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The Princess's Looking Glass
LONG time ago there was in a certain kingdom a curious mirror.
It did not seem different from other mirrors, and indeed many who peeped into it noticed nothing strange about their reflections therein. Aside, therefore, from its rich gilt frame set with precious stones, one would hardly give this mirror a second thought, but for the strange story told about it.
The mirror was owned by a beautiful princess. All day she sat before it admiring herself; and persons wishing to speak with her must stand so she could see them in the mirror. If they appeared homely she would have nothing to do with them; and strangely enough, whatever the opinion of her father and the rest of the kingdom, the princess thought everyone homely.
So one fine day, having grown tired, as she said, of homely people, she fastened her mirror to the silver trappings of her palfrey, and rode away.
Now you can readily see, as the princess looked only in the mirror in front of her, that she might get into a peck of trouble, which is exactly what happened, though for a time she jogged along smoothly enough.
Soon after she left her father's kingdom she met a fine youth. He was dressed as became so fine a fellow and rode a beautiful bay mare.
Would the princess look at
him? Indeed not! She fastened her gaze on her mirror as soon as ever
sight of him in the distance.
"Good morning! beautiful Princess!" said the youth, reining in his horse.
"Are you as beautiful as I?" asked the princess, without even greeting him.
"Alas! fair lady, I am not!" returned the handsome youth.
At that the princess turned her mirror to have it reflect his face.
"I should say you are not!" she cried, – for she saw in her mirror a creature no more like him than black is like white! And, believing what the mirror told her, she rode away, never looking at the fellow himself.
Pretty soon along came another youth. While the first had waving brown hair and kind grey eyes, this one was tall and handsome with golden hair and blue eyes. He was mounted on a palfrey as white as milk and even more beautiful than that of the princess.
"Are you as beautiful as I?" asked the princess, the moment she came up to him.
"Oh, fair lady, no!" he exclaimed, bowing low. "Who could be as fair as the Princess Beautiful?"
"You are right!" was her answer. "My mirror shows me what an unpleasant-looking creature you are! I bid you good morrow, and I am glad that my beauty can take the place of your ugly image!" So saying she jogged along, seeing no more beauty in the fair green valley about her than in the youths she had passed. Quite content, moreover, with what was contained within the gilt frame of her mirror.
The third person she met was as bright-eyed a fellow as one could wish to see. His steed was black as a raven's wing, with flowing mane and tail as fine and silken as the young man's raven locks. A golden bridle studded with jewels lay on the creature's glossy neck; and as for the youth, – one need not look twice to see he was no ordinary person.
Well, you'd hardly believe what the princess saw in her mirror! Without a word to the fellow she passed him by.
Just then, whiz! came a terrific wind! lifting the princess and her horse off the ground, and sailing them through the air at such a rate of speed that all the princess could do was to hold to her mirror; and it was well she did, since it served in the end, to teach her a lesson.
At last the wind stopped, and let the princess down with a jolt that made her forget everything but her beauty.
"Dear me!" she cried, looking into the glass, "I do not like this country!" nor would you have liked what she saw in the mirror.
"I wish to go back to my father's kingdom," she said to the first person she saw, who appeared in the mirror to be a homely old woman.
"Your father's kingdom! Who are you?" asked the dame.
"I am the most beautiful princess in the land!" answered the princess indignantly, – whereat the dame took her hand and led her to a pool of water.
"Look at the reflection," she said, "is that the most beautiful princess in the land?"
The princess looked, then started back, for the pool reflected a face one would not wish to see a second time.
"What has happened to me?" she cried. "My mirror says I am beautiful!"
"Your mirror lies! " replied the dame. "This is the pool of Truth!"
"How can such a green slimy pool be the pool of Truth?" wept the princess.
"It is not green and slimy," answered the dame. The princess was bewildered, for she saw the green scum on the face of the pool, as plainly as she saw the reflection.
"Does every one see me thus," she asked, "instead of as my mirror says I am?"
"Go look in your mirror."
Lo! the mirror had grown dim and no longer reflected at all!
"Oh!" cried the princess, now as unhappy as could be, "take me to your house, dame, and hide me. I can never go back to my father's kingdom, for no one there, however homely, will even look at me!"
"Very well," said the dame, "you may come with me to my cottage and spin flax."
So they went to the cottage, where the dame gave her a tiny room, no bigger than her own bed in her father's castle.
All day long she sat at the door of the cottage spinning flax; and hard work it was for the princess, who had never even put on her own shoes. She was very sad, and never a day passed but the dame's flax was wet with the princess's tears.
One day as she sat at the door, eating her luncheon of black bread and cheese, an old man stopped to look at her. This was not strange, for the people often paused, and the princess, thinking it was to wonder at her ugliness, never raised her eyes.
"I am hungry," said the man, whereat the princess handed him her black bread and cheese, of which she had only taken two bites.
She was surprised to see that a kindly light beamed from the old man's eyes.
"He does not see how ugly I am," she thought with a thrill of happiness; and she asked the dame if the old man could see well.
"He sees perfectly," replied the dame, – which puzzled the princess, for she wondered then that he could bear to look at her.
At last the dame's flax was spun, and the princess, thinking she would be sent away, grew sadder than ever.
"Let me stay with you, dame," she pleaded, "I will work for you and never grow weary!"
"You should go back to your father's kingdom," was the dame's advice.
"No one will welcome me there! Take pity on me! for none but you, whom I have grown to love, can bear to look upon me!"
"Ah! then," said the dame, "you will find work," and she sent the princess to help the needy. Soon she was so busy, thinking of others, that she forgot herself.
"How strange!" she said to the dame, one day. "I once thought these were the ugliest people in the world, and now I see only kind, beautiful faces."
The dame laughed, saying:
"We see ourselves reflected in others."
"How is it, then, that you are beautiful, when I am not?" asked the princess.
For answer the dame led her to the pool.
What did the princess see when she bent over, but her own self reflected in a clear, sparkling pool! only she was now so wonderfully lovely, that she could not believe she had ever thought the old self, in the mirror, beautiful.
"Where is the scum, dame?" she cried.
"There never was any scum."
"What will my mirror say?"
"It will never tell any more lies! It was the mirror of self-love and has melted away!"
The princess opened her eyes in astonishment; but before she could say another word, a gust of wind picked her up, and again she was sailing through the air on her white horse.
"Oh, I can look over the country," she cried joyfully, "for I haven't an old mirror to hold to!" And she had barely time to throw a kiss and wave good-bye to the dame, when she disappeared from view.
A little while afterwards the king, in the watchtower of his castle, roused the whole kingdom by declaring that through his spy-glass, he could see his daughter returning with three handsome princes at her side.
"Surely not your daughter, your Majesty," they cried, "The proud princess, who would look at no one!" But they all took a peep through the glass, and indeed it was she!
The king hopped about like a grain of corn in a popper till his daughter reached his side. Great rejoicing there was then, for the princess embraced her father crying:
"Oh, father, how glad I am that the dreadful mirror is gone! and how happy I am to return to your beautiful kingdom!"
Whereat everybody began crying and laughing at once, for pure joy, and they were so happy that they forgot all about the feast, which was eaten by the cook and the serving-maids.