ONCE upon a time there lived a king and a queen who had two fine boys. They grew like the day, and were hungry and healthy. The queen never had any children born to her without sending for the fairies to ask what would be their future lot. So at the birth of her next child, a pretty little girl pretty that you could not look on her without loving her--the queen entertained in a very hospitable fashion all the fairies who came to see her on the occasion. As they were going away, she said to them: "Do not forget that good custom of yours; and tell me what will happen to Rosette". (Rosette was the little princess's name.) The fairies said they had left their fortune-books at home, and that they would come back again to see her. "Ah!" said the queen, "that bodes nothing good. You do not want to distress me by foretelling evil, but let me know all, I beg of you, and hide nothing from me." They excused them selves in all kinds of ways, but this only made the queen more anxious to know what was in their minds. At last, the chief fairy said: "Madam, we fear that Rosette may be a source of great misfortune to her brothers, and that they may die on her account. That is all we can find out about the fate of this pretty little girl, and we are very sorry not to be able to tell you anything more cheerful." They went away, and the queen was so very, very downcast that the king saw it from her face. He asked her what was the matter, and she told him she had gone too near the fire and had burnt all the flax on her distaff. "Is that all?" said the king. And he went up to the garret and brought her more flax than she could spin in a hundred years.
But still the queen was sad, and he asked her again what was the matter. She told him that when she was standing on the edge of the river, she had let her green satin slipper fall in. "Is that all?" said the king. And he sent for all the shoemakers in his kingdom, and bought her ten thousand green satin slippers.
But still the queen was sad, and again he asked her what was the matter. She told him that while eating very heartily, she had swallowed the wedding-ring on her finger. The king knew she was not telling the truth, for he had put the ring away carefully; so he said to her: "My dear wife, you are not speaking the truth. Here is your ring, which I put away in my purse.' Now she was caught in the very act of telling a lie, and there is nothing in the world uglier. She saw that the king was offended, so she told him what the fairies had predicted about little Rosette, and asked him, if he knew any good remedy, to tell her of it. The king was very down-hearted; so much so, that at last he said to the queen: "I know no other way of saving our two sons but of killing the little girl before she is out of her swaddling clothes". But the queen cried out that she would rather die herself than consent to such a cruel deed, and that he must think of some other means.
During this time, when the',' could think of nothing else, the queen learnt that in a large wood near the town there lived an old hermit, who was consulted by persons far and near, "I must go to him also," she said. "The fairies told me the evil, but they forgot to tell me the cure." So early one morning she set out on a pretty little white mule shod with gold, two of her maids accompanying her, each on a beautiful horse. When they came near the wood the queen and her maidens dismounted out of respect, and took their way to the tree where the hermit dwelt. He did not much care for visits from women folks, but when he saw that it was the queen, he said: "Welcome! What can I do for you?" Then telling him what the fairies had said of Rosette, she asked his advice; and he told her she must shut the princess up in a tower, and never let her out. The queen thanked him, made him a handsome present, and came back to tell the king everything.
When the king heard the news he had a great tower built without delay, and there he locked up his daughter. So that she might not be lonely, the king, the queen, and her two brothers went to see her every day. The elder brother was called the big prince, and the younger the little prince. They loved their sister passionately, for she was the prettiest and the most graceful little girl that ever was seen, and a glance from her eve was better to them than a hundred pistoles. When she was fifteen years old, the big prince said to the king: "Father, my sister is old enough now to be married. Shall we not soon dance at her wedding?" And the little prince said the same thing to the queen; and their majesties joked with them, but gave them no answer about the marriage. At last the king and queen fell very ill, and died almost on the same day. Everybody mourned very deeply, and put on black clothes, and all the death-bells were rung. Rosette was inconsolable for the death of her good mother. When the funeral of the king and queen was over, the marquises and the dukes of the kingdom led the elder prince to a throne made of gold and diamonds, and seated him on it. He had a beautiful crown on his head, and his garments were of violet velvet, covered with suns and moons. Then all the court shouted thrice: "Long live the king!" And there was nothing heard but sounds of joy.
The king and his brother in the meanwhile said to each other: "Now that we are masters, we must release our sister from the tower, where for long she has been pining". They had only to cross the garden to reach the tower, which was built in a corner, as high as the builders could make it, for the late king and queen had wished her to stay there always. Rosette, who was embroidering a beautiful gown on a frame in front of her, rose on seeing her brothers, and taking the king's hand she said: "Good-day, your majesty; you are now king, and I am your little servant. I beg that you will release me from the tower, where I am so very lonely"; and with that she began to cry. The king kissed her, and told her not to cry: for he had come to take her away to a beautiful castle. The prince had his pockets full of sugar-plums, and these he gave to Rosette. "Come along," he said, "let us get out of this hideous tower. The king will soon have you married, so don't distress yourself."
When Rosette saw the beautiful garden full of flowers, and fruit, and fountains, she was so astonished that she could not say a word; for till this day she had seen nothing. She looked all round on every side, walked on for a little way, then stopped to pick fruit from the trees, or flowers from the flower-beds. Her little one-eared dog, Fretillon, as green as a parrot, and an exquisite dancer, ran before her, saying yap, yap, yap, and jumping and capering madly. Fretillon amused the company very much. Suddenly he set off at a run into a little wood. The princess followed him, and great was her astonishment when she saw a huge peacock spreading out its tail; it seemed to her so very, very beautiful that she could not take her eyes off it. The king and the prince coming up wished to know what was amusing her. She pointed to the peacock, and asked what it was. They told her it was a bird which sometimes was eaten. "What!" she said. "Do they dare to kill such a beautiful bird and eat it? I declare that I shall never marry anyone but the King of the Peacocks, and when I am their queen I shall let nobody eat them." The astonishment of the king is not to be told. "But, my sister," he said, "where think you we shall find this King of the Peacocks?" "Wherever you like, your majesty; but I will marry none but him."
After this decision, the two brothers took her to their castle, where the peacock had to be brought, and kept in her room, so fond was she of it. All the court ladies who had not yet seen Rosette hastened to salute her, and to pay their respects to her, some bringing her preserves, some sugar, others dresses trimmed with gold, others beautiful ribbons, dolls, embroidered shoes, pearls, and diamonds. Everywhere they did honour to her; and she was so well-bred, so polite kissing their hands, and bowing when anything pretty was given her, that there was not a gentleman or a lady of the court who did not go away satisfied.
While she was in this good company the king and the prince were thinking over what means they would take to find the King of the Peacocks, if there was such a person in the world. They thought it would be necessary to have a portrait of Princess Rosette painted, so they had this done. It was so like, that only speech was lacking. Then they said to her: "Since you will marry none but the King of the Peacocks, we are going away together to seek him for you through the whole world. If we find him we shall be very glad. Take care of our kingdom till we return."
Rosette thanked them for the trouble they were taking for her, and promised to govern their kingdom well. While they were away, she said, her whole amusement would be in looking at the beautiful peacock, and in making Fretillon dance. They could not help weeping when they said good-bye.
So the two princes set off, asking everyone they met on their way if they did not know the King of the Peacocks. But everyone said: "No, we do not know him". They passed on and went still further, and such a long, long way did they travel that they reached where no one had ever been before. They came at last to the kingdom of the Mayflies. Never were so many seen before, and they made such a loud buzzing that the king was afraid lest he should become deaf. He asked the one that appeared the most sensible if he knew where he could find the King of the Peacocks. "Sire," said the Mayfly, "his kingdom is thirty thousand leagues from here. You have taken the longest way to reach it." "And how do you know that?" said the king. "Because," replied the Mayfly, "we know you very well, and every year we spend two or three months in your gardens." Then the king and his brother saluted the Mayfly in the most affectionate manner, and struck up a great friendship with him. They dined together, and went to look with the greatest admiration at all the curiosities of that country, where the tiniest leaf of a tree is worth a pistole. After that they went on their journey again, and as they now knew the way they were not long before they arrived. All the trees they saw laden with peacocks, and the whole place was so full of them that you could hear their cries and chattering two leagues off.
The king said to his brother; "If the King of the Peacocks is himself a cock, how can our sister ever marry him? We should be mad if we gave our consent. Think what a fine connection she would give us. Why, we should have little peacocks for nephews!" And the prince was no less troubled "Yes," he said; "it is indeed a most unfortunate idea that she has taken into her head. I can't think how she has thought of the existence even of a peacock king."
When they reached the great town they saw it was full of men and women hut their clothes were made of peacocks' feathers, and these were everywhere about as if much prized for their beauty. They met the king driving in a pretty little coach of gold and diamonds, drawn by twelve peacocks at full gallop. The king was so very beautiful that the stranger king and the prince were charmed He had long, flaxen, curly hair, a fair complexion, and a peacock's tail for a crown. When he saw them he thought, since their dress was different from that of the people of the country, they must he foreigners, and to find out he stopped his coach and called them towards him.
The king and the prince came forward. Having made a low bow, they said: "Your majesty, we come from a long distance to show you a beautiful portrait," and they drew from their valise the large picture of Rosette. When the King of the Peacocks had looked well at it, he said: "I cannot believe that there is so beautiful a maiden in the whole world". "She is a hundred times more beautiful than that," said the king. "Ah," said the Peacock King; "you are laughing at me." "Sire," said the prince, "this is my brother, a king like yourself. That is his title, and I am called the prince. Our sister, whose portrait you see, is the Princess Rosette. We come to ask you if you will marry her, She is beautiful and very good, and we shall give her a bushel of golden crowns," "Ah, but with all my heart!" said the king. "With me she shall lack for nothing, I will love her dearly. But I assure you I demand that she be as beautiful as her portrait, and if she fails in the slightest degree in her resemblance to it, I shall put you to death." "Very well, we agree," said Rosette's two brothers. "You agree?" said the king. "Then go to prison and stay there till the princess arrives." The princes made no objection, for they were very certain that Rosette was more beautiful than her portrait.
While they were in prison, the king had everything possible done for their comfort, and he went himself to see them very often. In his castle he kept Rosette's portrait, with which he was so infatuated that he never slept day or night. As soon as the king and his brother were in prison, they sent word by post to the princess to pack up quickly, and to come without delay, for at last the Peacock King was waiting for her. But they said nothing about their being prisoners for fear she should be too anxious. When she received this letter she was so overwhelmed with joy that she was like to die. She told everybody that the Peacock King was found and wanted to marry her. They lit bonfires, and fired cannon, and ate sweetmeats and sugar-plums to their hearts' content, and all those who came to see the princess for three days had bread and jam, and wafers, and hippocras given them. After having dispensed these bounties she left her beautiful dolls to her good friends, and gave her brother's kingdom into the keeping of the wisest old men of the town, charging them to take good care of everything, to spend little, and to save up money against the return of the king. She left her peacock behind in her friends' keeping, only taking with her her nurse and her foster-sister, and her little green dog Fretillon. Then she set out in a boat on the sea, taking with her the bushel of golden crowns, and dresses to last her for ten years even were she to change them twice a-day. She and her companions did nothing but laugh and sing. The nurse asked the boat man: "Are we near, are we anywhere near the kingdom of the peacocks?" He answered: "No". And again this time she asked: "And now, are we near it, anywhere near it?" And he answered: "Soon, we shall soon be there". Still another time she said: "Are we near, are we anywhere near it?" "Yes, yes, we are," he answered. And when he had said that she went to the end of the boat, sat down beside him, and said: "If you wish it, you can be rich for ever". "Very well," he answered, "If you like, you can earn good money.' "I have no objections," he said. "Well, then, this night while the princess is asleep you must help me to throw her into the water. After she is drowned I shall dress my daughter up in her fine clothes, and we shall take her to the Peacock King, who will be very glad to marry her. For your reward we shall give you as many diamonds as you like." The boatman was much astonished at the nurse's proposal. He said it was a pity to drown so beautiful a princess, and that he was sorry for her. But she took a bottle of wine and made him drink so much that he was not in a condition to refuse her.
Night having come, the princess went to bed as usual, her little Fretillon snugly rolled up at her feet. Rosette was fast asleep when the wicked nurse, I was very wide awake, went to fetch the boatman. She took him to the princess's room, and then without awaking her, they took her, feather-bed, mattress, sheets, coverlet, and all, her foster-sister helping them in every way, and threw her with all these into the sea. And the princess slept so soundly that she did not awake. But most fortunately her bed was made of phoenixs' feathers, which are very rare, and which have this property, that they never go to the bottom of the water. So that she floated about in her bed, as if she had been in a boat. The water, however gradually wet first her feather-bed and then her mattress, through, and Rosette, beginning to feel the discomfort of this, was turning from one side to the other when Fretillon woke up. His scent was keen, and he smelt the soles and the cod-fish so near that he began to bark loud enough to wake up the other fishes. They began to swim about, the big ones pushing against the princess's bed, which being unattached, turned round and round and round about. Oh, how astonished she was!" Is our boat dancing on the water?" she said. "I am not used to being so uncomfortable as I am to-night." And Fretillon went on barking, barking, in the most desperate fashion. Meanwhile the wicked nurse and the boatman, who were listening from far off, said: "There is that funny little dog and his mistress drinking our healths. Make haste to reach the shore." For they were now opposite the town of the Peacock King.
He had sent to the sea coast a hundred carriages, drawn by all sorts of strange animals--lions, bears, deer, wolves, horses, oxen, asses, eagles, and peacocks, and to the carriage for the Princess Rosette were harnessed six blue monkeys that could jump, and dance on tight ropes, and do all sorts of funny tricks. They had beautiful harness of crimson velvet with golden mountings. Sixty young damsels appeared, chosen by the king to amuse Rosette. They were dressed in all kinds of colours, and lavishly adorned with gold and silver.
The nurse had taken great care to dress her daughter gaily, putting Rosette's diamonds on her head and all over her, and giving her her prettiest gown. But, with all her ornaments, she was uglier than an ape. Her hair was of a greasy black, her eyes squinting, her legs twisted, and she had a great hump in the middle of her back. Besides, she was ill-tempered and sulky, and always grumbling.
When the Peacock King's people saw her come out of the boat, they were so very much surprised that they could not say a word. "What is the matter" she said. "Are you asleep? Quick, make haste, bring me something to eat! You rascals, I shall have you all hung!" When they heard this they said: "What a hideous creature! And she is as wicked as she is ugly! This is a fine marriage our king is making! Well, we are not astonished! But it was hardly worth while to bring her from the other end of the world." Meanwhile she was carrying things with a high hand, and for no reason at all she was boxing people's ears and hitting them with her fist. As her procession was very long, she went slowly, sitting up proudly like a queen in her carriage. All the pea cocks perched themselves on the trees to salute her as she passed, meaning to shout "Long live the fair Queen Rosette!" but when they saw her looking so hideous, they called out: "Fie, fie! how ugly she is!" She was mad with rage, and screamed to her guards: "Kill those rascally peacocks that are shouting insults at me". The peacocks flew away fast enough, laughing at her. The wicked boatman, who saw what was going on, said to the nurse under his breath: "Mother, we don't seem to be getting on very well. It is a pity your daughter is not prettier." But she whispered: "Hold your tongue, you fool, else you will spoil everything
The king was told by this time that the princess was coming. "Well, now," said he, "did her brothers tell the truth? Is she more beautiful than her portrait?" "She will do very well, your majesty," said those to whom he spoke "if she is as beautiful." "Oh, yes," said the king; "I shall be satisfied. Let us now go and see her," for he heard by the great noise they were making in the court-yard that she had arrived: The only words he could distinguish out of all they were saying were: "Yes, how ugly she is!" He thought they must be speaking of some dwarf or of some beast she had perhaps brought with her, for it did not even enter his mind that it could really be herself.
Rosette's portrait, uncovered, was carried at the end of a long pole, and the king walked gravely behind, with all his barons and all his peacocks, and then all the ambassadors from the neighbouring kingdoms. The king was full of impatience to see his dear Rosette. Oh! when he did see her--he all but died on the spot. He flew into the greatest passion, tore his clothes, and refused to go near her, for she terrified him.
"What!" he said. "Those two villains I have in my prison have been bold enough to laugh at me, and to propose a monkey like that for my wife? They shall die! Go, let them without a moment's delay shut up that insolent woman, her nurse, and the man who brought them here, and cast them into the dungeon of my great tower."
Meanwhile the king and his brother, who were prisoners, and who knew that their sister was about to arrive, had put on their best clothes to meet her. But instead of coming to open the prison and setting them free as they had hoped, the, gaoler came with the soldiers and took them down to a cellar which was quite dark and full of hideous beasts, and where they stood in water up to their necks. No one could have been more astonished or distressed than were they. "Alas!" they said to each other; "this is a sad wedding for us. What can have brought so great a misfortune on us?" They did not know what in the world to think, except that the king meant to put them to death, and right sorrowful they were.
Three days passed and they had no explanation given them. At the end of that time the Peacock King came to the prison and said the most insulting things to them through a hole. "You have taken the title of king and prince to catch me and to persuade me to marry your sister. But you are rascals, both of you, not worth the water you drink. I shall bring you before the judges, who will settle your case fast enough, and already the rope to hang you with is being made." "King of the Peacocks," answered the other king, angrily, "do not be so hasty in this matter, or you may repent of it. I am as much a king as you. I have a great kingdom. I am rich in suits and crowns, and have broad gold pieces in plenty. Surely you must be joking to talk of hanging us. Have we stolen anything from you?"
When the king heard him speak so boldly he did not know what to think, and he had half a mind to let them go with their sister without putting them to death, but his chief friend, who was a mere flatterer, encouraged him, telling him that if he did not revenge himself everybody would laugh at him, and would take him for a miserable little king not worth a cent. So he swore he would not pardon them, and he ordered them to be tried. The trial did not last long, for to look at the portrait of the Princess Rosette beside the pretender that had come in her place was quite enough. So they were condemned to be beheaded, as liars who had promised the king a beautiful princess, and had given him instead an ugly peasant girl. Then the judge went to the prison with much ceremony to declare the sentence. The prisoners said they had not lied, that their sister was indeed a princess, that she was fairer than the day, and that there was something behind all this that they did not understand, and that if but seven days' grace were given them before being put to death, perchance in that time their innocence would be recognised. It was hard to persuade the King of the Peacocks, who was very angry, to grant them this grace, but at last he consented.
While all these things were passing at the court, we must tell something about poor Princess Rosette. As soon as it was day she was much astonished, and so was Fretillon, at seeing herself in the middle of the sea, with no boat and utterly helpless. Then she began to cry and cry till all the fish were sorry for her. She did not know what to do, nor what would become of her. "Surely," said she, "I have been thrown into the sea by order of the Peacock King. He has repented of marrying me, and to get rid of me without disgrace to himself, he has had me drowned. What a strange man!" she went on. "I should so have loved him, and we should have been the happiest of couples." Thereupon she wept very bitterly, for she could not help loving him. Two days she remained in this condition, floating from one end of the sea to the other, wet to her very bones, chilled to death, and almost benumbed. If it had not been for little Fretillon, who warmed her heart a little, she would have died a hundred times. She was famished with hunger, and seeing oysters, she took as many as she wanted and ate them. Fretillon did not much like them, but he had nothing else to eat. When night came on a great fear took possession of Rosette, and she said to her dog: "Fretillon, keep on barking, for fear the soles eat us up". He had barked the whole night long, and the princess's bed was not far from the sea-shore. Near them there was a good old man, who lived quite alone in a little hut where nobody ever went. He was very poor, and had no longings for the goods of this world. When he heard Fretillon barking, he was very much astonished, for it was very rarely that dogs passed by there He thought some travellers must have lost their way, and he went out with the kind intention of putting them on their road again. All at once he saw the princess and Fretillon floating in the sea. The princess at sight of him held out her arms, crying: "Good old man, save me, for I shall perish here. For two days I have been in this condition." When he heard her speaking in this sad voice, he felt great pity for her, and returned to his hut again to fetch a large hook. The water reached to his neck as he went in, and two or three times he thought he should be drowned. At last with tremendous efforts he brought the bed to the shore. Rosette and Fretillon were very glad to be on dry land again, and thanked the good man with much gratitude. Then she took the coverlet in which she was wrapped, and bare footed she entered the hut, where he lit her a little fire of dry straw, and took out of his trunk his late wife's best dress and shoes and stockings, which the princess put on. Clad thus like a peasant, she looked as beautiful as the day, and Fretillon danced round her to amuse her.
The old man saw well enough that Rosette was some great lady, for the covers of her bed were all of gold and silver, and her mattress was of satin. He begged her to tell him her story, promising not to repeat a word if she did not wish him to. She told him everything from one end to the other, weeping very bitterly, for she still believed that it was the King of the Peacocks that had ordered her to be drowned. "How shall we manage, my daughter?" said the old man. "You are such a great princess and used to eating only dainty morsels, and I have only black bread and radishes. It will be but poor cheer for you. If you will but let me, I shall go and tell the Peacock King that you are here; for of a surety, had he seen you, he would marry you.' "Ah, he is a wicked man; he would kill me, But if you have a little basket fasten it round my dog's neck, and he will not have his usual luck if he does not bring us back something to eat." The old man gave the princess a basket, which she tied round Fretillon's neck, saying: "Run off to the place where the best dinner in the whole town is being cooked and bring it back to me". Fretillon ran to the town; and as there was no better pot than the king's, he went into the royal kitchen, found the pot, took very cunningly all that was in it, and returned home. Then Rosette said to him: "Run back again to the larder and take the best of everything there". Fretillon flew back to the larder, carried off white bread, muscatel wine, all kinds of fruits and preserves, and he was so laden that he was quite exhausted,
When the Peacock King wished to dine, there was nothing in his pot nor in his larder. Each one of his servants looked at the other, and the king was in a terrible rage. "Well," said he, "I cannot dine, but this evening let the spit be put on the fire so that I may have good roast meat," The evening being come, the princess said to Fretillon: "Run off to the town, go to the best kitchen, and bring me some good roast meat". Fretillon did as his mistress bade him, and knowing of no better kitchen than the king's, he went in very quietly, while the cooks' backs were turned, and took the whole roast on the spit. It looked delicious, and the very sight of it would have made you hungry. He brought back his basketful to the princess, who sent him back again to the larder to bring all kinds of sweets and sugar-plums. The king, who had no dinner, wished to sup early, but there was nothing for him. He flew into a fearful rage, and went to bed without supper. Next day at dinner and supper the same thing happened, so that the king was three days without eating or drinking; for whenever he sat down to table, it was found that everything had been stolen. His confidant, in great trouble, and fearing the king would die, hid himself in a little corner of the kitchen, and kept his eyes on the boiling pot. How astonished he was to see a little green dog, with but one ear, creep in softly, lift the lid of the pot, and put the meat in its basket. Following it to know where it would go, he saw it run outside the town, and following it still farther, he found himself at the good old man's house. Without delay he went and told the king that it was to a poor peasant's hut that his boil and roast went every evening and morning.
The king was much astonished, and ordered them to go and make inquiries. The confidant, anxious for the king's favour, went himself, taking a guard of archers with him. They found the peasant dining with the princess and eating the king's boiled beef. They were both seized and bound with stout cords, and Fretillon was captured as well. When they had arrived at the palace the king was told. "To-morrow," said he, "is the last of the seven days I gave the wicked men to live. They shall die with those who stole my dinner." Then he strode into the justice chamber. The old man fell on his knees saying he would explain everything. But while he was speaking the king looked on the beautiful princess, and was sorry to see her weep. Then when the good man had declared that she was called Rosette, and that they had thrown her into the sea, in spite of his weakness from his long fast the king gave three leaps for joy, embraced her, and untied the cords with which she was bound, telling her he loved her with all his heart. At once the princes were fetched, but they, thinking it was to take them to their deaths, came out very sad and hanging their heads. The nurse and her daughter were brought too. When they were face to face they all knew each other. Rosette fell on her brothers' necks; the nurse and her daughter and the boatman fell on their knees, and asked for pardon. The joy was so great that the king and the princess forgave the evil-doers; and the good old man received a large reward, and staved for the rest of his life in the palace.
In the end, the Peacock King made every possible amends to the other king and his brother, to show his grief for having treated them so badly; and the nurse gave Rosette back her fine dresses and her bushel of golden crowns. The wedding feast lasted for fifteen days. Everyone was full of joy; even Fretillon had his share, for he ate nothing but partridge wings for the rest of his life.