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The Ten Little Fairies

from The Diamond Fairy Book





FROM THE FRENCH of GEORGES MITCHELL.


VAINLY I try to recall from my recollections of yesterday, still vividly
remembered, and from those of the long past, grown tenderly dim in the
mists of intervening time, from whom I learned the powerfully moral
story I am here going to repeat to children great and small, to men and
their companions: I cannot determine from whom it was I learned it.

Did I first read it in some old book laden with the dust of ages? Was it
told to me by my mother, by my nurse, one evening when I would not go to
sleep--or one night when, sleeping soundly, a fairy came and sang it to
me in my slumber? I cannot tell. I cannot remember. I have forgotten
all the details, of which there only remains with me the subtle
perfume--too fine and evanescent for me to seize it in its passage
through my mind. But I retain--perfectly retain--the moral, which is the
daughter of all things healthy and strong.

The things which I am going to recount happened in a charming
country--one of those bright lands which we see only in delightful
dreams, where the men are all good and the women all as amiable as they
are beautiful.

In that happy country there lived a great nobleman who, left a widower
early in life, had an only daughter whom he loved more than anything in
the whole world.

Rosebelle was seventeen years old--a pure marvel of grace and beauty;
gay as a joyous heart, good as a happy one. For ten leagues round she
was known to be the most beautiful and best. She was simple and gentle,
and her exquisite ingenuousness caused her everywhere--in the mansion
and the cottage--to be beloved.

Her father, fearful lest the least of the distresses of our poor
existence should overtake her, watched over her with jealous care, so
that no harm should come to her; while she passed her days in calmly
thinking of the time before her, sure that it would not be other than
delightful.

When she was eighteen, her father consented to her being betrothed to
the son of a Prince--to Greatheart, a handsome youth, who had been
carefully reared, and detested the false excitements and factitious
pleasures of cities loving enthusiastically the fresh charms of
Nature--of the common mother who claims us all, the Earth.

Rosebelle loved her fiance, married, and adored him.

With him she went to live in the admirable calm of the country, in the
midst of great trees that gave back the plaint of winds, by a river with
its ever-flowing song, winding under willowy banks, and overshadowed by
tall poplars.

She lived in a very old, old castle, where the sires of her husband had
been born--a great castle reached by roads hewn out of the solid rock; a
great castle, with immense, cold halls, where echo answered echo
mysteriously; where the night-owl drearily replied to the early thrush's
song to the rising sun, and the other awakened birds singing and
chirping on the borders of the deep woods, where the sun enters
timidly--almost with the hesitation of a trespasser.

When the time for parting came, her father had said to her, through his
tears:

"You are going from me--your happiness claims that I should let you go:
go, therefore, but take all care of yourself for love of me, who have
only you in the world to love."

To his son-in-law he said:

"Watch over her, I intrust her to you. Surround her with a thousand
safeguards; screen her from the least chance of harm or pain. Remember
that even in stooping to pluck a flower she may fall and wound herself,
that in gathering a fruit she may tear her hand. See that all is done
for her that can be done, keep her for me ever beautiful."

Absorbed in her love for her husband, Rosebelle realised the sweet
dreams of her young girlhood. Then she dreamed--languorously--Heaven
knows what! The delightful future which she had seen in the visions of
the past was still present with her, however.

Her husband, tender and good, wished that she should do nothing but live
and love. He had surrounded her with numerous servants, all ready to
obey the least of her desires, the slightest of her fancies, to
comprehend the most trivial of her wants. She had nothing to do but to
let time glide slowly by her.

At length she wearied--languished mysteriously.

Her father, to whom she communicated this strange experience, was
astounded. He reminded her of all the sources of happiness which ought
to have existed in her case. He took her in his arms and said all he
could think of in laudation of the husband who so greatly loved her;
gave her innumerable reasons why her happiness ought to have been
unparalleled; offered money--more money--wishful to give all the
felicities in the world.

She wished for nothing of all that; it only tired, enervated her.

He besought her to be happy; she replied:

"I wish I could be so, for your sake and for that of my husband, whom I
love so dearly."

And she struggled against the strange evil which so weighed upon her,
against the deadly ennui that was sapping her young life. But the
mysterious ill which tormented her soul grew and grew until it became
overwhelming.

Greatheart speedily detected her distress, and sought to discover its
cause, but ineffectually; and from alarm he passed into despair.



Now, when he returned from the plain, the fields, or the camp, when he
embraced her he pressed against his bosom a bosom cold and filled with
sadness and tears--a bosom so cold that it might have been thought to
contain a block of ice in place of a heart--and he redoubled his
tenderness towards her. Seeing how much he was suffering on her account,
she vowed for him a boundless love.

Courageous, energetic even, she tried to shake off the languor which
possessed her, endeavouring to intoxicate her soul and drown her
self-consciousness in the love of her adored husband; but all her
efforts were made in vain; she became more and more oppressed with
weariness, and the crowd of servants about her, all eager to realise her
wishes, were utterly unable to mitigate her condition by anything they
could do.

At last she fell into a state of the deepest melancholy. The rose-tints
faded from her cheeks, her beauty paled like that of a languishing
flower; the light in her eyes grew each day more dim. She was very ill.

The most learned doctors in the healing art were called to her, brought,
regardless of cost, from the most distant countries, only to confess
their complete inability; excusing themselves by affirming that there
was no remedy for an indefinable ailment--an ailment impalpable,
incomprehensible.

Then, one day, an old, white-haired shepherd, with a long, snowy beard,
who had learned to understand men from having always lived alone with
his sheep and thinking, thinking, while he led them to their pasture--an
old philosopher--came to Greatheart, of whom he was one of the vassals,
and said to him:

"I know where there lives, close by here, an old grand-dame, with one
foot in the grave, she is so old People call her a sorceress; but never
mind that; she, and she alone, can cure our lady, our mistress, whom you
love so well."

Knowing not what to do in his suffering, Greatheart believed what the
old shepherd told him.

He took Rosebelle far away from the castle along the bank of the river,
to a spot where the path ran between high rocks, leading to a deep and
profoundly dark cavity, within which they found the old, old woman of
whom the shepherd had spoken, crouching by the side of a scanty fire of
pine-branches, warming herself in their fitful light, in the midst of
owls and ravens, cats and rats with phosphorescent eyes, showing green
in the obscurity when lit by the intermittent sparkle of the crackling
branches on the hearth.

"Ho, there! sorceress!" cried the young Prince. "Cure my wife, and I
will give you the half of all I possess!"

The very old woman looked for a long time at Rosebelle out of her little
bright eyes, meeting those of the young Princess, and holding her as if
by a spell. For awhile longer she remained silent, as if in
contemplation; then, suddenly, she rose to her feet, raised her long
arms towards the herbs suspended from the rocky roof of her
dwelling-place, spread out her fleshless fingers and cried:

"I see! I see! I understand it all! Yes, my lord, I will cure your wife,
your adored one; and presently in your arms, on your heart, shall sleep
a heart beating with great joy for love of you!"

As they both sprang nearer to her, the better to hear her wonderful
words, the old woman retreated, saying:

"Yes, I will cure her; but to aid me in the task, I need the assistance
of ten little fairies--ten friends who have ever been dear to me, ever
faithful to me, and who, by an unfortunate chance, have not visited me
to-day. To-morrow I shall be sure to have them with me, my tiny
comrades; so come back to me to-morrow, my dear, when I will detain them
until you arrive, and will take measures for enabling them to cure you."

The sun, next day, had hardly risen, hardly caressed the earth with its
earliest beam, when Rosebelle re-entered the old sorceress's murky
dwelling-place.

Over the still crackling fire of pine-branches she extended her white
hands by direction of the old woman, who raised her arms and uttered
some curious words, accompanied by some strange gestures.

Then, from a small cavity in the rocky wall she appeared to draw forth
an invisible something, which she carefully conveyed to the shelter of
her bare bosom. And when she had repeated these actions ten times, she
cried:

"I have them!--I have them all!--all warm in my bosom--my faithful
little fairies! Oh!--do not attempt to see them, or they will at once
fly away. They desire to serve you--to cure you. Here they are!"



And laughing, dancing, and singing, the old, old woman tapped with the
crooked thumb of her right hand the young Princess's ten extended
fingers, while the quaint song she sang was gaily given back by the echo
of the rocky vault above her. This was the song she sang, holding the
Princess's delicate fingers caressingly in her left hand:--

"Ten good little fairies hie,
To these ten good fingers nigh:
Each of you reside in one
Until your kindly task is done,
Until by certain signs you're sure
That you have made a perfect cure.
Potent fairies, from this hour
Exercise your utmost pow'r;
Drive away the evil spell
Cast on one who'll love you well!"

Then, still laughing heartily, she pressed Rosebelle's fingers tightly,
and went on:

"They are all here, the wonderful little doctors! Guard them preciously;
do not weary them; keep them by you and, to do all that, never give them
a moment's rest so long as the sun shines in the sky. Keep on moving
them--actively, rapidly--so long as you are awake. Now go, and come back
to me when you are quite cured, returning me my trusty little fairies."

With her hands filled with this precious load, Rosebelle hurried home,
and told Greatheart of her dear hope of a renewal of life.

Of an evening, thenceforth, for a long time, she would even refrain from
eating, so as to leave herself more time to exercise her unresting
fingers, in which the ten little fairies were tenderly housed. As soon
as the sun had sunk beneath the earth she went to sleep, and as soon as
daylight returned, she at once rose and began once again to move her
fairy-laden fingers.

During many, many days she continued to move her fingers in every way
she could devise; but at length, growing tired of this useless play, she
went back to her old friend the sorceress.


(p. 182).]

"Nobody ever taught you to use your fingers usefully?" replied the old
woman. "Go on moving them, still moving them, but in some employment
that interests you. Don't let my fairies go to sleep--that is all they
desire in their imprisonment."

On returning home, Rosebelle drew her long-neglected harp from its case
and played on it. Then, to occupy her fingers more usefully, she had
needles brought to her and employed them in dainty sewing.

But, growing weary of the dull monotony of these labours, she sought
more varied employment for her fingers--gathered flowers in the garden
and arranged them in charming bouquets; plucked fruit from the trees in
the orchard; attended to the sick and ailing; consoled the
poor--exercising her fingers constantly by slipping gold pieces into
their grateful hands.

One by one, she sent away her crowd of obsequious servants, who had now
nothing left for them to do but to go to sleep at their posts.

She would not allow anybody to do anything for her which she could do
for herself, but threw her whole soul and being into the things God
intended to be done by them.

Every day, and all the while the sun shone in the sky, she found active
employment for her beautiful fingers. And the roses came back to her
cheeks and health to all her being, and songs and laughter to her lips;
and she could, once again, give to her beloved one a heart filled with
ineffable tenderness.

Perfectly cured, she went to the sorceress and gave her back her
wonderful little fairy doctors.

"Ah, my child!" said the old dame, "they are very proud of having saved
you. Give them to me, for I have every day great need of them--can
never have too much of them. Indeed, if I had enough of them to serve
all the idlers in the world, I should want as many as there are stars in
the heavens at night. But I will keep those I have for the service of
those who are pining from ennui--and there are enough of them,
goodness knows!"





Next: The Magician And His Pupil

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