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The Sleeping Beauty In The Wood

from The Best Popular Stories Selected And Rendered Anew





Once there was a royal couple who grieved excessively because they had
no children. When at last, after long waiting, the queen presented her
husband with a little daughter, his majesty showed his joy by giving a
christening feast, so grand that the like of it was never known. He
invited all the fairies in the land--there were seven altogether--to
stand godmothers to the little princess; hoping that each might bestow
on her some good gift, as was the custom of good fairies in those
days.

After the ceremony, all the guests returned to the palace, where there
was set before each fairy-godmother a magnificent covered dish, with
an embroidered table-napkin, and a knife and fork of pure gold,
studded with diamonds and rubies. But alas! as they placed themselves
at table, there entered an old fairy who had never been invited,
because more than fifty years since she had left the king's dominion
on a tour of pleasure, and had not been heard of until this day. His
majesty, much troubled, desired a cover to be placed for her, but it
was of common delf, for he had ordered from his jeweller only seven
gold dishes for the seven fairies aforesaid. The elderly fairy thought
herself neglected, and muttered angry menaces, which were overheard by
one of the younger fairies, who chanced to sit beside her. This good
godmother, afraid of harm to the pretty baby, hastened to hide herself
behind the tapestry in the hall. She did this, because she wished all
the others to speak first--so that if any ill gift were bestowed on
the child, she might be able to counteract it.

The six now offered their good wishes--which, unlike most wishes, were
sure to come true. The fortunate little princess was to grow up the
fairest woman in the world; to have a temper sweet as an angel; to be
perfectly graceful and gracious; to sing like a nightingale; to dance
like a leaf on a tree; and to possess every accomplishment under the
sun. Then the old fairy's turn came. Shaking her head spitefully, she
uttered the wish that when the baby grew up into a young lady, and
learned to spin, she might prick her finger with the spindle and die
of the wound.

At this terrible prophecy all the guests shuddered; and some of the
more tender-hearted began to weep. The lately happy parents were
almost out of their wits with grief. Upon which the wise young fairy
appeared from behind the tapestry, saying cheerfully Your majesties
may comfort yourselves; the princess shall not die. I have no power
to alter the ill-fortune just wished her by my ancient sister--her
finger must be pierced; and she shall then sink, not into the sleep of
death, but into a sleep that will last a hundred years. After that
time is ended, the son of a king will find her, awaken her, and marry
her.

Immediately all the fairies vanished.

The king, in the hope of avoiding his daughter's doom, issued an
edict, forbidding all persons to spin, and even to have
spinning-wheels in their houses, on pain of instant death. But it was
in vain. One day, when she was just fifteen years of age, the king and
queen left their daughter alone in one of their castles, when,
wandering about at her will, she came to an ancient donjon tower,
climbed to the top of it, and there found a very old woman--so old and
deaf that she had never heard of the king's edict--busy with her
wheel.

What are you doing, good old woman? said the princess.

I'm spinning, my pretty child.

Ah, how charming! Let me try if I can spin also.

She had no sooner taken up the spindle than, being lively and
obstinate, she handled it so awkwardly and carelessly that the point
pierced her finger. Though it was so small a wound, she fainted away
at once, and dropped silently down on the floor. The poor frightened
old woman called for help; shortly came the ladies in waiting, who
tried every means to restore their young mistress, but all their care
was useless. She lay, beautiful as an angel, the colour still
lingering in her lips and cheeks; her fair bosom softly stirred with
her breath: only her eyes were fast closed. When the king her father
and the queen her mother beheld her thus, they knew regret was

idle--all had happened as the cruel fairy meant. But they also knew
that their daughter would not sleep for ever, though after one hundred
years it was not likely they would either of them behold her
awakening. Until that happy hour should arrive, they determined to
leave her in repose. They sent away all the physicians and attendants,
and themselves sorrowfully laid her upon a bed of embroidery, in the
most elegant apartment of the palace. There she slept and looked like
a sleeping angel still.

When this misfortune happened, the kindly young fairy who had saved
the princess by changing her sleep of death into this sleep of a
hundred years, was twelve thousand leagues away in the kingdom of
Mataquin. But being informed of everything, she arrived speedily, in a
chariot of fire drawn by dragons. The king was somewhat startled by
the sight, but nevertheless went to the door of his palace, and, with
a mournful countenance, presented her his hand to descend.

The fairy condoled with his majesty, and approved of all he had done.
Then, being a fairy of great common sense and foresight, she suggested
that the princess, awakening after a hundred years in this ancient
castle, might be a good deal embarrassed, especially with a young
prince by her side, to find herself alone. Accordingly, without asking
any one's leave, she touched with her magic wand the entire population
of the palace--except the king and queen; governesses, ladies of
honour, waiting-maids, gentlemen ushers, cooks, kitchen-girls, pages,
footmen--down to the horses that were in the stables, and the grooms
that attended them, she touched each and all. Nay, with kind
consideration for the feelings of the princess, she even touched the
little fat lap-dog, Puffy, who had laid himself down beside his
mistress on her splendid bed. He, like all the rest, fell fast asleep
in a moment. The very spits that were before the kitchen-fire ceased
turning, and the fire itself went out, and everything became as silent
as if it were the middle of the night, or as if the palace were a
palace of the dead.

The king and queen--having kissed their daughter and wept over her a
little, but not much, she looked so sweet and content--departed from
the castle, giving orders that it was to be approached no more. The
command was unnecessary; for in one quarter of an hour there sprung up
around it a wood so thick and thorny that neither beasts nor men could
attempt to penetrate there. Above this dense mass of forest could only
be perceived the top of the high tower where the lovely princess
slept.

A great many changes happen in a hundred years. The king, who never
had a second child, died, and his throne passed into another royal
family. So entirely was the story of the poor princess forgotten, that
when the reigning king's son, being one day out hunting and stopped in
the chase by this formidable wood, inquired what wood it was and what
were those towers which he saw appearing out of the midst of it, no
one could answer him. At length an old peasant was found who
remembered having heard his grandfather say to his father, that in
this tower was a princess, beautiful as the day, who was doomed to
sleep there for one hundred years, until awakened by a king's son, her
destined bridegroom.

At this, the young prince, who had the spirit of a hero, determined to
find out the truth for himself. Spurred on by both generosity and
curiosity, he leaped from his horse and began to force his way through
the thick wood. To his amazement the stiff branches all gave way, and
the ugly thorns sheathed themselves of their own accord, and the
brambles buried themselves in the earth to let him pass. This done,
they closed behind him, allowing none of his suite to follow: but,
ardent and young, he went boldly on alone. The first thing he saw was
enough to smite him with fear. Bodies of men and horses lay extended
on the ground; but the men had faces, not death-white, but red as
peonies, and beside them were glasses half filled with wine, showing
that they had gone to sleep drinking. Next he entered a large court,
paved with marble, where stood rows of guards presenting arms, but
motionless as if cut out of stone; then he passed through many
chambers where gentlemen and ladies, all in the costume of the past
century, slept at their ease, some standing, some sitting. The pages
were lurking in corners, the ladies of honour were stooping over their
embroidery frames, or listening apparently with polite attention to
the gentlemen of the court, but all were as silent as statues and as
immoveable. Their clothes, strange to say, were fresh and new as ever:
and not a particle of dust or spider-web had gathered over the
furniture, though it had not known a broom for a hundred years.
Finally the astonished prince came to an inner chamber, where was the
fairest sight his eyes had ever beheld.

A young girl of wonderful beauty lay asleep on an embroidered bed, and
she looked as if she had only just closed her eyes. Trembling, the
prince approached and knelt beside her. Some say he kissed her, but as
nobody saw it, and she never told, we cannot be quite sure of the
fact. However, as the end of the enchantment had come, the princess
awakened at once, and looking at him with eyes of the tenderest
regard, said drowsily, Is it you, my prince? I have waited for you
very long.

Charmed with these words, and still more with the tone in which they
were uttered, the prince assured her that he loved her more than his
life. Nevertheless, he was the most embarrassed of the two; for,
thanks to the kind fairy, the princess had plenty of time to dream of
him during her century of slumber, while he had never even heard of
her till an hour before. For a long time did they sit conversing, and
yet had not said half enough. Their only interruption was the little
dog Puffy, who had awakened with his mistress, and now began to be
exceedingly jealous that the princess did not notice him as much as
she was wont to do.

Meantime all the attendants, whose enchantment was also broken, not
being in love, were ready to die of hunger after their fast of a
hundred years. A lady of honour ventured to intimate that dinner was
served; whereupon the prince handed his beloved princess at once to
the great hall. She did not wait to dress for dinner, being already
perfectly and magnificently attired, though in a fashion somewhat out
of date. However, her lover had the politeness not to notice this, nor
to remind her that she was dressed exactly like her royal grandmother,
whose portrait still hung on the palace walls.

During the banquet a concert took place by the attendant musicians,
and considering they had not touched their instruments for a century
they played extremely well. They ended with a wedding march: for that
very evening the marriage of the prince and princess was celebrated,
and though the bride was nearly one hundred years older than the
bridegroom, it is remarkable that the fact would never have been
discovered by any one unacquainted therewith.

After a few days they went together out of the castle and enchanted
wood, both of which immediately vanished, and were never more beheld
by mortal eyes. The princess was restored to her ancestral kingdom,
but it was not generally declared who she was, as during a hundred
years people had grown so very much cleverer that nobody then living
would ever have believed the story. So nothing was explained, and
nobody presumed to ask any questions about her, for ought not a prince
be able to marry whomsoever he pleases?

Nor--whether or not the day of fairies was over--did the princess ever
see anything further of her seven godmothers. She lived a long and
happy life, like any other ordinary woman, and died at length,
beloved, regretted, but, the prince being already no more, perfectly
contented.





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