THERE was once upon a time a King who passionately loved a Princess, but she could not be married because she was enchanted. He went in search of a Fairy to learn what he should do to be loved by this Princess. The Fairy said to him, "You know that the Princess has a large cat, of which she is very fond. She is destined to marry the man who shall be sufficiently adroit to tread on the tail of her cat." The King said to himself, "That will not be very difficult." So he quitted the Fairy, determined to crush the tail of the cat rather than fail to tread on it. He ran to the palace of his mistress, where Minon came towards him, putting up his back, as he was accustomed to do; the King raised his foot, but when he thought he was certain to set it on the cat's tail, Minon turned round so quickly that his Majesty trod on nothing but the floor. He tried for eight days to step on this fatal tail, but it appeared to be full of quicksilver, so continually was it in motion. At length the King had the good fortune to surprise Minon whilst he was sleeping, and stamped upon his tail with all his force. Minon awoke, squalling horribly. Then suddenly he took the form of a great man, and regarding the Prince with eyes full of anger, he said to him, "Thou shalt wed the Princess, because thou hast destroyed the enchantment which prevented thee from doing so, but I will be avenged. Thou shalt have a son who shall be always unhappy until the moment when he shall discover that he has too long a nose, and if thou darest to divulge the threat I have uttered, thou shalt die immediately." Although the King was very frightened at the sight of this great man, who was an enchanter, he could not help laughing at this threat. "If my son has too long a nose," said he to himself, "unless he be either blind or without arms, he can always see it or feel it."
The Enchanter having disappeared, the King sought the Princess, who consented to marry him; but his happiness was of brief duration, for he died at the end of eight months. A month afterwards the Queen brought into the world a little prince, whom they named Désir. He had large blue eyes, the most beautiful in the world, and a pretty little mouth, but his nose was so big that it covered half his face. The Queen was inconsolable when she saw this great nose; but the ladies who were with her told her that the nose was not so large as it appeared to her: that it was a Roman nose, and that she might learn from history that all heroes had large noses. The Queen, who passionately loved her son, was charmed at this discourse, and from constantly looking at Désir his nose did not appear so large to her as at first. The Prince was brought up with care, and as soon as he could speak they told all sorts of shocking stories before him about people with short noses. They allowed no one to come near him but those whose noses in some degree resembled his own, and the courtiers, to pay their court to the Queen and her son, pulled the noses of their little children several times in the day to make them longer; but it was no use pulling, for they appeared snub-nosed by the side of Prince Désir. As soon as he could understand it they taught him history, and when they spoke of any great prince or beautiful princess they always said they had long noses. All his apartments were full of portraits of persons with large noses, and Désir became so accustomed to regard the length of the nose as a beauty, that he would not for a crown have had his in the least diminished.
When he was twenty years of age, and they thought of marrying him, they presented him with the portraits of several princesses. He was enchanted with that of Mignone. She was the daughter of a great King, and heiress to several kingdoms; but Désir thought nothing of that, so much was he engrossed by her beauty. This Princess, whom he found so charming, had, however, a little turned-up nose, which had the prettiest effect in the world on her face, but which threw the courtiers into the utmost embarrassment. They had acquired the habit of ridiculing little noses, and they could not restrain a smile at that of the Princess, but Désir would allow no raillery on this subject, and he banished from his court two courtiers who had dared to disparage the nose of Mignone. The others, profiting by this example, corrected themselves, and there was one who said to the Prince, that in truth a man could not be handsome without a large nose, but that female beauty was altogether different, and that a scholar who spoke Greek had told him that he had read, in an old Greek manuscript, that the beautiful Cleopatra had the tip of her nose turned up.
The Prince made a magnificent present to the person who told him this good news, and he sent ambassadors to demand Mignone's hand in marriage. They granted his request, and he went more than three leagues to meet her, so anxious was he to behold her; but when he advanced to kiss her hand, the Enchanter descended, carried off the Princess before his face, and left him inconsolable. Désir resolved not to return to his kingdom till he had recovered Mignone. He would not allow any of his courtiers to follow him, and being mounted on his good horse he put the bridle on his neck and let him take his own road.
The horse entered a large plain, over which he travelled all day without seeing a single house. The master and the horse were both dying of hunger, when at length in the evening the Prince saw a cavern, in which was a light. He entered, and perceived a little woman, who appeared to be more than an hundred years old. She put on her spectacles to look at the Prince, but she was a long time adjusting them, because her nose was too short. The Prince and the Fairy (for she was one) each burst out laughing at seeing the other, and cried out both at once, "Ah, what a droll nose!" "Not so droll as yours," said Désir to the Fairy; "but, Madam, let us leave our noses as they are, and be so good as to give me something to eat, for I am dying of hunger, and so is my poor horse." "With all my heart," said the Fairy; "although your nose is so ridiculous, you are no less the son of my best friend. I loved the King your father like my own brother; he had a very handsome nose, that Prince!" "And what is wanting in mine?" said Désir. "Oh, there is nothing wanting," replied the Fairy; "on the contrary, there is but too much of it; but never mind, one may be a very good man, even with too long a nose. I have told you that I was the friend of your father; he came to see me very often in those days; and à propos of those days, let me tell you I was then very pretty, and he used to say so. I must tell you a conversation we had together the last time that he saw me."
"Oh, Madam," said Désir, "I shall listen to you with much pleasure when I have supped; think, I pray you, that I have not eaten all day." "Poor boy," said the Fairy, "he is right: I forgot all about that; I will give you your supper directly, and whilst you eat I will tell you my history in few words, for I am not fond of long stories. Too long a tongue is still more insupportable than a long nose, and I remember, when I was young, that I was admired because I was not a great talker; they told the Queen my mother this, for notwithstanding what you now see me, I am the daughter of a great King. My father----" "Your father ate when he was hungry," said the Prince, interrupting her. "Yes, without doubt," replied the Fairy, "and you shall sup also, presently. I wanted only to tell you that my father----" "And I will listen to nothing till I have eaten," said the Prince, who began to be in a passion. He calmed down, however, for he had need of the Fairy, and he said to her, "I know that the pleasure I should have in listening to you would make me forget my hunger, but my horse, who will not hear you, has need of food."
The Fairy bridled up at this compliment. "You shall not wait any longer," said she, calling her domestics; "you are very polite, and notwithstanding the enormous size of your nose, you are very good looking." "Plague take the old woman with my nose," said the Prince to himself; "one would imagine that my mother had stolen from her the quantity of which her own nose is deficient. If I did not so much want something to eat, I would leave this chatterbox, who thinks she talks so little. One must be a great fool not to know his own defects: this comes of being born a Princess; flatterers have spoiled her, and have persuaded her that she is a little talker." Whilst the Prince was thus thinking, the servants laid the table, and he could not but wonder at the Fairy, who put a thousand questions to them merely for the pleasure of talking; he admired, above all, a waiting-woman, who, whatever the Fairy said, praised her mistress for her discretion. "Well," thought he, whilst eating, "I am charmed at having come here. This example makes me see how wisely I have acted in not listening to flatterers. Such people praise us shamelessly, hide our defects from us, and change them into perfections: as for me, I shall never be their dupe--I know my faults, thank God." The poor Désir believed this thoroughly, and did not feel that those who had praised his nose mocked him as much as the Fairy's waiting-woman mocked her (for the Prince saw that she turned aside from time to time to laugh). As for him, he said not a word, but ate with all his might.
"Prince," said the Fairy, when he began to be satisfied, "turn yourself a little, I beg; your nose throws a shadow which prevents my seeing what is on my plate. Now, come, let us speak of your father: I went to his Court at the time that he was a little boy, but it is forty years since I retired to this solitude. Tell me a little about the way they live at Court at present: the ladies, do they still love running from place to place? In my time, one saw them the same day at the assembly, at the theatres, at the promenades, at the ball--How long your nose is! I cannot get accustomed to the sight of it!" "Indeed," replied Désir, "I wish you would cease to speak of my nose--it is as it is--what does it matter to you? I am content with it, and I would not have it any shorter; every one has his nose as it pleases Providence." "Oh! I see plainly that you are angry, my poor Désir," said the Fairy; "it was not, however, my intention to annoy you, quite the contrary, I am one of your friends, and I wish to render you a service; but, in spite of that, I cannot help being shocked at your nose; I will, however, try not to speak of it, I will force myself even to think you are snub-nosed, although, to tell you the truth, there is enough material in that nose to make three reasonable noses."
Désir, who had supped, became so impatient at the endless talk which the Fairy kept up on the subject of his nose, that he threw himself on his horse and rode off. He continued his journey, and wherever he passed he thought everybody was mad, because every one exclaimed at his nose; but notwithstanding this, he had been so accustomed to hear it said that his nose was handsome, that he could never admit to himself that it was too long. The old Fairy, who wished to render him a service in spite of himself, took it into her head to shut up Mignone in a crystal palace, and placed this palace in the road of the Prince. Désir, transported with joy, strove to break it, but he could not succeed; in despair, he wished to approach so as at least to speak to the Princess, who, on her part also stretched out her hand close to the glass. He wished to kiss this hand, but whichever way he turned he could not get his mouth near it, because his nose prevented him. He perceived, for the first time, its extraordinary length, and putting his hand to it to bend it on one side, "It must be confessed," said he, "that my nose is too long." At that moment the crystal palace fell to pieces, and the old woman, who held Mignone by the hand, said to the Prince, "Confess that you are under a great obligation to me; I might have spoken in vain to you of your nose, you would never have believed in the defect had it not become an obstacle to the attainment of your wishes."
It is thus that self-love hides from us the deformities of our soul and body. Reason in vain seeks to exhibit them to us, we do not admit them till the moment when this same self-love finds them contrary to its interest. Désir, whose nose had now become an ordinary one, profited by this lesson; he married Mignone, and lived happily with her for a great number of years.