The Pigeon's Bride





There was once a King who had an only daughter. She was as lovely as a

princess ought to be and by the time she reached a marriageable age the

fame of her beauty had spread far and wide over all the world.

Neighboring kings and even distant ones were already sending envoys to

her father's court begging permission to offer their sons as suitors to

the Princess's hand. As he had no son of his own the Princess's father

was delighted that the day was fast approaching when he might have a

son-in-law, and long before even the name of any particular prince was

discussed the Princess's mother had planned the wedding down to its last

detail.



The Princess alone was uninterested.



I'm not ready to get married yet, she'd say to her parents every day

when they'd begin telling her about the various princes who were anxious

to gain her favor. Why such haste? I'm young and there's plenty of

time. Besides, just now I'm too busy with my embroidery to be bothered

with a crowd of young men.



With that, before the King could reprove her, the Princess would throw

her arms about his neck, kiss him under the corner of his mustache, and

go flying off to the tower-room where she had her embroidery frame.



Her mother, the Queen, was much upset by the Princess's attitude.



In my youth, she said, girls were not like this. We were brought up

to think that courtship and marriage were the most important events in

our lives. I don't know what's getting into the heads of the young girls

nowadays!



But the King, who was still smiling from the tickling little kiss which

the Princess had planted under the corner of his mustache, always

answered:



Tut! Tut! We needn't worry yet! Take my word for it when some

particular young man comes along she'll be interested fast enough!



At this the Queen, ending the discussion every day with the same words,

would shake her head and declare:



I tell you it isn't natural for a girl to be more interested in

embroidery than in a long line of handsome young suitors!



The Princess was interested in her embroidery--there's no doubt about

that. She spent every moment she could in the tower-room, working and

singing. The tower was high up among the treetops. It was reached by

winding stairs so narrow and so many that no one any older than the

Princess would care to climb them. The Princess flew up them like a

bird, scarcely pausing for breath. At the top of the stairs was a

trap-door which was the only means of entrance into the tower-room. Once

in the tower-room with the bolt of the trap-door securely fastened, the

Princess was safe from interruption and could work away at her

embroidery to her heart's content. The tower had windows on all sides,

so the Princess as she sat at her embroidery frame could look out north,

east, south, and west.



The clouds sailed by in the sky, the wind blew and at once the leaves in

the treetops began murmuring and whispering among themselves, and the

birds that went flying all over the world would often alight on some

branch near the tower and sing to the Princess as she worked or chatter

some exciting story that she could almost understand.



What! the Princess would think to herself as she looked out north,

east, south, and west. Leave my tower and my beautiful embroidery to

become the wife of some conceited young man! Never!



From this remark you can understand perfectly well that the particular

young man of whom her father spoke had not yet come along. And I'm sure

you'll also know that shutting herself up in the tower-room and bolting

the trap-door was not going to keep him away when it was time for him to

come. Yet I don't believe that you'd have recognized him when he did

come any more than the Princess did. This is how it happened:



One afternoon when as usual she was working at her embroidery and

singing as she worked, suddenly there was a flutter of wings at the

eastern window and a lovely Pigeon came flying into the room. It circled

three times about the Princess's head and then alighted on the

embroidery frame. The Princess reached out her hand and the bird,

instead of taking fright, allowed her to stroke its gleaming neck. Then

she took it gently in her hands and fondled it to her bosom, kissing its

bill and smoothing its plumage with her lips.



You beautiful thing! she cried. How I love you!



If you really love me, the Pigeon said, have a bowl of milk here at

this same hour to-morrow and then we'll see what we'll see.



With that the bird spread its wings and flew out the western window.



The Princess was so excited that for the rest of the afternoon she

forgot her embroidery.



Did the Pigeon really speak? she asked herself as she stood staring

out the western window, or have I been dreaming?



The next day when she climbed the winding stairs she went slowly for she

carried in her hands a brimming bowl of milk.



Of course it won't come again! she said, and she made herself sit down

quietly before the embroidery frame and work just as though she expected

nothing.



But exactly at the same hour as the day before there was a flutter of

wings at the eastern window, the sound of a gentle coo! coo! and there

was the Pigeon ready to be loved and caressed.



You beautiful creature! the Princess cried, kissing its coral beak and

smoothing its neck with her lips, how I love you! And see, I have

brought you the bowl of milk that you asked for!



The bird flew over to the bowl, poised for a moment on its brim, then

splashed into the milk as though to take a bath.



The Princess laughed and clapped her hands and then, as she looked, she

saw a strange thing happen. The bird's feathers opened like a shirt and

out of the feather shirt stepped a handsome youth.



(You remember I told you how surprised the Princess was going to be.

And you're surprised, too, aren't you?)



He was so handsome that all the Princess could say was, Oh!



He came slowly towards her and knelt before her.



Dear Princess, he said, do not be frightened. If it had not been for

your sweet words yesterday when you said you loved me I should never

have been able to leave this feather shirt. Do not turn from me now

because I am a man and not a pigeon. Love me still if you can, for I

love you. It was because I fell in love with you yesterday when I saw

you working at your embroidery that I flew in by the open window and let

you caress me.



For a long time the Princess could only stare at the kneeling youth, too

amazed to speak. He was so handsome that she forgot all about the pigeon

he used to be, she forgot her embroidery, she forgot everything. She

hadn't supposed that any young man in the whole world could be so

handsome! Why, just looking at him, she could be happy forever and ever

and ever!



Would you rather I were still a pigeon? the young man asked.



No! No! No! the Princess cried. I like you ever so much better this

way!



The young man gravely bowed his head and kissed her hand and the

Princess blushed and trembled and wished he would do it again. She had

never imagined that any kiss could be so wonderful!



They passed the afternoon together and it seemed to the Princess it was

the happiest afternoon of all her life. As the sun was sinking the youth

said:



Now I must leave you and become a pigeon again.



But you'll come back, won't you? the Princess begged.



Yes, I'll come back to-morrow but on one condition: that you don't tell

any one about me. I'll come back every day at the same hour but if ever

you tell about me then I won't be able to come back any more.



I'll never tell! the Princess promised.



Then the youth kissed her tenderly, dipped himself in the milk, went

back into his feather shirt, and flew off as a pigeon.



The next day he came again and the next and the next and the Princess

fell so madly in love with him that all day long and all night long,

too, she thought of nothing else. She no longer touched her embroidery

but day after day sat idle in the tower-room just awaiting the hour of

his arrival. And every day it seemed to the King and the Queen and all

the people about the Court that the Princess was becoming more and more

beautiful. Her cheeks kept growing pinker, her eyes brighter, her lovely

hair more golden.



I must say sitting at that foolish embroidery agrees with her, the

King said.



No, it isn't that, the Queen told him. It's the big bowl of milk she

drinks every afternoon. You know milk is very good for the complexion.



Milk indeed! murmured the Princess to herself, and she blushed rosier

than ever at thought of her wonderful secret.



But a princess can't keep growing more and more beautiful without

everybody in the world hearing about it. The neighboring kings soon

began to feel angry and suspicious.



What ails this Princess? they asked among themselves. Isn't one of

our sons good enough for her? Is she waiting for the King of Persia to

come as a suitor or what? Let us stand together on our rights and demand

to know why she won't consider one of our sons!



So they sent envoys to the Princess's father and he saw at once that the

matter had become serious.



My dear, he said to the Princess, your mother and I have humored you

long enough. It is high time that you had a husband and I insist that

you allow the sons of neighboring kings to be presented to you next

week.



I won't do it! the Princess declared. I'm not interested in the sons

of the neighboring kings and that's all there is about it!



Her father looked at her severely.



Is that the way for a princess to talk? Persist in this foolishness and

you may embroil your country in war!



I don't care! the Princess cried, bursting into tears. I can't marry

any of them, so why let them be presented?



Why can't you marry any of them?



I just can't! the Princess insisted.



At first, in spite of the pleadings of both parents, she would tell them

no more, but her mother kept questioning her until at last in

self-defense the Princess confessed that she had a true love who came to

her in the tower every afternoon in the form of a pigeon.



He's a prince, she told them, the son of a distant king. At present

he is under an enchantment that turns him into a pigeon. When the

enchantment is broken he is coming as a prince to marry me.



My poor child! the Queen cried. Think no more about this Pigeon

Prince! The enchantment may last a hundred years and then where will you

be!



But he is my love! the Princess declared, and if I can't have him I

won't have any one!



When the King found that nothing they could say would move her from this

resolution, he sighed and murmured:



Very well, my dear. If it must be so, it must be. This afternoon when

your lover comes, bring him down to me that I may talk to him.



But that afternoon the Pigeon did not come. Nor the next afternoon

either, nor the next, and then too late the Princess remembered his

warning that if she told about him he could never come back.



So now she sat in the tower-room idle and heartbroken, reproaching

herself that she had betrayed her lover and praying God to forgive her

and send him back to her. And the roses faded from her cheeks and her

eyes grew dull and the people about the Court began wondering why they

had ever thought her the most beautiful princess in the world.



At last she went to the King, her father, and said:



As my love can no longer come back to me because I forgot my promise

and betrayed him, I must go out into the world and hunt him. Unless I

find him life will not be worth the living. So do not oppose me,

father, but help me. Have three pairs of iron shoes made for me and

three iron staffs. I will wander over the wide world until these are

worn out and then, if by that time I have not found him, I will come

home to you.



So the King had three pairs of iron shoes made for the Princess and

three iron staffs and she set forth on her quest. She traveled through

towns and cities and many kingdoms, over rough mountains and desert

places, looking everywhere for her enchanted love. But nowhere could she

find any trace of him.



At the end of the first year she had worn out the first pair of iron

shoes and the first iron staff. At the end of the second year she had

worn out the second pair of iron shoes and the second iron staff. At the

end of the third year, when she had worn out the third pair of iron

shoes and the third staff, she returned to her father's palace looking

thin and worn and sad.



My poor child, the King said, I hope now you realize that the Pigeon

Prince is gone forever. Think no more about him. Go back to your

embroidery and when the roses begin blooming in your cheeks again we'll

find some young prince for you who isn't enchanted.



But the Princess shook her head.



Let me try one thing more, father, she begged, and then if I don't

find my love I'll do as you say.



The King agreed to this.



Well, then, the Princess said, build a public bath-house and have the

heralds proclaim that the King's daughter will sit at the entrance and

will allow any one to bathe free of charge who will tell her the story

of the strangest thing he has ever heard or seen.



So the King built the bath-house and sent out his heralds far and wide.

Men and women from all over the world came and bathed and told the

Princess stories of this marvel and that, but never, alas, a word of an

enchanted pigeon.



The days went by and the Princess grew more and more discouraged.



Isn't it sad, the courtiers began whispering, how the Princess has

lost her looks! Do you suppose she ever was really beautiful or did we

just imagine it?



And the neighboring kings when they heard this remarked softly among

themselves:



It's just as well we didn't hurry one of our sons into a marriage with

this young woman!



Now there was a poor widow who lived near the bath-house. She had a

daughter, a pretty young girl, who used to sit at the window and watch

the Princess as people came and told her their stories.



Mother, the girl said one day, every one in the world goes to the

bath-house and I want to go, too!



Nonsense! the mother said. What story could you tell the Princess?



But everybody else goes and I don't see why I can't!



Well, my dear, the mother promised, you may just as soon as you see

or hear something strange. Talk no more about it now but go, fetch me a

pitcher of water from the town well.



The girl obediently took an empty pitcher and went to the town well.

Just as she had filled the pitcher she heard some one say:



Mercy me, I fear I'll be late!



She turned around and what do you think she saw? A rooster in wooden

shoes with a basket under his wing!



I fear I'll be late! I fear I'll be late! the rooster kept repeating

as he hurried off making a funny little clatter with his wooden shoes.



How strange! the girl thought to herself. A rooster with wooden

shoes! I'm sure the Princess would love to hear about him! I'll follow

him and see what he does.



He went to a garden where he filled his basket with fresh

vegetables--with onions and beans and garlic. Then he hurried home to a

little house. The girl slipped in after him and hid behind the door.



Thank goodness, I'm on time! the rooster murmured.



He put a big bowl on the table and filled it with milk.



There! he said. Now I'm ready for them!



Presently twelve beautiful pigeons came flying in by the open door.

Eleven of them dipped in the bowl of milk, their feather shirts opened,

and out they stepped eleven handsome youths. But the Twelfth Pigeon

perched disconsolately on the windowsill and remained a pigeon. The

eleven laughed at him and said:



Poor fellow, your bride betrayed you, didn't she? So you have to remain

shut up in your feather shirt while we go off and have a jolly time!



Yes, the Twelfth Pigeon said, she broke her promise and now she goes

wandering up and down the world hunting for me. If she doesn't find me I

shall nevermore escape the feather shirt but shall have to fly about

forever as a pigeon. But I know she will find me for she will never

stop until she does. And when she finds me, then the enchantment will be

broken forever and I can marry her!



The eleven youths went laughing arm in arm out of the house and in a few

moments the solitary Pigeon flew after them. Instantly the girl slipped

out from behind the door and hurried home with her pitcher of water.

Then she ran quickly across to the bath-house and all out of breath she

cried to the Princess:



O Princess, I have such a wonderful story to tell you all about a

rooster with wooden shoes and twelve pigeons only eleven of them are not

pigeons but handsome young men and the twelfth one has to stay in his

feather shirt because--



At mention of the enchanted pigeons, the Princess turned pale. She held

up her hand and made the girl pause until she had her breath, then she

questioned her until she knew the whole story.



It must be my love! the Princess thought to herself. Thank God I have

found him at last!



The next day at the same hour she went with the girl to the town well

and when the rooster clattered by in his wooden shoes they followed him

home and slipping into the house they hid behind the door and waited.

Presently twelve pigeons flew in. Eleven of them dipped in the milk and

came out handsome young men. The Twelfth sat disconsolately on the

window sill and remained a pigeon. The eleven laughed at him and twitted

him with having had a bride that had betrayed him. Then the eleven went

away laughing arm in arm. Before the Twelfth could fly after them, the

Princess ran out from behind the door and cried:



My dear one, I have found you at last!



The Pigeon flew into her hands and she took him and kissed his coral

beak and smoothed his gleaming plumage with her lips. Then she put him

in the milk and the feather shirt opened and her own true love stepped

out.



She led him at once to her father and when the King found him well

trained in all the arts a prince should know he accepted him as his

future son-in-law and presented him to the people.



So after all the Princess's mother was able to give her daughter the

gorgeous wedding she had planned for years and years. Preparations were

begun at once but the Queen insisted on making such vast quantities of

little round cakes and candied fruits and sweetmeats of all kinds that

it was three whole months before the wedding actually took place. By

that time the roses were again blooming in the Princess's cheeks, her

eyes were brighter than before, and her long shining hair was more

golden than ever.



All the neighboring kings were invited to the wedding and when they saw

the bride they shook their heads sadly and said among themselves:



Lost her looks indeed! What did people mean by saying such a thing?

Why, she's the most beautiful princess in the world! What a pity she

didn't marry one of our sons!



But when they met the Prince of her choice, they saw at once why the

Princess had fallen in love with him.



Any girl would! they said.



It was a big wedding, as I told you before, and the only guest present

who was not a king or a queen or a royal personage of some sort was the

poor girl who saw the rooster with wooden shoes in the first place. The

Queen, of course, had wanted only royalty but the Princess declared that

the poor girl was her dear friend and would have to be invited. So the

Queen, when she saw that the Princess was set on having her own way, had

the poor girl come to the palace before the wedding and decked her out

in rich clothes until people were sure that she was some strange

princess whom the bride had met on her travels.



My dear, whispered the Princess as they sat down beside each other at

the wedding feast, how beautiful you look!



But I'm not as beautiful as you! the girl said.



The Princess laughed.



Of course not! No one can be as beautiful as I am because I have the

secret of beauty!



Dear Princess, the poor girl begged, won't you tell me the secret of

beauty?



The Princess leaned over and whispered something in the poor girl's ear.



It was only one word:



Happiness!





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