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A Lost Paradise

from The Lilac Fairy Book





In the middle of a great forest there lived a long time ago a
charcoal-burner and his wife. They were both young and handsome
and strong, and when they got married, they thought work would
never fail them. But bad times came, and they grew poorer and
poorer, and the nights in which they went hungry to bed became
more and more frequent.

Now one evening the king of that country was hunting near the
charcoal-burner's hut. As he passed the door, he heard a sound of
sobbing, and being a good-natured man he stopped to listen,
thinking that perhaps he might be able to give some help.

'Were there ever two people so unhappy!' said a woman's voice.
'Here we are, ready to work like slaves the whole day long, and
no work can we get. And it is all because of the curiosity of old
mother Eve! If she had only been like me, who never want to know
anything, we should all have been as happy as kings to-day, with
plenty to eat, and warm clothes to wear. Why--' but at this point
a loud knock interrupted her lamentations.

'Who is there?' asked she.

'I!' replied somebody.

'And who is "I"?'

'The king. Let me in.'

Full of surprise the woman jumped up and pulled the bar away from
the door. As the king entered, he noticed that there was no
furniture in the room at all, not even a chair, so he pretended
to be in too great a hurry to see anything around him, and only
said 'You must not let me disturb you. I have no time to stay,
but you seemed to be in trouble. Tell me; are you very unhappy?'

'Oh, my lord, we can find no work and have eaten nothing for two
days!' answered she. 'Nothing remains for us but to die of
hunger.'

'No, no, you shan't do that,' cried the king, 'or if you do, it
will be your own fault. You shall come with me into my palace,
and you will feel as if you were in Paradise, I promise you. In
return, I only ask one thing of you, that you shall obey my
orders exactly.'

The charcoal-burner and his wife both stared at him for a moment,
as if they could hardly believe their ears; and, indeed, it was
not to be wondered at! Then they found their tongues, and
exclaimed together:

'Oh, yes, yes, my lord! we will do everything you tell us. How
could we be so ungrateful as to disobey you, when you are so
kind?'

The king smiled, and his eyes twinkled.

'Well, let us start at once,' said he. 'Lock your door, and put
the key in your pocket.'

The woman looked as if she thought this was needless, seeing it
was quite, quite certain they would never come back. But she
dared not say so, and did as the king told her.

After walking through the forest for a couple of miles, they all
three reached the palace, and by the king's orders servants led
the charcoal-burner and his wife into rooms filled with beautiful
things such as they had never even dreamed of. First they bathed
in green marble baths where the water looked like the sea, and
then they put on silken clothes that felt soft and pleasant. When
they were ready, one of the king's special servants entered, and
took them into a small hall, where dinner was laid, and this
pleased them better than anything else.

They were just about to sit down to the table when the king
walked in.

'I hope you have been attended to properly,' said he, 'and that
you will enjoy your dinner. My steward will take care you have
all you want, and I wish you to do exactly as you please. Oh, by
the bye, there is one thing! You notice that soup-tureen in the
middle of the table? Well, be careful on no account to lift the
lid. If once you take off the cover, there is an end of your good
fortune.' Then, bowing to his guests, he left the room.

'Did you hear what he said?' inquired the charcoal-burner in an
awe-stricken voice. 'We are to have what we want, and do what we
please. Only we must not touch the soup-tureen.'

'No, of course we won't,' answered the wife. 'Why should we wish
to? But all the same it is rather odd, and one can't help
wondering what is inside.'

For many days life went on like a beautiful dream to the
charcoal- burner and his wife. Their beds were so comfortable,
they could hardly make up their minds to get up, their clothes
were so lovely they could scarcely bring themselves to take them
off; their dinners were so good that they found it very difficult
to leave off eating. Then outside the palace were gardens filled
with rare flowers and fruits and singing birds, or if they
desired to go further, a golden coach, painted with wreaths of
forget-me-nots and lined with blue satin, awaited their orders.
Sometimes it happened that the king came to see them, and he
smiled as he glanced at the man, who was getting rosier and
plumper each day. But when his eyes rested on the woman, they
took on a look which seemed to say 'I knew it,' though this
neither the charcoal-burner nor his wife ever noticed.

'Why are you so silent?' asked the man one morning when dinner
had passed before his wife had uttered one word. 'A little while
ago you used to be chattering all the day long, and now I have
almost forgotten the sound of your voice.'

'Oh, nothing; I did not feel inclined to talk, that was all!' She
stopped, and added carelessly after a pause, 'Don't you ever
wonder what is in that soup-tureen?'

'No, never,' replied the man. 'It is no affair of ours,' and the
conversation dropped once more, but as time went on, the woman
spoke less and less, and seemed so wretched that her husband grew
quite frightened about her. As to her food, she refused one thing
after another.

'My dear wife,' said the man at last, 'you really must eat
something. What in the world is the matter with you? If you go on
like this you will die.'

'I would rather die than not know what is in that tureen,' she
burst forth so violently that the husband was quite startled.

'Is that it?' cried he; 'are you making yourself miserable
because of that? Why, you know we should be turned out of the
palace, and sent away to starve.'

'Oh no, we shouldn't. The king is too good-natured. Of course he
didn't mean a little thing like this! Besides, there is no need
to lift the lid off altogether. Just raise one corner so that I
may peep. We are quite alone: nobody will ever know.'

The man hesitated: it did seem a 'little thing,' and if it was to
make his wife contented and happy it was well worth the risk. So
he took hold of the handle of the cover and raised it very slowly
and carefully, while the woman stooped down to peep. Suddenly she
startled back with a scream, for a small mouse had sprung from
the inside of the tureen, and had nearly hit her in the eye.
Round and round the room it ran, round and round they both ran
after it, knocking down chairs and vases in their efforts to
catch the mouse and put it back in the tureen. In the middle of
all the noise the door opened, and the mouse ran out between the
feet of the king. In one instant both the man and his wife were
hiding under the table, and to all appearance the room was empty.

'You may as well come out,' said the king, 'and hear what I have
to say.'

'I know what it is,' answered the charcoal-burner, hanging his
head. The mouse has escaped.'

'A guard of soldiers will take you back to your hut,' said the
king. 'Your wife has the key.'

'Weren't they silly?' cried the grandchildren of the charcoal-
burners when they heard the story. 'How we wish that we had had
the chance! WE should never have wanted to know what was in the
soup-tureen!'

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





Next: How Brave Walter Hunted Wolves

Previous: The Fairy Nurse



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