; and while she laughed, gathered in her lap the pearls that fell from her mouth. Then she said to the little old man, "Take these, daddy, they are fine pearls; take them to the town and sell them, for they are worth a great deal. Buy more food and all that you need." Meanwhile she asked the girls for a comb, to comb her hair. They brought her one; for since she had made them rich, they were so kind to her that they did not know what to make of her. She began to comb herself at the corner of the fireplace; and the girls to take care of her feet that she might warm them, put them so close to the fire that it almost burnt them. She kept the hair that fell from her head, and the next day she had a handful of golden threads. "Take these, daddy," said she to the little old man, "and go to town and sell them, for they are threads of gold. Buy all you need; all that you get for them is for you." The little old man was well pleased, and brought much money to his daughters.

Meanwhile, Estefania had arrived at the king's palace. He received her with great kindness, and married her on the spot. On the morrow he made her wash her hands, and put away the water, but the next day it was nothing but water. He made her laugh, but not a single pearl fell from her mouth. He made her comb herself, and kept the fallen hair, but hair it was, and hair it remained. So he slapped his forehead, and said, "These young men have deceived me; I will order their heads to be cut off!" He did so, and had their bodies embalmed to be sent to their father. Estefania went on living with the king, and the time was drawing nigh that she was about to have a baby, so that she was full of longings for everything she set eyes on.

One day that Mariquita was sitting in the sun, at the door of the little old man's hut, his daughters saw a big serpent that went towards Mariquita. "Ay!" they said, "come away from there! there is a big serpent, a very dreadful one, that is going to eat thee!" She said to them, "He will not hurt me, only let him come!" The girls wanted to kill it, but Mariquita would not let them. The serpent came near to her, caressed her a great deal, and began to lick the sockets of her eyes, for it was the same which she had reared from a little snake. It said to Mariquita, "Thy foster sister Estefania will soon have a baby, and all that she sets eyes on she longs for. Send the little old man to the town, let him buy the most beautiful nosegay of flowers that he can find, and take it to sell at the king's palace." The little old man did so, and when he passed by the palace, cried out, "Who buys nosegays?" Estefania said to her mother, "I must have that nosegay!" Her mother asked the little old man what it was worth, and he told her that he sold it for eyes. "Mother," said Estefania, "let us take out the eyes of the dog[1] and give them to him." The old man took them and went his way; but, before he got home with them the serpent said, "Eyes are coming, Mariquita, but they are not thine, thine will come later." When the little old man arrived, the serpent said to him, "Throw them away, daddy, they are dog's eyes!" The next day Mariquita told him to buy another nosegay finer still, and pass by the palace to sell it for eyes. Estefania came out, as on the day before, to buy it, and said to her mother "Let us take out the cat's eyes, and give them to him." They did so, and the little old man took them, but before he came home the serpent said, "Eyes are coming, Mariquita, but they are not thine, thine will come later" So she said to the little old man, "Throw them away, daddy, they are cat's eyes." The following day, they sent to buy a nosegay more beautiful than the others, with birds singing on the top of it, and the little old man went to the palace to sell it. Estefania came out to buy it, and said to her mother, "Now we have no more eyes, what shall we do? for I must have the nosegay." Her mother said to her, "Dost thou not remember that we kept Mariquita's eyes in a glass; we will see if they are sweet yet." Estefania said, "So long ago, they must be rotten." They went to look for them, and found them the same as when they had taken them out; so they gave them to him for the nosegay. Before the little old man got home, the serpent said, "Eyes are coming, Mariquita, and they are thine!" So when he arrived she was well pleased, and said, "These, daddy, are really my eyes." She took them and gave them to the serpent. The serpent licked the sockets, put the eyes in again, and if beautiful they were before, much more beautiful were they afterwards.

The next day the serpent said, "Let us go to the palace. Take this bag of gold ounces, and as the king takes his afternoon nap with Estefania, and has his guards at the door, thou must throw a handful of ounces to the soldiers, and while they are busy in gathering them up, thou must cry at the door, 'Sister mine, Florita!' I will answer, 'What wilt thou, sweetheart?' Thou wilt say—

'My servant Estefania
In the king's arms asleep;
Woe is me! because of a faithless wretch.'

Thou wilt fling another handful of ounces to the guards, and while they pick them up we will escape."

They did so one day, but the king, who had seen and heard all, gave orders to his guards to seize Mariquita and the serpent when they came again. But the guards, busied with picking up the ounces, took no notice of the king's orders. The third day, the king himself got behind the door to seize them, since he could not get his guards to do it, even though he threatened to cut their heads off. When they came the third time, and said the same things, and were running away, the king took hold of Mariquita by her clothes and stopped her. "What is this, maiden," said he, "what wert thou saying?" Therewith the serpent spoke up for her and said: "It is that the wife that your royal majesty has is not Mariquita. She is here; order her to do the wonders which her brothers spoke of." She then told all that the two wicked women had done with Mariquita on the way to the palace. The king, very wroth, took her indoors, made her wash her hands, kept the water, and the next day it had changed into a block of silver. He made her comb her hair, and the hair that fell off became golden threads. She laughed and fine pearls fell from her mouth.

The king acknowledged his mistake, and felt very sorry for having killed so unjustly the brothers; he married Mariquita, and ordained great royal feasts, and ordered Estefania and her mother to be broken on the wheel, quartered, afterwards to be burnt and their ashes cast to the winds.

After some time had passed, Mariquita had twin princes. Once when they were lying in the cradle, and their parents fondling them, the serpent came, and said, "Which should you like best to see, your sons dead, or your brothers alive?" They answered, "Our sons dead, since they are angels from heaven, and our brothers alive." The serpent cut the infants' throats, and led the parents to the place where the bodies of the two brothers lay embalmed, and they found them alive and well. The parents then felt very sorrowful, and went back to weep over their children; when they found them alive, and playing in the cradle. The serpent said to them, "I have now done all that I can do for you. I have no more business here, for I am an angel sent by God, and I am going back to heaven. Farewell!" The tale is finished.

  1. In original bitch. This is not an unpolite word in Spanish.