THERE was once a king's daughter who was so beautiful that nothing in the whole world could be compared with her. And because she was so beautiful they called her Princess Goldilocks; for her hair was finer than gold, wonderfully fair, and it fell in ringlets to her feet. Her only covering for her head was her curly hair and a garland of flowers; her dresses were embroidered with diamonds and pearls; and no one could look on her without loving her.
In a neighbouring country there lived a young king who was not married, and who was very handsome and very rich. When the fame of fair Goldilocks reached him, before he had ever set eyes on her he was already so much in love that he could neither eat nor drink for thinking of her. He determined to send an ambassador to ask her hand in marriage. He had a magnificent coach made for the occasion; and, giving the ambassador more than a hundred horses and lackeys, he charged him well to bring the princess borne with him.
When the ambassador had taken leave of the king and had gone away, no thing was spoken of at the court but his mission; and the king, who felt assured of Goldilock's consent, had beautiful dresses made for her, and wonderful fittings for the palace. While the workmen were making preparations anent her coming, the ambassador reached her court and delivered his message. But whether she was not in a good humour that day, or whether the offer was not to her liking, she told the messenger that she thanked the king but that she had no desire to marry.
The ambassador left the princess's court very down-hearted at not being able to bring her home with him. He took back all the gifts the king had sent her; for she had been well brought up, and knew that girls should not accept Presents from boys. So she would not take the fine diamonds and all the rest of the things; but, so as not to give offence, she accepted a little packet of English pins.
When the ambassador reached the king's capital, where he was waited for with the greatest impatience, everybody was in deep distress because fair Goldilocks was not with him. The king began to cry like a child, and it was in vain they tried to comfort him. Now at the court was a young lad, who was fair as the day, and indeed in the whole kingdom there was no one so handsome. His charms and his ready wit earned him his name of Avenant. Everybody liked him except those who were jealous that the king showed him favour and made him his daily confidant.
Avenant, hearing them speak of the ambassador's return and of how his embassy had been in vain, said, without thinking very much what he was saying: "If the king had sent me to Princess Goldilocks I am sure she would have come back with me." Then the mischief-makers hastened to the king and said to him: "Your majesty, what do you think Avenant has been saying?--That if you had sent him to the princess he would have brought her back! Who ever heard of such impudence? He thinks he is handsomer than you, and that she would have fallen so much in love with him that she would have followed him anywhere." And now the king flew into such a furious passion that he lost all control of himself. "Ha! ha!" said he. "This spoilt monkey laughs at my misfortune! He thinks he is the better man! Go; shut him up in my great tower, and let him die of hunger."
The king's guards went to fetch Avenant, who by this time had forgotten entirely what he had said, and dragged him to prison with all kinds of violence. The poor boy had only a miserable heap of straw for a bed; and he would have died had it not been for a little stream that flowed along through the bottom of the tower, and of which he drank a little to cool his mouth, which was parched by hunger.
One day, when he was sighing in despair, he was saying, "What does the king blame me for? He has not a more loyal subject than myself, and I have never done him any harm," the king passed hard by the tower. Hearing the voice of him whom he had loved so much, he stopped to listen, in spite of the efforts of those who were with him, who, hating Avenant, said: "Why does your majesty waste your time? Do you not know he is a rascal?" But the king answered: "Let me alone. I want to listen." At the sound of his laments, tears filled the king's eyes, and he opened the door of the tower and called him. Avenant came forward in deep distress, and, throwing himself on his knees and kissing the king's feet, he said: "What have I done that your majesty should treat me so cruelly?" "You laughed at me and at my ambassador," said the king. "You said that if I had sent you to the Princess Goldilocks you would have brought her back." "It is true, your majesty," replied Avenant, "that I should have made her so thoroughly realise your good qualities that I feel sure she would not have refused her consent, and in saying that I said nothing that should have displeased you." The king saw that, after all, Avenant was in the right, and, looking with contempt on those who had slandered his favourite, took him away with him, deeply repenting all he had made him suffer.
After having regaled him with a fine supper, he called him into his private room, and said: "Avenant, I am still in love with fair Goldilocks, but I don't know what to do to gain her consent. I should like to send you to see if you could succeed." Avenant replied that he was ready to obey him in everything, and that he would set out next day. "Ah," said the king, "but I wish to have a fine equipage prepared for you." "That is not needful," he answered. "I want only a good horse and letters from you." The king embraced him, so delighted was he with his eagerness to set out.
It was on a Monday morning he took leave of the king and of his friends to go on his errand, all by himself quite simply and quietly. He did nothing but think of the means he would use to persuade Goldilocks to marry the king. In his pocket he carried a writing tablet, and when a pretty thought occurred to him for his speech, he got off his horse and sat down under the trees to write, so that it might not go out of his head. One morning he had set out at the first streak of day. While he was crossing a wide plain a very pretty conceit came into his head. So he alighted, and leaned up against the willow trees and poplars on the banks of the little spring that flowed by the side of the meadow. After he had written down his thought he was looking all round, delighted at being in such a beautiful spot, when he saw on the grass a great golden carp, panting, and at the last gasp. While trying to catch the little flies, it had jumped so far out of the water that it had fallen on the grass, and now it lay there like to die. Avenant was sorry for it; and though it was a fast-day, and he might well have taken it for his dinner, instead of doing so he put it back gently into the stream. As soon as Mother Carp touched the cool water she recovered her spirits. She let herself be carried down to the bottom; and then, coming gaily up to the surface again, she said: "Avenant, I thank you for the kindness you have just shown me. But for you I should have died. You have saved my life, and I shall do as much for you one day." With these few words of good omen she plunged into the water, leaving Avenant in great astonishment at such intelligence and such politeness in a carp.
Another day, when he was going on his way, he saw a crow in great distress. The poor bird was being pursued by a huge eagle. Now, eagles feed greedily on crows, and this one was just on the point of seizing his victim, whom he would have swallowed like a lentil, had not Avenant taken pity on the bird's distress "There," said he, "see how the strong oppress the weak. What right has the eagle to eat the crow?" With his bow and arrow, which he always carried with him, he took good aim at the eagle--and then, crack! he shot the arrow into its body and pierced it through and through. It fell dead; and the crow, in great glee, perched itself on a tree, saying: "Avenant, it was most generous of you to come to the aid of a poor crow like me. But I shall not be ungrateful. I'll do as much for you one day."
Avenant, in some surprise at the gratitude of the crow, went on his way. Entering a large wood, while it was yet so early that he could hardly see his way, he heard despairing cries from an owl. "Dear me!" he said, "here is an owl in distress. It must have got caught in some nets." Looking round on every side, at length he saw great nets that the fowlers had spread during the night to catch little birds. "How sad," said he, "that men are only made to torment each other, or to persecute poor animals that do them no harm or injury of any kind!" So saying, he took out his knife and cut the cords. The owl sprang up, but came down again quickly to say: "Avenant, there is no need for many words on my part to make you understand the obligation I am under to you. It speaks for itself. The fowlers would have come and caught me, and without your aid I should have died. I have a grateful heart, and I shall do as much for you one day."
Such were the three adventures of any importance that happened to Avenant on his journey. He was so eager to reach his destination that he did not loiter on his way to the palace of fair Goldilocks. Everything there was wonderful to look at. There were diamonds lying in heaps as if they had been but stones. The dresses, the silver, the sweetmeats--everything was marvellous; and he thought to himself that if she left it all to come with him, his master, the king, would be very lucky. He put on a doublet of brocade, with pink and white feathers in his hat. He dressed and powdered his hair, and washed his face. Round his neck was tied an embroidered scarf, with a little basket attached, and in it a pretty little dog he had bought while passing through Boulogne. Avenant was so handsome, so beautiful to look on, all his movements were so full of grace, that when he presented himself at the palace gate the guards saluted him humbly, and sent in haste to announce to Princess Goldilocks that Avenant, ambassador from the king, her nearest neighbour, requested to see her.
At the name of Avenant the princess said: "That name has a pleasant sound. I feel sure he is handsome, and that everybody likes him." "You say truly, madam," said all the maids-of-honour; "we saw him from the loft when we were arranging your flax, and all the time he was standing under the windows we couldn't do anything but look at him." "Well, that is a fine occupation," replied fair Goldilocks, "to amuse yourselves by gazing at boys! Now then, I want my best embroidered blue satin gown. My fair hair must be curled. Let me have garlands of fresh flowers, and fetch my high-heeled shoes and my fan. And tell them to sweep out my room and my throne; for it is my desire that he shall tell everywhere that I am in truth fair Goldilocks."
And now all her maids made speed to dress her like a queen. They were in such a hurry that they knocked against each other and made but little progress. At last the princess passed into her gallery, with the great mirrors, to see if nothing were lacking in her appearance. Then she ascended her throne, made of gold and ivory and ebony, the scent of which was like balm, and she told her damsels to take instruments and to sing quite softly so that the sound might jar on no one's ears.
Avenant was led to the audience chamber, where he stood so dazzled with admiration that, as he has often said since then, he could hardly speak. Nevertheless he plucked up courage and delivered his speech beautifully, begging the princess that he might not have the disappointment of returning without her. "Gentle Avenant," she said, "all the reasons which you have just given me are excellent, and I assure you I would most willingly do more for you than for another. But you must know that a month ago I was in a boat on the river with all my ladies, when, as they were serving me with luncheon, in taking off my glove, I slipped a ring from my finger, which unluckily fell into the river. It was more precious to me than my kingdom, and I leave you to judge what sorrow its loss caused me. I vowed never to listen to any proposal of marriage till the ambassador who brings it restores my ring. And now think what you have before you, for, were you to speak to me for fifteen days and fifteen nights, you could not persuade me to change my mind."
Avenant was much surprised at this answer. Making her a profound bow, he begged her to accept the little dog, the basket, and the scarf. But she said she wished for no gifts, and charged him to think of what she had just told him.
Returning to his own dwelling, he went supperless to bed, and his little dog, Cabriole, would not eat anything either, and came and lay down beside him. All through the night Avenant never ceased his sighs. "How could I find a ring that fell into a great river a month ago?" he said. "It is nothing but folly to make the attempt. The princess only spoke of it to me to make it impossible for me to obey her." And he sighed in deep distress. Cabriole, listening all the while, said: "My dear master, I beg you not to be down-hearted about your luck. You are too good not to be happy. Let us go as soon as it is day to the river-side." Avenant stretched out his hand to pat him once or twice and returned no other answer. At last, quite overcome with his sorrow, he fell asleep.
When daylight came Cabriole began to cut capers as soon as he awoke. "My master," he said, "get dressed and come out." Avenant had no objection. Getting up, he dressed and went down into the garden, and from the garden he turned his steps unconsciously to the river-side, where he walked along with his hat over his eyes and his arms crossed. All at once he heard a voice calling "Avenant, Avenant!" Looking all round, and seeing no one, he thought it must have been fancy. He went on walking, and again the voice called: "Avenant, Avenant!" "Who is calling me?" he said. Cabriole, who was very little and who was peering into the water, answered him: "Never again believe what I say if it is not a golden carp I see". Then the big carp appeared and said to him: "You saved my life in the beam-tree meadow, where I should have remained a captive but for you. I promised to do as much for you one day. Well then, dear Avenant, here is fair Goldilock's ring." And Avenant, stooping down, took it out of Mistress Carp's gullet, thanking her over and over again.
Instead of going home he went straight to the palace with little Cabriole, who was very glad he had brought his master to the river-side. The princess was told he wished to see her. "Alas!" she said. "Poor boy! he is coming to bid me farewell. He thinks that what I ask is an impossibility, and he is going home to tell his master so." Avenant, on being announced, presented the ring to her, saying: "Princess, I have fulfilled your command. Will it please you to accept the king, my master, as your husband?" When she saw the ring, the very ring she had lost, she was so astonished, so astonished, that she thought she must be dreaming. "In truth," she said, "dear Avenant, you must be some fairy's favourite, for by yourself it would have been impossible." "Madam," he answered, "I know no fairy, but I had a great wish to obey you." "Then, since you are so willing," she went on, "you must do me another service; otherwise, I shall never marry. Not far from here there is a prince called Galifron, who has taken it into his head that he wants to marry me. He announced his intention to me with fearful threats that, should I refuse, he would lay waste my kingdom. But could I accept him, think you? He is a giant, taller than a high tower, and thinks no more of eating a man than a monkey would think of eating a chestnut. When he goes to the country he carries little cannons in his pockets, which he uses instead of pistols, and when he speaks very loud those that are near him are struck deaf. I told him I did not wish to marry, and asked to be excused; yet, he has never left off persecuting me, and he kills all my subjects. The first thing to be done, therefore, is for you to fight him and to bring me his head."
Avenant was somewhat stunned by this proposal. He turned it over in his mind for a little while, and then said: "Well, madam, I shall fight against Galifron. I think I shall be beaten, but I shall die like a brave man." The princess was much surprised, and told him all kinds of things to prevent his undertaking the enterprise, but in vain; so he withdrew in order to fetch his armour and all that should be necessary. When he had found all he wanted, he put little Cabriole in his basket, mounted his good horse, and set out for the country of Galifron. He questioned those he met on the way about the prince, and everybody told him he was a real demon, and no one dared go near him. The more he heard this, the more frightened did he become. Cabriole reassured him, saying: "My dear master, while you are fighting, I shall bite his legs. Then he will bend his head to chase me away, and you will kill him." Avenant admired the little dog's spirit, though he knew his help would not avail.
At last he arrived near Galifron's castle. All the roads were covered with the bones and the carcasses of the men he had eaten or torn to pieces. He did not have long to wait for him, for he saw him coming through a wood, his head over-topping the tallest trees, and heard him singing in a terrible voice:--
"Ho, bring me for lunch
Fat babies to crunch;
Not few and not lean,
Or my appetite keen
You will not satisfy,
So hungry am I!"
Avenant immediately began to sing to the same air:--
"Here see Avenant stand
With his spear in his hand,
In humour defiant
Though he isn't a giant,
For there's never a doubt
But he'll tear your teeth out".
The rhymes were not very regular, but then he had made the song in a great hurry, and it is a wonder it was not much worse even, so terribly afraid was he. When Galifron heard these words he looked all round and saw Avenant with his spear in his hand calling him names, one after the other, to make him angry. This was not necessary, for he flew into a terrible passion, and, taking a heavy bar of iron, would have felled Avenant with one stroke had not the crow perched itself on the top of his head, and, making a dart at his eyes, torn them out with its beak. The blood flowed down his face, and like a madman he struck out on all sides. Avenant parried the blows, and with great force he plunged his spear into the giant again and again up to the hilt, wounding him terribly, and causing him to fall from the blood he lost. Then he hacked off Galifron's head, in great spirits at his good fortune, while the raven, who was perched on a tree, spoke thus: "I have not forgotten the service you did me in killing the eagle that pursued me. I promised to pay my debt, and I think I have done so to-day." "It is I who am the debtor, Sir Raven," replied Avenant, "and I remain your servant." Then, putting the horrible head of Galifron on the horse, he rode away.
When he reached the town everybody ran after him, crying: "Here comes brave Avenant, the slayer of the monster!" so that the princess, who heard the noise quite well, and who trembled lest they should come to tell her of the death of Avenant, did not dare to ask what had happened. But Avenant came in bearing the giants head, which still struck terror into her, although there was no longer cause for fear. "Madam," he said, "your enemy is dead. I hope you will no longer refuse the king, my master." "Yes, indeed, I will," said fair Goldilocks. "I still refuse him, unless you are able, before I go away, to fetch me some water from the Dark Grotto. Near here there is a deep cavern fully six leagues in circumference. The entrance is barred by two dragons with fire coming out of their eyes and mouths. Once inside you have to go down into a great hole, full of toads and adders and serpents. At the bottom of this hole is a little cave through which there flows the stream of Beauty and of Health. A miracle happens to whoever washes with this water. If you are beautiful, you will always be so; if you are ugly, you grow fair. If you are young, you never grow any older; if you are old, you grow young. You can understand, Avenant, that I could not leave my kingdom without taking a supply of this water with me."
"Madam," he answered, "you are already so beautiful that this water is altogether useless to you. But I am an unlucky ambassador, whose death you seek. I go to search for what you desire, well assured that I shall return no more."
Fair Goldilocks did not change her mind, and Avenant set out with his little dog Cabriole for the Dark Grotto to search for the water of Beauty. All who met him on the way said what a pity it was to see so fair a youth going recklessly to his death. "He goes to the grotto by himself, but were he to go a hundred strong he would never succeed. Why does the princess ask such impossible things?" Avenant went on his way, without saying a word, but he was sad at heart.
When he had climbed to the top of a mountain he sat down to rest for a little, letting his horse graze and Cabriole run after the flies. He knew the Dark Grotto was not far off, and he looked to see if it were not in sight. At last he saw, first a hideous rock black as ink, out of which a thick smoke was coming, and after a moment one of the dragons that shot fire from their mouths and eyes. Its body was yellow and green. It had great claws, and a long tail curled into hundreds of twists. When Cabriole saw all this he was so terrified that he did not know where to hide.
Avenant, quite resigned to death, drew his spear, and went down with a phial which the Princess Goldilocks had given him to fill with the water of Beauty. To his little dog Cabriole he said: "My end is near! I can never get that water which is guarded by the dragons. When I am dead fill this bottle with my blood, and take it to the princess that she may see what her errand has cost me. Then repair to the king, my master, and tell him of my unhappy fate." While he was saying these words he heard a voice calling him: "Avenant, Avenant!" "Who is calling me?" he asked. He saw an owl in the hollow of an old tree, who said to him: "You extricated me from the fowlers' nets in which I was caught, and you saved my life. I promised to do as much for you one day. Now the time has come. Give me your phial. I know all the paths through the Dark Grotto, and I will fetch the water of Beauty for you." Here was good news for Avenant, as you may believe, and he gave him the bottle in haste. The owl entered the grotto without hindrance, and in less than a quarter of an hour he came back carrying the bottle well corked. Avenant, delighted, thanked him with all his heart, and, climbing the hill, again took the way to the town with a glad heart.
Going straight to the palace, he presented the phial to fair Goldilocks, who had nothing more to say. She thanked Avenant, gave all the necessary orders for her departure, and then set out on her journey with him. He seemed to her very charming, and she would sometimes say: "If you had been willing I should have made you king, and need never have left my kingdom." But he answered; "I would not do such a wrong to my master for all the kingdoms of the earth, though I think you lovelier than the sun."
At last they reached the capital, where the king, knowing that the Princess Goldilocks was coming, came to meet her with the fairest gifts in the world. Such great rejoicing was there at their wedding that nothing else was spoken of. But fair Goldilocks, who at the bottom of her heart loved Avenant, was never happy but when she saw him, and his praises were ever on her tongue. "I should never have been here had it not been for Avenant," she said to the king. "He had to perform impossible feats for me, and you owe him a great deal. He gave me the water of Beauty, so I shall never grow old, and I shall be beautiful for ever."
Envious people, listening to the queen's words, said to the king: "You are not jealousy but you have good reason to be. The queen is so much in love with Avenant that she can neither eat nor drink. She does nothing but speak of him and of the obligations you are under to him, as if anyone else whom you might have sent would not have done as much." "I believe you are right," said the king. "Let him be cast into the tower, and irons put on his feet and hands." There Avenant saw no one but the gaoler, who used to throw him a bit of black bread through a hole, and give him some water in an earthen dish, but his little dog Cabriole stayed with him to comfort him, and brought him all the news.
When fair Goldilocks heard of Avenant's disgrace she threw herself at the king's feet, and, weeping bitterly, begged him to let Avenant go free. But the more she pleaded the more angry grew the king, thinking that she loved Avenant. He would not relent, so she stopped speaking of the matter, but her heart was very sad.
It occurred to the king that Perhaps she did not think him handsome enough, and he had a strong desire to rub his face with the water of Beauty, in order that the queen might love him better that she did at present. This water stood in the bottle on the edge of the mantelshelf in the queen's room. She had put it there so that she might the oftener look at it. But one of the housemaids when killing a spider with a broom, unfortunately knocked clown the bottle, which was broken and all the water spilt. She swept away the traces quickly, and, at her wits' end what to do, she remembered that she had seen in the king's private room a bottle just like it, full of a clear liquid like the water of Beauty. Without saying a word to anybody, she managed to get hold of it, and placed it on the queen's mantelshelf.
Now the water in the king's room was for causing the death of princes and great lords when they had committed crimes. Instead of beheading or hanging them, their faces were rubbed with this water, and they fell asleep and woke no more. One evening, therefore, the king took the bottle and rubbed his face well with the contents. Then he fell asleep, and he died. The little dog Cabriole was the first to learn what had happened, and did not fail to go and tell Avenant, who asked him to go to Princess Goldilocks and beg her to take thought of the poor prisoner.
Cabriole slipped quietly through the crowd, for there was great confusion at the court owing to the king's death. "Madam," he said to the queen, "do not forget poor Avenant." She bethought herself of the sufferings he had undergone on her account, and of his great faithfulness. Without saying a word to anyone, she went out and made straight for the tower, where, with her own hands, she took off the irons from Avenant's hands and feet. Then, placing a golden crown on his head and the royal robes on his shoulders, she said: "Come, dear Avenant, I make you a king, and take you for my husband”. Throwing himself at her feet, he poured out his gratitude. Everyone was delighted to own him for their master. Never was there such a wedding feast, and the Princess Goldilocks and fair Avenant lived long together in peace and happiness.