Once upon a time there was a King and a Queen, who were so vexed at not having any children — so vexed, that one cannot express it. They visited all the baths in the world. Vows, pilgrimages, everything was tried, and nothing succeeded. At length, however, the Queen was brought to bed of a daughter. There was a splendid christening. For godmothers they gave the young Princess all the Fairies they could find in the country (they found seven), in order that each making her a gift, according to the custom of Fairies in those days, the Princess would, by these means, become possessed of all imaginable perfections.
After the baptismal ceremonies all the company returned to the King’s palace, where a great banquet was set out for the Fairies. Covers were laid for each, consisting of a magnificent plate, with a massive gold case, containing a spoon, a fork, and a knife of fine gold, enriched with diamonds and rubies. But as they were all taking their places at the table, there was seen to enter an old Fairy, who had not been invited, because for upwards of fifty years she had never quitted the tower she resided in, and it was supposed she was either dead or enchanted.
The King ordered a cover to be laid for her; but there was no possibility of giving her a massive gold case such as the others had, because there had been only seven made expressly for the seven Fairies. The old lady thought she was treated with contempt, and muttered some threats between her teeth. One of the young Fairies, who chanced to be near her, overheard her, and imagining she might cast some misfortune on the little Princess, went, as soon as they rose from table, and hid herself behind the hangings, in order to have the last word, and be able to repair, as fast as possible, any mischief the old woman might do.
In the meanwhile, the Fairies began to endow the Princess. The youngest, as her gift, decreed that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next Fairy, that she should have the mind of an angel; the third, that she should evince the most admirable grace in all she did; the fourth, that she should dance to perfection; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play on every instrument in the most exquisite manner possible.
The turn of the old Fairy having arrived, she declared, while her head shook more with malice than with age, that the Princess should pierce her hand with a spindle, and die of the wound. This terrible fate made all the company tremble, and there was not one of them who could refrain from tears.
At this moment the young Fairy issued from behind the tapestry, and uttered aloud these words: “Comfort yourselves, King and Queen — your daughter shall not die of it. It is true that I have not sufficient power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The Princess will pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she will only fall into a deep slumber, which will last one hundred years, at the end of which a King’s son will come to wake her.”
The King, in hope of avoiding the misfortune predicted by the old Fairy, immediately caused an edict to be published, by which he forbade any one to spin with a spindle, or to have spindles in their possession, under pain of death.
At the end of fifteen or sixteen years, the King and Queen, being absent at one of their country residences, it happened that the Princess, while running one day about the castle, and from one chamber up to another, arrived at the top of a tower, and entered a little garret, where an honest old woman was sitting by herself, spinning with her distaff and spindle.
This good woman had never heard of the King’s prohibition with respect to spinning with a spindle. “What are you doing there?” asked the Princess. “I am spinning, my fair child,” answered the old woman, who did not know her. “Oh, how pretty it is!” rejoined the Princess. “How do you do it? Give it to me, that I may see if I can do it as well.” She had no sooner taken hold of the spindle, than, being very hasty, a little thoughtless, and, moreover, the sentence of the Fairies so ordaining it, she pierced her hand with the point of it, and fainted away.
The good old woman, greatly embarrassed, called for help. People came from all quarters; they threw water in the Princess’s face; they unlaced her stays; they slapped her hands; they rubbed her temples with Queen of Hungary’s water, but nothing could bring her to. The King, who had run upstairs at the noise, then remembered the prediction of the Fairies, and, wisely concluding that this must have occurred as the Fairies said it would, had the Princess conveyed into the finest apartment in the palace, and placed on a bed of gold and silver embroidery.
One would have said she was an angel, so lovely did she appear — for her swoon had not deprived her of her rich complexion: her cheeks preserved their crimson, and her lips were like coral. Her eyes were closed, but they could hear her breathe softly, which showed that she was not dead. The King commanded them to let her repose in peace until the hour arrived for her waking.
The good Fairy who had saved her life, by decreeing that she should sleep for an hundred years, was in the Kingdom of Mataquin, twelve thousand leagues off, when the Princess met with her accident; but she was informed of it instantly by a little dwarf, who had a pair of seven-league boots (that is, boots which enabled the wearer to take seven leagues at a stride). The Fairy set out immediately and an hour afterwards they saw her arrive in a fiery chariot, drawn by dragons.
The King advanced, to hand her out of the chariot. She approved of all he had done; but, as she had great foresight, she considered that, when the Princess awoke, she would feel considerably embarrassed at finding herself all alone in that old castle; so this is what the Fairy did. She touched with her wand everybody that was in the castle (except the King and Queen): governesses, maids of honour, women of the bed-chamber, gentlemen, officers, stewards, cooks, scullions, boys, guards, porters, pages, footmen; she also touched the horses that were in the stables, with their grooms, the great mastiffs in the court-yard, and little Pouste, the tiny dog of the Princess, that was on the bed, beside her.
As soon as she had touched them, they all fell asleep, not to wake again until the time arrived for their mistress to do so, in order that they might be all ready to attend upon her when she should want them. Even the spits that had been put down to the fire, laden with partridges and pheasants, went to sleep, and the fire itself also.
All this was done in a moment; the fairies never lost much time over their work. After which, the King and Queen, having kissed their dear daughter without waking her, quitted the Castle, and issued a proclamation forbidding any person, whosoever, to approach it.
These orders were unnecessary, for in a quarter of an hour there grew up around the Park so great a quantity of trees, large and small, of brambles and thorns, interlacing each other, that neither man nor beast could get through them, so that nothing more was to be seen than the tops of the Castle turrets, and they only at a considerable distance. Nobody doubted but that was also some of the Fairy’s handiwork, in order that the Princess might have nothing to fear from the curiosity of strangers during her slumber.
At the expiration of an hundred years, the son of the King at that time upon the throne, and who was of a different family to that of the sleeping Princess, having been hunting in that neighbourhood, inquired what towers they were that he saw above the trees of a very thick wood.
Each person answered him according to the story he had heard. Some said that it was an old castle, haunted by ghosts. Others, that all the witches of those parts held their Sabbath in it. The more general opinion was, that it was the abode of an ogre; and that he carried thither all the children he could catch, in order to eat them at his leisure, and without being pursued, having alone the power of making his way through the wood.
The Prince did not know what to believe about it, when an old peasant spoke in his turn, and said to him, “Prince, it is more than fifty years ago since I heard my father say that there was in that Castle the most beautiful Princess that was ever seen. That she was to sleep for a hundred years, and would be awakened by a King’s son for whom she was reserved.”
The young Prince, at these words, felt himself all on fire. He believed, without hesitation, that he was destined to accomplish this famous adventure; and, impelled by love and glory, resolved to see what would come of it, upon the spot. Scarcely had he approached the wood, when all those great trees, all those brambles and thorns made way for him to pass of their own accord.
He walked towards the Castle, which he saw at the end of a long avenue he had entered, and what rather surprised him was, that he found none of his people had been able to follow him, the trees having closed up again as soon as he had passed. He continued, nevertheless, to advance; a young and amorous prince is always courageous.
He entered a large fore-court, where everything he saw was calculated to freeze his blood with terror. A frightful silence reigned around. Death seemed everywhere present. Nothing was to be seen but the bodies of men and animals stretched out apparently lifeless. He soon discovered, however, by the shining noses and red faces of the porters, that they were only asleep; and their goblets, in which still remained a few drops of wine, sufficiently proved that they had dosed off whilst drinking.
He passed through a large court-yard paved with marble; he ascended the staircase. He entered the guard-room, where the guards stood drawn up in line, their carbines shouldered, and snoring their loudest. He traversed several apartments, with ladies and gentlemen all asleep; some standing, others seated.
He entered a chamber covered with gold, and saw on a bed, the curtains of which were open on each side, the most lovely sight he had ever looked upon — a Princess, who seemed to be about fifteen or sixteen, the lustre of whose charms gave her an appearance that was luminous and supernatural. He approached, trembling and admiring, and knelt down beside her.
At that moment, the enchantment being ended, the Princess awoke, and gazing upon the Prince with more tenderness than a first sight of him seemed to authorize, “Is it you, Prince?” said she; “you have been long awaited.”
The Prince, delighted at these words, and still more by the tone in which they were uttered, knew not how to express to her his joy and gratitude.
He assured her he loved her better than himself. His language was not very coherent, but it pleased the more. There was little eloquence, but a great deal of love. He was much more embarrassed than she was, and one ought not to be astonished at that.
The Princess had had time enough to consider what she should say to him, for there is reason to believe (though history makes no mention of it) that, during her long nap, the good Fairy had procured her the pleasure of very agreeable dreams. In short, they talked for four hours without having said half what they had to say to each other.
In the meanwhile, all the Palace had been roused at the same time as the Princess. Everybody remembered their duty, and, as they were not all in love, they were dying with hunger. The lady-in-waiting, as hungry as any of them, became impatient, and announced loudly to the Princess that the meat was on the table.
The Prince assisted the Princess to rise; she was fully dressed, and most magnificently, but he took good care not to hint to her that she was attired like his grandmother, and wore a stand-up collar. She looked, however, not a morsel the less lovely in it. They passed into a hall of mirrors, in which they supped, attended by the officers of the Princess. The violins and hautbois played old but excellent pieces of music, notwithstanding it was a hundred years since they had been performed by anybody; and after supper, to lose no time, the grand Almoner married the royal lovers in the chapel of the Castle.
Early next morning the Prince returned to the city, where his father was in great anxiety about him. The Prince told him that he had lost himself in the forest whilst hunting, and that he had slept in a woodcutter’s hut, who had given him some black bread and cheese for his supper.
The King, his father, who was a simple man, believed him, but his mother was not so easily satisfied; and observing that he went hunting nearly every day, and had always some story ready as an excuse, when he had slept two or three nights away from home, she no longer doubted but that he had some mistress, for he lived with the Princess for upwards of two years, and had two children by her; the first, which was a girl, was named Aurora, and the second, a son, was called Day, because he was still more beautiful than his sister.
The Queen often said to her son, in order to draw from him some avowal, that he ought to form some attachment; but he never ventured to trust her with his secret. He feared her, although he loved her, for she was of the race of Ogres, and the King had married her only on account of her great wealth. It was even whispered about the Court that she had the inclinations of an Ogress, and that when she saw little children passing, she had the greatest difficulty in restraining herself from pouncing upon them. The Prince, therefore, would never say one word about his adventure.
On the death of the King, however, which happened two years afterwards, the Prince being his own master, he made a public declaration of his marriage, and went in great state to bring the Queen, his wife, to the palace. She made a magnificent entry into the capital with her two children, one on each side of her.
Some time afterwards, the King went to war with his neighbour, the Emperor Cantalabute. He left the regency of the kingdom to the Queen, his mother, earnestly recommending to her care his wife and his children. He was likely to be all the summer in the field, and as soon as he was gone, the Queen-mother sent her daughter-in-law and the children to a country house in the wood, that she might more easily gratify her horrible longing.
She followed them thither a few days after, and said one evening to her Maître d’Hôtel, “I will eat little Aurora for dinner to-morrow.” “Ah, Madam!” exclaimed the Maître d’Hôtel. “I will,” said the Queen (and she said it in the tone of an Ogress longing to eat fresh meat), “and I will have her served up with sauce Robert.” The poor man seeing plainly an Ogress was not to be trifled with, took his great knife and went up to little Aurora’s room. She was then about four years old, and came jumping and laughing to throw her arms about his neck, and ask him for sweetmeats.
He burst into tears, the knife fell from his hands, and he went down again into the kitchen court and killed a little lamb, and served it up with so delicious a sauce, that his mistress assured him she had never eaten anything so excellent. In the meanwhile, he had carried off little Aurora, and given her to his wife, to conceal her in the lodging which she occupied at the further end of the kitchen court.
A week afterwards, the wicked Queen said to her Maître d’Hôtel, “I will eat little Day for supper.” He made no reply, being determined to deceive her as before. He went in search of little Day, and found him with a tiny foil in his hand, fencing with a great monkey, though he was only three years old. He carried him to his wife, who hid him where she had hidden his sister, and then cooked a very tender little kid in the place of little Day, and which the Ogress thought wonderfully good.
All went well enough so far, but one evening this wicked Queen said to the Maître d’Hôtel, “I would eat the Queen with the same sauce that I had with her children.” Then, indeed, did the poor Maître d’Hôtel despair of being again able to deceive her. The young Queen was turned of twenty, without counting the hundred years she had slept; her skin was a little tough, though it was white and beautiful, and where was he to find in the menagerie an animal that would pass for her.
He resolved that, to save his own life, he would cut the Queen’s throat, and went up to her apartment with the determination to execute his purpose at once. He worked himself up into a passion, and entered the young Queen’s chamber poniard in hand. He would not, however, take her by surprise, but repeated, very respectfully, the order he had received from the Queen-mother.
“Do it! do it!” said she, stretching out her neck to him. “Obey the order that has been given to you. I shall again behold my children, my poor children, that I loved so dearly.” She had imagined them to be dead ever since they had been carried off without explanation. “No, no, Madam!” replied the poor Maître d’Hôtel, touched to the quick, “you shall not die, and you shall see your children again, but it shall be in my own house, where I have hidden them; and I will again deceive the Queen-mother by serving up to her a young hind in your stead.”
He led her forthwith to his own apartments, where leaving her to embrace her children and weep with them, he went and cooked a hind, of which the Queen ate at her supper, with as much appetite as if it had been the young Queen. She exulted in her cruelty, and intended to tell the King, on his return, that some ferocious wolves had devoured the Queen his wife, and her two children.
One evening that she was prowling, as usual, round the courts and poultry yards of the Castle, to inhale the smell of raw flesh, she overheard little Day crying in a lower room, because the Queen, his mother, was about to whip him for having been naughty, and she also heard little Aurora begging forgiveness for her brother.
The Ogress recognised the voices of the Queen and her children, and, furious at having been cheated, she gave orders, in a tone that made everybody tremble, that the next morning early there should be brought into the middle of the court a large copper, which she had filled with toads, vipers, adders, and serpents, in order to fling into it the Queen, her children, the Maître d’Hôtel, his wife, and his maid servant.
She had commanded that they should be brought thither with hands tied behind them. There they stood, and the executioners were preparing to fling them into the copper, when the King, who was not expected so early, entered the court-yard on horseback.
He had ridden post, and in great astonishment inquired what was the meaning of that horrible spectacle? Nobody dared to tell him, when the Ogress, enraged at the sight of the King’s return, flung herself head foremost into the copper, and was devoured in an instant by the horrid reptiles she had caused it to be filled with.
The King could not help being sorry for it; she was his mother, but he speedily consoled himself in the society of his beautiful wife and children.
Some time for a husband to wait
Who is young, handsome, wealthy, and tender,
May not be a hardship too great
For a maid whom love happy would render.
But to be for a century bound
To live single, I fancy the number
Of Beauties but small would be found
So long who could patiently slumber.
To lovers who hate time to waste,
And minutes as centuries measure,
I would hint, Those who marry in haste
May live to repent it at leisure.
Yet so ardently onwards they press,
And on prudence so gallantly trample,
That I haven’t the heart, I confess,
To urge on them Beauty’s example.