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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 Sleeping Beauty
By Catulle Mendès (1841–1909)
 
From the ‘Contes du Rouet’

IT is not alone history which is heedlessly written, but legend as well; and it must be admitted that the most conscientious and best-informed story-tellers—Madame d’Aulnoy, good Perrault himself—have frequently related things in not exactly the fashion in which they happened in fairyland. For example, Cinderella’s eldest sister did not wear to the prince’s ball a red velvet dress with English garniture, as has been hitherto supposed: she had a scarlet robe embroidered with silver and laced with gold. Among the monarchs of all the countries invited to the wedding of Peau d’Ane some indeed did come in sedan chairs, others in cabs, the most distant mounted on eagles, tigers, or elephants; but they have omitted to tell us that the King of Mataguin entered the palace court between the wings of a monster whose nostrils emitted flames of precious stones. And don’t think to catch me napping by demanding how and by whom I was enlightened upon these important points. I used to know, in a cottage on the edge of a field, a very old woman; old enough to be a fairy, and whom I always suspected of being one. As I used to go sometimes and keep her company when she was warming herself in the sun before her little house, she took me into friendship; and a few days before she died,—or returned, her expiation finished, to the land of Vivians and Melusinas,—she made me a farewell gift of a very old and very extraordinary spinning-wheel. For every time the wheel is turned it begins to talk or to sing in a soft little voice, like that of a grandmother who is cheerful and chatters. It tells many pretty stories: some that nobody knows; others that it knows better than any one else; and in this last case, as it does not lack malice, it delights to point out and to rectify the mistakes of those who have taken upon themselves to write these accounts. You will see that I had something to learn, and you would be very much astonished if I were to tell you all that has been revealed to me. Now you think you know all the details of the story of the princess, who having pierced her hand with a spindle, fell into a sleep so profound that no one could wake her; and who lay in a castle in the midst of a park, on a bed embroidered with gold and silver. I am sorry to say that you know nothing at all about it, or else that you are much mistaken as to the end of this accident; and you will never know if I do not make it my duty to inform you.  1
  Yes, yes,—hummed the Wheel,—the princess had been sleeping for a hundred years, when a young prince, impelled by love and by glory, resolved to penetrate to her and to waken her. The great trees, the thorns and brambles, drew aside of their own accord to let him pass. He walked toward the castle, which he saw at the end of a broad avenue; he entered; and what surprised him a little, none of his company had been able to follow him, because the trees had grown together again as soon as he had passed. At last, when he had crossed several courts paved with marble,—where porters with pimpled noses and red faces were sleeping beside their cups, in which were remaining a few drops of wine, which showed plainly enough that they had gone to sleep while drinking; when he had traversed long vestibules and climbed staircases where the guards were snoring, his carbine on his shoulder,—he finally found himself in a gilded room, and saw on a bed with open curtains the most beautiful sight he had ever beheld,—a princess who seemed about fifteen or sixteen, and whose resplendent beauty had something luminous and divine.  2
  I grant that things happened in this way,—it is the Wheel who is speaking,—and up to this point the author has not been audaciously false. But nothing is more untrue than the rest of the tale; and I cannot admit that the awakened Beauty looked lovingly at the prince, or that she said to him, “Is it you? you have kept me waiting a long time.”  3
  If you want to know the truth, listen.  4
  The princess stretched her arms, raised her head a little, half opened her eyes, closed them as if afraid of the light, and sighed long, while Puff her little dog, also awakened; yelped with rage.  5
  “What has happened?” asked the fairy’s goddaughter at last; “and what do they want of me?”  6
  The prince on his knees exclaimed:—  7
  “He who has come is he who adores you, and who has braved the greatest dangers” (he flattered himself a little) “to draw you from the enchantment in which you were captive. Leave this bed where you have been sleeping for a hundred years, give me your hand, and let us go back together into brightness and life.”  8
  Astonished at these words, she considered him, and could not help smiling; for he was a very well made young prince, with the most beautiful eyes in the world, and he spoke in a very melodious voice.  9
  “So it is true,” she said, pushing back her hair: “the hour is come when I can be delivered from my long, long sleep?”  10
  “Yes, you can.”  11
  “Ah!” said she.  12
  And she thought. Then she went on:—  13
  “What will happen to me if I come out of the shadows, if I return among the living?”  14
  “Can’t you guess? Have you forgotten that you are the daughter of a king? You will see your people hastening to welcome you, charmed, uttering cries of pleasure, and waving gay banners. The women and children will kiss the hem of your gown. In short, you will be the most powerful, most honored queen in the world.”  15
  “I shall like to be queen,” she said. “What else will happen to me?”  16
  “You will live in a palace bright as gold; and ascending the steps to your throne, you will tread upon mosaics of diamonds. The courtiers grouped about you will sing your praises. The most august brows will incline under the all-powerful grace of your smile.”  17
  “To be praised and obeyed will be charming,” she said. “Shall I have other pleasures?”  18
  “Maids of honor as skillful as the fairies. Your godmothers will dress you in robes the color of moon and sun. They will powder your hair, put tiny black patches at the brink of your eye or at the corner of your mouth. You will have a grand golden mantle trailing after you.”  19
  “Good!” she said. “I was always a little coquettish.”  20
  “Pages as pretty as birds will offer you dishes of the most delicious sweetmeats, will pour in your cup the sweet wines which are so fragrant.”  21
  “That is very fine,” she said. “I was always a little greedy. Will those be all of my joys?”  22
  “Another delight, the greatest of all, awaits you.”  23
  “Ah! what?”  24
  “You will be loved.”  25
  “By whom?”  26
  “By me!—Unless you think me unworthy to claim your affection.”  27
  “You are a fine-looking prince; and your costume is very becoming.”  28
  “If you deign not to repel my prayers, I will give you my whole heart for another kingdom of which you shall be sovereign; and I will never cease to be the grateful slave of your cruelest caprices.”  29
  “Ah! what happiness you promise me!”  30
  “Rise then, sweetheart, and follow me.”  31
  “Follow you? Already? Wait a little. I must reflect. There is doubtless more than one tempting thing among all that you offer me; but do you know if I may not have to leave better in order to obtain it?”  32
  “What do you mean, princess?”  33
  “I have been sleeping for a century, it is true; but I have been dreaming too, for a century. In my dreams I am also a queen, and of what a divine kingdom! My palace has walls of light. I have angels for courtiers, who celebrate me in music of infinite sweetness. I tread on branches of stars. If you knew what beautiful dresses I wear, the peerless fruits I have on my table, and the honey wines in which I moisten my lips! As for love, believe me, I don’t lack that either; for I am adored by a husband who is handsomer than all the princes of the earth, and who has been faithful for a hundred years. Everything considered, I think, my lord, that I should gain nothing by coming out of my enchantment. Please let me sleep.”  34
  Thereupon she turned toward the side of the bed, drew her hair over her eyes, and resumed her long nap; while Puff the little dog stopped yelping, content, her nose on her paws.  35
  The prince went away much abashed. And since then, thanks to the protection of the good fairies, no one has come to disturb the slumbers of the Sleeping Beauty.  36
 
 
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