Once upon a time there lived a poor girl in Barcelona, who envied the rich and well-dressed girls who sauntered by in the promenade.
“Oh,” she said to herself, “if only Papa could afford to buy me such fine and beautiful dresses as all of those rich, spoiled girls have, why, I would count myself the luckiest girl in the world!”
But of course, her Papa did NOT have such money, and so she went about in rags.
One day, as she was walking through the market, carrying her basket of goods. she saw a gypsy dancing for pennies in the square. She went over to watch the men, who were pitching the coins at her, and were obviously quite taken with her looks.
The gypsy had the most beautiful dress she had ever before seen. It looked as if it had been woven of beautiful wild flowers, and it made the poor girl weep with envy to see it.
Instantly, the gypsy stood beside her, and asked, “Girl, why are you weeping so?”, to which the girl replied, “Oh, I am weeping because you look so beautiful dancing, and I am but a poor girl who could never afford such a beautiful dress!”
And the woman laughed and smiled, and said, “Well, girl, I’ll tell you what: I’ll let you wear my dress, and dance for me here, and give me a well-deserved rest. But, you must be careful to clean the dress every night with this special brush, and place it carefully in your closet, and take the best care of it. For, this dress is an enchanted dress, and the wearer of this dress shall find her true love, by and by!”
And with that, the young girl was exceedingly glad, and clapped her hands, and said, “Oh thank you M’lady, thank you! I shall do all that you say, and take the most wonderful care of your dress, and wear it with pride as I dance all day, and dance all night!”
And the lady laughed, and said, “Very well! Here–”
And, to the amazement of the young girl, the lady snapped her fingers, and suddenly, the two had traded clothing. Now, the lady was wearing the young girl’s tattered rags, and the young girl was wearing the beautiful gypsy dress. And each fit the other perfectly.
“Now,” said the strange woman, “I must be off. Remember what I told you, take special care of my dress while I am gone!”
And with that, the strange girl ran off into the crowded market, and was lost from sight. The young girl, delighted to be wearing the beautiful dress, immediately went into the town square, and began to dance.
Young men, some of whom asked to be her suitors, came and pitched coins at her as she went. Her dancing was divine, and she felt as if her toes were drifting on the wind as she went. And she danced and danced the whole day and night, and the next day, and hardly slept a wink in all that time, until she was exhausted.
Finally, she realized she deserved a rest, and she went home, carefully taking off the dress, and taking out the brush…but, she was so tired from all that dancing that she suddenly yawned and said to herself, “Oh, I am so tired, I shall just die if I don’t lie down for a moment! I shall look after the dress after I get up from my nap! The lady wont mind; after all, she is so kind and generous to allow me to borrow her beautiful dress!”
And so the foolish young girl laid down upon her bunk, and was soon fast asleep. It was not long however before she was awakened by what she took to be a flickering flame. She wondered if the sun had started to come up, when she opened her eyes, and saw the mysterious lady with the dress, standing in a circle of glowing fire!
She now saw the terrible truth of who the lady really was, and the young girl trembled from head to toe to realize that she was in the presenc of the living, breathing Devil himself!
“Foolish girl,” cried the devil, pointing one long, scaly finger at the trembling girl! “I told you never, never to fall asleep without first carefully combing out my dress, and making sure it was washed and hung up properly! Now, you will pay the price for your indolence and lack of care!”
And with that, the Devil snapped his fingers, and the dress flew from the couch upon which it had been carelessly tossed, and the Devil said, “Now, you must wear this dress day and night, forever and ever, and you will not be able to take it off! And you will dance and dance and dance, and you will never, ever stop dancing! And anyone who sees you will dance, too! And if you meet your true love, he must not look upon you, or he will turn to stone!”
And with that, the Devil shrieked with laughter and delight, and disappeared in a cloud of flame and smoke. The young girl was horrified to find the dress wrapped around her; and indeed, struggle as she might, she could NOT get the dress off!
A curious thing then happened: the young girl began to shudder and shake, so that she could not sit still! Her arms began to wiggle, and her legs began to wobble, and she soon found herself on her feet, hopping and skipping and jumping about.
Her mother came in, and saw what was happening, and exclaimed, “Oh my! You have been bewitched, and now cannot stop your dancing! You must go out of this house, at once, lest you dance a hole through the floor, or break all of our furniture flailing about!”
And with that, the young girl was thrust out of doors, where she found herself dancing down the road. It was not long before she had danced her way, like a crazed maniac, all the way to the town square.
Well, when the people saw her, they were quite taken with her, and said, “Oh look! It is the dancing girl from the other day! My, look at her go! It’s as if she cannot help herself!”
And then, as if a mania swept through the gathering crowd, those that beheld her strange, maniacal dancing, began to dance themselves. They gyrated,a nd twisted about, and pulled their hair, and gnashed their teeth, and wagged their tongues and clucked their heads and exclaimed, “Oh my! it is as if we were bewitched!”
And another yelled, “No, it is worse! It is like a legion of devils inside my pants!”
And still another said, “it is as if we have been bitten by the tarantula!”
And so the crowd began to roar and gyrate, and fell upon the dusty ground, and danced through the street, and ripped their clothes,a nd tore their hair, and soon, the village priest came by.
Seeing such brazen, sinful behavior, he quickly exhorted the people to stop what they were doing.
But they simply replied, “We cannot! it is as if our bodies are moving but our minds are asleep!”
And then they told him, “It all started when we watched the little girl in the dress dancing! She has bewitched us! Oh, can’t you do anything to help?”
And the priest, realizing that such an enseemly display was sinful,a nd must not be allowed to continue, thought for a moment, before commanding a few men to go and fetch him a tent. Then, he carefully told them, “You must raise this tent around yon girl. But take car that you do it with your back turned, and do not look at her, or else you will end up just like all of these other poor souls!”
And, with his back turned, the priest pointed at the young dancing girl who had started all the commotion, and the men, with their back turned, slowly put up the cloth barrier between the morning market crowds and the girl.
Soon, no one could see her, and consequently, the dancers soon ceased to dance.
“Good!” said the priest. “That seems to take care of one problem, at least!” But, as to what to do with the girl, now hidden behind the folds of the tent, he could not say. So, he quickly decided to go back to his study and meditate on the matter.
It was not many hours before a dashing young man rode up on a horse. He was a man quite taken with tales of chivalry, and was on a search for his “one true love”; and, so when seeing the strange striped tent in the middle of the street, he became quite curious.
“Ho stranger! And what, pray tell, is the reason for that tent being pitched in the center of the road, where it blocks the traffic?”
And the man said, “Of sir! Behind the flaps of that tent is a young girl who has been bewitched, so that she cannot stop dancing! And, worse, anyone who looks upon her begins dancing as well, and cannot stop! So the village padre has commanded that a tent be put up around her, so that she is hidden. But, as to what else can be done about it, who can say?”
And the man, who was rather stupid, shrugged his shoulders and wandered off. The young squire, overtaken with heroic feelings of chivalry and daring, conceived a plan whereby he might save the girl from her bewitchment.
He decided to go to the door of the tent, with his back turned, and looking at the girl only in the polished surface of his shield.
“For, if I do not look directly at her, the bewitchment cannot effect me as it did the others.” Or, so he reasoned.
So, dismounting, he carefully went to the dark opening of the tent, where, inside, the exhausted girl was still flinging herself about madly, dancing and sending up great clouds of dust in the darkness.
“Oh, kind sir!” exclaimed the girl. “I have angered the Devil himself, who gave me this dress so I might become a great dancer! Alas, in his vengeance, I have been condemned to wear this dress, which causes me to dance and dance! Oh, if only there were some way you could relieve me of this burden, and I would surely go with you, and be your wife!”
And so the bold young man said, “Never fear, my dear! Your salvation is near!”
And, scooting backwards on his heels, with his shield held up before his face, he made his way to the wildly gyrating girl–no easy feat, as she could not stop moving!
Cautiously, he put out a gauntleted hand, and prepared to rip the dress from her body when, viewing her face more clearly in the polished surface of his shield, he suddenly exclaimed–
“Wait! I know thee! I have beheld thee in a dream. Thou art my ONE TRUE LOVE!”
And, forgetting that he could not look directly upon the girl, he turned suddenly. The dancing girl put her hands to her cheeks and screamed in terror, but it was too late!
The young man fell to the earth, stone dead.
Aghast, the young girl decided she could no longer go on. She danced from the tent, through the streets, and to the bridge above the river. It was here she cast her dancing body into the water–which was no easy feat, as she kept moving back and forth, away from the edge!
No, one was sorry to see her go.
(If there is a moral to this story, we haven’t found it yet. Except, perhaps: don’t fall asleep without hanging up your clothes.)