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A French Puck

from The Lilac Fairy Book





Among the mountain pastures and valleys that lie in the centre of
France there dwelt a mischievous kind of spirit, whose delight it
was to play tricks on everybody, and particularly on the
shepherds and the cowboys. They never knew when they were safe
from him, as he could change himself into a man, woman or child,
a stick, a goat, a ploughshare. Indeed, there was only one thing
whose shape he could not take, and that was a needle. At least,
he could transform himself into a needle, but try as he might he
never was able to imitate the hole, so every woman would have
found him out at once, and this he knew.

Now the hour oftenest chosen by this naughty sprite (whom we will
call Puck) for performing his pranks was about midnight, just
when the shepherds and cowherds, tired out with their long day's
work, were sound asleep. Then he would go into the cowsheds and
unfasten the chains that fixed each beast in its own stall, and
let them fall with a heavy clang to the ground. The noise was so
loud that it was certain to awaken the cowboys, however fatigued
they might be, and they dragged themselves wearily to the stable
to put back the chains. But no sooner had they returned to their
beds than the same thing happened again, and so on till the
morning. Or perhaps Puck would spend his night in plaiting
together the manes and tails of two of the horses, so that it
would take the grooms hours of labour to get them right in the
morning, while Puck, hidden among the hay in the loft, would peep
out to watch them, enjoying himself amazingly all the time.

One evening more than eighty years ago a man named William was
passing along the bank of a stream when he noticed a sheep who
was bleating loudly. William thought it must have strayed from
the flock, and that he had better take it home with him till he
could discover its owner. So he went up to where it was standing,
and as it seemed so tired that it could hardly walk, he hoisted
it on his shoulders and continued on his way. The sheep was
pretty heavy, but the good man was merciful and staggered along
as best he could under his load.

'It is not much further,' he thought to himself as he reached an
avenue of walnut trees, when suddenly a voice spoke out from over
his head, and made him jump.

'Where are you?' said the voice, and the sheep answered:

'Here on the shoulders of a donkey.'

In another moment the sheep was standing on the ground and
William was running towards home as fast as his legs would carry
him. But as he went, a laugh, which yet was something of a bleat,
rang in his ears, and though he tried not to hear, the words
reached him, 'Oh, dear! What fun I have had, to be sure!'

Puck was careful not always to play his tricks in the same place,
but visited one village after another, so that everyone trembled
lest he should be the next victim. After a bit he grew tired of
cowboys and shepherds, and wondered if there was no one else to
give him some sport. At length he was told of a young couple who
were going to the nearest town to buy all that they needed for
setting up house. Quite certain that they would forget something
which they could not do without, Puck waited patiently till they
were jogging along in their cart on their return journey, and
changed himself into a fly in order to overhear their
conversation.

For a long time it was very dull--all about their wedding day
next month, and who were to be invited. This led the bride to her
wedding dress, and she gave a little scream.

'Just think! Oh! how could I be so stupid! I have forgotten to
buy the different coloured reels of cotton to match my clothes!'

'Dear, dear!' exclaimed the young man. 'That is unlucky; and
didn't you tell me that the dressmaker was coming in to-morrow?'

'Yes, I did,' and then suddenly she gave another little scream,
which had quite a different sound from the first. 'Look! Look!'

The bridegroom looked, and on one side of the road he saw a large
ball of thread of all colours--of all the colours, that is, of
the dresses that were tied on to the back of the cart.

'Well, that is a wonderful piece of good fortune,' cried he, as
he sprang out to get it. 'One would think a fairy had put it
there on purpose.'

'Perhaps she has,' laughed the girl, and as she spoke she seemed
to hear an echo of her laughter coming from the horse, but of
course that was nonsense.

The dressmaker was delighted with the thread that was given her.
It matched the stuffs so perfectly, and never tied itself in
knots, or broke perpetually, as most thread did. She finished her
work much quicker than she expected and the bride said she was to
be sure to come to the church and see her in her wedding dress.

There was a great crowd assembled to witness the ceremony, for
the young people were immense favourites in the neighbourhood,
and their parents were very rich. The doors were open, and the
bride could be seen from afar, walking under the chestnut avenue.

'What a beautiful girl!' exclaimed the men. 'What a lovely
dress!' whispered the women. But just as she entered the church
and took the hand of the bridegroom, who was waiting for her, a
loud noise was heard.

'Crick! crack! Crick! crack!' and the wedding garments fell to
the ground, to the great confusion of the wearer.

Not that the ceremony was put off for a little thing like that!
Cloaks in profusion were instantly offered to the young bride,
but she was so upset that she could hardly keep from tears. One
of the guests, more curious than the rest, stayed behind to
examine the dress, determined, if she could, to find out the
cause of the disaster.

'The thread must have been rotten,' she said to herself. 'I will
see if I can break it.' But search as she would she could find
none.

The thread had vanished!

From 'Litterature Orale de l'Auvergne,' par Paul Sebillot.





Next: The Three Crowns

Previous: The King Of The Waterfalls



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