THERE was once upon a time a Queen who had two little boys, who were perfectly beautiful. A Fairy, who was a great friend of the Queen, had been requested to be godmother to these Princes, and to endow each with some gift. "I endow the eldest," said she, "with all sorts of misfortunes until he attains the age of twenty-five, and I name him Fatal." At these words the Queen uttered piercing cries, and conjured the Fairy to change her gift. "You know not what you ask," said she to the Queen. "If he be not unfortunate, he will be wicked." The Queen dared say no more, but she begged the Fairy to allow her to choose a gift for her second son.
"Perhaps you will make a bad choice," replied the Fairy; "but never mind--I will agree to give him all that you shall request of me for him." "I wish," said the Queen, "that he may succeed always in everything he may desire to do--that is the way to make him perfect." "You may be deceived," said the Fairy; "therefore I grant him this gift only for five-and-twenty years."
They selected nurses for the two little Princes; but on the third day the nurse of the eldest Prince caught a fever; they gave him another, who fell and broke her leg; a third lost her milk as soon as she was appointed. And the report being spread that the Prince brought misfortune on all his nurses, no one would suckle him or approach him. The poor child, who was famished, cried, and no one pitied him. A fine stout countrywoman, who had a great number of children whom she had much trouble in supporting, said that she would take care of him if they would give her a large sum of money; and as the King and Queen did not like Prince Fatal, they gave the nurse what she asked, and told her to carry him to her village.
The second Prince, whom they had named Fortuné, got on wonderfully. His papa and mamma loved him passionately, and never thought of their eldest-born. The wicked woman to whom they had given him was no sooner in her own house than she took from him the beautiful clothes in which he was enveloped, and gave them to her own son, who was the same age as Fatal; and having wrapped the Prince in an old petticoat, she carried him into a wood where there was an immense number of wild beasts, and put him into a hole with three little lions, in order that he might be devoured. But the mother of these lions did him no harm; on the contrary, she suckled him, which made him so strong, that he ran quite alone at six months. Meanwhile the son of the nurse, whom she made pass for the Prince, died, and the King and Queen were charmed to think they had got rid of him.
Fatal remained in the wood until he was two years old; and a nobleman of the Court, who went to hunt there, was astonished to find him in the midst of the beasts. He took pity on him, carried him to his house, and having learnt that they sought for a child to keep Fortuné company, he presented Fatal to the Queen.
They gave a master to Fortuné to teach him to read, but they forbad the master to make him cry. The young Prince, who had overheard this, cried every time that he took up his book--so that at five years old he did not know his letters, whilst Fatal read perfectly, and already knew how to write. To frighten the Prince, they commanded the master to whip Fatal every time that Fortuné failed in his duties. Thus Fatal, however good he might be, did not escape being beaten; whilst Fortuné was so wilful and so naughty, that he always ill-treated his brother, whom, however, he did not know to be such. If any one gave Fatal an apple or a toy, Fortuné snatched it out of his hands; he made him be silent when he wished to speak; obliged him to speak when he wished to be silent; in a word, he was a little martyr, on whom no one had any pity.
They lived thus till they were ten years old, and the Queen was much surprised at the ignorance of her son. "The Fairy has deceived me," said she; "I thought that my son would be the wisest of Princes, because I wished he might succeed in all that he should desire to undertake." She went to consult the Fairy on the subject, who said to her, "Madam, you should have wished your son to have a good disposition rather than talent. He only desires to be wicked, and he succeeds in being so, as you see." After having said these words to the Queen, she turned her back on her. The poor Princess, much afflicted, returned to the palace. She would have scolded Fortuné to oblige him to do better; but instead of promising to correct his faults, he said that if they vexed him he would starve himself to death. Then the Queen, quite frightened, took him on her knee, kissed him, gave him sugar-plums, and told him that he should not study for a week if he would but eat as usual.
Meanwhile Prince Fatal became a prodigy of learning and of gentleness; he was so accustomed to be contradicted, that he had no will of his own, and devoted himself to forestall the fancies of Fortuné. But that naughty child, who was enraged at seeing him more clever than himself, could not bear him, and the masters, in order to please the young Prince, beat Fatal every minute. At length the wicked boy told the Queen that he would not have Fatal any longer in his sight, and that he would not eat till they had driven him from the Palace. Thus poor Fatal was turned into the street, and as they were afraid of displeasing the Prince, no one would receive him.
He passed the night under a tree dying with cold, for it was winter, and having nothing for his supper but a morsel of bread which some one had given him in charity. The next morning he said to himself, "I will not remain here doing nothing; I will work to gain my livelihood until I shall be big enough to go to the wars. I remember having read in history that common soldiers have become great captains; perhaps I may have the same good fortune if I am an honest man. I have neither father nor mother, but God is the Father of orphans; He has given me a lioness for my foster-mother; He will not forsake me." After having said this, Fatal rose up and said his prayers--for he never failed to pray to God morning and evening--and when he prayed he cast down his eyes, joined his hands, and did not look about him. A countryman, who was passing, and saw that Fatal was praying with all his heart, said to himself, "I am sure that must be an honest boy; I should like to take him to keep my sheep; God will bless me for his sake." The countryman waited till Fatal had finished his prayer, and then said, "My little friend, will you come and keep my sheep?--I will feed and take care of you." "I will, certainly," replied Fatal; "and I will do all in my power to serve you well."
This countryman was a large farmer, who had a great number of servants who robbed him very often, and his wife and children robbed him also. When they saw Fatal, they were very well contented. "He is a child," said they; "he will do all we wish." One day the wife said to him, "My little friend, my husband is a miser who never gives me any money; let me take a sheep, and you can say the wolf has carried it off." "Madam," replied Fatal, "I would render you a service with all my heart, but I would much rather die than tell a story or be a thief." "You are a little fool," said the woman; "no one will know what you have done." "God will know it, Madam," replied Fatal; "He knows all that we do, and He will punish liars and those who steal." When the farmer's wife heard these words, she threw herself on him, beat him, and tore out a handful of his hair. Fatal cried, and the farmer hearing him, asked his wife why she beat the child? "Because," said she, "he is a glutton; I saw him this morning eat a pot of cream which I was going to take to market." "Fie! how horrid it is to be greedy," said the farmer; and immediately called a servant, and bade him whip Fatal.
It was of no use the poor child saying he had not eaten the cream; they believed the mistress rather than him. After this, he went into the fields with his sheep, and the farmer's wife said to him, "Well! will you now give me a sheep?" "I should be very sorry to do so," said Fatal; "you can do what you will with me, but you cannot oblige me to tell a lie." To revenge herself, the wicked creature then set all the other servants to treat Fatal ill. He remained in the fields night and day; and instead of giving the same food to him as to the other servants, she sent him nothing but bread and water, and when he returned she accused him of all the harm that was done in the house.
He passed a year with this farmer, and although he lay on the bare ground and was so ill-fed, he became so strong that he appeared to be fifteen when he was only thirteen; besides, he was become so patient, that he did not mind even when they scolded him unjustly. One day that he was at the farm, he heard say that a neighbouring King was engaged in a great war. He asked his master to discharge him, and went on foot into the kingdom of this Prince to become a soldier. He engaged himself to a Captain who was a great lord, but behaved himself more like a common porter, he was so brutal; he swore, he beat his soldiers, he robbed them of half the money which the King gave for their food and clothing; and under this wicked Captain, Fatal was even more unhappy than with the farmer. He had engaged himself for ten years, and although he saw the greater number of his comrades desert, he would never follow their example, for he said, "I have received the money to serve ten years; I should rob the King if I failed in my word." Although the Captain was a wicked man, and ill-treated Fatal like the others, he could not help esteeming him because he saw that he always did his duty. He gave him money to do his commissions, and Fatal had the key of his chamber when he went to the country, where he dined with his friends.
This Captain was not fond of reading; but he had a large library, to make believe to those who came to his house that he was a clever man, for in that country they thought that an officer who did not read history could never be anything but a fool and an ignoramus. When Fatal had finished his duties as a soldier, instead of going to drink and gamble with his comrades, he shut himself up in the Captain's chamber and tried to learn his profession by reading the lives of great Generals, and by these means he became capable of commanding an army.
He had already been seven years a soldier when he went to the war. His Captain took six soldiers with him, to make a search in a little wood; and when in this little wood, the soldiers said quite low, "We must kill this wicked man, who beats us and steals our bread." Fatal told them they must not do such a wicked action; but, instead of listening to him, they said they would kill him with the Captain, and all five drew their swords. Fatal placed himself by the side of the Captain, and fought with so much valour that he alone killed four of the soldiers. His Captain, seeing that he owed his life to him, begged his pardon for all the ill he had done him; and having reported his conduct to the King, Fatal was made a Captain, and the King granted him a large pension.
Oh, you may be sure the soldiers did not wish to kill Fatal, for he loved them like his children; and far from robbing them of what belonged to them, he gave them his own money when they were wounded, and never took it away again when in an ill humour. Meanwhile a great battle was fought, and the General commanding the army having been killed, all the officers and soldiers were retreating in disorder, but Fatal cried aloud that he would rather die sword in hand than fly like a coward. His own men answered that they would not abandon him, and their good example having shamed the others, they rallied round Fatal and fought so well that they routed the enemy, and took the hostile King's son prisoner. The other King was very pleased when he heard that he had gained the battle, and said to Fatal that he would make him General of all the army. He presented him to the Queen and the Princess his daughter, who gave him their hands to kiss.
When Fatal saw the Princess, he remained motionless. She was so beautiful, that he felt madly in love with her, and then he was indeed miserable; for he felt that a man like himself was not fit to marry a great Princess. He resolved, therefore, carefully to conceal his love, and every day he suffered the greatest torment; but it was much worse when he found that Fortuné, having seen a picture of the Princess, who was named Gracieuse, had fallen in love with her, and that he had sent ambassadors to demand her hand in marriage.
Fatal thought he should die of grief; but the Princess Gracieuse, who knew that Fortuné was a wicked, cowardly Prince, begged the King, her father, so hard not to make her marry him, that he replied to the ambassador that the Princess did not wish to marry yet. Fortuné, who had never been contradicted, was in a fury when he heard the reply of the Princess; and his father, who could refuse him nothing, declared war with the father of Gracieuse, who did not distress himself much about it, for he said, "So long as I have Fatal at the head of my army, I do not fear being defeated."
He sent for his General, and ordered him to prepare for war; but Fatal, throwing himself at his feet, told him that he was born in the kingdom of the father of Fortuné, and that he could not fight against his native Sovereign. The father of Gracieuse was in a great rage, and told Fatal that he would put him to death if he refused to obey him; but that, on the contrary, he would give him his daughter in marriage if he gained the victory over Fortuné. Poor Fatal, who loved Gracieuse passionately, was sorely tempted, but in the end resolved to do his duty.
Without saying anything to the King, he quitted the Court, and abandoned all his wealth. Meanwhile, Fortuné put himself at the head of his troops, and marched to give the King battle; but at the end of four days he fell ill of fatigue, for he was very delicate, never having taken any exercise. The heat, the cold--everything made him ill. However, the ambassador, who wished to make his court to Fortuné, told him that he had seen at the Court of Gracieuse the little boy who had been banished from the Palace, and that they said the father of Gracieuse had promised him his daughter. Fortuné at this news put himself in a great passion, and as soon as he was better, set out again determined to dethrone the father of Gracieuse, and promised a large sum of money to any one who would bring Fatal to him dead or alive.
Fortuné won a great victory, although he did not fight himself, for he was afraid of being killed. At length he besieged the capital city of his enemy, and resolved to take it by assault. The eve of this day they brought Fatal to him, bound in chains, for a great number of people had been tempted by the reward to seek for him. Fortuné, charmed at being able to revenge himself, resolved, before commencing the assault, to have Fatal beheaded in sight of the enemy. That same day he gave a great feast to his officers to celebrate his birthday, being just twenty-five years old. The soldiers in the besieged city having learnt that Fatal was taken, and that in an hour he was to be beheaded, resolved to perish or save him, for they remembered the benefits he had conferred on them whilst he was their General. They asked permission of the King to make a sortie, and this time they were victorious.
The gift of Fortuné had ceased, and he was killed in endeavouring to escape. The victorious soldiers ran to take off the chains of Fatal, and at the same moment they saw two brilliant chariots appear in the air. The Fairy was in one of these chariots, and the father and mother of Fatal were in the other, but asleep. They only awoke as their chariot touched the ground, and they were very much astonished to find themselves in the midst of the army.
The Fairy then addressing the Queen, and presenting Fatal to her, said, "Madam, behold in this hero your eldest son; the misfortunes which he has undergone have corrected the defects of his character, which was violent and passionate. Fortuné, on the contrary, who was born with good inclinations, has been entirely spoilt by flattery, and God has not permitted him to live longer, because he would have become more wicked every day. He has just been killed; but to console you for his death, learn that he was on the point of dethroning his father, because he was tired of waiting to be King." The King and Queen were very much astonished, and embraced Fatal with all their heart, of whom they had heard speak honourably. The Princess Gracieuse and her father learnt with joy the adventures of Fatal, who married Gracieuse, with whom he lived a long time in perfect happiness, because it was founded in virtue.