While Rosette was thus sleeping peacefully, the king, the queen, and Orangine and Roussette, purple with rage, were quarrelling and disputing amongst themselves. Each was accusing the other of having brought about the triumph of Rosette and their own humiliating defeat. One last hope remained for them. In the morning there was to be a chariot race. Each chariot was to be drawn by two horses and driven by a lady. It was resolved to give Rosette a very high chariot, drawn by two wild, untrained and prancing horses.
"Prince Charmant will have no chariot and horses to exchange," said the queen, "as he had this morning in the case of the riding-horse. It is easy to find a horse for the saddle but it will be impossible for him to find a chariot ready for the course."
The consoling thought that Rosette might be killed or grievously wounded and disfigured on the morrow brought peace to these four wicked beings. They retired and dreamed of the next best means of ridding themselves of Rosette if the chariot race failed. Orangine and Roussette slept but little so that in the morning they were still uglier and more unprepossessing than they had appeared the day before.
Rosette, who had a tranquil conscience and contented heart, slept all night calmly. She had been much fatigued and did not wake till a late hour. Indeed, on rising she found she had scarcely time to dress. The coarse kitchen girl brought her a cup of milk and a piece of bread. This was by order of the queen who directed that she should be treated like a servant.
Rosette was not difficult to please. She ate the coarse bread and milk with appetite and began to dress. The case of carved ivory had disappeared. She put on as usual her robe of coarse cloth, her pullet's wing, and all the rude ornaments she had brought from the farm and then looked at herself in the glass.
She was attired in a riding habit of straw-colored satin, embroidered in front and at the hem with sapphires and emeralds. Her hat was of white velvet, ornamented with plumes of a thousand colors, taken from the plumage of the rarest birds and attached by a sapphire larger than an egg. On her neck was a chain of sapphires, at the end of which was a watch, the face of which was opal, the back a carved sapphire and the glass diamond. This watch was always going, was never out of order and never required to be wound up.
Rosette heard her page at the door and followed him. On entering the salon she perceived Prince Charmant, who was awaiting her with the most lively impatience. He sprang forward to receive her, offered his arm and said with eagerness:—
"Well, dear princess, what did the fairy say to you? What answer do you give me?"
"That which my heart dictated, sweet prince. I consecrate my life to you as you have dedicated yours to me."
"Thanks! a thousand times thanks, dear and bewitching Rosette. When may I demand your hand of the king your father?"
"At the close of the chariot race, dear prince."
"Permit me to add to my first petition that of being married to you this very day. I cannot bear to see you subjected to the tyranny of your family and I wish to conduct you at once to my kingdom."
Rosette hesitated. The soft voice of the fairy whispered in her ear, "Accept." The same voice whispered to Charmant, "Press the marriage, prince and speak to the king without delay. Rosette's life is in danger and during eight days from the setting of the sun this evening I cannot watch over her."
Charmant trembled and repeated the fairy's words to Rosette, who replied that it was a warning they must not neglect as it undoubtedly came from the fairy Puissante.
The princess now advanced to salute the king, the queen and her sisters but they neither looked at her nor spoke to her. She was however immediately surrounded by a crowd of kings and princes, each one of whom had himself proposed to ask her hand in marriage that evening but no one had an opportunity to speak to her as Charmant never left her side a single moment.
After the repast they went down to get into the chariots. The kings and princes were to go on horseback and the ladies to drive the chariots.
The chariot designed for Rosette by the queen was now brought forward. Charmant seized Rosette at the moment she was about to take the reins and lifted her to the ground.
"You shall not enter this chariot, princess. Look at these wild ungovernable horses."
Rosette now saw that it took four men to hold each of the horses and that they were prancing and jumping alarmingly.
At this instant a pretty little jockey, attired in a straw-colored satin vest, with blue ribbon knots, exclaimed in silvery tones:—
"The equipage of the Princess Rosette!"
And now a little chariot of pearls and mother-of-pearl, drawn by two magnificent steeds with harness of straw-colored velvet ornamented with sapphires, drew up before the princess.
Charmant scarcely knew whether to allow Rosette to mount this unknown chariot for he still feared some cunning wickedness of the king and queen. But the voice of the fairy sounded in his ear:—
"Allow Rosette to ascend the chariot; these horses are a present from me. Follow them wherever they may take Rosette. The day is advancing. I have but a few hours left in which I can be of service to Rosette and she must be safe in your kingdom before the day closes."
Charmant assisted Rosette to ascend the chariot and sprang upon his horse. A few moments afterwards, two chariots driven by veiled women advanced in front of Rosette. One of them dashed her chariot with such violence against that of Rosette, that the little chariot of mother-of-pearl would inevitably have been crushed had it not been constructed by fairies. The heavy and massive chariot was dashed to pieces instead of Rosette's. The veiled woman was thrown upon the stones, where she remained immovable whilst Rosette, who had recognized Orangine, tried to stop her own horses. The other chariot now dashed against that of Rosette and was crushed like the first and the veiled woman was also dashed upon the stones, which seemed placed there to receive her.
Rosette recognised Roussette and was about to descend from her chariot when Charmant interfered, and said: "Listen, Rosette!"
A voice whispered, "Go, flee quickly! The king is pursuing you with a great company to kill you both. The sun will set in a few hours. I have barely time to rescue you from this danger so give my horses the reins; Charmant, abandon yours."
Charmant sprang into the chariot by the side of Rosette, who was more dead than alive. The superb steeds set off with such marvellous speed that they made more than twenty leagues an hour. For a long time they knew that they were pursued by the king with a numerous troop of armed men but they could not overtake the horses of the fairy. The chariot still flew on with lightning haste; the horses increased their speed till at last they made a hundred leagues an hour. During six hours they kept up this rate and then drew up at the foot of the stairs of Prince Charmant.
The whole palace was illuminated and all the courtiers were waiting at the entrance in their most magnificent costumes to welcome the princess and the prince.
The prince and Rosette were amazed, not knowing how to understand this unexpected reception. Charmant had just assisted the princess to descend from the chariot, when they saw before them the fairy Puissante, who said:—
"Most welcome to your kingdom. Prince Charmant, follow me; all is prepared for your marriage. Conduct Rosette to her room that she may change her dress, whilst I explain to you all the events of this day which seem so incomprehensible to you. I have one hour at my disposal."
The fairy and Charmant now led Rosette to an apartment, ornamented with the most exquisite taste, where she found her maids waiting to attend upon her.
"I will return to seek you in a short time, my dear Rosette," said the fairy; "my moments are counted."
She departed with Charmant and said to him:—
"The hatred of the king and queen against Rosette had become so intense that they had blindly resolved to defy my vengeance and to get rid of Rosette. Seeing that their cunning arrangements in the chariot race had not succeeded after I substituted my horses for those which would certainly have killed Rosette, they resolved to have recourse to violence. The king employed a band of brigands, who swore to him a blind obedience; they pursued your steps with vengeance in their hearts and as the king knew your love for Rosette and foresaw that you would defend her to the death, he was resolved to sacrifice you also to his hatred. Orangine and Roussette, ignorant of this last project of the king, attempted to kill Rosette, as you have seen, by dashing their heavy chariots violently against the light chariot of the princess. I have punished them as they deserved.
"Orangine and Roussette have had their faces so crushed and wounded by the stones that they have become frightful. I have aroused them from their state of unconsciousness, cured their wounds but left the hideous scars to disfigure them. I have deprived them of all their rich clothing and dressed them like peasants and I married them at once to two brutal ostlers whom I commissioned to beat and maltreat them until their wicked hearts are changed—and this I think will never take place.
"As to the king and queen, I have changed them into beasts of burden and given them to wicked and cruel masters who will make them suffer for all their brutality to Rosette. Besides this, they have all been transported into your kingdom and they will be compelled to hear unceasingly the praises of Rosette and her husband.
"I have but one piece of advice to give you, dear prince; hide from Rosette the punishment I have inflicted upon her parents and sisters. She is so good and tender-hearted that her happiness would be affected by it, but I ought not and will not take pity upon wicked people whose hearts are so vicious and unrepentant."
Charmant thanked the fairy eagerly and promised silence. They now returned to Rosette, who was clothed in her wedding-robe, prepared by the fairy Puissante.
It was a tissue of dazzling golden gauze, embroidered with garlands of flowers and birds, in stones of all colors, of admirable beauty; the jewels which formed the birds were so disposed as to produce, at every motion of Rosette, a warbling more melodious than the sweetest music. Upon her head was a crown of flowers made of gems still more beautiful and rare than those on her robe. Her neck and arms were covered with carbuncles more brilliant than the sun.
Charmant was completely dazzled by his bride's beauty but the fairy recalled him from his ecstasy by saying:—
"Quick! quick! onward! I have but half an hour, after which I must give myself up to the queen of the fairies and lose my power for eight days. We are all subject to this law and nothing can free us from it."
Charmant presented his hand to Rosette and the fairy preceded them. They walked towards the chapel which was brilliantly illuminated and here Charmant and Rosette received the nuptial benediction. On returning to the parlor, they perceived that the fairy had disappeared, but, as they were sure of again seeing her in eight days her absence caused them no anxiety. Charmant presented the new queen to his court. Everybody found her as charming and good as the prince and they felt disposed to love her as they loved him.
With a most amiable and thoughtful attention, the fairy had transported the farm, upon which Rosette had been so happy, and all its occupants into Charmant's kingdom. This farm was placed at the end of the park, so that Rosette could walk there every day and see her good nurse. The fairy had also brought into the palace all those cases which contained the rich dresses in which Rosette had been so triumphant at the festivals.
Rosette and Charmant were very happy and loved each other tenderly always. Rosette never knew the terrible punishment of her father, mother and sisters. When she asked Charmant the fate of her sisters, he told her that their faces were much disfigured by their fall amongst the stones but they were well and married and the good fairy expressly forbade Rosette to think of them. She spoke of them no more.
As to Orangine and Roussette, the more unhappy they were, the more cruel and wicked their hearts became, so the fairy allowed them to remain always ugly and in the most degraded ranks of life.
The king and queen, changed into beasts of burden, found their only consolation in biting and kicking everything that came within their reach. They were obliged to carry their masters to festivals given in honor of Rosette's marriage and they were mad with rage when they heard the praises lavished upon the young couple and in seeing Rosette pass by, beautiful, radiant and adored by Charmant.
The fairy had resolved that they should not return to their original forms till their hearts were changed. It is said that six thousand years have passed, and they are still beasts of burden.
Notes: The book contains 5 long French folktales. Each story has several chapters.
Author: Comtesse de Ségur
Publisher: The Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia