There were once a King and Queen who had three of the most beautiful children in the world. They loved all the children tenderly, one no better than the others; but the youngest, who was a girl, was always kept locked up in a strong tower. She was allowed to see no one but her attendants, and her parents and her two brothers, who went every day to visit her.
No one knew why she was kept shut up in this way except the King and Queen. Even her brothers did not know, and they often grieved to think that their sister Rosetta should be a prisoner all her life.
The fact was that when Rosetta was born a fairy had appeared to her parents and had told them that some time the princess would bring a great misfortune upon her brothers. Because of her they would be cast into a dungeon and perhaps even lose their lives. These misfortunes would happen when the Princess Rosetta was about to be married.
The royal parents were greatly troubled at hearing this, and they immediately caused a high tower to be built, and in this they placed the child. Every luxury was hers; the most beautiful clothes and jewels, and the most delicious and delicately cooked food. Her furniture was of gold and was carved in strange and wonderful shapes, and the hangings were all woven of gold and silver thread and richly embroidered.
No one, however, as was said, ever came to the tower, or saw her, except her father and mother and her brothers and the ladies who waited upon her.
The royal parents intended to tell their sons the reason for this imprisonment when Rosetta should have reached the age of eighteen. Her brothers would then understand that it was not through any cruelty that their sister was kept prisoner, but to protect their own lives.
Unfortunately, just before Rosetta’s eighteenth birthday the King and Queen both died, and so suddenly that they had no time to reveal to anyone what the fairy had told them.
The keys of the tower were given to the elder prince, and one of his first acts was to set Rosetta free.
The princess was delighted to be able to see at last what the world outside of her tower was like. Everything was a wonder to her—the trees, the grass, the flowers and fountains. She wished to know the names of everything.
At one spot in the gardens a peacock sat sunning itself.
“What is that beautiful creature called?” she asked.
“That, dear sister, is a peacock,” answered the princes.
“A peacock!” cried Rosetta. “Never in my life did I dream that such a beautiful thing existed. I am sure that in all the world there can be nothing else that is quite so beautiful. Dear brothers, if you love me, find the King of the Peacocks and bring him here, for he, and he alone, shall be my husband. Moreover, unless you find him and bring him to me, I shall certainly die of grief.”
The princes loved their sister so dearly that they could refuse nothing that she asked of them. They at once began to make ready to set out into the world in search of the country of the peacocks. Before starting they caused a portrait of their sister to be painted. This they intended to take with them to the Peacock country, for they were sure that if the king of that country could only know how beautiful Rosetta was, he would never be contented until he had her for his queen.
As soon as their preparations had been made and the portrait was finished, the two princes set out upon their travels. They journeyed on and on, over many seas and many mountains and through many strange lands, until at last they came to a country where there were nothing but peacocks. There were peacock bakers and peacock tradesmen. Peacocks went in and out of the houses, and drove through the streets in magnificent coaches shining with gold and precious stones. Everywhere were only peacocks spreading their tails and parading in all their magnificence. Strangely enough, however, the King who ruled over this country was not a peacock at all, but a young man so handsome and graceful that even the peacocks could not equal him in beauty.
The princes, who had not taken long in finding the castle, were brought before the King by the peacocks who attended him. The brothers at once told him that they too were sons of a king, and that they were travelling through the world upon a secret errand of great importance. They did not tell him what their errand was, but after they had been talking with him for a short time, they began to speak of their sister, and of her beauty and sweetness. The young King became quite eager to see such a lovely creature, and the brothers sent for the portrait they had brought with them and showed it to him.
The King of the Peacocks had no sooner seen it than he fell violently in love with Rosetta, and begged them to promise her to him for a bride. The brothers were the more ready to do this because they had found that the Peacock King was not only singularly handsome, but that he was one of the richest and most powerful kings in the whole world.
Messengers were appointed to go to the princes’ country and to bring Rosetta back with them. They were urged to make all the speed they could, for the young King was so eager to see the Beauty that he was ready to die with impatience.
After they had gone, the King had the portrait put where he could see it constantly, and feast his eyes upon it, and he was only happy when he was with it. The more he looked at it, however, the more he doubted whether any human being could be as beautiful as the painting. The brothers were obliged to assure him every day that when he saw Rosetta he would find her even more lovely than her portrait.
“Very well,” said the Peacock King at last, “if I find all that you tell me is true, I will load you with wealth and honours, but if you have deceived me, I will surely put you to death.”
The brothers were not dismayed at this threat, for they knew that it was impossible that he should be disappointed in the beauty of their sister.
Meanwhile the messengers, after many days, reached the country where Rosetta lived. They at once were brought before her, and when she heard that they had come to take her to the King of the Peacocks, she was wild with joy. She determined to set out at once, and as the journey was shorter by way of the sea, she made up her mind to go in a ship rather than in a coach and by land. She took with her only an old nurse and her foster-sister, and her little dog Fifine. This little dog was very wonderful, and had been given to her by a fairy. He was of a bright green colour and had only one ear, but he understood everything the princess said to him, and he knew a hundred pretty tricks.
The old nurse and her daughter pretended to be very fond of Rosetta, but in truth they hated her because she was so beautiful and beloved, and would have been glad to injure her in any way.
After they had sailed along for several days, and were almost within sight of the kingdom of the Peacocks, the old nurse brought to Rosetta a drink that she had mixed, and in which she had put a sleeping potion. Rosetta suspected nothing, and she drank all the old woman had brought her, except for a small part that she gave to Fifine.
Rosetta had scarcely swallowed the potion before she became very drowsy. Her eyelids weighed like lead, and before long she fell into a deep sleep. Fifine also became very sleepy. He crawled in under the silken covering that the princess had drawn over her, and lay there as though dead.
As soon as the old nurse saw that Rosetta was asleep, and that nothing could awaken her, she went to the sailors, and by means of bribes and threats she obliged them to do exactly as she bade them. Under her directions they carried the mattress upon which Rosetta lay up to the deck. The nurse looked about for Fifine, but could not find the little dog anywhere, for it was hidden under the coverlet. “No matter,” said she. “I wished to keep the little animal for my daughter, but it is probably hiding somewhere about the ship, and I will find it later.”
She then made the sailors take up the mattress and throw it overboard into the sea. This they did without awakening either Rosetta or Fifine. They then set all sail and sped on toward the shores of the Peacock country, which could already be seen before them. The wicked nurse felt sure that it would not be long before the mattress would become heavy with water and would sink, so she and her daughter need trouble themselves no more about the hated Rosetta.
Meanwhile the King of the Peacocks was growing more and more impatient to see his bride. Watchers had been placed upon the seashore to bring him news the moment the sails of the returning ship were seen.
It was on the twenty-first day after the messengers had departed that these watchers hastened to the palace, all out of breath, and told the King that the ship was approaching.
The King called his attendants about him, and hurried down to the seashore.
The vessel had already come to land. The wicked nurse had dressed her daughter in the most magnificent of Rosetta’s clothes, which she wore as a toad might wear the dress of a fairy. The nurse had also bedecked her with the jewels belonging to the princess, and last of all she had thrown a silver veil over her, as though to guard her beauty from the sun.
As the prince saw this magnificently dressed person approaching him, he assumed it must be his bride. He hastened to meet her, and threw back the veil that covered her face, but when he saw the ugliness beneath the veil he almost fainted. He at once decided that the two princes had deceived him; that they had tricked him into sending for their sister and promising to marry her because no other king had been willing to take such a hideous creature for his wife.
Filled with rage, he sent his guards to take the princes and throw them into the deepest and darkest of the palace dungeons. He had given his word that he would marry their sister, and this word he could not break, but he promised himself that upon the day when he was married to this creature the two brothers should die.
The princes, meanwhile, had also heard that the ship had returned. They had no doubt tha their sister was on board, and they had at once made ready to appear before the King, to be loaded with wealth and honours as he had promised them.
It was not long, indeed, before they heard a loud knock on their door, but instead of smiling courtiers coming to congratulate them, a guard of soldiers had arrived, and the two brothers were carried away, not to a grateful king, but to a horrible dungeon where their only companions were snakes and toads and slimy crawling things. The princes could not understand it. They could not imagine what had happened, nor why they were treated in this way. The soldiers would not answer their questions, and after they were shut in the dungeon no living soul came near them except the jailer, who unlocked the door to throw in to them a few vile crusts, and he was both deaf and dumb.
While the princes were lying thus imprisoned, preparations for the wedding were being made. A magnificent apartment had been set apart for the bride. Everything she asked for was given her, jewels and dresses of every kind, but the King she never saw. He had fallen ill with rage and disappointment, and no one could come near him except his attendants and the doctors.
The old nurse and her daughter were well content, however. The ugly girl was to become a queen, and one of the greatest queens in all the world, and that was enough for them. As for Rosetta, they were sure that she had been drowned, and that there was no need to trouble themselves about her.
The princess had not been drowned however. She was alive and well, and even more beautiful than ever, and she was at that very moment living in a poor hut in the outskirts of the city, and within sight of the very castle itself.
After the ship had sailed away and left her, the mattress upon which she lay had floated on and on until at last it had stranded upon a rock not far out from the shore.
The jar of striking the rock woke Fifine, for the little dog had only swallowed a small portion of the sleeping potion. He crawled out from under the silken coverlet, which was trailing in the sea, and when he saw the water all about him and his mistress still asleep, he began to bark as loudly as he could. The noise he made attracted the attention of a poor old beggar who lived in a hut not far away.
The old man hastened down to the water’s edge, and with the aid of a boat-hook soon managed to draw the mattress to shore. What was his amazement to see a beautiful lady lying upon it fast asleep, and a little green dog keeping guard over her.
The old man tried to arouse Rosetta, but for a long time he was unsuccessful. At length, however, she opened her eyes and sat up and looked about her. She was amazed to find herself stranded upon an unknown shore and with only an old man and Fifine for her attendants instead of safely aboard her ship, with her nurse and foster-sister in attendance upon her.
“Where am I?” she cried. “Where is the ship and where are my attendants? And who are you, old man?”
The old man told her he was only a poor beggar, and of how he had seen her mattress stranded upon a rock and had drawn it to shore, and that this country where she found herself was the kingdom of the Peacocks. As to any ship, he knew nothing of it.
Rosetta could not wonder enough when she learned she was already in the Peacock country. The old man even pointed out to her a shining castle and a town not far away, and told her that was the place where the King of the Peacocks lived.
Seeing she was now able to raise herself and move about, the old man invited her to come with him to his hut. “It is but a poor place for a great princess,” he said (for it was easy for him to see that Rosetta was a princess), “but at least it will be a safe shelter for you.”
Rosetta gladly accepted his invitation. His hut was indeed poor and mean, but the old man was so kind and eager to please her that she could not but be grateful. He was greatly distressed because he could offer her nothing to eat but a piece of black bread and a cup of water.
“Do not grieve over that,” said the princess. “Only give me a basket and we shall soon be supplied with a fine feast.”
Wondering, the old man gave her a basket. Rosetta tied it round the neck of Fifine.
“Fifine,” said she, “run to the palace of the King and bring us from there a part of the dinner that has been prepared for him.”
Fifine understood every word perfectly. He at once set out, and made such good speed that he quickly reached the palace. He slipped into the kitchen without being seen. The King’s dinner was done to a turn, and waiting to be carried to him. Fifine, slipping about here and there, managed to steal a part of everything, and the best part at that, of the meat, the poultry, the pastries and sweetmeats—he took some of each, and hid it in the basket. Then he ran away, still without being noticed, and was soon back at the old man’s hut.
The old man was filled with amazement when he saw what the dog had brought. Never had he seen such delicious food before. The princess sat down and he served her, and after she had finished he ate his fill, and still there was some left.
The next day Rosetta wished for some fresh food. She had no love for cold dishes. Again she tied the basket round the neck of the little dog. “Fifine,” she said, “you did very well yesterday. To-day you must again bring me a portion of all that the King is to have for dinner.”
Fifine bounded away with the basket, and it was not long before he returned, bringing a part of all that was to have been served to the King.
So it went on for some time. Every day the best part of the King’s dinner was stolen just before it was ready to be carried to him. Rosetta and the old man feasted finely every day, and the poor young King was like to die of hunger, because every day his dinner was stolen. A guard was set about the palace kitchen to prevent anyone except the cook and his assistants from going in and out, but still the food continued to disappear; for Fifine was so small and quick that he managed to escape the notice of the guard.
At last one day a little scullion, who had grown very curious about the matter, hid himself behind the kitchen door, determined to watch for himself. The dinner was cooked, and ready to be put into the dishes, when the scullion saw a little green dog, with a basket tied about his neck, slip into the room. The dog looked about to make sure that no one was watching. Seeing no one, he hastened to take the best part of the dinner and put it in the basket. As soon as he had done this, he slipped silently from the kitchen and ran off as fast as he could toward the old man’s hut. The scullion followed him and saw where he went. Then he returned to the palace and told the cook what he had seen. The cook found it hard to believe such a strange tale, but still he repeated it to the Captain of the Guard, the Captain told it to the Grand Councillor, the Grand Councillor told it to the King’s favourite, and so in time it reached the ears of the King himself.
“This is a curious thing if it is true,” said the King. “I would like to see it for myself.” So the next day he arose, and just before dinner-time he went down to the kitchen and hid himself behind the door. He had not been there long when the door was pushed open, and a little green dog slipped into the room. The little animal went from dish to dish, just as the scullion had said, and helped himself until his basket was full. Then he slipped away and ran home to the old man’s hut, and the King followed him without being observed.
His Majesty did not go as far as the hut, however. He waited until the little dog had been admitted and the door closed behind him, and then he returned to his palace, very thoughtful.
The next day he sent to the hut for Rosetta and the old man to appear before him. The beggar was greatly alarmed when he received the message.
“See what you have brought upon us,” he cried to the princess. “No doubt they have discovered that it is your dog that has been stealing the King’s dinner, and now we shall be punished for it. Perhaps we may even lose our lives.”
Rosetta, however, was not troubled. She was, indeed, only too glad to be brought before the King. It was what she had been hoping for. She waited only to draw a veil over her face, and then she was ready to go with the guard to the palace.
As soon as Rosetta, with the beggar and Fifine, entered the room where the young King was, he was struck by the grace and dignity with which she moved. He called her close to him and began to question her.
“Who are you,” he asked, “and whence do you come? And is it you who have caused my dinners to disappear?”
To all this Rosetta answered nothing. The King then leaned forward and drew the veil aside from her face. As soon as he did so, the beauty of the princess shone forth like the sun. Every one was amazed at it. As for the King, he was overcome with joy and wonder, for he at once recognized her as the original of the portrait that the princes had shown him, only her living face was far more beautiful than the painting, even as the sun surpasses the moon in brightness.
“Beautiful princess, whence come you?” he cried. “Why have you hidden from me for all these days and allowed another to take your place? And one so hideous as she who claims to be my bride?”
Rosetta told him her story as far as she knew it, and the King listened attentively. He at once guessed that it was the treachery of the old nurse and her daughter that had placed Rosetta in this situation. He sent for them to appear before him, and while he waited for them to come, he and the princess talked together, and so wise she was and so witty that with every word she said he loved her better.
The nurse and her daughter, when they received the King’s message, made sure that he had sent for them in order to arrange the time for the wedding. They were overjoyed, and at once put on their finest clothes. But no sooner had they entered the audience-room, and seen Rosetta seated on the throne beside the King, than they almost swooned with terror. They knew that now all had been discovered, and they fell on their knees before him and began to beseech him to pardon them.
The King was so angry at the wrong they had done the princess that he would have sent them to some miserable dungeon for the rest of their lives. But Rosetta was as tender-hearted as she was beautiful. She pleaded with him to have mercy; so the two wicked women were spared that fate.
Instead, their fine clothes were taken from them, and they were dressed in rags and driven from the palace, and as they were too ugly and wicked for anyone but Rosetta to pity them, no doubt they ended their lives in misery.
The two princes were brought from their dungeons and given all the wealth and honours the King had promised them, and when they learned how he had been deceived, they could not but forgive him his ill-treatment of them.
As for the old beggar-man, he was made rich for life.
The King and the princess were married, and lived in mutual love and happiness to the end of their days; and as for Fifine, he slept on satin cushions and ate the daintiest fare, and lived long enough to play with Rosetta’s children and show them the hundred pretty tricks he knew.
SHORT STORY FOR KIDS WRITTEN BY KATHARINE PYLE
Header illustration from Pixabay, with thanks.
LET’S CHAT ABOUT THE STORIES ~ IDEAS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS
1. Princess Rosetta finds her happiness due to the help of her friend, the little dog Fifine. Have you ever been helped by a friend? How did it make your life better?
2. Why do you think Fifine wants to help his friend Princess Rosetta?