THE GRAVE PRINCE AND THE BENEFICENT CAT.
THERE once was a king in Tirol who had three sons. The eldest was grave and thoughtful beyond his years; but he seldom spoke to any one, took no pleasure in pastimes, and lived apart from those of his age. The other two were clever and merry, always forward at any game, or at any piece of fun, and passed all their time in merry-making and enjoyment.
Now though the eldest son was, by his character, more adapted to make a wise and prudent sovereign, yet the two younger brothers, by their lively, engaging manner, had made themselves much more popular in the country; they were also the favourites of their father, but the eldest was the darling of his mother.
The king was old and stricken in years, and would gladly have given up the cares of government, and passed his declining years in peace, but he could not make up his mind to which of the brothers he should delegate his authority. The queen was persuaded of the excellent capacity of her eldest son; but the two younger were always saying he was half mad, and not fit to govern, and as they had the people on their side, he greatly feared lest the kingdom should be involved in civil war, so he always put off making any arrangement.
One day, however, an ancient counsellor observed to him, that if he really feared that there would be a dispute about the succession, it was much better to have it decided now while he was alive to act as umpire, than that it should befall when they would be left to wrangle with no one to make peace between them.
The king found the counsel good, and decided to retire from the government, and to proclaim his eldest son king in his stead. When the two younger sons, however, heard what he intended to do, they came to him and urged their old charge, that their elder brother was not fit to govern, and entreated the king to halve the kingdom between them. But the king, anxious as he was to gratify them, yet feared to displease the queen by committing so great an injustice against her eldest son; and thus they were no further advanced than before.
Then the old counsellor who had offered his advice before spoke again, and suggested that some task should be set for the three, and that whoever succeeded in that should be king beyond dispute.
The three sons all swore to abide by this decision; and the king found the counsel good. But now the difficulty arose, what should he set them to do? for they had insisted so much on the weak intellect of the eldest, that the queen feared lest, after all, he should fail in the trial, and her care for him be defeated. She knew he had never practised himself in feats of strength, or in the pursuit of arms, so it was useless proposing such as these for the test, but she persuaded him to set them something much simpler.
So, having called an assembly of all the people, he proclaimed aloud that the three brothers should travel for a year and a day, and whichever of them should bring him back the finest drinking-horn, he should be the king--the three sons swearing to abide by his award.
The two younger brothers set out with a great retinue; and, as they did not apprehend much difficulty in surpassing their brother in whatever they might undertake, they spent the greater part of the year allowed them in amusing themselves, secure in bringing back the best, whatever they might bring.
The eldest set out alone through the forest. In his lonely wanderings he had often observed a strangely beautiful castle on a far-off mountain, concerning which he could find no record in any of his books, nor could he learn that any one living knew any thing about it. He now resolved to make his way thither, persuaded that if he was to find something surpassing the work of human hands, it was like to be in this enchanted castle.
Though it was so high-placed, the way was much easier than he thought, and he was not more than five months getting there; so that he had ample time for exploring its precincts, and yet get back within the appointed date. He had, indeed, to traverse dark forests and steep rocky paths, but when he got near the castle all these difficulties ceased. Here there were only easy slopes of greensward, diapered by sparkling flowers; broad-leaved trees throwing delicious shade; and rills that meandered with a pleasant music. Delicious bowers and arcades of foliage of sweet-scented plants invited to repose; and every where luscious fruits hung temptingly within reach. Birds sang on every branch with a soft, dreamy melody which soothed, and disturbed not the lightest slumber.
The prince thought it would have been delightful to pass the remainder of his days there, but he remembered that it was an important mission with which he was entrusted, and he passed on.
A broad flight of marble steps led from these amenities up to the palace, and every now and then a thousand little jets were turned on, to pour their tiny floods over them, and cool them for the tread of those who entered.
And yet no one was near, no one to enjoy all this magnificence! The prince entered the hall, but no one came to meet him; he passed through the long corridors--all were deserted; he entered one apartment after another--still no one. At last he came to one charming boudoir all hung with pink satin, and lace, and beautiful flowers. On a pink satin sofa covered with lace sat a large Cat with soft grey fur, and soft grey eyes--the first living thing he had met!
As he entered, the Cat rose to meet him, walking on her hind-paws, and, holding out her right front-paw in the most gracious manner, asked him, in a sweet, clear voice, if there was any thing she could do for him. Then, as if the effort was too great, she let herself down on all fours, and rubbed her soft grey head against his boots.
Finding her so friendly, he was going to take her up in his arms: this she would not allow, however, but sprang with an agile bound on to a ledge above his head. "And now tell me," said she, "what is it you want me to do for you?"
"Really, Lady Purrer, you are so kind, you confuse me! But, to tell you the truth, I fear--"
"You fear that a poor puss can't be of any use," interposed the Cat, smartly, "and that your requirements are much above her feeble comprehension. But never mind, tell me all the same; there is little fear but that I can help you, and if I can't, the telling me will do you no harm."
"Quite the contrary," replied the prince, "it will be a great pleasure to have only your sympathy, for I am in great distress." Her voice was so sweet and kind, that he quite forgot it was only a Cat he was talking to.
"Poor prince!" said the Cat, soothingly; "tell me all about it, then. But stop, I'll tell you first what I think. I'm sure you are not appreciated at home. I saw it in your look when you first came in. You don't look bright and enterprising, as you ought to look. You look as if you lived too much alone. Oh, you would be twice as handsome if you only looked a little more lively and energetic--" and then she stopped short, and sneezed a great many times, as if she feared she had said what was not quite proper, and some other sound would efface that of her words.
"There is a great deal of truth in what you say," replied the prince; "they don't care much about me at home--at least my mother does, but my father and brothers don't. And I do live too much alone--but it's not my fault: it's a bad way of mine, and I don't know how to get out of it."
"You want some one to pet you, and spoil you, and make you very happy; and then you would be pleased to go into the society of others, because then you could say to yourself, I'll show them that there's some one understands me and makes a fuss about me--" and she stopped short, as before.
"But who should care to spoil and pet me?" cried the prince, despondingly, and too much interested in her words to see any reason why she should be confused at what she had said.
"Why, a nice little wife, to be sure!" replied the Cat.
"A wife!" exclaimed the prince; "oh yes, my father's grey-bearded counsellors will find me some damsel whom it is necessary I should marry for the peace of the kingdom; and to her I shall be tied, and, be she an idiot or a shrew, I shall have no voice in the matter."
"But do you mean to say," retorted the Cat, in a more excited voice, "that if you found a nice little princess--I don't say any one they could with justice object to, but a real princess--who cared very much for you, and made you very happy, very happy indeed, so that you determined to marry her, that you wouldn't be man enough to say to your father and all his counsellors, 'Here is the princess I mean to make my wife; I feel Heaven intended her for me. I am sure she will be the joy of my people, as she is mine, and no other shall share my throne'?"
"Wouldn't I," exclaimed the prince, with energy, starting to his feet, and placing his hand instinctively on his sword, his eye flashing and the colour mounting in his cheek.
"Ah! if you always looked like that! Now, you are handsome indeed!" exclaimed the Cat, enthusiastically, and purred away. "But," she added, immediately after, "all this time you haven't told me what it was you came for."
"Ah!" said the prince, despondingly, at finding himself thus recalled to the prosaic realities of his melancholy life from that brief dream of happiness. "No; because you have been talking to me of more interesting things" (the Cat purred audibly); and then he told her what it was had really brought him there.
"You see, your mother understands your character better than all the rest," said the Cat. "She knew you could be trusted to prove your superiority over your brothers, though the others hope you may fail. However, fail you won't this time, for I can give you a drinking-horn which neither your brothers nor any one else on earth can match!"
With that she sprang lightly on to the soft carpet, and ran out of the room, beckoning to him to follow her. She led him through a long suite of rooms till they came to a large dining-hall all panelled with oak and filled with dark carved-oak furniture. In the centre of one end of this hall, high up in the panelling, was an inlaid safe or tabernacle curiously wrought. Puss gave one of her agile springs on to the top of this cabinet, and, having opened its folding-doors gently with her paw, disclosed to view a drinking-horn such as the prince had never seen. It was a white semi-transparent horn, but close-grained, like ivory, and all finely carved with designs of curious invention; the dresses of the figures were all made of precious stones cunningly let in, and they sparkled with a vivid lustre, like so many lamps. Then it had a rim, stand, and handle of massive gold exquisitely chased, and adorned with rows of pearls and diamonds.
"Kind Lady Purrer," exclaimed the prince, "you are right, there is no doubt of my success! But how can I ever sufficiently thank you for what you have done for me? for I owe all to you."
"And a little to your own discernment too," said the Cat, archly. "And now, always look as much alive and as bright as you do now, and you will see people will think better of you."
"But when shall I see you again, most sweet counsellor? May I come back and see you again?" pleaded the prince, and he tried to stroke her sleek fur as she rubbed her soft grey head, purring, against his boots. The stroking, however, she would by no means allow, but springing again on to the top of the cabinet, she said,--
"Oh, yes; it will not be long before you will have to come back to me, I know. But go, now; you have spent more time here than you think, and you have only just enough left to get back within the year."
The prince turned to obey her; and the Cat jumped down, and ran by his side, purring. When he got out into the grounds again, she followed him, climbing from tree to tree; and when he came to the boundary-wall she ran all along on the coping. But here at last they had to part, to her great regret, and for many a lonely mile he still heard her low and plaintive mew.
It was true, he must have spent more time in her pleasant company than he had thought, for when he reached home he found the day of trial had arrived; the streets were deserted, and all the people gathered in the palace to see the drinking-horns his brothers had brought, and talking loudly of their magnificence. He passed through their midst without being recognized, for the people knew him so little; and thus he heard them speak of his younger brothers:--
"What bright faces they have! and what a merry laugh! it does the heart good to hear them," said one.
"I wonder how the kingdom will be divided, and which half will be to which of them," said another.
"For my part, I don't care to the lot of which I fall, for both are excellent good fellows," replied a third.
And thus they had clearly settled in their own mind that his brothers had carried the day, and they didn't even trouble themselves to think what he would bring, or whether he would come back at all. It was the same thing all the way along. The words were varied, but the same idea prevailed every where, that the younger brothers had made good their claim; there was no question at all of the eldest. The prince's face was growing moody again; but just then one good woman, wiping the soap-suds from her hands as she turned from her washing at the river to join the throng, exclaimed, as she heard some neighbours talking thus, "Hoity toity! it's all very well with you and your laughing princes--a grave one for me, say I! Laughing may lead a man to throw away his money, but it won't teach him to feed the poor, or govern a kingdom. Wait till the Grave Prince comes back! I'll warrant he'll bring the bravest drinking-horn!"
A chorus of mocking laughter greeted her defence of him.
"He bring the bravest drinking-horn!" said one.
"Don't believe he knows what a drinking-horn is for--or drink either!" said another.
"No; his brothers understand that best, at all events. I like a man who can drink his glass."
"And I like one who doesn't drink it, whether he can or not; but keeps his head clear for his business," said the good wife who had defended him before.
And as there were a good many who were too fond of the bottle in the crowd, the laugh raised at him was turned against them.
He had one defender, then, in all that mass of people, but all the rest judged him incapable, and without trial! He was too disheartened, to make his way into the great hall where the success of his brothers was being proclaimed, but instead trod sadly and secretly up to his mother's chamber.
The queen was too distressed at the absence of her favourite son to take part in the jocular scene below, and was seated, full of anxiety, at her window, watching.
"What do you here, my son?" she exclaimed, when he entered; "you have but one short half-hour more, and the time will be expired. The sun is already gone down, and the time once past, whatever you have brought, it will avail you not! Haste, my son, to the council-hall!"
"It is useless, mother; all are against me!" cried the prince; and he laid the beautiful flagon on the table, and sank upon a chair.
In the mean time it had grown dark, but the queen, impelled by her curiosity to know what success her son had had, pulled off the wrapper that enclosed the drinking-horn, and instantly the apartment was brilliantly lighted by the light of the precious stones with which it was studded!
"My son, this is a priceless work! This is worth a kingdom! Nothing your brothers can have brought can compare with this--haste, then, my son!" and she led him along.
It was dark in the council-hall too; but when the queen had dragged her son up to the throne where the king sat, she uncovered the flagon, and the sparkling stones sent their radiance into every part.
Then there was one shout of praise. The drinking-horns of the younger brothers, which had anon been so highly extolled, were no more thought of, and every one owned that the Grave Prince had won the trial.
The king declared it was too late for any more business that night, the proclamation of the new sovereign would be made the next morning; and in the meantime they all retired to rest, the Grave Prince with some new sensations of satisfaction and hope, and the queen assured of the triumph of her son.
But in the silent night, when all were wrapt in slumber, and the king could not sleep for the anxiety and perplexity which beset him as to his successor, the two young brothers came to him and complained that they had been circumvented. The Grave Prince had always shown himself so gloomy and unenergetic, it was impossible they could conceive he was going to distinguish himself, so they had taken no trouble to beat him; but if their father would but allow another trial, they would undertake he should not have the advantage of them again.
So the next day, instead of proclaiming the new sovereign, the king announced that he had determined there should be a fresh trial of skill; and whichever of the princes should bring him the best hunting-whip, that day year, should have the crown.
The princes set off next day on their travels once more, the eldest son of course directing his towards the castle of the Beneficent Cat.
This time he had not to traverse a file of deserted halls before meeting her; she sat looking out for him on the coping of the wall where he had left her mewing so piteously when he last parted from her.
"I told you it would not be long before you would have to come back to me," she said, as he approached. "What can I do for you this time?"
"My brothers are discontented at being beaten with your beautiful beaker," replied the prince, gallantly, "and they have demanded another trial: this time my father sends us in quest of a hunting-whip."
"A hunting-whip?" echoed the Cat; "that is lucky, for I can suit you with one neither they nor any one else on this earth can surpass!" and she frisked merrily along the path before him till they came to the stables; then she took him into a room where all manner of saddles, and horse-gear, and hunting-horns were stored. But on a high ledge, at the very top of the room, was a dusty hunting-whip of the most unpretending appearance. With one of her bold springs she reached the ledge, and jumped down again with this whip in her mouth.
"It is not much to look at, I own," she said, as she observed the perplexed look with which the prince surveyed the present; "but its excellent qualities are its recommendation. You have but to crack this whip, and your horse will take any thing you put him at, be it a river half a mile wide, or a tree fifty feet high. There are plenty of horses in the stable, saddle any of them you like, and make experience of it for yourself."
The prince did as she bid him; and at sound of the enchanted whip his mount leapt with equal ease over hills and valleys.
"This is a whip indeed!" exclaimed the prince, his face flushed with the unwonted exercise, and his heart beating high at the idea of being the bearer of such a prize.
"Ah, that's how I like to see you!" said the friendly puss; "I like to see you like that. Now you are handsome indeed!" and she scampered away, as if coyly ashamed of what she had said.
It was not long before she returned; and then she invited the prince into the next room, where an elegant dinner was laid out, of which the Cat did the honours very demurely. A high divan was arranged at the top of the table, on which she reclined, and ate and lapped alternately out of the plates ready before her, while invisible attendants served the viands and filled the glasses.
When they had finished their meal, they went out to repose in the flowery bowers; and when the heat of the day was past, the Beneficent Cat reminded her guest that he must be thinking of going home, if he would not that his brothers should supplant him.
"Must I go so soon, sweet Lady Purrer?" replied the prince. "I know not how to part from you; it seems I should be happy if I were always with you. I have never felt so happy any where before!"
"You are very gallant, prince," responded the Cat, "and you have no idea how well it becomes you to look as you do now; but the affairs of your kingdom must be your first thought. You must first secure your succession--and then we must look out for the nice little wife we talked of last time."
"Ah," sighed the Grave Prince, "don't talk of that--that is not for me! No one beautiful enough for me to care about will ever care for me!"
"Not if you look desponding and gloomy, like that," replied the Cat. "Do you know, you look quite like another being when you look so gloomy; and yet you can be so handsome when you look bright and hopeful! But now," she proceeded, laying her soft paw on his arm to arrest the futile justification which rose to his lips, "before you go, I have something very important to tell you. You will now go back, and with the hunting-whip I have given you, you are safe to win the trial which is to establish your right to the kingdom. But there will be yet another trial exacted of you, and you will have to come back again to me. What you are to do then, I must tell you now, for it requires great prudence and courage, and one principal thing is, that you don't say a word to me all the time. Can you promise that?"
"Well, that is hard indeed," said the prince; "but still, if you command it, I think I can promise to obey, for the sake of pleasing you."
"Then the next thing is harder. Do you think you can do whatever I command?"
"Oh yes, I am sure I can promise that!" replied the prince, warmly.
"Mind, whatever I command, then--however hard, or however dreadful it may be?"
"Yes, any thing--however hard, or however dreadful!"
"But will you swear it?"
"I see you doubt my courage," said the prince, half offended. "You take me for a fool, like the rest. But no wonder; I know I look like a fool!"
"Now don't look gloomy again! you were so handsome just now when you said so firmly you would do 'any thing.' Will you gratify me by swearing?"
"You doubt my courage."
"No; I don't doubt your courage. But I know how terrible a thing I have to command you; and I know how many others have failed before you. Now will you not swear, but to please me?"
"Yes; I swear," said the prince, energetically, "to do whatever it may be that you tell me to do."
"Now, remember, you have undertaken it solemnly. This is what you must do. When you come in, you will find me sitting on the kitchen stove; you must then seize me by my two hind-paws, and dash me upon the hearthstone till there is nothing left of me in your hands, but the fur!"
"Oh dear! I can never do that!" exclaimed the prince, in great embarrassment.
"But you have sworn to do whatever I told you!" replied the Cat.
"Well, but I thought you were going to order me to do something rational, something noble and manly, requiring courage and strength--not a horrible act like this."
"If it is the thing that has to be done, it does not matter what it is. Besides, it does require courage, great courage; and that is why I would not tell you first what it was, because others have failed when they knew what it was."
"And you expect me to have less feeling and affection for you than they?"
"No; but I expect more sense and judgment of you. I expect you to understand and believe that if I say it has to be done, it is really for the best, and that you will trust to me that it is right. And I expect that you will respect your promise, which was made without limit or exception. But now, go; you have no time to lose, if you want to reach home with the hunting-whip in time for the trial."
He rose to leave; and she followed him down the path, purring by his side. And after she had taken leave of him at the boundary-wall, he heard her mewing sad adieus as he went on for many a weary mile.
When the prince reached the council-hall, he found, as before, that his brothers were there first, and that every one seemed to have decided that they had won the day--in fact no one showed any curiosity to know what he would bring. As he had beaten them by his lustrous jewels before, they had fancied he would bring something of the same sort again; so, to conquer him on his own ground, they had sought out and found two handles of hunting-whips mounted with jewels as sparkling as those of his drinking-horn. When they saw him come in with the shabby old whip the Beneficent Cat had given him, they laughed outright in his face; and the king, in a fit of indignation, ordered him to leave the hall for venturing to insult him by bringing such a present. Some laughed him to scorn, and some abused him; but no one would listen to a word he had to say. At last the tumult was so great that it reached the queen's ears; and when she had learnt what was the matter, she insisted that he should have a hearing allowed him. When silence had been proclaimed the Grave Prince said,--
"It is true, my whip is not so splendid as that of my brothers, but jewels are out of place on a hunting-whip, it seems to me; the handle is wanted to be smooth, so that the hand may take a firm grip of it, rather than to be covered with those points and unevennesses. The merit of my whip is not in the handle, it is in the lash, which has such excellent qualities, that you have but to crack it, and your horse will immediately take you over any obstruction there may be in your way--be it a house or a mountain, or what you will. If you will allow me, I will give you proof of its powers."
Then they all adjourned to the terrace in front of the council-hall, where was a fine avenue of lofty cypresses; and the queen ordered a horse to be brought round from the stables. The people had never seen the prince on horseback before; and when they saw him looking so gallant, and noble, and determined, they could not forbear cheering him, till his younger brothers began to fear that his real worth would soon be found out, and their malice exposed.
Then the prince cracked his whip--and away went the horse over the tops of the high trees, seeming to scrape the clouds as he passed. All the people were lost in admiration, no one had ever seen such a sight before; and while they were wondering whether it was possible he could have reached the ground in safety from such a height, there was a murmur in the air, and they saw him coming back again over the tree-tops. With no more apparent effort than if he had merely taken a hedge, he came softly to the ground; and then, kneeling gracefully before his father on one knee, without a word of boasting or reproach, he laid the clever whip at his feet.
The king raised him up, and said, aloud to the people, none could deny that it was this whip that had won the trial, but that as it was now late, he must leave the ceremony of proclaiming his successor till the morrow.
All went home for the night, and the old king also went to bed; but he could not sleep for anxiety, thinking of the anger and dissatisfaction of his younger sons. And presently, in the silent hour, they came to him, and said that he must allow them another trial; that it was impossible they could conceive he meant them to bring him a fantastical whip of that sort, or of course they would have brought one which could do much better things. They thought it was the beauty of the workmanship they had to look to, and so they had provided for nothing else. They urged their suit so persistently, that the king, who was now very old and weak, agreed to let them have their way.
Accordingly, next morning he had it proclaimed that the three princes were to make one trial more; and that whichever brought back the most beautiful and virtuous princess for his wife should have the crown.
The three princes set out again early the next morning; the two younger ones providing themselves with jewels and riches, and many precious things for presents; the eldest taking nothing, but walking off alone towards the enchanted castle with a heavy heart. "It is all up with me now," he said to himself, "after all! Why couldn't my father have been satisfied when I had beaten them twice? Now I have to kill the Beneficent Cat--the only being that ever assisted me; and then I shall have no one to help me at all! They will come back with two beautiful princesses, and I shall come back looking like a fool, because no princess will ever come with me--and they will take my kingdom, and laugh at me into the bargain! If it was not for my mother, I would never come back at all; but it would break her heart if I stayed away, and she is the only one of them who understands me and cares for me."
As he got nearer the castle, he grew more and more sad. "Why did she make me swear? If it hadn't been for that, I could still have escaped doing it; but now I cannot break my oath;" and he trudged on.
The gardens looked more lovely than ever. The scent of the flowers seemed sweeter, and the melody of the birds more soothing. All was full of harmony--and he who had never harmed a fly must cruelly use the soft and beautiful Cat who had so befriended him!
He passed through the apartments where puss had purred round him so happily--the dining-room where they had had their pleasant repast together--the boudoir where she had given him such wise counsel.
At last he came to the kitchen; and there, sure enough, was the Cat cosily curled round, her soft grey head buried in her long grey fur.
An energy and daring he had never known before seemed suddenly to possess him. He took care not to speak, for she had particularly recommended silence; but, approaching her on tiptoe, seized her rapidly by her hind-paws before she had time to wake from her pleasant slumber, and dashed her several times upon the hearth, scarcely knowing what he did in his horror, till he perceived that he had nothing left in his hand but the soft, limp, grey fur.
He sank upon the ground in tears, and commenced laying it out tenderly before him, when he was woken from his reverie by a mellow ringing laugh, which made him look up--and there before him stood the most beautiful, fairy-like princess that ever was seen on this earth!
"Well done, kind prince! you have nobly kept your word. And see what I have gained thereby--instead of that grey fur, I now have a form which will perhaps make me meet to fulfil the condition your father has imposed on you for obtaining your throne!"
Her voice, and the glance of her soft eyes, seemed quite familiar to him--it was the voice which had first inspired him with hope and enterprise, and the mild light which had beamed on him when he said he could be happy to be always near her in her bower. How much more now, when she appeared in such matchless guise!
He remained kneeling at her feet, and asked her if it was indeed true that she could love him and be with him always as his wife.
"Nay," she replied, raising him up; "it is I who ought to be astonished. I have nothing to refuse, for I owe you all; and as, but for you, I should still be nothing but a poor grey Cat, I belong to you, and am absolutely yours. It is I who have to be astonished, and to ask you if it is possible you who have known me as a Cat can really love me and regard me as worthy to be indeed your wife."
"You are mocking me again, I see," he replied; "but you do not really think me so insensible as not to appreciate your beauty, and the prudence and generosity of which you have given me such abundant proof? No; if you will come with me, I have no fear but that I shall win the trial this time beyond all possibility of demanding another." He spoke warmly, and his face beamed with joy. The princess was leaning on his arm, and looked up in his face as he spoke.
"Ah, now you do look!--No, I suppose I mustn't say it now I have no longer my cat-disguise to hide my blushes," she said, archly; and they passed on into the reception-hall.
The attendants were no longer invisible. Together with their mistress they had received their forms and original life; and the corridors and apartments were filled with her people bustling to serve her. A banquet was prepared in the dining-hall; and when they had partaken of it, and had regaled themselves in the bower with happy talk, the princess reminded the prince--now no longer grave--that it was time for them to be going back to his father. A great train of carriages and horses were brought round, with mounted guards and running-footmen, and all the retinue which became a noble princess.
The princess was carried in a litter by six men in embroidered liveries, and her ladies with her; and the prince rode on horseback, close by her side.
This time, though it was near the close of the last day, his brothers had not appeared when he reached the council-hall. The king and the queen received the Beneficent Princess with smiles and admiration, and all the people praised her beauty; and the queen said,--
"There is no fear, my son, that your brothers can demand another trial this time."
Before she had done speaking, a messenger was hastily ushered into the hall, covered with dust and stains of travel. He came from the two younger princes, and had a sorrowful tale to tell.
They had striven to obtain the hands of the princesses of the neighbouring kingdom; but the king was a prudent sovereign, and discerned their envious, selfish character. When they found he repulsed their advances, they had endeavoured to carry off the princesses by force; but the king had surprised them in the midst of their design, and had had them shut up as midnight robbers.
The old king was in great distress when he heard the news, for his sons had manifestly been taken in the midst of wrong-doing, and he could not defend their acts nor avenge their shame. But the eldest son took on himself the mission of pacifying the neighbouring sovereign and delivering his brothers. Having accomplished which, they were fain to acknowledge that he was not only victor in the trials, but their deliverer also; and they swore to maintain peace with him, and obey him as his faithful subjects.
So the old king proclaimed the Grave Prince for his successor, and married him to the Beneficent Princess, amid great rejoicing of all the people; and the queen had the happiness of seeing her eldest son acknowledged as the most prudent prince, and the ruler of the people, and gifted with a beautiful and devoted wife.