|Girl riding a donkey.|
Once upon a time, in a small castle in France, there lived a King, and a Queen and a little girl. Her name was Colette. Although the Queen loved Colette as her own, the girl had been born to her sister, the Princess Sophie. Alas, this Princess had died in childbirth, and so the baby was left with her aunt, the Queen. Tragedy sometimes strikes in the same place two times. For the second time, worry hung over the castle: the Queen had a fever. The the next day she shook with cold and her handmaids retreated in fear. Although Colette cried to see her, they would not let the little girl come near. Now the Queen called for the King to come, and when he entered her darkened room he knew that his worst fears were true. Leaning close over his wife’s chest, he clasped her hands as she whispered. “ I am but a young woman and will go to my grave in my prime. Promise me one thing,” gasped the Queen. “That you will never marry again unless you should find a woman whose beauty can match my own. In that way, the memory of my youth shall be honored.” The King held his Queen gently and told her that no such woman could ever be found. But he agreed to keep this promise. By night fall, the Queen was dead. The King and Colette mourned, but life in the castle went on. Ten years passed, and Colette was no longer a child, but a maiden. She spent her days wandering the seashore beneath the castle, the wind tangling her hair and misting it with salt. One day, as she returned from the beach with seashells in her hands, the sun shone full on her face. The King watched the beautiful young woman, her feet sprinkled with sand and her face bright from the salty breeze. Suddenly, he remembered the promise he had made the Queen. Here was a woman as beautiful as she had been! The King called for his conseiller and told him what was in his mind. “Your majesty,” protested the conseiller. “You are many years senior to your wife’s niece.” But the King would not be dissuaded. The conseiller tried a different strategy. “ “How can you be sure that Colette is the most beautiful woman in the land, sire? Let us undertake a search for the loveliest that is to be found.” So it was decreed. Every morning for thirty days the King and his men opened the castle gates to long lines of young ladies, each hoping to be declared prettier than Colette. But at the end of this time the King’s resolve was stronger than ever. Now he called Colette to him and told her of the promise had made to her aunt, the Queen. Did she not agree that she was duty bound to help him fulfill the promise, he demanded of the young woman. But Colette was troubled by his desire. She begged the King to allow her to consult with her nurse-maid but he would not reason. Declaring that he would marry her in the morning he dismissed her from his chambers. That’s when Colette ran to the beach, her feet plunging deep into the sand at each step. Finally, she could run no more. Throwing herself onto the sand, she sobbed and cried, her tears as salty as the sea. At length Colette sat up and looked around her. Directly behind her was tiny grotto of pearls and coral. Sitting on a glittering chair beneath it was a an old woman. Her clothing was most curious: she was dressed in a gown of seaweed, beaded with pearls. “Why do you cry so, dear Colette?” the fairy asked, for she was indeed a sirene of the sea. So the girl told her of the King’s unnatural desires. “This is what you must do,” the sea fairy said. “Go back to the castle and tell the King that you will agree to marry him only after he has made for you a dress that is the color of the air. This he will not be able to do. “ So Colette ran back to the castle and told the King of her wish for such a dress. That night, she dreamed the air had turned color and everything about her was a brilliant blue. In the morning there was timid knock on her door. It was her nurse, carrying a brilliant blue dress. “The King is waiting for you, come quickly.” she said. So Colette put on the blue dress and went to see the King. She begged permission for a walk on the beach, and ran to the coral grotto. Now the sea fairy told her that she must ask for a dress “the color of the moon”. So Colette ran back and asked the King for such a dress, and promised that she would marry him when he brought it. That night she dreamed that the moon bathed her with silvery light. She woke up in a fright and sure enough, the first thing next morning there was her maid with a dress the color of the moon. The maid bade her put it on quickly and come before the King. So Colette had no choice but to put the dress on and go. Now she begged permission to walk on the shore again, and again the King agreed. She ran as fast as she could to the coral grotto, and now the sea fairy said that she must ask for a dress “like the sun”. Surely this will be impossible, thinks Colette. The sun’s beams shining upon the tossing waves of the sea produce such a dazzle, and the reflection of the beams such a searing, white-gold light, that such a dress can never be made. As she jogs along the sand on her way home to the castle, she cheers hersefl with this thought. That night, she dreamed that a thousand coals like burning suns were blazing before her. In the morning, her maid knocked. The King must have had the best seamstresses in all the world for he had ordered a cape that truly was like the sun. Heavy with gold and glittering with diamonds, Colette felt its leaden weight settle onto her shoulders. Now she went before the King and begged one more time to walk the sandy shores. Such was the King’s desire to marry her that even this favor he granted. The sea fairy listened carefully to Colette and told her that this time, she must beg for the skin of a donkey. When she has received the hide, the girl must return to the grotto. In this way the fairy would help her escape. A donkey’s skin from the store room is immediately given to Colette, and she is back at the grotto in a short time. Now the fairy laid the donkey skin out on the sand, and made an arrangement of pearls upon it. She chants a sortilège —and the skin has become a hairy gown, with long sleeves and a lace down the front. The sea fairy told her that she must put on the donkey skin and take the oyster shell which which she would find in the sleeve. At the castle, Colette must open the oyster and remove the pearl which was inside, replacing it with the dresses the color of air and of the moon, and the cape like the sun. Thus disguised, Colette must go to the neighboring castle and seek work in the kitchen. “Only when you are known as Donkeyskin will you be safe from the King.” advised the fairy, then disappeared. Well Colette followed these unusual instructions, and presented herself at the kitchen door of a small castle to the north. Here she was given work as a kitchen drudge, and a place to sleep before the fire. The very first night there was to be a ball. Donkeyskin quickly ducked behind the stove and opened her oyster shell. She slipped on the dress of brilliant blue, went to the ball, and danced with the prince. Quick as wink she fled when the music stopped. The following night the dancing continued. Now Donkeyskin changed into the dress the color of the moon, and again, she danced with the prince. When the musician’s paused, the girl skipped away before he could stop her. For the third night in a row the soiree coninued, and this night, Colette wore the cape of diamonds and gold. And this night, the prince follows her as she flees, and watches through the keyhole of the kitchen door while she trades diamonds for a donkey skin. The prince makes himself known to Colette, and together, they form a plan. Slipping a golden ring through the key hole, the prince instructs Colette to drop it into the batter for the morning’s cake. This she does, and in the morning, when the cake has is sent upstairs for the prince’s breakfast, there is a commotion. He has choked upon a ring! Cook is sent for but the poor lady cannot explain the presence of the jewelry in the cake. She blames the kitchen drudge, and Donkeyskin is brought before the prince. He motions to the girl and she goes to him. Carefully, she slides her fingers into his mouth and removes the ring! The prince declares that he will marry the beautiful girl in the donkeyskin dress, and they live happily ever after.
Notes: This is Cox # 145. Although the animal skin in this case is a donkey's, the story is categorically a Catskin variant. It is interesting to wonder about the reason for the donkey skin. Donkeys are rugged animals, very nimble and hardworking. Thus they are useful farm animals. The Biblical significance of donkeys as bearers of those who came in peace (as opposed to those riding horses, who were warriors) is odd.
Montessori Connection: Zoology/Ungulates/Equidae/Donkey or Ass
1. Read Donkeyskin.
2. Learn about the history of donkeys:
a. they were domesticated before horses were
b. they originated in Africa
c. they can mate with horses, and the offspring is called a mule.
3. Research the donkey:Donkey-Donkey, Brighty: Of the Grand Canyon (Marguerite Henry Horseshoe Library).