Riquet of the Tuft
Once upon a time there was a Queen who had a son so ugly and so misshapen that it was long disputed whether he had human form. A fairy who was at his birth said, however, that he would be very amiable for all that, since he would have uncommon good sense. She even added that it would be in his power, by virtue of a gift she had just then given him, to bestow as much sense as he pleased on the person he loved the best. All this somewhat comforted the poor Queen. It is true that this child no sooner began to talk than he said a thousand pretty things, and in all his actions there was an intelligence that was quite charming. I forgot to tell you that he was born with a little tuft of hair upon his head, which made them call him Riquet with the Tuft, for Riquet was the family name.
Seven or eight years later the Queen of a neighboring kingdom had two daughters who were twins. The first born of these was more beautiful than the day; whereat the Queen was so very glad that those present were afraid that her excess of joy would do her harm. The same fairy who was present at the birth of little Riquet with the Tuft was here also, and, to moderate the Queen’s gladness, she declared that this little Princess should have no sense at all, but should be as stupid as she was pretty. This mortified the Queen extremely; but afterwards she had a far greater sorrow, for the second daughter proved to be very ugly.
“Do not afflict yourself so much, madam,” said the fairy. “Your daughter shall have her recompense; she shall have so great a portion of sense that the want of beauty will hardly be perceived.”
“God grant it,” replied the Queen; “but is there no way to make the eldest, who is so pretty, have any sense?”
“I can do nothing for her, madam, as to sense,” answered the fairy, “but everything as to beauty; and as there is nothing I would not do for your satisfaction, I give her for gift that she shall have power to make handsome the person who shall best please her.”
As these princesses grew up, their perfections grew with them. All the public talk was of the beauty of the elder and the rare good sense of the younger. It is true also that their defects increased considerably with their age. The younger visibly grew uglier and uglier, and the elder became every day more and more stupid: she either made no answer at all to what was asked her, or said something very silly. She was with all this so unhandy that she could not place four pieces of china upon the mantelpiece without breaking one of them, nor drink a glass of water without spilling half of it upon her clothes.
Although beauty is a very great advantage in young people, the younger sister was always the more preferred in society. People would indeed go first to the Beauty to look upon and admire her, but turn aside soon after to the Wit to hear a thousand most entertaining and agreeable things; and it was amazing to see, in less than a quarter of an hour’s time, the elder with not a soul near her, and the whole company crowding about the younger. The elder, dull as she was, could not fail to notice this; and without the slightest regret would have given all her beauty to have half her sister’s wit. The Queen, prudent as she was, could not help reproaching her several times for her stupidity, which almost made the poor Princess die of grief.
One day, as she had hidden herself in a wood to bewail her misfortune, she saw coming to her a very disagreeable little man, but most magnificently dressed. This was the young Prince Riquet with the Tuft, who having fallen in love with her upon seeing her picture,—many of which were distributed all the world over,—had left his father’s kingdom to have the pleasure of seeing and talking with her.
Overjoyed to find her thus alone, he addressed himself to her with all imaginable politeness and respect. Having observed, after he had paid her the ordinary compliments, that she was extremely melancholy, he said to her:
“I cannot comprehend, madam, how a person so beautiful as you are can be so sorrowful as you seem to be; for though I can boast of having seen a great number of exquisitely charming ladies, I can say that I never beheld any one whose beauty approaches yours.”
“You are pleased to say so,” answered the Princess, and here she stopped.
“Beauty,” replied Riquet with the Tuft, “is such a great advantage, that it ought to take place of all things besides; and since you possess this treasure, I can see nothing that can possibly very much afflict you.”
“I had far rather,” cried the Princess, “be as ugly as you are, and have sense, than have the beauty I possess, and be as stupid as I am.”
“There is nothing, madam,” returned he, “shows more that we have good sense than to believe we have none; and it is the nature of that excellent quality that the more people have of it, the more they believe they want it.”
“I do not know that,” said the Princess; “but I know very well that I am very senseless, and that vexes me mightily.”
“If that be all which troubles you, madam, I can very easily put an end to your affliction.”
“And how will you do that?” cried the Princess.
“I have the power, madam,” replied Riquet with the Tuft, “to give to that person whom I love best as much good sense as can be had; and as you, madam, are that very person, it will be your fault only if you have not as great a share of it as any one living, provided you will be pleased to marry me.”
From The tales of Mother Goose, by Charles Perrault (Boston: Heath, 1901).