The Children's Fairy
: The Diamond Fairy Book
FROM THE FRENCH of SAINT-JUIRS.
IT was a dull, heavy afternoon, and the long, dusty road looked quite
deserted, not a horse or even a foot-passenger in sight. The birds were
taking their afternoon siesta, and the leaves were hanging down
languidly from the poor trees, which were dying with thirst. There were
three solitary-looking, tumble-down cottages on one side of the road,
he door of one of them opened, and a woman's voice called
"Come, Yvette, come, go out and play."
In answer to this summons a little girl of some three or four years old
soon appeared, and with great difficulty on all fours began to descend
the steep steps from the house to the footpath. It was quite a piece of
work, that perilous descent, and it was accomplished slowly, carefully,
and very awkwardly by what looked like nothing but a bundle of clothes.
The child had on a little bonnet made of two pieces of figured muslin
sewn together, and from which a few tresses of fair hair which had
escaped fell over her forehead and down the back of her neck. Her little
frock had been lengthened many times, and, consequently, the waist was
now up under the arms, like one sees in the Empire dresses. As to shoes
and stockings--well, it was not very cold, and so they were put away for
a future occasion.
When once she had reached the bottom of the steps, the child stood
upright and looked round for a minute or two, evidently deep in thought,
with her little finger pressed against her face. Play! Yes, it was all
very well, but what should she play at?
At the very time when the poor little mite was turning this question
over in her mind, hundreds of other children, accompanied by their
mother or by their nurse, would be all out in the gardens or parks, and
they would have with them all kinds of games and toys, from the
favourite spade and bucket to a real little steam-boat, which would sail
along on the ponds. They would have cannons, skipping-ropes, reins (all
covered with little bells), hoops, battledores and shuttlecocks, bowls,
marbles, balls, balloons, dolls of every description, pistols, guns,
swords, and, in fact, everything that the heart of a child can desire.
Then, too, those other children nearly always had little playmates, so
that it was easy enough to organise a game.
But, Yvette--on that deserted road, what could she do? Her father, a
poor road-mender, earned only just enough to make a bare living for his
wife and child, and certainly not a halfpenny could be spared for toys.
Yvette sat down just near a great heap of stones, which her father had
to break into small pieces in order to fill in the ruts. When she was
comfortably installed, she began to fumble in her pocket, and there she
certainly found all kinds of wonderful things: two cherry-stones, a
piece of string, a small carrot, a shoe-button, a small penny knife, a
little bit of blue braid and some crumbs of bread. Now, these were all
very nice in their way, and were indeed very valuable articles, but
somehow they did not appeal to Yvette at all just then. She put them
all very carefully back one by one in her pocket.
Then there was a profound silence. Yvette was not happy. The little face
puckered itself up into a significant grimace--the little nose was all
screwed up, and the mouth was just opening--tears were surely on the
way! Just at that moment, fortunately, the Children's Fairy was passing
Now you, perhaps, do not know about this Fairy, for no one ever sees
her, but it is the very one which makes children smile in their dreams,
and gives them all kinds of pretty thoughts. There is no limit to the
power of this Fairy, for, with a stroke of her magic wand, she can
transform things just as she wishes. She is very good and kind-hearted,
and the proof is that she bestows her favours more generally on the poor
and unfortunate than on others.
Well, this good Fairy saw that Yvette was just going to cry. She
stretched her golden wand out over the heap of stones and then flew away
again, laughing, for she was just as light and as gay as a ray of
Now, directly the Fairy had gone, it seemed to the road-mender's little
daughter that one of the big stones near her had a face, and that it was
dressed just like a little baby. Oh, it was really just like a little
baby! Yvette stretched out her hand, took the stone up, and immediately
began to feel for it all the love which a mother feels for her child.
"Ah!" she said to it, cuddling it up in her arms; "do you want to be my
little girl? You don't speak--oh! but that is because you are too
young--but I see you would like to. Very well, then; I will be your
mother, and I shall love you and never whip you. You must be good,
though, and then I shall never scold you. Oh! but if you are not
good--you know, I've got a birch rod. Now, come, I'm going to dress you
better: you look dreadful in that frock." Hereupon Yvette rolled her
child up in her pinafore, so that there was nothing to be seen of the
stone but what was supposed to be the baby's head.
"Oh! how pretty she is, dear little thing. There, now, she shall have
something to eat. Ah! you are crying--but you must not cry, my pretty
one--there, there." And the hard stone was rocked gently in the soft
little arms of its fond mother.
"Bye-bye, baby--bye-bye-bye." Yvette sang with all her might, tapping
her little daughter's back energetically, but evidently all to no
purpose, for the stone refused to go to sleep. "Ah! naughty girl; you
won't go to sleep? Oh no, I won't tell you any more stories. I have told
you Tom Thumb, and that's quite enough for to-night. Go to
sleep--quick--quick, I say. Oh, dear, dear, naughty child--I've got a
knife--what! you are crying again! If you only knew how ugly you are
when you cry! There! now I'm going to slap you--take that, and that, and
that, to make you quiet. Oh dear, how dreadful it is to have such a
child. I believe I'll change you, and have a boy. Now, just say you are
sorry for being so naughty----What! you won't? I'll give you another
chance. Now--one--two--three. Oh, very well. I know what I shall do. I
shall just go and take you back. I shall say: 'If you please, I've got a
dreadful little girl, and I want to change her for a nice little boy,
named Eugene.' And then they'll say: 'Yes, ma'am; will you have him with
light hair or dark?' 'Oh,' I shall say, 'I don't mind, as long as he is
good.' 'He'll be very dear, though, ma'am,' they'll say; 'good little
boys are very rare, and they cost a great deal.' 'How much?' I shall
ask. 'Why, one penny, ma'am.' And then I shall think about it----Now,
then, are you going to be good, and say you are sorry? No? Oh! very
well--it's too late now--I've changed you. I have no little girl now,
but a very pretty little boy, named Zizi."
The stone immediately underwent a complete transformation. Just now,
when it was a little girl, it had been very quiet and gentle, and had
kept quite still on Yvette's lap. Now that it was a boy there was no
more peace: it would jump about, and it would try to get away, for boys
are always so restless.
"Zizi, will you be still, and will you stay on my lap instead of
tumbling about in the road? There, let me lift you up! Oh, dear! how
heavy boys are. There, now, don't you stir, but just eat your bread and
milk. It will make you grow, and then when you are big you'll have
beautiful grey whiskers, like father. You shall have a sword, too, and
perhaps you shall be a policeman. It's very nice to be a policeman, you
know, because they are never put in prison--they take other people there
if the people make a noise in the street. Oh, Zizi, do keep still. If
you don't, I'll call the wolf--you know, the big wolf that runs off with
little children and takes them into the woods to eat them up. Wolf,
wolf, where are you?"
Just at that moment a dog appeared--a large, well-fed, happy-looking
dog, impudent too, and full of fun. He belonged to a carrier who was
always moving about from place to place, and the dog, accustomed as he
was to these constant journeys, had got rather familiar, like certain
commercial travellers, who, no matter where they are, always make
themselves quite at home.
Now, the dog had got tired of following his master's cart, and when he
saw something in the distance which was moving about, he bounded off to
discover what it was. This something was Yvette and her little boy.
"Look, look!" exclaimed the small mother, and there was a tremor in her
voice. "You see, he is coming--the big wolf!"
He was coming, there was no doubt about that, for he was tearing
along, and his tongue was hanging out and his ears were pricked up.
The little stone boy was not at all frightened, but Yvette began to
regret having called the dreadful animal. Oh! if she could only get away
now; but, alas! she did not dare to move or even to speak.
The impertinent dog came straight to them. Poor Yvette, half frightened
to death, threw away the precious stone baby she had been fondling, and,
picking herself up, began to run, calling out: "Mother! Mother!"
The dog was quite near her, jumping up at her, and then suddenly he
turned to go and sniff at the little stone boy. He probably thought it
was a bone or a piece of bread, but he was soon undeceived, and then he
rushed to the hedge to bark and wake up all the birds.
As to Yvette, she was hurrying along as fast as her little legs could
carry her, for she was in despair, as she thought the wolf was just
behind her, and she imagined that she still felt his hot breath on her
little hand. She stopped when she got to the steps of her home, for she
was out of breath and all trembling with terror, and she felt sure that
if she tried to scramble up the steps the wolf would bite her legs.
Suddenly the inspiration, which the ostrich once had, came to her, and
she rushed into the corner which was formed by the front of the house
and the stone steps, and holding her face close to the wall, so that she
could not see the dreadful animal, she was convinced that she too was
out of his sight.
She stayed there some minutes in perfect anguish, thinking: "Oh! if I
move, he'll eat me up!" She was quite surprised even that he did not
find her, and that his great teeth did not bite her, for she always
thought wolves were so quick to eat up little girls. Whatever could he
be doing? And then, not hearing any sound of him, she thought she would
risk one peep round. Very slowly she turned her head, and then, as
nothing dreadful happened, she grew bolder and bolder.
The wolf was not in sight, and instead of the barking which had
terrified her, she now heard a lot of little bells tinkling, and in the
distance she saw a waggon with four horses coming along.
The sound of the bells was so fascinating that Yvette forgot her duty as
a mother, and stood there watching the waggon as it approached.
The horses were all grey, and they were coming so fast. Suddenly the
child uttered an awe-struck cry.
Her child, her little son, was under the heavy wheels! Crunch! crunch!
and it had gone by, the horrible waggon. Yvette went on to the
horse-road, and her little heart was very full; for there, where poor
Zizi had been lying, there was only some yellowish crunched stone. Zizi
had been ground into powder by the huge wheels. The poor child was in
despair, and, with tears in her eyes, she shook her little fists at the
carrier, who was whipping up his horses.
"Cruel, wicked man!" she cried, and then her eyes happening to fall on
the heap of stones which had supplied her with a family, she saw another
stone smiling at her now. She ran quickly to it, picked it up and kissed
it affectionately, and then, happy in her new treasure, she cried out
defiantly to the carrier, whom she could still see in the distance: "Ah!
I don't care! I've got another--there, then! and it's a girl this time.
I won't have any more dreadful boys to be afraid of wolves, and to go
and get themselves killed just to make their poor mother unhappy."
* * * * *
Oh! kind, good Fairy, you who watch over the children, and who give them
their happiness and console them in sorrow when they are playing at
life--oh, good Fairy, do not forget your big children.
Older men tell me that I am young, but the younger ones do not think so;
and I, myself, saw, only this morning, a silver thread in my hairs. Oh,
kind Fairy, Fairy of the children, help me, too, to believe that the
moon is made of green cheese; for, after all, our happiness here below
consists in our faith and in our illusions.