There was once an old king, so wise and kind and true that the most powerful good fairy of his land visited him and asked him to name the dearest wish of his heart, that she might grant it.
"Surely you know it," said the good king; "it is for my only son, Prince Cherry; do for him whatever you would have done for me."
"Gladly," said the great fairy; "choose what I shall give him. I can make him the richest, the most beautiful, or the most powerful prince in the world; choose."
"None of those things are what I want," said the king. "I want only that he shall be good. Of what use will it be to him to be beautiful, rich, or powerful, if he grows into a bad man? Make him the best prince in the world, I beg you!"
"Alas, I cannot make him good," said the fairy; "he must do that for himself. I can give him good advice, reprove him when he does wrong, and punish him if he will not punish himself; I can and will be his best friend, but I cannot make him good unless he wills it."
The king was sad to hear this, but he rejoiced in the friendship of the fairy for his son. And when he died, soon after, he was happy to know that he left Prince Cherry in her hands.
Prince Cherry grieved for his father and often lay awake at night, thinking of him. One night, when he was all alone in his room, a soft and lovely light suddenly shone before him, and a beautiful vision stood at his side. It was the good fairy. She was clad in robes of dazzling white, and on her shining hair she wore a wreath of white roses.
"I am the Fairy Candide," she said to the prince. "I promised your father that I would be your best friend, and as long as you live I shall watch over your happiness. I have brought you a gift; it is not wonderful to look at, but it has a wonderful power for your welfare; wear it, and let it help you."
As she spoke, she placed a small gold ring on the prince's little finger. "This ring," she said, "will help you to be good; when you do evil, it will prick you, to remind you. If you do not heed its warnings a worse thing will happen to you, for I shall become your enemy." Then she vanished.
Prince Cherry wore his ring, and said nothing to any one of the fairy's gift. It did not prick him for a long time, because he was good and merry and happy. But Prince Cherry had been rather spoiled by his nurse when he was a child; she had always said to him that when he should become king he could do exactly as he pleased. Now, after a while, he began to find out that this was not true, and it made him angry.
The first time that he noticed that even a king could not always have his own way was on a day when he went hunting. It happened that he got no game. This put him in such a bad temper that he grumbled and scolded all the way home. The little gold ring began to feel tight and uncomfortable. When he reached the palace his pet dog ran to meet him.
"Go away!" said the prince, crossly.
But the little dog was so used to being petted that he only jumped up on his master, and tried to kiss his hand. The prince turned and kicked the little creature. At the instant, he felt a sharp prick in his little finger, like a pin prick.
"What nonsense!" said the prince to himself. "Am I not king of the whole land? May I not kick my own dog, if I choose? What evil is there in that?"
A silver voice spoke in his ear: "The king of the land has a right to do good, but not evil; you have been guilty of bad temper and of cruelty to-day; see that you do better to-morrow."
The prince turned sharply, but no one was to be seen; yet he recognized the voice as that of Fairy Candide.
He followed her advice for a little, but presently he forgot, and the ring pricked him so sharply that his finger had a drop of blood on it. This happened again and again, for the prince grew more self-willed and headstrong every day; he had some bad friends, too, who urged him on, in the hope that he would ruin himself and give them a chance to seize the throne. He treated his people carelessly and his servants cruelly, and everything he wanted he felt that he must have.
The ring annoyed him terribly; it was embarrassing for a king to have a drop of blood on his finger all the time! At last he took the ring off and put it out of sight. Then he thought he should be perfectly happy, having his own way; but instead, he grew more unhappy as he grew less good. Whenever he was crossed, or could not have his own way instantly, he flew into a passion.
Finally, he wanted something that he really could not have. This time it was a most beautiful young girl, named Zelia; the prince saw her, and loved her so much that he wanted at once to make her his queen. To his great astonishment, she refused.
"Am I not pleasing to you?" asked the prince in surprise.
"You are very handsome, very charming, Prince," said Zelia; "but you are not like the good king, your father; I fear you would make me very miserable if I were your queen."
In a great rage, Prince Cherry ordered the young girl put in prison; and the key of her dungeon he kept. He told one of his friends, a wicked man who flattered him for his own purposes, about the thing, and asked his advice.
"Are you not king?" said the bad friend, "May you not do as you will? Keep the girl in a dungeon till she does as you command, and if she will not, sell her as a slave."
"But would it not be a disgrace for me to harm an innocent creature?" said the prince.
"It would be a disgrace to you to have it said that one of your subjects dared disobey you!" said the courtier.
He had cleverly touched the Prince's worst trait, his pride. Prince Cherry went at once to Zelia's dungeon, prepared to do this cruel thing.
Zelia was gone. No one had the key save the prince himself; yet she was gone. The only person who could have dared to help her, thought the prince, was his old tutor, Suliman, the only man left who ever rebuked him for anything. In fury, he ordered Suliman to be put in fetters and brought before him.
As his servants left him, to carry out the wicked order, there was a clash, as of thunder, in the room, and then a blinding light. Fairy Candide stood before him. Her beautiful face was stern, and her silver voice rang like a trumpet, as she said, "Wicked and selfish prince, you have become baser than the beasts you hunt; you are furious as a lion, revengeful as a serpent, greedy as a wolf, and brutal as a bull; take, therefore, the shape of those beasts whom you resemble!"
With horror, the prince felt himself being transformed into a monster. He tried to rush upon the fairy and kill her, but she had vanished with her words. As he stood, her voice came from the air, saying, sadly, "Learn to conquer your pride by being in submission to your own subjects." At the same moment, Prince Cherry felt himself being transported to a distant forest, where he was set down by a clear stream. In the water he saw his own terrible image; he had the head of a lion, with bull's horns, the feet of a wolf, and a tail like a serpent. And as he gazed in horror, the fairy's voice whispered, "Your soul has become more ugly than your shape is; you yourself have deformed it."
The poor beast rushed away from the sound of her words, but in a moment he stumbled into a trap, set by bear-catchers. When the trappers found him they were delighted to have caught a curiosity, and they immediately dragged him to the palace courtyard. There he heard the whole court buzzing with gossip. Prince Cherry had been struck by lightning and killed, was the news, and the five favorite courtiers had struggled to make themselves rulers, but the people had refused them, and offered the crown to Suliman, the good old tutor.
Even as he heard this, the prince saw Suliman on the steps of the palace, speaking to the people. "I will take the crown to keep in trust," he said. "Perhaps the prince is not dead."
"He was a bad king; we do not want him back," said the people.
"I know his heart," said Suliman, "it is not all bad; it is tainted, but not corrupt; perhaps he will repent and come back to us a good king."
When the beast heard this, it touched him so much that he stopped tearing at his chains, and became gentle. He let his keepers lead him away to the royal menagerie without hurting them.
Life was very terrible to the prince, now, but he began to see that he had brought all his sorrow on himself, and he tried to bear it patiently. The worst to bear was the cruelty of the keeper. At last, one night, this keeper was in great danger; a tiger got loose, and attacked him. "Good enough! Let him die!" thought Prince Cherry. But when he saw how helpless the keeper was, he repented, and sprang to help. He killed the tiger and saved the keeper's life.
As he crouched at the keeper's feet, a voice said, "Good actions never go unrewarded!" And the terrible monster was changed into a pretty little white dog.
The keeper carried the beautiful little dog to the court and told the story, and from then on, Cherry was carefully treated, and had the best of everything. But in order to keep the little dog from growing, the queen ordered that he should be fed very little, and that was pretty hard for the poor prince. He was often half starved, although so much petted.
One day he had carried his crust of bread to a retired spot in the palace woods, where he loved to be, when he saw a poor old woman hunting for roots, and seeming almost starved.
"Poor thing," he thought, "she is even hungrier than I;" and he ran up and dropped the crust at her feet.
The woman ate it, and seemed greatly refreshed.
Cherry was glad of that, and he was running happily back to his kennel when he heard cries of distress, and suddenly he saw some rough men dragging along a young girl, who was weeping and crying for help. What was his horror to see that the young girl was Zelia! Oh, how he wished he were the monster once more, so that he could kill the men and rescue her! But he could do nothing except bark, and bite at the heels of the wicked men. That could not stop them; they drove him off, with blows, and carried Zelia into a palace in the wood.
Poor Cherry crouched by the steps, and watched. His heart was full of pity and rage. But suddenly he thought, "I was as bad as these men; I myself put Zelia in prison, and would have treated her worse still, if I had not been prevented." The thought made him so sorry and ashamed that he repented bitterly the evil he had done.
Presently a window opened, and Cherry saw Zelia lean out and throw down a piece of meat. He seized it and was just going to devour it, when the old woman to whom he had given his crust snatched it away and took him in her arms. "No, you shall not eat it, you poor little thing," she said, "for every bit of food in that house is poisoned."
At the same moment, a voice said, "Good actions never go unrewarded!" And instantly Prince Cherry was transformed into a little white dove.
With great joy, he flew to the open palace window to seek out his Zelia, to try to help her. But though he hunted in every room, no Zelia was to be found. He had to fly away, without seeing her. He wanted more than anything else to find her, and stay near her, so he flew out into the world, to seek her.
He sought her in many lands, until one day, in a far eastern country, he found her sitting in a tent, by the side of an old, white-haired hermit. Cherry was wild with delight. He flew to her shoulder, caressed her hair with his beak, and cooed in her ear.
"You dear, lovely little thing!" said Zelia. "Will you stay with me? If you will, I will love you always."
"Ah, Zelia, see what you have done!" laughed the hermit. At that instant, the white dove vanished, and Prince Cherry stood there, as handsome and charming as ever, and with a look of kindness and modesty in his eyes which had never been there before. At the same time, the hermit stood up, his flowing hair changed to shining gold, and his face became a lovely woman's face; it was the Fairy Candide. "Zelia has broken your spell," she said to the Prince, "as I meant she should, when you were worthy of her love."
Zelia and Prince Cherry fell at the fairy's feet. But with a beautiful smile she bade them come to their kingdom. In a trice, they were transported to the Prince's palace, where King Suliman greeted them with tears of joy. He gave back the throne, with all his heart, and King Cherry ruled again, with Zelia for his queen.
He wore the little gold ring all the rest of his life, but never once did it have to prick him hard enough to make his finger bleed.