THERE was once upon a time a very great Queen who gave birth to little twin girls. She immediately sent out invitations to twelve fairies in the neighbouring countries to come to the feast according to the custom of the country--a custom that was never by any means overlooked, because it was such a great advantage to have the fairies as guests.
When the twelve fairies were all assembled in the great hall where the feast was to be held, they took their seats at the table--a very big table laden with such good things to eat, and so rich, that it was past all comprehension. No sooner had all the guests seated themselves, than who should enter but the wicked fairy Magotine!
Now the Queen, when she saw her, felt that some disaster would follow because she had omitted to send this fairy an invitation; but she hid the thought deep in her mind, and off she went and found a beautiful soft seat all embroidered in gold and inlaid with sapphires; then all the other fairies moved up and made room for Magotine to seat herself, saying at the same time, ‘Hurry up, sister, and make your wish for the little Princesses, and then come and sit down.’
But, before Magotine came to table, she said rudely that she was quite big enough to eat standing. There she made a great mistake, because the table was very high and Magotine was very small, and, in reaching up, she fell. This misfortune only increased her bad temper.
‘Madam,’ said the Queen, ‘I beg you to be seated at table.’
‘If you had so much wished to see me here,’ replied the fairy, ‘you would have sent me an invitation the same as the others. You have only invited to your court the most beautiful, well-dressed and good-tempered fairies, like my sisters here. With them I have no fault to find; I, however, have one advantage over them, as you will see!’
Then all the fairies begged her to seat herself with them, and she did so. In front of each fairy was placed a beautiful bouquet made of all kinds of precious stones. Each took the bouquet immediately in front of her, and there remained none at all for Magotine; and she growled furiously between her teeth.
The Queen, quickly noticing the awful error, ran to her cabinet and came back with a large cup all perfumed and studded outside with rubies, and inside full of diamonds that gave forth a thousand different colours. Going up to Magotine, she begged her to receive the present. But Magotine only shook her head and replied: ‘Keep your jewels, madam, I do not want them. I came simply to see if you had thought of me, and I find that you have forgotten me altogether.’ And with this she gave a tap with her wand on the table and at once all the good things were turned into serpents, which wriggled about and hissed viciously. The other fairies, seeing this, were filled with horror; they threw down their serviettes and quitted the table.
While they were leaving the table the wicked little fairy Magotine, who had come to disturb the peace, made her way to the room where the little Princesses were asleep in a golden cot covered with a canopy studded with diamonds, the most beautiful ever seen in the world. The other fairies followed her to watch. Magotine stopped beside the cot, and, taking out her wand quickly, she touched one of the little Princesses, saying at the same time: ‘I wish that you become the most ugly person that it would be possible to find.’ Then she turned to the other little Princess; but, before she could do anything further, the other fairies interfered, and taking a great pan full of vitriol, threw it over the wicked Magotine. But not a drop touched her, for, before it splashed upon the floor, she had disappeared before their very eyes.
The Queen then made her way to the cot and took out the little Princess that Magotine had wished to be so ugly; and the Queen cried with sorrow because, every minute as she looked at it, the child was becoming uglier and uglier, until at last any one could see she was the ugliest baby in the world.
Now the other good fairies consulted amongst themselves how they could lighten this great sorrow, so they turned to the Queen and said: ‘Madam, it is not possible to undo the evil that the fairy Magotine has put upon your child, but we will wish for her something that will help to balance that evil.’ And then they told the Queen that one day her daughter would be extremely happy. With this the fairies took their departure, but not before the Queen had given them all some beautiful presents; for this custom goes on amongst all the peoples of the earth, and will continue when other customs are forgotten.
The Queen called her ugly daughter Laideronnette, and the beautiful daughter Bellote; and these names suited them perfectly, because Laideronnette was frightfully ugly, and her sister was equally charming and beautiful.
When Laideronnette was twelve years old, she went and threw herself at the feet of the King and Queen, and begged them to allow her to go and shut herself up in a castle far away near the Light of Dawn, and to let her take the necessary servants and food to live there. She reminded them that they still had Bellote, and that she was enough to console them.
After a long while they agreed, and Laideronnette went away to her castle near the Light of Dawn. On one side of the castle the sea came right up to the window, and on another there was a great canal; from still another view was a vast forest as far as the eye could see, and beyond again a great desert.
The little Princess played musical instruments beautifully, and also had a sweet voice just like a bird, and sang divinely; and so, with these delights, she lived for two whole years in perfect solitude. Then, at the end of the two years, she began to feel homesick and wished to see her father and mother, the King and Queen; so she started on the journey home at once, and arrived just as her sister the Princess Bellote was going to be married.
Now as soon as they saw Laideronnette, they did not offer to kiss her or say they were pleased to see her; and they told her she was not to come to the marriage feast, nor to the ball afterwards. Poor little Laideronnette said she had not come to dance and be merry; neither had she come to the marriage feast; she had come because she felt homesick and wanted to see her father and mother. However, she would go away back to her castle near the Light of Dawn, for there the desert, the trees, and the fountains never reproached her with her ugliness when she came near them.
The King and Queen were sorry that they had been so unkind, and asked Laideronnette to remain two or three days; but Laideronnette was so upset that she refused. Then her sister Bellote gave her some silk, and Bellote’s betrothed gave her some ribbons. Now, if Laideronnette had been like some people she would have thrown the silk and the ribbons at the Princess and her future husband. But Laideronnette was not like that, and she only felt a great sorrow in her little heart, and turned away and took her faithful nurse with her; and all the way home towards the Light of Dawn, Laideronnette never spoke a single word.
One day, when Laideronnette was walking in a very shaded valley in the forest, she saw on a tree a big green serpent, who lifted his head and said to her, ‘Laideronnette, you are not the only unhappy person; look at my horrible form, and I was born more beautiful than you.’ The Princess was so terrified to hear a serpent talk that she fled away and remained in her room for days, in case she should see or meet the green serpent again.
Eventually Laideronnette got tired of being shut up in her room all day alone, so one evening she came down and went to the edge of the sea, bewailing all the time her awful loneliness and her sad destiny, when suddenly she saw coming towards her over the waves a little barque of a thousand different colours and designs on its sides. The sail was beautifully embroidered in gold, and the Princess became very curious to see all the beauties that the barque must contain inside.
She made her way aboard. Inside she found it lined with lovely velvet, the seats of pure gold and the walls studded with diamonds; then, all of a sudden, the barque turned and went out to sea. The Princess ran up and caught hold of the oars, thinking to get back to her castle; but it was no use: she could do nothing at all. On and on went the barque and the poor little Princess wept bitterly at this new sorrow that had come to her.
‘Magotine is doing me a bad turn again,’ she thought, so she abandoned herself to her fate, hoping that she would die. ‘Just after I was looking forward to a little pleasure in seeing my parents yesterday, comes one catastrophe on another; and now my sister is going to be married to a great Prince. What have I done that I should have to live alone in a desert spot because of my ugliness? Alas! for my company I have only a serpent--who speaks!’
These reflections brought tears from the Princess, and she gazed on every side to see which way death was coming for her. While looking and gazing she saw, approaching on the waves, a serpent, flashing green in the sunlight. He came up to the side of the barque and said: ‘If you are good enough to receive help from a poor Green Serpent, tell me, for I am in a position to save your life.’
‘Death is nothing to me compared to the sight of you,’ cried the Princess; ‘and, if you really want to do me a favour, never show yourself before my eyes again.’
The Green Serpent gave a big sigh (for that is the way of serpents in love), and, without replying at all, he dived to the bottom of the sea.
‘What a horrible monster!’ said the Princess to herself. ‘His body is of a thousand green colours, and he has eyes like fire. I would rather die than that he should save my life. What love can he have for me, and by what right does he speak like a human being?’
Suddenly a voice replied to her thoughts, and it said, ‘Listen, Laideronnette, it is not my fault that I am a Green Serpent; and it will not be for ever; but, I assure you, I am less ugly in my special way than you are in yours. All the same, it is not my wish to pain you; I would comfort you if you would only let me!’
The voice surprised the Princess very much, so sweet was it that she could not hold back her tears. ‘I am not crying because I am afraid to die,’ she answered, ‘but I am hurt enough to weep over my ugliness. I have nothing to live for, why should I cry for fear of dying?’
While she was thus moralising, the little barque that floated with the wind ran into a rock and broke up into pieces, and, when all else had sunk, there remained of the wreck only two little pieces of wood. The poor Princess caught hold of these two little pieces and kept herself afloat; then, happily, her feet touched a rock and she scrambled up on to it.
Alas! what was that coming towards her now but the Green Serpent! As if he knew that she was afraid, he moved away a little, and said: ‘You would be less afraid of me, Laideronnette, if you knew what advantages can be had through me; it is one of the punishments of my destiny, however, that I should frighten every one in the world.’
And with this he threw himself back into the sea, and Laideronnette remained alone on the rock in the middle of the ocean. On whichever side she looked she saw nothing but what would cause her despair; and darkness began to fall, and she had no food to eat, and Laideronnette did not know where to sleep.
‘I thought,’ said she sadly, ‘that I should end my days at the bottom of the sea; but without a doubt this is to be the end; what sea-monster will come to eat me up?’
She crept higher and higher up the rock, and looked out over the sea. Darkness was falling fast, so she took off her dress and covered her head and face in it, so that she could not see the awful things that would pass in the night.
After a long time she fell asleep, and dreamt that she heard the most melodious music, and she tried to persuade herself that she was awake, but in a second she heard a voice singing, as if to her alone:--
’Suffer the love that wounds you:
It is a tender fire.
The love that follows and surrounds you
To your love would aspire.
Banish fear, forgo all grieving:
Love hath joys past all believing.
Suffer the love that wounds you:
It is a tender fire.’
At the end of this song she woke up at once. ‘What happiness or what misfortune threatens me?’ said she. She opened her eyes very carefully, for she was full of fear, expecting to find herself surrounded by monsters from the sea; but, imagine her surprise to find herself in a chamber all glittering with gold! The bed on which she lay was perfect, and the most beautiful to be seen anywhere in the wide world. Laideronnette got up and went out on to a wide balcony, where she saw all the beauties of nature before her. The gardens were full of flowers--flowers that gave out the rarest perfume; fountains splashed everywhere, and were surmounted by lovely figures; and outside the gardens was a wonderful forest green with verdure. The palace and the walls were encrusted with precious stones, the roofs and ceilings were made of pearls, so beautifully done that it was a perfect work of art. From the tower of the palace could be seen beyond the forest a sea calm and placid, just like a sheet of glass, and on the sea floated thousands of little boats with all kinds of different sails, which, when caught by the wind, had the most lovely effect imaginable.
‘Gods, sweet gods!’ cried Laideronnette, ‘what do I see? Where am I? Is it possible that I am in heaven--I who yesterday was in peril in a barque?’ She walked as she spoke, then she stopped; what noise was that she heard in her apartment? She turned and entered her room, and, coming towards her, she saw a hundred little animated pagodas, all of different designs. Some were very beautiful, while others were extremely ugly. In fact there was hardly any difference between the little pagodas and the people who inhabit the world.
The pagoda which now presented itself before Laideronnette was the deputy of the King. It said that sometimes it went travelling all over the world, but was allowed to do so only on one condition: namely, that it did not talk to any one; otherwise the King would not give the necessary permission. On its return it entertained the King by recounting all that it had heard and seen; moreover, it held the most precious secrets of the court. ‘It will be a pleasure to serve you, madam,’ it went on, ‘and everything you want we shall be delighted to get for you; in the meantime we will play for you and dance so that you will have plenty to make you happy.’ And they all began to dance and sing, and play on castanets and tambourines.
When they had finished, the principal pagoda said to the Princess: ‘Listen, madam, these hundred pagodas are here expressly to serve you, and any mortal thing you want in the world you have only to ask for it and it shall be yours at once.’ The little pagodas paused in their movements and came near to Laideronnette, and she saw at a glance that they were simply lovely. Looking inside, she saw that they contained presents for her, some useful and others so beautiful that she could only cry out with joy.
The biggest pagoda, which was a little figure of pure diamonds, then came up to Laideronnette and asked her if she would now like her bath in the little grotto. The Princess walked, between a guard of honour, to the place it pointed to, and there she saw two beautiful baths of crystal, and from them came such a lovely fragrance that Laideronnette could not help remarking about it. Then she asked why there were two bathing places, and they told her that one was for her and the other for the King of the Pagodas.
‘But where is he, then?’ cried Laideronnette. ‘Madam,’ said they, ‘at present he is at the war; but you shall see him on his return.’
The Princess asked them if he was married, and they shook their little top turrets, meaning that he was not. Then they told her that he was so good and kind that he had never found any one good enough to marry.
Laideronnette then undressed herself and got into the bath, and at once the pagodas began to sing and play. Then, when the Princess was ready to come out of her bath, she was given a dress of shining colours, and they all walked before her to her room, where her toilet was made by maids, all of them quaint little pagodas.
The Princess was astounded, and expressed her delight at her great good fortune.
There was not a day that the pagodas did not come and tell her all the news of the courts where they had been in different parts of the world. People plotting for war, others seeking for peace; wives who were unfaithful, old widowers who married wives a thousand times more unsuitable than those they had lost; discovered treasures; favourites at court, and out of it, who had fallen from the coveted seat they occupied; jealous wives, to say nothing at all about husbands; women who flirted, and naughty children;--in fact they told her everything that was going on, to make her happy and to help to pass the time away.
Now one night it happened that the Princess could not sleep, and she lay awake, thinking. At last she said: ‘What is going to happen to me? Shall I always be here? My life is passed more happily than I ever could wish; but, all the same, there is a feeling in my heart that there is something missing.’
‘Ah! Princess,’ said a voice, ‘is it not your own fault? If you would only love me, you would recognise at once that it would be possible to remain in this palace for ever, alone with the one you loved, without ever wishing to leave it.’
‘Which little pagoda is speaking to me now?’ she asked. ‘What dreadful counsel to give me, contrary to all I have been taught in my life!’
‘It is not a pagoda who is talking to you; it is the unhappy King who loves you, madam.’
‘A King who loves me!’ replied the Princess. ‘Has this King eyes, or does he need glasses? Has he not seen that I am the ugliest person in the world?’
‘Yes, I have seen you, madam. All that you are, and all that you may have been, make not the least difference to me. I repeat, I love you.’
The Princess did not speak again, but she spent the rest of the night thinking over this adventure.
Every day on getting up she found new clothes and fresh jewels; it was too much homage, considering she was so ugly.
One night--it must have been the darkest night of the whole year--Laideronnette was asleep, and, on awakening, she felt that some one sat near her bed. The Princess put out her hand to feel, but somebody took her hand and kissed it, and in so doing let teardrops fall upon it. She knew full well that it must be the invisible King.
‘What do you want with me?’ she said. ‘Can I love somebody I have never seen and do not know?’
‘Ah! madam,’ replied he, ‘what pleasure it would give me to be able to fulfil your wish! But the wicked Magotine, who played you such a cruel trick, has done the same to me, for I am condemned to remain thus for seven years; five have already gone by and there remain another two years. You could, if you would, lessen the time and make it pass quickly for me if you would marry me; you will think that what I ask is impossible; but, madam, if you only knew how deep my love is for you, you would never refuse me the favour I ask of you.’
Laideronnette, as I have already said, thought that this invisible King was very sweet, and the love he offered was without a doubt genuine. And, in a moment of pity, she replied that she would like a few days to think over his proposal. So the days passed, and all the time the music went on and the pagodas danced and new presents arrived for her, better than those she had received before. And in the end the Princess made up her mind to marry the invisible King, and she promised to wait to see him until his time of punishment was over and he could take visible shape again.
Then the voice said: ‘The consequences will be terrible for you and for me if your curiosity should overcome you, and I shall have to commence my punishment all over again; but, should you, on the other hand, stay your desire to see me, you will receive that beauty that the wicked Magotine took away from you.’
The Princess, full of this new hope, promised to keep her word to him. But after a while she had a deep desire to see her father and mother again; also her sister and her husband. The pagodas, who knew the road well, conducted the royal family to the castle of Laideronnette’s father and mother; and when she saw them she nearly died of joy.
Her mother and her sister questioned Laideronnette about her husband, and Laideronnette remembered what her husband had told her; she did not like to tell her people the truth, so she told them that he was at the war fighting, and that he did not like seeing people. But her mother and sister chaffed her about him, and at last Laideronnette said that the wicked Magotine had punished him for seven years, that two remained to be finished, and that she had married him without ever having seen him; but that he was a charming person and his conversation proved the fact, and that if she held her curiosity until the two years were up, she would regain all the beauty that the fairy Magotine had taken from her.
‘Ah!’ replied her mother, ‘is it possible that you are such a simpleton as to believe all those tales? Your husband is a huge monster; he is the King of monkeys truly.’
‘I know full well,’ replied Laideronnette, ‘that he is the god of Love himself.’
‘What a terrible mistake!’ screamed the Queen Bellote.
The poor Princess was so confused and upset that, after giving them the presents, she resolved to go and see her husband. Ah, fatal curiosity! She took a little lamp with her that she might be able to see him the better. What was her surprise when, instead of Love, she saw the Green Serpent! He drew himself up in rage and sorrow:
‘O wicked one!’ cried he; ‘is this the return for all my love for you?’
Now Magotine, knowing that Laideronnette and the Green Serpent were in trouble, came to add to their sorrow and taunt them. She took away, with one wave of her wand, all the lovely castles and fountains and gardens. And Laideronnette, seeing all that she had done, was very troubled. So, during the night, Laideronnette deplored her sad fate. Then, high up near the stars, she saw coming towards her the Green Serpent.
‘I always make you afraid,’ he cried; ‘but you are infinitely dear to me.’
‘Is it you, Serpent, dear lover; is it you?’ cried Laideronnette. ‘Can you forgive me for my fatal curiosity?’
‘Ah! how the sorrow of absence troubles this loving heart!’ replied the Serpent, with never a word of reproach to Laideronnette for her broken promise.
Magotine, now, was one of those fairies who never slept at all: the wish to do harm and never to miss the chance kept her awake; and she did not fail to hear the conversation between the King Serpent and his spouse; and she came down upon them in a fury.
‘Now then, Green Serpent,’ said she, ‘I order you for your punishment to go right to the good Proserpine, and give her my compliments.’
The poor Green Serpent went at once with great sighs, leaving the Queen in sorrow. And Laideronnette cried out:
‘What crime have we committed now, you wicked Magotine? I am certain that the poor King, whom you have sent to the bottomless pit of hell, was as innocent as I myself am; but let me die: it is the least you can do.’
‘You would be too happy,’ said Magotine, ‘were I to listen and grant you your wish. I will send you to the bottom of the sea.’ So saying, she took the poor Princess to the top of the highest mountain and tied a mill-stone about her neck, telling her that she was to go down and bring enough Water of Discretion to fill up her great big glass. The Princess said that it was absolutely impossible to carry all that water.
‘If you do not,’ said Magotine, ‘you may rest assured that your Green Serpent will suffer more.’
This threat caused the Queen to think of her utter feebleness. She began to walk, but, alas! it was useless. Oh! if the Fairy Protectress would only help her! Loudly she called, and lo! there stood the good fairy by her side.
‘See,’ said she, ‘to what a pass your fatal curiosity has brought you!’ So saying, she took her to the top of the mountain; she gave her a little carriage drawn by two white mice and told them to descend the mountain. Then she gave the little mice a vessel to fill up with the Water of Discretion for Magotine, and produced a little pair of iron shoes for Laideronnette to put on. She counselled her not to remain on the mountain and not to stay by the fountain, but to go into a little wood and to remain there three years, for then Magotine would think that she was getting the water or that she had perished in the awful perils of the voyage.
Laideronnette kissed and embraced the good Fairy Protectress, and thanked her a thousand times for her great favours. ‘But, madam,’ said Laideronnette, ‘all the joys that you have given me will not lessen the sorrow of not having my Green Serpent.’
‘He will come to you after you have been three years in the wood in the mountain,’ said the fairy; ‘and on your return you can give the water to Magotine.’
Laideronnette promised the fairy not to forget anything she had told her. So, when she got into her carriage, the mice took her to get the water, and afterwards they went to the wood that the fairy had told them about. There never was a more lovely place. Fruit hung on all the branches; and there were long avenues where the sun could not pierce; thousands of little fountains splashed, but the most wonderful thing of all was, that all the animals could speak.
Three years passed, and the time had now arrived for her departure with the water for Magotine. So Laideronnette told all the animals that she was sorry to leave them, and tears fell from her eyes, because she was so touched with the kindness they all had shown her.
She did not forget the vessel full of the Water of Discretion, nor the little shoes of iron that the good fairy had given her; and, just when Magotine thought her dead, she presented herself all of a sudden before her, the stones around her neck, the shoes of iron on her feet, and the vessel full of water in her hand.
Magotine on seeing her cried out in surprise. Where had she come from?
‘Madam,’ said Laideronnette, ‘I passed three years in trying to get this water for you.’
Magotine roared with laughter when she thought of the awful job this poor Queen must have had to get it; but she regarded her attentively.
‘What is it that I see?’ she cried to Laideronnette, who had changed greatly. ‘How did you become so beautiful?’
Laideronnette told her that she had washed in the Water of Discretion, and that was how she had become beautiful.
Magotine, on hearing this, threw the water on the ground. ‘I will be avenged,’ said she. ‘Go down to the bottomless pit and ask Proserpine to give you the Essence of Long Life for me; I am always afraid of falling ill and dying. When you have done this you will be free. But mind you do not upset any; neither may you drink the tiniest drop.
The poor Queen, on hearing this new order, was terribly cut up. She began to cry; and Magotine, seeing this, was delighted. ‘Go on, get away!’ said she. ‘Do not lose one moment.’
Laideronnette walked for a long time without finding the right path, turning first one way and then the other; then suddenly she saw the Fairy Protectress, who said to her:
‘Do you know, beautiful Queen, that by the orders of Magotine your husband is to remain as he is until you take the Essence of Life to that wicked fairy?’
‘I am yet a long way away,’ said Laideronnette.
‘Here,’ said the Fairy Protectress, ‘see, here is a branch of a tree: touch the earth and repeat this verse distinctly.’
The Queen once again kissed the knees of this really good and generous fairy, and at the same time repeated after her:
’Thou who all malice canst disarm,
Protect me as I rove!
Deliver me from all who harm,
But not from him I love.
For, if devoured I am to be,
He is my monster--none but he!’
And immediately, in answer to her prayer, a little boy more beautiful than any in heaven or earth came up to her. On his head was a garland of flowers, and in his hand a bow and arrow. The Queen knew at once that it was Love. He said to her:
‘You appeal to me so tenderly that I deserted the heavens.’
Love, who sang beautifully in verse, gave three knocks while singing this song:
’Earth, listen and my voice obey.
It is Love who speaks: reveal the way!’
The earth obeyed: a path opened up, and Love took Laideronnette under his protection; and so they arrived at the mouth of hell. She expected to see her husband in the form of a serpent, but he had just finished his terrible punishment. The first thing that Laideronnette saw was indeed her husband; but she had never seen such a charming figure, nor any one so handsome; and neither had he seen any one so beautiful as she had become. Then the Queen said with extreme tenderness:
’Destiny! I bend the knee
To thee and thy decree:
If he must dwell in deepest hell
He dwelleth there with me,
For e’en in hell I’ll love him well
For all eternity.’
The King was full of joy and love, and showed it by the way he kissed her. Love, however, never did believe in wasting time, so he took the Queen to Proserpine. The Queen gave the compliments of the fairy Magotine, and begged her to give her the Essence of Long Life. Love took it and handed it to her, telling her not to forget the penalty that she had paid for her curiosity, and to take every care this time. He would never leave them again. He conducted them to the fairy Magotine, and then, so that Magotine should not see him, he hid in their hearts.
During this time the fairy Magotine was so impressed with the beauty of human feelings, that she received the poor unfortunate King and Queen with some feeling of generosity. She gave them back the lovely palace with all the good things that they had before, and made the King head of the pagodas again. So they went home, and all the great sorrows that they had passed through they soon forgot in the greater joy of each other.