Gateway to the Classics: The Fairy Ring by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith
The Fairy Ring by  Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith

Prince Desire and Princess Mignonetta

There was once upon a time a king who was passionately fond of a princess; but she could not be married, because she was enchanted. He went to consult a fairy, to ascertain what he ought to do to make the Princess love him. The fairy said to him, "You know that the Princess has a large cat, of which she is very fond; well, she can marry that person only who can succeed in treading on her cat's tail." The King said to himself, "That will not be very difficult to accomplish"; and he quitted the fairy, determined rather to crush the cat's tail than to fail in treading on it. He hastened to his mistress's palace; Master Puss came to meet him, very consequentially, as was his wont; the King lifted up his foot, but when he thought to have put it on the cat's tail, Puss turned round so quickly that he trod on nothing but the floor. He was a week trying to tread on this fatal tail, which appeared to be full of quicksilver, for it was continually moving. But, at last, the King had the good fortune to surprise Master Puss while he was asleep, and trod upon his tail with all his weight. Puss awakened, mewing horribly, and immediately took the shape of a tall man, who, looking at the King with eyes full of anger, said to him: "You may now marry the Princess, since you have dissolved the enchantment which prevented you; but I will be revenged. You shall have a son who will always be unfortunate until the time when he shall become aware that his nose is too long; and, if you take any umbrage at what I threaten, you shall immediately be put to death."


Although the King was frightened at the sight of this tall man, who was an enchanter, he could not help laughing at his threat. "If my son's nose should be too long," said he to himself, "unless he should be either blind or silly, he will certainly be able to see or feel it." When the enchanter had disappeared, the King went to find the Princess, who consented to marry him. However, he did not live long with her, for he died eight months after the wedding. Shortly after his death, the Queen gave birth to a young Prince who was called Desire. He had the finest large blue eyes in the world, and a pretty little mouth; but his nose was so large that it covered half his face. The Queen was inconsolable when she saw this large nose; but the ladies who were with her told her that the nose was not so large as it appeared to her to be; that it was a Roman nose, and that history averred that all heroes had large noses. The Queen, who loved her son to excess, was charmed with this discourse; and by continually looking at Desire, his nose no longer appeared to be so very long. The Prince was brought up very carefully; and, as soon as he could speak, all kinds of shocking stories were told him of people who had short noses. No one was allowed to remain near him whose nose did not a little resemble his own; and the courtiers, to show their respect to the Queen and her son, pulled their children's noses several times a day, with a view of lengthening them. They had, however, a difficult task; for their sons appeared to have hardly any nose at all compared with Prince Desire's. When he became old enough to understand it, he was instructed in history; and, whenever any great prince or handsome princess was mentioned to him, he or she was always spoken of as having a long nose. The room was hung round with pictures in which all the figures had large noses; and Desire grew so accustomed to regard length of nose as an ornament, that he would not for an empire have parted with an atom of his. When he had reached the age of twenty, it was thought expedient for him to marry; and the portraits of various princesses were submitted to him. He was in raptures with that of Mignonetta, the daughter of a great king, and heiress to several kingdoms; of the kingdoms, however, Desire thought not at all, he was so much struck with her beauty.

The Princess Mignonetta, although he was thus charmed with her, had a little turned-up nose which harmonized admirably with her other features, but which very much perplexed the courtiers. They had acquired such a habit of ridiculing small noses, that they sometimes could not forbear laughing at that of the Princess; but Desire would not suffer a jest on this subject; and he banished two courtiers from his presence, who dared to make insinuations against Mignonetta's nose. The others, warned by their fate, were more cautious; and there was one who said to the Prince, that, in truth, a man could not be amiable who had not a large nose, but that it was not the same in respect to woman; for a wise man, who spoke Greek, had informed him that he had read in an old manuscript that the fair Cleopatra had the end of her nose turned up. The Prince made a magnificent present to the courtier who told him this good news, and dispatched ambassadors to demand Mignonetta in marriage. His proposal was accepted, and he was so anxious to see her, that he went more than nine miles on the road to meet her; but just as he was stepping forward to kiss her hand, the enchanter appeared and carried off the Princess before his face, leaving him quite inconsolable.

Desire resolved never to reënter his kingdom, until he had discovered Mignonetta. He would not allow any of his courtiers to accompany him, and, mounting a good horse, he laid the bridle on his neck, and allowed him to choose his own road. The horse presently came to a large plain, which he traversed the whole day without seeing a single house. Both horse and rider were ready to die with hunger; at last, as night was about to set in, they discovered a cave in which a light was burning. Desire entered, and saw a little old woman, who appeared to be more than a hundred years old. She put on her spectacles to look at the Prince; but she was a long time adjusting them for her nose was too short. The Prince and the fairy (for it was a fairy) burst out laughing as they looked at each other; exclaiming simultaneously, "Oh, what a comical nose!" "Not so comical as yours," said Desire; "but, madam, let us leave our noses as they are, and have the goodness to give me something to eat; for both I and my poor horse are dying with hunger."

"With all my heart," answered the fairy. "Although your nose is ridiculous, you are not the less the son of my best friend. I loved the King, your father, like my own brother; but he had a very handsome nose." "And what is there wanting in mine?" asked Desire. "Oh, it wants nothing," answered the fairy; "on the contrary, there is far too much of it; but no matter; a man may be very good , and yet have too large a nose. I was saying, then, that I was your father's friend; at that time he frequently came to see me; and you must know that in those days I was very pretty; your father told me so. I must repeat to you a conversation that we had together the last time he saw me." "Very well, madam," said Desire; "I will listen to you with a great deal of pleasure when I have had my supper; consider, if you please, that I have eaten nothing to-day." "The poor child is right," said the fairy; "I did not think of that. I will prepare your supper; and, while you are eating, I will tell you my history in a few words; for I do not like long tales. A long tongue is still more insufferable than a large nose; and I remember, when I was young, that I was admired for not being a great talker; the Queen, my mother, used frequently to have it mentioned to her; for such as you see me, I am a great king's daughter. My father—" "Your father ate when he was hungry," said the Prince, interrupting her. "Yes, he did, doubtless," said the fairy, "and you also will have your supper in a moment: I was merely going to tell you that my father—" "But I will not listen to a word until I have something to eat," said the Prince, growing angry. He checked himself, however, for he wanted something of the fairy, and said: "I know that the pleasure I should take in listening to you would make me forget my own hunger; but my horse, who will not understand you, is in need of some food." This compliment made the fairy blush prettily. "You shall wait no longer," said she to Desire, calling her domestics; "you are very polite, and, in spite of the size of your nose, you are very amiable." "Plague take the old woman with my nose!" said the Prince to himself; "one would have sworn that my mother had stolen what is wanting in hers, to make mine with; if I were not hungry, I would leave this prate-a-pace, who fancies that she is a little talker. One must be very stupid not to perceive one's own defects; that comes of her being born a princess; flatterers have spoiled her, and persuaded her that she is a little talker."

While that was passing in the Prince's mind, the servants laid the table; and the Prince wondered at the fairy, who kept asking them a thousand questions, solely to have the pleasure of talking; he was especially surprised at a waiting woman, who, in everything that she saw, praised her mistress for her discretion. "Egad!" thought he, as he was eating, "I am delighted to have found my way here. This example demonstrates to me how wisely I have acted in not listening to flatterers, who praise all princes very shamelessly, concealing our defects from us, or representing them to us as perfections; but as for me, I shall never be their dupe; I know my own defects, God be thanked." Poor Desire quite thought he was right, and little imagined that those who had praised his nose had ridiculed it in their hearts, as the waiting woman was ridiculing the fairy; for the Prince observed that she turned her head aside every now and then to laugh. With regard to himself, he did not say a word, but ate away as fast as he could. "Prince," said the fairy to him, when he began to be satisfied, "move a little I entreat you; your nose makes so large a shadow that it prevents me from seeing what is on my plate. By the way, with regard to your father: I went to his court when he was quite a child; but it is forty years since I first retired into this solitude. Tell me a little how things are going on at court now; are the ladies still as fond of running about? In my time they used to go on the same day to the promenade, to the assembly, to the theater, to the ball—But how long your nose is! I cannot grow used to it." "In truth, madam," answered Desire, "do not say any more about my nose; it is as it is, and in what does it concern you? I am contented with it, and do not wish that it was any shorter; everyone to his taste." "Oh, I perceive now I have hurt your feelings, my poor Desire," said the fairy, "but I did not intend to do so; on the contrary, I am your friend, and I wish to do you a service; but notwithstanding that, I cannot help being shocked at your nose; I will not, however, mention it to you again; I will even constrain myself to think that you are snub-nosed; though in truth there are materials enough in it to make three reasonable noses."

Desire, who had finished his supper, grew so tired of the fairy's tedious prattle about his nose that he sprang on his horse and rode away from the cavern. He continued his journey; and wherever he went, he thought that everybody was mad, for everybody talked about his nose; nevertheless, he had been so accustomed to hear it asserted that his nose was handsome, that he could not reconcile to himself the idea that it was too long.

The old fairy, who wished to do him a service in spite of himself, determined to shut up Mignonetta in a crystal palace, and place this palace in the Prince's road. Desire, transported with joy, strove to break it; but he could not succeed; in despair, he wished to approach near it, so as at least to speak to the Princess, who, on her part, stretched her hand close to the crystal wall of the palace. He was very anxious to kiss her hand; but turn his head which way he would, he could not place his mouth near it, his nose constantly preventing him. He then perceived for the first time its extraordinary length, and feeling all over it with his hand, "I must confess," said he, "that my nose is too large." At the moment he pronounced those words, the crystal palace vanished, and the fairy appeared leading Mignonetta by the hand, and saying: "Confess that you are greatly obliged to me. I vainly wished to speak to you about your nose; but you would never have acknowledged its defect unless it had become an obstacle to your wishes. In this way self-love conceals from us all the defects of our minds and bodies. In vain reason endeavors to unveil them to us; we can never perceive them until the same self-love that blinds us to them finds them to be opposed to its interests." Desire, whose nose had become an ordinary nose, profited by this lesson. He married Mignonetta, and lived very happily with her to a good old age.

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