ONCE upon a time there lived a princess who possessed nothing of her former greatness but the canopy of her throne and the case that had contained her knife, fork, and spoon; the former was of velvet embroidered with pearls, and the latter of gold set with diamonds. She took as much care of them as possible, but the extreme poverty to which she was reduced compelled her from time to time to remove a pearl, a diamond, or an emerald, and have it secretly sold in order that she might have the wherewithal to feed her suite. She was a widow with three young and lovely daughters. She saw' that if she brought them up in a manner suitable to their rank they would afterwards feel their misfortunes the more. She, therefore, determined to sell her few remaining possessions and settle with her three daughters in some distant country house, where they could live in a style suited to their small fortune. In crossing a forest she was robbed and scarcely anything was left. The poor princess, more grieved by this last misfortune than by all that had gone before, recognised that she must either earn her living or die of hunger. She had formerly been fond of good eating, and knew how to make excellent sauces. She had never gone anywhere without her little gold kitchen that people came from afar to visit. What had been a mere amusement, now afforded her a means of subsistence. She settled near a large town in a very pretty house. She cooked marvellously good dishes, and, as the people of that land were rather greedy, everybody patronised her. They talked of nothing hut the excellent cook, and scarcely gave her time to breathe. Meanwhile her three daughters grew up, and their beauty would have made as great a stir as the princess's sauces, had she not shut them up in a room they rarely left.
On one of the finest days in the year, a little old woman who seemed very tired entered their house; she supported herself on a stick, her body was bent, and her face wrinkled. "I come," she said, "for you to serve me a nice dinner, for I wish before going into the next world to enjoy myself in this." Taking a cane-bottomed chair she sat down near the fire, asking the princess to be quick. As she could riot do it all without assistance, she summoned her three daughters; the eldest was called Roussette, the second Brunette, and the youngest Blondine. She had given them these names on account of the colour of their hair. They were dressed like peasants, with bodices and petticoats of different colours. The youngest was the prettiest and sweetest. Their mother told one to fetch pigeons from the pigeon-house, another to kill chickens, and the last to make pastry. In less than a moment they had laid the table for the old lady very nicely; the linen was beautifully white, the china well polished, and the courses many and various. The wine was excellent, ice was not forgotten, and the glasses were rinsed every time by the prettiest hands imaginable. All this gave the good old woman a fine appetite. If she ate well, she drank still better. She became a little flustered and said many things which the princess, who pretended not to pay any attention, found very witty.
The dinner ended as cheerfully as it had begun; the old lady rose from the table and said to the princess: "My dear friend, if I had any money I would pay you, but I was ruined a long time ago; I wanted to come to you in order to get such good cheer. All I can promise you is to send you better customers than my self." The princess began to smile, and said kindly "Do not distress yourself, my good mother; I am always well paid when I give pleasure". "We were delighted to wait on you," said Blondine, "and if you will take supper here, we shall be even better pleased." "Oh what a happy thing it is," exclaimed the old woman, "to be horn with a kindly heart. But do you not hope to receive its due reward? Be sure," she continued, "that the first thing you wish for, without thinking of me, will be granted." At the same moment she disappeared, and they never doubted she was a fairy.
The adventure astonished them mightily; they had never seen a fairy before and felt afraid. For five or six months they talked of nothing else, and as soon as they wished for anything, thought of her. Thus nothing turned out as they desired, and they were extremely angry with the fairy. But one day when the king was hunting he came to the good cook's abode to see if she was as clever as people said. He made so much noise in approaching the garden that the three sisters who were picking strawberries heard him. "Ah," said Roussette, "if I was lucky enough to marry the admiral, I promise to spin with my shuttle and distaff a great quantity of thread, and to weave out of it so much cloth that he would not need to buy any for the sails of his ships." "And I," said Brunette, "if fortune was kind enough to make me the wife of the king's brother, I promise to make him so much lace with my needle that his palace would be filled with it." "And I," added Blondine, "I promise that if the king would wed me, I should have after a short space of time two handsome boys and a beautiful girl; their hair shall fall in ringlets and shall scatter precious stones; they shall have a shining star on the forehead and a rich gold chain round the neck."
One of the king's favourites who had come in advance to inform the hostess of the-king's arrival, hearing the sounds of talking in the garden, stopped without making any noise, and was amazed at the beautiful girls' conversation. He promptly repeated it to the king to amuse him; he laughed and commanded them to appear before him.
They came at once in the most graceful manner possible, and greeted the king modestly and respectfully. When he asked them if it was true that they had been talking about the husbands they wished for, they blushed and looked down. He urged them to confess, and at length they gave in. Then he exclaimed "I do not know what power is acting on me, but I shall not leave this place until I have married the beautiful Blondine." "Sire," said the king's brother, "I ask your permission to wed the pretty Brunette." "Grant me a like favour," added the admiral, "for Roussette charms me infinitely."
The king, glad to find his example followed by the greatest persons in his kingdom, said he approved their choice, and asked the mother for her consent. She replied that it was the greatest joy she could possibly have. The king embraced her, and the prince and the admiral followed suit.
When the king was ready to dine, a table laid for seven with a gold service and loaded with everything of the rarest and best for a good dinner came down the chimney. But the king hesitated to eat; he feared the viands might be only Suited to witches' nocturnal revels, and the manner of serving your dinner from the chimney seemed somewhat doubtful.
On the sideboard only gold bowls and vases were to he seen, on which the chasing surpassed the material. At the same moment a swarm of honey-bees appeared in crystal hives, and began the most charming music you can imagine. The whole room was filled with hornets, flies, wasps, and other little insects of that sort who waited on the king with supernatural skill. Three or four thousand flies poured out the wine, and not one ventured to drown himself in it, a surprising example of moderation and discipline. The princess and her daughters understood that all that was happening was to be attributed to the little old woman, and blessed the hour in which they had made her acquaintance.
After the banquet, which lasted so long that night surprised them while they were still at table--a circumstance of which the king felt a little ashamed, for it would seem that at his wedding Bacchus took the place of Cupid--the king rose and said "Let us end the fête as it should have begun". He drew a ring from his finger and put it on that of Blondine; the prince and the admiral followed his example. The bees redoubled their songs. They danced and were merry, and all who had accompanied the king congratulated the queen and the princess. As for the admiral's wife, she was not treated with quite so much ceremony, a fact that greatly annoyed her, for she was older than Brunette or Blondine, and vet had not made so good a match as they had.
The king sent his equerry-in-chief to inform his mother of the great events, and to bring his most magnificent chariots in order to take Queen Blondine and her two sisters to the court. The queen-mother was the most cruel and passion ate of women. When she learned that her son had married without her know ledge, and above all a girl of low birth, and that the prince had done the same, she had a paroxysm of anger that terrified the whole court. She asked the equerry-in-chief what had made the king enter into so ill-judged a union. He told her that it was in the hope of becoming the father of two boys and a girl with long curly hair, stars on their heads, and gold chains round their necks; these curious things had charmed him. The queen-mother smiled contemptuously at her son's credulity, and her insulting remarks sufficiently proved her wrath.
The chariots had already arrived at the little house. The king invited his mother-in-law to accompany him, and promised she should be treated with the utmost consideration and respect. But she already knew' the agitations of a court. "Sire," she said, "I know too much of the world to forsake the peaceful life I have with so much difficulty attained." "What?" replied the king; "do you wish to continue keeping an inn?" "No," she said, "you will allow me something to live on." "Permit me," he added, "to give you a suite and officers." "I thank you," she said, "but when I am alone, I have no enemies to worry me; if I had servants, I should dread finding foes among them." The king admired the wisdom and moderation of a woman who thought and spoke like a philosopher.
While he was persuading his mother-in-law to come with him, the admiral's wife hid all the fine gold bowls and vases from the sideboard in the bottom of her chariot, wishing to gain every possible advantage, hut the fairy who saw every thing, though herself unseen, changed them into earthen pitchers, so that when Roussette arrived and was going to carry them into her closet, she found nothing that would have repaid her for the trouble.
The king and queen affectionately embraced the wise princess, and assured her that all they possessed was at her disposal. They left the rustic abode and came to the town, preceded by trumpets, hautboys, and drums, whose sounds could be heard afar off. The queen-mother's confidants advised her to conceal her ill-temper, because it would offend the king and might have unfortunate consequences. She, therefore, controlled herself, and showed only affection for her two daughters-in-law, giving them jewels and praises for all their actions, good or bad.
Queen Blondine and Princess Brunette were great friends, but Roussette hated them both with a mortal hatred. "See," she said. "my sisters' good fortune--one is queen, the other princess of the blood, their husbands adore them; and I, the eldest, and a hundred times more beautiful than they are, am only married to an admiral, 'ho does not love me as he ought." Her jealousy of her sisters made her take the side of the queen-mother; for it was well known that her affection for her daughters-in-law was a mere pretence, and that she would welcome any opportunity of doing them an injury.
Shortly before the birth of children to the queen and the princess, a great war broke out, and the king was obliged to lead his arm. Thus the young queen and the princess, forced to remain in the power of the queen-mother, begged the king to let them return to their mother, so that she might console them for the absence of their husbands. The king would not give his consent, but implored his wife to remain at the palace, assuring her his mother would treat her kindly. He begged the queen-mother most earnestly to love her daughter-in-law, and take care of her, adding that she could not oblige him more, that he hoped to have beautiful children, and that he awaited the news of their birth with the greatest anxiety. The wicked queen, delighted that her son should confide his wife to her care, promised to think of nothing but her well-being and assured him he might set out with a mind perfectly at ease. He departed with so strong a desire to return soon, that he risked his troops in every encounter; and his good luck made his hardihood not only always successful but also advantageous to the affairs of his realm. The queen was confined before his return. The same day, her sister, the princess, gave birth to a beautiful boy, and died immediately.
Roussette was busy thinking of ways in which to hurt the young queen. When she saw her pretty children, and remembered that she had none, her rage increased; she resolved to speak to the queen-mother at once, for there was no time to lose. "Madam," she said, "I am so deeply sensible of the honour your majesty does me, in admitting me to your favour, that I willingly put aside my own interests for the sake of yours. I quite understand your annoyance at the ill-judged marriages of your sons. Here are now four children who will perpetuate the fault. Our mother is a poor villager who was starving when she decided to become a cook; believe me, madam, let us make a fricassee of all those little ones, and so send them out of the world before they can make you blush." "Ah my dear Roussette," said the queen, embracing her, "how I love you for being so just, and for sympathising as you do with my real annoyances! I had already resolved on what you suggest; it is only the means that puzzles me." "That need give you no trouble," said Roussette. "My dog has just had three puppies; they have each a star on the forehead and a mark round the neck which makes a sort of chain. The queen must be made to think she gave birth to the little animals, and her two sons, her daughter, and the princess's son must be killed."
"Your plan pleases me vastly," she exclaimed; "I have already given such orders to Feintise, her lady-in-waiting, so that there will no difficulty about the little dogs." "Here they are," said Roussette; "I brought them with me." She then opened a large bag she always wore at her side, and drew from it three little pups. The queen-mother and she at once dressed them like the queen's children, in lace and fine linen embroidered with gold. They put them in a covered basket, and the wicked queen, accompanied by Roussette, went to Queen Blondine. "I come to thank you," she said, "for the fine heirs you have presented to my son; they certainly possess heads fitted to wear a crown. I am not surprised that you promised your husband two sons and a daughter with stars on their foreheads, long hair, and gold chains round their necks. Here, take and nurse them yourself, for no woman will care to suckle dogs."
The poor queen thought she should die of grief when she saw the three puppies, and heard the distracting noise they made, she began to cry bitterly, then clasping her hands: "Alas! madam," she said, "do not add your reproaches to my trouble; it could not surely be greater. If the gods had allowed me to die before becoming the mother of these little monsters, I should have reckoned myself happy. Alack! what am I to do? The king will hate me as much as he used to love me." Sighs and sobs stifled her voice, she could speak no more; and the queen-mother spent three hours at her bedside pleasantly occupied in insulting her.
She then went away, and Roussette, pretending to sympathise with Blondine's grief, said she was not the first to whom a like misfortune had occurred. It was of course a trick on the part of the old fairy, who had promised them so many wonderful things, but as it would be very dangerous for her to see the king, she advised her to go with her three puppy children to their poor mother. The queen's tears formed her only reply. It was a very hard heart that would not have been touched by her condition! Believing herself to be their mother, she actually suckled the horrid animals.
The queen ordered Feintise to take Blondine's children, and the princess's son, and to strangle and bury them, so that no one should know anything about it. When she was on the point of carrying out the command, and even held the fatal cord in her hand, she looked at them, found them so wondrously beautiful, and observed that they promised such extraordinary things, from the stars that shone on their foreheads, that she dared not use her hands to take so august a life.
She had a boat brought to the sea-shore, and put the four children in one cradle into it, and some jewelled necklaces, so that if fate led them to the hands of any one kind-hearted enough to bring them up, he might be rewarded.
Driven before a high wind, Feintise soon lost sight of the boat, and in the same instant the waves grew bigger, the sun was hidden, the clouds and water seemed to meet, and thunderclaps resounded on every side. She never doubted but the frail craft was upset, and felt glad that the poor innocents were no more, because she had dreaded something extraordinary happening in their favour.
The king, his mind always full of the queen, having made a truce for a short period, returned, travelling post; he arrived twelve hours after the birth of the children. When the queen-mother heard of his arrival, she went to meet him, her appearance betokening great grief; she held him for some time closely in her arms, moistening his face with her tears, and it seemed as if her grief had deprived her of the power of speech. The king, all trembling, dared not ask what had happened, for he felt sure it must be some terrible misfortune. At last his mother told him, with an effort, that this wife had given birth to three clogs. Feintise then showed them to him, and the admiral's wife, throwing herself at the king's feet, implored him not to kill the queen, but to send her back to her mother; that so had the queen herself determined, and would consider such treatment a great favour.
The king's despair was so great that he could scarcely breathe; he looked at the puppies, and was surprised at the star in the middle of their foreheads, and the different colour round their necks. He sank into a chair, turning over many thoughts in his mind, unable to make any final decision. But the queen-mother importuned him to such a degree, that be pronounced sentence of banishment on the innocent queen. She was immediately put into a litter with the three dogs, and taken to her mother's house, where she arrived almost dead.
The gods took pity on the princes and the princess in the boat. The fairy who protected them, instead of rain, caused milk to fall into their little mouths, and the terrible storm that had so suddenly arisen did not do them the least in jury. After drifting along for seven days and seven nights in open sea as gently as if they had been on a lake, they fell in with a pirate ship. The captain, struck even at a distance by the brilliant light of the stars on their foreheads, felt sure the boat must be full of precious stones. He verily found some in it, but was even more delighted with the beauty of the four marvellous children. The desire of saving them made him return home in order to give them to his wife, who was childless, but ardently wished for sons and daughters.
She was troubled to see him return so soon, because he had intended making a long voyage; but she was overjoyed when he delivered to her keeping such an important treasure. Together they wondered at the marvel of the stars, the gold chains that could not be removed from their necks, and their long hair. Their astonishment increased when the woman combed their hair, and every second there fell from it pearls, rubies, diamonds, and emeralds, of various sizes and all perfect; she told her husband about it, and he was equally surprised.
"I am," he said, "very tired of being a pirate if these little children's locks continue to give us such treasures, I will no longer scour the ocean, and my property will be as great as that of our chief captain's." The pirate's wife, whose name was Corsine, was delighted at her husband's determination, and loved the children all the more in consequence. She named the princess, Belle-Etoile her elder brother, Petit-Soleil; the younger, Heureux; and the princess's son, Chéri. So superior in beauty to the other two was Chéri that, although he had neither star nor necklace, Corsine loved him best.
As she could not rear them without the aid of a nurse, she asked her husband, who was fond of hunting, to catch her some very young fawns. He easily succeeded, because the forest in which they dwelt was very large. Corsine exposed them on the weather side, and the hinds scenting them, hastened up to suckle them. Corsine then hid them, and put the children in their stead, who eagerly drank the hind's milk. Twice every day four of them came to Corsine's house in search of the princes and the princess whom they took for fawns.
Thus passed the princes' early childhood the pirate and his wife loved them so passionately that they gave them every care. The man had been well educated, and it was less from inclination than from the frowardness of fortune that he had become a pirate. He had met Corsine in the house of a princess, where her mind had been properly cultivated; she was well-bred, and, although she inhabited a kind of desert, where they subsisted on the booty he brought home from his voyages, she had not forgotten the usages of society. Thus their joy that they were no longer forced to expose them-selves to all the dangers in separable from a pirate's life, was very great, and they were getting rich all the same. About every three days, there fell, as I have already mentioned, a quantity of precious stones from the hair of the princess and her brothers; those Corsine sold at the nearest town, and brought back all manner of pretty things for her little ones.
When they had passed their earliest infancy, the pirate began seriously to cultivate the charming dispositions heaven had endowed them with. As he never doubted that a great mystery attached to their origin, and his finding them, he wished to show his gratitude to the gods by giving the children a good education, so that, after rendering his house more comfortable, he brought there clever men who taught them the various branches of knowledge with an ease that vastly surprised those learned persons.
The pirate and his wife had never told any one the story of the finding of the four children. They passed for theirs, although their actions proved they sprung from a more illustrious stock. They were extremely fond of one another, which was only natural and polite, but Prince Chéri's affection for Princess Belle-Etoile was more eager and ardent than that of the other two; no sooner did she express a wish for anything than he attempted even the impossible to procure her what she wanted. He scarcely ever left her; when she went hunting, he accompanied her; when she stayed at home, he always found an excuse for remaining with her. Petit-Soleil and Heureux treated her with less affection and respect. She noticed the difference, but Chéri quite made up for it, and she loved him more than the others.
As they grew older their mutual affection increased, and at first they derived only pleasure from the fact. "My dear brother," said Belle-Etoile, "if my wishes could make you happy, you should be one of the greatest kings on the earth." "Alas my sister," he replied, "do not grudge me the happiness I find in being near you. I would rather spend an hour with you than possess the high honour you wish for me. When she made a like speech to her brothers, they very naturally replied that they would like nothing better, and to prove them further she added: "I should like you to sit on the greatest throne in the world, even if I were never to see you". They immediately said "You are right, my sister; the one is worth much more than the other". "You would then be willing, she said, "never to see me again?" "Certainly," they replied, "we should be quite content to hear from you occasionally."
When she was alone she examined these different ways of loving, and felt her own heart was just like theirs, for although she was fond of Petit-Soleil and Heureux, she did not desire to remain with them all her life, but she burst into tears whenever she thought their father might possibly send Chéri to sea, or put him into the army. Thus love, under the guise of a beautiful disposition, grew up in these young hearts. But at the age of fourteen, Belle-Etoile began to reproach herself for the injustice she thought she was doing her brothers in not loving them equally. She imagined Chéri's attentions and caresses were the cause, and forbade him to seek further means of making himself beloved. "You have found only too many," she said, pleasantly, "and you have succeeded in causing me to make a great difference between you and them." When she spoke thus his joy was intense; far from lessening his love, she increased it, and every day he showed her some fresh gallantry.
They had no idea what their affection tended to, nor did they know its meaning, when one day Belle-Etoile received some new books. She took the first that came to her hand; it contained the story of two young lovers, whose passion began when they thought themselves brother and sister, but afterwards their relatives recognised them and discovered to them that such was not the case, and after many troubles they were married. As Chéri read extremely well, intelligently, and with expression, she asked him to read the tale to her while she finished a piece of needlework she was anxious to complete.
He read the story, and it was not without some emotion that he recognised in it a perfect description of his own feelings. Belle-Etoile was equally surprised; it seemed as if the author had divined all that was passing in her mind. The longer Chéri read, the more he was touched; the longer the princess listened, the more distressed she became; in spite of her efforts her eyes filled, and the tears coursed down her cheeks. Chéri, on his part, made the same effort, but equally in vain; he grew pale, changed colour, and the sound of his voice became strange; they both suffered as much as it is possible to endure. "Ah! my sister," he exclaimed, looking at her sadly, "how happy was Hippolyte in not being Julie's brother!" "We shall not have a similar cause for gladness," she replied, "but alas! we need it as much." So saying, she knew she had said too much, and looked confused; if anything could comfort the prince, it was her state of mind. From that time they both fell into a deep melancholy, without any further explanation. They understood a part of what was passing in their minds, and endeavoured to hide from everybody a secret they would have preferred to ignore themselves, and which they never discussed with each other. However it is only natural to hope, and the princess considered it a favourable sign that Chéri alone had no star on his forehead nor chain round his neck, though he possessed long hair and the gift of scattering precious stones when it was combed like his cousins.
One day the three princes had gone hunting. Belle-Etoile shut herself up in a little room that she liked because it was dark, and she could indulge her dreams there with less interruption than elsewhere; she made no noise at all. This room was only divided from that of Corsine by a partition wall. Corsine thought the girl was out walking, and Belle-Etoile heard her say to the pirate: "Belle-Etoile is now old enough to be married: if we knew who she was, we should try to find her a husband suited to her rank, or if we could think those who pass for her brothers, were not so, we could give her one of them, for where can she hope to find any one more perfect?"
"When I found them," said the pirate, "there was nothing to give me any clue to their rank. The precious stones placed in their cradle pointed to the fact that they must belong to wealthy people, but the strange thing was that they all seemed to be of exactly the same age, and it is not usual to have four children atone birth.'' "I doubt,' said Corsine, "if Chéri is their brother; he has neither star nor necklace." That is true," replied her husband, "but the diamonds fall from his hair as from that of the others, and considering all the wealth we have amassed by means of these dear children, I have nothing further to wish for than to discover their origin." "We must leave everything to the gods," said Corsine, "who gave them to us, and will, doubtless, at the right time reveal to us the secret."
Belle-Etoile listened attentively to this conversation. Her joy at the hope she might be of illustrious birth cannot be expressed for although she had never been wanting in respect to those she believed to be her parents, she had all the same been sorry to know herself the daughter of a pirate. But what delighted her even more was the hope that Chéri was not her brother. She burned with impatience to talk to him, and tell him so strange a circumstance.
She mounted a light bay horse, whose black mane was tied up with diamond buckles, for she had only to corn her hair once to provide the whole hunt with jewels. Her green velvet saddle-cloth was studded with diamonds and embroidered with rubies. She rode swiftly towards the forest in search of her brothers. The sound of horns and the having of hounds signified to her where they were, and in a moment she had joined them. At sight of her, Chéri left the others and went to meet her. "What a delightful surprise," he exclaimed. "Belle-Etoile! at length you come to the hunt, you who can never for a moment be persuaded to leave the joys of music and the sciences.
"I have so many things to say to you," she replied, "that wishing to be alone with you, I came in search of . "Alas! my sister, he said, sighing, what do you want of me? It seems to me that for some while past you have been avoiding me." She blushed, cast down her eyes, and remained on her horse, sad and pondering, without replying a word. When her brothers came up she started as from deep slumber, and jumped to the ground, walking on in front. They all followed her, and in the midst of a grass-plot, shaded by trees, she said "Let us stay here, and I will tell you what I have just heard".
She related to them the conversation between the pirate and his wife, and how they were not their children. The surprise of the three princes was enormous, and they discussed what they ought to do. One wished to depart without saying anything about it; another preferred remaining where he was, and the last wanted to go, but at the same time to tell the pirate of their intention. The first argued that his way was best, because the profit gained by combing their hair would certainly make the pirate desirous of keeping them with him; the second replied that it would be all very well to go away if they had any fixed place to go to and knew something of their rank in life, otherwise it was not exactly pleasant to wander about the world. The last added that it would he most ungrateful to go away without telling their benefactors, and that it would be stupid to remain longer in the depths of a forest where they had no means of learning who they were, and that, therefore, the best method was to speak to the pirate and his wife and ask their consent to their setting out. All agreed to this, and they mounted their horses in order to go and find the pirate and Corsine.
Chéri's heart was full of all the most delightful hopes that can console an afflicted lover. His love helped him partly to divine the future; he no longer thought himself Belle-Etoile's brother, and giving a little rein to his passion indulged himself in many beautiful dreams. They joined the pirate and Corsine with a mingled expression of joy and anxiety on their countenances. "We do not come," said Petit-Soleil, who was spokesman, "to deny the affection, gratitude, and respect we owe you; although we have learnt that you are not our father and mother, the pity that induced you to rescue us, the noble education you have given us, all the care and kindness with which you have surrounded us, have formed such close ties that nothing in the world could free us from them. We come, therefore, to renew our sincerest thanks, to beg you to tell us the strange story, and give us your advice, so that guided by you we may have no cause to reproach ourselves."
The pirate and Corsine were much surprised that a thing they had so care fully concealed should have been discovered. "You have been only too veil informed," they said, "and we cannot hide the fact that you are not our children, and came into our possession by the merest chance. We know nothing of your rank, but the precious stones that were in your cradle prove that your parents are either great nobles or very rich. Now how can we advise you? If you consult our affections for you, you would then remain with us and console our old age with your pleasant society. If you do not like the castle we have built here, or if living in this solitude wearies you, we would go wherever you pleased, provided it was not to the court. A long experience has made it hateful to us, and would make it equally hateful to you if you knew the continual agitation, hypocrisy, envy, the disparity of rank, the real evil and the pretended good to be found there. We would say more but you would think our advice interested; and so it is, my children, for we want to keep you in this peaceful retreat, although you are at liberty to quit it when you like. Do not, however, fail to remember that here you are in the harbour, and that you go to the stormy sea, and that there trouble is nearly always in excess of joy; that the period of our lives is but short, and we often have to leave the world in the midst of our career; that the great things of the earth are counterfeit stones by which through a strange fatality we allow ourselves to he dazzled, and that the most enduring of all goods is to be able to limit our desires, to enjoy tranquillity, and become wise.
The pirate would have spoken longer had not Prince Heureux interrupted him. "My dear father," he said, "we are too anxious to clear up the mystery of our birth to bury ourselves in a desert. Your teaching is excellent and I wish we were capable of following it, but some indescribable fatality calls us else where. Permit us to fulfil our destiny; we shall return and tell you our adventures." The pirate and his wife began to weep. The princes felt very sorry, especially Belle-Etoile, who had a charming disposition and would never have thought of leaving the desert if she had been sure that Chéri would always stay with her.
The decision made, they thought only of preparing for their embarkation, for as they had been found on the sea they hoped to receive there some revelation of what they desired to know. They took on board their ship a horse for each, and after combing their hair violently in order to leave Corsine as many precious stones as possible, they asked her to give them in exchange the diamond chains found in their cradle. She fetched them from her closet, where she had carefully put them, and fastened them to Belle-Etoile's gown. She could not leave off embracing her, moistening her face with her tears.
Never was there a sadder parting; the pirate and his wife thought they could not survive it. Their sorrow did not arise from interested motives, for they had amassed such a quantity of treasure that they did not want an more. Petit-Soleil, Heureux, Chéri, and Belle-Etoile got into the ship. The pirate had had built for them a very stout and magnificent vessel; the mast was of ebony and cedar, the rigging of green silk mixed with gold, the sails of green and gold cloth, and the decorations beautiful. When it began to move, Cleopatra with her Antony and even the whole of Venus's crew would have lowered their flag before it. The princess was seated under a rich canopy on the poop, her two brothers and her cousin near her, and brighter than the constellations of heaven their stars gave forth long dazzling rays of light. They determined to go to the place where the pirate had found them. They prepared for a great sacrifice to the gods and fairies to obtain their protection and their guidance to the place of their birth. They caught a dove to sacrifice, but the princess finding it beautiful, took pity on it and saved its life, and to protect it from such a fate let it fly away. "Go," she said, "bird of Venus, and if some day I have need of you, do not forget the benefit you owe me."
The dove flew away. When the sacrifice was ended, they began so charming a concert, that it seemed as if all nature kept silence to listen; the waves of the sea were at rest, not a wind blew, zephyr alone gently stirred the princess's hair and veil. Then there came forth from the water a mermaid, who sang so well that the princess and her brothers were enchanted. After singing a few songs, she turned towards them and exclaimed: "Cease to disturb yourselves; let your ship go as it listeth; disembark where it stops, and let all who love continue to love".
Belle-Etoile and Chéri were charmed with the mermaid's words. They had no doubt these were meant for them, and expressing this belief in their glances, their hearts conversed, and neither Petit-Soleil nor Heureux perceived any thing of it. The ship sailed on at the will of the winds and waves; the voyage was uneventful, the weather was always fine, and the sea always calm. They were three months at sea, and during the time Prince Chéri often talked with the princess. "What delightful hopes I have, charming star," he said to her one clay. "I am not your brother; this heart that owns your power and will never recognise that of another is not born for crime, and it would be one to love you as I do, if you were my sister. But the kindly mermaid, who gave us counsel, confirmed what I already thought." "Ah! my brother," she replied, "do not put too much trust in a thing still so obscure that we cannot see it clearly. What would our fate be if we vexed the gods by feelings they disapproved? The mermaid's words were so vague, that if we apply them to our selves, it only proves that we wish to give them that meaning." "Cruel girl," said the distressed prince; "you say that less out of fear of the gods than out of hatred for me." Belle-Etoile did not reply, but raising her eyes to the heavens, she heaved so deep a sigh that he could not help regarding it as a favourable sign.
It was the season of the year when the days are long and hot. Towards evening the princess and her brothers came on deck to watch the sun sink into the sea. She sat down, the princes placed themselves near her; they took their instruments, and began a delightful concert. But the ship, driven by a fresh breeze, seemed to sail more swiftly, and quickly doubled a small cape that hid a part of the most beautiful town imaginable; and when it stood fully revealed, the sight surprised our young people. All the palaces were of marble, with gilded roofs, and the rest of the houses were of very fine porcelain. Some ever green trees mingled their enamelled leaves with the various colours of the marble, gold, and porcelain. They hoped their ship would enter the harbour, but feared it would scarcely find room there, for the number of masts made it look like a floating forest.
Their wish was granted; the ship ran into the harbour, and the quay was immediately crowded with people, who had noticed the magnificent ship. The vessel built by the Argonauts for the quest of the Golden Fleece was not so splendid. The stars, and the beauty of the wondrous children, enchanted all beholders, and the king was informed of the new arrivals. As he could not believe it, and the principal terrace of the palace bordered the sea-shore, he quickly came out upon it, and saw the Princes Petit-Soleil and Chéri lifting the princess in their arms, and carrying her to land; then the horses were disembarked, and their rich trappings corresponded with all the rest. Petit-Soleil mounted one blacker than jet, Heureux's was grey, Chéri's snow-white, and the princess's light-hay. The king admired them all four on their horses, which stepped so majestically that they kept off all who tried to approach them.
The princes, hearing people say "There is the king," raised their eyes, and seeing his dignified hearing, the made a low bow, and passed slowly on, still looking at him. He on his part looked at them, and was not less charmed with the princess's matchless beauty than with the good looks of the young princes. He ordered his equerry to offer them his protection, and everything they might have need of in a land where they were apparently strangers. They received the honour the king did them with much respect and gratitude, and said they only wanted a house in which they could be in seclusion, and would prefer it one or two leagues from the town, because they were very fond of walking. The equerry-in-chief at once ordered them to he given a very beautiful dwelling where they and their attendants could comfortably lodge.
The king's mind was so full of the four children he had just seen, that he went immediately to the queen-mother's apartments to tell her the miracle of the stars shining on their foreheads, and everything he had found to admire in them. She was quite overcome, and asked him, without affectation, how old they were. He replied fifteen or sixteen. She did not show her anxiety, but greatly feared that Feintise had deceived her. The king walked quickly up and down, and said: "How happy must a father be with such handsome sons and so beautiful a daughter. As for me, wretched monarch, I am the father of three dogs--illustrious successors, indeed; my crown is well established!"
The queen-mother listened to these words with a mortal agony. The shining stars, the age of the strangers, were so like those of the princes and their sister, that she had great suspicions Feintise had deceived her, and had saved the king's children instead of killing them. But she had great control over herself, and betrayed nothing of what was passing in her mind; she would not even send that day to procure information about many things she wanted to know. But the next day she sent her secretary, who, under pretext of giving orders in the house for their greater comfort, was to examine into everything, and report if they had stars on the forehead.
The secretary set out quite early, and arrived just when the princess was beginning her toilet. At that time people did not purchase their complexion of a perfumer--a fair skin remained fair and a dark one did not become fair; so he saw her before her hair was dressed. It was being combed; her fair locks, finer than gold thread, fell to the ground in curls. Several baskets were placed round so that the precious stones that fell from her hair might not be lost; the star on her forehead shone with a dazzling light, and the gold chain round her neck was not less extraordinary than the precious stones which rolled down from the crown of her head. The secretary could scarcely believe his eyes, but the princess chose the biggest pearl, and begged him to keep it in remembrance of her; it is the same stone that the kings of Spain esteem so highly under the name of Peregrine, which means pilgrim, because it came from a traveller.
The secretary, embarrassed by such generosity, took leave of her, and visited the three princes, with whom he remained a long time in order to obtain the required information. What he told the queen on his return confirmed her suspicions. He told her that Chéri had no star, but that precious jewels fell from his hair as from that of his brothers, and that, in his opinion, he was the handsomest; that they came from a long distance; their parents had only allowed them a certain time for visiting foreign lands. This puzzled the queen a little, and she sometimes thought they could not be the king's children after all.
She was hovering thus between hope and fear, when the king, who was very fond of hunting, went to the neighbourhood of their house. The equerry-in-chief, who accompanied him, told him it was the place where, following his commands, he had lodged Belle-Etoile and her brothers. "The queen counselled me," replied the king, "not to visit them; she thinks they may come from some land infested with the plague, and may bring with them the germs of disease." "The young stranger lady," said the equerry, "is, indeed, very dangerous; but, sir, I should fear her eyes more than infection of disease." "In truth," said the king, "I agree with you "; and urging his horse forward heard the sound of musical instruments and voices. He stopped near a large saloon, of which the windows stood open; and after admiring the sweet symphony he advanced.
The noise of the horses made the princes look out: when they recognised the king, they saluted him respectfully; they hastened to meet him with a pleased expression of countenance and many marks of submission; they knelt down and kissed his hands as if they knew he was their father. He embraced them, and felt greatly moved, and could not imagine the reason. He told them they must not fail to come to the palace, for he wanted to talk with them and introduce them to his mother. They thanked him for the honour he showed them, and promised that, as soon as their clothes and equipages were ready, they would certainly come to court.
The king left them to finish the hunt, and kindly sent them half the booty, taking the rest to the queen. "What "she said, "is it possible that you have had such poor sport? You generally kill three times as much game." "Yes," replied the king, "but I gave some to the handsome strangers. I feel drawn towards them in a most surprising manner, and if you had less fear of infection I should lodge them in the palace." The queen-mother was very angry, accused him of failing in respect towards her, and reproached him for so carelessly exposing her to danger.
Directly he left her, she sent for Feintise; she shut herself up with her in her closet, seized her hair with one hand, and with the other held a dagger at her throat. "Wretch,' she said, "I do not know what prevents me from sacrificing you to my just resentment. You have deceived me. You did not kill the four children I delivered over to you to get rid of; confess your crime, and then, may be, I shall pardon you." Feintise, half dead with fear, threw herself at her feet and told her all; but she deemed it impossible the children could be alive, because such a frightful storm had arisen that she thought the hail would knock her down. But she asked for time, and promised to get rid of them, one after the other, so that nobody would suspect anything wrong.
The queen, who only desired their death, was somewhat appeased. She told her not to lose a moment, and old Feintise, well knowing her danger, neglected nothing to attain her end. She spied the time when the three princes were hunting, and, taking a guitar, sat beneath the princess's windows and sang these words:--
Beauty conquers all with her great power,
Happy ye who profit by her hour!
Beauty fades away,
Will blight the blossoms gay.
Thus dim grows beauty's ray,
Charms are lost,
We count them with dismay.
Upon us then doth Seize
Unhappy, ill at ease,
We seek the aid of these,
Art and care,
With futile hope to please.
Blithe young hearts! seek every charm to prove
Youth's the age when ev'ry one should love.
Beauty fades away,
Will blight the blossoms gay.
Thus dim grows beauty's ray,
Charms are lost,
We count them with dismay.
Upon us then doth seize
Unhappy, ill at ease,
We seek the aid of these,
Art and care,
With futile hope to please."
Belle-Etoile found the song pleasing, and came out on to the balcony to see who was singing. When she appeared, Feintise, who was well dressed, made her a low curtesy; the princess returned her greeting and good-humouredly asked if the words she had just heard applied to the singer of them. "Yes, charming girl," replied Feintise, "they are for me; but in order that they may never be applicable to you, I come to give you some advise you must not fail to take." "And what is it?" said Belle-Etoile. "If you will allow me to join you in your room I will tell you," she added. "You can come in," rejoined the princess, and the old lady entered with a certain courtly air that once acquired is seldom lost.
"My beautiful girl," said Feintise, without losing a moment, for she feared some interruption, "heaven has made you entirely charming: you have a shining star on your forehead and many other marvels are told of you, but you lack one essentially necessary thing; if you do not possess it I pity you "And what may that be?" she replied. "The dancing water," continued our malicious old dame; "if I had had it, you would not see a white hair on my head nor a wrinkle on my face, and I should have the most beautiful teeth imaginable and a charming, youthful appearance. But alas I learnt the secret too late, my charms were already faded. Take warning by my misfortunes, dear child; it will help to console me, for I feel a most extraordinary affection for you.' "But where can I get this dancing water?" asked Belle-Etoile. "From the luminous forest," said Feintise. "You have three brothers, surely one of them loves you enough to fetch it for you. Indeed it would be scarcely kind not to do so, and nothing less will assure your being beautiful a hundred years after your death." "My brothers are very fond of me," said the princess, "and one of them will refuse me nothing. Certainly if this water can do all you say, I will reward you in proportion." The perfidious old dame speedily withdrew, charmed at her good success. She told Belle-Etoile she would visit her frequently.
The princes returned from the chase, one bringing a wild boar, another a hare, and the last a stag. It was all laid at their sister's feet; she received the homage a little contemptuously, for her mind was full of Feintise's advice. She seemed troubled, and Chéri, who was always studying her, was not a quarter of an hour in her company before he noticed it. "What is the matter, my clearest star?" he said. "Do you not like the country we are in? If that is the case let us go away at once. Perhaps our train is not large enough, the furniture beautiful enough, or our food delicate enough. Tell me, I beg, so that I may have the pleasure of being the first to obey you, and of compelling the others to obey you."
"The confidence you inspire in me to tell you what is passing in my mind,' she replied, "urges me to confess that unless I have the dancing water I can no longer live; it is to be obtained from the luminous forest, and possessing it, I need fear nothing from the ravages of time." "Do not trouble, my sweet star," he replied, "I will go and fetch it for you, or my death will show you that it is impossible to obtain." "No," she said, "I would rather renounce all the advantages of beauty, and sooner than risk so dear a life I will be hideous; I implore you to think no more of the dancing water, and indeed if I have any influence over you I forbid it."
The prince feigned obedience, but directly she was occupied he mounted his white horse which curvetted and pranced along, taking money and a rich Costume with him. There was no need to burden himself with diamonds, for three turns of the comb caused sometimes a million to fall. The number was not always the same; the condition of their mind and health regulated the supply of the precious stones. He took no one with him in order to be more at liberty, and that if the quest proved dangerous he might run risks without having to overcome the remonstrances of a zealous and timid attendant.
When supper-time arrived and no Chéri, the princess's anxiety was so great that she could neither eat nor drink. She gave orders that they should search everywhere. The two princes, knowing nothing about the dancing water, told her she worried unnecessarily, that he could not be far off, that she knew how he liked to dream, and that he had doubtless stopped in the forest. She remained quiet till midnight, then lost patience and in tears told her brothers that she was the cause of' Chéri's absence, that she had confessed to him a violent desire for the dancing water from the luminous forest, and that doubtless that was where he had gone. They determined to send people in search of him, and she bade them tell him she implored him to return.
Wicked Feintise was dying to know the result of her advice; when she learnt that Chéri had already started, she was much delighted, never doubting that his progress would be quicker than those who had been sent in search of him, and that some accident would happen to him. She hastened to the palace, joyful at the hope, and told the queen all that had taken place. "I confess, madam," she said, "that there is no possible doubt that they are the three princes and their sister; they have stars on the brow, gold chains round the neck, their hair is most lovely, and jewels fall from it at every moment; the princess is wearing the jewels I put in the cradle, though they are not so beautiful as those that fall from her hair. Thus I cannot doubt their return, in spite of the care I thought I took to prevent it. But, madam, I will rid you of them, and as it is the only way in which I can repair my fault, I entreat you to give me time. One of the princes has already gone in search of the dancing water, and he must perish in the attempt, and so I shall prepare many ways for their destruction." "'We shall see," said the queen, "if success attends your efforts; count on that alone to turn aside my just anger." Feintise withdrew more alarmed than ever, searching in her mind for every possible means by which she might compass their destruction.
The means employed for that of Prince Chéri was very sure, for the dancing water is not easily obtained, and the misfortunes of those who had attempted to find it were so well known that everybody was acquainted with the road to it. His white horse galloped at a surprising rate; he spurred it on continually, be cause he wanted to return quickly to Belle-Etoile, and give her all the satisfaction she hoped from his journey. He went on for eight nights following, resting only in the woods under the first tree, and eating nothing but the fruit he found on his road, scarcely giving his horse time to browse the grass. At the end of that period he found himself in a country where the air was so hot that he began to suffer greatly. The heat was not caused by the sun, and he could not understand the reason, when from the top of a mountain he saw the luminous forest. All the trees were burning, but were not consumed, and threw their flames such a distance that the country was arid and barren. He heard serpents hissing and lions roaring in the forest, a fact that vastly astonished him, since it seemed that no animal, the salamander excepted, could live in such a furnace.
After looking at this terrible place he descended the height, pondering how he should act, and more than once saying to himself that he was lost. As he approached the terrible fire, he was seized with a great thirst; he found a spring bubbling up out of the hill, and falling into a big marble basin. He dismounted, and stooped to fill with the water a little gold cup he had brought with him to hold that the princess desired, when he saw a dove drowning in the spring her wings were wet through; she had no more strength, and had slipped down to the bottom of the basin. Chéri took pits' on her and rescued her; he held her up by the feet, for she had drunk so much that she was inflated. Then he warmed her, dried her wings with his handkerchief, and aided her so successfully that in a very short time the poor dove was more cheerful than she had been sad before.
"Prince Chéri," she said, in a sweet and tender voice, "you could not have done a kindness to a more grateful animal than myself; it is not the first time I have received important favours from your family, and I am delighted to be of se to you in my turn. Do not imagine I am ignorant of the purpose of your journey; you undertook it somewhat rashly, for the number of those who have perished here cannot he counted. The dancing water is for women the eighth wonder of the world; it beautifies, regenerates and enriches, but if I do not guide you, you could never obtain it, for the spring boils up out of the earth in the centre of the forest, and falls into a gulf. The road is covered with fallen, burning branches, and I see no other means of getting there except under ground; remain quietly here while I make the necessary preparations."
The dove then rose up in the air, flew now high, now low now here, now there; and exerted herself to such a degree, that by the end of the day she told the prince everything was ready. He held the helpful bird in his arms, kissed it, caressed and thanked it, and followed it on his beautiful white horse. Scarcely had he gone a hundred yards, when he saw two long lines of foxes, snails, moles, ants, and all sorts of animals that burrow in the earth; there was such a vast number of them that he could not imagine by what power they had been gathered together. "It is by my order," said the dove, "that you see all these subterranean folk; they are going to work on your behalf, and very speedily. I should be very glad if you would thank them. "The prince saluted them, and promised to take them to a less barren spot, and gladly entertain them there; and each animal seen satisfied.
Chéri having reached the entrance of the passage, left his horse outside; and, half stooping, he went on with the good dove, who led him without accident to the spring. It made so great a noise that he would have become deaf if she had not given him two of her white feathers to stop up his ears. He was vastly surprised to see that the water danced as well as if it had been taught by Favier and Pecourt . It is true, it danced only old-fashioned dances like the Bocane, the Mariée, and the Saraband . Several birds, flying in the air, sang tunes, to which the water danced. The prince filled his gold cup, drank himself a couple of draughts, that made him a hundred times handsomer than he was before, and so greatly refreshed him, that he scarcely perceived that of all places in the world the luminous forest was the hottest.
He returned by the same road he had come; his horse had gone away, but, obedient to his voice, it came at full gallop as soon as he called it. The prince sprang lightly into the saddle, proud of having obtained the dancing water. "Dear dove," he said, "I know not by what miracle your power in this place is so great; the benefits I have gained from it call forth all my gratitude; and, as freedom is the greatest of goods, I restore yours to you in return for the favours you have shown me.' So saying, he let her go. She flew away with rather a sullen air, as if she would have stayed with him against his will. "What inequality!" he said. "You are more like a man than a dove--one is fickle, the other is not." The dove replied to him from the air "Eh! do you know who I am?" Chéri was astonished that the dove should thus reply to his thought; he judged her to be very clever, and felt sorry he had let her go. She might have been useful to me," he said "and I might have learned from her many things that would contribute to the peace of my life." But he came to the conclusion that a good deed is never to be regretted; and he felt repaid when he thought how she had smoothed the difficulties of procuring the dancing water. The gold cup was closed up, so that the water could neither escape nor evaporate. He was thinking with pleasure of Belle-Etoile's delight at receiving it, and his own joy in seeing her 'again, when he observed several cavaliers riding at full speed, who no sooner perceived him than, with loud shouts, they pointed him out to one another. He had no fear, he was intrepid enough to be little alarmed at dangers, but he was much annoyed that anything should delay him. He rode quickly up to them and was greatly surprised to recognise some of his servants, who delivered to him little notes, or, more properly, the commands entrusted to them by the princess that he should not expose himself to the perils of the luminous forest. He kissed Belle-Etoile's handwriting, heaved more than one sigh, and hastened to return to her and put an end to her anxiety.
He found her seated under some trees and in the greatest distress of mind. When she saw him at her feet she knew not how to welcome him. She wanted to scold him for setting out against her orders and to thank him for the charming present he brought her. In the end affection won the day; she kissed her beloved brother and her reproaches were not of a very serious character.
Old Feintise, who was ever watchful, learnt from spies that Chéri had returned handsomer than before his departure, and that the princess, after bathing her face with the dancing water, had become so excessively beautiful, that it was impossible to receive the least of her glances without dying more than half-a-dozen deaths.
Feintise was both astonished and annoyed, for she had reckoned on the prince perishing in the undertaking. But it would not do to be disheartened, and she waited for the hour at which the princess with but few attendants went to a little temple of Diana. She approached her and said in a friendly way: "I am delighted, madam, at the happy result of my advice. One glance at you is enough to know that you possess the dancing water, but if I dared counsel you further, you should endeavour to obtain the singing apple. It is quite a different thing; it adorns the mind to such a degree that there is nothing you would not be able to accomplish. If you wish to convince some one of something, you have only to smell the singing apple if you wish to speak in public, to write verses or prose to amuse, to cause tears or laughter, the apple can do it all, and it sings so well and so loud that although it can be heard eight leagues off, you are not stunned by the sound."
"I don't want it!" exclaimed the princess; "you nearly caused my brother's death with your dancing water; your advice contains too much danger." "What, madam," replied Feintise, "you would be sorry to he the most learned and witty person in the universe? you can't really think so." "Ah, but what should I have done?" said Belle-Etoile, "if my dear brother had been brought back dead or dying?" "He," said the old woman, "will not go again; the others must take their turn in serving you, and the enterprise is not so dangerous.' "Never mind," added the princess, "I am not inclined to expose them." "Truly, how I pity you," said Feintise, "to lose such a Splendid opportunity. but you must reflect on it. Farewell, madam." She went away annoyed at her ill success, and Belle remained at the foot of the statue of Diana, irresolute how to proceed, She loved her brothers, but she also loved herself, and felt that nothing would please her better than to Possess the singing apple.
She sighed for some time and then began to weep. Petit-Soleil returning from the hunt heard a noise in the temple, entered, and saw the princess, who covered her face with her veil in shame of her wet eyes. He had already noticed her tears, and approaching her implored her to tell him instantly the reason of her sorrow. She refused, replying that she was ashamed of herself; but the more she concealed her secret the greater became his desire to know it.
At length she told him that the same old woman who had advised her to send for the dancing water had just told her that the singing apple was much more wonderful, because it gave you so much wit as to make you a sort of prodigy. In truth, she would give the half of her life for such an apple, but she feared the danger of seeking it was too great. "You need have no fear on my account," said her brother, smiling. "I have a desire to render you such a service; have you not intelligence enough? Come, come, sister," he continued "dry your eyes."
Belle-Etoile followed him as annoyed at the way in which he received her confidence as at the impossibility of obtaining the Singing apple. Supper was served, and they all four sat down to table; she could not eat, and Chéri, charming Chéri, who thought only of her, served her the nicest things and pressed her to taste them. At the first mouthful her heart swelled, tears came into her eyes, and, weeping, she left the table. Belle-Etoile in tears! O ye gods! what was Chéri's anxiety! He asked what was the matter and Petit Soled told him, scoffing so unkindly at his sister that she was offended, withdrew into her own room, and would not speak to any one all the evening.
As soon as Petit-Soleil and Heureux had gone to bed, Chéri mounted his excellent white horse without telling any one where he was going, He left a note for Belle-Etoile with the order that it was to be given her when she awoke. And all that night he rode on, not knowing where he could obtain the singing apple.
The prince's letter was given to the princess on her rising, and her feelings of anxiety and affection on such an occasion may easily be imagined. She hastened to her brothers' room to read it them; they shared her fears, for they were all most united. They immediately sent nearly all their people after him to force him to return, and abandon so terrible an adventure.
Meanwhile the king did not forget the beautiful children in the forest; lie often turned his steps that way, and when he passed near their house and saw them he reproached them for never coming to the palace. They excused themselves at first because they were having a suitable equipage prepared, and now on account of their brother's absence, and promised that on his return they would take advantage of the king's permission, and come and pay their duty to him.
Prince Chéri's passion was too ardent for him not to make all possible speed. At dawn he came upon a handsome young man lying under the trees reading a book; Chéri approached him and said politely: "Allow me to interrupt you to ask you if you know where the singing apple is to be found?" The young man raised his eyes and smiling pleasantly said: "Do you wish to obtain it?" "Yes, if it is possible," replied the prince. "Ah, sir," added the stranger, "you have no idea of the dangers attending such a quest; this book relates them, and the mere reading terrifies me." "Never mind," said Chéri, "no danger can prevent me making the attempt; only tell me where I can find it." "The book observes," continued the man, "that it is in a vast desert in Libya, that its singing can be heard eight leagues off, and that the dragon who guards it has already devoured five hundred thousand persons who were rash enough to go there." "I shall make five hundred thousand and one," replied the prince, smiling, and with a bow he took his way towards the Libyan desert; his fine horse was of zephyr breed, for Zephyr was his grandfather, and went like the wind, so that his speed was incredible.
He listened in vain, but could nowhere hear the apple singing. He was distressed by the length of the road and the uselessness of his journey, when he saw a poor dove fall at his feet; it was still alive, but surely dying. As he saw no one who could have wounded it, he thought it very probably belonged to Venus, and having escaped from her dove-cote, naughty Cupid, to try his arrows, had shot it. He took pity on it, dismounted, and lifting it, wiped its white wings, already stained with red blood. Taking from his pocket a gold phial that contained an admirable balm for wounds, he had scarcely put some on the sick dove before it opened its eyes, raised its head, spread its wings, and preened its feathers. Then looking at the prince: "Good-day, Chéri," it said; "you are destined to save my life, and I to render you great service. You come to gain possession of the singing apple; the enterprise is difficult and worthy of you, because it is guarded by a terrible dragon, with twelve feet, three heads, six wings, and a bronze body." "Ah, my dear dove," said the prince, "how glad I am to see you again, and at a time when I so greatly need your help. Do not refuse it me, my beautiful little bird, for if I had the shame of returning home without the singing apple, I should die of grief; and since you assisted me to get the dancing water I hope you will find a way to make me succeed in this undertaking." "You touch me truly," replied the dove, tenderly "Follow me; I am going to fly in front of you, and I hope all will go well."
The prince let her go; after travelling all day they arrived near a mountain of sand. "You must dig here," said the dove. Immediately the prince, letting nothing discourage him, began to dig, sometimes with his hands, sometimes with his sword. At the end of a few hours he found a helmet, cuirass, and the rest of the armour for himself and his horse, made entirely of mirrors. "Arm yourself," said the dove, "and do not fear the dragon; when he sees his reflection in these mirrors, he will be so terrified, thinking they are monsters like himself, that he will run away."
Chéri greatly approved the expedient, armed himself with the mirrors, and taking up the dove again, went on during the whole of the night. At dawn they heard an enchanting melody. The prince begged the dove to tell him what it was. "I feel sure," she said, "only the apple could be so beautiful, because it alone simulates all the various parts of music, and without touching an instrument, seems to play them all in the most perfect fashion." Every step brought them nearer; the prince thought to himself that he would like the apple to sing something suitable to his situation, and at the same moment heard these words:--
"The most rebellious heart is gained
At last by Love;
Then cease not thy wooing,
But persevere! Thy cruel
Fair one shalt thou move
By constantly pursuing!"
"Ah!" he exclaimed, replying to the verses, "what a delightful prophecy! I may hope one day to be happy; it has just been foretold me." The dove said nothing; she was no great talker, and only spoke when it was absolutely necessary. As he advanced the beauty of the music increased, and not withstanding his eagerness he was sometimes so enchanted that he stopped still only to listen. But the sight of the terrible dragon who suddenly appeared with his twelve feet and more than a hundred claws, the three heads and the bronze body, woke him from that sort of lethargy. The monster had scented the prince from afar, and waited to devour him like the others of whom he had made such excellent meals. Their bones were piled round the apple tree on which was the marvellous apple, and they were so high that the trees could not he seen.
The terrible animal advanced leaping; he covered the ground with a very dangerous and poisonous foam. Out of his horrible mouth came fire and little dragons that he threw like darts into the eyes and ears of the knights-errant who wanted to carry off the apple. But when he saw his horrible shape multi plied hundreds and hundreds of times in the prince's mirrors it was his turn to be afraid; he stopped, looked haughtily at the prince loaded with dragons, and only thought of flight. Chéri, observing the happy effect of his armour, pursued him to the entrance of a deep cave, into which he hurried to get out of Chéri's way. He quickly closed up the entrance, and hastened to return to the singing apple.
Climbing over the bones that surrounded it, he looked admiringly at the beautiful tree; it was of amber, the apples of topaz, and the best of all, the one he sought amid all this trouble and danger was to he seen at the top, made of a single ruby with a diamond crown above. The prince, overcome with joy at being able to give Belle-Etoile so rare and perfect a treasure, hastened to break off the amber branch, and, proud of his good fortune, mounted his white horse but could not see the dove. Directly she saw she was no longer needed, she had flown away. Without wasting time in superfluous regrets, and fearing that the dragon whose hisses he could hear might find a way of getting at the apple, he returned with it to the princess.
She had been unable to sleep during his absence; she never ceased reproaching herself for her desire of being more intelligent than the rest, and feared Chéri's death more than her own. "Ah unfortunate that I am!" she exclaimed, heaving deep sighs, "why was I so vain-glorious? Was it not enough to think and speak well enough to do and say nothing foolish? I shall be properly punished for my vanity if I lose him I love. Alas," she continued, "perhaps the gods, angry at the feelings I cannot help having towards Chéri, will take him from me by some tragic end."
There was no evil her distressed heart did not imagine when, in the middle of the night, she heard such wonderful music that she could not help getting up and going to the window to hear it better; she knew not what to think of it. Sometimes she thought it was Apollo and the Muses, sometimes Venus, the Graces and Cupids; the melodious sound came ever nearer, and Belle-Etoile listened.
At length the prince arrived. The moon was shining brightly; he stopped under the balcony whence the princess had withdrawn on perceiving a horse man in the distance. The apple immediately sang:--
"Awake, beauteous slumberer".
The princess, curious to see who sang so well, looked out, and recognising her beloved brother, thought of throwing herself out of the window in order to be sooner with him; she spoke so loud that everybody awoke, and the door was soon opened to admit Chéri. The eagerness with which he entered may be imagined. He held the amber branch with the miraculous fruit at its end his hand, and as he had smelt it often his intelligence was so great that no thing in the world could be compared to him.
Belle ran to meet him in the greatest haste. "Do you think I going to thank you, dearest brother?" she said, weeping for joy. "No, it is too dearly bought at the risk you ran to obtain it." "There is no danger," he said, "I would not undergo for the sake of giving you the least pleasure. Receive, Belle-Etoile" he continued, "this unique fruit; no one in the world deserves it so much as you, but what can it give you that you do not already possess?" Petit-Soleil and his brother interrupted the conversation; they were delighted to see the prince again. He told them all about his journey, and the narration lasted till daylight.
Wicked Feintise had returned to her little house after speaking with the queen of her projects; she was too anxious to sleep quietly. She heard the sweet singing of the apple that nothing in nature could equal. She suspected Chéri had actually obtained it! She wept, groaned, wounded her face, tore her hair; her grief was extreme, for instead of injuring the beautiful children as she intended, she actually benefited them through her perfidy.
As soon as it was light, she learnt that the prince's return was only too true. She went to the queen-mother. "'Well, Feintise," said that princess, "do you bring me good news? Are the children dead?" "No, madam,' she replied, throwing herself at her feet, "but let not your majesty grow impatient, there remains infinite ways of delivering you from them." "Ah! wretched woman!" said the queen, "you are only here to deceive me; you protect them." The old woman protested the contrary, and when she had somewhat appeased her returned to ponder over what she should do next.
For some days she did not appear, but at the end of them she spied about to such purpose that she found the princess walking alone in a glade of the forest awaiting the return of her brothers. "Heaven showers its gifts on you,' said the old miscreant, approaching her; "charming star, I hear you have the singing apple, and if such a piece of luck had fallen to my share, I could not be more glad, for it must be confessed my liking for you makes me interested in your good fortune; but," she added, "I cannot refrain from giving you another piece of advice." "Oh! keep your advice to yourself," said the princess, moving away; "the good it brings me cannot make up for the anxiety it has caused me." "Anxiety is not so great an evil," she rejoined, smiling; "it is some times sweet and tender." "Be silent," said Belle-Etoile, "I tremble when I think of it." "You are certainly vastly to be pitied," said the old lady, "to be the loveliest and cleverest girl in the world; I beg to sympathise with you." "Yet another blow!" replied the princess; "I know the condition to which my brother's absence reduced me." "Notwithstanding, I must tell you," continued Feintise, "that you lack the little green bird that tells all things; he could tell you your rank, the good and evil chances of life; nothing is so hidden that he cannot reveal it, and when people say Belle-Etoile has the dancing water and the singing apple, they will say at the same time, but since she lacks the little green bird that tells all things she might as well have nothing."
After thus speaking out what was in her mind, she withdrew. The princess, sad and dreamy, began to sigh bitterly. "The woman is right," she said; "of what avail are the benefits I receive from the water and the apple since I do not know whence I come, who are my parents, and by what accident my brothers and I were exposed to the fury of the waves? There must have been something very extraordinary about our birth to cause us to be thus forsaken, and yet to gain the certain protection of the gods to save us from so many dangers; how I should like to know my father and mother, to love them if they are still alive, and to honour their memory if they are dead!" A flood of tears poured down her cheeks like morning clew-drops on the lilies and roses.
Chéri, who was always more anxious to see her than the others were, hastened to return after the hunt. He was on foot, his bow hung carelessly at his side, he carried a few arrows in his hand, his hair was tied together, and so equipped his martial appearance was very pleasing. As soon as the princess saw him, she entered a shady alley that he might not perceive the signs of grief on her countenance, but a mistress cannot move so quickly that an eager lover cannot reach her. The prince came up with her and had scarcely looked at her before he perceived she was in trouble. He was distressed and begged and implored her to tell him the reason; she obstinately refused. At last he pointed one of the arrows at his heart and said: "You do not love me, Belle Etoile; there is nothing left hut to die". This kind of talk greatly alarmed her; she had no longer the strength to keep her secret, but she only revealed it on condition that he would never in his life seek the means of gratifying her desire. He promised and said nothing to prove that he intended to make this third journey.
As soon as she had gone to her room and the princes to theirs, Chéri came downstairs, took his horse from the stable, mounted it and set off without saying a word to anybody. This news threw the family into great consternation. The king, who could not forget them, sent to invite them to dine with him; they replied that their brother had just gone away, that they had no pleasure for peace without him, and that on his return they would not fail to come to the palace. The princess was inconsolable; the dancing water and the singing apple had no more charms for her, for, Chéri absent, nothing had power to delight her.
The prince wandered over the world, asking the people he met where the little green bird that tells all things was to be found. Most of them did not know, but he fell in with an old man who, bringing him into his house, took the trouble to look on a globe which formed part of his study and amusement. He then told him it was in an arctic region, on the summit of a terrible rock, and showed him the road he must take. To mark his gratitude the prince gave him a little bag of big pearls that had fallen from his hair, and taking leave of him continued his journey.
At dawn he saw the high and steep rock, and on the top the bird speaking like an oracle, saying the wisest things. He thought that with a little skill it would be easy to catch it, for it did not seem at all wild. It came and went, jumping lightly from point to point. The prince dismounted, and going up noiselessly in spite of the roughness of the ascent, he delighted in the thought of giving Belle-Etoile pleasure. He was so near the green bird that he believed he could touch it, when the rock suddenly opened, and he fell, motionless as a statue, into a spacious hall; he could neither move nor bewail the distressing accident. Three hundred knights who had made the same attempt as himself were in like case; they looked at each other, the only thing possible for them to do.
Chéri's prolonged absence caused the princess to fall dangerously ill. The physicians knew that a deep melancholy preyed on her mind. Her brothers loved her dearly and asked her the reason of her trouble. She confessed that night and day she reproached herself for Chéri's absence, and felt that if she did not soon hear something of him she should die. They were touched by her tears, and to cure her Petit-Soleil resolved to go and find his brother.
The prince set out, knowing where the famous bird was. He reached the place, saw the creature and approached it hopefully. At the same moment the rock engulfed him, he fell into the large hall, and the first thing he saw was Chéri, but he could not speak to him.
Belle-Etoile was recovering, and every moment hoped to see her two brothers return, but her hopes were unfulfilled, her distress became greater, and night and day she never ceased lamenting and accusing herself of the princes' misfortunes. Prince Heureux, whose pity for her was not less than his anxiety for his brothers, determined in his turn to go and find them. He told Belle Etoile, who at first opposed the plan, but he replied that it was his duty to expose himself to danger in order to find those whom he loved best in the world. After tenderly bidding the princess farewell he set out, and she remained alone, a prey to the deepest sorrow.
When Feintise learnt that the third prince had departed she rejoiced exceedingly. She told the queen-mother, and promised her more certainly than ever to destroy the whole of the miserable family. Heureux underwent the same fate as Chéri and Petit-Soleil; he found the rock, saw the beautiful bird, fell like a statue into the hail, recognised the princes but could not speak to them. They were all arranged in crystal niches; they neither slept nor ate, and their enchantment was of the saddest sort, because the only privilege they had was the power to think about and deplore their adventures.
Belle-Etoile, inconsolable at the continued absence of her brothers, reproached herself for delaying so long to follow them. Without further hesitation she ordered her people to wait for her six months, but if in that time neither she nor her brothers returned they were to inform the pirate and his wife of their death. She dressed herself like a man, thinking she would run less risk thus disguised than if she travelled over the world as an adventuress. Feintise, overcome with joy, saw her ride away on her beautiful horse, and hastened to the palace to regale the queen-mother with the good news.
The princess was only armed with a helmet, whose visor she scarcely ever lifted, for her beauty was so delicate and perfect that no one would have believed, as she wished, that she was a knight. The severity of 'inter made itself felt, and the land in which the little bird who tells all things lived never enjoyed in any season the pleasant warmth of the sun.
Belle-Etoile was feeling terribly cold, but nothing could discourage her, when she saw a dove scarcely less white and cold than the snow on which she was lying. In spite of her impatience to reach the rock she could not let it die, and dismounting, she took it in her hands, warmed it with her breath, and put it in her bosom; the poor little creature did not stir. Belle-Etoile thought it was dead, and felt sorry. She drew it forth, and looking at it said, as if it had been able to understand "What shall I do, sweet little dove, to save your life?" "Belle-Etoile," replied the creature, "one gentle kiss of your lips will finish what you have so charitably begun.': "Not one," said the princess, "but a hundred if they are necessary." She kissed it, and the dove, taking courage, said merrily: "I know you in spite of your disguise; learn that you are undertaking a thing impossible without my help; do then as I advise you. When you reach the rock, instead of looking for a way to ascend it, stop at the bottom and commence the most beautiful and melodious song you know. The green bird who tells all things will listen and will observe 'hence the voice comes; then you must feign sleep. I shall stay by you, and when he sees me he will come down from the top of the rock to peck me at that moment you can take him."
The princess, charmed with the hope, soon reached the rock. She recognised her brothers' horses grazing, and the sight renewed her grief; she sat down and wept bitterly. But the little green bird said such beautiful and comforting things that any distressed heart would have been made glad. She dried her tears and began to sing so loud and well that the princes in the depths of the enchanted hail had the pleasure of hearing her.
It was the first time they had felt any hope. The little green bird who tells all things listened, and looked whence the voice came; he saw the princess, who had taken off her helmet to sleep more comfortably, and the dove hovering round her. He quietly flew down and pecked at her, but he had not torn out three feathers before he was caught.
"Ah! what do you want with me?" he said. "Have I done to you that you should come so far to make me miserable? Give me my liberty, I entreat you I will do for you whatever you wish in exchange." "I desire," said Belle-Etoile, "that you will restore to me my three brothers I do not know where they are, but their horses that are feeding near this rock prove to me that you are keeping them in some place." "Under my left wing is a crimson feather, pull it out," he said, "and touch the rock with it." The princess, lost no time in doing as he said, and immediately saw lightning and heard a noise of wind and thunder that frightened her terribly. In spite of her fear she never released the green bird, dreading that he might escape. She touched the rock again with the crimson feather, and the third time it split from top to bottom. With an air of triumph she entered the hall in which the princes were and so many others. She hastened up to Chéri, who did not recognise her in her doublet and helmet; and then the enchantment still worked, for he could neither move nor speak. The princess again questioned the green bird, who told her to rub the mouth and eyes of all she wished to disenchant with the crimson feather; she rendered that great service to several kings and monarchs, and especially to our three princes.
Moved by so great a benefaction, they all threw themselves at her feet, calling her the saviour of kings. She then saw that her brothers, deceived by her clothes, did not recognise her; she quickly took off her helmet, stretched out her arms to them, embraced them over and over again, and very politely asked the other princes who they were. They each told her their tale, and offered to accompany her wherever she wished to go. She replied that although the laws of chivalry gave her some rights over the liberty she had just restored to them, she would not avail herself of them. Thereupon she withdrew with the princes to relate all that had happened since their separation.
The little green bird who tells all things interrupted them to entreat Belle Etoile to grant him his liberty; she looked for the dove in order to ask her advice, but could not find her. She told the bird that he had cost her so much trouble and anxiety that she could not consent to enjoy her conquest for so short a space. They all four mounted their horses, and left the emperors and kings to go their ways on foot, for during the two or three hundred years they had been there their equipages had perished.
The queen-mother, relieved of the anxiety the return of the beautiful children had caused her, renewed her entreaties to the king to marry again, and succeeded so well that she induced him to choose a princess from among her relations. And as it was necessary to annul the marriage of poor Queen Blondine, who all this time had remained with her mother in the little country house with the three dogs she had named Grief, Distress, and Sorrow on account of all the trouble they had caused, the queen-mother sent to fetch her. She got into a coach, taking the dogs with her; she was dressed in black with a long veil that fell to her feet. So attired she looked more beautiful than the day-star, although through sleeplessness and loss of appetite she had become pale and thin. Everybody pitied her mother, and the king was so distressed that he dared not look at her. But when he thought of the risk he ran of having no heirs but puppies, lie consented to everything.
The day for the wedding being fixed, the queen-mother, entreated by the admiral's wife, Roussette, who still hated her unfortunate sister, said that she wished Queen Blondine to come to the fête. Everything was done to render it fine and sumptuous, and as the king was glad of the opportunity to show the strangers his magnificence, he ordered his equerry-in-chief to invite them, and in case they had not returned to leave orders that they might be told of the invitation directly they came hack.
The equerry-in-chief found they were still absent, and knowing the pleasure it would give the king to see them, left one of his attendants to wait for them and bring them without delay. Belle-Etoile and the three princes arrived on the very day of the great banquet. The gentleman who had been waiting for them told them the king's story: how he had formerly married a poor, but beautiful and virtuous girl, who had unfortunately given birth to three dogs, that he had sent her away, never wishing to see her more, yet he loved her so dearly that for fifteen years he had refused to entertain any proposal for a second marriage; that the queen-mother and his subjects had urged him so continually that he had determined to marry a princess of the court, and that they must hasten to come to the wedding.
Belle-Etoile at once put on a pink velvet gown, trimmed with shining diamonds, she let her hair tied with ribbons fall in thick curls on her shoulders; the star on her forehead threw out a bright light, and the chain round her neck that could not be taken off seemed of a metal more precious even than gold. Indeed never had anything so beautiful been seen by mortal eyes. Her brothers looked equally well, and especially Prince Chéri; there was something most distinguished in his appearance. They all four got into an ebony and ivory chariot, lined with gold cloth; the cushions were of the same material, embroidered with precious stones, and it was drawn by twelve white horses. The rest of their equipage was of unequalled magnificence. When Belle Etoile and her brothers appeared the king and all his court, enchanted, received them at the top of the staircase. The singing apple made itself heard in a marvellous fashion, the dancing water danced, and the little bird who tells all things spoke more wisely than the oracles. They all bowed low before the king, and taking his hand kissed it with as much affection as respect. He embraced them and said: "Gentle strangers, I thank you for coming hither to-day; your presence gives me the greatest pleasure". So saying, he led them into a spacious hall where musicians were playing all manner of instruments, and several tables splendidly served with good cheer left nothing to be desired.
The queen-mother entered, accompanied by her future daughter-in-law, the admiral's wife, Roussette, and all her ladies, leading the poor queen by a leash of leather fastened round her neck, and serving at the same time for the three dogs. They brought her to the middle of the room, where was placed a trough full of bones and broken meats, that the queen-mother had ordered for their dinner.
Although they did not know her, Belle-Etoile and the princes felt so sorry for her misfortunes that the tears came into their eyes; they were moved either by the contemplation of the changes of fortune, or by reason of the blood that flowed in their veins. But what did the wicked queen think of a return so little desired, and so contrary to her plans? She looked furiously at Feintise, who ardently desired the earth to open and swallow her up.
The king introduced the beautiful children to his mother, praising them very highly, and in spite of the uneasiness she was feeling, she spoke to them pleasantly and looked at them as kindly as if she loved them, for at that time dissimulation was largely practised. The banquet went off merrily, although it troubled the king greatly to see his wife eat with the puppies like the lowest of animals, but having decided to please his mother, who wished him to marry again, he made no remonstrance.
At the end of the feast, the king speaking to Belle-Etoile, said: "I know that you possess three matchless treasures; I congratulate you, and beg you to tell us how you obtained them '. "Sire," she replied "I obey you with pleasure. I had been told that the dancing water would make me beautiful, and that the singing apple would give me wit, and for those two reasons I wanted to have them. With regard to the little green bird that tells all things, I had another: we know nothing of our rank, we are children abandoned by our relatives, of whom we know none, and I hoped the wondrous bird might explain to us a thing that fills our minds night and day." "Judging by your appearance," said the king, "your rank must be most illustrious; but, come, tell me truly, who are you?" "Sire," she said, "my brothers and I put off asking him till our return; on reaching home, we received your commands to conic to the wedding, and all that I could do was to bring these three curiosities with me to amuse you."
"I am very glad," said the king; "do not delay to let me see them." "You allow yourself to be amused with every trifle proposed to you," said the queen-mother, angrily; "these are nice brats with their curiosities; really that name of itself proves the absurdity of the thing. Pie fie! I cannot allow these strangers, evidently sprung from the dregs of the people, to abuse your credulity. It is all mere jugglers' tricks, and had it not been for you, they would never have had the honour of sitting at my table."
Belle-Etoile and her brothers knew not what to make of her disagreeable speeches; their countenances expressed confusion and despair at receiving so great an affront before the whole court. But the king, telling his mother that such conduct was most uncalled for, begged the beautiful children not to be annoyed, and held out his hand in token of friendship. Belle-Etoile took a bowl of rock crystal, into which she poured all the dancing water; immediately the water was seen to move, to leap in time, to come and go, to rise like a little stormy sea, to change into a thousand different colours, and to make the crystal bowl move the whole length of the king's table; then suddenly a few drops were thrown in the face of the equerry to whom the children owed so much. He was a man of rare merit, but his ugliness was as great, and he had lost one eye. Directly the water touched him he became so handsome that he was scarcely recognisable and his eye was restored. The king, who loved him dearly, felt as much joy at the event as the queen mother felt anger, for she could not endure the applause given to the princes. After the noise had subsided, Belle placed on the dancing water the singing apple, made of a single ruby crowned with diamonds, with its amber branch; it began a concert so melodious that a hundred musicians could not have made such sweet sounds. The king and all the court were enchanted, and were still lost in admiration when Belle took from her muff a little gold cage of marvellous workmanship in which was the green bird that tells all things; he fed on powdered diamonds and drank the water distilled from pearls. She took it carefully and put it on the apple, which was silent out of respect and in order to give it the opportunity of speaking. His feathers were so sensitive that they moved if any one opened or closed their eyes near him they were of every shade of green imaginable. He addressed the king, and asked him what he wanted to know. "We all desire to learn," he said, "who are this beautiful girl and these three knights." "O king!" replied the green bird, in a loud, clear voice, "she is your daughter and two of these Princes are your Sons; the other, named Chéri, is your nephew" Then with matchless eloquence he told the whole story without omitting the smallest detail.
The king burst into tears, and the poor queen left the trough, the bones, and the dogs, and softly drew near; she wept for joy and for the love of her husband and children, for could she doubt the truth of the tale when she saw in them all the marks by which they might be recognised? The three princes and Belle-Etoile rose, threw themselves at the king's feet, embraced his knees, kissed his hands; he held out his arms to them and pressed them to his heart; nothing was heard but sighs and cries of joy. The king, perceiving that his wife remained timidly by the wall, went to her, caressed her over and over again, himself gave her a chair next his, and made her sit down in it.
Her children kissed her hands and feet; so pathetic and touching a sight had never been seen; everybody wept and lifted their hands and eyes to heaven in token of their gratitude that things so important and yet so hidden should have been made known. The king thanked the princess whom he had intended to marry, and presented her with a large quantity of precious stones. But if he had obeyed his feelings of resentment how would he not have acted with regard to the queen-mother, the admiral's wife, and Feintise? He began to give vent to his anger when the generous queen, her children and Chéri entreated him to be calm, and let their punishment rather than be severe, serve as a warning and an example: the queen-mother was shut up in a tower, the admiral's wife and Feintise were cast into a damp and gloomy dungeon, where they fed with the three puppies, Grief, Distress, and Sorrow, who missing their kind mistress continually bit these women. So they died, after living long enough to repent of their crimes.
The queen-mother, Roussette and Feintise having been removed according to the king's orders, the musicians resumed singing and playing. The joy was without parallel; Belle-Etoile and Chéri were more glad than all the rest put together, seeing they were on the eve of happiness. In fact, the king, finding his nephew the handsomest and cleverest of all the court, told him he would not allow such an auspicious day to pass without celebrating his wedding, and that he therefore gave him his daughter. The prince, over come with joy, threw himself at his feet, and Belle-Etoile showed equal satisfaction.
It was only fair that the old princess who had lived so long in retirement should leave it to share in the general rejoicing. The same little fairy who had dined at her house and been so kindly welcomed, suddenly appeared to tell her what was happening at court. "Let us take our way there,' she said; "on the road I will tell you all the care I have taken of your family." The grateful princess got into her chariot, which shone with gold and azure, was preceded by drums and trumpets, and accompanied by six hundred body-guards who looked like great nobles. The fairy told the princess her grandchildren's adventures and how she had watched over them, that in the form of a mermaid, a dove, in a thousand ways she had protected them. "You see," she added, "a good deed is never thrown away."
Every moment the good princess kissed the fairy's hands to show her gratitude, for she could find no words in which to express her joy. At length they arrived. The king welcomed them with every mark of affection. It will easily be believed that Queen Blondine and her beautiful children were eager to do honour to the illustrious lady, and when they learned all that the fairy had done on their behalf, how she was the gentle dove who had been their guide, nothing could have been added to their words. To put the finishing stroke to the king's joy, she told him that his mother-in-law, whom he had always taken to be a poor peasant, was by birth the Princess Sovereign. That was the only thing wanting to the monarch's happiness. The fête ended with the marriage of Belle-Etoile and Chéri. The pirate and his wife were sent for in order that they might be rewarded for the excellent education they had given the children. And so, after many troubles, every one was made happy.