Laboulaye's FAIRY BOOK
Edward G. McCandlish
Mary L. Booth
Kate Douglas Wiggin
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK and LONDON
LABOULAYE'S FAIRY BOOK
Copyright, 1866, 1920, by Harper & Brothers
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YVON AND FINETTE 3
THE CASTLE OF LIFE 46
THE TWELVE MONTHS 86
SWANDA, THE PIPER 96
THE GOLD BREAD 102
THE STORY OF THE NOSES 109
THE THREE CITRONS 115
THE STORY OF COQUERICO 137
KING BIZARRE AND PRINCE CHARMING 145
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HE FLUNG HUGE MASSES OF ROCK AFTER THE VESSEL Frontispiece
HE WAS SOON SNORING SO LOUDLY THAT IT SEEMED LIKE THUNDER SHAKING THE MOUNTAINS Facing p. 16
SHE FOUND HERSELF IN FRONT OF A WRETCHED HUT AT THE DOOR OF WHICH STOOD AN OLD WOMAN, OF WHOM SHE BEGGED SHELTER FOR THE NIGHT " 26
AT NIGHT THE GRANDMOTHER ALWAYS GAVE HIM GOOD COUNSELS FOR HIM TO FOLLOW WHEN SHE WAS GONE " 48
PRETTY DOBRUNKA WAS OBLIGED TO DO ALL THE WORK OF THE HOUSE " 88
TURNED OUT BY HER MOTHER, DOBRUNKA WENT UNHAPPILY INTO THE FOREST " 92
HE BEGAN TO PLAY, AND NEVER HAD HIS MUSIC PRODUCED SUCH AN EFFECT " 100
AS THE MOTHER GAZED LOVINGLY AT HER BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER, MARIENKA LAUGHED IN HER SLEEP " 106
HE RAN TO THE TREE AND SHOOK IT WITH ALL HIS MIGHT, WHEN, BEHOLD! A YOUNG GIRL FELL FROM THE BRANCHES " 112
HE INSTANTLY GAVE HER THE WATER, WHEN, LO! A BEAUTIFUL, SLENDER YOUNG GIRL STOOD BEFORE HIM " 126
PAZZA, THOUGH SHE LOVED THE PRINCE, WAS A VERY STERN " 154 SCHOOLMISTRESS
THE MOST RENOWNED PHYSICIANS OF THE FACULTY MET ONE EVENING IN CONSULTATION AT THE PALACE " 178
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By KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
There was once a green book, deliciously thick, with gilt-edged pages and the name of the author in gilt script on the front cover.
Like an antique posy ring, it was a "box of jewels, shop of rarities"; it was a veritable Pandora's box, and if you laid warm, childish hands upon it and held it pressed close to your ear, you could hear, as Pandora did, soft rustlings, murmurings, flutterings, and whisperings from the fairy folk within. For this was a fairy book—Edouard Laboulaye's "Tales," and its heroes and heroines became first the daily companions, and then the lifetime possession, of the two little girls to whom it belonged.
From the New England village where it was originally given to them, it traveled to the far West and its tales were told to countless immigrant children of San Francisco, whose great eyes opened wider still as they listened, breathless, to stories beloved by their ancestors. In later years the green volume journeyed by clumsy, rattling stage and rawboned nags to Mexico, and the extraordinary adventures of "Yvon and Finette," "Carlino," and "Graceful" were repeated in freshly learned Spanish, to many a group of brown-cheeked little people on the hillsides of Sonora.
And now, long, long afterward, there stands on a shelf above my desk the very selfsame worn green volume, read and re-read a hundred times, but so tenderly and respectfully that it has kept all its pages and both its covers; and on this desk itself are the proofs of a new edition with clear, beautiful print and gay pictures by Edward McCandlish!
To be asked to write an introduction to this particular book seems insufferable patronage; yet one would do it for love of Laboulaye, or for the sake of one's own "little past," or to draw one more young reader into the charmed circle that will welcome these pages.
The two children who adored Laboulaye's "Tales" possessed many another fairy book, so why did this especial volume hold a niche apart in the gallery of their hearts?
Partly, perhaps, because of the Gallic wit and vivacity with which the tales are told, for children are never too young to appreciate the charms of style.
You remember, possibly, the French chef who, being imprisoned with no materials save the tools of his trade, and commanded on pain of death to produce an omelette, proudly emerged at last, bearing a savory dish made out of the sole of his shoe?
Of even such stuff Laboulaye could have concocted a delectable tale; but with Brittany, Bohemia, Italy, Dalmatia, Hungary, and Spain for his storehouses, one has only to taste to know how finely flavored are the dishes he sets forth.
In his preface to the first American edition Laboulaye writes a letter to Mlle. Gabrielle Laboulaye, aged two! In it he says: "When you throw away this book with your doll, do not be too severe with your old grandfather for wasting his time on such trifles as fairy stories. Experience will teach you that the truest and sweetest things in life are not those which we see, but of which we dream." Happy the children who have this philosophy set before them early in life.
Like the fairy tales Robert Louis Stevenson remembered, these of Laboulaye's have "the golden smell of broom and the shade of pine," and they will come back to the child whenever the Wind of Memory blows.
In common with the stories of Charles Perrault, literary parent of the fairy tale, Laboulaye's charming narratives have a certain unique quality due to the fact that they were intended and collected for the author's own children, were told to them round the fireside in the evening, and so received at first hand the comment and suggestion of a bevy of competent, if somewhat youthful, critics.
It is said that there is a great scarcity of fairy folk in modern France; and that, terrified by the thunders of the Revolution, they left their unhappy country in a body during its stormy years, first assembling in grateful concourse around the tomb of Perrault, upon whose memory they conferred the boon of immortality.
If this story is true—and the last reported act of the fairies on leaving France makes it appear so—then we may be sure that a few of the more hardy and adventurous fays skipped back again across the border and hid themselves in Laboulaye's box of jewels, where they give to each gem an even brighter sheen and a more magical luster.
"QUILLCOTE," HOLLIS, MAINE.
LABOULAYE'S FAIRY BOOK
On the Kerver
YVON and FINETTE
A Tale of Brittany
Once upon a time there lived in Brittany a noble lord, who was called the Baron Kerver. His manor-house was the most beautiful in the province. It was a great Gothic castle, with a groined roof and walls, covered with carving, that looked at a distance like a vine climbing over an arbor. On the first floor six stained-glass balcony windows looked out on each side toward the rising and the setting sun. In the morning, when the baron, mounted on his dun mare, went forth into the forest, followed by his tall greyhounds, he saw at each window one of his daughters, with prayer-book in hand, praying for the house of Kerver, and who, with their fair curls, blue eyes, and clasped hands, might have been taken for six Madonnas in an azure niche. At evening, when the sun declined and the baron returned homeward, after riding round his domains, he perceived from afar, in the windows looking toward the west, six sons, with dark locks and eagle gaze, the hope and pride of the family, that might have been taken for six sculptured knights at the portal of a church. For ten leagues round, all who wished to quote a happy father and a powerful lord named the Baron Kerver.
The castle had but twelve windows, and the baron had thirteen children. The last, the one that had no place, was a handsome boy of sixteen, by the name of Yvon. As usual, he was the best beloved. In the morning, at his departure, and at evening, on his return, the baron always found Yvon waiting on the threshold to embrace him. With his hair falling to his waist, his graceful figure, his wilful air, and his bold bearing, Yvon was beloved by all the Bretons. At twelve years of age he had bravely attacked and killed a wolf with an ax, which had won him the name of Fearless. He deserved the title, for never was there a bolder heart.
One day, when the baron had stayed at home, and was amusing himself by breaking a lance with his squire, Yvon entered the armory in a traveling dress, and, bending one knee to the ground, "My lord and father," said he to the baron, "I come to ask your blessing. The house of Kerver is rich in knights, and has no need of a child; it is time for me to go to seek my fortune. I wish to go to distant countries to try my strength and to make myself a name."
"You are right, Fearless," replied the baron, more moved than he wished to appear. "I will not keep you back; I have no right to do so; but you are very young, my child; perhaps it would be better for you to stay another year with us."
"I am sixteen, my father; at that age you had already fought one of the proudest lords of the country. I have not forgotten that our arms are a unicorn ripping up a lion, and our motto. Onward! I do not wish the Kervers to blush for their last child."
Yvon received his father's blessing, shook hands with his brothers, embraced his sisters, bid adieu to all the weeping vassals, and set out with a light heart.
Nothing stopped him on his way. A river appeared, he swam it; a mountain, he climbed it; a forest, he made his way through it with the sun for a guide. "On—the Kerver!" he cried, whenever he met with an obstacle, and went straight forward in spite of everything.
For three years he had been roaming over the world in search of adventures, sometimes conquering, sometimes conquered, always bold and gay, when he received an offer to go to fight the heathen of Norway. To kill unbelievers and to conquer a kingdom was a double pleasure. Yvon enlisted twelve brave comrades, freighted a ship, and hoisted from the mainmast a blue standard with the unicorn and motto of the Kervers.
The sea was calm, the wind fair, and the night serene. Yvon, stretched on the deck, watched the stars, and sought the one which cast its trembling light on his father's castle. All at once the vessel struck upon a rock; a terrible crash was heard; the sails fell like tinder; and an enormous wave burst over the deck and swept away everything upon it.
"On—the Kerver!" cried Yvon, as soon as his head appeared above the water, and he began to swim as tranquilly as if he had been bathing in the lake of the old castle. Happily the moon was rising. Yvon saw, at a little distance, a black speck among the silvery waves—it was land. He approached it, not without difficulty, and finally succeeded in gaining a foothold. Dripping wet, exhausted with fatigue, and out of breath, he dragged himself on the sand, then, without more anxiety, said his prayers and went to sleep.
In the morning, on awaking, Yvon tried to discover in what country he had been cast. He saw in the distance a house as large as a church, with windows fifty feet in height. He walked a whole day before reaching it, and at last found himself in front of an immense door, with a knocker so heavy that it was impossible for a man to lift it.
Yvon took a great stone and began to knock. "Come in," cried a voice that sounded like the roar of a bull. At the same instant the door opened, and the little Breton found himself in the presence of a giant not less than forty feet in height.
"What is your name, and what do you want here?" said the giant, taking up Yvon between his thumb and finger and lifting him from the ground so as to see him better.
"My name is Fearless, and I am seeking my fortune," answered Yvon, looking at the monster with an air of defiance.
"Well, brave Fearless, your fortune is made," said the giant, in a mocking tone. "I am in need of a servant and I will give you the place. You can go to work directly. This is the time for leading my sheep to the pasture; you may clean the stable while I am gone. I shall give you nothing else to do," added he, bursting into a laugh. "You see that I am a good master. Do your task, and, above all things, don't prowl about the house, or it will cost you your life."
"Certainly I have a good master; the work is not hard," thought Yvon, when the giant was gone. "I have plenty of time to sweep the stable. What shall I do meanwhile to amuse myself? Shall I look about the house? Since I am forbidden to do so, it must be because there is something to see."
He entered the first room, and saw a large fireplace in which a great pot was hanging, suspended from a hook. The pot was boiling, but there was no fire on the hearth.
"What does this mean?" thought Yvon; "there is some mystery here." He cut off a lock of his hair, dipped it into the pot, and took it out all coated with copper.
"Oh, oh!" cried he, "this is a new kind of soup; anybody that swallows it must have an iron-clad stomach."
He went into the next room; there also a pot was suspended from a hook, and boiling without fire. Yvon dipped a lock of hair into it, and took it out all coated with silver.
"The broth is not so rich as this in the Kerver kitchen," thought he, "but it may have a better taste."
Upon this, he entered the third room. There also a pot was suspended from a hook, and boiling without fire. Yvon dipped a lock of hair into it, and took it out all coated with gold. It shone so brightly that it might have been mistaken for a sunbeam.
"Good!" cried he. "In our country the old women have a saying, 'Everything gets worse and worse'; here it is just the contrary—everything gets better and better. What shall I find in the fourth room, I wonder—diamond soup?"
He pushed open the door and saw something rarer than precious stones. This was a young woman of such marvelous beauty that Yvon, dazzled, fell on his knees at the sight.
"Unfortunate youth!" cried she, in a trembling voice, "what are you doing here?"
"I belong to the house," answered Yvon; "the giant took me into his service this morning."
"His service!" repeated the young girl. "May Heaven preserve you from it!"
"Why so?" said Yvon. "I have a good master; the work is not hard. The stable once swept, my task is finished."
"Yes, and how will you set to work to sweep it?" said the lady. "If you sweep it in the usual way, for every forkful of dung that you throw out of the door, ten will come in at the window. But I will tell you what to do. Turn the fork and sweep with the handle, and the dung will instantly fly out of itself."
"I will obey," said Yvon; upon which he sat down by the young girl and began to talk with her. She was the daughter of a fairy, whom the wretched giant had made his slave. Friendship soon springs up between companions in misfortune. Before the end of the day Finette (for that was the lady's name) and Yvon had already promised to belong to each other if they could escape from their abominable master. The difficulty was to find the means.
Time passes quickly in this kind of talk. Evening was approaching when Finette sent away her new friend, advising him to sweep the stable before the giant came home.
Yvon took down the fork and attempted to use it as he had seen it done at his father's castle. He soon had enough of it. In less than a second there was so much dung in the stable that the poor boy knew not which way to turn. He did as Finette had bid him; he turned the fork and swept with the handle, when, behold! in the twinkling of an eye the stable was as clean as if no cattle had ever entered it.
The task finished, Yvon seated himself on a bench before the door of the house. As soon as he saw the giant coming he lolled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began to sing one of his native airs.
"Have you cleaned the stable?" asked the giant, with a frown.
"Everything is ready, master," answered Yvon, without troubling himself to move.
"I am going to see for myself," howled the giant. He entered the stable grumbling, found everything in order, and came out furious.
"You have seen my Finette," cried he; "this trick did not come from your own head."
"What is myfinette?" asked Yvon, opening his mouth and shutting his eyes. "Is it one of the animals that you have in this country? Show it to me, master."
"Hold your tongue, fool," replied the giant; "you will see her sooner than you will want to."
The next morning the giant gathered his sheep together to lead them to the pasture, but before setting out he ordered Yvon to go in the course of the day in search of his horse, which was turned out to graze on the mountain. "After that," said he, bursting into a laugh, "you can rest all day long. You see that I am a good master. Do your task; and, above all things, don't prowl about the house or I will cut off your head."
Yvon winked his eye as the giant left. "Yes, you are a good master," said he, between his teeth. "I understand your tricks; but, in spite of your threats, I shall go into the house and talk with your Finette. It remains to be seen whether she will not be more mine than yours."
He ran to the young girl's room. "Hurrah!" cried he; "I have nothing to do all day but to go to the mountain after a horse."
"Very well," said Finette. "How will you set to work to ride him?"
"A fine question," returned Yvon. "As if it was a difficult thing to ride a horse! I fancy that I have ridden worse ones than this."
"It is not so easy as you think," replied Finette; "but I will tell you what to do. Take the bit that hangs behind the stable door, and, when the animal rushes toward you breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils, force it straight between his teeth; he will instantly become as gentle as a lamb, and you can do what you please with him."
"I will obey," said Yvon; upon which he sat down by the side of Finette and began to talk with her. They talked of everything; but, however far their fancy strayed, they always came back to the point that they were promised to each other and that they must escape from the giant. Time passes quickly in this kind of talk. The evening drew nigh. Yvon had forgotten the horse and the mountain, and Finette was obliged to send him away, advising him to bring back the animal before his master's arrival.
Yvon took down the bit that was hidden behind the stable door and hastened to the mountain, when, lo! a horse almost as large as an elephant rushed toward him at full gallop, breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils. Yvon firmly awaited the huge animal, and, the moment he opened his enormous jaws, thrust between them the bit; when, lo! the horse instantly became as gentle as a lamb. Yvon made him kneel down, sprang on his back, and tranquilly returned home.
His task finished, Yvon seated himself on the bench before the door of the house. As soon as he saw the giant coming, he lolled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began to sing one of his native airs.
"Have you brought back the horse?" asked the giant, with a frown.
"Yes, master," answered Yvon, without taking the trouble to move. "He is a fine animal and does you credit. He is gentle, well trained, and as quiet as a lamb. He is feeding yonder in the stable."
"I am going to see for myself," howled the giant. He entered the stable, grumbling, found everything in order, and came out furious.
"You have seen my Finette," he said; "this trick did not come from your own head."
"Oh, master," returned Yvon, opening his mouth and shutting his eyes, "it is the same story over again. What is this myfinette? Once for all, show me this monster."
"Hold your tongue, fool," returned the giant; "you will see her sooner than you will want to."
The third day at dawn the giant gathered his sheep together to lead them to the pasture; but, before setting out, he said to Yvon:
"To-day you must go to the bottomless pit to collect my rent. After that," continued he, bursting into a laugh, "you may rest all day long. You see that I am a good master."
"A good master, so be it," murmured Yvon, "but the task is none the less hard. I will go and see my Finette, as the giant says; I have great need of her help to get through to-day's business."
When Finette had learned what was the task of the day, "Well," said she, "how will you go to work to do it?"
"I don't know," said Yvon, sadly; "I have never been to the bottomless pit, and, even if I knew the way there, I should not know what to ask for. Tell me what to do."
"Do you see that great rock yonder?" said Finette; "that is one of the gates of the bottomless pit. Take this stick, knock three times on the stone, and a demon will come out all streaming with flames, who will ask you how much you want. Take care to answer, 'No more than I can carry.'"
"I will obey," said Yvon; upon which he took a seat by the side of Finette and began to talk with her. He would have been there till this time if the young girl had not sent him to the great rock, when the evening drew nigh, to execute the giant's commands.
On reaching the spot pointed out to him, Yvon found a great block of granite. He struck it three times with the stick, when, lo! the rock opened and a demon came forth all streaming with flames.
"What do you want?" he cried.
"I have come for the giant's rent," answered Yvon, calmly.
"How much do you want?"
"I never want any more than I can carry," replied the Breton.
"It is well for you that you do not," returned the man in flames. "Enter this cavern and you will find what you want."
Yvon entered, and opened his eyes wide. Everywhere he saw nothing but gold, silver, diamonds, carbuncles, and emeralds. They were as numerous as the sands on the seashore. The young Kerver filled a sack, threw it across his shoulder, and tranquilly returned home.
His task finished, our Breton seated himself on the bench before the door of the house. As soon as he saw the giant coming he lolled back in his seat, crossed his legs, and began to sing one of his native airs.
"Have you been to the bottomless pit to collect my rent?" asked the giant, with a frown.
"Yes, master," answered Yvon, without taking the trouble to stir. "The sack is right there before your eyes; you can count it."
"I am going to see for myself," howled the giant. He untied the strings of the sack, which was so full that the gold and silver rolled in all directions.
"You have seen my Finette," he cried; "this trick did not come from your own head."
"Don't you know but one song?" said Yvon, opening his mouth and shutting his eyes. "It is the old story, myfinette, myfinette. Once for all, show me this thing."
"Well, well," roared the giant, with fury, "wait till to-morrow and you shall make her acquaintance."
"Thank you, master," said Yvon. "It is very good of you; but I see from your face that you are laughing at me."
The next morning the giant went out without giving Yvon any orders, which troubled Finette. At noon he returned without his flock, complaining of the heat and fatigue, and said to the young girl:
"You will find a child, my servant, at the door. Cut his throat, put him into the great pot to boil, and call me when the broth is ready." Saying this, he stretched himself on the bed to take a nap, and was soon snoring so loudly that it seemed like thunder shaking the mountains.
Finette prepared a log of wood, took a large knife, and called Yvon. She pricked his little finger; three drops of blood fell on the log.
"That is enough," said Finette; "now help me to fill the pot."
They threw into it all that they could find—old clothes, old shoes, old carpets, and everything else. Finette then took Yvon by the hand and led him through the three antechambers, where she ran in a mold three bullets of gold, two bullets of silver, and one bullet of copper, after which they quitted the house and ran toward the sea.
"On—the Kerver!" cried Yvon, as soon as he saw himself in the country. "Explain yourself, dear Finette; what farce are we playing now?"
"Let us run—let us run!" she cried; "if we do not quit this wretched island before night, it is all over with us."
"On—the Kerver!" replied Yvon, laughing, "and down with the giant!"
When he had snored a full hour, the giant stretched his limbs, half opened one eye, and cried, "Is it ready?"
"It is just beginning to boil," answered the first drop of blood on the log.
The giant turned over, and snored louder than ever for an hour or two longer. Then he stretched his limbs, half opened one eye, and cried out: "Do you hear me? Is it almost ready?"
"It is half done," answered the second drop of blood on the log.
The giant turned over, and slept an hour longer. Then he yawned, stretched his great limbs, and cried out, impatiently:
"Isn't it ready yet?"
"It is ready now," answered the third drop of blood on the log.
The giant sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, and looked around to see who had spoken; but it was in vain to look; he saw nobody.
"Finette," howled he, "why isn't the table set?"
There was no answer. The giant, furious, sprang out of bed, seized a ladle, which looked like a caldron with a pitchfork for a handle, and plunged it into the pot to taste the soup.
"Finette!" howled he, "you haven't salted it. What sort of soup is this? I see neither meat nor vegetables."
No; but, in return, he saw his carpet, which had not quite all boiled to pieces. At this sight he fell into such a fit of rage that he could not keep his feet.
"Villains!" said he, "you have played a fine trick on me; but you shall pay for it."
He rushed out with a stick in his hand, and strode along at such a rate that in a quarter of an hour he discovered the two fugitives still far from the seashore. He uttered such a cry of joy that the earth shook for twelve leagues around.
Finette stopped, trembling. Yvon clasped her to his heart.
"On—the Kerver!" said he; "the sea is not far off; we shall be there before our enemy."
"Here he is! here he is!" cried Finette, pointing to the giant not a hundred yards off; "we are lost if this charm does not save us."
She took the copper bullet and threw it on the ground, saying,
"Copper bullet, save us, pray; Stop the giant on his way."
And behold, the earth cracked apart with a terrific noise, and an enormous fissure, a bottomless pit, stopped the giant just as he was stretching out his hand to seize his prey.
"Let us fly!" cried Finette, grasping the arm of Yvon, who was gazing at the giant with a swaggering air, defying him to come on.
The giant ran backward and forward along the abyss, like a bear in his cage, seeking a passage everywhere and finding none; then, with a furious jerk, he tore up an immense oak by the roots and flung it across the gap. The branches of the oak nearly crushed the children as it fell. The giant seated himself astride the huge tree, which bent under his weight, and crept slowly along, suspended between heaven and earth, entangled as he was among the branches. When he reached the other side, Yvon and Finette were already on the shore, with the sea rolling before them.
Alas! there was neither bark nor ship. The fugitives were lost. Yvon, always brave, picked up stones to attack the giant and to sell his life dearly. Finette, trembling with fear, threw one of the silver bullets into the sea, saying,
"Silver bullet, bright and pliant, Save us from this frightful giant."
Scarcely had she spoken the magic words when a beautiful ship rose from the waves like a swan spreading its white wings. Yvon and Finette plunged into the sea; a rope was thrown them by an invisible hand, and when the furious giant reached the shore the ship was receding rapidly at full sail, leaving behind it a long furrow of shining foam.
Giants do not like the water. This fact is certified to by old Homer, who knew Polyphemus; and the same observation will be found in all natural histories worthy of the name. Finette's master resembled Polyphemus. He roared with rage when he saw his slaves about to escape him. He ran hesitatingly along the shore; he flung huge masses of rock after the vessel, which happily fell by the side of it and only made great black holes in the water; and, finally, mad with anger, he plunged head foremost into the sea and began to swim after the ship with frightful speed. At each stroke he advanced forty feet, blowing like a whale, and like a whale cleaving the waves. By degrees he gained on his enemies; one more effort would bring him within reach of the rudder, and already he was stretching out his arm to seize it, when Finette threw the second silver bullet into the sea and cried, in tears,
"Silver bullet, bright and pliant, Save us from this frightful giant."
Suddenly from the midst of the foam darted forth a gigantic swordfish, with a sword at least twenty feet in length. It rushed straight toward the giant, who scarcely had time to dive, chased him under the water, pursued him on the top of the waves, followed him closely whichever way he turned, and forced him to flee as fast as he could to his island, where he finally landed with the greatest difficulty, and fell upon the shore dripping, worn out, and conquered.
"On—the Kerver!" cried Yvon; "we are saved."
"Not yet," said Finette, trembling. "The giant has a witch for a godmother; I fear that she will revenge on me the insult offered to her godson. My art tells me, my dear Yvon, that if you quit me a single instant until you give me your name in the chapel of the Kervers I have everything to dread."
"By the unicorn of my ancestors," cried Yvon, "you have the heart of a hare and not of a hero! Am I not here? Am I going to abandon you? Do you believe that Providence has saved us from the fangs of that monster to wreck us in port?"
He laughed so gaily that Finette laughed in turn at the terror that had seized her.
The rest of the voyage passed off admirably. An invisible hand seemed to impel the ship onward. Twenty days after their departure the boat landed Yvon and Finette near Kerver Castle. Once on shore, Yvon turned to thank the crew. No one was there. Both boat and ship had vanished under the waves, leaving no trace behind but a gull on the wing.
Yvon recognized the spot where he had so often gathered shells and chased the crabs to their holes when a child. Half an hour's walk would bring him in sight of the towers of the old castle. His heart beat; he looked tenderly at Finette and saw, for the first time, that her dress was fantastic and unworthy of a woman about to enter the noble house of Kerver.
"My dear child," said he, "the baron, my father, is a noble lord, accustomed to be treated with respect. I cannot introduce you to him in this gipsy dress; neither is it fitting that you should enter our great castle on foot like a peasant. Wait for me a few moments, and I will bring you a horse and one of my sister's dresses. I wish you to be received like a lady of high degree. I wish my father himself to meet you on your arrival, and hold it an honor to give you his hand."
"Yvon, Yvon," cried Finette, "do not quit me, I beg you. Once returned to your castle, I know that you will forget me."
"Forget you!" exclaimed Yvon. "If any one else were to offer me such an insult I would teach him with my sword to suspect a Kerver. Forget you, my Finette! You do not know the fidelity of a Breton."
That the Bretons are faithful no one doubts; but that they are still more headstrong is a justice that none will deny them. It was useless for poor Finette to plead in her most loving tones; she was forced to yield. She resigned herself with a heavy heart, and said to Yvon:
"Go without me, then, to your castle, but only stay long enough to speak to your friends; then go straight to the stable, and return as soon as possible. You will be surrounded by people; act as if you saw no one, and, above all, do not eat or drink anything whatever. Should you take only a glass of water, evil would come upon us both."
Yvon promised and swore all that Finette asked, but he smiled in his heart at this feminine weakness. He was sure of himself; and he thought with pride how different a Breton was from those fickle Frenchmen whose words, they say, are borne away by the first breath of the wind.
On entering the old castle he could scarcely recognize its dark walls. All the windows were festooned with leaves and flowers within and without; the courtyard was strewn with fragrant grass; on one side was spread tables groaning under their weight; on the other, musicians, mounted on casks, were playing merry airs. The vassals, dressed in their holiday attire, were singing and dancing and dancing and singing. It was a great day of rejoicing at the castle. The baron himself was smiling. It is true that he had just married his fifth daughter to the Knight of Kervalec. This marriage added another quartering to the illustrious escutcheon of the Kervers.
Yvon, recognized and welcomed by all the crowd, was instantly surrounded by his relatives, who embraced him and shook him by the hand. Where had he been? Where did he come from? Had he conquered a kingdom, a duchy, or a barony? Had he brought the bride the jewels of some queen? Had the fairies protected him? How many rivals had he overthrown? All these questions were showered upon him without reply. Yvon respectfully kissed his father's hand, hastened to his sisters' chamber, took two of their finest dresses, went to the stable, saddled a pony, mounted a beautiful Spanish jennet, and was about to quit the castle, when he found his relatives, friends, and vassals all standing in his way, their glasses in their hands, ready to drink their young lord's health and his safe return.
Yvon gracefully thanked them, bowed, and made his way by degrees through the crowd, when, just as he was about to cross the drawbridge, a fair-haired lady, with a haughty and disdainful air, a stranger to him, a sister of the bridegroom, perhaps, approached him, holding a pomegranate in her hand.
"My handsome knight," said she, with a singular smile, "you surely will not refuse a lady's first request. Taste this pomegranate, I entreat you. If you are neither hungry nor thirsty after so long a journey, I suppose at least that you have not forgotten the laws of politeness."
Yvon dared not refuse this appeal. He was very wrong. Scarcely had he tasted the pomegranate when he looked round him like a man waking from a dream.
"What am I doing on this horse?" thought he. "What means this pony that I am leading? Is not my place in my father's house at my sister's wedding? Why should I quit the castle?"
He threw the bridle to one of the grooms, leaped lightly to the ground, and offered his hand to the fair-haired lady, who accepted him as her attendant on the spot, and gave him her bouquet to hold as a special mark of favor.
Before the evening was over there was another betrothed couple in the castle. Yvon had pledged his faith to the unknown lady and Finette was forgotten.
Poor Finette, seated on the seashore, waited all day long for Yvon, but Yvon did not come. The sun was setting in the fiery waves when Finette rose, sighing, and took the way to the castle in her turn. She had not walked long in a steep road, bordered with thorn-trees in blossom, when she found herself in front of a wretched hut at the door of which stood an old woman about to milk her cow. Finette approached her and, making a low courtesy, begged a shelter for the night.
The old woman looked at the stranger from head to foot. With her buskins trimmed with fur, her full red petticoat, her blue jacket edged with jet, and her diadem, Finette looked more like an Egyptian princess than a Christian. The old woman frowned and, shaking her fist in the face of the poor forsaken girl, "Begone, witch!" she cried; "there is no room for you in this honest house."
"My good mother," said Finette, "give me only a corner of the stable."
"Oh," said the old woman, laughing and showing the only tooth she had left, which projected from her mouth like a bear's tusk, "so you want a corner of the stable, do you! Well, you shall have it if you will fill my milk-pail with gold."
"It is a bargain," said Finette, quietly. She opened a leather purse which she wore at her belt, took from it a golden bullet, and threw it into the milk-pail, saying,
"Golden bullet, precious treasure, Save me, if it be thy pleasure."
And behold! the pieces of gold began to dance about in the pail; they rose higher and higher, flapping about like fish in a net, while the old woman, on her knees, gazed with wonder at the sight.
When the pail was full the old woman rose, put her arm through the handle, and said to Finette, "Madam, all is yours, the house, the cow, and everything else. Hurrah! I am going to the town to live like a lady with nothing to do. Oh dear, how I wish I were only sixty!" And, shaking her crutch, without looking backward, she set out on a run toward Kerver Castle.
Finette entered the house. It was a wretched hovel, dark, low, damp, bad-smelling, and full of dust and spiders' webs—a horrible refuge for a woman accustomed to living in the giant's grand castle. Without seeming troubled, Finette went to the hearth, on which a few green boughs were smoking, took another golden bullet from her purse, and threw it into the fire, saying,
"Golden bullet, precious treasure, Save me, if it be thy pleasure."
The gold melted, bubbled up, and spread all over the house like running water, and behold! the whole cottage, the walls, the thatch, the wooden rocking-chair, the stool, the chest, the bed, the cow's horns—everything, even to the spiders in their webs, was turned to gold. The house gleamed in the moonlight, among the trees, like a star in the night.
When Finette had milked the cow and drank a little new milk, she threw herself on the bed without undressing, and, worn out by the fatigue of the day, fell asleep in the midst of her tears.
Old women do not know how to hold their tongues, at least in Brittany. Finette's hostess had scarcely reached the village when she hastened to the house of the steward. He was an important personage, who had more than once made her tremble when she had driven her cow into her neighbor's pasture by mistake. The steward listened to the old woman's story, shook his head, and said it looked like witchcraft; then he mysteriously brought a pair of scales, weighed the guineas, which he found to be genuine and of full weight, kept as many of them as he could, and advised the owner to tell no one of this strange adventure. "If it should come to the ears of the bailiff or the seneschal," said he, "the least that would happen to you, mother, would be to lose every one of these beautiful bright guineas. Justice is impartial; it knows neither favor nor repugnance; it takes the whole."
The old woman thanked the steward for his advice, and promised to follow it. She kept her word so well that she only told her story that evening to two neighbors, her dearest friends, both of whom swore on the heads of their little children to keep it secret. The oath was a solemn one, and so well kept that at noon the next day there was not a boy of six in the village that did not point his finger at the old woman, while the very dogs seemed to bark in their language, "Here is the old woman with her guineas!"
A girl that amuses herself by filling milk-pails with gold is not to be found every day. Even though she should be something of a witch, such a girl would none the less be a treasure in a family. The steward, who was a bachelor, made this wise reflection that night on going to bed. Before dawn he rose to make his rounds in the direction of the stranger's cottage. By the first gleam of day he spied something shining in the distance like a light among the woods. On reaching the place, he was greatly surprised to find a golden cottage instead of the wretched hut that had stood there the day before. But, on entering the house, he was much more surprised and delighted to find a beautiful young girl, with raven hair, sitting by the window and spinning on her distaff with the air of an empress.
Like all men, the steward did himself justice, and knew, at the bottom of his heart, that there was not a woman in the world that would not be too happy to give him her hand. Without hesitating, therefore, he declared to Finette that he had come to marry her. The young girl burst out laughing, upon which the steward flew into a passion.
"Take care!" said he, in a terrible voice. "I am the master here. No one knows who you are or whence you came. The gold that you gave the old woman has raised suspicions. There is magic in this house. If you do not accept me for a husband this very instant, I will arrest you, and before night, perhaps, a witch will be burned before Kerver Castle."
"You are very amiable," said Finette, with a charming grimace; "you have a peculiar way of paying court to ladies. Even when they have decided not to refuse, a gallant man spares their blushes."
"We Bretons are plain-spoken people," replied the steward; "we go straight to the point. Marriage or prison, which do you choose?"
"Oh!" cried Finette, laying down the distaff, "there are the firebrands falling all over the room."
"Don't trouble yourself," said the steward; "I will pick them up."
"Lay them carefully on the top of the ashes," returned Finette. "Have you the tongs?"
"Yes," said the steward, picking up the crackling coals.
"Abracadabra!" cried Finette, rising. "Villain, may the tongs hold you, and may you hold the tongs till sunset!"
No sooner said than done. The wicked steward stood there all day with the tongs in his hand, picking up and throwing back the burning coals that snapped in his face and the hot ashes that flew into his eyes. It was useless for him to shout, pray, weep, and blaspheme; no one heard him. If Finette had stayed at home, she would doubtless have taken pity on him; but after putting the spell upon him, she hastened to the seashore, where, forgetting everything else, she watched for Yvon in vain.
The moment that the sun set, the tongs fell from the steward's hands. He did not stop to finish his errand, but ran as if the devil or justice were at his heels. He made such leaps, he uttered such groans, he was so blackened, scorched, and benumbed, that every one in the village was afraid of him, thinking that he was mad. The boldest tried to speak to him, but he fled without answering, and hid himself in his house, more ashamed than a wolf that has left his paw in the trap.
At evening, when Finette returned home in despair, instead of the steward she found another visitor little less formidable. The bailiff had heard the story of the guineas and had also made up his mind to marry the stranger. He was not rough, like the steward, but a fat, good-natured man that could not speak without bursting into a laugh, showing his great yellow teeth, and puffing and blowing like an ox, though at heart he was not less obstinate or less threatening than his predecessor. Finette entreated the bailiff to leave her alone. He laughed, and hinted to her, in a good-natured way, that, by right of his office, he had the power to imprison and hang people without process of law. She clasped her hands and begged him with tears to go. For his only answer, he took a roll of parchment from his pocket, wrote on it a contract of marriage, and declared to Finette that, should he stay all night, he would not leave the house till she had signed the promise.
"Nevertheless," said he, "if you do not like my person, I have another parchment here on which I will write an agreement to live apart; and if my sight annoys you you have only to shut your eyes."
"Why," said Finette, "I might decide to do as you wish if I were sure of finding a good husband in you; but I am afraid."
"Of what, my dear child?" asked the bailiff, smiling, and already as proud as a peacock.
"Do you think," said she, with a pettish air, "that a good husband would leave that door wide open and not know that his wife was freezing with cold?"
"You are right, my dear," said the bailiff; "it was very stupid in me. I will go and shut it."
"Have you hold of the knob?" asked Finette.
"Yes, my charmer," answered the happy bailiff; "I am just shutting the door."
"Abracadabra!" cried Finette. "May you hold the door, villain, and may the door hold you till daybreak."
And behold! the door opened and shut, and slammed against the walls like an eagle flapping its wings. You may judge what a dance the poor captive kept up all night. Never had he tried such a waltz, and I imagine that he never wished to dance a second one of the same sort. Sometimes the door swung open with him in the street; sometimes it flew back and crushed him against the wall. He swung backward and forward, screaming, swearing, weeping, and praying, but all in vain; the door was deaf, and Finette asleep.
At daybreak his hands unclasped and he fell in the road head foremost. Without waiting to finish his errand, he ran as if the Moors were after him. He did not even turn round, for fear that the door might be at his heels. Fortunately for him, all were still asleep when he reached the village, and he could hide himself in bed without any one seeing his deplorable plight. This was a great piece of good fortune for him, for he was covered with whitewash from head to foot, and so pale, haggard, and trembling that he might have been taken for the ghost of a miller escaped from the infernal regions.
When Finette opened her eyes she saw by her bedside a tall man dressed in black, with a velvet cap and a sword. It was the seneschal of the barony of Kerver. He stood with his arms folded, gazing at Finette in a way that chilled the very marrow of her bones.
"What is your name, vassal?" said he, in a voice of thunder.
"Finette, at your service, my lord," replied she, trembling.
"Is this house and furniture yours?"
"Yes, my lord, everything, at your service."
"I mean that it shall be at my service," returned the seneschal, sternly. "Rise, vassal! I do you the honor to marry you, and to take yourself, your person, and your property under my guardianship."
"My lord," returned Finette, "this is much too great an honor for a poor girl like me, a stranger, without friends or kindred."
"Be silent, vassal!" replied the seneschal. "I am your lord and master; I have nothing to do with your advice. Sign this paper."
"My lord," said Finette, "I don't know how to write."
"Do you think that I do, either?" returned the seneschal, in a voice that shook the house. "Do you take me for a clerk? A cross—that is the signature of gentlemen."
He made a large cross on the paper, and handed the pen to Finette.
"Sign," said he. "If you are afraid to make a cross, infidel, you pass your own death sentence, and I shall take on myself to execute it." He drew his heavy sword from the scabbard as he spoke, and threw it on the table.
For her only answer, Finette leaped out of the window and ran to the stable. The seneschal pursued her thither, but, on attempting to enter, an unexpected obstacle stopped him. The frightened cow had backed at the sight of the young girl, and stood in the doorway, with Finette clinging to her horns and making of her a sort of buckler.
"You shall not escape me, sorceress!" cried the seneschal, and, with a grasp like that of Hercules, he seized the cow by the tail and dragged her out of the stable.
"Abracadabra!" cried Finette. "May the cow's tail hold you, villain, and may you hold the cow's tail till you have both been around the world together."
And behold! the cow darted off like lightning, dragging the unhappy seneschal after her. Nothing stopped the two inseparable comrades; they rushed over mountains and valleys, crossed marshes, rivers, quagmires, and brakes, glided over the seas without sinking, were frozen in Siberia and scorched in Africa, climbed the Himalayas, descended Mont Blanc, and at length, after thirty-six hours of a journey, the like of which had never been seen, both stopped out of breath in the public square of the village.
A seneschal harnessed to a cow's tail is a sight not to be seen every day, and all the peasants in the neighborhood crowded together to wonder at the spectacle. But, torn as he was by the cactuses of Barbary and the thickets of Tartary, the seneschal had lost nothing of his haughty air. With a threatening gesture he dispersed the rabble, and limped to his house to taste the repose of which he began to feel the need.
While the steward, the bailiff, and the seneschal were experiencing these little unpleasantnesses, of which they did not think it proper to boast, preparations were being made for a great event at Kerver Castle, namely, the marriage of Yvon and the fair-haired lady. Two days had passed in these preparations, and all the friends of the family had gathered together for twenty leagues round, when, one fine morning Yvon and his bride, with the Baron and Baroness Kerver, took their seats in a great carriage adorned with flowers, and set out for the celebrated church of St. Maclou.
A hundred knights in full armor, mounted on horses decked with ribbons, rode on each side of the betrothed couple, each with his vizor raised and his lance at rest in token of honor. By the side of each baron, a squire, also on horseback, carried the seigniorial banner. At the head of the procession rode the seneschal, with a gilded staff in his hand. Behind the carriage gravely walked the bailiff, followed by the vassals, while the steward railed at the serfs, a noisy and curious rabble.
As they were crossing a brook, a league from the castle, one of the traces of the carriage broke, and they were forced to stop. The accident repaired, the coachman cracked his whip, and the horses started with such force that the new trace broke in three pieces. Six times this provoking piece of wood was replaced, and six times it broke anew, without drawing the carriage from the hole where it was wedged.
Every one had a word of advice to offer; even the peasants, as wheelwrights and carpenters, were not the last to make a show of their knowledge. This gave the steward courage; he approached the baron, took off his cap, and, scratching his head,
"My lord," said he, "in the house that you see shining yonder among the trees there lives a woman who does things such as nobody else can do. Only persuade her to lend you her tongs, and, in my opinion, they will hold till morning."
The baron made a sign, and ten peasants ran to the cottage of Finette, who very obligingly lent them her gold tongs. They were put in the place of the trace; the coachman cracked his whip, and off went the carriage like a feather.
Every one rejoiced, but the joy did not last long. A hundred steps farther, lo! the bottom of the carriage gave way; little more, and the noble Kerver family would have sunk quite out of sight. The wheelwrights and the carpenters set to work at once; they sawed planks, nailed them down fast, and in the twinkling of an eye repaired the accident. The coachman cracked his whip and the horses started, when, behold! half of the carriage was left behind; the Baroness Kerver sat motionless by the side of the bride, while Yvon and the baron were carried off at full gallop. Here was a new difficulty. Three times was the carriage mended, three times it broke anew. There was every reason to believe that it was enchanted.
Every one had a word of advice to offer. This gave the bailiff courage. He approached the baron and said, in a low tone:
"My lord, in the house that you see shining yonder among the trees there lives a woman who does things such as nobody else can do. Only persuade her to lend you her door for the bottom of the carriage, and, in my opinion, it will hold till morning."
The baron made a sign, and twenty peasants ran to the cottage of Finette, who very obligingly lent them her gold door. They put it in the bottom of the carriage, where it fitted as if it had been made expressly for it. The party took their seats in the carriage, the coachman cracked his whip, the church was in sight, and all the troubles of the journey seemed ended.
Not at all! Suddenly the horses stopped and refused to draw. There were four of them. Six, eight, ten, twenty-four more were put to the carriage, but all in vain; it was impossible to stir them. The more they were whipped the deeper the wheels sunk into the ground, like the coulter of a plow.
What were they to do? To go on foot would have been a disgrace. To mount a horse and ride to the church like simple peasants was not the custom of the Kervers. They tried to lift the carriage, they pushed the wheels, they shook it, they pulled it, but all in vain. Meanwhile the day was declining and the hour for the marriage had passed.
Every one had a word of advice to offer. This gave the seneschal courage. He approached the baron, alighted from his horse, raised his velvet cap, and said:
"My lord, in the house that you see shining yonder among the trees there lives a woman who does things such as nobody else can do. Only persuade her to lend you her cow to draw the carriage, and, in my opinion, she will draw it till morning."
The baron made a sign, and thirty peasants ran to the cottage of Finette, who very obligingly lent them her golden-horned cow.
To go to church drawn by a cow was not, perhaps, what the ambitious bride had dreamed of, but it was better than to remain unmarried in the road. The heifer was harnessed, therefore, before the four horses, and everybody looked on anxiously to see what this boasted animal would do.
But before the coachman had time to crack his whip, lo! the cow started off as if she were about to go around the world anew. Horses, carriage, baron, betrothed, coachman, all were hurried away by the furious animal. In vain the knights spurred their horses to follow the pair; in vain the peasants ran at full speed, taking the cross-road and cutting across the meadows. The carriage flew as if it had wings; a pigeon could not have followed it.
On reaching the door of the church, the party, a little disturbed by this rapid journey, would not have been sorry to alight. Everything was ready for the ceremony and the bridal pair had long been expected; but, instead of stopping, the cow redoubled her speed. Thirteen times she ran round the church like lightning, then suddenly made her way in a straight line across the fields to the castle, with such force that the whole party were almost shaken to pieces before their arrival.
No more marriage was to be thought of for that day; but the tables were set and the dinner served, and the Baron Kerver was too noble a knight to take leave of his brave Bretons until they had eaten and drunk according to custom—that is, from sunset till sunrise, and even a little later.
Orders were given for the guests to take their seats. Ninety-six tables were ranged in eight rows. In front of them, on a large platform covered with velvet, with a canopy in the middle, was a table larger than the rest, and loaded with fruit and flowers, to say nothing of the roast hares, and the peacocks smoking beneath their plumage. At this table the bridal pair were to have been seated in full sight, in order that nothing might be lacking to the pleasures of the feast, and that the meanest peasant might have the honor of saluting them by emptying his cup of hydromel to the honor and prosperity of the high and mighty house of Kerver.
The baron seated the hundred knights at his table, and placed their squires behind their chairs to serve them. At his right he put the bride and Yvon, but he left the seat at his left vacant, and, calling a page, "Child," said he, "run to the house of the stranger lady who obliged us only too much this morning. It was not her fault if her success exceeded her good will. Tell her that the Baron Kerver thanks her for her help and invites her to the wedding feast of his son, Lord Yvon."
On reaching the golden house, where Finette, in tears, was mourning for her beloved, the page bent one knee to the ground and, in the baron's name, invited the stranger lady to the castle to do honor to the wedding of Lord Yvon.
"Thank your master for me," answered the young girl, proudly, "and tell him that if he is too noble to come to my house, I am too noble to go to his."
When the page repeated this answer to his master the Baron Kerver struck the table such a blow that three plates flew in the air.
"By my honor," said he, "this is spoken like a lady, and for the first time I own myself beaten. Quick, saddle my dun mare, and let my knights and squires prepare to attend me."
It was with this brilliant train that the baron alighted at the door of the golden cottage. He begged Finette's pardon, held the stirrup for her, and seated her behind him on his own horse, neither more nor less than a duchess in person. Through respect, he did not speak a single word to her on the way. On reaching the castle he uncovered his head and led her to the seat of honor that he had chosen for her.
The baron's departure had made a great excitement, and his return caused still greater surprise. Every one asked who the lady could be that the baron treated with such respect. Judging from her costume, she was a foreigner. Could she be the Duchess of Normandy or the Queen of France? The steward, the bailiff, and the seneschal were appealed to. The steward trembled, the bailiff turned pale, and the seneschal blushed, but all three were as mute as fishes. The silence of these important personages added to the general wonder.
All eyes were fixed on Finette, who felt a deadly chill at her heart, for Yvon saw, but did not know her. He cast an indifferent glance at her, then began again to talk in a tender tone to the fair-haired lady, who smiled disdainfully.
Finette, in despair, took from the purse the golden bullet, her last hope. While talking with the baron, who was charmed with her wit, she shook the little ball in her hand, and repeated, in a whisper,
"Golden bullet, precious treasure, Save me, if it be thy pleasure."
And behold! the bullet grew larger and larger, until it became a goblet of chased gold, the most beautiful cup that ever graced the table of baron or king.
Finette filled the cup herself with spiced wine, and, calling the seneschal, who was cowering behind her, she said, in her gentlest tones, "My good seneschal, I entreat you to offer this goblet to Lord Yvon. I wish to drink his health, and I am sure that he will not refuse me this pleasure."
Yvon took the goblet, which the seneschal presented to him on a salver of enamel and gold, with a careless hand, bowed to the stranger, drank the wine, and, setting the cup on the table before him, turned to the fair-haired lady who occupied all his thoughts. The lady seemed anxious and vexed. He whispered a few words in her ear that seemed to please her, for her eyes sparkled, and she placed her hand again in his.
Finette cast down her head and began to weep. All was over.
"Children," cried the baron, in a voice of thunder, "fill your glasses. Let us drink to the noble stranger who honors us with her presence. To the noble lady of the golden cottage!"
All began to huzzah and drink. Yvon contented himself with raising his goblet to a level with his eyes. Suddenly he started and stood mute, his mouth open and his eyes fixed, like a man that has a vision.
It was a vision. In the gold of the goblet Yvon saw his past life as in a mirror: the giant pursuing him; Finette dragging him along; both embarking in the ship that saved them; both landing on the shore of Brittany; he quitting her for an instant; she weeping at his departure. Where was she? By his side, of course. What other woman than Finette could be by the side of Yvon?
He turned toward the fair-haired lady and cried out like a man treading on a serpent. Then, staggering as if he were drunk, he rose and looked around him with haggard eyes. At the sight of Finette he clasped his trembling hands and, dragging himself toward her, fell on his knees and exclaimed, "Finette, forgive me!"
To forgive is the height of happiness. Before evening Finette was seated by the side of Yvon, both weeping and smiling.
And what became of the fair-haired lady? No one knows. At the cry of Yvon she disappeared; but it was said that a wretched old hag was seen flying on a broomstick over the castle walls, chased by the dogs; and it was the common opinion among the Kervers that the fair-haired lady was none other than the witch, the godmother of the giant. I am not sure enough of the fact, however, to dare warrant it. It is always prudent to believe, without proof, that a woman may be a witch, but it is never wise to say so.
What I can say on the word of a historian is that the feast, interrupted for a moment, went on gayer than ever. Early the next morning they went to the church, where, to the joy of his heart, Yvon married Finette, who was no longer afraid of evil spirits; after which they ate, drank, and danced for thirty-six hours, without any one thinking of resting. The steward's arms were a little heavy, the bailiff rubbed his back at times, and the seneschal felt a sort of weariness in his limbs, but all three had a weight on their consciences which they could not shake off, and which made them tremble and flutter, till finally they fell on the ground and were carried off. Finette took no other vengeance on them; her only desire was to render all happy around her, far and near, who belonged to the noble house of Kerver. Her memory still lives in Brittany; and among the ruins of the old castle, any one will show you the statue of the good lady, with five bullets in her hand.
The Castle of Life
Once upon a time there lived at Salerno a poor old woman who earned her bread by fishing, and whose only comfort and stay in life was her grandson, a boy twelve years of age, whose father had been drowned in a storm and whose mother had died of grief. Graceful, for this was the child's name, loved nobody in the world but his grandmother; he followed her to the shore every morning before daybreak to pick up the shell-fish or draw the net to the beach, longing for the time when he should be strong enough to go to sea himself and brave the waves that had swallowed up all his kindred. He was so handsome, so well made, and so promising, that no sooner had he entered the town with his basket of fish on his head than every one ran after him, and he sold the whole before he reached the market.
Unfortunately, the grandmother was very old; she had but one front tooth left, her head shook with age, and her eyes were dim. Every morning she found it harder to rise than the day before. Feeling that she had but a few days longer to live, at night, before Graceful wrapped himself in his blanket and lay down on the ground to sleep, she always gave him good counsels for him to follow when she was gone; she told him what fishermen to avoid, and how, by being good and industrious, prudent and resolute, he would make his way in the world and finally have a boat and nets of his own. The poor boy paid little heed to all this wisdom. As soon as his grandmother began to put on a grave air he threw his arms around her neck and cried: "Grandmamma, grandmamma, don't leave me. I have hands, I am strong, I shall soon be able to work for us both; but if you were not here at night when I came home from fishing, what would become of me?"
"My child," said the old woman one day to him, "I shall not leave you so much alone as you think; when I am gone you will have two powerful protectors whom more than one prince might envy you. A long time ago I did a favor to two great ladies, who will not forget you when the time comes to call them, which will be very soon."
"Who are these two ladies?" asked Graceful, who had never seen any women but fishermen's wives in the hut.
"They are two fairies," replied his grandmother—"two powerful fairies—the Fairy of the Woods and the Fairy of the Waters. Listen to me, my child; I am going to intrust you with a secret—a secret which you must keep as carefully as I have done, and which will give you wealth and happiness. Ten years ago, the same year that your father died and your mother also left us, I went out one morning before daybreak to surprise the crabs asleep in the sand. As I was stooping down, hidden by a rock, I saw a kingfisher slowly floating toward the beach. The kingfisher is a sacred bird which should always be respected; knowing this, I let it alight and did not stir, for fear of frightening it. At the same moment I saw a beautiful green adder come from a cleft of the mountain and crawl along the sand toward the bird. When they were near each other, without either seeming surprised at the meeting, the adder coiled itself around the neck of the kingfisher, as if tenderly embracing it; they remained thus entwined for a few moments, after which they suddenly separated, the adder to return to the rock, and the kingfisher to plunge into the waves which bore it away.
"Greatly astonished at what I had seen, I returned the next morning at the same hour, and at the same hour the kingfisher also alighted on the sands and the adder came from its retreat. There was no doubt that they were fairies, perhaps enchanted fairies, to whom I could render a service. But what was I to do? To show myself would have been to displease them and run into danger; it was better to wait for a favorable opportunity which chance would doubtless offer. For a whole month I lay in ambush, witnessing the same spectacle every morning, when one day I saw a huge black cat arrive first at the place of meeting and hide itself behind a rock, almost under my hand. A black cat could be nothing else than an enchanter, according to what I had learned in my childhood, and I resolved to watch him. Scarcely had the kingfisher and the adder embraced each other when, behold! the cat gathered itself up and sprang upon these innocents. It was my turn to throw myself upon the wretch, who already held his victims in his murderous claws; I seized him, despite his struggles, although he tore my hands in pieces, and without pity, knowing with whom I had to deal, I took the knife which I used to open shell-fish, and cut off the monster's head, claws, and tail, confidently awaiting the success of my devotion.
"I did not wait long; no sooner had I thrown the body of the animal into the sea than I saw before me two beautiful ladies, one crowned with white plumes, the other with a serpent's skin thrown like a scarf across her shoulder. They were, as I have already told you, the Fairy of the Waters and the Fairy of the Woods, who, enchanted by a wretched genie who had learned their secret, had been forced to remain a kingfisher and an adder until freed by some generous hand, and who owed me their power and freedom.
"'Ask of us what you will,' said they, 'and your request shall be instantly granted.'
"I reflected that I was old, and had suffered too much in life to wish to begin it anew, while the day would come, my child, when nothing would be too great for your desires; when you wish to be rich, noble—a general, a marquis, a prince, perhaps! When that day comes, thought I, I can give him everything, and a single moment of such happiness will repay me for eighty years of pain and misery. I thanked the fairies, therefore, and entreated them to keep their good will till the day when I should have need of it. The Fairy of the Waters took a small feather from her crown, and the Fairy of the Woods detached a scale from her scarf.
"'My good woman,' said they, 'when you wish for us, place this feather and this scale in a vessel of pure water and call on us, making a wish. Should we be at the end of the world, we will be at your side in an instant, ready to pay the debt we owe you.'
"I bowed my head in token of gratitude. When I raised it all had vanished; even the wounds and blood had disappeared from my hands, and I should have thought that I had been dreaming, had not the scale of the serpent and the feather of the kingfisher remained in my hand."
"And where are these treasures, grandmamma?" asked Graceful.
"My child, I have carefully concealed them," answered the old woman, "not wishing to show them to you till you were a man and able to make use of them; but since death is about to separate us, the moment has come to give you these precious talismans. You will find at the back of the cupboard a wooden chest hidden under some rags; in the chest is a little pasteboard box, wound about with tow; open this box and you will find the scale and the feather carefully wrapped in cotton. Take care not to break them; handle them respectfully, and I will tell you what next to do."
Graceful brought the box to the poor woman, who was no longer able to quit her pallet, and she herself took from it the two articles.
"Now," said she, giving them to her grandson, "put a bowlful of water in the middle of the room; place the scale and the feather in the water, and make a wish—wish for fortune, nobility, wit, power, whatever you please; only, as I feel that I am dying, kiss me once more, my child, before speaking the words that will separate us forever, and receive my last blessing; it will be another talisman to bring you happiness."
But, to the old woman's surprise, Graceful did not come near her, either to kiss her or to receive her blessing. He quickly placed the bowl in the middle of the room, threw the feather and scale into the water, and shouted at the top of his voice, "Appear, Fairy of the Waters! I wish that my grandmother may live forever. Appear, Fairy of the Woods! I wish that my grandmother may live forever."
And behold! the water bubbled, bubbled, bubbled; the bowl grew to a great basin, which the walls of the hut could scarcely hold, and from the bottom of the basin Graceful saw two beautiful young women rise, whom he knew directly from their wands to be fairies. One wore a crown of holly leaves mixed with red berries, and diamond ear-rings resembling acorns in their cups; she was dressed in a robe of olive green, over which a speckled skin was knotted like a scarf across the right shoulder—this was the Fairy of the Woods. As to the Fairy of the Waters, she wore a garland of reeds on her head, with a white robe trimmed with the feathers of aquatic birds, and a blue scarf, which now and then rose above her head and fluttered like the sail of a ship. Great ladies as they were, they looked smilingly at Graceful, who had taken refuge in his grandmother's arms, and trembled with fear and admiration.
"Here we are, my child," said the Fairy of the Waters, who spoke first, as the eldest. "We have heard what you said, and your wish does you honor; but, though we can help you in the plan which you have conceived, you alone can execute it. We can, indeed, prolong your grandmother's life for some time, but, for her to live forever, you must go the Castle of Life, four long days' journey from here, on the coast of Sicily. There you will find the Fountain of Immortality. If you can accomplish each of these four days' journey without turning aside from the road, and, on reaching the castle, can answer three questions that will be put to you by an invisible voice, you will obtain what you desire. But, my child, reflect well before undertaking this adventure, for you will meet more than one danger on the way; and if you fail a single time to reach the end of your day's journey you will not only miss the object of your pursuit, but you will never quit the country, from which none has ever returned."
"I will go, madam," returned Graceful.
"But you are very young, my child," said the Fairy of the Woods, "and you do not even know the way."
"No matter," replied Graceful. "I am sure, beautiful ladies, that you will not forsake me, and to save my grandmother I would go to the end of the world."
"Wait," said the Fairy of the Woods. Then separating the lead from a broken window-pane, she placed it in the hollow of her hand.
And behold! the lead began to melt and bubble without seeming to burn the fairy, who threw the metal on the hearth, where it cooled in a thousand different forms.
"What do you see in all that?" said the fairy to Graceful.
"It seems to me, madam," said he, after looking attentively, "that I see a spaniel with a long tail and large ears."
"Call him," said the fairy.
A barking was instantly heard, and forth from the metal sprang a black and flame-colored spaniel, which began to gambol and leap around Graceful.
"This will be your companion," said the fairy. "His name is Fido. He will show you the way; but I warn you that it is for you to direct him, and not for him to lead you. If you make him obey, he will serve you; if you obey him, he will destroy you."
"And I," said the Fairy of the Waters, "have I nothing to give you, my poor Graceful?"
Then, looking around her, the lady saw on the ground a bit of paper, which she tossed into the fire with her tiny foot. The paper caught fire, and as soon as the blaze had died away thousands of little sparks were seen chasing one another about. The fairy watched these sparks with a curious eye; then, as the last one was about to go out, she blew upon the cinders, when, lo! the chirp of a bird was heard, and a swallow rose, which fluttered, terrified, about the room and finally alighted on Graceful's shoulder.
"This will be your companion," said the Fairy of the Waters. "Her name is Pensive. She will show you the way; but I warn you it is for you to direct her, and not for her to lead you. If you make her obey, she will serve you; if you obey her, she will destroy you."
"Stir the black ashes," added the good Fairy of the Waters, "and perhaps you will find something there."
Graceful obeyed. Under the ashes of the paper he found a vial of rock crystal, sparkling like a diamond. This, the fairy said, was to hold the water of immortality, which would break any vessel made by the hand of man. By the side of the vial Graceful found a dagger with a triangular blade—a very different thing from the stiletto of his father the fisherman, which he had been forbidden to touch. With this weapon he could brave the proudest enemy.
"My sister, you shall not be more generous than I," said the other fairy; then, taking a rush from the only chair in the room, she blew upon it, when, lo! the rush instantly swelled, and in less time than it takes to tell it became a beautiful musket, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. A second rush produced a cartridge-box, which Graceful slung around his body and which became him marvelously. One would have thought him a prince setting out for the chase; he was so handsome that his grandmother wept for joy and emotion.
The two fairies vanished; Graceful kissed the good old woman, urging her to await his return, and knelt before her to receive her blessing. She entreated him to be patient, just, and charitable, and, above all, not to wander from the right path. "Not for my sake," added the old woman, "for I would gladly welcome death, and I regret the wish that you have made, but for your own, my child, that you may return to me and that I may not die without your being here to close my eyes."
It was late. Graceful threw himself on the ground, too agitated, it seemed, to sleep. But slumber soon overtook him, and he slept soundly all night, while his poor grandmother watched the face of her dear child lighted by the flickering lamp, and did not weary of mournfully admiring him.
Early in the morning, when dawn was scarcely breaking, the swallow began to twitter, and Fido to pull the blankets. "Let us go, master—let us go," said the two companions, in their language, which Graceful understood by the gift of the fairies; "the tide is already rising on the beach, the birds are singing, the flies are humming, and the flowers are opening in the sun. Let us go; it is time."
Graceful kissed his grandmother for the last time, and took the road to Paestum, Pensive fluttering to the right and the left in pursuit of the flies, and Fido fawning on his young master or running before him.
They had gone two leagues from the town when Graceful saw Fido talking with the ants, who were marching in regular troops, carrying all their provisions with them.
"Where are you going?" asked he.
"To the Castle of Life," they answered.
A little farther on Pensive encountered the grasshoppers, who had also set out on a journey, together with the bees and the butterflies; all were going to the Castle of Life, to drink of the Fountain of Immortality. They traveled in company, like people following the same road. Pensive introduced Graceful to a young butterfly that chatted agreeably. Friendship springs up quickly in youth; in an hour the two comrades were inseparable.
To go straight forward does not suit the taste of butterflies, and Graceful's friend was constantly losing himself among the grass. Graceful, who had never been free in his life, nor had seen so many flowers and so much sunshine, followed all the windings of his companion, and troubled himself no more about the day than if it were never to end; but, after a few leagues' journey his new friend began to be weary.
"Don't go any farther," said he to Graceful. "See how beautiful is this landscape, how fragrant these flowers, and how balmy these fields. Let us stay here; this is life."
"Let us go on," said Fido; "the day is long, and we are only at the beginning."
"Let us go on," said Pensive; "the sky is clear and the horizon unbounded. Let us go on."
Graceful, restored to his senses, reasoned sagely with the butterfly, who fluttered constantly to the right and the left, but all in vain. "What matters it to me?" said the insect. "Yesterday I was a caterpillar, to-night I shall be nothing. I will enjoy to-day." And he settled on a full-blown Paestum rose. The perfume was so strong that the poor butterfly was suffocated. Graceful vainly endeavored to recall him to life; then, bemoaning his fate, he fastened him with a pin to his hat like a cockade.
Toward noon the grasshoppers stopped in turn. "Let us rest," said they; "the heat will overpower us if we struggle against the noonday sun. It is so pleasant to live in sweet repose! Come, Graceful, we will divert you and you shall sing with us."
"Listen to them," said Pensive; "they sing so sweetly!" But Fido would not stop; his blood seemed on fire, and he barked so furiously that Graceful forgot the grasshoppers to follow his importunate companion.
At evening Graceful met the honey-bee loaded with booty. "Where are you going?" said he.
"I am returning home," said the bee; "I shall not quit my hive."
"What!" rejoined Graceful; "industrious as you are, will you do like the grasshoppers and renounce your share in immortality?"
"Your castle is too far off," returned the bee. "I have not your ambition. My daily labor suffices for me; I care nothing for your travels; to me work is life."
Graceful was a little moved at losing so many of his fellow-travelers on the first day; but when he thought with what ease he had accomplished the first day's journey his heart was filled with joy. He caressed Fido, caught the flies which Pensive took from his hand, and slept full of hope, dreaming of his grandmother and the two fairies.
The next morning, at daybreak, Pensive called her young master.
"Let us go," said she; "the tide is already rising on the shore, the birds are singing, the bees are humming, and the flowers are opening in the sun. Let us go; it is time."
"Wait a moment," said Fido. "The day's journey is not long; before noon we shall be in sight of the temples of Paestum, where we are to stop for the night."
"The ants are already on the way," returned Pensive; "the road is harder than yesterday, and the weather more uncertain. Let us go."
Graceful had seen his grandmother smiling on him in his dreams, and he set out on his way with even greater ardor than the day before. The morning was glorious; on the right the blue waves broke with a gentle murmur on the strand; on the left, in the distance, the mountains were tinged with a roseate hue; the plain was covered with tall grass sprinkled with flowers; the road was lined with aloes, jujubes, and acanthuses, and before them lay a cloudless horizon. Graceful, ravished with hope and pleasure, fancied himself already at the end of his journey. Fido bounded over the fields and chased the frightened partridges; Pensive soared in the air and sported with the light. All at once Graceful saw a beautiful doe in the midst of the reeds, looking at him with languishing eyes as if she were calling him. He went toward her; she bounded forward, but only a little way. Three times she repeated the same trick, as if to allure him on.
"Let us follow her," said Fido. "I will cut off the way and we will soon catch her."
"Where is Pensive?" said Graceful.
"What does it matter?" replied Fido; "it is the work of an instant. Trust to me—I was born for the chase—and the doe is ours."
Graceful did not let himself be bid twice. While Fido made a circuit he ran after the doe, which paused among the trees as if to suffer herself to be caught, then bounded forward as soon as the hand of the pursuer touched her. "Courage, master!" cried Fido, as he came upon her. But with a toss of the head, the doe flung the dog in the air, and fled swifter than the wind.
Graceful sprang forward in pursuit. Fido, with burning eyes and distended jaws, ran and yelped as if he were mad. They crossed ditches, brakes, and hedges, unchecked by nothing. The wearied doe lost ground. Graceful redoubled his ardor, and was already stretching out his hand to seize his prey when all at once the ground gave way beneath his feet and he fell, with his imprudent companion, into a pit covered over with leaves. He had not recovered from his fall when the doe, approaching the brink, cried, "You are betrayed; I am the wife of the King of the Wolves, who is coming to eat you both." Saying this, she disappeared.
"Alas! master," said Fido, "the fairy was right in advising you not to follow me. We have acted foolishly and I have destroyed you."
"At all events," said Graceful, "we will defend our lives"; and, taking his musket, he double-loaded it, in readiness for the King of the Wolves; then, somewhat calmed, he examined the deep ditch into which he had fallen. It was too high for him to escape from it; in this hole he must await his death. Fido understood the look of his friend.
"Master," said he, "if you take me in your arms and throw me with all your might, perhaps I can reach the top; and, once there, I can help you."
Graceful had not much hope. Three times he endeavored to throw Fido, and three times the poor animal fell back; finally, at the fourth effort, he caught hold of some roots, and aided himself so well with his teeth and paws that he escaped from the tomb. He instantly threw into the ditch the boughs which he found about the edge.
"Master," said he, "plant these branches in the earth and make yourself a ladder. Quick! quick!" he added. "I hear the howls of the King of the Wolves."
Graceful was adroit and agile. Anger redoubled his strength; in a moment he was outside. Then he secured his dagger in his belt, changed the powder in the pan of his musket, and, placing himself behind a tree, awaited the enemy with firmness.
Suddenly a frightful cry was heard, and an animal, with tusks like those of the wild boar, rushed on him with prodigious bounds. Graceful took aim and fired. The bullet hit the mark and the animal fell back howling, but instantly sprang forward anew. "Load your musket again! Make haste!" cried Fido, springing courageously in the face of the monster and seizing his throat with his teeth.
The wolf had only to shake his head to fling the poor dog to the ground. He would have swallowed him at one mouthful had not Fido glided from his jaws, leaving one of his ears behind. It was Graceful's turn to save his companion; he boldly advanced and fired his second shot, taking aim at the shoulder. The wolf fell; but, rising, with a last effort he threw himself on the hunter, who fell under him. On receiving this terrible shock, Graceful thought himself lost; but without losing courage, and calling the good fairies to his aid, he seized his dagger and thrust it into the heart of the animal, which, ready to devour his enemy, straightened his limbs and died.
Graceful rose, covered with blood and froth, and seated himself, trembling, upon a fallen tree. Fido crept painfully to his feet, without daring to caress him, for he felt how much he was to blame.
"Master," said he, "what will become of us? Night is approaching and we are so far from Paestum!"
"We must go," said the child, and he rose; but he was so weak that he was obliged to sit down again. A burning thirst devoured him; he was feverish and everything whirled before his eyes. He thought of his grandmother, and began to weep. What was poor Graceful's remorse for having so soon forgotten such fair promises, and condemned himself to die in a country from which there was no return, and all this for the bright eyes of a doe! How sadly ended the day so well begun!
Sinister howls were soon heard; the brothers of the King of the Wolves were calling him and coming to his aid. Graceful embraced Fido, his only friend, and forgave him the imprudence for which they were both about to pay with their lives; then loaded his musket, offered up a prayer to the good fairies, commended his grandmother to them, and prepared to die.
"Graceful! Graceful! where are you?" cried a little voice that could be none other than Pensive's, and the swallow alighted on the head of her master.
"Courage!" said she; "the wolves are still far off. There is a spring close by where you can quench your thirst and stanch your bleeding wounds, and I have found a hidden path which will lead us to Paestum."
Graceful and Fido dragged themselves along to the brook, trembling with hope and fear; then entered the obscure path, a little reanimated by the soft twittering of Pensive. The sun had set; they walked in the twilight for some hours, and, when the moon rose, they were out of danger. They had still to journey over a painful and dangerous road for those who no longer had the ardor of the morning. There were marshes to cross, ditches to leap, and thickets to break through, which tore Graceful's face and hands; but at the thought that he could still repair his fault and save his grandmother his heart was so light that his strength redoubled at every step with his hope. At last, after a thousand obstacles, they reached Paestum just as the stars marked midnight.
Graceful threw himself on the pavement of the temple of Neptune, and, after thanking Pensive, fell asleep, with Fido at his feet, wounded, bleeding, and silent.
The sleep was not long. Graceful was up before daybreak, which seemed long in coming. On descending the steps of the temple he saw the ants, who had raised a heap of sand and were bringing grain from the new harvest. The whole republic was in motion. The ants were all going or coming, talking to their neighbors, and receiving or giving orders; some were dragging wisps of straw, others were carrying bits of wood, others conveying away dead flies, and others heaping up provisions; it was a complete winter establishment.
"What!" said Graceful to the ants, "are you not going to the Castle of Life? Do you renounce immortality?"
"We have worked long enough," answered one of the laborers; "the time for harvest has come. The road is long and the future uncertain, and we are rich. Let fools count on to-morrow; the wise man uses to-day. When a person has hoarded riches honestly it is true philosophy to enjoy them."
Fido thought that the ant was right; but, as he no longer dared advise, he contented himself with shaking his head as they set out. Pensive, on the contrary, said that the ant was a selfish fellow, and that, if life were made only for enjoyment, the butterfly was wiser than he. At the same time, and with a lighter wing than ever, the swallow soared upward to lead the way.
Graceful walked on in silence. Ashamed of the follies of the day before, although he still regretted the doe, he resolved that on the third day nothing should turn him aside from the road. Fido, with his mutilated ear, limped after his master and seemed not less dreamy than he. At noon they sought for a shady place in which to rest for a few moments. The sun was less scorching than the day before. It seemed as if both country and season had changed. The road lay through meadows lately mown for the second time, or beautiful vineyards full of grapes, and was lined with great fig-trees laden with fruit, in which thousands of insects were humming; golden clouds were floating in the horizon, the air was soft and gentle, and everything tempted to repose.
In the most beautiful of the meadows, by the side of a brook which diffused its coolness afar, Graceful saw a herd of buffaloes chewing the cud under the shade of the ashes and plane-trees. They were lazily stretched on the ground, in a circle around a large bull that seemed their chief and king. Graceful approached them, and was received with politeness. They invited him by a nod to be seated, and pointed out to him great bowls full of milk and cheese. Our traveler admired the calmness and gravity of these peaceful and powerful animals, which seemed like so many Roman senators in their curule chairs. The gold ring which they wore in their noses added still more to the majesty of their aspect. Graceful, who felt calmer and more sedate than the day before, thought, in spite of himself, how pleasant it would be to live in the midst of this peace and plenty; if happiness were anywhere, it must surely be found here.
Fido shared his master's opinion. It was the season of the southward migration of the quails; the ground was covered with tired birds, resting to regain strength before crossing the sea, and Fido had only to stoop down to find game worthy of a prince. Satiated with eating, he stretched himself at Graceful's feet and slept soundly.
When the buffaloes had finished chewing their cud, Graceful, who had hitherto feared to disturb them, entered into conversation with the bull, who showed a cultivated mind and wide experience.
"Are you the masters of this rich domain?" asked he.
"No," replied the old buffalo; "we belong, with all the rest, to the Fairy Crapaudine, the Queen of the Vermilion Towers, the richest of all the fairies."
"What does she require of you?" asked Graceful.
"Nothing, except to wear this gold ring in the nose and to pay her a tribute of milk," returned the bull, "or, at most, to give her one of our children from time to time to regale her guests. At this price we enjoy our plenty in perfect security, and we have no reason to envy any on earth, for none are so happy as we."
"Have you never heard of the Castle of Life and the Fountain of Immortality?" asked Graceful, who, without knowing why, blushed as he put the question.
"There were some old men among our ancestors who still talked of these visions," replied the bull; "but we are wiser than our fathers; we know that there is no other happiness than to chew the cud and sleep."
Graceful rose sadly to resume his journey, and asked what were those reddish square towers which he saw in the distance.
"They are the Vermilion Towers," returned the bull; "they bar the way; and you must pass through the castle of the Fairy Crapaudine in order to continue your road. You will see the fairy, my young friend, and she will offer you hospitality and riches. Take my advice and do like those that have gone before you, all of whom accepted the favors of our mistress, and found that they had done well to abandon their dreams in order to live happy."
"And what became of them?" asked Graceful.
"They became buffaloes like us," rejoined the bull, who, not having finished his afternoon nap, closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Graceful started and awakened Fido, who rose, grumbling. He called Pensive. Pensive did not answer; she was talking with a spider that had spun a great web between the branches of an ash-tree, which was glittering in the sun, full of flies. "Why take this long journey?" said the spider to the swallow. "What is the use of changing your climate and putting your life at the mercy of the sea, the weather, or a master? Look at me; I depend on nobody, and have everything for myself. I am my own mistress; I enjoy my art and genius; I bring the world to me; nothing can disturb either my calculations, or a serenity which I owe to myself alone."
Graceful called Pensive three times without making her hear, so completely was she engrossed in admiration of her new friend. Every instant some giddy fly fell into the web, and each time the spider, like an attentive hostess, offered the prey to her astonished companion, when suddenly a breeze passed—a breeze so light that it did not ruffle a feather of the swallow's wing. Pensive looked for the spider; the web had been swept away by the winds, and the poor insect was clinging by one foot to the last thread, when a bird seized it and bore it away.
Setting out again on their way, they proceeded in silence to the palace of Crapaudine. Graceful was introduced with great ceremony by two beautiful greyhounds, caparisoned with purple and wearing on their necks broad collars sparkling with rubies. After crossing a great number of halls, all full of pictures, statues, gold, and silver, and coffers overflowing with money and jewels, Graceful and his companions entered a circular temple, which was Crapaudine's drawing-room. The walls were of lapis-lazuli, and the ceiling, of sky-blue enamel, was supported by twelve chiseled pillars of massive gold, with capitals of acanthus leaves of white enamel edged with gold. A huge frog, as large as a rabbit, was seated in a velvet easy-chair. It was the fairy of the place. The charming Crapaudine was draped in a scarlet mantle covered with glittering spangles, and wore on her head a ruby diadem whose luster lighted up her fat cheeks mottled with green and yellow. As soon as she perceived Graceful she extended to him her fingers, covered with rings, which the poor boy was obliged respectfully to raise to his lips as he bowed.
"My friend," said the fairy to him, in a hoarse voice, which she vainly tried to soften, "I was expecting you, and I will not be less generous to you than my sisters have been. On the way here you have seen but a small part of my riches. This palace, with its pictures, its statues, and its coffers full of gold, these vast domains, and these innumerable flocks, all may be yours if you wish; it depends only on yourself to become the richest and happiest of men."
"What must I do for this?" asked Graceful, greatly excited.
"Less than nothing," replied the fairy; "chop me up into little pieces and eat me. It is not a very disagreeable thing to do," added Crapaudine, looking at Graceful with eyes redder than usual.
"Can I not season you, at least?" said Graceful, who had been unable to look without envy at the beautiful gardens of the fairy.
"No, you must eat me without seasoning; but walk about my palace, see and handle all my treasures, and reflect that, by giving me this proof of devotion, they will all be yours."
"Master," sighed Fido, in a supplicating voice, "a little courage! We are so comfortable here!"
Pensive said nothing, but her silence was consent. As to Graceful, who remembered the buffaloes and the gold ring, he distrusted the fairy. Crapaudine perceived it.
"Do not think, my dear Graceful, that I wish to deceive you," she said. "In offering you all that I possess, I also demand of you a service which I will reward as it deserves. When you have done what I propose I shall become a young girl, as beautiful as Venus, except that my hands and feet will remain like those of a frog, which is very little when one is rich. Ten princes, twenty marquises, and thirty counts have already begged me to marry them as I am; when I become a woman, I will give you the preference, and we will enjoy my vast fortune together. Do not blush for your poverty; you have about you a treasure that is worth all mine, the vial which my sister gave you." Saying this, she stretched out her slimy fingers to seize the talisman.
"Never!" cried Graceful, shrinking back, "never! I wish neither repose nor fortune; I wish to quit this place and to go to the Castle of Life."
"You shall never go there!" exclaimed the fairy, in a rage. The castle instantly disappeared, a circle of fire surrounded Graceful, and an invisible clock began to strike midnight. At the first stroke the child started; at the second, without hesitating, he plunged headlong into the flames. To die for his grandmother seemed to him the only means of showing his love and repentance.
To Graceful's surprise, the flames parted without touching him, and he suddenly found himself in a new country, with his two companions by his side. This country was no longer Italy, but Russia, the end of the earth. He was wandering on a mountain covered with snow. Around him he saw nothing but great trees, coated with hoar-frost and dripping water from all their branches; a damp and penetrating mist chilled him to the bones; the moist earth sank under his feet; and, to crown his wretchedness, it was necessary to descend a steep precipice, at the bottom of which a torrent was breaking noisily over the rocks. Graceful took his dagger and cut a branch from a tree to support his faltering steps. Fido, with his tail between his legs, barked feebly; and Pensive, her ruffled feathers covered with icicles, clung to her master's shoulder. The poor bird was half dead, but she encouraged Graceful and did not complain.
When, after infinite pains, he reached the foot of the mountain, Graceful found a river filled with enormous icebergs, striking against one another and whirling in the current, and this river he must cross, without bridge, without boat, and without aid.