Once upon a time there was a Queen, who was brought to bed of a son so ugly and so ill-shapen that it was for a long time doubtful if he possessed a human form. A Fairy, who was present at his birth, affirmed that he would not fail to be amiable, as he would have much good-sense. She added, even, that he would be able, in consequence of the gift she had endowed him with, to impart equal intelligence to the person he should love best. All this consoled the poor Queen a little, who was much distressed at having brought into the world so hideous a little monkey. It is true that the child was no sooner able to speak than he said a thousand pretty things, and that there was in all his actions an indescribable air of intelligence which charmed one. I had forgotten to say that he was born with a little tuft of hair on his head, which occasioned him to be named Riquet with the Tuft; for Riquet was the family name.
At the end of seven or eight years, the Queen of a neighbouring kingdom was brought to bed of two daughters. The first that came into the world was fairer than the day. The Queen was so delighted, that it was feared her great joy would prove hurtful to her. The same Fairy who had assisted at the birth of little Riquet with the Tuft was present upon this occasion, and to moderate the joy of the Queen, she declared to her that this little Princess would have no mental capacity, and that she would be as stupid as she was beautiful. This mortified the Queen exceedingly; but a few minutes afterwards she experienced a very much greater annoyance, for the second girl she gave birth to, proved to be extremely ugly.
“Do not distress yourself so much, Madam,” said the Fairy to her. “Your daughter will find compensation; she will have so much sense that her lack of beauty will scarcely be perceived.”
“Heaven send it may be so,” replied the Queen; “but are there no means of giving a little sense to the eldest, who is so lovely?”
“I can do nothing for her, Madam, in the way of wit,” said the Fairy, “but everything in that of beauty; and as there is nothing in my power that I would not do to gratify you, I will endow her with the ability to render beautiful the person who shall please her.”
As these two Princesses grew up, their endowments increased in the same proportion, and nothing was talked of anywhere but the beauty of the eldest and the intelligence of the youngest. It is true that their defects also greatly increased with their years. The youngest became uglier every instant, and the eldest more stupid every day. She either made no answer when she was spoken to, or she said something foolish. With this she was so awkward, that she could not place four pieces of china on a mantel-shelf without breaking one of them, nor drink a glass of water without spilling half of it on her dress. Notwithstanding the great advantage of beauty to a girl, the youngest bore away the palm from her sister nearly always, in every society. At first they gathered round the handsomest, to gaze at and admire her; but they soon left her for the wittiest, to listen to a thousand agreeable things; and people were astonished to find that, in less than a quarter of an hour, the eldest had not a soul near her, and that all the company had formed a circle round the youngest. The former, though very stupid, noticed this, and would have given, without regret, all her beauty for half the sense of her sister. The Queen, discreet as she was, could not help reproaching her frequently with her folly, which made the poor Princess ready to die of grief.
One day, when she had withdrawn into a wood to bewail her misfortune, she saw a little man approaching her, a little man of the most disagreeable appearance, but dressed very magnificently. It was the young Prince Riquet with the Tuft, who, having fallen in love with her from seeing her portraits, which were sent all round the world, had quitted his father’s kingdom to have the pleasure of beholding and speaking to her face to face. Delighted to find her thus alone, he accosted her with all the respect and politeness imaginable. Having remarked, after paying the usual compliments, that she was very melancholy, he said, “I cannot comprehend, Madam, how a person as beautiful as you can be so sad as you appear; for though I may boast of having seen an infinity of lovely women, I can avouch that I have never beheld one whose beauty could be compared to yours.” “You are pleased to say so, Sir,” replied the Princess; and there she stopped.
“Beauty,” continued Riquet, “is so great an advantage, that it ought to surpass all others; and when one possesses it, I do not see anything that could very much distress you.”
“I had rather,” said the Princess, “be as ugly as you, and have good sense, than to possess the beauty I do, and be as stupid as I am.”
“There is no greater proof of good sense, Madam, than the belief that we have it not; it is the nature of that gift, that the more we have, the more we believe we are deficient of it.”
“I do not know how that may be,” said the Princess, “but I know well enough that I am very stupid, and that is the cause of the grief which is killing me.”
“If that is all that afflicts you, Madam, I can easily put an end to your sorrow.”
“And how would you do that?” said the Princess.
“I have the power, Madam,” said Riquet with the Tuft, “to give as much wit as any one can possess to the person I love the most; and as you, Madam, are that person, it will depend entirely upon yourself whether or not you will have so much wit, provided that you are willing to marry me.”
The Princess was thunderstruck, and replied not a word.
“I see,” said Riquet with the Tuft, “that this proposal pains you; and I am not surprised at it; but I give you a full year to consider of it.”
The Princess had so little sense, and at the same time was so anxious to have a great deal, that she thought the end of that year would never come; so she accepted at once the offer that was made her. She had no sooner promised Riquet with the Tuft that she would marry him that day twelve months, than she felt herself to be quite another person to what she was previously. She found she possessed an incredible facility of saying anything she wished, and of saying it in a shrewd, yet easy and natural manner. She commenced on the instant, and kept up a sprightly conversation with Riquet with the Tuft, during which she chatted away at such a rate, that Riquet with the Tuft began to believe he had given her more wit than he had kept for himself. When she returned to the Palace, the whole Court was puzzled to account for a change so sudden and extraordinary, for in proportion to the number of foolish things they had heard her say formerly, were the sensible and exceedingly clever observations she now gave utterance to. All the Court was in a state of joy which is not to be conceived. The younger sister alone was not very much pleased, as no longer possessing over her elder sister the advantage of wit, she now only appeared, by her side, as a very disagreeable-looking person. The King was now led by his eldest daughter’s advice, and sometimes even held his Council in her apartment. The news of this alteration having spread abroad, all the young Princes of the neighbouring kingdoms exerted themselves to obtain her affection, and nearly all of them asked her hand in marriage; but she found none of them sufficiently intelligent, and she listened to all of them without engaging herself to any one.
At length arrived a Prince so rich, so witty, and so handsome, that she could not help feeling an inclination for him. Her father, having perceived it, told her that he left her at perfect liberty to choose a husband for herself, and that she had only to make known her decision. As the more sense we possess, the more difficulty we find in making up one’s mind positively on such a matter, she requested, after having thanked her father, that he would allow her some time to think of it.
She went, by chance, to walk in the same wood where she had met with Riquet with the Tuft, in order to ponder with greater freedom on what she had to do. While she was walking, deep in thought, she heard a dull sound beneath her feet, as of many persons running to and fro, and busily occupied. Having listened more attentively, she heard one say, “Bring me that saucepan;” another, “Give me that kettle;” another, “Put some wood on the fire.” At the same moment the ground opened, and she saw beneath her what appeared to be a large kitchen, full of cooks, scullions, and all sorts of servants necessary for the preparation of a magnificent banquet. There came forth a band of from twenty to thirty cooks, who went and established themselves in an avenue of the wood at a very long table, and who, each with larding-pin in hand and the queue de renard behind the ear, set to work, keeping time to a melodious song.
The Princess, astonished at this sight, inquired for whom they were working. “Madam,” replied the most prominent of the troop, “for Prince Riquet with the Tuft, whose marriage will take place to-morrow.” The Princess, still more surprised than she was before, and suddenly recollecting that it was just a twelvemonth from the day on which she had promised to marry Prince Riquet with the Tuft, was lost in amazement. The cause of her not having remembered her promise was, that when she made it she was a fool, and on receiving her new mind, she forgot all her follies. She had not taken thirty steps in continuation of her walk, when Riquet with the Tuft presented himself before her, gaily and magnificently attired, like a Prince about to be married.
“You see, Madam,” said he, “I keep my word punctually, and I doubt not but that you have come hither to keep yours, and to make me, by the gift of your hand, the happiest of men.”
“I confess to you, frankly,” replied the Princess, “that I have not yet made up my mind on that matter, and that I do not think I shall ever be able to do so to your satisfaction.”
“You astonish me, Madam,” said Riquet with the Tuft.
“I have no doubt I do,” said the Princess; “and assuredly, had I to deal with a stupid person — a man without mind, — I should feel greatly embarrassed. ‘A Princess is bound by her word,’ he would say to me, ‘and you must marry me, as you have promised to do so.’ But as the person to whom I speak is the most sensible man in all the world, I am certain he will listen to reason. You know that, when I was no better than a fool, I nevertheless could not resolve to marry you — how can you expect, now that I have the sense which you have given me, and which renders me much more difficult to please than before, that I should take a resolution to-day which I could not do then? If you seriously thought of marrying me, you did very wrong to take away my stupidity, and enable me to see clearer than I saw then.”
“If a man without sense,” replied Riquet with the Tuft, “should meet with some indulgence, as you have just intimated, had he to reproach you with your breach of promise, why would you, Madam, that I should not be equally so in a matter which affects the entire happiness of my life? Is it reasonable that persons of intellect should be in a worse condition than those that have none? Can you assert this — you who have so much and have so earnestly desired to possess it? But let us come to the point, if you please. With the exception of my ugliness, is there anything in me that displeases you? Are you dissatisfied with my birth, my understanding, my temper, or my manners?” “Not in the least,” replied the Princess; “I admire in you everything you have mentioned.”
“If so,” rejoined Riquet with the Tuft, “I shall be happy, as you have it in your power to make me the most agreeable of men.”
“How can that be done?” said the Princess.
“It can be done,” said Riquet with the Tuft, “if you love me sufficiently to wish that it should be. And in order, Madam, that you should have no doubt about it, know that the same fairy, who, on the day I was born, endowed me with the power to give understanding to the person I chose, gave you also the power to render handsome the man you should love, and on whom you were desirous to bestow that favour.” “If such be the fact,” said the Princess, “I wish, with all my heart, that you should become the handsomest Prince in the world, and I bestow the gift on you to the fullest extent in my power.”
The Princess had no sooner pronounced these words, than Riquet with the Tuft appeared to her eyes, of all men in the world, the handsomest, the best made, and most amiable she had ever seen. There are some who assert that it was not the spell of the Fairy, but love alone that caused this metamorphosis. They say that the Princess, having reflected on the perseverance of her lover — on his prudence, and all the good qualities of his heart and mind, no longer saw the deformity of his body nor the ugliness of his features — that his hunch appeared to her nothing more than the effect of a man shrugging his shoulders, and that instead of observing, as she had done, that he limped horribly, she saw in him no more than a certain lounging air, which charmed her. They say also that his eyes, which squinted, seemed to her only more brilliant from that defect, which passed in her mind for a proof of the intensity of his love, and, in fine, that his great red nose had in it something martial and heroic. However this may be, the Princess promised on the spot to marry him, provided he obtained the consent of the King, her Father. The King, having learned that his daughter entertained a great regard for Riquet with the Tuft, whom he knew also to be a very clever and wise prince, accepted him with pleasure for a son-in-law. The wedding took place the next morning, as Riquet with the Tuft had foreseen, and, according to the instructions which he had given a long time before.
No beauty, no talent, has power above
Some indefinite charm discern’d only by love.