ONCE upon a time long ago—so long, indeed, that even the very oldest people now alive could not remember it—there lived a King and Queen in a beautiful palace, a great white marble palace, with wide halls and high towers, and a golden roof that flashed in the sun.
And all round the palace, for miles and miles, there were lovely gardens and pleasure-grounds, with terraces and green lawns, and ancient trees where the birds would sit and sing all day and all night long, and more flowers than you could ever think of if you were to think a whole summer through. There were peacocks and birds of paradise on the broad lawns, and pretty slender brown deer in the shady glades, and gold and silver fishes in the ponds and fountains, and great red and yellow fruits ripened in the orchards.
There was everything there that heart could wish—except just one, and that was the one thing in all the world that this King and Queen wanted to make them perfectly happy. For there was no little child to run and play about the sunny gardens and pick the flowers, and pet the birds and beasts that wandered there. And this would often make them very sad.
But at last, after many years, they had their wish, and a little baby daughter was born to them—a tiny child with a face like a blush rosebud, eyes like violets, and a little red mouth like the pimpernel flowers that grow in the cornfields and by the wayside in summer-time.
Now, you can easily think how glad this King and Queen were, and what great rejoicings were made over all the country.
Bonfires as big as haystacks were kept burning all night, fat oxen were roasted whole in the market-place of every town, the church-bells were rung and rung again until the ringers were out of breath and their arms were aching, and every little child in the kingdom was given a beautiful present for the baby Princess’s sake.
In the palace, of course, all was bustle and hurry to make ready for the christening-feast; the maids were busy putting flowers all about the halls and chambers, and sprinkling the shining floors with sweet-smelling leaves and petals.
For the most important guests invited to this christening were seven very powerful fairies, and you know, I am sure, how particular fairies are about what they eat and drink. Not that they are greedy; but they are used to such delicate food that even the very best of ours seems strange to them. So the Queen was very anxious that they should be pleased; for they had been asked to be godmothers to the baby Princess, and she wanted them to be in a good humor so that they should be kind to her little one.
It was a beautiful summer afternoon, and the roses on the palace terrace were nodding their heads sleepily in the warm breeze, when the fairies’ chariots came into sight, sailing through the blue sky like a flight of bright-winged butterflies.
They were all good fairies, and had known the King and Queen all their lives long, and as they had not seen them for some time there was a great deal to talk about and much news to tell. And, dear me! how pleased they were with the baby! They all agreed that she was the prettiest little darling they had ever seen—almost as pretty as a real fairy baby—and that was a compliment indeed, I can tell you.
And when they went in to the great banqueting-hall and sat down to table, they were even more delighted than at first. For each one of them there was a set of six golden dinner things—knife, spoon, fork, cup, dish, and plate—made on purpose as a present for each, and all different. One was set with pearls, another with diamonds, the third with rubies, the fourth with opals, the fifth with amethysts, the sixth with emeralds, the seventh with sapphires; and nobody could tell which was the most beautiful.
They were just going to begin, and everybody was as happy as happy could be, when, all of a sudden, there was a clashing of brazen claws and a rushing of wings, and something like a black cloud seemed to pass before the tall windows and darken all the room, so that the guests could hardly see their plates. Then the great doors burst open with a terrible bang, and an old fairy in a long trailing black gown, with her face almost hidden in a black hood, jumped out of a black chariot drawn by fierce griffins, and stalked up to the table.
The King turned pale, and the Queen nearly fainted away, for this was the spiteful fairy Tormentilla, who lived all alone, an immense distance away from everywhere and everyone, in a dismal black stone castle in the middle of a desert. The poor Queen had been so happy and so busy that she had forgotten all about her, and never sent her an invitation.
However, they all tried to make the best of it, and another chair was brought, and another place laid for Tormentilla; and both the King and Queen told her over and over again how very, very sorry they were not to have asked her.
It was all in vain. Nothing could please her; she would eat and drink nothing, and she sat, scowling and looking angrily at the other fairies’ jeweled cups and dishes, until the feast was over, and it was time to give the presents.
Then they all went into the great tapestried room where the tiny Princess lay sleeping in her mother-o’-pearl cradle, and the seven fairies began to say what they would each give her.
The first stepped forward and said: “She shall always be as good as gold”; the second: “She shall be the cleverest Princess in the world”; the third: “She shall be the most beautiful”; the fourth: “She shall be the happiest”; the fifth: “She shall have the sweetest voice that was ever heard”; the sixth: “Everyone shall love her.” And then the wicked old cross fairy strode over to the cradle with long quick steps, and said, shaking her black crooked stick at the King and Queen: “And I say that she shall prick her hand with a spindle and die of the wound!”
At this the Queen fell on her knees and begged and prayed Tormentilla to call back her cruel words; but suddenly the seventh fairy, the youngest of all, who knew Tormentilla well, and had hidden herself behind the curtains for fear that some such thing might happen, came out and said:
“Do not cry so, dear Queen; I cannot quite undo my cousin’s wicked enchantment, but I can promise you that your daughter shall not die, but only fall asleep for a hundred years. And, when these are past and gone, a Prince shall come and awaken her with a kiss.”
So the King and Queen dried their tears and thanked the kind fairy Heartsease for her goodness; and all the fairies went back to their homes, and things went on much as usual in the palace. But you can imagine how careful the Queen was of her little girl; and the King made a law that every spindle in the country must be destroyed, and that no more should be made, and that anyone who had a spindle should be heavily punished if not executed at once.
Well, the years went by happily enough until the Princess Miranda was almost eighteen years old, and all that the six fairies had promised came true, for she was the best and the prettiest and the cleverest Princess in all the world, and everybody loved her. And, indeed, by this time Tormentilla’s spiteful words were almost forgotten.
“Poor old thing,” the Queen would sometimes say, “she was so angry at having been left out that she did not know what she was saying. Of course, she did not really mean it.”
Now, the King and Queen had to go away for a few days to a great entertainment that one of their richest nobles was giving at his country house; and, as the Princess did not wish to go, they left her behind with her ladies-in-waiting in the beautiful old palace. For the first two days she amused herself very well, but on the third she missed her father and mother so much that, to pass the time till they came back, she began exploring all the old lumber-rooms and out-of-the-way attics in the palace, and laughing at the dusty furniture and queer curiosities she found there.
At last she found herself at the top of a narrow winding stairway in a tall turret that seemed even older than all the rest of the palace. And when she lifted the latch of the door in front of her she saw a little low chamber with curiously painted walls, and there sat a little old, old woman in a high white cap, spinning at a wheel.
For some time she stood at the door, watching the old woman curiously; she could not imagine what she was doing, for the Princess had never seen a spinning-wheel in her life before, because, as I told you, the King had ordered them all to be destroyed.
Now, it happened that the poor old woman who lived in this tower had never heard the King’s command, for she was so deaf that if you shouted until you were hoarse she would never have been able to understand you.
“What pretty work you are doing there, Goody? And why does that wheel go whirr, whirr, whirr?” said the Princess. The old woman neither answered nor looked up, for, of course, she did not hear.
So the Princess stepped into the room and laid her hand upon the old woman’s shoulder.
Goody started then, looked up, and rubbed her eyes.
“Deary, deary me!” cried she, in a high, cracked voice. “And who may you be, my pretty darling?”
“I’m the Princess Miranda,” screamed the maiden in her ear, but the old woman only shook her head—she could hear nothing.
Then the Princess pointed to the spindle, and made the old woman understand that she wanted to try if she could work it.
So Goody nodded, and laughed, and got up from her seat, and the Princess sat down and took the spindle in her hand. But no sooner did she touch it than she pricked the palm of her hand with the point, and sank down in a swoon.
Immediately a deep silence fell on all around. The little bird that only a moment before had been singing so sweetly upon the window-sill hushed his song. The distant hum of voices from the courtyard beneath ceased; even Goody stopped short in the directions she was giving the Princess, and neither moved hand nor foot towards the poor little maid, and all because she had fallen fast asleep as she stood.
Below in the castle it was just the same. The King and Queen, who had that moment returned from their journey and were enquiring for their daughter, fell asleep before the lady-in-waiting could answer them, and as to the lady herself she had begun to snore—in a ladylike manner, of course—before you could have winked your eye.
The soldiers and men-at-arms slumbered as they stood. The page-boy fell asleep writh his mouth wide open, and a fly that had just been going to settle on his nose fell asleep too in mid-air.
Although the sun had been shining brightly when the Princess took the spindle in her hand, no sooner did she prick herself with the point than deep shadows darkened the sunny rooms and gardens.
It was just as though night had overtaken them, but there was no one in or near the palace to heed whether it were dark or light.
This sudden darkness had been caused by a magic wood which had sprung up all around the palace and its grounds. It was at least half a mile thick, and was composed of thorns and prickly plants, through which it seemed impossible for anyone to penetrate. It was so thick and high that it hid even the topmost towers of the enchanted castle, and no one outside could have dreamed that such a castle lay behind it.
Well, and so the years went on, and on, and on, until a hundred years had passed, and the palace and the story of it were all but forgotten. And it happened that a King’s son from a neighboring country came hunting that way with his men, and horses, and dogs. And in the excitement of the chase he rode on and on until he became separated from his servants and attendants, and found himself in a part of the country where he had never been before. In vain he tried to retrace his steps; he only seemed to wander farther away in the wrong direction.
Presently he came to a woodcutter’s cottage, and dismounted to ask his way. An old, old man lived in this hut, and after he had directed the Prince as to the best way back, the young man pointed to a thick wood ahead, and asked what lay beyond it. Then the old man told him that there was a legend that beyond the wood was an enchanted palace where a beautiful Princess had lain sleeping for a hundred years, and whom a Prince was to awaken with a kiss.
Directly the Prince Florimond heard this, nothing would serve but he must go there and see for himself if the tale were true. So he rode and he rode until he came to the edge of the wood, and there he got off his horse and began to push his way through the thorny thicket. It was hard work indeed, for the briars were so strong and so sharp that you would never believe that anyone could get past them, and they closed up behind him as he went.
But he was strong and brave, and after a time the way became easier, until at last he came to the palace.
There everyone was sleeping—the sentinels and soldiers in the court-yard, the cooks in the kitchen, and pages and lords and ladies-in-waiting in the corridors and chambers; and, in the great throne-room the King and Queen on their golden and ivory thrones.
Prince Florimond passed on, wondering more and more, till he came at length to the narrow staircase which led to the little tower in which the Princess had fallen asleep. He mounted this, and then came the greatest wonder of all—the beautiful sleeping lady, in her glistening white robes. She was so beautiful that to see her almost took away his breath; and, falling on his knees, he bent to kiss her cheek. And as he kissed her, she opened her lovely blue eyes and said, smiling: “Oh! Prince, have you come at last? I have had such pleasant dreams.”
Then she sat up laughing and rubbing her eyes, and gave him her hand, and they went hand in hand together down the stairs and along the corridors, till they came to the throne-room. And there were the King and Queen rubbing their eyes too, and they kissed their daughter and welcomed the Prince most gladly.
And, all at the same time, the whole palace was awake. Cocks crowed, dogs barked, the cats began to mew, the spits to turn, the clocks to strike, the soldiers presented arms, the heralds blew their trumpets, the head cook boxed a little scullion’s ears, the butler went on drinking his half-finished tankard of wine, the first lady-in-waiting finished winding her skein of silk.
Everything, in short, went on exactly as though the spell had lasted a hundred seconds instead of years. To be sure, Princess Miranda’s pretty white dress was just such a one as Prince Florimond’s great-grandmother might have worn. But that gave them something to laugh at.
And now my story is done, for I need hardly tell you that the Prince and Princess were married amid great rejoicings, and lived happily ever after; and that the seven fairy godmothers danced at the wedding. So all ended well, and what more could anyone wish?