The Queen begged the other fairies to avert the terrible catastrophe, and besought them to tell her what to do. They consulted together, and at last told the Queen that they would build a palace without any windows or doors, and with an underground passage, so that the Princess's food could be brought to her. And she was to be kept there until she was fifteen.
Then, with a wave of their wands, they made a lovely, pure-white marble castle spring up, and, inside of this, all the chairs were made of jewels, and even the floors were no different. And here the little Princess dwelt and grew up a good and beautiful child, possessing all the good qualities that her fairy godmothers had wished for her; and from time to time they came to see how she was getting on. But, of all the fairy godmothers, Tulip was the favourite. She reminded the Queen never to forget the warning not to allow the Princess to see the light of day, lest the terrible fate that the Fairy of the Fountain had laid upon her would surely come to pass. The Queen, of course, promised never to forget so important a matter.
Now, just as her little daughter was nearing the age of fifteen, the Queen had her portrait taken and sent to all the great courts of the world. And so it happened that one Prince, when he saw it, took it and shut it up in his cabinet and talked to the portrait as though it was the Princess herself in the flesh.
The courtiers heard him and went and told his father that his son had gone mad, and that he was shut up in his room, talking all day long to something or somebody who wasn't there.
The King immediately sent for his son and told him what the courtiers had said about him; then he asked him if it was true, and what had come over him to act like this.
The Prince thought this a favourable opportunity, so he threw himself at the feet of the King and said:
'You have resolved, sire, to marry me to the Black Princess, but I love the Princess Desiree.'
'You have not seen her,' said the King. 'How can you love her?'
'Neither have I seen the Black Princess, but I have both their portraits,' replied the Warrior Prince (he was so named because he had won three great battles), 'but I assure you that I have such a love for the Princess Desiree, that if you do not withdraw your word to the Black Princess and allow me to have Desiree, I shall die, and I shall be very glad to do so if I am unable to have the Princess I love.'
'It is to her portrait, then, that you have been speaking?' said the King. 'My son, you have made yourself the laughing-stock of the whole court. They think you are mad.'
'You would be as much struck as I am if you saw her portrait,' replied the Prince firmly.
'Fetch it and show it to me, then,' said the King, equally firmly.
The Prince went, and returned with the Princess's portrait as requested; and the King was so struck with her beauty that he gave the Prince leave there and then to marry her, and promised to withdraw his word from the other Princess.
'My dear Warrior,' said he, 'I should love to have so beautiful a Princess in my court.'
The Prince kissed his father's hand and bowed his knee, for he could not conceal his joy. He begged the King to send a messenger not only to the Black Princess but also to Princess Desiree; and he hoped that in regard to his own Princess, he would choose a man who would prove the most capable; and he must be rich, because this was a special occasion and called for all the elaborate preparation it was possible to show in such a diplomatic mission.
The King's choice fell on Prince Becafigue; he was a young Prince who spoke eloquently, and he possessed five millions of money. And, beside this, he loved the Warrior Prince very dearly.
When the messenger was taking his leave the Prince said to him:
'Do not forget, my dear Becafigue, that my life depends on my marrying Princess Desiree, whom you are going to see. Do your best for me and tell the Princess that I love her.' Then he handed Becafigue his photograph to give the Princess.
The young Prince Becafigue's cortege was so grand, and consisted of so many carriages, that it took them twenty-three hours to pass; and the whole world turned out to see him enter the gates of the palace where the King and Queen and Princess Desiree lived. The King and Queen saw him coming and were very pleased with all his grandeur, and commanded that he should be received in a manner befitting so great a personage.
Becafigue was taken before the King and Queen, and, after paying his respects to them, told them his message and asked to be introduced to the Princess Desiree. What was his surprise on being refused!
'I am very sorry to have to say no to your request, Prince Becafigue,' said the King, 'but I will tell you why. On the day the Princess was born a fairy took an aversion to her, and said that a great misfortune should befall her if she saw the light of day before she was fifteen years of age.'
'And am I to return without her?' said Becafigue. 'Here is a portrait of the Warrior Prince.' Then, as he was handing it to the King, and was about to say something further about it, a voice came from the photograph, speaking with loving tones:
'Dear Desiree, you cannot imagine with what joy I wait for you: come soon to our court, where your beauty will grace it as no other court will ever be graced.'
The portrait said nothing more, and the King and the Queen were so surprised that they asked Becafigue to allow them to show it to the Princess.
Becafigue readily assented and the Queen took the portrait to the Princess and showed it to her; and the Princess was delighted. Although the Queen had told her nothing, the Princess knew that it meant a great marriage, and was not surprised when her mother asked: 'Would you be cross if you had to marry this man?'
'Madam,' said the Princess, 'it is not for me to choose; I shall be pleased to obey whatever you wish.'
'But,' said the Queen, 'if my choice should fall on this particular Prince, would you consider yourself happy?'
The Princess blushed and turned her eyes away and said nothing; then the Queen took her in her arms and kissed her, for she loved the Princess very much and knew that she would soon lose her, for it wanted only three months to her fifteenth birthday.
When the Prince knew that he could not have his dear Princess Desiree until three months had passed, he became very sad, and could not sleep at night, until at last his strength gave way and he was near to death. Doctors were called in, but they could do nothing at all, and the King was in a dreadful state, for he loved his son very much.
Now the other messenger, who was sent to the Black Princess to tell her that the Prince had changed his mind and was going to marry another, was admitted to her presence and soon explained his errand.
'Mr. Messenger,' she said when he had finished, 'is it possible that your master does not think I am beautiful or rich enough? Look out over my broad lands and you will find that they are so vast that you cannot see where they end; and, as for money, I have large coffers full to the brim, as any one will tell you.'
'Madam,' replied the messenger, 'I blame my master as much as a humble subject may. Now if I were sitting on the greatest throne in the world, I would think it the highest favour from heaven if you would share it with me.'
'That speech has saved your life,' said the Black Princess, 'you may go.'
When the Fairy of the Fountain heard this she was extremely angry and she looked in her book to make sure that the Warrior Prince had really left the Black Princess in favour of the Princess Desiree. Yes, it was quite true.
'What!' cried the Fairy of the Fountain, 'this ill-omened Desiree is always in some way upsetting my plans. No! I will not allow it to happen: why should I?'
Now the messenger Becafigue hurried along to the court of Desiree's father and mother, and threw himself at their feet, and told them that his master was very ill and likely to die if he did not see the Princess.
The King and Queen agreed that it would be best to go and tell the Princess about the Prince; so the Queen went and told her daughter all she knew, not forgetting to mention the evil wish that had been laid upon her at the time of her birth. But the Princess asked her mother if it were not possible to defeat this wish by taking steps to send her to the Prince in a carriage with all the light shut out.
This was agreed upon and a carriage was made on a subtle plan, with a separate compartment for the Princess, and mouse-trap blinds through which food and drink could be inserted without admitting the light of day. In this she, with her two ladies-in-waiting, Long-Epine and Giroflee, set forth, and all the court wept together with the King and Queen at the going away of their little Princess.
Now Long-Epine did not care for Desiree very much, and, what is more, she loved the Warrior Prince, having seen his photograph and heard him speak.
The Queen's last words at parting were:
'Take care of my little daughter, and do not on any account let her see the light of day. I have made all arrangements with the Prince that she is to be shut up in a room where she will not be able to see the light, and every care will be taken.' And, with these words in their ears, they set off, having promised the Queen that all would be done as she wished.
Long-Epine told herself she would never let the Princess win the Warrior Prince, not if she could prevent it; so, at dinner time that day, when the sun was at its highest, she went as usual to the carriage with the Princess's food, and, with a big knife, slit the blind so that the light streamed in. No sooner had she done so than a strange thing happened. The Princess had been quite alone in the darkened compartment; then how was it that a white hind leapt out through the window and sped away into the forest? Long-Epine watched it, wondering. Then she looked in at the window, but the compartment was empty. The Princess had gone!
Immediately the Princess, in the form of a white hind, had disappeared into the forest, her good friend Giroflee began to chase after her. As soon as she had gone, Long-Epine took the clothes of her mistress and dressed herself up in them, and resolved to impersonate the Princess before the young Prince. Then the carriage drove on, and in it sat Long-Epine disguised as the Princess.
When they arrived she presented herself as Desiree; but the Prince looked at her with horror, for she was not at all like a real Princess. Desiree's dress, which she wore, came to her knees, and she had not noticed that her ugly legs showed below the dress.
'This is not the Princess of the portrait,' said the Prince and his father together. 'You took us for fools, no doubt!'
The false Princess said that it was a terrible thing to bring her away from her kingdom to be treated in this way, and to break the word that they had given. 'How can you do this?' she cried.
At this the Prince and his father were so angry that they did not reply at all, but simply had the false Princess clapped in irons and put into prison.
The Prince was so heart-broken at this new trouble that he resolved to go and shut himself up for the remainder of his life, alone. At once he summoned the faithful Becafigue, and told him all. Then he wrote a letter to his father and sent it by Becafigue.
'If I never see my real Princess again,' he wrote, 'I beg of you that at least you will keep that sham one locked up, and guard her close.'
Now all this time the Princess was in the wood, running hither and thither as hinds do. Once or twice she looked at herself in the water of the fountain, and saw herself so changed that she cried out: 'Is it I? Am I this hind?' Then at last she got very hungry, and began to eat berries and herbs, and finally sought a quiet spot and went to sleep.
The Fairy Tulip had always loved the Princess, and said that if she left the castle before she was fifteen, she was sure that the Fairy of the Fountain would relent and do her no harm. But, as for Giroflee, she was all this time wandering round looking for the little Princess. She had walked so much and now felt so tired that she lay down and went to sleep in the forest. The next morning the Princess, seeking moss among the ferns, found her. When she saw that it was Giroflee, she went up to her and caressed her with her nozzle, as hinds do, and looked into her eyes until at last Giroflee knew full well that it was the Princess turned into a White Hind. She watched the Hind attentively and saw two large tears fall from her eyes, and then there was not a single doubt that it was her dear little Princess; so she put her arms around her neck, and they wept together.
Then Giroflee told the Princess that she would never leave her, and that she would stay with her until the end.
The Hind understood, and, to show her gratitude, took Giroflee into the very deepest part of the forest to find her some luscious fruit which she had seen there; but on the way Giroflee called out in alarm: she would die of fright if she had to spend the night in such a desolate spot; and then they both began to cry. Their cries were so pitiful that they touched the heart of the good Fairy Tulip, and she came to their aid.
Giroflee begged her to have pity on her young mistress, and to give her back her natural form, but the Fairy Tulip said that it was impossible to do that. She said that she would do what she could. She told Giroflee that if she went into the forest, she would come to the hut of an old woman. She was to speak her fair and ask her to take charge of both of them. Then when night came, the Princess would change back into her natural form; but as this could only happen at night in the hut, they must be very careful.
Now Giroflee thanked the fairy and went, as she had told her, far into the wood; and there, sure enough, she saw a hut and an old woman sitting outside on a bench. She went up to her at once.
'My dear mother,' she said, 'will you allow me to have a little room in your house for myself and my little Hind?'
'Yes, my dear daughter,' she replied, 'I will certainly give you a room.' And she immediately took them into the hut, and then into the dearest little room it was possible to find. It contained two little beds all draped in pure white and beautifully clean.
As the night began to come in, Desiree changed her form and became the Princess again; and, seeing this, Giroflee kissed her and hugged her with delight. The old woman knocked at the door, and, without entering, she handed Giroflee some fresh fruit which they were very pleased to have to eat; and then they went to bed. But, as soon as day dawned, Desiree took again the shape and form of a White Hind.
Now Becafigue was in the very same wood, and came to the hut where the old woman lived. He begged her to give him something for his master to eat; but the old woman told him that if his master spent the night in the forest, harm would surely happen to him, because it was full of wild animals. Why should he not come to her hut? Why should he not accept the little room she could offer him? He was welcome to it and a good meal besides.
Then Becafigue went back and told the Prince all that the old woman had said and persuaded him to accept her offer. They put the Prince into the room next to the Princess, but neither of them knew anything of this arrangement.
The next morning the Prince called Becafigue, and told him that he was going into the forest and that he was not to follow him. The Prince had walked and walked for a long time in the forest, grieving over his loss, when suddenly in the distance he saw a lovely little White Hind, and gave chase and tried to catch it. The Hind, who was no other than the little Princess, ran and ran far away until the Prince, in utter fatigue, gave up the chase; but he resolved to look again the next day, and to be more careful this time, so as not to let the Hind get away. Then he went home and told the story to Becafigue, while the Princess on her side was telling her dear Giroflee that a young hunter had chased her and tried to kill her, but she was so fleet-footed that she got away.
Giroflee told her not to go out any more, but to stay in and read some books that she would find for her; but, after a little thought, the Princess found it too awful to be shut up in one little room all day long, so the next morning she went out again into the forest, and wandered through the beautiful dells and glades. After going some distance she saw a young hunter lying down on the mossy bank asleep, and, approaching him cautiously, she found that she was now so very close to him that it would be impossible to get away before he awoke. Then again, he was so handsome, that, instead of running away, she rubbed her little nose against the young hunter. What was her surprise to see that it was her dear Prince! for he, at her caress, opened his eyes, and she at once recognised him. And when he jumped up and stroked and patted her, she trembled with delight and raised her beautiful eyes to his in the dumb eloquence of love.
'Ah! little White Hind,' said he, 'if you only knew how miserable I am, and what the cause of it is, you would not envy me! I love you, little Hind, and I will take care of you and look after you.' And with this he went farther into the forest to find some green herbs for her.
Now the Hind with a sudden fright found its heels again, and, just because she wanted so much to stay, she bounded off as fast as she could go, and never stopped till she reached home, where in great excitement she told Giroflee all that had happened.
The Prince, when he returned and found that the Hind had disappeared, went back also to the hut, and told the old woman that the Hind had deserted him just when he had been so very kind to it and had gone in search of food for it. The Warrior Prince then explained to Becafigue that it was only to see the little Hind that he had remained so long, and that on the morrow he would depart and go away. But he did not.
The Princess in the meantime resolved to go a long way into the forest on the morrow, so as to miss the Prince; but he guessed her little trick, and so the next day he did the same as she. Then, suddenly, in the distance he saw the Hind so plainly that he let fly an arrow to attract its attention. What was his dismay to see the arrow pierce the flank of the poor little Hind! She fell down immediately on a mossy bank, and swiftly the Prince ran up. He was so upset at what had happened, that he flew and got leaves and stopped the bleeding. Then he said:
'Is it not your fault, little flier? You ran away and left me yesterday, and the same would have happened to-day if this had not occurred.'
The Hind did not reply at all; what could she say? And besides, she was in too much pain to do anything but moan.
The Prince caressed her again and again. 'What have I done to you?' he said. 'I love you, and I cannot bear to think I have wounded you.'
But her moaning went on. At last the Prince resolved to go to the hut and get something to carry her on, but before he went he tied her up with little ribbons, and they were tied in such a manner that the Princess could not undo them. As she was trying to free herself she saw Giroflee coming towards her, and made a sign to her to hasten; and, strange to say, Giroflee reached her exactly at the same moment as the Prince with Becafigue.
'I have wounded this little Hind, madam,' said the Prince, 'and she is mine.'
'Sir,' replied Giroflee, 'this little Hind is well known to me—and, if you want to see how she recognises me, you will give her her liberty.'
The Prince then cut the ribbons in compliance with her request.
'Come along, my little Hind,' said Giroflee; 'kiss me!'
At this the little Hind threw herself on Giroflee's neck. 'Nestle to my heart! Now give me a sigh!' The Hind obeyed, and the Prince could not doubt that what Giroflee said was true.
'I give her to you,' said the Prince; 'for I see she loves you.'
Now when Becafigue saw Giroflee, he told the Prince that he had seen her in the castle with the Princess Desiree, and that he knew that Giroflee was staying in a part of their own hut. Why could they not find out if the Princess was staying there also? So the following night, the Prince having agreed, Becafigue listened through a chink in the wall of the hut, and what was his surprise to hear two voices talking! One said:
'Oh, that I might die at once! It would be better than to remain a Hind all the days of my life! What a fate! Only to be myself to you, and to all others a little White Hind! How terrible never to be able to talk to my Prince!'
Becafigue put his eye to the chink and this is what he saw.
There was the Princess in a beautiful dress all shining with gold. In her lovely hair were diamonds, but the tears in her eyes seemed to sparkle even more brightly. She was beautiful beyond words, and disconsolate beyond sorrow.
Becafigue nearly cried out with joy at sight of her. He ran off at once and told the Prince.
'Ah! seigneur,' said he, 'come with me at once and you will see in the flesh the maiden you love.'
The Prince ran with him, and when they came on tip-toe to the chink in the wall, he looked and saw his dear Princess.
Then so great was his joy that he could not be restrained. He went and knocked at the door, resolving to see his Princess at once.
Giroflee, thinking it was the old woman, opened the door, and the Prince immediately dashed into the room and threw himself at the feet of the Princess, and kissed her hand and told her how much he loved her.
'What! my dear little Princess, was it you that I wounded as a little Hind? What can I do to show my sorrow for so great a crime?'
The way in which he spoke put all the doubts from the Princess's mind. The Prince, knowing all, loved her. She bade him rise, and then stood with downcast eyes, fearing the worst. Her fears were justified: in a moment his arms were around her, and she was sobbing for joy on his breast.
They had stood a moment so, when suddenly the Prince started and listened. What sound was that? It was the tramp of armed men; nearer and nearer it came—the threatening sound of an advancing host. He opened the window, and, on looking out, saw a great army approaching. They were his own soldiers, going up against Desiree's father to avenge the insult offered to their Prince. And the King his father was at their head, in a litter of gold.
When the Warrior Prince saw that his father was there he ran out to him and threw his arms round his neck and kissed him.
'Where have you been, my son?' said the King. 'Your absence has caused me great sorrow!'
Then the Prince told him all about Long-Epine, and how the Princess had been changed into a Hind through her disregard of the Fairy's warning.
The King was terribly grieved at this news, and turned his eyes to heaven and clasped his hands. At this moment the Princess Desiree came out, mounted on a pure-white horse and looking more beautiful and lovely than she had ever been. Giroflee was also with her as her attendant. The spell had been removed for ever.
At sight of them the old King blessed them, and said that he would give his kingdom to his son as soon as he was married to the Princess Desiree. The Princess thanked him a thousand times for his goodness, and then the King ordered the army to return to the city, for there would be no war, but only rejoicing.
Back into the capital, a mighty procession—an army headed by its rulers, and victorious without striking a blow. Great was the joy of all the people to see the Prince and the Princess, and they showered upon them heaps of presents the like of which was never seen.
The faithful Becafigue begged the Prince to allow him to marry Giroflee. She was delighted to have such a great offer, and more than delighted to remain in a land where she would always be with her dear Princess.
Now the Fairy Tulip, when she heard all that had happened, resolved, out of the goodness of her heart, to give Giroflee a splendid present, so that her husband should not have the advantage of being the richer. It will astonish you to hear that she gave her four big gold mines in India; and you know what gold mines in India are worth.
And the marriage feasts lasted several months. Each day was a greater day than the one before; and every day the adventures of the little White Hind were sung throughout the country, even as they are still sung, in boudoir, fireside, and camp, to this very day.
IVAN AND THE CHESTNUT HORSE
A RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE
In a far land where they pay people to keep its name a profound secret, there lived an old man who brought up his three sons just exactly in the way they should go. He taught them the three R's, and also showed them what books to read and how to read them. He was particularly careful about their education, for he had learned that to know things was to be able to do things.
At last, when he came to die, he gathered his three sons round his deathbed and cautioned them.
'Do not forget,' he said—'do not forget to come and read the prayers over my grave.'
'We will not forget, father,' they replied.
The two elder brothers were great big, strapping fellows, but the youngest one, Ivan, was a mere stripling. As they all stood around the bed of their dying father, he looked a mere reed compared to his proud, stout, elder brothers. But his eyes were full of fire and spirit, and the firm expression of his mouth showed great determination. And, when the father had breathed his last, and his two elder brothers wept without restraint, Ivan stood silent, his pale face set and his eyes full of the bright wonder of tears that would not melt.
On the day that they buried their father, Ivan returned to the grave in the evening to read prayers over it. He had done so, and was making his way homeward, when there was a great clatter of hoofs behind him; then, as he reached the village square, the horseman pulled up and dismounted quite near to him. After blowing a loud blast on his silver trumpet—for he was the King's messenger—he cried in a loud voice:
'All and every man, woman and child, take notice, in the name of the King. It is the King's will that this proclamation be cried abroad in every town and village where his subjects dwell. The King's daughter, Princess Helena the Fair, has caused to be built for herself a shrine having twelve pillars and twelve rows of beams. And she sits there upon a high throne till the time when the bridegroom of her choice rides by. And this is how she shall know him: with one leap of his steed he reaches the height of the tower, and, in passing, his lips press those of the Princess as she bends from her throne. Wherefore the King has ordered this to be proclaimed throughout the length and breadth of the land, for if any deems himself able so to reach the lips of the Princess and win her, let him try. In the name of the King I have said it!'
The blood of the youth of the nation, wherever this proclamation was issued, took flame and leapt to touch the lips of Princess Helena the Fair. All wondered to whose lot this lucky fate would fall. Some said it would be to the most daring, others contended that it was a matter of the leaping powers of the steed, and yet others that it depended not only on the steed but on the daring skill of the rider also.
When the three brothers had listened to the words of the King's messenger they looked at one another; at least the elder two did, for it was apparent to them that Ivan, the youngest, was quite out of the competition, whereas they, two splendid handsome fellows, were distinctly in it.
'Brothers,' said Ivan at last, 'our first thought must be to fulfil our father's dying wish. But, if you prefer it, we could take it in turns to read the prayers over our father's grave. Let it be the duty of one of us each day to fulfil the duty, morning and evening.'
The elder brothers agreed readily to this, but, when Ivan asked whose turn it should be on the morrow, they both began to make excuses.
'As for me,' said the eldest, 'I must go and order the work of the farm my father left me, and that will take seven days.'
'And for me,' said the younger, 'I must see to the estate which is my part of the inheritance, and that also will take seven days.'
'Then,' replied Ivan, 'if I perform the duty for seven days, you will each do your share afterwards?'
His brothers agreed still more readily than before. Then they went their ways, Ivan full of thoughts of his father, and the other two to train their jumping horses, the one on his farm and the other on his estate. And both laughed to themselves, for neither knew the purpose of the other.
How they curled their hair and cleaned their teeth, and practised 'prunes and prisms' with their mouths close to the looking-glass!—so that when, at one bound of their magnificent steeds, they reached the level of the Princess's lips, to aim the kiss that was to win the prize, they would make a brave show, and a conquering one. As for their little brother, they each thought he could go on praying over their father's grave as long as he liked,—it would be the best thing he could do, and it would not interfere with their secret plans, so carefully concealed from each other and from him.
So, for seven days, in their separate districts, they raced about on their horses by day and dreamed of the greatest leaping feats by night. And at the end of the seven days the youngest brother summoned them to keep their agreement, and asked which of them would read the prayers, morning and evening, for the second seven days.
'I have done my part,' he said; 'now it is for you to arrange between you which one shall continue the sacred duty.'
The two elder brothers looked at each other and then at Ivan.
'As for me,' said one, 'I care little who does it, so long as I am free to get on with my business, which is more important.'
'And as for me,' said the other, 'I am in no mind to watch each blade of grass growing on the grave. I cannot really afford the time, I am so busy. You, Ivan,—you are different: you are not a man of affairs; how could you spend your time better than reading prayers over our father's grave?'
'So be it,' replied Ivan. 'You get back to your work and I will attend to the sacred duty for another seven days.'
The two elder brothers went their separate ways, and for seven more days devoted their entire attention to training their horses for the flying leap at the Princess's lips. How they tore like mad about the fields! How they jumped the hedges and ditches! How they curled their hair and dyed their moustaches and practised their lips, not only to 'prunes and prisms,' but to 'peaches of passion' and 'pomegranates,' and 'peripatetic perambulation' and everything they could think of! In fact, they paid so much attention to the lips which were to meet those of the Princess at the top of the flying leap, that they began to neglect their own and their horses' meals. In other words, they were beginning to show signs of over-training.
At the end of the second seven days Ivan again summoned them to a family council, and asked them if either of them could now take up the sacred duty. But no; thinking heavily on horses and lips, and high jumps and kisses, they spoke lightly of fields to be tilled, seed to be sown, and all such things that must be done at once. Their view was—and they got quite friendly over it—that Ivan should be more than delighted to bear this pleasurable burden of reading prayers over his father's grave. Indeed, nothing but the stern call of immediate duty would prevail upon them to relinquish a task so pleasant.
'So be it,' said Ivan; 'I will perform the sacred duty for another seven days.' But as he spoke, he noted his brothers' curled hair and dyed moustaches, and gleaned from this, and from the look of sudden suspicion and jealousy exchanged between them, that they were both in love with the same fair one. But he kept this to himself, and left them to their own concerns.
Again, at the end of seven days, when Ivan had read the prayers devoutly, he summoned his brothers. But they did not come. Both sent messages saying that they were frightfully busy, and would he be so good as to go on with the sacred duty until they could be spared to do their share later on. Ivan accepted their messages, and went on reading the prayers over the father's grave.
Meanwhile each of his brothers prepared for the great flying leap; and each said to himself: 'What about Ivan? He would like to see this great exploit. It might make a man of him. He is altogether lacking in ambition, and to see a great deed done might stir him to try to be a great hero himself. But yet—I fear it would never do. He is so weedy, so insignificant. I feel I should lose by having a brother like that anywhere about. No; he is far better reading prayers over our father's grave.'
So each in his own way resolved to go in alone—apart from the other and apart from Ivan.
The morning of the great day came. The eldest brother had chosen from his horses a magnificent black one with arched neck and flowing mane and tail. The second brother had selected a bay equally splendid. And now, at sunrise, they were, each unknown to the other, combing their well-curled hair, re-dyeing their moustaches, and booting and trapping themselves for the wonderful display of prowess the day was to bring forth. And they did not forget to make sure that their lips were as fit as they were anxious for the 'high kiss.'
At the appointed time they rode into the lists and drew their lots, and neither was altogether surprised at seeing his brother among the host of competitors for the hand of Helena the Fair. Their surprise came later, when Ivan arrived on the scene.
It so happened in this way: that, towards evening, when his two brothers had each had their last try to leap up to the Princess's lips and failed, like every one else, Ivan himself was reading the prayers over his father's grave. Suddenly a great emotion came over him, and he stopped in his reading. He was filled with a longing to look just for once upon the face of Helena the Fair, for whose favour he knew that the most splendid in the land were competing with their wonderful steeds. So strong was this longing that he broke down and, bending over his father's grave, wept bitterly.
And then a strange thing happened. His father heard him in his coffin, and shook himself free from the damp earth, and came out and stood before him.
'Do not weep, Ivan, my son,' he said. And Ivan looked up and was terrified at the sight of him.
'Nay, my son, do not fear me,' his father went on. 'You have fulfilled my dying wish, and I will help you in your trouble. You wish to look upon the face of Helena the Fair, and so it shall be.'
With this he drew himself up, and his aspect was commanding. Then he called in a loud voice, and, as the echoes of his tones began to die away, Ivan heard them change into the far-distant beat of a horse's hoofs. After listening for a while his father called again, and this time the echo was a horse's neigh and galloping hoofs. It seemed beyond the hillside, and Ivan looked up and wondered. A third time his father called, and nearer and nearer came the galloping sound, until at last, with a thundering snort and a ringing neigh, a beautiful chestnut horse appeared, circled round them thrice, and then came to a halt before them, its two forefeet close together and its eyes, ears, and nostrils shooting flames of fire.
Then came a voice, and Ivan knew it was the voice of the chestnut horse with the proudly arched neck and flowing mane:
'What is your will? Command me and I obey!'
The father took Ivan by the hand and led him to the horse's head.
'Enter here at the right ear,' he said, 'and pass through, and make your way out at the left ear. By so doing you will be able to command the horse, and he will do whatever you may wish that a horse should do.'
So Ivan, nothing doubting, passed in at the right ear of the chestnut horse and came out at the left; and immediately there was a wonderful change in him. He was no longer a dreamy youth: he was at once a man of affairs, and the light of a high ambition shone in his eyes.
'Mount! Go, win the Princess Helena the Fair!' said his father, and immediately vanished.
With one spring Ivan was astride the chestnut horse, and, in another moment, they were speeding like lightning towards the shrine of Helena the Fair.
The sun was setting, and the two elder brothers, disconsolate, were about to withdraw from the field, when, startled by the cries of the people, they saw a steed come galloping on, well ridden, and at a terrific pace. They turned to look and they marked how Helena the Fair, disappointed of all others, leaned out to watch the oncoming horseman. And the whole concourse turned and stood to await the possible event.
On came the chestnut horse, his nostrils snorting fire, his hoofs shaking the earth. He neared the shrine, and, to a masterful rein, rose at a flying leap. The daring rider looked up and the Princess leaned down, but he could not reach her lips, ready as they were.
The whole field now stood at gaze as the chestnut horse with its rider circled round and came up again. And this time, with a splendid leap, the brave steed bore its rider aloft so that the fragrant breath of the Princess seemed to meet his nostrils, and yet his lips did not meet hers.
Again they circled round while all stood still and tense. Again the chestnut steed rose to the leap, and, this time, the lips of Ivan met those of the Princess in a long sweet kiss, for the chestnut horse seemed to linger in the air at the top of its leap while that kiss endured.
Then, while the Princess looked after, horse and rider reached the ground and disappeared like lightning.
Instantly the host of onlookers swarmed in.
'Who is he? Where is he?' was the cry on every hand. 'He kissed her on the lips, and she kissed him. Look at her! Is it not true?'
It was true, for Princess Helena the Fair, with a lovelight in her eyes, was leaning down and searching, with all her soul, even for the very dust spurned from the heels of her lover's horse. But she could see nothing, and sank back within her shrine, treasuring the kiss upon her lips; while the people, dissatisfied, but wondering greatly, melted away. Among them went the splendid brothers, seeking how they could sell their well-trained horses to advantage, for they had both been frantically near to the Princess's lips.
Whither had Ivan flown on the chestnut horse? Loosing the reins—he cared for nothing but the kiss—he let his steed go, and presently it came to a standstill before his father's grave. There he dismounted and turned the horse adrift. As if its errand was completed, it galloped off; a rainbow came down to meet it, and, closing in, seemed to snatch it up in its folds. Ivan was alone before his father's grave.
Once more he bowed himself in prayer. Once more his father appeared before him.
'Thou hast done well, O my son,' he said. 'Thou hast fulfilled my dying wish, but my living wish is yet to be fulfilled. To-morrow Helena the Fair will summon the people and demand her bridegroom. Be thou there, but say nothing.'
With this Ivan found himself alone.
On the following day there was a great gathering at the palace, and, in the midst of it, sat Princess Helena the Fair demanding her bridegroom—the one who had leapt to her lips and won her from all others. Her heart and soul and body were his. The half of her kingdom to come was his. She, herself, was his;—where was he?
Search was made among the highest in the land, but, fearing a demand for the repetition of the leap and the kiss, none came forward. Ivan sat at the back, a humble spectator.
'She is thinking of that leap and that kiss,' said he to himself. 'When she sees me as I am, then let her judge.' But love, though blind, has eyes. The Princess rose from her seat and swept a glance over the people. She saw the two handsome elder brothers and passed them by as so much dirt. Then, by the light of love, she descried, sitting in a corner, where the lights were low, the hero of the chestnut horse,—the one who had leapt high and reached her lips in the first sweet kiss of love.
She knew him at once, and, as all looked on in wonder, she made her way to that dim corner, took him by the hand without a word, and led him up, past the throne of honour, to an antechamber, where, with the joyous cries of the people ringing in their ears, their lips met a second time,—at the summit of a leap of joy.
At that moment the King entered, knowing all.
'What is this?' said he.
Then he smiled, for he understood his daughter, and knew that she had not only chosen her lover, but had won her choice.
'My son,' he added, without waiting for an answer, 'you and yours will reign after me. Look to it! Now let us go to supper.'
THE QUEEN OF THE MANY-COLOURED BEDCHAMBER
AN IRISH FAIRY TALE
One day in the long ago, the sun shone down upon a green wood whose mightiest trees have since rotted at the bottom of the ocean, where the best masts find a grave. While the sunlight slept on the bosom of the foliage, a horseman galloped in the shade beneath. The great chief Fion, son of Cumhail, was looking for his knights, whom he had outstripped in the hunt.
He reined in his steed in a broad glade, and blew his bugle loud and clear. Beside the echoes repeated among the hillsides, there was no answering call. He rode on, pausing now and again to blow another and another bugle-blast, but always with the same result.
At length the wood grew more scattered, and presently he came out upon a stretch of plain where the grass was so green that it looked like emerald; and beyond it in the distance, at the end of the sloping plain, he could see the seashore, and the ocean rising like a wall of sapphire up to the farthest horizon.
Down by the shore he could see figures moving, and, thinking that his knights had found their way thither, he rode like the wind down the long, gentle slope towards them. As he drew nearer and nearer, he saw that there were twelve of them, and they were playing at ball. By the mighty strokes they gave with the coman he guessed that these were the twelve sons of Bawr Sculloge, for none but them could drive the ball so high and far. Tremendous were their strokes, and, when they ran after the ball, they outstripped the wind.
As Fion drew rein and dismounted, they stopped their play; and, drawing near, welcomed him loudly as the helper of the weak, and the protector of the green island against the white-faced stranger.
When he had returned their greeting, they invited him to join them in their game—if such an amusement was agreeable to him.
'Fion, son of Cumhail,' said one, 'here, take my coman and wipe away the vanity and conceit of all comers, for we are practising for a great contest.'
Fion took the coman and looked at it, holding it up between his finger and thumb.
'I doubt if I could do much good with this plaything,' said Fion; 'it would break at first blow if I were to strike at all hard.'
'Never let that stand in the way,' returned the other. 'Wait!'
He then searched upon the ground among the blades of grass, and at length found a nettle, which he pulled up by the roots. Having breathed a charm over it, he passed it three times from one hand to the other, and lo, it was changed into a mighty coman, fit for the hand of Fion, son of Cumhail.
Then they were amazed at his terrific blows. The ball, struck by Fion, soared almost out of sight in the sky, and fell to earth far off. But, each time, the fleet-footed sons of Bawr Sculloge retrieved it.
At last Fion bared his arm to the shoulder, and, with a final blow, sent the ball out of sight. None saw it go; none saw it fall. They all stood and looked at each other.
'My hand on it,' said the eldest son of Bawr, advancing to Fion. 'I live to admit that I never saw the game played till to-day.'
As they were speaking, a voice hailed them; and, turning seawards, they saw a small boat approaching. As soon as it touched the beach, a man sprang ashore, and hastened towards them.
'Hail! Fion, son of Cumhail!' he cried. 'You are known to me, though not I to you. My lady, the Queen of Sciana Breaca, lays a knight's task upon you. Hasten forthwith, and have speech with her on her island. The hand of Flat Ear the Witch is upon her, and her chiefs have advised her to summon you to her aid.'
'I know it,' replied Fion. 'The Salmon of Wisdom, which comes up from the sea, breeds knowledge in my brain. I know what is passing in all the islands, but I fear that my efforts against witchcraft would be unavailing. Nevertheless, I will try. I will choose, from the twelve sons of Bawr Sculloge, three that I need, and together we will follow you to the island.'
'But, noble chief, you have no boat here, and mine will hold only one other beside myself.'
'Let not that trouble you,' replied Fion. 'I will provide a boat for us four, and we will follow you.'
With this he selected from the twelve sons the three that he needed. They were Chluas, Grunne, and Bechunach. Then he plucked two twigs of a witch hazel that grew near by, and they all proceeded to the beach. There he held the two twigs out over the water, and, in a moment, the one became a boat and the other a mast with sail set. He sprang in and the three followed, and presently they were speeding over the sea, setting their course by that of the stranger in his boat.
They sailed for many hours before they came to the island of the Queen of the Many-coloured Bedchamber. There they passed between high rocks, and entered a quiet harbour, where they moored their boat to a stout pillar and set a seal upon the fastening, forbidding any but themselves to loose it for the space of one year, for they knew not how long their quest would last. Then they went up into the palace of the Queen.
They were gladly welcomed and treated with the most generous hospitality. When they had eaten and drank, the Queen led them into a vast bedchamber decorated in the form and manner of the rainbow. Over the ceiling were the seven colours in their natural order. Round the walls they ranged themselves in the same fashion, and even the carpet itself was formed of seven hues to correspond. If the rainbow itself had been caught and tied up in a room, the effect could not have been more remarkable. It was indeed a many-coloured bedchamber!
Taking Fion by the hand, the Queen led them all into a corner of the bedchamber, where she pointed to a little cot in which a child lay sleeping.
'I had three children,' she said as she stood at the head of the cot, while Fion and the others gathered round. 'When the eldest was a year old it was carried off by that wicked witch, Flat Ear. The next year, when the second one was twelve months old, it suffered the same fate. And now my youngest here, who is twelve months old to-day, has fallen sick, and I fear to lose him in the same manner. This very night the witch will surely come and snatch my child away unless you can prevent her.'
'Take comfort, fair Queen,' said Fion. 'We will do our best. If you will leave this chamber to us we will watch over your child and see that it comes to no harm. And, if it be possible to capture the witch, depend upon it we shall do so. Too long she has worked her wickedness upon these lands.'
The Queen thanked him and withdrew. Soon the sun was set, and, as the child slept on and the shadows gathered, Fion and the three brothers set their watch in the Many-coloured Bedchamber. Presently servants came in and set wine before them—honey-mead and Danish beer, and metheglin and sweet cakes. And, while they regaled themselves, the servants brought chessmen and a board, and Grunne and Bechunach played chess while Fion and Chluas watched by the bedside.
Hours passed while the two chess-players were absorbed in their game and the other two kept watch and ward. Then, towards midnight, while Fion was alert and wakeful, he saw Chluas sink his chin on his breast, overcome by an unnatural sleep. Thrice Chluas strove to rouse himself, but thrice he sank into a deeper sleep.
'Wake up, Chluas!' cried Grunne, as Bechunach was considering his next move. 'Wake up! We have a pledge to keep.'
Chluas roused himself. 'Yes, yes,' he said; 'we have a pledge to keep.' And then his chin sank gradually on his breast again, and he was once more a victim to the same unnatural sleep.
'Let him alone,' said Fion. 'I will watch.'
And the two brothers went on with their game of chess.
Suddenly a chill wind swept through the bedchamber. The fire in the grate flickered, and the candles burned low: the child in the cot stirred and moaned.
'See that!' said Fion in a hoarse whisper, pointing to the fireplace.
They turned and looked. It was a long, lean, bony hand reaching down the chimney and groping in the direction of the cot. The fingers were spread out and crooked, all ready to clutch. Slowly the long arm lengthened and drew near the cot. It was about to snatch the child, when Fion darted forward and seized it in an iron grip.
There was a violent struggle, for Fion had the arm of the witch in his powerful grasp. He held on so masterfully that the witch, in her frantic efforts to draw it away, fell down the chimney, rolled across the fire, struck Fion a terrific blow on the temple with her other hand, and then, falling on top of his unconscious body, lay still, her shoulder torn and bleeding.
Grunne and Bechunach quickly ran to Fion's aid, and, leaving the witch for dead, quickly withdrew his body and restored him to consciousness. Then, when they turned to see to the witch, they found that both she and the child had vanished.
They sprang to their feet and roused Chluas roughly. But he sank to sleep again immediately.
'What shall we do?' they all asked of Fion.
'Follow!' said he; 'follow where I lead. Grunne, pick up your bow and arrows; Bechunach, knot your ladder of cords. Follow me, both of you. Leave Chluas sleeping: he is not in his body; his spirit goes with us, and we cannot do without it.'
So Grunne gathered up his bow and arrows and Bechunach his rope, and the three, leaving the body of Chluas like dead wood, went forth to seek the witch.
They came to the seashore, loosed their boat, sped across the harbour and out between the high rocks. Then, guided by the loosed spirit of the sleeping Chluas, they sped forward on the ocean, driven by a freshening breeze. All the while the spirit-light, floating above the waves, led them on.
It was some two hours before dawn when they descried, in the distance, the lighted tower of the witch, upon an island. A dull, red flame shot out from it, and, as it turned for ever on itself, this flame lighted the sea around like a revolving wheel, clear and red against the surrounding blackness.
Nearer and nearer they approached it. Then Fion stood up in the boat and chanted magic spells, raising his arms and sinking them again with fingers stretched and his palms downwards. Then with a loud cry he called for sleep to descend on the vile witch of the revolving tower.
Ere yet his cry had died away on the surrounding sea the red light ceased to revolve. It was still, glaring dully. Then, as the boat touched the beach beneath the tower, Fion commanded Bechunach to throw his knotted cord and noose the topmost turret.
It was soon done. The noose caught, and held. And, in another moment, Bechunach, like a wild cat of the mountain, was climbing up. Fion and Grunne followed, while the spirit of Chluas, who lay fast asleep in the Many-coloured Bedchamber, guided and directed their every movement.
They gained a window of the tower and made their way in. Following the gleam of the dull, red light, they went from room to room, and at last came to one where it shone clearly through the cracks of the door. They burst in, and stood aghast on the threshold at the sight that met their gaze.
There on the floor lay the witch, in a magic sleep, the blood flowing from her shoulder, torn by Fion in the struggle. And there, around her, crying bitterly, were the Queen's three children.
Fion stooped down and swept his arm round them, and took them aside and comforted them. Then he gathered the youngest to his breast, and, directing Grunne and Bechunach to see to the other two, he led the way to the window.
In a very short time they had all climbed down the rope ladder and were speeding away in the boat. But, as they left the island, the spell was released. The tower, with its wheel of red light, began again to revolve upon the waters, and they heard the witch's shriek of rage as she awoke to the pain of her wound, to find the children gone. It came again and again, that shriek of baffled hate and rage and pain. Then, as they looked back, they saw a dark form glide down the walls of the tower like a loathsome thing creeping head downwards. It reached the foot and sped to the seashore. Then it seemed to loose a boat, and, in another moment, it was speeding in pursuit of them. Faster and faster over the waves it came.
'Quick!' cried Fion to Grunne. 'Draw your bowstring to your ear. You will not miss: the spirit of the sleeper will guide your shaft.'
Grunne fitted an arrow to his bowstring, and drew it to his ear. Then, as Fion shot forward his outstretched hands, casting a vivid light from his finger-tips over the surface of the sea, the arrow sped with a twang and a whiz.
A terrible cry came back across the water. The witch, struck to the heart, threw up her arms, and, falling from her boat, sank in the sea.
Fion put down his hands, and then all was dark, save for a dull red light which flickered and played above the spot where the witch had sunk; and they sped on.
Now they neared the harbour, and saw a multitude of people waiting, with torches waving. When they gained the foothold of the land, with the three children in their arms, the people raised a mighty cheer. The Queen heard it and hastened to meet them.
Great was her joy on receiving her three children at the hands of Fion. And she showered upon him every blessing, entertaining him and his comrades—the three sons of Bawr Sculloge—for a whole year. And every year thereafter—lest the deed be forgotten—on the anniversary of the day she sent a boat laden with gold and silver and precious stones, and shields and helmets and chess-tables and rich cloaks; and the sons of Bawr Sculloge invited Fion to join them in high festival on that day, for they said, 'Such deeds should never be forgotten.'
And, one morning in spring, Fion, son of Cumhail, went into the gardens and orchards about his palace and plucked many twigs from flowers and fruit trees, and with these he went down to the seashore. Holding them above the waves, he recited a spell, and immediately a boat was formed of the twigs—a trim little craft with sail set.
He sprang in and steered his course for the isle of the Queen of the Many-coloured Bedchamber. And, as he sped over the waves, the boat began to bud; and green leaves appeared on the mast, and the spars and stays put out the growth of spring, till they shone like emerald in the sun.
When he came in sight of the island, the sides of the boat were covered with blossoms, the mast had put out a wealth of petals, and the sail and rigging were covered with flowering vines. Then, as he passed between the high rocks and entered the harbour, the watchers on shore saw a boat approaching, splendid with summer flowers, and on its mast were spreading branches dropping down with luscious fruit. Nearer and nearer it came, and, when it touched the shore, Fion sprang out, and bade them gather the beautiful flowers and the ripe fruit and take them to their Queen.
And Queen Breaca valued this present more than any other he could have offered, because the manner of it was beautiful, and a Queen is a woman, and a woman loves beautiful things above all else.
And Chluas, the sleeper—what reward had he? He claimed none, and none knows what was his reward. Yet it is said that in the Land of Deep Sleep there are rewards undreamt of by those who wake.
THE BLUE BIRD
A FRENCH FAIRY TALE
There was once upon a time a King who was tremendously rich both in money and lands. His wife, the Queen, died, and left him inconsolable. He shut himself up for eight days in a little room, and banged his head against the wall so much that it was believed he would kill himself, so grieved was he at his loss.
All his subjects resolved between themselves to go and see him, and they did. Some said that he could show his grief in a less painful manner. Others made speeches grave and serious, but not one of them made any impression on the widowed King. Eventually there was presented to him a woman dressed in the deepest mourning, and she cried and moaned so long and so loud that she caused no little surprise.
She said to the King that she did not like the others coming to ask him to stay his crying, for nothing was more just than that he should cry over the loss of a good wife; and that as for her, who once had the very best of husbands, and had lost him, she would cry for him as long as she had eyes in her head to cry with; and immediately she let out and redoubled her sobs, and the King, following her example, did the same.
Each one recounted to the other the good qualities of their dear dead ones; so much so that at last there was nothing more could be found to say about their losses and their great sorrow. In the end the widow lifted her deep veil, and the poor afflicted King gazed at the afflicted one, who kept turning and turning her great blue eyes with long black lashes. The King watched her with deep attention; and little by little he talked less of his lost Queen, until at last he forgot to talk of her at all.
The widow then said that for ever she would cry and mourn for her husband, but the King begged her not to go to that limit and immortalise her sorrow. In the end he astonished her by saying that he would marry her, and that the black would be changed into green and pink, the colour of roses. It suffices to say that the King did as the stories tell: did all that was possible and all that she wished.
Now the King had but one daughter of his first marriage, and she was considered one of the eight wonders of the world; her name was Florine, because she resembled a beautiful flower: she was fresh, young and lovely. She was always dressed in the most beautiful transparent clothes, and with garlands of flowers in her hair, which made a beautiful effect. She was only fifteen years old when the King married again.
The new Queen also had, by her first husband, a daughter, who had been brought up by her godmother, the fairy Soussio; but she was neither beautiful nor gracious. The girl's name was Truitonne, because her face was so like the face of a trout, and her hair was so full of grease that it was impossible to touch it; and her skin simply ran with oil. But the Queen did not love her any the less. All she could do was to talk of the charming Truitonne, and how Florine had all sorts of advantages over her; and the Queen became desperate, and sought every possible way to make the King see faults in Florine.
One day the King said to the Queen that Florine and Truitonne were big enough to marry now, and that the first Prince who came to the court should have one of the two Princesses in marriage.
'I maintain,' said the Queen, 'that my daughter shall be the one to get the trousseau; she is the elder, and she is a million times more amiable, and those are the points that matter, after all.'
The King, who hated disputes, said that it was well, and that she was her own mistress.
Some time afterwards, news came that Prince Charming had arrived. Never did a Prince display such gallantry and magnificence; his manner and looks were in keeping with the name he bore. When the Queen heard of this handsome Prince she employed all the dressmakers and tailors to dress Truitonne, and make her presentable, and she begged the King that Florine should have nothing at all new. Her one thought was to have all the beautiful clothes ready before the arrival of Prince Charming at court.
When he came the Queen received him in all pomp and splendour, and presented to him her daughter more brilliant than the sun, and more ugly than she was usually, because of all the jewels she had on.
Prince Charming turned away his eyes; the Queen tried to persuade him that the Princess pleased him very much. But he demanded to know if there was not another Princess called Florine? 'Yes,' said Truitonne, pointing with her finger; 'see, there she is, hidden away, because she is not good.'
Florine reddened, and looked so beautiful, so beautiful, that Prince Charming forgot himself. He bowed the knee and made a low curtsy to the Princess. 'Madam,' said he, 'your incomparable beauty is too much; but for you I should have sought help in a strange land.'
'Seigneur,' replied the Princess, 'I am sorry that I am not dressed in a proper manner, but I have only my old clothes; yet I thank you for asking to see me.'
'It would be impossible,' said Prince Charming, 'that any one once seeing you could have eyes for anything else than so beautiful a Princess.'
'Ah!' said the Queen, irritated, 'I do well wasting my time listening to you. Believe me, seigneur, Florine is also a coquette; she does not deserve that you should be so gallant to her.'
Prince Charming understood the motives of the Queen in speaking of Florine in this way. He was not in a position to prove the truth, but he let it be seen that all his admiration was for Florine.
The Queen and Truitonne were very upset to see that he preferred Princess Florine. So, when Princess Florine left the company of Prince Charming, the Queen with impatience waited for her to return to her room. There were hidden four men with masks over their faces, and they had orders to take the Princess Florine away on a journey, to await the pleasure of Prince Charming, so that she would please him better and would make him a better spouse.
The Queen then went to the Prince and told him that the Princess was a coquette, and had a bad temper; that she tormented the servants, and did not know how to behave herself; that she was avaricious, and preferred to be dressed like a little shepherdess rather than like a Princess.
To all this Prince Charming listened. 'But,' said he, 'it would be impossible for so beautiful and amiable a girl to be all that you say. How could that be true of one with such modest grace and beauty? even though she be dressed in a humble little frock. That is not a thing that touches me very much. It pains me far more to know that the Queen hurts her feelings, and you are not a stepmother for nothing; and really, madam, the Princess Truitonne is so ugly that it would be hard to find anything uglier amongst God's creatures. The courtiers, too, do not look at all pleased to hear you speak badly of Florine.'
The Queen spent half of the night questioning him, for she could not believe that he loved Florine. And the poor Princess Florine was terrified because the four men with masks had taken her far away.
'I do not doubt that it is for the Queen's advantage that I am taken away,' said she. And she cried so much that even her enemies were touched.
The Queen in the meantime gave Prince Charming all the jewels he could wish for, and lavished her attention on him. The King presented him with a little book with gold covers and studded with diamonds, and inside it, he told him, was a photograph of his future wife.
'What!' said Prince Charming, 'the beautiful Princess Florine? Ah! she thinks of me, and in a most generous manner.'
'Seigneur,' said the King, 'you mistake; we take the part of the amiable Truitonne. I am cross, seigneur, that you do not accept this great honour; but, at the same time, a King is merely a King: he is not master enough to make the engagements that he would like.'
The Prince at last asked for Princess Florine.
'Seigneur,' said the Queen, 'her father desired that she should go away until my daughter is married.'
'And for what reason,' said the Prince, 'should this beautiful girl be made a prisoner?'
'I ignore all that,' said the Queen.
So the Prince left the Queen's company because it was not congenial to him. When he entered his own room, he said to a young Prince who had accompanied him, and whom he loved very much, that he would give all the world to be able to speak to one of the women of the beautiful Princess for a moment. His young friend found one at once whom it would be possible to question with confidence. She told him that the same evening Florine would be at a little window that looked out on to the garden and that he could then speak to her, but that he must take every precaution, lest the Queen and King should overhear.
The Prince was delighted, and made ready to see the Princess. But the wicked maid went at once and told the Queen all that had passed. It was then arranged that Truitonne should take her place; and so, with great precautions, Truitonne placed herself at the little window.
The night was very dark; so much so that it was impossible for Prince Charming to suspect the change passed upon him. He expressed himself exactly the same to Truitonne as he had to Florine and plainly showed his love for her. Truitonne, profiting by her mother's instructions, said that she was the most unhappy person in the world to have such a wicked and cruel stepmother, and that she would have to suffer until her stepsister was married. The Prince assured her that he would marry her if she would have him, and that he would give her his heart and his crown; and he removed a ring from his finger and put it on the finger of Truitonne, as a token of his faith, and told her that she would only have to wait an hour, when a carriage would come to take her away. Truitonne begged of him to go to the Queen and ask her to give her her liberty, and assured him that, if he would come back to-morrow at the same hour, she would be ready.
The Queen was very happy at the success of her scheme. The Prince took a carriage drawn by three great frogs with great big wings, which made the carriage simply fly. Truitonne came out mysteriously by a little door, and the Prince, who was awaiting her appearance, at once put his arms around her and swore eternal faith, but, as he was not in any humour to take a long journey in the flying carriage without marrying the Princess whom he loved, he demanded of her where they could go. She told him that she had a fairy godmother named Soussio, who was a very celebrated person, and that they would have to go to her castle.
Then the Prince, not knowing the road, begged of the frogs with the flying wings to put them on the right way; and they did so, for, mind you, frogs know all the routes of the universe. And so, in no time, they found themselves at the castle of the fairy Soussio.
Then Truitonne told the godmother that she had trapped Prince Charming and that she wanted to marry him. The godmother was not so sure that it could be done, 'for,' said she, 'he loves Princess Florine.' At all events she went to the room where the Prince was, and said to him: 'Prince Charming, here is the Princess Truitonne to whom you have given your faith; she is my godchild, and I wish that you marry her at once.'
'Me!' cried he; 'you want me to marry that little monster? You must think I am very easily pleased when you put forward such a proposition to me. She knows full well that I have never promised her anything. And if she says otherwise, she is——'
'Do not deny,' said the Fairy, 'and do not be bold and forget the respect that you owe me.'
'I respect you,' replied the Prince, 'as much as it is possible to respect a fairy. Come, now. Will you deliver me my Princess?'
'Is it that you do not know me?' said Truitonne; and she showed him his ring, adding, 'and to whom did you give this ring at the little window as a pledge of your faith, if it was not to me? Come, now, do not pretend that you have forgotten.'
'No! no! I am not going to be duped and deceived,' said the Prince. 'Come! come, my great frogs! I want to depart at once.'
'You cannot depart without my consent, said the Fairy, and she immediately touched his feet and they became glued to the floor.
'I will not,' said the Prince, 'have any other than my Princess Florine; on that I am resolved, and all you say and do will not change me one little bit.'
Soussio became sweet and used every art in her power to induce the Prince to marry Truitonne. Truitonne cried, raved, and begged; but the Prince would not say one single word to her; he only looked at her with indignant eyes and replied not a word to all her overtures.
He passed twenty days and twenty nights like this. At last the Fairy was so tired of it all that she said to the Prince, 'Very well; you are obstinate, and will not listen to reason, and will not keep your word and marry my godchild!'
The Prince, who had not spoken a word, at last replied: 'Do to me what you will, but deliver me from the dullness of this place!'
'Dullness!' cried Truitonne; 'bother you! You have done me a great injury in coming here to my country and giving me your word and then breaking it.'
'Listen to the touching words,' said the Prince in sarcasm. 'See what I have lost in refusing to take so beautiful a woman for my wife.'
'No! no!' replied Soussio, 'she shall never be that, and for your insult to her you shall fly through this window, and remain a Blue Bird for seven years. Do you hear me?—a Blue Bird for seven years.'
Immediately the Prince began to change, and his arms became covered with feathers, and he became a Blue Bird; his eyes became bright, and on his head a great white plume arose like a crown—and he flew away through the window.
In his sad mood he flew from branch to branch, warbling his song of sorrow and his love for Florine, and deploring the awful wickedness of their enemies. He thought that he was doomed for seven years, and that Florine would be married to another.
When Truitonne returned to the Queen and told her all that had happened she flew into a terrible temper. She resolved to punish the poor Florine for having engaged the love of Prince Charming. So she dressed the Princess Truitonne in all her grandeur, and on her finger was the ring given her by the Prince; and, when Florine saw this, she knew that the ring belonged to her Prince. The Queen then announced to all that her daughter was engaged to Prince Charming, and that he loved her to distraction. Florine did not doubt the truth of it all. When she realised that she would never marry her Prince Charming, she cried all the night, and sat at the little window nursing her regrets. And, when the day arrived for the marriage, she shut the window and continued to cry.
During this time the Blue Bird, or Prince Charming, did not cease to fly round the castle. The Princess sat at the window and every night entreated that she might be delivered. 'O wicked Queen!' she cried, 'to keep me shut up like this because of Prince Charming!'
The Blue Bird heard this and did not lose a word, but waited to see who the lady was who had such a sorry plaint. But she shut the window and retired. The Blue Bird, curious to see and to hear some more, came again the following night, and again there was a maiden at the window who was full of regrets.
'Fortune!' said she, 'you have taken from me the love of my father. I have received a blow at a tender age; and it is so much pain that I am tired of living. I demand with all my heart that my fatal destiny may end.'
The Blue Bird listened, and then he knew that it was his Princess, and he said: 'Florine, a King who loves you will never love any one but you.'
'A King who loves me!' said she. 'Is this another snare of my enemies?'
'No, my Princess.' And Florine was very much afraid of this bird who spoke with as much spirit as a man. But the beauty of his plumage reassured her.
'Would it be possible to see you, my Princess?' said he. 'Could I taste a happiness so great without dying of joy? But, alas! this great joy would be troubled by your captivity, and the wicked fairy Soussio has done this for seven years.'
'And who are you, charming bird?' said the Princess caressingly.
'You have said my name rightly, and yet you fail to recognise me,' replied the Prince.
'What! The greatest King in the world! The Prince Charming!' cried the Princess. 'Is he the little bird I see?'
'Alas! dear Florine, it is too true! And, if one thing consoles me, it is that I prefer this sorrow rather than renounce the love I have for you.'
And so this went on. The Blue Bird paid visits to Florine every night, and they were as happy as it was possible to be. One evening Prince Charming flew away to his palace, and brought back lovely diamond bracelets, beautiful pearl necklaces and a sweet little pearl watch, and gave them all to Florine.
The Queen could not understand how it was that Florine had such lovely jewels and why she looked so happy, so she questioned her about it. Florine, who knew that if she said the Blue Bird had given them to her, they would not believe her, and would try to drive him away, said she did not know. The Queen said the Evil One must have bought her soul, and decided to watch.
She did so, and discovered that the Blue Bird came every night. Then Truitonne and her mother sought the help of the wicked fairy Soussio; and she, to please her godchild, worked another spell on the poor Blue Bird, so that he could not come any more to see his Florine.
One day his friend the Good Fairy was passing by a certain spot where he was a prisoner in a tree, and she saw a trail of blood and heard a very weak voice calling her, but nowhere could she find the Blue Bird. But she knew it was his blood. Then, after a long time, she found him in his tiny nest, dying.
This was the Good Fairy who had given him the flying-frog carriage, so again she resolved to help him if she could. Away she went to the fairy Soussio and asked her to release the spell on Prince Charming. Soussio agreed to do so if he would marry Truitonne. Then the Good Fairy conducted Prince Charming back to his castle, where, on his arrival, the ugly Truitonne was awaiting his return, dressed in lovely clothes, and more ugly than ever.
Now the old King died, and the people, who hated the Queen and her ugly daughter, said that they would have no other Queen but Florine, and they went to her in her little room and begged her for their sake to be their Queen. But she said she had not the heart for anything because she had lost her lover, Prince Charming. They asked her again to become their Queen and then to go out and look for him, and they were sure she would find him.
So she became their Queen, and then dressed herself as a poor peasant, and went out into strange lands and travelled in many strange places, thinking to find her beloved Prince. But it was all of no avail. One day she stopped, out of sheer fatigue, to rest by a fountain, and, while she was there, the Good Fairy, disguised, came by and asked her what she was crying for. Florine told her all about the Prince whom she loved and was seeking. Then the Good Fairy told her that Prince Charming was at his own castle and that the spell had been removed, and she gave Florine four little eggs, and said that whenever she was in trouble she was to throw one of them down, and at the same time ask what she wanted, and it would be granted. With these words she disappeared.
Florine turned her face towards the castle of the Prince, and, after many trials and sufferings, she found herself at the feet of her ugly sister Truitonne. Florine, disguised as a poor peasant, was not recognised, so she offered her lovely jewels for sale, and Truitonne, who loved jewellery, resolved to buy them. But Florine would not sell for money: all she asked was to spend a night in the castle. Truitonne was only too glad to get them at such a price, and agreed.
Feeling that the poor peasant girl was giving her something for nothing, and imagining that she did not really know the value of the jewels, Truitonne allowed her sister every liberty in the palace. She could go where she would, unquestioned, and do what she pleased.
Florine took every advantage of this, and, mixing freely among the attendants, she soon learned many things about Prince Charming. Among other pieces of news was this important item: the Prince, being unable to sleep, was in the habit of taking a sleeping-draught every night.
On hearing this she sought the Prince's head valet, and made herself so charming to him that he lost his head altogether, and was more than willing to fulfil her lightest wish.
'Tell me,' said she at last, 'why does the Prince take sleeping-draughts?'
'Ah!' replied he, looking very wise, 'it is because the Princess is so ugly.'
'Because she is so ugly? I—I don't understand.'
'What! From the very first the Prince's waking hours have been one long, frightful dream; and he can only banish it by night by taking the sleeping-draught. The Prince is deeply in love with the Princess's sister, but no one but myself knows that. Every night, when he sinks to sleep under the draught, he smiles, and his face looks so very happy, and he whispers one name again and again: "Florine! Florine!"'
The peasant girl's heart beat hard, and a plan shot like lightning through her mind. She would tell this man everything and he would help her. She knew he would, and she knew also that he would not be blind to his own advantage. Her mind was quickly made up. The four little eggs the Good Fairy had given her were packed in a little box. Taking this from the folds of her dress she took one of them and threw it on the floor.
'I am Florine!' she said. 'And I want your willing help.'
The head valet stared at her in dismay. Then his face changed. He bowed to her with the utmost respect, and said: 'Princess, I am your faithful slave; command me and I will obey.'
'First, then,' said Florine, 'do not give the Prince the draught to-night; and find me an apartment next to his.'
'It shall be done,' replied the valet, and with a low bow he withdrew to make the arrangement.
'Stay!' cried Florine as he was going. 'I forbid you to tell the Prince a word of this. You understand?'
'And obey,' he replied, bowing again and again as he left her presence, walking backwards in respect to high royalty.
That night the Prince, impatient to forget the face of Truitonne, called for his sleeping-draught. The head valet appeared, bearing a flavoured mixture in a crystal goblet on a golden tray. The Prince drank it. By its taste it was the draught, but, by its effect, it was not. No sleep came to him, and the face of Truitonne grew uglier and uglier in his mind. Presently he started up.
'What sound was that?'
It came from the next apartment—the sound of a woman weeping. He listened, and in the stillness of the palace the sound came clearly. He knew that voice: it was the voice of his dear Princess Florine, just as he used to hear it when, as a Blue Bird, he spoke with her at her window.
In a moment he arose and dressed himself in his royal robes. While he was doing this, Florine in the next room took another egg from the box, and, throwing it upon the floor, cried: 'I wish that, by storm and lightning, all that is evil and ugly in this palace shall be destroyed, and all that is good and beautiful left.'
As she spoke the rising wind wailed about the palace and died away; dull thunder reverberated in the distance. The air grew stifling, and the night flowers paid their perfumes out like threatened debtors. Another rush of wind, then silence broken only by a peal of thunder nearer than before. The splash of heavy drops was heard on the flagstones of the courtyard below. The lightning was seen to flash through the windows, and the thunder shook the castle to its foundations.
Nearer and nearer loomed the storm, growing more terrific every moment. Every one was up and running about in panic. Those with ugly souls and bodies, if their consciences were also wicked, went mad in the panic, and fled in a body from the palace, thinking the end of the world had come. But those whose consciences were clear, whose hearts were true—those who could never be called ugly, no matter what they looked like—they sought the Prince and gathered round him, while the palace shuddered as all the storm gods poured out their wrath.
As the panic-stricken ones fled towards the hills, Florine looked out at the window and saw them, a rushing group with terror in their heels. There came a vivid flash of lightning, and the thunder split and rolled and crashed. When Florine looked again she saw no fugitives: they had disappeared for ever. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the storm abated. The thunder rolled away into the distance, and the moon came out and rode from cloud to cloud triumphant.
There was a knock upon the door. It was the Prince, and behind him were gathered his own, the good and true, according to her wish. How could she meet him in her peasant's garb? A quick thought came to her. She took the third egg and smashed it on the floor, saying: 'I wish that I may come face to face with my Prince in all the dazzling splendour that befits a princess.'
Instantly there was a flash as if a fairy wand had cleft the air. And there stood Florine, the most splendidly royal figure you could imagine. She was beautiful beyond words—so beautiful that the wonderful jewels in her hair and on her lovely dress, on her neck and arms and tiny shoes, could never have got their beauty from any one but her.
She opened the door, and stepped back with a cry of delight. As she did so, she placed her hand to her breast where she felt the frail little box that contained the fourth and last egg.
In another moment she was in the Prince's arms, and the pressure of that embrace crushed the box and broke the egg.
'I wish,' she cried on the instant, raising her lips to his, 'I wish that you will love me for ever!'
BASHTCHELIK (OR, REAL STEEL)
A SERBIAN FAIRY TALE
The aged Tsar was dying, and his three sons and three daughters were standing round his bed. He had yet strength to give his last commands, which were extraordinary.
'It is my will, O my sons,' he said, 'that you give my daughters in marriage to the first suitors that come to demand them. Question me not, but fulfil to the letter this, my last injunction. If you fail, my curse will fall upon you.'
These were the Tsar's last words before he died. It was approaching the hour of midnight when he passed away; and, when the dawn found his sons and daughters weeping for grief, they were startled by a dreadful noise. Came a loud beating against the palace gates, and instantly an awful tempest sprang up around the palace. Peal on peal of thunder roared, and vivid lightning flashed. The whole place rocked and swayed and trembled to its foundations. Then above the fearful din came a loud voice: 'In the name of a King, open the gates!'
'Do not open!' cried the eldest brother.
'See to it that you do not open!' insisted the younger one. But the youngest disregarded them both, and rushed to the gates.
''Tis I will open!' he flung back to them as they followed at his heels. 'Though the earth dissolve, what have we to fear? We have done no wrong!'
With this he flung the gates wide. There was no one there, but a sizzling light moved in towards them, and, out of the heart of it came a clear, cold voice:
'I have come to demand the hand of your eldest sister in marriage. Forbid me not. I await your consent, but, if you refuse, it will be at your peril.'
The eldest brother answered at once, without a glance at the other two: 'It is unheard of! I cannot see you; I do not know you; who is to know where or how you will bestow my sister? I might never see her again.' He turned to the younger one and added, 'What say you, brother?'
'For my part, I will not consent,' replied he readily. 'I like not these signs of ill omen.'
Then they both turned to the youngest.
'What say you, little brother?'
He was quick to answer:
'I obey my father, and counsel you to do the same. It is not that I fear his curse, but I love him, and will obey his wish.'
Without waiting for any reply he ran within, and soon returned, leading his eldest sister by the hand.
'Here,' said he, offering her to the unseen visitant, 'in accordance with the custom of my country and the dying wish of my father, I give you my sister for your wedded wife. May she be faithful to you.'
The Princess was then taken by an invisible hand and led away; and, as she stepped across the threshold of the palace gates, a tremendous clap of thunder burst overhead; the lightning flashed again, and the whole earth rocked at the sound and sight of it; and, at terror of it, the courtiers who had gathered round fell on their faces and prayed for deliverance with all their might.
When the sun rose, the palace was still astir. None had slept, so none had dreamed; therefore, when eyes met eyes, the truth was known: a terrible thing had happened, but none knew how it had happened. All sought to find some clue to explain the disappearance of the eldest Princess, but there was no clue to the midnight mystery of the thing.
And on the second night the same terrible thing occurred again. The palace was stormed by thunder and lightning till its foundations quaked. Then, above all, came another commanding voice: 'Open the gates immediately—in the name of a King!'
Again the elder brother demurred, and again the youngest admitted the invisible but powerful applicant, and bestowed upon him the second sister.
'I trust she will be loyal and faithful to you,' he said; and, as she stepped over the threshold, the elements roared like a great lion glutting on his prey. And still, to the courtiers who stood by, the mystery of the thing was greater than their fear of the quakings of the earth and the sudden gasps of icy air that smote them.
Again, on the third night, while the youngest sister, who was very proud, was preparing to reject a suitor promised by her brothers, a greater storm than ever swept up about the palace, and, to hear it, one would have thought that half the world were rolling down a hill. It was terrific, and still more terrific was a voice that cried: 'Open these gates, in the name of a King who comes on his own business!'
As before, the two elder brothers demurred, but the youngest was more obedient to his father's dying wish. He bestowed the youngest sister upon the first to seek her hand. And, as she stepped over the threshold, the whole palace trembled and fluttered as if disturbed by the wings of a thousand giant eagles.
The two elder brothers mourned and grieved for their sisters, saying they were lost for ever. How could they see them again? How could they visit them? They were gone—swallowed up in the invisible.
'It is not so,' said the youngest. 'We have fulfilled our father's command. We have done no wrong; though the skies fall down, what have we to fear? Follow me forth: we will go and search for them!'
And so, not knowing what had befallen their sisters, nor whom they had married, they set out to search far and wide for them.
After journeying for some days, they reached a wild, inhospitable country, where, in a mighty forest so dense they could see neither the sun by day nor the stars by night, they lost their way. But still they pushed on, hoping to find an outlet. At last, after wandering for days, they came at sunset to a small lake, where they prepared to pass the night.
The eldest watched while the two younger brothers slept.
In the middle of the night, while his brothers slept soundly, he was gazing upon the waters of the lake, watching the moonbeams play with the ripples stirred by the soft night wind, when he saw a great black head appear on the surface and rapidly approach the shore where he was standing. Presently, as the monster emerged from the water, he found himself face to face with a great alligator rushing upon him to devour him.
Like lightning he drew his sword and smote the alligator between the eyes, cleaving its head in one mighty stroke. Then, when it had ceased its death struggles, he cut off both its ears and placed them in his haversack.
As his brothers still slept he resolved to say nothing about the matter, and, to this end, he rolled the carcase of the alligator down the shelving shore into the water, where it sank like lead. At sunrise he roused his brothers, and, with few words, they resumed their wandering.
After three days struggling through the forest, they came to another lake, where they camped for the night. This time the second brother watched, while the eldest and the youngest slept.
And he, too, had a strange adventure, but more terrible than that the eldest brother had encountered. At midnight the waters of the lake began to move, and a great alligator with two heads emerged and came up on the shore. Then, with both mouths wide open and his long sharp teeth gleaming in the moonlight, the monster rushed at the watcher and the sleepers. But the watcher sprang forward, sword in hand, and dealt two terrific blows, one on each head, killing the alligator instantly. Then he cut off the four ears and placed them in his haversack, and rolled the huge carcase back into the lake. As the eldest brother had done, he kept the matter to himself, and let his brothers sleep on.