GRACIOSA AND PERCINET 171
set to work at once, but before she had taken out a dozen feathers she found that it was perfectly impossible to know one from another.
' Ah ! well,' she sighed, ' the Queen wishes to kill me, and if I must die I must. I cannot ask Percinet to help me again, for if he really loved me he would not wait till I called him, he would come without that.'
' I am here, my Graciosa,' cried Percinet, springing out of the barrel where he had been hiding. ' How can you still doubt that I ove you with all my heart ? '
Then he gave three strokes of his wand upon the barrel, and all the feathers flew out in a cloud and settled down in neat little separate heaps all round the room.
' What should I do without you, Percinet ?' said Graciosa gratefully. But still she could not quite make up her mind to go with him and leave her father's kingdom for ever ; so she begged him to give her more time to think of it, and he had to go away disappointed once more.
When the wicked Queen came at sunset she was amazed and infuriated to find the task done. However, she complained that the heaps of feathers were badly arranged, and for that the Princess was beaten and sent back to her garret. Then the Queen sent for the Fairy once more, and scolded her until she was fairly terrified, and promised to go home and think of another task for Graciosa, worse than either of the others.
At the end of three days she came again, bringing with her a box.
' Tell your slave,' said he, ' to carry this wherever you please, but on no account to open it. She will not be able to help doing so, and then you will be quite satisfied with the result.' So the Queen came to Graciosa, and said :
' Carry this box to my castle, and place it upon the table in my own room. But I forbid you on pain of death to look at what it contains.'
Graciosa set out, wearing her little cap and wooden shoes and the old cotton frock, but even in this disguise she was so beautiful that all the passers-by wondered who she could be. She had not gone far before the heat of the sun and the weight of the box tired her so much that she sat down to rest in the shade of a little wood which lay on one side of a green meadow. She was carefully holding the box upon her lap when she suddenly felt the greatest desire to open it.