The Blue Bird
A pair of lovers are separated when a king is turned into a blue bird.
This is a vintage fairy tale, and contains violence. We would encourage parents to read beforehand if your child is sensitive to such themes.
There was once upon a time a king who was very rich in lands and money. When his wife died he was inconsolable, and for eight whole days he shut himself up in a little room, and knocked his head against the wall, so desperate was he.
They feared lest he should kill himself, and they therefore put mattresses between the tapestry and the wall, so that however hard he might strike his head, he could do himself no harm. All his subjects planned amongst themselves to go and see him, and to say everything they could think of as likely to comfort him in his sorrow. Some of them made up grave and serious speeches; others again went with cheerful, even gay words on their tongues, but none of them made any impression on him. In fact he hardly heard what they said.
At last there came before him a woman clad all in black crape, with veil and mantle and long mourning garments, who wept and sobbed so loud and so violently that he was filled with astonishment. She said that, unlike the others, she had come with the object of adding to, rather than of lessening, his grief; for what could be more natural than to sorrow for a good wife? As for her, she had had the best husband in the whole world, and it was her part now to weep for him while she had eyes in her head. Thereupon she redoubled her cries, and the king following her example, began to wail aloud.
He gave her a better reception than he had done to the others, entertaining her with an account of the fine qualities of his dear dead lady, while she waxed eloquent on those of her beloved husband. They talked and talked till they had not a word more to say on the subject of their sorrows. When the cunning widow saw that there was nothing more to be said on the matter, she lifted her veil just a little, and it was some relief to the king in the midst of his distress to look on this poor lady afflicted like himself. Her large blue eyes, fringed with long black eyelashes, she rolled this way and that way, to make the most of their beauty; and then her cheeks were rosy too. The king looked at her very attentively.
Gradually he spoke less of his wife; then he stopped speaking of her altogether. The widow still declared she would always lament her husband, but the king begged her not to sorrow for ever. In the end, to everybody’s astonishment, he married her; and her mourning garments were changed to gowns of green and rose colour. It often happens that you have but to know people’s weak points to win their hearts and do with them what you will.
The king had only one daughter by his first marriage, and she was looked on as the eighth wonder of the world. They called her Florine, because she was like Flora, so fresh and young and beautiful was she. She did not care to be dressed very grandly, but liked rather robes of floating taffeta, with jewelled clasps, and garlands of flowers to adorn her lovely hair. When the king married again she was only fifteen years old.
The new queen sent for her own daughter, who had been brought up in the house of her god-mother, Soussio the fairy, though she was none the more graceful or beautiful for that. Soussio had done what she could for her, but without success. Yet she loved her dearly none the less.
They called the girl Truitonne, for her face had as many red spots as a trout. Her black hair was so dirty and greasy that you could not touch it, and oil oozed out from her yellow skin. All the same the queen loved her to distraction, and would speak of nothing but of Truitonne’s charms.
But as Florine was far more attractive, the queen was in despair. In all kinds of ways she tried to raise quarrels between her and the king, and not a day passed but she and Truitonne did Florine some bad turn. The princess was, however, good-tempered and intelligent, and endeavoured to take no notice of their bad behaviour.
One day the king said to the queen that Florine and Truitonne were old enough to be married, and that the hand of one of them must be bestowed on the first prince who should come to the court.
“I think,” said the queen “that my daughter should be thought of first of all, seeing that she is older than yours; and as she is far more amiable there can be no hesitation in agreeing to this.” The king did not like disputing, so he said he was quite willing, and the queen might do as she liked.
Some little time after they heard that King Charming was going to pay them a visit. Never was there so splendid and so gallant a prince, and every thing in his mind and person answered to his name. When the queen heard of his coming she employed all the embroiderers, and all the dressmakers, and all the craftsmen, to make things for Truitonne. She begged the king to give Florine nothing new; and, by bribing her maids, she had all her dresses, and wreaths, and jewels taken away the very day that Charming arrived, so that when the princess wished to deck herself she could not find so much as a ribbon.
Florine was well aware to whom she owed this bad turn. When she sent to buy stuffs the merchants told her the queen had forbidden them to sell her any. So she had nothing to put on but a dirty little frock; and so much ashamed of it was she that she sat down in a corner of the hall when King Charming came in.
The queen received him with much ceremony, and presented her daughter to him, clad in the most splendid apparel, and uglier than usual in her grandeur. When the king turned away his eyes the queen would have liked to persuade her self that it was because Truitonne dazzled him too much, and that he feared the effect of her charms on him; so she always pushed her forward.
He asked if there was not another princess called Florine.
“Yes,” said Truitonne, pointing to her. “She is hiding over there, because she is not very nicely dressed.” Florine blushed, and looked at that moment so beautiful, so very, very beautiful, that King Charming was quite dazzled.
Rising quickly, he made a deep bow to the princess, saying:
“Madam, your incomparable beauty already adorns you too well for you to need any other aid “.
“Your majesty,” she answered, “I must tell you I am little accustomed to wearing so poor a dress as this, and I should have liked better had you taken no notice of me.”
“It would have been impossible,” cried Charming, “that so lovely a princess should have been anywhere near me and that I should have had eyes for anyone else.”
“Ah,” said the queen, who was much annoyed. “What a waste of time is this! Believe me, sire, Florine is vain enough already. She doesn’t need so many compliments paid to her.”
King Charming understood at once the motives that made the queen speak in this way, but as he was not in a humour to restrain his feelings he let all his admiration for Florine be seen, and talked to her for three hours on end.
The queen was in despair; and Truitonne was inconsolable at not being preferred to the princess. They complained loudly to the king, and forced him to consent during King Charming’s stay to shut Florine up in a tower, where they would not see each other. So as soon as she had gone back to her room four men with masks carried her off to the top of the tower, and left her there in the utmost distress. She knew quite well she was only treated thus to prevent her from pleasing King Charming, whom she already liked very much and whom she would willing have accepted as a husband.
As Charming was ignorant of the wrong they had done to the princess, he was waiting the hour when he would see her again with the greatest impatience. He spoke of her to those whom the king had ordered to be in attendance on him, but by the queen’s command they told him all the harm they could of her – that she was vain, and of an uncertain and violent temper, that she was a plague to her friends and her servants, that she was slovenly, and so avaricious that she preferred to be dressed like a little shepherdess rather than to buy rich stuffs with the money the king, her father, gave her.
Charming writhed to hear all this, and he had much ado to restrain the anger that stirred within him.
“No,” he said to himself. “It is not possible that heaven should have made so evil a soul to dwell in nature’s masterpiece. I own she was not suitably dressed when I saw her, but her evident shame shows she is not used to being in that condition, What! So they tell me she could be wicked with that charming look of modesty and gentleness! Such a thing could not possibly be it is easier for me to believe that the queen slanders her. She is not a step-mother for nothing, and Princess Truitonne is such an ugly creature that it would not be strange if she were jealous of the most perfect being in the world.”
While he was thinking over all this, the courtiers who were with him saw quite well from his manner that he was not pleased at their speaking evil of Florine. There was one amongst them sharper than the others, and he, changing his tone and language in order to find out what the prince really felt, began to pay compliments to the princess. At this Charming woke up as from a profound sleep, and took part in the conversation, his face showing perfectly the joy he felt.
Love, how difficult it is to hide thee! Thou art everywhere visible, on a lover’s lips, in his eyes, in the sound of his voice. When we love, the signs of it appear in our every action, in our silence, our conversation, in our joy, in our sorrow.
The queen, impatient to know if King Charming was really impressed, sent for those she had taken into her confidence, and she spent the rest of the night in questioning them. All they told her only served to confirm the opinion that the king was in love with Florine.
But what shall I say of the melancholy condition of that poor princess, as she lay on the floor of the dungeon in that terrible tower into which the masked men had brought her?
“It would be easier to bear,” she said, “if they had put me here before I had seen that king, who is so amiable. The recollection of him only makes my distress harder to bear, and I have no doubt that it is to hinder me from seeing him any more that the queen treats me so cruelly. Alas! whatever beauty heaven may have endowed me with will have to be paid for by my happiness!” Then she cried, and cried so bitterly, that her worst enemy would have been sorry for her had she seen her misery.
So the night passed. The queen, who wished to attach King Charming to her by all the marks of attention possible, sent him costumes of a richness and magnificence nowhere else to be found, fashioned after the mode of the country, and also the Order of the Knights of Love, which she had made the king institute on their wedding-day. It was a golden heart enamelled in fire-colour. There were several arrows round it, and one that pierced it through, and the words: One alone wounds me.
The queen had had the heart for Charming’s order cut out of a ruby as big as an ostrich’s egg. Each arrow was made of a single diamond as long as your finger, and the chain from which it hung was made of pearls, the smallest of which weighed a pound. In short, since the beginning of the world, a like thing had never been seen.
At sight of it the king was so astounded that for some minutes he could not speak. At the same time he was presented with a book, the leaves of which were of vellum, with wonderful miniatures. The cover was of gold, studded with precious stones, and it contained the statutes of the Order of the Knights of Love, written in very tender and very gallant style.
They told the king that the princess whom he had seen begged him to be her knight, and that she sent him this present. On hearing this he flattered himself it might be from her whom he loved.
“What! the fair Princess Florine!” cried he. “She remembers me in so charming and so generous a fashion.”
“Your majesty,” they said. “You make a mistake in the name. It is from the lovely Truitonne we come.”
“Then it is Truitonne who begs me to be her knight?” said the king, in a cold and serious manner. “I am sorry not to be able to accept this honour, but a sovereign is not sufficiently his own master to do everything he would like. I know the duties of a knight, and I would like to fulfil them all, but I prefer rather to decline the favours she offers me than to prove myself unworthy of them.”
So saying, he put back the heart, the chain, and the book in the same basket, and returned all of them to the queen, who, as well as her daughter, was nearly mad with rage at the scornful way in which the stranger king had received so special a favour.
As soon as he found opportunity he went to the apartment of the king and queen, hoping Florine would be there, and looking about everywhere to see her. Whenever anyone came into the room he turned his head abruptly towards the door, and seemed anxious and disappointed. The wicked queen knew well enough what was passing in his mind, but she did not let him see that she did, and spoke of nothing but pleasure-parties, receiving from him quite foolish answers in return.
At last he asked where the Princess Florine was.
“Your Majesty,” said the queen, hotly. “The king, her father, has forbidden her to leave her own apartments till my daughter be married.”
“And what reason can there be for keeping this fair lady a prisoner?”
“I do not know,” said the queen. “And even if I did I might be excused from telling you.”
The king was in a fury of passion, and cast black looks at Truitonne as he thought to himself it was on account of that little monster that they robbed him of the pleasure of seeing the princess. Then he left the queen abruptly, for her presence was more than he could bear.
When he was again in his own room he told a young prince who had come with him, and whom he loved dearly, to give any bribe in the world to one of the attendants of the princess, so that he might speak with her a moment. The prince had no difficulty in finding some ladies-in-waiting who were willing to be taken into his confidence, and one of them assured him that every evening Florine would be at a little window overlooking the garden, where she could speak to him, provided he took great precautions to prevent its being known. “For,” she added, “the king and the queen are so severe that they would kill me if they discovered that I had favoured Charming’s suit.”
The prince, de lighted at having thus far succeeded, promised all she wished, and ran to pay his respects to the king, and to tell him the hour appointed. But the faithless waiting-woman did not fail to go and warn the queen of what was going on, and to take her orders accordingly.
The queen at once made up her mind to send her daughter to the little window. She gave her instructions what to do, and Truitonne remembered them every one, though she was naturally very stupid.
The night was so dark that it would have been impossible for the king to see the trick that was being played him, even if he had been less confident than he was. So he drew near to the window with such transports of joy as cannot be described, and said to Truitonne all he would have said to Florine, to persuade her to believe what love he felt for her.
Truitonne, making the best of the opportunity, told him she was the most unhappy girl in the world to have so cruel a step-mother, and that she would always have to suffer till her step-sister should get married. The king assured her that if she would have him for a husband he would be delighted to share with her his crown and his heart.
So saying, he drew the ring from his finger, and putting it on Truitonne’s, he told her it was for an everlasting token of his faith, and that she had only to fix the time and they would set off without delay. Truitonne gave what answer she could to all his passionate speeches, but he noticed that there was very little in what she said. This would have grieved him had he not persuaded himself that the fear of being surprised by the queen was a check on her spirits. He only left her on condition that he might come back next night at the same hour, to which she consented with the utmost willingness. The queen was in great hopes after hearing of the success of this interview.
Now the day of their escape being fixed, the king came to take the princess away in a flying chaise, drawn by winged frogs, which one of his friends, a wizard, had made him a present of. The night was very dark. Truitonne crept out of a little door with great mystery, and the king, who was waiting for her, received her in his arms and swore eternal faithfulness to her. But as he had no desire to go flying through the air in this chaise for ever so long without marrying the princess whom he loved, he asked her when she would like their wedding to take place.
She told him that she had for god-mother a very celebrated fairy called Soussio, and that she wished to go and visit her at her castle. Although the king did not know the way, he had nothing to do but tell his big frogs to take them there, for they knew the chart of the whole world, and in no time they landed the king and Truitonne at Soussio’s dwelling.
The castle was so brilliantly lighted that there the king would have found out his mistake had not the princess carefully covered herself with her veil. Having asked to see her god-mother she spoke to her in private, telling her how she had entrapped Charming, and begging Soussio to make her peace with him.
“But, my daughter,” said the fairy, “that is no easy thing. He is much too fond of Florine for that, and I feel certain he will disappoint us.”
Meanwhile the king awaited them in a hail, whose walls were of diamonds, so clear and transparent that through them he saw Soussio and Truitonne talking together. He thought he must be dreaming.
“What,” he said, “have I been tricked? Have the demons brought hither that enemy of our happiness? Has she come to interfere with my marriage? My dear Florine is not to be seen. Perhaps her father has followed her.”
All kinds of things suggested themselves to his mind, and he began to be in despair. But it was much worse when they came into the room, and when Soussio said, in a commanding tone: “King Charming, here is Princess Truitonne, to whom you have pledged your word. She is my god and I command that you marry her at once.”
“What, I?” cried the king. “I marry this little monster? You must think me of a very docile disposition since you make such a proposal to me. In truth, I have promised her nothing, and if she says anything to the contrary she . . .”
“Stop,” interrupted Soussio, “and never be so bold as to fail in respect for me.”
“I am quite willing,” answered the king, “to give you all the respect that is due to a fairy, provided that you give me back my princess.”
“And am I not your Princess, faithless wretch?” said Truitonne, showing him the ring. “To whom did you give this ring as a token of fidelity? To whom did you speak at the little window, if not to me?”
“What!” he cried; “I have been tricked and deceived! But, no; I shall not be your dupe. Quick there! my frogs, my frogs! I shall depart at once!
“Ho!” said Soussio. “That is not in your power unless I give leave”; and so saying she touched him, and his feet stuck fast to the floor as if they had been nailed to it.
“Though you were to stone me, or to flog me,” said the king, “I shall never own another mistress but Florine. On this I am determined, and, knowing that, you can use your power as you like.”
Soussio tried every means to soften his resolve–gentleness, threats, promises, supplications. Truitonne wept, cried aloud, groaned, flew into tempers, and cooled down again. The king said not a word; and looking at them both with the most scornful air in the world, paid not the faintest attention to all they said to him.
Twenty days and twenty nights passed away in this fashion, during which they never stopped talking, never ate, never slept, never sat down. At last Soussio, tired out, could endure it no longer, and said to the king: “Well, you are indeed stubborn! Why will you not listen to reason? Take your choice: you shall have seven years’ penance for having made a promise you have not kept, or you shall marry my god.
The king, who had never uttered a word till now, cried out suddenly: “Do whatever you like with me, only deliver me from this detestable creature!”
“I am no more detestable than you,” said Truitonne, wrathfully. “You silly little king, coming with your equipage, fit only for the bogs, to my country, to insult and to break faith with me. If you had a particle of honour, would you behave so?”
“These reproaches touch me deeply,” said the king, in mocking tone. “How foolish not to take so fair a lady for my wife!”
“No, no,” said Soussio, angrily. “She will never marry you. You have only to fly out of the window if you want to. For seven years you will be changed into a blue bird.”
At that moment the king’s person changed. His arms were covered with feathers, and turned into wings. His legs and feet became black and shrunken, with hooked claws. His body dwindled in size, and was all covered with long fine feathers, some of them of sky blue; his eyes became round, and shone like two planets; his nose was nothing but an ivory beak; and on his head stood up a white plume in the shape of a crown. He could sing exquisitely and speak too. He uttered a cry of pain to see himself metamorphosed, and flew as fast as ever he could to escape from Soussio’s horrible palace.
In the melancholy state into which he had fallen he hopped about from branch to branch, choosing only those trees consecrated to love and sorrow: now on a myrtle, now on a cypress, singing sad songs, in which he lamented the evil fortune that pursued Florine anti himself.
“Where have her enemies hidden her?” said he. “What has become of that fair victim? Does the cruelty of the queen still deprive her of her liberty? Where can I seek for her? Am I doomed to spend seven years without her? Perhaps during that time they will give her in marriage, and I shall lose for ever the hope that sustains my life.” All these thoughts so filled Blue Bird with despair that he wished to die.
To return to Truitonne: the fairy Soussio sent her back to the queen, who was most anxious to hear how the wedding had passed off. But when she saw her daughter, and heard from her all that had happened, she flew into a terrible passion, of which the full force fell on poor Florine.
“She shall duly repent,” said the queen, “of having found favour in Charming’s eyes.” She went up the tower with Truitonne, whom she had dressed in her grandest clothes. On her head was a diamond crown, and three daughters of the richest barons in the kingdom held the train of her royal mantle. On her thumb was Charming’s ring that Florine had noticed the day they had talked together. She was very much surprised to see Truitonne in such gorgeous apparel.
“Here comes my daughter, who brings you presents in honour of her wedding,” said the queen. “King Charming has married her; he loves her to distraction, and there never were two happier people.” Then they spread out before the princess gold and silver stuffs, jewels, laces, ribbons, in great baskets of gold filigree work. In presenting all these things Truitonne never forgot for a moment to make the king’s ring flash; and Princess Florine, no longer able to hide from herself her misfortune, begged them with cries of despair to take all these miserable presents out of her sight, that she would never again wear anything hut black, or rather that she would like now to die. Then she fainted, and the cruel queen, delighted at her success, would not allow anyone to come to Florine’s aid. She left her alone in the most deplorable condition, and went and told the king maliciously that his daughter was so excited by her love that nothing could equal the absurd things she did, and that on no account must they allow her to get out of the tower. The king said she might manage the matter as she liked, and he would be satisfied whatever she did.
When the princess recovered from her fainting fit, and began to reflect on the way she was treated, the cruelty of her wicked step-mother towards her, and the hope she was losing for ever of marrying King Charming, her grief became so keen that she cried all night, and in this condition she sat herself down at the window where she uttered sad and plaintive laments. When day was near she shut the window and wept anew.
The following night she opened the window and sat heaving deep sighs, sobbing bitterly, and shedding torrents of tears. When day came she retired into her room. But King Charming, or rather the beautiful Blue Bird, flew round and round the palace, thinking his dear princess was inside; and if her laments were sad, his were no less so. He came as near to the windows as he could to peer into the room, but the fear lest Truitonne should see him, and discover who he was, kept him from doing all he wished.
“It would cost me my life,” said he to himself. “If those wicked princesses find out where I am they will seek to revenge themselves. I must go away if I do not wish to run into the utmost danger.” These considerations made him take great precautions, and as a rule he sang only at night-time.
In front of Florine’s window was a cypress of a tremendous height, and there the blue bird came and perched. Hardly was he there before he heard the cries of a lady.
“How long will my sufferings last?” she said. “Will death not come to my aid? To those who fear him he comes but too soon, but for me, who long for him, he tarries cruelly. Ah, cruel queen! what harm have done you that you should keep me shut up in this horrible prison? Are there not other ways enough in which to torture me? You need only let me look on at the happiness which your wicked daughter enjoys with King Charming.’
The blue bird had lost not a word of this lament, which filled him with astonishment, and he waited for daylight with the utmost impatience to see the sorrowful lady. But before the dawn she had shut her window and gone out of sight.
The bird, full of curiosity, did not fail to return next night. By the light of the moon that was then in the sky he saw a damsel at the window of the tower, and heard her beginning her lament. “Fortune,” she said-” that flatters me by setting me in a place of power; that made me the darling of my father- what have I done that thou shouldst all at once plunge me into the bitterest waters? Should I begin to feel thy changefulness in these my tender years? Return, cruel one; return, if possible, and all I ask of thee is to end my unhappy life.”
The blue bird listened, and the longer he listened the more persuaded was he that it was his dear princess who was uttering these laments.
“Adorable Florine,” he said, “the wonder of our days, why do you long that yours should be so soon ended? Your misfortunes are not without a remedy.”
“Ah! who is it speaks to me with words of comfort?” she cried.
“An unhappy king,’ replied the bird. “He loves you, and will never love anyone else.”
“A king who loves me?” she said. “Is this some snare my enemy has laid for me? But in the end what would she gain by it? If she seeks to find out what my feelings are, I am ready to make them all known to her.”
“No, my princess he answered. “The lover who now speaks to you is not capable of betraying you.” And so saying he flew on to the window-sill.
At first Florine was very much afraid of a bird so strange, that spoke as sensibly as a man, though in the gentle notes of a nightingale. But the beauty of its plumage and the words it said reassured her.
“Do I in truth see you again, my princess?” he cried. “Can I taste such perfect happiness and not die for joy? But, alas! how my joy is troubled by your captivity, and at the shape into which Soussio has changed me for seven years.”
“And who are you, you charming bird?” said the princess, caressing him.
“You call me by my name,” said the king, “and you pretend not to know me!”
“What!” said the princess. “The little bird in my hand is King- Charming!”
“Alas! fair Florine, it is but too true,” he replied. “And if anything could console me it is that I have preferred to suffer this rather than give up my love for you.”
“For me!” said Florine. “Ah! do not seek to deceive me. I know, I know that you have married Truitonne. I recognised the ring on her finger as yours. I saw her sparkling with the diamonds you had given her. She came to insult me in my sad captivity, wearing a grand crown and royal mantle that she got from you; and all the while I was laden with chains and irons.”
“You saw Truitonne in such a dress!” interrupted the king. “Her mother and herself have dared to say that these baubles came from me! Heaven! is it possible I hear such horrible lies, and that I cannot take my revenge on the spot? Believe me, they tried to deceive me, and by using your name they managed to make me run away with the hideous Truitonne, but as soon as I discovered my mistake I left her, choosing rather to be Blue Bird for seven long years than break my troth to you.”
Florine was in such delight to hear these words from her dear lover that she forgot altogether her sufferings in the prison. What did she not say to him to comfort him for his sad mischance, and to persuade him that she would do no less for him than he had done for her? The day appeared, and the greater number of the officers of the court were already stirring while Blue Bird and the princess were still speaking together. It was terrible to tear themselves apart, and they only did so after promising to see each other in this way every night. The joy they felt at having found each other again was so great that there are no words to describe it. Each of them in turn gave thanks to Love and Fortune, yet Florine was sad on Blue Bird’s account.
“Who will protect him from the fowlers?” she said. “Or from the sharp claw of some eagle or famished vulture? Who will devour him none the less greedily that he is a great king. O heaven! what would become of me if his light and delicate feathers, driven by the wind, were to come to my prison and to announce the danger that I fear?”
For this thought the princess could not close an eye, for when one is in love illusions appear real, and what at another time would be thought impossible seems easy then, so that she spent her day in weeping till the hour came to seat herself at the window.
The lovely bird, hidden in the hollow of a tree, had been all day long thinking of his dear princess. “How happy I am!” he said, “to have found her again! Anti how charming she is! And how grateful I am for all her kindness to me!” This tender lover counted every moment of the time of trial during which he could not marry her, and never was the end of anything longed for more passionately. As he wished to pay Florine every attention within his power, he flew to the capital of his kingdom, entered his own room by a broken pane of glass, chose out diamond ear-rings so perfect and so beautiful that nothing in the world could be compared to them. That evening he took them to Florine, and begged her to put them on.
“I would do so willingly,” she said, “if you saw me during the day, but since I never speak to you but in the night I shall not put them on.” The bird promised to choose his time so well that he would come to the tower at any hour she liked. Then she put on the ear-rings, and the night, like the last, was spent in talking.
The next day Blue Bird returned to his kingdom, went to his palace, entered his own room by the broken pane, and carried off the richest bracelets that were ever seen. They were made of a single emerald, cut in facets, with a hole bored through the middle through which to pass the hand and wrist.
“Do you think that my love for you needs to be fed by gifts? Ah, how little you know of it!”
“No, madam,” he answered; “I do not think that the trifles I offer you are needed to safeguard your tenderness for me, but mine would suffer hurt if I neglected any opportunity of showing my attention, and when I am away from you these little trinkets will remind you of me.”
Florine answered him with many loving words, to which he replied by others none the less so.
The following night the bird, eager to show his love, did not fail to bring to his fair lady a watch of just the right size. It was encased in a pearl, and the excellence of the workmanship excelled even the material it was made of.
“What is the use of a watch to me?” she said, by way of a compliment. “When you are away from me the hours seem never-ending. When you are with me they pass like a dream. And thus I can never measure them exactly.”
“Alas! my princess,” cried Blue Bird, “I feel just as you do; indeed I believe I feel this even more keenly than yourself.”
“After what you suffer by reason of your faithfulness to me,” she answered, “I am ready to believe that greater respect and love than you bear me would be impossible.”
As soon as daylight appeared the bird flew into the hollow of his tree, where he lived on fruits. Sometimes he would sing beautiful airs, delighting the passers-by, who hearing him and seeing no one, came to the conclusion that it was spirit voices they heard. This opinion became so common that no one dared enter the wood. Endless fabulous adventures were recounted, and in the general terror consisted Blue Bird’s safety. Never a day passed but he made some present to Florine, a pearl necklace, or rings with the most brilliant jewels and of the finest workmanship, clusters of diamonds, bodkins, bouquets of precious stones to imitate the colours of flowers, delightful books, medals-in short, an endless number of rare wonders. She never decked herself except in the night-time to please the king, and during the day, having nowhere else to put her fine things, she hid them carefully in her mattress.
Two years passed away like this, and Florine never once uttered a complaint about her imprisonment. And why should she have done so? Every night she had the satisfaction of speaking to her love, and never were such pretty things said as during these conversations. Although she saw no one, and Blue Bird passed the day in the hollow of a tree, they had always a thousand fresh things to say to each other. Their material was inexhaustible, for in their own hearts and minds they found abundant subjects of conversation.
Meanwhile the wicked queen, who kept her in this cruel fashion in prison, was making vain efforts to get Truitonne married. She sent ambassadors to offer her to all the princes whose names she knew, but as soon as they arrived they were sent away without ceremony.
“If you had come about Princess Florine, we should have welcomed you gladly,” they were told. “But for Truitonne, she may remain a vestal for ever for all anybody cares.”
Hearing this, Truitonne and her mother were beside themselves with anger against the innocent princess whom they persecuted.
“What!” they said. “In spite of her being in prison, this bold hussy comes in our way! How can we ever forgive the evil turns she has done us? She must keep up a secret correspondence with foreign countries. She is a State criminal, and must be dealt with as such. Let us seek her conviction.”
Their consultation lasted so long that it was nearly midnight when they decided to mount the tower to question the Princess. Florine was with Blue Bird at the window, decked in all her jewels, her beautiful hair dressed with a care which is not usual with anyone in distress. Her room and her bed were heaped with flowers, and the Spanish pastilles which she had been burning gave out a delicious scent. Listening at the door, the queen thought she heard a two-part song being sung. Florine had a voice like an angel’s, and what she now sang sounded to the queen like a love song. Here are the words of it:–
“Weary our lot and full of woe,
And all our days in pain are spent,
Oh! hard and cruel punishment!
Because our love we’d not forego
Yet may they plot and plague us ever,
Our constant hearts they cannot sever.”
What sighs followed their little concert!
“Ah, my Truitonne, we are betrayed!” cried the queen, suddenly throwing the door open and bursting into the room. At sight of her, Florine was in despair. She closed the little window without delay to give time to Blue Bird to fly off, much more anxious about his safety than her own. But he had not the strength to go. His keen eyes had recognised the danger to which the princess was exposed. He had seen the queen and Truitonne, and he deplored the sad fate that hindered him from protecting his mistress.
They approached her like furies ready to devour her. “Your plots against the State are known,” cried the queen. “Do not imagine that your rank will save you from the punishment you deserve.”
“And with whom have I plotted, madam?” answered the princess. “You have been my gaoler for two years, have you not? Have I seen any persons but those you have sent to me?”
While she was speaking the queen and her daughter were examining her with the utmost wonder, for her marvellous beauty and her wonderful apparel dazzled them.
“And whence, madam, come these jewels that shine brighter than the sun?” said the queen. “Will you have us believe that there are mines of them in this tower?”
“I found them here,” replied Florine; “that is all I know.”
The queen looked at her searchingly to see what was passing in Florine’s secret heart.
“We are not your dupes,” she said. “You think you can deceive us: but, princess, we know all you do from morning till night. You have been given all these jewels as a bribe to you to sell your father’s kingdom.”
“Of course I should be the very person to do such a thing,” she replied, with a disdainful smile. “An unhappy princess, who has languished in prison for years, can do a great deal in a plot of that kind!”
“And for whom then have you decked your hair like a little coquette; for whom does the pastille scent your room; and for whom have you put on such gay apparel, more magnificent than if you had been to appear at the court?”
“I have time enough on my hands,” said the princess. “It is, therefore, not strange that I spend a few moments on my own adornment. I need hardly reproach myself on account of that, seeing I have to spend so many in weeping for my unhappy lot.”
“Ha! but we shall see if this innocent damsel has not all the same made a treaty with our enemies.”
There upon she set to searching all round, and coming to the bed, which she had shaken out, she found in it such a quantity of diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, topazes, that she could not think where they had come from. She had determined to hide somewhere papers of such a nature as would ruin the princess. When no one was looking she hid them in the chimney, but by good luck Blue Bird was perched on the top of it, and seeing better than a lynx, and hearing all, he cried: “Take care, Florine; your enemy is seeking to betray you “.
This voice, so unexpected, frightened the queen to such a degree that she did not dare to do what she had intended.
“You see, madam,” said the princess, “that the spirits of the air are my friends.”
“I believe,” answered the queen, beside herself with anger, “that you have the demons on your side, but in spite of them your father will know how to right himself.”
“Heaven grant,” cried Florine, “that I may never have worse to fear than my father’s wrath! Yours, madam, is more terrible.”
The queen left her in great trouble at all she had seen and heard, and took counsel as to what she should do to defeat the princess. They told her that if some fairy or some enchanter had taken her under their protection, it would only irritate them to torment her further, and it would he best to try to discover her secret.
The queen approved of this suggestion, and sent a young girl to sleep in her room, who played the part of an innocent, and by her orders told Florine she had come for the purpose of waiting on her. But it was not very likely the princess would fall into such a clumsy trap. Florine looked on her as a spy, and she was more troubled than ever.
“What! I can never speak again to the bird that is so dear to me!” she said. “He helped me to bear my sorrows; I comforted him in his: our love was everything to us. What will he do? What shall I do myself?” And thinking on all this, her eyes flowed with tears.
No longer did she dare to sit at the little window, although she heard the bird flying about. She was dying to open it for him, but she feared to run any risk with her dear lover’s life. She spent a whole month without showing herself at the window, and Blue Bird was in despair. How he did lament! How was he to live without seeing his princess? Never had he felt more keenly the misfortunes of absence and of his metamorphosis, and he sought remedies in vain for one and the other. He racked his brains and found no comfort.
The princess’s spy, who had been watching day and night for a month, was so overcome with fatigue that at last she fell into a deep sleep. Florine noticed this, and opening the little window, she called out:–
“Bird, with wings of heaven’s blue, Haste to where I wait for you”.
These are her own words, which it has been thought best to keep unchanged. The bird heard them so distinctly that he came at once to the window. What joy to see each other again! How much they had to tell! Loving words and vows of faithfulness were repeated again and again; and when the princess could not keep from shedding tears her lover was melted with pity, and sought to console her as best he could. At last, the hour of parting having come, they said farewell to each other in the tenderest way, though the gaoler had not yet awakened.
The next day again the spy fell asleep: the princess without delay sat down at the window, saying, as before:–
“Bird, with wings of heaven’s blue, Haste to where I wait for you”.
The bird came at the moment, and the night passed like the other without noise or disturbance, and our lovers were delighted, flattering themselves that the watcher would be so glad to sleep that she would do so every night. And, in fact, the third one passed very happily too.
But on the following night the sleeper heard a noise, and lay listening quietly. Then she peered out curiously, and by the light of the moon saw the prettiest bird in the world speaking to the princess, and caressing her with his claws and pecking at her softly. Then she heard some words of their conversation, which astonished her greatly, for the bird spoke like a lover, and Florine answered with affection.
Day dawned: they said farewell; and as they felt a presentiment of coming misfortune, they parted in great sorrow. The princess threw herself on her bed bathed in tears, and the king returned to his hollow tree. Her gaoler ran to the queen, and told her all she had seen and heard. The queen sent for Truitonne and her confidants, and after a long consultation they came to the conclusion that Blue Bird was King Charming.
“What an insult!” cried the queen; “What an insult, Truitonne! This insolent princess, who I thought was in such distress, has been enjoying at her ease the pleasant company of that ungrateful wretch. Ah! but I shall have my revenge, and in so deadly a way that it will be heard of!”
Truitonne begged her not to lose a moment; and, as she thought the matter concerned her more nearly than the queen, she was beside herself with joy at the thought of all that was going to be done to the hurt of the lover and his mistress.
The queen sent the spy again to the tower, ordering her to show neither suspicion nor curiosity, and to pretend to be in a deeper sleep than usual. She went to bed early, and snored as loud as she could, and the poor princess, deceived, opened the little window and:–
“Bird, with wings of heaven’s blue, Haste to where I wait for you”.
But all night long she called in vain; he did not come. For the wicked queen had tied spears and knives and razors and daggers to the cypress, and when he was alighting on it with all speed, these deadly weapons cut his feet. Then he fell on others which cut his wings, till at last, wounded all over, he flew in terrible pain to his tree, leaving a long track of blood.
“Why were you not there, fair princess, to comfort this royal bird?” he thought. But in truth she would have died to see him in such a deplorable condition. Meanwhile the Prince did not care to tend his life in any way, thinking that it must have been Florine who had played him this trick.
“Ah, cruel one,” he said, in sorrow, “is it thus you reward the purest and the tenderest passion, such as the world can never know again? If you desired my death, why did you not seek it yourself? Death would have been a precious gift from your hand! I was coming to meet you with such love and confidence. I was suffering for you, suffering without complaint. And now you have sacrificed me to the cruellest of women. She was the enemy of both of us, and you have made your peace with her at my expense. And it is you, Florine, you, who wound me! You have borrowed Truitonne’s hand and aimed it at my bosom!” And overcome by these sad thoughts, he determined to die.
But his friend the enchanter, who had seen the flying frogs come back with the chariot, but no trace of the king, was so anxious as to what might have happened to him that he went round the world eight times in his search, but in vain. He was just making his ninth round when he entered the wood where the king was. According to the rules which had to be observed, he blew a long blast on the horn, and then called out as loud as he could: “King Charming, King Charming, where are you?”
The king knew the voice for that of his best friend. “Come,” he answered “come to this tree, and see the unhappy king whom you love drowned in his blood.”
The enchanter looked all round in surprise without seeing anything.
“I am a blue bird,” said the king, in a weak and languid tone.
Hearing this, the enchanter found him without trouble in his little nest. Any other would have been much more astonished than he was, but there was not a trick of necromancy that was unknown to him. A word or two was enough to stop the blood that was flowing still, and with some herbs that he found in the wood, over which he muttered some magic words, he cured the king as completely as though he had never been wounded. Then he begged him to tell him by what mischance he had been turned into a bird, and also asked him who had wounded him so cruelly.
The king satisfied his curiosity saying that it was Florine who had revealed the sacred mystery of the secret visits he paid to her, and that to make her peace with the queen she had allowed the cypress to be stuck all over with daggers and razors, by which he had been well nigh hacked to pieces. He railed against the faithlessness of the princess saying he would rather have died than have known the wickedness of her heart.
The magician broke out against her and against all women, and advised the king to forget all about her. “Think what a misfortune it would be were you capable of still loving that ungrateful princess. After what she has done you, anything might be expected of her.”
But Blue Bird was not of this opinion. He loved Florine still too dearly, and the enchanter, who knew what he was thinking in spite of all the trouble he took to hide it, said to him:–
“Reason is vain and comfort pales
In midst of desolation.
The ear lists only the heart’s cries,
Is closed to consolation.
Time with his torch will yet ere long
Light up the darkest spot,
But till that brighter hour come round
Comfort availeth not.”
And the royal bird agreed. Then he begged his friend to take him home and put him in a cage, where he would be safe from the cat and from murderous weapons.
“But,” said the enchanter, “will you remain for five years still in a condition so deplorable and so little befitting your duties and your dignity? For, frankly, you have enemies who declare that you are dead. They wish to take possession of your kingdom, and I fear it may be lost to you before you have regained your former shape.”
“Could I not go to my palace and carry on the government as I used to do?”
“Ah!” cried his friend, “that would be difficult. They who would willingly obey a man would hardly own a parrot as master; and while they would fear you as a king surrounded with splendour and pomp, they would pluck out your feathers when they saw you a little bird.’
“Ah, how weak men are!” cried the king. “A brilliant exterior means after all nothing in the way of merit or virtue, and yet it is well nigh impossible to keep out of the circle of its influence. Ah, well!” he continued; “let us be philosophers, and despise what may not be ours: our lot will be none the harder.”
“I do not give up so quickly,” said the magician. “I hope to be able to find some means of solving the difficulty.”
Florine, poor Florine, in despair at not seeing the king, passed days and nights at the window, with these words ever on her tongue:–
“Bird, with wings of heaven’s blue, Haste to where I wait for you”.
The presence of the spy did not keep her silent, for her distress was such that she became quite reckless.
“What has become of you, King Charming?” she cried. “Have your enemies and mine made you feel the cruel effects of their rage? Are you a victim to their fury? Alas, alas! are you then dead? Shall I never see you any more? Or, tired of me and my sorrows, have you left me to my unhappy lot?”
Arid then the tears, the sobs, that would follow her pitiful laments! How the hours dragged in the absence of a lover so tender, so beloved! The princess, worn out, ill, thin, and sadly changed, could hardly bear her life any longer, feeling certain that the most terrible fate had overtaken the king.
The queen and Truitonne were joyful; they were more delighted with their vengeance than they had formerly been annoyed by the offence. And in reality, what offence had been given them? King Charming had not been willing to marry a little monster whom he had every reason in the world to detest.
But now Florine’s father grew old, fell ill, and died. The fortunes of the wicked queen and her daughter wore a different face. They were looked on as favourites who had abused their influence, and the people, in rebellion, hastened to the palace, demanding the Princess Florine, owning her as their sovereign. The queen, in a passion, would have liked to have treated the matter with a high hand, and going out on a balcony she threatened the rebels. Then the sedition spread the doors of her room were forced, the room was pillaged, and the queen was stoned to death. Truitonne fled to her god-mother, the fairy Soussio, for she ran no less a risk than her mother.
The nobles of the kingdom assembled at once, and mounted the tower where the princess was lying very ill, unconscious of the death of her father or the punishment of her enemy. When she heard all the noise she did not doubt but that they were coming to put her to death; yet she was not afraid, for life was hateful to her since she had lost Blue Bird. But her subjects, throwing them selves at her feet, made known to her the change in her fortunes, news which left her cold and indifferent. Taking her away to the palace, they crowned her.
The infinite care that was taken of her health, and her strong desire to go in search of Blue Bird, helped to cure her, and before long she felt well enough to nominate a council to take charge of the kingdom in her absence. Then choosing out jewels to the value of an immense sum, she set out one night quite alone, without letting anyone know where she was going.
The enchanter who was looking after King Charming’s affairs, not being powerful enough to undo all that Soussio had done, determined to go and find her, and to propose to her some arrangement by means of which the king would have his natural shape restored to him. Taking the frogs, he flew to the fairy, who at that moment was speaking with Truitonne.
There is not very much difference between an enchanter and a fairy. These two had known each other for five or six hundred years, and in that space of time they had had a hundred quarrels and made them up again. She received him very kindly.
“Well, and what does my comrade want?” she said. (They all call each other comrades.) “Is there anything I could do for you?”
“Yes, mother,” said the magician, “you can do everything I want. I have come on a matter concerning my best friend, a king whom you have ruined.”
“Ha, ha! I understand you, comrade,” cried Soussio. “He has incurred my wrath, and there is no pardon to be hoped for him unless he will marry my god-daughter. Here she is; beautiful and charming, as you see. Let him choose.”
The enchanter was almost struck dumb at her intense ugliness; yet he could not make up his mind to go away without making some arrangement with the fairy, for the king had run a thousand risks since he had been in the cage. The nail to which it was hung had got broken, the cage had fallen, and his feathered majesty had suffered much in consequence. Ninet, the cat, was in the room when the accident happened, and scratched his eye with its paw, which all but blinded him. Another time they had forgotten to give him anything to drink, and he was on the way to have the pip when they saved him from it by giving him a few drops of water. A mischievous little monkey, having got loose, caught hold of his feathers through the bars of the cage, and spared him not a whit more than if he had been a jay or a blackbird. The worst of all was that he was on the point of losing his kingdom, and every day the heirs foraged out some fresh stories to prove he was dead.
At last the enchanter made an arrangement with Soussio that she would take Truitonne to the palace of King Charming, that she should stay there several months, during which he would make up his mind to marry her; that, in return, Soussio would restore him his own shape, he to be ready to assume the bird’s again if he refused to marry.
The fairy gave Truitonne dresses all of gold and silver. Then she mounted her behind herself on a dragon, and they repaired to the land of Charming, who had just arrived with his faithful friend, the enchanter. With three waves of the wand he was again as he had used to be-handsome, amiable, witty, and splendidly attired. But the cutting short of his punishment was dear bought, for the mere thought of marrying Truitonne made him shudder. The enchanter gave him all the best reasons he could think of, but they made but slight impression on the king’s mind; and he was less taken up with the government of his kingdom than with the means of prolonging the time which Soussio had given him before marrying Truitonne.
Meanwhile Queen Florine, disguised in a peasant’s dress, her hair all in disorder and hanging over her face, a straw hat on her head, and a canvas bag over her shoulder, set out on her journey, sometimes walking, sometimes riding, sometimes by sea, sometimes by land. She made as much speed as possible, but, not knowing where to turn her steps, she was always in fear lest while she went in one direction her dear king should be in the other.
One day she stopped at the side of a stream, where the silver water rushed over little pebbles, and, wishing to bathe her feet, she sat down on the grass, and tying up her fair hair with a ribbon, put her feet in the water, like Diana, bathing on her return from the chase. There passed by a little old woman, quite bent, and leaning on a big stick. Stopping, she said to Florine:
“What are you doing there, my pretty maid, so all by yourself?”
“My good mother,” said the queen, “I do not want for company, for all my sorrows, anxieties, and disappointments abide with me.” At these words her eyes filled with tears.
“What! so young, and weeping!” said the good woman. “Ah! my daughter, do not distress your self. Tell me frankly what is the matter, and I hope to be able to comfort you.”
The queen consented, and told her troubles, the fairy Soussio’s part in the business, and, finally, how she was now in search of Blue Bird.
The little old woman drew herself up, shook herself out; her appearance changed all at once, and she became beautiful, young, superbly dressed, and looking at the queen with a gracious smile, she said: “Incomparable Florine, the king you are seeking is no longer a bird. My sister Soussio has restored to him his former shape, and he is now in his own kingdom. Do not despair. You will reach him, and will gain your end. Here are four eggs: you can break them when you are in urgent need of help, and will find in them what will serve you well.” And saying these words, she vanished.
Florine felt much consoled by what she had just heard, and putting the eggs in her bag, turned her steps towards the kingdom of King Charming. After walking eight days and eight nights without stopping, she reached the base of a mountain of a prodigious height, all made of ivory, and so steep that you could not set foot on it without falling. Over and over again she tried, but in vain. She slipped, she tired herself out, and in despair at so insurmountable an obstacle, she lay down at the foot of the mountain, with no other desire but to die, when she remembered the eggs which the fairy had given her.
Taking one of them, she said:
“Let me see if she was not laughing at me, in promising me the help of which I stand in need.”
As soon as she had cracked it, she found inside little golden grappling irons, which she attached to her feet and hands. As soon as she had them on she climbed the ivory mountain without any difficulty for the irons stuck into the ground and kept her from slipping.
When she was quite at the top, a new difficulty met her — how to get down again — for the whole valley was one sheet of mirror. All round were ranged more than sixty thousand women looking at themselves with the utmost delight, for this mirror was more than two leagues wide and six high; and there everyone saw herself as she wished to be. The red-haired maiden saw herself with fair ringlets, and brown hair looked black. The old dame saw herself young again, and the young never grew aged there. In short, all one’s defects were so well hidden that people came from the four quarters of the globe.
It was enough to make one die of laughing to see the grimaces and the affectations of the greater number of those vain creatures. And men were no less attracted by the flattery, for the mirror pleased them too. This one looking at himself would think what beautiful hair he had; others would seem to themselves to have grown in height, and to have a much finer figure than before, a more soldierly bearing, or a handsomer face. The women whom they laughed at, laughed just as much at them. And this mountain was called by all sorts of different names. No one had ever reached the top, and when Florine was seen up there the ladies broke out into loud cries of despair.
“Where is this unlucky girl going?” they said. “Doubtless she is mad enough to walk on our mirror, and at the first step she will break it all.”
And they set up such a hullabaloo! The queen did not know what to do, for she saw great danger in descending that way. So she broke another egg, out of which came two pigeons and a chariot, which became on the spot big enough for her to get into comfortably. Then the pigeons descended lightly with the queen, without the slightest accident.
“My little friends,” she said to them. “If you would but take me to the place where King Charming holds his court, it would be a service which would never be forgotten.”
The pigeons were willing and docile, and they stopped neither night nor day till they had reached the gate of the town. Florine got down and gave each of them a sweet kiss, a greater reward than a crown would have been.
Oh! how her heart beat fast as she entered. In order that she might not be recognised she besmeared her face, and then asked the passers-by where she could see the king. Some of them began to laugh. “See the king!” they said, “little dirty face? Go away, go away and wash yourself. Your eyes are not good enough to look upon such a monarch.”
The queen answered nothing but passed on gently, and asked those whom she next met where she should stand to see the king.
“He will be coming to the temple to-morrow with Princess Truitonne,” they said; “for at last he has consented to marry her.”
Heavens! what news was this! Truitonne, the wicked Truitonne, about to marry the king! Florine thought she would die. She had no strength left to speak or move, and she sat down under a doorway on a heap of stones, her face well hidden by her hair and her straw hat. “Ah! how unhappy I am,” she said, “to come here to render the triumph of my rival greater, and to be a witness to her joy. It was because of her then that Blue Bird stopped coming to see me. It was for this little monster that he has been so cruelly faithless to me. While I was plunged in grief and anxiety lest he should be dead, the traitor had changed; and thinking no more of me than if he had never seen me, left me to mourn his too long absence without concerning himself about mine.”
When one is very unhappy one’s appetite is not usually very good, so the queen sought for a lodging, and went to bed supperless. Rising with the day, she hastened to the temple, and entered only after receiving endless rebuffs from the guards and the soldiers. Then she saw the king’s throne and Truitonne’s, who was already looked on as queen. What sorrow for a heart so tender and sensitive as Florine’s! She went up to her rival’s throne, and stood there leaning against a marble pillar.
The king was the first to arrive – handsomer, comelier than ever. Truitonne followed, richly clad, but so ugly that she frightened all those who set eyes on her. Looking at the queen, she frowned and said: “Are you that dares to approach my fair presence, and to stand near my golden throne?”
“My name is Mie Souillon,” she answered; “I come from a long way off to sell you rarities.” Then she rummaged in her sack and drew out the emerald bracelets that King Charming had given her.
“Ho, ho!” said Truitonne; “these are pretty bits of glass. Will you have a five sou piece for them?”
“Show them to those who know their value, madam,” said the queen, “and then we can make our bargain.”
Truitonne, who loved the king more tenderly than such a monster seemed capable of, was delighted to find opportunities of speaking to him, and approaching his throne, showed him the bracelets, and asked him what he thought of them. At sight of them he called to mind those he had given to Florine, and grew pale, sighed, and remained long without answering a word. At length, fearing lest they should notice evidences of the conflicting thoughts within him, he made an effort, and answered: “These bracelets are worth, I should think, as much as my kingdom. I thought there was but one such pair in the world, yet here are others just like.”
Truitonne came back and sat on her throne, where she looked not quite so pretty as an oyster in a shell. Then she asked the queen how much, without overcharging, she would take for these bracelets.
“You would never be able to pay me, madam,” she said. “I’ll rather propose another bargain to you. If you will let me sleep one night in the echo room of the king’s palace I shall give you the emeralds.”
“Very well, little dirty face,” said Truitonne, laughing like a madwoman and showing her teeth, which were longer than a wild boar’s tusks.
The king never asked where the bracelets came from, not so much from in difference to her who presented them, although she was hardly of a condition to rouse his curiosity, as from an antipathy he could not master that he felt towards Truitonne.
Now you must know that while he was Blue Bird he had told the princess that under his apartment there was a little room called the echo room, so ingeniously made that all that was said quite low in it was heard by the king when he lay in his own room; and as Florine wished to reproach him with his unfaithfulness, she could think of no better means.
By order of Truitonne she was brought into this cabinet, and there she began her cries and laments.
“The misfortune which I only feared is now but too certain. Cruel Blue Bird!” she said, “you have forgotten me. You love my wicked rival. The bracelets I received from your faithless hand could not recall me to you, so far have I slipped out of your remembrance!” Then sobs interrupted her words, and when she had regained strength enough to speak her cries broke out anew, and went on till daybreak. The valets-de-chambre had heard her all night long groaning and sighing, and told Truitonne, who asked her what noise she had been making. The queen said she was such a sound sleeper that usually she dreamt, and that very often in dreaming she spoke quite loud. As for the king, by a strange fatality he had not heard her, for since ever he had loved Florine he could not sleep, and when he went to bed to rest they gave him a sleep tonic.
The queen passed a part of the day in a wondering anxiety. “If he heard me,” she said, “could he be more cruelly indifferent? If he did not, what shall I do to make him hear me?” She had no more rare curiosities. She had, it is true, beautiful jewels, but it was necessary to find something which would take Truitonne’s fancy.
She, therefore, had recourse to her eggs. As soon as she broke one out came a little coach of polished steel inlaid with gold. Six green mice were harnessed to it. The driver was a rose-coloured rat, and the postillions, also of the rat family, were of a flax grey. In this coach were four marionettes, livelier and funnier than any of those you would see at St. Germain’s or St. Lawrence’s Fair. The things they did were extraordinary, especially two little gypsies who could dance a saraband or a jig as well as Leance.
The queen was delighted with this fresh wonder of magic, but she kept it to herself till evening, at which time Truitonne used to go for a walk. Then, stationing herself in one of the avenues, she set the mice off at a gallop with the coach, the rats, and the marionettes. Truitonne was so astonished at this curiosity that she cried out two or three times: “Mie Souillon, Mie Souillon, will you take five halfpence for your coach and mice?”
“Ask the learned men and the scholars of this kingdom,” said Florine, “the worth of such a curiosity, and I will take whatever the most learned may say is its value.”
Truitonne, who was always very imperious, said: “Tell me the price of it, and take your dirty face out of my sight “.
“To sleep again in the echo chamber,” she answered. “That is all I ask.”
“‘Well, be off with you, poor wretch,” said Truitonne. “You won’t be refused that.” And turning towards her ladies-in-waiting, she added: “What a fool she is to get so little profit out of her curiosities!”
Night came. Florine said the tenderest things she could think of, but all in vain as before, for the king never failed to take his sleeping tonic. The valets said to each other: “Not a doubt but this peasant girl is mad. What does she talk for all night long?”
“All the same,” some of them remarked. “Neither sense nor tenderness is lacking in what she says.”
She waited with impatience for the day to see what effect her words had had.
“What! is this wretch grown deaf to my voice? Does he no longer hear his beloved Florine? Ah, how weak I am to care for him still, and I deserve the contempt he pours on me!” But it was in vain she reasoned thus; she could not kill the affection she felt for him.
The only thing she could now hope for help from was the one egg left in her bag. She broke it, and out came a pie made of six birds, all larded, cooked, and beautifully dressed. The pie sang in a wonderful fashion, told fortunes, and knew more of medicine than even Aesculapius.
The queen, delighted with the wonderful thing, hastened with her talking pie into Truitonne’s ante-chamber. While she was waiting for her to come that way, one of the king’s valets come up to her, and said: “Mie Souillon, do you know that if the king did not take a sleeping tonic to make him sleep, you would certainly drive him wild, for you chatter during the night in such an astonishing fashion?”
Florine no longer wondered that he had not heard her, and rummaging in her bag, she said: “I have so little fear of disturbing the king’s rest that if you give him no sleeping tonic tonight, and let me sleep in that same room, all these pearls and all these diamonds will be yours.” The valet agreed, and gave her his word on it.
A few minutes after, Truitonne came along. Seeing the queen with her pie, pretending as if she were going to eat it, she said: “What are you doing there, Mie Souillon?”
“Madam,” replied Florine, “I am eating astrologers, musicians, and doctors.”
At that moment all the birds began to sing more sweetly than sirens, and cried: “Give us a silver penny, and we will tell you your fortune.”
A duck appeared to be the leader, and he called out louder than the others: “Quack, quack, quack! I am a physician; I can cure every ill and every kind of madness except love.”
Truitonne, more surprised by such wonders than ever she had been in her life, swore: “Bless my heart, but here is a fine pie! I must have it. Come, now, Mie Souillon, what shall I give you for it?”
“The usual price,” she answered. “Let me sleep in the echo room, nothing more.”
“See,” said Truitonne, generously (for she was in a very good temper at having got such a pie), “I’ll also give you gold coins.”
And Florine, better pleased than she had yet been, thinking that the king might hear her this time, withdrew, giving thanks to Truitonne.
As soon as night came on she betook herself to the echo room, hoping eagerly that the valet had kept his word, and that instead of giving the king a sleeping tonic, he had given him something to keep him awake. When she knew that everybody else was asleep she began her usual laments.
“To what dangers am I exposed in my search for you!” she said. “And all the while you flee me and wish to marry Truitonne. What have I done, cruel man, that you should for get your oaths? Do you remember your metamorphosis, my kindness to you, and our loving conversations?” Then she repeated nearly the whole of them, with a memory which amply proved that nothing was dearer to her than this remembrance.
The king was not sleeping, and he heard Florine’s voice so distinctly, and all she said, that he could not understand where the words came from. But his heart, overpowered with sudden tenderness, called back in such a life-like way the memory of his incomparable princess that he felt his separation from her as keenly as he did the moment when the knives had wounded him in the cypress tree.
Then on his part he began to speak after the fashion of the queen.
“Ah! princess,” he said. “You have been too cruel to the lover who adored you. Is it possible you sacrificed me to the enemies of us both?”
Florine heard what he said, and did not fail to reply, and to let him know that if he would talk over the matter with Mie Souillon, all the mysteries he had not been able to understand till now would be cleared up.
At these words the king, without waiting a moment, called for one of his valets, and asked him if he could not find Mie Souillon and bring her to the palace. The valet said nothing was easier, for she was sleeping in the echo room.
The king did not know what to think. How could he believe that so great a queen as Florine should be disguised as Souillon? And how could he believe that Mie Souillon had the queen’s voice, and knew her most intimate secrets, unless she were the queen herself?
In this uncertainty he rose, dressed quickly, and went by a secret stair case to the echo room. The queen had taken away the key, but the king had one that opened all the doors of the palace. He found her wrapped in a light robe of white taffeta, which she wore under her old clothes. Her beautiful hair hung over her shoulders as she lay on a couch, a lamp some little way off giving only a sombre light. The king entered suddenly, and his love getting the better of his anger, as soon as he recognised her he threw himself at her feet, and bathed her hands in his tears. He thought he must die of joy, of grief, of the thousand different feelings that crowded all at once into his soul.
The queen was no less disturbed. She felt a weight on her heart, and could hardly breathe, but lay looking fixedly at the king without saying a word. When she recovered strength enough to speak, she had none to use for reproaches, and the pleasure of seeing him once more made her forget for some time her grievances against him. At last they came to an understanding: they justified themselves: their tenderness awoke again, and their only trouble was the fairy Soussio.
But just at that moment the enchanter, who loved the king, arrived with a celebrated fairy, the very one who had given the four eggs to Florine. After the first greeting, the enchanter and the fairy declared that they had joined their power together in favour of the king and the queen. Soussio was, therefore, powerless against them, and the wedding need not be delayed.
It is easy to picture the joy of these two young lovers. As soon as daylight came it was known throughout the palace, and everyone was delighted to see Florine. The news reached Truitonne who ran to the king. What a surprise for her to find her fair rival with him! When she was just opening her mouth to call Florine names, the enchanter and the fairy appeared and changed her into a sow, so that at least a part of her name and her surly temper remained to her. She ran away grunting, grunting, down to the backyard, where the loud laughter she was met with put a climax to her misery.
King Charming and Queen Florine, free from this hateful woman, gave themselves up to planning their wedding feast, and everything was as elegant as it was superb. And it is not difficult to imagine how happy they were after having known so many hardships.
Header illustration by Pixabay, with thanks.
1. Do you think Truitonne really was ugly? Why or why not?
1. Do you think Florine and King Charming loved one another? What things in the story show their love?
2. What do you think is the strongest thing that shows when we love someone?