Fairy Tales by the Countess d'Aulnoy/The beneficent Frog
THE BENEFICENT FROG.
Once upon a time there was a King, who for a long while maintained a war against his neighbours. After several battles, they besieged his capital city. He was anxious about the Queen, who was near her confinement, and he entreated her to retire to a castle that he had fortified, and where he had never been but once. The Queen employed prayers and tears to persuade him to allow her to remain near him. She wished to share his fate, and uttered piercing cries when he placed her in her chariot to depart. However, he commanded his guards to accompany her, and promised her to steal away as secretly as he could to visit her. He flattered her with this hope; for the castle was far off, surrounded by a thick forest, and without knowing the roads well, there was no getting to it.
The Queen set out, very sorrowful at leaving her husband to the dangers of the war; they travelled with her by short stages, fearing she would be fatigued by so long a journey; at length she arrived at her castle very uneasy and melancholy. After she was sufficiently rested, she wished to make excursions in the neighbourhood; but she found nothing that could amuse her. She looked all around her; she saw immense deserts, which rather increased than diminished her sorrow. She looked at them sadly, and sometimes said, "What a difference between this abode and the one I have been in all my life. If I stay here much longer, I shall die. Who is there to talk to in these solitary places? To whom can I unburden my heart? and what have I done to the King that he should banish me? It seems as though he would make me feel all the bitterness of his absence, when he sends me away to this horrid castle."
Such were the lamentations she indulged in; and although the King wrote to her every day, and gave her good news of the siege, she became more and more miserable, and was determined to return to him; but as the officers he had placed about her were ordered not to return with her unless he sent a cornier expressly for her, she gave them no hint of her intention. She had a little chariot made just large enough for herself, on the pretence that she meant to hunt occasionally. She drove it herself, and followed the dogs so close, that the huntsmen could not keep up with her. By these means she became perfect mistress of her chariot, and was in a position to go whenever she liked. There was but one difficulty, which was her ignorance of the roads in the forest; but she flattered herself the gods would protect her on her journey: and after offering them a few sacrifices, she announced her intention to have a grand hunt, at which she requested everybody would be present; that she would go in her chariot, and that each person should take a different route, that there should be no escape for the wild beasts. They separated accordingly. The young Queen, who thought she should soon see her husband again, had dressed herself to great advantage. Her capeline was covered with feathers of different colours, her vest ornamented with jewels; and her beauty, which was uncommon, made her appear like a second Diana. While her suite were occupied by the pleasures of the chase, she gave her horses their heads, urging them to speed by her voice, and a few touches of the whip. From a fast trot they soon broke into a gallop, and finally took the bits between their teeth. The chariot seemed whirled onward by the winds. The eye could scarcely follow it. The poor Queen too late repented her temerity. "What have I undertaken?" said she: "how is it possible for me to guide horses so spirited and unmanageable? Alas! what will become of me? Ah, if the King thought I was in such danger as this, what would be his feelings! he who loves me so dearly, and who only sent me from the capital to place me in greater security. How have I repaid his tender care of me! and this dear child yet unborn will be also the victim of my imprudence." The air resounded with her sad lamentations. She invoked the gods, she called the fairies to her assistance; but the gods and the fairies had abandoned her. The chariot was overturned; she had not strength enough to jump out quickly; her foot was caught between the wheel and the axletree. It may be easily imagined that it was by nothing less than a miracle that she escaped with life from so terrible an accident.
She was left prostrate on the ground at the foot of a tree, insensible and speechless, her face covered with blood. She remained in this condition for a long time. When she opened her eyes, she saw standing beside her a woman of a gigantic size, clothed only in a lion's hide. Her arms and legs were naked, her hair tied together with the dried skin of a serpent, the head of which hung upon her shoulders. She had a stone club in her hand, which served as a staff for her to lean upon; and a quiver full of arrows at her side. So extraordinary a figure convinced the Queen that she was dead; for after so serious an accident, she did not imagine she could be still alive; and in a low tone she said, "I am not at all surprised that mortals are so unwilling to die; what one sees in the other world is very frightful." The giantess, who was listening to her, could not help laughing at the idea of the Queen's thinking she was dead. "Recover thy senses," said she to her; "know that thou art still among the living, but thy fate will scarcely be less sad. I am the Fairy Lioness, who dwells hardby; you must come and pass your days with me." The Queen looked sorrowfully at her, and said, "If you would take me back to my castle, Madam Lioness, and inform the King what price he must pay for my ransom, he loves me so dearly that he would not even refuse you the half of his kingdom." "No," replied the Fairy; "I am sufficiently rich. I have for some time been very dull, living alone: thou hast some wit, perhaps thou mayest amuse me." In saying this, she changed herself into a lioness, and placing the Queen upon her back, she carried her down to the bottom of her terrible grotto. As soon as she reached it, she cured her of the hurts she had received, by rubbing her with a peculiar liquid.
How astonished and distressed was the poor Queen to find herself in this frightful abode! The descent to it was by ten thousand steps, which led to the very centre of the earth. There was no other light there, but that from several large lamps, which was reflected by a lake of quicksilver. This lake was covered with monsters, whose various forms might have terrified a more courageous queen. Great owls, screech-owls, ravens, and other birds of sinister omen, were to be heard there; and in the distance could be seen a mountain, from which trickled waters into an all but stagnant pool. These were all the tears that had ever been shed by unfortunate lovers, and collected in reservoirs by compassionating Cupids. The trees had neither leaves nor fruit; the ground was covered with briars and nettles. The food was suitable to the climate of so hateful a country. Dried roots, horse-chestnuts, and the berries of the wild briars, were all that could be found to relieve the hunger of the unfortunate beings who fell into the hands of the Fairy Lioness.
As soon as the Queen was able to work, the Fairy told her she might build herself a hut, as she would have to remain with her all her life. At these words the Queen could not refrain from crying. "Ah! what have I done to you," exclaimed she, "that you should keep me here? If my death, which I feel approaching, will afford you any pleasure, kill me at once, it is all I venture to hope for from your pity; but do not condemn me to a long and wretched existence apart from my husband." The Lioness ridiculed her distress, and told her she would advise her to dry up her tears, and try to please her; that if she did otherwise, she would be the most miserable person in the world. "What must I do then," said the Queen, "to soften your heart?" "I am very fond," said the Fairy, "of fly-pies. It is my desire that you find means of catching enough flies to make a large and excellent pie." "But," said the Queen, "I do not see any here; and if there were any, it is not light enough to catch them; and if I had caught them, I never made pastry: so that you give me an order that I cannot execute." "No matter," said the merciless Lioness, "I will have what I order."
The Queen made no reply. She thought that in spite of the cruel Fairy, she had but one life to lose, and in her wretched situation, what had she to fear? Instead then of seeking for flies, she sat herself down under a yew-tree, and thus began her sorrowful lamentations: "What will be your distress, my dear husband," said she, "when you seek and cannot find me! You will imagine I am dead, or unfaithful; and I would rather you deplored the loss of my life, than of my affection. They will find perchance in the forest, the fragments of my chariot, and all the ornaments that I wore in the hope of pleasing you; at such a sight you will no longer doubt that I am dead; and how can I be certain that you will not give to another my place in your heart? But at all events, I shall not know it, for I am never to return to the world." She would have continued a long time, lamenting in this manner, if she had not heard over her head the mournful croaking of a raven. She raised her eyes, and by favour of the little light that glimmered on the bank, she saw a large raven with a frog in its claws, and evincing a decided intention of eating it quickly. "Although there is nothing here to relieve me," said she, "I will not neglect to save a poor frog, who is in as much distress in its way as I am in mine." She caught up the first stick she could find, and made the raven abandon its prey. The Frog fell to the ground, remained for some time stupefied, then, recovering its frogish senses, said, "Beautiful Queen, you are the only kind-hearted person I have seen in these regions since my curiosity led me to them." "By what miracle are you able to speak, little Frog," said the Queen; "and who are the persons you have seen here, for as yet I have not seen any?" "All the monsters with which this lake is covered," replied the little Frog, "have once been in the world; some of them kings, others in the confidence of their sovereigns; there are even some here who have been the mistresses of kings, and cost the state much precious blood. They are those whom you see metamorphosed into leeches. Fate sends them hither for a certain time, but none of them return any better, or correct themselves of their faults." "I can easily understand," said the Queen, "that the herding of many wicked people together, would not tend to their reformation; but with regard to yourself, good gossip Frog, what do you do here?" "Curiosity induced me to come hither," replied she; "I am half a fairy; my power is limited in certain things, and very extensive in others; if the Fairy Lioness recognised me in her dominions, she would kill me."
"How is it possible," said the Queen, "that being a fairy, or half a fairy, a raven was about to eat you?" "Two words will make you understand it," replied the Frog; "when I have my little hood of roses on my head, in the which consists my greatest power, I fear nothing; but unfortunately I had left it in the marsh, when this wicked raven pounced upon me. I confess, Madam, but for you I should be no more; and since I owe my life to you, if I can do anything to comfort yours, you may command me in any way you please." "Alas! my dear Frog," said the Queen, "the wicked Fairy, who holds me captive, wants me to make her a fly-pasty; there are no flies here, and even were there any, one cannot see well enough to catch them, and I run a great risk of being beaten to death." "Leave it to me," said the Frog, "I will provide you with plenty before long." She immediately rubbed herself with sugar, and more than six thousand frogs, friends of hers, did the same; she then went into a place filled with flies—the wicked Fairy had a store-house for them expressly to torment certain unfortunate beings.—As soon as the flies smelt the sugar they settled upon it, and the friendly frogs returned at full gallop to the Queen. There had never been such a take of flies, nor a better pasty than she made for the Fairy Lioness. When she presented it to her, she was very much surprised, not at all understanding by what means she could have caught them.
The Queen, who was exposed to all the influences of the air, which was poisonous, cut down some cypress-trees, to begin building her hut with. The Frog generously came to offer her services, and putting herself at the head of all those who went fly-catching, they assisted the Queen in erecting her little edifice, which was the prettiest in the world; but she had scarcely gone to bed in it, when the monsters from the lake, envious of her repose, came to torment her, by the most horrible clamour that had ever been heard. She arose quite terrified, and fled from the building, which was just what the monsters wanted. A dragon, in former days the tyrant of one of the finest kingdoms in the world, took immediate possession of it.
The poor afflicted Queen complained of this outrage, but she was only laughed at. The monsters hooted her, and the Fairy Lioness told her, that in future, if she stunned her with her lamentations, she would break every bone in her body. She was obliged to hold her tongue, and have recourse to the Frog, who was certainly the best creature in the world. They wept together, for as soon as she possessed her hood of roses, she was able to laugh and to cry like any one else. "I have," said she, "so much affection for you, that I will rebuild your habitation, let all the monsters of the lake be ever so furious about it." She began cutting the wood on the spot, and the Queen's little rustic palace was built so quickly that she slept in it the same night.
The Frog, attentive to all that was necessary for the Queen, made her a bed of creeping-thyme and wild-thyme. When the wicked Fairy found that the Queen no longer slept upon the bare earth, she sent for her. "Who are the men or the gods that protect you?" said she. "This land, on which no showers fall, save of sulphur and fire, has never produced as much as a leaf of sage, and I learn, notwithstanding, that odoriferous herbs grow in your path." "I am ignorant of the cause of it, Madam," said the Queen; "if I may attribute it to anything, it is to my infant, yet unborn, who will perhaps be less unfortunate than myself." "I have a fancy," said the Fairy, "to have a bouquet of the rarest flowers; try if your little brat's good fortune will supply them for you; if it fail to do so, stripes will not fail you; for I often administer them, and administer them wonderfully well." The Queen began to weep; such threats were anything but agreeable to her; and the impossibility of finding any flowers threw her into despair.
She returned to her little dwelling: her friend the Frog came to her. "How melancholy you seem!" said she to the Queen. "Alas! my dear gossip, who could be otherwise? The Fairy wants a nosegay of the finest flowers; where shall I find them? You see those which grow here, and yet my life is in danger if I do not satisfy her." "Amiable Princess," said the Frog, graciously, "I must endeavour to get you out of this difficulty; there is a bat here, the only one I have had any dealings with; she is a good creature, she will go faster than I can, I will give her my hood of roses, and with this assistance she will find you some flowers." The Queen made her a low curtsy, for there was no way of embracing the little Frog.
The latter went immediately to speak to the bat, who in a few hours returned, hiding some beautiful flowers under her wings. The Queen quickly carried them to the wicked Fairy, who was more surprised than she had ever been, being unable to understand by what miracle the Queen was so befriended.
The Princess was incessantly looking for the means to escape. She acquainted the good Frog with her wish, who said, "Madam, permit me first of all to consult my little hood, and we will act according to its advice; she took it, and having placed it on a rush, she burned some slips of juniper wood, some capers, and two little green peas; she then croaked five times, after which ceremony, putting the hood of roses on, she began to speak like an oracle.
"Destiny, ruler of everything," said she, "forbids, you to quit these regions; you will give birth here to a princess more beautiful than the mother of the Loves; for the rest, do not trouble yourself. Time alone can relieve you."
The Queen cast down her eyes, and tears fell from them, but she resolved to trust her friend. "At all events," said she, "do not desert me; be at my confinement, since it is decreed that it must take place here." The good Frog promised to be her Lucina, and consoled her as much as she could.
But it is time to return to the King. While his enemies were besieging him in his capital city, he could not regularly send couriers to the Queen; having however made several sallies, he compelled them to raise the siege, and felt less happy at this success on his own account than on that of his dear Queen, whom it enabled him to fetch home without fear. He was ignorant of her disaster; none of his officers ventured to inform him of it; they had found in the forest the remains of the chariot, the runaway horses, and all the Amazonian ornaments she had put on in the idea of rejoining him.
As they had no doubt of her death, and believed her body to have been devoured by wild beasts, they agreed among themselves to persuade the King that she had died suddenly. At this sad news he thought he should die of grief himself—hair torn, tears shed, mournful exclamations, sobs, sighs, and other small duties of widowhood,—nothing was wanting on this occasion.
After passing several days without seeing any one, or wishing to be seen, he returned to his capital city dressed in deep mourning, which he felt more at heart than his attire could testify. All the ambassadors of the neighbouring kings came to condole with him, and after the ceremonies which are inseparable from such occurrences, he applied himself to giving repose to his subjects, exempting them from war, and procuring for them an extensive commerce.
The Queen was ignorant of all these matters; the time for her confinement arrived; she was safely put to bed, and Heaven blessed her with a little princess, as beautiful as the Frog predicted. They named her Moufette, and the Queen with much difficulty obtained permission from the Fairy Lioness to nurse it; for the ferocious and barbarous Fairy had a great desire to eat it.
Moufette, the wonder of her age, was already six months old, and the Queen looking at her with affection mingled with pity, would incessantly say, "Ah! if the King, thy father, could see thee, my poor little baby, how delighted he would be! How dear thou wouldst be to him! But perhaps at this moment he is beginning to forget me: he thinks we are for ever buried in the horrors of death; perhaps at this moment another occupies that place in his heart which he once accorded to me."
These sad reflections cost her many tears. The Frog, who truly loved her, seeing her weep, said to her one day, "If you wish it, Madam, I will go and find the King, your husband; the journey is long, I travel slowly, but at last, a little sooner or later, I hope to accomplish it." This proposal could not have been more agreeably received than it was by the Queen, who clasped her hands, and even made Moufette join hers, to show Madam Frog how obliged she would be if she would undertake the journey. She assured her the King would not be ungrateful to her. "But," continued she, "of what utility will it be to him to know I am in this sad abode? it will be impossible for him to rescue me from it." "Madam," replied the Frog, "we must leave that care to the gods, and attend to what depends upon ourselves."
They took leave of each other immediately; the Queen wrote to the King with her own blood upon a small piece of linen, for she had neither ink nor paper. She begged him to trust the worthy Frog in all respects, who would give him news of her.
The Frog was a year and four days ascending the ten thousand steps from the black plain, where she had left the Queen, up into the world, and she was another year preparing her equipage, for she was too proud to appear in a great court like a paltry little frog from the marshes. She ordered a litter to be made large enough to hold conveniently two eggs; it was entirely covered with tortoiseshell outside, and lined with the skin of young lizards. She had fifty maids of honour; they were some of those little green queens who leap about the meadows,—each of them was mounted on a snail, with an English saddle, her leg placed on the bow with a wonderful air; several water-rats dressed as pages preceded the snails, to whom she had confided the care of her person; in short, nothing was ever so pretty; above all, her hood of marvellous roses, always fresh and blooming, became her better than anything. She was rather a coquette in her way, which induced her to use rouge and patches; they even said she painted, as the greater number of the ladies did in that country, but the matter being looked into, it was found to be the mere scandal of her enemies.
She was seven years on her journey, during which time the poor Queen suffered inexpressible pains and hardships, and without the beautiful Moufette to console her she would have died a hundred, and a hundred times over again. This wonderful little creature never opened her mouth, nor spoke a word that she did not charm her mother; she even tamed the heart of the Fairy Lioness,—and in short, after the Queen had passed six years in this horrible abode, she allowed her to go hunting, on condition that all she killed should be for her.
How delighted was the poor Queen, once more to behold the sun; she was so unaccustomed to it that she was fearful of becoming blind. As to Moufette, she was so skilful, though only five or six years old, that nothing escaped her that she shot at, and by this means the mother and daughter tamed down a little the ferocity of the Fairy Lioness.
The little Frog travelled day and night over hill and dale, and at last arrived in the vicinity of the capital city, where the King held his court; she was surprised at seeing everywhere nothing but dancing and feasting. People laughed and sang, and the nearer she approached the city, the greater appeared the joy and the merrymaking. Her marshy equipage surprised everybody—every one followed her, and the crowd became so great when she entered the city, that she had much difficulty in reaching the palace. There everything was magnificent. The King, who had been nine years a widower, had at last yielded to the prayers of his subjects, and he was on the point of marrying a princess certainly less beautiful than his wife, but who was nevertheless very charming. The good Frog, having alighted from her car, entered the King's palace followed by her retinue. She had no occasion to demand an audience; the monarch, his betrothed, and all the princes were too anxious to learn the reason of her coming to interrupt her. "Sire," said she, "I know not whether the news I bring you will give you pain or pleasure; the wedding which is about to take place convinces me of your infidelity to the Queen." "Her memory is always dear to me," said the King, shedding tears from which he could not refrain; "but you must know, pretty Frog, that kings cannot always do as they wish. It is now nine years that my subjects have been urging me to marry again. They require from me an heir to the throne. I have therefore chosen this young princess, who appears to me most charming." "I advise you not to marry her," said the Frog, "for polygamy is a hanging matter. The Queen is not dead; here is a letter written in her own blood which she has entrusted to me; you have a little princess called Moufette, who is more beautiful than all the goddesses combined."
The King took the little piece of linen on which the Queen had scribbled a few words, kissed it, and bathed it with his tears; he showed it to all the assembly, saying he recollected perfectly her handwriting; he asked a thousand questions of the Frog, to all of which she answered with as much sense as vivacity. The affianced princess, and the ambassadors who were appointed to witness the celebration of her marriage, made very wry faces. "How, Sire," said the most eminent amongst them, "can you, upon the assertion of a little toad like this, break off so solemn a marriage? This scum of the marsh has the impertinence to come with a falsehood to your court, and enjoy the pleasure of being listened to!" "Mister Ambassador," said the Frog, "learn that I am not the scum of the marsh; and since I must here display my science, Come, Fairies and vassals, appear!" All the little frogs, rats, snails, lizards, with herself at their head, appeared accordingly, but no longer in the form of such nasty little animals; their figures were lofty and majestic, their countenances pleasing, with eyes more brilliant than the stars; each of them wore a crown of jewels on its head, and upon the shoulders a royal mantle of velvet, lined with ermine, with a long train which was carried by a male or female dwarf. At the same time, behold, trumpets, kettle-drums, hautboys and drums pierced the air with their lively and martial sounds; all the fairies and vassals began to dance a ballet, so lightly that the least jump carried them up to the ceiling. The attentive King and the intended Queen were not less astonished, when they saw all at once these honourable dancers metamorphosed into flowers—jasmine, jonquils, violets, pinks, and tuberoses. It was an animated parterre, the evolutions of which exhilarated the senses as much by their perfume as by their grace.
A moment afterwards the flowers vanished, and several fountains appeared in their places; they rose rapidly and fell into a large canal, which flowed at the foot of the castle. It was covered with little painted and gilded galleys, so pretty and gay, that the Princess invited her ambassadors to go in with her to sail about. They did so willingly, considering it to be an entertainment that would be followed by a happy wedding.
As soon as they were embarked, the galley, the stream, and all the fountains disappeared, and the frogs became frogs again. The King inquired what had become of his Princess. The Frog replied, "Sire, you have no right to any one but the Queen your wife; if I were not so great a friend of hers I should not give myself any trouble about your intended marriage, but she is so good, and your daughter Moufette is so lovely, that you ought not to lose a moment in trying to set them free." "I confess to you, Madam Frog," said the King, "that if I could believe my wife was not dead, there is nothing in the world I would not do to recover her." "After all the wonders I have performed in your presence," replied she, "it appears to me that you ought to be convinced of what I tell you. Leave your kingdom in good hands, and do not delay your departure. Here is a ring which will enable you to see the Queen, and to speak to the Fairy Lioness, although she is the most terrible creature in the world."
The King, no longer caring for the Princess who had been selected for him, felt that as his passion for her diminished, his former love for the Queen became stronger than ever.
He set out, without permitting any one to accompany him, and made some very valuable presents to the Frog. "Do not be discouraged," said she to him; "you will have some tremendous difficulties to surmount, but I hope you will succeed in accomplishing your object." The King, fortified by these promises, departed in search of his dear Queen, with no other guide but his ring.
As Moufette became older, her beauty so greatly increased, that all the monsters of the quicksilver lake became in love with her. Dragons of the most hideous form were seen to come and crawl at her feet. Although she had beheld them from infancy, her beautiful eyes could not get accustomed to them; she would fly and hide herself in her mother's arms. "Shall we be a long time here?" she asked her. "Will our miseries never be ended?" The Queen would give her hopes, to console her, but at heart she had none herself. The absence of the Frog, her profound silence, so long a time having elapsed without any news of the King,—all this, I say, afflicted her severely.
The Fairy Lioness by degrees accustomed herself to take them out with her when she went hunting. She was fond of good eating; she liked the game they killed for her, and though all she gave them in reward for their trouble was the feet or the head, still it was a great thing for them to be permitted again to behold the light of day. The Fairy took the form of a Lioness, the Queen and her daughter rode upon her, and thus hunted through the forest.
The King, conducted by his ring, having stopped to rest in a forest, he saw them pass like an arrow from a bow. They did not see him. He endeavoured to follow them, but lost sight of them completely.
Notwithstanding the Queen's incessant troubles, her beauty was not at all diminished. She appeared more lovely than ever. All his affection for her was rekindled; and feeling sure the young Princess who was with her was his dear Moufette, he determined to perish a thousand times sooner than abandon his attempt to recover them.
The kind ring conducted him to the dark abode in which the Queen had resided for so many years. He was not a little surprised at descending to the centre of the earth, but what he saw there astonished him still more. The Fairy Lioness, who knew everything, was aware of the day and the hour that he would arrive. What would she not have given if Fate, in league with her, would have ordered it otherwise? But she resolved at least to resist the power of the King with all her might.
In the middle of the quicksilver lake she built a crystal palace, which floated on the waves. She shut up the poor Queen and her daughter in it; and then she harangued all the monsters who were in love with Moufette. "You will lose this beautiful Princess," said she to them, "if you do not assist me in defending her against a knight who comes to carry her off." The monsters promised to leave nothing undone that they could do: they surrounded the crystal palace; the lightest of them placed themselves upon the roof and on the walls, others at the doors, and the rest in the lake.
The King, guided by his faithful ring, went first to the mouth of the Fairy's cavern. She waited for him under her form of a Lioness. The moment he appeared, she flew upon him. He drew his sword with a courage she was not prepared for; and as she thrust out her paw to drag him to the ground, he lopped it off at the joint, which was exactly that of her elbow. She uttered a loud cry, and fell. He approached her, and put his foot upon her throat: he swore by his faith he would kill her; and notwithstanding her unconquerable fury she could not help being afraid of him. "What wouldest thou?" said she to him; "what dost thou ask of me?" "I would punish thee," replied he fiercely, "for carrying away my wife; and I will compel thee to restore her to me, or I will strangle thee directly." "Cast thine eyes upon that lake," said she; "see if she be in my power." The King looked in the direction she pointed. He perceived the Queen and her daughter in the crystal castle, which though it had neither oars nor rudder, glided like a galley over the quicksilver lake. He felt ready to die of mingled joy and grief; he called to them as loudly as he could, and they heard him, but how could he reach them? While he was endeavouring to find out some way, the Fairy Lioness disappeared. He ran along the edge of the lake; but when he had nearly reached the transparent palace on one side, it receded from him with an astonishing swiftness to the other, and his expectations were thus continually frustrated. The Queen, fearing that he would at last become weary of this work, cried out to him not to lose courage; for the Fairy's object was to tire him, but that true love was not to be rebutted by any difficulties; and with that she and Moufette stretched out their hands to him, and made all manner of supplicating actions. At this sight the King was more than ever affected. He raised his voice, and swore by the rivers Styx and Acheron to remain for the rest of his life in those miserable regions, rather than return without them.
He must have been endued with wonderful perseverance. He passed his time as sadly as any king in the world. The ground, full of brambles and covered with thorns, was his bed; he had nothing to eat but the wild fruits, bitterer than gall; and he had continually to defend himself against assaults from the monsters of the lake. A husband who could go through all this in order to recover his wife, must certainly have lived in the time of Fairies; and his proceedings sufficiently mark the epoch of my story.
Three years passed without the King's perceiving any hope of success. He was nearly mad. A hundred times he was on the point of throwing himself into the lake; and he would have done so, if he could have imagined this last step would have released the Queen and Princess from their sorrows. He was running one day as usual, first on one side of the lake and then on the other, when a horrible Dragon called to him, and said, "If you will swear to me by your crown and by your sceptre, by your royal mantle, by your wife and your daughter, to give me a certain tit-bit to eat, which I am very fond of, and will ask you for when I want it, I will take you on my wings, and in spite of all the monsters who cover the lake, and who guard this crystal castle, I promise you that we will carry away the Queen and Princess Moufette."
"Ah, thou dear Dragon of my soul!" cried the King, "I swear to you, and to all your dragon-kind, that I will feed you to your heart's content, and still remain your humble servant." "Do not pledge your word," replied the Dragon, "if you do not intend to keep it; for such terrible evils will befal you, that you will rue it for the rest of your life." The King redoubled his protestations: he was dying with impatience to release his dear Queen; he mounted on the Dragon's back as he would have done upon the finest horse in the world. At the same time the monsters advanced to intercept him. They fought. Nothing could be heard but the sharp hissing of serpents; nothing could be seen but fire. Sulphur and saltpetre came down pell-mell! At length the King reached the castle. The monsters redoubled their efforts,—bats, owls, ravens, all attempted to prevent his entrance; but the dragon, with his claws, his teeth, and his tail, tore in pieces the boldest of them. The Queen, on her part, who witnessed this great battle, broke her prison walls by kicking at them, and armed herself with the pieces, to assist her dear husband. They were at last victorious. The King and Queen reached each other; and the enchantment was ended by a thunderbolt, which fell into the lake, and dried it up.
The kind Dragon had disappeared with all the others; and without the King being able to guess by what means he had been transported into his capital city, he found himself there, with the Queen and Moufette, seated in a magnificent hall, with a banquet table before them, covered with delicious dishes. Never was there astonishment equal to theirs, nor greater rejoicings. All their subjects ran to gaze on their Queen and the young Princess, who, by a succession of miracles, were so superbly dressed, that the crowd was completely dazzled by the brilliancy of their jewels.
It is easy to imagine that this fine court was speedily occupied with every sort of pleasure. They had masquerades, runnings at the ring, and tournaments, which attracted thither the greatest princes in the world; and Moufette's lovely eyes riveted them all to the spot. Amongst the handsomest and most skilful, Prince Moufy was particularly distinguished. Nothing was heard but his praises: everybody admired him, and the young Moufette, who had passed all her previous days amongst the serpents and dragons of the lake, did not hesitate to render justice to Moufy's merit. Not a day passed that he did not invent some new piece of gallantry to please her; for he loved her passionately; and having entered the lists to establish his pretensions, he made known to the King and to the Queen that his principality was so beautiful and so extensive that it deserved their particular attention.
The King told him that Moufette was at liberty to choose her own husband, and that he would not constrain her inclination in anything; that the Prince should do his best to please her; and that such was his only way to happiness. The Prince was delighted with this answer. He had gathered from her, during several interviews, that she was not indifferent to him; and after having at last come to an explanation with her, she told him, if he were not to be her husband, she would never have any other. Moufy, transported with joy, threw himself at her feet, and conjured her in the most affectionate terms to remember the promise she had just given him.
He ran instantly to the King and Queen's apartment, and related to them the progress he had made in his suit with Moufette, and entreated them not to defer his happiness. They consented to it with pleasure. Prince Moufy was gifted with so many excellent qualities, that he alone seemed worthy to possess the admirable Moufette. The King wished very much to affiance them before he returned to Moufy, whither he was obliged to go, to give orders for his marriage; but he would rather never have left, than depart without full assurance of happiness on his return. The Princess Moufette did not say farewell without shedding many tears. She had I know not what sort of a presentiment that afflicted her; and the Queen, perceiving the Prince overwhelmed with grief, gave him her daughter's portrait, begging him, for the love of them both, that he would forego some of the magnificence of his solemn entry, rather than allow it to prevent his speedy return. He said, "Madam, I have never had so much pleasure in obeying you as I shall have on this occasion; my heart is too much interested in it for me to neglect anything so necessary to my happiness."
He posted off; and the Princess Moufette, while waiting his return, occupied herself with singing and playing on various instruments she had been learning for several months past, and upon which she performed admirably. One day when she was in the Queen's room the King entered, with his cheeks bathed in tears, and embracing his daughter, exclaimed, "Oh, my child! oh, unfortunate father! oh, unhappy king!" He could say no more,—sighs choked his utterance. The Queen and the Princess, much terrified, inquired what was the matter. He at length told them that a giant of an enormous size had just arrived, who said he was an ambassador from the Dragon of the Lake, who, in discharge of the promise that he had exacted from the King as the condition on which he would assist him to fight and conquer the monsters, had sent to demand the Princess Moufette, that he might eat her in a pie; that the King had bound himself by the most awful oaths to give the Dragon whatever he desired: and in those days kings knew not how to break their words.
The Queen, hearing these sad tidings, uttered piercing cries, and strained the Princess in her arms. "They shall take my life sooner," said she, "than make me give up my daughter to this monster; let him take our kingdom, and all that we possess! Unnatural father, could you be a party to such a barbarous act? What! Put my child into a pie? Ah, I cannot bear the thought of it! Send this cruel ambassador to me, perhaps my affliction may move him to pity."
The King did not reply; he went to the giant, and brought him immediately to the Queen, who threw herself at his feet, and with her daughter entreated him to have pity upon them, and to persuade the Dragon to take all that they had, and to save Moufette's life; but he told them it did not depend upon him at all; that the Dragon was too obstinate, and too fond of good living; that when he took it into his head to eat some little tit-bit, all the gods put together could not change his fancy: that he advised them as a friend to submit with a good grace, or still greater misfortunes might befal them. At these words the Queen fainted, and so would the Princess have done had she not been obliged to assist her mother.
This sad news was scarcely spread through the palace, before everybody in the city knew it, and nothing was to be heard but sighs and lamentations; for Moufette was adored. The King could not make up his mind to give her to the giant, and the giant, who had already waited several days, began to be tired, and threatened him in a terrible manner. In the meantime, the King and the Queen said, "Could anything have happened to us worse than this? If the Dragon of the Lake came to eat all of us up, we could not be more distressed; if they put our Moufette into a pie, we are lost." Upon which the giant told them, he had received news from his master, and that if the Princess would marry a nephew of his, he consented to let her live; that as to the rest, this nephew was handsome and well made; that he was a Prince, and that she might live very happily with him.
This proposal slightly ameliorated their majesties' grief; the Queen spoke to the Princess, but she found her more averse to this marriage than to her death. "I will not be guilty, Madam," said she, "of preserving my life by an act of infidelity; you have promised me to Prince Moufy, I will never be another's; let me die, the sacrifice of my life will ensure the peace of yours." The King followed the Queen; he spoke to his daughter upon the subject with the greatest affection imaginable; she remained firm in her decision, and finally he agreed to conduct her to the top of a mountain, whither the Dragon of the Lake was to come for her.
Everything was prepared for this sad sacrifice; not even those of Iphigenia and Psyche were so mournful; nothing but black dresses, pale faces and consternation was to be seen. Four hundred young girls of the first distinction, dressed in long white robes, and cypress wreaths on their head, accompanied her. They carried her in a black velvet litter, uncovered, in order that every one might see the masterpiece of the gods; her dishevelled locks lay scattered upon her shoulders, here and there tied with crape, and the wreath she wore upon her head was of jasmine mixed with marigolds. She seemed to be affected only by the grief of the King and Queen, who followed her, overwhelmed by their deep affliction. The giant, armed from top to toe, walked by the side of the litter containing the Princess, and looking at her with a longing eye, seemed as if he was sure of having his share of her to eat; the air was filled with sighs and sobs, and the road was inundated by the tears that were shed.
"Ah, Frog! Frog!" cried the Queen, "you have quite forsaken me. Alas! why did you give me your assistance in that gloomy plain, since you now refuse it to me? How happy I should be, had I then died! I should not to-day see all my hopes destroyed; I should not see my dear Moufette on the point of being devoured!"
While she was uttering these complaints, they were still advancing, however slowly they walked, and at last they reached the summit of the fatal mountain. At this spot, the shrieks and lamentations were redoubled so violently, that nothing had ever been heard so distressing. The giant bade them all to take their leave and retire. They did so accordingly; for in those times people were very simple, and never sought a remedy for anything.
The King and Queen having retired, ascended another mountain with all their court, whence they could see what was about to happen to the Princess, and in fact they had not been there a long time before they perceived in the air a Dragon, with a tail nearly half a league in length; he had also six wings. He could scarcely fly, his body was so heavy, entirely covered with large blue scales and long fiery darts; his tail was in fifty curls and a half, each of his claws were as large as a windmill, and his wide open mouth displayed three rows of teeth, as long as the tusks of an elephant.
But while he was slowly approaching, the dear and faithful Frog, mounted on a sparrow-hawk, flew rapidly to the Prince Moufy. She wore her hood of roses, and although he was locked up in his closet, she entered it without a key. "What are you doing here, unfortunate lover?" said she to him; "you are dreaming of Moufette's charms, who is at this moment exposed to a most frightful catastrophe. Here is a rose leaf; by blowing upon it I can transform it into a beautiful horse, as you will see." At the same instant appeared a horse, entirely green. It had twelve feet and three heads. The mouth of one head emitted fire, that of another bomb-shells, and the third, cannon balls. She gave him a sword that was eighteen yards long, and lighter than a feather; she armed him in one single diamond, which he got into as if it were his coat, and although it was as hard as a rock, it was so flexible, that it did not incommode him in the least. "Away!" said she to him, "run, fly to defend her whom you love; the green horse which I give you will carry you to her; when you have rescued her, let her know what share I have had in her deliverance."
"Generous Fairy," cried the Prince, "I cannot at present express all my gratitude to you, but I declare myself for ever your most faithful slave." He mounted his three-headed horse, which immediately set off full gallop with its twelve feet, and made more haste than three of the finest horses; so much so, that in a very short time he arrived at the top of the mountain, where he saw his dear Princess all alone, and the frightful Dragon slowly approaching towards her. The green horse belched fire, bombs, and cannon balls, which not a little astonished the monster; he received twenty cannon balls in his throat, which damaged his scales a little, and the bombs knocked out one eye. He became furious, and would have rushed upon the Prince; but his sword, eighteen yards long, was of such fine tempered steel, that he wielded it as he pleased, thrusting it sometimes up to the hilt, or lashing him with it as with a whip. The Prince would not, however, have escaped feeling the force of this monster's claws, but for the diamond armour, which was impenetrable.
Moufette recognised him from afar, for the diamond which completely encased him was exceedingly brilliant and clear; she was consequently seized with the most mortal fright that a fond woman could suffer under such circumstances; but the King and Queen began to feel in their heart some ray of hope; for it was very extraordinary to see a horse with twelve feet and three heads, out of which came fire and flames, and a Prince in a case of diamonds, and armed with so formidable a sword, arrive at so critical a moment and fight with so much valour. The King placed his hat upon his cane, and the Queen tied her handkerchief to the end of a stick, to make signs to the Prince and encourage him. All their retinue did the same; but he did not require it, for his heart alone, and the peril in which he saw his mistress, was sufficient to animate him.
What efforts did he not make! The earth was covered with darts, claws, horns, wings, and scales of the Dragon. The monster's blood flowed in a thousand places, which was quite blue, while that of the horse was green, which made a singular mixture upon the ground. The Prince fell five times, but always recovered himself; he seized his opportunity to remount his horse, and then followed such showers of cannon balls and floods of Greek fire, that never was anything like it before. At last the Dragon lost his strength; he fell, and the Prince gave him a thrust in the belly which caused a frightful gash; but what one would have some difficulty in believing, and yet is quite as true as the rest of the story, is, that from this large wound issued the handsomest and most charming Prince that had ever been seen. His dress was of blue cut velvet, with a gold ground, embroidered with pearls; he had on his head a little Greek morion covered with white feathers. He ran with open arms to embrace Prince Moufy: "How much I am indebted to you, my generous benefactor!" said he; "you have just delivered me from the most frightful prison that a sovereign could have been shut up in. I was condemned to it by the Fairy Lioness. Sixteen years I have been pining therein, and her power was such, that against my inclination she would have compelled me to devour this beautiful Princess; lead me to her feet, that I may explain my misfortunes to her."
Prince Moufy, surprised and delighted by so astonishing an adventure, paid the Prince the greatest attention. They hastened to join the lovely Moufette, who on her part returned the gods a thousand thanks for so unexpected a happiness. The King and Queen and all the court were already with her; every one spoke at once, no one was heard, they cried nearly as much for joy as they had done for sorrow. In short, that nothing should be missing at the fête, the good Frog appeared in the air, mounted on a sparrow-hawk, which had golden bells at its feet. When they heard the tinkle, tinkle, they all looked up; they saw the hood of roses, shining like the sun, and the Frog as beautiful as Aurora. The Queen advanced towards her, and took one of her little paws; instantly the wise Frog transformed herself, and appeared as a noble Queen, with the most agreeable countenance in the world. "I come," said she, "to crown Princess Moufette's constancy. She preferred sacrificing her life to being unfaithful; this is a rare example in the age in which we live, but it will be much more so in future times." She then took two myrtle wreaths, which she placed upon the head of the happy lovers, and striking with her wand three times, they saw all the Dragon's bones rise to make a triumphal arch, in commemoration of the great event that had just taken place. At length this beautiful and numerous company advanced towards the city, singing nuptial hymns, as joyfully as they had chanted mournful dirges when proceeding to the sacrifice of the Princess. Their marriage was only deferred till the next day—it is easy to imagine the happiness that accompanied it.
The Queen, whose portrait I have painted here,
Amid the horrors of that gloomy lake,
Had for her life but little cause to fear;
Friendship with Love united for her sake.
The grateful Frog felt, like the monarch, bound
To make the greatest efforts in her cause,
Despite the cruel Lioness, they found
The means to snatch her from her fatal claws.
Husbands so constant, friends so brave and true,
Ages ago were of our sires the glory;
And by that little fact, kind reader, you
May guess, perhaps, the period of my story.
- A low-crowned hat.
- I have omitted here the word soucis, as I could not convey in English the double meaning of "marigolds "and "cares," which it possesses in the original.
- The goddess who presided over child-birth; said by some to be the daughter of Jupiter and Juno; by others, Juno herself, or Diana.
- That is, white as well as red, colouring the lips and marking the eyebrows. The wearing of rouge alone was not considered objectionable, as it became almost a necessity after the introduction of hair-powder.
- This pleasantry is repeated in the verses that terminate the tale.
- Soucis, which also signifies cares. See note, page 378.
- A combustible used in ancient warfare, which could not be extinguished by water.