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The Lark And The Toad

from Old French Fairy Tales - OURSON





There was once a pretty woman named Agnella, who cultivated a farm. She
lived alone with a young servant named Passerose. The farm was small but
beautiful and in fine order. She had a most charming cow, which gave a
quantity of milk, a cat to destroy the mice and an ass to carry her
fruit, butter, vegetables, eggs, and cheese to markets every Wednesday.

No one knew up to that time how Agnella and Passerose had arrived at
this unknown farm which received in the county the name of the Woodland
Farm.

One evening Passerose was busy milking the pretty white cow while
Agnella prepared the supper. At the moment she was placing some good
soup and a plate of cream upon the table, she saw an enormous toad
devouring with avidity some cherries which had been put on the ground in
a vine-leaf.

"Ugly toad!" exclaimed Agnella, "I will teach you how to eat my
cherries!" At the same moment she lifted the leaves which contained the
cherries, and gave the toad a kick which dashed it off about ten steps.
She was about to throw it from the door, when the toad uttered a sharp
whistle and raised itself upon its hind legs; its great eyes were
flashing, and its enormous mouth opening and shutting with rage, its
whole ugly body was trembling and from its quivering throat was heard a
terrible bellowing.

Agnella paused in amazement; she recoiled, indeed, to avoid the venom of
the monstrous and enraged toad. She looked around for a broom to eject
this hideous monster, when the toad advanced towards her, made with its
fore paws a gesture of authority, and said in a voice trembling with
rage:--

"You have dared to touch me with your foot! You have prevented me from
satisfying my appetite with the cherries which you had placed within my
reach! You have tried to expel me from your house! My vengeance shall
reach you and will fall upon that which you hold most dear! You shall
know and feel that the fairy Furious is not to be insulted with
impunity. You shall have a son, covered with coarse hair like a bear's
cub and----"

"Stop, sister," interrupted a small voice, sweet and flute-like, which
seemed to come from above. Agnella raised her head and saw a lark
perched on the top of the front door. "You revenge yourself too cruelly
for an injury inflicted, not upon you in your character of a fairy but
upon the ugly and disgusting form in which it has pleased you to
disguise yourself. By my power, which is superior to yours, I forbid you
to exaggerate the evil which you have already done in your blind rage
and which, alas! it is not in my power to undo. And you, poor mother,"
she continued, turning to Agnella, "do not utterly despair; there is a
possible remedy for the deformity of your child. I will accord to him
the power of changing his skin with any one whom he may, by his goodness
and service rendered, inspire with sufficient gratitude and affection to
consent to the change. He will then resume the handsome form which would
have been his if my sister, the fairy Furious, had not given you this
terrible proof of her malice and cruelty."

"Alas! madam Lark," replied Agnella, "all this goodness cannot prevent
my poor, unhappy son from being disgusting and like a wild beast. His
very playmates will shun him as a monster."

"That is true," replied the fairy Drolette; "and the more so as it is
forbidden to yourself or to Passerose to change skins with him. But I
will neither abandon you nor your son. You will name him Ourson until
the day when he can assume a name worthy of his birth and beauty. He
must then be called the prince Marvellous."

Saying these words, the fairy flew lightly through the air and
disappeared from sight.

The fairy Furious withdrew, filled with rage, walking slowly and turning
every instant to gaze at Agnella with a menacing air. As she moved
slowly along, she spat her venom from side to side and the grass, the
plants and the bushes perished along her course. This was a venom so
subtle that nothing could ever flourish on the spot again and the path
is called to this day the Road of the Fairy Furious.

When Agnella found herself alone, she began to sob. Passerose, who had
finished her work and saw the hour of supper approaching, entered the
dining-room and with great surprise saw her mistress in tears.

"Dear queen, what is the matter? Who can have caused you this great
grief? I have seen no one enter the house."

"No one has entered, my dear, except those who enter everywhere. A
wicked fairy under the form of a toad and a good fairy under the
appearance of a lark."

"And what have these fairies said to you, my queen, to make you weep so
piteously? Has not the good fairy interfered to prevent the misfortunes
which the wicked fairy wished to bring about?"

"No, my dear friend. She has somewhat lightened them but it was not in
her power to set them aside altogether."



Agnella then recounted all that had taken place and that she would have
a son with a skin like a bear. At this narrative Passerose wept as
bitterly as her mistress.

"What a misfortune!" she exclaimed. "What degradation and shame, that
the heir of a great kingdom should be a bear! What will King Ferocious,
your husband, say if he should ever discover us?"

"And how will he ever find us, Passerose? You know that after our flight
we were swept away by a whirlwind and dashed from cloud to cloud for
twelve hours with such astonishing rapidity that we found ourselves more
than three thousand leagues from the kingdom of Ferocious. Besides, you
know his wickedness. You know how bitterly he hates me since I prevented
him from killing his brother Indolent and his sister Nonchalante. You
know that I fled because he wished to kill me also. I have no reason to
fear that he will pursue me for I am sure that he will wish never to see
me again."

Passerose, after having wept and sobbed some time with the Queen Aimee,
for that was her true name, now entreated her mistress to be seated at
the table.

"If we wept all night, dear queen, we could not prevent your son from
being shaggy but we will endeavor to educate him so well, to make him so
good, that he will not be a long time in finding some good and grateful
soul who will exchange a white skin for this hairy one which the evil
fairy Furious has put upon him. A beautiful present indeed! She would
have done well to reserve it for herself."

The poor queen, whom we will continue to call Agnella for fear of giving
information to King Ferocious, rose slowly, dried her eyes and succeeded
in somewhat overcoming her sadness. Little by little the gay and
cheering conversation of Passerose dissipated her forebodings. Before
the close of the evening, Passerose had convinced her that Ourson would
not remain a long time a bear; that he would soon resume a form worthy
of a noble prince. That she would herself indeed be most happy to
exchange with him, if the fairy would permit it.

Agnella and Passerose now retired to their chambers and slept
peacefully.





Next: Birth And Infancy Of Ourson

Previous: The Casket



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