Rags and Tatters ~ Fairy Tale Stories for Kids
A KING, who was lying on his deathbed, called his only son to come to him.
"Son," he said, "you shall be king after me. Your three sisters have no one but you to look after them. When it is time for them to marry, this is what you must do. There is no need to go about seeking great princes far away to be their husbands. You know that rose tree that grows in the palace garden and flowers all year around? Pluck a rose from it and throw it into the street. Whoever shall pick it up shall have your eldest sister for his wife. Do the same for your second sister. And the same for your third."
The son was stunned. "Father," he said, "are you sure that is the best way?" It was the practice in the day for young princes and princesses to meet and see if they liked each other. Then if so, they would marry.
"I am still the King of this land!" said his father with sudden anger, then his head dropped down on his pillow. The son dare not tire out the sick man any longer, and so he gave his word.
Therefore when the eldest sister had grown into a beautiful princess and the court advisers said it was time for her to marry, her brother told her of their father's command. "That's the silliest thing I ever heard!" she said. "I'd rather not marry at all!" But these were the days when what a King said must be carried out. (Aren't you glad times are different now?)
We shall return to the story. So the prince, who was now King, plucked a rose from the rose tree in the palace garden. He threw it into the street and told the sentry at the palace door to watch who should pick it up. Whoever it was must be sent to the royal chamber. Soon there came walking along a fine young count, splendidly dressed, with a jeweled sword by his side, and a manner brave and jolly. He saw the rose, picked it up and stuck it in his velvet cap.
"The king demands to speak with you!" said the sentry, stepping forward. The count, anxious, entered the palace, and bowed low before the King, worrying what may be the matter. Said the King: "You have been chosen as the husband of my eldest sister!" The count could not believe his luck!. The princess grumbled. "This is no way for a princess to marry! I should have married a king, or at least a prince!" Her brother, however, had no choice; he had given his word. Nor did the sister. However the princess watched the count carefully. She thought to herself, "It could be worse. I have met many a prince who did not have such a fine, jolly manner. This young man is young and handsome and I can see where he would make me laugh. I could have fared much worse." And so she married the count.
A couple of years later, it was time for the second princess to marry. She was just as unwilling as her elder sister to marry whoever happened to pick up the rose and found the whole idea ridiculous. Her brother reminded her of their father's command. And besides, her older sister seemed happy with her match.
So the brother plucked a rose, threw it out in the street, and asked the sentry to watch who should pick it up. By and by, a rich merchant came along, a grave, serious, solid and dignified man. He saw the rose, looked at it as if it were a pity such a pretty thing should be wasted, picked it up, dusted it off, and placed it neatly in the button-hole of his fine cloth doublet.
"The king desires to speak with you," said the sentry, stepping forward.
"A great honor, indeed!" replied the merchant. "I will attend his majesty without delay." He entered the palace and heard what the king had to say to him. "But I am not even a nobleman!" the merchant objected. "Surely the princess would marry a much greater man than I."
"This is her father's wish," said the King. And so the matter was settled.
Like her elder sister, the princess grumbled at first. A mere merchant, indeed! "But at least," she had to admit at last, "he seems honest, hard-working and serious. Not a joker as so many other men are. And while he was not a very young man, he was not that old either, and had a way about him that was appealing. "I might have fared worse," she though. And so the second princess married the merchant and went to his new home to live.
At last came the turn of Julietta, the youngest princess. For her, the king did as for her two older sisters. He plucked the rose, threw it into the street, and told the sentry to watch who should pick it up, and send him in. Now, who should come by but a poor lame water-carrier! Such an ugly, dirty little man! He saw the rose, picked it up, and put it to his nose to draw in the sweet fragrance.
The sentry stepped forward. He said to the water-carrier, "The king desires to speak with you!"
The water-carrier sadly looked at his tattered clothes and ragged sandals. To be seen before the the king in such rags! But when the king commands . . . He slunk up the marble steps and entered the palace.
"You picked up the rose?" said the king, eyeing him with dismay.
"Yes, sire! But if you please, sire! I meant no harm by it."
"Then you must marry my youngest sister, Julietta."
"What?" the water-carrier called out in alarm. "Your majesty is making a mockery of me."
"Not at all! Not at all!" And the beggar was told of the dead king's command.
"But I am miserably poor and as you see -- my leg is lame -- and I am ugly! Such a match is impossible!"
"I wish it were!" sighed the king. "But this is the way it must be."
"A poor wretch who can scarcely feed her!" cried the poor man. Then he sighed. "Well, if it must be, then at least please do not send any dowry with her. It would only make it worse for her to have fine things in the poor home where she must live."
The grief of the poor young princess was heartrending. Her brother wept too, and it was a miserable wedding. It was no comfort the two older sisters seemed contented enough. This was too much! But it couldn't be helped. So Julietta went away with her water-carrier to his shabby hut on the hill.
On the way all the people who saw them cried, "Look! there goes the princess with that Rags-and-Tatters!" Home she went to the miserable place, to live there with her new husband, Rags-and-Tatters, and his old crone of a mother.
"This is no place for such fine clothes," said the old woman. She gave Julietta a rough dress to wear and wooden shoes, and made her scour and wash and bake and darn, and tend to her husband's lame leg. There was only the coarsest food to eat -- and little enough of that.
Poor Julietta wept and wept, and could not be comforted. Rags-and-Tatters, though he did not want so fine a wife, was full of pity for her. But what could he do? The only time she had any joy was when she was asleep. Then she dreamed beautiful dreams. One night she dreamt she was in a grand palace, warm and light and spacious. She wore lovely clothes and jewels in her hair; and the tables were spread with delicious things to eat. She sat down at the table with friends dressed as beautifully as herself, and everyone was having a fine time. When she woke up she told her husband all about it. But Rags-and-Tatters shook his head and said, "A dream is but a dream, my wife. It must be hard for you to think of such memories. Think no more of this."
"Julietta!" snapped the old woman. "It is time to get up and kindle the fire. What are you waiting for?"
Some weeks later, Julietta dreamt the same dream again. Of course, she told her husband about it in the morning.
"It's best you forget these dreams," he said. "It only makes it harder for you here."
"Get used to the real world, girl," snapped the old woman, pointing. "There's the wash tub. Get started."
Yet that very night, Julietta was back in the beautiful palace in her dreams, with servants to wait on her and jeweled clothes to wear. Again the banquet was rich and splendid, the flowers were rare and fragrant, the music soft and pleasant. But as they were rising from the table someone looked up at the golden ceiling. There in the hole a little man was gazing downward. "Look! look!" cried a man at the table. "There is Rags-and-Tatters!" Just then, in the twinkling of an eye the dream vanished, and the princess was sitting up in her bed by the hearth in the hut on the hill, clad in her old sleeping frock.
She moaned to her husband over all she had lost and left behind. In his heart he really felt very sorry for her. "What's done is done," he said softly. "We must try to make the best of it."
For weeks and weeks she wept every day. Then one night, she dreamt once more of the beautiful palace. As soon as Rags-and-Tatters was recognized and his name was called out, the entire dream disappeared again. The next night, however, she was back in the lovely palace again, richly clad, and with servants to wait on her. The banquet was more splendid than ever. But this time, before they sat down, in her dream the Princess Julietta spoke to her assembled guests.
"Make merry, my friends," she said. "Only one thing is forbidden. Let none of you breathe the name," -- and then she whispered -- "of Rags-and-Tatters!"
They all sat down, ate, drank and made merry, and charming music sounded all about them the while. Then one of the company looked up at the hole in the golden roof. There again, the little man was gazing down on them all. It was just on the tip of his tongue to cry out, "Rags-and-Tatters!" but he caught himself just in time. The princess herself looked up and saw the figure in the hole in the roof. A sudden ray of fondness lit up her heart.
"Poor man!" she said softly to herself. "What a good fellow he is, and how I sadden him with my complaints! I wish Rags & Tatters were down here with us in the midst of it all, and enjoying it with us!"
And then -- did the lights, the music, the flowers and the guests, the palace and everything, disappear as before? Not at all! At the end of the banquet hall appeared two thrones of gold. On one of them sat a fair young prince, clad in velvet and jewels. His hair shone like the sun, and his eyes were of hyacinth blue, and his smile gladdened the heart of everyone. While they stood in amazement, he rose and said, "Welcome, my guests! My wife has entertained you while I have been away. You will not be less merry, I hope, now that I have come home!" And he drew the Princess Julietta forward, and placed her on the throne by his side. Then they danced and sang and were joyous, till the stars faded and daylight streamed through the windows of the hall.
For Rags-and-Tatters was not Rags-and-Tatters at all, but Prince Florio, the son of the king of Portugal. A wicked enchantress had cast a spell on the young prince because his father, the king of Portugal, had banished the enchantress from his land. The spell she had cast reduced the Prince to a hideous appearance, clothed only by old and dirty rags. The spell was to last until a princess loved him enough to desire his humble company even while she reveled in finery and elegance. Now Julietta had broken the spell when she longed for him in the midst of her splendor, with his rags and tatters and all.
And what of his old mother? Why, she was not his real mother at all, but the wicked enchantress herself! Night after night, the crone had planted dreams in the princess of finery and lost glory. The following day, she delighted in mocking the prince when it was obvious that the princess had thought nothing of the prince during her dreams. For if she had, of course the spell would have been broken by morning.
Prince Florio and Princess Julietta went home in triumph to Portugal, where they were married, lived happily and where their love only deepened as the years went by.
Question 1: Why did Julietta's feelings toward Rags-and-Tatters change when she saw him looking down through the hole in the roof?
Question 2: Is there someone you didn't like when first you met, but the more time you spent with that person, the more you liked him or her?
This story, "Rags-and-Tatters," is from a story of the same name in The Italian Fairy Book by Anne MacDonell (Frederick A. Stokes Company: New York, 1911), pp. 232-241.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©1998. All rights reserved.