The Good Little Mouse
from The Fairy Tales of Madame D'Aulnoy (1892)
ONCE upon a time there lived a king and a queen who loved each other so very, very much that they were all in all to each other. The one always knew what was in the other's mind and heart. Every clay they hunted hares and stags in the forest, or fished for soles and carps in the river, or went to balls and danced the bourée (Note 1) or the pavan (Note 2), or to grand banquets where they ate roast meats and sugar-plums, or to the play and the opera. They laughed and sang and invented all kinds of games to amuse themselves. In short, never were any two people so happy. And their subjects followed their example, and each man was merrier than his fellow. For all these reasons this kingdom was called the Land of Joy.
Now King Joyous had a neighbour who lived in quite a different way. He was the sworn enemy of every kind of pleasure, and only took delight in fighting and quarrelling. There was always a scowl on his face; his beard was long, and his eyes were hollow. He was skinny and shrunken, and always clad in black; and his greasy, dirty hair stood on end. His amusement was to see the passers-by knocked down and killed. Criminals he hung with his own hands, and to torture them gave him the keenest joy. Whenever he heard of a good mother who loved her little girl or boy, he sent for her, and before her eyes he broke their arms or wrung their necks. This kingdom was called the Land of Tears.
The fame of King Joyous' happiness came to the ears of the wicked king, who was very envious, and who made up his mind to levy a great army and go and fight his neighbour and press him hard, till he should be dead or seriously wounded. From all parts he gathered recruits. He collected arms, and ordered cannons to be made. Then everybody was terrified, and said: "Whosoever this wicked king attacks he will give no quarter to".
When all his preparations were made he marched towards King Joyful's country, who, hearing the evil tidings, immediately set about defending himself. The queen nearly died of fright. "Sire," she said, weeping, "we must flee. Get all the money you can, and we shall go away to the other end of the world." But the king answered: "Madam, I have too much courage for that. I would rather die than be a coward." So, gathering his men round him, he bade the queen a tender farewell; and, mounting his beautiful steed, rode away.
When he was lost to her sight she began to weep sadly, and clasping her hands, she said: "Alas! for the child that is to be born to me! If the king is killed in the wars, I shall be a widow and a prisoner, and the wicked king will harm me in every possible way." So for this thought she could neither eat nor sleep. The king used to write to her every day, but one morning when she was looking over the battlements she saw a courier riding at full speed. "Ho, courier!" she called. "What news?" "The king is dead," he cried, "the battle is lost; and the wicked king will be here in a moment." The poor queen fell down in a swoon. They bore her away and laid her on her bed, while all her women stood round, here one weeping for her father, there another for her son. It was the saddest of all sights.
And now, alt at once, they heard shrieks of murder and pillage! It was the wicked king, come with all his miserable people, and they were killing without distinction all who came in their way. He entered the palace armed to the teeth, and went to the queen's chamber. When she saw him come in, she was so terrified that she hid herself in her bed, and put the coverlet over her head. Twice or thrice he called her, but she answered not a word. Then he got angry, and in a great rage he said: "I verily believe you are laughing at me. Do you know that your life is in my hands at this moment?" And, finding where she was, he snatched her cap off her head, so that her lovely hair fell down over her shoulders, and twisting it three times round in his hand, strung her up on his back by it like a sack of wheat. So he carried her off on his great black horse. She begged for mercy, hut he only laughed, and said: "Cry then, and make your moan. It only amuses me, and makes me laugh."
He took her away to his own country, vowing all the time he would hang her. But his people told him it would be a pity, for a child would soon be born to her. When he knew that, it occurred to him that if the child were a daughter he might wed her with his son, and, to know which it would be, he sent for a fairy who dwelt on the borders of his kingdom. When she had come, he treated her more hospitably than was his custom; and then took her up into a tower, at the top of which the poor queen had a little scantily-furnished room. Her bed was a mattress not worth a penny, laid on the floor, and there she wept day and night. When the fairy saw her she was deeply touched, and making her a curtsey, whispered while she embraced her: "Take courage, madam; your sorrows will not last for ever. I hope to be of service to you." The queen, somewhat consoled by these words, kissed her, and begged her to take pity on a poor princess, who once had enjoyed a great fortune, and had seen it all vanish away. They were speaking together when the wicked king interrupted them with: "Come along now, don't make such a fuss; I brought you here to tell me whether this slave is to bear a boy or a girl". The fairy answered: "A girl, and she will be the most beautiful and the most accomplished princess that ever was seen". She then wished the child endless gifts and honours. "If she is not beautiful and accomplished," said the wicked king, "I will hang her to her mother's neck, and I will hang her mother on a tree, and no one shall hinder me." And so saying he went out along with the fairy, without casting a glance at the good queen, who was weeping bitterly. "For, alas!" she said to herself, "what can I do? If I have a pretty little girl, he will give her to his monkey of a son, and if she is ugly he will hang both of us. What an unhappy lot is mine! Could I not hide her somewhere, so that he might never see her?"
The time of the little princess's birth was drawing near, and the anxieties of the queen grew worse every day. She had no one to share her grief with, or to console her. The gaoler who guarded her only gave her three peas cooked in water the whole day long, with a little morsel of black bread. She became thinner than a herring, till she was nothing but skin and bone. One evening while she was spinning for the wicked king, who was a great miser and made her work day and night, she saw a very pretty little mouse come in through a hole. "Alas, little one," she said, "what are you seeking here? I have only three peas for my food all the day long, so, if you don't like fasting, run away." The little mouse ran here and there, dancing and cutting capers like a little monkey, and the queen was so amused that she gave it the only pea she had left for her supper. "Here, little one," she said, "eat this; I have no more, but I give it you with a good will." As soon as she had done this, she saw on the table an excellent partridge, exquisitely cooked, and two pots of jam. "In truth," she said, "the good one does is never lost." She ate a little, but her appetite had gone through long fasting. She threw some sweets to the mouse, and it munched them up, and then began to jump about in a livelier way than it had done before supper. Next morning early the gaoler brought the queen's three peas, having put them in a large dish just to mock her. The little mouse came softly and ate them all up, and the bread too. When the queen wished to dine she found nothing left, and she was very angry with the mouse. "It is a naughty little beast," she said, "and if it goes on doing this I shall die of hunger." When she went to cover up the large dish, which was empty, she found in it all kinds of good things to eat. But while she was eating, the thought came to her that in two or three days perhaps the wicked king would put her child to death, and she rose from the table to Weep. Then, lifting her eyes to heaven, she said: "Are there no means of escape?" As she said this she saw the little mouse playing with long pieces of straw. Picking them up, she began to work. "If I have straw enough," she said, "I shall make a covered basket to put my little girl in, and I will give her through the window to the first charitable person who will take care of her." She set to work, therefore, with a good heart. She had plenty of straw, for the mouse was always dragging some into the room, and jumping about all the while. At meal-times the queen gave it her three peas, and found in exchange all sorts of dishes this astonished her very much, and she never stopped wondering who could be sending her such excellent things.
The queen was looking through the window one day, to see how long the cord should be which she must fasten to the basket to let it down, when, below, she saw a little old woman leaning on a staff, who said to her: "I know your trouble, madam, and if you like I will help you". "Alas! dear friend," said the queen, "you will do me a great service if you come every evening to the foot of the tower. I shall let down my poor child to you. You will feed it, and I shall try to pay you well, if I am ever rich." "I am not fond of money," the old Woman answered, "but I like good things to eat. There is nothing I care so much for as a fine plump mouse. If you find any in your garret, kill them, and throw them down to me. I shall not be ungrateful, and your baby will thrive well." When the queen heard this she began to cry, and did not say a word in reply, and the old woman, after waiting for some time, asked her why she was weeping. "Because," she said, "only one mouse comes to my room, and it is so pretty and so sweet that I cannot make up my mind to kill it." "What!" said the old woman, angrily, "you care more for a silly little mouse that gnaws at everything than the child that is to be born to you! Very well, madam, you are not to be pitied. Remain, if you wish, in such good company. I shall find plenty of mice without you; I haven't the least doubt about that." And she went away scolding and muttering.
Although the queen found a nice meal prepared for her, and the mouse came and danced before her, she never once lifted her eyes from the ground where she had fixed them, and the tears ran down her cheeks. That night a princess was born, a miracle of beauty; and, instead of crying as other children do, she smiled to her dear mother, holding out her little hands as if she understood everything. The queen caressed and kissed her with great tenderness, thinking sadly: "Poor darling! Dear child, if you fall into the hands of the wicked king it is all over with you." So she put her in the basket, with a label fastened to her swaddling clothes, on which was written:--
This unhappy little girl s called Joliette;
and when she had left her for a moment without looking at her she opened the basket again, and found her much prettier still. Then she kissed her and wept yet more bitterly, not knowing what she should do.
But now the little mouse comes, and gets into the basket with Joliette. "Ah, little creature," said the queen, "it has cost me much to save your life. Perhaps I may lose my dear Joliette. Anyone else would have killed you and given you over to the old glutton, but I could not consent." "Do not repent of what you have done, madam," began the mouse; "I am not so unworthy of your friendship as you may think." The queen was half dead with fright at hearing the mouse talk, but her terror grew much worse when she saw its little snout taking the form of a face, its paws becoming hands and feet, and its whole body growing suddenly larger. At last the queen, who hardly dared to look any more, recognised in the mouse the fairy who had come with the wicked king, and who had treated her so tenderly.
"I wished to test your heart," said the fairy; "I know now it is good, and that you are capable of friendship. We fairies, though we possess immense treasures and riches, seek love as the only consolation in life, and we find it rarely." "Is it possible, fair lady," said the queen, embracing her, "being so rich and powerful as you are, you have difficulty in finding friends?" "Yes," she answered, "for we are only loved because it is to people's advantage to show us affection, and we do not care for that. But when you loved me in the shape of a little mouse you had no selfish motive. Then I wished to put you to a still harder test, and so I took the form of an old woman. It was I who talked to you at the foot of the tower, and you then, as always, were true to me." So saying she embraced the queen, kissed the little princess's red lips three times, and said: "My gifts to you, my daughter, are, that you be your mother's comfort, that you be richer than your father, and that you live for a hundred years, ever beautiful, never ill, never wrinkled, never old". The queen in great delight thanked her, and begged her to take Joliette away and care for her, adding that she gave her the child for a daughter.
The fairy accepted the gift and thanked the queen. Putting the little one into the basket she let it down. But she stopped for an instant to change herself into a little mouse again, and when she went down herself afterwards by the cord the child was not to be found. She mounted again in a great fright. "All is lost," she said to the queen; "my enemy, Cancaline, has carried off the princess. You must know that there is a cruel fairy who hates me, and unhappily, being older than I, she has more power. I do not know how to get Joliette out of her wicked clutches."
When the queen heard such sad news she thought she must die of grief. She wept very bitterly, and begged her good friend to do what she could to find the little one again, at whatever cost.
But meanwhile the gaoler came to the queen's room, and, finding that the child had been born, he went to tell the king, who hastened to demand the princess. But she told him that a fairy, whose name she did not know, had come and taken her away by force. Now the wicked king stamped his foot and bit his nails till he had none left. "I told you I should hang you," he said, "and I am going to keep my promise at once." At the word he dragged the poor queen into a wood, climbed up a tree, and was just going to hang her when the fairy made her invisible, and, giving him a great shove, made him fall from the top of the tree, breaking four of his teeth. While they were trying to mend them, the fairy bore the queen away in a flying car to a beautiful castle, where she took great care of her. If only she had had the Princess Joliette with her she would have been quite happy, but it was impossible to discover where Cancaline had hidden her, though the little mouse did her very best.
Time went on, and softened the queen's great sorrow. Fifteen years had already gone by, when a rumour was spread abroad that the wicked king's son was going to marry his turkey though the little creature was unwilling. It was very surprising that a turkey should refuse to be queen; nevertheless the wedding garments were got ready, and to see such a beautiful wedding people came from a hundred leagues round. The little mouse went too, wishing to see the turkey-herd at her leisure. Going into the poultry-house she found her dressed in coarse linen, barefooted and with a dirty cloth on her head. There were gold and silver garments, and diamonds, and pearls, and ribbons and laces lying on the ground; the turkeys were trampling on them, making them filthy, and spoiling them. The little herd was sitting on a large Stone, while the wicked king's son, who was deformed, blind, and lame, was saying rudely: "If you will not give me your heart, I shall kill you". But she answered, proudly: "I shall not marry you; you are too ugly. And you are like your cruel father. Leave me alone with my little turkeys like them better than all your finery." The little mouse looked at her with admiration for she was as beautiful as the sun. As soon as the wicked king's son went away, the fairy took the form of an old shepherdess, and said: "Goodday little one; what fine fat turkeys you have got here!" The young turkey-herd looked at this old woman with eyes full of gentleness, and said: "They want me to leave them for a miserable crown do you say about it?" "My little girl," said the fairy, "a crown is a very fine thing; you neither know the value nor the weight of it." "Oh, yes, I do," the herd replied, promptly, "and for that reason I will never wear it. But I do not know who I am, nor who my father is, nor my mother. I have neither parents nor friends." "You have beauty and goodness, my child," said the wise fairy, "and these are better than ten kingdoms. Tell me, I beg you, who brought you here, since you have neither father, mother, relations, nor friends?" "It was a fairy called Cancaline who was the cause of my coming here. She used to beat me, and would knock me down without any cause or reason. So one day I ran away, and, not knowing where to go, I stopped in a wood. The wick-ed king's son came to walk there, and he asked me if I should like to go and be a servant in his yard. I was quite willing, so I had the turkeys given to my charge. He used to come constantly to see them, and he saw me too. Alas, without any desire on my side, he has fallen so very much in love with me that he will not leave me alone."
The fairy, hearing this, began to think the turkey-herd must be Princess Joliette; so she said to her: "Tell me your name, my daughter". "My name is Joliette, at your service." Then the fairy no longer doubted but that it was she, and, throwing her arms round her neck, she was like to have eaten her up with caresses. Thereupon she said to her: "Joliette, I have known you for a long time; I am glad you are so good, and so well-bred; but I would wish you to be cleaner, for you are like a little scullion. Here, take these pretty clothes and put them on."
Joliette, who was very obedient, at once cast away the dirty clothes; and, shaking her head a little, her hair, which was fair as sunlight and fine as golden threads, covered her from head to foot, falling in curls to the ground. Then taking in her delicate hands some water from a stream that ran near the poultry-house, she washed her face, which became as fair as an Eastern pearl. it seemed as if roses were blowing on her cheeks and lips, and her sweet mouth breathed the scent of thyme from the woods and the gardens. Her figure was straighter than a reed. In winter you might have taken her skin for snow, in summer for lilies.
When she was adorned with the diamonds and the beautiful clothes, the fairy thought her a miracle of beauty, and said to her: "What do you think you are, dear Joliette, for you look a very fine lady now?" "In truth," she answered, "I think I am the daughter of some great king." "Would you be very pleased if this were so?" said the fairy. "Yes, good mother," replied Joliette, with a curtsey. "Very well," said the fairy, "be easy in your mind then; I shall tell you more to-morrow."
In haste she repaired to her beautiful castle, where the queen was busy spinning silk. The little mouse called to her: "Your majesty, will you give rue your distaff and your spindle for the best news you could ever hear?" "Alas!" said the queen, "since the death of King Joyous, and the loss of my Joliette, I wouldn't give a pin for all the news of the world." "Now, now don't go on so," said the fairy, "the princess is in the best of health I have just seen her; and she is so beautiful, so very beautiful, that she can be a queen if she likes." And she told her the story from one end to the other, the queen weeping for joy to know that her daughter was so beautiful; and for sadness to think that she kept turkeys. "When we were great sovereigns in our kingdom," she said, "and lived in such magnificence, my poor husband and myself, we never could have believed that our child would one day keep turkeys." "It is that cruel Cancaline," said the fairy, "who, knowing how I love you, just to spite me, has reduced her to that condition; but she will come out of it, or I shall burn my books." "I do not wish her to marry the wicked king's son," said the queen. "Therefore, let us set out to-morrow to fetch her, and bring her here."
Now it happened that the wicked king's son, being very angry against Joliette, went and sat under a tree, and wept and howled aloud. His father, hearing him, went to the window and called out to him: "What are you crying for? What a fool you are!" "Because your turkey-herd will not love me," he answered. "What! she will not love you?" said the wicked king. "I insist on her loving you, or else she dies!" He called for his men-at-arms, and said to them: "Go and fetch her, for I shall punish her so that she will be sorry for her obstinacy". They went to the poultry-yard, and found Joliette in a beautiful dress of white satin, embroidered with gold and red diamonds, and more than a thousand yards of ribbon. Never, never, in the wide world was seen such a lovely damsel. They hardly dared speak to her, thinking she must be a princess. "I beg of you, tell me whom you are looking for here," she asked "Madam," they answered, "we are looking for a miserable little girl called Joliette." "Alas "she said, "I am Joliette. What do you want of me?" They took hold of her in haste, bound her feet and her hands with thick cords for fear she might run away, and in this fashion they took her to the wicked king who was with his son. When he saw that she was so lovely, he could not help being somewhat touched, and there is no doubt he would have taken pity on her, had he not been the wickedest and the cruellest man in the world. "Ah ha! you little good-for-nothing, you little toad, so you will not love my son? He is a hundred times handsomer than you, and one of his looks is worth more than the whole of your person. Come here, love him at once, or I will have you flayed." The princess, shaking like a little pigeon, knelt before him, saying: "Sire, I beg of you not to flay me. That would hurt me too much. Leave me one or two days to think what I ought to do, and then you may do what you will with me." His son, who was desperate, wished her to be flayed, but they decided between them to shut her up in a tower, where she would not even see the sun.
Just then the good fairy came in the flying car with the queen. When they learnt all the news, the queen began to weep bitterly, saying she was ever unfortunate and that she would rather her daughter were dead than that she should marry the wicked king's son. But the fairy said: "Take heart, I am going to tire them out so that you will be fully satisfied and revenged".
When the wicked king was going to bed the fairy turned herself into a little mouse, and hid under his pillow. As soon as he tried to fall asleep, she bit his ear. Very angry he turned on his other side, and then she it his other ear. "Murder!" he cried, and called for his attendants. When they came they found his two ears bitten and bleeding so freely that they could not stop the blood. While they were looking everywhere for the mouse, she did the same thing to the wicked king's son, who called his valets and showed them his ears all bitten, and had plasters put on them. The little mouse went back to the wicked king's room, who was now somewhat drowsy. She bit his nose and began to gnaw it. He put his hands up, but she bit and scratched them. He cried out: "Have mercy, I am lost. She went into his mouth and nibbled at his tongue, his lips, his cheeks. His servants came and saw him in a fearful condition, hardly able to speak, so wounded was his tongue. He signed to them that a mouse had done it, and they looked in the mattress, the bolster, in every little corner. But it was not there, having gone to treat the son still worse, eating up his good eye, and he had but one. Rising like a madman with his sword in his hand, he rushed, blind as he was, to his father's room, who also had taken his sword, and who was storming and swearing that he would kill everybody if they did not catch the mouse. When he saw his son so desperate he burst out into abuse of him, and the son, who was in a burning rage, not recognising his father's voice, threw himself on him. The wicked king in wrath gave him a great blow with his sword, and received one in return. Both fell in a great pool of blood. All their subjects, who hated them mortally, and who only served them out of fear, no longer having cause to be afraid of them, fastened cords to their feet and dragged them to the river, saying the were very happy to be rid of them.
And now the wicked king was dead and his son too. The good fairy, who knew this, fetched the queen, and they went together to the black tower where Joliette was imprisoned under forty locks. At three raps of the fairy's hazel wand the great door opened, and so did the others. They found the poor princess very sad and very silent. The queen threw herself on her neck. "My dearest one," she said, "I am your mother, Queen Joyous," and she told her the story of her life. When Joliette heard such good news she nearly died of joy, and throwing herself at the queen's feet, she embraced her knees, bathed her hands with her tears, and kissed her a thousand times. She caressed the fairy tenderly, who had brought for her baskets full of priceless jewels, gold, diamonds, bracelets, pearls, and the portrait of King Joyous surrounded with precious stones, all of which she placed before her. But the fairy said: "This is not a time for play. We must carry out a great revolution in the state. Let us come and speak to the people in the great hail of the castle."
She went first with a grave and serious face, the train of her dress sweeping more than ten ells behind her. The queen's dress of blue velvet, embroidered with gold, had a longer train still, for they had taken their finest clothes with them. Then they had crowns on their heads which shone like suns. Princess Joliette followed them, beautiful and modest, a perfect wonder to see. They bowed to all they met on the way, to the poor as well as the great, and all the people followed them, very eager to know who these fair ladies might he. When the hail was quite full, the good fairy said to the subjects of the wicked king that she wished to give them for a queen the daughter of King Joyous, whom they saw before them, that they would live happy under her rule, that if they would accept her she promised to seek a husband for her as perfect as herself, who would be always merry, and who would chase away sadness from every heart. At these words they all cried: "Yes, yes we will! Too long have we been sad and miserable." And at that moment a hundred kinds of instruments struck up on all sides. Every one took his neighbour's hand and they danced in rings, singing round the queen and her daughter and the good fairy: "Yes, yes; we will".
Such was their welcome, and never was joy like theirs. Tables were spread and they feasted and drank, and then went to bed to sleep soundly. When the young princess woke, the fairy presented to her the handsomest prince that ever saw the light. She had been to fetch him in the flying car from the other end of the world. He was as lovely as Joliette, and as soon as she saw him she loved him. As for him, he was charmed with the princess, and the queen was beside herself with joy. A feast and the most splendid garments were got ready, and the wedding was celebrated with endless merrymaking.
(2) A slow dance in which the cavaliers and ladies wore long mantles or trains. These spreading out like peacocks' tails gave the name to the dance. L. pavo. Return to place in story.
D'Aulnoy, Marie Catherine Baronne. The Fairy Tales of Madame D'Aulnoy. Miss Annie Macdonell and Miss Lee, translators. Clinton Peters, illustrator. London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1892.
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