"Tell me," said the Prince, "who is this Princess you've been talking so much about, and just where is the Garden of Eden?"
"Ah, ha!" said the East Wind. "Would you like to go there? Then fly with me tomorrow. I must warn you, though, no man has been there since Adam and Eve. You have read about them in the Bible?"
"Surely," the Prince said.
"After they were driven out, the Garden of Paradise sank deep into the earth, but it kept its warm sunlight, its refreshing air, and all of its glories. The queen of the fairies lives there on the Island of the Blessed, where death never comes and where there is everlasting happiness.
"Now we will start our dances," the fairy said. "When I have danced the last dance with you at sundown, you will see me hold out my hands to you, and hear me call. 'come with me.' But do not come. Every evening for a hundred years, I shall have to repeat this. Every time that you resist, your strength will grow, and at last you will not even think of yielding to temptation. This evening is the first time, so take warning!"
And the fairy led him into a large hall of white, transparent lilies. The yellow stamens of each flower formed a small golden harp, which vibrated to the music of strings and flutes. The loveliest maidens, floating and slender, came dancing by, clad in such airy gauze that one could see how perfectly shaped they were. They sang of the happiness of life-they who would never die-and they sang that the Garden of Paradise would forever bloom.
The sun went down. The sky turned to shining gold, and in its light the lilies took on the color of the loveliest roses. The Prince drank the sparkling wine that the maidens offered him, and felt happier than he had ever been. He watched the background of the hall thrown open, and the Tree of Knowledge standing in a splendor which blinded his eyes. The song from the tree was as soft and lovely as his dear mother's voice, and it was as if she were saying, "My child, my dearest child."
The fairy then held out her hands to him and called most sweetly:
"Follow me! Oh, follow me!"
Forgetting his promise-forgetting everything, on the very first evening that she held out her hands and smiled-he ran toward her. The fragrant air around him became even more sweet, the music of the harps sounded even more lovely, and it seemed as though the millions of happy faces in the hall where the Tree grew nodded to him and sang, "One must know all there is to know, for man is the lord of the earth." And it seemed to him that the drops that fell from the Tree of Knowledge were no longer tears of blood, but red and shining stars.
"Follow me! Follow me!" the quivering voice still called, and at every step that the Prince took his cheeks flushed warmer and his pulse beat faster.
"I cannot help it," he said. "This is no sin. It cannot be wicked to follow beauty and happiness. I must see her sleeping. No harm will be done if only I keep myself from kissing her. And I will not kiss her, for I am strong. I have a determined will."
The fairy threw off her bright robe, parted the boughs, and was instantly hidden within them.
"I have not sinned yet," said the Prince, "and I shall not!"
He pushed the branches aside. There she lay, already asleep. Lovely as only the fairy of the Garden of Paradise can be, she smiled in her sleep, but as he leaned over her he saw tears trembling between her lashes.
"Do you weep for me?" he whispered. "Do not weep, my splendid maiden. Not until now have I known the bliss of Paradise. It runs through my veins and through all my thoughts. I feel the strength of an angel, and the strength of eternal life in my mortal body. Let eternal night come over me. One moment such as this is worth it all." He kissed away the tears from her eyes, and then his lips had touched her mouth.
Thunder roared, louder and more terrible than any thunder ever heard before, and everything crashed! The lovely fairy and the blossoming Paradise dropped away, deeper and deeper. The Prince saw it disappear into the dark night. Like a small shining star it twinkled in the distance. A deathly chill shook his body. He closed his eyes and for a long time he lay as if he were dead.
The cold rain fell in his face, and the cutting wind blew about his head. Consciousness returned to him.
"What have I done?" he gasped. "Like Adam, I have sinned-sinned so unforgivably that Paradise has dropped away, deep in the earth."
He opened his eyes and he still saw the star far away, the star that twinkled like the Paradise he had lost-it was the morning star in the sky. He rose and found himself in the forest, not far from the cave of the winds. The mother of the winds sat beside him. She looked at him angrily and raised her finger.
"The very first evening!" she said. "I thought that was the way it would be. If you were my son, into the sack you would certainly go."
"Indeed he shall go there!" said Death, a vigorous old man with a scythe in his hand, and long black wings. "Yes, he shall be put in a coffin, but not quite yet. Now I shall only mark him. For a while I'll let him walk the earth to atone for his sins and grow better. But I'll be back some day. Some day, when he least expects me, I shall put him in a black coffin, lift it on my head, and fly upward to the star. There too blooms the Garden of Paradise, and if he is a good and pious man he will be allowed to enter it. But if his thoughts are bad, and his heart is still full of sin, he will sink down deeper with his coffin than Paradise sank. Only once in a thousand years shall I go to see whether he must sink still lower, or may reach the star-that bright star away up there."