THERE was once upon a time, in Europe, a King, who having already several children by a princess whom he had married, took it into his head to travel from one end of his kingdom to the other. He passed his time in visiting one province after another very pleasantly; but while he was staying in a beautiful castle at the extremity of his dominions, the Queen, his wife, was brought to bed there of a daughter, who appeared so exceedingly lovely at the moment of her birth, that the courtiers, either on account of the child's beauty, or to ingratiate themselves with the parents, named her "Fairer than a Fairy;" and it will be seen how well she merited so illustrious a title. The Queen had scarcely recovered, when she was obliged to follow the King, her husband, who had departed in haste to defend a distant province which his enemies had invaded.
Little Fairer than a Fairy was left behind with her governess and the ladies who attended on her; they brought her up with the utmost care, and as her father was involved in a long and cruel war, she had plenty of time during his absence to increase in stature and beauty. That beauty rendered her famous in all the surrounding countries; nothing else was spoken of, and at twelve years old she might more easily be taken for a divinity than for a mortal. One of her brothers came to see her during a truce, and conceived the most perfect affection for her.
Meanwhile, however, the fame of her beauty and the name she bore so irritated the fairies against her, that there was nothing they did not think of to revenge themselves on her, for the presumption implied by such a title, and to destroy a beauty of which they were so jealous.
The Queen of the Fairies was not one of those good fairies who are the protectors of virtue, and who have no pleasure but in doing good. Many centuries having elapsed since she had attained royalty by her profound learning and art, her great age had caused her to dwindle in stature, and she was now only called by the nickname of Nabote. Nabote accordingly summoned a council, and made known to them her resolution to avenge, not only the beauties of her own court, but those of the entire world; that she had determined to go and see for herself, and carry off this paragon whose reputation was so injurious to their charms. It was no sooner said than done. She set out, and, clothed in a very plain garb, transported herself to the castle which contained this marvellous creature. She soon made herself at home in it, and induced by her cunning the ladies of the Princess to receive her amongst them. But Nabote was struck with astonishment when, after having carefully examined the castle, she discovered by means of her art that it had been constructed by a great magician, and that he had endowed it with a virtue by the power of which no one could leave its walls or the surrounding pleasure-grounds but of their own free will, and that it was not possible to use any sort of enchantment against those persons who inhabited it. This secret was not unknown to the governess of Fairer than a Fairy, who, well aware of the invaluable treasure committed to her charge, still felt no alarm on her account, knowing that no one in the world could take from her this young princess, so long as she should not go outside the castle or the gardens. She had expressly forbidden her to do so, and Fairer, who had already a large share of discretion, had never failed in taking this precaution. A thousand lovers had made fruitless efforts to carry her off; but knowing herself secure within those limits, she did not fear their violence.
Nabote did not require much time to insinuate herself into her good graces; she taught her to do beautiful kinds of work, and rendered her lessons agreeable by recounting pleasant stories. She neglected nothing which could divert her, and naturally pleased her so much, that at length one was never seen without the other.
Amidst all her attentions, however, Nabote was not less occupied with her schemes of revenge; she sought for an opportunity of inducing Fairer than a Fairy, by some cunning pretence, only to put her foot over the threshold of one of the castle gates. She was always prepared to pounce on and fly away with her. One day that she had led her into the garden, and the young maidens of her Court, having gathered some flowers, had crowned with them the beautiful head of Fairer than a Fairy, Nabote opened a little door which led into the fields, and passing out at it, played an hundred antics, which caused the Princess and the young folks who surrounded her to laugh heartily. All at once the wicked Nabote pretended to be taken ill, and the next minute she fell down, as if swooning away. Some of the young maidens ran to assist her, and Fairer flew also to her side. But hardly had the unhappy child passed the fatal gate than Nabote sprang up, seized her with a powerful arm, and making a circle with her wand, a thick black fog arose, which dispersing again almost immediately, the ground was seen to open and two moles emerged, with wings formed of rose-leaves, drawing an ebony car, and Nabote placing herself in it with Fairer than a Fairy, it ascended into the air, and cleaving it with incredible velocity, disappeared entirely from the sight of the young maidens, who by their cries and tears soon announced to all the castle the loss they had sustained.
Fairer than a Fairy only recovered from her first astonishment to fall into another still more fearful; the rapidity with which the car passed through the air had so bewildered her that she almost lost consciousness; at length, reviving a little, she cast down her eyes. What was her alarm to find nothing beneath her but the vast extent of the shoreless ocean. She uttered a piercing cry, turned round, and seeing near her her dear Nabote, she embraced her tenderly and held her close in her arms as one naturally would to re-assure oneself. But the Fairy repulsed her rudely:--"Off! audacious child," said she. "Behold in me your mortal foe. I am the Queen of the Fairies, and you are about to pay to me the penalty of your insolence in assuming the proud name which you bear."
Fairer, trembling at these words more than if a thunderbolt had fallen at her feet, felt greater alarm at them than at the dreadful road she was travelling. At length, however, the car alighted in the midst of the magnificent court-yard of the most superb palace that ever was seen. The sight of so beautiful a palace somewhat re-assured the timid Princess, especially when she descended from the car, and she saw an hundred young beauties, who came with much deference to pay their respects to the Fairy. So charming a residence did not appear to announce misfortune to her. She had also one consolation which does not fail to flatter one in similar situations: she remarked that all those beautiful persons were struck with admiration on beholding her, and she heard a confused murmur of praise and envy which gratified her marvellously.
But how speedily was this little feeling of vanity extinguished! Nabote imperiously commanded them to strip Fairer of her beautiful clothes, thinking thereby to take from her a portion of her charms. They pulled them off, accordingly, but only to increase the fury of Nabote, for what beauties were then disclosed to view, and to what shame did they put all the fairies in the world! They re-clothed her in old shabby garments. But in this state, one would have said her natural and simple loveliness was determined to show how independent it was of the assistance of the most costly ornaments; never did she appear more charming! Nabote then ordered them to conduct her to the place which she had prepared for her, and to set her her task. Two fairies took her and made her pass through the most beautiful and sumptuous apartments that could possibly be seen. Fairer noticed them, in spite of her misery, and said to herself, "Whatever torments they may prepare for me, my heart tells me I shall not always be miserable in this beautiful palace."
They made her descend a large staircase of black marble, which had more than a thousand steps: she thought she was going into the bowels of the earth, or rather, that they were conducting her into the infernal regions. At length they entered a small cabinet, wainscoted with ebony, where they told her she would have to sleep on a little straw, and that there was an ounce of bread with a cup of water for her supper. From thence they made her pass into a great gallery, the walls of which were entirely composed of black marble, and which had no light but that afforded by five lamps of jet, which threw a sombre glare over the place, more alarming than cheering. These gloomy walls were hung with cobwebs from top to bottom, and such was their peculiarity, that the more they were swept away the more they multiplied. The two fairies told the Princess that this gallery must be swept clean by break of day, or that she would be made to suffer the most frightful torments, and after placing a ladder, and giving her a broom of rushes, they bade her set to work, and left her.
Fairer than a Fairy sighed, and not knowing the peculiarity of those cobwebs, courageously resolved, notwithstanding the great length of the gallery, to execute the task imposed on her. She took her broom, and mounted the ladder nimbly, but, O Heavens! what was her surprise when, as she endeavoured to sweep the marble and clear off the cobwebs, she found they increased in proportion to her exertions! She fatigued herself by persevering for some time, but perceiving sorrowfully, at length, that it was all in vain, she threw down her broom, descended the ladder, and seating herself on the last step of it, began to weep bitterly, and to foresee the extent of her misfortune. Her sobs came at length so fast that she could no longer support herself, when, raising her head a little, her eyes were dazzled by a brilliant light. The gallery was in an instant illuminated from end to end, and she saw kneeling before her a youth so beautiful and charming, that at the first glance she took him for Cupid, but she remembered that Love is always painted naked, and this handsome youth was dressed in a suit of clothes covered with jewels. She was not sure, also, that all the light she perceived did not proceed from his eyes, so beautiful and brilliant did they appear to her. This young man continued to gaze upon her, still kneeling. She felt inclined to kneel too. "Who art thou?" she exclaimed, in amazement. "Art thou a God? Art thou Love?" "I am not a God," he replied, "but I have more love in me than is to be found in heaven or earth beside. I am Phratis, son of the Queen of the Fairies, who loves you and will aid you." Then, taking up the broom which she had thrown down, he touched all the cobwebs, which immediately turned to cloth-of-gold of marvellous workmanship, the lamps becoming bright and shining; Phratis then, giving a golden key to the Princess, said, "In the principal panel of your cell you will find a lock; open it gently. Adieu, I must retire for fear of being suspected: go to rest; you will find all that is necessary for your repose." Then placing one knee on the ground, he respectfully kissed her hand and disappeared.
Fairer, more surprised at this adventure than at anything else which had happened to her during the day, re-entered her little apartment, and looked about for the lock of which he had spoken, when, on approaching the wainscot, she heard the most gentle voice in the world apparently deploring some misfortune, and she imagined it must proceed from some wretched being persecuted as she was. She listened attentively. "Alas! what shall I do?" said the voice. "They bid me change this bushel of acorns into oriental pearls!" Fairer than a Fairy, less astonished than she would have been two hours before, struck two or three times on the panel, and said pretty loudly, "If they impose hard tasks in this place, miracles are at the same time performed here--therefore, hope! But tell me, I pray, who you are, and I will tell you who I am." "It is more agreeable to me to satisfy your curiosity than to continue my employment," replied the other person. "I am the daughter of a King; they say I was born charming, but the fairies did not assist at my birth, and you know they are cruel to those whom they have not taken under their protection directly they come into the world." "Ah! I know it too well," replied Fairer; "I am handsome, like yourself, the daughter of a King, and unfortunate, because I am agreeable without the assistance of their gifts." "We are, then, companions in misfortune," returned the other. "But are you in love?" "Not far from it," said Fairer, in a low voice; "but continue your story," said she aloud, "and do not question me more." "I was considered," continued the other, "the most charming creature that had ever existed, and everybody loved me and wished to possess me: they called me Désirs; my will was law, and I was treasured in all hearts. A young prince, the most enthusiastic of my adorers, abandoned everything for me. My encouragement of his hopes transported him with delight. We were about to be united for ever, when the fairies, jealous at beholding me the object of universal admiration, and detesting the sight of attractions which they had not bestowed, carried me off one day in the midst of my triumphs, and consigned me to this horrid place. They have threatened that they will strangle me to-morrow morning if I have not performed a preposterous task which they have imposed upon me. Now, tell me quickly, who are you?" "I have told you all," replied Fairer, "but my name. They call me Fairer than a Fairy." "You must, then, be very beautiful," replied the Princess Désirs; "I should like excessively to see you." "I am quite as anxious to see you," replied Fairer. "Is there a door hereabouts, for I have a little key which perhaps may be of use to you." Looking narrowly round, she discovered one which she was able to open, and pushing it, the two Princesses met face to face, and were equally surprised at the marvellous beauty of each other.
After embracing affectionately, and saying many civil things to one another, Fairer began to laugh at seeing the Princess Désirs continually rubbing her acorns with a little white stone, as she had been ordered to do. She told her of the task which they had imposed upon her, and how miraculously she had been assisted by a charming unknown being! "But who can it be?" said the Princess Désirs. "I think it is a man," replied Fairer. "A man!" cried Désirs. "You blush--you love him!" "No, not yet," replied Fairer; "but he has told me he loves me; and if he loves me as he says, he shall assist you." Hardly had she uttered these words, when the bushel measure began to shake, and agitating the acorns, as the oak on which they had grown might have done, they were instantly changed into the most beautiful pear-shaped pearls of the first water. It was one of these which Cleopatra dissolved in wine at the costly banquet she made for Mark Antony.
The two Princesses were delighted at the exchange, and Fairer than a Fairy, who began to be accustomed to wonders, leading Désirs by the hand, returned into her own chamber, and finding the panel containing the lock of which the stranger had spoken, she opened it with her golden key, and entered an apartment, the magnificence of which both surprised and affected her, as she saw in everything it contained the attention of her lover. It was strewn with the most beautiful flowers, and exhaled a divine perfume. At one end of this charming room there was a table covered with all that could gratify the most refined taste, and two fountains of liqueurs which flowed into basins of porphyry. The young Princesses seated themselves in two ivory chairs, enriched with emeralds; they ate with a good appetite, and when they had supped, the table disappeared, and in its place arose a delicious bath, into which they stepped together. At a few paces from them they observed a superb toilet-table, and large baskets of gold wire full of linen of such exquisite purity that it made them long to make use of it. A bed of singular form and extraordinary richness, occupied the further end of this marvellous chamber, which was lined with orange-trees in golden boxes studded with rubies, while rows of cornelian columns sustained the sumptuous roof, divided only by immense crystal mirrors which reached from the ground to the ceiling. Several consoles, of rare materials, supported vases of precious stones, filled with all sorts of flowers.
The Princess Désirs admired the good fortune of her companion, and, turning to her, observed, "Your lover is indeed gallant; he can do much, and he will do everything for you; your happiness is extraordinary." A clock striking midnight repeated at each stroke the name of Phratis. Fairer than a Fairy coloured, and threw herself on the couch. She trusted to repose, but her sleep was troubled by the image of Phratis.
The next morning there was great astonishment in the Court of the Fairies at seeing the gallery so richly decorated, and the bushel-measure full of beautiful pearls. They had hoped to punish the young Princesses: their cruelty was disappointed. They found each alone in her little chamber. After consulting together again, in order to devise some tasks which could not possibly be accomplished, they told Désirs to go to the sea-shore and write on the sand, with express orders to take care that what she wrote there could never be effaced. And they commanded Fairer to go to the foot of Mount Adventurous, to fly to the top, and bring them a vase full of the water of immortality. For this purpose they gave her a quantity of feathers and wax, in hopes that, by making wings for herself, she might perish like another Icarus. Désirs and Fairer looked at each other on hearing these dreadful commands, and, embracing tenderly, they separated, as if taking an eternal farewell. The fairies conducted one to the sea-shore and the other to the foot of Mount Adventurous.
When Fairer was left by herself she took the feathers and wax, and made some vain attempts to form wings with them. After having worked for some time most ineffectually, her thoughts reverted to Phratis. "If you loved me," said she, "you would come to my assistance." Hardly had she finished the last word when she saw him stand before her, looking a thousand times more beautiful than on the preceding night. The full light of day was an advantage to him. "Do you doubt my affection?" said he. "Is anything difficult to him who loves you?" He then requested her to take off some portion of her dress, and having kissed her hand as a recompense, he transformed himself suddenly to an eagle. She was rather sorry to see so charming a person thus metamorphosed, but, placing himself at her feet, he extended his wings, and made her easily comprehend his design. Reclining upon him, she encircled his proud neck with her beautiful arms, and he rose with her gently into the air. It would be difficult to say which was the most gratified--she, at escaping death in the execution of the order given her, or he, at being permitted to bear such a precious burden.
He carried her gently to the summit of the mountain, where she heard an harmonious concert warbled by a thousand birds that came to render homage to the divine bird which bore her. The top of this mountain was a flowery plain, surrounded by fine cedars, in the midst of which was a little stream, whose silvery waves rolled over golden sands strewn with brilliant diamonds. Fairer than a Fairy knelt down, and first of all took some of this precious water in her hand, and drank it. After this she filled her vase, and, turning towards her eagle, said, "Ah, how I wish that Désirs had some of this water!" Scarcely had she spoken these words than the Eagle flew down, took one of the slippers of Fairer, and returning with it, filled it with water, and carried it to the sea-shore, where the Princess Désirs was occupied in fruitless attempts to write indelibly on the sand.
The Eagle returned to Fairer, and resumed his beautiful burden. "Alas!" said she, "what is Désirs doing? Take me to her." He obeyed. They found her still writing, and as fast as she wrote, a wave came and effaced what she had written. "What cruelty," said the Princess to Fairer, "to command what it is impossible to accomplish! I imagine, from the strange mode of your conveyance, that you have succeeded." Fairer alighted, and, moved by the misfortune of her companion, she turned towards her lover, and thus addressed him, "Give me proof of your omnipotence." "Or rather of my love," interrupted the Prince, resuming his proper form. Désirs, observing the beauty and grace of his person, cast on him a look of surprise and delight. Fairer coloured, and by a movement over which she had no control, placed herself before him so as to hide him from her companion. "Do as you are told," continued she, with a charming air of uneasiness. Phratis knew his happiness, and wishing to terminate as speedily as possible her trouble, "Read," said he, and disappeared swifter than a flash of lightning.
At the same instant a wave broke at the feet of Fairer, and in retiring left behind a brazen tablet, as firmly fixed in the sand as if it had been there from all eternity, and would remain immovable to the end of the world. As she looked at it, she perceived letters forming on it, deeply engraved, which composed these lines:--
The vows of common love in sand are traced,
And, even 'graved in brass, may be effaced;
But those which are inspired by your bright eyes,
In starry words are written in the skies.
Nought can destroy those characters divine,
Eternal as the heavens in which they shine.
"I understand," cried Désirs: "he who loves you, must always love! How well your charming swain expresses his feelings." She then embraced Fairer than a Fairy, who soon, in her arms, recovered from the confusion occasioned by the little feeling of jealousy she had experienced, and confessed it to her friend, who accused her of it; and both, confirmed in their friendship, abandoned themselves to the pleasure of an agreeable and affectionate conversation.
Queen Nabote sent messengers to the foot of the mountain to find what was become of Fairer than a Fairy. They found the scattered feathers, and a part of her clothes, and consequently believed she had been dashed to pieces, as they desired.
Full of this idea, the fairies ran to the sea-shore; they exclaimed at the sight of the brazen tablet, and were overwhelmed at perceiving the two Princesses calmly seated in conversation on a jutting piece of rock. They called to them. Fairer presented her vase full of the water of immortality, and laughed in secret with Désirs at the fury of the fairies.
The Queen was not to be jested with. She knew that a power as great as her own must have assisted them, and her rage increased to such a pitch, that without hesitating an instant, she determined on effecting their ruin by a final and most cruel trial.
Désirs was condemned to go on the morrow to the Fair of Time, to fetch the Rouge of Youth, and Fairer than a Fairy to proceed to the Wood of Wonders, and capture the Hind with Silver Feet.
The Princess Désirs was conducted to a vast plain, at the end of which was an immense building, divided into galleries full of shops so superb that no comparison could be found for them but in the recollections of the magnificent entertainments at Marly.  These shops were kept by young and agreeable fairies, assisted by their favoured lovers.
As soon as Désirs appeared, her charms fascinated everybody. She took possession of all hearts. In the first shops she entered she excited much commiseration by asking for the Rouge of Youth. None would tell her where to find it, because, when it was not a fairy who came in search of it, it was a sure sign of torment to the person who was charged with this dangerous commission. The good fairies told Désirs to return, and to inquire no further for what she sought. She was so beautiful that they ran before her wherever she went, in order to gaze at her. Her ill-luck, however, led her to the shop of a wicked fairy. Hardly had she asked for the Rouge of Youth, on the part of the Queen of the Fairies, than, darting a terrible glance at her, she told her that she had it, and that she would give it her the next morning, and ordered her to enter a room and wait till it was prepared for her. They led her into a dark and pestilential place, where she could not see her hand before her. She was overcome with terror. "Ah!" she exclaimed, "charming lover of Fairer than a Fairy, haste to my rescue, or I am lost!"
But he was deaf to her appeal, or unable to act as he had done in other places. Désirs tormented herself half the night and slept the remainder, when she was awakened by a good-looking girl, who brought her a little food, telling her that it was sent her by the favourite of the Fairy, her mistress, who was resolved to assist her, and that it would be fortunate for her if such were the case, because the Fairy had sent for an evil spirit, who, by breathing on her face, would make her hideous, and in that frightful state she would be ignominiously sent back to the Queen of the Fairies, who, with all her Court, would triumph in her misfortunes.
The Princess Désirs felt frightened to death at this threat of losing in a moment all her beauty, and wished rather to die outright. Her agony was horrible; she groped about her dark prison in vain hope of discovering some mode of escape, when some one took her by the arm, and she felt in her heart a sensation of pleasure. She was gently led towards a spot where she began to perceive a little light, and when her eyes became accustomed to it, she was struck by the appearance of what was to her the most charming object in the world, for she recognised that dear Prince who loved her so truly, and from whom they had separated her on the eve of her wedding. Her transport, her delight, was extreme. "Is it you?" she exclaimed a hundred times. At length, when fully persuaded of the fact, and forgetting all her own troubles--"But are you the favourite of this wretched Fairy?" she continued. "Is it with this fine title that I again behold you." "Undoubtedly," replied he; "and we shall owe to it the end of our troubles, and the certainty of our happiness."
He then recounted to her how, in despair at her being carried off, he had gone to seek a wise old man, who had informed him where she was, and assured him that he would never recover her but in the Kingdom of the Fairies; that he had furnished him with the means of finding it, but that he had been arrested in his pursuit of her by this cruel Fairy, who had fallen in love with him; that, following the advice of the sage, he had dissembled, and by his docility had obtained such an influence over her, that he had the care of all her treasure, and was the minister of all her power; that she had just departed on a journey of six thousand leagues; that she would not return for twelve days; and that, therefore, they should lose no time in escaping; that he was going into his cabinet to fetch a part of the gem of the ring of Gyges ; that she should put it on, and thereby becoming invisible, she could pass anywhere: as for himself, he could show himself as he pleased. "Do not forget," said she, "the Rouge of Youth; I wish to put some on, and to give some to one of my companions."
The Prince smiled. "Whither shall we go?" continued she. "To the Queen of the Fairies," he replied. "No, that will never do," she exclaimed; "we shall perish there!" "The sage who counselled me," pursued he, "told me to lead you back to the place from whence you came last, if I wished to be assured of happiness: he has never yet deceived me in anything whatever." "Well, then, so be it," said Désirs; "we will go there."
The Prince brought her a valuable box, in which was the Rouge of Youth; and with the hope of making herself appear more beautiful still in the eyes of her lover, she rubbed some hastily all over her face, forgetting that she was invisible by means of the gem which he had given her. She took him by the arm. They traversed in this manner the whole of the Fair, and were soon close to the palace of the Queen. There the Prince resumed the gem of Gyges. The beautiful Désirs became visible, and he became invisible, to the great regret of the Princess, whom he took by the arm in his turn, and presented her before Nabote and her Court. All the fairies looked at each other in excessive astonishment at seeing Désirs return with the Rouge of Youth, and the Queen, frowning awfully, desired them to guard her strictly. "Our arts are vain," said she. "We must put her to death, without trying any more experiments."
The sentence was pronounced. Désirs trembled with fear; her lover re-assured her as much as he could.
But we must return to Fairer than a Fairy. They had conducted her to the Wood of Wonders, and here is the reason why they had condemned her to chase the Silver-footed Hind:--
Once upon a time there had been a Queen of the Fairies who had succeeded in due course to that grand title; she was beautiful, good, and wise. She had had several lovers, whose affections and attentions had, however, been lost upon her. Entirely occupied in protecting virtue, she found no amusement in listening to the sighs of her adorers. There was one whom her coldness rendered the most unhappy, because he loved her better than any of the others.
One day, seeing that he could not move her to pity him, he protested, in his despair, that he would kill himself. She was not affected even at this threat, considering it merely as one of those extravagances in which lovers sometimes indulge, but which never have any serious result. However, some time after, he really did throw himself into the sea.
A sage, who had brought up this young man, complained to the supreme authorities, and the insensible Fairy was condemned to do penance for her severity in the form of a hind, for the term of one hundred years, unless an accomplished beauty could be found, who, by venturing to hunt her for ten days in the Wood of Wonders, could take her and restore her to her original shape. Forty years had already elapsed since she had been first transformed.
At the commencement of her penance several beauties had risked the trial of this fine adventure, from which so much honour was to be derived. Each hoped to be the fortunate huntress; but as they lost themselves in the pursuit, and at the end of ten days were no more heard of, this ardour began to cool, and for some time past no beauty had voluntarily offered herself; those who had recently undertaken the task being condemned to it by the Fairies, in order to ensure their destruction. It was, thus, to get rid of Fairer that they led her to the Wood of Wonders. They gave her a small portion of food, for form's sake, and placed in her hand a silken cord, with a running noose to catch the deer. That was all her outfit for the chase. She deposited what they gave her at the foot of a tree, and when she found herself alone she cast a look round this vast forest, in the profound silence and solitude of which she saw nothing but despair.
She was anxious to remain at the skirt of the forest, and not to enter it too far, so in order to know the spot again, she placed a mark at the point from which she started. But, alas! how did she deceive herself! Every one lost themselves in this forest, without being able to issue from it. In one of the paths she caught sight of the Silver-footed Hind walking slowly. She approached it, with her silken cord in her hand, thinking to take it; but the deer, feeling itself pursued, started off at full speed, stopping from time to time, and turning its head towards Fairer. They were in sight of each other all day without being any nearer. At last night separated them.
The poor huntress was very tired and very hungry, but she no longer knew where to find the little provision she had had given her, and there was nothing but the hard ground for her to repose upon. She lay down, therefore, very sadly, under a tree; she could not sleep for a long time--she was frightened; the least thing alarmed her: a leaf shaken by the wind made her tremble. In this miserable state she turned her thoughts on her lover, and called him several times; but finding him fail her in her great distress, she exclaimed, with tears in her eyes, "Phratis! Phratis! you have abandoned me!" She was just dropping asleep, when she felt a movement beneath her, and it seemed to her as though she was in the best bed in the world. She slept soundly for a considerable time, without any interruption. She was awoke in the morning by the song of a thousand nightingales, and, turning her beautiful eyes around, she found she was raised two feet from the earth, the turf having sprung up under her lovely form, and thus made a delicious couch. A large orange-tree threw its branches over her like a tent, and she was covered with flowers. By her side were two turtle-doves, who announced to her, by their love for each other, what she might hope for with Phratis. The ground was entirely covered with strawberries and all sorts of excellent fruits; she ate of them, and found herself as well satisfied and as much strengthened by them as though they had been the richest and best kind of meats. A stream which flowed close by served to allay her thirst. "Oh, ye tender cares of my lover," cried she, when she had refreshed herself, "how much I needed you! I murmur no longer. Give me less, dearest, and let me see you!"
She would have continued in this strain had she not perceived, stretched close to her, the Silver-footed Hind, quietly gazing at her. She thought this time she must catch it: with one hand she held out to it a bunch of grass, and with the other grasped the cord; but the deer bounded lightly away, and when it had gone a short distance, it stopped, and looked back at her. It kept up this game all day. Another night came, and passed like the one before it. She awoke under similar circumstances, and four days and nights elapsed in the like manner. At length, on the fifth morning, Fairer than a Fairy, on opening her eyes, thought she saw a light more brilliant than that of day, when she perceived, in those of her lover, seated near her, all the affection with which she had inspired him. He fervently kissed one of her feet; his presence and this respectful action gratified her greatly. "You are there, then," said she. "If I have not beheld you all these days, I have, at all events, received the proofs of your goodness." "Say of my love, Fairer than a Fairy," replied he. "My mother suspects that it is I who assist you: she has placed me in confinement. I have escaped a moment, by means of a fairy of my acquaintance. Adieu! I came only to encourage you. You shall see me this evening, and if fortune smiles, to-morrow we shall be happy." He departed, and she hunted again all day. When night came, she perceived near her a little light, which sufficed to show her her lover. "Here is my illuminated wand," said he: "place it before you, and go without fear wherever it will lead you. Where it stops you will perceive a great heap of dry leaves; set fire to it, enter the place; you will see and you will find the skin of a beast; burn it. The stars, our friends, will do the rest. Adieu!"
Fairer than a Fairy would have desired far more ample instructions; but seeing there was no remedy, she placed the wand before her, which showed her the way. She followed it nearly two hours, very much vexed at doing nothing else. It stopped at last, and there, truly enough, she perceived a large heap of dried leaves, to which she did not fail to set fire. The light was soon so great that she could see a very high mountain, in which she observed an opening half hid by brambles. She separated them with her wand, and entered a dark hole; but soon after she found herself in a vast saloon, of admirable architecture, and lighted with numberless lamps. But what struck her with the greatest astonishment was the sight of the skins of several wild and terrible beasts, hung on golden hooks, which at first she mistook for the beasts themselves. She turned away her eyes with horror, and they were arrested in the centre of the saloon by the sight of a beautiful palm-tree, upon one of the branches of which was suspended the skin of the Hind with the silver feet. Fairer than a Fairy was enchanted at seeing it, and taking it down with the aid of her wand, she carried it quickly to the fire which she had lighted at the entrance of the cavern. It was consumed in a moment, and re-entering joyfully the saloon, she penetrated into several magnificent apartments. She stopped in one, where she saw several small couches placed upon Persian carpets, and one more beautiful than the rest under a canopy of cloth-of-gold. But she had not much time to contemplate arrangements which appeared to her singular, for she heard hearty peals of laughter and several persons in loud conversation. Fairer than a Fairy turned her steps in the direction from which the sounds proceeded, and entered a wonderful place, where she found fifteen young ladies of celestial beauty.
She did not surprise them less than she was surprised herself: the extreme loveliness of her appearance took away their breath, and a deep silence succeeded to cries of admiration. But one of these beautiful persons, more beautiful than all the rest, advanced, with a smiling air, towards our charming Princess. "You are my deliverer," said she, addressing her; "I cannot doubt it; no one can enter here who is not clothed in the skin of one of the beasts which you saw at the entrance of the cavern; that has been the fate of all these beautiful persons whom you see with me. After ten days of useless pursuit of me, they were changed into so many animals during the day; but at night we resume our human forms: and you, charming Princess, if you had not delivered me, would have been changed into a white rabbit." "A white rabbit!" exclaimed Fairer. "Ah, Madam, it is indeed better that I should preserve my ordinary form, and that so wonderful a person as you should be no longer a deer." "You have restored us all to liberty," replied the Fairy; "let us now pass the rest of the night as joyously as may be, and to-morrow we will go to the Palace, and fill all the Court with astonishment."
It is impossible to express the joy which resounded in this charming spot, and the delight which all these young persons felt at the sweet sensation of finding themselves once more in the land of the living, so to speak--they were all still of the same age as when they commenced their unfortunate chase in the Wood of Wonders, and the eldest was not yet twenty.
The Fairy desired to take three or four hours' repose. She made Fairer lie down beside her, and relate her adventures. She did so with so touching a voice, her discourse was so unaffected and so full of truth, that she engaged the Fairy without reserve to assist her love and render her happy. She did not forget to speak to her of Désirs, and the Fairy was immediately interested in her favour.
They went to sleep, after a long conversation, which they had agreeably interrupted, from time to time, by the interchange of affectionate caresses.
The next day they all set out for the Palace, wishing pleasantly to surprise the fairies. They quitted, without regret, the Wood of Wonders, and quickly arrived at the Palace. As they approached the inner court, they heard a thousand melodious sounds, which composed an excellent concert. "Here is a fête going on," said the Fairy; "we have arrived à propos;" and advancing, they found the court filled with an incredible number of people. The Fairy caused the gate to be opened, and entered with her train. The first persons who recognised her, uttered the loudest exclamations of delight, and the cause of this great joy was quickly made known to the multitude. But on advancing, the Fairy was struck by a strange spectacle. She saw a young girl more lovely than the Graces, and with the form of Venus, bound to a stake near a pile of wood, where apparently she was about to be burnt to death.
Fairer than a Fairy uttered a loud cry, as she recognised Désirs; but she was much astonished when, at the same moment, she lost sight of her, and a young man appeared in her place, so handsome and so well made that one might never be tired of looking at him. At this sight Fairer uttered a still louder cry, and running towards him, without any regard to appearances, she flung herself on his neck, exclaiming a thousand times, "It is my brother! it is my brother." It was her brother, who was also the fortunate lover of Princess Désirs, and who, fearing they would put her to death, had given her the Gem of Gyges to rescue her from the cruelty of Queen Nabote, and by so doing, became himself visible.
The brother and sister lavished a hundred caresses on each other; the invisible Désirs added hers, and her voice was heard, although she was not to be seen, whilst the fairies, in unparalleled astonishment, expressed in every variety of manner their rapture at again beholding their virtuous Queen. The good fairies came and threw themselves at her feet, kissing her hand and her garments. Some wept, some were unable to speak; each testified her joy according to her peculiar character. The bad fairies, the partisans of Nabote, also pretended to be delighted, and policy gave an air of sincerity to their hypocritical demonstrations. Nabote herself, in despair at this return, controlled herself with an art of which she alone was capable. She offered at once to resign her power to the rightful sovereign, who, with a grave and majestic air, demanded of her why the young girl whom she had seen bound to the stake merited such a punishment, and since when they had been accustomed to celebrate a cruel execution by fêtes and sports. Nabote excused herself very lamely, and the Queen listened impatiently when the lover of Désirs spoke thus: "They punish this Princess," said he, "because she is too amiable; they torment for the same reason the Princess my sister. They were both born as handsome as you now behold them." He then begged his lady-love to cover up the Gem of Gyges, and she immediately appeared again. Désirs charmed all who saw her. "They are beautiful," pursued he; "they possess a thousand virtues which they do not derive from the fairies; that is why they are roused up to persecute them. What injustice, to tyrannize over all those whose charms do not emanate from yourselves." The Prince paused: the Queen turned towards the assembly with an agreeable air. "I demand," said she, "that these three persons shall be given up to me; they shall enjoy the most happy fate that can fall to the lot of mortals. I owe much to Fairer than a Fairy, and she shall be rewarded for the service she has done me by uninterrupted felicity. You shall continue to reign, Madam," added she, turning to Nabote: "this empire is sufficiently large for you and me. Go to the Beautiful Islands, which belong to you. Leave me your son; I will share my power with him, and I will marry him to Fairer than a Fairy; this union will reconcile us to one another."
Nabote was enraged at all these decisions of the Queen, but it was of no use to complain, she was not the strongest. She had but to obey. She was about to do so with a bad grace, when the beautiful Phratis arrived, followed by a gallant train of youths who composed his Court; he came to pay his homage to the Queen, and manifest his joy at her return. But in passing, he cast a look at Fairer than a Fairy, and made her comprehend by his passionate glances that she was the first object of his devotion.
The Queen embraced him, and presented him to Fairer, begging him to accept her at her hands. There is no need to say he obeyed joyfully, exclaiming with transport,
"Oh Love! for all my tender care and aid,
By this rich guerdon I am overpaid!"
The two marriages were celebrated on the same day. Both couples were so happy, that 'tis said they are the only pairs who have ever really gained the golden Vine,  and that those who have been since named as having done so are purely fabulous personages.
Thus innocence triumphs over the misfortunes with which it is assailed. Envy and jealousy only serve to increase its lustre; and often the justice of Heaven renders its possessors happier for the trials they have undergone. There is a Providence which watches over the conduct of mortals, and delights in rewarding the worthy, even in this world.