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Nursery Tales Told to the Children by  Amy Steedman


 

 

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY

[22] Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen who had no children, and who longed for a little daughter more than anything in the world. The Queen grew sadder and sadder, and could think of nothing else, until one day she went to bathe in the cool water of the palace fountain, when a frog suddenly jumped out and sat at the edge gazing at her.

"You shall have your wish," he croaked. "This very time next year, when the briar-rose begins to flower, a living rosebud shall blossom for you."

And the next year, just at the time of the roses, the Queen had a little baby-daughter, just as the frog had promised.

No words can describe the delight of the King and Queen. Joy bells were rung, and bonfires were lighted, and the whole land rejoiced. Of course, they had the grandest christening possible, to which all the fairies [23] were invited. At least they were all invited except one, because it happened that unfortunately there were thirteen fairies, and the King had only twelve gold plates for the feast. So he was obliged to pretend he had forgotten the thirteenth fairy.

The twelve fairies came to the christening in their very best dresses made of woven moonbeams edged with rose-leaves, and they each brought a magic gift to the infant Princess.

One gave her beauty, another health and happiness, another cleverness, another sweet temper and a kind heart, and so on until it came to the twelfth fairy.

But before she could speak the door flew open and in there swept the thirteenth fairy, who had not been invited. She had an ugly frown on her face, and looked so angry that every one drew back to let her pass. Straight up to the baby's cradle she went, and pulling back the rose-coloured curtains, she looked crossly at the little sleeping face.

"You shall have my gift, though I was not invited to the christening," she said with a [24] spiteful smile. "When you are fifteen years old, you shall prick your finger with a spindle and fall down dead."

Then she cast an evil look all round, and flew out of the window.

Every one stood quite silent with grief and horror, until the twelfth fairy stepped forward and waved her wand.

"I have still a gift to bestow," she said, "and though I may not change the wicked fairy's prophecy, I can at least make it less evil. The Princess shall not die when she pricks her finger with the spindle, but she shall fall into a deep sleep, which will last a hundred years."

Then all the fairies left the palace, and the King and Queen began to think that perhaps the wicked fairy had been only a bad dream. But in case any harm should really come to the little Princess Briar-Rose, it was ordered that every spinning-wheel in the kingdom should be destroyed. And very soon not a spindle was to be found throughout all the length and breadth of the land.

Now the fairy gifts which had been given [25] to the Princess when she was in her cradle were seen more and more clearly by mortal eyes as she grew older. She was as beautiful as a flower, and as clever as she was good, and as happy as the day was long. The King and Queen thought no more of the evil prophecy, and so the years slipped by until Briar-Rose was fifteen.

It happened that on her fifteenth birthday the King and Queen went out together, and the Princess was left all alone in the palace and began to feel very dull. She played battledoor and shuttlecock and all the one-person games she could think of, and when she grew tired of them she thought she would go through all the rooms in the palace and look for adventures.

After a while she came to a little turret-stair which she never remembered having seen before, and when she climbed to the top she came to a curious little door. The Princess knocked, for she had always been taught to be polite, and an old cracked voice cried out "Come in."

And when Briar-Rose opened the door she [26] saw a little old woman sitting there with a spinning-wheel, spinning soft white yarn.

"Oh, what a funny thing that is!" said Briar-Rose, looking at the spinning-wheel, for she had never seen such a thing before. "How I should love to make it go whirling round and round!"

And she put out her hand to touch the soft wool, but the spindle pricked her finger and a tiny drop of blood sprang out. Before she had even time to cry out, part of the fairy's evil prophecy came true, for she sank down on the stone bench and fell fast asleep.

At that very moment everybody and everything in the palace stopped what they were doing, and fell fast asleep too.

The King and Queen, who had just returned and were walking through the hall, sank down in two royal chairs; the cook in the kitchen, who was just going to box the scullion's ears, went fast asleep with her hand still in the air. The scullion, with his mouth wide open, ready to roar with the pain, left it open and went fast asleep too. The [27] horses in the stable went to sleep in the middle of eating their corn; the pigeons on the stable roof hadn't even time to tuck their heads under their wings, but fell asleep as they were strutting around with their tails still spread out. The flies slept on the ceiling; the canary did not want to have the green cover put over its cage, but slept in broad daylight. The only person to whom the fairy's prophecy made no difference was the cat, but then she was already fast asleep, as usual, by the kitchen fire. But the fire stopped crackling and burning, the pots stopped boiling, nothing stirred, nothing moved, not a sound was heard. Only round the palace there sprung up a hedge of briar-roses which grew taller and taller, as time went on, until the palace was quite hidden, and not even the top of the flagstaff could be seen.

And as the years went by people began to forget about the palace. Only the old people would tell the children sometimes about the beautiful Princess who once lived in a palace where the briar-roses grew. But the children [28] thought it was a make-believe story, for the hedge was so thick and so high that no one could see what was inside.

Sometimes a Prince would come riding by and listen to the tale, and then try and cut his way through the thick hedge, to see if there was really a beautiful Princess on the other side. But the thorns tore every one who tried to force his way through, and sometimes put out his eyes, so the Princes grew tired of trying, and each year the hedge grew taller and thicker.

Now it happened that on the very day when the Princess had been asleep for a hundred years, there chanced to come to that country a Prince who was braver and handsomer than any of the Princes who had come before. He had never known what it meant to be beaten or to give in, and when he heard the story of the Princess Briar-Rose he made up his mind to find her.

"The thorns in the hedge will tear you to pieces," all the people said.

"The last Prince came back quite blind," added some one else.

[29] "I shall never come back at all, unless I can win my way through," answered the Prince, and set off bravely.

But when he got to the great hedge, he found it covered with pale pink roses, and the branches parted in front of him to make a passage, and all the thorns looked the other way. On he walked through the cool, green path, while the roses nodded and smiled on him all the way. And when he came to the other side he saw a stately palace, just as the old people had described it. Not a sound broke the solemn stillness, not a leaf whispered in the breeze. He saw the pigeons fast asleep on the stable roof, and the watch-dog lying in front of his kennel.

Then, when he entered the great hall, he saw the King and Queen fast asleep on their royal chairs, and everything and everybody were exactly the same as when they had fallen asleep a hundred years ago.

Presently the Prince noticed the turret steps that led to the tower, and he climbed them, just as the Princess had done. And [30] when he opened the door and stepped on to the balcony, he stood still in wonder and delight.


[Illustration]

He stood still in wonder and delight

The Princess lay there fast asleep, her fair face turned towards him, just as she had sunk down to rest a hundred years ago. Everything was unchanged except that now around the couch was a canopy of briar-roses protecting her as she slept. The flowers breathed their beauty around her, and the sharp thorns guarded her from all harm.

So beautiful did the Princess look lying there, like a pale rose herself, that the Prince was drawn to her side, and bending over her he kissed her cheek.

The Princess's eyelids quivered, and the next moment her eyes opened. She looked up and saw the Prince bending over her, and when their eyes met she gave a little cry of joy.

"Oh," she cried, "you have come at last. I have been dreaming and dreaming of you, and I thought you were never coming to wake me."

Now the moment the Princess opened her [31] eyes every one and everything in the palace began to awake too. The King and Queen walked with stately tread through the hall, the cook gave the scullion a sounding box on his ear. The scullion roared with his mouth wide open, the horses went on eating their corn, the pigeons strutted about on the roof, the flies walked busily up and down the ceiling, and the canary piped the end of his song and said to himself, "Dear me, I dreamed I went to sleep without my covering."

And the great hedge of briar-roses sank down and down till it vanished in the earth, and not even a bud was left.

"But what does it matter if the roses are gone?" said the Prince, "since I have got my own Briar-Rose, who is fairest of them all."

And so they were married and lived happily ever after.


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