ONCE upon a time there lived a King and Queen who had two beautiful sons and one little daughter, who was so pretty that no one who saw her could help loving her. When it was time for the christening of the Princess, the Queen — as she always did — sent for all the fairies to be present at the ceremony, and afterwards invited them to a splendid banquet.
When it was over, and they were preparing to go away, the Queen said to them:
‘Do not forget your usual good custom. Tell me what is going to happen to Rosette.’
For that was the name they had given the Princess.
But the fairies said they had left their book of magic at home, and they would come another day and tell her.
‘Ah!’ said the Queen, ‘I know very well what that means — you have nothing good to say; but at least I beg that you will not hide anything from me.’
So, after a great deal of persuasion, they said:
‘Madam, we fear that Rosette may be the cause of great misfortunes to her brothers; they may even meet with their death through her; that is all we have been able to foresee about your dear little daughter. We are very sorry to have nothing better to tell you.’
Then they went away, leaving the Queen very sad, so sad that the King noticed it, and asked her what was the matter.
The Queen said that she had been sitting too near the fire, and had burnt all the flax that was upon her distaff.
‘Oh! is that all?’ said the King, and he went up into the garret and brought her down more flax than she could spin in a hundred years. But the Queen still looked sad, and the King asked her again what was the matter. She answered that she had been walking by the river and had dropped one of her green satin slippers into the water.
‘Oh! if that’s all,’ said the King, and he sent to all the shoe-makers in his kingdom, and they very soon made the Queen ten thousand green satin slippers, but still she looked sad. So the King asked her again what was the matter, and this time she answered that in eating her porridge too hastily she had swallowed her wedding-ring. But it so happened that the King knew better, for he had the ring himself, and he said:
‘Oh I you are not telling me the truth, for I have your ring here in my purse.’
Then the Queen was very much ashamed, and she saw that the King was vexed with her; so she told him all that the fairies had predicted about Rosette, and begged him to think how the misfortunes might be prevented.
Then it was the King’s turn to look sad, and at last he said:
‘I see no way of saving our sons except by having Rosette’s head cut off while she is still little.’
But the Queen cried that she would far rather have her own head cut off, and that he had better think of something else, for she would never consent to such a thing. So they thought and thought, but they could not tell what to do, until at last the Queen heard that in a great forest near the castle there was an old hermit, who lived in a hollow tree, and that people came from far and near to consult him; so she said:
‘I had better go and ask his advice; perhaps he will know what to do to prevent the misfortunes which the fairies foretold.’
She set out very early the next morning, mounted upon a pretty little white mule, which was shod with solid gold, and two of her ladies rode behind her on beautiful horses. When they reached the forest they dismounted, for the trees grew so thickly that the horses could not pass, and made their way on foot to the hollow tree where the hermit lived. At first when he saw them coming he was vexed, for he was not fond of ladies; but when he recognised the Queen, he said:
‘You are welcome, Queen. What do you come to ask of me?’
Then the Queen told him all the fairies had foreseen for Rosette, and asked what she should do, and the hermit answered that she must shut the Princess up in a tower and never let her come out of it again. The Queen thanked and rewarded him, and hastened back to the castle to tell the King. When he heard the news he had a great tower built as quickly as possible, and there the Princess was shut up, and the King and Queen and her two brothers went to see her every day that she might not be dull. The eldest brother was called ‘the Great Prince,’ and the second ‘the Little Prince.’ They loved their sister dearly, for she was the sweetest, prettiest princess who was ever seen, and the least little smile from her was worth more than a hundred pieces of gold. When Rosette was fifteen years old the Great Prince went to the King and asked if it would not soon be time for her to be married, and the Little Prince put the same question to the Queen.
Their majesties were amused at them for thinking of it, but did not make any reply, and soon after both the King and the Queen were taken ill, and died on the same day. Everybody was sorry, Rosette especially, and all the bells in the kingdom were tolled.
Then all the dukes and counsellors put the Great Prince upon a golden throne, and crowned him with a diamond crown, and they all cried, ‘Long live the King!’ And after that there was nothing but feasting and rejoicing.
The new King and his brother said to one another:
‘Now that we are the masters, let us take our sister out of that dull tower which she is so tired of.’
They had only to go across the garden to reach the tower, which was very high, and stood up in a corner. Rosette was busy at her embroidery, but when she saw her brothers she got up, and taking the King’s hand cried:
‘Good morning, dear brother. Now that you are King, please take me out of this dull tower, for I am so tired of it.’
Then she began to cry, but the King kissed her and told her to dry her tears, as that was just what they had come for, to take her out of the tower and bring her to their beautiful castle, and the Prince showed her the pocketful of sugar plums he had brought for her, and said:
‘Make haste, and let us get away from this ugly tower, and very soon the King will arrange a grand marriage for you.’
When Rosette saw the beautiful garden, full of fruit and flowers, with green grass and sparkling fountains, she was so astonished that not a word could she say, for she had never in her life seen anything like it before. She looked about her, and ran hither and thither gathering fruit and flowers, and her little dog Frisk, who was bright green all over, and had but one ear, danced before her, crying ‘Bow-wow-wow,’ and turning head over heels in the most enchanting way.
Everybody was amused at Frisk’s antics, but all of a sudden he ran away into a little wood, and the Princess was following him, when, to her great delight, she saw a peacock, who was spreading his tail in the sunshine. Rosette thought she had never seen anything so pretty. She could not take her eyes off him, and there she stood entranced until the King and the Prince came up and asked what was amusing her so much. She showed them the peacock, and asked what it was, and they answered that it was a bird which people sometimes ate.
‘What!’ said the Princess, ‘do they dare to kill that beautiful creature and eat it? I declare that I will never marry any one but the King of the Peacocks, and when I am Queen I will take very good care that nobody eats any of my subjects.’
At this the King was very much astonished.
‘But, little sister,’ said he, ‘where shall we find the King of the Peacocks?’
‘Oh! wherever you like, sire,’ she answered, ‘but I will never marry any one else.’
After this they took Rosette to the beautiful castle, and the peacock was brought with her, and told to walk about on the terrace outside her windows, so that she might always see him, and then the ladies of the court came to see the Princess, and they brought her beautiful presents — dresses and ribbons and sweetmeats, diamonds and pearls and dolls and embroidered slippers, and she was so well brought up, and said, ‘Thank you!’ so prettily, and was so gracious, that everyone went away delighted with her.
Meanwhile the King and the Prince were considering how they should find the King of the Peacocks, if there was such a person in the world. And first of all they had a portrait made of the Princess, which was so like her that you really would not have been surprised if it had spoken to you. Then they said to her:
‘Since you will not marry anyone but the King of the Peacocks, we are going out together into the wide world to search for him. If we find him for you we shall be very glad. In the meantime, mind you take good care of our kingdom.’
Rosette thanked them for all the trouble they were taking on her account, and promised to take great care of the kingdom, and only to amuse herself by looking at the peacock, and making Frisk dance while they were away.
So they set out, and asked everyone they met —
‘Do you know the King of the Peacocks?’
But the answer was always, ‘No, no.’
Then they went on and on, so far that no one has ever been farther, and at last they came to the Kingdom of the Cockchafers.
They had never before seen such a number of cockchafers, and the buzzing was so loud that the King was afraid he should be deafened by it. He asked the most distinguished-looking cockchafer they met if he knew where they could find the King of the Peacocks.
‘Sire,’ replied the cockchafer, ‘his kingdom is thirty thousand leagues from this; you have come the longest way.’
‘And how do you know that?’ said the King.
‘Oh!’ said the cockchafer, ‘we all know you very well, since we spend two or three months in your garden every year.’
Thereupon the King and the Prince made great friends with him, and they all walked arm-in-arm and dined together, and afterwards the cockchafer showed them all the curiosities of his strange country, where the tiniest green leaf costs a gold piece and more. Then they set out again to finish their journey, and this time, as they knew the way, they were not long upon the road. It was easy to guess that they had come to the right place, for they saw peacocks in every tree, and their cries could be heard a long way off:
When they reached the city they found it full of men and women who were dressed entirely in peacocks’ feathers, which were evidently thought prettier than anything else.
They soon met the King, who was driving about in a beautiful little golden carriage which glittered with diamonds, and was drawn at full speed by twelve peacocks. The King and the Prince were delighted to see that the King of the Peacocks was as handsome as possible. He had curly golden hair and was very pale, and he wore a crown of peacocks’ feathers.
When he saw Rosette’s brothers he knew at once that they were strangers, and stopping his carriage he sent for them to speak to him. When they had greeted him they said:
‘Sire, we have come from very far away to show you a beautiful portrait.’
So saying they drew from their travelling bag the picture of Rosette.
The King looked at it in silence a long time, but at last he said:
‘I could not have believed that there was such a beautiful Princess in the world!’
‘Indeed, she is really a hundred times as pretty as that,’ said her brothers.
‘I think you must be making fun of me,’ replied the King of the Peacocks.
‘Sire,’ said the Prince, ‘my brother is a King, like yourself. He is called ‘‘the King,’’ I am called ‘‘the Prince,’’ and that is the portrait of our sister, the Princess Rosette. We have come to ask if you would like to marry her. She is as good as she is beautiful, and we will give her a bushel of gold pieces for her dowry.’
‘Oh! with all my heart,’ replied the King, ‘and I will make her very happy. She shall have whatever she likes, and I shall love her dearly; only I warn you that if she is not as pretty as you have told me, I will have your heads cut off.’
‘Oh! certainly, we quite agree to that,’ said the brothers in one breath.
‘Very well. Off with you into prison, and stay there until the Princess arrives,’ said the King of the Peacocks.
And the Princes were so sure that Rosette was far prettier than her portrait that they went without a murmur. They were very kindly treated, and that they might not feel dull the King came often to see them. As for Rosette’s portrait that was taken up to the palace, and the King did nothing but gaze at it all day and all night.
As the King and the Prince had to stay in prison, they sent a letter to the Princess telling her to pack up all her treasures as quickly as possible, and come to them, as the King of the Peacocks was waiting to marry her; but they did not say that they were in prison, for fear of making her uneasy.
When Rosette received the letter she was so delighted that she ran about telling everyone that the King of the Peacocks was found, and she was going to marry him.
Guns were fired, and fireworks let off. Everyone had as many cakes and sweetmeats as he wanted. And for three days everybody who came to see the Princess was presented with a slice of bread-and-jam, a nightingale’s egg, and some hippocras. After having thus entertained her friends, she distributed her dolls among them, and left her brother’s kingdom to the care of the wisest old men of the city, telling them to take charge of everything, not to spend any money, but save it all up until the King should return, and above all, not to forget to feed her peacock. Then she set out, only taking with her her nurse, and the nurse’s daughter, and the little green dog Frisk.
They took a boat and put out to sea, carrying with them the bushel of gold pieces, and enough dresses to last the Princess ten years if she wore two every day, and they did nothing but laugh and sing. The nurse asked the boatman:
‘Can you take us, can you take us to the kingdom of the peacocks?’
But he answered:
‘Oh no! oh no!’
Then she said:
‘You must take us, you must take us.’
And he answered:
‘Very soon, very soon.’
Then the nurse said:
‘Will you take us? will you take us?’
And the boatman answered:
Then she whispered in his ear:
‘Do you want to make your fortune?’
And he said:
‘Certainly I do.’
‘I can tell you how to get a bag of gold,’ said she.
‘I ask nothing better,’ said the boatman.
‘Well,’ said the nurse, ‘to-night, when the Princess is asleep, you must help me to throw her into the sea, and when she is drowned I will put her beautiful clothes upon my daughter, and we will take her to the King of the Peacocks, who will be only too glad to marry her, and as your reward you shall have your boat full of diamonds.’
The boatman was very much surprised at this proposal, and said:
‘But what a pity to drown such a pretty Princess!’
However, at last the nurse persuaded him to help her, and when the night came and the Princess was fast asleep as usual, with Frisk curled up on his own cushion at the foot of her bed, the wicked nurse fetched the boatman and her daughter, and between them they picked up the Princess, feather bed, mattress, pillows, blankets and all, and threw her into the sea, without even waking her. Now, luckily, the Princess’s bed was entirely stuffed with phoenix feathers, which are very rare, and have the property of always floating upon water, so Rosette went on swimming about as if she had been in a boat. After a little while she began to feel very cold, and turned round so often that she woke Frisk, who started up, and, having a very good nose, smelt the soles and herrings so close to him that he began to bark. He barked so long and so loud that he woke all the other fish, who came swimming up round the Princess’s bed, and poking at it with their great heads. As for her, she said to herself:
‘How our boat does rock upon the water! I am really glad that I am not often as uncomfortable as I have been to-night.’
The wicked nurse and the boatman, who were by this time quite a long way off, heard Frisk barking, and said to each other:
‘That horrid little animal and his mistress are drinking our health in sea-water now. Let us make haste to land, for we must be quite near the city of the King of the Peacocks.’
The King had sent a hundred carriages to meet them, drawn by every kind of strange animal. There were lions, bears, wolves, stags, horses, buffaloes, eagles, and peacocks. The carriage intended for the Princess Rosette had six blue monkeys, which could turn summer-saults, and dance on a tight-rope, and do many other charming tricks. Their, harness was all of crimson velvet with gold buckles, and behind the carriage walked sixty beautiful ladies chosen by the King to wait upon Rosette and amuse her.
The nurse had taken all the pains imaginable to deck out her daughter. She put on her Rosette’s prettiest frock, and covered her with diamonds from head to foot. But she was so ugly that nothing could make her look nice, and what was worse, she was sulky and ill-tempered, and did nothing but grumble all the time.
When she stepped from the boat and the escort sent by the King of the Peacocks caught sight of her, they were so surprised that they could not say a single word.
‘Now then, look alive,’ cried the false Princess. ‘If you don’t bring me something to eat I will have all your heads cut off!’
Then they whispered one to another:
‘Here’s a pretty state of things! she is as wicked as she is ugly. What a bride for our poor King! She certainly was not worth bringing from the other end of the world!’
But she went on ordering them all about, and for no fault at all would give slaps and pinches to everyone she could reach.
As the procession was so long it advanced but slowly, and the nurse’s daughter sat up in her carriage trying to look like a Queen. But the peacocks, who were sitting upon every tree waiting to salute her, and who had made up their minds to cry, ‘Long live our beautiful Queen!’ when they caught sight of the false bride could not help crying instead:
‘Oh! how ugly she is!’
Which offended her so much that she said to the guards:
‘Make haste and kill all these insolent peacocks who have dared to insult me.’
But the peacocks only flew away, laughing at her.
The rogue of a boatman, who noticed all this, said softly to the nurse:
‘This is a bad business for us, gossip; your daughter ought to have been prettier.’
But she answered:
‘Be quiet, stupid, or you will spoil everything.’
Now they told the King that the Princess was approaching.
‘Well,’ said he, ‘did her brothers tell me truly? Is she prettier than her portrait?’
‘Sire,’ they answered, ‘if she were as pretty that would do very well.’
‘That’s true,’ said the King; ‘I for one shall be quite satisfied if she is. Let us go and meet her.’ For they knew by the uproar that she had arrived, but they could not tell what all the shouting was about. The King thought he could hear the words:
‘How ugly she is! How ugly she is!’ and he fancied they must refer to some dwarf the Princess was bringing with her. It never occurred to him that they could apply to the bride herself.
The Princess Rosette’s portrait was carried at the head of the procession, and after it walked the King surrounded by his courtiers. He was all impatience to see the lovely Princess, but when he caught sight of the nurse’s daughter he was furiously angry, and would not advance another step. For she was really ugly enough to have frightened anybody.
‘What!’ he cried, ‘have the two rascals who are my prisoners dared to play me such a trick as this? Do they propose that I shall marry this hideous creature? Let her be shut up in my great tower, with her nurse and those who brought her here; and as for them, I will have their heads cut off.’
Meanwhile the King and the Prince, who knew that their sister must have arrived, had made themselves smart, and sat expecting every minute to be summoned to greet her. So when the gaoler came with soldiers, and carried them down into a black dungeon which swarmed with toads and bats, and where they were up to their necks in water, nobody could have been more surprised and dismayed than they were.
‘This is a dismal kind of wedding,’ they said; ‘what can have happened that we should be treated like this? They must mean to kill us.’
And this idea annoyed them very much. Three days passed before they heard any news, and then the King of the Peacocks came and berated them through a hole in the wall.
‘You have called yourselves King and Prince,’ he cried, ‘to try and make me marry your sister, but you are nothing but beggars, not worth the water you drink. I mean to make short work with you, and the sword is being sharpened that will cut off your heads!’
‘King of the Peacocks,’ answered the King angrily, ‘you had better take care what you are about. I am as good a King as yourself, and have a splendid kingdom and robes and crowns, and plenty of good red gold to do what I like with. You are pleased to jest about having our heads cut off; perhaps you think we have stolen something from you?’
At first the King of the Peacocks was taken aback by this bold speech, and had half a mind to send them all away together; but his Prime Minister declared that it would never do to let such a trick as that pass unpunished, everybody would laugh at him; so the accusation was drawn up against them, that they were impostors, and that they had promised the King a beautiful Princess in marriage who, when she arrived, proved to be an ugly peasant girl.
This accusation was read to the prisoners, who cried out that they had spoken the truth, that their sister was indeed a Princess more beautiful than the day, and that there was some mystery about all this which they could not fathom. Therefore they demanded seven days in which to prove their innocence, The King of the Peacocks was so angry that he would hardly even grant them this favour, but at last he was persuaded to do so.
While all this was going on at court, let us see what had been happening to the real Princess. When the day broke she and Frisk were equally astonished at finding themselves alone upon the sea, with no boat and no one to help them. The Princess cried and cried, until even the fishes were sorry for her.
‘Alas!’ she said, ‘the King of the Peacocks must have ordered me to be thrown into the sea because he had changed his mind and did not want to marry me. But how strange of him, when I should have loved him so much, and we should have been so happy together!’
And then she cried harder than ever, for she could not help still loving him. So for two days they floated up and down the sea, wet and shivering with the cold, and so hungry that when the Princess saw some oysters she caught them, and she and Frisk both ate some, though they didn’t like them at all. When night came the Princess was so frightened that she said to Frisk:
‘Oh! Do please keep on barking for fear the soles should come and eat us up!’
Now it happened that they had floated close in to the shore, where a poor old man lived all alone in a little cottage. When he heard Frisk’s barking he thought to himself:
‘There must have been a shipwreck!’ (for no dogs ever passed that way by any chance), and he went out to see if he could be of any use. He soon saw the Princess and Frisk floating up and down, and Rosette, stretching out her hands to him, cried:
‘Oh! Good old man, do save me, or I shall die of cold and hunger!’
When he heard her cry out so piteously he was very sorry for her, and ran back into his house to fetch a long boat-hook. Then he waded into the water up to his chin, and after being nearly drowned once or twice he at last succeeded in getting hold of the Princess’s bed and dragging it on shore.
Rosette and Frisk were joyful enough to find themselves once more on dry land, and the Princess thanked the old man heartily; then, wrapping herself up in her blankets, she daintily picked her way up to the cottage on her little bare feet. There the old man lighted a fire of straw, and then drew from an old box his wife’s dress and shoes, which the Princess put on, and thus roughly clad looked as charming as possible, and Frisk danced his very best to amuse her.
The old man saw that Rosette must be some great lady, for her bed coverings were all of satin and gold. He begged that she would tell him all her history, as she might safely trust him. The Princess told him everything, weeping bitterly again at the thought that it was by the King’s orders that she had been thrown overboard.
‘And now, my daughter, what is to be done?’ said the old man. ‘You are a great Princess, accustomed to fare daintily, and I have nothing to offer you but black bread and radishes, which will not suit you at all. Shall I go and tell the King of the Peacocks that you are here? If he sees you he will certainly wish to marry you.’
‘Oh no!’ cried Rosette, ‘he must be wicked, since he tried to drown me. Don’t let us tell him, but if you have a little basket give it to me.’
The old man gave her a basket, and tying it round Frisk’s neck she said to him: ‘Go and find out the best cooking-pot in the town and bring the contents to me.’
Away went Frisk, and as there was no better dinner cooking in all the town than the King’s, he adroitly took the cover off the pot and brought all it contained to the Princess, who said:
‘Now go back to the pantry, and bring the best of everything you find there.’
So Frisk went back and filled his basket with white bread, and red wine, and every kind of sweetmeat, until it was almost too heavy for him to carry.
When the King of the Peacocks wanted his dinner there was nothing in the pot and nothing in the pantry. All the courtiers looked at one another in dismay, and the King was terribly cross.
‘Oh well! ‘he said, ‘if there is no dinner I cannot dine, but take care that plenty of things are roasted for supper.’
When evening came the Princess said to Frisk:
‘Go into the town and find out the best kitchen, and bring me all the nicest morsels that are being roasted upon the spit.’
Frisk did as he was told, and as he knew of no better kitchen than the King’s, he went in softly, and when the cook’s back was turned took everything that was upon the spit, As it happened it was all done to a turn, and looked so good that it made him hungry only to see it. He carried his basket to the Princess, who at once sent him back to the pantry to bring all the tarts and sugar plums that had been prepared for the King’s supper.
The King, as he had had no dinner, was very hungry and wanted his supper early, but when he asked for it, lo and behold it was all gone, and he had to go to bed half-starved and in a terrible temper. The next day the same thing happened, and the next, so that for three days the King got nothing at all to eat, because just when the dinner or the supper was ready to be served it mysteriously disappeared. At last the Prime Minister began to be afraid that the King would be starved to death, so he resolved to hide himself in some dark corner of the kitchen, and never take his eyes off the cooking-pot. His surprise was great when he presently saw a little green dog with one ear slip softly into the kitchen, uncover the pot, transfer all its contents to his basket, and run off. The Prime Minister followed hastily, and tracked him all through the town to the cottage of the good old man; then he ran back to the King and told him that he had found out where all his dinners and suppers went. The King, who was very much astonished, said he should like to go and see for himself. So he set out, accompanied by the Prime Minister and a guard of archers, and arrived just in time to find the old man and the Princess finishing his dinner.
The King ordered that they should be seized and bound with ropes, and Frisk also.
When they were brought back to the palace some one told the King, who said:
‘To-day is the last day of the respite granted to those impostors; they shall have their heads cut off at the same time as these stealers of my dinner.’ Then the old man went down on his knees before the King and begged for time to tell him everything. While he spoke the King for the first time looked attentively at the Princess, because he was sorry to see how she cried, and when he heard the old man saying that her name was Rosette, and that she had been treacherously thrown into the sea, he turned head over heels three times without stopping, in spite of being quite weak from hunger, and ran to embrace her, and untied the ropes which bound her with his own hands, declaring that he loved her with all his heart.
Messengers were sent to bring the Princes out of prison, and they came very sadly, believing that they were to be executed at once: the nurse and her daughter and the boatman were brought also. As soon as they came in Rosette ran to embrace her brothers, while the traitors threw themselves down before her and begged for mercy. The King and the Princess were so happy that they freely forgave them, and as for the good old man he was splendidly rewarded, and spent the rest of his days in the palace. The King of the Peacocks made ample amends to the King and Prince for the way in which they had been treated, and did everything in his power to show how sorry he was.
The nurse restored to Rosette all her dresses and jewels, and the bushel of gold pieces; the wedding was held at once, and they all lived happily ever after — even to Frisk, who enjoyed the greatest luxury, and never had anything worse than the wing of a partridge for dinner all the rest of his life.