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The Comb And The Collar

from The Olive Fairy Book





Once upon a time there was a king of Lombardy who, though he was
uglier than any of his subjects, loved beauty in others, so he married
a wife who was declared by everyone to be the handsomest of women;
and, whispered some, the most ill-natured also. Certainly she could
not endure the sight of a pretty person, and her ladies were all the
plainest of their sex. Worse than all, she was desperately jealous of
the king's son and daughter by his former wife.

Unfortunately, in spite of all her evil qualities, the king was her
complete slave, and badly though she treated the boy, the lovely
princess was made to suffer ten times as much. Not contented with
giving the girl, for a governess, a woman whose temper was as bad as
the queen's own, the cruel step-mother did everything she could think
of to spoil the girl's beauty, and to force her to appear as ugly as
she was herself; but, try as she might, when the hideous clothes and
frightful brown paint had been removed, her loveliness shone out as
bright as ever.

* * * * *

Now the king of Lombardy was cousin to the Archduke of Placenza, who
had lately lost his reason, to the great grief of his son and
daughter, Perarthrites and Ferrandina. The doctors having all failed
to restore him to health, the prince and princess sent a messenger to
consult a famous enchantress, called the Mother of Sheaths, because
everyone who visited her brought with him a knife, which she thrust
into one of the sheaths with which her cavern was lined. However, they
obtained little comfort from the witch, who bade them 'seek their
father's wits in the place where he had lost them.' Against the wishes
of the chief ministers, Perarthrites and Ferrandina rode off to the
mysterious castle where the king had slept when his terrible fate had
overtaken him, and, once inside the gates, nothing more was heard of
them.

* * * * *

When three weeks had passed and still there was no news, the king's
chief minister called a council to talk over the matter, and, at the
end, it was decided that a company of distinguished persons should
visit the Mother of Sheaths, and that the knives they must take with
them should be of pure gold, richly set with precious stones. The
witch was so pleased with the beauty of the gifts that she not only
listened attentively to their story, but proceeded to a hole in the
cavern, from which she drew out a little case containing a comb, and a
steel collar, fastened by a gold key.

'Carry this comb and the collar to every court until you find a lady
beautiful enough to unlock the collar, and a man good enough to draw
the comb from its case. When you have discovered these, you can return
whence you came.'

'But I do not see,' said the chamberlain, 'how that will help us to
bring back our lost prince and princess.'

'It is all I can do for you,' answered the Mother of Sheaths; and she
went into the back of the cavern, where they dared not follow her.

* * * * *

For the next few months the mad king's principal ministers wandered
from one court to another, till at last they reached Lombardy, where
they found that their story had already travelled before them. As soon
as they appeared in the presence-chamber the king received them with
open arms, for in his heart he had no doubt that his wife was the
peerless beauty destined to unfasten the collar. And, indeed, if paint
and hair-dye and magnificent dresses could have ensured her doing so,
he would certainly have been right. But, blinded by his love for this
wicked woman, he had really no idea that her charms were not her own.

At the appointed hour the queen entered the throne-room, having by her
side the young princess, in the most grievous plight imaginable. Her
dress was so contrived as to give the idea that she had a hump; her
pink-and-white skin was thickly covered with yellow paint, and her
black hair all hidden by a close-fitting brown cloth cap. Murmurs of
indignation rose on all sides, and the ambassadors, who had frequently
heard the princess compared to the lovely Ferrandina, were dumb with
astonishment. As for the king, he could hardly raise his eyes from the
ground, so ashamed was he; and signing to his son to take his place,
he withdrew from the scene.

Mounting the throne, the prince commanded the trial to begin at once,
and the collar was handed to the princess's governess, who, being one
of the ugliest women that ever was seen, naturally failed to turn the
key. Seizing the chance of his being for a short time in power, the
prince resolved to punish her cruelties towards his sister, and
especially this last one, to which she had prompted the queen, and
ordered her to be taken out and executed, which was done, with great
good will, by the attendants. He then further commanded the ladies in
waiting to attend his sister to her apartments, and bathe her and
dress her in the queen's most splendid robes, as she had none of her
own; and the queen, though gnashing her teeth with anger, for once
dared not interfere. More quickly than could have been expected, the
princess returned, looking so beautiful that if anyone had doubted
before who would be able to unlock the collar they were instantly
convinced. The prince glanced at her, but said nothing, and, signing
to one of the ambassadors, he ordered him to make trial of the comb.
One by one each man present did his best to remove it from its case,
and one by one each was forced to own himself beaten. At length only
the prince remained, but as he was the judge he must wait till the
last.

After the men had finished, the ladies of the court had the collar
presented to them according to rank, but none could even turn the key.
Finally it was handed to the queen, who managed to open it a little
way. Her heart beat with triumph, but immediately it closed again with
a snap, and she sank back, fainting from disappointment.

By this time there were only left the prince and his sister; and no
sooner did he touch the case than it opened of itself, while the lock
of the collar yielded directly the princess took hold of the key.
Cries of delight rose from the courtiers and attendants; but these
were interrupted by a whirlwind accompanied by thick darkness, and
followed by an earthquake.

When all was calm again, and the sun shining, the prince and princess
had disappeared.



Although the king's son and daughter were the only persons who had
vanished in the storm, unluckily they had been carried off in opposite
directions. The rapid motion through the air deprived the princess of
her senses, which she nearly lost a second time, from fright, when she
was set down alone in the middle of a thick forest. She ran wildly
about, calling to her brother to come to her aid; but her cries only
attracted the attention of some hungry wolves, who sprung towards her
with their jaws gaping and their red tongues hanging out. Falling on
her knees, she covered her face with one hand unconsciously grasping
the collar with the other, and awaited her doom. Already she could
feel their hot breath on her cheek, and crouched lower and lower,
when the eyes of the foremost wolf caught sight of the collar. With a
howl that echoed through the forest he bounded away, followed by his
companions.

As soon as the princess had recovered from the shock she rose and
fled, without knowing whither, until she found herself in a broad
road, and beheld, approaching her, a flock of sheep driven by two
shepherds. She hastened towards them in order to implore their help,
when suddenly the sheep caught sight of her collar and instantly
scattered in all directions.

'I must have something about me which frightens all beasts,' she
thought, and took great comfort therefrom; and in good spirits she
went her way, till she came to the gates of an old castle. She was
just about to enter and beg for a night's shelter, when a snow white
fox ran across the road, and stopped in front of her.

He was so pretty, and had such bright beseeching eyes, that the
princess hastily tucked the collar under her dress, lest he too should
flee at the sight of it. Very gently she drew near, hoping he might
follow her into the castle, but he only set off in another direction,
and, tired though she was, something forced the girl to follow him.
Thankful indeed was she when he turned a corner and sat down before
the door of a tiny palace, which was built on the bank of a river.
When she came up he took the hem of her dress between his teeth and
led her into a room where there was a table covered with milk and
fruit. After she had eaten and drunk, she lay down upon a pile of
cushions, with the fox at her feet, and fell asleep to dream of her
lost brother.

If the princess was dreaming of her brother, he was no less thinking
of her, on the wild sea-shore, whither the whirlwind had cast him. All
was bleak and bare, except a green island which he could only see from
the top of a high rock where he passed all his days, gazing on the
waving palm trees and glittering waterfalls in the distance.

'Suppose she should be there?' he said to himself; and though there
was no reason to expect that the princess should be in that place more
than in any other, he could not get the notion out of his head.

A song, sung in the loveliest voice he had ever heard, roused the
young man from his musings, and he instantly turned in the direction
from which it had come. But though the singer seemed close to him he
could see her nowhere, and indeed, no sooner had he reached one spot
than the voice sounded in another direction, and he followed it up and
down, till he was suddenly stopped by the sight of a large fish's
skin, which lay stretched on the sand between the sea and the rocks.
The thing was so ugly, that he stepped aside in disgust, and at that
instant something leapt into the sea behind his back. This caused him
to look round. The fish's skin was no longer there, but in a cave in
the rock behind it he discovered a bath of ebony lined with gold,
which glittered in the sunlight.

Days passed without any adventures, and the prince had almost made up
his mind to leave the shore, and to seek his sister inland, when once
more he heard the voice that had so charmed him, and beheld the bloody
skin lying on the sand, and the bath, now filled with water, in the
grotto. Little sleep had he that night, and before dawn he hid himself
behind the rocks, determined not to move from the place till the fish
should come back again.

He had not very long to wait, for with the first rays of the sun there
appeared, out to sea, a shining white object which was blown by gentle
breezes towards the shore. As it came nearer he beheld a maiden, of
dazzling loveliness, seated in a shell where blues and pinks and
greens all melted into each other. In her hand she held the rope with
which the shell was guided.

The prince was so bewildered at her beauty that he forgot that he was
in hiding, and, rushing out, sank on his knees on the sands, holding
out his hands towards this wonderful vision. But as he did so the comb
and its case fell out of his pocket, and at the sight the lady uttered
a wild shriek, and, steering her shell round, vanished speedily in the
direction of the island. Throwing off his clothes, the prince was
preparing to swim after her, when he perceived beside him a snow white
fox, looking the same way, and making frantic signs with his paws,
till a small boat put out and set sail towards them, to the great joy
of the little creature.

When the boat drew up to the beach, the fox waved his paw towards the
prince's clothes, which he took to mean that he was to put them on
again. This done, they both got in, and had just pushed off, when the
prince suddenly recollected that the sight of the comb had frightened
away the beautiful lady. In a transport of fury he raised his hand to
fling it into the sea, but the fox sprang on him and held on so
tightly to his arm that he could not lift it. At that moment a
horseman on the shore let fly an arrow at the fox, with so true an aim
that the little creature fell heavily into the well of the boat, and
closed its eyes, like one who has received his death-blow. The grief
of the prince was sore. He instantly leaped to land, but the murderer
was already far distant. When the young man turned round again, the
boat and the fox were nowhere to be seen.

An approaching storm drove him into the grotto, which was lighted up
by a multitude of tapers, each one being in the shape of a knife half
out of its sheath. Over the bath was a tent-shaped covering of white,
embroidered with sheaths, and from beneath it came a voice:

'Prince, will you trust me whatever happens, knowing that my heart is
yours, and as I feel that yours is mine? But, beware, for if you give
the smallest sign of fear, when the tent is opened, you will lose me
for ever.'

She did well to warn him; and even then he had much ado to keep the
colour in his cheeks and his hand from trembling, for a crocodile's
head with snapping jaws advanced towards him. With a mighty effort he
managed to remain still, and to gaze steadily at the horrible beast,
and as he did so, the head bent backwards, and beneath it was seen the
lovely countenance of the Lady of the Shell.

'Quick! prince! quick! the time is flying, comb me at once or I shall
vanish from your sight.' At her words he took out the comb, but found
to his surprise that it needed all his strength to draw it from its
sheath. And, strange to say, that in proportion as the comb emerged
from its sheath the lady's head was freed from its horrible covering,
and her body rose a little more out of the water. When her shoulders
and arms were freed, she called to him:

'Enough, so far you have obeyed my orders. Now burn my skin.'

'Ah, that I can never do,' cried he; but the lady cut him short.

'Then we shall both rue it for ever,' she said gravely; 'for I can
only be the wife of him who will burn my skin.' And while he still
stood hesitating, the curtains of the tent fell back on her, and the
tapers fizzled out.

Bitterly repenting his slowness, he wandered towards the forest where
a fire was burning, hardly knowing what he did; but on his way he
almost fell over the skin, which was lying across his path.

'Ah, fool that I was! This must be the skin she wished me to burn,'
said he. And seizing it in both hands he flung it into the fire, where
it exploded with a terrific noise. At first he rushed off to some
distance, not knowing what might next befall, but after a while found
that his steps had led him back to the place of the fire. The skin had
gone and left no traces, but among the cinders he beheld something
shining, which proved to be the magic collar. Ah! then his sister, for
whom he had so greatly longed, must be near at last! And before he
could turn his head or pick up the collar, her arms were round his
neck, and everything else was forgotten.

'You shall tell your story first,' she said, when at length they could
speak. And so he did; but his head was so full of the Lady of the
Shell that he forgot to say anything about the fox. And it was well
that he had forgotten, for when the princess had poured forth her own
adventures, she ended up by speaking of all she owed to the little
white fox.

'You cannot even guess the care he took of me in the little palace.
But though nothing could exceed his kindness, I saw by his eyes that
there was something he wanted me to give him, but I could not tell
what. Alas! the day came that I learnt it to my cost. I had hidden the
collar in a thick bush, lest the fox should catch sight of it and be
scared away as the other animals had been. But, one day, when we were
in the garden, the sun happened to shine straight on it, and he sprang
towards it with every sign of delight. He was about to seize it
between his teeth when it closed with a loud noise. The fox fled away
with a piercing scream, and though I have sought him far and wide, I
have never seen him since. I was here when you flung the skin into the
cinders, and no doubt, in my hurry to escape, the collar must have
dropped from me. Ah, dear brother,' she continued with tears in her
eyes, 'I can no longer live without my beloved fox; help me, I entreat
you, to find him.'

So great was her grief that the prince dared not tell her what sad
fate had overtaken the poor little animal, and trusted that time might
soothe her. He assured her that he would go with her wherever she
desired if she would grant him this one day to spend on the sea-shore;
and with this the princess was forced to be content.

The prince was standing on the rock, looking out towards the lovely
island, and straining his eyes to see the white sail once more, when
frightful shrieks from the wood a little way off caused him to hasten
with all his speed in that direction. He soon perceived a knight on
horseback with a bow slung to his back, struggling to lift a woman on
to his saddle. The knights' surprise at the sight of a man in this
desolate spot caused him to drop the woman's arm, and she rushed to
take shelter behind her defender, who, to his amazement, then
recognised his step-mother.

'How did you come here?' he asked coldly, more than half regretting
that he had not left her to her fate; but she read what was in his
heart, and fell on her knees before him.

'Oh, forgive me my wickedness,' she cried, 'for indeed I have repented
of it long ago, and come to the aid of your father who has been sorely
smitten by that mad archduke from whom you have just saved me! There
is no time to pursue him,' she added, as the prince started at the
sound of the vanishing hoofs; and as they pushed their way along the
path she told him all that had happened since they had last met.

'From the moment that the king knew of my cruelty to your sister,'
said she, 'he vowed he would never see me again, and left the court in
search of you both. I followed him secretly, but not being able to
gain any tidings of him, consulted the Mother of Sheaths, who took me
to rest in that island where the palm trees are waving. There she
showed me a lovely princess who, under a spell, was forced daily to
take the form of a crocodile, and when the dreaded moment arrived the
skin appeared before her, and, shudder as she might, some unseen power
impelled her to wrap herself in it and plunge into the sea. It is to
this island I am leading you; but first we must find your sister, for
on her presence hangs the life of the white fox--if, indeed, he is not
dead already.'

'The white fox!' exclaimed the prince. 'What do you know of him?'

'Not much,' answered the queen; 'but, since I arrived on the island,
he was always with us, and charmed us all. Yesterday we missed him,
but in the evening a little boat drifted up on the sands, and in it
lay the fox, covered with blood. While his wounds were being tended in
the palace with all the care imaginable, I set out to consult a
wizard, who told me that I must enter the skiff and seek for the
prince and princess of Lombardy, and that if, in twenty-four hours, I
could bring them into the presence of the fox, his life would be
saved. On a rock along the beach I found your father with an arrow
through his shoulder, from the bow of his cousin the mad archduke, who
was drawing another from his quiver, destined for me, when I fled into
the forest!'

'My father so near!' cried the prince. 'We must return and seek him,
and also look for my sister.'

* * * * *

They found her in the grotto, with her father's head in her lap,
trying vainly to staunch his wounds. Between them they contrived to
carry him to the boat, which sailed swiftly towards the island. On the
way the prince gently broke to his sister the sad state of the white
fox.

'Take me to him!' she said, as soon as the boat touched the island;
and in silence the queen went down the path to the palace.

The white fox was lying on a soft mattress in front of a fire, his
eyes closed, and a look on his face which told that death was not far
distant. But he knew, somehow, that the princess was near him, and
opened his eyes and wagged his tail feebly. The princess burst into
sobs and tears, till a hand on her shoulder checked her.

'Why do you waste the few moments that are left you in this manner?'
asked the governor of the island sternly. 'Place the collar you wear
round his neck, and he will be cured at once. But you must act
quickly.'

The princess seemed turned to stone as she listened. 'The collar!'
she gasped. 'But I have not got it, I lost it in the forest!' And the
thousand sheaths with which the walls were hung took up the cry:

'The collar is lost! The collar is lost!'



'What collar are you talking about?' asked the king, who was lying on
another bed, with the physicians bending over him. 'Here is one that I
picked up among some cinders, before that madman shot me--perhaps it
may be the one you want, or, at all events, it may do as well.' And he
signed to an attendant to take the collar from the pocket of his
velvet jerkin.

The princess leapt forward with joy at the sight of the precious
thing, and snatching it from the hand of the man she placed it round
the neck of the fox. All present held their breath as they watched
what was happening; and what did happen was that his legs grew
longer and longer, and his nose grew shorter and shorter. The fox was
gone, and in his stead there lay Perarthrites, in a coat of thick
white fur.

But though the prince of Lombardy was rejoiced to see his friend and
cousin again, his heart still bled for the beautiful lady who had
vanished so mysteriously. His face was so troubled that the governor
of the island marked it, and asked what was the matter. 'Oh! help me,
if you can,' cried the prince. 'The thought of the sufferings that the
enchanted nymph may be undergoing tortures me!'

'They are far worse than you can imagine,' gravely replied the
governor; 'but if you still possess your comb, you may yet relieve her
of them. Ah! that is well,' he continued, as the prince quickly drew
the comb from its case. 'Now follow me.'

Not only the prince, but every one else followed; and the governor led
them down a long gallery to a heavy iron door, which flew open at its
own accord. But what a sight met the prince's eyes! The lady whom he
had last beheld in peerless beauty was sitting in a chair wrapped in
flames, which were twisting like hair about her head. Her face was
swollen and red; her mouth was open as if gasping for breath. Only her
arms and neck were as lovely as ever in their whiteness.

'This is your doing,' said the governor to the prince; 'you brought
her to this when you burnt the crocodile's skin. Now try if, by
combing, you can soothe her agony.'

At the first touch of the comb the flames became suddenly
extinguished; at the second, the look of pain vanished from the face,
and it shrank into its usual size; at the third, she rose from the
chair, lovelier than she ever was before, and flung herself into the
arms of her brother Perarthrites.

* * * * *

After this there was nothing more to be done but to marry the two
couples as fast as possible. And when the wedding was over,
Perarthrites and his bride returned to Placenza, and Ferrandina and
her husband to Lombardy, and they all lived happily till they died.

(From Count Anthony Hamilton's Fairy Tales.)





Next: The Thanksgiving Of The Wazir

Previous: Jackal Or Tiger?



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