"If a man of no wit and sense," replied Riquet with the Tuft, "would be entitled, as you say, to reproach you for breach of your word, why will you not let me, Madam, do likewise in a matter wherein all the happiness of my life is concerned? Is it reasonable that persons of wit and sense should be in a worse condition than those who have none? Can you pretend this; you who have so great a share, and desired so earnestly to have it? But let us come to fact, if you please. Setting aside my ugliness and deformity, is there any thing in me which displeases you? Are you dissatisfied with my birth, my wit, humour, or manners?"
"Not at all," answered the Princess; "I love you and respect you in all that you mention." "If it be so," said Riquet with the Tuft, "I am like to be happy, since it is in your power to make me the most lovable of men."
"How can that be?" said the Princess.
"It will come about," said Riquet with the Tuft; "if you love me enough to wish it to be so; and that you may no ways doubt, Madam, of what I say, know that the same Fairy, who, on my birth-day, gave me for gift the power of making the person who should please me extremely witty and judicious, has, in like manner, given you for gift the power of making him, whom you love, and would grant that favour to, extremely handsome."
"If it be so," said the Princess, "I wish, with all my heart, that you may be the most lovable Prince in the world, and I bestow it on you, as much as I am able."
The Princess had no sooner pronounced these words, but Riquet with the Tuft appeared to her the finest Prince upon earth; the handsomest and most amiable man she ever saw. Some affirm that it was not the enchantments of the Fairy which worked this change, but that love alone caused the metamorphosis. They say, that the Princess, having made due reflection on the perseverance of her lover, his discretion, and all the good qualities of his mind, his wit and judgment, saw no longer the deformity of his body, nor the ugliness of his face; that his hump seemed to her no more than the homely air of one who has a broad back; and that whereas till then she saw him limp horribly, she found it nothing more than a certain sidling air, which charmed her. They say farther, that his eyes, which were very squinting, seemed to her all the more bright and sparkling; that their irregularity passed in her judgment for a mark of a violent excess of love; and, in short, that his great red nose had, in her opinion, somewhat of the martial and heroic.
Howsoever it was, the Princess promised immediately to marry him, on condition he obtained her father's consent. The King being acquainted that his daughter had abundance of esteem for Riquet with the Tuft, whom he knew otherwise for a most sage and judicious Prince, received him for his son-in-law with pleasure; and the next morning their nuptials were celebrated, as Riquet with the Tuft had foreseen, and according to the orders he had a long time before given.
What in this little Tale we find, Is less a fable than real truth. In those we love appear rare gifts of mind, And body too: wit, judgment, beauty, youth.
A countenance whereon, by natures hand, Beauty is trac'd, also the lively stain Of such complexion art can ne'er attain, With all these gifts hath not so much command On hearts, as hath one secret charm alone. Love finds that out, to all besides unknown.
There was, once upon a time, a man and his wife, faggot-makers by trade, who had seven children, all boys. The eldest was but ten years old, and the youngest only seven. One might wonder how that the faggot-maker could have so many children in so little a time; but it was because his wife went nimbly about her business and never brought fewer than two at a birth. They were very poor, and their seven children incommoded them greatly, because not one of them was able to earn his bread. That which gave them yet more uneasiness was, that the youngest was of a very puny constitution, and scarce ever spake a word, which made them take that for stupidity which was a sign of good sense. He was very little, and, when born, no bigger than one's thumb; which made him be called Little Thumb.
The poor child bore the blame of whatsoever was done amiss in the house, and guilty or not was always in the wrong; he was, notwithstanding, more cunning and had a far greater share of wisdom than all his brothers put together, and if he spake little he heard and thought the more.
There happened now to come a very bad year, and the famine was so great, that these poor people resolved to rid themselves of their children. One evening, when they were all in bed and the faggot-maker was sitting with his wife at the fire, he said to her, with his heart ready to burst with grief:
"Thou see'st plainly that we are not able to keep our children, and I cannot see them starve to death before my face; I am resolved to lose them in the wood to-morrow, which may very easily be done; for while they are busy in tying up the faggots, we may run away, and leave them, without their taking any notice."
"Ah!" cried out his wife, "and can'st thou thyself have the heart to take thy children out along with thee on purpose to lose them?"
In vain did her husband represent to her their extreme poverty; she would not consent to it; she was, indeed poor, but she was their mother. However, having considered what a grief it would be to her to see them perish with hunger, she at last consented and went to bed all in tears.
Little Thumb heard every word that had been spoken; for observing, as he lay in his bed, that they were talking very busily, he had got up softly and hid himself under his father's stool, that he might hear what they said, without being seen. He went to bed again, but did not sleep a wink all the rest of the night, thinking on what he ought to do. He got up early in the morning, and went to the river side, where he filled his pockets full of small white pebbles, and then returned home. They all went abroad, but Little Thumb never told his brothers one syllable of what he knew. They went into a very thick forest, where they could not see one another at ten paces distance. The faggot-maker began to cut wood, and the children to gather up sticks to make faggots. Their father and mother seeing them busy at their work, got from them by degrees, and then ran away from them all at once, along a by-way, thro' the winding bushes.
When the children saw they were left alone, they began to cry as loud as they could. Little Thumb let them cry on, knowing very well how to go home again; for as he came he had taken care to drop all along the way the little white pebbles he had in his pockets. Then said he to them:
"Be not afraid, brothers, father and mother have left us here, but I will lead you home again, only follow me." They did so, and he brought them home by the very same way they came into the forest. They dared not to go in, but sat themselves down at the door, listening to what their father and mother were saying.
The very moment the faggot-maker and his wife were got home, the lord of the manor sent them ten crowns, which he had owed them a long while, and which they never expected. This gave them new life; for the poor people were almost famished. The faggot-maker sent his wife immediately to the butcher's. As it was a long while since they had eaten a bit, she bought thrice as much meat as would sup two people. Having filled their bellies, the woman said:
"Alas! where are now our poor children? They would make a good feast of what we have left here; but then it was you, William, who had a mind to lose them; I told you we should repent of it: what are they now doing in the forest? Alas! dear God, the wolves have, perhaps, already eaten them up: thou art very inhuman thus to have lost thy children."
The faggot-maker grew at last quite out of patience, for she repeated this above twenty times, that they should repent of it, and she was in the right of it for so saying. He threatened to beat her, if she did not hold her tongue. It was not that the faggot-maker was not, perhaps, more vexed than his wife, but that she teized him, and that he was of the humour of a great many others, who love wives who speak right, but think those very importunate who are always in the right. She was half drowned in tears, crying out:
"Alas! where are now my children, my poor children?"
She spake this so very loud, that the children who were at the door, began to cry out all together:
"Here we are, here we are."
She ran immediately to open the door, and said, hugging them:
"I am glad to see you, my dear children; you are very hungry and weary; and my poor Peter, thou art horribly bemired; come in and let me clean thee."
Now, you must know, that Peter was her eldest son, whom she loved above all the rest, because he was somewhat carrotty, as she herself was. They sat down to supper, and ate with such a good appetite as pleased both father and mother, whom they acquainted how frightened they were in the forest; speaking almost always all together. The good folks were extremely glad to see their children once more at home, and this joy continued while the ten crowns lasted; but when the money was all gone, they fell again into their former uneasiness, and resolved to lose them again; and, that they might be the surer of doing it, to carry them at a much greater distance than before. They could not talk of this so secretly, but they were overheard by Little Thumb, who made account to get out of this difficulty as well as the former; but though he got up betimes in the morning, to go and pick up some little pebbles, he was disappointed; for he found the house-door double-locked, and was at a stand what to do. When their father had given each of them a piece of bread for their breakfast, he fancied he might make use of this bread instead of the pebbles, by throwing it in little bits all along the way they should pass; and so he put it up into his pocket.
Their father and mother brought them into the thickest and most obscure part of the forest; when, stealing away into a by-path, they there left them. Little Thumb was not very uneasy at it; for he thought he could easily find the way again, by means of his bread which he had scattered all along as he came. But he was very much surprised when he could not find so much as one crumb; the birds had come and eaten it up every bit. They were now in great affliction, for the farther they went, the more they were out of their way, and were more and more bewildered in the forest.
Night now came on, and there arose a terrible high wind, which made them dreadfully afraid. They fancied they heard on every side of them the houling of wolves coming to eat them up; they scarce dared to speak, or turn their heads. After this, it rained very hard, which wet them to the skin; their feet slipped at every step they took, and they fell into the mire, whence they got up in a very dirty pickle; their hands were in a sorry state.
Little Thumb climbed up to the top of a tree, to see if he could discover any thing; and having turned his head about on every side, he saw at last a glimmering light, like that of a candle, but a long way from the forest. He came down, and, when upon the ground, he could see it no more, which grieved him sadly. However, having walked for some time with his brothers towards that side on which he had seen the light, he perceived it again as he came out of the wood.
They came at last to the house where this candle was, not without abundance of fear; for very often they lost sight of it, which happened every time they came into a bottom. They knocked at the door, and a good woman came and open'd it; she asked them what they wished.
Little Thumb told her they were poor children who had been lost in the forest, and desired to lodge there for God's sake. The woman seeing them so very pretty, began to weep, and said to them:
"Alas! poor babies, whither are ye come? Do ye know that this house belongs to a cruel Ogre, who eats up little children?"
"Ah! dear Madam," answered Little Thumb (who trembled every joint of him, as well as his brothers) "what shall we do? To be sure, the wolves of the forest will devour us to-night, if you refuse us to lie here; and so, we would rather the gentleman should eat us. Perhaps he will take pity on us, especially if you please to beg it of him."
The Ogre's wife, who believed she could conceal them from her husband till morning, let them come in, and brought them to warm themselves at a very good fire; for there was a whole sheep upon the spit roasting for the Ogre's supper.
As they began to be a little warm, they heard three or four great raps at the door; this was the Ogre, who was come home. Upon this she hid them under the bed, and went to open the door. The Ogre presently asked if supper was ready, and the wine drawn; and then he sat himself down to table. The sheep was as yet all raw and bloody; but he liked it the better for that. He sniffed about to the right and left, saying, "I smell fresh meat."
"What you smell so," said his wife, "must be the calf which I have just now killed and flayed."
"I smell fresh meat, I tell thee once more," replied the Ogre, looking crossly at his wife, "and there is something here which I do not understand."
As he spake these words, he got up from the table, and went directly to the bed.
"Ah!" said he, "I see how thou would'st cheat me, thou cursed woman; I know not why I do not eat up thee too; but it is well for thee that thou art a tough old carrion. Here is good game, which comes very luckily to entertain three Ogres of my acquaintance, who are to pay me a visit in a day or two."
With that he dragged them out from under the bed one by one. The poor children fell upon their knees, and begged his pardon; but they had to do with one of the most cruel Ogres in the world, who, far from having any pity on them, had already devoured them with his eyes; he told his wife they would be delicate eating, when tossed up with good savoury sauce. He then took a great knife, and coming up to these poor children, whetted it upon a great whet-stone which he held in his left hand. He had already taken hold of one of them, when his wife said to him:
"What need you do it now? It is time enough to-morrow?"
"Hold your prattling," said the Ogre, "they will eat the tenderer."
"But you have so much meat already," replied his wife, "you have no occasion. Here is a calf, two sheep, and half a hog."
"That is true," said the Ogre, "give them their belly-full, that they may not fall away, and put them to bed."
The good woman was overjoyed at this, and gave them a good supper; but they were so much afraid, they could not eat a bit. As for the Ogre, he sat down again to drink, being highly pleased that he had got wherewithal to treat his friends. He drank a dozen glasses more than ordinary, which got up into his head, and obliged him to go to bed.
The Ogre had seven daughters, all little children, and these young Ogresses had all of them very fine complexions, because they used to eat fresh meat like their father; but they had little grey eyes, quite round, hooked noses, wide mouths, and very long sharp teeth standing at a good distance from each other. They were not as yet over and above mischievous; but they promised very fair for it, for they already bit little children, that they might suck their blood. They had been put to bed early, with every one a crown of gold upon her head. There was in the same chamber another bed of the like bigness, and it was into this bed the Ogre's wife put the seven little boys; after which she went to bed to her husband.
Little Thumb, who had observed that the Ogre's daughters had crowns of gold upon their heads, and was afraid lest the Ogre should repent his not killing them, got up about midnight; and taking his brothers' bonnets and his own, went very softly, put them upon the heads of the seven little Ogresses, after having taken off their crowns of gold, which he put upon his own head and his brothers', that the Ogre might take them for his daughters, and his daughters for the little boys whom he wanted to kill. All this succeeded according to his desire; for the Ogre waking about midnight, and sorry that he deferred to do that till morning which he might have done over-night, threw himself hastily out of bed, and taking his great knife:
"Let us see," said he, "how our little rogues do, and not make two jobs of the matter."
He then went up, groping all the way, into his daughters' chamber; and came to the bed where the little boys lay, who were every soul of them fast asleep; except Little Thumb, who was terribly afraid when he found the Ogre fumbling about his head, as he had done about his brothers'. The Ogre, feeling the golden crowns, said:
"I should have made a fine piece of work of it truly; I find I guzzled too much last night."
Then he went to the bed where the girls lay; and having found the boys' little bonnets: "Hah!" said he, "my merry lads, are you there? Let us to work!"
And saying these words, without more ado, he cut the throats of all his seven daughters.
Well pleased with what he had done, he went to bed again to his wife. So soon as Little Thumb heard the Ogre snore, he waked his brothers, and bade them put on their clothes presently, and follow him. They stole down softly into the garden, and got over the wall. They kept running almost all night, trembling all the while, without knowing which way they went.
The Ogre, when he waked, said to his wife:
"Go up stairs and dress those young rascals who came here last night."
The Ogress was very much surprised at this goodness of her husband, not dreaming after what manner he intended she should dress them; but thinking that he had ordered her to go and put on their cloaths, went up, and was strangely astonished when she perceived her seven daughters killed, and weltering in their blood. She fainted away; for this is the first expedient almost all women find in such-like cases. The Ogre, fearing his wife would be too long in doing what he had ordered, went up himself to help her. He was no less amazed than his wife, at this frightful spectacle.
"Ah! what have I done?" cried he. "The cursed wretches shall pay for it, and that instantly."
He threw then a pitcher of water upon his wife's face; and having brought her to herself:
"Give me quickly," cried he, "my boots of seven leagues, that I may go and catch them."
He went out; and, having run over a vast deal of ground, both on this side and that, he came at last into the very road where the poor children were, and not above a hundred paces from their father's house. They espied the Ogre, who went at one step from mountain to mountain, and over rivers as easily as the narrowest kennels. Little Thumb, seeing a hollow rock near the place where they were, made his brothers hide themselves in it, and crowded into it himself, minding always what would become of the Ogre.
[Footnote 5: That is, 'channels.']
The Ogre, who found himself much tired with his long and fruitless journey (for these boots of seven leagues extremely fatigue the wearer), had a great mind to rest himself, and, by chance, went to sit down upon the rock where these little boys had hid themselves. As he was worn out, he fell asleep: and, after reposing himself some time he began to snore so frightfully, that the poor children were no less afraid of him, than when he held up his great knife, and was going to cut their throats. Little Thumb was not so much frightened as his brothers, and told them that they should run away immediately towards home, while the Ogre was asleep so soundly; and that they should not be anxious about him. They took his advice, and got home presently. Little Thumb came up to the Ogre, pulled off his boots gently, and put them on upon his own legs. The boots were very long and large; but as they were Fairies, they had the gift of becoming big and little, according to the legs of those who wore them; so that they fitted his feet and legs as well as if they had been made on purpose for him.
He went immediately to the Ogre's house, where he saw his wife crying bitterly for the loss of her murdered daughters.
"Your husband," said Little Thumb, "is in very great danger, being taken by a gang of thieves, who have sworn to kill him, if he does not give them all his gold and silver. Just when they held their daggers at his throat, he perceived me, and desired me to come and tell you the condition he is in, and that you should give me whatsoever he has of value, without retaining any one thing; for otherwise they will kill him without mercy; and, as his case is very pressing, he desired me to make use (you see I have them on) of his boots, that I might make the more haste, and to shew you that I do not impose upon you."
The good woman, being sadly frightened, gave him all she had: for this Ogre was a very good husband, tho' he used to eat up little children. Little Thumb, having thus got all the Ogre's money, came home to his father's house, where he was received with abundance of joy.
There are many people who do not agree in this circumstance, and pretend that Little Thumb never robbed the Ogre at all, and that he only thought he might very justly, and with safe conscience take off his boots of seven leagues, because he made no other use of them, but to run after little children. These folks affirm, that they were very well assured of this, and the more, as having drank and eaten often at the faggot-maker's house. They aver, that, when Little Thumb had taken off the Ogre's boots, he went to Court, where he was informed that they were very anxious about a certain army, which was two hundred leagues off, and the success of a battle. He went, say they, to the King, and told him that, if he desired it, he would bring him news from the army before night. The King promised him a great sum of money upon that condition. Little Thumb was as good as his word, and returned that very same night with the news; and this first expedition causing him to be known, he got whatever he pleased; for the King paid him very well for carrying his orders to the army, and abundance of ladies gave him what he would to bring them news from their lovers; and that this was his greatest gain. There were some married women, too, who sent letters by him to their husbands, but they paid him so ill that it was not worth his while, and turned to such small account, that he scorned ever to reckon what he got that way. After having, for some time, carried on the business of a messenger, and gained thereby great wealth, he went home to his father, where it was impossible to express the joy they were all in at his return. He made the whole family very well-to-do, bought places for his father and brothers; and by that means settled them very handsomely in the world, and, in the mean time, rose high in the King's favour.
At many children parents don't repine, If they are handsome; in their judgment shine; Polite in carriage are, in body strong, Graceful in mien, and elegant in tongue. But if perchance an offspring prove but weak, Him they revile, laugh at, defraud and cheat. Such is the wretched world's curs'd way; and yet Sometimes this urchin whom despis'd we see, Through unforeseen events doth honour get, And fortune bring to all his family.
The Ridiculous Wishes
The Ridiculous Wishes
In days long past there lived a poor woodcutter who found life very hard. Indeed, it was his lot to toil for little guerdon, and although he was young and happily married there were moments when he wished himself dead and below ground.
One day while at his work he was again lamenting his fate.
"Some men," he said, "have only to make known their desires, and straightway these are granted, and their every wish fulfilled; but it has availed me little to wish for ought, for the gods are deaf to the prayers of such as I."
As he spoke these words there was a great noise of thunder, and Jupiter appeared before him wielding his mighty thunderbolts. Our poor man was stricken with fear and threw himself on the ground.
"My lord," he said, "forget my foolish speech; heed not my wishes, but cease thy thundering!"
"Have no fear," answered Jupiter; "I have heard thy plaint, and have come hither to show thee how greatly thou dost wrong me. Hark! I, who am sovereign lord of this world, promise to grant in full the first three wishes which it will please thee to utter, whatever these may be. Consider well what things can bring thee joy and prosperity, and as thy happiness is at stake, be not over-hasty, but revolve the matter in thy mind."
Having thus spoken Jupiter withdrew himself and made his ascent to Olympus. As for our woodcutter, he blithely corded his faggot, and throwing it over his shoulder, made for his home. To one so light of heart the load also seemed light, and his thoughts were merry as he strode along. Many a wish came into his mind, but he was resolved to seek the advice of his wife, who was a young woman of good understanding.
He had soon reached his cottage, and casting down his faggot:
"Behold me, Fanny," he said. "Make up the fire and spread the board, and let there be no stint. We are wealthy, Fanny, wealthy for evermore; we have only to wish for whatsoever we may desire."
Thereupon he told her the story of what had befallen that day. Fanny, whose mind was quick and active, immediately conceived many plans for the advancement of their fortune, but she approved her husband's resolve to act with prudence and circumspection.
"'Twere a pity," she said, "to spoil our chances through impatience. We had best take counsel of the night, and wish no wishes until to-morrow."
"That is well spoken," answered Harry. "Meanwhile fetch a bottle of our best, and we shall drink to our good fortune."
Fanny brought a bottle from the store behind the faggots, and our man enjoyed his ease, leaning back in his chair with his toes to the fire and his goblet in his hand.
"What fine glowing embers!" he said, "and what a fine toasting fire! I wish we had a black pudding at hand."
Hardly had he spoken these words when his wife beheld, to her great astonishment, a long black pudding which, issuing from a corner of the hearth, came winding and wriggling towards her. She uttered a cry of fear, and then again exclaimed in dismay, when she perceived that this strange occurrence was due to the wish which her husband had so rashly and foolishly spoken. Turning upon him, in her anger and disappointment she called the poor man all the abusive names that she could think of.
"What!" she said to him, "when you can call for a kingdom, for gold, pearls, rubies, diamonds, for princely garments and wealth untold, is this the time to set your mind upon black puddings!"
"Nay!" answered the man, "'twas a thoughtless speech, and a sad mistake; but I shall now be on my guard, and shall do better next time."
"Who knows that you will?" returned his wife. "Once a witless fool, always a witless fool!" and giving free rein to her vexation and ill-temper she continued to upbraid her husband until his anger also was stirred, and he had wellnigh made a second bid and wished himself a widower.
"Enough! woman," he cried at last; "put a check upon thy froward tongue! Who ever heard such impertinence as this! A plague on the shrew and on her pudding! Would to heaven it hung at the end of her nose!"
No sooner had the husband given voice to these words than the wish was straightway granted, and the long coil of black pudding appeared grafted to the angry dame's nose.
Our man paused when he beheld what he had wrought. Fanny was a comely young woman, and blest with good looks, and truth to tell, this new ornament did not set off her beauty. Yet it offered one advantage, that as it hung right before her mouth, it would thus effectively curb her speech.
So, having now but one wish left, he had all but resolved to make good use of it without further delay, and, before any other mischance could befall, to wish himself a kingdom of his own. He was about to speak the word, when he was stayed by a sudden thought.
"It is true," he said to himself, "that there is none so great as a King, but what of the Queen that must share his dignity? With what grace would she sit beside me on the throne with a yard of black pudding for a nose?"
In this dilemma he resolved to put the case to Fanny, and to leave her to decide whether she would rather be a Queen, with this most horrible appendage marring her good looks, or remain a peasant wife, but with her shapely nose relieved of this untoward addition.
Fanny's mind was soon made up: although she had dreamt of a crown and sceptre, yet a woman's first wish is always to please. To this great desire all else must yield, and Fanny would rather be fair in drugget than be a Queen with an ugly face.
Thus our woodcutter did not change his state, did not become a potentate, nor fill his purse with golden crowns. He was thankful enough to use his remaining wish to a more humble purpose, and forthwith relieved his wife of her encumbrance.
Ah! so it is that miserable man, By nature fickle, blind, unwise, and rash, Oft fails to reap a harvest from great gifts Bestowed upon him by the heav'nly gods.
Once upon a time there was a King, so great, so beloved by his people, and so respected by all his neighbours and allies that one might almost say he was the happiest monarch alive. His good fortune was made even greater by the choice he had made for wife of a Princess as beautiful as she was virtuous, with whom he lived in perfect happiness. Now, of this chaste marriage was born a daughter endowed with so many gifts that they had no regret because other children were not given to them.
Magnificence, good taste, and abundance reigned in the palace; there were wise and clever ministers, virtuous and devoted courtiers, faithful and diligent servants. The spacious stables were filled with the most beautiful horses in the world, and coverts of rich caparison; but what most astonished strangers who came to admire them was to see, in the finest stall, a master donkey, with great long ears.
Now, it was not for a whim but for a good reason that the King had given this donkey a particular and distinguished place. The special qualities of this rare animal deserved the distinction, since nature had made it in so extraordinary a way that its litter, instead of being like that of other donkeys, was covered every morning with an abundance of beautiful golden crowns, and golden louis of every kind, which were collected daily.
Since the vicissitudes of life wait on Kings as much as on their subjects, and good is always mingled with ill, it so befell that the Queen was suddenly attacked by a fatal illness, and, in spite of science, and the skill of the doctors, no remedy could be found. There was great mourning throughout the land. The King who, notwithstanding the famous proverb, that marriage is the tomb of love, was deeply attached to his wife, was distressed beyond measure and made fervent vows to all the temples in his kingdom, and offered to give his life for that of his beloved consort; but he invoked the gods and the Fairies in vain. The Queen, feeling her last hour approach, said to her husband, who was dissolved in tears: "It is well that I should speak to you of a certain matter before I die: if, perchance, you should desire to marry again...." At these words the King broke into piteous cries, took his wife's hands in his own, and assured her that it was useless to speak to him of a second marriage.
"No, my dear spouse," he said at last, "speak to me rather of how I may follow you."
"The State," continued the Queen with a finality which but increased the laments of the King, "the State demands successors, and since I have only given you a daughter, it will urge you to beget sons who resemble you; but I ask you earnestly not to give way to the persuasions of your people until you have found a Princess more beautiful and more perfectly fashioned than I. I beg you to swear this to me, and then I shall die content."
Perchance, the Queen, who did not lack self-esteem, exacted this oath firmly believing that there was not her equal in the world, and so felt assured that the King would never marry again. Be this as it may, at length she died, and never did husband make so much lamentation; the King wept and sobbed day and night, and the punctilious fulfilment of the rites of widower-hood, even the smallest, was his sole occupation.
But even great griefs do not last for ever. After a time the magnates of the State assembled and came to the King, urging him to take another wife. At first this request seemed hard to him and made him shed fresh tears. He pleaded the vows he had made to the Queen, and defied his counsellors to find a Princess more beautiful and better fashioned than was she, thinking this to be impossible. But the Council treated the promise as a trifle, and said that it mattered little about beauty if the Queen were but virtuous and fruitful. For the State needed Princes for its peace and prosperity, and though, in truth, the Princess, his daughter, had all the qualities requisite for making a great Queen, yet of necessity she must choose an alien for her husband, and then the stranger would take her away with him. If, on the other hand, he remained in her country and shared the throne with her, their children would not be considered to be of pure native stock, and so, there being no Prince of his name, neighbouring peoples would stir up wars, and the kingdom would be ruined.
The King, impressed by these considerations, promised that he would think over the matter. And so search was made among all the marriageable Princesses for one that would suit him. Every day charming portraits were brought him, but none gave promise of the beauty of his late Queen; instead of coming to a decision he brooded over his sorrow until in the end his reason left him. In his delusions he imagined himself once more a young man; he thought the Princess his daughter, in her youth and beauty, was his Queen as he had known her in the days of their courtship, and living thus in the past he urged the unhappy girl to speedily become his bride.
The young Princess, who was virtuous and chaste, threw herself at the feet of the King her father and conjured him, with all the eloquence she could command, not to constrain her to consent to his unnatural desire.
The King, in his madness, could not understand the reason of her desperate reluctance, and asked an old Druid-priest to set the conscience of the Princess at rest. Now this Druid, less religious than ambitious, sacrificed the cause of innocence and virtue to the favour of so great a monarch, and instead of trying to restore the King to his right mind, he encouraged him in his delusion.
The young Princess, beside herself with misery, at last bethought her of the Lilac-fairy, her godmother; determined to consult her, she set out that same night in a pretty little carriage drawn by a great sheep who knew all the roads. When she arrived the Fairy, who loved the Princess, told her that she knew all she had come to say, but that she need have no fear, for nothing would harm her if only she faithfully fulfilled the Fairy's injunctions. "For, my dear child," she said to her, "it would be a great sin to submit to your father's wishes, but you can avoid the necessity without displeasing him. Tell him that to satisfy a whim you have, he must give you a dress the colour of the weather. Never, in spite of all his love and his power will he be able to give you that."
The Princess thanked her godmother from her heart, and the next morning spoke to the King as the Fairy had counselled her, and protested that no one would win her hand unless he gave her a dress the colour of the weather. The King, overjoyed and hopeful, called together the most skilful workmen, and demanded this robe of them; otherwise they should be hanged. But he was saved from resorting to this extreme measure, since, on the second day, they brought the much desired robe. The heavens are not a more beautiful blue, when they are girdled with clouds of gold, than was that lovely dress when it was unfolded. The Princess was very sad because of it, and did not know what to do.
Once more she went to her Fairy-godmother who, astonished that her plan had been foiled, now told her to ask for another gown the colour of the moon.
The King again sought out the most clever workmen and expressly commanded them to make a dress the colour of the moon; and woe betide them if between the giving of the order and the bringing of the dress more than twenty-four hours should elapse.
The Princess, though pleased with the dress when it was delivered, gave way to distress when she was with her women and her nurse. The Lilac-fairy, who knew all, hastened to comfort her and said: "Either I am greatly deceived or it is certain that if you ask for a dress the colour of the sun we shall at last baffle the King your father, for it would never be possible to make such a gown; in any case we should gain time."
So the Princess asked for yet another gown as the Fairy bade her. The infatuated King could refuse his daughter nothing, and he gave without regret all the diamonds and rubies in his crown to aid this superb work; nothing was to be spared that could make the dress as beautiful as the sun. And, indeed, when the dress appeared, all those who unfolded it were obliged to close their eyes, so much were they dazzled. And, truth to tell, green spectacles and smoked glasses date from that time.
What was the Princess to do? Never had so beautiful and so artistic a robe been seen. She was dumb-founded, and pretending that its brilliance had hurt her eyes she retired to her chamber, where she found the Fairy awaiting her.
On seeing the dress like the sun, the Lilac-fairy became red with rage. "Oh! this time, my child," she said to the Princess, "we will put the King to terrible proof. In spite of his madness I think he will be a little astonished by the request that I counsel you to make of him; it is that he should give you the skin of that ass he loves so dearly, and which supplies him so profusely with the means of paying all his expenses. Go, and do not fail to tell him that you want this skin." The Princess, overjoyed at finding yet another avenue of escape; for she thought that her father could never bring himself to sacrifice the ass, went to find him, and unfolded to him her latest desire.
Although the King was astonished by this whim, he did not hesitate to satisfy it; the poor ass was sacrificed and the skin brought, with due ceremony, to the Princess, who, seeing no other way of avoiding her ill-fortune, was desperate.
At that moment her godmother arrived. "What are you doing, my child?" she asked, seeing the Princess tearing her hair, her beautiful cheeks stained with tears. "This is the most happy moment of your life. Wrap yourself in this skin, leave the palace, and walk so long as you can find ground to carry you: when one sacrifices everything to virtue the gods know how to mete out reward. Go, and I will take care that your possessions follow you; in whatever place you rest, your chest with your clothes and your jewels will follow your steps, and here is my wand which I will give you: tap the ground with it when you have need of the chest, and it will appear before your eyes: but haste to set forth, and do not delay." The Princess embraced her godmother many times, and begged her not to forsake her. Then after she had smeared herself with soot from the chimney, she wrapped herself up in that ugly skin and went out from the magnificent palace without being recognised by a single person.
The absence of the Princess caused a great commotion. The King, who had caused a sumptuous banquet to be prepared, was inconsolable. He sent out more than a hundred gendarmes, and more than a thousand musketeers in quest of her; but the Lilac-fairy made her invisible to the cleverest seekers, and thus she escaped their vigilance.
Meanwhile the Princess walked far, far and even farther away; after a time she sought for a resting place, but although out of charity people gave her food, she was so dishevelled and dirty that no one wanted to keep her. At length she came to a beautiful town, at the gate of which was a small farm. Now the farmer's wife had need of a wench to wash the dishes and to attend to the geese and the pigs, and seeing so dirty a vagrant offered to engage her. The Princess, who was now much fatigued, accepted joyfully. She was put into a recess in the kitchen where for the first days she was subjected to the coarse jokes of the men-servants, so dirty and unpleasant did the donkey-skin make her appear. At last they tired of their pleasantries; moreover she was so attentive to her work that the farmer's wife took her under her protection. She minded the sheep, and penned them up when it was necessary, and she took the geese out to feed with such intelligence that it seemed as if she had never done anything else. Everything that her beautiful hands undertook was done well.
One day she was sitting near a clear fountain where she often repaired to bemoan her sad condition, when she thought she would look at herself in the water. The horrible donkey-skin which covered her from head to toe revolted her. Ashamed, she washed her face and her hands, which became whiter than ivory, and once again her lovely complexion took its natural freshness. The joy of finding herself so beautiful filled her with the desire to bathe in the pool, and this she did. But she had to don her unworthy skin again before she returned to the farm.
By good fortune the next day chanced to be a holiday, and so she had leisure to tap for her chest with the fairy's wand, arrange her toilet, powder her beautiful hair and put on the lovely gown which was the colour of the weather; but the room was so small that the train could not be properly spread out. The beautiful Princess looked at herself, and with good reason, admired her appearance so much that she resolved to wear her magnificent dresses in turn on holidays and Sundays for her own amusement, and this she regularly did. She entwined flowers and diamonds in her lovely hair with admirable art, and often she sighed that she had no witness of her beauty save the sheep and geese, who loved her just as much in the horrible donkey-skin after which she had been named at the farm.
One holiday when Donkey-skin had put on her sun-hued dress, the son of the King to whom the farm belonged alighted there to rest on his return from the hunt. This Prince was young and handsome, beloved of his father and of the Queen his mother, and adored by the people. After he had partaken of the simple collation which was offered him he set out to inspect the farm-yard and all its nooks and corners. In going thus from place to place, he entered a dark alley at the bottom of which was a closed door. Curiosity made him put his eye to the keyhole. Imagine his astonishment at seeing a Princess so beautiful and so richly dressed, and withal of so noble and dignified a mien, that he took her to be a divinity. The impetuosity of his feelings at this moment would have made him force the door, had it not been for the respect with which that charming figure filled him.
It was with difficulty that he withdrew from this gloomy little alley, intent on discovering who the inmate of the tiny room might be. He was told that it was a scullion called Donkey-skin because of the skin which she always wore, and that she was so dirty and unpleasant that no one took any notice of her, or even spoke to her; she had just been taken out of pity to look after the geese.
The Prince, though little satisfied by this information, saw that these dense people knew no more, and that it was useless to question them. So he returned to the palace of the King his father, beyond words in love, having continually before his eyes the beautiful image of the goddess whom he had seen through the keyhole. He was full of regret that he had not knocked at the door, and promised himself that he would not fail to do so next time. But the fervency of his love caused him such great agitation that the same night he was seized by a terrible fever, and was soon at death's door. The Queen, who had no other child, was in despair because all remedies proved useless. In vain she promised great rewards to the doctors; though they exerted all their skill, nothing would cure the Prince. At last they decided that some great sorrow had caused this terrible fever. They told the Queen, who, full of tenderness for her son, went to him and begged him to tell her his trouble. She declared that even if it was a matter of giving him the crown, his father would yield the throne to him without regret; or if he desired some Princess, even though there should be war with the King her father and their subjects should, with reason, complain, all should be sacrificed to obtain what he wished. She implored him with tears not to die, since their life depended on his. The Queen did not finish this touching discourse without moving the Prince to tears.
"Madam," he said at last, in a very feeble voice, "I am not so base that I desire the crown of my father, rather may Heaven grant him life for many years, and that I may always be the most faithful and the most respectful of his subjects! As to the Princesses that you speak of, I have never yet thought of marriage, and you well know that, subject as I am to your wishes, I shall obey you always, even though it be painful to me."
"Ah! my son," replied the Queen, "we will spare nothing to save your life. But, my dear child, save mine and that of the King your father by telling me what you desire, and be assured that you shall have it."
"Well, Madam," he said, "since you would have me tell you my thought, I obey you. It would indeed be a sin to place in danger two lives so dear to me. Know, my mother, that I wish Donkey-skin to make me a cake, and to have it brought to me when it is ready."
The Queen, astonished at this strange name, asked who Donkey-skin might be.
"It is, Madam," replied one of her officers who had by chance seen this girl, "It is the most ugly creature imaginable after the wolf, a slut who lodges at your farm, and minds your geese."
"It matters not," said the Queen; "my son, on his way home from the chase, has perchance eaten of her cakes; it is a whim such as those who are sick do sometimes have. In a word, I wish that Donkey-skin, since Donkey-skin it is, make him presently a cake."
A messenger ran to the farm and told Donkey-skin that she was to make a cake for the Prince as well as she possibly could. Now, some believe that Donkey-skin had been aware of the Prince in her heart at the moment when he had put his eye to the keyhole; and then, looking from her little window, she had seen him, so young, so handsome, and so shapely, that the remembrance of him had remained, and that often the thought of him had cost her some sighs. Be that as it may, Donkey-skin, either having seen him, or having heard him spoken of with praise, was overjoyed to think that she might become known to him. She shut herself in her little room, threw off the ugly skin, bathed her face and hands, arranged her hair, put on a beautiful corsage of bright silver, and an equally beautiful petticoat, and then set herself to make the much desired cake. She took the finest flour, and newest eggs and freshest butter, and while she was working them, whether by design or no, a ring which she had on her finger fell into the cake and was mixed in it. When the cooking was done she muffled herself in her horrible skin and gave the cake to the messenger, asking him for news of the Prince; but the man would not deign to reply, and without a word ran quickly back to the palace.
The Prince took the cake greedily from the man's hands, and ate it with such voracity that the doctors who were present did not fail to say that this haste was not a good sign. Indeed, the Prince came near to being choked by the ring, which he nearly swallowed, in one of the pieces of cake. But he drew it cleverly from his mouth, and his desire for the cake was forgotten as he examined the fine emerald set in a gold keeper-ring, a ring so small that he knew it could only be worn on the prettiest little finger in the world.
He kissed the ring a thousand times, put it under his pillow, and drew it out every moment that he thought himself unobserved. The torment that he gave himself, planning how he might see her to whom the ring belonged, not daring to believe that if he asked for Donkey-skin she would be allowed to come, and not daring to speak of what he had seen through the keyhole for fear that he would be laughed at for a dreamer, brought back the fever with great violence. The doctors, not knowing what more to do, declared to the Queen that the Prince's malady was love, whereupon the Queen and the disconsolate King ran to their son.
"My son, my dear son," cried the affected monarch, "tell us the name of her whom you desire: we swear that we will give her to you. Even though she were the vilest of slaves."
The Queen embracing him, agreed with all that the King had said, and the Prince, moved by their tears and caresses, said to them: "My father and my mother, I in no way desire to make a marriage which is displeasing to you." And drawing the emerald from under his pillow he added: "To prove the truth of this, I desire to marry her to whom this ring belongs. It is not likely that she who owns so pretty a ring is a rustic or a peasant."
The King and the Queen took the ring, examined it with great curiosity, and agreed with the Prince that it could only belong to the daughter of a good house. Then the King, having embraced his son, and entreated him to get well, went out. He ordered the drums and fifes and trumpets to be sounded throughout the town, and the heralds to cry that she whose finger a certain ring would fit should marry the heir to the throne.
First the Princesses arrived, then the duchesses, and the marquises, and the baronesses; but though they did all they could to make their fingers small, none could put on the ring. So the country girls had to be tried, but pretty though they all were, they all had fingers that were too fat. The Prince, who was feeling better, made the trial himself. At last it was the turn of the chamber-maids; but they succeeded no better. Then, when everyone else had tried, the Prince asked for the kitchen-maids, the scullions, and the sheep-girls. They were all brought to the palace, but their coarse red, short, fingers would hardly go through the golden hoop as far as the nail.
"You have not brought that Donkey-skin, who made me the cake," said the Prince.
Everyone laughed and said, "No," so dirty and unpleasant was she.
"Let someone fetch her at once," said the King; "it shall not be said that I left out the lowliest." And the servants ran laughing and mocking to find the goose-girl.
The Princess, who had heard the drums and the cries of the heralds, had no doubt that the ring was the cause of this uproar. Now, she loved the Prince, and, as true love is timorous and has no vanity, she was in perpetual fear that some other lady would be found to have a finger as small as hers. Great, then, was her joy when the messengers came and knocked at her door. Since she knew that they were seeking the owner of the right finger on which to set her ring, some impulse had moved her to arrange her hair with great care, and to put on her beautiful silver corsage, and the petticoat full of furbelows and silver lace studded with emeralds. At the first knock she quickly covered her finery with the donkey-skin and opened the door. The visitors, in derision, told her that the King had sent for her in order to marry her to his son. Then with loud peals of laughter they led her to the Prince, who was astonished at the garb of this girl, and dared not believe that it was she whom he had seen so majestic and so beautiful. Sad and confounded, he said, "Is it you who lodge at the bottom of that dark alley in the third yard of the farm?"
"Yes, your Highness," she replied.
"Show me your hand," said the Prince trembling, and heaving a deep sigh.
Imagine how astonished everyone was! The King and the Queen, the chamberlains and all the courtiers were dumb-founded, when from beneath that black and dirty skin came a delicate little white and rose-pink hand, and the ring slipped without difficulty on to the prettiest little finger in the world. Then, by a little movement which the Princess made, the skin fell from her shoulders and so enchanting was her guise, that the Prince, weak though he was, fell on his knees and held her so closely that she blushed. But that was scarcely noticed, for the King and Queen came to embrace her heartily, and to ask her if she would marry their son. The Princess, confused by all these caresses and by the love of the handsome young Prince, was about to thank them when suddenly the ceiling opened, and the Lilac-fairy descended in a chariot made of the branches and flowers from which she took her name, and, with great charm, told the Princess's story. The King and Queen, overjoyed to know that Donkey-skin was a great Princess redoubled their caresses, but the Prince was even more sensible of her virtue, and his love increased as the Fairy unfolded her tale. His impatience to marry her, indeed, was so great that he could scarcely allow time for the necessary preparations for the grand wedding which was their due. The King and Queen, now entirely devoted to their daughter-in-law, overwhelmed her with affection. She had declared that she could not marry the Prince without the consent of the King her father, so, he was the first to whom an invitation to the wedding was sent; he was not, however, told the name of the bride. The Lilac-fairy, who, as was right, presided over all, had recommended this course to prevent trouble. Kings came from all the countries round, some in sedan-chairs, others in beautiful carriages; those who came from the most distant countries rode on elephants and tigers and eagles. But the most magnificent and most glorious of all was the father of the Princess. He had happily recovered his reason, and had married a Queen who was a widow and very beautiful, but by whom he had no child. The Princess ran to him, and he recognised her at once and embraced her with great tenderness before she had time to throw herself on her knees. The King and Queen presented their son to him, and the happiness of all was complete. The nuptials were celebrated with all imaginable pomp, but the young couple were hardly aware of the ceremony, so wrapped up were they in one another.
In spite of the protests of the noble-hearted young man, the Prince's father caused his son to be crowned the same day, and kissing his hand, placed him on the throne.
The celebrations of this illustrious marriage lasted nearly three months, but the love of the two young people would have endured for more than a hundred years, had they out-lived that age, so great was their affection for one another.
It scarce may be believed, This tale of Donkey-skin; But laughing children in the home; Yea, mothers, and grandmothers too, Are little moved by facts! By them 'twill be received.
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Uniform with this Volume
THE YEAR'S AT THE SPRING
An Anthology of Recent Poetry. Selected by L. D'O. WALTERS. With Twelve Plates in Colour and Twelve in Black and White and many Decorations by HARRY CLARKE.