Once on a time there lived a king and queen whose children had all died, first one and then another, till at last only one little daughter remained, and the queen was at her wits" end to know where to find a really good nurse who would take care of her, and bring her up. A herald was sent who blew a trumpet at every street corner, and commanded all the best nurses to appear before the queen, that she might choose one for the little princess. So on the appointed day the whole palace was crowded with nurses, who came from the four corners of the world to offer themselves, till the queen declared that if she was ever to see the half of them, they must be brought out to her, one by one, as she sat in a shady wood near the palace.
This was accordingly done, and the nurses, after they had made their curtsey to the king and queen, ranged themselves in a line before her that she might choose. Most of them were fair and fat and charming, but there was one who was dark-skinned and ugly, and spoke a strange language which nobody could understand. The queen wondered how she dared offer herself, and she was told to go away, as she certainly would not do. on which she muttered something and passed on, but hid herself in a hollow tree, from which she could see all that happened. The queen, without giving her another thought, chose a pretty rosy-faced nurse, but no sooner was her choice made than a snake, which was hidden in the grass, bit that very nurse on her foot, so that she fell down as if dead. The queen was very much vexed by this accident, but she soon selected another, who was just stepping forward when an eagle flew by and dropped a large tortoise on her head, which was cracked in pieces like an egg-shell. At this the queen was much horrified; nevertheless, she chose a third time, but with no better fortune, for the nurse, moving quickly, ran into the branch of a tree and blinded herself with a thorn. Then the queen in dismay cried that there must be some malignant influence at work, and that she would choose no more that day; and she had just risen to return to the palace when she heard peals of malicious laughter behind her, and turning round saw the ugly stranger whom she had dismissed, who was making very merry over the disasters and mocking everyone, but especially the queen. This annoyed Her Majesty very much, and she was about to order that she should be arrested, when the witch - for she was a witch - with two blows from a wand summoned a chariot of fire drawn by winged dragons, and was whirled off through the air uttering threats and cries. When the king saw this he cried:
"Alas! now we are ruined indeed, for that was no other than the fairy Carabosse, who has had a grudge against me ever since I was a boy and put sulphur into her porridge one day for fun."
Then the queen began to cry.
"If I had only known who it was," she said, "I would have done my best to make friends with her; now I suppose all is lost."
The king was sorry to have frightened her so much, and proposed that they should go and hold a council as to what was best to be done to avert the misfortunes which Carabosse certainly meant to bring on the little princess.
So all the counsellors were summoned to the palace, and when they had shut every door and window, and stuffed up every keyhole that they might not be overheard, they talked the affair over, and decided that every fairy for a thousand leagues round should be invited to the christening of the princess, and that the time of the ceremony should be kept a profound secret, in case the fairy Carabosse should take it into her head to attend it.
The queen and her ladies set to work to prepare presents for the fairies who were invited: for each one a blue velvet cloak, a petticoat of apricot satin, a pair of high-heeled shoes, some sharp needles, and a pair of golden scissors. Of all the fairies the queen knew, only five were able to come on the day appointed, but they began at once to bestow gifts on the princess. One promised that she should be perfectly beautiful, the second that she should understand anything - no matter what - the first time it was explained to her, the third that she should sing like a nightingale, the fourth that she should succeed in everything she undertook, and the fifth was opening her mouth to speak when a tremendous rumbling was heard in the chimney, and Carabosse, all covered with soot, came rolling down, crying:
"I say that she shall be the unluckiest of the unlucky till she is twenty years old."
Then the queen and all the fairies began to beg and beseech her to think better of it, and not be so unkind to the poor little princess, who had never done her any harm. But the ugly old Fairy only grunted and made no answer. So the last Fairy, who had not yet given her gift, tried to mend matters by promising the princess a long and happy life after the fatal time was over. At this Carabosse laughed maliciously, and climbed away up the chimney, leaving them all in great consternation, and especially the queen. However, she entertained the fairies splendidly, and gave them beautiful ribbons, of which they are very fond, in addition to the other presents.
When they were going away the oldest Fairy said that they were of opinion that it would be best to shut the princess up in some place, with her waiting-women, so that she might not see anyone else till she was twenty years old. So the king had a tower built on purpose. It had no windows, so it was lighted with wax candles, and the only way into it was by an underground passage, which had iron doors only twenty feet apart, and guards were posted everywhere.
The princess had been named Mayblossom, because she was as fresh and blooming as Spring itself, and she grew up tall and beautiful, and everything she did and said was charming. Every time the king and queen came to see her they were more delighted with her than before, but though she was weary of the tower, and often begged them to take her away from it, they always refused. The princess's nurse, who had never left her, sometimes told her about the world outside the tower, and though the princess had never seen anything for herself, yet she always understood exactly, thanks to the second Fairy's gift. Often the king said to the queen:
"We were cleverer than Carabosse after all. Our Mayblossom will be happy in spite of her predictions."
And the queen laughed till she was tired at the idea of having outwitted the old Fairy. They had caused the princess's portrait to be painted and sent to all the neighbouring Courts, for in four days she would have completed her twentieth year, and it was time to decide whom she should marry. All the town was rejoicing at the thought of the princess's approaching freedom, and when the news came that King Merlin was sending his ambassador to ask her in marriage for his son, they were still more delighted. The nurse, who kept the princess informed of everything that went forward in the town, did not fail to repeat the news that so nearly concerned her, and gave such a description of the splendour in which the ambassador Fanfaronade would enter the town, that the princess was wild to see the procession for herself.
"What an unhappy creature I am," she cried, "to be shut up in this dismal tower as if I had committed some crime! I have never seen the sun, or the stars, or a horse, or a monkey, or a lion, except in pictures, and though the king and queen tell me I'm to be set free when I'm twenty, I believe they only say it to keep me amused, when they never mean to let me out at all."
And then she began to cry, and her nurse, and the nurse's daughter, and the cradle-rocker, and the nursery-maid, who all loved her dearly, cried too for company, so that nothing could be heard but sobs and sighs. It was a scene of woe. When the princess saw that they all pitied her she made up her mind to have her own way. So she declared that she would starve herself to death if they did not find some means of letting her see Fanfaronade's grand entry into the town.
"If you really love me," she said, "you will manage it, somehow or other, and the king and queen need never know anything about it."
Then the nurse and all the others cried harder than ever, and said everything they could think of to turn the princess from her idea. But the more they said the more determined she was, and at last they consented to make a tiny hole in the tower on the side that looked towards the city gates.
After scratching and scraping all day and all night, they presently made a hole through which they could, with great difficulty, push a very slender needle, and out of this the princess looked at the daylight for the first time. She was so dazzled and delighted by what she saw, that there she stayed, never taking her eyes away from the peep-hole for a single minute, till presently the ambassador's procession appeared in sight.
At the head of it rode Fanfaronade himself on a white horse, which pranced and caracoled to the sound of the trumpets. Nothing could have been more splendid than the ambassador's attire. His coat was nearly hidden under an embroidery of pearls and diamonds, his boots were solid gold, and from his helmet floated scarlet plumes. At the sight of him the princess lost her wits entirely, and determined that Fanfaronade and nobody else would she marry.
"It's quite impossible," she said, "that his master should be half as handsome and delightful. I'm not ambitious, and having spent all my life in this tedious tower, anything - even a house in the country - will seem a delightful change. I'm sure that bread and water shared with Fanfaronade will please me far better than roast chicken and sweetmeats with anybody else."
And so she went on talk, talk, talking, till her waiting-women wondered where she got it all from. But when they tried to stop her, and represented that her high rank made it perfectly impossible that she should do any such thing, she would not listen, and ordered them to be silent.
As soon as the ambassador arrived at the palace, the queen started to fetch her daughter.
All the streets were spread with carpets, and the windows were full of ladies who were waiting to see the princess, and carried baskets of flowers and sweetmeats to shower on her as she passed.
They had hardly begun to get the princess ready when a dwarf arrived, mounted on an elephant. He came from the five fairies, and brought for the princess a crown, a sceptre, and a robe of golden brocade, with a petticoat marvellously embroidered with butterflies" wings. They also sent a casket of jewels, so splendid that no one had ever seen anything like it before, and the queen was perfectly dazzled when she opened it. But the princess scarcely gave a glance to any of these treasures, for she thought of nothing but Fanfaronade. The Dwarf was rewarded with a gold piece, and decorated with so many ribbons that it was hardly possible to see him at all. The princess sent to each of the fairies a new spinning-wheel with a distaff of cedar wood, and the queen said she must look through her treasures and find something very charming to send them also.
When the princess was arrayed in all the gorgeous things the Dwarf had brought, she was more beautiful than ever, and as she walked along the streets the people cried: "How pretty she is! How pretty she is!"
The procession consisted of the queen, the princess, five dozen other princesses her cousins, and ten dozen who came from the neighbouring kingdoms; and as they proceeded at a stately pace the sky began to grow dark, then suddenly the thunder growled, and rain and hail fell in torrents. The queen put her royal mantle over her head, and all the princesses did the same with their trains. Mayblossom was just about to follow their example when a terrific croaking, as of an immense army of crows, rooks, ravens, screech- owls, and all birds of ill-omen was heard, and at the same instant a huge owl skimmed up to the princess, and threw over her a scarf woven of spiders" webs and embroidered with bats" wings. And then peals of mocking laughter rang through the air, and they guessed that this was another of the fairy Carabosse's unpleasant jokes.
The queen was terrified at such an evil omen, and tried to pull the black scarf from the princess's shoulders, but it really seemed as if it must be nailed on, it clung so closely.
"Ah!" cried the queen, "can nothing appease this enemy of ours? What good was it that I sent her more than fifty pounds of sweetmeats, and as much again of the best sugar, not to mention two Westphalia hams? She is as angry as ever."
While she lamented in this way, and everybody was as wet as if they had been dragged through a river, the princess still thought of nothing but the ambassador, and just at this moment he appeared before her, with the king, and there was a great blowing of trumpets, and all the people shouted louder than ever. Fanfaronade was not generally at a loss for something to say, but when he saw the princess, she was so much more beautiful and majestic than he had expected that he could only stammer out a few words, and entirely forgot the harangue which he had been learning for months, and knew well enough to have repeated it in his sleep. To gain time to remember at least part of it, he made several low bows to the princess, who on her side dropped half-a-dozen curtseys without stopping to think, and then said, to relieve his evident embarrassment:
"Sir Ambassador, I'm sure that everything you intend to say is charming, since it is you who mean to say it; but let us make haste into the palace, as it is pouring cats and dogs, and the wicked Fairy Carabosse will be amused to see us all stand dripping here. When we are once under shelter we can laugh at her."
on this the Ambassador found his tongue, and replied gallantly that the fairy had evidently foreseen the flames that would be kindled by the bright eyes of the princess, and had sent this deluge to extinguish them. Then he offered his hand to conduct the princess, and she said softly:
"As you could not possibly guess how much I like you, Sir Fanfaronade, I'm obliged to tell you plainly that, since I saw you enter the town on your beautiful prancing horse, I have been sorry that you came to speak for another instead of for yourself. So, if you think about it as I do, I will marry you instead of your master. Of course I know you are not a prince, but I shall be just as fond of you as if you were, and we can go and live in some cosy little corner of the world, and be as happy as the days are long."
The Ambassador thought he must be dreaming, and could hardly believe what the lovely Princess said. He dared not answer, but only squeezed the princess's hand till he really hurt her little finger, but she did not cry out. When they reached the palace the king kissed his daughter on both cheeks, and said:
"My little lambkin, are you willing to marry the great King Merlin's son, for this Ambassador has come on his behalf to fetch you?"
"If you please, sire," said the princess, dropping a curtsey.
"I consent also," said the queen; "so let the banquet be prepared."
This was done with all speed, and everybody feasted except Mayblossom and Fanfaronade, who looked at one another and forgot everything else.
After the banquet came a ball, and after that again a ballet, and at last they were all so tired that everyone fell asleep just where he sat. Only the lovers were as wide-awake as mice, and the princess, seeing that there was nothing to fear, said to Fanfaronade:
"Let us be quick and run away, for we shall never have a better chance than this."
Then she took the king's dagger, which was in a diamond sheath, and the queen's neck-handkerchief, and gave her hand to Fanfaronade, who carried a lantern, and they ran out together into the muddy street and down to the sea-shore. Here they got into a little boat in which the poor old boatman was sleeping, and when he woke up and saw the lovely Princess, with all her diamonds and her spiders" - web scarf, he did not know what to think, and obeyed her instantly when she commanded him to set out. They could see neither moon nor stars, but in the queen's neck-handkerchief there was a carbuncle which glowed like fifty torches. Fanfaronade asked the princess where she would like to go, but she only answered that she did not care where she went as long as he was with her.
"But, Princess," said he, "I dare not take you back to King Merlin's court. He would think hanging too good for me."
"Oh, in that case," she answered, "we had better go to Squirrel Island; it is lonely enough, and too far off for anyone to follow us there."
So she ordered the old boatman to steer for Squirrel Island. Meanwhile the day was breaking, and the king and queen and all the courtiers began to wake up and rub their eyes, and think it was time to finish the preparations for the wedding. And the queen asked for her neck-handkerchief, that she might look smart. Then there was a scurrying here and there, and a hunting everywhere: they looked into every place, from the wardrobes to the stoves, and the queen herself ran about from the garret to the cellar, but the handkerchief was nowhere to be found.
By this time the king had missed his dagger, and the search began all over again. They opened boxes and chests of which the keys had been lost for a hundred years, and found numbers of curious things, but not the dagger, and the king tore his beard, and the queen tore her hair, for the handkerchief and the dagger were the most valuable things in the kingdom.
When the king saw that the search was hopeless he said:
"Never mind, let us make haste and get the wedding over before anything else is lost." And then he asked where the princess was. on this her nurse came forward and said:
"Sire, I have been seeking her these two hours, but she is nowhere to be found." This was more than the queen could bear. She gave a shriek of alarm and fainted away, and they had to pour two barrels of eau-de-cologne over her before she recovered. When she came to herself everybody was looking for the princess in the greatest terror and confusion, but as she did not appear, the king said to his page:
"Go and find the Ambassador Fanfaronade, who is doubtless asleep in some corner, and tell him the sad news."
So the page hunted here and there, but Fanfaronade was no more to be found than the princess, the dagger, or the neck- handkerchief!
Then the king summoned his counsellors and his guards, and, accompanied by the queen, went into his great hall. As he had not had time to prepare his speech beforehand, the king ordered that silence should be kept for three hours, and at the end of that time he spoke as follows:
"Listen, great and ! My dear daughter Mayblossom is lost: whether she has been stolen away or has simply disappeared I cannot tell. The queen's neck-handkerchief and my sword, which are worth their weight in gold, are also missing, and, what is worst of all, the Ambassador Fanfaronade is nowhere to be found. I greatly fear that the king, his master, when he receives no tidings from him, will come to seek him among us, and will accuse us of having made mince-meat of him. Perhaps I could bear even that if I had any money, but I assure you that the expenses of the wedding have completely ruined me. Advise me, then, my dear subjects, what had I better do to recover my daughter, Fanfaronade, and the other things."
This was the most eloquent speech the king had been known to make, and when everybody had done admiring it the Prime Minister made answer:
"Sire, we are all very sorry to see you so sorry. We would give everything we value in the world to take away the cause of your sorrow, but this seems to be another of the tricks of the fairy Carabosse. The princess's twenty unlucky years were not quite over, and really, if the truth must be told, I noticed that Fanfaronade and the princess appeared to admire one another greatly. Perhaps this may give some clue to the mystery of their disappearance."
Here the queen interrupted him, saying, "Take care what you say, sir. Believe me, the princess Mayblossom was far too well brought up to think of falling in love with an Ambassador."
At this the nurse came forward, and, falling on her knees, confessed how they had made the little needle-hole in the tower, and how the princess had declared when she saw the Ambassador that she would marry him and nobody else. Then the queen was very angry, and gave the nurse, and the cradle-rocker, and the nursery- maid such a scolding that they shook in their shoes. But the Admiral Cocked-Hat interrupted her, crying:
"Let us be off after this good-for-nothing Fanfaronade, for with out a doubt he has run away with our Princess."
Then there was a great clapping of hands, and everybody shouted, "By all means let us be after him."
So while some embarked on the sea, the others ran from kingdom to kingdom beating drums and blowing trumpets, and wherever a crowd collected they cried:
"Whoever wants a beautiful doll, sweetmeats of all kinds, a little pair of scissors, a golden robe, and a satin cap has only to say where Fanfaronade has hidden the princess Mayblossom."
But the answer everywhere was, "You must go farther, we have not seen them."
However, those who went by sea were more fortunate, for after sailing about for some time they noticed a light before them which burned at night like a great fire. At first they dared not go near it, not knowing what it might be, but by-and-by it remained stationary over Squirrel Island, for, as you have guessed already, the light was the glowing of the carbuncle. The princess and Fanfaronade on landing on the island had given the boatman a hundred gold pieces, and made him promise solemnly to tell no one where he had taken them; but the first thing that happened was that, as he rowed away, he got into the midst of the fleet, and before he could escape the Admiral had seen him and sent a boat after him.
When he was searched they found the gold pieces in his pocket, and as they were quite new coins, struck in honour of the princess's wedding, the Admiral felt certain that the boatman must have been paid by the princess to aid her in her flight. But he would not answer any questions, and pretended to be deaf and dumb
Then the Admiral said: "Oh! deaf and dumb is he? Lash him to the mast and give him a taste of the cat-o'-nine-tails. I don't know anything better than that for curing the deaf and dumb!"
And when the old boatman saw that he was in earnest, he told all he knew about the cavalier and the lady whom he had landed on Squirrel Island, and the Admiral knew it must be the princess and Fanfaronade; so he gave the order for the fleet to surround the island.
Meanwhile the princess Mayblossom, who was by this time terribly sleepy, had found a grassy bank in the shade, and throwing herself down had already fallen into a profound slumber, when Fanfaronade, who happened to be hungry and not sleepy, came and woke her up, saying, very crossly:
"Pray, madam, how long do you mean to stay here? I see nothing to eat, and though you may be very charming, the sight of you does not prevent me from famishing."
"What! Fanfaronade," said the princess, sitting up and rubbing her eyes, "is it possible that when I'm here with you you can want anything else? You ought to be thinking all the time how happy you are."
"Happy!" cried he; "say rather unhappy. I wish with all my heart that you were back in your dark tower again."
"Darling, don't be cross," said the princess. "I will go and see if I can find some wild fruit for you."
"I wish you might find a wolf to eat you up," growled Fanfaronade.
The princess, in great dismay, ran here and there all about the wood, tearing her dress, and hurting her pretty white hands with the thorns and brambles, but she could find nothing good to eat, and at last she had to go back sorrowfully to Fanfaronade. When he saw that she came empty-handed he got up and left her, grumbling to himself.
The next day they searched again, but with no better success.
"Alas!" said the princess, "if only I could find something for you to eat, I should not mind being hungry myself."
"No, I should not mind that either," answered Fanfaronade.
"Is it possible," said she, "that you would not care if I died of hunger? Oh, Fanfaronade, you said you loved me!"
"That was when we were in quite another place and I was not hungry," said he. "It makes a great difference in one's ideas to be dying of hunger and thirst on a desert island."
At this the princess was dreadfully vexed, and she sat down under a white rose bush and began to cry bitterly.
"Happy roses," she thought to herself, "they have only to blossom in the sunshine and be admired, and there is nobody to be unkind to them." And the tears ran down her cheeks and splashed on to the rose-tree roots. Presently she was surprised to see the whole bush rustling and shaking, and a soft little voice from the prettiest rosebud said:
"Poor Princess! look in the trunk of that tree, and you will find a honeycomb, but don't be foolish enough to share it with Fanfaronade."
Mayblossom ran to the tree, and sure enough there was the honey. Without losing a moment she ran with it to Fanfaronade, crying gaily:
"See, here is a honeycomb that I have found. I might have eaten it up all by myself, but I had rather share it with you."
But without looking at her or thanking her he snatched the honey comb out of her hands and ate it all up - every bit, without offering her a morsel. Indeed, when she humbly asked for some he said mockingly that it was too sweet for her, and would spoil her teeth.
Mayblossom, more downcast than ever, went sadly away and sat down under an oak tree, and her tears and sighs were so piteous that the oak fanned her with his rustling leaves, and said:
"Take courage, pretty Princess, all is not lost yet. Take this pitcher of milk and drink it up, and whatever you do, don't leave a drop for Fanfaronade."
The princess, quite astonished, looked round, and saw a big pitcher full of milk, but before she could raise it to her lips the thought of how thirsty Fanfaronade must be, after eating at least fifteen pounds of honey, made her run back to him and say:
"Here is a pitcher of milk; drink some, for you must be thirsty I'm sure; but pray save a little for me, as I'm dying of hunger and thirst."
But he seized the pitcher and drank all it contained at a single draught, and then broke it to atoms on the nearest stone, saying with a malicious smile: "As you have not eaten anything you cannot be thirsty."
"Ah!" cried the princess, "I am well punished for disappointing the king and queen, and running away with this Ambassador about whom I knew nothing."
And so saying she wandered away into the thickest part of the wood, and sat down under a thorn tree, where a nightingale was singing. Presently she heard him say: "Search under the bush Princess; you will find some sugar, almonds, and some tarts there But don't be silly enough to offer Fanfaronade any." And this time the princess, who was fainting with hunger, took the nightingale's advice, and ate what she found all by herself. But Fanfaronade, seeing that she had found something good, and was not going to share it with him, ran after her in such a fury that she hastily drew out the queen's carbuncle, which had the property of rendering people invisible if they were in danger, and when she was safely hidden from him she reproached him gently for his unkindness.
Meanwhile Admiral Cocked-Hat had despatched Jack-the- Chatterer-of-the-Straw-Boots, Courier in Ordinary to the Prime Minister, to tell the king that the princess and the Ambassador had landed on Squirrel Island, but that not knowing the country he had not pursued them, for fear of being captured by concealed enemies. Their Majesties were overjoyed at the news, and the king sent for a great book, each leaf of which was eight ells long. It was the work of a very clever Fairy, and contained a description of the whole earth. He very soon found that Squirrel Island was uninhabited.
"Go," said he, to Jack-the-Chatterer, "tell the Admiral from me to land at once. I'm surprised at his not having done so sooner." As soon as this message reached the fleet, every preparation was made for war, and the noise was so great that it reached the ears of the princess, who at once flew to protect her lover. As he was not very brave he accepted her aid gladly.
"You stand behind me," said she, "and I will hold the carbuncle which will make us invisible, and with the king's dagger I can protect you from the enemy." So when the soldiers landed they could see nothing, but the princess touched them one after another with the dagger, and they fell insensible on the sand, so that at last the Admiral, seeing that there was some enchantment, hastily gave orders for a retreat to be sounded, and got his men back into their boats in great confusion. Fanfaronade, being once more left with the princess, began to think that if he could get rid of her, and possess himself of the carbuncle and the dagger, he would be able to make his escape. So as they walked back over the cliffs he gave the princess a great push, hoping she would fall into the sea; but she stepped aside so quickly that he only succeeded in overbalancing himself, and over he went, and sank to the bottom of the sea like a lump of lead, and was never heard of any more. While the princess was still looking after him in horror, her attention was attracted by a rushing noise over her head, and looking up she saw two chariots approaching rapidly from opposite directions. One was bright and glittering, and drawn by swans and peacocks, while the fairy who sat in it was beautiful as a sunbeam; but the other was drawn by bats and ravens, and contained a frightful little Dwarf, who was dressed in a snake's skin, and wore a great toad on her head for a hood. The chariots met with a frightful crash in mid-air, and the princess looked on in breathless anxiety while a furious battle took place between Image available Image of page 27, with an engraving by Lancelot Speed. The man in striped leggings is now lying, apparently dead, at the bottom of the sea. Three mermaids hover over him. at the lovely Fairy with her golden lance, and the hideous little Dwarf and her rusty pike. But very soon it was evident that the Beauty had the best of it, and the Dwarf turned her bats" heads and flickered away in great confusion, while the fairy came down to where the princess stood, and said, smiling, "You see princess, I have completely routed that malicious old Carabosse. Will you believe it! she actually wanted to claim authority over you for ever, because you came out of the tower four days before the twenty years were ended. However, I think I have settled her pretensions, and I hope you will be very happy and enjoy the freedom I have won for you."
The princess thanked her heartily, and then the fairy despatched one of her peacocks to her palace to bring a gorgeous robe for Mayblossom, who certainly needed it, for her own was torn to shreds by the thorns and briars. Another peacock was sent to the Admiral to tell him that he could now land in perfect safety, which he at once did, bringing all his men with him, even to Jack-the-Chatterer, who, happening to pass the spit on which the Admiral's dinner was roasting, snatched it up and brought it with him.
Admiral Cocked-Hat was immensely surprised when he came on the golden chariot, and still more so to see two lovely ladies walking under the trees a little farther away. When he reached them, of course he recognised the princess, and he went down on his knees and kissed her hand quite joyfully. Then she presented him to the fairy, and told him how Carabosse had been finally routed, and he thanked and congratulated the fairy, who was most gracious to him. While they were talking she cried suddenly:
"I declare I smell a savoury dinner."
"Why yes, Madam, here it is," said Jack-the-Chatterer, holding up the spit, where all the pheasants and partridges were frizzling. "Will your Highness please to taste any of them?"
"By all means," said the fairy, "especially as the princess will certainly be glad of a good meal."
So the Admiral sent back to his ship for everything that was needful, and they feasted merrily under the trees. By the time they had finished the peacock had come back with a robe for the princess, in which the fairy arrayed her. It was of green and gold brocade, embroidered with pearls and rubies, and her long golden hair was tied back with strings of diamonds and emeralds, and crowned with flowers. The fairy made her mount beside her in the golden chariot, and took her on board the Admiral's ship, where she bade her farewell, sending many messages of friendship to the queen, and bidding the princess tell her that she was the fifth Fairy who had attended the christening. Then salutes were fired, the fleet weighed anchor, and very soon they reached the port. Here the king and queen were waiting, and they received the princess with such joy and kindness that she could not get a word in edgewise, to say how sorry she was for having run away with such a very poor spirited Ambassador. But, after all, it must have been all Carabosse's fault. Just at this lucky moment who should arrive but King Merlin's son, who had become uneasy at not receiving any news from his Ambassador, and so had started himself with a magnificent escort of a thousand horsemen, and thirty body-guards in gold and scarlet uniforms, to see what could have happened. As he was a hundred times handsomer and braver than the Ambassador, the princess found she could like him very much. So the wedding was held at once, with so much splendour and rejoicing that all the previous misfortunes were quite forgotten.
Once on a time there was a king who was so morose and disagreeable that he was feared by all his subjects, and with good reason, as for the most trifling offences he would have their heads cut off. This King Grumpy, as he was called, had one son, who was as different from his father as he could possibly be. No prince equalled him in cleverness and kindness of heart, but unfortunately he was most terribly ugly. He had crooked legs and squinting eyes, a large mouth all on one side, and a hunchback. Never was there a beautiful soul in such a frightful little body, but in spite of his appearance everybody loved him. The queen, his mother, called him Curlicue, because it was a name she rather liked, and it seemed to suit him.
King Grumpy, who cared a great deal more for his own grandeur than for his son's happiness, wished to betroth the prince to the daughter of a neighbouring King, whose great estates joined his own, for he thought that this alliance would make him more powerful than ever, and as for the princess she would do very well for Prince Curlicue, for she was as ugly as himself. Indeed, though she was the most amiable creature in the world, there was no concealing the fact that she was frightful, and so lame that she always went about with a crutch, and people called her Princess Cabbage-Stalk.
The king, having asked for and received a portrait of this Princess, had it placed in his great hall under a canopy, and sent for Prince Curlicue, to whom he said that as this was the portrait of his future bride, he hoped the prince found it charming.
The prince after one glance at it turned away with a disdainful air, which greatly offended his father.
"Am I to understand that you are not pleased?" he said very sharply.
"No, sire," replied the prince. "How could I be pleased to marry an ugly, lame princess?"
"Certainly it is becoming in you to object to that," said King Grumpy, "since you are ugly enough to frighten anyone yourself."
"That is the very reason," said the prince, "that I wish to marry someone who is not ugly. I'm quite tired enough of seeing myself."
"I tell you that you shall marry her," cried king Grumpy angrily.
And the prince, seeing that it was of no use to remonstrate, bowed and retired.
As King Grumpy was not used to being contradicted in anything, he was very much displeased with his son, and ordered that he should be imprisoned in the tower that was kept on purpose for rebellious Princes, but had not been used for about two hundred years, because there had not been any. The prince thought all the rooms looked strangely old-fashioned, with their antique furniture, but as there was a good library he was pleased, for he was very fond of reading, and he soon got permission to have as many books as he liked. But when he looked at them he found that they were written in a forgotten language, and he could not understand a single word, though he amused himself with trying.
King Grumpy was so convinced that Prince Curlicue would soon get tired of being in prison, and so consent to marry the princess Cabbage-Stalk, that he sent ambassadors to her father proposing that she should come and be married to his son, who would make her perfectly happy.
The king was delighted to receive so good an offer for his unlucky daughter, though, to tell the truth, he found it impossible to admire the prince's portrait which had been sent to him. However, he had it placed in as favourable a light as possible, and sent for the princess, but the moment she caught sight of it she looked the other way and began to cry. The king, who was very much annoyed to see how greatly she disliked it, took a mirror, and holding it up before the unhappy Princess, said:
"I see you do not think the prince handsome, but look at yourself, and see if you have any right to complain about that."
"Sire," she answered, "I do not wish to complain, only I beg of you do not make me marry at all. I had rather be the unhappy Princess Cabbage-Stalk all my life than inflict the sight of my ugliness on anyone else."
But the king would not listen to her, and sent her away with the ambassadors. In the meantime the prince was kept safely locked up in his tower, and, that he might be as dull as possible, King Grumpy ordered that no one should speak to him, and that they should give him next to nothing to eat. But all the princess guards were so fond of him that they did everything they dared, in spite of the king, to make the time pass pleasantly.
One day, as the prince was walking up and down the great gallery, thinking how miserable it was to be so ugly, and to be forced to marry an equally frightful Princess, he looked up suddenly and noticed that the painted windows were particularly bright and beautiful, and for the sake of doing something that would change his sad thoughts he began to examine them attentively. He found that the pictures seemed to be scenes from the life of a man who appeared in every window, and the prince, fancying that he saw in this man some resemblance to himself, began to be deeply interested. In the first window there was a picture of him in one of the turrets of the tower, farther on he was seeking something in a chink in the wall, in the next picture he was opening an old cabinet with a golden key, and so it went on through numbers of scenes, and presently the prince noticed that another figure occupied the most important place in each scene, and this time it was a tall handsome young man: poor Prince Curlicue found it a pleasure to look at him, he was so straight and strong. By this time it had grown dark, and the prince had to go back to his own room, and to amuse himself he took up a quaint old book and began to look at the pictures. But his surprise was great to find that they represented the same scenes as the windows of the gallery, and what was more, that they seemed to be alive. In looking at pictures of musicians he saw their hands move and heard sweet sounds; there was a picture of a ball, and the prince could watch the little dancing people come and go. He turned a page, and there was an excellent smell of a savoury dinner, and one of the figures who sat at the feast looked at him and said:
"We drink your health, Curlicue. Try to give us our queen again, for if you do you will be rewarded; if not, it will be the worse for you."
At these words the prince, who had been growing more and more astonished, was fairly terrified, and dropping the book with a crash he sank back insensible. The noise he made brought his guards to his aid, and as soon as he revived they asked him what was the matter. He answered that he was so faint and giddy with hunger that he had imagined he saw and heard all sorts of strange things. Thereupon, in spite of the king's orders, the guards gave him an excellent supper, and when he had eaten it he again opened his book, but could see none of the wonderful pictures, which convinced him that he must have been dreaming before.
However, when he went into he gallery next day and looked at the painted windows again, he found that they moved, and the figures came and went as if they had been alive, and after watching the one who was like himself find the key in the crack of the turret wall and open the old cabinet, he determined to go and examine the place himself, and try to find out what the mystery was. So he went up into the turret and began to search about and tap on the walls, and all at once he came on a place that sounded hollow. Taking a hammer he broke away a bit of the stone, and found behind it a little golden key. The next thing to do was to find the cabinet, and the prince soon came to it, hidden away in a dark corner, though indeed it was so old and battered-looking that he would never have noticed it of his own accord. At first he could not see any keyhole, but after a careful search he found one hidden in the carving, and the golden key just fitted it; so the prince gave it a vigorous turn and the doors flew open.
Ugly and old as the cabinet was outside, nothing could have been more rich and beautiful than what met the prince's astonished eyes. Every drawer was made of crystal, of amber, or of some precious stone, and was quite full of every kind of treasure. Prince Curlicue was delighted; he opened one after another, till at last he came to one tiny drawer which contained only an emerald key.
"I believe that this must open that little golden door in the middle," said the prince to himself. And he fitted in the little key and turned it. The tiny door swung back, and a soft crimson light gleamed over the whole cabinet. The prince found that it proceeded from an immense glowing carbuncle, made into a box, which lay before him. He lost no time in opening it, but what was his horror when he found that it contained a man's hand, which was holding a portrait. His first thought was to put back the terrible box and fly from the turret; but a voice in his ear said, "This hand belonged to one whom you can help and restore. Look at this beautiful portrait, the original of which was the cause of all my misfortunes, and if you wish to help me, go without a moment's delay to the great gallery, notice where the sun's rays fall most brightly, and if you seek there you will find my treasure."
The voice ceased, and though the prince in his bewilderment asked various questions, he received no answer. So he put back the box and locked the cabinet up again, and, having replaced the key in the crack in the wall, hastened down to the gallery.
When he entered it all the windows shook and clattered in the strangest way, but the prince did not heed them; he was looking so carefully for the place where the sun shone most brightly, and it seemed to him that it was on the portrait of a most splendidly handsome young man.
He went up and examined it, and found that it rested against the ebony and gold panelling, just like any of the other pictures in the gallery. He was puzzled, not knowing what to do next, till it occurred to him to see if the windows would help him, and, looking at the nearest, he saw a picture of himself lifting the picture from the wall.
The prince took the hint, and lifting aside the picture without difficulty, found himself in a marble hall adorned with statues; from this he passed on through numbers of splendid rooms, till at last he reached one all hung with blue gauze. The walls were of turquoises, and on a low couch lay a lovely lady, who seemed to be asleep. Her hair, black as ebony, was spread across the pillows, making her face look ivory white, and the prince noticed that she was unquiet; and when he softly advanced, fearing to wake her, he could hear her sigh, and murmur to herself:
"Ah! how dared you think to win my love by separating me from my beloved Florimond, and in my presence cutting off that dear hand that even you should have feared and honoured?"
And then the tears rolled slowly down the lovely lady's cheeks, and prince Curlicue began to comprehend that she was under an enchantment, and that it was the hand of her lover that he had found.
At this moment a huge eagle flew into the room, holding in its talons a golden branch, on which were growing what looked like clusters of cherries, only every cherry was a single glowing ruby.
This he presented to the prince, who guessed by this time that he was in some way to break the enchantment that surrounded the sleeping lady. Taking the branch he touched her lightly with it, saying:
"Fair one, I know not by what enchantment you are bound, but in the name of your beloved Florimond I conjure you to come back to the life which you have lost, but not forgotten."
At once the lady opened her lustrous eyes, and saw the Eagle hovering near.
"Ah! stay, dear love, stay," she cried. But the Eagle, uttering a dolorous cry, fluttered his broad wings and disappeared. Then the lady turned to Prince Curlicue, and said:
"I know that it is to you I owe my deliverance from an enchantment which has held me for two hundred years. If there is anything that I can do for you in return, you have only to tell me, and all my fairy power shall be used to make you happy."
"Madam," said prince Curlicue, "I wish to be allowed to restore your beloved Florimond to his natural form, since I cannot forget the tears you shed for him."
"That is very amiable of you, dear Prince," said the fairy, "but it is reserved for another person to do that. I cannot explain more at present. But is there nothing you wish for yourself?"
"Madam," cried the prince, flinging himself down at her feet, "only look at my ugliness. I'm called Curlicue, and am an object of derision; I entreat you to make me less ridiculous."
"Rise, prince," said the fairy, touching him with the golden branch. "Be as accomplished as you are handsome, and take the name of Prince Peerless, since that is the only title which will suit you now."
Silent from joy, the prince kissed her hand to express his thanks, and when he rose and saw his new reflection in the mirrors which surrounded him, he understood that Curlicue was indeed gone for ever.
"How I wish," said the fairy, "that I dared to tell you what is in store for you, and warn you of the traps which lie in your path, but I must not. Fly from the tower, Prince, and remember that the fairy Douceline will be your friend always."
When she had finished speaking, the prince, to his great astonishment, found himself no longer in the tower, but set down in a thick forest at least a hundred leagues away from it. And there we must leave him for the present, and see what was happening elsewhere.
When the guards found that the prince did not ask for his supper as usual, they went into his room, and not finding him there, were very much alarmed, and searched the tower from turret to dungeon, but without success. Knowing that the king would certainly have their heads cut off for allowing the prince to escape, they then agreed to say that he was ill, and after making the smallest among them look as much like prince Curlicue as possible, they put him into his bed and sent to inform the king.
King Grumpy was quite delighted to hear that his son was ill, for he thought that he would all the sooner be brought to do as he wished, and marry the princess. So he sent back to the guards to say that the prince was to be treated as severely as before, which was just what they had hoped he would say. In the meantime the princess Cabbage-Stalk had reached the palace, travelling in a litter.
King Grumpy went out to meet her, but when he saw her, with a skin like a tortoise's, her thick eyebrows meeting above her large nose, and her mouth from ear to ear, he could not help crying out:
"Well, I must say Curlicue is ugly enough, but I don't think you need have thought twice before consenting to marry him."
"Sire," she replied, "I know too well what I'm like to be hurt by what you say, but I assure you that I have no wish to marry your son I had rather be called princess Cabbage-Stalk than Queen Curlicue."
This made King Grumpy very angry.
"Your father has sent you here to marry my son," he said, "and you may be sure that I'm not going to offend him by altering his arrangements." So the poor Princess was sent away in disgrace to her own apartments, and the ladies who attended on her were charged to bring her to a better mind.
At this juncture the guards, who were in great fear that they would be found out, sent to tell the king that his son was dead, which annoyed him very much. He at once made up his mind that it was entirely the princess's fault, and gave orders that she should be imprisoned in the tower in Prince Curlicue's place. The princess Cabbage-Stalk was immensely astonished at this unjust proceeding, and sent many messages of remonstrance to King Grumpy, but he was in such a temper that no one dared to deliver them, or to send the letters which the princess wrote to her father. However, as she did not know this, she lived in hope of soon going back to her own country, and tried to amuse herself as well as she could till the time should come. Every day she walked up and down the long gallery, till she too was attracted and fascinated by the ever-changing pictures in the windows, and recognised herself in one of the figures. "They seem to have taken a great delight in painting me since I came to this country," she said to herself. "One would think that I and my crutch were put in on purpose to make that slim, charming young shepherdess in the next picture look prettier by contrast. Ah! how nice it would be to be as pretty as that." And then she looked at herself in a mirror, and turned away quickly with tears in her eyes from the doleful sight. All at once she became aware that she was not alone, for behind her stood a tiny old woman in a cap, who was as ugly again as herself and quite as lame.
"Princess," she said, "your regrets are so piteous that I have come to offer you the choice of goodness or beauty. If you wish to be pretty you shall have your way, but you will also be vain, capricious, and frivolous. If you remain as you are now, you shall be wise and amiable and modest."
"Alas I madam," cried the princess, "is it impossible to be at once wise and beautiful?"
"No, child," answered the old woman, "only to you it is decreed that you must choose between the two. See, I have brought with me my white and yellow muff. Breathe on the yellow side and you will become like the pretty shepherdess you so much admire, and you will have won the love of the handsome shepherd whose picture I have already seen you studying with interest. Breathe on the white side and your looks will not alter, but you will grow better and happier day by day. Now you may choose."
"Ah well," said the princess, "I suppose one can't have everything, and it's certainly better to be good than pretty."
And so she breathed on the white side of the muff and thanked the old fairy, who at once disappeared. The princess Cabbage-Stalk felt very forlorn when she was gone, and began to think that it was quite time her father sent an army to rescue her.
"If I could but get up into the turret," she thought, "to see if any one is coming." But to climb up there seemed impossible. Nevertheless she presently hit on a plan. The great clock was in the turret, as she knew, though the weights hung down into the gallery. Taking one of them off the rope, she tied herself on in its place, and when the clock was wound, up she went triumphantly into the turret. She looked out over the country the first thing, but seeing nothing she sat down to rest a little, and accidentally leant back against the wall which Curlicue, or rather Prince Peerless, had so hastily mended. Out fell the broken stone, and with it the golden key. The clatter it made on the floor attracted the princess Cabbage-Stalk's attention.
She picked it up, and after a moment's consideration decided that it must belong to the curious old cabinet in the corner, which had no visible keyhole. And then it was not long before she had it open, and was admiring the treasures it contained as much as Prince Peerless had done before her, and at last she came to the carbuncle box. No sooner had she opened it than with a shudder of horror she tried to throw it down, but found that some mysterious power compelled her to hold it against her will. And at this moment a voice in her ear said softly:
"Take courage, princess; on this adventure your future happiness depends."
"What am I to do?" said the princess trembling.
"Take the box," replied the voice, "and hide it under your pillow, and when you see an Eagle, give it to him without losing a moment."
Terrified as the princess was, she did not hesitate to obey, and hastened to put back all the other precious things precisely as she had found them. By this time her guards were seeking her everywhere, and they were amazed to find her up in the turret, for they said she could only have got there by magic. For three days nothing happened, but at last in the night the princess heard something flutter against her window, and drawing back her curtains she saw in the moonlight that it was an Eagle.
Limping across at her utmost speed she threw the window open, and the great Eagle sailed in beating with his wings for joy. The princess lost no time in offering it the carbuncle box, which it grasped in its talons, and instantly disappeared, leaving in its place the most beautiful Prince she had ever seen, who was splendidly dressed, and wore a diamond crown.
"Princess," said he, "for two hundred years has a wicked enchanter kept me here. We both loved the same fairy, but she preferred me. However, he was more powerful than I, and succeeded, when for a moment I was off my guard, in changing me into an Eagle, while my Queen was left in an enchanted sleep. I knew that after two hundred years a Prince would recall her to the light of day, and a princess, in restoring to me the hand which my enemy had cut off, would give me back my natural form. The fairy who watches over your destiny told me this, and it was she who guided you to the cabinet in the turret, where she had placed my hand. It's she also who permits me to show my gratitude to you by granting whatever favour you may ask of me. Tell me, Princess, what is it that you wish for most? Shall I make you as beautiful as you deserve to be?"
"Ah, if you only would!" cried the princess, and at the same moment she heard a crick-cracking in all her bones. She grew tall and straight and pretty, with eyes like shining stars, and a skin as white as milk.
"Oh, wonderful! can this really be my poor little self?" she exclaimed, looking down in amazement at her tiny worn-out crutch as it lay on the floor.
"Indeed, Princess," replied Florimond, "it is yourself, but you must have a new name, since the old one does not suit you now. Be called princess Sunbeam, for you are bright and charming enough to deserve the name."
And so saying he disappeared, and the princess, without knowing how she got there, found herself walking under shady trees by a clear river. Of course, the first thing she did was to look at her own reflection in the water, and she was extremely surprised to find that she was exactly like the shepherdess she had so much admired, and wore the same white dress and flowery wreath that she had seen in the painted windows. To complete the resemblance, her flock of sheep appeared, grazing round her, and she found a gay crook adorned with flowers on the bank of the river. Quite tired out by so many new and wonderful experiences, the princess sat down to rest at the foot of a tree, and there she fell fast asleep. Now it happened that it was in this very country that Prince Peerless had been set down, and while the princess Sunbeam was still sleeping peacefully, he came strolling along in search of a shady pasture for his sheep.
The moment he caught sight of the princess he recognised her as the charming shepherdess whose picture he had seen so often in the tower, and as she was far prettier than he had remembered her, he was delighted that chance had led him that way. He was still watching her admiringly when the princess opened her eyes, and as she also recognised him they were soon great friends. The princess asked prince Peerless, as he knew the country better than she did, to tell her of some peasant who would give her a lodging, and he said he knew of an old woman whose cottage would be the very place for her, it was so nice and so pretty. So they went there together, and the princess was charmed with the old woman and everything belonging to her. Supper was soon spread for her under a shady tree, and she invited the prince to share the cream and brown bread which the old woman provided. This he was delighted to do, and having first fetched from his own garden all the strawberries, cherries, nuts and flowers he could find. they sat down together and were very merry. After this they met every day as they guarded their flocks, and were so happy that Prince Peerless begged the princess to marry him, so that they might never be parted again. Now though the princess Sunbeam appeared to be only a poor shepherdess, she never forgot that she was a real Princess, and she was not at all sure that she ought to marry a humble shepherd, though she knew she would like to do so very much.
So she resolved to consult an Enchanter of whom she had heard a great deal since she had been a shepherdess, and without saying a word to anybody she set out to find the castle in which he lived with his sister, who was a powerful Fairy. The way was long, and lay through a thick wood, where the princess heard strange voices calling to her from every side, but she was in such a hurry that she stopped for nothing, and at last she came to the courtyard of the enchanter's castle.
The grass and briers were growing as high as if it were a hundred years since anyone had set foot there, but the princess got through at last, though she gave herself a good many scratches by the way, and then she went into a dark, gloomy hall, where there was but one tiny hole in the wall through which the daylight could enter. The hangings were all of bats" wings, and from the ceiling hung twelve cats, who filled the hall with their ear piercing yells. on the long table twelve mice were fastened by the tail, and just in front of each one's nose, but quite beyond its reach, lay a tempting morsel of fat bacon. So the cats could always see the mice, but could not touch them, and the hungry mice were tormented by the sight and smell of the delicious morsels which they could never seize. The princess was looking at the poor creatures in dismay, when the enchanter suddenly entered, wearing a long black robe and with a crocodile on his head. In his hand he carried a whip made of twenty long snakes, all alive and writhing, and the princess was so terrified at the sight that she heartily wished she had never come. Without saying a word she ran to the door, but it was covered with a thick spider's web, and when she broke it she found another, and another, and another. In fact, there was no end to them; the princess's arms ached with tearing them down, and yet she was no nearer to getting out, and the wicked Enchanter behind her laughed maliciously. At last he said:
"You might spend the rest of your life over that without doing any good, but as you are young, and quite the prettiest creature I have seen for a long time, I will marry you if you like, and I will give you those cats and mice that you see there for your own. They are princes and princesses who have happened to offend me. They used to love one another as much as they now hate one another. Aha! It's a pretty little revenge to keep them like that."
"Oh! If you would only change me into a mouse too," cried the princess.
"Oh! so you won't marry me?" said he. "Little simpleton, you should have everything heart can desire."
"No, indeed; nothing should make me marry you; in fact, I don't think I shall ever love anyone," cried the princess.
"In that case," said the enchanter, touching her, "you had better become a particular kind of creature that is neither fish nor fowl; you shall be light and airy, and as green as the grass you live in. Off with you, Madam Grasshopper." And the princess, rejoicing to find herself free once more, skipped out into the garden, the prettiest little green Grasshopper in the world. But as soon as she was safely out she began to be rather sorry for herself.
"Ah! Florimond," she sighed, "is this the end of your gift? Certainly beauty is short-lived, and this funny little face and a green crape dress are a comical end to it. I had better have married my amiable shepherd. It must be for my pride that I'm condemned to be a Grasshopper, and sing day and night in the grass by this brook, when I feel far more inclined to cry."
In the meantime prince Peerless had discovered the princess's absence, and was lamenting over it by the river's brim, when he suddenly became aware of the presence of a little old woman. She was quaintly dressed in a ruff and farthingale, and a velvet hood covered her snow-white hair.
"You seem sorrowful, my son," she said. "What is the matter?"
"Alas! mother," answered the prince, "I have lost my sweet shepherdess, but I'm determined to find her again, though I should have to traverse the whole world in search of her."
"Go that way, my son," said the old woman, pointing towards the path that led to the castle. "I have an idea that you will soon overtake her." The prince thanked her heartily and set out. As he met with no hindrance, he soon reached the enchanted wood which surrounded the castle, and there he thought he saw the princess Sunbeam gliding before him among the trees. Prince Peerless hastened after her at the top of his speed, but could not get any nearer; then he called to her:
"Sunbeam, my darling - only wait for me a moment."
But the phantom did but fly the faster, and the prince spent the whole day in this vain pursuit. When night came he saw the castle before him all lighted up, and as he imagined that the princess must be in it, he made haste to get there too. He entered without difficulty, and in the hall the terrible old Fairy met him. She was so thin that the light shone through her, and her eyes glowed like lamps; her skin was like a shark's, her arms were thin as laths, and her fingers like spindles. Nevertheless she wore rouge and patches, a mantle of silver brocade and a crown of diamonds, and her dress was covered with jewels, and green and pink ribbons.
"At last you have come to see me, Prince," said she. "Don't waste another thought on that little shepherdess, who is unworthy of your notice. I'm the queen of the Comets, and can bring you to great honour if you will marry me."
"Marry you, Madam," cried the prince, in horror. "No, I will never consent to that."
Thereupon the fairy, in a rage, gave two strokes of her wand and filled the gallery with horrible goblins, against whom the prince had to fight for his life. Though he had only his dagger, he defended himself so well that he escaped without any harm, and presently the old Fairy stopped the fray and asked the prince if he was still of the same mind. When he answered firmly that he was, she called up the appearance of the princess Sunbeam to the other end of the gallery, and said:
"You see your beloved there? Take care what you are about, for if you again refuse to marry me she shall be torn in pieces by two tigers."
The prince was distracted, for he fancied he heard his dear shepherdess weeping and begging him to save her. In despair he cried:
"Oh, Fairy Douceline, have you abandoned me after so many promises of friendship? Help, help us now!"
At once a soft voice said in his ear:
"Be firm, happen what may, and seek the Golden Branch."
Thus encouraged, the prince persevered in his refusal, and at length the old Fairy in a fury cried:
"Get out of my sight, obstinate prince. Become a Cricket!"
And instantly the handsome prince Peerless became a poor little black Cricket, whose only idea would have been to find himself a cosy cranny behind some blazing hearth, if he had not luckily remembered the fairy Douceline's injunction to seek the Golden Branch.
So he hastened to depart from the fatal castle, and sought shelter in a hollow tree, where he found a forlorn looking little Grasshopper crouching in a corner, too miserable to sing.
Without in the least expecting an answer, the prince asked it:
"And where may you be going, Gammer Grasshopper?"
"Where are you going yourself, Gaffer Cricket?" replied the grasshopper.
"What! can you speak?" said he.
"Why should I not speak as well as you? Isn't a grasshopper as good as a cricket?" said she.
"I can talk because I was a Prince," said the cricket.
"And for that very same reason I ought to be able to talk more than you, for I was a princess," replied the grasshopper.
"Then you have met with the same fate as I have," said he. "But where are you going now? Cannot we journey together?"
"I seemed to hear a voice in the air which said: "Be firm, happen what may, and seek the golden branch," " answered the grasshopper, "and I thought the command must be for me, so I started at once, though I don't know the way."
At this moment their conversation was interrupted by two mice, who, breathless from running, flung themselves headlong through the hole into the tree, nearly crushing the grasshopper and the cricket, though they got out of the way as fast as they could and stood up in a dark corner.
"Ah, Madam," said the fatter of the two, "I have such a pain in my side from running so fast. How does your Highness find yourself?"
"I have pulled my tail off," replied the younger mouse, "but as I should still be on the sorcerer's table unless I had, I do not regret it. Are we pursued, think you? How lucky we were to escape!"
"I only trust that we may escape cats and traps, and reach the golden branch soon," said the fat Mouse.
"You know the way then?" said the other.
"Oh dear, yes! as well as the way to my own house, Madam. This Golden Branch is indeed a marvel, a single leaf from it makes one rich for ever. It breaks enchantments, and makes all who approach it young and beautiful. We must set out for it at the break of day."
"May we have the honour of travelling with you - this respectable cricket and myself?" said the grasshopper, stepping forward. "We also are on a pilgrimage to the golden branch."
The mice courteously assented, and after many polite speeches the whole party fell asleep. With the earliest dawn they were on their way, and though the Mice were in constant fear of being overtaken or trapped, they reached the Golden Branch in safety.
It grew in the midst of a wonderful garden, all the paths of which were strewn with pearls as big as peas. The roses were crimson diamonds, with emerald leaves. The pomegranates were garnets, the marigolds topazes, the daffodils yellow diamonds, the violets sapphires, the corn-flowers turquoises, the tulips amethysts, opals and diamonds, so that the garden borders blazed like the sun. The golden branch itself had become as tall as a forest tree, and sparkled with ruby cherries to its topmost twig. No sooner had the grasshopper and the cricket touched it than they were restored to their natural forms, and their surprise and joy were great when they recognised each other. At this moment Florimond and the fairy Douceline appeared in great splendour, and the fairy, as she descended from her chariot, said with a smile:
"So you two have found one another again, I see, but I have still a surprise left for you. Don't hesitate, princess, to tell your devoted shepherd how dearly you love him, as he is the very Prince your father sent you to marry. So come here both of you and let me crown you, and we will have the wedding at once."
The prince and princess thanked her with all their hearts, and declared that to her they owed all their happiness, and then the two Princesses, who had so lately been Mice, came and begged that the fairy would use her power to release their unhappy friends who were still under the enchanter's spell.
"Really," said the fairy Douceline, "on this happy occasion I cannot find it in my heart to refuse you anything." And she gave three strokes of her wand on the Golden Branch, and at once all the prisoners in the enchanter's castle found themselves free, and came with all speed to the wonderful garden, where one touch of the Golden Branch restored each one to his natural form, and they greeted one another with many rejoicings. To complete her generous work the fairy presented them with the wonderful cabinet and all the treasures it contained, which were worth at least ten kingdoms. But to Prince Peerless and the princess Sunbeam she gave the palace and garden of the golden branch, where, immensely rich and greatly beloved by all their subjects, they lived happily ever after.
The queen, who loved her husband dearly, would gladly have remained with him to share his dangers, but he would not allow it. So they parted, with many tears, and the queen set out with a strong guard to a fortified castle on the outskirts of a great forest, some two hundred miles distant. She cried nearly all the way, and when she arrived she cried still more, for everything in the castle was dusty and old, and outside there was only a gravelled courtyard, and the king had forbidden her to go beyond the walls without at least two soldiers to take care of her.
Now the queen had only been married a few months, and in her own home she had been used to walk and ride all over the hills without any attendants at all; so she felt very dull at her being shut up in this way. However, she bore it for a long while because it was the king's wish, but when time passed and there were no signs of the war drifting in the direction of the castle, she grew bolder, and sometimes strayed outside the walls, in the direction of the forest.
Then came a dreadful period, when news from the king ceased entirely.
"He must surely be ill or dead," thought the poor girl, who even now was only sixteen. "I can bear it no longer, and if I do not get a letter from him soon I shall leave this horrible place and go back to see what is the matter. Oh! I do wish I had never come away!"
So, without telling anyone what she intended to do, she ordered a little low carriage to be built, something like a sledge, only it was on two wheels ? just big enough to hold one person.
"I am tired of being always in the castle," she said to her attendants; "and I mean to hunt a little. Quite close by, of course," she added, seeing the anxious look on their faces. "And there's no reason that you should not hunt too."
All the faces brightened at that, for, to tell the truth, they were nearly as dull as their mistress; so the queen had her way, and two beautiful horses were brought from the stable to draw the little chariot. At first the queen took care to keep near the rest of the hunt, but gradually she stayed away longer and longer, and at last, one morning, she took advantage of the appearance of a wild boar, after which her whole court instantly galloped, to turn into a path in the opposite direction.
Unluckily, it did not happen to lead towards the king's palace, where she intended to go, but she was so afraid her flight would be noticed that she whipped up her horses till they ran away.
When she understood what was happening the poor young queen was terribly frightened, and, dropping the reins, clung to the side of the chariot. The horses, thus left without any control, dashed blindly against a tree, and the queen was flung out on the ground, where she lay for some minutes unconscious.
A rustling sound near her at length caused her to open her eyes; before her stood a huge woman, almost a giantess, without any clothes save a lion's skin, which was thrown over her shoulders, while a dried snake's skin was plaited into her hair. In one hand she held a club on which she leaned, and in the other a quiver full of arrows.
At the sight of this strange figure the queen thought she must be dead, and gazing on an inhabitant of another world. So she murmured softly to herself:
"I am not surprised that people are so loth to die when they know that they will see such horrible creatures." But, low as she spoke, the giantess caught the words, and began to laugh.
"Oh, don't be afraid; You're still alive, and perhaps, after all, you may be sorry for it. I am the Lion Fairy, and You're going to spend the rest of your days with me in my palace, which is quite near this. So come along." But the queen shrank back in horror.
"Oh, Madam Lion, take me back, I pray you, to my castle; and fix what ransom you like, for my husband will pay it, whatever it is. But the giantess shook her head.
"I am rich enough already," she answered, "but I am often dull, and I think you may amuse me a little." And, so saying, she changed her shape into that of a lion, and throwing the queen across her back, she went down the ten thousand steps that led to her palace. The lion had reached the centre of the earth before she stopped in front of a house, lighted with lamps, and built on the edge of a lake of quicksilver. In this lake various huge monsters might be seen playing or fighting ? the queen did not know which ? and around flew rooks and ravens, uttering dismal croaks. In the distance was a mountain down whose sides waters slowly coursed ? these were the tears of unhappy lovers ? and nearer the gate were trees without either fruit of flowers, while nettles and brambles covered the ground. If the castle had been gloomy, what did the queen feel about this?
For some days the queen was so much shaken by all she had gone through that she lay with her eyes closed, unable either to move or speak. When she got better, the Lion Fairy told her that if she liked she could build herself a cabin, as she would have to spend her life in that place. At these words the queen burst into tears, and implored her gaoler to put her to death rather than condemn her to such a life; but the Lion Fairy only laughed, and counselled her to try to make herself pleasant, as many worse things might befall her.
"Is there no way in which I can touch your heart?" asked the poor girl in despair.
"Well, if you really wish to please me you'll make me a pasty out of the stings of bees, and be sure it's good."
"But I don't see any bees," answered the queen, looking round.
"Oh, no, there aren't any," replied her tormentor; "but you'll have to find them all the same." And, so saying, she went away.
"After all, what does it matter?" thought the queen to herself, "I have only one life, and I can but lose it." And not caring what she did, she left the palace and seating herself under a yew tree, poured out all her grief.
"Oh, my dear husband," wept she, "what will you think when you come to the castle to fetch me and find me gone? Rather a thousand times that you should fancy me dead than imagine that I had forgotten you! Ah, how fortunate that the broken chariot should be lying in the wood, for then you may grieve for me as one devoured by wild beasts. And if another should take my place in your heart - Well, at least I shall never know it."
She might have continued for long in this fashion had not the voice of a crow directly overhead attracted her attention. Looking up to see what was the matter she beheld, in the dim light, a crow holding a fat frog in his claws, which he evidently intended for his supper. The queen rose hastily from the seat, and striking the bird sharply on the claws with the fan which hung from her side, she forced him to drop the frog, which fell to the round more dead than alive. The crow, furious at his disappointment, flew angrily away.
As soon as the frog had recovered her senses she hopped up to the queen, who was still sitting under the yew. Standing on her hind legs, and bowing low before her, she said gently:
"Beautiful lady, by what mischance do you come here? You're the only creature that I have seen do a kind deed since a fatal curiosity lured me to this place."
"What sort of a frog can you be that knows the language of mortals?" asked the queen in her turn. "But if you do, tell me, I pray, if I alone am a captive, for hitherto I have beheld no one but the monsters of the lake."
"Once on a time they were men and women like yourself," answered the frog, "but having power in their hands, they used it for their own pleasure. Therefore fate has sent them here for a while to bear the punishment of their misdoings."
"But you, friend frog, You're not one of these wicked people, I am sure?" asked the queen.
"I am half a fairy," replied the frog; "but, although I have certain magic gifts, I am not able to do all I wish. And if the Lion Fairy were to know of my presence in her kingdom she would hasten to kill me."
"But if You're a fairy, how was it that you were so nearly slain by the crow?" said the queen, wrinkling her forehead.
"Because the secret of my power lies in my little cap that is made of rose leaves; but I had laid it aside for the moment, when that horrible crow pounced on me. Once it's on my head I fear nothing. But let me repeat; had it not been for you I could not have escaped death, and if I can do anything to help you, or soften your hard fate, you have only to tell me."
"Alas," sighed the queen, "I have been commanded by the Lion Fairy to make her a pasty out of the stings of bees, and, as far as I can discover, there are none here; as how should there be, seeing there are no flowers for them to feed on? And, even if there were, how could I catch them?"
"Leave it to me," said the frog, "I will manage it for you." And, uttering a strange noise, she struck the ground thrice with her foot. In an instant six thousand frogs appeared before her, one of them bearing a little cap.
"Cover yourselves with honey, and hop round by the beehives," commanded the frog, putting on the cap which her friend was holding in her mouth. And turning to the queen, he added:
"The Lion Fairy keeps a store of bees in a secret place near to the bottom of the ten thousand steps leading into the upper world. Not that she wants them for herself, but they are sometimes useful to her in punishing her victims. However, this time we will get the better of her."
Just as she had finished speaking the six thousand frogs returned, looking so strange with bees sticking to every part of them that, sad as she felt, the poor queen could not help laughing. The bees were all so stupefied with what they had eaten that it was possible to draw their stings without hunting them. So, with the help of her friend, the queen soon made ready her pasty and carried it to the Lion Fairy.
"Not enough pepper," said the giantess, gulping down large morsels, in order the hide the surprise she felt. "Well, you have escaped this time, and I am glad to find I have got a companion a little more intelligent than the others I have tried. Now, you had better go and build yourself a house."
So the queen wandered away, and picking up a small axe which lay near the door she began with the help of her friend the frog to cut down some cypress trees for the purpose. And not content with that the six thousand froggy servants were told to help also, and it was not long before they had built the prettiest little cabin in the world, and made a bed in one corner of dried ferns which they fetched from the top of the ten thousand steps. It looked soft and comfortable, and the queen was very glad to lie down on it, so tired was she with all that had happened since the morning. Scarcely, however, had she fallen asleep when the lake monsters began to make the most horrible noises just outside, while a small dragon crept in and terrified her so that she ran away, which was just what the dragon wanted!
The poor queen crouched under a rock for the rest of the night, and the next morning, when she woke from her troubled dreams, she was cheered at seeing the frog watching by her.
"I hear we shall have to build you another palace," said she. "Well, this time we won't go so near the lake." And she smiled with her funny wide mouth, till the queen took heart, and they went together to find wood for the new cabin.
The tiny palace was soon ready, and a fresh bed made of wild thyme, which smelt delicious. Neither the queen nor the frog said anything about it, but somehow, as always happens, the story came to the ears of the Lion Fairy, and she sent a raven to fetch the culprit.
"What gods or men are protecting you?" she asked, with a frown. "This earth, dried up by a constant rain of sulphur and fire, produces nothing, yet I hear that YOUR bed is made of sweet smelling herbs. However, as you can get flowers for yourself, of course you can get them for me, and in an hour's time I must have in my room a nosegay of the rarest flowers. If not ? ! Now you can go."
The poor queen returned to her house looking so sad that the frog, who was waiting for her, noticed it directly.
"What is the matter?" said she, smiling.
"Oh, how can you laugh!" replied the queen. "This time I have to bring her in an hour a posy of the rarest flowers, and where am I to find them? If I fail I know she will kill me."
"Well, I must see if I can't help you," answered the frog. "The only person I have made friends with here is a bat. She is a good creature, and always does what I tell her, so I will just lend her my cap, and if she puts it on, and flies into the world, she will bring back all we want. I would go myself, only she will be quicker."
Then the queen dried her eyes, and waited patiently, and long before the hour had gone by the bat flew in with all the most beautiful and sweetest flowers that grew on the earth. The girl sprang up overjoyed at the sight, and hurried with them to the Lion Fairy, who was so astonished that for once she had nothing to say.
Now the smell and touch of the flowers had made the queen sick with longing for her home, and she told the frog that she would certainly die if she did not manage to escape somehow.
"Let me consult my cap," said the frog; and taking it off she laid it in a box, and threw in after it a few sprigs of juniper, some capers, and two peas, which she carried under her right leg; she then shut down the lid of the box, and murmured some words which the queen did not catch.
In a few moments a voice was heard speaking from the box.
"Fate, who rules us all," said the voice, "forbids your leaving this place till the time shall come when certain things are fulfilled. But, instead, a gift shall be given you, which will comfort you in all your troubles."
And the voice spoke truly, for, a few days after, when the frog peeped in at the door she found the most beautiful baby in the world lying by the side of the queen.
"So the cap has kept its word," cried the frog with delight. "How soft its cheeks are, and what tiny feet it has got! What shall we call it?"
This was a very important point, and needed much discussion. A thousand names were proposed and rejected for a thousand silly reasons. One was too long, and one was too short. One was too harsh, and another reminded the queen of somebody she did not like; but at length an idea flashed into the queen's head, and she called out:
"I know! We will call her Muffette."
"That is the very thing," shouted the frog, jumping high into the air; and so it was settled.
The princess Muffette was about six months old when the frog noticed that the queen had begun to grow sad again.
"Why do you have that look in your eyes?" she asked one day, when she had come in to play with the baby, who could now crawl.
The way they played their game was to let Muffette creep close to the frog, and then for the frog to bound high into the air and alight on the child's head, or back, or legs, when she always sent up a shout of pleasure. There's no play fellow like a frog; but then it must be a fairy frog, or else you might hurt it, and if you did something dreadful might happen to you. Well, as I have said, our frog was struck with the queen's sad face, and lost no time in asking her what was the reason.
"I don't see what you have to complain of now; Muffette is quite well and quite happy, and even the Lion Fairy is kind to her when she sees her. What is it?"
"Oh! if her father could only see her!" broke forth the queen, clasping her hands. "Or if I could only tell him all that has happened since we parted. But they will have brought him tidings of the broken carriage, and he will have thought me dead, or devoured by wild beasts. And though he will mourn for me long - I know that well - yet in time they will persuade him to take a wife, and she will be young and fair, and he will forget me."
And in all this the queen guessed truly, save that nine long years were to pass before he would consent to put another in her place.
The frog answered nothing at the time, but stopped her game and hopped away among the cypress trees. Here she sat and thought and thought, and the next morning she went back to the queen and said:
"I have come, madam, to make you an offer. Shall I go to the king instead of you, and tell him of your sufferings, and that he has the most charming baby in the world for his daughter? The way is long, and I travel slowly; but, sooner or later, I shall be sure to arrive. Only, are you not afraid to be left without my protection? Ponder the matter carefully; it's for you to decide."
"Oh, it needs no pondering," cried the queen joyfully, holding up her clasped hands, and making Muffette do likewise, in token of gratitude. But in order that he may know that you have come from me I will send him a letter." And pricking her arm, she wrote a few words with her blood on the corner of her handkerchief. Then tearing it off, she gave it to the frog, and they bade each other farewell.
It took the frog a year and four days to mount the ten thousand steps that led to the upper world, but that was because she was still under the spell of a wicked fairy. By the time she reached the top, she was so tired that she had to remain for another year on the banks of a stream to rest, and also to arrange the procession with which she was to present herself before the king. For she knew far too well what was due to herself and her relations, to appear at Court as if she was a mere nobody. At length, after many consultations with her cap, the affair was settled, and at the end of the second year after her parting with the queen they all set out.
First walked her bodyguard of grasshoppers, followed by her maids of honour, who were those tiny green frogs you see in the fields, each one mounted on a snail, and seated on a velvet saddle. Next came the water-rats, dressed as pages, and lastly the frog herself, in a litter borne by eight toads, and made of tortoiseshell. Here she could lie at her ease, with her cap on her head, for it was quite large and roomy, and could easily have held two eggs when the frog was not in it.
The journey lasted seven years, and all this time the queen suffered tortures of hope, though Muffette did her best to comfort her. Indeed, she would most likely have died had not the Lion Fairy taken a fancy that the child and her mother should go hunting with her in the upper world, and, in spite of her sorrows, it was always a joy to the queen to see the sun again. As for little Muffette, by the time she was seven her arrows seldom missed their mark. So, after all, the years of waiting passed more quickly than the queen had dared to hope.
The frog was always careful to maintain her dignity, and nothing would have persuaded her to show her face in public places, or even along the high road, where there was a chance of meeting anyone. But sometimes, when the procession had to cross a little stream, or go over a piece of marshy ground, orders would be given for a halt; fine clothes were thrown off, bridles were flung aside, and grasshoppers, water-rats, even the frog herself, spent a delightful hour or two playing in the mud.
But at length the end was in sight, and the hardships were forgotten in the vision of the towers of the king's palace; and, one bright morning, the cavalcade entered the gates with all the pomp and circumstance of a royal embassy. And surely no ambassador had ever created such a sensation! Door and windows, even the roofs of houses, were filled with people, whose cheers reached the ears of the king. However, he had no time to attend to such matters just then, as, after nine years, he had at last consented to the entreaties of his courtiers, and was on the eve of celebrating his second marriage.
The frog's heart beat high when her litter drew up before the steps of the palace, and leaning forward she beckoned to her side one of the guards who were standing in his doorway.
"I wish to see his Majesty," said he.
"His Majesty is engaged, and can see no one," answered the soldier.
"His Majesty will see ME," returned the frog, fixing her eye on him; and somehow the man found himself leading the procession along the gallery into the Hall of Audience, where the king sat surrounded by his nobles arranging the dresses which everyone was to wear at his marriage ceremony.
All stared in surprise as the procession advanced, and still more when the frog gave one bound from the litter on to the floor, and with another landed on the arm of the chair of state.
"I am only just in time, sire," began the frog; "had I been a day later you would have broken your faith which you swore to the queen nine years ago."
"Her remembrance will always be dear to me," answered the king gently, though all present expected him to rebuke the frog severely for her impertinence. But know, Lady Frog, that a king can seldom do as he wishes, but must be bound by the desires of his subjects. For nine years I have resisted them; now I can do so no longer, and have made choice of the fair young maiden playing at ball over there."
"You cannot wed her, however fair she may be, for the queen your wife is still alive, and sends you this letter written in her own blood," said the frog, holding out the square of handkerchief as she spoke. "And, what is more, you have a daughter who is nearly nine years old, and more beautiful than all the other children in the world put together."
The king turned pale when he heard these words, and his hand trembled so that he could hardly read what the queen had written. Then he kissed the handkerchief twice or thrice, and burst into tears, and it was some minutes before he could speak. When at length he found his voice he told his councillors that the writing was indeed that of the queen, and now that he had the joy of knowing she was alive he could, of course, proceed no further with his second marriage. This naturally displeased the ambassadors who had conducted the bride to court, and one of them inquired indignantly if he meant to put such an insult on the princess on the word of a mere frog.
"I am not a "mere frog," and I will give you proof of it," retorted the angry little creature. And putting on her cap, she cried: Fairies that are my friends, come here!" And in a moment a crowd of beautiful creatures, each one with a crown on her head, stood before her. Certainly none could have guessed that they were the snails, water- rats, and grasshoppers from which she had chosen her retinue.
At a sign from the frog the fairies danced a ballet, with which everyone was so delighted that they begged to have to repeated; but now it was not youths and maidens who were dancing, but flowers. Then these again melted into fountains, whose waters interlaced and, rushing down the sides of the hall, poured out in a cascade down the steps, and formed a river found the castle, with the most beautiful little boats on it, all painted and gilded.
"Oh, let us go in them for a sail!" cried the princess, who had long ago left her game of ball for a sight of these marvels, and, as she was bent on it, the ambassadors, who had been charged never to lose sight of her, were obliged to go also, though they never entered a boat if they could help it.
But the moment they and the princess had seated themselves on the soft cushions, river and boats vanished, and the princess and the ambassadors vanished too. Instead the snails and grasshoppers and water-rats stood round the frog in their natural shapes.
"Perhaps," said she, "your Majesty may now be convinced that I am a fairy and speak the truth. Therefore lose no time in setting in order the affairs of your kingdom and go in search of your wife. Here is a ring that will admit you into the presence of the queen, and will likewise allow you to address unharmed the Lion Fairy, though she is the most terrible creature that ever existed."
By this time the king had forgotten all about the princess, whom he had only chosen to please his people, and was as eager to depart on his journey as the frog was for him to go. He made one of his ministers regent of the kingdom, and gave the frog everything her heart could desire; and with her ring on his finger he rode away to the outskirts of the forest. Here he dismounted, and bidding his horse go home, he pushed forward on foot.
Having nothing to guide him as to where he was likely to find the entrance of the under- world, the king wandered here and there for a long while, till, one day, while he was resting under a tree, a voice spoke to him.
"Why do you give yourself so much trouble for nought, when you might know what you want to know for the asking? Alone you'll never discover the path that leads to your wife."
Much startled, the king looked about him. He could see nothing, and somehow, when he thought about it, the voice seemed as if it were part of himself. Suddenly his eyes fell on the ring, and he understood.
"Fool that I was!" cried he; "and how much precious time have I wasted? Dear ring, I beseech you, grant me a vision of my wife and my daughter!" And even as he spoke there flashed past him a huge lioness, followed by a lady and a beautiful young maid mounted on fairy horses.
Almost fainting with joy he gazed after them, and then sank back trembling on the ground.
"Oh, lead me to them, lead me to them!" he exclaimed. And the ring, bidding him take courage, conducted him safely to the dismal place where his wife had lived for ten years.
Now the Lion Fairy knew beforehand of his expected presence in her dominions, and she ordered a palace of crystal to be built in the middle of the lake of quicksilver; and in order to make it more difficult of approach she let it float whither it would. Immediately after their return from the chase, where the king had seen them, she conveyed the queen and Muffette into the palace, and put them under the guard of the monsters of the lake, who one and all had fallen in love with the princess. They were horribly jealous, and ready to eat each other up for her sake, so they readily accepted the charge. Some stationed themselves round the floating palace, some sat by the door, while the smallest and lightest perched themselves on the roof.
Of course the king was quite ignorant of these arrangements, and boldly entered the palace of the Lion Fairy, who was waiting for him, with her tail lashing furiously, for she still kept her lion's shape. With a roar that shook the walls she flung herself on him; but he was on the watch, and a blow from his sword cut off the paw she had put forth to strike him dead. She fell back, and with his helmet still on and his shield up, he set his foot on her throat.
"Give me back the wife and the child you have stolen from me," he said, "or you shall not live another second!"
But the fairy answered:
"Look through the window at that lake and see if it's in my power to give them to you." And the king looked, and through the crystal walls he beheld his wife and daughter floating on the quicksilver. At that sight the Lion Fairy and all her wickedness was forgotten. Flinging off his helmet, he shouted to them with all his might. The queen knew his voice, and she and Muffette ran to the window and held out their hands. Then the king swore a solemn oath that he would never leave the spot without taking them if it should cost him his life; and he meant it, though at the moment he did not know what he was undertaking.
Three years passed by, and the king was no nearer to obtaining his heart's desire. He had suffered every hardship that could be imagined ? nettles had been his bed, wild fruits more bitter than gall his food, while his days had been spent in fighting the hideous monsters which kept him from the palace. He had not advanced one single step, nor gained one solitary advantage. Now he was almost in despair, and ready to defy everything and throw himself into the lake.
It was at this moment of his blackest misery that, one night, a dragon who had long watched him from the roof crept to his side.
"You thought that love would conquer all obstacles," said he; "well, you have found it hasn't! But if you'll swear to me by your crown and sceptre that you'll give me a dinner of the food that I never grow tired of, whenever I choose to ask for it, I will enable you to reach your wife and daughter."
Ah, how glad the king was to hear that! What oath would he not have taken so as to clasp his wife and child in is arms? Joyfully he swore whatever the dragon asked of him; then he jumped on his back, and in another instant would have been carried by the strong wings into the castle if the nearest monsters had not happened to awake and hear the noise of talking and swum to the shore to give battle. The fight was long and hard, and when the king at last beat back his foes another struggle awaited him. At the entrance gigantic bats, owls, and crows set on him from all sides; but the dragon had teeth and claws, while the queen broke off sharp bits of glass and stabbed and cut in her anxiety to help her husband. At length the horrible creatures flew away; a sound like thunder was heard, the palace and the monsters vanished, while, at the same moment - no one knew how - the king found himself standing with his wife and daughter in the hall of his own home.
The dragon had disappeared with all the rest, and for some years no more was heard or thought of him. Muffette grew every day more beautiful, and when she was fourteen the kings and emperors of the neighbouring countries sent to ask her in marriage for themselves or their sons. For a long time the girl turned a deaf ear to all their prayers; but at length a young prince of rare gifts touched her heart, and though the king had left her free to choose what husband she would, he had secretly hoped that out of all the wooers this one might be his son-in-law. So they were betrothed that some day with great pomp, and then with many tears, the prince set out for his father's court, bearing with him a portrait of Muffette.
The days passed slowly to Muffette, in spite of her brave efforts to occupy herself and not to sadden other people by her complaints. One morning she was playing on her harp in the queen's chamber when the king burst into the room and clasped his daughter in his arms with an energy that almost frightened her.
"Oh, my child! my dear child! why were you ever born?" cried he, as soon as he could speak.
"Is the prince dead?" faltered Muffette, growing white and cold.
"No, no; but - oh, how can I tell you!" And he sank down on a pile of cushions while his wife and daughter knelt beside him.
At length he was able to tell his tale, and a terrible one it was! There had just arrived at court a huge giant, as ambassador from the dragon by whose help the king had rescued the queen and Muffette from the crystal palace. The dragon had been very busy for many years past, and had quite forgotten the princess till the news of her betrothal reached his ears. Then he remembered the bargain he had made with her father; and the more he heard of Muffette the more he felt sure she would make a delicious dish. So he had ordered the giant who was his servant to fetch her at once.
No words would paint the horror of both the queen and the princess as they listened to this dreadful doom. They rushed instantly to the hall, where the giant was awaiting them, and flinging themselves at his feet implored him to take the kingdom if he would, but to have pity on the princess. The giant looked at them kindly, for he was not at all hard- hearted, but said that he had no power to do anything, and that if the princess did not go with him quietly the dragon would come himself.
Several days went by, and the king and queen hardly ceased from entreating the aid of the giant, who by this time was getting weary of waiting.
"There's only one way of helping you," he said at last, "and that is to marry the princess to my nephew, who, besides being young and handsome, has been trained in magic, and will know how to keep her safe from the dragon."
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" cried the parents, clasping his great hands to their breasts. "You have indeed lifted a load from us. She shall have half the kingdom for her dowry." But Muffette stood up and thrust them aside.
"I will not buy my life with faithlessness," she said proudly; "and I will go with you this moment to the dragon's abode." And all her father's and mother's tears and prayers availed nothing to move her.
The next morning Muffette was put into a litter, and, guarded by the giant and followed by the king and queen and the weeping maids of honour, they started for the foot of the mountain where the dragon had his castle. The way, though rough and stony, seemed all too short, and when they reached the spot appointed by the dragon the giant ordered the men who bore the litter to stand still.
"It's time for you to bid farewell to your daughter," said he; "for I see the dragon coming to us."
It was true; a cloud appeared to pass over the sun, for between them and it they could all discern dimly a huge body half a mile long approaching nearer and nearer. At first the king could not believe that this was the small beast who had seemed so friendly on the shore of the lake of quicksilver but then he knew very little of necromancy, and had never studied the art of expanding and contracting his body. But it was the dragon and nothing else, whose six wings were carrying him forward as fast as might be, considering his great weight and the length of his tail, which had fifty twists and a half.
He came quickly, yes; but the frog, mounted on a greyhound, and wearing her cap on her head, went quicker still. Entering a room where the prince was sitting gazing at the portrait of his betrothed, she cried to him:
"What are you doing lingering here, when the life of the princess is nearing its last moment? In the courtyard you'll find a green horse with three heads and twelve feet, and by its side a sword eighteen yards long. Hasten, lest you should be too late!"
The fight lasted all day, and the prince's strength was well-nigh spent, when the dragon, thinking that the victory was won, opened his jaws to give a roar of triumph. The prince saw his chance, and before his foe could shut his mouth again had plunged his sword far down his adversary's throat. There was a desperate clutching of the claws to the earth, a slow flagging of the great wings, then the monster rolled over on his side and moved no more. Muffette was delivered.
After this they all went back to the palace. The marriage took place the following day, and Muffette and her husband lived happy for ever after.