The Little Pear Girl
The Little Pear Girl
Once upon a time, there lived a peasant who worked hard to make a living by farming the land. Every year his pear tree produced four bountiful baskets of fruit, which had to be given to the king. He was a greedy ruler who grew rich by taking from his subjects.
One year, part of the pear harvest went bad, and the peasant was able to pick only three and a half baskets of fruit. The poor man was beside himself with fear, for the king refused to take less than four baskets. The peasant knew he would be punished. All he could do was put his youngest daughter into one of the baskets and cover her with a layer of pears, so that the basket looked full.
The king's servants took away the four baskets without noticing the trick. Soon the little girl found herself all alone in the pantry, under the pears. One day, the cook went into the pantry and discovered her. Nobody could understand where she had come from. Not knowing what to do with her, Cook decided she should become a maid in the castle. She was given the name Violetta because her eyes were the color of violets.
Violetta was a pretty girl, sweet and generous. One day, as she was watering the flowers in the royal gardens, she met the king's son, a boy of her own age, and the two became friends. The other maids, jealous of Violetta's beauty, did everything they could to get her into trouble. They started spreading nasty rumors about her.
One day, the king sent for her and said severely, “I'm told you boast of being able to steal the witches' treasure trove. Is that true?”
Violetta said no, but the king refused to believe her and drove her out of his kingdom. “You may return only when you have laid hands on the treasure,” he said.
All of Violetta's close friends, including the prince, were sorry to hear of the king's decision, but they could do nothing to stop her going. The girl wandered through the forest and, when she finally came to a pear tree, she climbed into its branches and fell asleep. She was awakened at dawn by an old woman calling her, “What are you doing up there, all by yourself?”
Violetta told the old woman her tale, and the old woman offered to help her. She gave Violetta a broom, some round loaves of good bread, a little oil, and some good advice. Again, the girl set off on her journey.
Soon she reached a clearing with a large wood stove where she saw three women tearing out their hair and using it to sweep the ashes from the stove. Violetta offered them her broom and, in return, the women pointed out the way to the witches' palace.
As she headed toward the palace, two hungry mastiffs blocked her path. Violetta threw them the loaves. The dogs ate the bread and let her pass. Then she came to the bank of a flooding river. Remembering the old woman's advice, Violetta sang a lullaby to the river to calm it. The minute her song wafted into the air, the water stopped flowing. She crossed the river and at last reached the witches' palace.
The door was unlocked, but Violetta could not push it open for the hinges were rusted. So she rubbed a little oil on them and the door swung open. The little girl walked through the empty halls until she came to a splendid room in which sat a magnificent coffer full of jewels. Holding the coffer under her arm, Violetta made for the door. But the coffer was enchanted and it cried out, “Door! Don't let her out! You don't know what she's about!” However, the door opened, for Violetta had oiled its hinges.
Down at the river, the coffer cried out again. This time it said, “Water! Drown her! Please, don't deter.” But the river did not stop the little girl from crossing. The two mastiffs did not attack, and the three strange women did not burn her in their stove, for each was repaying the girl's courtesy.
Back at the king's palace again, the prince ran happily to meet Violetta, telling her, “When my father asks you what you want as a reward, ask him for the basket of pears in the pantry!” And this Violetta did. Pleased at paying such a modest price, the king instantly ordered the humble basket to be brought forth.
But nobody ever imagined for a minute that underneath the pears lay the handsome prince. The young man came out of his hiding place, professed his love for Violetta, and said he wanted to marry her. The king gave his consent. They all agreed that when Violetta became old enough, she and the Prince would marry. Happy with this arrangement, Violetta brought her family to the palace, and they all began a new and happy life together.