The Little Good Mouse
|Book Title||The Red Fairy Book|
ONCE upon a time there lived a King and Queen who loved each other so much that they were never happy unless they were together. Day after day they went out hunting or fishing; night after night they went to balls or to the opera; they sang, and danced, and ate sugar-plums, and were the gayest of the gay, and all their subjects followed their example so that the kingdom was called the Joyous Land. Now in the next kingdom everything was as different as it could possibly be. The King was sulky and savage, and never enjoyed himself at all. He looked so ugly and cross that all his subjects feared him, and he hated the very sight of a cheerful face; so if he ever caught anyone smiling he had his head cut off that very minute. This kingdom was very appropriately called the Land of Tears. Now when this wicked King heard of the happiness of the Jolly King, he was so jealous that he collected a great army and set out to fight him, and the news of his approach was soon brought to the King and Queen. The Queen, when she heard of it, was frightened out of her wits, and began to cry bitterly. `Sire,' she said, `let us collect all our riches and run away as far as ever we can, to the other side of the world.'
But the King answered:
`Fie, madam! I am far too brave for that. It is better to die than to be a coward.'
Then he assembled all his armed men, and after bidding the Queen a tender farewell, he mounted his splendid horse and rode away. When he was lost to sight the Queen could do nothing but weep, and wring her hands, and cry.
`Alas! If the King is killed, what will become of me and of my little daughter?' and she was so sorrowful that she could neither eat nor sleep.
The King sent her a letter every day, but at last, one morning, as she looked out of the palace window, she saw a messenger approaching in hot haste.
`What news, courier? What news?' cried the Queen, and he answered:
`The battle is lost and the King is dead, and in another moment the enemy will be here.'
The poor Queen fell back insensible, and all her ladies carried her to bed, and stood round her weeping and wailing. Then began a tremendous noise and confusion, and they knew that the enemy had arrived, and very soon they heard the King himself stamping about the palace seeking the Queen. Then her ladies put the little Princess into her arms, and covered her up, head and all, in the bedclothes, and ran for their lives, and the poor Queen lay there shaking, and hoping she would not be found. But very soon the wicked King clattered into the room, and in a fury because the Queen would not answer when he called to her, he tore back her silken coverings and tweaked off her lace cap, and when all her lovely hair came tumbling down over her shoulders, he wound it three times round his hand and threw her over his shoulder, where he carried her like a sack of flour.
The poor Queen held her little daughter safe in her arms and shrieked for mercy, but the wicked King only mocked her, and begged her to go on shrieking, as it amused him, and so mounted his great black horse, and rode back to his own country. When he got there he declared that he would have the Queen and the little Princess hanged on the nearest tree; but his courtiers said that seemed a pity, for when the baby grew up she would be a very nice wife for the King's only son.
The King was rather pleased with this idea, and shut the Queen up in the highest room of a tall tower, which was very tiny, and miserably furnished with a table and a very hard bed upon the floor. Then he sent for a fairy who lived near his kingdom, and after receiving her with more politeness than he generally showed, and entertaining her at a sumptuous feast, he took her up to see the Queen. The fairy was so touched by the sight of her misery that when she kissed her hand she whispered:
`Courage, madam! I think I see a way to help you.'
The Queen, a little comforted by these words, received her graciously, and begged her to take pity upon the poor little Princess, who had met with such a sudden reverse of fortune. But the King got very cross when he saw them whispering together, and cried harshly:
`Make an end of these fine speeches, madam. I brought you here to tell me if the child will grow up pretty and fortunate.'
Then the Fairy answered that the Princess would be as pretty, and clever, and well brought up as it was possible to be, and the old King growled to the Queen that it was lucky for her that it was so, as they would certainly have been hanged if it were otherwise. Then he stamped off, taking the Fairy with him, and leaving the poor Queen in tears.
`How can I wish my little daughter to grow up pretty if she is to be married to that horrid little dwarf, the King's son,' she said to herself, `and yet, if she is ugly we shall both be killed. If I could only hide her away somewhere, so that the cruel King could never find her.'
As the days went on, the Queen and the little Princess grew thinner and thinner, for their hard-hearted gaoler gave them every day only three boiled peas and a tiny morsel of black bread, so they were always terribly hungry. At last, one evening, as the Queen sat at her spinning-wheel--for the King was so avaricious that she was made to work day and night--she saw a tiny, pretty little mouse creep out of a hole, and said to it:
`Alas, little creature! what are you coming to look for here? I only have three peas for my day's provision, so unless you wish to fast you must go elsewhere.'
But the mouse ran hither and thither, and danced and capered so prettily, that at last the Queen gave it her last pea, which she was keeping for her supper, saying: `Here, little one, eat it up; I have nothing better to offer you, but I give this willingly in return for the amusement I have had from you.'
She had hardly spoken when she saw upon the table a delicious little roast partridge, and two dishes of preserved fruit. `Truly,' said she, `a kind action never goes unrewarded; `and she and the little Princess ate their supper with great satisfaction, and then the Queen gave what was left to the little mouse, who danced better than ever afterwards. The next morning came the gaoler with the Queen's allowance of three peas, which he brought in upon a large dish to make them look smaller; but as soon as he set it down the little mouse came and ate up all three, so that when the Queen wanted her dinner there was nothing left for her. Then she was quite provoked, and said:
`What a bad little beast that mouse must be! If it goes on like this I shall be starved.' But when she glanced at the dish again it was covered with all sorts of nice things to eat, and the Queen made a very good dinner, and was gayer than usual over it. But afterwards as she sat at her spinning-wheel she began to consider what would happen if the little Princess did not grow up pretty enough to please the King, and she said to herself:
`Oh! if I could only think of some way of escaping.'
As she spoke she saw the little mouse playing in a corner with some long straws. The Queen took them and began to plait them, saying:
`If only I had straws enough I would make a basket with them, and let my baby down in it from the window to any kind passer- by who would take care of her.'
By the time the straws were all plaited the little mouse had dragged in more and more, until the Queen had plenty to make her basket, and she worked at it day and night, while the little mouse danced for her amusement; and at dinner and supper time the Queen gave it the three peas and the bit of black bread, and always found something good in the dish in their place. She really could not imagine where all the nice things came from. At last one day when the basket was finished, the Queen was looking out of the window to see how long a cord she must make to lower it to the bottom of the tower, when she noticed a little old woman who was leaning upon her stick and looking up at her. Presently she said:
`I know your trouble, madam. If you like I will help you.'
`Oh! my dear friend,' said the Queen. `If you really wish to be of use to me you will come at the time that I will appoint, and I will let down my poor little baby in a basket. If you will take her, and bring her up for me, when I am rich I will reward you splendidly.'
`I don't care about the reward,' said the old woman, `but there is one thing I should like. You must know that I am very particular about what I eat, and if there is one thing that I fancy above all others, it is a plump, tender little mouse. If there is such a thing in your garret just throw it down to me, and in return I will promise that your little daughter shall be well taken care of.'
The Queen when she heard this began to cry, but made no answer, and the old woman after waiting a few minutes asked her what was the matter.
`Why,' said the Queen, `there is only one mouse in this garret, and that is such a dear, pretty little thing that I cannot bear to think of its being killed.'
`What!' cried the old woman, in a rage. `Do you care more for a miserable mouse than for your own baby? Good-bye, madam! I leave you to enjoy its company, and for my own part I thank my stars that I can get plenty of mice without troubling you to give them to me.'
And she hobbled off grumbling and growling. As to the Queen, she was so disappointed that, in spite of finding a better dinner than usual, and seeing the little mouse dancing in its merriest mood, she could do nothing but cry. That night when her baby was fast asleep she packed it into the basket, and wrote on a slip of paper, `This unhappy little girl is called Delicia!' This she pinned to its robe, and then very sadly she was shutting the basket, when in sprang the little mouse and sat on the baby's pillow.
`Ah! little one,' said the Queen, `it cost me dear to save your life. How shall I know now whether my Delicia is being taken care of or no? Anyone else would have let the greedy old woman have you, and eat you up, but I could not bear to do it.' Whereupon the Mouse answered:
`Believe me, madam, you will never repent of your kindness.'
The Queen was immensely astonished when the Mouse began to speak, and still more so when she saw its little sharp nose turn to a beautiful face, and its paws to hands and feet; then it suddenly grew tall, and the Queen recognised the Fairy who had come with the wicked King to visit her.
The Fairy smiled at her astonished look, and said:
`I wanted to see if you were faithful and capable of feeling a real friendship for me, for you see we fairies are rich in everything but friends, and those are hard to find.'
`It is not possible that YOU should want for friends, you charming creature,' said the Queen, kissing her.
`Indeed it is so,' the Fairy said. `For those who are only friendly with me for their own advantage, I do not count at all. But when you cared for the poor little mouse you could not have known there was anything to be gained by it, and to try you further I took the form of the old woman whom you talked to from the window, and then I was convinced that you really loved me.' Then, turning to the little Princess, she kissed her rosy lips three times, saying:
`Dear little one, I promise that you shall be richer than your father, and shall live a hundred years, always pretty and happy, without fear of old age and wrinkles.'
The Queen, quite delighted, thanked the Fairy gratefully, and begged her to take charge of the little Delicia and bring her up as her own daughter. This she agreed to do, and then they shut the basket and lowered it carefully, baby and all, to the ground at the foot of the tower. The Fairy then changed herself back into the form of a mouse, and this delayed her a few seconds, after which she ran nimbly down the straw rope, but only to find when she got to the bottom that the baby had disappeared.
In the greatest terror she ran up again to the Queen, crying:
`All is lost! my enemy Cancaline has stolen the Princess away. You must know that she is a cruel fairy who hates me, and as she is older than I am and has more power, I can do nothing against her. I know no way of rescuing Delicia from her clutches.'
When the Queen heard this terrible news she was heart-broken, and begged the Fairy to do all she could to get the poor little Princess back again. At this moment in came the gaoler, and when he missed the little Princess he at once told the King, who came in a great fury asking what the Queen had done with her. She answered that a fairy, whose name she did not know, had come and carried her off by force. Upon this the King stamped upon the ground, and cried in a terrible voice:
`You shall be hung! I always told you you should.' And without another word he dragged the unlucky Queen out into the nearest wood, and climbed up into a tree to look for a branch to which he could hang her. But when he was quite high up, the Fairy, who had made herself invisible and followed them, gave him a sudden push, which made him lose his footing and fall to the ground with a crash and break four of his teeth, and while he was trying to mend them the fairy carried the Queen off in her flying chariot to a beautiful castle, where she was so kind to her that but for the loss of Delicia the Queen would have been perfectly happy. But though the good little mouse did her very utmost, they could not find out where Cancaline had hidden the little Princess.
Thus fifteen years went by, and the Queen had somewhat recovered from her grief, when the news reached her that the son of the wicked King wished to marry the little maiden who kept the turkeys, and that she had refused him; the wedding-dresses had been made, nevertheless, and the festivities were to be so splendid that all the people for leagues round were flocking in to be present at them. The Queen felt quite curious about a little turkey-maiden who did not wish to be a Queen, so the little mouse conveyed herself to the poultry-yard to find out what she was like.
She found the turkey-maiden sitting upon a big stone, barefooted, and miserably dressed in an old, coarse linen gown and cap; the ground at her feet was all strewn with robes of gold and silver, ribbons and laces, diamonds and pearls, over which the turkeys were stalking to and fro, while the King's ugly, disagreeable son stood opposite her, declaring angrily that if she would not marry him she should be killed.
The Turkey-maiden answered proudly:
`I never will marry you I you are too ugly and too much like your cruel father. Leave me in peace with my turkeys, which I like far better than all your fine gifts.'
The little mouse watched her with the greatest admiration, for she was as beautiful as the spring; and as soon as the wicked Prince was gone, she took the form of an old peasant woman and said to her:
`Good day, my pretty one! you have a fine flock of turkeys there.'
The young Turkey-maiden turned her gentle eyes upon the old woman, and answered:
`Yet they wish me to leave them to become a miserable Queen! what is your advice upon the matter?'
`My child,' said the Fairy, `a crown is a very pretty thing, but you know neither the price nor the weight of it.'
`I know so well that I have refused to wear one,' said the little maiden, `though I don't know who was my father, or who was my mother, and I have not a friend in the world.'
`You have goodness and beauty, which are of more value than ten kingdoms,' said the wise Fairy. `But tell me, child, how came you here, and how is it you have neither father, nor mother, nor friend?'
`A Fairy called Cancaline is the cause of my being here,' answered she, `for while I lived with her I got nothing but blows and harsh words, until at last I could bear it no longer, and ran away from her without knowing where I was going, and as I came through a wood the wicked Prince met me, and offered to give me charge of the poultry-yard. I accepted gladly, not knowing that I should have to see him day by day. And now he wants to marry me, but that I will never consent to.'
Upon hearing this the Fairy became convinced that the little Turkey-maiden was none other than the Princess Delicia.
`What is your name, my little one?' said she.
`I am called Delicia, if it please you,' she answered.
Then the Fairy threw her arms round the Princess's neck, and nearly smothered her with kisses, saying:
`Ah, Delicia! I am a very old friend of yours, and I am truly glad to find you at last; but you might look nicer than you do in that old gown, which is only fit for a kitchen-maid. Take this pretty dress and let us see the difference it will make.'
So Delicia took off the ugly cap, and shook out all her fair shining hair, and bathed her hands and face in clear water from the nearest spring till her cheeks were like roses, and when she was adorned with the diamonds and the splendid robe the Fairy had given her, she looked the most beautiful Princess in the world, and the Fairy with great delight cried:
`Now you look as you ought to look, Delicia: what do you think about it yourself?'
And Delicia answered:
`I feel as if I were the daughter of some great king.'
`And would you be glad if you were?' said the Fairy.
`Indeed I should,' answered she.
`Ah, well,' said the Fairy, `to-morrow I may have some pleasant news for you.'
So she hurried back to her castle, where the Queen sat busy with her embroidery, and cried:
`Well, madam! will you wager your thimble and your golden needle that I am bringing you the best news you could possibly hear?'
`Alas!' sighed the Queen, `since the death of the Jolly King and the loss of my Delicia, all the news in the world is not worth a pin to me.
`There, there, don't be melancholy,' said the Fairy. `I assure you the Princess is quite well, and I have never seen her equal for beauty. She might be a Queen to-morrow if she chose; `and then she told all that had happened, and the Queen first rejoiced over the thought of Delicia's beauty, and then wept at the idea of her being a Turkey-maiden.
`I will not hear of her being made to marry the wicked King's son,' she said. `Let us go at once and bring her here.'
In the meantime the wicked Prince, who was very angry with Delicia, had sat himself down under a tree, and cried and howled with rage and spite until the King heard him, and cried out from the window:
`What is the matter with you, that you are making all this disturbance?'
The Prince replied:
`It is all because our Turkey-maiden will not love me!'
`Won't love you? eh!' said the King. `We'll very soon see about that!' So he called his guards and told them to go and fetch Delicia. `See if I don't make her change her mind pretty soon!' said the wicked King with a chuckle.
Then the guards began to search the poultry-yard, and could find nobody there but Delicia, who, with her splendid dress and her crown of diamonds, looked such a lovely Princess that they hardly dared to speak to her. But she said to them very politely:
`Pray tell me what you are looking for here?'
`Madam,' they answered, `we are sent for an insignificant little person called Delicia.'
`Alas!' said she, `that is my name. What can you want with me?'
So the guards tied her hands and feet with thick ropes, for fear she might run away, and brought her to the King, who was waiting with his son.
When he saw her he was very much astonished at her beauty, which would have made anyone less hard-hearted sorry for her. But the wicked King only laughed and mocked at her, and cried: `Well, little fright, little toad! why don't you love my son, who is far too handsome and too good for you? Make haste and begin to love him this instant, or you shall be tarred and feathered.'
Then the poor little Princess, shaking with terror, went down on her knees, crying:
`Oh, don't tar and feather me, please! It would be so uncomfortable. Let me have two or three days to make up my mind, and then you shall do as you like with me.'
The wicked Prince would have liked very much to see her tarred and feathered, but the King ordered that she should be shut up in a dark dungeon. It was just at this moment that the Queen and the Fairy arrived in the flying chariot, and the Queen was dreadfully distressed at the turn affairs had taken, and said miserably that she was destined to be unfortunate all her days. But the Fairy bade her take courage.
`I'll pay them out yet,' said she, nodding her head with an air of great determination.
That very same night, as soon as the wicked King had gone to bed, the Fairy changed herself into the little mouse, and creeping up on to his pillow nibbled his ear, so that he squealed out quite loudly and turned over on his other side; but that was no good, for the little mouse only set to work and gnawed away at the second ear until it hurt more than the first one.
Then the King cried `Murder!' and `Thieves!' and all his guards ran to see what was the matter, but they could find nothing and nobody, for the little mouse had run off to the Prince's room and was serving him in exactly the same way. All night long she ran from one to the other, until at last, driven quite frantic by terror and want of sleep, the King rushed out of the palace crying:
`Help! help! I am pursued by rats.'
The Prince when he heard this got up also, and ran after the King, and they had not gone far when they both fell into the river and were never heard of again.
Then the good Fairy ran to tell the Queen, and they went together to the black dungeon where Delicia was imprisoned. The Fairy touched each door with her wand, and it sprang open instantly, but they had to go through forty before they came to the Princess, who was sitting on the floor looking very dejected. But when the Queen rushed in, and kissed her twenty times in a minute, and laughed, and cried, and told Delicia all her history, the Princess was wild with delight. Then the Fairy showed her all the wonderful dresses and jewels she had brought for her, and said:
`Don't let us waste time; we must go and harangue the people.'
So she walked first, looking very serious and dignified, and wearing a dress the train of which was at least ten ells long. Behind her came the Queen wearing a blue velvet robe embroidered with gold, and a diamond crown that was brighter than the sun itself. Last of all walked Delicia, who was so beautiful that it was nothing short of marvellous.
They proceeded through the streets, returning the salutations of all they met, great or small, and all the people turned and followed them, wondering who these noble ladies could be.
When the audience hall was quite full, the Fairy said to the subjects of the Wicked King that if they would accept Delicia, who was the daughter of the Jolly King, as their Queen, she would undertake to find a suitable husband for her, and would promise that during their reign there should be nothing but rejoicing and merry-making, and all dismal things should be entirely banished. Upon this the people cried with one accord, `We will, we will! we have been gloomy and miserable too long already.' And they all took hands and danced round the Queen, and Delicia, and the good Fairy, singing: `Yes, yes; we will, we will!'
Then there were feasts and fireworks in every street in the town, and early the next morning the Fairy, who had been all over the world in the night, brought back with her, in her flying chariot, the most handsome and good-tempered Prince she could find anywhere. He was so charming that Delicia loved him from the moment their eyes met, and as for him, of course he could not help thinking himself the luckiest Prince in the world. The Queen felt that she had really come to the end of her misfortunes at last, and they all lived happily ever after.
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