ONCE upon a time there was a great queen who gave birth to twin daughters. She invited twelve fairies who lived in the neighbourhood to come and see them, and bestow gifts on them according to the custom of the time. And a very convenient custom it was! for the fairies' power very often remedied what Nature had done ill, although occasionally it spoiled what Nature had done very well.
When the fairies were all in the banqueting hall, a magnificent repast was served. Just as they were sitting down to table, Magotine entered. She was the sister of Carabosse, and was equally wicked. The queen trembled at the sight, fearing some disaster, for she had not invited her to the feast; but care fully concealing her anxiety, she went to find for Magotine a green velvet arm chair embroidered with sapphires. As Magotine was the oldest of the fairies, they all moved to make room for her, and each whispered the other: Let us hasten to bestow our gifts on the little princess, in order to anticipate Magotine".
On the offer of the armchair, Magotine said rudely that she did not want it; she was tall enough to eat standing. But she made a great mistake, for, as the table was rather high, she could not even see it, so small was she! This vexed her so greatly that her ill-temper increased. "Madam," said the queen, "I beg you to sit down to table." "If you had wanted me," said the fairy, "you would have invited me with the rest; you only ask handsome people with fine figures and magnificently attired like my sisters to your court; as for me I'm too old and ugly. But, all the same, my power is as great as theirs, and without boasting at all, even greater." The fairies urged her so much to sit down to table that she at last consented. A golden basket was placed on it, containing a dozen packets of precious stones; the first-comers helped themselves, and there were thus none left for Magotine, who began to mutter below her breath. The queen went to her closet, and brought her a casket of perfumed Spanish leather, covered with rubies and filled with diamonds; she entreated Magotine to accept it, but the fairy shook her head, saying: "Keep your jewels, I have enough and to spare. I only came to see if you had remembered me, and you had entirely forgotten my existence." So saying, she struck her wand on the table, and all the good things upon it immediately turned into fricasseed serpents. The fairies, in great alarm, threw down their serviettes, and left the banqueting hall.
While they were discussing the evil trick Magotine had just played them, the cruel little fairy approached the cradle where the princesses lay wrapped in the prettiest cloth of gold swaddling clothes imaginable. "My gift to you," she said quickly to one, "is that you shall be the ugliest creature in the world." She was on the point of laying a like curse on the other when the fairies ran up in great agitation and prevented her. Wicked Magotine broke a window-pane, and passing through it like a flash of lightning, disappeared from view.
No matter what gifts the good fairies bestowed on the princess, the queen was less sensible of their kindness than of the pain of finding herself mother of the ugliest creature in the world. She took her in her arms, and was grieved to see her grow uglier from one minute to the next. She tried in vain to keep from crying in the presence of the fairies, but she could not control herself, and they showed her all the pity imaginable. "What shall we do," they consulted, "to console the queen?" They held a great council, and afterwards told her not to grieve so deeply, since, at an appointed time, her daughter would be very happy. "But," interrupted the queen, "will she become beautiful?" "We cannot," they replied, "explain ourselves more fully let it suffice you that your daughter will be happy." She thanked them, and did not fail to load them with presents, for, although the fairies are very rich, they always like to receive gifts. The custom has since passed to all the peoples of the earth, and time has not destroyed it.
The queen called her elder daughter Laidronette, and the younger Bellotte. The names suited them admirably; for Laidronette became so ugly, that in spite of her great intelligence, it was impossible to look at her; her sister grew very beautiful and was most charming. When Laidronette was twelve years old, she threw herself at the feet of the king and queen, and begged their permission to shut herself up in the castle of solitude, in order to hide her ugliness, and not grieve them any longer. They loved her, her ugliness notwithstanding, and it cost them something to consent, but there was Bellotte, and that sufficed to console them.
Laidronette asked the queen to send with her only her nurse and a few officers. "You needn't fear that any one will run away with me, and for myself, I confess, fashioned as I am, I should like to avoid even the light of day." The king and queen granted her request, and she was conveyed to the castle of her choice. It had been built many centuries before. The sea came right up to the windows, and did duty for an ornamental canal. A vast forest near at hand furnished pleasant walks, and meadows shut in the view. The princess played musical instruments, and sang divinely. She spent two years in that pleasant solitude, and wrote several books of reflections, but the desire of seeing her parents again made her get into her coach and go to the court. She arrived exactly on Bellotte's wedding clay. Everybody was filled with joy, but at the sight of Laidronette they all looked annoyed. Neither the king nor queen embraced or caressed her, and for all welcome they told her she had grown much uglier, and advised her not to appear at the ball; if however she wished to see it, some place might be arranged whence she could view it. She replied that she had not come to dance, nor to listen to the music, but she had been so long in the lonely castle that she could not help leaving it to pay her duty to the king and queen. She knew, to her keen regret, that they could not endure her, and she intended returning to her solitude, where the trees, flowers and springs did not reproach her for her ugliness every time she went near them. The king and queen, observing her sorrow, told her she could remain with them two or three days. But having a heart, Laidronette replied that if she spent that time in such pleasant company, it would pain her too much to leave them. They were too anxious for her to go to seek to prevent her, and coldly told her she was right.
Princess Bellotte gave her for a wedding gift an old riband she had worn all the winter on her muff, and the king she was marrying presented her with some purple silk for a petticoat. Had she consulted her own feelings, she would have thrown the riband and silk in the faces of the generous donors who treated her so ill; but she had too much spirit, wisdom and intelligence to show her annoyance, and set out with her faithful nurse on her return to the castle. So full of sorrow was her heart that during the whole journey she did not open her lips.
Walking one day in the thickest part of the forest, she saw under a tree a big green serpent. Raising his head, he said "Laidronette, you are not alone in misfortune. Look at my horrible form, and learn that I was born even more beautiful than you." The princess, greatly alarmed, heard only half of what he said, and for several days, fearing such another encounter, dared not stir out. At length, weary of always being alone in her room, she one evening quitted it and went to walk by the sea-shore. She was pacing slowly along, thinking over her sad fate, when she saw a little gilded boat, painted with a thousand different devices, come towards her. The sail was of brocade of gold, the mast of cedar wood, and the oars of calambac. Chance alone seemed its steersman, and as it stopped close to the shore, the princess, curious to see its beauties, stepped in. She found it adorned with crimson velvet with a gold ground, the nails being made of diamonds. But all of a sudden the boat left the shore, and the princess, alarmed at her danger, took the oars to try and return, but all her efforts were of no avail. The wind raised the waves up mountains high, she lost sight of land, and seeing nothing but sea and sky, abandoned herself to her fate, sure that the worst was about to happen, and that she owed this bad turn to Magotine. "I must perish," she cried; "but what secret impulse makes me fear death? Alas! so far, I have known none of the pleasures that could make me hate it. My ugliness alarms even my nearest relatives; my sister is a great queen, while I am banished to the depths of a desert, where all the society I have found is a talking serpent. Would not death be preferable to a wearisome existence like this?"
These reflections dried the princess's tears. She looked boldly to see from what quarter death would come, and seemed to be inviting it not to delay, when she saw a serpent on the waves approaching the boat. He said "If you are willing to receive help from a poor green serpent like me, I can save your life". "Death strikes less terror to my heart than you do," exclaimed the princess "and if you want to do me a favour, never show yourself in my sight." Green Serpent made a long hissing sound, which he meant for a sigh, and answering never a word, plunged into the sea. "What a horrid monster!" said the princess to herself; "he has green wings, a many-coloured body, ivory jaws, fiery eyes, and long, bristling hair. Ah! I would rather die than owe my life to him. But," she went on, "what makes him follow me so persistently? and how comes it that he speaks like a reasoning being?" She was considering thus when a voice replying to her thought said "Learn, Laidronette, that Green Serpent is not to be despised; and were it not too cruel a thing to say, I could assure you that he is less ugly in his degree than you are in yours. But so far from wishing to anger you, if you would only consent, I should like to mitigate your sorrow."
The voice vastly surprised the princess, and what it said was so little credible, that she had not strength enough to keep back her tears. But suddenly reflecting "What!" she cried; "reproached with my ugliness as I am, I will not lament my death. What is the use of being the most beautiful woman in the world? I must die all the same. It ought rather to console me and prevent me regretting my life."
While she moralised, the boat drifting at the mercy of the waves struck a rock, and scarcely two pieces of the wood held together. The poor princess found her philosophy of no avail in so pressing a danger; she discovered a few pieces of wood, and imagining she was clinging to them she felt herself lifted up, and reached in safety the foot of a big rock. Alas! what were her sensations on finding she was tightly embracing Green Serpent! Seeing her great alarm he moved a little aside, and cried out "If you knew me better you would fear me less, but it is my cruel fate to terrify everybody”. He immediately threw himself into the water, and Laidronette was left alone on the great rock.
Casting her eyes around, she saw nothing to lessen her despair. Night was coming on; she had nothing to eat, and knew not where to find shelter. "I thought," she said, sadly, "to end my days in the sea. Doubtless the last scene of all is to be here; some sea monster will devour me, or I shall perish of hunger." She seated herself on the top of the rock. As long as the light lasted she looked out over the sea, and when night was over all the earth she took off her silk petticoat, covered her head and face with it, and anxiously awaited what might happen.
At length she fell asleep; and it seemed to her that she heard a sound as of various musical instruments. She felt convinced she was dreaming, hut after a moment she heard these lines sung, lines which seemed composed for her:--
"Here within this palace gay
May you suffer Cupid's dart!
Here shall gladness be our part,
Sorrows all he'll drive away.
Here within this palace gay
May you suffer Cupid's dart!"
The attention with which she listened to these words completely roused her. "What happiness and what ill-fortune are in store for me?" she said. "In my condition, can happy days be possible for me?" In terror, she opened her eyes, fearing to see herself surrounded by monsters. But imagine her astonishment when, instead of the horrible and barren rock, she found herself in a chamber all panelled with gold. The bed on which she was reclining was in keeping with the splendour of the most beautiful palace in the world; she asked herself question after question, unable to believe she was actually awake At last she got up and opened a glass door that led on to a spacious balcony whence she descried all the beauty that Nature, seconded by art, could produce. gardens full of flowers, fountains, statues and rare trees; forests in the distance; palaces whose walls were adorned with precious stones and roofs of pearl, and so marvellously were they wrought that each was a masterpiece. The sea, calm and peaceful, was covered with numerous ships of all sorts, and the sails, streamers, and pennants tossing in the wind, produced the most charming possible effect.
"Oh, ye gods! ye just gods!" she exclaimed, "what do I see? Where am I? What a remarkable change! What has become of the terrible rock that seemed to threaten the heavens with its cloud-capped points? Was it I who nearly perished yesterday, and was saved by the aid of a serpent?" In her distress she broke out into laments, now walking to and fro, now stopping still. At length she heard a noise in the room. Turning back into it, she saw coming towards her a hundred pagodas, adorned and built in a hundred different ways. The biggest were about an arm's length in height, and the smallest not more than four fingers; some beautiful, graceful, and pleasant looking; others hideous, and of a terrible ugliness. They were of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, crystal, amber, coral, porcelain, gold, silver, brass, bronze, iron, wood, clay; some without arms, others without feet, with mouths reaching from ear to ear, squint eyes, flat noses. In short, there is not greater unlikeness between the creatures who inhabit the world than there was between those pagodas.
Those who presented themselves before the princess were the deputies of the kingdom. After making her a speech containing many wise reflections they told her, to amuse her, that they had for some time been travelling about the world, but that in order to obtain their sovereign's consent they swore in setting out never to speak; and so scrupulous had they been that they would not move either head, feet, or hands. The greater number, however, could not help doing so, while they were thus travelling about the world. When they returned, they delighted their king by the recital of all the most secret affairs of the different courts in which they had been received. "It is, madam," added the deputies, "a pleasure we will sometimes give you, for we are commanded to omit nothing in our power to amuse you. Instead of bringing you presents, we shall divert you with our songs and dances." They immediately began to sing these words, dancing a round dance with tambourines and castanets:--
"Joy is more delightful
That follows after pain;
Joy is more delightful
After ills despiteful:
Young lovers, do not break your chain,
Let fortune you disdain,
Yet happiness you'll gain"
When they had finished, the deputy who was spokesman said to the princess: "Here, madam, are a hundred pagodinas who are appointed to the honour of attending you: everything you most desire will be accomplished, provided you remain with us”. The pagodinas then appeared. They carried baskets in. proportion to their size, filled with a hundred different things, so pretty, so useful, so well made, and so rich that Laidronette could not leave off admiring, praising and loudly expressing her wonder at the marvels she saw. The most distinguished of the pagodinas, a little diamond figure, suggested that as the heat was increasing, she should enter the bathing grotto. The princess walked in the direction pointed out, between two rows of body-guards of most laughable size and appearance. She found two basins of crystal ornamented with gold, and filled with choicely perfumed water, a canopy of cloth of gold was arranged over them. She asked why there were two basins, and was told that one was for her, and the other for the King of the Pagodas. "But," she cried, "where is he?" "Madam," was the reply, "he is just now at the wars you will see him on his return." The princess asked if he was married; she was told no, that he was so charming that so far he had not found any one worthy of him. She did not carry her curiosity further, she undressed and went into the bath immediately the pagodas and pagodinas began to sing and to play on musical instruments. Some had lutes made of a walnut-shell, others violas made of an almond-shell, for it was necessary to suit the instruments to their size. But everything was so exact and harmonised so well that nothing could be more delightful than these concerts.
When the princess came out of the bath, a magnificent dressing-gown was presented to her. Pagodas, playing the flute and the hauthoy, walked before her; pagodinas followed her, singing songs in her honour. Thus she entered a room where her toilette was prepared. Immediately pagodinas who did duty as ladies of the bed-chamber and ladies' maids came and went, dressed her hair, attired her, praised her, applauded her. There was no longer any thought of ugliness, of purple silk petticoat, or of worn-out riband.
The princess was veritably astonished. "What," she said, "can procure me this extraordinary delight? I was on the point of perishing. I was awaiting death and could hope for nothing else, when suddenly I find myself in the most beautiful and magnificent place in the world, where my presence too seems to give so much pleasure!" She possessed so much intelligence and goodness of heart, and her manners were so pleasing, that all the little creatures were charmed with her.
Every day on rising new clothes, new laces, new jewels were brought her, It was certainly a great pity she was so ugly, but in consequence of the great care taken in dressing her, she who had never been able to endure the sight of herself began to find herself less hideous. The pagodas constantly told her the most secret and curious things that went on in the world. They told her of treaties of peace and leagues of war; of the treachery and quarrels of lovers, and the unfaithfulness of mistresses, of despairs, reconciliations, and disappointed heirs, of frustrated marriages and old widows who married again most unseasonably, of treasures discovered, of bankruptcies and fortunes made in a moment, of fallen favourites and besieged cities, of jealous husbands and flirting women, of thankless children and ruined towns. Indeed what did they not tell the princess to amuse and divert her? Some of the pagodas were most surprisingly swollen and puffed out. On asking the reason they told her: "As we are not allowed when on our travels to laugh or to speak, and as we continually see very laughable things and the greatest absurdities, the effort not to laugh causes us to swell in this way. It is in fact a dropsy caused by suppressed laughter, of which we are cured when we return here." The princess admired the good humour of the pagoda race, for people might indeed become inflated by constantly suppressing laughter at all the absurd things they must infallibly see.
Every evening one of the finest plays of Corneille or Moliere was represented. Balls were of frequent occurrence. So that no possible effect might be lost, the tiniest figures danced on the tight-rope that they might be better seen, and the repasts served to the princess would have done for the banquets of some solemn festival. Books, serious, amusing, and historical, were brought to her; indeed the days passed like minutes. As a matter of fact, however, the pagodas, highly intelligent as they were, were of a ridiculous minuteness It often happened when going a walk that she put thirty of them into her pocket to amuse her, and it was the pleasantest thing in the world to hear them chattering in their little voices, shriller than those of marionettes.
Once when the princess was unable to sleep, she said: "What will become of me? Shall I always remain here? My life passes more pleasantly than I could have dared to hope, yet my heart lacks something, and I cannot tell what it is to begin to feel that a series of the same pleasures, varied by no events, is very insipid." "Ah I princess," replied a voice, "is it not your own fault? If you would love, you would at once be conscious that it is quite possible to be happy for a very long time in a palace or even in a lonely desert with one we love." "What pagoda is speaking to me?" she said. "What pernicious advice he gives me, opposed to all the peace of my life." "It is no pagoda," came the reply, "that warns you of what must be sooner or later. It is the unhappy monarch of this kingdom who adores you, and only dares confess it in the greatest fear and trembling." "A king adores me!" said the princess. "Has he eyes, or is he blind? Has he seen that I am the ugliest creature in the world?" "I have seen you, madam," replied the invisible king, "and to me you are not what you represent yourself to be, and whether on account of your person, your merits, or your misfortunes, I can only repeat that I adore you, and that my timid and respectful love compels me to hide myself." "I am deeply grateful to you," rejoined the princess. "Alas what should I do if I loved any one?" "You would make one happy who cannot live without you," he said, "and without your permission he would never dare to appear." "No," said the princess, "I do not wish to see anything that might attract me." Nothing further was said, but for the rest of the night she was greatly taken up with the circumstance.
Notwithstanding her resolution to say nothing about it, she could not help asking the pagodas if their king had returned. They replied: "No". That answer, which agreed ill with what she had heard, somewhat disturbed her, and she went on to ask if their king was young and good-looking. They told her he was young, handsome, and everything that was charming; she asked if they often heard from him, and they replied: "Every day". "But does he know," she added, "that I am in his palace?" "Yes" was the rejoinder, "he knows every thing about you, and so great is his interest in you that couriers are sent from hour to hour to take him news of you." She was silent, and began to reflect much more deeply than had been her custom.
When she was alone the voice spoke to her. At one time she was afraid of it; at another it gave her pleasure, for it invariably said the most gallant things. "Notwithstanding my firm resolve never to love,'' said the princess, "and the good reason I have to keep out of my heart an emotion that can only cause me misery, I confess I should like to know a king whose taste is so eccentric as yours, for if you really do love me, you are probably the only person in the world who could care for a woman as ugly as I am." "Think whatever you like of my taste, beloved princess," replied the voice, "I find justification enough in your merit; indeed it is not for that reason I am compelled to hide myself. The cause is so sad that if you knew it, you could not withhold your pity." The princess then urged the voice to explain, but it spoke no more, and only long-drawn sighs were heard. She was greatly disturbed by all this; although her lover was invisible and unknown he was most attentive, and she was beginning to wish for more suitable society than that afforded by the pagodas. She was, in fact, getting very weary, and could only find pleasure in the voice of her invisible lover.
On one of the darkest nights in the year, awaking out of her sleep, she perceived some one close to her bed; she thought it was the pagodina of pearls, who, being much more intelligent than the others, sometimes came to talk with her. The princess stretched forth her arms to take hold of her; her hand was at once seized, pressed and kissed; she felt tears fall on it, and she was so startled that she could not speak. She had no doubt that it was the invisible king. "What do yon want of me?" she said, with a sigh. "Can I love you without knowing you, or seeing you?" "Ah! madam," was the reply, "what are the conditions of pleasing you? It is impossible for me to show myself. The wicked Magotine, who played you such an evil trick, has condemned me to a penance of seven years; five have already gone, but two still remain, and if you were willing to take me for your husband, you could sweeten their bitterness. You think me very bold, and that what I ask of you is absolutely impossible; but if you knew the ardour of my passion, or the greatness of my misfortunes, you would not refuse the favour I beg of you."
As I have already said, Laidronette was becoming very weary; she found that, as far as intelligence went, he was all that could be desired, and under the specious name of a generous pity the invisible king won her heart and love. She replied that she required a few days in which to make up her mind. It was indeed a great thing to have brought matters so far, to a delay of a few days, for he had not dared to indulge hope. The fetes and concerts were redoubled, and only wedding hymns were sung before her, and presents, which surpassed anything she had ever seen, were continually brought her. The tender voice, ever assiduous, made love to her as soon as it was night, and the princess retired early, in order to have more time to converse with it.
At length she consented to marry the invisible king, and promised not to look upon him until his penance was at an end. "Therein lies everything for you and me," he said. "If you give way to indiscreet curiosity, I should have to begin my penance all over again, and you would share the hardship with me: but if you can refrain from following the bad advice that will be given you, you will find that I shall be exactly to your taste, and you will at the same time recover the marvellous beauty taken from you by the wicked Magotine." The princess, enchanted with that new hope, swore a thousand times to her husband to do nothing contrary to his wishes. The marriage was concluded without noise or splendour; but the heart and soul were not the less content.
As all the pagodas sought eagerly to amuse their new queen, one of them brought her the story of Psyche that a fashionable author had just written out in beautiful language; she found in it many things that bore upon her own ad venture. She was seized with so violent a desire to receive her father and mother, her sister and brother-in-law, at the palace, that nothing the king could say could drive the fancy from her mind. "The book you are reading," he added, "will teach you what were Psyche's misfortunes. I beg of you take heed and avoid them." She promised even more than he asked, and a vessel of pagodas carrying presents and letters from Queen Laidronette to her mother was despatched. She implored her to pay her a visit in her kingdom, and for that occasion only the pagodas had permission to speak elsewhere than in their own country.
The loss of the princess had evoked a feeling of tenderness in her near relatives. They thought she was dead, and thus her letters were the more eagerly welcomed at the court. The queen, who was dying to see her daughter again, did not delay a moment in setting out with her daughter and son-in-law. The pagodas, who alone knew the road to their kingdom, acted as guides to the royal party, and when Laidronette saw her parents she thought she should die of joy. She read the story of Psyche over and over again as a safeguard against her replies to all the things her family said to her. She had enough to do, and got into confusion a hundred times a-day. Sometimes the king was with the army. Sometimes he was ill and so bad-tempered that he did not wish to see any one. Now he was on a pilgrimage, then he was hunting or fishing. It seemed she was fated to say nothing that carried any weight, and that cruel Magotine had bereft her of her good sense. Her mother and sister talked over the matter together, and came to the conclusion that Laidronette was deceiving them, and perhaps deceiving herself. With ill-judged zeal they determined to speak to her. They accomplished the task with so much skill that a thousand fears and doubts crept into Laidronette's mind. For a long time she had not permitted all they could say to have the least effect on her; but she now confessed that, so far, she had never seen her husband. His conversation, how ever, was so full of charm that to be happy it was only necessary to hear him. She told them further that his penance was to last two years more, and at the end of that period not only would she see him, but she would become as beautiful as the day-star. "Ah wretched girl," exclaimed the queen, "how clear is the snare laid for you is it possible you can be simple enough to believe such tales? Your husband is a monster: it cannot be otherwise, for all the pagodas over whom he rules are the most grotesque creatures possible." "I rather believe," replied Laidronette, "that he is the God of Love himself." "A mistaken notion!" exclaimed Queen Bellotte; "Psyche was told she had a monster for a husband, and found him to be Cupid himself. You persist in believing your husband is Love and assuredly you will discover him to be a monster. Any way set your mind at ease, enlighten yourself on so simple a matter." The queen was of the same opinion, and her son-in-law even more strongly so.
The poor princess was so confused and disturbed that, after sending away her family with presents that more than made up for the purple silk and the muff riband, she determined, happen what might, to see her husband. Ah! fatal curiosity. A thousand terrible examples cannot cure us, and dearly indeed did the unfortunate princess pay for her indiscretion. She would have been very sorry not to follow the example of her predecessor, Psyche, so she concealed a lamp and with its aid looked upon the invisible king, so dear to her heart. But how terrible were her shrieks, when, instead of Love, gentle, fair, young, and altogether charming, she saw hideous Green Serpent with his long bristling hair. He awoke, transported with rage and despair: "Oh! cruel one!" he cried, "is this the reward of my great love?" The princess heard no more, she swooned with fear, and Serpent was already far away.
Hearing the noise caused by this tragedy, some of the pagodas rushed in. They put the princess to bed, and assisted to restore her. 'When she came to herself, her condition may be more easily imagined than described. How she reproached herself for the evil she had brought upon her husband! She loved him tenderly, but abhorred his form, and would have given half her life never to have seen him.
The entrance of several pagodas with terrified countenances interrupted her sad reflections. They informed her that a number of ships full of marionettes, with Magotine at their head, had entered the harbour unopposed. The marionettes and pagodas are eternal enemies, and are rivals in a thousand things. The marionettes have even the privilege of speaking wherever they like, a thing the pagodas are denied. Magotine was their queen. Her hatred for poor Green Serpent and unfortunate Laidronette led her to assemble troops, and determine to attack them just when their sorrows should be at their height.
It was not difficult to succeed in her designs: for the queen was in such grief, that although urged to give the necessary orders she refused, assuring them that she knew nothing about war. By her command, however, the pagodas that had been found in besieged cities, and in the closets of great generals, were assembled. She ordered them to provide for everything, and then shut herself up in her closet, regarding all the events of life with the utmost indifference.
Magotine's general was the celebrated Punchinello, who knew his business well, and who had a large reserve force, consisting of wasps, cockchafers, and butterflies, who were able to do wonders against a few frogs and light-armed lizards. They had been for a long time in the pay of the pagodas, who were more formidable in name than in valour.
Sometimes Magotine amused herself by watching the fight. Pagodas and pagodinas surpassed themselves, but with a stroke of the wand the fairies destroyed all the superb edifices, and the delightful gardens, woods, meadows, and fountains were buried in the ruins. Queen Laidronette was compelled to become a slave to the most malicious fairy that ever lived. Four or five hundred marionettes brought her to Magotine. "Madam," said Punchinello, "I venture to present to you the Queen of the Pagodas." "I have known her for a long while," said Magotine; "she was the cause of an affront I received the day of her birth, and I shall never forget it." "Alas! madam," said the queen, "I thought you were sufficiently avenged; the gift of ugliness you bestowed on me would have more than satisfied a less vindictive person than yourself." "How she talks," said the fairy, "just like a newly fledged doctor; your first work shall be to teach my ants philosophy; prepare to give them a lecture every day." "How am I to manage it, madam?" said the miserable queen; "I do not know philosophy, and if I did, are your ants capable of understanding it?" "Listen to the logician!" shouted Magotine. "Well, queen, you shall not teach them philosophy, but in spite of yourself, you shall afford the world an example of patience it shall be difficult to imitate."
Then she had iron shoes brought in; they were so tight that Laidronette could not get her feet into them, but she had to put them on all the same; and the poor queen wept and endured the pain. "Here," said Magotine, "is a distaff filled with cobweb; in two hours you must spin it as fine as your hair." "I do not know how to spin,' said the queen; "but although it seems impossible, I will endeavour to obey you." She was immediately taken to the depths of a dark grotto, and after leaving her some brown bread and a pitcher of water, the entrance was closed up by a big stone.
When she tried to spin the horrid cobweb, the heavy spindle fell to the ground hundreds and hundreds of times. She had patience enough to pick it up as often, and to begin the task over and over again; but it was always in vain. "Now," she said, "I perfectly recognise the measure of my misfortune; I am in the power of the implacable Magotine, and she, not satisfied with depriving me of my' beauty, wishes to take my life." She began to weep, going over in her mind the happiness she had enjoyed in the Kingdom of Pagody, and throwing her distaff to the ground: "Let Magotine come when she pleases,' she said, "I cannot do what is impossible”. She heard a voice that said: "Ah! queen, your indiscreet curiosity is the cause of all your tears: but I cannot witness the suffering of her I love. I have a friend of whom I have never spoken, the Fairy Protectress; I trust she will be of great use to you." Three knocks were then heard, and although no one appeared, the cobweb was spun and wound off. At the end of the two hours, Magotine, hoping for a cause of quarrel, ordered the stone to be removed from the entrance, and she went into the grotto, attended by a numerous cortege of marionettes. "Let us see," said she, "the work of a lazy girl who can neither sew nor spin." "Madam," said the queen, "I certainly did not know, but I found it necessary to learn." When Magotine saw the strange circumstance she took the ball of cobweb thread, saying: "You are indeed skilful, and it would be a vast pity not to make use of you. Make nets with this thread, strong enough for catching salmon." "I beg your pardon," replied she, "but it's scarcely strong enough for flies." "You are very fond of arguing, my fine friend," said Magotine, "but it is not of the least use." She left the grotto, ordered the big stone to be replaced at the entrance, and assured the queen that if the nets were not finished in two hours she was lost.
"Ah! Fairy Protectress," said the queen, "if it is true that my misfortunes can in any way touch you, do not refuse your aid." In the same moment the nets were finished. Laidronette was intensely surprised, and thanked in her heart the kind fairy who did so much for her; she thought with pleasure that she doubtless owed such a friend to her husband's love. "Alas! Green Serpent," she said, "you are very generous to continue loving me after the evil I have done you." No reply was forthcoming, for Magotine entered, and was greatly astonished to find the nets so industriously wrought, since it was not work for ordinary hands. "Do you dare to tell me," she said, "that you have woven these nets yourself?" "I have no friend at your court, madam," said the queen, "and even if I had, I am so closely imprisoned that it would be difficult for any one to speak to me without your permission." "As you are so clever and skilful, I shall find you very useful in my kingdom."
She at once commanded the fleet to be prepared; all the marionettes 'ere ready to depart. She had the queen fastened in big iron chains, fearing she might through some impulse of despair throw herself into the sea. The unhappy princess was one night deploring her sad fate, when by the light of the moon she perceived Green Serpent quietly approaching the vessel. "I always fear to alarm you," he said; "although I have no reason to treat you with consideration, you are infinitely dear to me." "Can you forgive my indiscreet curiosity?" she asked, "and may I tell you without displeasing you?
"My Serpent! O love! art thou come to me
To stay my heart's weary longing for thee!
Dear, tender spouse! do I see thee again!
Ah! cruel, alas! was solitude's pain!
Sorrowful in misery,
Weeping I have yearned for thee."
Serpent replied in these lines:--
"Hearts apart needs must smart,
Weeping duly, loving truly--
When gods vent their wrath in this world of woe,
Wreaking their vengeance with pitiless blow.
Torture no worse can they ever devise
Than his, who alone in solitude sighs."
Magotine was not one of those fairies who are sometimes caught napping; the desire of doing evil kept her always wide awake. Thus she did not fail to hear the conversation of King Serpent and his wife. She interposed like a fury. "Ah, ah!" she said, "you meddle with rhyming and make your laments in the tones of Apollo. Indeed, I am very glad. Proserpina, who is my best friend, has asked me to provide her with some poet on hire. It's not that she lacks them, but she wants more of them. Go then, Green Serpent, finish your penance in her gloomy kingdom, and present my compliments to the charming Proserpina." The unfortunate serpent immediately departed with long-drawn hisses. He left the queen in the deepest grief; she thought nothing further could possibly happen to her. In her misery she exclaimed: "By what crime have we displeased you, cruel Magotine? I had scarcely entered the world when your infernal curse deprived me of my beauty and made me hideous. Ho can you possibly assert that before my reason was developed and I knew myself, I could be guilty of any misdeed? I am sure that the unhappy king you have just sent to Hades is equally innocent; but put an end to it all and let me die now at once; it is the only favour I ask of you." "If I granted your request you would be too happy," replied Magotine; "you must first fetch water from the inexhaustible Spring."
Directly the ships reached the country of the marionettes, cruel Magotine tied a millstone round the queen's neck and ordered her to climb to the top of a mountain far beyond the clouds. Once there she was to gather four-leaved clover, fill her basket with it, and then come down to the depths of the valley and, in a pitcher full of holes, fetch enough of the water of discretion to fill the fairy's big glass. The queen replied that it was not possible to obey; the mill stone was ten times heavier than she was, the broken pitcher could never hold the water, and she could not therefore make up her mind to undertake a thing so impossible. "If you fail," said Magotine, "he very sure Green Serpent shall suffer." That threat so greatly alarmed the queen that without considering her complete inability to do what was required of her, she attempted to walk on; but alas it would have been quite useless had not the Fairy Protectress, whom she summoned, come to her aid. "This," she said, "is the just reward of your fatal curiosity; you have only yourself to thank for the state into which Magotine has brought you." But she conveyed Laidronette to the mountain, filled her basket with the four-leaved clover in spite of the dreadful monsters who guarded it and made supernatural efforts to defend it, for by a stroke of the wand the Fairy Protectress made them gentler than lambs.
She did not wait for the thanks of the grateful queen to finish giving her all the aid that lay in her power. She presented her with a little chariot drawn by two white canaries who spoke and sang to perfection. She told her to go down the mountain and to throw her iron shoes at two giants armed with clubs who guarded the spring, and they would fall without offering the least resistance. She was then to give the pitcher to the little canaries who would easily be able to fill it with the water of discretion. Directly they brought it she was to rub her face with it and she would at once become the most beautiful creature in the world. The fairy advised Laidronette not to remain at the spring, or to climb to the top of the mountain again, but to stop in a pleasant little wood she would find on her road, and stay there for three years. Magotine would think she was all the while engaged in fetching the water in her pitcher, or that one of the numerous dangers of the journey had caused her death.
The queen embraced the Fairy Protectress, and thanked her a hundred times for all her kindness. "But," she added, "neither the happy issue of my journey nor the beauty you promise me can give any joy so long as Green Serpent remains a serpent. "That will only be until you have lived for three years in the wood," said the fairy, "and have delivered the water and the clover to Magotine."
The queen promised the Fairy Protectress to do everything that she told her. "But, madam," she added, "am I to be three years without hearing anything of Green Serpent?" "You deserve to be without news of him all your life," said the fairy, "for could there be anything more cruel than to compel him, as you have, to begin his penance all over again?" The queen replied nothing; her tears and her silence sufficiently testified to her sorrow. She got into the little chariot. The canaries conducted her to the bottom of the valley where the giants guarded the spring of discretion. She promptly took off her iron shoes and threw them at their heads; the giants at once fell lifeless to the ground. The canaries took the pitcher and mended it with such remarkable skill that it did not seem it could ever have been broken. The name of the water made Laidronette desirous of drinking it. "It will make me,' she said, "more prudent and discreet than in the past. Alas! if I had had those qualities, I should be still in the Kingdom of Pagody!" After she had drunk a long draught, she bathed her face and became so exceedingly beautiful that you would have taken her rather for a goddess than a mortal.
The Fairy Protectress then appeared and said: "You have just done a thing that pleases me vastly; you knew this water had the power of beautifying both your mind and body I wanted to see which of the two would have the preference. You gave it to your mind and I praise you for it; on account of that action your penance will be shortened by four years. "Do not lessen my troubles," replied the queen, "I deserve them all; but comfort Green Serpent, who merits none.' '' I will do my best,' said the fairy, embracing her; '' and now since you are so beautiful, I should like you to discontinue the name Laidronette that no longer suits you, and call yourself Queen Discreet." With these words she disappeared, leaving her a little pair of shoes, so pretty and so beautifully embroidered that she hardly liked to put them on.
When she had re-entered her chariot, holding her pitcher full of water, the canaries took her straight to the wood. There never was a pleasanter place; myrtles and orange trees united their branches to form long sheltered alleys and arbours which the sun could not penetrate. A thousand gently-flowing streams and springs helped to adorn the beauteous spot. But the strangest thing was that all the animals there could speak, and gave the canaries the warmest welcome imaginable. "We thought," they said, "that you had deserted us.' "The time of our penance is not yet ended," rejoined the canaries, "hut the Fairy Protectress bade us bring this queen here take heed to amuse her as much as Possible." At the same moment she was surrounded by animals of all Sorts, who paid her great compliments. "You shall be our queen," they said, "and receive from us every attention and consideration." "Where am I?" she cried; "by what supernatural power are you able to speak to me?" One of the canaries, who had remained near her, whispered: "You must know, madam, that certain fairies being on their travels were vexed to see men and Women fallen into grievous faults; they thought at first that warning them to change their evil ways would be enough, but .that was of no avail, and becoming Suddenly very angry indeed, they put them into penance. Those who talked too much they changed into parrots, jays, and hens; lovers and their mistresses into pigeons, canaries, and little dogs; people who were too fond of good eating into pigs; angry persons into lions. In fact, the number of those they put in penance is so great that this wood is populated by them, and you will find here persons of all ranks and dispositions."
"From what you have just told me, my dear little canary," said the queen, "I feel sure I am right in thinking that you are here only for having loved too well." "Yes, madam," replied the canary, "that is so. I am the son of a Spanish nobleman, and in our country love holds such despotic sway over all hearts that it is not possible to escape it. An ambassador from England arrived at the court; he had a daughter of great beauty, but of an intolerably haughty and cold disposition. Nevertheless, I became attached to her and loved her distractedly; sometimes she seemed sensible of my attentions, while at others she repulsed me so cruelly that I lost patience. One day when she had driven me to despair, a venerable old dame confronted me and blamed me for my weakness; all she could say only served to make me more obstinate, and, perceiving it, she grew angry. 'I condemn you,' she said, 'to become a canary for three years, and your mistress a wasp.' I was at once conscious of the most extraordinary change imaginable; my distress notwithstanding I could not refrain from flying into the ambassador's garden, to discover the fate of his daughter. But I had scarcely entered it, before I saw a big wasp buzzing four times as loud as any other. I hovered round her with the eagerness of a lover whom nothing could keep away. Several times she tried to sting me. ' If, beautiful wasp,' I said, 'you desire my death, you need not use your sting. Only command me to die, and I will cheerfully obey you.' She vouchsafed no reply, and settled on the flowers, who doubtless suffered for her ill-temper.
"Overwhelmed by her disdain and my own condition, I flew away, following no particular route. I at length reached Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world; I was tired, and threw myself on a clump of trees in a walled enclosure, and quite unconscious how it came about, found myself at the door of a cage painted green and ornamented with gold. The furniture and the apartment were of surprising magnificence a young lady caressed me and spoke to me with a charming gentleness. I did not live long in her room without learning her heart's secret; she was visited by an enraged bully, who, not satisfied with loading her with unjust reproaches, beat her unmercifully, leaving her almost dead in the hands of her attendants. I was in no small degree distressed at witnessing such unworthy treatment, and I was the more displeased to perceive that the more he beat her, The stronger became the charming woman's affection for him.
"I wished night and day that the fairies who turned me into a canary would reduce their ill-assorted love to order. My desire was granted. Just as the lover was beginning his ordinary beating, the fairies suddenly appeared in the room. They loaded him with reproaches, and condemned him to become a wolf; they turned the long-suffering woman into an ewe, and sent them to the wood. As for myself, I easily found means to fly away; I wanted to see the different Courts of Europe. I went to Italy, and by chance fell into the hands of a man, who often having business in town, and wishing his wife, of whom he was very jealous, never to see any one, shut her up from morning to night; he, there fore, destined me for the honour of amusing the beautiful captive, but she had other matters to occupy her. A certain neighbour, who had long loved her, was in the habit of coming at evening time down the chimney, sliding from the top to the bottom, and arriving blacker than any demon. The keys, which were in the possession of the jealous husband, only served to make him feel the more secure. I was ever dreading some miserable catastrophe, when the fairies entered by the key-hole, and not a little surprised the loving pair. 'Go into penance,' said they, touching their wands; 'let the chimney-sweep become a squirrel and the cunning woman a monkey; the husband, who is so careful to keep the keys of his house, shall become a watch-dog for ten years!"
"I should have too many things to relate to you, madam," added the canary, "were I to recount my various adventures. From time to time I was obliged to repair to the wood, and scarcely ever came without finding new animals, for the fairies continued to travel, and people to vex them with their manifold faults, but during the time you dwell here, you can amuse yourself with the adventures of its inhabitants." Many of them immediately offered to tell her theirs whenever she liked; she thanked them most politely, but desiring rather to reflect than to talk, she sought a solitary spot where she could be alone. As soon as she found one, there arose in it a little palace, and the finest repast imaginable was served her; it was only of fruits, but of very rare fruits, brought by the birds, and as long as she stayed in the wood she wanted for nothing.
Sometimes there were fetes delightful by their oddity lions danced with lambs, bears told soft tales to doves, and serpents grew gentle for the sake of linnets. A butterfly carried on an intrigue with a panther; in fact, nothing was classified according to its species, and it was not a question of being tiger or sheep, but only of the persons the fairies punished for their faults.
They all loved and adored Queen Discreet; they made her judge in their disputes, and she had absolute power in the little republic. If she had not continually reproached herself for the misfortunes of Green Serpent, she might have endured her own with some sort of patience. But when she thought of his sad condition, she could never forgive herself her indiscreet curiosity. The time for leaving the wood having arrived, she informed her little guides, the faithful canaries, who assured her of a happy return. To avoid farewells and regrets that would have cost her some tears, she slipped away during the night; the affection and respect shown her by these reasoning animals had greatly touched her.
She forgot neither the pitcher full of the water of discretion, nor the basket of clover, nor the iron shoes, and when Magotine believed her dead, she suddenly appeared before her, the millstone round her neck, the iron shoes on her feet, and the pitcher in her hand. The fairy uttered a loud cry, and asked her whence she came. "Madam," she said, "I spent three years in fetching water in the broken pitcher, and at the end of that time discovered a way to make it stay in." Magotine burst out laughing, to think of the fatigue the poor queen must have suffered; but looking at her more attentively: "Why, how is this?' she exclaimed; "Laidronette has become quite charming How have you come by this beauty?" The queen told her she had washed in the water of discretion, and so the miracle had come to pass. At this information, Magotine, in despair, threw her pitcher to the ground. "Oh! power that braves me," she cried, "I can avenge myself. Make ready your iron shoes," she said to the queen, "you must go on my behalf to Proserpina and ask of her the elixir of long life; I always dread falling ill, and even dying. If I had the antidote, I should have no longer cause to fear; take heed therefore not to uncork the bottle or to taste the liquor, for you would thus diminish my share."
This command took the queen completely aback. "How am I to get to Hades?" she asked; "can those who go there return? Alas! madam, will you never grow tired of persecuting me? Under what star was I born? My sister is far happier than I am; no longer can I believe that the constellations are the same for all." She began to weep, and Magotine, in triumph to see her shed tears, burst out laughing. "Go, go," she said; "do not delay a moment a journey that is to prove so advantageous to me." She then put some stale nuts and brown bread into a wallet, and the queen set out, resolved to end her troubles by breaking her head against the first rock she came across.
She walked on some time, unheeding the way she was going, taking first one side and then another, thinking how extraordinary a command it was to send her thus to Hades. When she was tired, she lay down at the foot of a tree and began to dream of poor Green Serpent, thinking no more of her journey. But, suddenly, she saw Fairy Protectress, who said: "Do you know, beautiful queen, that to rescue your husband from the gloomy abode where, by Magotine's orders, he dwells, you must go to Proserpina?" "If it was possible I would go even much farther," she replied, "but I do not know how to reach that abode of darkness." "Here," said the fairy, "is a green branch; strike it on the grounds and speak these verses distinctly." The queen embraced her generous friend, and then said:--
"Love thine aid I fain would borrow,
Who canst the lord of thunder quell,
Mitigate my soul's sad sorrow,
Ope then for me the path to hell.
"You have caused your flame to shine
'Neath the world, where dead men dwell.
Pluto sighed for Proserpine,
Ope then for me the path to hell.
Shall I never see again
My faithful loved one by my side?
More than mortal is my pain,
And death's solace is denied."
She had hardly finished her prayer, when a young child, beautiful beyond belief, came forth from the depths of a cloud of azure and gold, and sank down at her feet. A crown of flowers encircled his head. By his bow and arrows, the queen recognised that he was Love, and approaching her, he said:--
"No more shall you grieve,
For the heavens I leave
To wipe the tear-drops away from your eyes.
Everything for your sake
Will I undertake;
Once more shall you see the loved one you prize.
Green Serpent again
Sweet life shall regain,
And with punishment dire his foe we'll chastise."
The queen, astonished at the brilliance that surrounded Love and enchanted with his promise cried:--
"To hell will I go, and that hideous place
Shall seem to possess a beauteous grace
If there once more my love I see,
Without whom life hath no charm for me".
Love, who rarely speaks in prose, after striking the earth three times with his bow, sang these words most beautifully:--
"Earth that knows Love, grant thou my prayer;
Ope wide thy gates, admit us there,
Where saddened shores bound darkened lands,
And Pluto great the realm commands".
The earth, obedient, opened wide, and by a dark descent, where there was every need of a guide as brilliant as Love, the queen reached Hades. She dreaded meeting her husband in the form of a serpent; but Love, who some times busies himself in doing kindnesses to those who are unfortunate, had foreseen everything, and had already commanded Green Serpent to become what he was before his penance. However great was Magotine's power, she could do nothing against Love. So the first thing the queen found was her husband, and she had never seen him under so handsome a form; he, likewise, had never seen her so beautiful as she had become: however a presentiment, and perhaps Love, who was with them, helped them to divine who they were. The queen at once said to him with exquisite tenderness:--
"The cruel Fate that binds thee here
Controls me also with her law
My only wish to feel thee near,
Thus satisfied for evermore
"Gladly beat our hearts united,
Fearlessly in Hades' shades
Joyous love by love requited;
For ever vanquished, terror fades."
The king, transported by the most ardent passion, replied with all that could testify to his enthusiasm and joy; but Love, who likes not to lose time, invited them to approach Proserpina. The queen paid her respects on behalf of the fairy, and begged for the elixir of long life. It was, in fine, the watchword of these good people, and she at once gave her a very badly-corked phial, so that the queen could, if she wished, gratify her curiosity with the greatest ease. Love, who is no novice, set her on her guard against a curiosity that would again prove fatal, and quickly leaving those gloomy regions, the king and queen returned to the light. Love did not desert them--he conducted them to Magotine, and lest she should see him hid himself in their hearts; his presence, how ever, inspired the fairy with such kindly feelings that, although she was ignorant of the cause, she received her former victims most cordially, and by a super natural effort of generosity restored to them the Kingdom of Pagody. There they at once returned and enjoyed in the future as much good fortune as in the past they had suffered disaster and trouble.