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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Foolish Wish
By Catulle Mendès (1841–1909)
 
From the ‘Contes du Rouet’

BAREFOOT, his hair blowing in the wind, a vagabond was passing along the way before the King’s palace. Very young, he was very handsome, with his golden curls, his great black eyes, and his mouth fresh as a rose after rain. As if the sun had taken pleasure in looking at him, there was more joy and light on his rags than on the satins, velvets, and brocades of the gentlemen and noble ladies grouped in the court of honor.  1
  “Oh, how pretty she is!” he exclaimed, suddenly stopping.  2
  He had discovered the princess Rosalind, who was taking the fresh air at her window; and indeed it would be impossible to see anything on earth as pretty as she. Motionless, with arms lifted toward the casement as toward an opening in the sky which revealed Paradise, he would have stayed there until evening if a guard had not driven him off with a blow of his partisan, with hard words.  3
  He went away hanging his head. It seemed to him now that everything was dark before him, around him,—the horizon, the road, the blossoming trees. Now that he no longer saw Rosalind he thought the sun was dead. He sat down under an oak on the edge of the wood, and began to weep.  4
  “Well, my child, why are you sorrowing thus?” asked an old woman who came out of the wood, her back bowed under a heap of withered boughs.  5
  “What good would it do me to tell you? You can’t do anything for me, good woman.”  6
  “In that you are mistaken,” said the old woman.  7
  At the same time she drew herself up, throwing away her bundle. She was no longer an old forester, but a fairy beautiful as the day, clad in a silver robe, her hair garlanded with flowers of precious stones. As to the withered boughs, they had taken flight, covering themselves with green leaves; and returned to the trees from which they had fallen, shaken with the song of birds.  8
  “O Madame Fairy!” said the vagabond, throwing himself on his knees, “have pity on my misfortune. Since seeing the King’s daughter, who was taking the fresh air at her window, my heart is no longer my own. I feel that I shall never love any other woman but her.”  9
  “Good!” said the fairy: “that’s no great misfortune.”  10
  “Could there be a greater one for me? I shall die if I do not become the princess’s husband.”  11
  “What hinders you? Rosalind is not betrothed.”  12
  “O madame, look at my rags, my bare feet. I am a poor boy who begs along the way.”  13
  “Never mind! He who loves sincerely cannot fail to be loved. That is the happy eternal law. The King and Queen will repulse you with contempt, the courtiers will make you a laughing-stock: but if your love is genuine, Rosalind will be touched by it; and some evening when you have been driven off by the servants and worried by the dogs, she will come to you blushing and happy.”  14
  The boy shook his head. He did not believe that such a miracle was possible.  15
  “Take care!” continued the fairy. “Love does not like to have his power doubted, and you might be punished in some cruel fashion for your little faith. However, since you are suffering, I am willing to help you. Make a wish: I will grant it.”  16
  “I wish to be the most powerful prince on the earth, so that I can marry the princess whom I adore.”  17
  “Ah! Why don’t you go without any such care, and sing a love song under her window? But as I have promised, you shall have your desire. But I must warn you of one thing: when you have ceased to be what you are now, no enchanter, no fairy—not even I—can restore you to your first state. Once a prince, you will be one for always.”  18
  “Do you think that the royal husband of Princess Rosalind will ever want to go and beg his bread on the roads?”  19
  “I wish you happiness,” said the fairy with a sigh.  20
  Then with a golden wand she touched his shoulder; and in a sudden metamorphosis, the vagabond became a magnificent lord, sparkling with silk and jewels, astride a Hungarian steed, at the head of a train of plumed courtiers, and of warriors in golden armor who sounded trumpets.  21
  So great a prince was not to be ill received at court. They gave him a most cordial welcome. For a whole week there were carousals, and balls, and all kinds of festivities in his honor. But these pleasures did not absorb him. Every hour of the day and night he thought of Rosalind. When he saw her he felt his heart overflow with delight. When she spoke he thought he heard divine music; and once he almost swooned with joy when he gave her his hand to dance a pavan. One thing vexed him a little: she whom he loved so much did not seem to heed the pains he took for her. She usually remained silent and melancholy. He persisted, nevertheless, in his plan of asking her in marriage; and naturally Rosalind’s parents took care not to refuse so illustrious a match. Thus the former vagabond was about to possess the most beautiful princess in the world! Such extraordinary felicity so agitated him that he responded to the King’s consent by gestures hardly compatible with his rank, and a little more and he would have danced the pavan all alone before the whole court. Alas! this great joy had only a short duration. Hardly had Rosalind been informed of the paternal will, when she fell half dead into the arms of her maids of honor; and when she came to, it was to say, sobbing and wringing her hands, that she did not want to marry, that she would rather kill herself than wed the prince.  22
  More despairing than can be expressed, the unhappy lover precipitated himself in spite of etiquette into the room where the princess had been carried; and fell on his knees, with arms stretched toward her.  23
  “Cruel girl!” he cried: “take back the words which are killing me!”  24
  She slowly opened her eyes, and answered languidly yet firmly:—  25
  “Prince, nothing can overcome my resolve: I will never marry you.”  26
  “What! you have the barbarity to lacerate a heart which is all your own? What crime have I committed to deserve such a punishment? Do you doubt my love? Do you fear that some day I may cease to adore you? Ah! if you could read within me, you would no longer have this doubt nor these fears. My passion is so ardent that it renders me worthy even of your incomparable beauty. And if you will not be moved by my complaints, I will find only in death a remedy for my woes! Restore me to hope, princess, or I will go to die at your feet.”  27
  He did not end his discourse there. He said everything that the most violent grief can teach a loving heart; so that Rosalind was touched, but not as he wished.  28
  “Unhappy prince,” she said, “if my pity instead of my love can be a consolation to you, I willingly grant it. I have as much reason to complain as you; since I myself am enduring the torments which are wringing you.”  29
  “What do you mean, princess?”  30
  “Alas! if I refuse to marry you, it is because I love with a hopeless love a young vagabond with bare feet and hair blowing in the wind, who passed my father’s palace one day and looked at me, and who has never come back!”  31
 
 
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