The Ten Little Fairies





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!"





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