ONCE on a time there was a poor laborer who, feeling that he had not much longer to live, wished to divide his possessions between his son and daughter, whom he loved dearly.
So he called them to him, and said: "Your mother brought me as her dowry two stools and a straw bed; I have, besides, a hen, a pot of pinks, and a silver ring, which were given me by a noble lady who once lodged in my poor cottage. When she went away she said to me:
"'Be careful of my gifts, good man; see that you do not lose the ring or forget to water the pinks. As for your daughter, I promise you that she shall be more beautiful than anyone you ever saw in your life; call her Felicia, and when she grows up give her the ring and the pot of pinks to console her for her poverty.' Take them both, then, my dear child," he added, "and your brother shall have everything else."
The two children seemed quite contented, and when their father died they wept for him, and divided his possessions as he had told them. Felicia believed that her brother loved her, but when she sat down on one of the stools he said angrily:
"Keep your pot of pinks and your ring, but let my things alone. I like order in my house."
Felicia, who was very gentle, said nothing, but stood up crying quietly; while Bruno, for that was her brother's name, sat comfortably by the fire. Presently, when suppertime came, Bruno had a delicious egg, and he threw the shell to Felicia, saying:
"There, that is all I can give you; if you don't like it, go out and catch frogs; there are plenty of them in the marsh close by." Felicia did not answer, but she cried more bitterly than ever, and went away to her own little room. She found it filled with the sweet scent of the pinks, and, going up to them, she said sadly:
"Beautiful pinks, you are so sweet and so pretty, you are the only comfort I have left. Be very sure that I will take care of you, and water you well, and never allow any cruel hand to tear you from your stems."
As she leaned over them she noticed that they were very dry. So taking her pitcher, she ran off in the clear moonlight to the fountain, which was at some distance. When she reached it she sat down on the brink to rest, but she had hardly done so when she saw a stately lady coming toward her, surrounded by numbers of attendants. Six maids of honor carried her train, and she leaned on the arm of another.
When they came near the fountain a canopy was spread for her, under which was placed a sofa of cloth-of- gold, and presently a dainty supper was served, on a table covered with dishes of gold and crystal, while the wind in the trees and the falling water of the fountain murmured the softest music.
Felicia was hidden in the shade, too much astonished by all she saw to venture to move; but in a few moments the queen said:
"I fancy I see a shepherdess near that tree; bid her come hither."
So Felicia came forward and saluted the queen timidly, but with so much grace that all were surprised.
"What are you doing here, my pretty child?" asked the queen. "Are you not afraid of robbers?"
"Ah! madam," said Felicia, "a poor shepherdess who has nothing to lose does not fear robbers."
"You are not very rich, then?" said the queen, smiling.
"I am so poor," answered Felicia, "that a pot of pinks and a silver ring are my only possessions in the world."
"But you have a heart," said the queen. "What should you say if anybody wanted to steal that?"
"I do not know what it is like to lose one's heart, madam," she replied; "but I have always heard that without a heart one cannot live, and if it is broken one must die; and in spite of my poverty I should be sorry not to live."
"You are quite right to take care of your heart, pretty one," said the queen. "But tell me, have you supped?"
"No, madam," answered Felicia; "my brother ate all the supper there was."
Then the queen ordered that a place should be made for her at the table, and herself loaded Felicia's plate with good things; but she was too much astonished to be hungry.
"I want to know what you were doing at the fountain so late?" said the queen presently.
"I came to fetch a pitcher of water for my pinks, madam," she answered, stooping to pick up the pitcher which stood beside her; but when she showed it to the queen she was amazed to see that it had turned to gold, all sparkling with great diamonds, and the water, of which it was full, was more fragrant than the sweetest roses. She was afraid to take it till the queen said:
"It is yours, Felicia; go and water your pinks with it, and let it remind you that the queen of the Woods is your friend."
The shepherdess threw herself at the queen's feet, and thanked her humbly for her gracious words.
"Ah! madam," she cried, "if I might beg you to stay here a moment I would run and fetch my pot of pinks for you they could not fall into better hands."
"Go, Felicia," said the queen, stroking her cheek softly; "I will wait here till you come back."
So Felicia took up her pitcher and ran to her little room, but while she had been away Bruno had gone in and taken the pot of pinks, leaving a great cabbage in its place. When she saw the unlucky cabbage Felicia was much distressed, and did not know what to do; but at last she ran back to the fountain, and, kneeling before the queen, said:
"Madam, Bruno has stolen my pot of pinks, so I have nothing but my silver ring; but I beg you to accept it as a proof of my gratitude."
"But if I take your ring, my pretty shepherdess," said the queen, "you will have nothing left; and what will you do then?"
"Ah! madam," she answered simply, "if I have your friendship I shall do very well."
So the queen took the ring and put it on her finger, and mounted her chariot, which was made of coral studded with emeralds, and drawn by six milk-white horses. And Felicia looked after her till the winding of the forest path hid her from her sight, and then she went back to the cottage, thinking over all the wonderful things that had happened.
The first thing she did when she reached her room was to throw the cabbage out of the window.
But she was very much surprised to hear an odd little voice cry out: "Oh! I am half killed!" and could not tell where it came from, because cabbages do not generally speak.
As soon as it was light, Felicia, who was very unhappy about her pot of pinks, went out to look for it, and the first thing she found was the unfortunate cabbage. She gave it a push with her foot, saying: "What are you doing here, and how dared you put yourself in the place of my pot of pinks?"
"If I hadn't been carried," replied the cabbage, "you may be very sure that I shouldn't have thought of going there."
It made her shiver with fright to hear the cabbage talk, but he went on:
"If you will be good enough to plant me by my comrades again, I can tell you where your pinks are at this moment hidden in Bruno's bed!"
Felicia was in despair when she heard this, not knowing how she was to get them back. But she replanted the cabbage very kindly in his old place, and, as she finished doing it, she saw Bruno's hen, and said, catching hold of it:
"Come here, horrid little creature! you shall suffer for all the unkind things my brother has done to me."
"Ah! shepherdess," said the hen, "don't kill me; I am rather a gossip, and I can tell you some surprising things that you will like to hear. Don't imagine that you are the daughter of the poor laborer who brought you up; your mother was a queen who had six girls already, and the king threatened that unless she had a son who could inherit his kingdom she should have her head cut off.
"So when the queen had another little daughter she was quite frightened, and agreed with her sister (who was a fairy) to exchange her for the fairy's little son. Now the queen had been shut up in a great tower by the king's orders, and when a great many days went by and still she heard nothing from the fairy she made her escape from the window by means of a rope ladder, taking her little baby with her. After wandering about till she was half dead with cold and fatigue she reached this cottage. I was the laborer's wife, and was a good nurse, and the queen gave you into my charge, and told me all her misfortunes, and then died before she had time to say what was to become of you.
"As I never in all my life could keep a secret, I could not help telling this strange tale to my neighbours, and one day a beautiful lady came here, and I told it to her also. When I had finished she touched me with a wand she held in her hand, and instantly I became a hen, and there was an end of my talking! I was very sad, and my husband, who was out when it happened, never knew what had become of me. After seeking me everywhere he believed that I must have been drowned, or eaten up by wild beasts in the forest. That same lady came here once more, and commanded that you should be called Felicia, and left the ring and the pot of pinks to be given to you; and while she was in the house twenty-five of the king's guards came to search for you, doubtless meaning to kill you; but she muttered a few words, and at once they all turned into cabbages. It was one of them whom you threw out of your window yesterday.
"I don't know how it was that he could speak I have never heard either of them say a word before, nor have I been able to do it myself till now."
The princess was greatly astonished at the hen's story, and said kindly: "I am truly sorry for you, my poor nurse, and wish it was in my power to restore you to your real form. But we must not despair; it seems to me, after what you have told me, that something must be going to happen soon. Just now, however, I must go and look for my pinks, which I love better than anything in the world."
Bruno had gone out into the forest, never thinking that Felicia would search in his room for the pinks, and she was delighted by his unexpected absence, and thought to get them back without further trouble. But as soon as she entered the room she saw a terrible army of rats, who were guarding the straw bed; and when she attempted to approach it they sprang at her, biting and scratching furiously. Quite terrified, she drew back, crying out: "Oh! my dear pinks, how can you stay here in such bad company?"
Then she suddenly bethought herself of the pitcher of water, and, hoping that it might have some magic power, she ran to fetch it, and sprinkled a few drops over the fierce-looking swarm of rats. In a moment not a tail or a whisker was to be seen. Each one had made for his hole as fast as his legs could carry him, so that the princess could safely take her pot of pinks. She found them nearly dying for want of water, and hastily poured all that was left in the pitcher on them. As she bent over them, enjoying their delicious scent, a soft voice, that seemed to rustle among the leaves, said:
"Lovely Felicia, the day has come at last when I may have the happiness of telling you how even the flowers love you and rejoice in your beauty.
The princess, quite overcome by the strangeness of hearing a cabbage, a hen, and a pink speak, and by the terrible sight of an army of rats, suddenly became very pale, and fainted away.
At this moment in came Bruno. Working hard in the heat had not improved his temper, and when he saw that Felicia had succeeded in finding her pinks he was so angry that he dragged her out into the garden and shut the door on her. The fresh air soon made her open her pretty eyes, and there before her stood the queen of the Woods, looking as charming as ever.
"You have a bad brother,"she said; "I saw he turned you out. Shall I punish him for it?"
"Ah! no, madam," she said; "I am not angry with him.
"But supposing he was not your brother, after all, what would you say then?" asked the queen.
"Oh! but I think he must be," said Felicia.
"What!" said the queen, "have you not heard that you are a Princess?"
"I was told so a little while ago, madam, but how could I believe it without a single proof?"
"Ah! dear child," said the queen, "the way you speak assures me that, in spite of your humble upbringing, you are indeed a real princess, and I can save you from being treated in such a way again."
She was interrupted at this moment by the arrival of a very handsome young man. He wore a coat of green velvet fastened with emerald clasps, and had a crown of pinks on his head. He knelt on one knee and kissed the queen's hand.
"Ah!" she cried, "my pink, my dear son, what a happiness to see you restored to your natural shape by Felicia's aid!" And she embraced him joyfully. Then, turning to Felicia, she said:
"Charming princess, I know all the hen told you, but you cannot have heard that the zephyrs, to whom was entrusted the task of carrying my son to the tower where the queen, your mother, so anxiously waited for him, left him instead in a garden of flowers, while they flew off to tell your mother. Whereupon a fairy with whom I had quarrelled changed him into a pink, and I could do nothing to prevent it.
"You can imagine how angry I was, and how I tried to find some means of undoing the mischief she had done; but there was no help for it. I could only bring Prince Pink to the place where you were being brought up, hoping that when you grew up he might love you, and by your care be restored to his natural form. And you see everything has come right, as I hoped it would. Your giving me the silver ring was the sign that the power of the charm was nearly over, and my enemy's last chance was to frighten you with her army of rats. That she did not succeed in doing; so now, my dear Felicia, if you will be married to my son with this silver ring your future happiness is certain. Do you think him handsome and amiable enough to be willing to marry him?"
"Madam," replied Felicia, blushing, "you overwhelm me with your kindness. I know that you are my mother's sister, and that by your art you turned the soldiers who were sent to kill me into cabbages, and my nurse into a hen, and that you do me only too much honor in proposing that I shall marry your son. How can I explain to you the cause of my hesitation? I feel, for the first time in my life, how happy it would make me to be beloved. Can you indeed give me the prince's heart?"
"It is yours already, lovely princess!" he cried, taking her hand in his; "but for the horrible enchantment which kept me silent I should have told you long ago how dearly I love you.
This made the princess very happy, and the queen, who could not bear to see her dressed like a poor shepherdess, touched her with her wand, saying:
"I wish you to be attired as befits your rank and beauty." And at once the princess's cotton dress became a magnificent robe of silver brocade embroidered with carbuncles, and her soft dark hair was encircled by a crown of diamonds, from which floated a clear white veil. With her bright eyes, and the charming color in her cheeks, she was altogether such a dazzling sight that the prince could hardly bear it.
"How pretty you are, Felicia!" he cried. "Don't keep me in suspense, I entreat you; say that you will marry me."
"Ah!" said the queen, smiling, "I think she will not refuse now."
Just then Bruno, who was going back to his work, came out of the cottage, and thought he must be dreaming when he saw Felicia; but she called him very kindly, and begged the queen to take pity on him.
"What!" she said, "when he was so unkind to you?"
"Ah! madam," said the princess, "I am so happy that I should like everybody else to be happy too."
The queen kissed her, and said: "Well, to please you, let me see what I can do for this cross Bruno." And with a wave of her wand she turned the poor little cottage into a splendid palace, full of treasures; only the two stools and the straw bed remained just as they were, to remind him of his former poverty. Then the queen touched Bruno
himself, and made him gentle and polite and grateful, and he thanked her and the princess a thousand times. Lastly, the queen restored the hen and the cabbages to their natural forms, and left them all very contented. The prince and princess were married as soon as possible with great splendor, and lived happily ever after.
ONCE on a time there was a king who had three sons, who were all so clever and brave that he began to be afraid that they would want to reign over the kingdom before he was dead. Now the king, though he felt that he was growing old, did not at all wish to give up the government of his kingdom while he could still manage it very well, so he thought the best way to live in peace would be to divert the minds of his sons by promises which he could always get out of when the time came for keeping them.
So he sent for them all, and, after speaking to them kindly, he added:
"You will quite agree with me, my dear children, that my great age makes it impossible for me to look after my affairs of state as carefully as I once did. I begin to fear that this may affect the welfare of my subjects, therefore I wish that one of you should succeed to my crown; but in return for such a gift as this it is only right that you should do something for me. Now, as I think of retiring into the country, it seems to me that a pretty, lively, faithful little dog would be very good company for me; so, without any regard for your ages, I promise that the one who brings me the most beautiful little dog shall succeed me at once."
The three princes were greatly surprised by their father's sudden fancy for a little dog, but as it gave the two younger ones a chance they would not otherwise have had of being king, and as the eldest was too polite to make any objection, they accepted the commission with pleasure. They bade farewell to the king, who gave them presents of silver and precious stones, and appointed to
meet them at the same hour, in the same place, after a year had passed, to see the little dogs they had brought for him.
Then they went together to a castle which was about a league from the city, accompanied by all their particular friends, to whom they gave a grand banquet, and the three brothers promised to be friends always, to share whatever good fortune befell them, and not to be parted by any envy or jealousy; and so they set out, agreeing to meet at the same castle at the appointed time, to present themselves before the king together. Each one took a different road, and the two eldest met with many adventures; but it is about the youngest that you are going to hear. He was young, and gay, and handsome, and knew everything that a prince ought to know; and as for his courage, there was simply no end to it.
Hardly a day passed without his buying several dogs big and little, greyhounds, mastiffs, spaniels, and lapdogs. As soon as he had bought a pretty one he was sure to see a still prettier, and then he had to get rid of all the others and buy that one, as, being alone, he found it impossible to take thirty or forty thousand dogs about with him. He journeyed from day to day, not knowing where he was going, till at last, just at nightfall, he reached a great, gloomy forest. He did not know his way, and, to make matters worse, it began to thunder, and the rain poured down. He took the first path he could find, and after walking for a long time he fancied he saw a faint light, and began to hope that he was coming to some cottage where he might find shelter for the night. At length, guided by the light, he reached the door of the most splendid castle he could have imagined. This door was of gold covered with carbuncles, and it was the pure red light which shone from them that had shown him the way through the forest. The walls were of the finest porcelain in all the most delicate colors, and the prince saw that all the stories he had ever read were pictured on them; but as he was terribly wet, and the rain still fell in torrents, he could not stay to look about any more, but came back to the golden door. There he saw a deer's foot hanging by a chain of diamonds, and he began to wonder who could live in this magnificent castle.
"They must feel very secure against robbers," he said to himself. "What is to hinder anyone from cutting off that chain and digging out those carbuncles, and making himself rich for life?"
He pulled the deer's foot, and at once a silver bell sounded and the door flew open, but the prince could see nothing but numbers of hands in the air, each holding a torch. He was so much surprised that he stood quite still, till he felt himself pushed forward by other hands, so that, though he was somewhat uneasy, he could not help going on. With his hand on his sword, to be prepared for whatever might happen, he entered a hall paved with lapis-lazuli, while two lovely voices sang:
"The hands you see floating above Will swiftly your bidding obey; If your heart dreads not conquering Love, In this place you may fearlessly stay."
The prince could not believe that any danger threatened him when he was welcomed in this way, so, guided by the mysterious hands, he went toward a door of coral, which opened of its own accord, and he found himself in a vast hall of mother-of-pearl, out of which opened a number of other rooms, glittering with thousands of lights, and full of such beautiful pictures and precious things that the prince felt quite bewildered. After passing through sixty rooms the hands that conducted him stopped, and the prince saw a most comfortable-looking arm-chair drawn up close to the chimney-corner; at the same moment the fire lighted itself, and the pretty, soft, clever hands took off the prince's wet, muddy clothes, and presented him with fresh ones made of the richest stuffs, all embroidered with gold and emeralds. He could not help admiring everything he saw, and the deft way in which the hands waited on him, though they sometimes appeared so suddenly that they made him jump.
When he was quite ready and I can assure you that he looked very different from the wet and weary prince who had stood outside in the rain, and pulled the deer's foot the hands led him to a splendid room, on the walls of which were painted the histories of Puss in Boots
and a number of other famous cats. The table was laid for supper with two golden plates, and golden spoons and forks, and the sideboard was covered with dishes and glasses of crystal set with precious stones. The prince was wondering who the second place could be for, when suddenly in came about a dozen cats carrying guitars and rolls of music, who took their places at one end of the room, and under the direction of a cat who beat time with a roll of paper began to mew in every imaginable key, and to draw their claws across the strings of the guitars, making the strangest kind of music that could be heard. The prince hastily stopped up his ears, but even then the sight of these comical musicians sent him into fits of laughter.
"What funny thing shall I see next?" he said to himself, and instantly the door opened, and in came a tiny figure covered by a long black veil. It was conducted by two cats wearing black mantles and carrying swords, and a large party of cats followed, who brought in cages full of rats and mice.
The prince was so much astonished that he thought he must be dreaming, but the little figure came up to him and threw back its veil, and he saw that it was the loveliest little white cat it is possible to imagine. She looked very young and very sad, and in a sweet little voice that went straight to his heart she said to the prince:
"King's son, you are welcome; the queen of the cats is glad to see you."
"Lady Cat," replied the prince, "I thank you for receiving me so kindly, but surely you are no ordinary pussy-cat? Indeed, the way you speak and the magnificence of your castle prove it plainly."
"King's son," said the white cat, "I beg you to spare me these compliments, for I am not used to them. But now," she added, "let supper be served, and let the musicians be silent, as the prince does not understand what they are saying."
So the mysterious hands began to bring in the supper, and first they put on the table two dishes, one containing stewed pigeons and the other a fricassee of fat mice. The sight of the latter made the prince feel as if he could not enjoy his supper at all; but the white cat, seeing this,
assured him that the dishes intended for him were prepared in a separate kitchen, and he might be quite certain that they contained neither rats nor mice; and the prince felt so sure that she would not deceive him that he had no more hesitation in beginning. Presently he noticed that on the little paw that was next him the white cat wore a bracelet containing a portrait, and he begged to be allowed to look at it. To his great surprise he found it represented an extremely handsome young man, who was so like himself that it might have been his own portrait! The white cat sighed as he looked at it, and seemed sadder than ever, and the prince dared not ask any questions for fear of displeasing her; so he began to talk about other things, and found that she was interested in all the subjects he cared for himself, and seemed to know quite well what was going on in the world. After supper they went into another room, which was fitted up as a theatre, and the cats acted and danced for their amusement, and then the white cat said good-night to him, and the hands conducted him into a room he had not seen before, hung with tapestry worked with butterflies' wings of every color; there were mirrors that reached from the ceiling to the floor, and a little white bed with curtains of gauze tied up with ribbons. The prince went to bed in silence, as he did not quite know how to begin a conversation with the hands that waited on him, and in the morning he was awakened by a noise and confusion outside of his window, and the hands came and quickly dressed him in hunting costume. When he looked out all the cats were assembled in the courtyard, some leading greyhounds, some blowing horns, for the white cat was going out hunting. The hands led a wooden horse up to the prince, and seemed to expect him to mount it, at which he was very indignant; but it was no use for him to object, for he speedily found himself on its back, and it pranced gaily off with him.
The white cat herself was riding a monkey, which climbed even up to the eagles' nests when she had a fancy for the young eaglets. Never was there a pleasanter hunting party, and when they returned to the castle the prince and the white cat supped together as before, but when they had finished she offered him a crystal goblet, which must have contained a magic draught, for, as soon as he had swallowed its contents, he forgot everything, even the little dog that he was seeking for the king, and only thought how happy he was to be with the white cat! And so the days passed, in every kind of amusement, till the year was nearly gone. The prince had forgotten all about meeting his brothers: he did not even know what country he belonged to; but the white cat knew when he ought to go back, and one day she said to him:
"Do you know that you have only three days left to look for the little dog for your father, and your brothers have found lovely ones?"
Then the prince suddenly recovered his memory, and cried:
"What can have made me forget such an important thing? My whole fortune depends on it; and even if I could in such a short time find a dog pretty enough to gain me a kingdom, where should I find a horse who would carry me all that way in three days?" And he began to be very vexed. But the white cat said to him: "King's son, do not trouble yourself; I am your friend, and will make everything easy for you. You can still stay here for a day, as the good wooden horse can take you to your country in twelve hours."
"I thank you, beautiful Cat," said the prince; "but what good will it do me to get back if I have not a dog to take to my father?"
"See here," answered the white cat, holding up an acorn; "there is a prettier one in this than in the Dogstar!"
"Oh! White Cat dear," said the prince, "how unkind you are to laugh at me now!"
"Only listen," she said, holding the acorn to his ear.
And inside it he distinctly heard a tiny voice say: "Bow-wow!"
The prince was delighted, for a dog that can be shut up in an acorn must be very small indeed. He wanted to take it out and look at it, but the white cat said it would be better not to open the acorn till he was before the king, in case the tiny dog should be cold on the journey. He thanked her a thousand times, and said good-by quite sadly when the time came for him to set out.
"The days have passed so quickly with you," he said, "I only wish I could take you with me now."
But the white cat shook her head and sighed deeply in answer.
After all the prince was the first to arrive at the castle where he had agreed to meet his brothers, but they came soon after, and stared in amazement when they saw the wooden horse in the courtyard jumping like a hunter.
The prince met them joyfully, and they began to tell him all their adventures; but he managed to hide from them what he had been doing, and even led them to think that a turnspit dog which he had with him was the one he was bringing for the king. Fond as they all were of one another, the two eldest could not help being glad to think that their dogs certainly had a better chance. The next morning they started in the same chariot. The elder brothers carried in baskets two such tiny, fragile dogs that they hardly dared to touch them. As for the turnspit, he ran after the chariot, and got so covered with mud that one could hardly see what he was like at all. When they reached the palace everyone crowded round to welcome them as they went into the king's great hall; and when the two brothers presented their little dogs nobody could decide which was the prettier. They were already arranging between themselves to share the kingdom equally, when the youngest stepped forward, drawing from his pocket the acorn the white cat had given him. He opened it quickly, and there on a white cushion they saw a dog so small that it could easily have been put through a ring. The prince laid it on the ground, and it got up at once and began to dance. The king did not know what to say, for it was impossible that anything could be prettier than this little creature. Nevertheless, as he was in no hurry to part with his crown, he told his sons that, as they had been so successful the first time, he would ask them to go once again, and seek by land and sea for a piece of muslin so fine that it could be drawn through the eye of a needle. The brothers were not very willing to set out again, but the two eldest consented because it gave them another chance, and they started as before. The youngest again mounted the wooden horse, and rode back at full speed to his beloved white cat. Every door of the castle stood wide open, and every window and turret was illuminated, so it looked more wonderful than before. The hands hastened to meet him, and led the wooden horse off to the stable, while he hurried in to find the white cat. She was asleep in a little basket on a white satin cushion, but she very soon started up when she heard the prince, and was overjoyed at seeing him once more.
"How could I hope that you would come back to me King's son?" she said. And then he stroked and petted her, and told her of his successful journey, and how he had come back to ask her help, as he believed that it was impossible to find what the king demanded. The white cat looked serious, and said she must think what was to be done, but that, luckily, there were some cats in the castle who could spin very well, and if anybody could manage it they could, and she would set them the task herself.
And then the hands appeared carrying torches, and conducted the prince and the white cat to a long gallery which overlooked the river, from the windows of which they saw a magnificent display of fireworks of all sorts; after which they had supper, which the prince liked even better than the fireworks, for it was very late, and he was hungry after his long ride. And so the days passed quickly as before; it was impossible to feel dull with the white cat, and she had quite a talent for inventing new amusements indeed, she was cleverer than a cat has any right to be. But when the prince asked her how it was that she was so wise, she only said:
"King's son, do not ask me; guess what you please. I may not tell you anything."
The prince was so happy that he did not trouble himself at all about the time, but presently the white cat told him that the year was gone, and that he need not be at all anxious about the piece of muslin, as they had made it very well.
"This time," she added, "I can give you a suitable escort"; and on looking out into the courtyard the prince saw a superb chariot of burnished gold, enameled in flame color with a thousand different devices. It was drawn by twelve snow-white horses, harnessed four abreast; their
trappings were flame-colored velvet, embroidered with diamonds. A hundred chariots followed, each drawn by eight horses, and filled with officers in splendid uniforms, and a thousand guards surrounded the procession. "Go!" said the white cat, "and when you appear before the king in such state he surely will not refuse you the crown which you deserve. Take this walnut, but do not open it till you are before him, then you will find in it the piece of stuff you asked me for."
"Lovely Blanchette," said the prince, "how can I thank you properly for all your kindness to me? Only tell me that you wish it, and I will give up for ever all thought of being king, and will stay here with you always."
"King's son," she replied, "it shows the goodness of your heart that you should care so much for a little white cat, who is good for nothing but to catch mice; but you must not stay."
So the prince kissed her little paw and set out. You can imagine how fast he travelled when I tell you that they reached the king's palace in just half the time it had taken the wooden horse to get there. This time the prince was so late that he did not try to meet his brothers at their castle, so they thought he could not be coming, and were rather glad of it, and displayed their pieces of muslin to the king proudly, feeling sure of success. And indeed the stuff was very fine, and would go through the eye of a very large needle; but the king, who was only too glad to make a difficulty, sent for a particular needle, which was kept among the Crown jewels, and had such a small eye that everybody saw at once that it was impossible that the muslin should pass through it. The princes were angry, and were beginning to complain that it was a trick, when suddenly the trumpets sounded and the youngest Prince came in. His father and brothers were quite astonished at his magnificence, and after he had greeted them he took the walnut from his pocket and opened it, fully expecting to find the piece of muslin, but instead there was only a hazel-nut. He cracked it, and there lay a cherry-stone. Everybody was looking on, and the king was chuckling to himself at the idea of finding the piece of muslin in a nutshell.
However, the prince cracked the cherry-stone, but
everyone laughed when he saw it contained only its own kernel. He opened that and found a grain of wheat, and in that was a millet seed. Then he himself began to wonder, and muttered softly:
"White Cat, White Cat, are you making fun of me?"
In an instant he felt a cat's claw give his hand quite a sharp scratch, and hoping that it was meant as an encouragement he opened the millet seed, and drew out of it a piece of muslin four hundred ells long, woven with the loveliest colors and most wonderful patterns; and when the needle was brought it went through the eye six times with the greatest ease! The king turned pale, and the other Princes stood silent and sorrowful, for nobody could deny that this was the most marvelous piece of muslin that was to be found in the world
Presently the king turned to his sons, and said, with a deep sigh:
"Nothing could console me more in my old age than to realize your willingness to gratify my wishes. Go then once more, and whoever at the end of a year can bring back the loveliest princess shall be married to her, and shall, without further delay, receive the crown, for my successor must certainly be married." The prince considered that he had earned the kingdom fairly twice over but still he was too well bred to argue about it, so he just went back to his gorgeous chariot, and, surrounded by his escort, returned to the white cat faster than he had come. This time she was expecting him, the path was strewn with flowers, and a thousand braziers were burning scented woods which perfumed the air. Seated in a gallery from which she could see his arrival, the white cat waited for him. "Well, King's son," she said, "here you are once more, without a crown." "Madam," said he, "thanks to your generosity I have earned one twice over; but the fact is that my father is so loth to part with it that it would be no pleasure to me to take it."
"Never mind," she answered, "it's just as well to try and deserve it. As you must take back a lovely princess with you next time I will be on the look-out for one for you. In the meantime let us enjoy ourselves; tonight I have ordered a battle between my cats and the river rats on purpose to amuse you." So this year slipped away
even more pleasantly than the preceding ones. Sometimes the prince could not help asking the white cat how it was she could talk.
"Perhaps you are a fairy," he said. "Or has some enchanter changed you into a cat?"
But she only gave him answers that told him nothing. Days go by so quickly when one is very happy that it is certain the prince would never have thought of its being time to go back, when one evening as they sat together the white cat said to him that if he wanted to take a lovely princess home with him the next day he must be prepared to do what she told him.
"Take this sword," she said, "and cut off my head!"
"I!" cried the prince, "I cut off your head! Blanchette darling, how could I do it?"
"I entreat you to do as I tell you, King's son," she replied.
The tears came into the prince's eyes as he begged her to ask him anything but that to set him any task she pleased as a proof of his devotion, but to spare him the grief of killing his dear Pussy. But nothing he could say altered her determination, and at last he drew his sword, and desperately, with a trembling hand, cut off the little white head. But imagine his astonishment and delight when suddenly a lovely princess stood before him, and, while he was still speechless with amazement, the door opened and a goodly company of knights and ladies entered, each carrying a cat's skin! They hastened with every sign of joy to the princess, kissing her hand and congratulating her on being once more restored to her natural shape. She received them graciously, but after a few minutes begged that they would leave her alone with the prince, to whom she said:
"You see, Prince, that you were right in supposing me to be no ordinary cat. My father reigned over six kingdoms. The queen, my mother, whom he loved dearly, had a passion for traveling and exploring, and when I was only a few weeks old she obtained his permission to visit a certain mountain of which she had heard many marvelous tales, and set out, taking with her a number of her attendants. On the way they had to pass near an old castle belonging to the fairies. Nobody had ever been
into it, but it was reported to be full of the most wonderful things, and my mother remembered to have heard that the fairies had in their garden such fruits as were to be seen and tasted nowhere else. She began to wish to try them for herself, and turned her steps in the direction of the garden. On arriving at the door, which blazed with gold and jewels, she ordered her servants to knock loudly, but it was useless; it seemed as if all the inhabitants of the castle must be asleep or dead. Now the more difficult it became to obtain the fruit, the more the queen was determined that have it she would. So she ordered that they should bring ladders, and get over the wall into the garden; but though the wall did not look very high, and they tied the ladders together to make them very long, it was quite impossible to get to the top.
"The queen was in despair, but as night was coming on she ordered that they should encamp just where they were, and went to bed herself, feeling quite ill, she was so disappointed. In the middle of the night she was suddenly awakened, and saw to her surprise a tiny, ugly old woman seated by her bedside, who said to her:
" 'I must say that we consider it somewhat troublesome of your Majesty to insist on tasting our fruit; but to save you annoyance, my sisters and I will consent to give you as much as you can carry away, on one condition that is, that you shall give us your little daughter to bring up as our own.'
" 'Ah! my dear madam,' cried the queen, 'is there nothing else that you will take for the fruit? I will give you my kingdoms willingly.'
" 'No,' replied the old fairy, 'we will have nothing but your little daughter. She shall be as happy as the day is long, and we will give her everything that is worth having in fairy-land, but you must not see her again till she is married.'
" 'Though it is a hard condition,' said the queen, 'I consent, for I shall certainly die if I do not taste the fruit, and so I should lose my little daughter either way.'
"So the old fairy led her into the castle, and, though it was still the middle of the night, the queen could see plainly that it was far more beautiful than she had been told, which you can easily believe, Prince," said the White Cat, "when I tell you that it was this castle that we are now in. 'Will you gather the fruit yourself, Queen?' said the old fairy, 'or shall I call it to come to you?'
" 'I beg you to let me see it come when it is called,' cried the queen; 'that will be something quite new.' The old fairy whistled twice, then she cried:
" 'Apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, pears, melons, grapes, apples, oranges, lemons, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, come!'
"And in an instant they came tumbling in one over another, and yet they were neither dusty nor spoilt, and the queen found them quite as good as she had fancied them. You see they grew on fairy trees.
"The old fairy gave her golden baskets in which to take the fruit away, and it was as much as four hundred mules could carry. Then she reminded the queen of her agreement, and led her back to the camp, and next morning she went back to her kingdom, but before she had gone very far she began to repent of her bargain, and when the king came out to meet her she looked so sad that he guessed that something had happened, and asked what was the matter. At first the queen was afraid to tell him, but when, as soon as they reached the palace, five frightful little dwarfs were sent by the fairies to fetch me, she was obliged to confess what she had promised. The king was very angry, and had the queen and myself shut up in a great tower and safely guarded, and drove the little dwarfs out of his kingdom; but the fairies sent a great dragon who ate up all the people he met, and whose breath burnt up everything as he passed through the country; and at last, after trying in vain to rid himself of this monster, the king, to save his subjects, was obliged to consent that I should be given up to the fairies. This time they came themselves to fetch me, in a chariot of pearl drawn by sea-horses, followed by the dragon, who was led with chains of diamonds. My cradle was placed between the old fairies, who loaded me with caresses, and away we whirled through the air to a tower which they had built on purpose for me. There I grew up surrounded with everything that was beautiful and rare, and learning everything that is ever taught to a princess, but without any companions but a parrot and a little dog, who could both talk; and receiving every day a visit from one of the old fairies, who came mounted on the dragon. One day, however, as I sat at my window I saw a handsome young prince, who seemed to have been hunting in the forest which surrounded my prison, and who was standing and looking up at me. When he saw that I observed him he saluted me with great deference. You can imagine that I was delighted to have some one new to talk to, and in spite of the height of my window our conversation was prolonged till night fell, then my prince reluctantly bade me farewell. But after that he came again many times and at last I consented to marry him, but the question was how was I to escape from my tower. The fairies always supplied me with flax for my spinning, and by great diligence I made enough cord for a ladder that would reach to the foot of the tower; but, alas! just as my prince was helping me to descend it, the crossest and ugliest of the old fairies flew in. Before he had time to defend himself my unhappy lover was swallowed up by the dragon. As for me, the fairies, furious at having their plans defeated, for they intended me to marry the king of the dwarfs, and I utterly refused, changed me into a white cat. When they brought me here I found all the lords and ladies of my father's court awaiting me under the same enchantment, while the people of lesser rank had been made invisible, all but their hands.
"As they laid me under the enchantment the fairies told me all my history, for till then I had quite believed that I was their child, and warned me that my only chance of regaining my natural form was to win the love of a prince who resembled in every way my unfortunate lover.
"And you have won it, lovely Princess," interrupted the prince.
"You are indeed wonderfully like him," resumed the princess "in voice, in features, and everything; and if you really love me all my troubles will be at an end."
"And mine too," cried the prince, throwing himself at her feet, "if you will consent to marry me."
"I love you already better than anyone in the world," she said; "but now it is time to go back to your father, and we shall hear what he says about it."
So the prince gave her his hand and led her out, and they mounted the chariot together; it was even more splendid than before, and so was the whole company. Even the horses' shoes were of rubies with diamond nails, and I suppose that is the first time such a thing was ever seen.
As the princess was as kind and clever as she was beautiful, you may imagine what a delightful journey the prince found it, for everything the princess said seemed to him quite charming.
When they came near the castle where the brothers were to meet, the princess got into a chair carried by four of the guards; it was hewn out of one splendid crystal, and had silken curtains, which she drew round her that she might not be seen.
The prince saw his brothers walking on the terrace, each with a lovely princess, and they came to meet him, asking if he had also found a wife. He said that he had found something much rarer a white cat! At which they laughed very much, and asked him if he was afraid of being eaten up by mice in the palace. And then they set out together for the town. Each prince and princess rode in a splendid carriage; the horses were decked with plumes of feathers, and glittered with gold. After them came the youngest prince, and last of all the crystal chair, at which everybody looked with admiration and curiosity. When the courtiers saw them coming they hastened to tell the king.
"Are the ladies beautiful?" he asked anxiously.
And when they answered that nobody had ever before seen such lovely princesses he seemed quite annoyed.
However, he received them graciously, but found it impossible to choose between them.
Then turning to his youngest son he said:
"Have you come back alone, after all?"
"Your Majesty," replied the prince, "will find in that crystal chair a little white cat, which has such soft paws, and mews so prettily, that I am sure you will be charmed with it."
The king smiled, and went to draw back the curtains himself, but at a touch from the princess the crystal shivered into a thousand splinters, and there she stood in all her beauty; her fair hair floated over her shoulders and was crowned with flowers, and her softly falling robe was of the purest white. She saluted the king gracefully, while a murmur of admiration rose from all around.
"Sire," she said, "I am not come to deprive you of the throne you fill so worthily. I have already six kingdoms, permit me to bestow one on you, and on each of your sons. I ask nothing but your friendship, and your consent to my marriage with your youngest son; we shall still have three kingdoms left for ourselves."
The king and all the courtiers could not conceal their joy and astonishment, and the marriage of the three princes was celebrated at once. The festivities lasted several months, and then each king and queen departed to their own kingdom and lived happily ever after.
ONCE on a time there lived a king and queen who had two beautiful sons and one little daughter, who was so pretty that no one who saw her could help loving her. When it was time for the christening of the princess, the queen - as she always did - sent for all the fairies to be present at the ceremony, and afterwards invited them to a splendid banquet.
When it was over, and they were preparing to go away, the queen said to them:
"Do not forget your usual good custom. Tell me what is going to happen to Rosette."
For that was the name they had given the princess.
But the fairies said they had left their book of magic at home, and they would come another day and tell her.
"Ah!" said the queen, "I know very well what that means - you have nothing good to say; but at least I beg that you will not hide anything from me."
So, after a great deal of persuasion, they said:
"Madam, we fear that Rosette may be the cause of great misfortunes to her brothers; they may even meet with their death through her; that is all we have been able to foresee about your dear little daughter. We are very sorry to have nothing better to tell you."
Then they went away, leaving the queen very sad, so sad that the king noticed it, and asked her what was the matter.
The queen said that she had been sitting too near the fire, and had burnt all the flax that was on her distaff.
"Oh! is that all?" said the king, and he went up into the garret and brought her down more flax than she could spin in a hundred years. But the queen still looked sad, and the king asked her again what was the matter. She answered that she had been walking by the river and had dropped one of her green satin slippers into the water. (90)
"Oh! if that's all," said the king, and he sent to all the shoe- makers in his kingdom, and they very soon made the queen ten thousand green satin slippers, but still she looked sad. So the king asked her again what was the matter, and this time she answered that in eating her porridge too hastily she had swallowed her wedding-ring. But it so happened that the king knew better, for he had the ring himself, and he said:
"Oh I you are not telling me the truth, for I have your ring here in my purse."
Then the queen was very much ashamed, and she saw that the king was vexed with her; so she told him all that the fairies had predicted about Rosette, and begged him to think how the misfortunes might be prevented.
Then it was the king's turn to look sad, and at last he said:
"I see no way of saving our sons except by having Rosette's head cut off while she is still little."
But the queen cried that she would far rather have her own head cut off, and that he had better think of something else, for she would never consent to such a thing. So they thought and thought, but they could not tell what to do, till at last the queen heard that in a great forest near the castle there was an old hermit, who lived in a hollow tree, and that people came from far and near to consult him; so she said:
"I had better go and ask his advice; perhaps he will know what to do to prevent the misfortunes which the fairies foretold."
She set out very early the next morning, mounted on a pretty little white mule, which was shod with solid gold, and two of her ladies rode behind her on beautiful horses. When they reached the forest they dismounted, for the trees grew so thickly that the horses could not pass, and made their way on foot to the hollow tree where the hermit lived. At first when he saw them coming he was vexed, for he was not fond of ladies; but when he recognised the queen, he said:
"You are welcome, Queen. What do you come to ask of me?"
Then the queen told him all the fairies had foreseen for Rosette, and asked what she should do, and the hermit answered that she must shut the princess up in a tower and never let her come out of it again. The queen thanked and rewarded him, and hastened back to the castle to tell the king. When he heard the news he had a great tower built as quickly as possible, and there the princess was shut up, and the king and queen and her two brothers (91) went to see her every day that she might not be dull. The eldest brother was called "the Great Prince," and the second "the Little prince." They loved their sister dearly, for she was the sweetest, prettiest princess who was ever seen, and the least little smile from her was worth more than a hundred pieces of gold. When Rosette was fifteen years old the Great Prince went to the king and asked if it would not soon be time for her to be married, and the Little prince put the same question to the queen.
Their majesties were amused at them for thinking of it, but did not make any reply, and soon after both the king and the queen were taken ill, and died on the same day. Everybody was sorry, Rosette especially, and all the bells in the kingdom were tolled.
Then all the dukes and counsellors put the Great Prince on a golden throne, and crowned him with a diamond crown, and they all cried, "Long live the king!" And after that there was nothing but feasting and rejoicing.
The new King and his brother said to one another: (92)
"Now that we are the masters, let us take our sister out of that dull tower which she is so tired of."
They had only to go across the garden to reach the tower, which was very high, and stood up in a corner. Rosette was busy at her embroidery, but when she saw her brothers she got up, and taking the king's hand cried:
"Good morning, dear brother. Now that you are King, please take me out of this dull tower, for I'm so tired of it."
Then she began to cry, but the king kissed her and told her to dry her tears, as that was just what they had come for, to take her out of the tower and bring her to their beautiful castle, and the prince showed her the pocketful of sugar plums he had brought for her, and said:
"Make haste, and let us get away from this ugly tower, and very soon the king will arrange a grand marriage for you."
When Rosette saw the beautiful garden, full of fruit and flowers, with green grass and sparkling fountains, she was so astonished that not a word could she say, for she had never in her life seen anything like it before. She looked about her, and ran here and there gathering fruit and flowers, and her little dog Frisk, who was bright green all over, and had but one ear, danced before her, crying "Bow-wow-wow," and turning head over heels in the most enchanting way.
Everybody was amused at Frisk's antics, but all of a sudden he ran away into a little wood, and the princess was following him, when, to her great delight, she saw a peacock, who was spreading his tail in the sunshine. Rosette thought she had never seen anything so pretty. She could not take her eyes off him, and there she stood entranced till the king and the prince came up and asked what was amusing her so much. She showed them the peacock, and asked what it was, and they answered that it was a bird which people sometimes ate.
"What!" said the princess, "do they dare to kill that beautiful creature and eat it? I declare that I will never marry any one but the king of the peacocks, and when I'm Queen I will take very good care that nobody eats any of my subjects."
At this the king was very much astonished.
"But, little sister," said he, "where shall we find the king of the peacocks?"
"Oh! wherever you like, sire," she answered, "but I will never marry any one else."
After this they took Rosette to the beautiful castle, and the peacock was brought with her, and told to walk about on the terrace outside her windows, so that she might always see him, and then the ladies of the court came to see the princess, and they brought her beautiful presents - dresses and ribbons and sweetmeats, diamonds and pearls and dolls and embroidered slippers, and she was so well brought up, and said, "Thank you!" so prettily, and was so gracious, that everyone went away delighted with her.
Meanwhile the king and the prince were considering how they should find the king of the peacocks, if there was such a person in the world. And first of all they had a portrait made of the princess, which was so like her that you really would not have been surprised if it had spoken to you. Then they said to her:
"Since you will not marry anyone but the king of the peacocks, we are going out together into the wide world to search for him. If we find him for you we shall be very glad. In the meantime, mind you take good care of our kingdom."
Rosette thanked them for all the trouble they were taking on her account, and promised to take great care of the kingdom, and only to amuse herself by looking at the peacock, and making Frisk dance while they were away.
So they set out, and asked everyone they met, "Do you know the king of the peacocks?"
But the answer was always, "No, no."
Then they went on and on, so far that no one has ever been farther, and at last they came to the kingdom of the Cockchafers.
They had never before seen such a number of cockchafers, and the buzzing was so loud that the king was afraid he should be deafened by it. He asked the most distinguished-looking cockchafer they met if he knew where they could find the king of the peacocks.
"Sire," replied the cockchafer, "his kingdom is thirty thousand leagues from this; you have come the longest way."
"And how do you know that?" said the king.
"Oh!" said the cockchafer, "we all know you very well, since we spend two or three months in your garden every year."
Thereupon the king and the prince made great friends with him, and they all walked arm-in-arm and dined together, and afterwards the cockchafer showed them all the curiosities of his strange country, where the tiniest green leaf costs a gold piece and more. Then they set out again to finish their journey, and this time, as they knew (94) the way, they were not long on the road. It was easy to guess that they had come to the right place, for they saw peacocks in every tree, and their cries could be heard a long way off:
When they reached the city they found it full of men and women who were dressed entirely in peacocks' feathers, which were evidently thought prettier than anything else.
They soon met the king, who was driving about in a beautiful little golden carriage which glittered with diamonds, and was drawn at full speed by twelve peacocks. The king and the prince were delighted to see that the king of the peacocks was as handsome as possible. He had curly golden hair and was very pale, and he wore a crown of peacocks" feathers.
When he saw Rosette's brothers he knew at once that they were strangers, and stopping his carriage he sent for them to speak to him. When they had greeted him they said:
"Sire, we have come from very far away to show you a beautiful portrait." (95) So saying they drew from their travelling bag the picture of Rosette.
The king looked at it in silence a long time, but at last he said:
"I could not have believed that there was such a beautiful Princess in the world!"
"Indeed, she is really a hundred times as pretty as that," said her brothers.
"I think you must be making fun of me," replied the king of the peacocks.
"Sire," said the prince, "my brother is a king, like yourself. He is called "the king," I'm called "the prince," and that is the portrait of our sister, the princess Rosette. We have come to ask if you would like to marry her. She is as good as she is beautiful, and we will give her a bushel of gold pieces for her dowry."
"Oh! with all my heart," replied the king, "and I will make her very happy. She shall have whatever she likes, and I shall love her dearly; only I warn you that if she is not as pretty as you have told me, I will have your heads cut off."
"Oh! certainly, we quite agree to that," said the brothers in one breath.
"Very well. Off with you into prison, and stay there till the princess arrives," said the king of the peacocks.
And the princes were so sure that Rosette was far prettier than her portrait that they went without a murmur. They were very kindly treated, and that they might not feel dull the king came often to see them. As for Rosette's portrait that was taken up to the palace, and the king did nothing but gaze at it all day and all night.
As the king and the prince had to stay in prison, they sent a letter to the princess telling her to pack up all her treasures as quickly as possible, and come to them, as the king of the peacocks was waiting to marry her; but they did not say that they were in prison, for fear of making her uneasy.
When Rosette received the letter she was so delighted that she ran about telling everyone that the king of the peacocks was found, and she was going to marry him.
Guns were fired, and fireworks let off. Everyone had as many cakes and sweetmeats as he wanted. And for three days everybody who came to see the princess was presented with a slice of bread- and-jam, a nightingale's egg, and some hippocras. After having thus entertained her friends, she distributed her dolls among them, (96) and left her brother's kingdom to the care of the wisest old men of the city, telling them to take charge of everything, not to spend any money, but save it all up till the king should return, and above all, not to forget to feed her peacock. Then she set out, only taking with her her nurse, and the nurse's daughter, and the little green dog Frisk.
They took a boat and put out to sea, carrying with them the bushel of gold pieces, and enough dresses to last the princess ten years if she wore two every day, and they did nothing but laugh and sing. The nurse asked the boatman: "Can you take us, can you take us to the kingdom of the peacocks?"
But he answered: "Oh no! oh no!"
Then she said: "You must take us, you must take us."
And he answered: "Very soon, very soon."
Then the nurse said: "Will you take us? will you take us?"
And the boatman answered: "Yes, yes."
Then she whispered in his ear: "Do you want to make your fortune?"
And he said: "Certainly I do."
"I can tell you how to get a bag of gold," said she.
"I ask nothing better," said the boatman.
"Well," said the nurse, "tonight, when the princess is asleep, you must help me to throw her into the sea, and when she is drowned I will put her beautiful clothes on my daughter, and we will take her to the king of the peacocks, who will be only too glad to marry her, and as your reward you shall have your boat full of diamonds."
The boatman was very much surprised at this proposal, and said:
"But what a pity to drown such a pretty Princess!"
However, at last the nurse persuaded him to help her, and when the night came and the princess was fast asleep as usual, with Frisk curled up on his own cushion at the foot of her bed, the wicked nurse fetched the boatman and her daughter, and between them they picked up the princess, feather bed, mattress, pillows, blankets and (97) all, and threw her into the sea, without even waking her. Now, luckily, the princess's bed was entirely stuffed with phoenix feathers, which are very rare, and have the property of always floating on water, so Rosette went on swimming about as if she had been in a boat. After a little while she began to feel very cold, and turned round so often that she woke Frisk, who started up, and, having a very good nose, smelt the soles and herrings so close to him that he began to bark. He barked so long and so loud that he woke all the other fish, who came swimming up round the princess's bed, and poking at it with their great heads. As for her, she said to herself:
"How our boat does rock on the water! I'm really glad that I'm not often as uncomfortable as I have been tonight."
The wicked nurse and the boatman, who were by this time quite a long way off, heard Frisk barking, and said to each other:
"That horrid little animal and his mistress are drinking our health in sea-water now. Let us make haste to land, for we must be quite near the city of the king of the peacocks."
The king had sent a hundred carriages to meet them, drawn by every kind of strange animal. There were lions, bears, wolves, stags, horses, buffaloes, eagles, and peacocks. The carriage intended for the princess Rosette had six blue monkeys, which could turn summersaults, (98) and dance on a tight-rope, and do many other charming tricks. Their, harness was all of crimson velvet with gold buckles, and behind the carriage walked sixty beautiful ladies chosen by the king to wait on Rosette and amuse her.
The nurse had taken all the pains imaginable to deck out her daughter. She put on her Rosette's prettiest frock, and covered her with diamonds from head to foot. But she was so ugly that nothing could make her look nice, and what was worse, she was sulky and ill-tempered, and did nothing but grumble all the time.
When she stepped from the boat and the escort sent by the king of the peacocks caught sight of her, they were so surprised that they could not say a single word.
"Now then, look alive," cried the false princess. "If you don't bring me something to eat I will have all your heads cut off!"
Then they whispered one to another:
"Here's a pretty state of things! she is as wicked as she is ugly. What a bride for our poor King! She certainly was not worth bringing from the other end of the world!"
But she went on ordering them all about, and for no fault at all would give slaps and pinches to everyone she could reach.
As the procession was so long it advanced but slowly, and the nurse's daughter sat up in her carriage trying to look like a Queen. But the peacocks, who were sitting on every tree waiting to salute her, and who had made up their minds to cry, "Long live our beautiful Queen!" when they caught sight of the false bride could not help crying instead:
"Oh! how ugly she is!"
Which offended her so much that she said to the guards:
"Make haste and kill all these insolent peacocks who have dared to insult me."
But the peacocks only flew away, laughing at her.
The rogue of a boatman, who noticed all this, said softly to the nurse:
"This is a bad business for us, gossip; your daughter ought to have been prettier."
But she answered:
"Be quiet, stupid, or you will spoil everything."
Now they told the king that the princess was approaching.
"Well," said he, "did her brothers tell me truly? Is she prettier than her portrait?"
"Sire," they answered, "if she were as pretty that would do very well."
"That's true," said the king; "I for one shall be quite satisfied if she is. Let us go and meet her." For they knew by the uproar that she had arrived, but they could not tell what all the shouting was about. The king thought he could hear the words:
"How ugly she is! How ugly she is!" and he fancied they must refer to some dwarf the princess was bringing with her. It never occurred to him that they could apply to the bride herself.
The princess Rosette's portrait was carried at the head of the procession, and after it walked the king surrounded by his courtiers. He was all impatience to see the lovely Princess, but when he caught sight of the nurse's daughter he was furiously angry, and would not advance another step. For she was really ugly enough to have frightened anybody.
"What!" he cried, "have the two rascals who are my prisoners dared to play me such a trick as this? Do they propose that I shall marry this hideous creature? Let her be shut up in my great tower, with her nurse and those who brought her here; and as for them, I will have their heads cut off."
Meanwhile the king and the prince, who knew that their sister must have arrived, had made themselves smart, and sat expecting every minute to be summoned to greet her. So when the gaoler came with soldiers, and carried them down into a black dungeon which swarmed with toads and bats, and where they were up to their necks in water, nobody could have been more surprised and dismayed than they were.
"This is a dismal kind of wedding," they said; "what can have happened that we should be treated like this? They must mean to kill us."
And this idea annoyed them very much. Three days passed before they heard any news, and then the king of the peacocks came and berated them through a hole in the wall.
"You have called yourselves King and prince," he cried, "to try and make me marry your sister, but you are nothing but beggars, not worth the water you drink. I mean to make short work with you, and the sword is being sharpened that will cut off your heads!"
"King of the peacocks," answered the king angrily, "you had better take care what you are about. I'm as good a king as yourself, and have a splendid kingdom and robes and crowns, and plenty of good red gold to do what I like with. You are pleased to jest about having our heads cut off; perhaps you think we have stolen something from you?" At first the king of the peacocks was taken aback by this bold speech, and had half a mind to send them all away together; but his Prime Minister declared that it would never do to let such a trick as that pass unpunished, everybody would laugh at him; so the accusation was drawn up against them, that they were impostors, and that they had promised the king a beautiful Princess in marriage who, when she arrived, proved to be an ugly peasant girl.
This accusation was read to the prisoners, who cried out that they had spoken the truth, that their sister was indeed a princess more beautiful than the day, and that there was some mystery about all this which they could not fathom. Therefore they demanded seven days in which to prove their innocence, The king of the peacocks was so angry that he would hardly even grant them this favour, but at last he was persuaded to do so.
While all this was going on at court, let us see what had been happening to the real Princess. When the day broke she and Frisk were equally astonished at finding themselves alone on the sea, with no boat and no one to help them. The princess cried and cried, till even the fishes were sorry for her.
"Alas!" she said, "the king of the peacocks must have ordered me to be thrown into the sea because he had changed his mind and did not want to marry me. But how strange of him, when I should have loved him so much, and we should have been so happy together!"
And then she cried harder than ever, for she could not help still loving him. So for two days they floated up and down the sea, wet and shivering with the cold, and so hungry that when the princess saw some oysters she caught them, and she and Frisk both ate some, though they didn't like them at all. When night came the princess was so frightened that she said to Frisk:
"Oh! Do please keep on barking for fear the soles should come and eat us up!"
Now it happened that they had floated close in to the shore, where a poor old man lived all alone in a little cottage. When he heard Frisk's barking he thought to himself:
"There must have been a shipwreck!" (for no dogs ever passed that way by any chance), and he went out to see if he could be of any use. He soon saw the princess and Frisk floating up and down, and Rosette, stretching out her hands to him, cried:
"Oh! Good old man, do save me, or I shall die of cold and hunger!" When he heard her cry out so piteously he was very sorry for her, and ran back into his house to fetch a long boat-hook. Then he waded into the water up to his chin, and after being nearly drowned once or twice he at last succeeded in getting hold of the princess's bed and dragging it on shore.
Rosette and Frisk were joyful enough to find themselves once more on dry land, and the princess thanked the old man heartily; then, wrapping herself up in her blankets, she daintily picked her way up to the cottage on her little bare feet. There the old man lighted a fire of straw, and then drew from an old box his wife's dress and shoes, which the princess put on, and thus roughly clad looked as charming as possible, and Frisk danced his very best to amuse her.
The old man saw that Rosette must be some great lady, for her bed coverings were all of satin and gold. He begged that she would tell him all her history, as she might safely trust him. The princess told him everything, weeping bitterly again at the thought that it was by the king's orders that she had been thrown overboard.
"And now, my daughter, what is to be done?" said the old man. "You are a great Princess, accustomed to fare daintily, and I have nothing to offer you but black bread and radishes, which will not suit you at all. Shall I go and tell the king of the peacocks that you are here? If he sees you he will certainly wish to marry you."
"Oh no!" cried Rosette, "he must be wicked, since he tried to drown me. Don't let us tell him, but if you have a little basket give it to me."
The old man gave her a basket, and tying it round Frisk's neck she said to him: "Go and find out the best cooking-pot in the town and bring the contents to me."
Away went Frisk, and as there was no better dinner cooking in all the town than the king's, he adroitly took the cover off the pot and brought all it contained to the princess, who said:
"Now go back to the pantry, and bring the best of everything you find there."
So Frisk went back and filled his basket with white bread, and red wine, and every kind of sweetmeat, till it was almost too heavy for him to carry.
When the king of the peacocks wanted his dinner there was nothing in the pot and nothing in the pantry. All the courtiers looked at one another in dismay, and the king was terribly cross.
"Oh well! "he said, "if there is no dinner I cannot dine, but take care that plenty of things are roasted for supper."
When evening came the princess said to Frisk:
"Go into the town and find out the best kitchen, and bring me all the nicest morsels that are being roasted on the spit."
Frisk did as he was told, and as he knew of no better kitchen than the king's, he went in softly, and when the cook's back was turned took everything that was on the spit, As it happened it was all done to a turn, and looked so good that it made him hungry only to see it. He carried his basket to the princess, who at once sent him back to the pantry to bring all the tarts and sugar plums that had been prepared for the king's supper.
The king, as he had had no dinner, was very hungry and wanted his supper early, but when he asked for it, lo and behold it was all gone, and he had to go to bed half-starved and in a terrible temper. The next day the same thing happened, and the next, so that for three days the king got nothing at all to eat, because just when the dinner or the supper was ready to be served it mysteriously disappeared. At last the Prime Minister began to be afraid that the king would be starved to death, so he resolved to hide himself in some dark corner of the kitchen, and never take his eyes off the cooking-pot. His surprise was great when he presently saw a little green dog with one ear slip softly into the kitchen, uncover the pot, transfer all its contents to his basket, and run off. The Prime Minister followed hastily, and tracked him all through the town to the cottage of the good old man; then he ran back to the king and told him that he had found out where all his dinners and suppers went. The king, who was very much astonished, said he should like to go and see for himself. So he set out, accompanied by the Prime Minister and a guard of archers, and arrived just in time to find the old man and the princess finishing his dinner.
The king ordered that they should be seized and bound with ropes, and Frisk also.
When they were brought back to the palace some one told the king, who said:
"today is the last day of the respite granted to those impostors; they shall have their heads cut off at the same time as these stealers of my dinner." Then the old man went down on his knees before the king and begged for time to tell him everything. While he spoke the king for the first time looked attentively at the princess, because he was sorry to see how she cried, and when he heard the old man saying that her name was Rosette, and that she had been treacherously thrown into the sea, he turned head over heels three times without stopping, in spite of being quite weak from hunger, and ran to embrace her, and untied the ropes which bound her with his own hands, declaring that he loved her with all his heart.
Messengers were sent to bring the princes out of prison, and they came very sadly, believing that they were to be executed at once: the nurse and her daughter and the boatman were brought also. As soon as they came in Rosette ran to embrace her brothers, while the traitors threw themselves down before her and begged for mercy. The king and the princess were so happy that they freely forgave them, and as for the good old man he was splendidly rewarded, and spent the rest of his days in the palace. The king of the peacocks made ample amends to the king and prince for the way in which they had been treated, and did everything in his power to show how sorry he was.
The nurse restored to Rosette all her dresses and jewels, and the bushel of gold pieces; the wedding was held at once, and they all lived happily ever after - even to Frisk, who enjoyed the greatest luxury, and never had anything worse than the wing of a partridge for dinner all the rest of his life.