2. Blondine Lost
Blondine grew to be seven years old and Brunette three.
The king had given Blondine a charming little carriage drawn by ostriches, and a little coachman ten years of age, who was the nephew of her nurse.
The little page, who was called Gourmandinet, loved Blondine tenderly. He had been her playmate from her birth and she had shown him a thousand acts of kindness.
But Gourmandinet had one terrible fault; he was greedy for sweet things—was so fond of chocolates, candies and cakes, that for a bag of candies he would do almost any wicked thing. Blondine often said to him, “I love you dearly, Gourmandinet, but I do not love to see you so greedy. I beg you to change this terrible fault which will make you hated by all the world.”
Gourmandinet kissed her hand and promised to change. But alas, he continued to steal cakes from the kitchen and candies from the store-room. Often, indeed, he was whipped for his disobedience and greed.
The queen Fourbette heard about all of this and she was cunning enough to think that she might make use of this weakness of Gourmandinet and thus get rid of poor Blondine.
The garden, in which Blondine drove in her little carriage, drawn by ostriches and driven by her little coachman, Gourmandinet, was separated by a fence from an immense and magnificent forest, called the Forest of Lilacs because during the whole year these lilacs were always covered with beautiful flowers.
No one, however, entered these woods. It was well known that it was enchanted ground and that if you once entered there you could never hope to escape.
Gourmandinet knew the terrible secret of this forest. He had been forbidden ever to drive the carriage of Blondine in that direction lest by some chance Blondine might cross over the fence and place her little feet on the enchanted ground.
Many times the king had tried to build a wall the entire length of the fence so as to make an entrance there impossible. But the workmen had no sooner laid the foundation than some unknown and invisible power raised the stones and they disappeared from sight.
The queen Fourbette now worked diligently to gain the friendship of Gourmandinet by giving him every day some delicious sweets. In this way she made him so complete a slave to his appetite that he could not live without the jellies, candies and cakes which she gave him in such huge amounts. At last she sent for him and said, “Gourmandinet, it depends entirely upon yourself whether you shall have a large trunk full of candies and delicious sweet things or never again eat one during your life.”
“Never again eat one! Oh madam, I should die of such punishment. Speak, madam, what must I do to escape this terrible fate?”
“It is necessary,” said the queen, looking at him directly, “that you should drive the princess Blondine near to the Forest of Lilacs.”
“I cannot do it, madam; the king has forbidden it.”
“Ah! You cannot do it. Well, then, farewell. No more sweets for you. I shall command everyone in the house to give you nothing.”
“Oh madam,” said Gourmandinet, weeping bitterly, “do not be so cruel. Give me some order which it is in my power to carry out.”
“I can only repeat that I command you to lead the princess Blondine near to the Forest of Lilacs; that you encourage her to get out of the carriage, to climb over the fence and enter the enchanted ground.”
“But, madam,” replied Gourmandinet, turning very pale, “if the princess enters this forest she can never escape from it. You know the penalty for entering upon enchanted ground. To send my dear princess there is to give her up to certain death.”
“For the third and last time,” said the queen, frowning fearfully, “I ask if you will take the princess to the forest. Choose! Either an immense box of candies every month, or never again to taste the delicacies which you love.”
“But how shall I escape from the dreadful punishment which his majesty will inflict upon me?”
“Do not be worried about that. As soon as you have persuaded Blondine to enter the Forest of Lilacs, return to me. I will send you off out of danger with your candies, and I will make sure nothing happens to you.”
“Oh madam, have pity upon me. Do not make me lead my dear princess to destruction. She, who has always been so good to me!”
“You still hesitate, miserable coward! Of what importance is the fate of Blondine to you? When you have obeyed my commands I will see that you enter the service of Brunette and I declare to you solemnly that the sweet things will always be there for you.”
Gourmandinet hesitated and reflected a few moments longer and, alas, at last decided to sacrifice his good little mistress to his greed.
The remainder of that day he still hesitated and he lay awake all night weeping bitter tears as he tried to discover some way to escape from the power of the wicked queen; but the certainty of the queen’s bitter revenge if he refused to carry out her cruel orders, and the hope of rescuing Blondine at some future day by seeking the aid of some powerful fairy, helped him decide to obey the queen.
In the morning at ten o’clock Blondine ordered her little carriage and climbed in it for a drive, after having embraced the king her father and promised him to return in two hours.
The garden was immense. Gourmandinet, on starting, turned the ostriches away from the Forest of Lilacs. When, however, they were entirely out of sight of the palace, he changed his course and turned towards the fence which separated them from the enchanted ground. He was sad and silent. His crime weighed upon his heart and conscience.
“What is the matter?” said Blondine, kindly. “You say nothing Are you ill, Gourmandinet?”
“No, my princess, I am well.”
“But how pale you are! Tell me what bothers you, poor boy, and I promise to do all in my power to make you happy.”
Blondine’s kind inquiries and attentions almost softened the hard heart of Gourmandinet, but the thought of the candies promised by the wicked queen, Fourbette, soon chased away his good thoughts. Before he had time to reply, the ostriches reached the fence of the Forest of Lilacs.
“Oh, the beautiful lilacs!” exclaimed Blondine; “how fragrant—how delicious! I must have a bouquet of those beautiful flowers for my papa. Get down, Gourmandinet and bring me some of those beautiful branches.”
“I cannot leave my seat, princess, the ostriches might run away with you during my absence.”
“Do not fear,” replied Blondine; “I could guide them myself to the palace.”
“But the king would give me a terrible scolding for having abandoned you, princess. It is best that you go yourself and gather your flowers.”
“That is true. I should be very sorry to get you a scolding, my poor Gourmandinet.”
While saying these words she sprang lightly from the carriage, climbed over the fence and commenced to gather the flowers.
At this moment Gourmandinet shuddered and was overwhelmed with regret. He tried to call Blondine but although she was only ten steps from him,—although he saw her perfectly—she could not hear his voice, and in a short time she was lost to view in the enchanted forest.
For a long time Gourmandinet wept over his crime, cursed his greed and despised the wicked queen Fourbette.
At last he recalled to himself that the hour approached at which Blondine would be expected at the palace. He returned to the stables through the back entrance and ran at once to the queen, who was anxiously expecting him.
On seeing him so deadly pale and his eyes red from the tears of awful remorse, she knew that Blondine had perished.
“Is it done?” she said.
Gourmandinet bowed his head. He did not have the strength to speak.
“Come,” she said, “see your reward!”
She pointed to a large box full of delicious candies of every variety. She commanded a valet to lift the box and place it upon one of the horses which had brought her jewelry.
“I give this box to Gourmandinet, in order that he may take it to my father,” she said. “Go, boy, and return in a month for another.” She placed in his hand at the same time a purse full of gold.
Gourmandinet mounted the horse in perfect silence and set off at full gallop. The horse was obstinate and willful and soon grew restive under the weight of the box and began to prance and kick. He did this so well that he threw Gourmandinet and his precious box of candies upon the ground.
Gourmandinet, who had never ridden upon a horse or mule, fell heavily with his head hitting a rock and died instantly.
Thus he did not receive from his crime the profit which he had hoped, for he had not even tasted one of the candies which the queen had given him.
No one missed him. No one but the poor Blondine had ever loved him.