There was once upon a time a Good Woman, who was kind, candid, and courageous. She had experienced all the vicissitudes which can agitate human existence.
She had resided at Court, and had endured all the storms to which it is so subject: — treasons, perfidies, infidelities, loss of wealth, loss of friends. So that, disgusted with dwelling in a place in which dissimulation and hypocrisy have established their empire, and weary of an intercourse wherein hearts never appear as they really are, she resolved to quit her own country and go to a distance, where she could forget the world, and where the world would hear no more of her.
When she believed herself far enough off, she built a small house in an extremely agreeable situation. All she could then do was to buy a little flock of sheep, which furnished her with food and clothing.
She had hardly made trial of this mode of life before she found herself perfectly happy. “There is, then, some state of existence in which one may enjoy content,” said she; “and the choice I have made leaves me nothing to desire.” She passed each day in plying her distaff and tending her flock. She would sometimes have liked a little society, but she feared the danger of it. She was insensibly becoming accustomed to the life she led, when one day, as she was endeavouring to collect her little flock, it began to scatter itself over the country and fly from her. In fact, it fled so fast that in a very short time she could scarcely see one of her sheep. “Am I a devouring wolf?” cried she: “what means this wonder?” She called to a favourite ewe, but it appeared not to know her voice. She ran after it, exclaiming, “I will not care for losing all the rest of the flock if thou dost but remain to me!” But the ungrateful creature continued its flight, and disappeared with the rest.
The Good Woman was deeply distressed at the loss she had sustained. “I have now nothing left,” cried she; “maybe I shall not find even my garden; or my little cottage will be no longer in its place.” She returned slowly, for she was very tired with the race she had had. She lived upon fruit and vegetables for some time after exhausting a small stock of cheese.
She began to see the end of all this. “Fortune,” said she, “thou hast in vain sought to persecute me even in this remote spot; thou canst not prevent me from being ready to behold the gates of death without alarm, and after so much trouble I shall descend with tranquillity into those peaceful shades.”
She had nothing more to spin, she had nothing more to eat: leaning on her distaff, she bent her steps towards a little wood, and looking round for a place to rest in, she was astonished at seeing run towards her three little children, more beautiful than the fairest day. She was delighted to see such charming company. They loaded her with a hundred caresses, and as she seated herself on the ground, in order to receive them more conveniently, one threw its little arms round her neck, the other encircled her waist from behind, and the third called her “mother.” She waited a long time, to see if some one would not come to fetch them, believing that those who had led them thither would not fail to return for them. All the day passed without her seeing any one.
She resolved to take them to her own home, and thought Heaven had sent her this little flock instead of the one she had lost. It was composed of two girls, who were only two or three years old, and a little boy of five. Each had a little ribbon round its neck, to which was attached a small jewel. One was a golden cherry enamelled with crimson, and engraved with the name of “Lirette.” She thought that this must be the name of the little girl who wore it, and she resolved to call her by it. The other was a medlar, on which was written “Mirtis;” and the little boy had an almond of green enamel, around which was written “Finfin.” The Good Woman felt perfectly satisfied that these were their names.
The little girls had some jewels in their head-dresses, and more than enough to put the Good Woman in easy circumstances. She had very soon bought another flock, and surrounded herself with everything necessary for the maintenance of her interesting family. She made their winter clothing of the bark of trees, and in the summer they had white cotton dresses of the finest bleaching.
Young as they were, they tended their flock. And this time the flock was faithful, and was more docile and obedient to them than towards the large dogs which guarded them; and these dogs were also gentle, and attached to the children. They grew visibly, and passed their days most innocently; they loved the Good Woman, and were all three excessively fond of each other. They occupied themselves in tending their sheep, fishing with a line, spreading nets to catch birds, working in a little garden of their own, and employed their delicate hands in cultivating flowers.
There was one rose-tree, which the young Lirette was especially fond of; she watered it often, and took the greatest care of it; she thought nothing so beautiful as a rose, and loved it above all other flowers. She had a fancy one day to open a bud, and try to find its heart, when in so doing she pricked her finger with a thorn. The pain was sharp, and she began to cry; the beautiful Finfin, who very seldom left her, approached, and began to cry too, at seeing her suffer. He took her little finger, pressed it, and squeezed the blood gently from it.
The Good Woman, who saw their alarm at this accident, approached, and learning the cause of it, “Why so inquisitive” said she; “why destroy the flower you loved so much?” “I wanted its heart,” replied Lirette. “Such desires are always fatal,” replied the Good Woman. “But, mother,” pursued Lirette, “why has this flower, which is so beautiful, and which pleases me so much, thorns?” “To show you,” said the Good Woman, “that we must distrust the greater part of those things which please our eyes, and that the most agreeable objects hide snares which may be to us most deadly.” “How?” replied Lirette. “Must one not then love everything which is pleasant?” “No, certainly,” said the Good Woman, “and you must take good care not to do so.” “But I love my brother with all my heart,” replied she; “he is so handsome and so charming.” “You may love your brother,” replied her mother; “but if he were not your brother you ought not to love him.”
Lirette shook her head, and thought this rule very hard. Finfin meanwhile was still occupied with her finger; he squeezed on the wound the juice of the rose-leaves, and wrapped it in them. The Good Woman asked him why he did that? “Because I think,” said he, “that the remedy may be found in the same thing which has caused the evil.” The Good Woman smiled at this reason. “My dear child,” replied she, “not in this case.” “I thought it was in all cases,” said he; “for sometimes, when Lirette looks at me, she troubles me greatly; I feel quite agitated; and the moment after those same looks cause me a pleasure which I cannot express to you. When she scolds me sometimes, I am very wretched; but let her speak at length one gentle word to me, I am all joy again.”
The Good Woman wondered what these children would think of next; she did not know their relation to each other, and she dreaded their loving each other too much. She would have given anything to learn if they were brother and sister; her ignorance on this point caused her great anxiety, but their extreme youth re-assured her. Finfin was already full of attention to the little Lirette; he loved her much better than Mirtis. He had at one time given her some young partridges, the prettiest in the world, which he had caught. She reared one, which became a fine bird, with very beautiful plumage; Lirette loved it excessively, and gave it to Finfin. It followed him everywhere, and he taught it a thousand diverting tricks. He had one day taken it with him when going to tend his flock; on returning home he could not find his partridge; he sought for it everywhere, and distressed himself greatly at its loss. Mirtis tried to console him, but without success. “Sister,” he replied, “I am in despair. Lirette will be angry; all you say to me does not diminish my grief.” “Well, brother,” said she, “we will get up very early to-morrow and go in search of another; I cannot bear to see you so miserable.” Lirette arrived as she said this, and having learnt the cause of Finfin’s sorrow, she began to smile. “My dear brother,” said she to him, “we will find another partridge; it is nothing but the state in which I see you that gives me pain.” These words sufficed to restore serenity and calm to the heart and countenance of Finfin.
“Why,” said he to himself, “could Mirtis not restore my spirits, with all her kindness, while Lirette has done it with a single little word? Two is one too many — Lirette is enough for me.” On the other hand, Mirtis saw plainly that her brother made a difference between her and Lirette. “We are not enough here, being three,” said she. “I ought to have another brother, who would love me as much as Finfin does my sister.”
Lirette was now twelve years old, Mirtis thirteen, and Finfin fifteen, when one evening, after supper, they were all seated in front of the cottage with the Good Woman, who instructed them in a hundred agreeable things. The youthful Finfin, seeing Lirette playing with the jewel on her neck, asked his dear mamma what it was for? She replied that she had found one on each of them when they fell into her hands. Lirette then said, “If mine would but do as I tell it, I should be glad.” “And what would you have it do?” asked Finfin. “You will see,” said she; and then taking the end of the ribbon, “Little cherry,” she continued, “I should like to have a beautiful house of roses.”