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!’