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Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The

BLONDINA;
OR,
THE TURKEY-QUEEN.

ACERTAIN king had two daughters, one of them lovely and accomplished, and the other an ugly, cross-tempered personage, who early in life took to meddling with the black arts, and learned a great deal more of magic than she did of any thing else. Blondina, on the contrary—for so the pretty princess was named—was the joy of all her nurses, and governesses, and tutors, and music masters, from earliest infancy. Her one fault was a tendency to laugh aloud on the slightest provocation. At ten years old she could speak many languages, play on all known instruments, write essays and sermons, dance like a sylph, sing like a nightingale, and make chocolate caramel. Vixetta, the elder of the two sisters, before she had reached the same age, had made short work of her instructors, wearing out the health and spirits of a[212] governess in a week, and driving twenty-four tutors into the lunatic asylum, while her head-nurse was speedily reduced to skin and bone, and took a permanent situation as the living skeleton in a dime-museum.

Vixetta

The poor king remonstrated in vain with his headstrong elder daughter. Ordinary scolding had not the slightest effect upon her; black marks and crosses against her name in the report-book only made her laugh scornfully; and any attempt at bodily punishment ended in the Princess Vixetta throwing herself flat upon the ground, turning purple in the face, and foaming at the mouth with rage in a way to daunt the stoutest spirit. So, for this reason, the unfortunate girl was allowed to follow her own fancies, stealing off at dusk nobody knew whither, although it[213] was suspected that her favorite haunts were the black depths of a pine forest near the palace—where the country folk never cared to ramble, even in broad daylight—or a certain ruined tower, filled with bats and owls and serpents. One night a peasant, who approached this tower in search of a lost cow, saw green lights dancing madly around the broken walls, heard wild shrieks of laughter issue from within, and, on venturing to insert his inquisitive nose into a chink, had it tweaked by two red-hot fingers; immediately afterward, he averred, he had seen the Princess Vixetta, in true witch-dress, shoot by him on a broom-stick, leaving a trail of brimstone in her wake. On reaching home he found his sheep dead, his best cows gone dry, and his children ill of a fever. Such tales as these, of which there were many current in the country-side, came from time to time to the king's ears, and not being able to gainsay them, because of information he had got on his own private account, the unfortunate parent resigned himself to sink slowly to the tomb. In fact he courted death rather than shunned it. Whenever he took cold, he would sit all night long, in wet shoes, in the draft of two open windows; and if that did not make him worse, would send away the doctors, refuse medicine,[214] and try to beat his brains out on the marble floor of the palace bedroom. At last, one day, he choked, on too large a mouthful of beefsteak, and when the physicians endeavored to relieve him, waved them away, and cheerfully expired!

Blondina.

The Princess Blondina was immediately proclaimed queen in her father's stead. Nothing was heard but praises of the charming new sovereign, who, after the[215] period of mourning had passed away, ascended the throne with much pomp and ceremony. All of this was gall and worm-wood to the envious Vixetta, who, but for the kindness of her sister, would have been sent, by a vote of all the people, into exile in a distant land. Blondina announced that the Princess Vixetta should remain in her palace, and be offered an opportunity to reform her bad ways. Vixetta, thereupon, pretending to weep, promised to do better, and to give up associating with her evil favorites, the witches, warlocks, and magicians; but, in secret, her time was spent in conjuring a method to get rid of her beautiful sister, and to mount the throne in her stead.

One warm summer day, Queen Blondina had just come in from rowing in her silver barge along the windings of the little river which watered the palace grounds. She rested for a while in the garden upon a bank of roses, myrtles, jasmine, and lilies-of-the-valley, while allowing her maids-of-honor to fan her with huge fans of white ostrich plumes, and listening to the drip of fountains of orange-flower water, and eau-de-cologne. Suddenly, she espied a poor old tattered crone, carrying a basket of luscious fruit, such as none of the queen's own gardens or green-houses could produce.[216] Pomegranates there were, dropping sweetest juices when cleft in twain, purple figs that melted upon the tongue, rosy nectarines, crimson plums frosted with silvery dew, and bunches of grapes glowing like jewels where the sunbeams touched their clusters. Queen Blondina sat up, and exclaimed with delight, "Oh! Goody, pray set your basket down. My servants will pay you handsomely for your lovely fruit."

"Willingly, your Majesty," said the old woman. "You are welcome to the contents of my basket, if you will but leave me the single hazel-nut at the very bottom of it."

Queen Blondina Resting in her Garden.

The queen consented, with a laugh at the absurdity of her wanting that one insignificant little hazel-nut, when such a delightful treat was at her service. Her servants unpacked the basket, and there, sure enough, at the bottom, was a tiny brown nut.

"Queer, that she should desire to keep back that one little nut," thought the queen. "I wonder why? Can it be so very delicious to the taste, or what? I wish I could see its inside."

And so she went on, wondering, and exciting her own imagination, till, pretty soon, Blondina would have given all the rest of the basketful for the possession[217] of that single mysterious nut! She began by offering one gold piece, then another, till a glittering pile lay at the crone's feet, but still the old woman held out against parting with her treasure.

At last, Blondina burst into tears, when the crone appeared to be melted by her sorrow, and, advancing, whispered in her ear.

"If I give you this nut," she said, "it shall be on one condition, only, your Majesty; and that is, that you crack it in the presence of your prime minister alone, in some remote corner of your palace."

Blondina gladly consented, and sending away her attendants, took possession of the nut, and summoned her prime minister to her side. This functionary was a very stern and important officer of State, who had been foremost in the movement to banish the Princess Vixetta from the court. He arrived all breathless, at the queen's behest, and in the meantime the old crone had disappeared as mysteriously as she came. Blondina ordered the prime minister to follow her to a secluded summer-house, where, eagerly cracking the nut with her royal high-heeled shoe, she found inside only a few pinches of white powder, and a scroll containing some fine writing in an unknown tongue.[218]

"Thanks to my love of study, your Majesty," modestly suggested the prime minister, "I have mastered the only language you have left unacquired, which happens to be Arabic. On this bit of paper, I can decipher certain instructions to the finder."

"Tell me them, quickly, my dear lord," said the enchanted princess, "and I will apply myself to the study of Arabic to-morrow. So much for a neglected education," she added, with a sigh that she had left anything so important undone; for, as I have said before, this princess had a passion for acquiring languages.

"If the finder of this treasure desires to acquaint himself with the language of the animal world, and to take the form of any other living thing, he has only to snuff up a pinch of the enclosed powder, bow to the earth three times, and cry the name of the creature he desires to become, followed by these exact words:—

'Kurri-kuree,
Changed would I be.'

"At once he will assume the likeness of the thing named, and will understand all he hears going on around him, remaining in that shape as long as he may choose. Whenever he wishes to resume his own[219] natural form, he has only to bow himself again three times to the earth, and repeat the formula already given. But let him, during the period of transformation, especially beware of laughing aloud—or he will inevitably forget the formula, and run the risk of remaining as he has chosen to be."

"This is the most delightful thing I ever had happen to me," said the merry young queen, clapping her hands. "Come, my lord, I am dying to try the experiment. Suppose we become two turkeys, and wander into the barn-yard. Nothing could please me more than a little adventure of that kind. Besides, you forget I have never studied Turkish, and this will be an excellent opportunity."

The prime minister, who was a man of sober years, beyond the taste for such mad-cap frolics, remonstrated in vain with his wilful mistress. Blondina would have her way; and, in a short time, behold both queen and minister indulging in a solemn pinch of white snuff, and pronouncing distinctly the magic formula, while inclining themselves humbly to the earth!

At once, Blondina's gown of silken tissue was exchanged for a suit of neat brown mottled feathers, while the prime minister became just such a huge and unwieldy[220] gobbler as would take first prize in a Christmas poultry show!

"Oh! what splendid fun!" the queen began, dying to laugh at her companion. But reflecting upon the possible consequences of this indiscretion, she became grave and silent, while the humiliated prime minister waddled after her into the barn-yard, whither his perverse little sovereign now took her way, leaving the hazel-nut securely hidden in a corner of the summer-house.

In the multitude of feathered folk assembled in the enclosure, our two turkeys passed almost unnoticed at first. They were surprised to find very much the same sort of talk going on among their new friends, as among those they had left. The same struggle for prizes and for place, the same greedy rapacity, the same love of gossip and display. Two new peacocks had that day been added to the collection, and were strutting up and down like fashionable loungers, discussing all the affairs of the nation and the conduct of the rulers; and, in listening to their discourse, the queen found herself much enlightened about many of her subjects, and their doings.

"As to her Majesty, Queen Blondina," said one of[221] the peacocks, sending his tail up in a magnificent fan when he saw the admiring gaze of two young guinea hens bent upon him, "I have reason to believe that this unfortunate young woman is doomed soon to fall a victim to the wiles of that powerful enchantress, her sister, who, as is well known to all of us, has just become the sovereign of the underground fraternity of magicians, against whose spells all other witches and warlocks can do nothing."

Blondina strained her ears to catch the answer; but the two talkers had passed on, and she heard a sharp voice say close beside her, "Come now, no struggling, if you please, Mr. Mole. I have not tasted so much as a mouse to-day, and you have crossed my path in the nick of time."

"Dear Miss Tame Owl," pleaded the little velvet-coated victim, held tight in the claws of a spinster-owl, domesticated in the barn-yard by Blondina's special orders, "I must entreat you to let me off this time; I was hurrying to my daughter's wedding, and mistook the way, straying into this dreadful place by the most unfortunate mischance. Consider the feelings of my family, who are all assembled and expecting me."[222]

"Come now, no nonsense," said the cross old thing. "My mouth is fairly watering for you."

She was about to cut short the victim's observations in the most abrupt manner by taking him bodily into her crop, when Blondina interposed, and flying at the owl, boxed her ears soundly. At this, the venerable lady was so unpleasantly taken by surprise, that she opened her mouth to gasp, and out fell the mole, who instantly scuttled away, but not without bestowing upon his turkey benefactress the most ardent thanks. After this little incident, Blondina's attention was distracted by a variety of curious studies in fowl-life, and she forgot all about her companion, the prime minister, until, chancing to look around, she beheld him the centre of an admiring throng of ducks, geese, and chickens, whose numbers were constantly increasing. "How grand he is!" "How big!" "How noble!" echoed on every side; and the prime minister, who was very vain, drooped his wings, set up his tail, and puffed himself into a magnificent fluffy ball. "Never have we beheld a turkey of so majestic a bearing!" cried a gushing goose-widow, and a pair of young lady ducklings rolled up their eyes in rapture and nodded assent. The prime minister was in his glory.[223]

"Yes, I am indeed the champion," he said, swelling into a balloon of feathers. Just then, Queen Blondina's own pet kitten, Floss, wandered across the yard, and having no especial occupation in view, charged at full scamper upon the prime minister, who, alas! for his boasted dignity, subsided ingloriously, and, shutting himself up tight, fairly turned tail and ran away, looking so excessively crest-fallen and foolish that Blondina could not resist bursting into a long and merry peal of laughter.

"What have you done, your Majesty?" cried the alarmed prime minister, now remembering himself, as together they took refuge in a neighboring field. "Is it possible you can have forgotten; and, for my part, I saw nothing to laugh about. I never imagined a more dreadful beast than that unmannerly little pet of yours which attacked me."

The queen broke out afresh into laughter, and laughed until she cried. Then, seeing the discomfiture of the prime minister, she decided that she had for to-day had enough of the animal world, and would indulge no more in such amusements until to-morrow.

"I beg ten thousand pardons, my dear lord," she said, shaking with suppressed laughter. "But if you[224] could only have seen yourself! Ha, ha! However, we have nothing now to do but bow three times, thus"—suiting the action to the word, "and say—Kik-kuk-kik! Dear me, what is it we must say? I can't for the life of me remember it."

The prime minister was as much at a loss.

"Perhaps your Majesty has forgotten the price you were to pay for a laugh," he observed, bitterly.

Blondina looked at him in blank horror. Too truly had she forgotten the formula, and turkeys they must remain!

And now, how sad their plight! In the midst of their other tribulations, hunger assailed them, and they could not eat the food provided for the rest. So they wandered into the fields and forest, picking at berries here and there; though, when evening came, footsore and weary, they determined to go back into the palace barn-yard, and see what was taking place there.

They found all the animals and fowls excited over the events of the day, and soon heard the news that Queen Blondina had died suddenly that morning, leaving a will appointing her sister to reign in her stead.

Next day a funeral took place, when the coffin was[225] filled by a lovely waxen image of the late queen, and was placed in the vault beside her father. The false Vixetta, dressed in mourning, had followed weeping after it.

Blondina and the prime minister now saw that they were indeed under the spell of a powerful enchantress, and resolved to travel to the dwelling of a certain wise woman in search of advice.

After a long journey, the two turkeys reached the hut of the wise woman, and told her their pitiful tale.

"Unfortunately, I have no power against Queen Vixetta since she has become the sovereign of the underground band," said the wise woman. "But, if you could gain an entrance to one of their Friday councils, you might pick up something to your advantage there." And then, as wise women speak but once in twenty-four hours, she shut the door in their faces, and left them to their fate.

Blondina and the prime minister repaired to the ruined tower whither Vixetta was wont to go on Fridays; and there, hiding behind a wall, they saw the wicked sorceress arrive and, lifting a trap-door in the cellar, disappear from sight. While they remained above,[226] lamenting their hard fate, Blondina saw a tiny black object emerge from the ground at her feet, then another and another, till a troop of them were assembled. These were moles, and their leader, addressing the queen, informed her that he it was she had saved from the crop of the owl.

"We have heard of your distressing predicament, your Majesty," the mole added, with deep respect; "and hasten to offer our services to conduct you to the council chamber of the underground band."

Blondina thanked the mole fervently, and found, upon following him, that with his companions he had burrowed a long and beautifully smooth tunnel. Glow-worms were ranged along the sides to light the way, and every thing was arranged for her comfort. After a considerable time had elapsed, the travellers reached a gallery leading directly into a vaulted chamber where the witches and warlocks sat, each upon a cushion formed of a huge and swollen toad. In their midst, upon a throne made of serpents intertwined, sat the Queen Vixetta, around whose brow flickered a wreath of blue flames. Ah! she was a terrible witch to look upon. Blondina shuddered to remember the kisses she had often innocently pressed upon that skinny[227] forehead and those lips of lurid red. Vixetta was in high spirits; she and her familiars hatched mischief together, and gloated over their evil doings in fiendish glee. Then Vixetta listened to the reports of each of the wicked creatures in turn; and, to Blondina's astonishment, in the narrators of these tales of witchcraft she recognized more than one of the most respected of her own subjects. Some of them were crones ancient and palsied, others were young and blooming girls Vixetta had led astray; among the warlocks were the gray-haired miller, the good sexton, and a courtier in whom the queen had placed peculiar confidence. All were attended by[228] black deformed creatures, half cat, half human being. In the centre of the circle was a fire, and before it they set up the very waxen image of the queen which had been buried in her stead. Into this little imps were ordered to thrust sharp blades and needles in the region of the heart, while Vixetta pronounced a spell, at which all the others laughed rejoicingly.

"I'll warrant my lady Blondina will be cured of her love of laughing, after this—as well as of her curiosity. Long may she wander in her present shape," said the sorceress. "It was a merry trick I played her and that audacious old prime minister, who sought to do me harm."

"And what, pray, was the rhyme your Majesty bid them recall?" asked the courtier warlock, grinning maliciously.

"A simple one," replied the sorceress, "and you will remember it was once a password in our band,—

'Kurri-kuree,
Changed would I be.'"

Blondina almost betrayed herself in her delight. She repeated the words again and again, in mind, keeping profoundly silent until the witch-revels were at an end;[229] and at cock-crow the unholy gang broke up, vanishing like smoke through a trap-door in the ceiling of the vault.

"And now, dear little mole, take us back again," said the turkey-queen, who longed to breathe the free air of heaven and to break her awful spell.

"May it please your Majesty," said the mole, looking very unhappy, "there is a new difficulty. Yonder image of you which they consumed in the fire, is a fresh enchantment that dooms you to remain perpetually in the place where you now are; and I find by consultation with a friend of mine, a bat who lives in this cave, and who is the most kind and obliging person, that on only one condition can you now leave this spot, and that, I hardly dare name to you."

"Summon this bat to appear before me immediately," cried the wretched queen, who, finding that her feet were stuck fast to the earth, was truly overwhelmed, while the prime minister gave himself up to complete despair.

The bat appeared, and a more repulsive huge creature it is impossible to picture; but his voice was gentle and his manner most humble and conciliatory. He began to apologize for presenting himself before the queen, when she interrupted him impetuously.[230]

"Quick—quick! tell me the condition on which I may leave this horrible place, where I shall die if I remain a moment longer. Who are you? why are you here? and why should we trust in you when every living thing in this foul spot is devoted to the service of the evil one?"

"I, like yourself, am a victim of, not a partner in, crime, your Majesty," said the bat, with dignity. "If you will permit——"

"But I can't stop to listen to anything," sobbed the poor little turkey-queen. "Get me into the daylight somehow or other, and then I will hear you gladly. Oh! kind Mr. Bat, forgive my unkind words; only free me from this living tomb, if it be possible."

"You have been told that it is possible, lady," said the bat, pathetically; "but, to be brief, since you insist upon it—only by promising your fair hand in marriage to——"

"To whom?" cried Blondina, in astonishment

"To me," said the bat, withdrawing more into the shadows of the vault.

Blondina screamed with horror.

"Oh! never, never," she exclaimed, bursting again into tears of anguish.[231]

The mole, the bat and the turkey prime minister consulted together in low whispers; and the last-named gentleman, addressing the queen, set before her the hopeless situation in which she now was, and urged her to accept the proposition of the bat.

"Hear me, too, fair queen," said the voice of the bat. "I swear that if you consent, you shall never regret it. Only trust me, and all will go well. In consigning me to this spot, your wicked sister, who, in my former estate desired to marry me herself, in spite of my aversion for her, swore that never should I be free from her enchantment, until a beautiful young bride should come to the rescue and promise to marry me, as I am, without asking any questions. Then, and then only, I might escape, taking my bride and her attendants with me."

"But your appearance—pardon me," said poor Blondina; "it is too dreadful for anything."

"Trust me," repeated the bat; and, in desperation, Blondina murmured a promise to be his bride.

Instantly the bat flew with alacrity into a corner of the vault, and, bringing thence a bunch of mistletoe, angelica, and mountain-ash, waved it thrice in a circle around Blondina, who up to that moment had[232] remained as if rooted to the spot where she stood. The spell broke, and Blondina, starting joyfully forward, repeated, at his request, the same ceremony of disenchantment for the bat, as also for the prime minister; and all three of them, accompanied by the faithful mole, took their way to the upper regions without delay. Upon reaching the meadow where they had entered the underground passage, Blondina and the prime minister lost no time in running back to the summer-house, where, regaining the hidden hazel nut, they safely and joyfully resumed their own true shapes.

"And now, gentle lady," said the bat, who had flown after them, keeping his distance modestly, "I pray you to perform for me another kindly action. Close your eyes, and sprinkle me with this powder, at the same time touching my head with the witch-defying plants. Then, kindle a fire with these fagots of wood left here by your gardener, and cast me into the hottest portion of it."

Blondina shrank from the task, but, finding the bat as determined as he was calm and dignified, obeyed him without another word of protest. Aided by the now alert and cheerful prime minister, she kindled a fire upon the hearth of the little summer-house; and when[233] it blazed high, and hot coals fell into the centre, she followed the bat's directions to the letter. Immediately there was a loud explosion; the hideous bat skin split asunder and shrivelled up, revealing a beautiful young prince, who stepped unsinged from the ring of flame, and bent his knee before the Queen Blondina. She recognized in him a playmate of her childhood, Prince Florizel, son of a neighboring monarch, who years before had disappeared from his father's court, and had been mourned as dead by his sorrowing relatives. To enchant him, in punishment for his scorn of her, had been one of the first acts of Vixetta's acquired magic; and to accomplish it, the wretched girl had bargained away her entire life to the service of the Evil One.

Blondina greeted Florizel with the utmost pleasure and assured him of her willingness to fulfil the pledge she had made to the dreaded bat-lover. They returned to the palace, and on being observed by the attendants, who, believing them to be ghosts, ran terrified away, had some difficulty in persuading people that they were alive and in the flesh. Then, what joy reigned over the palace. Quickly the news spread through the city and kingdom. The indignant people[234] flocked around the apartments of Vixetta, who was still asleep after her orgies of the previous night, and, summoning her to come forth, declared that she should instantly be put to death in the presence of her victims. The miserable sorceress fell upon her knees, and begged for her life. Again the generous Blondina entreated that her sister might be spared; but Prince Florizel interfered, and insisted that, for the future safety of his queen, Vixetta should then and there be compelled to take a pinch of the magic powder and change herself into a bat. This was done, and the sorceress, flying from the window, was never heard of more.

Blondina gave her hand and heart to Prince Florizel, as soon as he returned from a visit to his parents, who were overjoyed to regain their long-lost son and heir. The marriage took place with great magnificence, and the royal couple lived in peace for the remainder of their long and useful lives. They would often walk in the direction of the poultry-yard, and Blondina loved to tell her husband of all the things she had heard and seen there when in her turkey shape.

But the prime minister, after he had weeded out of the kingdom certain obnoxious individuals strongly[235] resembling the warlocks seen at the underground council, preferred to assume a dignified forgetfulness of all that had passed during his enforced experience as a feathered biped. To the latest day of his life he would always cross the road to avoid meeting a turkey-gobbler, and for the race of pet kittens he continued to maintain the most unconquerable dislike.

By the laws of the kingdom, to kill or injure a mole was made a capital offence; and once every year a little blind gentleman in a fine black velvet coat arrived at the palace to pay his respects to their majesties, who received him with every mark of favor and affection.


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