For a considerable time the Prince behaved so well that the ring never once needed to prick him, and he was so well pleased with himself that he was always smiling. This made people add “Happy” to his name “Darling.”
Some months later the young Prince went hunting, but came back without having caught anything. This annoyed him and put him in a bad humour. He imagined, for a moment, that the ring pressed him a little, but as it did not actually prick him he hardly noticed it. As he entered his room, his little dog Flora came jumping to welcome him, wanting to lick his hand.
“Get out of my way,” said he crossly. “I can’t be bothered with you just now.”
The little creature did not understand, but tugged at his coat to draw his attention. In his ill-temper the Prince lifted his foot and kicked her out of his way. The ring pricked him sharply, as if it had been a pin. This made him think of his conduct, and feeling both annoyed and ashamed, he sat down sulkily in the darkest corner of the room. It was a new and a disagreeable experience for him to be found fault with. He said to himself:
“Really, my fairy friend is making a fool of me! What wrong is there in giving a kick to an animal that is pestering me? What is the use of being master of a great empire, when I am not at liberty to beat my dog if I like?”
“I am not making a fool of you,” said a voice, replying to the Prince’s thoughts. “You have committed three faults instead of one. You let yourself get cross because you did not have what you wanted, and because you think both men and animals are made only for your pleasure. You flew into a passion, which is very wrong, and in your passion you were cruel to a little animal that had done nothing to deserve such treatment. I know that you are greatly the superior of a dog, but if it is to be accepted that the great and powerful can tyrannize over those who are beneath them, I might either flog you or kill you, as a fairy is vastly more powerful than a man. The real advantage of being master over a great empire does not consist in having power to do all the wrong you care to do, but the power to do all the good you can.”
Prince Darling saw his fault, and felt sorry for a little while. He promised to try to correct his own bad temper, but he soon forgot. Unfortunately his mother had died when he was very little, and he had been brought up by a very foolish old nurse, who let him have his own way in everything. When he wanted anything he had only to cry or fly into a passion, stamping his feet or yelling at the top of his voice. The stupid woman gave him what he wanted to pacify him, and it made him very obstinate and self-willed. She told him daily that soon he would be a great King, and that all Kings were happy because they could get everything they wanted, as everyone had to obey them and respect them, and no one could prevent a King from doing what he liked.
When he grew big enough to understand, he quite recognized how wrong these ideas were, and he saw that nothing was so ignoble as pride, vanity, and obstinacy. He really made many efforts to correct himself, but these bad habits had become almost part of his nature, and nothing is so difficult to cure as a bad habit learned when young. His heart was not naturally bad or cruel, and sometimes he shed tears as he said to himself:
“I am very unfortunate. I have to fight my own pride and my own temper every day, and yet they get the better of me. If I had been corrected when I was young, it would have been better for me to-day.”
His ring pricked him many a time. Sometimes he attended to the warning at once, sometimes he paid no heed, but continued his wrong course. The strange thing was that for a slight fault the ring gave a very tiny prick, but for a grave fault it pricked firmly till the finger bled. At last he lost patience, and making up his mind to do as he liked without restraint, he drew off the ring and threw it away.
He felt greatly relieved when he had no more pricking to worry him, and believed himself to be enjoying life for the first time. He spent his whole time in idle amusements, and even in wrongdoing from which he would have shrunk when younger, and at last he behaved so badly that no nice people liked to be in his company.
One day when the Prince was out for an airing he saw a girl who was so beautiful that he determined to marry her. Her name was Zelia, and she was as well-behaved as she was good-looking, but she was of very humble birth.
The Prince thought Zelia would be only too glad to marry him and become a real Queen, so he asked her at once to be his wife, but the young girl answered him with great frankness:
“Sire, I am only a peasant girl, without fortune, but though I had a fortune I would not marry you.”
“Am I so displeasing to look at?” asked he, a little hurt.
“No, Sire,” replied Zelia; “you appear to me just what you are, a very handsome man. But of what use would your good looks, your wealth, or the fine clothes and grand coaches you promise, be to me, if your daily behaviour forced me to despise you and hate you?”
The Prince was very angry at this plain speaking, and ordered his officers to take Zelia by force to the palace. The young girl’s contempt for him rankled in his mind all day, but he was so much in love with her that he could not bring himself to ill-treat her.
From Favourite French fairy tales retold from the french of Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy and Madame Leprince de Beaumont, Barbara Douglas, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1921.