Once upon a time there lived a queen who had been the mother of a great
many children, and of them all only one daughter was left. But then
_she_ was worth at least a thousand.
Her mother, who, since the death of the King, her father, had nothing in
the world she cared for so much as this little Princess, was so terribly
afraid of losing her that she quite spoiled her, and never tried to
correct any of her faults. The consequence was that this little person,
who was as pretty as possible, and was one day to wear a crown, grew
up so proud and so much in love with her own beauty that she despised
everyone else in the world.
The Queen, her mother, by her caresses and flatteries, helped to make
her believe that there was nothing too good for her. She was dressed
almost always in the prettiest frocks, as a fairy, or as a queen going
out to hunt, and the ladies of the Court followed her dressed as forest
And to make her more vain than ever the Queen caused her portrait to be
taken by the cleverest painters and sent it to several neighboring kings
with whom she was very friendly.
When they saw this portrait they fell in love with the Princess--every
one of them, but upon each it had a different effect. One fell ill, one
went quite crazy, and a few of the luckiest set off to see her as soon
as possible, but these poor princes became her slaves the moment they
set eyes on her.
Never has there been a gayer Court. Twenty delightful kings did
everything they could think of to make themselves agreeable, and after
having spent ever so much money in giving a single entertainment thought
themselves very lucky if the Princess said "That's pretty."
All this admiration vastly pleased the Queen. Not a day passed but
she received seven or eight thousand sonnets, and as many elegies,
madrigals, and songs, which were sent her by all the poets in the
world. All the prose and the poetry that was written just then was about
Bellissima--for that was the Princess's name--and all the bonfires that
they had were made of these verses, which crackled and sparkled better
than any other sort of wood.
Bellissima was already fifteen years old, and every one of the Princes
wished to marry her, but not one dared to say so. How could they when
they knew that any of them might have cut off his head five or six times
a day just to please her, and she would have thought it a mere trifle,
so little did she care? You may imagine how hard-hearted her lovers
thought her; and the Queen, who wished to see her married, did not know
how to persuade her to think of it seriously.
"Bellissima," she said, "I do wish you would not be so proud. What makes
you despise all these nice kings? I wish you to marry one of them, and
you do not try to please me."
"I am so happy," Bellissima answered: "do leave me in peace, madam. I
don't want to care for anyone."
"But you would be very happy with any of these Princes," said the Queen,
"and I shall be very angry if you fall in love with anyone who is not
worthy of you."
But the Princess thought so much of herself that she did not consider
any one of her lovers clever or handsome enough for her; and her mother,
who was getting really angry at her determination not to be married,
began to wish that she had not allowed her to have her own way so much.
At last, not knowing what else to do, she resolved to consult a certain
witch who was called "The Fairy of the Desert." Now this was very
difficult to do, as she was guarded by some terrible lions; but happily
the Queen had heard a long time before that whoever wanted to pass
these lions safely must throw to them a cake made of millet flour,
sugar-candy, and crocodile's eggs. This cake she prepared with her own
hands, and putting it in a little basket, she set out to seek the Fairy.
But as she was not used to walking far, she soon felt very tired and sat
down at the foot of a tree to rest, and presently fell fast asleep. When
she awoke she was dismayed to find her basket empty. The cake was all
gone! and, to make matters worse, at that moment she heard the roaring
of the great lions, who had found out that she was near and were coming
to look for her.
"What shall I do?" she cried; "I shall be eaten up," and being too
frightened to run a single step, she began to cry, and leaned against
the tree under which she had been asleep.
Just then she heard some one say: "H'm, h'm!"
She looked all round her, and then up the tree, and there she saw a
little tiny man, who was eating oranges.
"Oh! Queen," said he, "I know you very well, and I know how much afraid
you are of the lions; and you are quite right too, for they have eaten
many other people: and what can you expect, as you have not any cake to
"I must make up my mind to die," said the poor Queen. "Alas! I should
not care so much if only my dear daughter were married."
"Oh! you have a daughter," cried the Yellow Dwarf (who was so called
because he _was_ a dwarf and had such a yellow face, and lived in the
orange tree). "I'm really glad to hear that, for I've been looking for
a wife all over the world. Now, if you will promise that she shall marry
me, not one of the lions, tigers, or bears shall touch you."
The Queen looked at him and was almost as much afraid of his ugly little
face as she had been of the lions before, so that she could not speak a
"What! you hesitate, madam," cried the Dwarf. "You must be very fond of
being eaten up alive."
And, as he spoke, the Queen saw the lions, which were running down a
hill toward them.
Each one had two heads, eight feet, and four rows of teeth, and their
skins were as hard as turtle shells, and were bright red.
At this dreadful sight, the poor Queen, who was trembling like a dove
when it sees a hawk, cried out as loud as she could, "Oh! dear Mr.
Dwarf, Bellissima shall marry you."
"Oh, indeed!" said he disdainfully. "Bellissima is pretty enough, but I
don't particularly want to marry her--you can keep her."
"Oh! noble sir," said the Queen in great distress, "do not refuse her.
She is the most charming Princess in the world."
"Oh! well," he replied, "out of charity I will take her; but be sure and
don't forget that she is mine."
As he spoke a little door opened in the trunk of the orange tree, in
rushed the Queen, only just in time, and the door shut with a bang in
the faces of the lions.
The Queen was so confused that at first she did not notice another
little door in the orange tree, but presently it opened and she found
herself in a field of thistles and nettles. It was encircled by a muddy
ditch, and a little further on was a tiny thatched cottage, out of which
came the Yellow Dwarf with a very jaunty air. He wore wooden shoes and
a little yellow coat, and as he had no hair and very long ears he looked
altogether a shocking little object.
"I am delighted," said he to the Queen, "that, as you are to be my
mother-in-law, you should see the little house in which your Bellissima
will live with me. With these thistles and nettles she can feed a donkey
which she can ride whenever she likes; under this humble roof no
weather can hurt her; she will drink the water of this brook and eat
frogs--which grow very fat about here; and then she will have me always
with her, handsome, agreeable, and gay as you see me now. For if her
shadow stays by her more closely than I do I shall be surprised."
The unhappy Queen, seeing all at once what a miserable life her daughter
would have with this Dwarf could not bear the idea, and fell down
insensible without saying a word.
When she revived she found to her great surprise that she was lying in
her own bed at home, and, what was more, that she had on the loveliest
lace night cap that she had ever seen in her life. At first she thought
that all her adventures, the terrible lions, and her promise to the
Yellow Dwarf that he should marry Bellissima, must have been a dream,
but there was the new cap with its beautiful ribbon and lace to remind
her that it was all true, which made her so unhappy that she could
neither eat, drink, nor sleep for thinking of it.
The Princess, who, in spite of her wilfulness, really loved her mother
with all her heart, was much grieved when she saw her looking so sad,
and often asked her what was the matter; but the Queen, who didn't want
her to find out the truth, only said that she was ill, or that one of
her neighbors was threatening to make war against her. Bellissima knew
quite well that something was being hidden from her--and that neither of
these was the real reason of the Queen's uneasiness. So she made up her
mind that she would go and consult the Fairy of the Desert about it,
especially as she had often heard how wise she was, and she thought that
at the same time she might ask her advice as to whether it would be as
well to be married, or not.
So, with great care, she made some of the proper cake to pacify the
lions, and one night went up to her room very early, pretending that
she was going to bed; but instead of that, she wrapped herself in a long
white veil, and went down a secret staircase, and set off all by herself
to find the Witch.
But when she got as far as the same fatal orange tree, and saw it
covered with flowers and fruit, she stopped and began to gather some
of the oranges--and then, putting down her basket, she sat down to eat
them. But when it was time to go on again the basket had disappeared
and, though she looked everywhere, not a trace of it could she find.
The more she hunted for it, the more frightened she got, and at last she
began to cry. Then all at once she saw before her the Yellow Dwarf.
"What's the matter with you, my pretty one?" said he. "What are you
"Alas!" she answered; "no wonder that I am crying, seeing that I have
lost the basket of cake that was to help me to get safely to the cave of
the Fairy of the Desert."
"And what do you want with her, pretty one?" said the little monster,
"for I am a friend of hers, and, for the matter of that, I am quite as
clever as she is."
"The Queen, my mother," replied the Princess, "has lately fallen into
such deep sadness that I fear that she will die; and I am afraid that
perhaps I am the cause of it, for she very much wishes me to be married,
and I must tell you truly that as yet I have not found anyone I consider
worthy to be my husband. So for all these reasons I wished to talk to
"Do not give yourself any further trouble, Princess," answered the
Dwarf. "I can tell you all you want to know better than she could. The
Queen, your mother, has promised you in marriage----"
"Has promised _me!_" interrupted the Princess. "Oh! no. I'm sure she has
not. She would have told me if she had. I am too much interested in
the matter for her to promise anything without my consent--you must be
"Beautiful Princess," cried the Dwarf suddenly, throwing himself on his
knees before her, "I flatter myself that you will not be displeased
at her choice when I tell you that it is to _me_ she has promised the
happiness of marrying you."
"You!" cried Bellissima, starting back. "My mother wishes me to marry
you! How can you be so silly as to think of such a thing?"
"Oh! it isn't that I care much to have that honor," cried the Dwarf
angrily; "but here are the lions coming; they'll eat you up in three
mouthfuls, and there will be an end of you and your pride."
And, indeed, at that moment the poor Princess heard their dreadful howls
coming nearer and nearer.
"What shall I do?" she cried. "Must all my happy days come to an end
The malicious Dwarf looked at her and began to laugh spitefully. "At
least," said he, "you have the satisfaction of dying unmarried. A lovely
Princess like you must surely prefer to die rather than be the wife of a
poor little dwarf like myself."
"Oh, don't be angry with me," cried the Princess, clasping her hands.
"I'd rather marry all the dwarfs in the world than die in this horrible
"Look at me well, Princess, before you give me your word," said he. "I
don't want you to promise me in a hurry."
"Oh!" cried she, "the lions are coming. I have looked at you enough. I
am so frightened. Save me this minute, or I shall die of terror."
Indeed, as she spoke she fell down insensible, and when she recovered
she found herself in her own little bed at home; how she got there
she could not tell, but she was dressed in the most beautiful lace and
ribbons, and on her finger was a little ring, made of a single red hair,
which fitted so tightly that, try as she might, she could not get it
When the Princess saw all these things, and remembered what had
happened, she, too, fell into the deepest sadness, which surprised and
alarmed the whole Court, and the Queen more than anyone else. A hundred
times she asked Bellissima if anything was the matter with her; but she
always said that there was nothing.
At last the chief men of the kingdom, anxious to see their Princess
married, sent to the Queen to beg her to choose a husband for her as
soon as possible. She replied that nothing would please her better, but
that her daughter seemed so unwilling to marry, and she recommended them
to go and talk to the Princess about it themselves so this they at once
did. Now Bellissima was much less proud since her adventure with the
Yellow Dwarf, and she could not think of a better way of getting rid
of the little monster than to marry some powerful king, therefore she
replied to their request much more favorably than they had hoped, saying
that, though she was very happy as she was, still, to please them, she
would consent to marry the King of the Gold Mines. Now he was a very
handsome and powerful Prince, who had been in love with the Princess for
years, but had not thought that she would ever care about him at all.
You can easily imagine how delighted he was when he heard the news,
and how angry it made all the other kings to lose for ever the hope of
marrying the Princess; but, after all, Bellissima could not have married
twenty kings--indeed, she had found it quite difficult enough to choose
one, for her vanity made her believe that there was nobody in the world
who was worthy of her.
Preparations were begun at once for the grandest wedding that had ever
been held at the palace. The King of the Gold Mines sent such immense
sums of money that the whole sea was covered with the ships that brought
it. Messengers were sent to all the gayest and most refined Courts,
particularly to the Court of France, to seek out everything rare and
precious to adorn the Princess, although her beauty was so perfect that
nothing she wore could make her look prettier. At least that is what
the King of the Gold Mines thought, and he was never happy unless he was
As for the Princess, the more she saw of the King the more she liked
him; he was so generous, so handsome and clever, that at last she was
almost as much in love with him as he was with her. How happy they were
as they wandered about in the beautiful gardens together, sometimes
listening to sweet music! And the King used to write songs for
Bellissima. This is one that she liked very much:
In the forest all is gay
When my Princess walks that way.
All the blossoms then are found
Downward fluttering to the ground,
Hoping she may tread on them.
And bright flowers on slender stem
Gaze up at her as she passes
Brushing lightly through the grasses.
Oh! my Princess, birds above
Echo back our songs of love,
As through this enchanted land
Blithe we wander, hand in hand.
They really were as happy as the day was long. All the King's
unsuccessful rivals had gone home in despair. They said good-by to the
Princess so sadly that she could not help being sorry for them.
"Ah! madam," the King of the Gold Mines said to her "how is this? Why
do you waste your pity on these princes, who love you so much that all
their trouble would be well repaid by a single smile from you?"
"I should be sorry," answered Bellissima, "if you had not noticed how
much I pitied these princes who were leaving me for ever; but for you,
sire, it is very different: you have every reason to be pleased with
me, but they are going sorrowfully away, so you must not grudge them my
The King of the Gold Mines was quite overcome by the Princess's
good-natured way of taking his interference, and, throwing himself at
her feet, he kissed her hand a thousand times and begged her to forgive
At last the happy day came. Everything was ready for Bellissima's
wedding. The trumpets sounded, all the streets of the town were hung
with flags and strewn with flowers, and the people ran in crowds to the
great square before the palace. The Queen was so overjoyed that she had
hardly been able to sleep at all, and she got up before it was light to
give the necessary orders and to choose the jewels that the Princess was
to wear. These were nothing less than diamonds, even to her shoes, which
were covered with them, and her dress of silver brocade was embroidered
with a dozen of the sun's rays. You may imagine how much these had cost;
but then nothing could have been more brilliant, except the beauty of
the Princess! Upon her head she wore a splendid crown, her lovely
hair waved nearly to her feet, and her stately figure could easily be
distinguished among all the ladies who attended her.
The King of the Gold Mines was not less noble and splendid; it was easy
to see by his face how happy he was, and everyone who went near him
returned loaded with presents, for all round the great banqueting hall
had been arranged a thousand barrels full of gold, and numberless bags
made of velvet embroidered with pearls and filled with money, each one
containing at least a hundred thousand gold pieces, which were given
away to everyone who liked to hold out his hand, which numbers of people
hastened to do, you may be sure--indeed, some found this by far the most
amusing part of the wedding festivities.
The Queen and the Princess were just ready to set out with the King when
they saw, advancing toward them from the end of the long gallery, two
great basilisks, dragging after them a very badly made box; behind them
came a tall old woman, whose ugliness was even more surprising than her
extreme old age. She wore a ruff of black taffeta, a red velvet hood,
and a farthingale all in rags, and she leaned heavily upon a crutch.
This strange old woman, without saying a single word, hobbled three
times round the gallery, followed by the basilisks, then stopping in the
middle, and brandishing her crutch threateningly, she cried:
"Ho, ho, Queen! Ho, ho, Princess! Do you think you are going to break
with impunity the promise that you made to my friend the Yellow Dwarf? I
am the Fairy of the Desert; without the Yellow Dwarf and his orange
tree my great lions would soon have eaten you up, I can tell you, and in
Fairyland we do not suffer ourselves to be insulted like this. Make up
your minds at once what you will do, for I vow that you shall marry the
Yellow Dwarf. If you don't, may I burn my crutch!"
"Ah! Princess," said the Queen, weeping, "what is this that I hear? What
have you promised?"
"Ah! my mother," replied Bellissima sadly, "what did _you_ promise,
The King of the Gold Mines, indignant at being kept from his happiness
by this wicked old woman, went up to her, and threatening her with his
"Get away out of my country at once, and for ever, miserable creature,
lest I take your life, and so rid myself of your malice."
He had hardly spoken these words when the lid of the box fell back on
the floor with a terrible noise, and to their horror out sprang the
Yellow Dwarf, mounted upon a great Spanish cat. "Rash youth!" he cried,
rushing between the Fairy of the Desert and the King. "Dare to lay a
finger upon this illustrious Fairy! Your quarrel is with me only. I
am your enemy and your rival. That faithless Princess who would have
married you is promised to me. See if she has not upon her finger a ring
made of one of my hairs. Just try to take it off, and you will soon find
out that I am more powerful than you are!"
"Wretched little monster!" said the King; "do you dare to call yourself
the Princess's lover, and to lay claim to such a treasure? Do you know
that you are a dwarf--that you are so ugly that one cannot bear to look
at you--and that I should have killed you myself long before this if you
had been worthy of such a glorious death?"
The Yellow Dwarf, deeply enraged at these words, set spurs to his
cat, which yelled horribly, and leaped hither and thither--terrifying
everybody except the brave King, who pursued the Dwarf closely, till he,
drawing a great knife with which he was armed, challenged the King to
meet him in single combat, and rushed down into the courtyard of the
palace with a terrible clatter. The King, quite provoked, followed him
hastily, but they had hardly taken their places facing one another, and
the whole Court had only just had time to rush out upon the balconies to
watch what was going on, when suddenly the sun became as red as blood,
and it was so dark that they could scarcely see at all. The thunder
crashed, and the lightning seemed as if it must burn up everything; the
two basilisks appeared, one on each side of the bad Dwarf, like giants,
mountains high, and fire flew from their mouths and ears, until they
looked like flaming furnaces. None of these things could terrify the
noble young King, and the boldness of his looks and actions reassured
those who were looking on, and perhaps even embarrassed the Yellow Dwarf
himself; but even _his_ courage gave way when he saw what was happening
to his beloved Princess. For the Fairy of the Desert, looking more
terrible than before, mounted upon a winged griffin, and with long
snakes coiled round her neck, had given her such a blow with the lance
she carried that Bellissima fell into the Queen's arms bleeding and
senseless. Her fond mother, feeling as much hurt by the blow as the
Princess herself, uttered such piercing cries and lamentations that
the King, hearing them, entirely lost his courage and presence of mind.
Giving up the combat, he flew toward the Princess, to rescue or to die
with her; but the Yellow Dwarf was too quick for him. Leaping with his
Spanish cat upon the balcony, he snatched Bellissima from the Queen's
arms, and before any of the ladies of the Court could stop him he had
sprung upon the roof of the palace and disappeared with his prize.
The King, motionless with horror, looked on despairingly at this
dreadful occurrence, which he was quite powerless to prevent, and to
make matters worse his sight failed him, everything became dark, and he
felt himself carried along through the air by a strong hand.
This new misfortune was the work of the wicked Fairy of the Desert, who
had come with the Yellow Dwarf to help him carry off the Princess,
and had fallen in love with the handsome young King of the Gold Mines
directly she saw him. She thought that if she carried him off to some
frightful cavern and chained him to a rock, then the fear of death would
make him forget Bellissima and become her slave. So, as soon as they
reached the place, she gave him back his sight, but without releasing
him from his chains, and by her magic power she appeared before him as
a young and beautiful fairy, and pretended to have come there quite by
"What do I see?" she cried. "Is it _you_, dear Prince? What misfortune
has brought you to this dismal place?"
The King, who was quite deceived by her altered appearance, replied:
"Alas! beautiful Fairy, the fairy who brought me here first took away
my sight, but by her voice I recognized her as the Fairy of the Desert,
though what she should have carried me off for I cannot tell you."
"Ah!" cried the pretended Fairy, "if you have fallen into _her_ hands,
you won't get away until you have married her. She has carried off more
than one Prince like this, and she will certainly have anything she
takes a fancy to." While she was thus pretending to be sorry for the
King, he suddenly noticed her feet, which were like those of a griffin,
and knew in a moment that this must be the Fairy of the Desert, for her
feet were the one thing she could not change, however pretty she might
make her face.
Without seeming to have noticed anything, he said, in a confidential
"Not that I have any dislike to the Fairy of the Desert, but I really
cannot endure the way in which she protects the Yellow Dwarf and keeps
me chained here like a criminal. It is true that I love a charming
princess, but if the Fairy should set me free my gratitude would oblige
me to love her only."
"Do you really mean what you say, Prince?" said the Fairy, quite
"Surely," replied the Prince; "how could I deceive you? You see it is
so much more flattering to my vanity to be loved by a fairy than by
a simple princess. But, even if I am dying of love for her, I shall
pretend to hate her until I am set free."
The Fairy of the Desert, quite taken in by these words, resolved at once
to transport the Prince to a pleasanter place. So, making him mount
her chariot, to which she had harnessed swans instead of the bats which
generally drew it, away she flew with him. But imagine the distress
of the Prince when, from the giddy height at which they were rushing
through the air, he saw his beloved Princess in a castle built of
polished steel, the walls of which reflected the sun's rays so
hotly that no one could approach it without being burnt to a cinder!
Bellissima was sitting in a little thicket by a brook, leaning her head
upon her hand and weeping bitterly, but just as they passed she looked
up and saw the King and the Fairy of the Desert. Now, the Fairy was so
clever that she could not only seem beautiful to the King, but even the
poor Princess thought her the most lovely being she had ever seen.
"What!" she cried; "was I not unhappy enough in this lonely castle to
which that frightful Yellow Dwarf brought me? Must I also be made to
know that the King of the Gold Mines ceased to love me as soon as he
lost sight of me? But who can my rival be, whose fatal beauty is greater
While she was saying this, the King, who really loved her as much as
ever, was feeling terribly sad at being so rapidly torn away from his
beloved Princess, but he knew too well how powerful the Fairy was to
have any hope of escaping from her except by great patience and cunning.
The Fairy of the Desert had also seen Bellissima, and she tried to read
in the King's eyes the effect that this unexpected sight had had upon
"No one can tell you what you wish to know better than I can," said
he. "This chance meeting with an unhappy princess for whom I once had a
passing fancy, before I was lucky enough to meet you, has affected me a
little, I admit, but you are so much more to me than she is that I would
rather die than leave you."
"Ah, Prince," she said, "can I believe that you really love me so much?"
"Time will show, madam," replied the King; "but if you wish to convince
me that you have some regard for me, do not, I beg of you, refuse to aid
"Do you know what you are asking?" said the Fairy of the Desert,
frowning, and looking at him suspiciously. "Do you want me to employ my
art against the Yellow Dwarf, who is my best friend, and take away from
him a proud princess whom I can but look upon as my rival?"
The King sighed, but made no answer--indeed, what was there to be said
to such a clear-sighted person? At last they reached a vast meadow, gay
with all sorts of flowers; a deep river surrounded it, and many little
brooks murmured softly under the shady trees, where it was always cool
and fresh. A little way off stood a splendid palace, the walls of
which were of transparent emeralds. As soon as the swans which drew
the Fairy's chariot had alighted under a porch, which was paved with
diamonds and had arches of rubies, they were greeted on all sides by
thousands of beautiful beings, who came to meet them joyfully, singing
"When Love within a heart would reign,
Useless to strive against him 'tis.
The proud but feel a sharper pain,
And make a greater triumph his."
The Fairy of the Desert was delighted to hear them sing of her triumphs;
she led the King into the most splendid room that can be imagined, and
left him alone for a little while, just that he might not feel that
he was a prisoner; but he felt sure that she had not really gone quite
away, but was watching him from some hiding-place. So walking up to a
great mirror, he said to it, "Trusty counsellor, let me see what I can
do to make myself agreeable to the charming Fairy of the Desert; for I
can think of nothing but how to please her."
And he at once set to work to curl his hair, and, seeing upon a table a
grander coat than his own, he put it on carefully. The Fairy came back
so delighted that she could not conceal her joy.
"I am quite aware of the trouble you have taken to please me," said she,
"and I must tell you that you have succeeded perfectly already. You see
it is not difficult to do if you really care for me."
The King, who had his own reasons for wishing to keep the old Fairy in
a good humor, did not spare pretty speeches, and after a time he was
allowed to walk by himself upon the sea-shore. The Fairy of the Desert
had by her enchantments raised such a terrible storm that the boldest
pilot would not venture out in it, so she was not afraid of her
prisoner's being able to escape; and he found it some relief to think
sadly over his terrible situation without being interrupted by his cruel
Presently, after walking wildly up and down, he wrote these verses upon
the sand with his stick:
"At last may I upon this shore
Lighten my sorrow with soft tears.
Alas! alas! I see no more
My Love, who yet my sadness cheers.
"And thou, O raging, stormy Sea,
Stirred by wild winds, from depth to height,
Thou hold'st my loved one far from me,
And I am captive to thy might.
"My heart is still more wild than thine,
For Fate is cruel unto me.
Why must I thus in exile pine?
Why is my Princess snatched from me?
"O! lovely Nymphs, from ocean caves,
Who know how sweet true love may be,
Come up and calm the furious waves
And set a desperate lover free!"
While he was still writing he heard a voice which attracted his
attention in spite of himself. Seeing that the waves were rolling in
higher than ever, he looked all round, and presently saw a lovely lady
floating gently toward him upon the crest of a huge billow, her long
hair spread all about her; in one hand she held a mirror, and in the
other a comb, and instead of feet she had a beautiful tail like a fish,
with which she swam.
The King was struck dumb with astonishment at this unexpected sight; but
as soon as she came within speaking distance, she said to him, "I know
how sad you are at losing your Princess and being kept a prisoner by
the Fairy of the Desert; if you like I will help you to escape from this
fatal place, where you may otherwise have to drag on a weary existence
for thirty years or more."
The King of the Gold Mines hardly knew what answer to make to this
proposal. Not because he did not wish very much to escape, but he was
afraid that this might be only another device by which the Fairy of
the Desert was trying to deceive him. As he hesitated the Mermaid, who
guessed his thoughts, said to him:
"You may trust me: I am not trying to entrap you. I am so angry with the
Yellow Dwarf and the Fairy of the Desert that I am not likely to wish to
help them, especially since I constantly see your poor Princess, whose
beauty and goodness make me pity her so much; and I tell you that if you
will have confidence in me I will help you to escape."
"I trust you absolutely," cried the King, "and I will do whatever you
tell me; but if you have seen my Princess I beg of you to tell me how
she is and what is happening to her.
"We must not waste time in talking," said she. "Come with me and I will
carry you to the Castle of Steel, and we will leave upon this shore a
figure so like you that even the Fairy herself will be deceived by it."
So saying, she quickly collected a bundle of sea-weed, and, blowing it
three times, she said:
"My friendly sea-weeds, I order you to stay here stretched upon the sand
until the Fairy of the Desert comes to take you away." And at once
the sea-weeds became like the King, who stood looking at them in great
astonishment, for they were even dressed in a coat like his, but they
lay there pale and still as the King himself might have lain if one
of the great waves had overtaken him and thrown him senseless upon
the shore. And then the Mermaid caught up the King, and away they swam
"Now," said she, "I have time to tell you about the Princess. In spite
of the blow which the Fairy of the Desert gave her, the Yellow Dwarf
compelled her to mount behind him upon his terrible Spanish cat; but she
soon fainted away with pain and terror, and did not recover till they
were within the walls of his frightful Castle of Steel. Here she was
received by the prettiest girls it was possible to find, who had been
carried there by the Yellow Dwarf, who hastened to wait upon her and
showed her every possible attention. She was laid upon a couch covered
with cloth of gold, embroidered with pearls as big as nuts."
"Ah!" interrupted the King of the Gold Mines, "if Bellissima forgets me,
and consents to marry him, I shall break my heart."
"You need not be afraid of that," answered the Mermaid, "the Princess
thinks of no one but you, and the frightful Dwarf cannot persuade her to
look at him."
"Pray go on with your story," said the King.
"What more is there to tell you?" replied the Mermaid. "Bellissima was
sitting in the wood when you passed, and saw you with the Fairy of the
Desert, who was so cleverly disguised that the Princess took her to be
prettier than herself; you may imagine her despair, for she thought that
you had fallen in love with her."
"She believes that I love her!" cried the King. "What a fatal mistake!
What is to be done to undeceive her?"
"You know best," answered the Mermaid, smiling kindly at him. "When
people are as much in love with one another as you two are, they don't
need advice from anyone else."
As she spoke they reached the Castle of Steel, the side next the sea
being the only one which the Yellow Dwarf had left unprotected by the
dreadful burning walls.
"I know quite well," said the Mermaid, "that the Princess is sitting by
the brook-side, just where you saw her as you passed, but as you will
have many enemies to fight with before you can reach her, take this
sword; armed with it you may dare any danger, and overcome the greatest
difficulties, only beware of one thing--that is, never to let it fall
from your hand. Farewell; now I will wait by that rock, and if you need
my help in carrying off your beloved Princess I will not fail you, for
the Queen, her mother, is my best friend, and it was for her sake that I
went to rescue you."
So saying, she gave to the King a sword made from a single diamond,
which was more brilliant than the sun. He could not find words to
express his gratitude, but he begged her to believe that he fully
appreciated the importance of her gift, and would never forget her help
We must now go back to the Fairy of the Desert. When she found that the
King did not return, she hastened out to look for him, and reached the
shore, with a hundred of the ladies of her train, loaded with splendid
presents for him. Some carried baskets full of diamonds, others golden
cups of wonderful workmanship, and amber, coral, and pearls, others,
again, balanced upon their heads bales of the richest and most beautiful
stuffs, while the rest brought fruit and flowers, and even birds. But
what was the horror of the Fairy, who followed this gay troop, when she
saw, stretched upon the sands, the image of the King which the Mermaid
had made with the sea-weeds. Struck with astonishment and sorrow, she
uttered a terrible cry, and threw herself down beside the pretended
King, weeping, and howling, and calling upon her eleven sisters, who
were also fairies, and who came to her assistance. But they were all
taken in by the image of the King, for, clever as they were, the Mermaid
was still cleverer, and all they could do was to help the Fairy of the
Desert to make a wonderful monument over what they thought was the grave
of the King of the Gold Mines. But while they were collecting jasper
and porphyry, agate and marble, gold and bronze, statues and devices,
to immortalize the King's memory, he was thanking the good Mermaid and
begging her still to help him, which she graciously promised to do as
she disappeared; and then he set out for the Castle of Steel. He walked
fast, looking anxiously round him, and longing once more to see his
darling Bellissima, but he had not gone far before he was surrounded by
four terrible sphinxes who would very soon have torn him to pieces with
their sharp talons if it had not been for the Mermaid's diamond sword.
For, no sooner had he flashed it before their eyes than down they fell
at his feet quite helpless, and he killed them with one blow. But he
had hardly turned to continue his search when he met six dragons covered
with scales that were harder than iron. Frightful as this encounter was
the King's courage was unshaken, and by the aid of his wonderful sword
he cut them in pieces one after the other. Now he hoped his difficulties
were over, but at the next turning he was met by one which he did
not know how to overcome.
Four-and-twenty pretty and graceful nymphs
advanced toward him, holding garlands of flowers, with which they barred
"Where are you going, Prince?" they said; "it is our duty to guard this
place, and if we let you pass great misfortunes will happen to you
and to us. We beg you not to insist upon going on. Do you want to kill
four-and-twenty girls who have never displeased you in any way?"
The King did not know what to do or to say. It went against all his
ideas as a knight to do anything a lady begged him not to do; but, as he
hesitated, a voice in his ear said:
"Strike! strike! and do not spare, or your Princess is lost for ever!"
So, without reply to the nymphs, he rushed forward instantly, breaking
their garlands, and scattering them in all directions; and then went
on without further hindrance to the little wood where he had seen
Bellissima. She was seated by the brook looking pale and weary when he
reached her, and he would have thrown himself down at her feet, but she
drew herself away from him with as much indignation as if he had been
the Yellow Dwarf.
"Ah! Princess," he cried, "do not be angry with me. Let me explain
everything. I am not faithless or to blame for what has happened. I am
a miserable wretch who has displeased you without being able to help
"Ah!" cried Bellissima, "did I not see you flying through the air with
the loveliest being imaginable? Was that against your will?"
"Indeed it was, Princess," he answered; "the wicked Fairy of the Desert,
not content with chaining me to a rock, carried me off in her chariot to
the other end of the earth, where I should even now be a captive but for
the unexpected help of a friendly mermaid, who brought me here to rescue
you, my Princess, from the unworthy hands that hold you. Do not refuse
the aid of your most faithful lover." So saying, he threw himself at her
feet and held her by her robe. But, alas! in so doing he let fall the
magic sword, and the Yellow Dwarf, who was crouching behind a lettuce,
no sooner saw it than he sprang out and seized it, well knowing its
The Princess gave a cry of terror on seeing the Dwarf, but this only
irritated the little monster; muttering a few magical words he summoned
two giants, who bound the King with great chains of iron.
"Now," said the Dwarf, "I am master of my rival's fate, but I will give
him his life and permission to depart unharmed if you, Princess, will
consent to marry me."
"Let me die a thousand times rather," cried the unhappy King.
"Alas!" cried the Princess, "must you die? Could anything be more
"That you should marry that little wretch would be far more terrible,"
answered the King.
"At least," continued she, "let us die together."
"Let me have the satisfaction of dying for you, my Princess," said he.
"Oh, no, no!" she cried, turning to the Dwarf; "rather than that I will
do as you wish."
"Cruel Princess!" said the King, "would you make my life horrible to me
by marrying another before my eyes?"
"Not so," replied the Yellow Dwarf; "you are a rival of whom I am too
much afraid; you shall not see our marriage." So saying, in spite of
Bellissima's tears and cries, he stabbed the King to the heart with the
The poor Princess, seeing her lover lying dead at her feet, could no
longer live without him; she sank down by him and died of a broken
So ended these unfortunate lovers, whom not even the Mermaid could help,
because all the magic power had been lost with the diamond sword.
As to the wicked Dwarf, he preferred to see the Princess dead rather
than married to the King of the Gold Mines; and the Fairy of the Desert,
when she heard of the King's adventures, pulled down the grand monument
which she had built, and was so angry at the trick that had been played
her that she hated him as much as she had loved him before.
The kind Mermaid, grieved at the sad fate of the lovers, caused them to
be changed into two tall palm trees, which stand always side by side,
whispering together of their faithful love and caressing one another
with their interlacing branches.(1)