There was once upon a time a widow, a very good kind of woman, who had daughters, both very amiable. The elder was called "Blanche" and the younger "Vermilion." They had received these names because one of them had the fairest complexion that was ever seen, and the other had cheeks and lips as red as coral.
One day, as the good woman was seated near the door of her cottage spinning, she perceived a poor old woman who could hardly hobble along with the assistance of her stick. "You appear to be very much tired, my good woman," said the widow; "sit down here and rest yourself awhile"; and she then desired one of her daughters to fetch her a chair. Both of them immediately rose, but Vermilion outran her sister and brought the chair.
"Will you please to drink?" said the good old dame to the old woman. "With all my heart," answered she; "and I feel even as if I could eat a little if you could give me a bit of something nice." "You shall be welcome to anything that I have," said the good widow; "but, as I am poor, it will be nothing out of the common way." At the same time she desired her daughters to lay the table for the good old dame, who straightway seated herself at it.
The widow then told the elder daughter to go and gather some plums from a tree that she had planted herself, and was very fond of. Blanche, instead of obeying her mother willingly, murmured, and said to herself, "So it is for this old gormandizer that I have been so very careful of my plum tree." She, however, dared not refuse to fetch a few plums, but she gave them with much reluctance and very ungraciously. "You, Vermilion," said the good woman to her younger daughter, "have no fruit to give to this good dame, for your grapes are not ripe." "That's true," said Vermilion; "but I hear my hen cackling, so she must have laid an egg, and if the gentlewoman would like a new-laid egg, she is very welcome to it"; and without waiting for any answer from the old woman, she ran off to seek her egg. The moment she presented it, however, the old woman disappeared and was replaced by a beautiful lady who said to the mother: "I am about to recompense your two daughters according to their deserts. The elder shall become a great queen, and the younger a farmer's wife." With these words she struck the house with her wand; it disappeared, and in its place rose a nice, snug-looking farm. "That is your portion," she said to Vermilion. "I know that I have given each of you what you like best." Having thus said, the fairy departed; and the good woman and her two daughters remained in great surprise.
They went into the farmhouse, and were charmed with the neatness and the furniture. The chairs were only of wood, but they were so bright that one might see one's face in them as in a looking-glass. The bedding was of Irish linen, as white as snow. In the pens were sheep; four oxen and the like number of cows were in the cowhouses, and the yard was well stocked with all sorts of domestic animals, as poultry, ducks, pigeons, etc. There was also a pretty garden, planted with different kinds of fruit, vegetables, and flowers.
Blanche regarded without any feelings of jealousy the fairy's gift to her sister. Her only thoughts were concerning the pleasures she anticipated in being a queen. All at once she heard a huntsman's horn, and going to the door to see the party pass, she appeared so beautiful to the King that he resolved to marry her, and did so accordingly. Blanche, when she was become a queen, said to her sister Vermilion: "I do not wish that you should marry a farmer; come to court with me, sister; I will procure you a great lord for your husband." "I am very much obliged to you, sister," replied Vermilion, "but I am accustomed to a country life, and do not wish to change it."
Queen Blanche then set out, and she was so gratified that she passed several nights without sleeping, for joy. The first few months she was so taken up with fine clothes, balls, and plays that she thought of nothing else. But she soon grew used to these things, and nothing now amused her; on the contrary, she was very discontented. All the ladies of the court showed her great respect when they were in her presence; but she knew that they did not like her, and that they said to each other behind her back, "See how this peasant girl plays the fine lady! The King must have had very poor taste to take such a personage for his consort." The King heard of these remarks, and they made him reflect on what he had done. He began to think that he had acted wrongly in marrying Blanche, and as his passion for her had cooled, he soon neglected her.
When the courtiers perceived that the King no longer loved his wife, they paid her little or no attention. She was very unfortunate, for she had not a single friend to whom she could impart her grief. She observed that it was the fashion at court to sacrifice one's friend to one's interests, to smile on one's bitterest enemy, and to tell lies continually. She was obliged to be serious, because she was told that a queen ought always to look grave and majestic. She had several children, and during all this time she was constantly attended by a physician, who examined everything that she ate, and ordered everything that she liked to be removed from the table. She was allowed no salt in her soup, she was forbidden to quit the house when she felt inclined to take a walk—in a word, she was contradicted from morning until night. Governesses were engaged for her children, who brought them up in direct opposition to her wishes; yet she was not permitted to find fault. Poor Queen Blanche was dying with sorrow, and she grew so thin that it was pitiable to see her. She had not seen her sister once during the three years that she had been a queen, because she thought it would be demeaning her high rank to pay a visit to a farmer's wife; but when she was quite oppressed with melancholy, she came to the resolution of spending a few days in the country to restore herself. She asked leave of the King to go, who permitted her very willingly, for he thought that he should thus get rid of her for some time. She set out, and arrived in the dusk of the evening at Vermilion's farm. As she was drawing near, she observed about the door a company of shepherds and shepherdesses who were dancing and merrymaking in high glee. "Alas!" said the Queen sighing, "there was once a time when I could divert myself like these poor people, and no one found fault with me." Directly she came in sight, her sister ran to embrace her. She looked so happy, she had grown so plump, that the Queen could not forbear crying when she looked at her.
Vermilion had married a farmer's son, who had no fortune; but he never ceased to remember that his wife had brought him all that he possessed, and he strove by his obliging disposition to show his gratitude. Vermilion had not many servants; but those that she had were as fond of her as if she had been their mother, because she treated them well. All her neighbors also liked her, and they were all zealous in showing their love. She had not much money, nor had she any occasion for much, for her farm yielded her corn, wine, and oil. Her herds furnished her with milk, with which she made butter and cheese. She spun the wool supplied by her sheep into the materials of clothes for herself, her husband, and her two children. They all enjoyed excellent health, and in the evening, when the period of working had passed, they diverted themselves with all sorts of pastimes. "Alas!" cried the Queen, "the fairy made me a very evil present when she gave me a crown. Contentment is not to be found in magnificent palaces, but only in the innocent employments of a country life." These words had hardly passed her lips when the fairy appeared. "It was not my intention, when I made you Queen, to reward, but to punish you," said the fairy to her, "for giving me your plums with so much ill will. To be truly contented and happy, you must, like your sister, possess only what is necessary, and wish for nothing more." "Ah, madam!" faltered Blanche, "you are sufficiently revenged; I entreat you to put an end to my unhappiness."
"It is at an end," answered the fairy. "The King, who no longer loves you, has just married another wife, and his officers will arrive here to-morrow to desire you, in his name, never to return to his court." It came to pass exactly as the fairy had foretold. Blanche passed the remainder of her days with her sister Vermilion, in all happiness and reasonable pleasure, and she never thought of the court again except to thank the fairy for having brought her from it to her native village.