25. The Prince Gracious
While Rosalie was quietly sleeping, the prince Gracious was participating in a hunt through the forest by torch-light. The fawn, pursued fiercely by the dogs, came trembling with terror to crouch down near the stream by which Rosalie was sleeping. The dogs and gamekeepers sprang forward after the fawn. Suddenly the dogs stopped barking and grouped themselves silently around Rosalie. The prince dismounted from his horse to set the dogs again upon the trail of the deer but what was his surprise to see a lovely young girl asleep in this lonely forest! He looked carefully around but saw no one else. She was indeed alone—abandoned. On examining her more closely, he saw traces of tears upon her cheeks and indeed they were still escaping slowly from her closed eyelids.
Rosalie was simply clothed but the richness of her silk dress indicated wealth. Her fine white hands, her rosy nails, her beautiful chestnut locks, carefully arranged with a gold comb, her elegant boots and necklace of pure pearls indicated nobility.
Rosalie did not awake, despite the stamping of the horses, the barking of the dogs and the noisy shouting of the hunters.
The prince was puzzled and stood gazing steadily at Rosalie. No one present recognized her. Anxious and bothered by this deep sleep, Prince Gracious took her hand softly. Rosalie still slept. The prince pressed her hand lightly in his but even this did not awaken her.
Turning to his officers, he said, “I cannot abandon this unfortunate child, who has perhaps been the victim of some cruel wickedness.”
“But how can she be removed while she is asleep, prince,” said Hubert, his head gamekeeper, “couldn’t we make a bed of branches and carry her to some home in the neighborhood while your highness continues the chase?”
“Your idea is good, Hubert. Make the bed and we will immediately place her on it, only you will not carry her to a house, but to my palace. This young maiden is certainly of high birth, and she is beautiful as an angel. I will watch over her myself, so that she may receive the care and attention to which she is entitled.”
Hubert, with the assistance of his men, soon arranged the litter upon which Prince Gracious spread his cloak. Then approaching Rosalie, who was still sleeping softly, he raised her gently in his arms and laid her on the cloak. At this moment Rosalie seemed to be dreaming. She smiled and murmured, in low tones, “My father! My father! Saved forever! The Queen of the Fairies! The Prince Gracious! I see him. He is charming!”
The prince, surprised to hear his name pronounced, did not doubt that Rosalie was a princess under some cruel spell. He commanded his gamekeepers to walk very softly so as not to wake her and he walked by the side of the litter.
On arriving at the palace, Prince Gracious ordered that the queen’s apartment should be prepared for Rosalie. He allowed no one to touch her but carried her himself to her chamber and laid her gently upon the bed, ordering the women who were to wait upon and watch over her to tell him as soon as she awaked. Then, casting a farewell look upon the sad, sweet face of the sleeper, he strode from the room.
Rosalie slept tranquilly until morning. The sun was shining brightly when she awoke. She looked about her with great surprise. The wicked mouse was not near her to terrify her—it had happily disappeared.
“Am I delivered from this wicked fairy Detestable?” she said, joyfully. “Am I in the hands of a fairy more powerful than herself?”
Rosalie now stepped to the window and saw many armed men and many officers, dressed in brilliant uniforms. More and more surprised, she was about to call one of the men, whom she believed to be either genie or wizard, when she heard footsteps approaching. She turned and saw the prince Gracious, standing before her and regarding her with admiration. Rosalie immediately recognized the prince of her dream and cried out involuntarily, “The prince Gracious!”
“You know me then?” said the prince, in amazement. “How, if you have ever known me, could I have forgotten your name and features?”
“I have only seen you in my dreams, prince,” said Rosalie, blushing. “As to my name, you could not possibly know it, since I myself did not know my father’s name until yesterday.”
“And what is the name, may I ask, which has been concealed from you for so long?”
Rosalie then told him all that she had heard from her father. She frankly confessed her curiosity and its terrible consequences.
“Understand my grief, prince, when I was forced to leave my father in order to escape from the flames which the wicked fairy had lit; when, rejected everywhere because of the wicked mouse, I found myself exposed to death from hunger and thirst! Soon, however, a heavy sleep came over me, during which I had many strange dreams. I do not know how I came here or whether it is in your palace that I find myself.”
Gracious then related to Rosalie how he had found her asleep in the forest and the words which he had heard her utter in her dream. He then added, “There is one thing your father did not tell you, Rosalie; that is, that the queen of the fairies, who is our relation, had decided that we should be married when you were fifteen years of age. It was no doubt the queen of the fairies who inspired me with the desire to go hunting by torchlight, in order that I might find you in the forest where you had wandered. Since you will be fifteen in a few days, Rosalie, consider my palace as your own and command here in advance, as my queen. Your father will soon be returned to you and we will celebrate our happy marriage.”
Rosalie thanked her young and handsome cousin and then returned to her room, where she found her maids awaiting her with a wonderful selection of rich and splendid robes. Rosalie, who had never given much attention to her appearance, took the first dress that was presented to her. It was of rose-colored gauze ornamented with fine lace with a head-dress of lace and moss rosebuds. Her beautiful chestnut hair was arranged in bands, forming a crown. When it was completed, the prince came to take her to breakfast.
After the meal, the prince led her to the garden and took her to the green-houses, which were very magnificent. At the end of one of the hot-houses there was a little rotunda, ornamented with beautiful flowers. In the centre of this rotunda there was a large case which seemed to contain a tree but a thick heavy cloth was thrown over it and tightly sewed together. Through the cloth however could be seen a number of points of extraordinary brilliancy.