The Good Woman
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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. When she believed herself far enough off, she built a small house in an extremely agreeable situation. 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.

The Good Woman

Mademoiselle de la Force

The Good Woman

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.”

At the same moment they heard a slight noise behind them. Mirtis turned round first, and uttered a loud cry; she had cause; for instead of the cottage of the Good Woman, there appeared one of the most charming that could possibly be seen. It was not lofty, but the roof was formed of roses that would bloom in winter as well as in summer. They entered it, and found the most agreeable apartments, furnished magnificently. In the midst of each room was a rose-tree in full flower, in a precious vase; and in the first which they entered, they found the partridge Finfin had lost, which flew on to his shoulder and gave him an hundred caresses.

“Is it only to wish?” said Mirtis; and taking the ribbon of her jewel in her hand, “Little medlar,” she continued, “give us a garden more beautiful than our own.” Hardly had she finished speaking, when a garden was presented to their view of extraordinary beauty, and in which everything that could be imagined to delight the senses appeared in the highest perfection.

The young folks began immediately to run through the beautiful alleys, amongst the flower-beds and round about the fountains.

“Do you wish something, brother,” said Lirette. “But I have nothing to wish for,” said he; “except to be loved by you as much as you are loved by me.” “Oh,” replied she, “my heart can satisfy you on that point. That does not depend on your almond.” “Well, then,” said Finfin, “almond, little almond, I wish that a great forest should rise near here, in which the King’s son shall come to hunt, and that he shall fall in love with Mirtis.”

“What have I done to you,” replied the beautiful girl. “I do not wish to leave the innocent life which we lead.” “You are right, my child,” said the Good Woman, “and I admire the wisdom of your sentiments; besides which, they say that this King is a cruel usurper, who has put to death the rightful sovereign and all his family: perhaps the son may be no better than his father.”

The Good Woman, however, was quite astonished at the strange wishes of these wonderful children, and knew not what to think of them. When night was come, she retired into the house of roses, and in the morning she found that there was a large forest close to the house. It formed a fine hunting ground for our young shepherds. Finfin often hunted down in it deer, harts, and roebucks.

He gave a fawn whiter than snow to the lovely Lirette; it followed her as the partridge followed Finfin; and when they were separated for a short period, they wrote to each other, and sent their notes by these messengers. It was the prettiest thing in the world.

The little family lived thus tranquilly, occupied with different employments, according to the seasons. They always attended to their flocks, but in the summer their occupations were most pleasant. They hunted much in the winter; they had bows and arrows, and sometimes went such long distances that they returned, with slow steps and almost frozen, to the house of roses.

The Good Woman would receive them by a large fire; she did not know which to begin to warm first. “Lirette, my daughter Lirette,” she would say, “place your little feet here.” And taking Mirtis in her arms, — “Mirtis, my child,” continued she, “give me your beautiful hands to warm; and you my son, Finfin, come nearer.” Then, placing them all three on a sofa, she would pay them every attention in the most charming and gentle manner.

Thus they passed their days in peace and happiness. The Good Woman wondered at the sympathy between Finfin and Lirette, for Mirtis was as beautiful, and had no less amiable qualities; but certainly Finfin did not love her as fervently as the other. “If they are brother and sister, as I believe,” said the Good Woman, “by their matchless beauty, what shall I do? They are so similar in everything, that they must assuredly be of the same blood. If it be so, this affection is very dangerous; if not, I might render it legitimate by letting them marry; and they both love me so much, that their union would ensure joy and peace to my declining days.”

In her uncertainty, she had forbidden Lirette, who was fast advancing to womanhood, to be ever alone with Finfin, and for better security she had ordered Mirtis to be always with them. Lirette obeyed her with perfect submission, and Mirtis did also as she had commanded her. The Good Woman had heard speak of a clever fairy, and resolved to go in search of her, and endeavour to enlighten herself respecting the fate of these children.

One day, when Lirette was slightly indisposed, and Mirtis and Finfin were out hunting, the Good Woman thought it a convenient opportunity to go in search of Madam Tu-tu, for such was the name of the fairy. She left Lirette, therefore, at the House of Roses; but she had not got far on her way before she met Lirette’s fawn, which was going towards the forest, and at the same time she saw Finfin’s partridge coming from it. They joined each other close to her. It was not without astonishment that she saw round the neck of each a little ribbon, with a paper attached. She called the partridge, which flew to her, and taking the paper from it, she read these lines: —

To Lirette, dear bird, repair —
Absent from her sight I languish, —
All my love to her declare —
Secret joy and silent anguish.
Much too cold her heart, I fear,
Such a passion e’er to know
Were I to her but half as dear,
No greater bliss I’d crave below.

“What words!” cried the Good Woman, — “what phrases! Simple friendship does not express itself with so much warmth.” Then stopping the fawn, which came to lick her hand, she unfastened the paper from its neck, opened it, and found in it these words: —

The sun is setting, — you are absent yet,
Although you left me by its earliest light!
Return, dear Finfin; surely you forget —
Without you, day to me is endless night!

“Just as they did when I was in the world,” continued the Good Woman; “who could have taught Lirette so much in this desert? What can I do to cut betimes the root of so pernicious an evil?” “Eh, Madam, what are you so anxious about?” said the partridge; “let them alone — those who conduct them know better than you.”

The Good Woman remained speechless: she knew well that the partridge spoke by means of supernatural art. The notes fell from her hands in her fright; the fawn and the partridge picked them up: the one ran and the other flew; and the partridge called so often “Tu-tu,” that the Good Woman thought it must be that powerful fairy who had caused it to speak. She recovered herself a little after this reflection, but not feeling equal to the journey she had undertaken, she retraced her steps to the House of Roses.

Meanwhile Finfin and Mirtis had hunted the livelong day, and, being tired, they had placed their game on the ground, and sat down to rest under a tree, where they fell asleep.

The King’s son also hunted that day in the forest. He missed his suite, and came to the place where our young shepherd and shepherdess were reposing. He contemplated them for some time with wonder. Finfin had made a pillow of his game-bag, and the head of Mirtis reclined on the breast of Finfin.

The Prince thought Mirtis so beautiful, that he precipitately dismounted from his horse to examine her features with more attention. He judged, by their scrips and the simplicity of their apparel, that they were only some shepherd’s children. He sighed from grief, having already sighed from love, and this love, even, was followed in an instant by jealousy. The position in which he found these young people made him believe that such familiarity could only result from the affection which united them.

The Good WomanThe Good Woman

In this uneasy state of mind, not being able to tolerate their prolonged repose, he touched the handsome Finfin with his spear. He started up, and, seeing a man before him, he passed his hand over the face of Mirtis, and awoke her, calling her “sister,” a name which dissipated in a moment the alarm of the young Prince.

Mirtis rose up, quite astonished; she had never seen any one but Finfin. The young Prince was the same age as herself. He was superbly attired, and had a face full of charming expression.

He began saying many sweet things to her. She listened to him with a pleasure which she had never before experienced, and she responded to them in a simple manner, full of grace. Finfin saw that it was getting late, and the fawn having arrived with Lirette’s letter, he told his sister it was time to go home. “Come, brother,” said she to the young Prince, giving him her hand, “come with us into the House of Roses.” For as she believed Finfin to be her brother, she thought that every one who was handsome, like him, must be her brother also.

The young Prince did not require much pressing to follow her. Finfin threw on the back of his fawn the game he had shot, and the handsome Prince carried the bow and the game-bag of Mirtis.

In this order they arrived at the House of Roses. Lirette came out to meet them. She gave the Prince a smiling reception, and turning towards Mirtis, “I am delighted,” said she, “that you have had such good sport.”

They went all together to seek the Good Woman, to whom the Prince made known his high birth. She paid due attention to so illustrious a guest, and gave him a handsome apartment. He remained two or three days with her, and this was long enough to complete his conquest by Mirtis, according to Finfin’s request to his little almond.

Meanwhile, the suite of the Prince had been much surprised at his absence. They had found his horse, and they believed that some frightful accident had befallen him. They sought him everywhere, and the wicked King, who was his father, was in a great fury at their not being able to find him. The Queen, his mother, who was very amiable, and sister of the King whom her husband had cruelly murdered, was in an inconceivable state of grief at the loss of her son.

In her extreme distress, she sent secretly in search of Madam Tu-tu, who was an old friend of hers, but whom she had not seen for some time, because the King hated her, and had done her much injury with a person she dearly loved. Madam Tu-tu arrived, without being perceived, in the cabinet of the Queen. After they had embraced each other affectionately — for there is not much difference between a Queen and a Fairy, they having almost equal power, — the Fairy Tu-tu told her that she would very soon see her son. She begged her not to make herself uneasy, and not to be at all distressed at anything that might happen — that either she was very much deceived, or she could promise her a delight which was quite unexpected by her, and that she would be one day the happiest of creatures.

The King’s people made so many inquiries for the Prince, and sought him with so much care, that at length they found him at the House of Roses.

They led him back to the King, who scolded him brutally, as though he were not the most beautiful youth in the world. He remained very sad at the Court of his father, and thinking of his beautiful Mirtis. At length his grief was so visible on his countenance, that he was obliged to take his mother into his confidence, who consoled him extremely. “If you will mount your beautiful palfrey,” said he, “and come to the House of Roses, you will be charmed with what you will see.” The Queen consented willingly, and took her son with her, who was enchanted at seeing his dear mistress again.

The Queen was astonished at the great beauty of Mirtis, and also at that of Lirette and Finfin. She embraced them with as much tenderness as if they had been all her own children, and conceived an immense friendship from that moment for the Good Woman. She admired the house, the garden, and all the curiosities she saw there. When she returned, the King desired her to give an account of her journey; she did so naturally, and he took a great fancy to go also and see the wonders which she described. His son asked permission to accompany him; he consented with a sullen air, for he never did anything with a good grace. As soon as he saw the House of Roses he coveted it; he paid not the least attention to the charming inhabitants of this beautiful place, and, by way of commencing to take possession of their property, he said that he would sleep there that evening.

The Good Woman was very much vexed at such a resolution. She heard an uproar, and saw a disorder in her household, which frightened her. “What has become,” cried she, “of the happy tranquillity which I once enjoyed here! The least breath of fortune destroys all the calm of life!”

She gave the King an excellent bed, and withdrew into a corner of the dwelling with her little family. The wicked King went to bed, but found it impossible to go to sleep, and opening his eyes, he saw at the foot of his couch a little old woman, who was not half a yard high, and about as broad; she had great spectacles, which covered all her face, and she made frightful grimaces at him. The base are generally cowards. He was in a terrible fright, and felt at the same time a thousand points of needles pricking him all over. In this tormenting state of body and mind, he was kept awake the entire night, and made a great noise about it. The King stormed and swore in language which was not at all consistent with his dignity. “Sleep, sleep, sire,” said the partridge, “or let us sleep: if the condition of royalty is so full of anxiety, I prefer being a partridge to being king.” The King was more than ever alarmed at these words; he commanded them to seize the partridge, which roosted in a porcelain vase; but she flew away at this order, beating his face with her wings. He still saw the same vision, and felt the same prickings; he was dreadfully frightened, and his anger became more furious. “Ah!” said he, “it is a spell of this sorceress, whom they call the Good Woman. I will rid myself of her and all her race by putting them to death!”

He got up, not being able to rest in bed; and as soon as day broke, he commanded his guards to seize all the innocent little family, and fling them into dungeons. He had them dragged before him, that he might witness their despair. Those charming faces, bedewed with tears, touched him not; on the contrary, he felt a malignant joy at the sight. His son, whose tender heart was rent by so sad a spectacle, could not turn his eyes upon Mirtis without an agony which nothing could exceed. A true lover, on such occasions, suffers more than the person beloved.

They seized these poor innocents, and were leading them away, when the young Finfin, who had no arms with which to oppose these barbarians, took the ribbon on a sudden from his neck. “Little almond,” cried he, “I wish that we were out of the power of the King!” “And with his greatest enemies, my dear cherry!” continued Lirette. “And that we might take away with us the handsome Prince, my medlar!” added Mirtis. They had hardly uttered these words when they found themselves with the Prince, the partridge, and the fawn, all together in a car, which rising with them in the air, they soon lost sight of the King and the House of Roses.

Mirtis had no sooner expressed her wish than she repented of it. She knew well that she had inconsiderately allowed herself to be carried away by an impulse of which she was not the mistress; therefore, during all the journey, she kept her eyes cast down, and felt much abashed. The Good Woman gave her a severe glance. “My daughter,” said she, “you have not done well to separate the Prince from his father; however unjust he may be, he ought not to leave him.” “Ah, Madam,” replied the Prince, “do not complain that I have the happiness of following you. I respect the King, my father; but I should have left him a hundred times had it not been for the virtue, the kindness, and tenderness of the Queen, my mother, which have always detained me.”

As he finished these words, they found themselves in front of a beautiful palace, where they alighted and were received by Madam Tu-tu. She was the most lovely person in the world — young, lively, and gay. She paid them a hundred compliments, and confessed to them that it was she who had given them all the pleasures which they had enjoyed in their lives, and had also bestowed on them the cherry, the almond, and the medlar, the virtues of which were at an end, as they had now arrived in her dominions. Then, addressing the Prince in private, she told him that she had heard speak a thousand times of the annoyance he had met with from his father; but, in order that he should not attribute to her any evil that might hereafter befal the King, she frankly admitted she had played him some tricks, but that was the full extent of her vengeance.

After that, she assured them that they would be all very happy with her; that they should have flocks to keep, crooks, bows, arrows, and fishing-rods, in order that they might amuse themselves in a hundred different ways. She gave them shepherds’ dresses of the most elegant description, including the Prince with the others, — their names and devices being on their crooks; and that very evening the young Prince exchanged crooks with the charming Mirtis.

The next day Madame Tu-tu led them to the most delightful promenade in the world, and showed them the best pasturage for their sheep, and a fine country for the chase.

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