HERE was once a poor woodcutter, very miserable, though prudent and industrious; he had a wife and three grown-up sons, yet their united labours scarcely sufficed for bread. No hope appeared of improving his lot, when he was one day fortunate enough to save the life of his master when attacked by robbers in the forest.
This master was not ungrateful; he desired the woodcutter to repair to him on the following day in order to receive a reward. The poor man did not fail, hoping to gain two or three crowns; for it appeared so natural to defend an unarmed man that he attached little value to his services, considering his own danger not worth a thought. He put on his best array, shaved, and made many reverences to the porter and the numerous lackeys previous to an introduction to the master, who was much more polite than the valets.
"Well, Thomas," said he, "how can I recompense what you have done for me? Without your assistance I should have perished; and as my life is a very happy one, I value it accordingly."
Poor Thomas was at a loss how to reply; he stammered out, "My Lord—your Grace," but could get no further.
The master, in order to relieve the poor man, interrupted him thus: "I understand better than yourself, perhaps, what would suit you; I would not wish to draw you from your native condition, for I believe that none is more truly happy; but I present to you and your children's children, in perpetuity, the cottage which you inhabit in the forest. You and they shall have the power of cutting as much wood every year as you can use; you shall work for yourself; and if your sons like to hunt, all the game which they kill shall be for their own use. I only exact that you sell nothing, and that while possessing every comfort, you seek not to quit your peaceful obscurity."
Thomas was so astonished that he could find no words to express his gratitude. He came home to his wife, who heartily shared his joy. The sons immediately set off for a large supply of faggots, and made a great fire; but when they had been thoroughly warmed, Mother Thomas began to say what a pity it was they could make no use of all the wood which was not burned.
"An idea has just struck me," replied the husband; "our master gives us all we can use; these are his own words,—very well; I shall be able to use enough to bring us in a pretty little income!"
"How?" said his wife.
"When I was a boy," rejoined the woodcutter, "my father taught me to make wooden shoes; and I made them so light and so neat, that they were everywhere sought for. What need now prevent me from exercising this trade? James shall cut wood in the forest, Peter shall kill game for dinner, and Paul, who has not the least brains of the three, shall go to sell my merchandise at the neighbouring town. This will be a public benefit, by enabling the poor about us to dress with more decency and comfort, and it will also serve to furnish our own cottage, of which we shall make a little palace."
The boys, who were present, highly relished this idea. Mother Thomas, who was rather inclined to gluttony, made the most of the game which Peter provided. A little labour, good cheer, a blazing fire, and perfect family concord, rendered this family the happiest in the world. The master came to the cottage, and seeing them so united and industrious, encouraged the trade of the wooden shoes, which increased their comforts without exposing them to the vices attendant on avarice and luxury.
But happiness such as this seldom remains permanent. A flock of furious wolves appeared in the forest; every day they devoured either helpless children or travellers; they tore up the roots of the trees, attacking even each other, while their wild howlings were heard night and day in the cottage of the woodcutter.
Mother Thomas would no longer suffer her boys to leave home; and when they did go in spite of her, she remained watching at the door, refusing either to eat or drink until they returned.
Such a situation was deplorable; when at length the young men, who were very brave, resolved to deliver themselves and their master. Taking arms, in case they should be attacked, they went into the forest and digged deep pits, covering them with a little earth, laid over some branches of trees; and during this heavy labour, which lasted several days, they lighted great fires around them, in order to hinder the wolves from approaching.
Success crowned their enterprise, for in returning to the spot at sunrise, they perceived that one of the pits had been broken into during the night, and that it was now quite uncovered. They charged their muskets, and each were disputing the honour of first firing, when they heard issue from the depths below, a mild and supplicating voice imploring assistance.
"What shall we do?" said Peter; "assuredly that is not the roaring of a wolf; it is, perhaps, some unfortunate little wandering child. How lucky that we did not draw the trigger!"
They approached, and distinguished a beautiful lady richly dressed, wearing on her head a cluster of diamonds, which shone like a star. She appeared very young, and was trembling with cold. Much rain had fallen during the night, and her robe, of silver gauze, was dabbled in mud and water; her fair and tender hands were all dirty, which seemed to vex her even more than the dangers she had experienced. She continued, however, to struggle and to make signs for relief, when three enormous wolves appeared at a distance. The brothers looked at each other expressively, like people who feel that all is lost, but who resolve to do their duty. They had a cord about them, which Peter fastened round his body, and let himself down into the pit. He took the beautiful lady on his shoulders, while his brothers assisted in drawing them up. They then stretched her on the grass, for she had fainted; and now the wolves had just reached them,—when, lo! these beasts of prey were instantly turned into three little lambs, and licked the feet of the lady, who slowly returned to life.
"My good lads," said she to the woodcutters, "fear nothing. From henceforth no more dangerous animals than these shall trouble you. But I owe you a still greater recompense; lead me to your father; I wish to felicitate him on the generosity and bravery of his sons."
The poor youths were so astonished by this adventure, that they felt unable to reply; but they respectfully lifted her long train from the ground, it having now recovered all its splendour.
The three lambs followed, skipping and frolicking before them—they seemed to know the way; and Mother Thomas, who sat at the door looking out for her children, was not a little surprised to behold their companion.
She had, however, presence of mind to invite her noble guest to enter and rest; much ashamed of having nothing better to offer than a straw chair, and some spring-water, which was in a very clean pitcher on the dresser.
"I shall willingly rest an hour with you," said the lady. "Although you now see me for the first time, I am one of your best friends, of which I shall give you a proof. I accept a glass of water, on condition that your husband and children will also pledge me."
A glance of Mother Thomas's eye directed her family; they each sought their ordinary drinking-cup, which was of wood, and then bent the neck of the pitcher; but what was their astonishment to perceive the vessel turn into wrought-silver in their hands, and to taste, instead of water, a liquor so delicious, that when the woodcutter and his wife had drunk, they felt themselves ten years younger than before!
They threw themselves at the feet of the beautiful lady, in terror; for a natural instinct made them feel that great power is always more or less to be dreaded, even when employed in acts of beneficence. The lady meanwhile kindly raised them, and having spoken of the courage and generosity of their sons, who exposed themselves to the fury of wolves rather than take flight and abandon her, she said that her name was the Fairy Coquette, and that she would willingly relate her history.
"Previously, madam," said the woodcutter, "will you have the goodness to tell me, what is a fairy? During thirty years that I have inhabited this forest, I have heard of the devil, of the Were wolf, of the monster of Gévaudan, but never have I heard of fairies."
"We exist, notwithstanding," replied Coquette, "but not in all ages, nor in all countries. We are supernatural beings, to whom has been imparted a portion of supernatural power, which we make use of for good or evil, according to our natural disposition; in that alone consists our resemblance to men."
The woodcutter, who was very simple, understood little of this explanation; but, like many others, had a profound respect for what he could not comprehend. He bowed down to the ground, and only requested the fairy to inform him, why a supernatural being, so highly gifted, could have fallen into a pit prepared for wolves.
"It is," replied Coquette, "because I have an enemy still more powerful than myself, the Enchanter Barabapatapouf, the most wicked ogre in the world; he has but three teeth, three hairs, one eye, and is fifteen feet high. With all these charms he happened to fall in love with me, and merely for mischief I affected to accept him. He then invited his friends to the nuptials; when, to his great mortification, I took them to witness that I would never be the wife of such a monster. Barabapatapouf was deeply incensed, swore to be revenged, and has never lost an opportunity of keeping his word. I should have remained three days in that horrible pit but for the generosity of your children."
"They have done nothing more than their duty," replied the woodcutter.
"I must also do mine," said Coquette, "but
my power is limited. I can satisfy but two wishes,
and it is necessary that each of you should
choose freely, unbiassed by the other. You must
separate accordingly, and
Mother Thomas was very uneasy in thinking how she could accommodate the fairy, for neither her children's beds nor her own were worthy of offering to such a grand lady; but Coquette desired her to feel at ease, as she would provide everything needful. She then drew forth some grains of sand, which she scattered on the floor. Instantly there arose on the spot a bed of rose-leaves three feet high; the bolster was of violets, heartsease and orange flowers, all breathing delicious perfumes; and the counterpane, entirely composed of butterflies' wings, exhibited colours so brilliant and varied that one could never be weary of examining it. The three lambs which had followed the fairy lay down at her feet, and as the room was rather damp, they gently warmed it with their breath, with a care and intelligence almost human. The woodcutter and his sons felt so surprised at all these wonders, that they imagined themselves dreaming. Coquette warned Mother Thomas that if she should speak once to her husband before she again saw her, the wishes could not be realized. The strictest injunctions were indeed necessary, to prevent their communicating on a subject which interested both so deeply. When day appeared, Coquette summoned them to her presence.
The woodcutter first came, and said, with his usual simplicity, that he never could have believed it so difficult to form a wish. Till that moment he had considered himself happy, but now, finding it possible to obtain one thing, he desired a thousand. Wearied with the fatigue of thought, he had fallen asleep without coming to a determination; but seeing in his dreams five purses filled with gold, it seemed as if one were for him, one for his wife, and one for each of his children.
"Well," said the Coquette, "these purses are apparently your desire; go then to the bin where you deposit your bread, and you will find them. Only say how many pounds you wish them to contain."
"Oh, if there were but a hundred pounds in each," replied Thomas, "that would be sufficient to extend our little commerce, and send our wooden shoes to China itself."
"Your wish is accomplished," said the fairy; "go away, and permit your wife to come in her turn."
The good dame had also passed a sleepless night, and had never before been so much agitated or so unhappy; sometimes she wished for riches, and then thought, riches would not prevent her from dying—so she had better wish that she might live a hundred years. Now one idea filled her mind, now another; it seemed as if the fairy should have given her at least a month to deliberate. At last she suddenly said: "Madam Fairy, I am very old, and what I desire most is a daughter, to assist me in household management and to keep me company; my husband almost lives in the woods and leaves me at break of day; my sons also go about their business, we are without neighbours, and I have nobody to speak to."
"Be it so," said the fairy; "you shall have the prettiest daughter imaginable, and she shall speak from her birth, in order that no time may be lost. Call your husband and sons; I hope to find all parties content."
The little family assembled, but harmony was not the result of their communications. The young men thought their father's wish quite pitiful, and the woodcutter by no means relished the idea of another child. The fairy, however, provided an excellent breakfast, and the wine reanimated his spirits.
"Now I promise," said Coquette, "that you shall have a daughter, who at the moment of her birth will be endowed with the figure and the intelligence of twelve years old. Call her Rose, for her complexion shall shame the flower which bears that name."
"And I pronounce that she shall also be as black as ebony, and become, before the age of fifteen, the wife of a great king," said a very strong voice in clear and distinct accents, accompanied by shouts of laughter, which evidently proceeded from a great pitcher placed at the corner of the chimney.
The Fairy Coquette turned pale, and consternation was general; but the woodcutter, now merry with wine, joined in the laugh. "Ah! how droll," said he, "red and black roses! A likely story, indeed, that a great king would come a-wooing to a woodcutter's daughter! Only a pitcher could invent such nonsense, and I shall teach it to utter no more."
Thus saying, he gave the pitcher a great kick and broke it in pieces; when there issued from it a smoke thick and black, and so stifling that Coquette was obliged to use two bottles of essence to dissipate its noxious effects.
"Ah, cruel Barabapatapouf!" cried she, "must your malignity then extend even to those whom I wish to benefit? I indeed recognise my enemy," said she to the woodcutter; "beware of him, and believe that it is with no good intention he destines your daughter for the bride of a king. Some mystery is here concealed, foreboding evil."
Every one was rendered quite melancholy by this adventure, and Coquette, beginning to weary of these poor foresters, opened the window and disappeared.
A great quarrel then arose between the woodcutter and his sons, who forgetting that respect in which they had never before failed, reproached him for losing an opportunity of rendering them all happy. "We might," said they, "have purchased estates, finery of all kinds, and been as rich and noble as many who now despise us. One or two millions would have been as easy said as five hundred pounds; that sum would obtain a marquisate for my father, and baronies for each of us. What extraordinary stupidity our parents have shown!"
"My children," said the woodcutter, "are these things, then, necessary for happiness? It appeared to me that you were well satisfied when our master only made our poverty a little less oppressive; and now, while you have more gold than you ever saw in your lives, one would suppose that you had been deeply injured, and could never know contentment more."
As for Mother Thomas, she was wiser, and so well pleased with the idea of her daughter, that her imagination roamed no farther. In course of time she gave birth to an infant; but scarcely had it seen the light than it glided from her arms, and started up to the stature of a well-formed girl of twelve or thirteen years old, who made a low courtesy to the woodcutter, kissed the hand of her mother, and offered her brothers a cordial embrace. But these lads ill-naturedly repulsed the young stranger; they felt jealous, fearing that she would now be preferred to them.
Rose, one might say, was born dressed, for flowing ringlets fell around her shoulders, forming a complete covering; and with her increase of size, appeared a little smart petticoat and brown bodice in peasant fashion. Her delicate feet were clad in wooden shoes, but both the foot and the shoe were so shapely, that any lady in the land might have been proud to exhibit them. Her little plump hand was so white that it hardly appeared formed for rustic labours, yet she immediately prepared to assist in household matters, and the poor old dame was never weary of caressing such a charming child.
A bed was prepared for Rose beside her mother. This good girl arose at dawn to prepare the young men's breakfast; for she had an excellent natural disposition, and so much intelligence that she seemed to know by instinct that her birth was displeasing to them, and sought to gain their regard by good-natured attentions.
Mother Thomas soon rose likewise, and returned to the kitchen. But what was her horror on beholding her daughter's face black as ebony, her hair woolly and crisped like a negro's! As there was no mirror in the cottage, Rose could not understand what had so alarmed her mother; she asked if she had involuntarily had the misfortune to give offence?
"No, no," said the old dame, weeping; "shouldst thou remain all thy life as black as ink, I shall not love thee less; but I cannot without pain recall thy beauties of yesterday. Thou wilt be laughed at; and us too. Still, we will keep thee—thou must never leave us."
Rose readily promised she never would. But when her brothers returned, they considered the change in her quite as a matter of course. They recollected the prediction of the pitcher, and seemed quite delighted to think that, since it was fulfilled in the first instance, they might yet become the brothers of a queen.
Meanwhile they lived on better terms with Rose, hoping that one day she might be of service to them. Far from listening to the counsels of their father, they endeavoured to awaken in her mind the seeds of ambition; and in order to further views interested and selfish, flattered her beauty, her talents, and her sense, rendering the future queen the most respectful homage, which diverted her exceedingly.
But, strange to say, Rose was not always black; every second day she recovered her natural beauty, from whence it might be concluded, that the influence of the fairy and the Enchanter Barabapatapouf operated alternately. The woodcutter's family grew gradually accustomed to these successions; and as habit reconciles people to all things, each colour became indifferent to them.
Thomas was too old to change his mode of life; he would not hear of going to live in town, although they had money sufficient for that purpose; he also still continued the making of wooden shoes. Those which Rose wore in winter were trimmed with lamb's-wool, which she wrought very dexterously; she was clever and ingenious but, it must be confessed, a little imperious; and was sometimes surprised sighing like a person indulging in visionary wishes, and languishing under some secret chagrin.
A year passed: Rose grew tall, and her brothers, weary of waiting for an event so uncertain as her marriage with a king, executed a crime which they had long meditated. Seeing that their father had touched but one of the purses, they easily obtained possession of the rest, and rising with the dawn, all three departed, saying, to satisfy their consciences, that these purses must be finally theirs, and that they would, meanwhile, turn them to advantage. When they should become very rich, they would come back to their parents and take care of their latter days. Each of them made a belt, in which he concealed his gold; and with perfect concord, more frequently found amongst knaves than honest men, they travelled a hundred leagues in eight days.
The woodcutter and his wife did not at first comprehend the extent of their misfortune. They thought their children must have gone astray in the forest, and the old man wandered everywhere in search of them. But when he observed the loss of the purses, the truth was revealed, and he felt ready to die with grief. "Cursed gold!" cried he, "thou hast corrupted my brave and honest boys; they were poor, but virtuous; they are now become villains, and will meet punishment from either man or God!"
Thus saying, he took the remaining purse, and flung it into the bottom of a well. Mother Thomas was vexed, but dared not speak, for the unfortunate man was so much irritated and troubled that he would have beaten her.
When his reason cleared a little, however, he felt that he had committed an error in parting with his money, they being both old and unable to work as formerly. The dame sold some articles which had been purchased during their prosperity. But poverty was nothing; it was the conduct of their sons which inflicted the bitter sting. How was this then augmented, when some officers of justice arrived, and announced that James, Peter, and Paul had been arrested. It seemed that while drinking together in a public-house, they had spread on a table all their gold. The host surprised them, and not believing that young peasants, so coarsely clothed and wearing wooden shoes, could lawfully be in possession of such a sum, he had given them in charge. The poor boys, quite terrified, related the story of the Fairy Coquette; but as the magistrate had never seen a fairy, he did not believe one word of the matter.
Having then no hope but in the kindness of their father, they sent to summon the woodcutter and his wife, who confirmed all their assertions. But as no money was found in the cottage, whose inhabitants appeared to subsist on their labour, the officers knew not what to think.
Meantime they arrested the woodcutter for the purpose of identifying his children. Pale, and trembling like criminals, the old couple followed the guards. Mother Thomas was ready to faint and doubly grieved for leaving poor Rose all alone, especially as this was her day for being white and beautiful. She begged her not to leave the house, but to live on the milk of her sheep, and to bake cakes of some meal which was in the bin. Their adieus were heart-rending; although the soldiers declared that in three days the forester should be at liberty to return, provided the innocence of his family was established. Rose believed them, and endeavoured to take courage. But more than a month passed, and no tidings of her parents. She could not then prevent herself from wandering a little on the highway; and having walked till sunset, wept so bitterly, that her beauty indeed must have been a fairy-gift to remain uninjured.
One evening, being more worn out than usual, she seated herself at the foot of a tree and fell asleep. A slight noise awoke her, and, on looking up, she perceived a young gentleman richly dressed, who was contemplating her with evident astonishment. "Art thou a goddess, or a simple mortal?" cried he.
"Sir," replied Rose, "I am the daughter of a poor woodcutter, who lives in the forest;—it is late, and I beg you will not detain me."
"You are a wayward beauty, indeed!" replied the prince, for so he was; "but as my way lies in that direction, I hope you will permit me to see you home."
"It is not in my power to prevent you," said Rose, without raising her eyes.
The prince at this moment remarked that she had been weeping, and, delighted to have an opportunity of offering sympathy and consolation, entreated her to impart her grief to him. "I am not actuated by her curiosity," added he; "I never can behold a woman in tears without feeling moved to the bottom of my soul! Tell me your distress, and I will neither sleep nor eat till I have aided you."
Rose timidly raised her lovely blue eyes, to see whether the countenance of the prince harmonised with his discourse; but although he was not actually ugly, his features wore an expression too stern and hypocritical to invite her confidence. She therefore walked silently forward, and when near the cottage felt so uneasy, that for the first time, she invented a lie in order to get rid of him. "You seem to compassionate my sorrows," said she; "meanwhile you only increase them. When my mother sees me accompanied by a great gentleman like you, she will beat me, and not believe that you have followed me against my will."
This reasoning appeared so just to the prince, who felt himself affected by a passion such as he had never before experienced, that he consented to retire, entreating Rose to meet him the next evening at the same hour. She refused to give a decisive answer, and returned home much dejected; recalling all the words of the stranger, and almost reproaching herself for having behaved so harshly to him.
The following day Rose took mechanically the same route, going always in the path by which her parents might be expected. Her provisions being nearly exhausted, she feared to die of hunger, and began to think that this gentleman, who had been repulsed so rudely, could, perhaps obtain news of her family. Suddenly beholding him leaning against a tree, looking very melancholy and dejected, she threw herself at his feet, bathed in tears, and said—
"Sir, a wretch who has lost everything dear, supplicates your compassion. You are so kind—so tender-hearted—"
"What does the vile creature want!" exclaimed the prince, with a savage expression. "How dare you have the impertinence to address me? I wonder what prevents me from shooting you. I lost my sport all yesterday in following a pretty girl; here is game of a new description."
Rose started up, overwhelmed with terror, while the prince laughed most brutally. It was not till that moment she recollected that this was her black day, which accounted for his not recognising her. "Ah!" thought she, "this is humane man who could not behold a woman weep; because my colour displeases him, he is ready to take my life. No hope now remains for me—my misfortunes are at their height!"
Rose wept all night; yet she could not prevent herself from returning to the same spot on the following day; she felt irresistibly led thither, dreading, and yet wishing, to meet the prince.
He had been already waiting above an hour, and accosted her with a degree of respect quite unusual for him; but he was in love, and love makes the worst of people better for the time.
"Cruel beauty!" said he, in a courtier-like style, to which Rose was little accustomed, "what have I not suffered during your absence! I even remained all night in the wood, in expectation of you, and the queen my mother despatched messengers everywhere, fearing some accident had befallen me."
"The queen, your mother!" exclaimed Rose. "Are you, then, the son of a queen?"
"I have betrayed myself!" said the prince, striking his forehead in a theatrical manner. "Yes, it is true, I have that misfortune. You will now fear me; and what we fear, we never love."
"The wicked alone are to be feared," answered Rose. "I am very glad to hear that you are a king, for I know that you will be my husband."
The prince, who little guessed the enchanter's communication, was confounded by the unembarrassed freedom of her manner; but it was far from displeasing to him. "You are ambitious," said he, smiling; "but there is nothing to which beauty may not pretend. Tell me only how I can have the happiness of serving you, and you shall see that everything is possible to love."
Rose sat down on the grass, and related in very simple terms the story of the purse; confessed that she had deceived him, and that, so far from being severely treated at home, she was now weeping her mother's loss; that the king must take measures for the discovery and liberation of her family, before he could hope to win her affections, or pretend to her hand.
The enamoured monarch vowed he would not lose a moment; and although she behaved with much dignity, her every word and look was adorable in his eyes. Rose thought all night of the fine fortune of being a queen; she would then no longer wear wooden shoes; and, above all, might have an opportunity of being useful to her dear parents.
These meetings continued every alternate day during a week; and the queen dowager was informed that her son neglected all business, and thought of nothing but making love. She was in despair. This prince was surnamed the Terrible, by reason of his ferocity to women: till that moment he had never loved, but he had frequently made pretence of it, and when successful it was not unusual with him to cut out the poor ladies' tongues, put out their eyes, or even throw them into the sea. The least pretext sufficed for this; and the queen, who was of a kind disposition, lamented that yet another victim was preparing. The courtiers begged her to be tranquil; said it was nothing more than the daughter of a poor woodcutter whom his majesty now admired, and that if he did kill her, it would be of little consequence.
But the courtiers, and the queen dowager herself, were altogether bewildered when the king, having liberated the woodcutter and his family, brought Rose to the palace as his wife. She was not at all abashed or out of countenance; she behaved with the utmost respect to the queen, and with affability to all. It was universally remarked: "The king has committed a folly, but that charming girl is his excuse, and no man would have been wiser under similar circumstances."
A grand ball was given in the evening. Rose danced well enough for a queen; and she yielded herself up entirely to the enchantment of such a happy day. The prince, ever eager to be near her, was figuring away in a quadrille, when twelve o'clock struck: great, then, was his astonishment, while gazing passionately on his partner, he beheld—a negress!
"What metamorphosis is this?" cried he,
rudely seizing her arm; "where is the princess
Rose bent her head in confusion; it still bore her diamonds, and her crown,—no doubt could exist of her identity.
"Wretched, hideous black, thou shalt surely die!" cried the king; "none shall deceive me with impunity." He then drew a poniard, and was preparing to take instant vengeance, when, recollecting himself—"I do thee too much honour," said he; "rather let my cooks cut thee in pieces to make a hash for my hounds."
The old queen, as humane as her son was cruel, knew there was but one means of saving the unfortunate victim; this was to appear still more enraged than the king.
"I truly feel this injury," said she; "sometimes you have reproached my weakness, but now behold a proof that I also can avenge. Your orders must be strictly fulfilled—I myself shall witness the execution." She then signed to the guards to lay hold of the unfortunate Rose, who was dragged away by an iron chain fastened round her neck. She gave herself up for lost, and uttering the most heart-rending cries, was led away to a pigeon-house at the end of the palace, furnished with some clean straw; where, however, the queen promised to come on the following day.
Her majesty kept her word. Much affected by the sweetness of the hapless bride, she promised to mitigate, as far as possible, her melancholy situation.
Rose, very grateful, supplicated her benefactress to inform the woodcutter's family that she was still alive, knowing what they would suffer should the story reach them of the black Rose having breakfasted the king's hounds. The queen promised to employ a confidential domestic; and Rose, who had still preserved her wooden shoes, sent one, that her father might recognise his handiwork.
A few days afterwards a young peasant arrived from the cottage; he brought some cakes and cheese, made by Mother Thomas, which Rose preferred to all the delicacies of the palace.
This young peasant, who was named Mirto, related to Rose everything concerning her dear parents, and took back very loving messages from her to them.
Mirto found so much pleasure in conversing with the fair prisoner, and had so often cakes to carry, that they were seldom asunder. He said he was an orphan, and having some work to do in the prison where Thomas had been confined, there formed a friendship with the family. In return for some little services then rendered them, he desired to learn the trade of the wooden shoes; being very ingenious, he became a valuable acquisition. He never had felt so happy before. In truth, he was not aware that this happiness received its date from the hour in which he first saw Rose.
Alas! the poor Rose was only too sensible of his affection, and feeling the duty of struggling against it, found herself still more miserable than before.
"Whatever may be the conduct of Prince Terrible," said she to herself, "I have married him. It is certainly very hard to love a husband who wished to kill me, but still I should not permit myself to love another."
For a whole month following she had sufficient resolution to see Mirto no more, and was becoming sick with chagrin and weariness. The queen visited her frequently, bringing all sorts of sweetmeats, and a singing-bird, to divert her captivity. She brought no finery; indeed, that would have been quite thrown away on the pigeons.
At length, one day Rose heard a great noise in the palace. People kept running to and fro—all the bells were rung, and all the cannons fired. The poor prisoner mounted up to one of the pigeon-holes, and peeping through, perceived the palace hung with black. She knew not what to think. But some one of the queen's officers appeared, and conducted her in due form to the court. Rose, all trembling, inquired what had happened.
"Your majesty is a widow," replied the officer; "the king has been killed in hunting; here are your weeds, of which the queen begs your acceptance."
Rose was much agitated, but she followed the officer in silence, with a sad and serious aspect, as a dignified personage should do when informed of the death of a husband.
The queen was a tender mother, and although fully conscious of the ferocious disposition of her son, she deeply lamented him, and wept bitterly on embracing her daughter-in-law. "Your husband is no more," said she; "forget his errors, my dear child; the remainder of my life shall be devoted to making atonement for them."
The princess threw herself at her benefactress' feet, and declared all was forgotten. "If your majesty deigns to permit me to speak candidly," added she, "and will bestow a moment's attention, I shall confess the dearest wishes of my heart!"
"Speak," said the queen; "nothing now can assuage my grief, save an opportunity of proving to you my friendship."
"I was not born for a queen," continued Rose. "My mother is a poor forester, but she has been a tender parent, and weeps incessantly for my absence."
"Let her be conducted hither," replied the queen.
"This is not all, madam," continued Rose; "I confess that I love a young peasant, who has assisted my father to make wooden shoes. If I were the wife of Mirto, and your majesty would have the goodness to give some assistance to my family, my old father might be freed from labour, and I the happiest woman in the world."
The queen embraced Rose, and promised all she wished. She then conducted her to the forest; and just as they had reached its boundary, they perceived in the air a mahogany car, mounted on wheels of mother-o'-pearl; two pretty white lambs were yoked to it, which Rose immediately recognised as those of the Fairy Coquette.
The car descended, and the fairy alighting, thus addressed the queen: "Madam, I come to seek my child, and am delighted to find you willing to part with her, for she has a lover whom I approve;—who loves her faithfully, though hopelessly, which is a thing more rare than all the treasures of your majesty's crown."
The fairy then addressing herself to Rose, related that her enemy, the Enchanter Barabapatapouf, had just been killed in combat with another giant. "Now," added Coquette, "I have full power to render you happy;" and passing her fair hand over Rose's face, the negro colour and features vanished—to reappear no more.
The queen, convinced that her daughter-in-law required nothing further, offered only her portrait, as a token of esteem and friendship. Rose received it with grateful respect, then ascended the fairy's car, and was in a few minutes surrounded by the foresters, who never wearied of caressing her. Poor Mirto drew back, trembling, not knowing whether to hope or fear; but Coquette, perceiving their mutual embarrassment, declared that she had ordained this marriage from the very beginning. She blessed them, gave them a flock of beautiful white sheep, a cottage covered with honeysuckles and roses, a lovely garden abounding with fruits and flowers, and a moderate sum of money; endowing them also with life for a hundred years, uninterrupted health, and constant love.