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The Four Gifts

from The Lilac Fairy Book





In the old land of Brittany, once called Cornwall, there lived a
woman named Barbaik Bourhis, who spent all her days in looking
after her farm with the help of her niece Tephany. Early and
late the two might be seen in the fields or in the dairy, milking
cows, making butter, feeding fowls; working hard themselves and
taking care that others worked too. Perhaps it might have been
better for Barbaik if she had left herself a little time to rest
and to think about other things, for soon she grew to love money
for its own sake, and only gave herself and Tephany the food and
clothes they absolutely needed. And as for poor people she
positively hated them, and declared that such lazy creatures had
no business in the world.

Well, this being the sort of person Barbaik was, it is easy to
guess at her anger when one day she found Tephany talking outside
the cowhouse to young Denis, who was nothing more than a day
labourer from the village of Plover. Seizing her niece by the
arm, she pulled her sharply away, exclaiming:

'Are you not ashamed, girl, to waste your time over a man who is
as poor as a rat, when there are a dozen more who would be only
too happy to buy you rings of silver, if you would let them?'

'Denis is a good workman, as you know very well,' answered
Tephany, red with anger, 'and he puts by money too, and soon he
will be able to take a farm for himself.'

'Nonsense,' cried Barbaik, 'he will never save enough for a farm
till he is a hundred. I would sooner see you in your grave than
the wife of a man who carries his whole fortune on his back.'

'What does fortune matter when one is young and strong?' asked
Tephany, but her aunt, amazed at such words, would hardly let her
finish.

'What does fortune matter?' repeated Barbaik, in a shocked voice.
'Is it possible that you are really so foolish as to despise
money? If this is what you learn from Denis, I forbid you to
speak to him, and I will have him turned out of the farm if he
dares to show his face here again. Now go and wash the clothes
and spread them out to dry.'

Tephany did not dare to disobey, but with a heavy heart went down
the path to the river.

'She is harder than these rocks,' said the girl to herself, 'yes,
a thousand times harder. For the rain at least can at last wear
away the stone, but you might cry for ever, and she would never
care. Talking to Denis is the only pleasure I have, and if I am
not to see him I may as well enter a convent.'

Thinking these thoughts she reached the bank, and began to unfold
the large packet of linen that had to be washed. The tap of a
stick made her look up, and standing before her she saw a little
old woman, whose face was strange to her.

'You would like to sit down and rest, granny?' asked Tephany,
pushing aside her bundle.

'When the sky is all the roof you have, you rest where you will,'
replied the old woman in trembling tones.

'Are you so lonely, then?' inquired Tephany, full of pity. 'Have
you no friends who would welcome you into their houses?'

The old woman shook her head.

'They all died long, long ago,' she answered, 'and the only
friends I have are strangers with kind hearts.'

The girl did not speak for a moment, then held out the small loaf
and some bacon intended for her dinner.

'Take this,' she said; 'to-day at any rate you shall dine well,'
and the old woman took it, gazing at Tephany the while.

'Those who help others deserve to be helped,' she answered; 'your
eyes are still red because that miser Barbaik has forbidden you
to speak to the young man from Plover. But cheer up, you are a
good girl, and I will give you something that will enable you to
see him once every day.'

'You?' cried Tephany, stupefied at discovering that the beggar
knew all about her affairs, but the old woman did not hear her.

'Take this long copper pin,' she went on, 'and every time you
stick it in your dress Mother Bourhis will be obliged to leave
the house in order to go and count her cabbages. As long as the
pin is in your dress you will be free, and your aunt will not
come back until you have put it in its case again.' Then,
rising, she nodded to Tephany and vanished.

The girl stood where she was, as still as a stone. If it had not
been for the pin in her hands she would have thought she was
dreaming. But by that token she knew it was no common old woman
who had given it to her, but a fairy, wise in telling what would
happen in the days to come. Then suddenly Tephany's eyes fell on
the clothes, and to make up for lost time she began to wash them
with great vigour.

Next evening, at the moment when Denis was accustomed to wait for
her in the shadow of the cowhouse, Tephany stuck the pin in her
dress, and at the very same instant Barbaik took up her sabots or
wooden shoes and went through the orchard and past to the fields,
to the plot where the cabbages grew. With a heart as light as
her footsteps, the girl ran from the house, and spent her evening
happily with Denis. And so it was for many days after that.
Then, at last, Tephany began to notice something, and the
something made her very sad.

At first, Denis seemed to find the hours that they were together
fly as quickly as she did, but when he had taught her all the
songs he knew, and told her all the plans he had made for growing
rich and a great man, he had nothing more to say to her, for he,
like a great many other people, was fond of talking himself, but
not of listening to any one else. Sometimes, indeed, he never
came at all, and the next evening he would tell Tephany that he
had been forced to go into the town on business, but though she
never reproached him she was not deceived and saw plainly that he
no longer cared for her as he used to do.

Day by day her heart grew heavier and her cheeks paler, and one
evening, when she had waited for him in vain, she put her water-
pot on her shoulder and went slowly down to the spring. On the
path in front of her stood the fairy who had given her the pin,
and as she glanced at Tephany she gave a little mischievous laugh
and said:

'Why, my pretty maiden hardly looks happier than she did before,
in spite of meeting her lover whenever she pleases.'

'He has grown tired of me,' answered Tephany in a trembling
voice, 'and he makes excuses to stay away. Ah! granny dear, it
is not enough to be able to see him, I must be able to amuse him
and to keep him with me. He is so clever, you know. Help me to
be clever too.'

'Is that what you want?' cried the old woman. 'Well, take this
feather and stick it in your hair, and you will be as wise as
Solomon himself.'

Blushing with pleasure Tephany went home and stuck the feather
into the blue ribbon which girls always wear in that part of the
country. In a moment she heard Denis whistling gaily, and as her
aunt was safely counting her cabbages, she hurried out to meet
him. The young man was struck dumb by her talk. There was
nothing that she did not seem to know, and as for songs she not
only could sing those from every part of Brittany, but could
compose them herself. Was this really the quiet girl who had been
so anxious to learn all he could teach her, or was it somebody
else? Perhaps she had gone suddenly mad, and there was an evil
spirit inside her. But in any case, night after night he came
back, only to find her growing wiser and wiser. Soon the
neighbours whispered their surprise among themselves, for Tephany
had not been able to resist the pleasure of putting the feather
in her hair for some of the people who despised her for her poor
clothes, and many were the jokes she made about them. Of course
they heard of her jests, and shook their heads saying:

'She is an ill-natured little cat, and the man that marries her
will find that it is she who will hold the reins and drive the
horse.'

It was not long before Denis began to agree with them, and as he
always liked to be master wherever he went, he became afraid of
Tephany's sharp tongue, and instead of laughing as before when
she made fun of other people he grew red and uncomfortable,
thinking that his turn would come next.

So matters went on till one evening Denis told Tephany that he
really could not stay a moment, as he had promised to go to a
dance that was to be held in the next village.

Tephany's face fell; she had worked hard all day, and had been
counting on a quiet hour with Denis. She did her best to
persuade him to remain with her, but he would not listen, and at
last she grew angry.

'Oh, I know why you are so anxious not to miss the dance,' she
said; 'it is because Aziliez of Pennenru will be there.'

Now Aziliez was the loveliest girl for miles round, and she and
Denis had known each other from childhood.

'Oh yes, Aziliez will be there,' answered Denis, who was quite
pleased to see her jealous, 'and naturally one would go a long
way to watch her dance.'

'Go then!' cried Tephany, and entering the house she slammed the
door behind her.

Lonely and miserable she sat down by the fire and stared into the
red embers. Then, flinging the feather from her hair, she put
her head on her hands, and sobbed passionately.

'What is the use of being clever when it is beauty that men want?
That is what I ought to have asked for. But it is too late,
Denis will never come back.'

'Since you wish it so much you shall have beauty,' said a voice
at her side, and looking round she beheld the old woman leaning
on her stick.

'Fasten this necklace round your neck, and as long as you wear it
you will be the most beautiful woman in the world,' continued the
fairy. With a little shriek of joy Tephany took the necklace,
and snapping the clasp ran to the mirror which hung in the
corner. Ah, this time she was not afraid of Aziliez or of any
other girl, for surely none could be as fair and white as she.
And with the sight of her face a thought came to her, and putting
on hastily her best dress and her buckled shoes she hurried off
to the dance.

On the way she met a beautiful carriage with a young man seated
in it.

'What a lovely maiden!' he exclaimed, as Tephany approached.
'Why, there is not a girl in my own country that can be compared
to her. She, and no other, shall be my bride.'

The carriage was large and barred the narrow road, so Tephany was
forced, much against her will, to remain where she was. But she
looked the young man full in the face as she answered:

'Go your way, noble lord, and let me go mine. I am only a poor
peasant girl, accustomed to milk, and make hay and spin.'

'Peasant you may be, but I will make you a great lady,' said he,
taking her hand and trying to lead her to the carriage.

'I don't want to be a great lady, I only want to be the wife of
Denis,' she replied, throwing off his hand and running to the
ditch which divided the road from the cornfield, where he hoped
to hide. Unluckily the young man guessed what she was doing, and
signed to his attendants, who seized her and put her in the
coach. The door was banged, and the horses whipped up into a
gallop.

At the end of an hour they arrived at a splendid castle, and
Tephany, who would not move, was lifted out and carried into the
hall, while a priest was sent for to perform the marriage
ceremony. The young man tried to win a smile from her by telling
of all the beautiful things she should have as his wife, but
Tephany did not listen to him, and looked about to see if there
was any means by which she could escape. It did not seem easy.
The three great doors were closely barred, and the one through
which she had entered shut with a spring, but her feather was
still in her hair, and by its aid she detected a crack in the
wooden panelling, through which a streak of light could be dimly
seen. Touching the copper pin which fastened her dress, the girl
sent every one in the hall to count the cabbages, while she
herself passed through the little door, not knowing whither she
was going.

By this time night had fallen, and Tephany was very tired.
Thankfully she found herself at the gate of a convent, and asked
if she might stay there till morning. But the portress answered
roughly that it was no place for beggars, and bade her begone, so
the poor girl dragged herself slowly along the road, till a light
and the bark of a dog told her that she was near a farm.

In front of the house was a group of people; two or three women
and the sons of the farmer. When their mother heard Tephany's
request to be given a bed the good wife's heart softened, and she
was just going to invite her inside, when the young men, whose
heads were turned by the girl's beauty, began to quarrel as to
which should do most for her. From words they came to blows, and
the women, frightened at the disturbance, pelted Tephany with
insulting names. She quickly ran down the nearest path, hoping to
escape them in the darkness of the trees, but in an instant she
heard their footsteps behind her. Wild with fear her legs
trembled under her, when suddenly she bethought herself of her
necklace. With a violent effort she burst the clasp and flung it
round the neck of a pig which was grunting in a ditch, and as she
did so she heard the footsteps cease from pursuing her and run
after the pig, for her charm had vanished.

On she went, scarcely knowing where she was going, till she found
herself, to her surprise and joy, close to her aunt's house. For
several days she felt so tired and unhappy that she could hardly
get through her work, and to make matters worse Denis scarcely
ever came near her.

'He was too busy,' he said, 'and really it was only rich people
who could afford to waste time in talking.'

As the days went on Tephany grew paler and paler, till everybody
noticed it except her aunt. The water-pot was almost too heavy
for her now, but morning and evening she carried it to the
spring, though the effort to lift it to her shoulder was often
too much for her.

'How could I have been so foolish,' she whispered to herself,
when she went down as usual at sunset. 'It was not freedom to
see Denis that I should have asked for, for he was soon weary of
me, nor a quick tongue, for he was afraid of it, nor beauty, for
that brought me nothing but trouble, but riches which make life
easy both for oneself and others. Ah! if I only dared to beg
this gift from the fairy, I should be wiser than before and know
how to choose better.'

'Be satisfied,' said the voice of the old woman, who seemed to be
standing unseen at Tephany's elbow. 'If you look in your right-
hand pocket when you go home you will find a small box. Rub your
eyes with the ointment it contains, and you will see that you
yourself contain a priceless treasure.'

Tephany did not in the least understand what she meant, but ran
back to the farm as fast as she could, and began to fumble
joyfully in her right-hand pocket. Sure enough, there was the
little box with the precious ointment. She was in the act of
rubbing her eyes with it when Barbaik Bourhis entered the room.
Ever since she had been obliged to leave her work and pass her
time, she did not know why, in counting cabbages, everything had
gone wrong, and she could not get a labourer to stay with her
because of her bad temper. When, therefore, she saw her niece
standing quietly before her mirror, Barbaik broke out:

'So this is what you do when I am out in the fields! Ah! it is
no wonder if the farm is ruined. Are you not ashamed, girl, to
behave so?'

Tephany tried to stammer some excuse, but her aunt was half mad
with rage, and a box on the ears was her only answer. At this
Tephany, hurt, bewildered and excited, could control herself no
longer, and turning away burst into tears. But what was her
surprise when she saw that each tear-drop was a round and shining
pearl. Barbaik, who also beheld this marvel, uttered a cry of
astonishment, and threw herself on her knees to pick them up from
the floor.

She was still gathering them when the door opened and in came
Denis.

'Pearls! Are they really pearls?' he asked, falling on his knees
also, and looking up at Tephany he perceived others still more
beautiful rolling down the girl's cheeks.

'Take care not to let any of the neighbours hear of it, Denis,'
said Barbaik. 'Of course you shall have your share, but nobody
else shall get a single one. Cry on, my dear, cry on,' she
continued to Tephany. It is for your good as well as ours,' and
she held out her apron to catch them, and Denis his hat.

But Tephany could hardly bear any more. She felt half choked at
the sight of their greediness, and wanted to rush from the hall,
and though Barbaik caught her arm to prevent this, and said all
sorts of tender words which she thought would make the girl weep
the more, Tephany with a violent effort forced back her tears,
and wiped her eyes.

'Is she finished already?' cried Barbaik, in a tone of
disappointment. 'Oh, try again, my dear. Do you think it would
do any good to beat her a little?' she added to Denis, who shook
his head.

'That is enough for the first time. I will go into the town and
find out the value of each pearl.'

'Then I will go with you,' said Barbaik, who never trusted anyone
and was afraid of being cheated. So the two went out, leaving
Tephany behind them.

She sat quite still on her chair, her hands clasped tightly
together, as if she was forcing something back. At last she
raised her eyes, which had been fixed on the ground, and beheld
the fairy standing in a dark corner by the hearth, observing her
with a mocking look. The girl trembled and jumped up, then,
taking the feather, the pin, and the box, she held them out to
the old woman.

'Here they are, all of them,' she cried; 'they belong to you. Let
me never see them again, but I have learned the lesson that they
taught me. Others may have riches, beauty and wit, but as for me
I desire nothing but to be the poor peasant girl I always was,
working hard for those she loves.'

'Yes, you have learned your lesson,' answered the fairy, 'and now
you shall lead a peaceful life and marry the man you love. For
after all it was not yourself you thought of but him.'

Never again did Tephany see the old woman, but she forgave Denis
for selling her tears, and in time he grew to be a good husband,
who did his own share of work.

From 'Le Foyer Breton,' par E. Souvestre.





Next: The Groac'h Of The Isle Of Lok

Previous: The Lady Of The Fountain



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