Alongside the well stood a dilapidated old stone wall. The next night when I returned, I saw from a distance that my little prince was sitting on top of the wall with his feet dangling. And I heard him say, ‘You don’t remember. This is not the exact spot.’
Someone must have answered him, for he said, ‘It is! It is the right day, but the wrong place.’
I continued moving towards the wall. I could not see or hear anyone. But the little prince replied once again, ‘… Exactly. You will see my footprints in the sand. You only have to wait. I will be there tonight.’
I was only twenty metres from the wall, and I still saw nothing.
After some time the little prince spoke again, ‘Is your venom powerful? You are sure I’ll not suffer too long?’
I stopped in my tracks, my heart beating fast; but I didn’t quite understand.
‘Now go away,’ said the little prince. ‘I want to get off the wall.’
I looked to the foot of the wall and flinched. There before me, facing the little prince, was one of those yellow snakes that could kill in less than thirty seconds. I moved forward even as I was digging in my pocket to get my revolver out. But at the sounds I made, the snake slipped away quickly and disappeared between the rocks like a stream fading into the sand. I reached the wall just in time to catch my prince; his face was so very pale.
‘What is going on?’ I demanded. ‘You’ve started talking to snakes?’
I loosened the golden muffler that he always had on. I rubbed his temples, and gave him some water to drink. And I held back from asking him any more questions. He looked at me gravely, and wrapped his arms around my neck. I felt his heart quivering like that of a dying bird.
‘I am glad that you have figured out what was wrong with your engine,’ he said.
‘Now you can go home …’
‘But how did you know?’
That is what I was coming to tell him, that I had been successful in repairing the engine.
He gave me no answer, but said, ‘I am going back home too … today.’
Then he added, rather sadly, ‘It is much farther … much more difficult.’
I could sense that something incredible was about to happen. I held him like a child; and yet it seemed that he was falling fast into an abyss and there was no way to stop him.
He looked very serious, and had a faraway gaze.
‘I have your sheep. I’ve got the sheep’s box. And I have the muzzle.’
He gave me a sad smile.
I waited a long time. It seemed he was slowly recovering.
‘My little man,’ I said to him, ‘you were afraid.’
There was no doubt that he was. But he let out a gentle laugh.
‘I will be much more afraid tonight.’
Once again I felt myself gripped by a foreboding. I knew that I could not bear the thought of never hearing his laughter again. It was like a spring of fresh water.
‘Little man,’ I said, ‘I want to hear your laugh again.’
But he said to me, ‘Tonight it will be a year … my star will be exactly over the place where I landed last year.’
‘Little man,’ I said, ‘tell me this is all a bad dream, the snake and the star.’
But he gave me no reply. ‘The things that matter,’ he repeated, ‘are invisible.’
‘Yes, I know …’
‘Like it is with the flower. If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is wonderful to look up at the night sky. There is a flower on every star.’
‘Yes, that’s true …’
‘It is like with the water. The drink of water you gave me was like music, because of the pulley, the rope … you remember … how good it was.’
‘Yes, I remember.’
‘At night you will look at the stars. It is difficult to tell you which one my planet is … it is too small. It is a good thing really. My star will be one among many. You will love watching them all … they will all be your friends. And, besides, I am going to give you a present.’
He laughed again.
‘Ah, my little prince! How I love to hear your laugh!’
‘That there is my present … just that … it will be like when we drank the water …’
‘What are you saying?’
‘People have their stars,’ he answered, ‘but they are not all the same. For travellers, the stars are guides. For others, they are simply little lights in the sky. For scientists, they are trouble. For my businessman, they were wealth. But the stars are silent. You … you alone … will have special stars.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘When you look at the starry sky, and as I will live on one of those stars, and I’ll be laughing on one of those stars, it will seem to you that all the stars are laughing. You will have stars that can laugh!’
Saying this, he laughed again.
‘And when you start to feel better, you will be happy that you knew me. You will always be a friend to me. You will want to laugh with me. And sometimes you will open your window and laugh. And your friends, surprised to see you laughing at the sky, will think you are mad! You will say to them, “Yes, the stars always make me laugh!” What a mischievous trick I would’ve played on you.’
And he laughed again.
‘It will be as if I’ve given you little laughing bells instead of stars.’
He laughed once more. Then he quickly became serious, ‘Tonight … you know … you shouldn’t come.’
‘I’m not leaving you,’ I said.
‘I will look distressed, like I was dying. That is how it will be. Do not come to see that. It is not worth the trouble.’
‘I shall not abandon you.’ But he was worried.
‘I’m also trying to say … it’s because of the snake. It must not bite you. Snakes can be malicious creatures. Sometimes they bite just for fun.’
‘I will not leave you.’
But a thought reassured him: ‘They do not have enough venom to bite a second time.’
That night I did not hear or see him leave. When I caught up with him he was walking with determination, his steps quick and firm. ‘Oh, you are here!’ he said when he saw me.
And he took my hand. But he was still worried. ‘Why did you come? You will suffer. I will look as if I was dead, but I won’t be.’
I said nothing.
‘You must understand … it is too far. I cannot carry this heavy body with me.’
I said nothing.
‘It will be like an old abandoned skin. Old skins are not sad.’
I said nothing.
He was a little demoralized. But he tried one more time:
‘You know, it will be very nice. I will look at the stars too. All the stars will be like wells with a rusty pulley. All the stars will pour fresh water for me to drink.’
I said nothing.
‘It will really be delightful! You will have five hundred million little bells, and I will have five hundred million wells.’
Then he fell silent, because he had started to weep.
‘Here we are. Let me now go on by myself.’
And he sat down, because he was afraid. Then he said, ‘You know … my flower … she is my responsibility! And she is so delicate! She only has four thorns to keep herself safe.’
I sat down too, because I couldn’t stand any longer.
‘There … that is all …’
He hesitated a little, and then he got up. He took one step. I stayed frozen to the spot.
I saw a flash of yellow near his ankle. He remained unmoving for an second.
He didn’t make any sound. He dropped gently like a tree. There was not even a thud as he fell on the sand.