There was once a king who had suffered for a long time with a painful
disease, in spite of all the efforts of the doctors to cure it. At
last he caused a proclamation to be made that whoever could cure him
should marry his daughter as a reward.
One day a snake appeared before the king and asked permission to cure
him. The king at first refused, but the snake said that his body
contained some gall whose power to cure was wonderful, so the king
consented to try it, and was soon cured.
The snake was really a prince who had been changed into this form
by enchantment. Every night he took on his proper form and went for
a walk around the city. His wife once saw him do this, so she asked
him to tell her the truth. The snake told her his secret, but forbade
her to tell any one, on pain of his leaving her.
One day the other daughters of the king consulted as to how they
should find out the truth about their sister's husband. They took
their sister into the garden and asked her many questions, but Maria
kept silent about the snake's secret. So her sisters fastened her
to a tree at the bottom of which was an ant's nest. Maria could not
long endure the pain of the bites of the ants and told her sisters the
truth. They let her go back home, but she could not find her husband
anywhere, and set out to look for him. She asked the birds she met
if they had seen him, but they answered that they had flown over all
the country around, for hundreds of miles, without seeing him. She
was very sorrowful, and at last, worn out with grief and weariness,
lay down to sleep under a tree which was barren of leaves, except
for three large ones at the very top.
Maria dreamed that her husband was in a house not far away and was
dangerously ill. She dreamed, also, that the leaves on the top
of the tree under which she was sleeping were the only cure for
his sickness. As soon as she awoke, she climbed the tree and got
the leaves and took them with her to the house, where she found her
husband, just as she had dreamed.
When she came to the door of the house she met a black woman whom she
asked about Don Juan, which was the prince's name. The black woman
told her that he was sick, and asked her why she had come. Maria
replied that she had learned of his sickness and had come to cure him
with some leaves. As soon as the negress learned about the leaves,
she took them and gave them to the prince, who immediately recovered
from his sickness.
The prince had promised to marry any woman who could cure him,
and as the black woman had cured him he married her. The negress,
seeing that she was ugly, tried to make Maria so also, so she took
her as a servant and painted her black; but Maria had an enchanted
ring which gave her the power of changing her form. Every night in
her room Maria made use of her ring, obtaining by means of it her
maids of honor, fine dresses, and a band which played sweet music.
It chanced one night that Don Juan was awakened by the sound of
music. He traced it to a certain room, and looking through the keyhole,
saw all that was going on in Maria's room. He was greatly astonished
and stood watching for a long time. Suddenly he saw Maria take from
her ring a pair of scissors. These at a sign suspended themselves in
the air, ready, when Maria should give the signal, to fall and pierce
her heart. Don Juan rushed into the room and caught the scissors just
as they were falling.
Then Maria told him all that had happened to her. She was proclaimed
as the prince's true wife, and the black woman was put to death as
a punishment for her deception.