Between the kingdoms of Paflagonia and Crim Tartary, there lived a mysterious personage, who was known in those countries as the Fairy Blackstick, from the ebony wand or crutch which she carried; on which she rode to the moon sometimes, or upon other excursions of business or pleasure, and with which she performed her wonders. When she was young, and had been first taught the art of conjuring by the necromancer, her father, she was always practicing her skill, whizzing about from one kingdom to another upon her black stick, and conferring her fairy favors upon this Prince or that. She had scores of royal godchildren; turned numberless wicked people into beasts, birds, millstones, clocks, pumps, boot jacks, umbrellas, or other absurd shapes; and, in a word, was one of the most active and officious of the whole college of fairies.
But after two or three thousand years of this sport, I suppose Blackstick grew tired of it. Or perhaps she thought, “What good am I doing by sending this Princess to sleep for a hundred years? by fixing a black pudding on to that booby’s nose? by causing diamonds and pearls to drop from one little girl’s mouth, and vipers and toads from another’s? I begin to think I do as much harm as good by my performances. I might as well shut my incantations up, and allow things to take their natural course.
“There were my two young goddaughters, King Savio’s wife, and Duke Padella’s wife: I gave them each a present, which was to render them charming in the eyes of their husbands, and secure the affection of those gentlemen as long as they lived. What good did my Rose and my Ring do these two women? None on earth. From having all their whims indulged by their husbands, they became capricious, lazy, ill-humored, absurdly vain, and leered and languished, and fancied themselves irresistibly beautiful, when they were really quite old and hideous, the ridiculous creatures! They used actually to patronise me when I went to pay them a visit — ME, the Fairy Blackstick, who knows all the wisdom of the necromancers, and could have turned them into baboons, and all their diamonds into strings of onions, by a single wave of my rod!” So she locked up her books in her cupboard, declined further magical performances, and scarcely used her wand at all except as a cane to walk about with.
So when Duke Padella’s lady had a little son (the Duke was at that time only one of the principal noblemen in Crim Tartary), Blackstick, although invited to the christening, would not so much as attend; but merely sent her compliments and a silver papboat for the baby, which was really not worth a couple of guineas. About the same time the Queen of Paflagonia presented his Majesty with a son and heir; and guns were fired, the capital illuminated, and no end of feasts ordained to celebrate the young Prince’s birth. It was thought the fairy, who was asked to be his godmother, would at least have presented him with an invisible jacket, a flying horse, a Fortunatus’s purse, or some other valuable token of her favor; but instead, Blackstick went up to the cradle of the child Giglio, when everybody was admiring him and complimenting his royal papa and mamma, and said, “My poor child, the best thing I can send you is a little MISFORTUNE;” and this was all she would utter, to the disgust of Giglio’s parents, who died very soon after, when Giglio’s uncle took the throne, as we read in Chapter I.
In like manner, when CAVOLFIORE, King of Crim Tartary, had a christening of his only child, ROSALBA, the Fairy Blackstick, who had been invited, was not more gracious than in Prince Giglio’s case. Whilst everybody was expatiating over the beauty of the darling child, and congratulating its parents, the Fairy Blackstick looked very sadly at the baby and its mother, and said, “My good woman (for the Fairy was very familiar, and no more minded a Queen than a washerwoman)— my good woman, these people who are following you will be the first to turn against you; and as for this little lady, the best thing I can wish her is a LITTLE MISFORTUNE.” So she touched Rosalba with her black wand, looked severely at the courtiers, motioned the Queen an adieu with her hand, and sailed slowly up into the air out of the window.
When she was gone, the Court people, who had been awed and silent in her presence, began to speak. “What an odious Fairy she is” (they said)—“a pretty Fairy, indeed! Why, she went to the King of Paflagonia’s christening, and pretended to do all sorts of things for that family; and what has happened — the Prince, her godson, has been turned off his throne by his uncle. Would we allow our sweet Princess to be deprived of her rights by any enemy? Never, never, never, never!”
And they all shouted in a chorus, “Never, never, never, never!”
Now, I should like to know, and how did these fine courtiers show their fidelity? One of King Cavolfiore’s vassals, the Duke Padella just mentioned, rebelled against the King, who went out to chastise his rebellious subject. “Any one rebel against our beloved and august Monarch!” cried the courtiers; “any one resist HIM? Pooh! He is invincible, irresistible. He will bring home Padella a prisoner, and tie him to a donkey’s tail, and drive him round the town, saying, ‘This is the way the Great Cavolfiore treats rebels.’”
The King went forth to vanquish Padella; and the poor Queen, who was a very timid, anxious creature, grew so frightened and ill that I am sorry to say she died; leaving injunctions with her ladies to take care of the dear little Rosalba. Of course they said they would. Of course they vowed they would die rather than any harm should happen to the Princess. At first the Crim Tartar Court Journal stated that the King was obtaining great victories over the audacious rebel: then it was announced that the troops of the infamous Padella were in flight: then it was said that the royal army would soon come up with the enemy, and then — then the news came that King Cavolfiore was vanquished and slain by his Majesty, King Padella the First!
At this news, half the courtiers ran off to pay their duty to the conquering chief, and the other half ran away, laying hands on all the best articles in the palace; and poor little Rosalba was left there quite alone — quite alone: she toddled from one room to another, crying, “Countess! Duchess!” (only she said “Tountess, Duttess,” not being able to speak plain) “bring me my mutton-sop; my Royal Highness hungy! Tountess! Duttess!” And she went from the private apartments into the throne-room and nobody was there; — and thence into the ballroom and nobody was there; — and thence into the pages’ room and nobody was there; — and she toddled down the great staircase into the hall and nobody was there; — and the door was open, and she went into the court, and into the garden, and thence into the wilderness, and thence into the forest where the wild beasts live, and was never heard of any more!
A piece of her torn mantle and one of her shoes were found in the wood in the mouths of two lionesses’ cubs whom KING PADELLA and a royal hunting party shot — for he was King now, and reigned over Crim Tartary. “So the poor little Princess is done for,” said he; “well, what’s done can’t be helped. Gentlemen, let us go to luncheon!” And one of the courtiers took up the shoe and put it in his pocket. And there was an end of Rosalba!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00