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- The Grey Fairy Book - 5/58 -
summoned two thousand great fierce sharks, whom she ordered to keep close guard, and not to let a soul enter the tower
The good governess took such pains with Graziella's education that when she was nearly grown up she was not only most accomplished, but a very sweet, good girl.
One day, as the princess was standing on a balcony, she saw the most extraordinary figure rise out of the sea. She quickly called Bonnetta to ask her what it could be. It looked like some kind of man, with a bluish face and long sea-green hair. He was swimming towards the tower, but the sharks took no notice of him.
‘It must be a merman,' said Bonnetta.
‘A man, do you say?' cried Graziella; ‘let us hurry down to the door and see him nearer.'
When they stood in the doorway the merman stopped to look at the princess and made many signs of admiration. His voice was very hoarse and husky, but when he found that he was not understood he took to signs. He carried a little basket made of osiers and filled with rare shells, which he presented to the princess.
She took it with signs of thanks; but as it was getting dusk she retired, and the merman plunged back into the sea.
When they were alone, Graziella said to her governess: ‘What a dreadful-looking creature that was! Why do those odious sharks let him come near the tower? I suppose all men are not like him?'
‘No, indeed,' replied Bonnetta. ‘I suppose the sharks look on him as a sort of relation, and so did not attack him.'
A few days later the two ladies heard a strange sort of music, and looking out of the window, there was the merman, his head crowned with water plants, and blowing a great sea-shell with all his might.
They went down to the tower door, and Graziella politely accepted some coral and other marine curiosities he had brought her. After this he used to come every evening, and blow his shell, or dive and play antics under tile princess's window. She contented herself with bowing to him from the balcony, but she would not go down to the door in spite of all his signs.
Some days later he came with a person of his own kind, but of another sex. Her hair was dressed with great taste, and she had a lovely voice. This new arrival induced the ladies to go down to the door. They were surprised to find that, after trying various languages, she at last spoke to them in their own, and paid Graziella a very pretty compliment on her beauty.
The mermaid noticed that the lower floor was full of water. ‘Why,' cried she, ‘ that is just the place for us, for we can't live quite out of water.' So saying, she and her brother swam in and took up a position in the bathroom, the princess and her governess seating themselves on the steps which ran round the room.
‘No doubt, madam,' said the mermaid, ‘you have given up living on land so as to escape from crowds of lovers; but I fear that even here you cannot avoid them, for my brother is already dying of love for you, and I am sure that once you are seen in our city he will have many rivals.'
She then went on to explain how grieved her brother was not to be able to make himself understood, adding: ‘I interpret for him, having been taught several languages by a fairy.'
‘Oh, then, you have fairies, too?' asked Graziella, with a sigh.
‘Yes, we have,' replied the mermaid; ‘but if I am not mistaken you have suffered from the fairies on earth.'
The princess, on this, told her entire history to the mermaid, who assured her how sorry she felt for her, but begged her not to lose courage; adding, as she took her leave: Perhaps, some day, you may find a way out of your difficulties.'
The princess was delighted with this visit and with the hopes the mermaid held out. It was something to meet someone fresh to talk to.
‘We will make acquaintance with several of these people,' she said to her governess, ‘and I dare say they are not all as hideous as the first one we saw. Anyhow, we shan't be so dreadfully lonely.'
‘Dear me,' said Bonnetta, ‘ how hopeful young people are to be sure! As for me I feel afraid of these folk. But what do you think of the lover you have captivated?'
‘Oh, I could never love him,' cried the princess; ‘I can't bear him. But, perhaps, as his sister says they are related to the fairy Marina, they may be of some use to us.'
The mermaid often returned, and each time she talked of her brother's love, and each time Graziella talked of her longing to escape from her prison, till at length the mermaid promised to bring the fairy Marina to see her, in hopes she might suggest something.
Next day the fairy came with the mermaid, and the princess received her with delight. After a little talk she begged Graziella to show her the inside of the tower and let her see the garden on the top, for with the help of crutches she could manage to move about, and being a fairy could live out of water for a long time, provided she wetted her forehead now and then.
Graziella gladly consented, and Bonnetta stayed below with the mermaid.
When they were in the garden the fairy said: ‘Let us lose no time, but tell me how I can be of use to you.' Graziella then told all her story and Marina replied: ‘My dear princess, I can do nothing for you as regards dry land, for my power does not reach beyond my own element. I can only say that if you will honour my cousin by accepting his hand, you could then come and live amongst us. I could teach you in a moment to swim and dive with the best of us. I can harden your skin without spoiling its colour. My cousin is one of the best matches in the sea, and I will bestow so many gifts on him that you will be quite happy.'
The fairy talked so well and so long that the princess was rather impressed, and promised to think the matter over.
Just as they were going to leave the garden they saw a ship sailing nearer the tower than any other had done before. On the deck lay a young man under a splendid awning, gazing at the tower through a spy-glass; but before they could see anything clearly the ship moved away, and the two ladies parted, the fairy promising to return shortly.
As soon as she was gone Graziella told her governess what she had said. Bonnetta was not at all pleased at the turn matters were taking, for she did not fancy being turned into a mermaid in her old age. She thought the matter well over, and this was what she did. She was a very clever artist, and next morning she began to paint a picture of a handsome young man, with beautiful curly hair, a fine complexion, and lovely blue eyes. When it was finished she showed it to Graziella, hoping it would show her the difference there was between a fine young man and her marine suitor.
The princess was much struck by the picture, and asked anxiously whether there could be any man so good looking in the world. Bonnetta assured her that there were plenty of them; indeed, many far handsomer.
‘I can hardly believe that,' cried the princess; ‘but, alas! If there are, I don't suppose I shall ever see them or they me, so what is the use? Oh, dear, how unhappy I am!'
She spent the rest of the day gazing at the picture, which certainly had the effect of spoiling all the merman's hopes or prospects.
After some days, the fairy Marina came back to hear what was decided; but Graziella hardly paid any attention to her, and showed such dislike to the idea of the proposed marriage that the fairy went off in a regular huff.
Without knowing it, the princess had made another conquest. On board the ship which had sailed so near was the handsomest prince in the world. He had heard of the enchanted tower, and determined to get as near it as he could. He had strong glasses on board, and whilst looking through them he saw the princess quite clearly, and fell desperately in love with her at once. He wanted to steer straight for the tower and to row off to it in a small boat, but his entire crew fell at his feet and begged him not to run such a risk. The captain, too, urged him not to attempt it. ‘You will only lead us all to certain death,' he said. ‘Pray anchor nearer land, and I will then seek a kind fairy I know, who has always been most obliging to me, and who will, I am sure, try to help your Highness.'
The prince rather unwillingly listened to reason. He landed at the nearest point, and sent off the captain in all haste to beg the fairy's advice and help. Meantime he had a tent pitched on the shore, and spent all his time gazing at the tower and looking for the princess through his spyglass.
After a few days the captain came back, bringing the fairy with him. The prince was delighted to see her, and paid her great attention. ‘I have heard about this matter,' she said; ‘and, to lose no time, I am going to send off a trusty pigeon to test the enchantment. If there is any weak spot he is sure to find it out and get in. I shall bid him bring a flower back as a sign of success; and if he does so I quite hope to get you in too.'
‘But,' asked the prince, ‘could I not send a line by the pigeon to tell the princess of my love?'
‘Certainly,' replied the fairy, ‘it would be a very good plan.'
So the prince wrote as follows:---
‘Lovely Princess,---I adore you, and beg you to accept my heart, and to believe there is nothing I will not do to end your
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