HERE WAS ONCE upon a time a King and Queen who were perfectly happy, with one exception, and that was that they had no child.
|THE WHITE FAWN|
One day when the Queen was staying in a watering-place, some distance from home, she was sitting by a fountain alone, sadly thinking of the daughter she longed to have, when she perceived a crab coming in her direction, who, to the Queen's surprise, addressed her thus:
"Great Queen, if you will condescend to be conducted by a humble crab, I will lead you to a Fairies' palace and your wish shall be fulfilled."
"I would certainly come with you," replied the Queen, "but I am afraid that I cannot walk backwards."
The crab smiled, and transforming herself into a beautiful little old woman, said:
"Now, madam, it is not necessary to go backwards. Come with me, and I beg of you to look upon me as your friend." She then escorted the Queen to the most magnificent palace that could possibly be imagined, it was built entirely of diamonds.
In this superb place dwelt six Fairies who received the Queen with the greatest respect, and each one presented her with a flower made of precious stones—a rose, tulip, an anemone, a columbine, a violet, and a carnation.
"Madam," they said, "we have pleasure in telling you that soon you will have a daughter whom you will name Desiree. Directly she arrives, do not fail to call upon us, for we will bestow all sorts of good gifts upon her. You have only to hold this bouquet, and mention each flower, thinking of us, and be assured that we shall at once appear in your chamber."
The Queen, transported with joy, and overcome with gratitude, threw herself upon their necks, and warmly embraced them; she then spent several hours admiring the wonders of the palace and its gardens, and it was not until evening that she returned to her attendants, who were in a serious state of anxiety at the prolonged absence of Her Majesty.
Not very long afterwards, when the Queen was once more at home in her Royal Palace, a baby Princess was born, whom she named Desiree. Then taking the bouquet into her hand, the Queen, one by one, pronounced the names of the flowers, when there immediately appeared, flying through the air in elegant chariots drawn by different kinds of birds, the six Fairies who entered the apartment, bearing beautiful presents for the little baby. Marvellously fine linen, but so strong that it could be worn a hundred years without going into holes, lace of the finest, with the history of the world worked into its pattern, toys of all descriptions that a child would love to play with, and a cradle ornamented with rubies and diamonds, and supported by four Cupids ready to rock it should the baby cry. But, best of all, the Fairies endowed the little Princess with beauty, and virtue, and health, and every good thing that could be desired.
The Queen was thanking the Fairies a thousand times for all their favours, when the door opened, and a crab appeared.
"Ungrateful Queen," said the crab, "you have not deigned to remember me, the Fairy of the Fountain; and to punish your ingratitude, if the Princess sees daylight before she is fifteen years old, she will have cause to repent it, and it may cost her her life. It was well I took the form of a crab, for your friendship instead of advancing has gone backwards." Then in spite of all the Queen and the Fairies could say, the crab went backwards out of the door, leaving them in the saddest consternation, and it was long before they could decide what was best to be done.
Then, with three waves of a wand, the Fairies caused a high tower to spring up; it had neither door nor window, an underground passage was made, through which everything necessary could be carried, and in this tower the little Princess was shut up and there she lived by candlelight, where never a glimpse of the sun could come.
When the Princess Desiree was fourteen years old, the Queen had her portrait painted, and copies of it were carried to all the Courts in the world. All the Princes admired it greatly, but there was one Prince, named Guerrier, who loved it above everything; he used to stand before the picture and avow his passion, just as if it heard what he said, and at last he told the King, his father.
"You have resolved that I shall marry the Princess Noire, but this I can never do, so great is my love for the Princess Desiree."
"But where have you seen her?" enquired the King.
The Prince hastened to fetch her portrait, and the King was so greatly struck by Desiree's beauty that he agreed to follow his son's wishes and break off his engagement with the Princess Noire, that he might wed the Princess Desiree. So the King despatched as ambassador a rich young lord named Becafigue.
Becafigue was devoted to Prince Guerrier, and he fitted out a most splendid retinue to visit the Princess Desiree's Court. Besides numerous magnificent presents, Becafigue took with him the Prince's portrait, which had been painted by such a clever artist that it would speak; it could not exactly answer questions, but could make certain remarks. It was truly a speaking likeness of the young Prince. Desiree's father and mother were delighted when they heard that the Prince Guerrier was seeking their daughter's hand in marriage, for they knew him to be a brave and noble young man. But as it still wanted three months to the Princess's fifteenth year, warned by the Fairy Tulip, who had taken Desiree under her special care, they refused to let him see their daughter or to let her yet marry the Prince Guerrier, but they showed her the Prince's portrait, with which she was greatly pleased, and particularly when it said, "Lovely Desiree, you cannot imagine how ardently I am waiting for you; come soon into our Court to make it beautiful by your presence."
When Prince Guerrier saw the ambassador return without Desiree, he was so terribly disappointed that he could neither eat nor sleep, and before long fell dangerously ill.
Meanwhile Desiree had no less pleasure in looking at the Prince's portrait than he had had admiring hers, and this was soon discovered by those around her, and among others Giroflee and Longue Epine, her maids of honour. Giroflee loved her passionately and faithfully, but Longue Epine was full of envy of the Princess who was so good and beautiful, and, besides Longue Epine, Desiree had another enemy, and that was the Princess Noire, to whom Prince Guerrier had been betrothed. This Princess Noire now went to the Fairy of the Fountain, who was her best friend, and begged her to take revenge upon Princess Desiree, and this the Fairy promised to do. Meanwhile once more Becafigue came to the capital where Desiree's father lived, and throwing himself at the King's feet, besought him in most touching words to let his daughter go with him at once to the Prince, who would surely die if he could not behold her.
When Princess Desiree heard of the Prince's illness, she suggested that she should set out without delay, but in a dark carriage, that only at night should be opened to give her food. This plan was approved of; the ambassador was told, and he departed full of joy. So in a carriage like a large dark box, shut up with her Lady in Waiting and her two Maids of Honour, Giroflee and Longue Epine, Princess Desiree departed for Prince Guerrier's Court.
Perhaps you will remember that Longue Epine did not like Princess Desiree, but she greatly admired Prince Guerrier, for she had seen his portrait speaking, and she had told her mother, the Lady in Waiting, that she should die if he married Desiree.
The King and Queen had begged the Lady in Waiting to take the greatest of care of their dear daughter, and above all to be heedful that she did not see the light of day until her fifteenth birthday, saying that the ambassador had promised that until then she should be placed where there was no other light than that of candles. But now as they drew near their destination, while it was broad daylight the wicked woman, urged by her envious daughter, Longue Epine, all at once took a large knife which she had brought for the purpose, and with it cut the covering of the carriage.
Then, for the first time, the Princess Desiree saw the light of day!!! Hardly had she perceived it when, uttering a deep sigh, she threw herself from the carriage, and in the form of a white fawn fleetly fled into a forest near by.
The Fairy of the Fountain, who was the cause of this disaster seeing that all who were accompanying the Princess were about to hasten to the town to tell the Prince Guerrier what had happened, called up a great thunderstorm and scattered them in every direction. Only the Lady in Waiting, Longue Epine and Giroflee were left, Giroflee, who ran after her mistress, making the trees and rocks echo with her mournful calls. Then Longue Epine clothed herself in the rich bridal robes provided for Desiree. She placed the crown upon her head, the sceptre and orb she carried in her hands, so that all should take her for the Princess. With her mother bearing her train she gravely walked in the direction of the town.
They had not gone far when a brilliant procession came towards them, amongst whom was the sick Prince in a litter, and to those in advance Longue Epine announced that she was the Princess Desiree, with her Lady in Waiting, but that a jealous Fairy had sent a thunderstorm which had destroyed her carriage and scattered her other attendants. When the Prince was told of this, he could not refrain from saying to the messengers: "Now acknowledge, is she not truly a miracle of beauty, a Princess beyond compare?"
No one replied at first, and then one of the boldest said,
"Sir, you will see; apparently the fatigue of the journey has somewhat changed her." The Prince was surprised, but when he saw Longue Epine words fail to express what he felt.
She was so tall that it was alarming, and the garments of the Princess hardly came to her knees. She was frightfully thin, and her nose, which was more hooked than a parrot's beak, shone like a danger signal. Then her teeth were black and uneven, and, in fact, she was as ugly as Desiree was beautiful.
At first the Prince could not speak a word, he simply gazed at her in amazement. Then he said, turning to his father, "We have been deceived, that portrait was painted to mislead us. It will be the death of me."
"What do I hear, they have deceived you," fiercely exclaimed Longue Epine.
"It is not to be wondered at," remarked the King, "that your father kept such a treasure shut up for fifteen years."