ONCE upon a time there was a king who was very powerful, and at the same time very gentle, and greatly loved by his people, but his neighbour the Emperor Matapa was even more powerful than he. They had carried on great wars with each other; in the last the emperor won an important battle, and having killed or made prisoner the greater part of the king's captains and soldiers, laid siege to his capital city, took it, and made himself master of all the treasure it contained. The king had scarcely time to save himself and his sister the queen-dowager, a young widow possessing wit and beauty, hut of a haughty, passionate and unsympathetic disposition.
The emperor transferred the king's jewels and furniture to his own palace he brought away with him a great number of soldiers, young girls, horses, and many things that he might find useful or that might please him. When he had laid waste the larger part of the conquered kingdom, he returned to his own, where he was joyfully welcomed by the empress and his daughter.
But the conquered king did not patiently submit to the indignity that had been put upon him. He assembled a few troops, out of which he formed a small army, and to increase it, published a decree, enacting that the gentlemen of the kingdom should serve in person, or send one of their children; they were to be well provided with arms and horses, and must be willing to support all his undertakings.
Near the frontier lived an old nobleman eighty years of age, of great wisdom and intelligence, but fortune had treated him so ill that after possessing great wealth he was reduced to comparative poverty; he would have endured it patiently had it not been for his three beautiful daughters. They were too sensible to grumble at their misfortunes, and if by chance they spoke of them to their father, it was rather to console him than to add to his troubles.
They were living a quiet, unambitious life under their rustic roof when the king's edict reached the ears of the old man; he called his daughters, and looking sadly at them, said: "What are we to do? The king commands every person of rank in his kingdom to serve against the emperor, or failing obedience, he condemns them to pay a heavy fine. I cannot pay the tax; thus I am in a terrible case; it means death or ruin." His three daughters were as distressed as he was, but they entreated their father to take courage, because they felt sure they would he able to discover some remedy for his trouble.
In fact, the next morning the eldest sought her father, who was walking sadly in his orchard. "Sir," she said, "I come to beg you to let me join the army; I am of tall stature, and fairly strong; I will accoutre myself like a man, and can pass for your son; if I do not perform heroic deeds, I shall at least save you the journey or the tax." The count kissed her tenderly, and at first opposed such an extraordinary plan; but with great firmness, she pointed out that she saw no other remedy, and at last he consented.
It was then merely a question of providing her with a costume suitable to the part she was to play. Her father gave her arms, and the best horse of the four that served for the labour of the farm; the farewells and regrets were tender on all sides. After travelling for several days, she passed alongside a meadow, bordered by quick-set hedges. She saw a shepherdess in great trouble, trying to get one of her sheep out of a ditch into which it had fallen. "What are you doing, my good shepherdess?" she said. "Alas!" replied the shepherdess, I'm trying to save my sheep which is drowning, and I'm so weak that I have not strength enough to pull it out." "I pity you," she said, and without offering to help her, went off. The shepherdess at once cried out: "Farewell, beautiful girl!" Our heroine's surprise cannot be expressed. "How," said she, "can she possibly recognise me? The old shepherdess scarcely saw me for a moment, and she knows I am disguised; what am I to do? I shall be recognised by every one, and if the king finds me out, how ashamed and angry I shall be! He will think my father a coward, who tries to avoid danger." Upon reflection, she thought it best to return home.
The earl and his daughters were speaking of her, and counting the days since her departure, when she entered; she told them of her adventure, and her father said he had foreseen it. If she had taken his advice she would never have started, for it is impossible not to recognise a girl in disguise. This threw the whole family into fresh embarrassment. they did not know what to do, when the second girl in her turn sought the count. "My sister," she said, "had never ridden on horseback, and it is not surprising that she should have been recognised; if you let me go instead, I promise you will have no reason to regret it."
Nothing the old man could say in opposition to her plan was of the least avail. He therefore consented to her departure; she wore a different costume, took other arms, and rode another horse. Thus equipped, she embraced her father and sisters over and over again, resolved on serving the king well; but passing by the same meadow where her sister had seen the shepherdess, she also saw the sheep at the bottom of a ditch, and the shepherdess occupied in pulling it out, "Unfortunate shepherdess that I am!" she exclaimed, "half of my flock has perished in this manner; if some one would help me I could save this poor animal; hut every one avoids me." "What I shepherdess, said the girl, "you take so little care of your sheep that you let them fall into the water!" and without offering further consolation she put spurs to her horse.
The old woman shouted with all her might: "Farewell, lovely girl!'' These few words distressed our amazon in no slight degree. "How unlucky "she said, "I, too, am recognised; I am no more fortunate than my sister, and it would be ridiculous for me to join the army with so feminine an appearance that everybody would recognise me." She at once returned to her father's house, very sad at the ill-success of her journey.
He welcomed her kindly, and praised her prudence in returning: but that did not prevent their troubles beginning again with as much force as ever already they had cost them the material of two useless costumes and many smaller things. The good old man grieved in secret because he did not wish his daughters to witness his sorrow.
At last the youngest entreated him most urgently to grant her the same favour as he granted her sisters. "Perhaps," she said, "it is presumptuous on my part to hope for better success than they; but still I should like to try my luck. I am taller than they; you know I hunt every day, and the exercise has given me some talent for war, and my great desire to lessen your troubles endows me with extraordinary courage." The count loved her much more than her two sisters; she looked after him so well that he regarded her as his one consolation; she read interesting stories to amuse him, and watched over him when he was ill, and all the game she killed was only for him, so that he used even stronger arguments to dissuade her from her plan than those he had used with regard to her sisters. "Will you leave me, my dear daughter?" he said. "Your absence would cause my death; even if fortune favoured you, and you returned covered with laurels, I should not have the pleasure of seeing your triumph, for my advanced age, and the lack of your sweet presence, will end my days." "No, my father," said Belle-Belle, as they called her, "do not think I shall be long away; the war must come to an end: if I saw any other means of satisfying the king's commands I should be glad enough; for let me confess to you, if my going away causes you trouble, it gives me even more." He at last let her have her way. She made herself a very simple costume; those of her sisters had cost so much, and the count was so poor, that she was obliged to take a wretched horse because her sisters had lamed the others; she was not, however, at all discouraged. She embraced her father, received his blessing, and after mingling her tears with those of her father and sisters, departed.
Passing through the meadow of which I have already spoken, she found the old shepherdess, who was still trying to pull a sheep out of the ditch. "What are you doing, shepherdess?" said Belle-Belle, stopping. "I am doing nothing, sir," replied the shepherdess; "since daybreak I've been busy about this sheep. My labours are of no avail, and I'm so tired that I can scarcely breathe; every day some new misfortune happens to me, and no one comes to my assistance."
"Truly, I pity you," said Belle-Belle, "and to prove my compassion I will help you." She dismounted, and her horse was so docile that she did not tie him up to prevent his running away; then, jumping over the hedge, she set to work so bravely that she soon rescued the sheep. "Do not weep, my good mother," she said to the shepherdess; "here is your sheep, and considering the length of time he has been in the water, he seems pretty cheerful."
"You have done a kindness to one who will not be ungrateful. I recognise you, lovely Belle-Belle. I know where you are going and all your plans. Your sisters passed by this meadow. I recognised them too, and knew what was in their minds. But they seemed so hard-hearted, and their behaviour to me was so ungracious, that I took measures to prevent them continuing their journey. You have acted very differently, and you will profit by it, Belle-Belle, for I am a fairy and am glad to heap benefits on those who are deserving. Your horse is horribly skinny; I will give you another." She touched the ground with her crook, and Belle-Belle immediately heard the sound of neighing behind a bush. She looked, and perceived the most beautiful horse imaginable. He began to run and leap in the meadow. Belle-Belle, who loved horses, was delighted to see one so perfect in every way. The fairy called the beautiful steed, and touching it with her crook, said: "Faithful Comrade, be better caparisoned than the Emperor Matapa's best horse". Immediately Comrade had a saddle cloth of green velvet embroidered with diamonds and rubies, a saddle to match, and a bridle of pearls, with gold bosses and bit; indeed, nothing more magnificent could possibly be found.
"What you see," said the fairy, "is the least that is to be admired in this horse. He has many talents that I must point out to you. Firstly, he only eats once a-week, and there is no need to groom him; he knows the past, the present, and the future; moreover, he has been long in my service. I have educated him as if for myself. When you want information on any matter, or if you have need of advice, you must ask him, and he will give you such wise counsel that sovereigns would be most fortunate if they had advisers like him; you must, therefore, consider him your friend rather than your horse. Then your costume is not to my liking. I will give you one which will suit you better." She struck the ground with her crook, and out came a big trunk covered with Levant morocco, and studded with diamonds: Belle-Belle's initials were on the lid. The fairy sought in the grass for a gold key made in England, and opened the box with it. It was lined with embroidered Spanish leather. Inside were twelve coats, twelve cravats, twelve swords, twelve ostrich plumes; everything by the dozen. The coats were so heavy with embroidery and diamonds that Belle-Belle could scarcely lift them. "Choose the one you like best," said the fairy; "and as for the others, they will follow you wherever you go. You have only to stamp your foot on the ground, and say: 'Leather trunk, come to me full of coats; leather trunk, come to me full of linen and lace; leather trunk, come to me full of jewels and money'. You will at once see it, whether you are in the open country or in your room. You must also choose a name, for Belle-Belle is not suited to the part you are to play; it seems to me you might call yourself Fortuné. But it is only right that you should make my acquaintance, and I will therefore assume my ordinary shape." Her old skin fell off, and she looked so marvellous that Belle-Belle was dazzled; her gown was of blue velvet, lined with ermine, her hair bound with pearls, and she wore a magnificent crown on her head.
Overcome with admiration, Belle-Belle threw herself at her feet with every mark of respect and gratitude. The fairy raised her, and tenderly embraced her, advising her to choose a costume of green and gold brocade. Belle-Belle obeyed, and mounting her horse, proceeded on her way, so impressed with all the extra ordinary things that had just taken place that she could think of nothing else.
She asked herself by what unexpected good fortune she had gained the protection of so powerful a fairy, "For really," she said, "I was not needed to pull her sheep out of the ditch; one stroke of her wand could bring a whole flock from the Antipodes if it had betaken itself there. It was, however, a fortunate thing that I was able to help her, since the trifle I did for her has caused her to do so much for me; she knew my heart, and my disposition pleased her. Ah! if my father could only see me now, magnificent and rich, how glad he would be! but I can at least share the gifts she has bestowed on me with my family."
Thus reflecting, she reached a beautiful, well-populated city; all eyes were turned on her. The people followed and surrounded her, saying: "Have you ever seen a knight so handsome, so well mounted, and so richly clad? How gracefully he manages his splendid horse!"
She was treated most courteously. When she was about to enter the inn, the governor, who had been in the streets and had admired her in passing sent a gentleman to invite her to the castle. Fortuné [for so we must call her in future] replied that not having the honour of the governor's acquaintance he could not take such a liberty, but that he would visit him later, and begged him to lend him one of his servants to carry something of importance to his father The governor sent him a very trustworthy man, and Fortuné made him promise to return in the evening when his despatches would be ready.
He shut himself up in his room, and stamping with his foot, said: "Leather trunk, come to me full of diamonds and gold coins". The trunk at once appeared, but there was no key, and where was he to look for it? It was a pity to break open a gold lock enamelled in different Colours; and, moreover, what was there not to be feared from a locksmith's indiscretion? Directly he mentioned the treasures, the knight would be robbed and perhaps killed,
He searched everywhere for the gold key, but in vain, "What misery," he exclaimed; "I cannot avail myself of the fairy's kindness, nor let my father share her gifts." He thought the best plan would be to consult his horse; he went down to the stable and whispered: "I entreat you, my Comrade, tell me where the key of the leather trunk is to be found". "In my ear," he replied. Looking in his horse's ear, Fortuné perceived a green ribbon; he pulled it out, and there was the much desired key. He opened the leather trunk, which contained more diamonds and gold coins than could be put into a big cask. The knight filled three small boxes, one for his father and one for each of his sisters. He gave them to the messenger, and begged him to travel night and day without stopping until he reached the count's dwelling.
The messenger made all speed, and when he told the good old man that he came from his son, and brought him a very heavy box, the father wondered what could be inside, for Belle-Belle had departed with so little money that it did not seem possible she could have bought anything, or even paid a messenger's expenses. He opened the letter first, and when he read what his beloved's laughter had written, he thought he should die for joy. The sight of the jewels and gold proved the truth of her words; it was, however, very strange that on opening their boxes, Belle-Belle's sisters found only pieces of glass and counterfeit coins, the fairy being unwilling that they should share in her gifts. They thought their sister intended to make fun of them, and were inexpressibly mad. Seeing their anger, the count gave them the greater part of his jewels, but as soon as they touched them, they were changed like the others; then they recognised that some unknown power was working in a hostile fashion against them, and they begged their father to keep what remained for himself.
Fortuné did not await his messenger's return; his journey was too important, for he must obey the king's commands. He went to the governor's house, and the whole town assembled there to see him; his person and bearing were so charming that no one could help admiring and liking him. All he said was delightful to listen to, and the crowd round him was so great that he could not imagine to what to attribute so extraordinary a thing, for living always in the country he had seen very few people.
He continued his way on his excellent horse, who conversed most pleasantly on the news of the day, or on the most remarkable events in ancient and modern history. "My clear master," he said, "I am enchanted to be yours, you are frank and honourable; I am disgusted with certain people among whom I lived a long while, and who made me hate life, so unbearable was their society. One of the men professed affection for me, and when he spoke in my presence placed me above Pegasus and Bucephalus, but when my back was turned he treated me like the sorriest hack; he even praised my faults in order that I might contract greater ones. It is true that one day, tired of his caresses, which, properly speaking, were treachery, I kicked him so violently that I broke nearly all his teeth, and I never see him now without saying with great sincerity: "It is not fair that a mouth which opens so often to hurt those who do you no harm should be as pretty as that of others". "Ho, ho!" exclaimed the knight, "you are very mischievous; did you not fear that in his anger the man would run his sword through your body?" "It would not have been of the least consequence, sir," rejoined Comrade, "since, as soon as he had formed such an intention, I should have known of it."
Speaking thus, they reached a vast forest. Comrade said to the knight: "Master, there is a man here who would be of great use to us; he is a wood cutter and is endowed". "What do you mean by that?" interrupted Fortuné. "Being endowed means that he has received one or more gifts from the fairies," added the horse; "you must get him to go with us." By this time they had reached the place where the woodcutter was at work. In a gentle, insinuating manner, the young knight asked him several questions about the forest, whether there were any wild beasts in it, and if hunting was allowed. The woodcutter gave very intelligent replies. Fortuné inquired where all the men were who had helped him to fell so many trees. The man said he had cut them all down by himself, that it had been the work of only a few hours, and that he must fell many more to make himself anything of a load. "What! do you intend to carry all that wood away to-day?" said the knight. "Oh, sir," replied Strong. Back [for that was his name], "I am not a man of ordinary strength." "Do you make a good living?" asked Fortuné. "I earn very little," replied the woodcutter. "We are poor folk in this place; each man does his work himself and does not expect his neighbour to do it for him." "Since you inhabit so poor a country," added the knight, "and it is in your power to go elsewhere, come with me; you shall want for nothing, and if at any time you wish to return, I will pay the expenses of the journey." The woodcutter thought he could not do better, so he left his quarters and accompanied his new master.
When he had passed through the forest and had reached the open, he saw a man tying up his legs with ribbons, and leaving so little space between them that it appeared impossible for him to walk. Comrade stopped and said to his master: "Sir, there is another of these fairy-gifted men; you will want him and must take him with you". Fortuné went up to him, and with his native grace asked him why he tied up his legs. "I am preparing for the hunt," he answered. "What!" said the knight; "do you mean to say you can run faster bound like that?" "No, sir," he rejoined, "I am aware that my speed will be less, but that is what I want, for when my legs are free there is not a stag, roe, or hare that I do not outstrip; thus they escape, and I never enjoy the delight of catching them." "You seem to be a remarkable man," said Fortuné; "what is your name?" "I am called Fleet-Foot," said the hunter, "and I am known in this country." "If you would like to travel," said the knight, "I should be very glad if you would come with me. You shall not have much trouble, and I will treat you very well." Fleet-Foot, who was only moderately happy, willingly accepted the proposal. So Fortuné, accompanied by his new servant, proceeded on his journey.
The next day, he came upon a man on the edge of a marsh, who was putting a bandage over his eyes; the horse said to his master: "Sir, I advise you to take that man into your service". Fortuné asked him why he put a bandage over his eyes. "Because," was the answer, "I see too clearly. I see the game stirring more than four leagues off, so that every shot kills more than I want; I am, therefore, obliged to put a bandage over my eyes, and, although then I only see dimly, I destroy the partridges and other small game in the country in less than two hours."
"You are very skilful," rejoined Fortuné. "I am called Good-Shot," said the man, "and I would not relinquish the occupation for anything in the world." "I am, however, most desirous of suggesting that you should travel with me," said the knight; "you can exercise your talent just the same." Good-Shot made some difficulties, and was more troublesome to win over than the others, for such men are generally fond of liberty: however, he gave in at last, and the knight left the marsh.
Some days later, passing by a meadow, he observed in it a man lying on his side. Comrade said to his master: "That man is also fairy-gifted; I foresee that he will be very useful to you". Fortuné entered the meadow, and asked him what he was doing. "I want a particular kind of herb," he said, "and I am listening to those about to sprout to see if the one I require is among them." "What!" said the knight, "is your hearing so keen that sounds beneath the earth reach you, and you can discover what is going to come forth!" "For that reason," said the listener, "I am called Quick-Ear." "Well! Quick-Ear," continued Fortuné, "are you inclined to accompany me? I will pay you well." The man, delighted at so pleasant a prospect, did not hesitate to take his place with the rest.
Going on his way, the knight saw a man near the high road whose inflated cheeks produced a most absurd effect; he was standing erect, and looking towards a high mountain two leagues off, on which were fifty or sixty windmills. The horse said to his master: "He is one of the fairy-gifted, be careful not to lose the opportunity of taking him with you". Fortuné, who, as soon as he appeared or spoke, was able to prevail on them all, approached the man, and asked him what be was doing. "I am blowing a little, sir," he said, "to make the mills grind." "It seems to me you are very far off," replied the knight. "On the contrary," rejoined the blower, "I find I am too near; and, if I did not keep back half my breath, I should have already overturned the mills, and, perhaps, the mountains on which they stand: in this way, I unwillingly cause many evils, and I tell you, sir, that I have been very badly treated by my mistress. When I went to sigh in the woods, my sighs uprooted the trees and made terrible havoc, so that I was called in that country Impetuous" "If any one here objects to your presence," said Fortuné, "and you like to come with me, here are people who will keep you company; they also have extraordinary talents." "I have so natural a curiosity for everything that is out of the common," replied Impetuous, "that I accept your proposal."
Fortuné, well contented, travelled on. When he had crossed some fairly open country, he saw a large pond, fed by several springs; on the bank was a man who looked at him with attention. "Sir," said Comrade to his master, "here is a man who is lacking to your company; if you can induce him to go with you, it would be no bad thing." The knight approached him, saying: "Will you tell me what you are doing?" "Sir," replied the man, "you will see, as soon as the pond is full, I shall drink it at one draught; for I am still thirsty, although I have emptied it twice." In fact, he bent down, and when he got up, there was not enough water for the very tiniest fish. Fortuné was not less surprised than all his company. "What!" he said, "are you always so thirsty?" "No," said the water "I only drink like this when I have eaten something too salt, or when it is a matter of some wager. I am known by the name of Drinker." "Come with me, Drinker," said the knight, "I will give you wine to drink, and that is better than Water." The man was greatly pleased at the promise, and at once began to march with the rest.
The knight was already in sight of the place of meeting, where all the king's subjects were to assemble, when he espied a man eating so greedily that although there might have been more than sixty thousand Genoese rolls by him, he seemed determined not to leave a single crumb. Comrade said to his master: "Sir, only that man is now wanting; I pray you persuade him to come with you". The knight approached him, and smiling, said: "Are you determined to eat all that bread for your breakfast?" "Yes," he replied; "my only regret is that there is so little, but the bakers are such idle fellows, they don't care in the least whether you are hungry or not." "If you need so much every day," added Fortuné, "you would cause a famine in al country." "O sir," rejoined Glutton [for so he was named], "I should be very sorry to have such an appetite always; neither my property nor that of my neighbours would be sufficient. It is true that from time to time I like to regale myself in this way." "Friend Glutton," said Fortuné, "come with me, and I promise you good cheer; you shall not repent choosing me for your master."
Comrade, who was not lacking in intelligence and foresight, warned the knight that it would be well to forbid his men to boast of their unusual gifts. Without delay, he called them and said: "Listen, Strong-Back, Fleet-Foot, Good-Shot, Quick-Ear, Impetuous, Drinker, and Glutton. I advise you, if you wish to please me, to keep your talents secret, and I promise to care so much for your happiness that you will be content." Each swore to obey his orders. Soon after, the knight, more charming by reason of his beauty and dignified bearing than by his magnificent costume, entered the capital, riding his excellent horse, and accompanied by his gifted servants. He did not delay to have liveries of gold and silver made for them; he gave them horses, lodging in the best inn, and awaited the day fixed for the review; but the whole town talked of no thing but of him, and the king hearing of his reputation, was most eager to see him.
The troops assembled in a large plain, and thither came the king, the queen and all the court; in spite of the misfortunes the state had suffered, the court was still very magnificent. Fortuné was dazzled by so much luxury. But if that attracted his attention, his matchless beauty did not less attract the illustrious company; everybody asked who the handsome and good-looking young knight was, and the king, passing by the place where he was standing, made him a sign to approach.
Fortuné immediately dismounted, and made the king a low bow; he could not help blushing at the attention with which he looked at him; and the colour added brilliance to his complexion. "I should be very glad," said the king, "to know who you are, and what you are called." "Sire," he replied, "my name is Fortuné, though, so far, there is no reason why I should be so called; for my father, who is count of the frontier, although born to a property that befitted his rank, is now very poor." "Fortuné," replied the king, "your god-mother has not served your interests badly in bringing you here; I feel a great liking for you, and I remember your father rendered great services to mine. I will requite them in your person." "That is on fair," said the queen-dowager, who had not yet spoken; "and as I am your elder, my brother, and know in greater detail than you all that the count of the frontier did during many years for the good of the realm, I beg you to leave to me the charge of rewarding this young knight."
Fortuné, delighted to receive so kind a welcome, could not thank the king and queen enough; he did not, however, enlarge on his feeling of gratitude, thinking it more respectful to be silent than to talk too much. The little he did say was so suitable and to the point that all applauded him; then he mounted his horse again, and mixed with the nobles who accompanied the king; but every moment the queen summoned him to ask a thousand questions, and turning to Florida, her dearest friend, whispered: "What do you think of this knight? Could there be a nobler air or more regular features? I confess I've never seen anything more charming." Florida found it easy to agree with the queen, and she added high praise, for the knight seemed not less charming to her than to her mistress.
Fortuné could not help from time to time looking at the king; he was the handsomest prince imaginable, and his manners were most prepossessing. Belle-Belle, who in assuming her disguise had not renounced her sex, felt a real affection for him.
After the review, the king told him he feared the war would be bloody, and resolved, therefore, to attach him to his person. The queen-dowager, who was present, exclaimed that she had had the same thought, that he must not be exposed to the dangers of a long campaign, that the office of high-steward at her palace was vacant, and that she would give it to him. "No," said the king, "I wish to make him my chief equerry." They disputed about the pleasure of advancing Fortuné; and the queen, fearing to make known the secret passion already taking possession of her heart, yielded the knight to the king.
Every day he summoned the leather trunk, and took from it a new costume. He was certainly more magnificent than any prince at the court, so that the queen sometimes asked him how his father was able to go to such expense. At other times she teased him "Confess the truth," she said; "you have a mistress, and it is she who sends all the beautiful things we see." Fortuné blushed, and respectfully answered the queen's questions.
He acquitted himself admirably of his office. His heart, sensible of the king's merit, was more attracted to him than under the circumstances was exactly desirable. "What a fate is mine!" he said. "I love a great king without the hope that he loves me, or that he should take any heed of what I suffer." The king, on his side, overwhelmed him with kindness, and only considered well done the things accomplished by the handsome knight. The queen, deceived by his disguise, thought of the means of contracting a secret marriage with him; the difference in their rank was the only circumstance that troubled her.
She was not the only one who was attracted by Fortuné; the most beautiful ladies of the court felt his influence in spite of themselves He was overwhelmed with love-letters, assignations, gifts, and gallantries, to which he responded with such great indifference that they all suspected he had a mistress in his own country. It was not that he did not desire to appear to advantage at the fetes; he carried off the prizes at the tournaments; he killed more game in the hunt than all the others; he danced at the ball with more grace and skill than any of the courtiers; indeed it was a delight to see and hear him.
The queen wished to spare herself the shame of declaring her passion. She charged Florida to give him to understand that he ought not to regard with in difference the favour of a young and beautiful queen. The commission greatly embarrassed Florida; she could not escape the fate of the greater part of those who had seen the knight, and she found him so charming that she was unable to put her mistress's interests above her own; so that every time the queen gave her an opportunity of talking to him, instead of speaking of the beauty and the noble qualities of the princess, she only spoke of her bad temper, of what her women suffered in consequence, of the injustice she did them, and of the bad use she made of the power she had usurped in the kingdom; then comparing her sentiments "I was not born a queen," she said, "but, truly, I ought to be one. I am generous enough to be kind to every one. Ah! if I were of that august rank," she continued "handsome Fortuné should be happy! he should love me from gratitude, if not from inclination."
Dismayed by this speech, the young knight knew not what to reply, and carefully avoided being alone with her. The queen, in her impatience, continually asked Florida how she was influencing Fortuné?" He thinks so little of himself," she said, "and is so bashful that he will not believe what I tell him of your favour, or he pretends not to believe it, because some other passion occupies his heart." "I agree with you," said the queen, alarmed; "but would he not sacrifice everything to his ambition?" "And," replied Florida, "would you owe his heart to your crown? When a woman is young, beautiful, and of rare merit, like yourself, is it necessary to rely on the glamour of a diadem?" "To subjugate a rebel heart," exclaimed the queen, "a woman has recourse to everything." Thus Florida knew there was no longer any possibility of curing her mistress of her infatuation.
The queen was always hoping for some good result from her confidant's care on her behalf; but the small progress Florida made with Fortuné obliged the queen to seek the means of conversing with him herself. She knew that he walked every morning in a little wood situated just under the windows of her apartments. She rose with the dawn, and looking in the direction in which he would come, saw him strolling carelessly along with a melancholy air. She called Florida. "You have spoken the truth," she said; "doubtless Fortuné is in love with some one in this court, or in his own country, see how sad he looks." "I have observed it also in his conversation," replied Florida, "and you would do well to forget him, madam." "It's too late," said the queen, with a deep sigh!" But since he has gone into the arbour let us join him; I wish you only to accompany me." The girl did not dare to prevent the queen, but she would have greatly liked to do so, because she feared in the end she would make Fortuné love her, and, besides, a rival of such high rank is always dangerous. When the queen had advanced a little way into the wood, she heard the knight singing. He had a very nice voice, and had set these words to a new tune then in vogue:--
How difficult it is,
With tenderness to love, to live in tranquil peace!
The more I know thy bliss, the more I fear 'twill cease.
Incessantly the care
Of unknown future Fate oppresses me with fear,
When of my earnest prayer,
My heart's most fervent wish, accomplishment is near."
In this song, Fortuné expressed his feelings towards the king, and described the kindness that prince had shown him, his own dread of being recognised and forced to leave a court where he was better off than in any other place in the world. The queen, while listening, felt extremely troubled. "What can I do?" she whispered to Florida; "the ungrateful fellow despises the honour of pleasing me, he esteems himself happy, seems satisfied with his conquest, and sacrifices me to another." "His is an age," replied Florida, "when reason does not reign paramount, and if I dared offer your majesty advice, it would be to forget a foolish youth who is incapable of taking advantage of his good fortune." This was scarcely what the queen wished her confidant to say; she gave her a furious glance, and advancing hastily, suddenly entered the arbour where the knight was resting. She feigned surprise at finding him there, and was annoyed that he should see her in deshabille although she had omitted nothing that could lend it elegance and magnificence.
When he saw her the knight would have withdrawn out of respect, but she begged him to remain and accompany her in her walk. "I was awakened this morning," she said, "by the birds' delightful singing; the pure air and cool weather invited me to listen to them at closer quarters. How happy they are! Alas! they know only pleasure, sorrow does not trouble their life." "It seems to me, madam," replied Fortuné, "that they are not entirely free from care and anxiety; they have always to fear the fatal shots or the deceitful nets of the hunter; it is not only birds of prey that make war on these innocents. When a severe winter freezes the ground and covers it with snow, they die for want of a little hemp or millet seed; and every year they must find a new mistress." "Then, sir knight," said the queen, smiling, "you think that a trouble. Why, there are men who delight in doing so a dozen times a-year. You seem surprised," she continued; "your heart then is made of different stuff, if you have not yet changed." "I have no means, madam, of knowing of what I am capable," said the knight, "for I have never loved; but I am bold enough to believe that if I did love any one, it would be for all my life." "You have never loved," exclaimed the queen, looking at him so fixedly that the poor knight kept changing colour; "you have never loved! Fortuné, how can you say that to a queen who reads in your eyes and on your countenance the passion that occupies your heart, and who has just heard the words you have set to the new tune now in vogue?" "It is true, madam, that I composed those verses," he said, "but I had no special reason for writing them. Every day my friends ask me to write drinking songs, although I drink nothing but water; others again ask for love ditties, and thus though neither a lover nor a drinker, I sing of Cupid and Bacchus."
The queen's emotion was so great that she could hardly keep calm. His words rekindled the hope Florida had tried to take from her. "If I could think you sincere," she said, "I should be much surprised that you have not found any one in this court charming enough to win your affection." "Madam," replied Fortuné, "I am so fully occupied in discharging the duties of my office, that I have no time for sighing." "Then you really love no one?" added she, passionately. "No, madam," he said, "I am not gallant enough. I am a sort of misanthrope who loves his liberty, and would not part with it for anything in the world." The queen sat down, and looking at him affectionately, rejoined: "There are chains so beautiful and glorious that one must be happy to wear them if fortune destines such for you, I advise you to renounce your liberty". Speaking thus, her eyes only too clearly revealed her meaning, and the knight's strong suspicions were confirmed. Fearing the conversation might go too far, he took out his watch, and pushing the hand on a little, said: "I ask your majesty to permit me to go to the palace; it is the hour of the king's rising, and he commanded me to be there". "Go, heartless creature," she said, sighing deeply; "you are quite right to be attentive to my brother, but it would not be wrong if you dedicated some of your duty to me."
The queen followed him with her eyes, then lowered them, and reflecting on what had passed, blushed with shame and anger. What added to her vexation was that Florida witnessed it, and she observed a look of triumph in her face that seemed to say she would have done better to have taken her advice than to have spoken to Fortuné. She considered for some time, and taking her tablets wrote these lines which she had set to music by the Lulli of her court:--
"Thou seest thou seest at last
The torments I disdain;
My conqueror unmoved
Thou witnessest my pain.
"Before him has my heart
Its cruel wound displayed,
With all that should be hid
Nor ever be betrayed.
"And hast thou marked his scorn,
Contempt and cruelty?
Ah! could I but hate him,
I know that he hates me.
"But fruitless are such hopes,
And vain is my desire,
For nought but love for him
Can he in me inspire."
Florida played her part with the queen very well; she did her best to console her, gave her some return of hope, of which she stood greatly in need. "Fort feels so far beneath you, madam," she said, "that maybe he did not understand what you meant; it seems to me a very great deal that he has assured you he loves no other." It is so human to hope that the queen took heart again. She did not see that Florida in her malice, and convinced that the knight cared nothing for the queen, wanted to make her speak more explicitly to him, so that he, might anger her the more with the indifference of his response.
He, on his side, felt greatly embarrassed. His situation was most uncomfortable, and, if it had not been that his affection for the king kept him there in spite of himself, he would have quitted the court without any hesitation. He was careful only to see the queen at the hours of her receptions and in the king's suite; she, perceiving this change of conduct, gave him many opportunity of making love to her, of which he did not avail himself. One day when she went into her garden she saw him walking in a grove that led to the little wood. She called to him, and he fearing to displease her by pretending not to hear, respect fully approached her.
"Do you remember, sir knight," she said, "the conversation we had in the arbour some time ago?" "Madam," he replied, "I could not possibly forget such an honour." "Doubtless the question I asked you," she added, "gave you pain, for since that day you have carefully avoided giving me the opportunity of putting others to you." "As chance alone procured me that favour," he said, "it seems to me I should have been bold to seek others." "Say rather, ungrateful youth," she continued, growing red, "that you have avoided my presence; you know my sentiments only too well." Fortuné cast down his eyes with a confused and modest air, and as he hesitated to reply, the queen said: "You are much disconcerted. go, do not attempt to answer me, I understand you only too well". She would, perhaps have said more, but she perceived the king coming to walk in the garden.
She went to meet him, and observing his melancholy expression implored him to tell her what was the matter "You must know," said the king, "that for a month past I have been informed that a dragon of enormous size has been ravaging all the count side. I thought it would be Possible to kill him, and gave the necessary orders, but all attempts have failed; he devours my subjects, their flocks, and everything that comes in his way; he Poisons the rivers and springs, or drinks them up, and dries up the grass and plants on which he lies." While the king was speaking the irritated queen turned over in her mind a sure means of revenging herself on the knight.
"I was aware," she replied "of the bad news. Fortuné, whom you saw with me, came to tell me of it, but, my brother, you will be surprised at what I am going to say. He urgently asked me to get your permission for him to fight the dreadful dragon. He is so wonderfully clever, and wields his arms with so much dexterity, that I should not be surprised if he is right in putting so much confidence in himself. Added to that, he told me he had a secret for sending the most wakeful dragons to sleep; however we need speak no further of it, since it does not seem that much value is to be attached to his action." "However it turned out," said the king, "it would be to his glory, and of great use to us should he be successful. But I fear it would be the result of no half-hearted zeal, and would cost him his life." "No, my brother," added the queen, "do not anticipate that; he told me the most surprising things. You know he is by nature very sincere, and what honour can he hope from dying thoughtlessly? Indeed," she continued, "I promised to obtain for him what he desires so ardently, that if you refuse him, he will die."
"I consent then," said the king, "but I confess it is with regret; let us summon him." He signed to Fortuné to approach, and said, kindly: "The queen has just told me of your desire to fight the dragon that is desolating our land. It is a bold resolve, and I think you can scarcely understand the danger." "I pointed it out to him," said the queen, "but he is so eager to show his zeal in your service, that nothing will deter him; and I augur a fortunate issue."
Fortuné was surprised, but too quick-witted not to comprehend the queen's evil design; but his natural kindliness forbade him to mention it, and without replying, allowed her to go on talking; he contented himself with making low bows, which the king took for fresh entreaties to him to grant his permission. "Go, then," he said, with a sigh, "go where glory summons you. I know your skill in everything, and especially in wielding arms; and the monster will find it difficult to escape your blows." "Sire," replied the knight, "however the combat turns out, I shall be content; either I shall deliver you from a terrible Scourge, or die in your service; but grant me one favour I infinitely desire." "Ask what you will," said the king. "I venture," he continued, "to ask for your portrait." It pleased the king hugely that Fortuné should ask for his portrait at a time when his mind must have been filled with so many other things, but the queen felt a new annoyance, that he should not have made her the same request; it would indeed have needed amiability enough and to spare to desire the portrait of so wicked a woman.
The king returned to his palace, and the queen to hers. Fortuné, greatly embarrassed at the promise he had made, sought his horse, and said: "My dear Comrade, here is fine news". "I know it already, sir," he replied. "What shall we do?" asked Fortuné. "We must set out as soon as possible," replied the horse; "procure an order from the king in which he commands you to fight the dragon, and then we shall do our duty". Those words comforted the knight. Early the next day he went to the king, in a travelling suit, as well made as all the others that came out of the leather trunk
Directly the king saw him, he cried out: "What! are you ready to go?" "I cannot use too much speed in executing your commands, sire," he replied; "I come to bid you farewell." The king could not help feeling sad to see a knight so young, handsome and perfect about to expose himself to the greatest possible danger.
He embraced him, and gave him his portrait, set in big diamonds. Fortuné took it with extraordinary joy; the king's great merit had touched him to such a degree, that he could imagine no one in the world more delightful than he was, and if he suffered pain at the parting, it was less from fear of being swallowed by the dragon, than from being deprived of so beloved a presence.
In the particular decree, ordering Fortuné to fight the dragon, the king enclosed a general one to all his subjects, commanding them to help him, and give him any assistance he might need. Fortuné took leave of the king, and, in order that nothing in his Conduct might seem strange, he went to the queen, whom he found at her toilette, and surrounded by several of her ladies. She changed colour when he entered. With how much she had to reproach herself on his account! He greeted her respectfully and asked her if she wished to honour him with her orders since he was just starting. Those words finished disconcerting her, and Florida, who knew nothing of what the queen had plotted against the knight, was much dismayed; she would have liked to speak to him privately, but he wisely avoided such embarrassing conversations
"I pray that the gods," said the queen, "may make you victorious, and bring you back triumphant." "Madam," replied the knight, "your majesty does me too much honour. You know well enough the danger I run. I, too, do not ignore it. However, I am full of confidence, and am, perhaps, on this occasion, the only one who is hopeful.' The queen understood what he meant, and had there been fewer people in the room, would doubtless have answered the implied reproach.
The knight returned to his own abode, and ordered his excellent servants to mount their horses and accompany him, since the time had come for them to prove what they could do; they all testified their joy at being able to serve him. In less than an hour they were ready, and set out together, assuring him that they would neglect nothing to give him satisfaction. As soon as they were alone in the country, and no longer fearful of observation, each made trial of his skill. Drinker drank the water of the ponds, and fished out the finest fish for his master's dinner; Fleet caught stags as they ran, and seized hares, notwithstanding their cunning; Good-Shot gave no quarter to partridges or pheasants and when the game, venison, and fish were all taken, Strong-Back cheerfully carried them. So far only Quick-Ear had not made himself useful; he listened for truffles, mushrooms, salad, and fine herbs to come forth from the earth. Thus the journey cost Fortuné scarcely anything, and he would have been well enough amused by all these extraordinary things had not his heart been full of what he had just quitted. The king's merit was always present to him, and the queen's malice seemed so great that he could not help hating her.
He went on, wrapped in profound thought, from which he was awakened by the piercing shrieks of many persons; these were the poor peasants the dragon was devouring. Some who had escaped were running at the top of their speed. Fortuné called to them but they would not stop; he followed them, spoke with them, and learnt that the monster was not far off. He asked them how the made sure about it; they told him water was scarce in the country, therefore they only drank rain water, and to preserve it had made a pond. After his fatigues, the dragon came to drink of it, his cries were so loud they could be heard a league off, and that all the people, terribly frightened, hid themselves, and closed the windows and doors of their houses.
The knight entered an inn, not so much to rest as to ask his horse's advice. When every one had retired, he went down to the stable and said: "Comrade, how are we to conquer the dragon?" "Sir," he said, "I will dream of it to-night and tell you in the morning." When Fortuné returned to him, Comrade said: "I think Quick-Ear should listen if the dragon is approaching". Quick-Ear lay down on the ground, and heard the cries of the dragon, although he was still seven leagues off When the horse was informed of this, he said to Fortuné: "Order Drinker to drink all the water that is in the big pond and Strong-Back to take enough wine there to fill it; you must also put in it raisins, pepper, and other things that cause thirst; order the inhabitants to remain shut up in their houses, and you, sir, do not come out of that, you and your people will choose to stay in; the dragon will not delay to come and drink the pond; the wine will seem good to him, and you will see how successfully it will all turn out".
No sooner had Comrade given these orders than all set to work to carry them out. The knight entered a house whence he could see the pond. He was hardly there before the dreadful dragon came; he drank a little, then ate the breakfast provided for him, and drank so much that he became intoxicated. He could not move hut lay on his side, his head bent and his eyes closed. When Fortuné saw him thus, he judged he had not a moment to lose; he came forth, Sword in hand, and attacked him with marvellous courage. The dragon, feeling himself pierced on all sides, tried to get up and fall on the knight, but he had not the strength, and was fast losing blood; the knight, delighted at having reduced him to this extremity, called his men to bind the monster with Cords and chains, wishing to let the king have the pleasure and glory of giving him his death-stroke; so that there being nothing further to fear, they dragged him to the town.
Fortuné walked at the head of the procession. Approaching the palace he sent Fleet-Foot to inform the king of his success; but it seemed well-nigh in credible until the creature was seen on a machine, made expressly, to which he was bound.
The king came down and embraced Fortuné. "The gods reserved this victory for you," he said, "and I am less glad to see the dragon in that condition than to see you once again, my dear knight". "Sire," he replied, "your majesty must give him the final stroke. I only brought him to receive it at your hands." The king drew his sword and made an end of his most cruel enemy; everybody uttered shouts of joy and acclamation at so unexpected a Victory.
Florida, always uneasy, was not long in learning the return of the hand some knight. She hastened to tell the queen, who was so surprised and so overcome with love and hate, that she was unable to reply to what her favourite said. She reproached herself over and over again for the shabby trick she had played him, but she would rather see him dead than indifferent, so that she was uncertain if she was glad or sorry he had returned to a court where his presence would again trouble the repose of her life.
The king, impatient to recount to her the success of so extraordinary an adventure, entered her room leaning on the knight. "Here is the conqueror of the dragon," he said to the queen, "He has just rendered me the most signal service I could hope from a faithful subject. It was to you, madam, he spoke first of his desire to fight the monster; I hope you will take into account the danger to which he has been exposed." The queen, composing her countenance, honoured Fortuné with a gracious welcome and a thousand praises. She found him still more charming than when he set out, and the attention with which she looked at him assured him that her heart was still wounded.
She was not willing to trust to the confession of her eyes alone, so one day when they were hunting with the king, she pretended not to follow the hounds, because she did not feel well. Then turning to the young knight, who was not far off: "You will be good enough," she said, "to remain near me; I wish to dismount and rest a little. Go," she added to her attendants, "do not leave my brother." She then got clown from her horse, and with Florida sat beside a brook, where for some time she remained in profound silence. She was considering the turn she should give to her discourse.
Then raising her eyes, she fixed them on the knight and said: "As good intentions are not always apparent, I fear you have not divined the motives that urged me to persuade the king to send you to fight the dragon. I was sure from a presentiment that has never deceived roe that you would come out of it as a man of courage, and those who were envious of you spoke so ill of your bravery because you had not gone to the army, that some glorious deed like this was wanted to close their mouths. I should have told you what was said about you," she continued, "and perhaps I ought to have done so; but I was convinced that your resentment would have its consequences, and that it was, therefore, better to silence those evil-intentioned persons by your intrepid conduct in danger than by an authority which would mark you out rather as a favourite than a soldier. You see, now, sir knight," she went on, "I have taken a lively interest in all your triumphs, and that it would be very wrong of you to judge otherwise." "The distance that separates us is so great, madam," he replied, modestly, "that I am neither worthy of the explanation you have offered me, nor of the care you have taken to risk my life in order to save my honour Heaven has protected me with more kindness than my enemies desired, and I shall ever esteem myself happy in spending in the king's service and in yours a life of less value to me than you think."
Fortuné's respectful reproach disconcerted the queen; she perceived all he meant it to convey, but he fascinated her too greatly for her to risk estranging him by some sharp reply; on the contrary, she pretended to enter into his feelings and made him relate to her the way in which he had overcome the dragon. Fortuné was careful not to tell any one that it was by the aid of his men; he declared he had gone straight up to the formidable enemy, and that his skill alone and even his temerity had pulled him through. But the queen, paying scarcely any attention to what he was saying, interrupted him to ask if he was now convinced of her share in all that concerned him. The conversation might have been carried further, when he said: "Madam, I hear the sound of the horn; the king is coming; will not your majesty mount and go and meet him?" "No," she said, with an air of disdain, "it will be enough if you go." "The king would blame me, madam," he added, "if I left you in a place where you might run some danger." "I will absolve you from your anxiety," she added, in a decided manner. "Go, your presence importunes me."
At that command the knight made her a low bow, mounted his horse, and rode out of sight, feeling very anxious as to what would be the result of this fresh anger. He consulted his excellent horse: "Tell me, Comrade," he said, "if this too loving, passionate queen will find some other monster by whose means to rid herself of me?" "She herself is enough," replied the gentle horse; "she is more of a dragon than the one you killed, and she will exercise Your patience and virtue in as great a degree." "Will she cause me to lose the king's favour?" he exclaimed; "that is the only thing I fear." "I have no intention of revealing the future," said Comrade; "be satisfied that I shall watch over everything." He said no more, because he saw the king at the end of a grove. Fortuné told him of the queen's indisposition, and how she had ordered him to remain with her. "She seems to favour you very much," said the king, smiling, "and you seem to open your heart to her rather than to me; I've not forgotten that you asked her to obtain for you permission to fight the dragon." "Sire," replied the knight, "I dare not defend myself from what you say; but I can assure your majesty that I regard your favour very differently from that of the queen, and were it permitted to a subject to make a confidant of his sovereign, I should deem it a very particular joy to confess all the feelings of my heart to you." The king interrupted him by asking where he had left the queen.
While he was proceeding to join her, she was complaining of Fortuné's in difference to Florida. "The sight of him is becoming odious to me," she exclaimed; "either he or I must leave the court. I cannot endure the presence of an ungrateful fellow who dares to treat me so contemptuously. Where is the man who would not consider himself fortunate in finding favour with the all-powerful queen of this kingdom? He is surely the only one in the whole universe. Ah! the gods have reserved him on purpose to torment me."
Florida was glad that her mistress should be angry with Fortuné, and in stead of appeasing her wrath she increased it, reminding the queen of many circumstances she had perhaps not cared to observe. Her vexation augmented, and she conceived a fresh plan for the knight's destruction.
As soon as the king reached her, and had shown all proper anxiety about her health, she said: "I confess I do not feel very well, but Fortuné should be enough to cure any one; he is so diverting, and his ideas are so absurd. You must know," she continued, "he has begged me to ask a second favour of your majesty. Confident of success, he desires to take on the rashest undertaking imaginable," "Does he want to fight another dragon?" exclaimed the king. He now undertakes to overcome several at once," she said; "for let me tell you, he boasts of forcing the emperor to restore our treasure, and to do this he does not require an army." "'What a pity it is," replied the king, "that this poor boy should be so mad." "His combat with the dragon," added the queen, "makes him think he can do greater things, and what do you risk in permitting him to act in your service?" "I risk his life, which is dear to me," replied the king; "it would grieve me much to be the cause of his death." "However things go, it follows he must die," she said, "for I assure you he is so eager to recover your treasure, that if you refuse your permission, he will languish away."
The king became very gloomy. "I cannot imagine," he said, "who it is that fills his head with these ideas; it grieves me he should be in such a condition." "But," replied the queen, "he fought the dragon and conquered it, and will perhaps succeed again. My presentiments are generally right, and my heart tells me the issue of his undertaking will be fortunate; I beg you, brother, not to oppose his zeal." "I must summon him," added the king, "and at least point out to him the risk he is running." "That is the very way to annoy him," replied the queen; "he will think you do not wish him to go, and to attempt to prevent it by any consideration applying to himself will not be of the least use, for I have already said everything suitable to the occasion." "Very well," said the king, "let him go; I consent." The delighted queen called Fortuné. "Knight," she said, "thank the king, he grants you the permission you so much desire to seek out the Emperor Matapa, and compel him to restore, willingly or by force, the treasure he carried off from us; make your preparations with the same speed as you did for fighting the dragon."
Fortuné, much surprised, understood by this the queen's anger against him; he felt glad, however, to lay down his life for a king he so much loved, and with out making any objections to so extraordinary a mission, he knelt down and kissed the king's hand. On his side the king was much distressed. The queen felt a sort of shame to see with what submission he received his condemnation to death. "Can it be," she said to herself, "that he does love me, and rather than deny what I have said on his behalf, he endures the evil trick I play him without complaining? Ah! if I dared to think so, how I should blame myself for the danger to which I am exposing him!" The king spoke to the knight, and mounted his horse; the queen got into her coach, pretending she still felt indisposed.
Fortuné accompanied the king to the end of the forest. Entering it for the purpose of taking counsel with his horse, he said: "My faithful Comrade, it's all up with me; I must die. The queen has just arranged a plan with which I should never have credited her." "My dear master," replied the horse, "do not be alarmed; although I was not present at the interview, I have known all about it for a long time, and the mission is less terrible than you think." "But you do not know," continued the knight, "that the emperor is the most violent of men, and if I suggest to him the restoration of what he took from the king, his only reply will be to tie a rope round my neck, and have me thrown into the river." "I am quite aware of his violent temper," said Comrade, "but that need not prevent you taking your men with you and starting; if you perish, we shall all perish, but I anticipate a happier issue."
Somewhat comforted, the knight returned home, gave the necessary orders, and then went to the king for his commands and his own credentials. "You will tell the emperor on my behalf," said the king, "that I demand the restoration of my subjects he keeps in slavery, of my soldiers who are his prisoners, of my horses of which he makes use, and of my furniture and treasure." "What am I to offer him in return?" asked Fortuné. "Nothing," replied the king, "except my affection." It required no great effort of memory to remember these instructions. He left without seeing the queen; she seemed offended, but it was scarcely necessary to humour her, for what could she do more in her greatest anger than in her transports of love? Affection of such a character seemed to him the most terrible thing imaginable. The queen's confidant, who was in the secret, was exasperated with her mistress for thus desiring to sacrifice the flower of all chivalry.
The leather trunk provided Fortuné with all that was necessary for the journey; he was not content with dressing only himself magnificently he wished his seven companions to be also well attired. As they all had excellent horses, and Comrade seemed rather to fly through the air than to gallop over the ground, in a very short time they reached the capital city where the Emperor Matapa lived. It was bigger than Paris, Rome and Constantinople put together, and so populous that the cellars, garrets and roofs all swarmed with people.
The prodigious size of the town surprised Fortuné. He asked and easily obtained audience of the emperor, but although he declared the purpose of his embassy with a grace that materially aided his arguments, the emperor could not help smiling. "If you were at the head of five hundred thousand men," he said, "I might listen to you, but I am told you have only seven." "I have not undertaken, sir," said Fortuné, "to use force to make you restore my master's property, but merely my humble remonstrances." "Whatever the means,' added the emperor, "you will not obtain what you want, unless you carry out an idea that has just occurred to me; that is, if you could find a man with a sufficiently big appetite to eat for his breakfast all the bread baked for the inhabitants of this town." The knight was overcome with joy at this proposal, and as he did not reply at once, the emperor burst out laughing. "You see," he said, "it is only natural to reply to your unheard-of proposal by one equally extravagant." "Sire," said Fortuné, "I accept your offer; tomorrow I will bring a man who will eat all the fresh bread, and even all the stale bread in the town; order it to be brought into the great square, and you shall have the pleasure of seeing him devour it, even to the last crumb." The emperor replied that it should be done. For the remainder of the day nothing was talked of but the madness of the new ambassador, and Matapa swore if he did not keep his word he should die.
Fortuné returned to the ambassador's house, where he was lodging, summoned Glutton, and said: "You must now prepare to eat bread; everything depends on it". He then informed him of what he had promised the emperor. "Do not disturb yourself, master," said Glutton, "I will eat so much that they will be tired first." Fortuné felt no doubt of his success, and although the precaution was unnecessary, forbade him to have any supper in order that he might make the better breakfast.
The emperor, empress, and princess took their places on a balcony to have a better view of the proceedings. Fortuné arrived with his little cortege, and when he saw six mountains of bread, higher than the Pyrenees, in the great square, he could not help turning pale. But not so Glutton; the hope of eating so much bread gave him infinite delight. He begged them not to withhold the least little bit, saying he would even like what the mice had left. The emperor jested with his court over the extravagance of Fortuné and his men, but Glutton, all impatient, asked for the signal to commence; it was given by the sound of trumpets and drums, and he directly attacked one of the mountains of bread, and ate it in less than a quarter of an hour, and then gobbled up all the rest in the same fashion.
The astonishment of the people cannot be described; they thought their eyes must be deceiving them, and actually touched the place where the bread had been heaped up to make sure; that day every one, from the emperor to the cat, had to dine without bread.
Fortuné, vastly pleased with his success, approached the emperor, and asked him very respectfully if it pleased him to keep his word. The emperor, somewhat irritated at having been duped, said: "Sir, it is too much to eat without drinking; you, or one of your men, must drink all the water in the fountains, reservoirs, and aqueducts of the town, and all the wine that is in the cellars. "Sire," said Fortuné, "you set me most impossible tasks, hut if I thought you would restore to my king all his property, I would attempt them." "If you succeed in this undertaking," said the emperor, "I will do so." The knight asked the emperor if he would be present. He replied, the thing was strange enough to rouse his curiosity, and getting into a magnificent chariot, went to the fountain of lions; there were seven of them in marble, and out of their mouths poured torrents of water, which formed a river, on which you could traverse the town in gondolas.
Drinker approached the great basin, and without stopping to take breath once, drank the fountain as dry as if there had never been any water in it. The fish cried vengeance on him, for they knew not what to do. He acted in the same way with all the rest of the fountains, aqueducts, and reservoirs, and would then have drunk the sea, so thirsty was he still. After such proof the emperor did not doubt he could drink the wine as well as the water, but every one objected in their annoyance to deliver it up to him. Drinker complained loudly of the injustice done him; he said he should be ill after drinking so much water, and that he meant to have not only the wine but the spirits too. Then Matapa, fearing to seem stingy, consented to Drinker's demands, and Fortuné, seizing the opportunity, entreated the emperor to remember his promise. At those words his countenance assumed a severe expression, and he said he would think of it.
He summoned his council and told them his distress at having promised the young ambassador to restore all he had gained from his master; he had attached to it conditions he thought impossible of fulfilment, and how could he now void so prejudicial an act? His daughter, one of the most beautiful girls imaginable, hearing her father speak thus, said: "Sire, you know that so far I have beaten all who ventured to compete with me for the prize in running; tell the ambassador that if he can reach the goal before me, you undertake to evade your promise no longer".
The emperor embraced her, and thought her advice excellent. The next day he received Fortuné's visit most amiably, and said: "I have still another thing to exact; you or one of your men must run a race with my daughter. I swear by all the elements that if she loses, I will give your master all he wants." Fortuné accepted the challenge, and Matapa added that the race would take place in two hours. He told his daughter to make her preparations; she had been accustomed to the exercise from her earliest youth. She came to a grove of orange trees three leagues in length, and so well sanded that you could not see a pebble as big as a pin's head. She wore a light gown of pink silk scattered over with little stars embroidered in gold and silver; her beautiful hair was tied back with a ribbon and fell carelessly over her shoulders; here shoes were small, without heels, and very pretty; her belt was jewelled and showed off her fine figure. Atalanta would not have dared to compare herself with the princess.
Fortuné arrived accompanied by faithful Fleet-Foot and his other servants: the emperor and all the court took their places. The ambassador said that Fleet-Foot would have the honour of racing with the princess. The leather trunk had provided him with a costume of fine Holland linen trimmed with English lace, same silk stockings and feathers of the same hue. He looked very handsome and the princess agreed to race with him; but before they started a cordial which helped to make her swifter and stronger was brought her. Fleet-Foot exclaimed that to make the advantages even for both he ought to have some too. "Certainly," she said, "it would be very unfair of me to object." She ordered some to be poured out for him, but as he was not accustomed to it, and It was very strong, it got into his head at once. He took two or three turns, and then fell down at the foot of an orange tree in a sound sleep.
The signal for the start was given: three times they had commenced, and the princess good-naturedly waited for Fleet-Foot to wake up; but remembering how important It was that she should pull her father out of his dilemma, she at length commenced running with marvellous grace and swiftness. Fortuné and his men had stationed themselves at the end of the grove, and knew nothing of what had been going on. Suddenly he saw the princess running alone, and only half a league from the winning post. "Ye gods!" he exclaimed, speaking to his horse, "we are lost; I do not see Fleet-Foot." "Sir," said Comrade, "Quick-Ear must listen; perhaps he can tell us what he is doing." Quick-Ear threw himself on the ground, and although he was two leagues off, he heard Fleet-Foot snoring. "Truly," he said, "there's good reason for his absence; he is sleeping as if he was in his bed." "What shall we do then?" exclaimed Fortuné. "Master," said Comrade, "Good-Shot must aim an arrow at the tip of his ear in order to awake him." Good-Shot took his bow and aimed so exactly that the arrow pierced Fleet-Foot's ear. The pain awoke him from his slumbers; he opened his eyes, saw the princess almost at the winning post, and heard the shouts of joy and applause. At first he could not make it out, but he soon remembered what the sleep had made him forget. It seemed he was borne on the wind, eyes could not follow him, and he arrived at the goal the first, with the arrow still in his ear, for he had not had time to take it out.
The emperor was so astonished at the three events that had happened since the ambassador's arrival, that he thought the gods were helping him, and that he could no longer delay fulfilling his promise. "Approach," he said, "and learn that I consent to your taking as much of your master's treasure as you or One of your men can carry away; but you must not imagine I shall ever give you more, or permit his soldiers, subjects, and horses to go." The ambassador made him a low bow, thanked him for his kindness, and begged him to give the necessary orders.
Matapa, greatly annoyed, spoke to the guards of his treasury, and retired to a villa he had near the town. Fortuné and his men demanded admittance into all the places where the king's furniture, curiosities money, and jewels were kept. On condition that only one man should carry them, nothing was concealed. With Strong-Back's help, the ambassador carried off all the furniture that was in the emperor's palace, five hundred gold statues bigger than giants' coaches, chariots, all sorts of things without exception, and Strong-Back walked so quickly that he scarcely seemed to be carrying a pound's weight.
When the emperor's ministers saw the palaces dismantled to such a degree that there remained neither chairs, coffers, pots, nor beds, they speedily went to tell him, and his astonishment may be imagined when he learned that one man carried it all. He exclaimed that he would not allow it, and ordered his guards and musketeers to mount their horses and pursue the robbers. Although For tune was more than ten leagues in advance, Quick-Ear in formed him that he heard a troop of cavalry riding at full speed, and Good-Shot with his excellent sight saw them. They were on the bank of a river. Fortuné said to Drinker: "We have no boat, if you could drink some of this water we might cross it". Drinker did what was required. The ambassador wished to make off as quickly as possible, but his horse said to him: "Don't alarm yourself; let your enemies approach". They reached the river bank, and knowing where the fishermen kept their boats, quickly embarked, and rowed with all their might. Impetuous inflated his cheeks and began to breathe; the river grew rough, the boats were overturned, the little army perished, and no one was left to carry the news to the emperor.
Fortuné's men, delighted at so complete a success, demanded the reward they considered their due; they desired to make themselves masters of all the treasures they had carried off, and a hot dispute arose as to the division.
"If I had not gained the prize," said the runner, "you would have nothing." "And if I had not heard you snore," said Quick-Ear, "where should we be flow?" "How could you have been awakened without me?" put in Good Shot. "Truly," remarked Strong-Back, "I like your disputes; surely I have the best right to choose, since I have had the trouble of carrying it all; without my help there would have been nothing to divide." "Things would have been very different if I had not upset the boat," said impetuous. "I kept silence till now," interrupted Glutton, "but I cannot help pointing out that I opened the ball, and had I left even so much as a crust of bread, everything would have been lost." "My friends," said Fortuné, with an air of decision, "you have all done wonders, but let us leave the care of rewarding our services to the king. I should he very sorry to be recompensed by any other hand than his; trust me, let us leave everything to his good-will. He sent us to bring back his treasure, not to steal it. The thought alone is shameful; I wish never to hear it mentioned, and on my part, I assure you, I shall so well reward you that even if the king neglected you, you would have nothing to regret."
The seven fairy-gifted men took their master's remonstrance to heart, threw themselves at his feet, and promised for the future to have no will but his; thus they finished their journey. But Fortuné in drawing near the town was agitated by many different emotions. The joy of rendering so important a service to the king, to the man for whom he had such deep affection; the hope of seeing him and of being favourably received greatly delighted him; but on the other hand, the fear of again vexing the queen, and of experiencing fresh persecutions at her hands and those of Florida, threw him into great despair. On his arrival the people, charmed with the treasure he brought, welcomed him with loud shouts that were heard at the palace.
The king could not believe so extraordinary a thing, and hastened to inform the queen of it; at first she was altogether dismayed, hut recovering a little, said: "You see the gods protect him; he has again succeeded, and I am no longer surprised that he should undertake what seems impossible to others". As she finished speaking, Fortuné entered. He informed their majesties of the successful result of his journey, adding that the treasure was in the park, for the quantity of gold, furniture, and jewellery was so great that there was no place big enough to put it. The king's affection for so zealous and faithful a subject may easily be believed.
The knight's presence and the renown of his great deeds re-opened the wound in the queen's heart that had never been quite cured; she thought him more lovable than ever, and as soon as she found an opportunity of speaking to Florida, she began her usual complainings. "You see what I have done to destroy him," she said; "it seemed to me the only way to forget him, but a strange fatality always brings him back, and in spite of the reasons I have for despising a man so greatly my inferior, and who repays my passion with rank ingratitude, I cannot cease loving him, and I am resolved to marry him privately." "To marry him, madam!" exclaimed Florida. "Have I heard aright?" "Yes," replied the queen, "you now know my determination and you must help me. Bring Fortuné this evening to my closet, and I will myself explain to him my intentions towards him." Florida, in despair at being chosen to help on her mistress's marriage with the man she herself loved, did all in her power to persuade the queen not to see Fortuné. She pointed out to her the king's anger should he discover the intrigue, how he would condemn the knight to death, or at the very least to life-long imprisonment, so that she would never see him again. But she only wasted her eloquence; she saw the queen was beginning to get angry, and there was nothing for it but to obey.
She found Fortuné in the gallery of the palace superintending the arrangement of the gold statues he had brought from Matapa: she told him to come to the queen in the evening. The command made him tremble, and Florida under stood his agitation. "Oh! ye gods," she said, "how I pity you; how is it that this princess's heart has fixed itself on you? Alas! I know a heart less dangerous than hers that dares not declare itself." The knight had no desire to enter into further explanation he had already trouble enough. As he did not wish to find favour with the queen, he dressed himself very negligently, so that she could not think he had any designs; but if he could thus easily lay aside embroidery and diamonds, he could not get rid of his personal attractions. He was always amiable, always admirable, and, whatever his mood, there was no one to compare with him.
The queen had taken every care to enhance her beauty by all the arts of the toilette, and observed Fortuné's surprise with pleasure. "Appearances,' she said, "are often so deluding that I am glad to make you certain of what you have doubtless believed my feelings towards you to be. When I made the king promise to send you to the emperor, it seemed I wished to sacrifice your life, but, handsome knight, learn that I knew what the result would be, and only desired to procure you immortal glory." "Madam," he said, "you are too far above me to lower yourself by explanations; I care nothing for the motives that induced your actions, it is sufficient for me that I obeyed the king." "You are far too indifferent," she said, "to the explanation I wish to give you, hut it is at length time for me to convince you of my love for you. Approach, Fortuné, approach, and receive my hand as a pledge of my faith."
The poor knight had never been so astounded in his life; twenty times he was on the point of declaring his sex. He dared not do so however, and replied to her expressions of love with the utmost coldness. He put forward mans' arguments as to the king's anger when he should learn that a subject had dared to contract so important a marriage without his consent. After the queen had tried in vain to remove the fears that seemed to fill him, she suddenly assumed the voice and appearance of a fury. She was beside herself with rage; she threatened and insulted him, heat him, scratched him, and then turning her madness against herself, tore her hair, made her face and breast bleed, rent her veil and lace; then shouting: "Help! Help!" her guards entered the room. She ordered them to thrust the wretched man into a deep dungeon, and then hastened to the king to demand justice for the young monster's violence.
She told her brother how for a long time he had been audacious enough to declare a passion for her, and in the hope that absence and hardship might cure him, she had, as he might have observed, neglected no opportunity of sending him away; but he was a wretch whom nothing could change; the king could see for himself how violent he had been. She desired he should be brought to trial, and if he refused to permit it, she would seek some other means of satisfaction.
The manner in which she spoke astonished the king; he knew she was a very violent woman, and powerful enough to overturn the kingdom. Fortuné's bold ness demanded exemplary punishment. The people already knew what had happened, and it was his duty to avenge his sister. But, alas! on whom is this vengeance to fall? on a knight who had exposed himself to the greatest danger in his service, on a man to whom he owed peace and treasure, and for whom he had a special liking. He would have given half his life to save his favourite. He pointed out to the queen his great usefulness, the services he had rendered to the state, his youth, and everything that might induce her to pardon him. She would not listen, and only demanded his death. The king could no longer avoid appointing the judges, and chose those who were most gentle and humane in order that they might be the more disposed to take a lenient view of his fault.
But he was wrong in his conjectures. The judges were anxious to restore their reputation at the expense of the unhappy victim, and as the matter had made a great stir, they clothed themselves in all their severity, and condemned Fortuné without deigning to hear him. He was sentenced to be stabbed three times in the heart, for his heart it was that had been guilty.
The king felt the verdict as much as if it had been pronounced against himself; he banished the judges, but could not save Fortuné, and the queen gloried in the punishment he was to suffer; she thirsted for the poor wretch's blood. The king made fresh attempts to intercede with her, but by so doing only increased her rage. At length, the day appointed for the execution arrived the knight was brought out of his prison, where no one had been permitted to speak with him. He did not know of what crime the queen accused him; he imagined it to be some new persecution, on account of his indifference, and the thing that troubled him most was his belief that the king was a party to the princess's anger.
Florida, inconsolable at her lover's condition, resolved on a violent remedy to poison the queen, and if Fortuné suffered a cruel death, to poison herself. When she learned his sentence, despair seized her heart, and she thought of nothing but carrying out her plan. The poison she procured was slower in its effect than she had imagined, for although it had already been administered to the queen, she did not yet feel its malignity, and ordered the knight to be brought into the great courtyard of the palace, and receive his death-wound in her presence. The executioners led him forth from the dungeon in the usual way, and he seemed a young lamb led to the sacrifice. The first thing he saw was the queen in her chariot; of her own desire she could not be too close to him, wishing that if possible his blood might spurt over her. The king, on the other hand, shut himself up in his closet, to grieve unobserved over his favourite's fate.
When Fortuné had been fastened to the stake, in order that his heart might be stabbed, his coat and vest were removed; but picture the consternation of the large assembly when they saw the alabaster bosom of the real Belle-Belle! Every one knew she was an innocent girl unjustly accused. The queen's agitation and distress were so great, that the poison began to take surprising effect; she fell into convulsions whence she only revived to utter poignant regrets. The people who loved Fortuné had already set him free; the king, who had abandoned himself to the most profound grief, was informed of the surprising circumstance; joy took the place of sorrow; he hastened to the courtyard of the palace, and was delighted at Fortuné's metamorphosis. The queen's dying pangs somewhat moderated his transports; but when he reflected on her malice he could not regret her, and he resolved to marry Belle-Belle, and repay with a crown the infinite obligations he owed her, and straightway declared to her his intentions. It will easily be understood that they more than satisfied her desires; she cared less for the high position than for the love of a king of great merit for whom she had always had strong affection.
A day was appointed for the celebration of the marriage, and Belle-Belle resumed her girl's dress and looked much more beautiful in it than in man's attire. She consulted her horse about her future, and he promised her all that was pleasant. In gratitude for his valuable services she had a stable built for him, panelled with ebony and ivory; he took his rest on satin mattresses. The princess rewarded her followers in proportion to their services.
Comrade, however, disappeared; Belle-Belle was informed of it, and because she loved him dearly she was distressed to lose him; she had search made everywhere for three days, but in vain. On the fourth day her anxiety caused her to rise with the dawn; she went into the garden, then through the wood, and walked in a big meadow, calling out from time to time: "Comrade, my dear Comrade, where are you? Do you mean to forsake me? I have still need of your wise counsel; return, return, and give it me." As she spoke she saw on a sudden a sun rise in the West; she stopped to wonder at the miracle, and her delight was beyond description when it gradually approached her, and she recognised after a moment her horse, in trappings set thick with precious stones, prancing along in front of a pearl and topaz chariot; it was drawn by six sheep, with shining gold fleeces, the harness was of crimson satin, set with emeralds, bosses were not forgotten, and were placed at the horns and ears. In the chariot Belle-Belle recognised her guardian fairy, her father, and her two sisters, who shouted, clapped their hands, and showed her with many marks of affection that they had come to the wedding. She thought she should die for joy, she knew not what to do or say to testify her love for them. She got into the chariot, and the magnificent equipage entered the palace where everything was ready for the celebration of the grandest fête that had ever been given in the kingdom. The fond king joined his destiny to that of his mistress, and the pretty tale has been handed down through the ages until our own day.