THE PRINCESS BELLA-FLOR
(From Cuentos, Oraciones, y Adivinas, por Fernan Caballero.)
Once upon a time there lived a man who had two sons.
When they grew up the elder went to seek his fortune in
a far country, and for many years no one heard anything
about him. Meanwhile the younger son stayed at home
with his father, who died at last in a good old age, leaving
great riches behind him.
For some time the son who stayed at home spent his
father’s wealth freely, believing that he alone remained
to enjoy it. But, one day, as he was coming down stairs,
he was surprised to see a stranger enter the hall, looking
about as if the house belonged to him.
‘Have you forgotten me?’ asked the man.
‘I can’t forget a person I have never known,’ was the
‘I am your brother,’ replied the stranger, ‘and I have
returned home without the money I hoped to have made.
And, what is worse, they tell me in the village that my
father is dead. I would have counted my lost gold as
nothing if I could have seen him once more.’
‘He died six months ago,’ said the rich brother,‘and
he left you, as your portion, the old wooden chest that
stands in the loft. You had better go there and look for
it; I have no more time to waste.’ And he went his way.
So the wanderer turned his steps to the loft, which was
at the top of the storehouse, and there he found the wooden
chest, so old that it looked as if it were dropping to
‘What use is this old thing to me?’ he said to
himself. ‘Oh, well, it will serve to light a fire at which I
can warm myself; so things might be worse after all.’
Placing the chest on his back, the man, whose name
was José, set out for his inn, and, borrowing a hatchet,
began to chop up the box. In doing so he discovered a
secret drawer, and in it lay a paper. He opened the
paper, not knowing what it might contain, and was
astonished to find that it was the acknowledgment of a
large debt that was owing to his father. Putting the
precious writing in his pocket, he hastily inquired of the
landlord where he could find the man whose name was
written inside, and he ran out at once in search of
The debtor proved to be an old miser, who lived at the
other end of the village. He had hoped for many months
that the paper he had written had been lost or destroyed,
and, indeed, when he saw it, was very unwilling to pay
what he owed. However, the stranger threatened to
drag him before the king, and when the miser saw that
there was no help for it he counted out the coins one by
one. The stranger picked them up and put them in his
pocket, and went back to his inn feeling that he was now a
A few weeks after this he was walking through the
streets of the nearest town, when he met a poor woman
crying bitterly. He stopped and asked her what was the
matter, and she answered between her sobs that her husband
was dying, and, to make matters worse, a creditor
whom he could not pay was anxious to have him taken
‘Comfort yourself,’ said the stranger kindly; ‘they
shall neither send your husband to prison nor sell your
goods. I will not only pay his debts but, if he dies, the
cost of his burial also. And now go home, and nurse him
as well as you can.’
And so she did; but, in spite of her care, the husband
died, and was buried by the stranger. But everything
cost more than he had expected, and when all was paid
he found that only three gold pieces were left.
‘What am I to do now?’ said he to himself. ‘I
think I had better go to court, and enter into the service
of the king.’
At first he was only a servant, who carried the king
the water for his bath, and saw that his bed was made in
a particular fashion. But he did his duties so well that
his master soon took notice of him, and in a short time
he rose to be a gentleman of the bedchamber.
Now, when this happened the younger brother had
spent all the money he had inherited, and did not know
how to make any for himself. He then bethought him
of the king’s favourite, and went whining to the palace to
beg that his brother, whom he had so ill-used, would
give him his protection, and find him a place. The elder,
who was always ready to help everyone, spoke to the king
on his behalf, and the next day the young man took up his
work at court.
Unfortunately, the new-comer was by nature spiteful
and envious, and could not bear anyone to have better
luck than himself. By dint of spying through keyholes
and listening at doors, he learned that the king, old and
ugly though he was, had fallen in love with the Princess
Bella-Flor, who would have nothing to say to him, and had
hidden herself in some mountain castle, no one knew where.
‘That will do nicely,’ thought the scoundrel, rubbing
his hands. ‘It will be quite easy to get the king to send
my brother in search of her, and if he returns without
finding her, his head will be the forfeit. Either way, he
will be out of my path.’
So he went at once to the Lord High Chamberlain and
craved an audience of the king, to whom he declared
he wished to tell some news of the highest importance.
The king admitted him into the presence chamber without
delay, and bade him state what he had to say, and to
be quick about it.
‘Oh, sire! the Princess Bella-Flor——’ answered the
man, and then stopped as if afraid.
‘What of the Princess Bella-Flor?’ asked the king impatiently.
‘I have heard—it is whispered at court—that your
majesty desires to know where she lies in hiding.’
‘I would give half my kingdom to the man who
will bring her to me,’ cried the king, eagerly. ‘Speak
on, knave; has a bird of the air revealed to you the
‘It is not I, but my brother, who knows,’ replied the
traitor; ‘if your majesty would ask him——’ But before
the words were out of his mouth the king had struck a
blow with his sceptre on a golden plate that hung on the
‘Order José to appear before me instantly,’ he shouted
to the servant who ran to obey his orders, so great was
the noise his majesty had made; and when José entered
the hall, wondering what in the world could be the
matter, the king was nearly dumb with rage and excitement.
‘Bring me the Princess Bella-Flor this moment,’
stammered he, ‘for if you return without her I will have
you drowned!’ And without another word he left the
hall, leaving José staring with surprise and horror.
‘How can I find the Princess Bella-Flor when I
have never even seen her?’ thought he. ‘But it is no
use staying here, for I shall only be put to death.’ And
he walked slowly to the stables to choose himself a
There were rows upon rows of fine beasts with their
names written in gold above their stalls, and José was
looking uncertainly from one to the other, wondering
which he should choose, when an old white horse turned
its head and signed to him to approach.
‘Take me,’ it said in a gentle whisper, ‘and all will go
José still felt so bewildered with the mission that the
king had given him that he forgot to be astonished at
hearing a horse talk. Mechanically he laid his hand on
the bridle and led the white horse out of the stable. He
was about to mount on his back, when the animal spoke
‘Pick up those three loaves of bread which you see
there, and put them in your pocket.’
José did as he was told, and being in a great hurry to
get away, asked no questions, but swung himself into the
They rode far without meeting any adventures, but at
length they came to an ant-hill, and the horse stopped.
‘Crumble those three loaves for the ants,’ he said. But
‘Why, we may want them ourselves!’ answered he.
‘Never mind that; give them to the ants all the
same. Do not lose any chance of helping others.’ And
when the loaves lay in crumbs on the road, the horse
By-and-by they entered a rocky pass between two
mountains, and here they saw an eagle which had been
caught in a hunter’s net.
‘Get down and cut the meshes of that net, and set the
poor bird free,’ said the horse.
‘But it will take so long,’ objected José, ‘and we may
miss the princess.’
‘Never mind that; do not miss a chance of helping
others,’ answered the horse. And when the meshes were
cut, and the eagle was free, the horse galloped on.
They had ridden many miles, and at last they came
to a river, where they beheld a little fish lying gasping on
the sand, and the horse said:
‘Do you see that little fish? it will die if you do not put
it back in the water.’
‘But, really, we shall never find the Princess Bella-Flor,
if we waste our time like this!’ cried José.
‘We never waste time when we are helping others,’
answered the horse. And soon the little fish was swimming
A little while after they reached a castle, which was
built in the middle of a very thick wood, and right
in front was the Princess Bella-Flor feeding her hens.
‘Now listen,’ said the horse. ‘I am going to give all
sorts of little hops and skips, which will amuse the
Princess Bella-Flor. Then she will tell you that she
would like to ride a little way, and you must help her to
mount. When she is seated I shall begin to neigh and
kick, and you must say that I have never carried a
woman before, and that you had better get up behind so
as to be able to manage me. Once on my back we will
go like wind to the king’s palace.’
José did exactly as the horse told him, and everything
fell out as the animal prophesied; so that it was not
until they were galloping breathlessly toward the palace that
the princess knew that she was taken captive. She said
nothing, however, but quietly opened her apron which
contained the bran for the chickens, and in a moment it
lay scattered on the ground.
‘Oh, I have let fall my bran!’ cried she; ‘please get
down and pick it up for me.’ But José only answered:
‘We shall find plenty of bran where we are going.’ And
the horse galloped on.
They were now passing through a forest, and the princess
took out her handkerchief and threw it upwards, so
that it stuck in one of the topmost branches of a
‘Dear me; how stupid! I have let my handkerchief
blow away,’ said she. ‘Will you climb up and get it for
me?’ But José answered:
‘We shall find plenty of handkerchiefs where we are
going.’ And the horse galloped on.
After the wood they reached a river, and the princess
slipped a ring off her finger and let it roll into the
‘How careless of me,’ gasped she, beginning to sob.
‘I have lost my favourite ring; do stop for a moment and
look if you can see it.’ But José answered:
‘You will find plenty of rings where you are going.’
And the horse galloped on.
At last they entered the palace gates, and the king’s heart
bounded with joy at beholding his beloved Bella-Flor.
But the princess brushed him aside as if he had been a
fly, and locked herself into the nearest room, which she
would not open for all his entreaties.
‘Bring me the three things I lost on the way, and perhaps
I may think about it,’ was all she would say. And,
in despair, the king was driven to take counsel of José.
‘There is no remedy that I can see,’ said his majesty,
‘but that you, who know where they are, should go and
bring them back. And if you return without them I
will have you drowned.’
Poor José was much troubled at these words. He
thought that he had done all that was required of him,
and that his life was safe. However, he bowed low, and
went out to consult his friend the horse.
‘Do not vex yourself,’ said the horse, when he had
heard the story; ‘jump up, and we will go back and look for
the things.’ And José mounted at once.
They rode on till they came to the ant-hill, and then
the horse asked:
‘Would you like to have the bran?’
‘What is the use of liking?’ answered José.
‘Well, call the ants, and tell them to fetch it for you;
and, if some of it has been scattered by the wind, to bring
in its stead the grains that were in the cakes you
gave them.’ José listened in surprise. He did not much
believe in the horse’s plan; but he could not think of
anything better, so he called to the ants, and bade them
collect the bran as fast as they could.
Then he sat under a tree and waited, while his horse
cropped the green turf.
‘Look there!’ said the animal, suddenly raising its head;
and José looked behind him and saw a little mountain
of bran, which he put into a bag that was hung over his
‘Good deeds bear fruit sooner or later,’ observed the
horse; ‘but mount again, as we have far to go.’
When they arrived at the tree, they saw the handkerchief
fluttering like a flag from the topmost branch, and
José’s spirits sank again.
‘How am I to get that handkerchief?’ cried he;
‘why I should need Jacob’s ladder!’ But the horse
‘Do not be frightened; call to the eagle you set free
from the net, he will bring it to you.’
So José called to the eagle, and the eagle flew to the top
of the tree and brought back the handkerchief in its beak.
José thanked him, and vaulting on his horse they rode on
to the river.
A great deal of rain had fallen in the night, and the
river, instead of being clear as it was before, was dark
‘How am I to fetch the ring from the bottom of this
river when I do not know exactly where it was dropped,
and cannot even see it?’ asked José. But the horse
answered: ‘Do not be frightened; call the little fish whose
life you saved, and she will bring it to you.’
So he called to the fish, and the fish dived to the bottom
and slipped behind big stones, and moved little ones with
its tail till it found the ring, and brought it to José in its
Well pleased with all he had done, José returned to
the palace; but when the king took the precious objects
to Bella-Flor, she declared that she would never open
her door till the bandit who had carried her off had been
fried in oil.
‘I am very sorry,’ said the king to José, ‘I really would
rather not; but you see I have no choice.’
While the oil was being heated in the great caldron,
José went to the stables to inquire of his friend the horse
if there was no way for him to escape.
‘Do not be frightened,’ said the horse. ‘Get on my
back, and I will gallop till my whole body is wet with
perspiration, then rub it all over your skin, and no matter
how hot the oil may be you will never feel it.’
José did not ask any more questions, but did as the
horse bade him; and men wondered at his cheerful face
as they lowered him into the caldron of boiling oil. He
was left there till Bella-Flor cried that he must be cooked
enough. Then out came a youth so young and handsome,
that everyone fell in love with him, and Bella-Flor most
As for the old king, he saw that he had lost the game;
and in despair he flung himself into the caldron, and was
fried instead of José. Then José was proclaimed king,
on condition that he married Bella-Flor, which he promised
to do the next day. But first he went to the stables
and sought out the horse, and said to him: ‘It is to you
that I owe my life and my crown. Why have you done
all this for me?’
And the horse answered: ‘I am the soul of that unhappy
man for whom you spent all your fortune. And when
I saw you in danger of death I begged that I might help
you, as you had helped me. For, as I told you, Good
deeds bear their own fruit!’