Once upon a time there was a queen who bore a son so ugly and misshapen that for some time it was doubtful if he would have human form at all. But a fairy who was present at his birth promised that he should have plenty of brains, and added that by virtue of the gift which she had just bestowed upon him he would be able to impart to the person whom he should love best the same degree of intelligence which he possessed himself.
This somewhat consoled the poor queen, who was greatly disappointed at having brought into the world such a hideous brat. And indeed, no sooner did the child begin to speak than his sayings proved to be full of shrewdness, while all that he did was somehow so clever that he charmed everyone.
I forgot to mention that when he was born he had a little tuft of hair upon his head. For this reason he was called Ricky of the Tuft, Ricky being his family name.
Some seven or eight years later the queen of a neighboring kingdom gave birth to twin daughters. The first one to come into the world was more beautiful than the dawn, and the queen was so overjoyed that it was feared her great excitement might do her some harm. The same fairy who had assisted at the birth of Ricky of the Tuft was present, and in order to moderate the transports of the queen she declared that this little princess would have no sense at all, and would be as stupid as she was beautiful. The queen was deeply mortified, and a moment or two later her chagrin became greater still, for the second daughter proved to be extremely ugly.
“Do not be distressed, Madam,” said the fairy. “Your daughter shall be recompensed in another way. She shall have so much good sense that her lack of beauty will scarcely be noticed.”
“May Heaven grant it!” said the queen. “But is there no means by which the elder, who is so beautiful, can be endowed with some intelligence?”
“In the matter of brains I can do nothing for her, Madam,” said the fairy, “but as regards beauty I can do a great deal. As there is nothing I would not do to please you, I will bestow upon her the power of making beautiful any person who shall greatly please her.”
As the two princesses grew up their perfections increased, and everywhere the beauty of the elder and the wit of the younger were the subject of common talk.
It is equally true that their defects also increased as they became older. The younger grew uglier every minute, and the elder daily became more stupid. Either she answered nothing at all when spoken to, or replied with some idiotic remark. At the same time she was so awkward that she could not set four china vases on the mantelpiece without breaking one of them, nor drink a glass of water without spilling half of it over her clothes.
Now although the elder girl possessed the great advantage which beauty always confers upon youth, she was nevertheless outshone in almost all company by her younger sister. At first everyone gathered round the beauty to see and admire her, but very soon they were all attracted by the graceful and easy conversation of the clever one. In a very short time the elder girl would be left entirely alone, while everybody clustered round her sister.
The elder princess was not so stupid that she was not aware of this, and she would willingly have surrendered all her beauty for half her sister’s cleverness. Sometimes she was ready to die of grief for the queen, though a sensible woman, could not refrain from occasionally reproaching her for her stupidity.
The princess had retired one day to a wood to bemoan her misfortune, when she saw approaching her an ugly little man, of very disagreeable appearance, but clad in magnificent attire.
This was the young prince Ricky of the Tuft. He had fallen in love with her portrait, which was everywhere to be seen, and had left his father’s kingdom in order to have the pleasure of seeing and talking to her.
Delighted to meet her thus alone, he approached with every mark of respect and politeness. But while he paid her the usual compliments he noticed that she was plunged in melancholy.
“I cannot understand, madam,” he said, “how anyone with your beauty can be so sad as you appear. I can boast of having seen many fair ladies, and I declare that none of them could compare in beauty with you.”
“It is very kind of you to say so, sir,” answered the princess; and stopped there, at a loss what to say further.
“Beauty,” said Ricky, “is of such great advantage that everything else can be disregarded; and I do not see that the possessor of it can have anything much to grieve about.”
To this the princess replied, “I would rather be as plain as you are and have some sense, than be as beautiful as I am and at the same time stupid.”
“Nothing more clearly displays good sense, madam, than a belief that one is not possessed of it. It follows, therefore, that the more one has, the more one fears it to be wanting.”
“I am not sure about that,” said the princess; “but I know only too well that I am very stupid, and this is the reason of the misery which is nearly killing me.”
“If that is all that troubles you, madam, I can easily put an end to your suffering.”
“How will you manage that?” said the princess.
“I am able, madam,” said Ricky of the Tuft, “to bestow as much good sense as it is possible to possess on the person whom I love the most. You are that person, and it therefore rests with you to decide whether you will acquire so much intelligence. The only condition is that you shall consent to marry me.”
The princess was dumfounded, and remained silent.
“I can see,” pursued Ricky, “that this suggestion perplexes you, and I am not surprised. But I will give you a whole year to make up your mind to it.”
The princess had so little sense, and at the same time desired it so ardently, that she persuaded herself the end of this year would never come. So she accepted the offer which had been made to her. No sooner had she given her word to Ricky that she would marry him within one year from that very day, than she felt a complete change come over her. She found herself able to say all that she wished with the greatest ease, and to say it in an elegant, finished, and natural manner. She at once engaged Ricky in a brilliant and lengthy conversation, holding her own so well that Ricky feared he had given her a larger share of sense than he had retained for himself.
On her return to the palace amazement reigned throughout the court at such a sudden and extraordinary change. Whereas formerly they had been accustomed to hear her give vent to silly, pert remarks, they now heard her express herself sensibly and very wittily.
The entire court was overjoyed. The only person not too pleased was the younger sister, for now that she had no longer the advantage over the elder in wit, she seemed nothing but a little fright in comparison.
The king himself often took her advice, and several times held his councils in her apartment.
The news of this change spread abroad, and the princes of the neighboring kingdoms made many attempts to captivate her. Almost all asked her in marriage. But she found none with enough sense, and so she listened to all without promising herself to any.
At last came one who was so powerful, so rich, so witty, and so handsome, that she could not help being somewhat attracted by him. Her father noticed this, and told her she could make her own choice of a husband. She had only to declare herself. Now the more sense one has, the more difficult it is to make up one’s mind in an affair of this kind. After thanking her father, therefore, she asked for a little time to think it over. In order to ponder quietly what she had better do she went to walk in a wood — the very one, as it happened, where she had encountered Ricky of the Tuft.
While she walked, deep in thought, she heard beneath her feet a thudding sound, as though many people were running busily to and fro. Listening more attentively she heard voices. “Bring me that boiler,” said one; then another, “Put some wood on that fire!”
At that moment the ground opened, and she saw below what appeared to be a large kitchen full of cooks and scullions, and all the train of attendants which the preparation of a great banquet involves. A gang of some twenty or thirty spit- turners emerged and took up their positions round a very long table in a path in the wood. They all wore their cook’s caps on one side, and with their basting implements in their hands they kept time together as they worked, to the lilt of a melodious song.
The princess was astonished by this spectacle, and asked for whom their work was being done.
“For Prince Ricky of the Tuft, madam,” said the foreman of the gang. ”His wedding is tomorrow.”
At this the princess was more surprised than ever. In a flash she remembered that it was a year to the very day since she had promised to marry Prince Ricky of the Tuft, and was taken aback by the recollection. The reason she had forgotten was that when she made the promise she was still without sense, and with the acquisition of that intelligence which the prince had bestowed upon her, all memory of her former stupidities had been blotted out.
She had not gone another thirty paces when Ricky of the Tuft appeared before her, gallant and resplendent, like a prince upon his wedding day.
“As you see, madam,” he said, “I keep my word to the minute. I do not doubt that you have come to keep yours, and by giving me your hand to make me the happiest of men.”
“I will be frank with you,” replied the princess. “I have not yet made up my mind on the point, and I am afraid I shall never be able to take the decision you desire.”
“You astonish me, madam,” said Ricky of the Tuft.
“I can well believe it,” said the princess, “and undoubtedly, if I had to deal with a clown, or a man who lacked good sense, I should feel myself very awkwardly situated. ‘A princess must keep her word,’ he would say, ‘and you must marry me because you promised to!’ But I am speaking to a man of the world, of the greatest good sense, and I am sure that he will listen to reason. As you are aware, I could not make up my mind to marry you even when I was entirely without sense; how can you expect that today, possessing the intelligence you bestowed on me, which makes me still more difficult to please than formerly, I should take a decision which I could not take then? If you wished so much to marry me, you were very wrong to relieve me of my stupidity, and to let me see more clearly than I did.”
“If a man who lacked good sense,” replied Ricky of the Tuft, “would be justified, as you have just said, in reproaching you for breaking your word, why do you expect, madam, that I should act differently where the happiness of my whole life is at stake? Is it reasonable that people who have sense should be treated worse than those who have none? Would you maintain that for a moment — you, who so markedly have sense, and desired so ardently to have it? But, pardon me, let us get to the facts. With the exception of my ugliness, is there anything about me which displeases you? Are you dissatisfied with my breeding, my brains, my disposition, or my manners?”
“In no way,” replied the princess. “I like exceedingly all that you have displayed of the qualities you mention.”
“In that case,” said Ricky of the Tuft, “happiness will be mine, for it lies in your power to make me the most attractive of men.”
“How can that be done?” asked the princess.
“It will happen of itself,” replied Ricky of the Tuft, “if you love me well enough to wish that it be so. To remove your doubts, madam, let me tell you that the same fairy who on the day of my birth bestowed upon me the power of endowing with intelligence the woman of my choice, gave to you also the power of endowing with beauty the man whom you should love, and on whom you should wish to confer this favor.”
“If that is so,” said the princess, “I wish with all my heart that you may become the handsomest and most attractive prince in the world, and I give you without reserve the boon which it is mine to bestow.”
No sooner had the princess uttered these words than Ricky of the Tuft appeared before her eyes as the handsomest, most graceful and attractive man that she had ever set eyes on.
Some people assert that this was not the work of fairy enchantment, but that love alone brought about the transformation. They say that the princess, as she mused upon her lover’s constancy, upon his good sense, and his many admirable qualities of heart and head, grew blind to the deformity of his body and the ugliness of his face; that his humpback seemed no more than was natural in a man who could make the courtliest of bows, and that the dreadful limp which had formerly distressed her now betokened nothing more than a certain diffidence and charming deference of manner. They say further that she found his eyes shine all the brighter for their squint, and that this defect in them was to her but a sign of passionate love; while his great red nose she found naught but martial and heroic.
However that may be, the princess promised to marry him on the spot, provided only that he could obtain the consent of her royal father.
The king knew Ricky of the Tuft to be a prince both wise and witty, and on learning of his daughter’s regard for him, he accepted him with pleasure as a son-in-law.
The wedding took place upon the morrow, just as Ricky of the Tuft had foreseen, and in accordance with the arrangements he had long ago put in train.