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The Little House

from Old French Fairy Tales - The Little Grey Mouse





There was once a man named Prudent, who was a widower and he lived alone
with his little daughter. His wife had died a few days after the birth
of this little girl, who was named Rosalie.

Rosalie's father had a large fortune. He lived in a great house, which
belonged to him. This house was surrounded by a large garden in which
Rosalie walked whenever she pleased to do so.

She had been trained with great tenderness and gentleness but her father
had accustomed her to the most unquestioning obedience. He forbade her
positively to ask him any useless questions or to insist upon knowing
anything he did not wish to tell her. In this way, by unceasing care
and watchfulness, he had almost succeeded in curing one of Rosalie's
great faults, a fault indeed unfortunately too common--curiosity.

Rosalie never left the park, which was surrounded by high walls. She
never saw any one but her father. They had no domestic in the house;
everything seemed to be done of itself. She always had what she
wanted--clothing, books, work, and playthings. Her father educated her
himself and although she was nearly fifteen years old, she was never
weary and never thought that she might live otherwise and might see more
of the world.

There was a little house at the end of the park without windows and with
but one door, which was always locked. Rosalie's father entered this
house every day and always carried the key about his person. Rosalie
thought it was only a little hut in which the garden-tools were kept.
She never thought of speaking about it but one day, when she was seeking
a watering-pot for her flowers, she said to him:--

"Father, please give me the key of the little house in the garden."

"What do you want with this key, Rosalie?"

"I want a watering-pot and I think I could find one in that little
house."

"No, Rosalie, there is no watering-pot there."

Prudent's voice trembled so in pronouncing these words that Rosalie
looked up with surprise, and saw that his face was pale and his forehead
bathed in perspiration.

"What is the matter, father?" said she, alarmed.

"Nothing, daughter, nothing."

"It was my asking for the key which agitated you so violently, father.
What does this little house contain which frightens you so much?"

"Rosalie, Rosalie! you do not know what you are saying. Go and look for
your watering-pot in the green-house."

"But, father, what is there in the little garden-house?"

"Nothing that can interest you, Rosalie."

"But why do you go there every day without permitting me to go with
you?"

"Rosalie, you know that I do not like to be questioned and that
curiosity is the greatest defect in your character."

Rosalie said no more but she remained very thoughtful. This little
house, of which she had never before thought, was now constantly in her
mind.

"What can be concealed there?" she said to herself. "How pale my father
turned when I asked his permission to enter! I am sure he thought I
should be in some sort of danger. But why does he go there himself every
day? It is no doubt to carry food to some ferocious beast confined
there. But if it was some wild animal, would I not hear it roar or howl
or shake the house? No, I have never heard any sound from this cabin. It
cannot then be a beast. Besides, if it was a ferocious beast, it would
devour my father when he entered alone. Perhaps, however, it is chained.
But if it is indeed chained, then there would be no danger for me. What
can it be? A prisoner? My father is good, he would not deprive any
unfortunate innocent of light and liberty. Well, I absolutely must
discover this mystery. How shall I manage it? If I could only secretly
get the key from my father for a half hour! Perhaps some day he will
forget it."

Rosalie was aroused from this chain of reflection by her father, who
called to her with a strangely agitated voice.

"Here, father--I am coming."

She entered the house and looked steadily at her father. His pale, sad
countenance indicated great agitation.

More than ever curious, she resolved to feign gaiety and indifference in
order to allay her father's suspicions and make him feel secure. In this
way she thought she might perhaps obtain possession of the key at some
future time. He might not always think of it if she herself seemed to
have forgotten it.

They seated themselves at the table. Prudent ate but little and was sad
and silent, in spite of his efforts to appear gay. Rosalie, however,
seemed so thoughtless and bright that her father at last recovered his
accustomed good spirits.

Rosalie would be fifteen years old in three weeks. Her father had
promised an agreeable surprise for this event. A few days passed
peacefully away. There remained but fifteen days before her birth-day.
One morning Prudent said to Rosalie:--

"My dear child, I am compelled to be absent for one hour. I must go out
to arrange something for your birth-day. Wait for me in the house, my
dear. Do not yield yourself up to idle curiosity. In fifteen days you
will know all that you desire to know, for I read your thoughts and I
know what occupies your mind. Adieu, my daughter, beware of curiosity!"

Prudent embraced his daughter tenderly and withdrew, leaving her with
great reluctance.

As soon as he was out of sight, Rosalie ran to her father's room and
what was her joy to see the key forgotten upon the table! She seized it
and ran quickly to the end of the park. Arrived at the little house, she
remembered the words of her father, "Beware of curiosity!" She
hesitated, and was upon the point of returning the key without having
looked at the house, when she thought she heard a light groan. She put
her ear against the door and heard a very little voice singing softly:--

"A lonely prisoner I pine,
No hope of freedom now is mine;
I soon must draw my latest breath,
And in this dungeon meet my death."

"No doubt," said Rosalie to herself, "this is some unfortunate creature
whom my father holds captive."

Tapping softly upon the door, she said: "Who are you, and what can I do
for you?"

"Open the door, Rosalie! I pray you open the door!"

"But why are you a prisoner? Have you not committed some crime?"

"Alas! no, Rosalie. An enchanter keeps me here a prisoner. Save me and
I will prove my gratitude by telling you truly who I am."

Rosalie no longer hesitated: her curiosity was stronger than her
obedience. She put the key in the lock, but her hand trembled so that
she could not open it. She was about to give up the effort, when the
little voice continued:--

"Rosalie, that which I have to tell you will teach you many things which
will interest you. Your father is not what he appears to be."

At these words Rosalie made a last effort, the key turned and the door
opened.





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