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The Story Of A Very Bad Boy

from The Lilac Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived in a little village in the very
middle of France a widow and her only son, a boy about fifteen,
whose name was Antoine, though no one ever called him anything
but Toueno-Boueno. They were very poor indeed, and their hut
shook about their ears on windy nights, till they expected the
walls to fall in and crush them, but instead of going to work as
a boy of his age ought to do, Toueno-Boueno did nothing but
lounge along the street, his eyes fixed on the ground, seeing
nothing that went on round him.

'You are very, very stupid, my dear child,' his mother would
sometimes say to him, and then she would add with a laugh,
'Certainly you will never catch a wolf by the tail.'

One day the old woman bade Antoine go into the forest and collect
enough dry leaves to make beds for herself and him. Before he had
finished it began to rain heavily, so he hid himself in the
hollow trunk of a tree, where he was so dry and comfortable that
he soon fell fast asleep. By and by he was awakened by a noise
which sounded like a dog scratching at the door, and he suddenly
felt frightened, why he did not know. Very cautiously he raised
his head, and right above him he saw a big hairy animal, coming
down tail foremost.

'It is the wolf that they talk so much about,' he said to
himself, and he made himself as small as he could and shrunk into
a corner.

The wolf came down the inside of the tree, slowly, slowly;
Antoine felt turned to stone, so terrified was he, and hardly
dared to breathe. Suddenly an idea entered his mind, which he
thought might save him still. He remembered to have heard from
his mother that a wolf could neither bend his back nor turn his
head, so as to look behind him, and quick as lightning he
stretched up his hand, and seizing the wolf's tail, pulled it
towards him.

Then he left the tree and dragged the animal to his mother's
house.

'Mother, you have often declared that I was too stupid to catch a
wolf by the tail. Now see,' he cried triumphantly.

'Well, well, wonders will never cease,' answered the good woman,
who took care to keep at a safe distance. 'But as you really have
got him, let us see if we can't put him to some use. Fetch the
skin of the ram which died last week out of the chest, and we
will sew the wolf up in it. He will make a splendid ram, and to-
morrow we will drive him to the fair and sell him.'

Very likely the wolf, who was cunning and clever, may have
understood what she said, but he thought it best to give no sign,
and suffered the skin to be sewn upon him.

'I can always get away if I choose,' thought he, 'it is better
not to be in a hurry;' so he remained quite still while the skin
was drawn over his head, which made him very hot and
uncomfortable, and resisted the temptation to snap off the
fingers or noses that were so close to his mouth.

The fair was at its height next day when Toueno-Boueno arrived
with his wolf in ram's clothing. All the farmers crowded round
him, each offering a higher price than the last. Never had they
beheld such a beautiful beast, said they, and at last, after much
bargaining, he was handed over to three brothers for a good sum
of money.

It happened that these three brothers owned large flocks of
sheep, though none so large and fine as the one they had just
bought.

'My flock is the nearest,' observed the eldest brother; 'we will
leave him in the fold for the night, and to-morrow we will decide
which pastures will be best for him.' And the wolf grinned as he
listened, and held up his head a little higher than before.

Early next morning the young farmer began to go his rounds, and
the sheep-fold was the first place he visited. To his horror, the
sheep were all stretched out dead before him, except one, which
the wolf had eaten, bones and all. Instantly the truth flashed
upon him. It was no ram that lay curled up in the corner
pretending to be asleep (for in reality he could bend back and
turn his head as much as he liked), but a wolf who was watching
him out of the corner of his eye, and might spring upon him at
any moment. So the farmer took no notice, and only thought that
here was a fine chance of revenging himself on his next brother
for a trick which he had played, and merely told him that the ram
would not eat the grass in that field, and it might be well to
drive him to the pasture by the river, where his own flock was
feeding. The second brother eagerly swallowed the bait, and that
evening the wolf was driven down to the field where the young man
kept the sheep which had been left him by his father. By the next
morning they also were all dead, but the second brother likewise
held his peace, and allowed the sheep which belonged to the
youngest to share the fate of the other two. Then they met and
confessed to each other their disasters, and resolved to take the
animal as fast as possible back to Toueno-Boueno, who should get
a sound thrashing.

Antoine was sitting on a plum tree belonging to a neighbour,
eating the ripe fruit, when he saw the three young farmers coming
towards him. Swinging himself down, he flew home to the hut,
crying breathlessly, 'Mother, mother, the farmers are close by
with the wolf. They have found out all about it, and will
certainly kill me, and perhaps you too. But if you do as I tell
you, I may be able to save us both. Lie down on the floor, and
pretend to be dead, and be sure not to speak, whatever happens.

Thus when the three brothers, each armed with a whip, entered the
hut a few seconds later, they found a woman extended on the
floor, and Toueno kneeling at her side, whistling loudly into her
ears.

'What are you doing now, you rascal?' asked the eldest.

'What am I doing? Oh, my poor friends, I am the most miserable
creature in the world! I have lost the best of mothers, and I
don't know what will become of me,' and he hid his face in his
hands and sobbed again.

'But what are you whistling like that for?'

'Well, it is the only chance. This whistle has been known to
bring the dead back to life, and I hoped--' here he buried his
face in his hands again, but peeping between his fingers he saw
that the brother had opened their six eyes as wide as saucers.

'Look!' he suddenly exclaimed with a cry, 'Look! I am sure I felt
her body move! And now her nostrils are twitching. Ah! the
whistle has not lost its power after all,' and stooping down,
Toueno whistled more loudly than before, so that the old woman's
feet and hands showed signs of life, and she soon was able to
life her head.

The farmers were so astonished at her restoration, that it was
some time before they could speak. At length the eldest turned to
the boy and said:

'Now listen to me. There is no manner of doubt that you are a
young villain. You sold us a ram knowing full well that it was a
wolf, and we came here to-day to pay you out for it. But if you
will give us that whistle, we will pardon what you have done, and
will leave you alone.'

'It is my only treasure, and I set great store by it,' answered
the boy, pretending to hesitate. 'But as you wish for it so much,
well, I suppose I can't refuse,' and he held out the whistle,
which the eldest brother put in his pocket.

Armed with the precious whistle, the three brothers returned home
full of joy, and as they went the youngest said to the others, 'I
have such a good idea! Our wives are all lazy and grumbling, and
make our lives a burden. Let us give them a lesson, and kill them
as soon as we get in. Of course we can restore them to life at
once, but they will have had a rare fright.'

'Ah, how clever you are,' answered the other two. 'Nobody else
would have thought of that.'

So gaily the three husbands knocked down their three wives, who
fell dead to the ground. Then one by one the men tried the
whistle, and blew so loudly that it seemed as if their lungs
would burst, but the women lay stark and stiff and never moved an
eyelid. The husbands grew pale and cold, for they had never
dreamed of this, nor meant any harm, and after a while they
understood that their efforts were of no use, and that once more
the boy had tricked them. With stern faces they rose to their
feet, and taking a large sack they retraced their steps to the
hut.

This time there was no escape. Toueno had been asleep, and only
opened his eyes as they entered. Without a word on either side
they thrust him into the sack, and tying up the mouth, the eldest
threw it over his shoulder. After that they all set out to the
river, where they intended to drown the boy.

But the river was a long way off, and the day was very hot, and
Antoine was heavy, heavier than a whole sheaf of corn. They
carried him in turns, but even so they grew very tired and
thirsty, and when a little tavern came in sight on the roadside,
they thankfully flung the sack down on a bench and entered to
refresh themselves. They never noticed that a beggar was sitting
in the shade at the end of the bench, but Toueno's sharp ears
caught the sound of someone eating, and as soon as the farmers
had gone into the inn he began to groan softly.

'What is the matter?' asked the beggar, drawing a little nearer.
'Why have they shut you up, poor boy?'

'Because they wanted to make me a bishop, and I would not
consent,' answered Toueno.

'Dear me,' exclaimed the beggar, 'yet it isn't such a bad thing
to be a bishop.'

'I don't say it is,' replied the young rascal, 'but I should
never like it. However, if you have any fancy for wearing a
mitre, you need only untie the sack, and take my place.'

'I should like nothing better,' said the man, as he stooped to
undo the big knot.

So it was the beggar and not Toueno-Boueno who was flung into the
water.

The next morning the three wives were buried, and on returning
from the cemetery, their husbands met Toueno-Boueno driving a
magnificent flock of sheep. At the sight of him the three farmers
stood still with astonishment.

'What! you scoundrel!' they cried at last, 'we drowned you
yesterday, and to-day we find you again, as well as ever!'

'It does seem odd, doesn't it?' answered he. 'But perhaps you
don't know that beneath this world there lies another yet more
beautiful and far, far richer. Well, it was there that you sent
me when you flung me into the river, and though I felt a little
strange at first, yet I soon began to look about me, and to see
what was happening. There I noticed that close to the place where
I had fallen, a sheep fair was being held, and a bystander told
me that every day horses or cattle were sold somewhere in the
town. If I had only had the luck to be thrown into the river on
the side of the horse fair I might have made my fortune! As it
was, I had to content myself with buying these sheep, which you
can get for nothing.'

'And do you know exactly the spot in the river which lies over
the horse fair?'

'As if I did not know it, when I have seen it with my own eyes.'

'Then if you do not want us to avenge our dead flocks and our
murdered wives, you will have to throw us into the river just
over the place of the horse fair.'

'Very well; only you must get three sacks and come with me to

that rock which juts into the river. I will throw you in from
there, and you will fall nearly on to the horses' backs.'

So he threw them in, and as they were never seen again, no one
ever knew into which fair they had fallen.

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





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