The Serpent and the Grape-Grower’s Daughter

(French)

A man was cultivating his vineyard. As he was picking up stones he saw a large one and began to pick it up also. What was his surprise to discover a hole out of which a big serpent came! He was greatly afraid.

The serpent spoke to him: “Who gave you permission to remove the door to my house?”

The man excused himself by saying that he would never have taken that stone to be the door of a house.

Then the serpent answered him: “I know that you have three marriageable daughters. If you don’t give me one of the three I’ll come at night to crush you. Begone, and give me your reply shortly.”

As he went home the man was sad, so very sad that his daughters asked him what the cause of his sorrow was, and he explained to them that, while he was working in the vineyard, moving a big stone, a serpent came out of a hole that it covered and said to him: “Who gave you permission to remove the door to my house?” And he had excused himself by saying that he would never have taken that stone to be the door to a house, and that the serpent had answered: “I know that you have three marriageable daughters, and if you don’t give me one of the three I’ll come in the night to crush you. Begone, and give me your response shortly.”

Then the eldest of his daughters cried that she would never be the wife of a serpent, and the next one made the same answer. The youngest alone consoled her father by telling him not to worry, and she assured him that she would make this sacrifice. So the father took the youngest of his daughters by the hand and went with her into the vineyard.

The serpent was waiting for them there at the entrance to his hole. From the threshold he invited them to come down underground, and he led them, crawling on his stomach, and the father and daughter followed him. Soon they arrived in a marvelous castle whose doors opened on magnificent apartments, with walls that were upholstered in diamonds, furnished with beautiful furniture, lighted by resplendent chandeliers. The father and the daughter were surprised to see such beautiful things, and the girl was so astounded that she turned toward her father to tell him that she would be happy to become the serpent’s wife.

At once they came to an understanding concerning the marriage. The serpent offered to his fiancee a white wedding dress and a dress to wear thereafter. The marriage took place. People of the highest society attended. They went to the church ceremony, and the bride was dressed in her white dress, which had a long train, and the serpent crawled beside her. After the marriage the guests went to the castle where there was a great banquet at which delicious and rare morsels were served, such as pheasants cooked on the skewer over a wood fire. Footmen in livery served.

That evening when all of the guests had withdrawn, the girl followed her husband into her bedroom, but she was horrified to find herself without relatives, without friends, and a serpent beside her. He, seeing her fright, reassured her by explaining to her that he could become a man when he chose, either day or night. Immediately he asked her to say when she desired that he become a man. His wife replied that she preferred him to be a man at night, for thus she would be less terrified; by day she would have less fear than by night to have a beast near her. So the serpent took off his skin immediately, hung it on a nail near his bed, and appeared to her as a beautiful prince who had been bewitched by an evil fairy. The fairy had cast this fate upon him, hoping that he would never succeed in getting married. The next morning he put his snakeskin back on, and so every night he was a prince and every morning a serpent.

A few days later the bride went to visit her parents. Her sisters were jealous of her, seeing her clothed so sumptuously with lovely dresses covered with diamonds. And they suggested that they come to visit her in her castle. And they went and spent a few days with her. She showed them all her beautiful wardrobe and her fine diamonds. They asked her if she wasn’t afraid at having a big serpent beside her. Her husband had told her that if one day she invited her sisters, she should be careful not to touch the skin while he was sleeping, that otherwise a great misfortune would befall the two of them. When the young married woman brought her sisters into their bedroom to answer their worried curiosity and to show them that her husband was a handsome prince, she warned them about what her husband had told her: that if she invited them one day, they should at least be careful not to touch his skin while he was sleeping, that otherwise a great misfortune would befall the two of them.

Nevertheless the eldest sister, seeing such a handsome prince, was filled with desire and jealousy; to see him closer she had taken a torch in her hand and she approached the serpent’s skin out of sheer spite. It was consumed in flames. The prince woke up with a start and said quickly to his wife that she should have remembered the advice he had given her. Immediately to punish her sisters he touched both of them with a magic wand: the two sisters then found themselves outside the castle in the countryside, from which they returned to their home.

The prince said to his wife: “You did not heed my advice, I must punish you too; take seven empty bottles and seven pairs of iron shoes. When you have filled these seven bottles with your tears and when you have worn out the seven pairs of shoes, you may come back to me.”

Then he touched her with his magic wand and she was in the open countryside alone and lost. She cried night and day and walked unceasingly; she was all the more afflicted and her wandering was all the more painful in that she was with child.

At the end of several months she gave birth to a beautiful son. She fed herself on what she encountered on her way; she ate grass and fruit, and she succeeded thus in staying alive and in suckling her baby. She walked unceasingly for seven years and filled one bottle with her tears each year, and used up in the same amount of time one of the pairs of iron shoes; she was all in rags.

At the end of seven years of wandering she saw a village and heard the bells that were ringing as loud as they could. She asked the first person that she met what the big festival was and the reply came:

“It’s a prince who’s getting married but who lost his wife seven years ago. He is remarrying today.” Then the serpent’s wife took her baby by the hand and went and stood at the door of the church. Her husband, who recognized her, was overjoyed, stopped on the threshold, and said to all of those in attendance:

“I had a pretty key, I lost it seven years ago. Today I have recovered it. What must I do? Keep the old one or have a new one made?”

And all of them replied: “If you were satisfied with the old one, why should you have a new one made?”

And they shouted: “Keep the old one!”

Then the prince said: “Here is my wife, whom I have found after seven years; I am taking her back.”

And he took her into his beautiful castle, where they lived happily and where they had many children.

[Collected by Deodat Roche at La Nouvelle in Aude province, France, in the year 1893, from one Mme Ferrie who, being uneducated, had received it from oral tradition in langue d’oc.]

*

Return to Main Index of Tales