When Rosette saw the beautiful garden, with all its flowers and fruit and its many fountains, she was overcome with amazement and could not speak a word. She had never before seen anything of the kind. She looked about her on all sides, and then ran hither and thither, picking the fruit from the trees and the flowers from the beds, while her little dog Frillikin (who was as green as a parrot, had only one ear, and could dance deliciously) capered in front of her, yapping his loudest, and amusing everybody present by his absurd gambols.
Presently Frillikin dashed into a little copse, and the princess followed. Never was any one so struck with wonder as she, to behold there a great peacock with tail outspread. So beautiful, so exquisitely and perfectly beautiful did it seem to her that she could not take away her eyes. When the king and the prince joined her they asked what it was that had so taken her fancy. She pointed to the peacock and asked what it was, to which they replied that it was a bird that was sometimes served at table.
'What?' she cried; 'a bird so beautiful as that to be killed and eaten? I tell you, I will marry no one but the King of the Peacocks, and when I am queen no one shall ever eat such a dish again!'
No words can express the astonishment of the king. 'My dear sister,' he said, 'where do you suppose that we are to find the King of the Peacocks?'
'Wherever you please, Sire,' was the answer; 'but I will marry none but him!'
After having announced this decision she allowed her brothers to escort her to their castle. But so great was the fancy she had taken to the peacock that she insisted on its being brought and placed in her apartment.
All the ladies of the Court, by whom Rosette had never yet been seen, now hastened to pay their dutiful respects. Gifts of every kind were proffered to her—sweetmeats and sugar, gay ribbons, and dresses of cloth-of-gold, dolls, slippers richly embroidered, with many pearls and diamonds. All did their best to show her attention, and she displayed such charming manners, kissing hands and curtseying so graciously when any gift was offered to her, that not a gentleman or lady of the Court but left her presence loud in her praise.
While the princess was being thus entertained, the king and the prince were taking counsel as to how they could find the King of the Peacocks, supposing such a person did really exist. In pursuit of the plan which they formed a portrait was painted of the Princess Rosette, and so cunningly wrought was this picture that only speech seemed wanting to make it live. Then they said to their sister:
'Since you will marry none but the King of the Peacocks, we are setting forth together in quest of him through the wide world. If we find him we shall be well rewarded. Wait for our return, and take care of our kingdom while we are away.'
Rosette thanked them for the trouble they were taking, and promised to govern the kingdom well. She declared that while they were away her only pleasures would be to admire the beautiful peacock and make Frillikin dance. Their adieux were said with many tears.
Behold, then, the royal pair upon their travels, asking of all whom they met: 'Do you know the King of the Peacocks?' The reply from all was 'No, we do not.' Then the travellers would pass on and go further, journeying in this way so far, far away that no one had ever been so far before.
At last they reached the kingdom of the Cockchafers, and the latter in their myriads made so loud a buzzing that the king thought he would go deaf. He asked one who seemed more intelligent than the rest if he knew whereabouts the King of the Peacocks was to be found.
'Sire,' said the cockchafer, 'his kingdom is thirty thousand leagues away; you have taken the longest road to get there.'
'How do you know that?' asked the king.
'Because we know you well,' replied the cockchafer; 'every year we spend two or three months in your garden!'
The king and his brother embraced the cockchafer warmly, and struck up a great friendship. Arm in arm they all went off to dinner, over which the visitors expressed their astonishment at the remarkable features of this country, where the smallest leaf from a tree was worth a gold piece. Presently they set off for their destination, and as they now knew the road they were not long in reaching it. They observed that all the trees were full of peacocks; indeed the place held so many of them that their screaming as they talked could be heard two leagues away.
'If the King of the Peacocks is himself a peacock,' said the king to his brother, 'how can our sister dream of marrying him? It would be folly to sanction it. A nice set of relatives she would present to us—a lot of little peacocks for nephews!' The prince was equally uneasy in his mind. 'It was an unfortunate notion to come into her head,' he declared; 'I cannot imagine how she ever came to think that such a person as the King of the Peacocks existed.'
When they reached the city they found it peopled with men and women, but the latter all wore garments fashioned out of peacocks' feathers; and from the profusion in which these objects were everywhere to be seen it was plain that they were regarded with an intense admiration. They encountered the King of the Peacocks, who was out for a drive in a splendid little chariot of gold, studded with diamonds, drawn by a dozen galloping peacocks.
The King of the Peacocks, fair of complexion, with a crown of peacocks' feathers surmounting his long and curly yellow locks, was so extremely handsome that the king and prince were delighted with his appearance. He guessed from their clothes, so different from those of the natives, that they were strangers; but to make sure he caused his carriage to stop and summoned them to him.
The king and the prince advanced to meet him, and bowed low. 'We have come from far away, Sire,' they said, 'in order to show you a portrait.' With these words they drew from the pack which they carried the magnificent portrait of Rosette.
'I do not believe,' said the King of the Peacocks, when he had looked long and well at it, 'that the world holds so beautiful a maiden.'
'She is a hundred times more beautiful than that,' said the king.
'You are joking,' said the King of the Peacocks.
'Sire,' said the prince, 'this is my brother, who is a monarch like yourself: men call him King. For myself, I am known as Prince. This portrait shows our sister, the Princess Rosette. We are here to ask if you are willing to marry her. She has good sense as well as good looks, and we will give her for dowry a bushel of golden crowns.'
'Why, certainly,' said the King of the Peacocks, 'I will marry her with all my heart. I promise she shall want for nothing, and I will love her truly. But I would have you know that she must be as beautiful as her picture, and that if she falls short of it by the least little bit, I will put you to death.'
'We accept the conditions,' said Rosette's two brothers.
'You accept?' said the King of the Peacocks. 'Then you must bide in prison until the princess has arrived.'
The royal brothers raised no objection to this, for they knew well that Rosette was more beautiful than her portrait. The King of the Peacocks saw to it that his captives were well looked after, and went often to visit them. The portrait of Rosette was placed in his palace, and he was so taken up with it that, night or day, he could scarcely sleep.
From prison the king and the prince sent a letter to the princess telling her to pack at once all she might require and come as quickly as possible, for the King of the Peacocks awaited her. They did not dare to mention that they were in prison, lest she should be too uneasy.
When the princess received this letter her transports of delight were enough to kill her. She announced to every one that the King of the Peacocks had been found, and desired to wed her. Bonfires were lit, guns fired, and sugar and sweetmeats eaten in abundance; while for three days every one who came to see the princess was treated to bread and butter with jam, and cakes and ale.
Having dispensed hospitality in this liberal fashion, the princess gave all her beautiful dolls to her dearest friends, and entrusted her brother's realm to the wisest elders of the city. She bade them take care of everything, spend as little as possible, and save money until the king should return. At the same time she begged them to look after her peacock.
Taking with her only her nurse and foster-sister, and her little green dog Frillikin, she embarked on a vessel and put out to sea. They had with them the bushel of golden crowns, and clothes enough to last for ten years, with a change of dress twice a day; and they did nothing but laugh and sing on the voyage.
Presently the nurse said to the boatman:
'Tell me, tell me, are we near the Land of Peacocks?'
'Not yet, not yet,' replied the boatman.
A little later she asked again:
'Tell me, tell me, are we near it now?'
'Presently, presently,' replied the boatman.
Once more she asked:
'Tell me, tell me, are we near it now?'
'Very near, very near,' said the boatman.
When he answered thus the nurse sat down beside him in the stern of the boat. 'If you like, you can be rich for ever,' she said to him.
'I should like that well,' replied the boatman.
'If you like,' she went on, 'you can gain good money.'
'I ask nothing better,' said he.
'Very well, then,' said the nurse; 'to-night, when the princess is asleep, you must help me to throw her into the sea. When she is drowned I will dress up my daughter in her fine clothes, and we will take her to the King of the Peacocks, who will be delighted to marry her. You shall have your fill of diamonds as reward.'
The boatman was taken aback by this suggestion from the nurse. He declared it was a pity to drown so beautiful a princess, and that he had compassion for her. But the nurse fetched a bottle of wine, and plied him with drink until he no longer had wits enough left to refuse.
When night fell the princess went to sleep, according to her usual practice, with little Frillikin comfortably curled up at the foot of the bed, stirring not a paw. When Rosette was fast asleep the wicked nurse, who had remained awake, went to find the boatman. She took him to the cabin where the princess lay, and with the help of the foster-sister they lifted her up—feather-bed, mattress, sheets, blankets, and all—without disturbing her, and threw her into the sea just as she was. So soundly did the princess slumber that she never woke up.
Now luckily her bed was made of feathers from the phoenix, which are very rare and have this peculiar virtue that they never sink in water. Consequently the princess went floating along in her bed, just as though she were in a boat.
Presently, however, the water began little by little to lap first against the sides of the feather-bed, then against the mattress, until Rosette began to feel uncomfortable. She turned over restlessly, and Frillikin woke up. He had a very keen nose, and when he scented the soles and the cod-fish so near at hand he began yapping. He barked so loudly that he woke up all the other fish, and they began to swim round and about. Some of the big fish bumped their heads against the bed, and there being nothing to steady the latter it spun round and round like a top.
You may imagine how astonished the princess was! 'Is our vessel doing a dance upon the water?' she exclaimed; 'I do not remember ever to have been so uncomfortable as I am to-night.' And all the time Frillikin was barking as though he had taken leave of his senses.
The wicked nurse and the boatman heard him from afar. 'Do you hear that?' they exclaimed; 'it is that funny little dog drinking our very good health with his mistress! Let us make haste and get ashore.' By this time, you must understand, they were lying off the capital of the King of the Peacocks.
A hundred carriages had been sent to the water's edge by the king. These were drawn by animals of every kind—lions, bears, stags, wolves, horses, oxen, asses, eagles, and peacocks. The carriage in which Princess Rosette was to be borne was drawn by six blue monkeys which could leap and dance upon the tight-rope and perform endless amusing antics; these had trappings of crimson velvet, studded with gold plates.
Sixty young girls awaited the coming of the princess. They had been selected by the king to be her maids of honour, and their attire, of every colour of the rainbow, shone with ornaments of which gold and silver were the least precious.
The nurse had taken great pains over the toilette of her daughter. She had decked her out in Rosette's most beautiful gown, and placed her diamonds on her head. But nothing could disguise the fact that she was an ugly little fright. Her hair was black and greasy, she was cross-eyed and bow-legged, and in the middle of her back she had a big hump. Moreover she was ill-tempered and sulky, and was for ever grumbling.
When the people of Peacock Land saw her disembark they were so completely taken aback that none could say a word.
'What's the matter with you all?' she demanded; 'have you all gone to sleep? Bring me something to eat at once, do you hear? I'll have the lot of you hanged, precious riff-raff that you are!'
'What a horrible creature!' murmured the citizens amongst themselves, when they heard these threats; 'as ill-tempered as she is ugly! A nice bride for our king, or I am much mistaken! It was hardly worth the trouble to bring her all the way across the world.' The girl meantime continued to behave in most domineering fashion, giving slaps and blows to every one without the slightest provocation.
The procession, being very large, was obliged to move slowly, and as the carriage bore her along she comported herself as though she were a queen. But all the peacocks, who had perched upon the trees to greet her as she passed, and had arranged to call out 'Long live the beautiful Queen Rosette!' cried out when they saw how horrible she was: 'Fie! fie! how ugly she is!' This enraged her, and she called out to her escort: 'Kill those impudent peacocks: they are insulting me!' But the peacocks flew nimbly away, and laughed at her.
The rascally boatman was witness of all that occurred, and whispered to the nurse: 'Things are not going well for us, my good woman: your daughter should have been prettier.'
'Hold your tongue, stupid!' she replied; 'or you will get us into trouble.'
Word was brought to the king that the princess was approaching. 'Well,' said he; 'did her brothers speak the truth? Is she more beautiful than her portrait?'
'Sire,' said the courtiers, 'if she is only as beautiful, that should be enough.'
'Very true!' exclaimed the king. 'I shall be content with that. Let us go and see her.'
He could tell from the din which arose from the courtyard that the princess had arrived, but the only words he could hear plainly amidst the hubbub were cries of 'Fie! fie! how ugly she is!' He supposed people must be referring to some dwarf or pet creature which she had perhaps brought with her, for it never entered his head that it could be the princess herself who was meant.
The portrait of Rosette, uncovered, was hoisted on the end of a long pole, and carried in front of the king, who walked in state with his barons and peacocks, and the ambassadors from neighbouring kingdoms in his train. Great was the impatience of the King of the Peacocks to behold his dear Rosette; but when at length he did set eyes on her—gracious heavens, it was a wonder the shock did not kill him on the spot! He flew into a most terrible rage, rending his clothes, and refusing to go near her. Indeed, she frightened him.
'What!' he cried; 'have those two dastardly prisoners the impudence to mock me thus, and propose that I should wed such a loathsome creature as that? They shall die for it! Away with that hussy and her nurse, and the fellow who brought them here; cast them into the dungeon of my keep!'
Now the king and his brother, who had heard in prison that their sister was expected, had attired themselves handsomely to receive her. But instead of the prison being opened and their liberty restored, as they had anticipated, there came the gaoler with a squad of soldiers, and made them descend into a black dungeon, swarming with vile creatures, where the water was up to their necks. Never were two people more astounded or more distressed. 'Alas!' they cried to each other; 'this is a doleful wedding feast for us! What has brought this unhappy fate upon us?' They did not know what in the world to think, except that it was desired to compass their death, and this reflection filled them with melancholy.
Three days passed and they heard not a word of anything. At the end of the third day the King of the Peacocks came and hurled insults at them through a hole in the wall.
'You called yourselves King and Prince to trap me,' he shouted to them, 'and sought thus to make me promise to wed your sister. But you are nought but a couple of beggars, not worth the water you drink. You shall be sent for trial, and the judges will make short work of your case—the rope to hang you with is being plaited already!'
'Not so fast, King of the Peacocks,' replied the captive monarch, angrily, 'or you will have cause to repent it! I am a king like yourself: I rule over a fair land, I have robes and crowns and treasure in plenty. I pledge my all to the truth of what I say. You must be joking to talk of hanging us—of what have we robbed you?'
The King of the Peacocks hardly knew what to make of this bold and confident challenge. He was almost of a mind to spare their lives and let them take their sister away. But his Chancellor, an arrant flatterer, egged him on, whispering that if he did not avenge himself, he would be the laughing-stock of the whole world, and would be looked upon as a mere twopenny-halfpenny monarch. Thus influenced, he vowed he would not pardon them, and ordered their trial to take place.
This did not take long, for it was only necessary to compare side by side the portrait of the true Princess Rosette with the actual person who had come in her place and claimed identity with her. The prisoners were forthwith condemned to have their heads cut off as a penalty for lying, in that they brought the king an ugly little peasant girl after promising a beautiful princess.
The sentence was read with great ceremony at the prison, but the victims protested that they had spoken the truth, that their sister was indeed a princess, and that there was something at the back of all this which they did not understand. They asked for a respite of seven days, that they might have an opportunity of establishing their innocence; and though the King of the Peacock's wrath was such that he had great difficulty in granting this concession, he agreed to it at length.
Something must now be told of what was happening to poor Princess Rosette while all these events were taking place at the Court.
Great was her astonishment, and Frillikin's also, to find herself, when day came, in mid-ocean without boat or any means of assistance. She fell to weeping, and cried so long and bitterly that all the fishes were moved to compassion. She knew not what to do, nor what would become of her.
'There is no doubt,' she said, 'that I have been thrown into the sea by order of the King of the Peacocks. He has regretted his promise to marry me, and to be rid of me without fuss he has had me drowned. A strange way for a man to behave! And I should have loved him so much, and we should have been so happy together!'
These thoughts made her weep the more, for she could not dispel her fancy for him.
For two days she floated hither and thither over the sea, soaked to the skin, nigh dead with cold, and so nearly benumbed that but for little Frillikin, who snuggled to her bosom, and kept a little warmth in her, she must have perished a hundred times. She was famished with hunger, but on seeing some oysters in their shells she took and ate as many as would appease her. Frillikin did the same, but only to keep himself alive, for he did not like them.
When night fell Rosette was filled with terror. 'Bark, Frillikin,' she said to her dog; 'keep on barking, or the soles will come and eat us!' So Frillikin barked all night.
When morning came the bed was not far off the shore. Hereabouts there lived, all alone, a kindly old man. His home was a little hut where no one ever came, and as he had no desire for worldly goods he was very poor. He was astonished when he heard the barking of Frillikin, for no dogs ever came that way; and supposing that some travellers must have missed their road, he went out with the good-natured intention of putting them right. Suddenly he saw the princess and Frillikin floating out at sea. The princess caught sight of him, and stretching out her arms to him, cried:
'Save me, kind old man, or I shall perish; two whole days have I been floating thus.'
He was filled with pity when he heard her speak thus dolefully, and went to his house to fetch a big crook. He waded out till the water was up to his neck, and after being nearly drowned two or three times he succeeded in grappling the bed and drawing it to the shore.
Rosette and Frillikin were delighted to find themselves once more on land. Rosette thanked the good man warmly. She accepted the offer of his cloak, and having wrapped herself in it walked barefoot to his hut. There he lit a little fire of dry straw, and took from a chest his dead wife's best dress, with a pair of stockings and shoes, which the princess put on. Clad thus in peasant's attire, with Frillikin gambolling round her to amuse her, she looked as beautiful as ever.
The old man saw plainly that Rosette was a great lady, for the coverlets of her bed were of gold and silver, and her mattress of satin. He begged her to tell him her story, promising not to repeat a word if she so desired. She related everything from beginning to end—not without tears, for she still believed that the King of the Peacocks had meant her to be drowned.
'What are we to do, my child?' said the old man. 'A great lady like you is accustomed to live on dainties, and I have only black bread and radishes—very poor fare for you. But I will go, if you will let me, and tell the King of the Peacocks that you are here. There is not the least doubt he will marry you, once he has seen you.'
'He is a bad man,' said Rosette; 'he wanted me to die. If only you can supply me with a small basket to fasten on my dog's neck, it will be exceedingly bad luck if he does not bring us back something to eat.'
The old man handed a basket to the princess, and she hung it round Frillikin's neck with these words: 'Find the best stew-pot in the town, and bring me back whatever is inside it.' Off went Frillikin to the town, and as he could think of no better stew-pot than the king's, he made his way into the royal kitchen. Having found the stew-pot, he cleverly extricated its contents and returned to the house.
'Now go back to the larder,' said Rosette, 'and bring the best that you can find there.'
Away went Frillikin to the larder and took some white bread, some choice wine, and an assortment of fruit and sweets. In fact, he took as much as he could carry.
When the King of the Peacocks should have dined there was nothing in the stew-pot and nothing in the larder. Everybody gazed blankly at everybody else, and the king flew into a terrible rage. 'Oh, very good,' said he; 'it seems I am to have no dinner! Well, put the spits to the fire, and see to it that some good roast joints are ready for me this evening!'
When evening came the princess said to Frillikin: 'Find the best kitchen in the town and bring me a nice roast joint.' Off went Frillikin to carry out this order from his mistress. Thinking there could be no better kitchen than the king's, he slipped in quietly when the cooks' backs were turned, and took off the spit a roast joint, which looked so good that the mere sight of it gave one an appetite. His basket was full when he brought it back to the princess, but she sent him off again to the larder, and from there he carried away all the king's sweetmeats and dessert.
The king was exceedingly hungry, having had no dinner, and ordered supper betimes. But there was nothing to eat, and he went to bed in a frightful temper. Next day at dinner and supper it was just the same. For three days the king had nothing to eat or drink, for every time he sat down at table it was found that everything had been stolen.
The Chancellor, being very much afraid that the king would die, went and hid in a corner of the kitchen, whence he could keep the stew-pot on the fire constantly in view. To his astonishment he saw a little green dog, with only one ear, creep in stealthily, take the lid off the pot, and transfer the meat to his basket. He followed it in order to find out where it went, and saw it leave the town. Still pursuing, he came to the house of the good old man. He went immediately to the king and told him that it was to a poor peasant's house that every morning and evening his dinner and supper vanished.
The king was mightily astonished, and ordered investigations to be made. The Chancellor, to curry favour, volunteered to go himself, and took with him a posse of archers. They found the old man at dinner with the princess, and the pair of them eating the king's provisions. They seized and bound them with strong ropes, not forgetting to deal in like manner with Frillikin.
'To-morrow,' said the king, when he was told that the prisoners had arrived, 'the seven days' grace expires which I granted to those miscreants who insulted me. They shall go to execution with the stealers of my dinner.'
When the King of the Peacocks entered the court of justice the old man flung himself on his knees, and declared that he would narrate all that had happened. As he told his story the king eyed the beautiful princess, and was touched by her weeping. When presently the good man declared that her name was the Princess Rosette, and that she had been thrown into the sea, he bounded three times into the air, despite the weak state in which he was after going so long without food, and ran to embrace her. As he undid the cords which bound her he cried out that he loved her with all his heart.
A guard had been sent for the princes, who approached just then. They came sadly with bowed heads, for they believed the hour of their execution had come. The nurse and her daughter were brought in at the same moment. Recognition was instant on all sides. Rosette flung herself into her brothers' arms, while the nurse and her daughter, with the boatman, fell on their knees and prayed for clemency. So joyous was the occasion that the king and the princess pardoned them. The good old man was handsomely rewarded, and given quarters at the palace for the rest of his life.
Finally, the King of the Peacocks made all amends in his power to the royal brothers, expressing his deep regret at having ill-treated them. The nurse delivered up to Rosette her beautiful dresses and the bushel of golden crowns, and the wedding festivities lasted for fifteen days. Every one was happy, not excepting Frillikin, who ate nothing but partridge wings for the rest of his life.
Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE LTD.
Passages in italics are indicated by underscore.
Other than the corrections listed below, printer's inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and ligature usage have been retained.
The following misprints have been corrected:
changed "book-case" into bookcase page 127 added ' before I am sure,' page 120 added ' after there are no flies here, page 145 added ' after possibly carry out. page 145
Illustrations have been moved from the middle of a paragraph to the closest paragraph break.