Tales of Old Lusitania/The Portrait of the Beautiful Princess
THE PORTRAIT OF THE
There was once a prince in the good old days of romance who wished to marry, but unfortunately he could not meet with a princess whom he could admire and take for his wife; though for that purpose he had visited almost every capital and Court in the world, and made it a point to attend every place of entertainment, and be present at every festive occasion where he could see princesses at their best. The fact is, there floated before him a vision of perfect beauty, which he hoped to find realised in life, but as yet without success.
One day, however, as he was at a fair, amusing himself by examining and patronising every stall, he noticed a portrait of a most beautiful maiden, a glorious face having the features he had dreamt of so long, with a figure in which grace and dignity were combined, such as nothing but high birth and breeding could have produced. Now that he had found his ideal of feminine beauty in a portrait, he began almost to hope that he might see it embodied in human form. He eagerly enquired whose portrait it was, and was informed that it was the portrait of a certain princess of the far East. He returned to the palace, and told his father that he would marry no other princess but the one whose likeness he had seen at the fair. The king, glad that his son had found a maiden he could admire, sent an ambassador to arrange the marriage with the beautiful maiden's father, who was a great king. The nobleman succeeded in his mission, and obtained the consent of the princess and her father to the union, the princess being much pleased that the fastidious prince who could find no beauty to satisfy him should have fallen in love with her from seeing her portrait. They were accordingly married by proxy.
When the princess, with her retinue, arrived at the capital, the home of her husband, the prince thought he would like first to see his bride without being recognised, before he took her as his own for ever. He therefore disguised himself, and repaired to the races, which were held in honour of the occasion, and which he knew the princess would attend. As she was entering the grand stand, surrounded by her maids of honour, he enquired which of those ladies was the princess, and some one pointed out to him the very ugliest lady as his future bride. The prince gave a start of surprise, and was convinced that a cruel trick had been played upon him, and that after all he was married to the ugliest maiden he had ever seen. But, not liking to make a public exposure of his disappointment, he apparently took it with a good grace, went the next day to meet his ugly wife, and took her to the palace appointed for them by the king. But he had resolved never to look at her face again; so at night he always entered his chamber without a light; and in the morning he rose early and left the room before she had awoke. He spent the rest of the day at his farm a few miles away. This, as may be supposed, made the princess very unhappy; still, she never complained to her husband or any one else. One day as she was walking in her garden, full of sad thoughts, she passed near the garden gate, and a poor woman made signs as if asking for alms. But when the princess came close up to her the poor woman addressed her thus: "I know the cause of your unhappiness, but I have a remedy for it if you will follow my advice." The princess said she would, and the poor woman went her way. The next day she returned and told the princess that she must go with her to the place where the prince had his farm. The princess consented, and they set off together. On reaching the farm gate the poor woman sent up a message to the prince, asking him kindly to allow her and her daughter to enter the farm and ramble through the grounds as the poor girl was ill, and the doctor had ordered her to be in the open air as much as possible. The prince, who was very kind hearted, allowed them to enter, and would come himself to see the invalid. But what was his surprise when, on coming out to them, he found that the delicate looking girl was the exact likeness of the wonderfully beautiful portrait he had seen at the fair! The prince was quite bewildered, and did not know what to think. Next day the princess, still disguised as the poor woman's daughter, came alone, and walked about the prince's farm. Seeing the prince she went up to him and asked to be allowed to drink some water from the cold fountain, as she believed that that cold icy water would cure her. The prince at once ordered a richly jewelled glass vessel to be brought, and he himself drew the water and handed it to her to drink. But as she took it from his hand she let it fall, and the broken pieces of glass cut and wounded her foot. The prince was much distressed at the accident; but the princess made light of it, and gracefully said she felt much more grieved at having broken so valuable a vessel. She begged a thousand pardons for her awkwardness, and left the grounds leaning on the old woman's arm, who had just made her appearance. The prince remained very melancholy all that day, and at night when he went to bed he was more peevish and ill-mannered towards the princess than usual. But the princess, showing him her wounded foot, said:—
Oh my poor foot,
Wounded at the fountain
By the broken glass.
The prince, guessing that she alluded to what had passed between him and the beautiful maid, said harshly, "What is it to you what I do? that is my concern, not yours." But she still entreated him to look at her wounded foot; and at last he lit a candle, and to his astonishment and delight saw that the princess was no other than the invalid girl he had seen the day before. Perplexed and mystified, he asked an explanation, and she artfully made up a little story—not telling him that the poor woman had dispelled the enchantment under which she had laboured so many years, and had restored her beauty—but she said that as he would never look at her face from the moment they had come together, he had not found out how he had been misinformed and deceived; for the ugly maiden pointed out to him at the races was a maid of honour who had come over with her, and not herself, as he could plainly see himself.
- The conclusion of the tale is evidently inconsistent with all the rest. The princess "makes up a little story—not telling him" that her beauty had been restored by magic, but—what? Why, her real history, and not a "made-up story" at all. But the allusion to magic proves that there must be another version of the tale, namely, that the "wife whom her husband never saw" was really ugly, until some preternatural power transformed her. And, in fact, that is the old Hindû story told in Buddhist books, where the woman prays to Buddha, and he makes her beautiful. It is so told in the Mongolian "Uliger-ûn-dalai." (Sea-of-fables), tale 26.