The Sleeping Beauty - Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

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    The Sleeping Beauty. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

    A few weeks later the christening took place. That was a splendid ceremony to be sure, for all the lords and [21] ladies of the kingdom were present in their richest dresses, together with princes and ambassadors from distant countries. The little Princess was as good as gold all the time. She did not cry once, but opened her big blue eyes and smiled at the glittering company as though she understood everything that was going on. Outside the cathedral the [22] roads were crowded with people waiting to see the guests come and go.

    The carriages extended for nearly a mile, and as they drove away, headed by the royal coach, in which the Queen sat with the Princess Briar-Rose in her arms, the spectators took off their hats and shouted and cheered. Some of the little boys perched themselves on the branches of trees and the lamp-posts in order to get a better view, and I have been told that there was one poor woman who saw nothing at all, because her boy tried to climb up to an inn sign, where he dangled in such a dangerous position that his poor old mother had to stand with her back to the procession, holding on to his legs in a terrible state of anxiety lest he should fall.

    Now it was the custom in those days, when a King's child was christened, for all the fairies in the country to be invited to the christening feast. Each fairy was bound to bring a gift, so of course it stood to reason that the royal child would have everything that the heart could possibly desire. There were thirteen fairies in the King's realm, but one of them lived in a lonely place on the outskirts of the kingdom. There, for the last fifty years, she had shut herself up in a ruined tower with only a black cat to keep her company, and as she kept herself to herself, everybody had forgotten her very existence.

    The result was that she was not invited to the christening feast, and though she had nobody but herself to blame for this, she was very angry about it. The truth of the matter is that she was always a [24] [23] miserable, sour creature, with no love or kindness in her heart, and nobody missed her because she had never given anybody any reason to care for her. Below the dais were six long tables for the guests, and there was only just room between the tables for the servants to pass, so you may judge how crowded the room was.

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    Such a glittering of silks, such a flashing of jewels, such a dazzle and splendour had never been seen since the time of the King's coronation, and all the guests were laughing and talking merrily. The court painter was there, of course, to make a picture of the gorgeous scene, and [26] was kept so busy sketching on his tablets that he had no time to get any food, though probably he had a good meal afterwards. Each dish was brought in by the servants in a kind of procession, headed by the Master-Cook, looking as grand and solemn as an archbishop, for he was a grave and dignified person, and of course he had a great responsibility.

    The guests were served by little page-boys of noble birth, [29] dressed in the liveries of their masters, and these pages handed the dishes and the wines most politely on their bended knees as they had been taught to do.

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    So the guests enjoyed themselves, and the fiddlers played, and the King laughed at everything everybody said, because he was in a mighty good humour, and the bright afternoon sun, shining through the western windows, lighted up the rich hangings on the walls, and flashed upon the jewels on fair ladies' fingers, and fell upon the marble pavement in a pool of gold. And then, you know, when the merriment was at its height, something happened! There was a sudden cry, and a harsh voice, like the croaking of a raven, sounded through the room. A hush fell upon all the brilliant assembly.

    The Queen turned pale and shuddered. The King rose hurriedly from his place, and he and all the guests turned to look at the strange figure that had suddenly appeared in the doorway. They saw an old woman bent almost double with age, her grey head with matted hair sunk deep between her shoulders. Her face was white and twisted with anger, and her green eyes flashed spitefully.

    Slowly she advanced towards the dais, and stretching out her arm, pointed her finger at the gold plates and the gold caskets set before the fairy godmothers. Did you not know, O King, that there were [30] thirteen wise women in your kingdom, and the thirteenth the wisest and most powerful of all? Where, then, is the plate and the casket set for me? The King began to make excuses, imploring the angry old fairy to forgive him for his neglect, and begging her to sit down and join them in their festivities.

    I shall eat off silver while my sisters eat off gold, and there is no curiously-shaped casket for me. No matter, I am content, because I am in time, and I shall dower the Princess with the gift which I have brought for her! By dint of much coaxing the King at last managed to persuade her to sit down, and the feast proceeded. But a chill had been cast over the assembly, and nothing was quite the same as it had been before.

    The old crone muttered and mouthed over her food, now and again smiling to herself as though she were cherishing some secret and evil triumph.

    Sleeping Beauty Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

    The other fairies cast anxious glances at her, for they feared her malice, and the youngest fairy of all, who happened to be seated at the end of the table, presently rose up quietly from her place and, stealing away, hid herself behind the arras. And nobody saw her go, nor did a single person remark upon her absence.

    So the sleeping child was brought and placed in her mother's arms. How tenderly she clasped the baby to her breast, bending over it as though to shield it from all harm. So sweet a sight should have touched the hardest heart, and indeed there was only one person in the room who remained unmoved, and that was the spiteful and jealous fairy, who looked up and bared her yellow teeth in a sneering grin. What is it that you fear on this day of the giving of gifts? My gift to the Princess Briar-Rose is the gift of Beauty.

    Arthur Rackham Illustrated Sleeping Beauty RARE VINTAGE COLLECTIBLE Book! | eBay

    She shall have eyes like stars, and hair as bright as the sunshine of the spring day on which she was born, and cheeks as fresh and fair as the petals of the flower from which she takes her name. None shall surpass her in loveliness. Then the second fairy rose in her turn and said: "After Beauty, Wit. The Princess shall be cleverer than any ordinary mortal could ever hope to be.

    And the Queen nodded her head and smiled, for though she esteemed beauty and cleverness, she knew that neither was of any worth without goodness of heart. So all the fairies in turn named the gift which they had brought for Briar-Rose. The fourth said that whatever the Princess put her hand to, she should do with the most exquisite grace; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; the sixth that she should dance as lightly as a [33] fairy, and so on until she had nearly all the virtues and accomplishments which even a King might desire for his daughter.

    But as yet, the spiteful old fairy had not said a word. On the day when she reaches her fifteenth birthday, the Princess shall prick her finger with the spindle of a spinning-wheel, and shall immediately die! This terrible prophecy made the whole company shudder. The Queen gave a cry and hugged the sleeping baby still closer to her breast.