The Four Gifts

: The Lilac Fairy Book

In the old land of Brittany, once called Cornwall, there lived a

woman named Barbaik Bourhis, who spent all her days in looking

after her farm with the help of her niece Tephany. Early and

late the two might be seen in the fields or in the dairy, milking

cows, making butter, feeding fowls; working hard themselves and

taking care that others worked too. Perhaps it might have been

better for Barbaik if she had left her
elf a little time to rest

and to think about other things, for soon she grew to love money

for its own sake, and only gave herself and Tephany the food and

clothes they absolutely needed. And as for poor people she

positively hated them, and declared that such lazy creatures had

no business in the world.

Well, this being the sort of person Barbaik was, it is easy to

guess at her anger when one day she found Tephany talking outside

the cowhouse to young Denis, who was nothing more than a day

labourer from the village of Plover. Seizing her niece by the

arm, she pulled her sharply away, exclaiming:

'Are you not ashamed, girl, to waste your time over a man who is

as poor as a rat, when there are a dozen more who would be only

too happy to buy you rings of silver, if you would let them?'

'Denis is a good workman, as you know very well,' answered

Tephany, red with anger, 'and he puts by money too, and soon he

will be able to take a farm for himself.'

'Nonsense,' cried Barbaik, 'he will never save enough for a farm

till he is a hundred. I would sooner see you in your grave than

the wife of a man who carries his whole fortune on his back.'

'What does fortune matter when one is young and strong?' asked

Tephany, but her aunt, amazed at such words, would hardly let her


'What does fortune matter?' repeated Barbaik, in a shocked voice.

'Is it possible that you are really so foolish as to despise

money? If this is what you learn from Denis, I forbid you to

speak to him, and I will have him turned out of the farm if he

dares to show his face here again. Now go and wash the clothes

and spread them out to dry.'

Tephany did not dare to disobey, but with a heavy heart went down

the path to the river.

'She is harder than these rocks,' said the girl to herself, 'yes,

a thousand times harder. For the rain at least can at last wear

away the stone, but you might cry for ever, and she would never

care. Talking to Denis is the only pleasure I have, and if I am

not to see him I may as well enter a convent.'

Thinking these thoughts she reached the bank, and began to unfold

the large packet of linen that had to be washed. The tap of a

stick made her look up, and standing before her she saw a little

old woman, whose face was strange to her.

'You would like to sit down and rest, granny?' asked Tephany,

pushing aside her bundle.

'When the sky is all the roof you have, you rest where you will,'

replied the old woman in trembling tones.

'Are you so lonely, then?' inquired Tephany, full of pity. 'Have

you no friends who would welcome you into their houses?'

The old woman shook her head.

'They all died long, long ago,' she answered, 'and the only

friends I have are strangers with kind hearts.'

The girl did not speak for a moment, then held out the small loaf

and some bacon intended for her dinner.

'Take this,' she said; 'to-day at any rate you shall dine well,'

and the old woman took it, gazing at Tephany the while.

'Those who help others deserve to be helped,' she answered; 'your

eyes are still red because that miser Barbaik has forbidden you

to speak to the young man from Plover. But cheer up, you are a

good girl, and I will give you something that will enable you to

see him once every day.'

'You?' cried Tephany, stupefied at discovering that the beggar

knew all about her affairs, but the old woman did not hear her.

'Take this long copper pin,' she went on, 'and every time you

stick it in your dress Mother Bourhis will be obliged to leave

the house in order to go and count her cabbages. As long as the

pin is in your dress you will be free, and your aunt will not

come back until you have put it in its case again.' Then,

rising, she nodded to Tephany and vanished.

The girl stood where she was, as still as a stone. If it had not

been for the pin in her hands she would have thought she was

dreaming. But by that token she knew it was no common old woman

who had given it to her, but a fairy, wise in telling what would

happen in the days to come. Then suddenly Tephany's eyes fell on

the clothes, and to make up for lost time she began to wash them

with great vigour.

Next evening, at the moment when Denis was accustomed to wait for

her in the shadow of the cowhouse, Tephany stuck the pin in her

dress, and at the very same instant Barbaik took up her sabots or

wooden shoes and went through the orchard and past to the fields,

to the plot where the cabbages grew. With a heart as light as

her footsteps, the girl ran from the house, and spent her evening

happily with Denis. And so it was for many days after that.

Then, at last, Tephany began to notice something, and the

something made her very sad.

At first, Denis seemed to find the hours that they were together

fly as quickly as she did, but when he had taught her all the

songs he knew, and told her all the plans he had made for growing

rich and a great man, he had nothing more to say to her, for he,

like a great many other people, was fond of talking himself, but

not of listening to any one else. Sometimes, indeed, he never

came at all, and the next evening he would tell Tephany that he

had been forced to go into the town on business, but though she

never reproached him she was not deceived and saw plainly that he

no longer cared for her as he used to do.

Day by day her heart grew heavier and her cheeks paler, and one

evening, when she had waited for him in vain, she put her water-

pot on her shoulder and went slowly down to the spring. On the

path in front of her stood the fairy who had given her the pin,

and as she glanced at Tephany she gave a little mischievous laugh

and said:

'Why, my pretty maiden hardly looks happier than she did before,

in spite of meeting her lover whenever she pleases.'

'He has grown tired of me,' answered Tephany in a trembling

voice, 'and he makes excuses to stay away. Ah! granny dear, it

is not enough to be able to see him, I must be able to amuse him

and to keep him with me. He is so clever, you know. Help me to

be clever too.'

'Is that what you want?' cried the old woman. 'Well, take this

feather and stick it in your hair, and you will be as wise as

Solomon himself.'

Blushing with pleasure Tephany went home and stuck the feather

into the blue ribbon which girls always wear in that part of the

country. In a moment she heard Denis whistling gaily, and as her

aunt was safely counting her cabbages, she hurried out to meet

him. The young man was struck dumb by her talk. There was

nothing that she did not seem to know, and as for songs she not

only could sing those from every part of Brittany, but could

compose them herself. Was this really the quiet girl who had been

so anxious to learn all he could teach her, or was it somebody

else? Perhaps she had gone suddenly mad, and there was an evil

spirit inside her. But in any case, night after night he came

back, only to find her growing wiser and wiser. Soon the

neighbours whispered their surprise among themselves, for Tephany

had not been able to resist the pleasure of putting the feather

in her hair for some of the people who despised her for her poor

clothes, and many were the jokes she made about them. Of course

they heard of her jests, and shook their heads saying:

'She is an ill-natured little cat, and the man that marries her

will find that it is she who will hold the reins and drive the


It was not long before Denis began to agree with them, and as he

always liked to be master wherever he went, he became afraid of

Tephany's sharp tongue, and instead of laughing as before when

she made fun of other people he grew red and uncomfortable,

thinking that his turn would come next.

So matters went on till one evening Denis told Tephany that he

really could not stay a moment, as he had promised to go to a

dance that was to be held in the next village.

Tephany's face fell; she had worked hard all day, and had been

counting on a quiet hour with Denis. She did her best to

persuade him to remain with her, but he would not listen, and at

last she grew angry.

'Oh, I know why you are so anxious not to miss the dance,' she

said; 'it is because Aziliez of Pennenru will be there.'

Now Aziliez was the loveliest girl for miles round, and she and

Denis had known each other from childhood.

'Oh yes, Aziliez will be there,' answered Denis, who was quite

pleased to see her jealous, 'and naturally one would go a long

way to watch her dance.'

'Go then!' cried Tephany, and entering the house she slammed the

door behind her.

Lonely and miserable she sat down by the fire and stared into the

red embers. Then, flinging the feather from her hair, she put

her head on her hands, and sobbed passionately.

'What is the use of being clever when it is beauty that men want?

That is what I ought to have asked for. But it is too late,

Denis will never come back.'

'Since you wish it so much you shall have beauty,' said a voice

at her side, and looking round she beheld the old woman leaning

on her stick.

'Fasten this necklace round your neck, and as long as you wear it

you will be the most beautiful woman in the world,' continued the

fairy. With a little shriek of joy Tephany took the necklace,

and snapping the clasp ran to the mirror which hung in the

corner. Ah, this time she was not afraid of Aziliez or of any

other girl, for surely none could be as fair and white as she.

And with the sight of her face a thought came to her, and putting

on hastily her best dress and her buckled shoes she hurried off

to the dance.

On the way she met a beautiful carriage with a young man seated

in it.

'What a lovely maiden!' he exclaimed, as Tephany approached.

'Why, there is not a girl in my own country that can be compared

to her. She, and no other, shall be my bride.'

The carriage was large and barred the narrow road, so Tephany was

forced, much against her will, to remain where she was. But she

looked the young man full in the face as she answered:

'Go your way, noble lord, and let me go mine. I am only a poor

peasant girl, accustomed to milk, and make hay and spin.'

'Peasant you may be, but I will make you a great lady,' said he,

taking her hand and trying to lead her to the carriage.

'I don't want to be a great lady, I only want to be the wife of

Denis,' she replied, throwing off his hand and running to the

ditch which divided the road from the cornfield, where he hoped

to hide. Unluckily the young man guessed what she was doing, and

signed to his attendants, who seized her and put her in the

coach. The door was banged, and the horses whipped up into a


At the end of an hour they arrived at a splendid castle, and

Tephany, who would not move, was lifted out and carried into the

hall, while a priest was sent for to perform the marriage

ceremony. The young man tried to win a smile from her by telling

of all the beautiful things she should have as his wife, but

Tephany did not listen to him, and looked about to see if there

was any means by which she could escape. It did not seem easy.

The three great doors were closely barred, and the one through

which she had entered shut with a spring, but her feather was

still in her hair, and by its aid she detected a crack in the

wooden panelling, through which a streak of light could be dimly

seen. Touching the copper pin which fastened her dress, the girl

sent every one in the hall to count the cabbages, while she

herself passed through the little door, not knowing whither she

was going.

By this time night had fallen, and Tephany was very tired.

Thankfully she found herself at the gate of a convent, and asked

if she might stay there till morning. But the portress answered

roughly that it was no place for beggars, and bade her begone, so

the poor girl dragged herself slowly along the road, till a light

and the bark of a dog told her that she was near a farm.

In front of the house was a group of people; two or three women

and the sons of the farmer. When their mother heard Tephany's

request to be given a bed the good wife's heart softened, and she

was just going to invite her inside, when the young men, whose

heads were turned by the girl's beauty, began to quarrel as to

which should do most for her. From words they came to blows, and

the women, frightened at the disturbance, pelted Tephany with

insulting names. She quickly ran down the nearest path, hoping to

escape them in the darkness of the trees, but in an instant she

heard their footsteps behind her. Wild with fear her legs

trembled under her, when suddenly she bethought herself of her

necklace. With a violent effort she burst the clasp and flung it

round the neck of a pig which was grunting in a ditch, and as she

did so she heard the footsteps cease from pursuing her and run

after the pig, for her charm had vanished.

On she went, scarcely knowing where she was going, till she found

herself, to her surprise and joy, close to her aunt's house. For

several days she felt so tired and unhappy that she could hardly

get through her work, and to make matters worse Denis scarcely

ever came near her.

'He was too busy,' he said, 'and really it was only rich people

who could afford to waste time in talking.'

As the days went on Tephany grew paler and paler, till everybody

noticed it except her aunt. The water-pot was almost too heavy

for her now, but morning and evening she carried it to the

spring, though the effort to lift it to her shoulder was often

too much for her.

'How could I have been so foolish,' she whispered to herself,

when she went down as usual at sunset. 'It was not freedom to

see Denis that I should have asked for, for he was soon weary of

me, nor a quick tongue, for he was afraid of it, nor beauty, for

that brought me nothing but trouble, but riches which make life

easy both for oneself and others. Ah! if I only dared to beg

this gift from the fairy, I should be wiser than before and know

how to choose better.'

'Be satisfied,' said the voice of the old woman, who seemed to be

standing unseen at Tephany's elbow. 'If you look in your right-

hand pocket when you go home you will find a small box. Rub your

eyes with the ointment it contains, and you will see that you

yourself contain a priceless treasure.'

Tephany did not in the least understand what she meant, but ran

back to the farm as fast as she could, and began to fumble

joyfully in her right-hand pocket. Sure enough, there was the

little box with the precious ointment. She was in the act of

rubbing her eyes with it when Barbaik Bourhis entered the room.

Ever since she had been obliged to leave her work and pass her

time, she did not know why, in counting cabbages, everything had

gone wrong, and she could not get a labourer to stay with her

because of her bad temper. When, therefore, she saw her niece

standing quietly before her mirror, Barbaik broke out:

'So this is what you do when I am out in the fields! Ah! it is

no wonder if the farm is ruined. Are you not ashamed, girl, to

behave so?'

Tephany tried to stammer some excuse, but her aunt was half mad

with rage, and a box on the ears was her only answer. At this

Tephany, hurt, bewildered and excited, could control herself no

longer, and turning away burst into tears. But what was her

surprise when she saw that each tear-drop was a round and shining

pearl. Barbaik, who also beheld this marvel, uttered a cry of

astonishment, and threw herself on her knees to pick them up from

the floor.

She was still gathering them when the door opened and in came


'Pearls! Are they really pearls?' he asked, falling on his knees

also, and looking up at Tephany he perceived others still more

beautiful rolling down the girl's cheeks.

'Take care not to let any of the neighbours hear of it, Denis,'

said Barbaik. 'Of course you shall have your share, but nobody

else shall get a single one. Cry on, my dear, cry on,' she

continued to Tephany. It is for your good as well as ours,' and

she held out her apron to catch them, and Denis his hat.

But Tephany could hardly bear any more. She felt half choked at

the sight of their greediness, and wanted to rush from the hall,

and though Barbaik caught her arm to prevent this, and said all

sorts of tender words which she thought would make the girl weep

the more, Tephany with a violent effort forced back her tears,

and wiped her eyes.

'Is she finished already?' cried Barbaik, in a tone of

disappointment. 'Oh, try again, my dear. Do you think it would

do any good to beat her a little?' she added to Denis, who shook

his head.

'That is enough for the first time. I will go into the town and

find out the value of each pearl.'

'Then I will go with you,' said Barbaik, who never trusted anyone

and was afraid of being cheated. So the two went out, leaving

Tephany behind them.

She sat quite still on her chair, her hands clasped tightly

together, as if she was forcing something back. At last she

raised her eyes, which had been fixed on the ground, and beheld

the fairy standing in a dark corner by the hearth, observing her

with a mocking look. The girl trembled and jumped up, then,

taking the feather, the pin, and the box, she held them out to

the old woman.

'Here they are, all of them,' she cried; 'they belong to you. Let

me never see them again, but I have learned the lesson that they

taught me. Others may have riches, beauty and wit, but as for me

I desire nothing but to be the poor peasant girl I always was,

working hard for those she loves.'

'Yes, you have learned your lesson,' answered the fairy, 'and now

you shall lead a peaceful life and marry the man you love. For

after all it was not yourself you thought of but him.'

Never again did Tephany see the old woman, but she forgave Denis

for selling her tears, and in time he grew to be a good husband,

who did his own share of work.

From 'Le Foyer Breton,' par E. Souvestre.