There was once upon a time so excellent a monarch that his subjects called him King Good. One day, when he was hunting, a little white rabbit which the dogs were about to kill, jumped into his arms. The King caressed the little rabbit, and said, “As it has put itself under my protection, I will not allow any harm to be done to it.” He carried the little rabbit into his palace and gave it a pretty little house and nice herbs to eat.
At night, when he was alone in his chamber, a beautiful lady appeared before him; she was arrayed neither in gold nor in silver, but her robe was white as snow, and her head-dress consisted simply of a crown of white roses. The good King was much surprised to see this lady, as his door was locked, and he knew not how she had entered. She said to him, “I am the Fairy Candid; I passed through the wood as you were hunting, and I wished to ascertain if you were as good as everybody said you were. For that purpose I took the form of a little rabbit, and I saved myself by jumping into your arms; for I know that those who have pity for animals have more still for men; and if you had refused me your assistance I should have thought you wicked. I come to thank you for the kindness you have shown me, and to assure you I shall always be your friend. You have only to ask me for anything you wish, I promise to grant it.”
“Madam,” said the good King, “as you are a Fairy, you ought to know all I wish for. I have but one son, whom I love exceedingly, and on that account they have named him Prince Chéri; if you have any affection for me, become the friend of my son.”
“With all my heart,” said the Fairy; “I can make your son the handsomest Prince in the world, or the richest, or the most powerful; choose which you wish him to be.”
“I desire none of those things for my son,” said the good King; “but I shall be much obliged if you will make him the best of all Princes. What will it profit him to be handsome, rich, to have all the kingdoms of the world, if he should be wicked? You know well he would be miserable, and that nothing but virtue can make him happy.”
“You are quite right,” said Candid; “but it is not in my power to make the Prince Chéri a good man in spite of himself; he must himself endeavour to become virtuous. All I can promise you is to give him good advice, to point out to him his faults, and to punish him if he will not correct them and punish himself.”
The good King was quite content with this promise, and died a short time afterwards. Prince Chéri wept much for his father, for he loved him with all his heart, and he would have given all his kingdoms, his gold, and his silver, to have saved him, if such things had power to change the will of fate.
Two years after the death of the good King, Chéri being in bed, Candid appeared to him. “I promised your father,” said she to him, “to be your friend; and, to keep my word, I come to make you a present.” At the same time she placed on the finger of Chéri a little gold ring, and said to him, “Keep this ring carefully — it is more precious than diamonds. Every time you commit a bad action it will prick your finger; but if in spite of this pricking you persist in the evil deed, you will lose my friendship, and I shall become your enemy.”
Candid disappeared as she uttered these words, and left Chéri much astonished. For some time his conduct was so faultless that the ring did not prick him at all, and this gave him so much gratification, that his subjects added to his name Chéri, or Beloved, that of Heureux, or Happy.
One day he went out hunting, and caught nothing, which put him in a bad humour. It appeared to him, then, that the ring pressed his finger a little; but as it did not prick him he paid no great attention to it. On entering his apartment, however, his little dog Bibi came jumping about him affectionately, when he said, “Get thee gone, I am not in a humour to receive thy caresses!” The poor little dog, who did not understand him, pulled at his coat, to oblige him at least to look at him. This irritated Chéri, and he gave him a violent kick.
In a moment the ring pricked him, as if it had been a pin; he was much astonished, and seated himself, quite ashamed, in a corner of the room. “I think the Fairy mocks me,” said he to himself. “What great evil have I done in kicking an animal which worried me? Of what use is it to be master of a great empire if I may not chastise my own dog?”
“I do not mock you,” said a voice which replied to the thoughts of Chéri. “You have committed three faults instead of one. You have been in an ill-humour because you did not like to be disappointed, and because you believe both beasts and men were only made to obey you. You put yourself in a passion, which is very wrong, and, lastly, you have been cruel to a poor animal that did not deserve to be ill-treated. I know you are much superior to a dog; but if it were a reasonable thing, and permissible for the great to ill-treat those who are beneath them, I would at this moment beat you — kill you, for a Fairy is stronger than a man. The advantage of being master of a great empire is not to be able to do all the harm that you may wish, but all the good that you can.”
Chéri confessed his fault, and promised to correct it; but he did not keep his word. He had been reared by a foolish nurse, who had spoilt him when he was little. If he wanted anything he had only to cry, pout, and stamp his foot, and this woman gave him all he wished for; and this had made him wilful. She had told him also, from morning to night, that he would be King some day, and that kings were very happy, because everybody must obey them, and treat them with great respect, and that no one could prevent their doing whatever they pleased.
When Chéri grew up, and was capable of reasoning, he soon learnt that there was nothing so odious as to be proud, vain, and obstinate. He made some efforts to correct himself, but he had unfortunately contracted all three defects; and a bad habit is very difficult to eradicate. It was not that he had naturally a bad heart: he wept with annoyance when he had committed a fault, and said, “How unfortunate am I in having to fight thus all my days against my pride and my temper! If they had corrected me when I was young, I should not now have had so much trouble.”
His ring pricked him very often. Sometimes he stopped immediately, at others he persisted in his ill-behaviour; and what was very singular was, that it pricked him very slightly for a light offence, but when he did anything really wicked, it would make the blood spurt from his finger. At length he grew impatient at this, and wishing to sin at his ease, he threw away his ring. He thought himself the happiest of men when he was released from its pricking. He abandoned himself to all the follies which entered his head, till at length he became quite wicked, and nobody could bear him.
One day that Chéri was out walking he saw a young maiden so beautiful, that he determined to marry her. She was called Zélie, and she was as good as she was pretty. Chéri imagined that Zélie would be most happy to become a great Queen; but the girl told him, with much firmness, “Sire, I am only a shepherdess; I have no fortune; but in spite of that, I will not marry you.”