This is a vintage fairy tale story, told by Natasha on vintage form. It sounds a little like some of the stories we recorded in the early days of Storynory, and which remain firm favourites - the Snow Queen or The 12 Dancing Princesses.
"Prince Chéri" is charming, romantic, and definitely has a moral.
The illustrations are by Jennie Harbour who was working in the 1920s. The text is based on the Jennie Harbour version.
Read by Natasha.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
There was once a king who was such an honourable man that his subjects called him, “The Good King.”
One day while he was out hunting, a little rabbit, that his dogs were about to kill, threw itself into his arms.
The king caressed the little creature, and said, “As you have put yourself under my protection nobody shall harm you,” and he carried the rabbit to his palace, and ordered a pretty little hutch to be made for it.
That night when he was alone in his room, there appeared a lovely lady. She wore a robe as white as snow, and a wreath of white roses on her head. She addressed him thus:
“I am the Fairy Candide; I wished to see if you were as good as everybody declares you are, and for this reason I changed myself into the little rabbit, and ran to you in my distress, for I know that those who have pity for dumb creatures have still more pity for mankind. I have come to thank you for what you did and to say that I shall always be your friend, and will grant any request you would now like to make.”
“Madam,” replied the king, “I have one only son whom I love devotedly; he is named Prince Chéri. If you have any good will for me, be a friend to my son.”
“Willingly,” responded the fairy, “I will make your son the most handsome prince in the world, or the richest, or the most powerful; choose which you will for him.”
“I desire none of these things,” replied the king, “but I shall be very much obliged if you will make him the best of all princes, for what good would it do to him to be handsome, rich, or powerful if he were wicked? You know he would be unhappy, for it is only goodness which brings content.”
“You are right,” answered the fairy, “but that I cannot do; Prince Chéri must himself strive to become good. All that I can promise is that I will give him good advice, and punish him for his faults, if he will not himself correct them.” And with this the father had to rest content.
Not long afterwards the good king died, and two days later the fairy appeared to Prince Chéri.
“I promised your father to be your friend,” she told him. “Here is a little gold ring, take care of it, for it is worth more than diamonds. Every time that you are about to do any wrong action it will prick you. If, in spite of the pricks, you continue your bad actions, you will lose my friendship and I shall become your enemy.”
Saying this, the fairy vanished, leaving the prince very much astonished.
For some time Chéri behaved so well that the ring did not prick at all, but one day when he returned from the chase, having caught nothing, he felt so ill-humoured, that when his dog Bibi came fawning upon him, he kicked the poor, faithful creature away from him. At that moment the ring pricked like a pin running into his finger.
“What is this?” He exclaimed. “The fairy must be mocking me, surely I’ve done no great harm in kicking an animal that annoyed me. What’s the use of being ruler of a great empire if I may not treat my dog as I will?”
“I am not mocking you,” he heard in reply to his thoughts; “you have been bad tempered, and you have behaved unkindly to a poor animal who did not deserve such treatment. I know you are higher than a dog, but the advantage of being ruler of a great empire is not in doing all the harm one wishes, but in doing all the good one can.”
Chéri promised to be better, but he did not keep his word, and so the ring often pricked him, sometimes until his finger bled, and at last, in anger, he threw it away.
Now he thought he would be truly happy, and he gave way to any foolish fancies and wrong wishes that came into his head, until he really became very wicked and was disliked by everyone.
One day when he was out walking he saw a girl named Zélie, who was so beautiful that he resolved to marry her.
But Zélie was as good as she was beautiful, and said to him, “Sir, I am only a shepherdess and have no fortune, but, in spite of that, I will never marry you, for although I should be a queen, and you are handsome and rich, your evil behaviour would make me hate you.”
Upon this, Chéri flew into a passion, and ordered his officers to carry Zélie to the palace, but she was not used unkindly there, for the prince loved her.
However, after a while, the young prince grew impatient. He ruled that, if she still refused to marry him, the very next day she should be sold as a slave.
Great was his surprise, on entering the apartment, to find the captive had disappeared, for he carried the key of the door in his pocket.
Among those at the royal court was a councillor named Suliman, a man of a noble mind, who had often dared to tell the prince of his faults. In his heart of hearts the prince respected this good man. The wicked flatterers at court disliked him all the more for his honesty. So now they falsely said that it was Suliman who had helped Zélie to escape. Beyond himself with fury, Chéri commanded soldiers to bring Suliman to him in chains, like a criminal.
After giving these orders, Chéri retired to his chamber, but scarcely had he entered, when the earth trembled, there came a great clap of thunder, and the Fairy Candide appeared before him.
“I promised your father,” said she in a stern voice, “to give you good advice, and to punish you if you refused to follow it. You have despised my counsels and your crimes have converted you into a monster, the horror of heaven and earth. Now it is time to fulfill my promise of punishment. I condemn you to take the resemblance of the beasts you are more like in character; a lion - because of your fury, a wolf - on account of your greediness, a serpent - for destroying him who has been your second father, and a bull - by reason of your brutality.”
Hardly had the fairy pronounced these words, when Chéri perceived with horror that his body had been transformed.
He now had a lion’s head, a bull’s horns, the feet of a wolf, and the tail of a viper. At the same moment he found himself in a forest, and there, after roaming about miserably for some time, he fell into a pit dug by hunters. He was captured and led into the capital of his kingdom.
On the way to the city, instead of acknowledging that he had brought this evil plight upon himself, he bit at his chains, and cursed the fairy. As he was nearing the city great rejoicings were seen on every side, and when the hunters enquiring the reason, they were told that Prince Chéri, whose only pleasure it was to torment his people, had been crushed to death in his chamber by a thunderbolt - a just punishment for his offences. Four of his wicked companions had tried to partition the kingdom between them, but the people would have none such to rule, and they had offered the crown to the good and wise Suliman.
Chéri panted with rage on hearing this, and in the palace square he saw Suliman on a superb throne, and all the people shouted with joy, and wished him a long life to repair the evil brought about by their former sovereign.
“I accept the throne,” said Suliman, “but it is to preserve it for Prince Chéri. A fairy has revealed to me that he is not dead, and possibly will return to you as virtuous as in his earliest years. "Alas!" Suliman cried, bursting into tears, “his flatterers have ruined him, I know that at heart he is good.”
These words moved Chéri to sorrow for his crimes, and he felt that he had not been punished as severely as he deserved, and he now resolved to amend his faults.
Chéri was kept in a cage at the zoo. He lived quietly and did not growl at his keeper or at the visitors. If children wanted a better look at him, he would wake up from his slumber and prowl around the cage. The animals did not have enough to eat at the zoo, and many of them were unhappy. One day, when a tiger jumped over the walls of his den, Chéri too leaped into action. The keeper was trembling with fear when he saw not one but two fierce beasts had escaped.
The Tiger said, “I am hungry. The food in this place is disgusting. Now I shall eat the keeper.”
But Chéri bravely fought the fierce beast, and saved the man’s life.
Then a voice was heard saying, “A good action shall be rewarded!” And, to Chéri’s joy he was instantaneously transformed into a pretty little dog which the keeper carried to the queen. The queen was delighted with him, but, for fear he should grow bigger, she gave him only small pieces of bread to eat, so that poor Chéri nearly died of hunger.
One day he carried his little piece of bread into the garden to eat it there, but wandering with it in his mouth, still further on, he saw a young girl, pale and thin, and almost fainting for want of food.
“I am hungry,” thought Chéri, “but if I give my breakfast to this poor thing, perhaps I shall save her life.” He placed his bread in the girl’s hand, and she ate it hungrily. Presently from a window, an old man threw out a plateful of tempting-looking food. Chéri was just about to devour it, when the girl to whom he had given the bread, rushed forward and throwing her arms around him cried, “Poor little dog, do not touch that food, it is poisoned. The old man likes to kill stray cats and dogs.”
Just then a voice was heard saying, “You see that a good action meets with reward,” and at the same time Chéri was changed into a pretty white pigeon.
For several days he flew around hoping to catch sight of his long lost princess, Zélie, and at last, seated by a hermit, outside a cave, he found her. Fluttering down he alighted upon her shoulder. Zélie stroked his feathers whispering kind words. Chéri hopped onto a stone to take a better look at her.
At that moment he regained his natural figure, and Fairy Candide appeared saying, “Come, my children, I am going to transport you to your palace, that Chéri may receive his crown of which he has now become worthy,” and hardly had she ceased speaking, they found themselves in Suliman’s presence. The worthy governor was delighted to behold his dear master, and gladly resigned the throne to him. Chéri and Zélie reigned long and happily, and we are told that the ring, which the prince now wore again, never once severely pricked him.
And that was the story of Prince Chéri. Bertie says it comes from a book of fairy stories with illustrations by Jennie Harbour who was working in the 1920s. All her pictures have a touch of Art Deco and the fashion of the times.