Once on a time there was a potent Fairy, who endeavoured to resist the power of Love; but the little god was more potent than the Fairy. He touched her heart without even employing all his power. A handsome Knight arrived at the Court of the Fairy in search of adventures. He was amiable, the son of a king, and had acquired renown by a thousand noble achievements. His worth was known to the Fairy. Fame had wafted the report of it even into her dominions.
The person of the young Prince corresponded so entirely with his high reputation, that the Fairy, moved by so many charms, accepted in a very short time the proposals which the handsome Knight made to her. The Fairy was beautiful, and he was sincerely in love with her. She married him, and by that marriage made him the richest and most powerful King in the world. They lived a long time most happily together after their union.
The Fairy grew old, and the King, her husband, although he kept pace with her in years, ceased to love her as soon as her beauty had departed. He attached himself to some young beauties of his Court, and the Fairy was tormented by a jealousy which proved fatal to several of her rivals. She had had but one daughter by her marriage with the handsome Knight. She was the object of all her tenderness, and was worthy of the affection lavished on her.
The Fairies, who were her relations, had endowed her from her birth with the finest intelligence, the sweetest beauty, and with graces still more charming than beauty. Her dancing surpassed anything that had ever been seen, and her voice subdued all hearts.
Her form was perfect symmetry. Without being too tall, her appearance was noble. Her hair was of the most beautiful black in the world. Her mouth small and exquisitely formed, her teeth of surprising whiteness. Her lovely eyes were black, sparkling, and expressive, and never did glances so piercing and yet so tender awaken love in the bosoms of all beholders.
The Fairy had named her Young and Handsome. She had not as yet endowed her herself. She had postponed that favour in order to judge the better in process of time by what sort of benefit she could ensure the happiness of a child that was so dear to her.
The King’s inconstancies were an eternal source of affliction to the Fairy. The misfortune of ceasing to be loved induced her to believe that the most desirable of blessings was to be always lovely. And this, after a thousand reflections, was the gift she bestowed on Young and Handsome. She was then just sixteen: and the Fairy employed all her science in the formation of a spell which should enable the Princess to remain for ever exactly as she appeared at that moment. What greater benefit could she bestow on Young and Handsome than the happiness of never ceasing to be like herself? The Fairy lost the King, her husband, and although he had been long unfaithful to her, his death caused her such deep sorrow, that she resolved to abandon her empire, and to retire to a castle which she had built in a country quite a desert, and surrounded by so vast a forest that the Fairy alone could find her way through it.
This resolution sadly afflicted Young and Handsome. She wished not to quit her mother; but the Fairy peremptorily commanded her to remain; and before she returned to her wilderness, she assembled in the most beautiful palace in the world all the pleasures and sports she had long banished, and composed from them a Court for Young and Handsome, who in this agreeable company gradually consoled herself for the absence of the Fairy.
All the Kings and Princes who considered themselves worthy of her (and in those days people flattered themselves much less than they do now) came in crowds to the Court of Young and Handsome, and endeavoured by their attentions and their professions to win the heart of so lovely a Princess.
Never had anything equalled the magnificence and amusements of the palace of Young and Handsome. Each day was distinguished by some new entertainment. Everybody composing it was happy, except her lovers, who adored her without hope. She looked with favour upon none; but they saw her daily, and her most indifferent glances were sufficiently attractive to detain them there for ever.
One day Young and Handsome, content with the prosperity and popularity of her reign, wandered into a pleasant wood, followed only by some of her nymphs, the better to enjoy the charm of solitude. Absorbed by agreeable reflections, (what could she think of that would not be agreeable?) she emerged from the wood unconsciously, and walked towards a charming meadow enamelled with thousands of flowers.
Her beautiful eyes were occupied in contemplating a hundred various and pleasing objects, when they lighted in turn on a flock of sheep which was quietly feeding in the meadow on the bank of a little brook that murmured sweetly as it rippled over the pebbles in its path. It was overshadowed by a tuft of trees. A young shepherd, stretched on the grass beside the rivulet, was calmly sleeping; his crook was leaning against a tree, and a pretty dog, which appeared to be more a favourite of its master than the guardian of his flock, lay close to the shepherd.
Young and Handsome approached the brook, and cast her eyes upon the youth. What a beautiful vision! Cupid himself sleeping in the arms of Psyche did not display such charms.
The young Fairy stood gazing, and could not restrain some gestures of admiration, which were quickly succeeded by more tender emotions. The handsome shepherd appeared to be about eighteen, of a commanding form; his brown hair, naturally curling, fell in wavy locks upon his shoulders, and was in perfect harmony with the most charming face in the world. His eyes, closed in slumber, concealed from the Fairy, beneath their lids, new fires reserved by Love to redouble her passion for the shepherd.
Young and Handsome felt her heart agitated by an emotion to which it had hitherto been a stranger, and it was no longer in her power to stir from the spot.
Fairies possess the same privilege as goddesses. They love a shepherd when he is loveable, just as if he were the greatest monarch in the universe. For all classes of mortals are equally beneath them.