ONCE upon a time there was a king and queen who loved each other so dearly that they were an example to all the families in their kingdom. Their country was called the Kingdom of the Deserts.
The queen had had several children, who had all died save one daughter, and if anything consoled the mother for the loss of the others it was the beauty and grace of this daughter. She was the sole joy of the king and queen, but the happiness of the royal family was soon to end; for as the king was out hunting one day, the spirited horse he rode took fright at the sound of shooting. Terrified by the firing, he took the bit between his teeth, and was off like a flash. Just at the edge of a precipice he reared, the king was thrown, and the fall was so terrible that he was killed.
The fatal news plunged the queen into the lowest depths of despair; she was unable to moderate her grief, feeling it too violent to be overcome. She thought only of setting her daughter's affairs in order, so that she herself might die in peace. She had a friend called Queen Fairy because she was very clever, and had great authority in all the empires of the world. The queen wrote to her from her deathbed, saying she wished to breathe her last in her arms, and imploring her to come quickly if she wished to find her alive, for she had most important things to tell her.
Although the fairy had much business on hand, she put it all aside, and mounting her fiery camel that travelled faster than light, soon arrived at the palace. The queen was impatiently awaiting her. She begged her to accept the regency of the kingdom, and to take care of the little Princess Constancia. "If anything," she added, "can relieve my anxiety at leaving her an orphan at so tender an age, it is the hope I have that you will continue to her the friendship you have always had for me, that she may find in you a mother who will make her happier and more perfect than I could have done, and that you will choose her a husband so charming that she will love none but him." "You desire all that can be desired, great queen,' said the fairy. "I will neglect nothing for your daughter's welfare; but I have cast her horoscope, and it seems that Fate is angry with Nature for having exhausted all her treasures in creating her; it is decreed that she shall suffer, and your majesty knows how impossible it is to avoid Fate." "At least," said the queen, "alleviate her misfortunes, and neglect no means of trying to prevent them. By extreme care and foresight this can sometimes be done." Queen Fairy promised to do her best, and the queen, after embracing her beloved Constancia over and over again, passed peacefully away.
The fairy read the stars with the same ease with which we now read the new tales published every day. She learnt that the princess was threatened with the fatal love of a giant whose kingdom was not very far from the land of the Deserts. She knew well that it must be prevented, and found no better way than to hide the princess in one of the ends of the earth, so far from the giant's abode that there would be little likelihood of his troubling her.
As soon as Queen Fairy had chosen ministers capable of ruling the state, and had made such excellent laws that not all the wise men of Greece could have made better, she one night entered Constancia's room, and without waking her placed her on the fiery camel, and set off for a fertile land, where it was possible to live free from ambition and care. It was a veritable Arcadia, inhabited only by shepherds and shepherdesses, who dwelt in huts built by their own hands.
She knew that if the princess reached the age of sixteen without seeing the giant she would be able to return in triumph to her kingdom, but if she saw him before, she would be exposed to great misfortunes. The fairy was there fore most careful to hide her from everybody, and that her beauty might be less apparent dressed her like a shepherdess with a big cap pressed down over her face. But, just as the sun when hidden behind the clouds pierces them with long rays of light, the princess's beauty could not he entirely concealed, and in spite of all the fairy's care, Constancia was spoken of as a masterpiece of the gods that enchanted all beholders.
Her beauty was not the only thing for which she was admired. Queen Fairy had endowed her with a wonderful voice and great skill in playing on all sorts of musical instruments, so that without ever having learned music, she could have given instruction to the Muses and even to divine Apollo.
Thus she had plenty to occupy her; the fairy had told her the reason of keeping her hidden away during her childhood. As she was very intelligent she agreed to everything with great good sense, and Queen Fairy was astonished that at so tender an age she should display so much docility and wit. The fairy had not visited the Kingdom of the Deserts for several months because she never liked leaving Constancia, but it happened she was greatly needed there, because the ministers only acted under her orders, and they did not all do their duty equally well. She set out, enjoining the princess to shut herself up till her return.
The beautiful princess had a sheep whom she dearly loved; she delight in making him garlands of flowers, and at other times decking him with knots of ribbon. She had named him Ruson. He was cleverer than all his companions; he knew his mistress's voice, and understood and obeyed her commands without fail. "Ruson," she would say, "go and fetch my distaff." He trotted into her room and brought it, leaping merrily round her. He ate the grass she gathered for him, and would have preferred dying of thirst to drinking in any other way than from the hollow of her hand. He could shut the door, beat time when she sang, and bleat in harmony with the music. Ruson was amiable, and Constancia loved and petted him.
But Ruson's attentions to a pretty ewe of the district were at least as marked as those he paid the princess Sheep, after all, are only sheep, and the loveliest ewe was more beautiful in Ruson's eyes than Venus herself. Constancia often reproached him for his coquetry. "You little flirt," she said, "can't you remain with me? I love you so much, that for you I neglect the whole flock, and yet to please me you will not leave this wretched ewe." She tied him up with a chain of flowers, but this seemed to annoy him, and he pulled so hard that he broke it. "Ah "said Constancia, in a rage, "the fairy has often told me that men are as self-willed as you, that they dislike the least constraint and are the most obstinate animals in the world. Since you resemble them, naughty Ruson, go and seek your fine ewe; if the wolf eats you, you'll be in a nice way, for I shall be unable to help you."
The fond sheep did not profit by Constancia's advice. He spent all his time with his beloved ewe near the princess's cottage, One day when she sat all alone at needlework she heard such loud and piteous bleating that she feared some fatal accident had happened to Ruson, Greatly distressed, she went out and saw a wolf carrying him off. She forgot the fairy's parting injunctions, and ran after them, shouting: "The wolf! The wolf!" She followed him, casting stones at him with her sheep hook but he did not drop his prey Alas! as she was passing near a wood there came out another sort of wolf--a horrible giant. At the sight of the enormous creature, the princess, paralysed with fear, raised her eyes to heaven to ask its protection, and implored the earth to swallow up the monster. Neither heaven nor earth heeded her; she deserved to be punished for neglecting the fairy's orders.
The giant spread out his arms to prevent her passing. But, however terrible and furious he was, he felt the effects of her beauty. "What rank do you hold among the goddesses?" he said, in a voice louder than thunder. "For don't think I can be deceived, you are no mortal; tell me your name and if you are a maiden or the wife of Jupiter. Who are your brothers and your sisters? I have long sought a goddess for my wife, and I am indeed fortunate in finding you." Fear tied the princess's tongue, and the words died away on her lips.
When he found she did not reply to his gallant questions, he said: "For a goddess, you haven't much wit," and without more ado opened a big sack and put her in. The first thing she saw at the bottom was the wicked wolf and the poor sheep. The giant had amused himself catching them as they ran. "We shall die together, my dear Ruson," she said, kissing him, "but it is a small consolation; it would be far better to escape together."
The sad thought made her cry bitterly; she sighed and sobbed aloud. Ruson bleated, the wolf howled, and the noise awoke a dog, a cat, a cock, and a parrot. They then began making a most horrible noise, a strange uproar for a giant's wallet. At length tired of it, the monster thought of killing them, but contented himself with tying up the sack and throwing it to the top of a tree, marking the spot so that he could fetch it again; he was going to fight a duel with another giant, and all this clamour annoyed him. The princess suspected that however slowly he walked, he would soon be far off, for when he went at only a moderate pace a horse galloping at the top of its speed could not catch him. She drew out her scissors, cut the canvas, pulled out her dear Ruson, the dog, the cat, the cock and the parrot, and afterwards escaped herself, leaving the wolf inside as a reward for trying to eat Ruson. The night was very dark; she was alone in the midst of a forest, not knowing in what direction to turn, seeing neither sky nor earth, and always dreading to meet the giant.
She walked as quickly as she could, and would have fallen hundreds and hundreds of times if the animals whose lives she had saved, grateful for her kindness, had not determined to stand by her. They were of the greatest use on the journey; the cat had such sparkling eyes that they shone like a torch, the dog barked and acted as sentinel, the cock crowed to frighten the lions, the parrot chattered so loudly that people thought a great company of persons must be talking, and thus robbers left a free passage to our travellers, and the sheep walking a few paces in advance, prevented her falling into the big holes he himself had some trouble in avoiding.
Constancia walked on at hazard, commending herself to her good friend the fairy, from whom she hoped for help, although she greatly blamed herself for disobeying her injunctions. But at times she feared even the fairy had forsaken her; she would have liked by some good fortune to have reached the house in which she had secretly been brought up, but as she had no idea of the way, she could not come there without particular good luck.
At daybreak she found herself on the bank of a river that watered the pleasantest meadow imaginable; looking round her, she saw neither dog, cat, cock, nor parrot; Ruson alone kept her company. "Alas! where am I?" she said; "I do not know this beautiful place. What will become of me? Who will take care of me? Ah! little Ruson, you have cost me dear! If I had not run after you I should still be in Queen Fairy's house, and should have to fear neither the giant nor any disastrous accident." It really seemed as if Ruson trembled while he listened and acknowledged his fault. At last the princess, worn out and tired, left off scolding him, and sat down by the water's edge. Trees shaded her from the sun's heat. Her eyes closed, she let herself sink on the grass, and was soon sleeping soundly. Faithful Ruson was her only protector; he touched her, pulled her dress, and to her surprise on waking she saw a young man standing behind the bushes! He had hidden himself on purpose to look at her without being seen; the beauty of his face and form, the dignity of his appearance, and the magnificence of his clothes so greatly astonished the princess, that she quickly got up, resolving to go away. I do not know what secret charm stopped her; she looked timidly at the unknown man. The giant had scarcely alarmed her more, but in that case fear sprang from a different cause. How their looks and actions sufficiently proved the feelings with which they already regarded one another!
They might have remained a long while, conversing only with their eyes, if the prince had not heard the blowing of horns and the baying of hounds. He observed her confusion "Fear nothing, beautiful shepherdess," he said; "you are in safety here; may it please heaven that those who behold you may be equally safe!" "Sir," she said, "I implore your protection; I am a poor orphan who can do nothing but tend sheep; procure a flock for me, and I will give it all my care." "Happy the sheep," he said, smiling, "whom you lead to pasture; but, indeed, if you wish it, charming shepherdess, I will speak to my mother, the queen, and it will give me the keenest pleasure from flow to be of service to you." "Ah! sir," said Constancia, "pardon the liberty I have taken; had I known your rank I should not have dared to address you."
The prince listened in the greatest astonishment; he recognised in her intelligence and good breeding that perfectly corresponded with her great beauty, but scarcely with the simplicity of her gown and the calling of a shepherdess. He tried to reason with her. "Think," he said, "you will be exposed all alone in some wood or meadow, having for sole company your innocent sheep. Can the gentle manners I observe in you accommodate themselves to solitude? And, besides, who knows if your charms, whose fame will spread through the country side, will not bring on you many annoyances? I myself, charming shepherdess, shall leave the court to follow you, and what I do, others will do." "Cease to flatter me, sir," she said, "with praise I do not deserve; I was born in a village, and know only a country life, and I hope you will leave me in peace to tend the queen's flocks should she deign to entrust them to my care. I shall ask her to put me under some shepherdess of greater experience than myself, and as I shall not leave her, I shall certainly not be lonely."
The prince was unable to reply; his hunting companions appeared on a hill. "I must leave you, charming girl," he said, eagerly, "I cannot share with so many people the pleasure of beholding you; go to the end of the meadow and you will find a house, where, if you say I sent you, you will be quite safe." Constancia, who would have been embarrassed in such grand company, hastened to the place pointed out by the prince whose name was Constancio.
He followed her with his eyes, sighed gently, and mounting his horse again rejoined his companions, but did not continue the hunt. Entering the queen's apartments, he found her extremely angry with an old shepherdess who had rendered a very bad account of her lambs. After scolding her well, the queen told her never to let her see her face again.
This circumstance furthered Constancio's plan; he told his mother how he had met a young girl who ardently desired to become her servant; that she looked as though she would be careful, and seemed disinterested. The queen, well satisfied with her son's recommendation, took the shepherdess into her service without seeing her, and told the prince to order her to go with the others into the royal pastures. He was very glad that there was no need for her to come to the palace: certain jealous feelings made him fear rivals, although there were none who equalled him in rank or merit. It is true he feared the great nobles less than men of a lower rank, for he thought she would be more likely to care for a simple shepherd than for a prince of the blood.
It would be no easy task to relate all the reflections that followed: how he reproached himself! he who, until now, had never loved anybody, who had found no one worthy of him! To give himself to a girl of low birth, so that he could not declare his passion without blushing! Wishing to conquer it, and convinced that absence was an unfailing remedy, particularly for a dawning passion he avoided seeing the shepherdess again. He followed his taste for hunting and sport: he turned away from sheep as if they had been serpents, so that in short time he became less sensible of his wound, But, on one of the hottest of the dog-days, Constancio, tired with a long chase, found himself on the bank of the river; he followed its course under the shade of the hornbeams that joined their branches overhead to those of the willows, and made the place cool and pleasant. He fell into a deep reverie; he was alone, and thought no more of his companions when, suddenly, he heard the sweet notes of a voice that seemed to him divine; he stopped to listen, and was not a little surprised to hear these words:--
Once did I vow all passion I would scorn,
But love prevails; my promise I forego.
By deepest wound, alas! now I am torn,
For my heart's lord is proud Constancio
Late have I seen my love within this glade
Aweary of his labour in the wood,
Singing his sorrow, sitting in the shade;
Ne'er saw aught so beautiful and good.
Long I remained o'ercome and motionless,
From Cupid's hand I saw the arrows dart
But with the pain comes highest happiness,
And from this passion that inflames my heart,
And penetrates into its depths below,
Relief nor cure, I never wish to know."
His curiosity outweighed the pleasure he felt at hearing such beautiful singing, and he quickly walked on; the name of Constancio had struck him because it was his Own. Yet a shepherd might own it as well as a prince, and so he did not know if the words might be intended for him or another. He had scarcely ascended a small hill, covered with trees, when he perceived at its foot the beautiful Constancia. She was seated beside a brook, whose pleasant murmur seemed to harmonise with her voice. Her faithful sheep, her favourite Ruson, lying on the grass, kept much nearer her than the others; now and then Constancia patted him with her sheephook, caressed him in a child-like fashion, and each time she touched him, he kissed her hand and gave her a look full of intelligence. "Ah!" whispered the prince, "how happy you would be if you knew the value of those caresses! Why, the shepherdess is even more beautiful than when I met her. Love! love! what do you want of me? ought I to love, or rather can I prevent myself falling in love? Understanding my danger, I took care to avoid her. Great gods! what an impression the first meeting left on me! Aided by my reason, I shunned the sweet maiden. Alas! I find her, but he of whom she sings is the happy shepherd of her choice."
While he was thus arguing with himself, the shepherdess rose to gather her flock together and lead it into another part of the meadow, where she had left her companions. The prince, fearing to lose the opportunity of speaking to her, advanced eagerly: "Charming shepherdess," he said, "may I venture to ask you, if the slight service I rendered you, pleased you?" At sight of him Constancia blushed rosy red. "Sir," she said, "I should have offered you my humblest thanks if it had been fitting for a poor girl like me to speak to a prince like you; but, although I failed to do so, heaven is my witness that I am not ungrateful, and that I pray the gods to grant you every happiness." "Constancia," he replied, "if it is true that my kind offices have touched you, as you declare, you can easily prove it." "What can I do for you, sir?" she replied, eagerly. "You can tell me," he continued, "for whom the words you have just sung are intended." "As I did not compose them," she replied, "I should find it difficult to tell you anything about them." He looked at her attentively while she was speaking, and saw that she blushed; she seemed confused, and kept her eyes cast down. "Why do you hide your feelings from me, Constancia?" he said. "Your countenance betrays the secret of your heart; you are in love." He stopped and looked at her with still more attention. "Sir, she said, "the things that interest me little deserve that a prince should trouble about them, and I am so used to keeping silence in the society of my lambs that I beg you to forgive me if I do not reply to your questions"; and before he had time to stop her away she went.
Sometimes jealousy acts as a torch to rekindle love, and from that moment the prince's passion assumed such force that it was never again extinguished; he discovered in the young girl a thousand charms he had not noticed the first time he saw her. Her abrupt manner of leaving him, added to her words, made him think she must be in love with some shepherd. A profound melancholy took possession of his soul, and, although he had the greatest desire to talk to her, he dared not follow her. He lay down in the place she had just quitted; and trying to recall the words she had sung, wrote them on his tablets and examined them attentively. "She can only have seen this Constancio, who fills her mind, a few days ago," he mused. "He bears my name, and yet how far am I from his good fortune! How coldly she looked at me! She seemed more indifferent to-day than when I met her the first time; all her anxiety was to find a pretext for leaving me." These thoughts sensibly distressed him, for he could not understand how a mere Shepherdess could be so indifferent to a great prince.
As soon as he returned he summoned a young man who shared all hi pleasures; he was of good birth and amiable. The prince ordered him to disguise himself as a shepherd, to procure a Rock and go every day into the queen' pasture grounds to see what Constancia did, of course unsuspected by her. Mirtain, for that was his name, was too anxious to please his master to refuse to help him. He promised to obey his orders, and the very next day was ready to go to the pasture ground; those in charge of it would not have admitted him, had he not shown an order from the prince declaring him to be his shepherd, and that he was entrusted with the care of his sheep.
He was immediately allowed to join the rustic company; he was gallant and easily made himself liked by the shepherdesses, but he noticed a certain dignity in Constancia so far above what she appeared to be, that he could not reconcile so much beauty, wit, and merit with her rustic simple life; in vain he followed her, she was always alone in the depths of the wood, singing in a pre-occupied manner. No shepherd dared try to win her favour. It seemed too difficult. Mirtain, however, attempted it, became most attentive to her, and learned by his own experience that she did not desire to enter into any engagement.
Every evening he gave the prince an account of the situation, and all Constancio learned only served to distress him further. "Do not mistake, sir," said Mirtain one day; "this beautiful girl is in love, and it must be with some one in her own country." "If that was so," replied the prince, "would she not want to return there?" "How do we know," added Mirtain, "that there are not reasons which prevent her going back to her native land? Perhaps she is angry with her lover." "Ah!" exclaimed the prince, "she sings her songs too tenderly for that." "It is true," continued Mirtain, "all the trees are carved with their initials; and since no one here finds favour with her, it must be some one else where." "Find out her feelings towards me," said the prince "Be they favourable or not, you can discover what she thinks."
Mirtain did not fail to seek an opportunity of speaking to Constancia. "What is the matter with you, beautiful shepherdess?" he said. "In spite of all the cause you have to be merrier than the rest, you seem melancholy." "And what cause for joy have I?" she said. "I am forced to tend sheep far from my native land; I have no news from my relatives: is that so pleasant?" "No," he replied, "but you are the most charming girl imaginable; you are clever, and sing in most enchanting fashion, and nothing can equal your beauty." "Even if I possessed such advantages," she said, with a deep sigh, "they would make little impression on me." "What?" added Mirtain, "you think it necessary to be born a prince or of the race of immortals to be happy? Ah! let me undeceive you. I am a friend of Prince Constancio, and in spite of the difference of position, I approached him sometimes, study him, fathom his thoughts, and I know that it he is not happy." "What troubles his peace?" said the princess. "An unhappy passion," continued Mirtain. "He loves," she replied anxiously, "how I pity him! But what am I saying?" she continued, blushing; "he is too charming not to be loved in return. He does not hope, beautiful shepherdess," he said, "but if you cared to set his mind at rest on that point, he would have more faith in your words than in those of any other person." " It is not for me" she said, "to interfere in the affairs of so great a prince, those you mention are of too confidential a nature for me to enter into. Farewell, Mirtain," she added, abruptly leaving him; "if you wish to please me, never mention the prince or his love affairs again."
She went away much moved, for she was far from indifferent to the prince's merit. The first occasion on which she had seen him had never been erased from her mind, and without that secret charm which held her in spite of herself, she would have left no means untried of finding Queen Fairy. She was, moreover, astonished that the clever creature who knew everything did not come and fetch her, but, in fact, it no longer depended upon her. Directly the giant met the princess, she was compelled for a certain time to submit to fortune and to accomplish her destiny; the fairy' had to content herself with coming to see her in a sunbeam; Constancia could not look at it fixedly enough to perceive her.
Constancia noticed the prince's neglect of her with vexation; if chance had not led him to the place where she was singing, he would not have seen her again. She was mortally angry' with herself for caring anything about it, and if it is possible to love and hate at the same time, I may say she hated him because she loved him too much. How many' tears she shed in secret! Ruson was the only witness; she often confided her troubles to him as if he had been capable of understanding them, and when he frisked in the meadows with the ewes, she said: "Take heed, Ruson, that love does not gain possession of you; that is the greatest of all evils, and if your love is not returned, what will you do, poor little sheep?
These reflections were followed by the reproaches she heaped on herself for caring about a prince who regarded her with indifference. She was most anxious to forget him, but one day she perceived him resting in a pleasant place to dream more at his ease about the shepherdess he shunned. At length feeling very drowsy, he lay down on the grass; she saw him, her liking for him grew, and she could not help composing the words that had caused the prince so much anxiety. But how distressed she was in her turn when Mirtain told her that Constancio was in love. Notwithstanding the strong guard she put on herself, she could not help changing colour several times. Mirtain, who had his reasons for studying her, observed it, and was delighted; he hastened to tell his master what had taken place.
The prince was much less ready to hope than his confidant; he thought only indifference was to be deduced from her conduct, and blamed therefore the fortunate Constancio whom he imagined she loved, but the very next day he went in search of her. No sooner did she see him than she fled as from a lion or tiger; flight seemed to her the only remedy for her troubles. Since her conversation with Mirtain, she knew she ought to do her utmost to tear Constancio's image from her heart, and the only possibility of success lay in avoiding him.
What could Constancio think when his shepherdess made off so hastily? Mirtain was with him. "You see," said the prince, "the happy result of all your care; Constancia hates me, and I dare not follow her and avow my passion." "You have too much consideration for so lowly a person," replied Mirtain; "and if you like, sir, I will tell her you command her to come to you." "Ah, Mirtain!" exclaimed the prince, "what a difference there is between the lover and the confidant! I think only of finding favour with this lovely girl, and recognise in her the good breeding that would ill assort with the violent measures you advise; rather than importune her, I would suffer anything." He turned in another direction, with so profound an air of melancholy, that a person even less moved than Constancia would have pitied him.
Directly he had passed out of sight she returned, in order to give herself the pleasure of being in the spot he had just quitted. "It was here," she said, "that he stopped, here that he looked at me; but alas! he is quite indifferent to me, and comes to dream of her he loves. But why should I complain? How could he love a girl he believes so far beneath him?" At times she felt inclined to tell him her story, hut Queen Fairy had so emphatically forbidden her to speak of it, that although obedience in this respect was against her interests, she determined to keep silence.
A few days later, the prince returned again; she as carefully avoided him. He was much distressed thereby, and told Mirtain to reproach her for it; she pretended she had not thought about it, but since he deigned to notice it, she would take care not to do so again. Mirtain, delighted to have gained such a promise, informed his master, and the next clay the prince went in search of her. She appeared embarrassed, and when he spoke of his feelings, she became still more so. However great her desire to believe him, she feared to deceive herself, and judging her by what he saw, he did not perhaps wish to dazzle her by a declaration scarcely suited to a poor shepherdess. The thought irritated her; she seemed proud, and received the assurances of his passion so coldly, that his worst suspicions were confirmed. "You are in love with another," he said, "but if I knew him, I call the gods to witness that he should feel my greatest wrath." "I ask no favours of you for any one, sir," she said; "if ever you come to know my feelings, you will find them very different from what you believe." At those words the prince took heart again, hut the conversation that followed soon destroyed his hopes. For she protested her unconquerable resistance, and was sure she should never love all her life. The last words plunged him into the deepest grief, but he restrained himself from giving it utterance.
Whether on that account, or because of the excess of his passion that assumed new strength through the very difficulties surrounding it, he fell so dangerously ill that the physicians, ignorant of the cause, despaired of his life. Mirtain, who by the princes orders had stayed near Constancia, brought her the sad news; she listened with grief, and an emotion difficult to describe. "Do you know any remedy,'' he said, "for fever, headache, and heartache?" ' I know one," she replied, "of herbs and flowers, but everything depends on the manner of applying it." "Will you not come to the palace for that purpose?" he added. "No,' she said, blushing, "I am too much afraid of failing." "What!" he continued, "you would neglect a means of restoring him to us? I always thought you hard, hut you are ten times more so than I imagined." Mirtain's reproaches gave Constancia pleasure; she was delighted to be urged to visit the prince; it was only for the purpose of receiving such a satisfaction that she had boasted of knowing a remedy to relieve him, for as a matter of fact she knew none.
Mirtain went to the prince's bedside, and told him what the shepherdess had said, and how eager she was for his recovery. "You try to flatter me," said Constancio, "but I forgive you, and even at the expense of deceiving myself, should like to think the beautiful girl had some affection for me. Go to the queen, tell her one of her shepherdesses is in possession of a wonderful secret that will effect my cure; get leave to bring her: run, Mirtain; in my condition moments seem centuries."
The queen had not yet seen the shepherdess of whom Mirtain spoke; she said she had little faith in what those ignorant girls pretended to know; the idea was exceedingly stupid. "But, madam," he said, "more relief sometimes lies in the use of simples than in all the works of A The prince's sufferings are so great that he is anxious to try what the girl proposes." "Very well," said the queen; "and if she does not cure him, I shall treat her so harshly that she will have no cause to boast of her skill." Mirtain returned to his master, and told him of the queen's ill-temper, and that he feared its effect on Constancia. "I would rather die!" exclaimed the prince; "return and tell my mother to leave the beautiful girl to mind her sheep. What a reward for her trouble! The very idea adds to my suffering."
Mirtain hastened to the queen to tell her from the prince not to ask Constancia to come; but as she was naturally very prompt to act, his indecision angered her. "I have already sent for her," she said; "if she cures my son, I will reward her, and if she fails, I know what I shall do. Return to him and try to amuse him; his melancholy makes me despair." Mirtain obeyed the queen, and took care not to tell his master of her bad temper, for he would have died of anxiety for his shepherdess.
The royal pasture ground was so close to the town that Constancia was not long in reaching it, and even had the distance been greater, her passion would have made her hasten. When she arrived at the palace, the queen was informed; but she did not deign to see her, and contented herself with sending a message, advising her to take great care about what she was going to attempt; if she failed to cure the prince, she would have her sewn up in a sack and thrown into the river. At that threat the princess turned pale, and the blood froze in her veins. "Alas!" she said to herself, "I deserve the punishment; when I boasted of possessing medical skill, I told a falsehood. My desire to see Constancio is so unreasonable that I dare not hope for the gods' protection." She gently bent her head, and replying never a word, let her tears flow.
All who saw her, admired her; she seemed to them more divine than human. "Why do you distrust yourself, charming shepherdess?" they said. "You carry life and death in your eyes; one of your glances would be enough to cure our young prince; come into his room, dry your eyes, and use your remedies without fear."
This way of encouraging her, and the extreme desire she had of seeing him, gave her confidence. She asked permission to go into the garden and gather what was needed; she took myrtle, clover, herbs, and flowers, some dedicated to Cupid, others to Venus; a dove's feathers and a few drops of pigeons' blood; she summoned all the gods and fairies to her aid. Then trembling more than a dove before a kite, she said she was ready to attend the prince. He was lying down, his face pale, and his eyes weary; but directly he saw her, his colour became healthier, a fact she observed with much joy.
"Sir," she said, "for many days I have desired the restoration of your health; my zeal led me to tell one of your shepherds that I was acquainted with certain little remedies, and would gladly try to give you some relief; but the queen has told me that if heaven deserts me in the enterprise, if I do not cure you, she will have me drowned. Imagine my fear, and understand that I interest myself in your recovery for your sake and not for mine." "Pear nothing, lovely shepherdess," he said; "your kind wishes for the preservation of my life make it so dear to me that I shall do all in my power to take it up again. I had ceased to care for it, alas! for how could I be happy when I remembered what I heard you sing for Constancio! Those fatal words and your coldness brought me to the sad state in which you see me; but, lovely shepherdess, since you command me to live, I will live and for you alone."
Constancia concealed with difficulty the pleasure such loving words caused her, but dreading some one might overhear the prince's words, she asked him to let her put bandages on his head and arms of the herbs she had gathered. He stretched out his arms so tenderly that she hastily fastened one of the bandages on them, for fear any one should discover what was going on, and after many little ceremonies intended to impose on his attendants, the prince exclaimed that his sufferings were already much less. And what he said was quite true; the physicians were summoned, and were much surprised at the remedy, so quick and powerful. But when they saw the shepherdess who had applied it, they ceased to be astonished at anything, and said in their own manner of talking that one of her glances had more power than all the drugs in the world.
The shepherdess was so little affected by the praise showered on her that those who did not know her thought she was stupid. She placed herself in a Corner of the room, hiding herself from everybody except her invalid, whom she approached at intervals to soothe his aching head with her gentle touch, or to feel his pulse, and in those short moments he said a thousand pretty things, inspired by the heart rather than the mind. "I hope, sir," she said, "that the sack the queen had made for drowning me in will not be put to such a dreadful use; your health, which is so precious to me, is nearly re-established." "It only depends on you, sweet Constancia," he replied; "a small share in your heart is all that is required for the peace and preservation of my life."
The prince rose and went to the queen's apartments. I told he was coming, she refused to believe it; she went quickly forward and was vastly surprised to meet him at the door of her room. "What! is it you, my son, my dear son?" she exclaimed. "To whom am I indebted for this marvellous recovery?" "To your own kindness, madam," said the prince; "you found me the cleverest woman in the whole universe. I entreat you, reward her in proportion to the service she has rendered me." "There is no hurry," replied the queen, harshly; "she is a poor shepherdess who may think herself happy if she always has the privilege of tending my sheep."
At that moment the king arrived; he had been told of the prince's recovery, and on entering the queen's apartments, the first thing he saw was Constancia. Her beauty, like a sun shining with a thousand fires, so dazzled him that for a few moments he was unable to ask those near him who was the marvel he beheld, and how long goddesses had dwelt in his palace. When he recovered himself, he approached her, and learning she was the enchantress who had just cured his son, embraced her, and said gallantly he felt very ill, and implored her to cure him also.
She accompanied him to the queen's room. Now the queen had never seen her; her astonishment cannot be described, she uttered a loud cry and swooned, throwing furious glances at the shepherdess. Constancio and Constancia were terrified. The king did not know what to think of the sudden attack; the whole court was alarmed. At length the queen came to herself, and the king asked her several times what had made her faint. She concealed her alarm and said it was her nerves. But the prince, who knew her well, was very anxious. She spoke to the shepherdess with some show of kindness, saying she wished to keep her with her to look after the flowers in her garden. The princess was overjoyed at the idea of being in a place where she could see Constancio every day.
The king made the queen enter his closet and asked her kindly what was vexing her. "Ah, sire," she exclaimed, "I have had a frightful dream. I have never seen that young shepherdess, and vet my imagination painted her so vividly that I recognised her at once, and in the dream my son married her. I am much mistaken or this beautiful girl will Cause me much grief." "You put too much faith in a thing so doubtful," said the king. "I advise you not to act on such principles. Send the shepherdess back to mind your sheep, and do not causelessly distress yourself." The king's advice annoyed the queen, and instead of following it she set to work to find out her son's feelings towards Constancia.
The prince seized every opportunity of seeing her. As she had care of the flowers, she was often in the garden watering them, and when she touched them they seemed to grow more brilliant and beautiful. Ruson kept her company, and although he could not reply, she sometimes spoke to him of the prince. When she met him she was so confused that her eyes discovered to him her heart's secret. He was enchanted, and said to her all that the most tender passion could inspire.
Because of her dream, and even more on account of Constancia's matchless beauty, the queen could not sleep peacefully. She rose before the dawn, hid herself behind fences or in the depths of grottoes to listen to her son's conversation with the beautiful girl; but they were careful to speak very softly, and thus she had only suspicions to go on. This made her still more uneasy, and she treated the prince with scorn, thinking night and day that the shepherdess would ascend the throne.
Constancio kept a most vigilant watch over himself, but every one could see that he loved Constancia, and whether he praised or blamed her, he did both like a man who was fond of her. Constancia on her part could not help talking about the prince to her companions. She often sang the verses she had composed for him, and the queen, hearing her, was as surprised at her wonderful voice as at the subject of her song. "How have I offended you, ye just gods," said the queen, "that you should punish me in the way that hurts me most? Alas I intended my son for my niece, and with bitter sorrow I see him in love with a wretched shepherdess, who will perhaps make him rebel against my wishes."
While she was distressing herself and thinking of a thousand ways in which to punish Constancia for her beauty and charm, love was making great progress with the young people. Constancia, certain of the prince's sincerity, could no longer conceal from him her noble origin, nor her feelings towards him. The tender avowal and the interesting confidence delighted him to such a degree that in any other place than the queen's garden, he would have thrown himself at her feet in sign of gratitude, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he refrained. There was no longer any need to struggle against his passion; he had loved Constancia as a shepherdess, and it is easy to believe that he simply adored her when he learned her rank. If he found no difficulty in believing the extraordinary tale that a great princess should wander through the world, now a shepherdess, and now a gardener, the reason is that such adventures were common enough in those days, and her appearance and manners sufficiently testified to the truth of her words.
Constancio, full of love and respect, swore to be ever faithful to his princess, and she on her side swore the same. They decided to be married directly the persons on whom they depended should consent to their union. The queen perceived all the strength of this dawning passion; her confidant, who eagerly sought some means of pleasing her, told her one day that Constancia sent Ruson every morning into the prince's apartment, carrying two baskets she had filled with flowers, and that Mirtain led him. At this news the queen lost patience poor Ruson passed by, she waited for him herself, and in spite of Mirtain's en treaties, took the sheep to her room. She tore the basket of flowers to pieces, and searched so diligently that in a big pink, not yet fully out, she found a scrap of paper that Constancia had cleverly slipped into it, gently blaming the prince for the danger to which he exposed himself every day in the chase. The note contained these verses:--
"Amidst all my gladness,
I feel a strange fear.
I am smitten with sadness
The while you hunt here.
The lion and the bear,
Oh! my prince, mayst thou shun!
There are those that are fair
May be readily won.
Such wild prey to pursue,
Oh! no longer delight,
But those hearts subdue
That will yield to thy might."
When the queen was giving way to anger against the shepherdess, Mirtain informed his master of the sheep's unlucky adventure. The prince, uneasy, rushed into his mother's room, but she had already gone to the king. "See, sire," she said, "see the noble desires of your son; he is in love with that miser able shepherdess, who persuaded us she knew a way of curing him. Alas! her knowledge was only too great; love taught her, and she restored his health merely to bring him into still greater evils, and if we do not take measures to prevent the misfortunes that are threatening us, my dream will come only too true." "You are hard by nature," said the king, "and you want your son to think only of the princess you destine for him; the matter is not easy; you must have some indulgence for youth." "I cannot endure the way in which you spoil him," exclaimed the queen; "you never find fault with him. All I ask of you is to let me send him away for a while; absence will do more that all my arguments." The king, liking to keep the peace, consented to the queen's demand, and she immediately returned to her own apartments. There the prince was waiting for her in the greatest anxiety. Without giving him time to speak, she said: "My son, the king has just shown me letters from his brother entreating him to send you to his court to make the acquaintance of the princess destined from child hood to be your wife. It is only right that you should have an opportunity of judging her merits and of loving her before you join your lives for ever." "I do not desire special rules for myself," said the prince; "it is not customary for sovereigns to visit each other and consult their hearts rather than reasons of state in making an alliance; whether the lady you have chosen for me is ugly or beautiful, stupid or intelligent, I shall obey you all the same." "I understand you, you rogue," exclaimed the queen, suddenly flying into a passion, "I understand; you adore a shepherdess all unworthy of you and fear to leave her you shall either leave her; or I will have her killed before your eyes. But if you will go away without hesitation, and will strive to forget her, I will keep her near my person and love her then as much as I hate her now."
The prince, pale as if on the point of death, considered the line of action he ought to take: on all sides he saw terrible trouble, he knew his mother to be the most cruel and vindictive princess in the world, he feared resistance would irritate her, and that his beloved mistress would thereby suffer. Urged to decide about going away, he consented, but as a man consents to drink a cup of poison he knows will be fatal in its effect.
Having given his promise, he left his mother's room, and entered his own, his heart so oppressed that he thought he must die. He confided his troubles to faithful Mirtain, and in his impatience to tell Constancia, went in search of her. He found her in the depths of a grotto, to which she repaired when the sun made the garden too hot; a small bed of turf was beside the stream that flowed down from the rock. In that peaceful spot, she unfastened the braids of her silky, wavy, bright, blonde hair; she put her naked feet into the water, and its pleasant murmur, joined to the fatigue engendered by her work, made her yield insensibly to the pleasures of sleep. Although her eyes were closed, they still had charms; long black lashes showed up the fairness of her complexion, Graces and Cupids seemed to have assembled round her, modesty and gentleness added to her beauty.
Here the amorous prince found her: he remembered that the first time he saw her she had been asleep; but since then she had inspired in him such tender feeling that he would willingly have yielded up one half his life to have spent the other half beside her. The pleasure of looking at her made him forget his troubles; and when he saw the foot whiter than snow, he could not leave off admiring it, and going nearer, he knelt down and took her hand. She immediately awoke, seemed vexed that he should have seen the foot, and, blushing like a red rose that blossoms forth at the coming of the dawn, hid it under her gown.
Alas the bright colour lasted but a short space, for she noticed the new sadness in the prince's countenance. "'What is the matter, sir?" she said, terrified. "I see by your eyes that you are in trouble." "Ah who would not be distressed, my beloved princess?" he said, letting fall the tears he could not restrain. "They are about to part us; I must go away or expose you to the queen's violence. She knows my affection for you; she has even seen the note you wrote me, so one of her women told me, and without sympathising with my sorrow, inhumanly sends me to her brother." "What are you saying, prince?" she exclaimed; "you think that in order to preserve my life, you must abandon me? How can you conceive such a thing? Let me die before your eyes; it would be a better fate than to live separated from you."
Such tender talk was naturally often interrupted by sobs and tears; the young lovers had not yet experienced the sorrows of absence, and had not even thought about them, and thus new troubles were added to those they had already suffered. They made a thousand vows never to change: the prince promised Constancia to return with the utmost possible speed. "I only go," he said, "to shock my uncle and his daughter, so that he may cease to wish to make me his son-in-law. I shall only strive to displease the princess, and shall succeed." "Then," said Constancia, "you must not let her see you, for when she does she will like you whatever pains you take to the contrary." They both wept bitterly, and looked sorrowfully at one another; they made passionate promises, and it was some consolation to repeat that nothing could change their feelings.
Time passed so swiftly in this sweet converse, that night had fallen before they thought of separating; but the queen, desiring to consult the prince about his equipage, sent Mirtain in search of him. He found him at his mistress's feet, holding her hands in his. When the lovers saw Mirtain they were so overcome, they could scarcely speak: he told his master the queen was asking for him. The prince was obliged to obey her commands, and the princess went away.
The queen found her son so melancholy and changed, that she easily guessed the cause; she did not wish to speak of it to him, it was enough that he should go away. Indeed, everything was prepared with such speed that it seemed as if the fairies had a hand in it. As for the prince, his passion filled his whole mind. He desired Mirtain to remain at court, to give him news of the princess every day; he left her his finest jewels in case she should be in want, and his fore sight left nothing undone that so important an occasion demanded.
At last he was obliged to set out. It is impossible to describe the grief of the lovers: if anything could lessen its violence, it was the hope of seeing each other soon again. Constancia now understood the magnitude of her misfortune; to be a king's daughter, to own large realms, and to be in the power of a cruel queen who sent her son away for fear he should love her--her who was his inferior in nothing, and whom the greatest potentates in the world would passionately desire; but so the stars had decreed.
The queen, delighted at her son's absence, was only desirous of intercepting the letters written to him; she succeeded, and discovered that Mirtain was his confidant. She had him arrested on a false charge, and cruelly imprisoned in a distant castle. At this news the prince was very angry, and wrote to the king and queen, demanding that his favourite should be set free. His entreaties were of no avail; but that was not the only trouble that came upon him.
One day, when the princess rose with the dawn, she went into the garden to pluck the flowers with which the queen's toilette was generally decorated. She saw her faithful Ruson, who was walking on in front, retrace his steps in fear. She was going forward to see the cause, when he pulled her by the gown in order to prevent it, for he was very intelligent. She heard the sharp hissing of serpents, and was immediately surrounded by toads, vipers, scorpions, asps, and snakes. They did not sting her, hut rose in the air for the purpose of flinging themselves on her, and always fell back into the same place, unable to advance.
In the midst of her fear, she did not fail to observe the miracle, and she attributed it to a jewelled ring her lover had given her. Wherever she turned she saw the venomous creatures: the groves were full of them; they lay on the flowers and under the trees. Constancia did not know what to do; she saw the queen at the window mocking at her fear, and knew she could reckon on no assistance from that quarter. "I must die," she said, courageously "these horrible monsters have not come here of their own accord, they have been brought by the queen's orders, and she wishes to behold the end of my wretched life; and, indeed, so unhappy has it been in the past, that I have no reason to love it, and if I regret it, the just gods are witnesses of the cause.'
So saying, she advanced; and, as she walked towards them, the serpents and their comrades retired before her. She was not more astonished at this than the queen, for the dangerous reptiles had been prepared for a long time to sting the shepherdess to death. The queen thought her son would not be surprised, and would attribute the girl's death to natural causes; thus she would be absolved from blame: but, since the project had failed, she was forced to have recourse to another plan.
At the end of the forest lived a fairy whom it was impossible to visit on account of the elephants she kept. They ran about the forest, devouring poor travellers, their horses, and even the shoes with which they were shod, so great was their appetite. The queen had made a compact with her that, if by some unheard-of chance, any one should succeed in reaching her palace, she should give them something to carry back that would certainly cause their death.
The queen summoned Constancia, gave her her orders, and told her to set out. Now the princess had heard her companions speak of the dangers of the forest; and an old shepherdess had once told her that she had happily escaped by the help of a little sheep she took with her: for, however furious the elephants were, the sight of a lamb rendered them perfectly gentle. The same shepherdess told her, further, that being ordered to bring back to the queen a burning girdle, she had been afraid to put it on and had placed it round trees which it burned up, and thus the girdle did not do her the harm the queen had hoped.
At the time the princess had listened to this tale, she never thought it would one day be of use to her; but when the queen issued her orders in so decided a manner that she was obliged to obey, she prayed the gods to favour her. She took Ruson with her, and set out for the dangerous forest. The queen was delighted. She said to the king: "We shall never see the hateful object of our son's love again; I have sent her to a place where a thousand such as she is, would not serve for the fourth part of the elephants' breakfast". The king told her she was too vindictive, and that he could not help feeling sorry for the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. "Really!" she replied, "well, then, love her, and weep for her death as Constancio did when he parted with her."
Constancia had scarcely entered the forest before she was surrounded by the elephants; the terrible creatures, delighted with the beautiful sheep who walked along more boldly than his mistress, caressed him with their formidable trunks, as gently as a lady could have done it with her hand, and the princess, fearing the elephants might regard her with a different eye, heavy as he was, took him in her arms. No matter in what direction she went, she always showed him to them, and thus speedily advanced towards the old woman's palace so impossible for others to reach.
She arrived after much fear and trouble; the place was quite unguarded, and so was the fairy, who concealed her astonishment at seeing the princess in her dwelling, for no one had succeeded in getting to it for a very long time. "What is your pleasure, beautiful girl?" she said. The princess humbly told her the queen's demand, and begged her to send her the girdle of affection. "I will not refuse her," she said; "doubtless it is for you." "I do not know, madam," she replied. "Oh! but I do!" said the fairy, and took from her casket a blue velvet girdle, whence hung long strings for holding purse, knife, and scissors, and made her a present of it. "If you put on this girdle," she said, "as soon as you are in the forest, it will make you beloved by every one."
When Constancia had thanked her, she lifted Ruson, now more necessary than ever, in her arms; the elephants treated him with kindness and respect, and in spite of their desire to eat her, let her pass. She did not forget to put the girdle of affection round a tree, which immediately began to burn as if it was in the biggest fire imaginable. She took it off and carried it from tree to tree, until they burned no more, and then, very tired, arrived at the palace.
When the queen saw her, she was so astonished that she could not keep silent. "What a little rogue you are," she said; "you have never been to my friend the fairy." "Pardon me, madam,' replied Constancia, "I bring you the girdle of affection I demanded on your behalf." "Did you not put it on?" asked the queen. "It is too magnificent for a poor shepherdess like me," she replied. "Not at all," said the queen "I make you a present of it for your trouble; do not fail to adorn yourself with it. But tell me, whom did you meet on your way?" "I saw," she said, "intelligent and clever elephants, it would be a pleasure to meet anywhere; the forest seems to be their kingdom, and there are some among them more tyrannical than the others." The queen was terribly put out, but did not say all she thought, feeling sure that nothing in the world could prevent the girdle burning her. "If the elephants favoured you," she said, softly, "the girdle will avenge me; you will learn, wretched creature, my affection for you, and the advantage you have gained in finding favour with my son!"
Constancia returned to her little room, and wept for the absence of her beloved prince; she dared not write to him because the queen had spies in the country who stopped the couriers and seized her son's letters. "Alas! Constancio," she said, "you will soon receive sad news of me; you ought never to have gone away and left me to your mother's wrath, You should have defended me, or have received my last sighs; instead, I am delivered over to her tyranny and am without any consolation."
At dawn she went into the garden to work as usual; the venomous creatures were still there, but her ring protected her from them. She wore the blue velvet girdle. When the queen saw her gathering flowers, as quietly as if she had a mere thread round her waist, her annoyance knew no bounds. "What power interests itself for this shepherdess?" she exclaimed. "She enchants my son, and with innocent simples restores him to health; serpents and a fawn round her feet without hurting her; elephants grow gentle and kind at the sight of her; the girdle that through fairy power should burn her, only serves to adorn her. I must try some better plan."
She sent the captain of her guards, in whom she put the greatest confidence, to the harbour to see if there were any ships ready to set out for distant lands; he found one which was to hoist sail early in the night. The queen was delighted, sent a message to the captain, and proposed to sell him the most beautiful slave imaginable. The merchant was very glad and willing to buy. He came to the palace, and unknown to Constancia, saw her in the garden; the matchless girl's charms surprised him, and the queen, who understood how to derive profit from everything, and who was, moreover, very avaricious, sold Constancia for a high price.
Constancia, unaware of the fresh trouble in store for her, retired early to her little room, for the pleasure of thinking undisturbed of Constancio, and of replying to one of his letters she had at last received. When the queen entered, Constancia, unable to desist from so pleasant an occupation, was still reading it. The queen had a key with which she could open all the locks in the palace. She was accompanied by two mutes and her captain of the guards. A handkerchief was placed over Constancia's mouth, her hands were bound, and she was carried off. Ruson attempted to follow his mistress: the queen threw herself on him and prevented it, for she feared his bleating would be heard, and wished everything to be done with the greatest secrecy and silence. Thus no help being forth coming, Constancia was taken to the ship, and as they were only waiting for her to embark, the vessel was soon sailing on the high seas.
She was obliged to make the voyage. Even the Fairy Sovereign had been unable to turn destiny in her favour: all that she could do was to follow her everywhere in a dark cloud, in which she was visible to no one. Prince Constancio, entirely occupied with his passion for the shepherdess, took no pains to please the princess destined to become his wife. Although naturally the most polished of men, he treated her very rudely, and she often complained to her father, who could not help quarrelling with his nephew; thus the match did not progress. When the queen judged it expedient to write to the prince that Constancia was dying, his sorrow cannot be described. He could no longer submit to restraints in which his life ran at least as much risk as that of his mistress, and like a flash of lightning he departed.
But notwithstanding his speed, he arrived too late. The queen, who fore saw his return, had given out for some days that Constancia was ill; she kept about her women who talked or kept silent as they were ordered. The rumour of Constancia death was then spread abroad, and an image said to be her body was buried. The queen, seeking all possible means of convincing the prince of the death, brought Mirtain out of prison to assist at the funeral; the day of the burial was duly announced, and everybody came to mourn the charming girl. The queen, who could assume what expression of countenance she pleased, pretended to feel the loss on the prince's account.
He arrived in the greatest possible anxiety. When he entered the town he asked the first persons he met for news of his beloved Constancia; not recognising him, they told him she was dead. At those fatal words he could no longer restrain his grief; he fell from his horse, lifeless, speechless. People ran up, recognised the prince, hastened to help him, and carried him half dead to the palace.
The king felt his son's pitiable condition deeply. The queen was prepared for it, and thought that time and the crushing of his hopes would cure him, hut his grief was too keen for consolation, and his distress, instead of becoming less, increased every moment. For two days he refused to see or speak to any one; then he went to the queen, his eyes full of tears, his appearance wild, his face pale. He told her she was the cause of his beloved Constancia's death, but that her punishment was at hand, since he was about to die, and therefore wished to visit the place where she was buried.
Unable to dissuade him, the queen determined to take him herself to the cypress wood where she had had a tomb erected. When the prince found himself in the place where his mistress was taking her everlasting rest, the words he uttered were so tender and passionate that never had any-thing like them been spoken before. The queen, in spite of her hard-heartedness, melted into tears. Mirtain was as much distressed as his master, and all who heard him shared his grief. Suddenly impelled by his rage, the prince drew his sword, and approaching the marble that covered the beautiful body, would have killed himself then and there if Mirtain and the queen had not arrested his arm. "No," he said, "nothing in the world shall prevent my dying and rejoining my beloved princess." The queen was surprised to hear him call the shepherdess princess; she did not know if her son was wandering, and would have thought him out of his mind, had it not been for his calm and collected manner.
She asked him why he spoke of Constancia as princess; he replied that she was of royal birth, that her kingdom was called the Kingdom of the Deserts, she was sole heir, and that had not concealment become unnecessary, he should never have mentioned it. "Alas! my son," said the queen, "since Constancia is of a rank equal to your own, be comforted for she is not dead. To lessen your grief, hear my confession: I sold her for a slave to some merchants." "Ah!" exclaimed the prince, "you tell me this in order to prevent me killing myself; but my resolution is fixed, nothing can turn me from my purpose." "I must then," added the queen, "take measures to convince you," and she ordered the wax figure to be disinterred. On first sight of it he thought it was his dear princess, and fell into a swoon from which he was with difficulty recovered. In vain the queen assured him that Constancia was not dead; after the evil trick she had served him he could not believe her. But Mirtain was able to convince him of the truth; the prince knew his affection for him, and that he was incapable of telling him a falsehood.
He felt a little comforted, for of all misfortunes death is the most terrible, and now he might hope to see his mistress again. But where could he look for her? No one knew the merchants who had bought her; they had not mentioned their destination, and these things formed no slight difficulties. But there is scarcely anything true love cannot overcome. He preferred to perish in pursuit of those who had robbed him of his mistress, than to live without her.
He blamed the queen most severely for her pitiless cruelty; he added she would have ample time to repent of the wicked trick she had played him, for he was about to depart, resolved never to return; thus in destroying one, she had destroyed two. The wretched mother threw herself on her son's neck, wept bitter tears and implored him by his father's old age and her affection not to leave them, that lacking his pleasant society they should die, that he was their one hope, and that if he was absent their neighbours and enemies would take possession of the kingdom. The prince listened coldly and respectfully, but her cruelty to Constancia was always before him; without Constancia all the kingdoms in the world were as nothing to him, and therefore he persisted in his resolve to set out the next day.
In vain the king tried to persuade him to stop. Constancio spent the night in giving orders to Mirtain, and entrusted to his care the faithful sheep. He took with him a large quantity of precious stones, and told Mirtain to keep the rest; he further said that he should send news of his doings to him alone, on condition that he kept it secret, for he wished his mother to suffer all the misery of anxiety.
Day had not yet dawned when impatient Constancio mounted his horse; he gave himself into the hands of fortune, begging her to be kind and aid him to recover his mistress. He did not know which way to go, but as she had embarked in a ship, he thought sailing the seas would be the best way to find her. He went to the most important port, unaccompanied and unknown, and asked about the farthest place to which the ships sailed, about all the coasts, shores and ports at which they touched. Then he embarked, hoping that a passion so pure and strong would not be ever unsatisfied.
As soon as they approached land he got into the long boat and rowed to shore shouting: "Constancia, beautiful Constancia, where are you? I seek you and call you in vain. How much longer are we to be separated?" His regrets and laments were lost in the air, and he returned to the ship, his heart sore with grief and his eyes full of tears.
One evening they cast anchor behind a big rock. He landed as usual, and since the country was unknown and the night dark, his companions did not wish to go on, fearing for their lives. But the prince attached slight value to life, and began to walk on, falling and picking himself up again a countless number of times. At length he saw a bright light which seemed to come from a fire; going nearer he heard a great noise and loud strokes of hammers. Far from feeling alarmed, he hastened to reach an immense forge, open on all sides; the furnace was so bright that it seemed as if the sun must be shining. Thirty giants, each with only one eye in the middle of the forehead, were at work there, forging weapons.
Constancio approached them and said "If amidst the iron and fire that surround you, you are capable of pity, if by chance you have seen in this neighbourhood the lovely Constancia whom merchants have carried off as a slave, and will tell me where to find her, you may ask and have anything I possess". Scarcely had he finished speaking when the noise which on his arrival had ceased, recommenced with even greater force than before. "Alas," he said, "my grief does not touch you, barbarous creatures; I can expect no help from you."
He was about turning in a different direction when he heard sweet and enchanting music, and looking towards the furnace saw the most beautiful child imagination can conceive. He shone brighter than the fire out of which he came. When the prince saw his beauty, the bandage over his eyes, his how and arrows, he knew it must he Cupid. It was he indeed, and he exclaimed: "Stop, Constancio; the passion that consumes you is so pure that I cannot refuse my help. I am called Virtuous Love; it is I who wounded you on Constancia's account, and it is I who protect her from the giant that persecutes her. Queen Fairy is my intimate friend; we are in alliance to guard her for you, but before revealing where she is at present, I must prove your love." "Command, Cupid what you please," exclaimed the prince; "whatever it may be, I shall obey you." "Cast yourself into this fire," replied the child, "and remember that if you do not love faithfully, and one alone, you are lost." "I need have no fear," said Constancio. He cast himself into the fire and at once lost consciousness, knowing neither where nor what he was.
He slept for thirty hours, and on waking found himself the handsomest pigeon imaginable. He was no longer in the dreadful furnace, but in a nest of roses, jasmine and honeysuckle His astonishment was unbounded; his feathered legs, his many-coloured plumage and his red eyes surprised him vastly; he wondered at his image in a brook, and wishing to complain, found that although he still had his human power of thought, he could no longer speak.
He regarded his change in form as the crowning stroke of his misfortunes. "Ah! treacherous Cupid," he thought to himself, "is this how you reward the most perfect of all loves? Must a man be fickle, a traitor, and a perjurer to find favour with you? I have known you recompense many of that character and afflict those who are really faithful. What can I hope," he continued, "from this extraordinary shape? I'm a pigeon, and, if like Blue Bird, whose story has always been one of my favourites, I could speak, I would fly high and far, and seek my dear mistress in different countries, and inquire about her from so many people that I could not fail to find her; but I cannot pronounce her name, and the only remedy left me, is to throw myself down some precipice and so perish."
Full of that dreadful purpose, he flew to the top of a high mountain, intending to throw himself to the bottom, but his wings kept him up in spite of himself. This greatly astonished him, for having never yet been a pigeon, he did not know the use of wings. He then determined to pull out all his feathers, and began to pluck himself most unmercifully.
Thus despoiled, he was about to make another attempt to throw himself from the top of a rock when two girls came up. Directly they saw the unfortunate bird, the one said to the other: "Whence comes this poor pigeon? From the sharp talons of some bird of prey, or from the jaws of a weasel?" "I do not know whence he comes," replied the younger, "but I know very well where he is going'; and laying hold of the quiet little creature, continued: "He is going to keep company with five of his brothers, of whom I intend to make a pie for Queen Fairy."
Prince Pigeon, hearing her words, far from escaping, approached her so that she might do him the kindness of killing him quickly, but what might have caused his destruction saved him, for the girls found him so polite and friendly that they determined to keep him and make a pet of him. The more beautiful of the two shut him up in a covered basket in which she usually put her needle work, and they proceeded on their way.
"For some days," said one of them, "our mistress has seemed terribly busy; every moment she is mounting her fiery camel, and night and day travelling from one end of the earth to the other without stopping." "If you were discreet," replied her companion, "I could tell you the reason, for she has imparted it to me." "Of course I can hold my tongue," exclaimed the one who had already spoken; "you may be quite certain of my silence." "Know then," she replied, "that the Princess Constancia, whom she dearly loves, is persecuted by a giant who wants to marry her; he has shut her up in a tower, and to prevent the marriage Queen Fairy must work great marvels."
The prince heard their conversation from the bottom of the basket; so far he had thought nothing could add to his misfortunes, but to his great sorrow he learned that he had been mistaken. From what I have told you of his passion, and of the circumstances in which he was placed, his despair at being turned into a pigeon just at the very moment the princess had most need of his help, may be easily imagined. To torment him the more, his vivid imagination pictured Constancia in the fatal tower, besieged by the importunity, violence, and ardour of a terrible giant; he dreaded that in her fear she would consent to the marriage. The next minute he thought she would not be afraid, and would expose herself to the fury of such a lover. It would be difficult to describe his state of mind.
When the young girl who was carrying him in her basket returned with her companion to the palace of their fairy mistress, they found her walking in a shady alley of her garden. They prostrated themselves before her, and said: "Great queen, look at this pigeon we have found; he is gentle, friendly, and if he had feathers he would be very handsome. We have decided to keep him in our room, but if it would amuse you, he can sometimes come into yours." The fairy took the basket in which he was shut, drew him out, and made serious reflections on the strangeness of the world, for it was an extraordinary circumstance that a prince like Constancio should be turned into a pigeon trussed ready for roasting or boiling; and although the change had been brought about solely by her will and agency, she liked to moralise on all sorts of events, and this one struck her as very remarkable. She caressed the pigeon, and he on his side did all in his power to attract her attention, so that she might relieve him from his misery; he bowed pigeon-fashion, drawing back his foot a little; he pecked at her with a caressing air, and although as yet he was new to the ways of pigeons, he was more expert than the oldest and wisest of the race.
Fairy Sovereign carried him into her closet, shut the door, and said: "In spite of your sad plight, I recognise and love you for the sake of my daughter Constancia, who is as little indifferent to you, as you are to her. I am alone to blame for your change of form. I made you enter the fiery furnace in order to test the sincerity of your love, and I find it pure and ardent; you have come well through the trial." The pigeon nodded his head three times in token of gratitude, and listened to what the fairy told him. "As soon as your mother," she continued, "received the money and jewels in exchange for the princess, she most cruelly sent her to the merchants who had bought her. Directly she was on board, they set sail for the East Indies, where they were sure of getting rid of the precious jewel in their possession at the greatest profit. Her tears and entreaties availed nothing to change their resolution; in vain she told them that Constancio would buy her back with all he possessed in the world. The more they recognised the high price they might expect for her, the more they hastened to get away, fearing lest the prince should be informed of her abduction, and come and snatch their prey from them.
"After travelling half over the world they were overtaken by a furious storm. The princess had succumbed to grief and the fatigues of the voyage, and was dying. Fearful of losing her, they put in at the nearest port; but while they were disembarking a giant of enormous size, accompanied by several others, came up, and they all shouted together that they wanted to look at the curiosities that were in the ship.
"The first thing the giant saw when he got on board was the young princess. They recognised each other at once. 'Ah, you little rogue!' he exclaimed, 'the just and pitiful gods put you once again into my power: do you remember the day I found you, and you cut my sack? I am very much mistaken if you play me such a trick again.' He seized her as an eagle lays hold of a chicken; and, in spite of her resistance and the merchants' entreaties, carried her off in his arms, running with all speed to his great tower.
"The tower is on a high mountain; the sorceress who built it neglected nothing to make it beautiful and strange. There is no door; you enter by the windows that are very high up; the diamond walls shine like the sun, and are of a hardness to resist everything. In fact all the richest productions of art and nature are of less worth than its contents. On the way there the furious giant told the lovely Constancia that he wished to marry her and make her the happiest woman in the world; that she should be mistress of all his treasure; that he would love her tenderly, and give her cause to bless the good fortune that had brought her to him. By her tears and lamentations he learned her deep despair, and as, in spite of the destiny that had decreed Constancia's destruction, I was secretly looking after everything, I inspired in the giant a feeling of tenderness he had never before experienced, so that instead of flying into a rage, he told the princess he would grant her a year's respite, and during that time would treat her kindly; but if in that period she did not make up her mind to do what he wished, he would marry her against her will, and afterwards kill her, so that she could choose which she preferred.
"After that terrible declaration he shut her up, giving her the most beautiful girls imaginable for companions in the hope they might be able to rouse her from the deep melancholy into which she was plunged. He placed giants round the tower to prevent any one approaching it, and, indeed, if anybody was fearless enough to do so, he would soon receive his punishment, for they make cruel and formidable guards.
"At length the poor princess seeing no probability of assistance, and only one day wanting to complete the year, is preparing to throw herself off the top of the tower into the sea. This, Sir Pigeon, is her condition. The only remedy I can think of is that you should fly to her, holding in your beak this little ring; when she puts it on her finger she will change into a dove, and you will easily escape."
The pigeon was most eager to set out, but knew not how to make himself understood. He pulled at the fairy's ruff and at her fringed apron; he went to the window and tapped the glass with his beak. All this meant in pigeon language: "I entreat you, madam, to send me with your enchanted ring to the princess's assistance". She understood him perfectly, and responding to his wishes, said: "Go, fly, charming pigeon; the ring will guide you. Here it is; take care not to lose it, for you are the only person in the world who can set Constancia free."
As I have already observed, Prince Pigeon had no wings; he had plucked them out in the extremity of his despair. The fairy rubbed him with a marvellous essence that made them grow again so beautiful and wonderful that Venus's doves themselves were not worthy to be compared with him. He was delighted to recover his wings, and taking flight reached the top of the tower at dawn. Its diamond walls were so dazzling that the sun in its greatest brilliance is scarcely so bright. On the keep was an extensive garden, in the centre of which grew an orange tree loaded with flowers and fruit; the rest of the garden was very curious, and if Prince Pigeon had not been occupied with such important business, he would have found great pleasure in examining it.
He perched on the orange tree, holding the ring in his beak; he was feeling terribly anxious, when the princess entered the garden. She wore a long white gown, her head was covered with a black veil embroidered in gold; it fell over her face and reached to the ground on every side. The amorous pigeon might have doubted if it was she, if it had been possible that any other woman could have possessed that noble bearing and dignified appearance. She sat down under the orange tree, and suddenly raising her veil, he remained for some time entranced.
"How vain seem now all sad regrets, all melancholy thoughts," she said; "my afflicted heart has spent a whole year between hope and fear; but the fatal moment has arrived. This very day, in a few hours, I must die, or wed the giant. Alas! is it possible that Queen Fairy and Prince Constancio have thus forsaken me? What have I done to them? But what is the use of these reflections? Would it not be wiser to carry out my design?" She rose and courageously made ready to throw herself from the tower; but as the slightest sound terrified her, and she heard the pigeon moving in the tree, she raised her eves to see what it was; at the same moment he flew to her, and placed in her lap the all-important little ring. The princess, surprised at the caresses of the handsome bird, and at his beautiful plumage, was equally astonished at the present he gave her. She looked at the ring and noticed some mysterious marks on it; she still held it, when unobserved by her, the giant entered the garden.
Some of her waiting-women had informed her terrible lover of the princess's despair, and that rather than marry him she preferred to kill herself. When he heard that she had gone up to the top of the tower, so earls' in the morning, he feared some fatal catastrophe; his heart was incapable of any cruel action, and her beauty so greatly enchanted him, that he loved her tenderly. O ye gods! what were her feelings when she saw him! She feared he would deprive her of the means she was seeking of putting an end to her existence. Poor pigeon was not a little afraid of the terrible giant. In her confusion, Constancia put the ring on her finger and was immediately changed into a dove, and flew away with all possible speed in the company of the faithful pigeon.
Never was there surprise like that of the giant. After looking at his mistress, now a dove flying through the air, he remained for some time motionless, then uttered cries and groans that shook the mountains and ended only with his life; he flung himself into the sea, and it was far better that he should be drowned than the princess. She and her guide went speeding on their way, and as soon as they were far enough off to have no cause to fear, they halted in a wood almost dark from the number of the trees, and very pleasant on account of the green grass and the beautiful flowers that carpeted the ground. Constancia did not know that the pigeon was her true lover. He was feeling greatly troubled at his inability to tell her so, when he felt an invisible hand loosen his tongue. He was overjoyed, and said to the princess: "Has not your heart told you, charming dove, that your companion is consumed by a passion you yourself have kindled?" "My heart hopes for happiness," she replied, "but dares not flatter itself such will be the case. Alas! who could have imagined it? I was about to succumb to my wretched fate, when you appeared and snatched me from the jaws of death, or from the arms of a monster I feared even more than death."
The prince, delighted to hear his dove speak, and to find her as loving as ever, said to her everything the most ardent and tender passion could inspire. He related all that had happened since her absence, especially his amazing encounter with Cupid at the forge, and the fairy in her palace, and Constancia was overjoyed to learn that he best friend was still taking charge of her. Let us go and find her, my clear prince," she said to Constancio, "and thank her for all she has done for us: she will restore us to our natural shapes, and we will return to your kingdom or to mine."
"If you love me as much as I love you," he replied, "I should make you a proposal, in which love alone bears a part. But, charming princess, you will call me strange." "Do not demean your intelligence at the expense of your heart," she rejoined; "speak without fear. I shall always listen to you with pleasure." "I am of opinion, then, that we should not change our forms. You, a dove, and I, a pigeon, are consumed by the same passion as were Constancio and Constancia. I feel sure that without the cares of our kingdoms, without councils to hold, wars to wage, audiences to give, exempt from continually playing an important part on the world's stage, we shall find it far pleasanter to live only for each other in delightful solitude." "Ah!" exclaimed the dove, "how great and full of charm is your plan! Young as I am, alas! I have known so many misfortunes; fate, jealous of my innocent beauty has obstinately persecuted me, and I should be very glad to renounce all the good things it has given me, and to live only for you. Yes, my dear prince, I consent: let us choose some pleasant land and spend our days happily in our changed shapes let us lead an innocent life, without ambition, without desires other than those that spring from virtuous love."
"It is I who must guide you," cried Cupid, descending from the heights of Olympus; "so loving a plan deserves my protection." "And mine, too," said Queen Fairy, suddenly appearing. "I have come to you, to anticipate by a few moments the delight of seeing you." The pigeon and the dove were as much pleased as surprised at this new event. "We will place ourselves under your guidance," said Constancia to the fairy. "Do not forsake us," said Constancio to Cupid. "Come," he said, "to Paphos: my mother is still worshipped there, and the birds sacred to her are always held in veneration." "No,:' replied the princess, "we do not seek the community of men; happy those who can renounce it! We desire some beautiful solitude.'
The fairy struck the ground with her wand and Cupid did the same with a golden arrow. They immediately beheld a most beautiful spot, deserted by all save nature, the loveliest of woods, flowers, meadows, and springs. "Stay here for millions of years," said Cupid, "and swear eternal faith in the presence of this marvellous fairy." "' I swear it to my dove," said Pigeon. "I swear it to my pigeon," said Dove. "Your marriage," said the fairy, "could not be celebrated by a god better able to render it happy. Besides, I promise you that if you grow weary of your present forms, you may depend on me, and I will restore you to your original shapes.' Pigeon and Dove thanked the fairy, and assured her they should have no need of her good offices, they had had too wide an experience of the misfortunes of life. They asked her if Ruson was still alive to bring him to them. "He has changed his condition," said Cupid. "I had condemned him to be a sheep. I took pity on him, and restored him to the throne from which I had taken him." Constancia felt no longer surprised at the pretty ways she had so liked in him, and implored Cupid to tell her the story of a sheep she had loved so well. "I will come some day and tell it you," he replied, kindly, "but just now I am wanted in so many places, that I do not know where to go first. Farewell," he continued, "happy, loving pair; you can boast of being the wisest folk in my empire."
Queen Fairy remained some time with the newly-married couple. She could not sufficiently praise their disdain for the vanities of the world; and it is certain they chose the best way to lead a tranquil life. At length she left them and it has been ascertained from her and from. Cupid that Prince Pigeon and Princess Dove loved each other faithfully to the end of their days.