ONCE upon a time there lived a king and a queen who had but one daughter. For beauty, and gentleness, and quick wit there was no one to be compared with her, and for this reason they called her Gracieuse. She was her mother's only joy. Every morning a beautiful dress was brought to her. Some times it would be of gold brocade, sometimes of velvet or satin; yet all her fine clothes never made her a whit more vain or boastful. She spent every morning with great scholars, who taught her all kinds of learning, and in the afternoon she worked near the queen. For luncheon they brought her basins full of sweet- meats, and more than twenty pots of jam. And so everybody said she was the happiest princess in all the world.
Now at the same court there lived a very rich old maid, whose name was Duchess Grognon, and who was as ugly as she could be. Her hair was as red as fire, and her huge face was all covered with pimples. She had but one blear eye left, and her mouth was so big that it looked as if it were going to gobble everybody up, but then as all her teeth were gone there was nothing to fear in that respect. She had a hump before and behind, and she was lame of both legs. Monsters like her are very jealous of those who are beautiful. She therefore hated Gracieuse with a deadly hatred, and left the court so as not to hear her praises sung, retiring to a castle of her own a little way off. When anyone paid her a visit, and brought her news of all the princess's charms, she would cry out in great wrath: "It is a lie! it is a lie! She is not beautiful! There is more charm in my little finger than in her whole body."
Meanwhile the queen fell ill, and died. Princess Gracieuse was like to die too for grief at having lost so good a mother, and the king was in deep distress for the loss of such a wife. For nearly a whole year he shut himself up in his palace, till at last his doctors, fearing lest he too should fall ill, ordered him to go out and to amuse himself. So one day he went hunting. The heat being very great he entered a great castle, which he saw from the roadside, to rest. Now this was the Duchess Grognon's castle, and as soon as she knew of the king's arrival she came to receive him, and told him that the coolest place in the house was a great arched cellar. It was quite clean, she said, as she begged him to come down there. The king went along with her, and seeing in the cellar two hundred barrels in rows, one above another, he asked whether all these supplies were for herself alone. "Yes, sire," she said, "for myself alone; but I shall be delighted to let you taste. Here you find Canary, Saint Laurent, Champagne, Hermitage, Rivesalte, Rossolis, Persicot, Fenouillet. Which do you prefer?" "Well, to tell the truth," said the king, "I think Champagne is by far the best of all." So Grognon took a little hammer, and went tap-tapping at the barrel, out of which came a thousand pistoles. "What is the meaning of this?" said Grognon, with a smile. She struck another barrel, tap-tap, and out came a bushel of double Louis-d'ors. "I can't understand this at all," she said, with a still broader smile. On she passed to a third barrel, and went tap-tapping, when out there poured such a stream of pearls and diamonds that the ground was covered with them. "Ah "she cried, "I am altogether mystified, your majesty. Someone must have stolen my good wine, and put these trifles there instead." "Trifles!" said the king, who was filled with wonder. "By my faith, Madam Grognon, call you these trifles? Why, they are enough to buy ten kingdoms as big as Paris ""Well," she answered, "I will tell you that all these barrels are full of gold and jewels, and they will be yours if you will marry me." "Ah!" replied the king, who cared for money more than anything else, "I will do so with the greatest pleasure in the world, and to-morrow if you like." "But," she went on, "I have one more condition to make. That is, that I be given authority over your daughter as if I were her mother; that she look to mc for everything, and that you leave all control of her to me." "She will be entirely under your authority," said the king. "Here is my hand upon it." Grognon put her hand in his, and together they went out of the treasure-house, the key of which she gave him.
As soon as he returned to his palace, Gracieuse, hearing his steps, ran to meet him, and, kissing him, asked him if he had had good luck at the hunt. "I caught a dove alive," he said. "Ah, sire," said the princess, "give it to me, and I will feed it." "That is not possible," he answered, "for, to speak more plainly, I must tell you I met the Duchess Grognon, and I have promised to marry her." "Oh, heavens" cried Gracieuse, without thinking what she was saying. "Do you call her a dove? She is more like an owl." "Hold your tongue," said the king, angrily. "I insist on your loving her, and respecting her as if she were your own mother. Go away at once and get dressed, for I wish to go back and see her this very day." The princess was very obedient, and went to her room to get ready. Her nurse saw from her eyes that she was in distress. "What is the matter, clear little one?" she said. "You are crying." "Alas dear nurse," answered Gracieuse, "who would not cry? The king is going to give me a step-mother, and, worst of all, she is my cruellest enemy-in fact, it is that hideous Grognon. How can I look at her in those beautiful beds that my good mother, the queen, embroidered so exquisitely with her own hands How can I caress a monster who would like to kill me?" "Dear child," replied the nurse, "your courage should be as great as your birth. Princesses like you must show finer examples than others. And what better can you do than obey your father, and sacrifice yourself to please him? Promise me then that you will not let Grognon see how dismayed you are." The princess found it difficult to make up her mind to this, but the good nurse reasoned with her so wisely that at last she promised to put a good face on the matter, and to be polite to her Step Then she dressed herself in a green robe with a gold ground. Her fair hair fell over her shoulders, floating in the wind, according to the fashion of those days, and on her head was a light crown of roses and jasmines, all the leaves of which were made of emeralds. When she was ready, Venus, the mother of the loves, would have seemed less fair by her side yet you could read in her face the sadness which she could not altogether overcome.
But let us go back to Grognon. That ugly creature was much taken up with her attire. That she might seem rather less lame she had one shoe made half-a-cubit higher than the other, and to hide her hump she had her bodice stuffed on one shoulder. She stuck in the best made glass eye that could be found, painted her face to make it white, and dyed her red hair black. Then she put on a dress of amaranth satin lined with blue, a yellow petticoat, and violet ribbons. She meant to make her entrance on horseback, for she had heard that the queens of Spain always did so.
While the king was giving his orders, and Gracieuse was waiting the moment when they should set out to meet Grognon, the princess went by herself into the garden, and, entering a little dark wood, she sat down upon the grass. "At last," she said, "I am free to weep as much as I want. There is nobody to hinder me." And with that she began to sigh and weep so much that her eyes looked like two streams of living water. In this condition she felt she could not return to the palace. All at once she saw a page coming towards her, dressed in green satin, with white feathers in his cap, and the comeliest face in the world. Kneeling before her, he said: "Princess, the king awaits you ". She was full of admiration for the beauty of this young page whom she did not know, and who she thought must belong to Grognon's suite. "How long," she asked, "have you been amongst the king's pages?" "I am no page of his, madam," he answered. "I am yours, and I wish for no other service." "Mine?" she answered, in astonishment, "but I do not know you." "Ah, princess! "he replied, "I have not dared till now to make myself known to you, but the evil that threatens you from the marriage of the king forces me to speak sooner than I otherwise should have done. I had determined to leave to time and my services the task of declaring my love to you, and . . ." "What! a page!" cried the princess, "a page has the audacity to say he loves me! This is the worst of all! ""Fear not, fair Gracieuse," he said, with respect and tenderness in his looks; "I am Percinet, a prince not unknown for his wealth and his accomplishments, and you may set your mind at rest as to the equality of our stations in life. It is only your birth and your merit which make us un equal. I have loved you long, and I am often near you without your being aware of it. The fairy gift I received at my birth has been of great service in giving me the pleasure of looking upon you. I shall bear you company to-day in this dress, and I hope I may be of use to you." While he was speaking the princess was looking at him with an astonishment she could not master. It is you then, fair Percinet," she said, "you whom I so longed to see, and of whom such wonderful things are told. What joy to have you for a friend I no longer fear the wicked Grognon, since you will watch over my safety." They talked still a little while longer, and then Gracieuse returned to the palace, where she found a horse ready harnessed and caparisoned that Percinet had placed in the stable, and which was meant for her it was supposed. She mounted, and, as the horse was very spirited, the page took it by the bridle and led it, turning every moment towards the princess, to have the joy of looking on her face.
When the horse that had been chosen for Grognon appeared near Gracieuse's it looked but a sorry hack, while the saddle-cloth of the princess's beautiful steed was so splendid with jewels that the other looked poor and mean in comparison. The king, who had many things to see after, paid no attention to this, and none of his lords had any eyes but for Gracieuse, whose beauty so dazzled them, and for the page in green, who was handsomer than all the court pages put together.
They met Grognon on the road in an open carriage, uglier and more misshapen than any old countrywoman. The king and the-princess embraced her, and led forwards her horse. But when she saw the one belonging to Gracieuse, she called out "Why should that creature have a finer horse than I? I would rather not he a queen at all, and go back to my own fine castle, than be treated like this." The king at once ordered Gracieuse to dismount and beg Grognon to do her the honour of riding on her horse, and the princess obeyed without a word. Grognon neither looked at her nor thanked her, and she was hoisted up on the pretty horse very much like a bundle of dirty linen. Eight gentlemen held her on, in case she should fall; and still she was not pleased, but went on muttering threats under her breath. They asked her what was the matter. "As I am the mistress," she answered, "I want the page in green to hold the bridle of my horse, as he did when Gracieuse was riding it." So the king ordered the page in green to lead the queens horse. Percinet cast his eyes towards the princess, and she looked at him without saving a single word. He obeyed, and all the Court set out amidst the loud din of drums and trumpets. Grognon was dc lighted; and for all her flat nose and her crooked mouth, she would not have changed places with Gracieuse.
But, just when they were least thinking of it, the beautiful horse began to rear, and to kick, and to run so fast that no one could stop him. Away he went With Grognon holding on to the saddle and the mane, crying as loud as she could. At last her foot caught in the stirrup, and she fell. The horse dragged her for a long way over the stones, through thorns, and through mud in which she was all but buried. They had all followed after, and they soon came up to her, and found her full of scratches, her head broken in four or five places, and one of her arms fractured. Never was a bride in a more woeful plight. The king was in despair. She was picked up like a glass shivered to atoms; her cap was found lying on one side of the road, her shoes on the other. She was carried to the town, and put to bed, and the best doctors were sent for. But in spite of all her sufferings, she never stopped scolding. "This is one of Gracieuse's tricks," she said. "I am sure she only took that beautiful and vicious horse to make me jealous, and so that I might be killed. If the king does not right my wrongs, I shall go back to my own fine castle, and never look on his face again." The king was told of Grognon's rage. As his ruling passion was avarice, the mere thought of losing the thousand barrels of gold and diamonds made him shudder, and he would have done anything to prevent it. So he ran to the loathsome sufferer, flung himself at her feet, and swore to her that she had only to name a punishment fitting for the offence Gracieuse had committed, and that he would give up the princess to her angry will. She said that was enough, and she would send for Gracieuse. So they went to tell the princess that Grognon was asking for her. The princess became pale and trembled, knowing well enough it was not for caresses she was sought. She looked round on every side for Percinet to come, but not seeing him, she made her way in all sadness to Grognon's chamber. Hardly was she inside when the doors were shut, and four women, like four furies, threw themselves on her by their mistress's orders, pulled off her pretty clothes, and tore her shift from her back. When her shoulders were bare these merciless furies could not endure to look on their dazzling whiteness, and shut their eyes as if they had been looking on snow for a long time. "Lay on, lay on! courage!" cried the pitiless Grognon from her bed. "Flay her till not a little morsel remains of that white skin she thinks so beautiful." In the midst of any other trouble Gracieuse would have wished for the handsome Percinet to come to her aid; but being all but naked, she was too modest to desire him for a witness, and she made up her mind to suffer everything as meekly as a lamb. Each of the four furies held in her hand a bunch of horrible-looking rods, and there were also large brooms out of which they could pluck fresh ones. They beat her mercilessly; and at every stroke Grognon would say: "Harder! harder! you are too gentle with her!" After this nobody would believe but that the princess was flayed from head to foot. Yet, it was not so at all; for the gallant Percinet had put a charm on the eyes of those women, and what they took for rods in their hands were only feathers of every possible colour. As soon as the beating began Gracieuse saw how it was, and was no longer afraid. "Ah, Percinet," she said, under her breath, "how generous of you to come to my aid! What should I have done without you?" At last the floggers were so exhausted that they could not move their arms any longer, so they bustled her into her clothes, and put her out of the room, calling her all kind of ugly names. She went back to her own room, and pretending to be very ill, she went to bed, giving orders that no one but her nurse should remain with her. To her she told the whole story, till at last she fell asleep. The nurse went away, and when Gracieuse woke up she saw the page in green in a dark corner of the room, not daring to come near, by reason of the respect he felt towards her. She told him she would never forget, during her whole life long, her obligations to him; begged him not to leave her to the fury of her enemy, and, in the meantime, to go away, as she had always been told she should not stay alone with boys. He replied that his respect for her must be evident, but that it was only right that he should obey his mistress in every thing, even at the cost of his own happiness. Thereupon he left her, after advising her to pretend to be very ill in consequence of the cruel treatment she had received.
Grognon was so glad to think of Gracieuse in this condition that she got better twice as soon again as she would have otherwise done, and the wedding was celebrated with great splendour. Now, as the king knew that Grognon liked to be called beautiful better than anything else, he had her portrait painted, and ordered a tournament to be arranged, where six of the best knights of the court should sustain in the face of, and against all corners that Queen Grognon was the fairest princess in the whole world. Many foreign knights came to maintain the contrary. The hideous creature was present throughout the whole proceedings, seated on a great balcony covered with gold brocade, and seeing with pleasure how the prowess of her knights was triumphing in her wicked cause. Gracieuse was behind her, and every eve sought hers; but vain and foolish Grognon thought she was the object of everybody's attention.
There was hardly a knight left who dared dispute the beauty of Grognon, when a young man was seen approaching, carrying a portrait in a diamond box. He would maintain, he said, that Grognon was the most hideous of all women, and that she whose portrait was in his box was the fairest of damsels. At the word he charged the six knights, and threw them to the ground. Six others came up. In the end four-and-twenty had presented themselves, but he was Victor over all. Then, opening his box, he told them that for their consolation he would show them his beautiful picture. Everyone recognised it as that of Gracieuse to whom he made a profound reverence, and then retired without telling his name. But she had no doubt of its being Percinet.
Grognon was well nigh choking with anger. Her throat swelled, and she could not get a word out, but she signed that it was Gracieuse she had to deal with, and when she could find words she raged like a madwoman. "How dare you," she said, "dispute with me the prize of beauty? How dare you cause my knights to be insulted in this fashion? I will have my revenge, or I will die for it!" "Madam," said the princess, "I protest I have no part in what has just happened. If you like, I will attest with my blood that you are the most beautiful lady in the world, and that I am a monster of ugliness." "Oh, you would laugh at me, little one, would you?" answered Grognon, "but my turn will come soon." The king was told of the fury of his wife, and how the princess, half dead with fright, begged him to have pity on her, for if he left her to the tender mercies of the queen, all sorts of evil things would happen to her. Still he was quite unmoved, and only answered: "I gave her to her step-mother. Let her do what she likes with her."
The wicked Grognon waited for night to come with much impatience. As soon as it was dark she had horses harnessed to her carriage. Gracieuse was forced to get into it, and with a strong escort was taken away for a hundred leagues, into a great forest through which no one dared to pass, for it was full of lions, and bears, and tigers, and wolves. When they had reached the middle of the terrible forest they made her get down, and there they left her, in spite of her prayers that they should have mercy. "I do not ask you to spare my life," she cried; "I only ask a speedy death. Kill me and thus save me from all the ills which I must meet with here." She spoke to deaf ears. They would not even answer, and fled from her, leaving this poor unhappy beauty all by herself. For some time she walked on without knowing where she was going, now bruising herself against a tree, now falling, now entangled in the bushes. At length, over come with grief, she threw herself on the ground, with no strength left to get up. "Percinet," she cried from time to time, "Percinet, where are you? Can you in truth have left me? "At last, just as she had said these words, she suddenly saw the most beautiful and the most astonishing thing in the world. It was an illumination, so magnificent that there was not a tree in the forest from which did not hang several chandeliers filled with candles; while at the other end of an avenue she saw a palace all made of crystal, glistening like the sun. She began to think that Percinet must have something to do with this fresh wonder, and her joy was mingled with fear. "I am alone," she said. "This prince is young, beautiful, and full of- affection for me. I owe my life to him. Ah, I must not think of it! Better to die than to love him!" And so saying, she got up, and spite of her fatigue and her weakness, and without a glance at the beautiful castle, she walked in the opposite direction, so troubled and so confused in her mind with all the different thoughts that crowded there that she did not know what she was doing. At that moment she heard a noise behind her. Fear took hold of her. She thought some wild beast was going to devour her, and looking round in terror, she saw Prince Percinet as beautiful as Love himself. "Are you fleeing from me?" he said. "Do you fear me when I adore you? Can you have so poor an idea of me as to think I could be lacking in respect for you? Come, come away without fear to the Fairy Palace. I shall not enter if you forbid me, but you will find there my mother, the queen, and my sisters, who love you tenderly already from what I have told them of you." Gracieuse, delighted at the mild and gentle manner in which her young lover spoke, could not refuse to mount along with him into a little sleigh, painted and gilded, and drawn with marvellous speed by two stags. In this way he took her to see end less beautiful spots in the forest. It was daylight everywhere, and they saw shepherds and shepherdesses gaily dressed, (lancing to the sound of flutes and Pipes. In other places, by the banks of rivers, there were village lads with their Sweethearts feasting and singing merry songs. "I thought this forest was not inhabited, she said; "but I see life and cheerfulness everywhere.' "Since you have come, my princess," replied Percinet, "this dark solitude is full of pleasure and gaiety. The loves accompany you, and flowers spring up where'er you tread." Gracieuse dared not answer. She did not wish to take part in this kind of Conversation and she begged the prince to take her to the queen, his mother. So he told the stags to set out for the Fairy Palace. As they were nearing It, beautiful music sounded in their ears, and the queen with two of her daughters, who were all very lovely, embraced her and led her into a great ball, whose walls were of rock crystal. With much astonishment she saw that own life, up to that very day, was engraved on them, even her drive with the prince in the sleigh, and all in a style so finished, that the works of Phidias and all the sculpture that ancient Greece could boast of were as nothing in comparison. You have very watchful craftsmen," said Gracieuse to Percinet, "for no sooner do I make a sign or a movement but I see it carved there." "That is because I wish nothing to be lost that relates in any way to you, my princess," he answered. "But alas! nowhere am I happy or satisfied." She said nothing in reply, but thanked the queen for the way in which she received her. A great feast was served, and Gracieuse ate with a good appetite, so delighted was she to have found Percinet instead of the bears and lions she had feared to meet in the forest. Although she was very tired, he persuaded her to come with him into a saloon all shining with gold and pictures, where an opera was performed. The subject was the Loves of Psyche and Cupid, and it was interspersed with dances and little songs. A young shepherd stepped forward and sang these words:-
"Why so cruel, lady mine?
Dost thou know the love that's thine
In my true heart burning?
Even the tigers fierce and wild,
'Neath the power of love grow mild,
Tame and lamb-like turning.
Only gentle Gracieuse flees
When the looks of love she sees,
All my worship spurning."
She blushed at hearing her name mentioned in this way before the queen and the princesses, and she told Percinet that it grieved her somewhat that ever)' body should know their secrets. "That reminds one of a maxim," she said, "which I agree with entirely:-
"'Discretion adds a grace and charm to wooing;
Then tell your love not in the world's ear,
Lest, as a cruel judge your joys pursuing,
It makes their harmlessness as crimes appear'."
He asked her pardon for having done anything to displease her. When the opera was finished the queen sent the two princesses to take her to her rooms. Nothing so beautiful as the furniture was ever seen, nor so elegant as the bed and the bed where she was to sleep. She was waited on by t four maidens dressed as nymphs, the eldest eighteen years old, and each of them a wonder of beauty. When she had gone to bed, exquisite music was played to lull her to sleep, but her astonishment was so great that she could not close her eyes. "All I have seen," she said, is the work of magic. There is danger in being near a prince so beautiful and so wonderful. I cannot too soon flee away from here." But the thought of escaping was very painful to her. Were she to leave this splendid palace and fall into the hands of cruel Grognon, what different treatment she would experience Such a step was not to be taken too suddenly. Yet Percinet seemed to her so charming that she did not wish to remain in a palace where he was master.
When she rose they brought her dresses of every colour, trinkets of precious stones of every shape, lace, ribbons, gloves, silk stockings, and all in exquisite taste. Nothing was lacking. Her costume was of chased gold, and never before had she been so finely dressed, never before had she looked so beautiful. Percinet entered her room clad in cloth of gold and green, for green was his colour, because Gracieuse liked it. The comeliest, the handsomest of men beside him would have seemed plain. Gracieuse told him she had not been able to sleep, so much did the memory of her misfortunes torment her, and that she could not but fear what was still to come. "What is there to fear, madam?" he said. "You are sovereign here: you are adored. Would you wish to for sake me for your cruel enemy?" "If I were mistress of my fate," she said, I should accept your proposal, but I am accountable for my actions to the king, my father, and it is better for me to suffer than to fail in my duty." Percinet said everything he could think of to persuade her to marry him, hut she would not consent, and it was almost in spite of herself that he kept her for eight days, during which time he invented all kinds of pleasures to amuse her.
She would often say to the prince: "I should like to know what is passing at Grognon's court, anti what kind of explanation she has given of her conduct to me ". Percinet said he would send his squire, who was a man of intelligence, to make inquiries. She told him she was sure he did not need anyone to inform him of what was going on, and that he himself could tell her. "Come with me, then," he said, "to the great tower, and you will see for yourself." Thereupon he took her to the top of an enormously high tower, made of rock crystal as the rest of the castle was, and told her to put her foot on his anti her little finger in his mouth, and to look towards the town. Then she saw the Wicked Grognon with the king, and she heard her crying: "That unfortunate Princess has hanged herself in the cellar. I have just seen her. She is horrible to look at, and she must be speedily buried, and you must console yourself for so trifling a loss." But the king began to cry for the death of his daughter. Grognon turned her back on him, and \vent to her own room. She had a log dressed up with a cap and well wrapped about, and put into a coffin. Then, by order of the king, there was a grand funeral, where everybody wept and cursed the step-mother, who, they said, had killed Gracieuse. They all wore mourning, and the princess on the tower heard the lamentations for her death, and heard them saying to themselves: "How sad that so young and fair a princess should have perished by the cruelty of this wicked wretch! She ought to be hacked to pieces and put into a pie! "And the king, unable to eat or drink, wept bitterly. Gracieuse, seeing her father in such distress, said: "Ah! Percinet, I cannot bear that my father should any longer think I am dead. If you love me, take me back to him. Whatever he says, I must obey him, however dis. tasteful it may be to me." "My princess," he said, "you will often regret the Fairy Palace, though I do not dare to think you will regret me. You are more cruel to me than Grognon is to you." Yet, for all he said, she persisted in setting off, and took leave of the prince's mother and sisters. He got in with her into the sleigh, and the stags began to run. As she went out of the palace gates she heard a great noise, and looking behind her, she saw the whole building falling in a thousand pieces. "What is this I see?" she said. "The palace has vanished! ""No," answered Percinet; "my palace will be among the dead. There you will never enter till after you are buried." "You are angry,' said Gracieuse, trying to soften him. "But, after all, am I not more to be pitied than you?"
When they had reached her home, Percinet made the princess, himself, and the sleigh invisible. Then she went up to the king's room, and flung herself at his feet. When he saw her he was afraid, and would have fled, for he took her for a ghost. But she held him, and told him she was not dead, that Grognon had sent her into the wild-beast forest, where she had climbed to the top of a tree, and lived on fruits; and that it was a log that had been buried in her stead. She begged, for pity's sake, that he would send her to one of his other castles, where she would no longer be at the mercy of her step-mother's fury.
The king, not sure whether she was telling the truth or not, sent and had the log dug up, and much astonished was he at Grognon's wickedness. Anyone else would have had her buried in its place, but he was a poor, weak man, who had not spirit enough to be really angry. So he petted his daughter a good deal, and had her to sup with him. When Grognon's minions went and told her that Gracieuse had come back, and that she was supping with the king, she behaved like a madwoman, and running to him, she told him that this was not a time for shilly-shallying; that either he must give up this good-for-nothing girl, or she herself would this moment depart and never come back any more; and that it was a mere supposition that it was Princess Gracieuse. This girl that had come was somewhat like her, but Gracieuse had hanged herself; she had seen her hanged with her own eyes, and that to put any faith in the impostures of this creature was to show a lack of consideration for and trust in herself. The king without a word abandoned the poor princess, believing, or pretending to believe, she was not his daughter.
Grognon, delighted, dragged her by the help of her women into a dungeon, where she made her undress. They took away her pretty clothes, and put on a poor rag of coarse linen, and wooden shoes on her feet, and a rough hood on her head. They grudged her even a bundle of straw to lie on, and black bread to eat. In her distress she wept bitterly, longing to be back in the Fairs' Palace but she dared not call Percinet to come to her help, thinking she had used him too ill, and not sure whether he loved her enough to help her again. Meanwhile wicked Grognon had sent for a fairy who was hardly less malicious than herself. "I have here," she said to her, "a wicked little girl whom I have great reason to be angry with. I wish to punish her, and to have always very difficult pieces of work to give her to do, which she will never be able to finish, so that I may beat her as much as I like without her having any reason to complain. Help me to find for her every clay a new difficulty." The fairy said she would think about it, and would come back next day. And so she did, bringing with her a skein of thread as big as any four persons, and so fine that it broke if you but breathed on it, and so tangled that it was all in a bunch, without beginning or end. Grognon was delighted, and sending for the fair prisoner, she said:"There, good gossip, get ready your great fists to wind this thread, and remember that if you break the least little bit of it you are lost, for I shall flay you alive with my own hands. Now begin when you like, but I must have it wound before sunset." Then she shut her up in a room under three locks.
No sooner was the princess by herself than she began looking at the huge skein, turning it this way and that, breaking the thread in a thousand places for one knot that she disentangled, till she was so confused that she gave up trying any more to wind it. Throwing it into the middle of the room, she said: "Go, fatal thread! You will be the death of me. Ah, Percinet, Percinet, if my harshness has not too much repelled you, I ask, not your aid, but only that you should Come and receive my last farewell." Thereupon she began to cry so bitterly that anyone even less tender than a lover would have been touched. Percinet opened the door as easily as if he kept the key in his pocket. "Here I am, my princess," he said, "ever ready to serve you. I am not capable of forsaking you, though you ill requite my affection." Striking the skein three times with his wand, the broke threads were immediately joined and with two other strokes the whole was wound with wonderful neatness. He asked her if she wished for anything else from him and if she would never call for him but when she was in distress. "Do not reproach me, fair Percinet," she said; "I am unhappy enough already." "But, my princess, it is in your hands to free yourself from the tyranny of which you are the victim. Come with me, and let us be happy together. What are you afraid of?" "That you do not love me enough," she answered. "I want your affection for me to be strengthened by time." Percinet, enraged by these suspicions, took leave of her and went away.
The sun was just about to set, and Grognon was waiting for the hour in a fever of impatience. At last she came before her time, with the four furies, who went with her everywhere. She put the three keys into the three locks, and said, as she opened the door: "I wager the pretty idle hussy has not kept her fingers going very fast. She will rather have been sleeping to keep her complexion fresh." When she came in Gracieuse gave her the ball of thread, beautifully wound. Grognon could not say anything except that she had soiled it, that she was a little slut, and for that she gave her two slaps that turned her pink and white cheeks blue and yellow. Poor Gracieuse bore meekly this insult which she was not able to protect herself against, and they took her back to the dungeon, where she was again locked up.
Grognon, deeply disappointed at having failed with the skein of thread, sent for the fairy, and loaded her with reproaches. "Find something much more difficult," she said, "so that it will be impossible for her to do it." The fairy went away, and next day she brought a great barrel full of feathers. There were feathers of all kinds of birds: nightingales, canaries, tarins, goldfinches, linnets, redwings, parrots, owls, sparrows, doves, ostriches, bustards, peacocks, larks, partridges-I should never have done if I were to name them all. These feathers were all mixed in such a way that the birds themselves could not have distinguished them. "Here," said the fairy to Grognon, "here is something that will test the skill and try the patience of your prisoner. Command her to pick out these feathers, and to put those of the peacocks apart, and those of the nightingales, and to do the same with all the others, making a heap of each kind. A fairy even would find herself at a loss with such a task." Grognon was beside herself with joy as she pictured the despair of the poor princess. She sent for her, threatened her in the same way as before, and shut her up in the triple-locked room with the barrel, telling her that the whole work must be done by sunset.
Gracieuse began to handle some of the feathers, but, as it was impossible for her to distinguish one kind from another, she threw them back again into the barrel. Again she took some out, and several times she made an attempt, but seeing that it was an impossible thing she was trying, she said, in a tone Of despair: "Let me die. It is my death they wish for, and it will end my sorrows. I must not call again on Percinet to help me; if he cared for me he would be here already." "And so I am, my princess," cried Percinet, appearing from the depths of the barrel, in which he was hidden. "Here I am to get you out of the difficulty in which you are struggling. Doubt if you can, after so many proofs of my affection, that I love you better than my life." With that, he gave three taps with his wand, and the feathers, coming out by thousands from the barrel, arranged themselves in little heaps all round the room. "What do I not owe you, my lord?" said Gracieuse to him. "Without you I should have given up entirely. Rest assured of my gratitude." The prince tried every means to persuade her to make up her mind to do as he wished, but she asked for time; and however great his sacrifice, he did according to her desire. When Grognon came she was so astonished at what she saw that she did not know what more she could do to torment Gracieuse All the same she beat her, saying her feathers were badly arranged. Again she sent for the fairy, and flew into a horrible temper with her. The fairy did not know what to answer; for she was stupefied. At last she said she would employ all her skill in making a box which would give the princess a good deal of trouble if she took it into her head to open it. A few clays after this she brought a box of a Considerable size. "See,' she said to Grognon; "tell your slave to carry that Somewhere. Tell her she must not open it. She will not, however, be able to resist, and then you will be satisfied." Grognon did exactly as she was told. "Carry this box," she said, to my great castle, and put it on the table in the cabinet. But I forbid you, on pain of death, to look what is inside." Gracieuse put on her sabots, her coarse linen frock, her woollen hood, and set off. Those who met her by the way said: "That must be some goddess in disguise," for her marvellous beauty could not be hidden. She had not gone far before she felt very tired, and, while she was passing through a little wood skirting a pleasant meadow, she sat down to rest for a little. As she held the box on her knees, she suddenly felt a strong desire to open it. "What could happen to me?" she said. "I shall take nothing out of it, but at least I shall see what is inside." And, thinking no more of the consequences, she opened it. Immediately there came out such a number of little men and little women, violins, and other musical instruments, little tables, little cooks, little dishes, and last of all the giant of the troop, who was as high as your finger. They leaped about in the meadow, separating into several bands, and began the prettiest ball that ever was seen. While some were dancing, others were cooking, and others eating, the little violins playing beautifully all the time. At first Gracieuse was amused at seeing such an extraordinary thing; but when she was somewhat tired of it, and wanted to put them into the box again, not one of them would go. The little gentlemen and the little ladies ran away, even the very violins; and the cooks, with their saucepans on their heads and their spits on their shoulders, ran off to the woods as soon as she was in the meadow, and into the meadow when she was in the wood. "O reckless curiosity," said Gracieuse, weeping, "you have done my enemy but too good a turn! The only misfortune I could have avoided comes from my own fault. No, I cannot reproach myself enough. Percinet! Percinet!" she cried, "if you still can love a princess who is so thoughtless, come and help me in this the most unlucky adventure that has ever befallen me." She had not to call him thrice before he appeared in his glittering green dress. "Were it not for wicked Grognon," he said, "fair princess, you would never think of me." "Ah, do not so misunderstand my feelings towards you. I am neither insensible to worth, nor ungrateful for kindness. It is true that I try your constancy, but only to crown it when I am convinced of it." Percinet, more pleased than he had ever been before, tapped the box three times with his wand, and immediately the mannikins, the little ladies, the violins, the cooks, the roast meats, everyone of them took their places as if they had never been out of them. Percinet had left his chariot in the wood, and he begged the princess to use it to go to the great castle, arid indeed she had much need of this help, so exhausted was she. Making her invisible, he drove her there himself, thus having the pleasure of bearing her company--a pleasure, my chronicle tells me, to which she was not indifferent at the bottom of her heart, though she carefully hid her feelings.
When she reached the fine castle, and asked, in Grognon's name, to have the door of the cabinet opened for her, the governor burst out laughing. "What!" he said, "do you think when you leave your sheep you can enter without more ado into such a beautiful place? Be off! Return where you came from. We don't allow wooden shoes on our fine floors." Gracieuse begged him to write a word stating his refusal, which he did. Then, leaving the great castle, she found kind Percinet waiting outside, who brought her back to the palace. It would be difficult for me to write all the tender and respectful words he said to her by the way, to persuade her to put an end to her unhappiness; and she told him that if Grognon played her another bad turn she would do as he wished.
When her step-mother saw her come back she threw herself on the fairy, whom she had kept by her, and scratched her, and she would have strangled her if a fairy could be strangled, Gracieuse gave Grognon the governor's note and the box, but she flung both into the fire without even opening them, and, according to her own tale, she would have liked to have thrown Gracieuse in too. But she did not long put off the princess's punishment. She had a great hole made in the garden as deep as a well, and over it a large stone was placed. Then she went to walk in the garden, and said to Gracieuse and all who were with her: "Here is a stone under which I am told there is a treasure. Come now, lift it speedily." Everyone lent a hand, Gracieuse amongst the others, which was just what they wanted. As soon as she was at the edge, Grognon pushed her roughly into the pit, and they let fall the stone that closed it. There was nothing to be hoped for in a case like this. How could Percinet ever find her in the middle of the earth? She saw the hopelessness of her situation, and repented having waited so long to marry him. "How cruel is fate to me!" she cried. "Here I am buried alive, and this kind of death is more terrible than any other. You are revenged for my delays, Precinct, hut I feared lest you should be as fickle as other men, who change just as soon as they are certain of being loved. In short, I wished to he sure of your heart; and my natural suspicions have brought me to my present state. Yet," she went on, "could I hope that you would feel my loss, I think death would be easier to bear." She was speaking thus to ease her pain, when suddenly a little door opened, which, in the darkness, she had not seen before. The light streamed through and let her see a garden full of flowers, and fruits, and fountains, grottoes statues, shrubberies, and arbours. Without a moment's hesitation she entered, and going along a broad walk, wondering to herself what end this adventure would have, she saw the Fairy Castle. She had no difficulty in recognising it, quite apart from the fact that there are not many such made of rock crystal, and that she saw her new adventure engraved on its walls. Percinet appeared with his mother and his sisters. "Do not refuse any longer, fair princess," said the queen to Gracieuse. "It is time my son were made happy, and it is time you were released from the terrible condition in which you live under the tyranny of Grognon." The grateful princess threw herself on her knees, and told her she might do with her as she willed; that she would obey her in all things; that she had not forgotten the prophecy of Percinet when she left the Fairy Palace--that this same palace would be among the dead, and that she would not enter it till after she had been buried; that she looked on his fairy lore with admiration, as she did on his virtue; and that she was willing to marry him. The prince, in his turn, threw himself at her feet, and at that moment the palace resounded with the sound of voices and of instruments.
The wedding feast was of unheard-of splendour. All the fairies from a thousand leagues round came with their magnificent equipages; some in cars drawn by swans, others mounted on dragons, others on clouds, others on fiery globes. Amongst them came the fairy who had helped Grognon to torment Gracieuse, and when she saw the princess never was anyone so surprised. She begged her to forget what was past, and promised she would seek means to repair the wrong she had made her suffer. And in truth she would not stay for the feast; but, mounting again on her car drawn by two terrible serpents, she flew to the king's palace, where she sought out Grognon, and wrung her neck before the guards or her attendants could hinder her.