ONCE upon a time there were three Princesses, named Roussette, Brunette, and Blondine, who lived in retirement with their mother, a Princess who had lost all her former grandeur. One day an old woman called and asked for a dinner, as this Princess was an excellent cook. After the meal was over, the old woman, who was a fairy, promised that their kindness should be rewarded, and immediately disappeared.
Shortly after, the King came that way, with his brother and the Lord Admiral. They were all so struck with the beauty of the three Princesses, that the King married the youngest, Blondine, his brother married Brunette, and the Lord Admiral married Roussette. The good Fairy, who had brought all this about, also caused the young Queen Blondine to have three lovely children, two boys and a girl, out of whose hair fell fine jewels. Each had a brilliant star on the forehead, and a rich chain of gold around the neck. At the same time Brunette, her sister, gave birth to a handsome boy. Now the young Queen and Brunette were much attached to each other, but Roussette was jealous of both, and the old Queen, the King's mother, hated them. Brunette died soon after the birth of her son, and the King was absent on a warlike expedition, so Roussette joined the wicked old Queen in forming plans to injure Blondine. They ordered Feintise, the old Queen's waiting-woman, to strangle the Queen's three children and the son of Princess Brunette, and bury them secretly. But as she was about to execute this wicked order, she was so struck by their beauty, and the appearance of the sparkling stars on their foreheads, that she shrank from the deed. So she had a boat brought round to the beach, and put the four babes, with some strings of jewels, into a cradle, which she placed in the boat, and then set it adrift. The boat was soon far out at sea.
The waves rose, the rain poured in torrents, and the thunder roared. Feintise could not doubt that the boat would be swamped, and felt relieved by the thought that the poor little innocents would perish, for she would otherwise always be haunted by the fear that something would occur to betray the share she had had in their preservation.
But the good Fairy protected them, and after floating at sea for seven days they were picked up by a Corsair. He was so struck by their beauty that he altered his course, and took them home to his wife, who had no children.
She was transported with joy when he placed them in her hands. They admired together the wonderful stars, the chains of gold that could not be taken off their necks, and their long ringlets. Much greater was the woman's astonishment when she combed them, for at every instant there rolled out of their hair pearls, rubies, diamonds, and emeralds. She told her husband of it, who was not less surprised than herself.
"I am very tired," said he, "of a Corsair's life, and if the locks of those little children continue to supply us with such treasures, I will give up roaming the seas." The Corsair's wife, whose name was Corsine, was enchanted at this, and loved the four infants so much the more for it. She named the Princess, Belle-Etoile, her eldest brother, Petit-Soleil, the second, Heureux, and the son of Brunette, Cheri.
As they grew older, the Corsair applied himself seriously to their education, as he felt convinced there was some great mystery attached to their birth. The Corsair and his wife had never told the story of the four children, who passed for their own. They were exceedingly united, but Prince Cheri entertained for Princess Belle-Etoile a greater affection than the other two. The moment she expressed a wish for anything, he would attempt even impossibilities to gratify her.
One day Belle-Etoile overheard the Corsair and his wife talking. "When I fell in with them," said the Corsair, "I saw nothing that could give me any idea of their birth." "I suspect," said Corsine, "that Cheri is not their brother, he has neither star nor neck-chain." Belle-Etoile immediately ran and told this to the three Princes, who resolved to speak to the Corsair and his wife, and ask them to let them set out to discover the secret of their birth. After some remonstrance they gained their consent. A beautiful vessel was prepared, and the young Princess and the three Princes set out.
They determined to sail to the very spot where the Corsair had found them, and made preparations for a grand sacrifice to the fairies, for their protection and guidance. They were about to immolate a turtle-dove, but the Princess saved its life, and let it fly. At this moment a syren issued from the water, and said, "Cease your anxiety, let your vessel go where it will ; land where it stops." The vessel now sailed more quickly. Suddenly they came in sight of a city so beautiful that they were anxious their vessel should enter the port.
Their wishes were accomplished ; they landed, and the shore in a moment was crowded with people, who had observed the magnificence of their ship. They ran and told the King the news, and as the grand terrace of the Palace looked out upon the sea-shore, he speedily repaired thither. The Princes, hearing the people say, "There is the King," looked up, and made a profound obeisance. He looked earnestly at them, and was as much charmed by the Princess's beauty, as by the handsome mien of the young Princes. He ordered his equerry to offer them his protection, and everything that they might require. The King was so interested about these four children, that he went into the chamber of the Queen, his mother, to tell her of the wonderful stars which shone upon their foreheads, and everything that he admired in them. She was thunderstruck at it, and was terribly afraid that Feintise had betrayed her, and sent her secretary to enquire about them. What he told her of their ages confirmed her suspicions. She sent for Feintise, and threatened to kill her. Feintise, half dead with terror, confessed all ; but promised, if she spared her, that she would still find means to do away with them. The Queen was appeased ; and, indeed, old Feintise did all she could for her own sake.
Taking a guitar, she went and sat down opposite the Princess's window, and sang a song which Belle-Etoile thought so pretty that she invited her into her chamber.
"My fair child," said Feintise, "Heaven has made you very lovely, but you yet want one thing—the dancing-water. If I had possessed it, you would not have seen a white hair upon my head, nor a wrinkle on my face. Alas ! I knew this secret too late; my charms had already faded."
"But where shall I find this dancing-water?" asked Belle-Etoile.
"It is in the luminous forest," said Feintise. "You have three brothers; does not any one of them love you sufficiently to go and fetch some?"
"My brothers all love me," said the Princess, "but there is one of them who would not refuse me anything.
The perfidious old woman retired, delighted at having been so successful. The Princes, returning from the chase, found Belle-Etoile engrossed by the advice of Feintise. Her anxiety about it was so apparent, that Cheri, who thought of nothing but pleasing her, soon found out the cause of it, and, in spite of her entreaties, he mounted his white horse, and set out in search of the dancing-water. When supper-time arrived, and the Princess did not see her brother Cheri, she could neither eat nor drink; and desired he might be sought for everywhere, and sent messengers to find him and bring him back.
The wicked Feintise was very anxious to know the result of her advice ; and when she heard that Cheri had already set out, she was delighted, and reported to the Queen-Mother all that had passed.
"I admit, Madam," said she, "that I can no longer doubt that they are the same four children: but one of the Princes is already gone to seek the dancing-water, and will no doubt perish in the attempt, and I shall find similar means to do away with all of them."
The plan she had adopted with regard to Prince Cheri was one of the most certain, for the dancing-water was not easily to be obtained ; it was so notorious from the misfortunes which occurred to all who sought it, that every one knew the road to it. He was eight days without taking any repose but in the woods. At the end of this period he began to suffer very much from the heat ; but it was not the heat of the sun, and he did not know the cause of it, until from the top of a mountain he perceived the luminous forest ; all the trees were burning without being consumed, and casting out flames to such a distance that the country around was a dry desert. At this terrible scene he descended, and more than once gave himself up for lost.
As he approached this great fire he was ready to die with thirst ; and perceiving a spring falling into a marble basin, he alighted from his horse, approached it, and stooped to take up some water in the little golden vase which he had brought with him, when he saw a turtle-dove drowning in the fountain. Cheri took pity on it, and saved it.
"My Lord Cheri," she said, "I am not ungrateful ; I can guide you to the dancing-water, which, without me, you could never obtain, as it rises in the middle of the forest, and can only be reached by going underground."
The Dove then flew away, and summoned a number of foxes, badgers, moles, snails, ants, and all sorts of creatures that burrow in the earth. Cheri got off his horse at the entrance of the subterranean passage they made for him, and groped his way after the kind Dove, which safely conducted him to the fountain. The Prince filled his golden vase; and returned the same way he came.
He found Belle-Etoile sorrowfully seated under some trees, but when she saw him she was so pleased that she scarcely knew how to welcome him.
Old Feintise learned from her spies that Cheri had returned, and that the Princess, having washed her face with the dancing-water, had become more lovely than ever.
Finding this, she lost no time in artfully making the Princess sigh for the wonderful singing-apple. Prince Cheri again found her unhappy, and again found out the cause, and once more set out on his white horse, leaving a letter for Belle-Etoile.
In the meanwhile, the King did not forget the lovely children, and reproached them for never going to the Palace. They excused themselves by saying that their brother's absence prevented them.
Prince Cheri at break of day perceived a handsome young man, from whom he learned where the singing-apple was to be found : but after travelling some time without seeing any sign of it, he saw a poor turtle-dove fall at his feet almost dead. He took pity on it, and restored it, when it said,
"Good-day, handsome Cheri, you are destined to save my life, and I to do you signal service. You are come to seek for the singing-apple : it is guarded by a terrible dragon."
The Dove then led him to a place where he found a suit of armour, all of glass : and by her advice he put it on, and boldly went to meet the dragon. The two-headed monster came bounding along, fire issuing from his throat ; but when he saw his alarming figure multiplied in the Prince's mirrors he was frightened in his turn. He stopped, and looking fiercely at the Prince, apparently laden with dragons, he took flight and threw himself into a deep chasm. The Prince then found the tree, which was surrounded with human bones, and breaking off an apple, prepared to return to the Princess. She had never slept during his absence, and ran to meet him eagerly.
When the wicked Feintise heard the sweet singing of the apple, her grief was excessive, for instead of doing harm to these lovely children, she only did them good by her perfidious counsels. She allowed some days to pass by without showing herself; and then once more made the Princess unhappy by saying that the dancing-water and the singing-apple were useless without the little green bird that tells everything.
Cheri again set out, and after some trouble learnt that this bird was to be found on the top of a frightful rock, in a frozen climate. At length, at dawn of day, he perceived the rock, which was very high and very steep, and upon the summit of it was the bird, speaking like an oracle, telling wonderful things. He thought that with a little dexterity it would be easy to catch it, for it seemed very tame. He got off his horse, and climbed up very quietly. He was so close to the green bird that he thought he could lay hands on it, when suddenly the rock opened and he fell into a spacious hall, and became as motionless as a statue ; he could neither stir, nor utter a complaint at his deplorable situation. Three hundred knights, who had made the same attempt, were in the same state. To look at each other was the only thing permitted them.
The time seemed so long to Belle-Etoile, and still no signs of her beloved Cheri, that she fell dangerously ill ; and in the hopes of curing her, Petit-Soleil resolved to seek him.
But he too was swallowed up by the rock and fell into the great hall. The first person he saw was Cheri, but he could not speak to him ; and Prince Heureux, following soon after, met with the same fate as the other two.
When Feintise was aware that the third Prince was gone, she was exceedingly delighted at the success of her plan ; and when Belle-Etoile, inconsolable at finding not one of her brothers return, reproached herself for their loss, and resolved to follow them, she was quite overjoyed.
The Princess was disguised as a cavalier, but had no other armour than her helmet. She was dreadfully cold as she drew near the rock, but seeing a turtle-dove lying on the snow, she took it up, warmed it, and restored it to life: and the dove reviving, gaily said,
"I know you, in spite of your disguise ; follow my advice : when you arrive at the rock, remain at the bottom and begin to sing the sweetest song you know ; the green bird will listen to you ; you must then pretend to go to sleep ; when it sees me, it will come down to peck me, and at that moment you will be able to seize it."
All this fell out as the Dove foretold. The green bird begged for liberty.
"First," said Belle-Etoile, "I wish that thou wouldst restore my three brothers to me."
"Under my left wing there is a red feather," said the bird: "pull it out, and touch the rock with it."
The Princess hastened to do as she was instructed ; the rock split from the top to the bottom : she entered with a victorious air the hall in which stood the three Princes with many others ; she ran towards Cheri, who did not know her in her helmet and male attire, and could neither speak nor move. The green bird then told the Princess she must rub the eyes and mouth of all those she wished to disenchant with the red feather, which good office she did to all.
The three Princes and Belle-Etoile hastened to present themselves to the King ; and when Belle-Etoile showed her treasures, the little green bird told him that the Princes Petit-Soleil and Heureux and the Princess Belle-Etoile were his children, and that Prince Cheri was his nephew. Queen Blondine, who had mourned for them all these years, embraced them, and the wicked Queen-Mother and old Feintise were justly punished. And the King, who thought his nephew Cheri the handsomest man at Court, consented to his marriage with Belle-Etoile. And lastly, to make everyone happy, the King sent for the Corsair and his wife, who gladly came.