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Graciosa And Percinet

from The Best Popular Stories Selected And Rendered Anew





Once upon a time there lived a king and queen, who had an only
daughter. Her incomparable beauty, sweetness, and intelligence caused
her to be named Graciosa. She was all her mother's joy. Every day she
had given her a different dress, of gold brocade, velvet, or satin;
yet she was neither conceited nor boastful. She used to pass her
mornings in study, and in the afternoon she sat sewing by the queen's
side. She had, however, plenty of play-time, and sweetmeats without
end, so that she was altogether the happiest princess alive.

At the same court was an elderly young lady named Duchess Grognon, who
was the very opposite of Graciosa. Her hair was fiery red, her face
fat and spotty, and she had but one eye. Her mouth was so big that you
might have thought she could eat you up, only she had no teeth to do
it with; she was also humpbacked and lame. Of course she could not
help her ugliness, and nobody would have disliked her for that, if she
had not been of such an unpleasant temper that she hated everything
sweet and beautiful, and especially Graciosa. She had also a very good
opinion of herself, and when any one praised the princess, would say
angrily, That is a lie! My little finger is worth her whole body.

In course of time the queen fell sick and died, and her daughter was
almost broken-hearted. So was her husband for a year, and then he
began to comfort himself by hunting. One day, after a long chase, he
came to a strange castle, which happened to be that of the Duchess
Grognon. She, informed of his approach, went out to meet him, and
received him most respectfully. As he was very hot with hunting, she
took him into the coolest place in the palace, which was a vaulted
cave, most elegantly furnished, where there were two hundred barrels
arranged in long rows.

Madam, are these all yours? inquired the king.

Yes, sire, but I shall be most happy if you will condescend to taste
their contents. Which wine do you prefer--canary, hermitage,
champagne? and she ran over a long list, out of which his majesty
made his choice.

Grognon took a little hammer, and struck toc, toc, on the cask, from
which there rolled out a handful of silver money. Nay, what is this?
said she, smiling, and passed on to the next, from which, when she
tapped it, out poured a stream of gold coins. I never saw the
like--what nonsense! and she tried the third, out of which came a
heap of pearls and diamonds, so that the floor of the cave was strewn
with them. Sire, she exclaimed, some one has robbed me of my good
wine, and put this rubbish in its place.

Rubbish, madam! Why, such rubbish would buy my whole kingdom.

It is yours, sire, replied the duchess, if you will make me your
queen.

The king, who was a great lover of money, replied eagerly, Certainly,
madam, I'll marry you to-morrow if you will.

Grognon, highly delighted, made but one other condition--that she
should have the Princess Graciosa entirely in her own rule and power,
just as if she had been her real mother; to which the foolish king
consented, for he thought much more of riches than he did of his
child. So he and Grognon departed hand in hand out of the cave, very
well pleased.

When the king returned home, Graciosa ran out with joy to welcome her
father, and asked him if he had had good sport in his hunting.

Yes, my child, said he, for I have taken a dove alive.

Oh, give it me, and I will nourish and cherish it, cried the
princess.

That is impossible; for it is the Duchess Grognon, whom I have
promised to marry.

She a dove!--she is rather a hawk, sighed the princess in despair;
but her father bade her hold her tongue, and promise to love her
stepmother, who would have over her all the authority of a mother, and
to whom he wished to present her that very day.

The obedient princess went to her apartment, where her nurse soon
found out the sorrow in her face, and its cause.

My child, said the good old woman, princesses ought to show a good
example to humbler women. Promise me to do your best to please your
father, and to make yourself agreeable to the stepmother he has
chosen for you. She may not be so bad after, all.

And the nurse gave so much good advice, that Graciosa began to smile,
and dressed herself in her best attire, a green robe embroidered with
gold; while her fair, loose-falling hair was adorned, according to the
fashion of the day, with a coronet of jasmine, of which the leaves
were made of large emeralds.

Grognon, on her part, made the best of herself that was possible. She
put on a high-heeled shoe to appear less lame, she padded her
shoulders, dyed her red hair black, and put in a false eye; then
dressed herself in a hooped petticoat of violet satin trimmed with
blue, and an upper gown of yellow with green ribands. In this costume,
she wished to enter the city on horseback, as she understood the
queens were in the habit of doing.

Meantime, Graciosa waited in fear the moment of her arrival, and, to
pass the time away, she went all alone into a little wood, where she
sobbed and wept in secret, until suddenly there appeared before her a
young page, whom she had never seen before.

Who are you? she inquired; and when did his majesty take you into
his service?

Princess, said the page, bowing, I am in no one's service but your
own. I am Percinet, a prince in my own country, so that there is no
inequality of rank between us. I have loved you long, and seen you
often, for I have the fairy gift of making myself invisible. I might
longer have concealed myself from you, but for your present sorrow,
in which, however, I hope to be of both comfort and assistance--a page
and yet a prince, and your faithful lover.

At these words, at once tender and respectful, the princess, who had
long heard of the fairy-prince Percinet, felt so happy that she feared
Grognon no more. They talked a little while together, and then
returned to the palace, where the page assisted her to mount her
horse; on which she looked so beautiful, that all the new queen's
splendours faded into nothing in comparison, and not one of the
courtiers had eyes for any except Graciosa.

As soon as Grognon saw it, What! cried she, has this creature the
impudence to be better mounted than myself! Descend, Miss, and let me
try your horse;--and your page, whom everybody thinks so much of, bid
him come and hold my bridle.

Prince Percinet, who was the page, cast one look at his fair Graciosa
and obeyed; but no sooner had the duchess mounted, than the horse ran
away with her and dragged her over briers, stones, and mud, and
finally threw her into a deep ditch. Her head was cut in several
places, and her arm fractured. They picked her up in little pieces,
like a broken wineglass; never was there a poor bride in worse plight.
But in spite of her sufferings her malice remained. She sent for the
king:

This is all Graciosa's fault; she wished to kill me. I desire that
your majesty will punish her, or leave me to do it--else I will
certainly be revenged upon you both.

The king, afraid of losing his casks full of gold pieces, consented,
and Graciosa was commanded to appear. She came trembling and looking
round vainly for Prince Percinet. The cruel Grognon ordered four
women, ugly as witches, to take her and strip off her fine clothes,
and whip her with rods till her white shoulders were red with blood.
But lo! as soon as the rods touched her, they turned into bundles of
feathers, and the women tired themselves to death with whipping,
without hurting Graciosa the least in the world!

Ah! kind Percinet, what do I not owe you? What should I do without
you! sighed the princess, when she was taken back to her own chamber
and her nurse. And then she saw the prince standing before her, in his
green dress and his white plume, the most charming of pages.

Percinet advised her to pretend illness on account of the cruel
treatment she was supposed to have received; which so delighted
Grognon, that she got well all the sooner, and the marriage was
celebrated with great splendour.

Soon after, the king, who knew that his wife's weak point was her
vanity, gave a tournament, at which he ordered the six bravest knights
of the court to proclaim that Queen Grognon was the fairest lady
alive. No knight ventured to dispute this fact, until there appeared
one who carried a little box adorned with diamonds, and proclaimed
aloud that Grognon was the ugliest woman in the universe, and that the
most beautiful was she whose portrait was in the box. He opened it,
and behold the image of the Princess Graciosa!

The princess, who sat behind her stepmother, felt sure that the
unknown knight was Percinet; but she dared say nothing. The contest
was fixed for next day; but in the meantime, Grognon, wild with anger,
commanded Graciosa to be taken in the middle of the night to a forest
a hundred leagues distant, full of wolves, lions, tigers, and bears.
In vain the poor maiden implored that the attendants would kill her at
once, rather than leave her in that dreadful place: the queen's orders
must be obeyed; no answer was made to her, but the servants remounted
and rode away. Graciosa, in solitude and darkness, groped through the
forest, sometimes falling against the trunks of trees, sometimes
tearing herself with bushes and briers; at last, overcome with fear
and grief, she sank on the ground, sobbing out, Percinet, Percinet,
have you forsaken me?

While she spoke, a bright light dazzled her eyes, the midnight forest
was changed into glittering alleys, at the end of which appeared a
palace of crystal, shining like the sun. She knew it was the doing of
the fairy-prince who loved her, and felt a joy mingled with fear. She
turned to fly, but saw him standing before her, more handsome and
charming than ever.

Princess, said he, why are you afraid of me? This is the palace of
the fairy-queen my mother, and the princesses my sisters, who will
take care of you, and love you tenderly. Enter this chariot, and I
will convey you there.

Graciosa entered, and passing through many a lovely forest glade,
where it was clear daylight, and shepherds and shepherdesses were
dancing to merry music, they reached the palace, where the queen and
her two daughters received the forlorn princess with great kindness,
and led her through many rooms of rock-crystal, glittering with
jewels, where, to her amazement, Graciosa saw the history of her own
life, even down to this adventure in the forest, painted on the walls.

How is this? she said. Prince, you know everything about me.

Yes; and I wish to preserve everything concerning you, said he
tenderly; whereupon Graciosa cast down her eyes. She was only too
happy, and afraid that she should learn to love the fairy-prince too
much.

She spent eight days in his palace--days full of every enjoyment; and
Percinet tried all the arguments he could think of to induce her to
marry him, and remain there for ever. But the good and gentle Graciosa
remembered her father who was once so kind to her, and she preferred
rather to suffer than to be wanting in duty. She entreated Percinet to
use his fairy power to send her home again, and meantime to tell her
what had become of her father.

Come with me into the great tower there, and you shall see for
yourself.

Thereupon he took her to the top of a tower, prodigiously high, put
her little finger to his lips, and her foot upon his foot. Then he
bade her look, and she saw as hi a picture, or as in a play upon the
stage, the King and Grognon sitting together on their throne. The
latter was telling how Graciosa had hanged herself in a cave.

She will not be much loss, sire; and as, when dead, she was far too
frightful for you to look at, I have given orders to bury her at
once.

She might well say that, for she had had a large faggot put into a
coffin, and sealed up; the king and all the nation mourned over it;
and now, that she was no more, they declared there never was such a
sweet creature as the lost princess.

The sight of her father's grief quite overcame Graciosa. Oh,
Percinet! she cried, my father believes me dead. If you love me,
take me home.

The prince consented, though very sorrowfully, saying that she was as
cruel to him as Grognon was to her, and mounted with her in his
chariot, drawn by four white stags. As they quitted the courtyard,
they heard a great noise, and Graciosa saw the palace all falling to
pieces with a great crash.

What is this? she cried, terrified.

Princess, my palace, which you forsake, is among the things which are
dead and gone. You will enter it no more till after your burial.

Prince, you are angry with me, said Graciosa sorrowfully; only she
knew well that she suffered quite as much as he did in thus departing
and quitting him.

Arrived in her father's presence, she had great difficulty in
persuading him that she was not a ghost, until the coffin with the
faggot inside it was taken up, and Grognon's malice discovered But
even then, the king was so weak a man, that the queen soon made him
believe he had been cheated, that the princess was really dead, and
that this was a false Graciosa. Without more ado, he abandoned his
daughter to her stepmother's will.

Grognon, transported with joy, dragged her to a dark prison, took away
her clothes, made her dress in rags, feed on bread and water, and
sleep upon straw. Forlorn and hopeless, Graciosa dared not now call
upon Percinet; she doubted if he still loved her enough to come to her
aid.

Meantime, Grognon had sent for a fairy, who was scarcely less
malicious than herself. I have here, said she, a little wretch of a
girl for whom I wish to find all sorts of difficult tasks; pray assist
me in giving her a new one every day.

The fairy promised to think of it, and soon brought a skein as thick
as four persons, yet composed of thread so fine, that it broke if you
only blew upon it, and so tangled that it had neither beginning nor
end. Grognon, delighted, sent for her poor prisoner.

There, miss, teach your clumsy fingers to unwind this skein, and if
you break a single thread I will flay you alive. Begin when you like,
but you must finish at sunset, or it will be the worse for you. Then
she sent her to her miserable cell, and treble-locked the door.

Graciosa stood dismayed, turning the skein over and over, and breaking
hundreds of threads each time. Ah! Percinet, she cried in despair,
come and help me, or at least receive my last farewell.

Immediately Percinet stood beside her, having entered the cell as
easily as if he carried the key in his pocket. Behold me, princess,
ready to serve you, even though you forsook me. He touched the skein
with his wand, and it untangled itself, and wound itself up in perfect
order. Do you wish anything more, madam? asked he coldly.

Percinet, Percinet, do not reproach me; I am only too unhappy.

It is your own fault. Come with me, and make us both happy. But she
said nothing, and the fairy-prince disappeared.

At sunset, Grognon eagerly came to the prison-door with her three
keys, and found Graciosa smiling and fair, her task all done. There
was no complaint to make, yet Grognon exclaimed that the skein was
dirty, and boxed the princess's ears till her rosy cheeks turned
yellow and blue. Then she left her, and overwhelmed the fairy with
reproaches.

Find me, by to-morrow, something absolutely impossible for her to
do.

The fairy brought a great basket full of feathers, plucked from every
kind of bird--nightingales, canaries, linnets, larks, doves, thrushes,
peacocks, ostriches, pheasants, partridges, magpies, eagles--in fact,
if I told them all over, I should never come to an end; and all these
feathers were so mixed up together, that they could not be
distinguished.

See, said the fairy, even one of ourselves would find it difficult
to separate these, and arrange them as belonging to each sort of bird.
Command your prisoner to do it; she is sure to fail.

Grognon jumped for joy, sent for the princess, and ordered her to take
her task, and finish it, as before, by set of sun.

Graciosa tried patiently, but she could see no difference in the
feathers; she threw them all back again into the basket, and began to
weep bitterly. Let me die, said she, for death only will end my
sorrows. Percinet loves me no longer; if he did, he would already have
been here.

Here I am, my princess, cried a voice from under the basket; and the
fairy-prince appeared. He gave three taps with his wand--the feathers
flew by millions out of the basket, and arranged themselves in little
heaps, each belonging to a different bird.

What do I not owe you? cried Graciosa.

Love me! answered the prince, tenderly, and said no more.

When Grognon arrived, she found the task done. She was furious at the
fairy, who was as much astonished as herself at the result of their
malicious contrivances. But she promised to try once more; and for
several days employed all her industry in inventing a box, which, she
said, the prisoner must be forbidden on any account to open. Then,
added the cunning fairy, of course, being such a disobedient and
wicked girl, as you say, she will open it, and the result will
satisfy you to your heart's content.

Grognon took the box, and commanded Graciosa to carry it to her
castle, and set it on a certain table, in an apartment she named, but
not upon any account, to open it or examine its contents.

Graciosa departed. She was dressed like any poor peasant, in a cotton
gown, a woollen hood and wooden shoes; yet, as she walked along,
people took her for a queen in disguise, so lovely were her looks and
ways. But being weak with imprisonment, she soon grew weary, and,
sitting down upon the edge of a little wood, took the box upon her
lap. Suddenly a wonderful desire seized her to open it.

I will take nothing out, I will touch nothing, said she to herself,
but I must see what is inside.

Without reflecting on the consequences, she lifted up the lid, and
instantly there jumped out a number of little men and little women,
carrying little tables and chairs, little dishes, and little musical
instruments. The whole company were so small, that the biggest giant
among them was scarcely the height of a finger. They leaped into the
green meadow, separated into various bands, and began dancing and
singing, eating and drinking, to Graciosa's wonder and delight. But
when she recollected herself, and wished to get them into the box
again, they all scampered away, played at hide-and-seek in the wood,
and by no means could she catch a single one.

Again, in her distress, she called upon Percinet, and again he
appeared; and, with a single touch of his wand, sent all the little
people back into the box. Then, in his chariot, drawn by stags, he
took her to the castle, where she did all that she had been commanded,
and returned in safety, to her stepmother, who was more furious than
ever. If a fairy could be strangled, Grognon certainly would have done
it in her rage. At last, she resolved to ask help no more, but to work
her own wicked will upon Graciosa.

She caused to be dug a large hole in the garden, and taking the
princess there, showed her the stone which covered it.

Underneath this stone lies a great treasure; lift it up, and you will
see.

Graciosa obeyed; and while she was standing at the edge of the pit,
Grognon pushed her in, and let the stone fall down again upon her,
burying her alive. After this, there seemed no more hope for the poor
princess.

O Percinet, cried she, you are avenged. Why did I not return your
love, and marry you! Still, death will be less bitter, if only you
regret me a little.

While she spoke, she saw through the blank darkness a glimmer of
light; it came through a little door. She remembered what Percinet had
said: that she would never return to the fairy palace, until after she
was buried. Perhaps this final cruelty of Grognon would be the end of
her sorrows. So she took courage, crept through the little door, and
lo! she came out into a beautiful garden, with long alleys,
fruit-trees, and flower-beds. Well she knew it, and well she knew the
glitter of the rock-crystal walls. And there, at the palace-gate,
stood Percinet, and the queen, his mother, and the princesses, his
sisters. Welcome, Graciosa! cried they all; and Graciosa, after all
her sufferings, wept for joy.

The marriage was celebrated with great splendour; and all the fairies,
for a thousand leagues round, attended it. Some came in chariots drawn
by dragons, or swans, or peacocks; some were mounted upon floating
clouds, or globes of fire. Among the rest, appeared the very fairy who
had assisted Grognon to torment Graciosa. When she discovered that
Grognon's poor prisoner was now Prince Percinet's bride, she was
overwhelmed with confusion, and entreated her to forget all that had
passed, because she really was ignorant who she had been so cruelly
afflicting.

But I will make amends for all the evil that I have done, said the
fairy; and, refusing to stay for the wedding-dinner, she remounted her
chariot, drawn by two terrible serpents, and flew to the palace of
Graciosa's father. There, before either king, or courtiers, or
ladies-in-waiting could stop her--even had they wished to do it, which
remains doubtful--she came behind the wicked Grognon, and twisted her
neck, just as a cook does a barn-door fowl. So Grognon died and was
buried, and nobody was particularly sorry for the same.





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Previous: Jack And The Bean-stalk



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