Once upon a time...
a peasant worked hard to make a living from his land. Every year his pear tree produced four basketfuls of fruit which had to be given to the king. This king was a greedy ruler who grew rich at the expense of the poor.
One year, part of the pear harvest went bad and the peasant was able to pick only three and a half baskets of fruit.
The poor man was beside himself with fear, for the king refused to take less than four basketfuls, and the peasant would be cruelly punished.
All he could do was put his youngest daughter into one of the baskets and cover her with a layer of pears, so that the basket looked full. The king's servants took away the four baskets without ever noticing the trick, and the little girl found herself all alone in the pantry, under the pears.
One day, the cook went into the pantry and discovered her. Nobody could understand where on earth she had come from, and not knowing what to do with her, it was decided she should become a maid in the castle. Folk called her Violetta, for her eyes reminded them of the color of violets.
Violetta was a pretty girl, sweet and generous. One day, as she was watering the flowers in the royal gardens, she met the king's son, a youth of her own age, and the two became friends. The other maids, jealous of Violetta's beauty and of the affection many people in the castle felt for the girl, did everything they could to get her into trouble, by spreading nasty rumors about her. One day, the king sent for her and said severely:
"I'm told you boast of being able to steal the witches' treasure trove. Is that true?" Violetta said 'no,' but the king refused to believe her and drove her out of his kingdom.
"You may return only when you have laid hands on the treasure," he said. All Violetta's fondest friends, including the prince, were sorry to hear of the king's decision, but could do nothing to stop her going. The girl wandered through the forest and, when she came to a pear tree, she climbed into its branches and fell asleep. She was wakened at dawn by an old woman calling her:
"What are you doing up there, all by yourself?" Violetta told the old woman her tale. She offered to help the little girl, gave her some round loaves, a broom, a little oil and some good advice, and the girl again set off. She reached a clearing with a large wood stove and saw three women tearing their hair, using it to sweep the ashes from the stove. Violetta offered them the broom and the women pointed out the way to the witches' palace.
Suddenly, two hungry mastiffs blocked her path. Violetta threw them the loaves, the dogs ate them and let her pass. Then she came to the bank of a river in flood, but remembering the old woman's advice, she sang:
Clear sparkling river
Let me cross over, and the minute her song wafted into the air, the water stopped flowing. Violetta thus crossed the river and at last reached the witches' palace. The door was unlocked, but Violetta could not push it open for the hinges were rusted. So she rubbed on a little oil and the door swung open. The little girl walked through the empty halls till she came to a splendid room in which lay a magnificent coffer full of jewels. Holding the coffer under her arm, Violetta made for the door, but the coffer, being enchanted, cried out:
"Door! Don't let her out!" However, the door did open, for Violetta had oiled the hinges. Down at the river, the coffer cried out. This time it said:
"Water! Drown her!" But the river did not stop the little girl from crossing; the two mastiffs did not attack ant the three strange women did not burn her in their stove. For each, in its own way, repaid the girl's courtesy. Back at the king's palace again, the prince ran happily to meet Violetta, telling her:
"When my father asks you what you want as a reward, ask him for the basket of pears in the pantry!" And this Violetta did. Pleased at paying such a modest price, the king instantly ordered the humble basket to be brought. But nobody ever imagined for a minute that underneath the pears lay the prince. The young man came out of his hiding place, swore he was in love with Violetta and that he wanted to marry her.
In this way, the king was forced to give his consent. Violetta brought her family to court and they all began a new and happy life.