Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen who had one charming daughter. She was so graceful and pretty and clever that she was called Graciosa, and the Queen was so fond of her that she could think of nothing else.
Everyday she gave the Princess a lovely new frock of gold brocade, or satin, or velvet, and when she was hungry she had bowls full of sugar-plums, and at least twenty pots of jam. Everybody said she was the happiest Princess in the world.
Now there lived at this same court a very rich old duchess whose name was Grumbly. She was more frightful than tongue can tell; her hair was red as fire, and she had but one eye, and that not a pretty one! Her face was as broad as a full moon, and her mouth was so large that everybody who met her would have been afraid they were going to be eaten up, only she had no teeth. As she was as cross as she was ugly, she could not bear to hear everyone saying how pretty and how charming Graciosa was; so she presently went away from the court to her own castle, which was not far off.
But if anybody who went to see her happened to mention the charming Princess, she would cry angrily:
‘It’s not true that she is lovely. I have more beauty in my little finger than she has in her whole body.’
Soon after this, to the great grief of the Princess, the Queen was taken ill and died, and the King became so melancholy that for a whole year he shut himself up in his palace. At last his physicians, fearing that he would fall ill, ordered that he should go out and amuse himself; so a hunting party was arranged, but as it was very hot weather the King soon got tired, and said he would dismount and rest at a castle which they were passing.
This happened to be the Duchess Grumbly’s castle, and when she heard that the King was coming she went out to meet him, and said that the cellar was the coolest place in the whole castle if he would condescend to come down into it. So down they went together, and the King seeing about two hundred great casks ranged side by side, asked if it was only for herself that she had this immense store of wine.
‘Yes, sire,’ answered she, ‘it is for myself alone, but I shall be most happy to let you taste some of it. Which do you like, canary, St. Julien, champagne, hermitage sack, raisin, or cider?’
‘Well,’ said the King, ‘since you are so kind as to ask me, I prefer champagne to anything else.’
Then Duchess Grumbly took up a little hammer and tapped upon the cask twice, and out came at least a thousand crowns.
‘What’s the meaning of this?’ said she smiling.
Then she tapped the next cask, and out came a bushel of gold pieces.
‘I don’t understand this at all,’ said the Duchess, smiling more than before.
Then she went on to the third cask, tap, tap, and out came such a stream of diamonds and pearls that the ground was covered with them.
‘Ah!’ she cried, ‘this is altogether beyond my comprehension, sire. Someone must have stolen my good wine and put all this rubbish in its place.’
‘Rubbish, do you call it, Madam Grumbly?’ cried the King. ‘Rubbish! why there is enough there to buy ten kingdoms.’
‘Well,’ said she, ‘you must know that all those casks are full of gold and jewels, and if you like to marry me it shall all be yours.’
Now the King loved money more than anything else in the world, so he cried joyfully:
‘Marry you? why with all my heart! to-morrow if you like.’
‘But I make one condition,’ said the Duchess; ‘I must have entire control of your daughter to do as I please with her.’
‘Oh certainly, you shall have your own way; let us shake hands upon the bargain,’ said the King.
So they shook hands and went up out of the cellar of treasure together, and the Duchess locked the door and gave the key to the King.
When he got back to his own palace Graciosa ran out to meet him, and asked if he had had good sport.
‘I have caught a dove,’ answered he.
‘Oh! do give it to me,’ said the Princess, ‘and I will keep it and take care of it.’
‘I can hardly do that,’ said he, ‘for, to speak more plainly, I mean that I met the Duchess Grumbly, and have promised to marry her.’
‘And you call her a dove?’ cried the Princess. ‘I should have called her a screech owl.’
‘Hold your tongue,’ said the King, very crossly. ‘I intend you to behave prettily to her. So now go and make yourself fit to be seen, as I am going to take you to visit her.’
So the Princess went very sorrowfully to her own room, and her nurse, seeing her tears, asked what was vexing her.
‘Alas! who would not be vexed?’ answered she, ‘for the King intends to marry again, and has chosen for his new bride my enemy, the hideous Duchess Grumbly.’
‘Oh, well!’ answered the nurse, ‘you must remember that you are a Princess, and are expected to set a good example in making the best of whatever happens. You must promise me not to let the Duchess see how much you dislike her.’
At first the Princess would not promise, but the nurse showed her so many good reasons for it that in the end she agreed to be amiable to her step-mother.
Then the nurse dressed her in a robe of pale green and gold brocade, and combed out her long fair hair till it floated round her like a golden mantle, and put on her head a crown of roses and jasmine with emerald leaves.When she was ready nobody could have been prettier, but she still could not help looking sad.
Meanwhile the Duchess Grumbly was also occupied in attiring herself. She had one of her shoe heels made an inch or so higher than the other, that she might not limp so much, and put in a cunningly made glass eye in the place of the one she had lost. She dyed her red hair black, and painted her face. Then she put on a gorgeous robe of lilac satin lined with blue, and a yellow petticoat trimmed with violet ribbons, and because she had heard that queens always rode into their new dominions, she ordered a horse to be made ready for her to ride.
While Graciosa was waiting until the King should be ready to set out, she went down all alone through the garden into a little wood, where she sat down upon a mossy bank and began to think. And her thoughts were so doleful that very soon she began to cry, and she cried, and cried, and forgot all about going back to the palace, until she suddenly saw a handsome page standing before her. He was dressed in green, and the cap which he held in his hand was adorned with white plumes. When Graciosa looked at him he went down on one knee, and said to her:
‘Princess, the King awaits you.’
The Princess was surprised, and, if the truth must be told, very much delighted at the appearance of this charming page, whom she could not remember to have seen before. Thinking he might belong to the household of the Duchess, she said:
‘How long have you been one of the King’s pages?’
‘I am not in the service of the King, madam,’ answered he, ‘but in yours.’
‘In mine?’ said the Princess with great surprise. ‘Then how is it that I have never seen you before?’
‘Ah, Princess!’ said he, ‘I have never before dared to present myself to you, but now the King’s marriage threatens you with so many dangers that I have resolved to tell you at once how much I love you already, and I trust that in time I may win your regard. I am Prince Percinet, of whose riches you may have heard, and whose fairy gift will, I hope, be of use to you in all your difficulties, if you will permit me to accompany you under this disguise.’
‘Ah, Percinet!’ cried the Princess, ‘is it really you? I have so often heard of you and wished to see you. If you will indeed be my friend, I shall not be afraid of that wicked old Duchess any more.’
So they went back to the palace together, and there Graciosa found a beautiful horse which Percinet had brought for her to ride. As it was very spirited he led it by the bridle, and this arrangement enabled him to turn and look at the Princess often, which he did not fail to do. Indeed, she was so pretty that it was a real pleasure to look at her. When the horse which the Duchess was to ride appeared beside Graciosa’s, it looked no better than an old cart horse, and as to their trappings, there was simply no comparison between them, as the Princess’s saddle and bridle were one glittering mass of diamonds. The King had so many other things to think of that he did not notice this, but all his courtiers were entirely taken up with admiring the Princess and her charming Page in green, who was more handsome and distinguished-looking than all the rest of the court put together.
When they met the Duchess Grumbly she was seated in an open carriage trying in vain to look dignified. The King and the Princess saluted her, and her horse was brought forward for her to mount. But when she saw Graciosa’s she cried angrily:
‘If that child is to have a better horse than mine, I will go back to my own castle this very minute. What is the good of being a Queen if one is to be slighted like this?’
Upon this the King commanded Graciosa to dismount and to beg the Duchess to honour her by mounting her horse. The Princess obeyed in silence, and the Duchess, without looking at her or thanking her, scrambled up upon the beautiful horse, where she sat looking like a bundle of clothes, and eight officers had to hold her up for fear she should fall off.
Even then she was not satisfied, and was still grumbling and muttering, so they asked her what was the matter.
‘I wish that Page in green to come and lead the horse, as he did when Graciosa rode it,’ said she very sharply.
And the King ordered the Page to come and lead the Queen’s horse. Percinet and the Princess looked at one another, but said never a word, and then he did as the King commanded, and the procession started in great pomp. The Duchess was greatly elated, and as she sat there in state would not have wished to change places even with Graciosa. But at the moment when it was least expected the beautiful horse began to plunge and rear and kick, and finally to run away at such a pace that it was impossible to stop him.
At first the Duchess clung to the saddle, but she was very soon thrown off and fell in a heap among the stones and thorns, and there they found her, shaken to a jelly, and collected what was left of her as if she had been a broken glass. Her bonnet was here and her shoes there, her face was scratched, and her fine clothes were covered with mud. Never was a bride seen in such a dismal plight.
They carried her back to the palace and put her to bed, but as soon as she recovered enough to be able to speak, she began to scold and rage, and declared that the whole affair was Graciosa’s fault, that she had contrived it on purpose to try and get rid of her, and that if the King would not have her punished, she would go back to her castle and enjoy her riches by herself.
At this the King was terribly frightened, for he did not at all want to lose all those barrels of gold and jewels. So he hastened to appease the Duchess, and told her she might punish Graciosa in any way she pleased.
Thereupon she sent for Graciosa, who turned pale and trembled at the summons, for she guessed that it promised nothing agreeable for her. She looked all about for Percinet, but he was nowhere to be seen; so she had no choice but to go to the Duchess Grumbly’s room. She had hardly got inside the door when she was seized by four waiting women, who looked so tall and strong and cruel that the Princess shuddered at the sight of them, and still more when she saw them arming themselves with great bundles of rods, and heard the Duchess call out to them from her bed to beat the Princess without mercy.
Poor Graciosa wished miserably that Percinet could only know what was happening and come to rescue her. But no sooner did they begin to beat her than she found, to her great relief, that the rods had changed to bundles of peacock’s feathers, and though the Duchess’s women went on till they were so tired that they could no longer raise their arms from their sides, yet she was not hurt in the least. However, the Duchess thought she must be black and blue after such a beating; so Graciosa, when she was released, pretended to feel very bad, and went away into her own room, where she told her nurse all that had happened, and then the nurse left her, and when the Princess turned round there stood Percinet beside her. She thanked him gratefully for helping her so cleverly, and they laughed and were very merry over the way they had taken in the Duchess and her waiting-maids; but Percinet advised her still to pretend to be ill for a few days, and after promising to come to her aid whenever she needed him, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come.
The Duchess was so delighted at the idea that Graciosa was really ill, that she herself recovered twice as fast as she would have done otherwise, and the wedding was held with great magnificence.
Now as the King knew that, above all other things, the Queen loved to be told that she was beautiful, he ordered that her portrait should be painted, and that a tournament should be held, at which all the bravest knights of his court should maintain against all comers that Grumbly was the most beautiful princess in the world.
Numbers of knights came from far and wide to accept the challenge, and the hideous Queen sat in great state in a balcony hung with cloth of gold to watch the contests, and Graciosa had to stand up behind her, where her loveliness was so conspicuous that the combatants could not keep their eyes off her. But the Queen was so vain that she thought all their admiring glances were for herself, especially as, in spite of the badness of their cause, the King’s knights were so brave that they were the victors in every combat.
However, when nearly all the strangers had been defeated, a young unknown knight presented himself. He carried a portrait, enclosed in a bow encrusted with diamonds, and he declared himself willing to maintain against them all that the Queen was the ugliest creature in the world, and that the Princess whose portrait he carried was the most beautiful.
So one by one the knights came out against him, and one by one he vanquished them all, and then he opened the box, and said that, to console them, he would show them the portrait of his Queen of Beauty, and when he did so everyone recognised the Princess Graciosa. The unknown knight then saluted her gracefully and retired, without telling his name to anybody. But Graciosa had no difficulty in guessing that it was Percinet.
As to the Queen, she was so furiously angry that she could hardly speak; but she soon recovered her voice, and overwhelmed Graciosa with a torrent of reproaches.
‘What!’ she said, ‘do you dare to dispute with me for the prize of beauty, and expect me to endure this insult to my knights? But I will not bear it, proud Princess. I will have my revenge.’
‘I assure you, Madam,’ said the Princess, ‘that I had nothing to do with it and am quite willing that you shall be declared Queen of Beauty
‘Ah! you are pleased to jest, popinjay!’ said the Queen, ‘but it will be my turn soon!’
The King was speedily told what had happened, and how the Princess was in terror of the angry Queen, but he only said: ‘The Queen must do as she pleases. Graciosa belongs to her!’
The wicked Queen waited impatiently until night fell, and then she ordered her carriage to be brought. Graciosa, much against her will, was forced into it, and away they drove, and never stopped until they reached a great forest, a hundred leagues from the palace.
This forest was so gloomy, and so full of lions, tigers, bears and wolves, that nobody dared pass through it even by daylight, and here they set down the unhappy Princess in the middle of the black night, and left her in spite of all her tears and entreaties. The Princess stood quite still at first from sheer bewilderment, but when the last sound of the retreating carriages died away in the distance she began to run aimlessly hither and thither, sometimes knocking herself against a tree, sometimes tripping over a stone, fearing every minute that she would be eaten up by the lions. Presently she was too tired to advance another step, so she threw herself down upon the ground and cried miserably:
‘Oh, Percinet! where are you? Have you forgotten me altogether?’
She had hardly spoken when all the forest was lighted up with a sudden glow. Every tree seemed to be sending out a soft radiance, which was clearer than moonlight and softer than daylight, and at the end of a long avenue of trees opposite to her the Princess saw a palace of clear crystal which blazed like the sun. At that moment a slight sound behind her made her start round, and there stood Percinet himself.
‘Did I frighten you, my Princess?’ said he. ‘I come to bid you welcome to our fairy palace, in the name of the Queen, my mother, who is prepared to love you as much as I do.’
The Princess joyfully mounted with him into a little sledge, drawn by two stags, which bounded off and drew them swiftly to the wonderful palace, where the Queen received her with the greatest kindness, and a splendid banquet was served at once.
Graciosa was so happy to have found Percinet, and to have escaped from the gloomy forest and all its terrors, that she was very hungry and very merry, and they were a gay party. After supper they went into another lovely room, where the crystal walls were covered with pictures, and the Princess saw with great surprise that her own history was represented, even down to the moment when Percinet found her in the forest.
‘Your painters must indeed be diligent,’ she said, pointing out the last picture to the Prince.
‘They are obliged to be, for I will not have anything forgotten that happens to you,’ he answered.
When the Princess grew sleepy, twenty-four charming maidens put her to bed in the prettiest room she had ever seen, and then sang to her so sweetly that Graciosa’s dreams were all of mermaids, and cool sea waves, and caverns, in which she wandered with Percinet; but when she woke up again her first thought was that, delightful as this fairy palace seemed to her, yet she could not stay in it, but must go back to her father.
When she had been dressed by the four-and-twenty maidens in a charming robe which the Queen had sent for her, and in which she looked prettier than ever, Prince Percinet came to see her, and was bitterly disappointed when she told him what she had been thinking. He begged her to consider again how unhappy the wicked Queen would make her, and how, if she would but marry him, all the fairy palace would be hers, and his one thought would be to please her. But, in spite of everything he could say, the Princess was quite determined to go back, though he at last persuaded her to stay eight days, which were so full of pleasure and amusement that they passed like a few hours.
On the last day, Graciosa, who had often felt anxious to know what was going on in her father’s palace, said to Percinet that she was sure that he could find out for her, if he would, what reason the Queen had given her father for her sudden disappearance. Percinet at first offered to send his courier to find out, but the Princess said:
‘Oh! isn’t there a quicker way of knowing than that?’
‘Very well,’ said Percinet, ‘you shall see for yourself.’
So up they went together to the top of a very high tower, which, like the rest of the castle, was built entirely of rock-crystal.
There the Prince held Graciosa’s hand in his, and made her put the tip of her little finger into her mouth, and look towards the town, and immediately she saw the wicked Queen go to the King, and heard her say to him, ‘That miserable Princess is dead, and no great loss either. I have ordered that she shall be buried at once.’
And then the Princess saw how she dressed up a log of wood and had it buried, and how the old King cried, and all the people murmured that the Queen had killed Graciosa with her cruelties, and that she ought to have her head cut off. When the Princess saw that the King was so sorry for her pretended death that he could neither eat nor drink, she cried:
‘Ah, Percinet! take me back quickly if you love me.’
And so, though he did not want to at all, he was obliged to promise that he would let her go.
‘You may not regret me, Princess,’ he said sadly, ‘for I fear that you do not love me well enough; but I foresee that you will more than once regret that you left this fairy palace where we have been so happy.’
But, in spite of all he could say, she bade farewell to the Queen, his mother, and prepared to set out; so Percinet, very unwillingly, brought the little sledge with the stags and she mounted beside him. But they had hardly gone twenty yards when a tremendous noise behind her made Graciosa look back, and she saw the palace of crystal fly into a million splinters, like the spray of a fountain, and vanish.
‘Oh, Percinet!’ she cried, ‘what has happened? The palace is gone.’
‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘my palace is a thing of the past; you will see it again, but not until after you have been buried.’
‘Now you are angry with me,’ said Graciosa in her most coaxing voice, ‘though after all I am more to be pitied than you are.’
When they got near the palace the Prince made the sledge and themselves invisible, so the Princess got in unobserved, and ran up to the great hall where the King was sitting all by himself. At first he was very much startled by Graciosa’s sudden appearance, but she told him how the Queen had left her out in the forest, and how she had caused a log of wood to be buried. The King, who did not know what to think, sent quickly and had it dug up, and sure enough it was as the Princess had said. Then he caressed Graciosa, and made her sit down to supper with him, and they were as happy as possible.
But someone had by this time told the wicked Queen that Graciosa had come back, and was at supper with the King, and in she flew in a terrible fury. The poor old King quite trembled before her, and when she declared that Graciosa was not the Princess at all, but a wicked impostor, and that if the King did not give her up at once she would go back to her own castle and never see him again, he had not a word to say, and really seemed to believe that it was not Graciosa after all. So the Queen in great triumph sent for her waiting women, who dragged the unhappy Princess away and shut her up in a garret; they took away all her jewels and her pretty dress, and gave her a rough cotton frock, wooden shoes, and a little cloth cap. There was some straw in a corner, which was all she had for a bed, and they gave her a very little bit of black bread to eat. In this miserable plight Graciosa did indeed regret the fairy palace, and she would have called Percinet to her aid, only she felt sure he was still vexed with her for leaving him, and thought that she could not expect him to come.
Meanwhile the Queen had sent for an old Fairy, as malicious as herself, and said to her:
‘You must find me some task for this fine Princess which she cannot possibly do, for I mean to punish her, and if she does not do what I order, she will not be able to say that I am unjust.’
So the old Fairy said she would think it over, and come again the next day. When she returned she brought with her a skein of thread, three times as big as herself; it was so fine that a breath of air would break it, and so tangled that it was impossible to see the beginning or the end of it.
The Queen sent for Graciosa, and said to her:
‘Do you see this skein? Set your clumsy fingers to work upon it, for I must have it disentangled by sunset, and if you break a single thread it will be the worse for you.’ So saying she left her, locking the door behind her with three keys.
The Princess stood dismayed at the sight of the terrible skein. If she did but turn it over to see where to begin, she broke a thousand threads, and not one could she disentangle. At last she threw it into the middle of the floor, crying:
‘Oh, Percinet! this fatal skein will be the death of me if you will not forgive me and help me once more.’
And immediately in came Percinet as easily as if he had all the keys in his own possession.
‘Here I am, Princess, as much as ever at your service,’ said he, ‘though really you are not very kind to me.’
Then he just stroked the skein with his wand, and all the broken threads joined themselves together, and the whole skein wound itself smoothly off in the most surprising manner, and the Prince, turning to Graciosa, asked if there was nothing else that she wished him to do for her, and if the time would never come when she would wish for him for his own sake.
‘Don’t be vexed with me, Percinet,’ she said. ‘I am unhappy enough without that.’
‘But why should you be unhappy, my Princess?’ cried he. ‘Only come with me and we shall be as happy as the day is long together.’
‘But suppose you get tired of me?’ said Graciosa.
The Prince was so grieved at this want of confidence that he left her without another word.
The wicked Queen was in such a hurry to punish Graciosa that she thought the sun would never set; and indeed it was before the appointed time that she came with her four Fairies, and as she fitted the three keys into the locks she said:
‘I’ll venture to say that the idle minx has not done anything at all—she prefers to sit with her hands before her to keep them white.’
But, as soon as she entered, Graciosa presented her with the ball of thread in perfect order, so that she had no fault to find, and could only pretend to discover that it was soiled, for which imaginary fault she gave Graciosa a blow on each cheek, that made her white and pink skin turn green and yellow. And then she sent her back to be locked into the garret once more.
Then the Queen sent for the Fairy again and scolded her furiously. ‘Don’t make such a mistake again; find me something that it will be quite impossible for her to do,’ she said.
So the next day the Fairy appeared with a huge barrel full of the feathers of all sorts of birds. There were nightingales, canaries, goldfinches, linnets, tomtits, parrots, owls, sparrows, doves, ostriches, bustards, peacocks, larks, partridges, and everything else that you can think of. These feathers were all mixed up in such confusion that the birds themselves could not have chosen out their own.
‘Here,’ said the Fairy, ‘is a little task which it will take all your prisoner’s skill and patience to accomplish. Tell her to pick out and lay in a separate heap the feathers of each bird. She would need to be a fairy to do it.’
The Queen was more than delighted at the thought of the despair this task would cause the Princess. She sent for her, and with the same threats as before locked her up with the three keys, ordering that all the feathers should be sorted by sunset. Graciosa set to work at once, but before she had taken out a dozen feathers she found that it was perfectly impossible to know one from another.
‘Ah! well,’ she sighed, ‘the Queen wishes to kill me, and if I must die I must. I cannot ask Percinet to help me again, for if he really loved me he would not wait till I called him, he would come without that.’
‘I am here, my Graciosa,’ cried Percinet, springing out of the barrel where he had been hiding. ‘How can you still doubt that I love you with all my heart?’
Then he gave three strokes of his wand upon the barrel, and all the feathers flew out in a cloud and settled down in neat little separate heaps all round the room.
‘What should I do without you, Percinet?’ said Graciosa gratefully. But still she could not quite make up her mind to go with him and leave her father’s kingdom for ever; so she begged him to give her more time to think of it, and he had to go away disappointed once more.
When the wicked Queen came at sunset she was amazed and infuriated to find the task done. However, she complained that the heaps of feathers were badly arranged, and for that the Princess was beaten and sent back to her garret. Then the Queen sent for the Fairy once more, and scolded her until she was fairly terrified, and promised to go home and think of another task for Graciosa, worse than either of the others.
At the end of three days she came again, bringing with her a box.
‘Tell your slave,’ said he, ‘to carry this wherever you please, but on no account to open it. She will not be able to help doing so, and then you will be quite satisfied with the result.’ So the Queen came to Graciosa, and said:
‘Carry this box to my castle, and place it upon the table in my own room. But I forbid you on pain of death to look at what it contains.’
Graciosa set out, wearing her little cap and wooden shoes and the old cotton frock, but even in this disguise she was so beautiful that all the passers-by wondered who she could be. She had not gone far before the heat of the sun and the weight of the box tired her so much that she sat down to rest in the shade of a little wood which lay on one side of a green meadow. She was carefully holding the box upon her lap when she suddenly felt the greatest desire to open it.
‘What could possibly happen if I did?’ she said to herself. ‘I should not take anything out. I should only just see what was there.’
And without farther hesitation she lifted the cover.
Instantly out came swarms of little men and women, no taller than her finger, and scattered themselves all over the meadow, singing and dancing, and playing the merriest games, so that at first Graciosa was delighted and watched them with much amusement. But presently, when she was rested and wished to go on her way, she found that, do what she would, she could not get them back into their box. If she chased them in the meadow they fled into the wood, and if she pursued them into the wood they dodged round trees and behind sprigs of moss, and with peals of elfin laughter scampered back again into the meadow.
At last, weary and terrified, she sat down and cried.
‘It is my own fault,’ she said sadly. ‘Percinet, if you can still care for such an imprudent Princess, do come and help me once more.’
Immediately Percinet stood before her.
‘Ah, Princess!’ he said, ‘but for the wicked Queen I fear you would never think of me at all.’
‘Indeed I should,’ said Graciosa; ‘I am not so ungrateful as you think. Only wait a little and I believe I shall love you quite dearly.’
Percinet was pleased at this, and with one stroke of his wand compelled all the wilful little people to come back to their places in the box, and then rendering the Princess invisible he took her with him in his chariot to the castle.
When the Princess presented herself at the door, and said that the Queen had ordered her to place the box in her own room, the governor laughed heartily at the idea.
‘No, no, my little shepherdess,’ said he, ‘that is not the place for you. No wooden shoes have ever been over that floor yet.’
Then Graciosa begged him to give her a written message telling the Queen that he had refused to admit her. This he did, and she went back to Percinet, who was waiting for her, and they set out together for the palace. You may imagine that they did not go the shortest way, but the Princess did not find it too long, and before they parted she had promised that if the Queen was still cruel to her, and tried again to play her any spiteful trick, she would leave her and come to Percinet for ever.
When the Queen saw her returning she fell upon the Fairy, whom she had kept with her, and pulled her hair, and scratched her face, and would really have killed her if a Fairy could be killed. And when the Princess presented the letter and the box she threw them both upon the fire without opening them, and looked very much as if she would like to throw the Princess after them. However, what she really did do was to have a great hole as deep as a well dug in her garden, and the top of it covered with a flat stone. Then she went and walked near it, and said to Graciosa and all her ladies who were with her:
‘I am told that a great treasure lies under that stone; let us see if we can lift it.’
So they all began to push and pull at it, and Graciosa among the others, which was just what the Queen wanted; for as soon as the stone was lifted high enough, she gave the Princess a push which sent her down to the bottom of the well, and then the stone was let fall again, and there she was a prisoner. Graciosa felt that now indeed she was hopelessly lost, surely not even Percinet could find her in the heart of the earth.
‘This is like being buried alive,’ she said with a shudder. ‘Oh, Percinet! if you only knew how I am suffering for my want of trust in you! But how could I be sure that you would not be like other men and tire of me from the moment you were sure I loved you?’
As she spoke she suddenly saw a little door open, and the sunshine blazed into the dismal well.
Graciosa did not hesitate an instant, but passed through into a charming garden. Flowers and fruit grew on every side, fountains plashed, and birds sang in the branches overhead, and when she reached a great avenue of trees and looked up to see where it would lead her, she found herself close to the palace of crystal. Yes! there was no mistaking it, and the Queen and Percinet were coming to meet her.
‘Ah, Princess!’ said the Queen, ‘don’t keep this poor Percinet in suspense any longer. You little guess the anxiety he has suffered while you were in the power of that miserable Queen.’
The Princess kissed her gratefully, and promised to do as she wished in everything, and holding out her hand to Percinet, with a smile, she said:
‘Do you remember telling me that I should not see your palace again until I had been buried? I wonder if you guessed then that, when that happened, I should tell you that I love you with all my heart, and will marry you whenever you like?’
Prince Percinet joyfully took the hand that was given him, and, for fear the Princess should change her mind, the wedding was held at once with the greatest splendour, and Graciosa and Percinet lived happily ever after.