HERE WAS ONCE a king who was such an honourable man that his subjects called him "The Good King."
|ZELIE AND THE FAIRY CANDIDE|
One day while he was out hunting, a little rabbit that his dogs were about to kill, threw itself into his arms. The King caressed the little creature, and said:
"As you have put yourself under my protection nobody shall harm you," and he carried the rabbit to his palace, and ordered a pretty little hutch to be made for it.
That night when he was alone in his room, there appeared a lovely lady. She wore a robe as white as snow, and a wreath of white roses on her head. She addressed him thus:
"I am the Fairy Candide; I wished to see if you were as good as everybody declares you are, and for this reason I changed myself into the little rabbit, and ran to you in my distress, for I know that those who have pity for dumb creatures have still more pity for mankind. I have come to thank you for what you did and to say that I shall always be your friend, and will grant any request you would now like to make."
"Madam," replied the King, "I have one only son whom I love devotedly; he is named Prince Cheri; if you have any good will for me, be a friend to my son."
"Willingly," responded the Fairy, "I will make your son the most handsome prince in the world, or the richest, or the most powerful; choose which you will for him."
"I desire none of these things," replied the King, "but I shall be very much obliged if you will make him the best of all princes, for what good would it do to him to be handsome, rich, or powerful if he were wicked? You know he would be unhappy, for it is only goodness which brings content."
"You are right," answered the Fairy, "but that I cannot do; Prince Cheri must himself strive to become good. All that I can promise is that I will give him good advice, and punish him for his faults, if he will not himself correct them."
And with this the father had to rest content.
Not long afterwards the good King died, and two days later the Fairy appeared to Prince Cheri.
"I promised your father to be your friend," she told him; "here is a little gold ring, take care of it, for it is worth more than diamonds. Every time that you are about to do any wrong action it will prick you. If, in spite of the pricks, you continue your bad actions, you will lose my friendship and I shall become your enemy."
Saying this the Fairy vanished, leaving the Prince very much astonished.
For some time Cheri behaved so well that the ring did not prick at all, but one day when he returned from the chase, having caught nothing, he felt so ill-humoured, that when his dog Bibi came fawning upon him, he kicked the poor, faithful creature from him. At that moment the ring pricked like a pin running into his finger.
"What is this?" he exclaimed: "the Fairy must be mocking me, surely I've done no great harm in kicking an animal that annoyed me. What's the use of being ruler of a great empire if I may not treat my dog as I will?"
"I am not mocking you," he heard in reply to his thoughts; "you have been bad tempered, and you have behaved unkindly to a poor animal who did not deserve such treatment. I know you are higher than a dog, but the advantage of being ruler of a great empire is not in doing all the harm one wishes, but in doing all the good one can."
Cheri promised to be better, but he did not keep his word, and so the ring often pricked him, sometimes until his finger bled, and at last, in anger, he threw it away.
Now he thought he would be truly happy, and he gave way to any foolish fancies and wrong wishes that came into his head, until he really became very wicked and was disliked by everyone.
One day when he was out walking he saw a girl named Zelie, who was so beautiful that he resolved to marry her.
But Zelie was as good as she was beautiful, and said to him:
"Sir, I am only a shepherdess and have no fortune, but, in spite of that, I will never marry you, for although I should be a Queen, and you are handsome and rich, your evil behaviour would make me hate you."
Upon this, Cheri flew into a passion, and ordered his officers to carry Zelie to the Palace, but she was not used unkindly there, for the Prince loved her.
However, after a while, urged by his foster-brother, a bad man who encouraged Cheri in his wickedness, the young man rushed in a rage to the room in which Zelie was confined, determined that, if she still refused to marry him, the very next day she should be sold as a slave.
Great was his surprise, on entering the apartment, to find the captive had disappeared, for he carried the key of the door in his pocket.
Amongst those at the Royal Court was a Councillor named Suliman, a man of a noble mind, who had often dared to tell the Prince of his faults, and had at first been thanked for this, but later on Cheri grew angry that anyone should presume to blame him while all others at the Court were full of flattery and praise, but in his heart of hearts the Prince respected this good man, and this the wicked flatterers knew full well, and therefore feared lest he should come into the Prince's favour.
So now they falsely said, that it was Suliman who had helped Zelie to escape, and beyond himself with fury, Cheri commanded his foster-brother to send soldiers to bring Suliman to him in chains, like a criminal.
After giving these orders Cheri retired to his chamber, but scarcely had he entered, when the earth trembled, there came a great clap of thunder, and the Fairy Candide appeared before him.
"I promised your father," said she in a stern voice, "to give you good advice, and to punish you if you refused to follow it. You have despised my counsels and your crimes have converted you into a monster, the horror of heaven and earth. Now it is time to fulfill my promise of punishment. I condemn you to take the resemblance of the beasts you are like in disposition—A lion, because of your fury—a wolf, on account of your greediness—a serpent, for destroying him who has been your second father—a bull, by reason of your brutality."
Hardly had the Fairy pronounced these words, when Cheri perceived with horror that his body had been transformed.
He had a lion's head, a bull's horns, the feet of a wolf, and the tail of a viper. At the same moment he found himself in a forest, and there, after roaming about miserably for some time, he fell into a pit dug by hunters. He was captured and led into the capital of his Kingdom.
On the way thither instead of acknowledging that he had brought this evil plight upon himself, he bit at his chains, and cursed the Fairy. As he was nearing the city great rejoicings were seen on every side, and, on the hunters enquiring the reason, they were told that Prince Cheri, whose only pleasure it was to torment his people, had been crushed to death in his chamber by a thunder-bolt, a just punishment for his offences. Four of his wicked companions had tried to partition the Kingdom between them, but the people would have none such to rule, and they had offered the crown to the good and wise Suliman. Cheri panted with rage on hearing this, and in the Palace Square he saw Suliman on a superb throne, and all the people who shouted with joy, and wished him a long life to repair the evil brought about by their former sovereign. "I accept the throne," said Suliman, "but it is to preserve it for Prince Cheri. A fairy has revealed to me that he is not dead, and possibly will return to you as virtuous as in his earliest years. Alas!" cried Suliman, bursting into tears, "his flatterers have ruined him, I know that at heart he is good." These words moved Cheri to sorrow for his crimes, and he felt that he had not been punished as severely as he deserved, and he now resolved to amend his faults.
Therefore he obeyed the man who had charge over him, and who constantly cruelly beat him, and one day when this keeper lay asleep, and a tiger who had broken loose was about to devour him, Cheri fought the fierce beast, and saved the man's life.
Then a voice was heard saying, "a good action shall be rewarded!" and, to Cheri's joy he was instantaneously transformed into a pretty little dog which the keeper carried to the Queen.
The Queen was delighted with him, but, for fear he should grow bigger, she gave him only small pieces of bread to eat, so that poor Cheri nearly died of hunger.
One day he carried his little piece of bread into the garden to eat it there, but wandering with it in his mouth, still further on, he saw a young girl pale and thin, and almost fainting for want of food.
"I am hungry," thought Cheri, "but if I give my breakfast to this poor thing, perhaps I shall save her life." He placed his bread in the girl's hand, and she ate it hungrily. Just then he heard loud cries, and saw that it was the beautiful Zelie struggling to free herself from four men who were carrying her into a house near by.
Cheri, longing to help her, followed them barking, and although the men kicked him savagely, he would not leave the place. Presently from a window was thrown a plateful of tempting-looking food. Cheri was just about to devour it, when the girl to whom he had given the bread, rushed forward and throwing her arms around him cried,
"Poor little dog, do not touch that food, it is poisoned." Just then a voice was heard saying, "You see that a good action meets with reward," and at the same time Cheri was changed into a pretty white pigeon. For several days he flew around hoping to catch sight of Zelie, and at last, seated by a hermit, outside a cave, he found her. Fluttering down he alighted upon her shoulder. Zelie stroked his feathers whispering that she now accepted his gift and would love him always, and at that moment Cheri regained his natural figure, and Fairy Candide appeared in place of the hermit whose form she had taken. "Come, my children," said she, "I am going to transport you to your Palace, that Cheri may receive his crown of which he has now become worthy," and hardly had she ceased speaking, when they found themselves in Suliman's presence. The worthy Governor was delighted to behold his dear master, and gladly resigned the throne to him. Cheri and Zelie reigned long and happily, and we are told that the ring, which the Prince now wore again, never once severely pricked him.