THERE was once upon a time so excellent a monarch that his subjects called him King Good. One day, when he was hunting, a little white rabbit which the dogs were about to kill, jumped into his arms. The King caressed the little rabbit, and said, "As it has put itself under my protection, I will not allow any harm to be done to it." He carried the little rabbit into his palace and gave it a pretty little house and nice herbs to eat. At night, when he was alone in his chamber, a beautiful lady appeared before him; she was arrayed neither in gold nor in silver, but her robe was white as snow, and her head-dress consisted simply of a crown of white roses. The good King was much surprised to see this lady, as his door was locked, and he knew not how she had entered. She said to him, "I am the Fairy Candid; I passed through the wood as you were hunting, and I wished to ascertain if you were as good as everybody said you were. For that purpose I took the form of a little rabbit, and I saved myself by jumping into your arms; for I know that those who have pity for animals have more still for men; and if you had refused me your assistance I should have thought you wicked. I come to thank you for the kindness you have shown me, and to assure you I shall always be your friend. You have only to ask me for anything you wish, I promise to grant it."
"Madam," said the good King, "as you are a Fairy, you ought to know all I wish for. I have but one son, whom I love exceedingly, and on that account they have named him Prince Chéri; if you have any affection for me, become the friend of my son." "With all my heart," said the Fairy; "I can make your son the handsomest Prince in the world, or the richest, or the most powerful; choose which you wish him to be." "I desire none of those things for my son," said the good King; "but I shall be much obliged if you will make him the best of all Princes. What will it profit him to be handsome, rich, to have all the kingdoms of the world, if he should be wicked? You know well he would be miserable, and that nothing but virtue can make him happy." "You are quite right," said Candid; "but it is not in my power to make the Prince Chéri a good man in spite of himself; he must himself endeavour to become virtuous. All I can promise you is to give him good advice, to point out to him his faults, and to punish him if he will not correct them and punish himself."
The good King was quite content with this promise, and died a short time afterwards. Prince Chéri wept much for his father, for he loved him with all his heart, and he would have given all his kingdoms, his gold, and his silver, to have saved him, if such things had power to change the will of fate. Two years after the death of the good King, Chéri being in bed, Candid appeared to him. "I promised your father," said she to him, "to be your friend; and, to keep my word, I come to make you a present." At the same time she placed on the finger of Chéri a little gold ring, and said to him, "Keep this ring carefully--it is more precious than diamonds. Every time you commit a bad action it will prick your finger; but if in spite of this pricking you persist in the evil deed, you will lose my friendship, and I shall become your enemy."
Candid disappeared as she uttered these words, and left Chéri much astonished. For some time his conduct was so faultless that the ring did not prick him at all, and this gave him so much gratification, that his subjects added to his name Chéri, or Beloved, that of Heureux, or Happy. One day he went out hunting, and caught nothing, which put him in a bad humour. It appeared to him, then, that the ring pressed his finger a little; but as it did not prick him he paid no great attention to it. On entering his apartment, however, his little dog Bibi came jumping about him affectionately, when he said, "Get thee gone, I am not in a humour to receive thy caresses!" The poor little dog, who did not understand him, pulled at his coat, to oblige him at least to look at him. This irritated Chéri, and he gave him a violent kick. In a moment the ring pricked him, as if it had been a pin; he was much astonished, and seated himself, quite ashamed, in a corner of the room. "I think the Fairy mocks me," said he to himself. "What great evil have I done in kicking an animal which worried me? Of what use is it to be master of a great empire if I may not chastise my own dog?" "I do not mock you," said a voice which replied to the thoughts of Chéri. "You have committed three faults instead of one. You have been in an ill-humour because you did not like to be disappointed, and because you believe both beasts and men were only made to obey you. You put yourself in a passion, which is very wrong, and, lastly, you have been cruel to a poor animal that did not deserve to be ill-treated. I know you are much superior to a dog; but if it were a reasonable thing, and permissible for the great to ill-treat those who are beneath them, I would at this moment beat you--kill you, for a Fairy is stronger than a man. The advantage of being master of a great empire is not to be able to do all the harm that you may wish, but all the good that you can." Chéri confessed his fault, and promised to correct it; but he did not keep his word. He had been reared by a foolish nurse, who had spoilt him when he was little. If he wanted anything he had only to cry, pout, and stamp his foot, and this woman gave him all he wished for; and this had made him wilful. She had told him also, from morning to night, that he would be King some day, and that kings were very happy, because everybody must obey them, and treat them with great respect, and that no one could prevent their doing whatever they pleased.
When Chéri grew up, and was capable of reasoning, he soon learnt that there was nothing so odious as to be proud, vain, and obstinate. He made some efforts to correct himself, but he had unfortunately contracted all three defects; and a bad habit is very difficult to eradicate. It was not that he had naturally a bad heart: he wept with annoyance when he had committed a fault, and said, "How unfortunate am I in having to fight thus all my days against my pride and my temper! If they had corrected me when I was young, I should not now have had so much trouble."
His ring pricked him very often. Sometimes he stopped immediately, at others he persisted in his ill-behaviour; and what was very singular was, that it pricked him very slightly for a light offence, but when he did anything really wicked, it would make the blood spurt from his finger. At length he grew impatient at this, and wishing to sin at his ease, he threw away his ring. He thought himself the happiest of men when he was released from its pricking. He abandoned himself to all the follies which entered his head, till at length he became quite wicked, and nobody could bear him.
One day that Chéri was out walking he saw a young maiden so beautiful, that he determined to marry her. She was called Zélie, and she was as good as she was pretty. Chéri imagined that Zélie would be most happy to become a great Queen; but the girl told him, with much firmness, "Sire, I am only a shepherdess; I have no fortune; but in spite of that, I will not marry you." "Am I displeasing to you?" asked Chéri, a little offended. "No, Prince," replied Zélie; "I think you are very handsome; but what would be the advantage to me of your beauty, your riches, the fine clothes and magnificent carriages which you would give me, if the bad actions I should daily see you commit forced me to despise and hate you?"
Chéri became enraged with Zélie, and ordered his officers to carry her by force to his palace. He brooded all day long over the contempt with which this girl had treated him; but as he loved her, he could not make up his mind to harm her. Amongst the favourites of Chéri was his foster-brother, whom he had made his confidant. This man, whose inclinations were as low as his birth, flattered the passions of his master, and gave him very bad advice. When he saw Chéri so sad, he asked the cause of his grief. The Prince having replied that he could not bear the contempt of Zélie, and that he had determined to correct himself of his faults, because he must be virtuous to please her, this wicked man said, "You are very good to give yourself so much trouble for a little girl. If I were in your place, I would force her to obey me. Remember that you are King, and that it would be a shame for you to submit to the will of a shepherdess, who should be only too happy to be amongst your slaves. Make her fast on bread and water; put her in prison; and if she continue to refuse to marry you, let her die by torture, in order to teach others to yield to your wishes. You will be disgraced if it be known that a simple girl resists your pleasure, and all your subjects will forget that they are placed in this world only to serve you." "But," said Chéri, "shall I not be disgraced if I put to death an innocent girl? For in fact Zélie is guilty of no crime." "No one is innocent who refuses to obey your commands," replied the confidant. "But suppose you do commit an injustice, it is better to be accused of that than to let it be known that it is permitted to be wanting in respect for you or to contradict you."
The courtier knew Chéri's weak point; and the fear of seeing his authority diminished made such an impression on the King, that he stifled the good impulse which had given him the wish to correct himself. He resolved to go the same evening into the chamber of the shepherdess, and to ill-treat her if she still refused to marry him.
The foster-brother of Chéri, who feared some good change in him, assembled three young lords as wicked as himself to carouse with the King. They supped together; and the courtiers took care to cloud the reason of the poor Prince, by making him drink deep. During the repast they excited his anger against Zélie, and made him so ashamed of the tenderness he had shown for her, that he rose like a madman, swearing that he would make her obey him, or sell her the next day as a slave.
Chéri having entered the chamber in which the girl had been shut up, was surprised not to find her there, for he had the key in his pocket. He was in a frightful rage, and swore to be avenged on those whom he should suspect of having aided her to escape. His confidants hearing him speak thus, resolved to profit by his anger to rid themselves of a nobleman who had been Chéri's governor. This worthy man had occasionally taken the liberty of pointing out to the King his faults, for he loved him as though he had been his own son. At first Chéri had thanked him, but at length he grew impatient at being contradicted, and then began to think it was only from a spirit of opposition that his governor found fault with him, whilst every one else praised him. He ordered him, therefore, to retire from Court; but, notwithstanding this order, he admitted now and then that he was an honest man; that he no longer loved him, but that he esteemed him in spite of himself. The favourites were always in dread of the King recalling the governor, and they now imagined they had found a favourable opportunity of getting rid of him altogether. They represented to the King that Suliman (such was the name of the worthy man) had boasted that he would set Zélie at liberty. They bribed three men, who deposed that they had overheard Suliman speak to this effect; and the Prince, transported with anger, commanded his foster-brother to send a guard to bring the governor to him fettered like a criminal.
After having given these orders, Chéri retired to his room; but hardly had he entered it, when the ground trembled, he heard a tremendous clap of thunder, and Candid appeared before him. "I promised your father," said she to him, in a severe tone, "to give you advice, and to punish you if you refused to follow it. You have scorned that advice; you have retained but the form of a man; your crimes have changed you into a monster, the horror of heaven and earth. It is time I should fulfil my promise by punishing you. I condemn you to become like the beasts whose inclinations you already copy. You have resembled the lion in your rage, the wolf in your gluttony, the serpent by wounding him who has been your second father, and the bull by your brutality. You shall bear in your new form the trace of all these animals."
Hardly had she finished these words before Chéri saw with horror he was the monster she described. He had the head of a lion, the horns of a bull, the feet of a wolf, and the tail of a viper. At the same time he found himself in a great forest, on the brink of a fountain wherein he saw his horrible form reflected, and heard a voice, which said, "Consider attentively the state to which thy crimes have reduced thee. Thy mind is become a thousand times more frightful than thy body." Chéri recognised the voice of Candid, and in his fury he turned to throw himself on her, and, if it had been possible, to devour her; but he saw no one, and the same voice said to him, "I mock thy impotent fury, and will humble thy pride by placing thee under the power of thine own subjects."
Chéri thought that by flying from this fountain he should escape from much of his vexation, as he should no longer have his ugliness and deformity before his eyes: he rushed therefore into the wood; but hardly had he gone a few steps, when he fell into a hole which had been made to catch a bear, and immediately the hunters, who had climbed the trees to watch for their prey, descended, and having secured him with chains, led him towards the capital city of his kingdom.
On the way, instead of perceiving that he had drawn on himself this chastisement by his own fault, he cursed the Fairy, gnawed his chains, and gave himself up to his rage. As he approached the city to which they were conducting him, he observed great rejoicing going on; and the hunters having asked what had happened, were told that Prince Chéri, who had had no pleasure but in tormenting his people, had been destroyed in his chamber by a thunderbolt, for so they imagined. "The gods," said they, "could no longer support the excess of his wickedness, and have thus ridden the world of him. Four lords, accomplices of his crimes, thought to profit by the event, and to divide his kingdom amongst them; but the people who knew that it was their evil counsel which had corrupted the King, tore them to pieces, and have offered the crown to Suliman, whom the wicked Chéri had wished to put to death. This worthy Lord has just been crowned, and we celebrate this day as that of the deliverance of the kingdom; for Suliman is virtuous, and will restore to us peace and prosperity."
Chéri groaned with rage at hearing this discourse; but it was far worse when he arrived in the Great Square before the Palace. He saw Suliman on a superb throne, and heard the people wish him a long life, to repair all the evils which his predecessor had committed. Suliman made a sign with his hand to request silence, and said to the crowd: "I have accepted the crown which you offered me, but only to preserve it for Prince Chéri; he is not dead, as you believe. A Fairy has revealed this to me, and perhaps some day you will see him again as virtuous as he was in his youth. Alas!" continued he, shedding tears, "flatterers ruined him. I knew his heart, it was formed for virtue; and but for the poisonous discourse of those who surrounded him, he would have been a father to you. Detest his vices, but pity him, and let us all pray the gods to restore him to us. As for me, I should esteem myself too happy to bathe this throne with my blood, if I could see him ascend it again with those good dispositions which would make him fill it worthily."
The words of Suliman went to the heart of Chéri. He found then how sincere had been the attachment and fidelity of this excellent man, and for the first time reproached himself for his wickedness. Hardly had he listened to this good impulse than he felt the rage which had animated him subdued, he reflected on the crimes he had committed, and confessed he had not been punished as severely as he had deserved. He ceased to struggle in his iron cage, and became mild as a lamb. They placed him in a large menagerie, where they kept all sorts of monsters and wild beasts, and chained him up with the rest.
Chéri then came to the resolution of beginning to amend of his faults, by showing obedience to the man who kept him. This man was very brutal when he was in an ill-temper. Although the Monster was very docile, he beat him without rhyme or reason. One day that this man was asleep, a tiger that had broken his chain threw himself upon him to devour him; at first Chéri felt an emotion of joy at seeing himself about to be delivered from his persecutor, but immediately after he condemned this feeling and wished himself at liberty. "I would," said he, "render good for evil by saving the life of this unhappy man." Hardly had he formed the wish, than he saw his iron cage open, he threw himself before the man, who was now awake and defending himself from the tiger. The Keeper thought himself lost when he saw the Monster; but his fear was soon turned into joy--the benevolent Monster sprang upon the tiger, strangled him, and then laid himself down at the feet of him whom he had saved. The man, penetrated by gratitude, was about to stoop to caress the Monster which had rendered him so great a service, when he heard a voice which said, "A good action never goes without its reward," and at the same moment he saw only a pretty dog at his feet. Chéri, charmed at this metamorphosis, bestowed a thousand caresses on his Keeper, who took him in his arms and carried him to the King, to whom he related this marvellous story. The Queen desired to have the dog; and Chéri would have been very happy in his new condition had he been able to forget that he was once a man and a monarch. The Queen loaded him with caresses; but fearing that he would grow larger, she consulted her physicians, who told her that she must give him no food but bread, and only a moderate quantity of that. Poor Chéri was dying of hunger half the day, but he was obliged to have patience.
One morning that they brought him his little roll for his breakfast, he had a fancy to go and eat it in the garden of the Palace. He took it in his mouth, and walked towards a canal which he knew was a short distance off; but he could nowhere find it, and in its place he saw a large mansion, the exterior of which blazed with gold and precious stones. He observed in it an immense number of persons of both sexes magnificently dressed: they sang and danced, and fared sumptuously within the building; but all those who came out of it were pale, thin, covered with wounds, and nearly naked, for their clothes were torn into shreds. Some fell dead as they issued from it without having strength to drag themselves a step further; others proceeded with great difficulty; whilst some remained lying on the ground dying of hunger and begging a morsel of bread from those who entered the house, but who did not vouchsafe a look at them. Chéri approached a young girl who was trying to tear up some grass to eat; touched with compassion, the Prince said to himself, "I have a good appetite, but I shall not die of hunger if I wait till dinner-time and sacrifice my breakfast to this poor creature; perhaps I shall save her life." He resolved to act on this good impulse, and placed his bread in the hand of the girl, who put it to her mouth with avidity. She soon appeared quite restored by it; and Chéri, transported with joy at having so opportunely come to her relief, was about to return to the Palace when he heard loud cries. It was Zélie in the hands of four men, who dragged her towards the mansion, which they forced her to enter. Chéri then regretted his form of a monster, which would have afforded him the means of rescuing Zélie; but a poor little dog as he was, he could only bark at the ravishers and strive to follow them. They drove him away by kicks; but he resolved not to quit the spot, and find out what had become of Zélie. He reproached himself for the misfortunes of this beautiful girl. "Alas!" said he to himself, "I am indignant with those who have carried her off. Have I not committed the same crime myself? and if the justice of the gods had not frustrated my attempt, should I not have treated her with the same barbarity?"
The reflections of Chéri were interrupted by a noise which he heard above his head. He saw a window open; and his joy was extreme when he perceived Zélie, who threw from this window a plateful of meat so well dressed that it made him hungry to see it. The window was shut again immediately; and Chéri, who had not eaten all day, was about to devour the meat, when the young girl to whom he had given the bread uttered a cry, and having taken him in her arms, "Poor little animal," said she, "do not touch that food; this house is the Palace of Voluptuousness; all who come out of it are poisoned." At the same moment Chéri heard a voice which said, "Thou seest a good action never remains unrecompensed;" and immediately he was changed into a beautiful little white pigeon. He remembered that this colour was the favourite one of Candid, and began to hope that she might at length restore him to her good graces. He was desirous of rejoining Zélie; and rising in the air, flew all round the palace, and found with joy one window open; but in vain did he traverse all the building--he could not find Zélie. In despair at her loss, he resolved not to rest till he should meet with her. He flew for several days, and having entered a desert, observed a cavern, which he approached. How great was his delight! Zélie was seated there by the side of a venerable hermit, and sharing with him a frugal repast. Chéri, transported with joy, flew on to the shoulder of the lovely shepherdess, and expressed by his caresses the pleasure he felt at seeing her. Zélie, charmed with the gentleness of the little creature, stroked it gently with her hand, and although she thought it could not understand her, she told it that she accepted the gift it made her of itself, and that she would always love it. "What have you done, Zélie?" said the hermit. "You have plighted your faith." "Yes, charming shepherdess," said Chéri to her, who resumed at this moment his natural form, "the termination of my metamorphosis was dependent on your consent to our union. You have promised always to love me, confirm my happiness, or I shall hasten and implore the Fairy Candid, my protectress, to restore me to the form under which I have had the happiness of pleasing you." "You need not fear her inconstancy," said Candid, who, quitting the form of the hermit under which she had been concealed, appeared before them in her proper person. "Zélie loved you from the first moment she saw you; but your vices compelled her to conceal the passion with which you had inspired her. The change in your heart leaves her at liberty to show her affection for you. You will live happily, because your union will be founded on virtue."
Chéri and Zélie threw themselves at the feet of Candid. The Prince was never tired of thanking her for her goodness, and Zélie, enchanted to find that the Prince detested his former evil ways, confirmed to him the Fairy's avowal of her affection. "Rise, my children," said the Fairy to them, "I will transport you to your Palace, and restore to Chéri a crown of which his vices had rendered him unworthy." Hardly had she finished speaking when they found themselves in the chamber of Suliman, who, charmed to see his dear master once more become virtuous, abdicated the throne, and remained the most faithful of his subjects. Chéri reigned for a long period with Zélie; and it is said that he applied himself so well to his duties, that the ring, which he again wore, never once pricked his finger severely enough to draw a single drop of blood.