At length arrived a Prince so rich, so witty, and so handsome, that she could not help feeling an inclination for him. Her father, having perceived it, told her that he left her at perfect liberty to choose a husband for herself, and that she had only to make known her decision. As the more sense we possess, the more difficulty we find in making up one's mind positively on such a matter, she requested, after having thanked her father, that he would allow her some time to think of it. She went, by chance, to walk in the same wood where she had met with Riquet with the Tuft, in order to ponder with greater freedom on what she had to do. While she was walking, deep in thought, she heard a dull sound beneath her feet, as of many persons running to and fro, and busily occupied. Having listened more attentively, she heard one say, "Bring me that saucepan;" another, "Give me that kettle;" another, "Put some wood on the fire." At the same moment the ground opened, and she saw beneath her what appeared to be a large kitchen, full of cooks, scullions, and all sorts of servants necessary for the preparation of a magnificent banquet. There came forth a band of from twenty to thirty cooks, who went and established themselves [Pg 32] in an avenue of the wood at a very long table, and who, each with larding-pin in hand and the queue de renard behind the ear, set to work, keeping time to a melodious song.
The Princess, astonished at this sight, inquired for whom they were working. "Madam," replied the most prominent of the troop, "for Prince Riquet with the Tuft, whose marriage will take place to-morrow." The Princess, still more surprised than she was before, and suddenly recollecting that it was just a twelvemonth from the day on which she had promised to marry Prince Riquet with the Tuft, was lost in amazement. The cause of her not having remembered her promise was, that when she made it she was a fool, and on receiving her new mind, she forgot all her follies. She had not taken thirty steps in continuation of her walk, when Riquet with the Tuft presented himself before her, gaily and magnificently attired, like a Prince about to be married. "You see, Madam," said he, "I keep my word punctually, and I doubt not but that you have come hither to keep yours, and to make me, by the gift of your hand, the happiest of men." "I confess to you, frankly," replied the Princess, "that I have not yet made up my mind on that matter, and that I do not think I shall ever be able to do so to your satisfaction." "You astonish me, Madam," said Riquet with the Tuft. "I have no doubt I do," said the Princess; "and assuredly, had I to deal with a stupid person—a man without mind,—I should feel greatly embarrassed. 'A Princess is bound by her word,' he would say to me, 'and you must marry me, as you have promised to do so.' But as the person to whom I speak is the most sensible man in all the world, I am certain he will listen to reason. You know that, when I was no better than a fool,
I nevertheless could not resolve to marry you—how can you expect, now that I have the sense which you have given me, and which renders me much more difficult to please than before, that I should take a resolution to-day which I could not do then? If you seriously thought of marrying me, you did very wrong to take away my stupidity, and enable me to see clearer than I saw then." "If a man without sense," replied Riquet with the Tuft, "should meet with some indulgence, as you have just intimated, had he to reproach you with your breach of promise, why would you, Madam, that I should not be equally so in a matter which affects the entire happiness of my life? Is it reasonable that persons of intellect should be in a worse condition than those that have none? Can you assert this—you who have so much and have so earnestly desired to possess it? But let us come to the point, if you please. With the exception of my ugliness, is there anything in me that displeases you? Are you dissatisfied with my birth, my understanding, my temper, or my manners?"
Not in the least," replied the Princess; "I admire in you everything you have mentioned." "If so," rejoined Riquet with the Tuft, "I shall be happy, as you have it in your power to make me the most agreeable of men." "How can that be done?" said the Princess. "It can be done," said Riquet with the Tuft, "if you love me sufficiently to wish that it should be. And in order, Madam, that you should have no doubt about it, know that the same fairy, who, on the day I was born, endowed me with the power to give understanding to the person I chose, gave you also the power to render handsome the man you should love, and on whom you were desirous to bestow that favour." "If such be the fact," said the Princess, "I wish, with all my heart, that you should become the handsomest Prince in the world, and I bestow the gift on you to the fullest extent in my power."