Prince Darling

Darling was delighted with this new change of form, and gambolled joyfully round the keeper, who lifted the dog in his arms and carried him to the King, to whom he told the wonderful story.

The Queen was so delighted with the beautiful dog that she kept it as a pet, and it accompanied her everywhere, carried on a silk cushion by her favourite page. Darling might have thought himself very fortunate if he could only have forgotten that he ought not to be a dog, but that he should be a man and a king!

The Queen, who fondled him, often began to fear that he would grow too fat, so she consulted the most learned doctors of the Court on this subject. These gentlemen produced weighty books and ancient parchments to prove that dogs thrive best on a spare diet of bread and water, and as the Queen followed this advice rather too strictly, poor Darling felt ready to die of hunger the half of his time, but he told himself he must learn to be patient.

One morning, when he got his little roll of bread for his breakfast, he carried it in his mouth to the garden of the palace to eat it near a brook which he remembered.

The brook was no longer there, but in his search for it he came to a great house whose walls sparkled with gold and precious stones. Crowds of magnificently dressed men and women were going into it, and they all appeared to be gay, for there were sounds of music and dancing coming from all the brightly lighted windows; but what seemed strange indeed was that those who came out from it were thin, pale, and covered with hideous-looking boils and sores, while they had only a few filthy rags to cover themselves with. Some, indeed, fell dead on the threshold as they came out, having no strength to crawl farther. Some went a little way, then lay down to die of hunger, begging for a crust of bread from the gay crowds who were flocking to the house, but none in these crowds even looked at them as they passed.

Darling saw a young girl trying to pull up some grass to eat to satisfy her hunger. He went toward her, saying to himself:

“I am hungry, but I am not dying of hunger. I can wait till dinner-time, and perhaps my roll will save this girl’s life.”

He held out the roll to her. She snatched it from him and ate it greedily. It seemed to renew her strength, and Darling, delighted to have been in time to save her, turned and began to walk back toward the palace.

On the way he heard a woman’s voice calling for help. It seemed to be Zelia, who was being dragged by four men who wanted to force her to go into the brightly lighted house. At that moment Darling regretted having lost his monster form, for he thought it would have enabled him to terrify these bad men.

“What can a poor little dog do to help her?” he asked himself in great distress; but he did his best by barking and trying to bite the heels of the girl’s captors. They kicked him out of their way, but he returned to the attack repeatedly, till one kick seemed to blind him for a while, and he lost sight of them.

His heart was torn with remorse as he told himself that, but for his own wickedness in imprisoning Zelia, she would not have been in the hands of these bad men.

Suddenly Darling heard the sound of a window opening, and his joy was great when he saw a maiden, who resembled Zelia, throw him a plateful of good roast beef and close the casement quickly. As Darling was very hungry he bounded forward to take some of the meat, when the girl to whom he had given his roll that morning came up and called him to her. Lifting him in her arms, she said:

“Poor little animal, you must not touch any food coming from that house. It is poisoned and would kill you. That is the palace of the terrible fairy Self-Indulgence, who poisons everyone who enters her domains.”

Then Darling heard a voice saying, as before: “No good action goes without its reward,” and at the same moment he found himself changed into a beautiful white dove. He remembered that white was the favourite colour of Candour, and he began to hope that in the end she would restore him to his original form.

His first desire was to find out what had become of Zelia, so he spread his wings and flew all round the house. Seeing an open window, he flew in and looked everywhere; but Zelia was not there. He was terribly grieved, but determined to fly to the end of the earth, if necessary, in order to find her. He sped on for several days without stopping, until, when crossing a desert, he noticed the mouth of a cave. Flying low, he entered this cave, where to his great delight he found Zelia sitting beside a hermit and sharing his frugal meal of ripe fruit. Darling perched on her shoulder and rubbed his soft head against her neck and face, cooing all the time to show her how pleased he was.

Zelia was charmed with the gentle little dove, and stroked its soft feathers with her hand. At the same time she spoke to it, though she did not know that it could understand her words. She told it that she accepted the gift of itself, which it had made to her, and that she would love and cherish it as long as she lived.

“What have you done, Zelia?” said the hermit. “Do you know that you have just plighted your troth?”

“Yes, my dear girl,” said Prince Darling, who at that moment regained the power of speech, “the spell of my enchantment cannot be broken till you say you are willing to marry me. You have just promised me to love me always. I ask you to assure my happiness by consenting to our union, and I shall beg Fairy Candour, my protectress, to give me back the form which was mine when I was fortunate enough to hear you say my appearance pleased you.”

The Prince had barely uttered these words when his own proper shape was restored.

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.

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