A Lost Paradise

: The Lilac Fairy Book

In the middle of a great forest there lived a long time ago a

charcoal-burner and his wife. They were both young and handsome

and strong, and when they got married, they thought work would

never fail them. But bad times came, and they grew poorer and

poorer, and the nights in which they went hungry to bed became

more and more frequent.

Now one evening the king of that country was hunting near the
/> charcoal-burner's hut. As he passed the door, he heard a sound of

sobbing, and being a good-natured man he stopped to listen,

thinking that perhaps he might be able to give some help.

'Were there ever two people so unhappy!' said a woman's voice.

'Here we are, ready to work like slaves the whole day long, and

no work can we get. And it is all because of the curiosity of old

mother Eve! If she had only been like me, who never want to know

anything, we should all have been as happy as kings to-day, with

plenty to eat, and warm clothes to wear. Why--' but at this point

a loud knock interrupted her lamentations.

'Who is there?' asked she.

'I!' replied somebody.

'And who is "I"?'

'The king. Let me in.'

Full of surprise the woman jumped up and pulled the bar away from

the door. As the king entered, he noticed that there was no

furniture in the room at all, not even a chair, so he pretended

to be in too great a hurry to see anything around him, and only

said 'You must not let me disturb you. I have no time to stay,

but you seemed to be in trouble. Tell me; are you very unhappy?'

'Oh, my lord, we can find no work and have eaten nothing for two

days!' answered she. 'Nothing remains for us but to die of


'No, no, you shan't do that,' cried the king, 'or if you do, it

will be your own fault. You shall come with me into my palace,

and you will feel as if you were in Paradise, I promise you. In

return, I only ask one thing of you, that you shall obey my

orders exactly.'

The charcoal-burner and his wife both stared at him for a moment,

as if they could hardly believe their ears; and, indeed, it was

not to be wondered at! Then they found their tongues, and

exclaimed together:

'Oh, yes, yes, my lord! we will do everything you tell us. How

could we be so ungrateful as to disobey you, when you are so


The king smiled, and his eyes twinkled.

'Well, let us start at once,' said he. 'Lock your door, and put

the key in your pocket.'

The woman looked as if she thought this was needless, seeing it

was quite, quite certain they would never come back. But she

dared not say so, and did as the king told her.

After walking through the forest for a couple of miles, they all

three reached the palace, and by the king's orders servants led

the charcoal-burner and his wife into rooms filled with beautiful

things such as they had never even dreamed of. First they bathed

in green marble baths where the water looked like the sea, and

then they put on silken clothes that felt soft and pleasant. When

they were ready, one of the king's special servants entered, and

took them into a small hall, where dinner was laid, and this

pleased them better than anything else.

They were just about to sit down to the table when the king

walked in.

'I hope you have been attended to properly,' said he, 'and that

you will enjoy your dinner. My steward will take care you have

all you want, and I wish you to do exactly as you please. Oh, by

the bye, there is one thing! You notice that soup-tureen in the

middle of the table? Well, be careful on no account to lift the

lid. If once you take off the cover, there is an end of your good

fortune.' Then, bowing to his guests, he left the room.

'Did you hear what he said?' inquired the charcoal-burner in an

awe-stricken voice. 'We are to have what we want, and do what we

please. Only we must not touch the soup-tureen.'

'No, of course we won't,' answered the wife. 'Why should we wish

to? But all the same it is rather odd, and one can't help

wondering what is inside.'

For many days life went on like a beautiful dream to the

charcoal- burner and his wife. Their beds were so comfortable,

they could hardly make up their minds to get up, their clothes

were so lovely they could scarcely bring themselves to take them

off; their dinners were so good that they found it very difficult

to leave off eating. Then outside the palace were gardens filled

with rare flowers and fruits and singing birds, or if they

desired to go further, a golden coach, painted with wreaths of

forget-me-nots and lined with blue satin, awaited their orders.

Sometimes it happened that the king came to see them, and he

smiled as he glanced at the man, who was getting rosier and

plumper each day. But when his eyes rested on the woman, they

took on a look which seemed to say 'I knew it,' though this

neither the charcoal-burner nor his wife ever noticed.

'Why are you so silent?' asked the man one morning when dinner

had passed before his wife had uttered one word. 'A little while

ago you used to be chattering all the day long, and now I have

almost forgotten the sound of your voice.'

'Oh, nothing; I did not feel inclined to talk, that was all!' She

stopped, and added carelessly after a pause, 'Don't you ever

wonder what is in that soup-tureen?'

'No, never,' replied the man. 'It is no affair of ours,' and the

conversation dropped once more, but as time went on, the woman

spoke less and less, and seemed so wretched that her husband grew

quite frightened about her. As to her food, she refused one thing

after another.

'My dear wife,' said the man at last, 'you really must eat

something. What in the world is the matter with you? If you go on

like this you will die.'

'I would rather die than not know what is in that tureen,' she

burst forth so violently that the husband was quite startled.

'Is that it?' cried he; 'are you making yourself miserable

because of that? Why, you know we should be turned out of the

palace, and sent away to starve.'

'Oh no, we shouldn't. The king is too good-natured. Of course he

didn't mean a little thing like this! Besides, there is no need

to lift the lid off altogether. Just raise one corner so that I

may peep. We are quite alone: nobody will ever know.'

The man hesitated: it did seem a 'little thing,' and if it was to

make his wife contented and happy it was well worth the risk. So

he took hold of the handle of the cover and raised it very slowly

and carefully, while the woman stooped down to peep. Suddenly she

startled back with a scream, for a small mouse had sprung from

the inside of the tureen, and had nearly hit her in the eye.

Round and round the room it ran, round and round they both ran

after it, knocking down chairs and vases in their efforts to

catch the mouse and put it back in the tureen. In the middle of

all the noise the door opened, and the mouse ran out between the

feet of the king. In one instant both the man and his wife were

hiding under the table, and to all appearance the room was empty.

'You may as well come out,' said the king, 'and hear what I have

to say.'

'I know what it is,' answered the charcoal-burner, hanging his

head. The mouse has escaped.'

'A guard of soldiers will take you back to your hut,' said the

king. 'Your wife has the key.'

'Weren't they silly?' cried the grandchildren of the charcoal-

burners when they heard the story. 'How we wish that we had had

the chance! WE should never have wanted to know what was in the


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