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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Traditional Legend

The Doge’s Daughter

From Kapper’s “Tales of the Dalmatian Coast”

IN one of the many castles formerly standing on the shores of the Adriatic Sea there lived the daughter of a doge of Venice. Her godmother was a fairy of the mountains, who had showered upon her all the most precious gifts. She had given her marvelous beauty, and had promised her in marriage the handsomest and noblest of men. The doge’s wife had taken every precaution that her daughter should not forget these predictions. She had placed in Zora’s chamber two chaffinches in a cage. She had taught these birds to repeat a little song, in which Zora was compared to the sun, the moon, and all sorts of stars, and which declared that she must choose a husband as handsome among men as she was beautiful among women.

And, in truth, when Zora was eighteen years of age she was the most lovely and exquisite of all creatures. Her father gave her for her dowry enormous treasures of gold and silver, and the two islands of Cyprus and Rhodes, with their harbors, fortresses, and storehouses filled with merchandise, and vessels innumerable. Thus Zora was certain not to lack suitors; indeed, it was not long before they began to arrive in crowds.

The first who came was the son of an emperor from beyond Stamboul. He was as shapely as a sculptured statue. Furthermore, he was a renowned hero who had defeated the Turks in a hundred battles. He brought magnificent presents, massive gold and glittering jewels. He laid at Zora’s feet pearls of incredible splendor, which he had taken from the turban of a sultan of Arabia whom he had slain in a duel. Surely any girl might have been glad of such a husband. Zora gave him no more than a disdainful glance. She did not think him worthy of any courtesy. She sent one of her maids to tell him that she could not think of marrying so ugly and insignificant a person.

After she had thus repulsed this noble suitor, she ran weeping into the forest and called to her fairy godmother.

“What do you want, my little daughter?” asked the fairy, who had appeared suddenly, wearing a veil embroidered with gold and full of white roses. “Why do you sigh so, my darling?”

“What do I want? Why do I sigh? Did you not promise me that my husband should be the noblest and handsomest prince on earth? And now that the time has come when I might marry, you send me some emperor’s son from Stamboul, a stupid soldier, who boasts coarsely of having killed his hundreds, who offers my parents gold and jewels, the commonest things in the world, and who dares offer me pearls from the turban of a sultan whom he has killed. If only he were good to look at. But his nose is bent and sharp-tipped, like the sickle of the moon. I shudder at the idea of having such a monster for a husband. Is this the way in which you keep your word?”

“Well, little daughter, the Emperor of Stamboul’s son is really the handsomest and noblest of men. Still, if he does not please you, send him away.”

“I did not wait for your advice to do that,” said Zora; “I showed him the door.”

“As you please,” said the fairy; “but my intentions were good. I have evidently not found what you desire. But have patience. Other claimants for your hand will present themselves. I am only sorry for the white roses which I had prepared for your marriage-wreath, and which will now wither.”

“What does it matter?” cried Zora. “I am in no haste. I would rather wait ten years than marry that crooked-nosed soldier.” Then she went, and the fairy disappeared into the depths of the forest.

When Zora came back to the castle she learned that the emperor’s son had already departed. But, since he did not care to have undertaken the long journey for nothing, he had immediately married the maid through whom Zora had informed him that he might return to Stamboul.

Some time passed, and another suitor presented himself at the castle. It was the son of the King of Caramania. He was handsome and accomplished, nor could any painter have depicted a face more fascinating than his. Furthermore, he was a scholar and a renowned poet. He brought Zora’s parents magnificent presents of fine silver. At Zora’s feet he laid a laurel crown, that had been awarded him in a great contest of poets.

Zora scarce gave him a look, turned her back upon him, and sent a maid to tell him he might depart instantly. It was in vain that he presented himself before her parents. Zora said she would never marry such a monster. Then she burst into tears, and ran off into the woods, calling for her fairy godmother. The latter appeared, and her embroidered veil was full of red roses.

“Why do you weep?”

“Why do I weep? First you send me a soldier with a crooked nose, and now, whom do you send to replace him? A pedant, a rimester, who knows of nothing but his books, who has nothing to offer but silver, and a bit of laurel such as one uses to flavor sauces. And then, his face! He has not only a hooked nose, but a beard like a crowbar. Would you have me marry such a monster? Is it thus that you keep your word?”

“That I have,” answered the fairy, “for the prince from Caramania is really the handsomest and most gallant knight now living. I have kept my word. Still, if he does not please you, you can send him away.”

“I have done so already.”

“Very well, you need not force your inclination. I will send you another, who will no doubt find favor in your eyes. I am only sorry for these beautiful roses, which were to form your nuptial crown, and which must now wither.”

“What does it matter?” cried Zora. “Rather than marry such a pedant, I would remain virgin for twenty years more.” She went away, and the fairy once more vanished into the depths of the forest.

When Zora returned to the castle she learned that the Caramanian prince had already departed, and that, out of spite for her refusal, he had married the girl by whom Zora’s disdainful message had come to him, and that he had carried off his bride on a black horse.

The Prince of Milan, and many other fair and renowned knights, fared at the hands of Zora even as the emperor’s son of Stamboul and the king’s son of Caramania had fared, and the fairy godmother’s roses withered again and again….

Years and years rolled on, and not a single suitor presented himself. The slighting reception accorded to the first became known, and no one dared to come. In the meantime Zora did not grow younger. She had counted on the sovereign charms of her wealth and her beauty, but now she began to reflect, and to fear that she would die an old maid.

Then very suddenly the doge died, and soon thereafter his wife. Thus a great change came over Zora’s position. She entered into full possession of lands, seas, cities, islands, ships, and harbors, of enormous wealth, and of the two crowns of Rhodes and Cyprus.

Now suitors began to come once more. The first was a great lord of Hungary. He wrote Zora a very courteous letter asking for her hand.

Zora went to consult her birds. One of them sang its habitual refrain, that Zora was more beautiful than sun or moon or stars. Zora, charmed with his singing, doubled its ration of seeds. The other bird, which had grown old, merely chirped a few incoherent words, in reward for which the Queen of Cyprus gave it a rap across the beak with her fan.

The next day Zora rose early and called her maid.

“Comb my hair,” she said, “and arrange my tresses as elegantly as possible. I expect a suitor to-day. It seems that I please him, and that he is coming to try his fortune. Do your very best, and I will reward you richly. It is not, as you know, because I am a coquette, but because propriety demands that— What is the matter?” cried Zora, noticing that the maid stopped suddenly.

“Nothing, madam, nothing!”

“Nothing? One is not astonished at nothing. I wish to know what is the matter!”

“Oh, nothing, madam, nothing! Only a gray hair.”

At these words Zora jumped up like one possessed.

“You lie!” she said. “Because you are red-haired, and envy my beautiful black locks, you wish to ruin my reputation. But you shall not succeed.”

She seized the servant by her red hair and threw her out of the window.

“So much for my gray hair!” she cried, with a diabolical laugh.

The maid fell into a deep pit at the foot of the castle.

Zora hastily covered the spot where the gray hair grew with heavy jewels. Then she put on the crown of Cyprus, and went to receive the great Hungarian lord.

He was a perfect colossus in size, and well advanced in years. He limped with one foot, and squinted with both eyes; his nose was as curved as a half-moon, and his beard pointed like a crowbar; his teeth were like those of a wild boar.

“Beautiful queen,” he said, “or dogeress, or princess, if you prefer it, you see that I am not quite perfection, but I hope you will excuse that. No one in this world is perfect, neither you nor I. So I don’t hesitate to confess that I have a weakness for Tokay, and that——”

“Insolent wretch!” cried Zora, “how dare you present yourself before me, who am a doge’s daughter, Queen of Cyprus, the honor and glory of my sex? Have you ever seen the eagle mate with the owl? Get you gone, or I will set my dogs upon you!”

The Hungarian was by no means disconcerted. He twirled his mustache majestically, and replied:

“Forsooth, the eagle will not mate with the owl, neither will the owl mate with the turkey. However, as I approached the castle I saw something fly out of the window and fall into the moat. My manners are a little brutal, but at heart I am not so bad. I sent my servants to see what it was. They found a red-haired girl, who, however, was young and pretty. She was still alive. Now that I have come in search of a wife, I dare say the red-haired girl will not set the dogs upon me.”

He made a lame bow to the Queen of Cyprus, and retired.

The servant-maid, full of gratitude to her deliverer, said:

“Better to have a lame and squinting husband than none at all. If he likes Tokay, I’ll try to acquire a taste for it.”

So she accepted him, and they went happily off to Hungary….

At last, a long, long time thereafter, a letter was received at the castle. It announced the coming of a new suitor, the Knight of Sixboards.

“What do you think of it?” Zora asked her two chaffinches.

The birds sang a flattering refrain. So their mistress was pleased, and gave them double rations. Then she called a maid, desiring to be combed and dressed against the coming of her noble guest. The maid began to comb her hair, but did so slowly and painfully.

“What is the matter?” asked Zora. “Your hands scarcely move. You know that I am in a hurry.”

“Madam,” replied the maid, “one cannot gather leaves on the trees in winter.”

“What do you mean?”

“That it is difficult to arrange black tresses when the hair is white.”

“Heaven curse you!” cried Zora. “You, too, are against me, and so envious that you will not allow my hair to be black!” And the queen strangled her maid servant with a girdle of silk, and cast her into the deepest cellar of the castle. Then, to hide the damage that the years had wrought, she placed upon her head both crowns, draped herself in a black veil, and sat upon a throne in the darkest corner of the great hall.

The suitor entered with his train. His was a fearful face. His head was bare, he had neither nose nor eyes, neither lips nor teeth. One could not say that he was only skin and bones, for he was naught but bones. Instead of arms, he bore a huge scythe. It was Death.

“Fair princess,” said the sinister guest, “I have, as you perceive, none of the defects for which you drove former suitors away. My face knows not the disfigurement of a curved nose, nor of a pointed beard, nor of boar’s teeth. I am neither warrior nor pedant; I neither write verses nor drink wine. So high is my rank, that counts and princes, kings and emperors, bow before me; so rich and powerful am I that all the treasures and honors of the whole world are as nothing in my sight. I have but one failing: I am a terrible vagabond. Through all the year, night and day, without rest, without ceasing, I wander through the world. I am seen north and south, on sea and land, in cities and deserts. I am received sometimes in the palaces of kings, and sometimes in the hovels of the poor. I mow down the old and the young, the beautiful and the ugly. To-day your turn has come. I am the bridegroom for whom you have waited so long, and I come to take you to my castle of Sixboards.”

The daughter of the doge trembled in every limb.

“Back!” she cried, “back! I have accepted no suitor, neither will I accept you. Rather live a century without a husband than yield to you!”

“No doubt,” said the inexorable suitor, “but, unhappily, it’s impossible. There is no alternative for those whom I elect.”

The visitor seized Zora in his arms. The chaffinches protested her fairness in song; but Death broke a window with his scythe, and carried off the royal lady.