Once there was a poor Prince. He had a kingdom; it was very tiny. Still it was large enough to marry upon, and on marriage his heart was set.
Now it was certainly rather bold of him to say, "Will you have me?" to the Emperor's own daughter. But he did, for his name was famous, and far and near there were hundreds of Princesses who would have said, "Yes!" and "Thank you!" too. But what did the Emperor's daughter say? Well, we'll soon find out.
A rose tree grew over the grave of the Prince's father. It was such a beautiful tree. It bloomed only once in five long years, and then it bore but a single flower. Oh, that was a rose indeed! The fragrance of it would make a man forget all of his sorrows and his cares. The Prince had a nightingale too. It sang as if all the sweet songs of the world were in its little throat. The nightingale and the rose were to be gifts to the Princess. So they were sent to her in two large silver cases.
The Emperor ordered the cases carried before him, to the great hall where the Princess was playing at "visitors," with her maids-in waiting. They seldom did anything else. As soon as the Princess saw that the large cases contained presents, she clapped her hands in glee. "Oh," she said, "I do hope I get a little pussy-cat." She opened a casket and there was the splendid rose.
"Oh, how pretty it is," said all the maids-in-waiting.
"It's more than pretty," said the Emperor. "It's superb."
But the Princess poked it with her finger, and she almost started to cry. "Oh fie! Papa," she said, "it isn't artificial. It is natural."
"Oh, fie," said all her maids-in-waiting, "it's only natural."
"Well," said the Emperor, "before we fret and pout, let's see what's in the other case." He opened it, and out came the nightingale, which sang so sweetly that for a little while no one could think of a single thing to say against it.
"Superbe!" "Charmant!" said the maids-in-waiting with their smattering of French, each one speaking it worse than the next.
"How the bird does remind me of our lamented Empress's music box," said one old courtier. "It has just the same tone, and the very same way of trilling."
The Emperor wept like a child. "Ah me," he said.