Ourson at eight years of age was tall and strong, with magnificent eyes and a sweet voice; his bristles were no longer stiff but his hair was soft as silk, and those who loved him could embrace him without being scratched, as Passerose had been the day of his birth. Ourson loved his mother tenderly and Passerose almost as well but he was often alone and very sad. He saw too well the horror he inspired and he saw also that he was unlike other children.
One day he was walking along a beautiful road which bordered on the farm. He had walked a long time and overcome with heat and fatigue he looked about him for some fresh and quiet spot for repose when he thought he saw a little object, fair and rosy, a few steps from him. Drawing near with precaution he saw a little girl asleep. She seemed to be about three years old and she was beautiful as the Loves and Graces. Her blonde hair partly covered her fair and dimpled shoulders while her soft cheeks were round and fresh and dimpled and a half smile played upon her rosy and parted lips, through which small teeth, white and even as pearls, could be seen. Her charming head was reposing upon a lovely rounded arm and the little hand was beautifully formed and white as snow. The attitude of this little girl was so graceful, so enchanting, that Ourson stood before her immovable with admiration. He watched with as much surprise as pleasure, this child sleeping as soundly and peacefully in the wood as if she had been at home in her own little bed. Ourson looked at her a long time and examined her toilet which was more rich and elegant than anything he had ever seen. Her dress was of white silk embroidered in gold; her boots were of blue satin also embroidered in gold; her stockings were silk and fine as a spider”s web; magnificent bracelets were sparkling upon her arms and the clasp seemed to contain her portrait; a string of beautiful pearls encircled her throat.
A lark now commenced its song just above the lovely little girl and awakened her from her profound slumber. She looked about her, called her nurse but finding herself alone in the woods, began to weep bitterly.
Ourson was much affected at her tears and his embarrassment was very great.
“If I show myself,” said he to himself, “this poor little one will take me for some wild beast of the forest. If she sees me she will be terrified; she will take to flight and wander still further from her home. If I leave her here, she will die of terror and hunger. What shall I do!”
Whilst Ourson reflected thus, the little girl turned around, saw him, uttered a cry of alarm, tried to flee and fell back in a panic.
“Do not fly from me, dear little one,” said Ourson, in his sad, soft voice; “I would not injure you for the whole world; on the contrary, I will assist you to find your father and mother.”
The child gazed at him with staring eyes and seemed much alarmed.
“Speak to me, little one,” said Ourson; “I am not a bear, as you might suppose, but a poor and most unfortunate little boy, who inspires every one with terror and whom everybody avoids.”
The sweet child”s eyes became calmer and softer, her fear seemed melting away and she looked undecided.
Ourson took one step towards her but she became greatly frightened, uttered a sharp cry and tried again to rise and run off. Ourson paused and began to weep bitterly.
“Unfortunate wretch that I am,” he said; “I cannot even assist this poor lost child. My appearance fills her with terror! She would rather be lost than have help from me!”
So saying, poor Ourson covered his face with his hands and sobbing piteously threw himself on the ground. A few moments afterwards he felt a little hand seeking to take possession of his own. He raised his head and saw the child standing before him, her eyes filled with tears. She caressed and patted the hairy cheeks of poor Ourson.
“Don”t cry, little cub, don”t cry,” said she. “Violette is no longer afraid, she will not run away again. Violette will love poor little cub. Won”t little cub give his hand to Violette? And if you cry again, Violette will embrace you, poor little cub.”
Tears of happiness and tenderness succeeded those of despair in Ourson. Violette, seeing that he was again weeping, approached her soft rosy lips to Ourson”s hairy cheek and gave him several kisses.
“You see, little cub, that Violette is no longer afraid. Violette kisses you! The little cub won”t eat Violette–she will follow you!”
If Ourson had followed the dictates of his heart, he would have pressed her to his bosom and covered with kisses the good and charming child who overcame her natural terror in order to assuage the grief and mortification of a poor being whom she saw unfortunate and miserable. But he feared to arouse her terrors.
“She would think that I was about to devour her,” he said.
He contented himself, therefore, with clasping her hands softly, and kissing them delicately. Violette permitted this smilingly.
“Now little cub is satisfied. Little cub will love Violette, poor Violette, who is lost!”
Ourson understood well that her name was Violette; but he could not comprehend how this little girl, so richly clad, was left alone in the forest.
“Where do you live, my dear little Violette?”
“Yonder–yonder–with papa and mamma.”
“What is the name of your papa?”
“He is the king and dear mamma is the queen.”
Ourson was more and more surprised and asked:
“Why are you alone in this forest?”
“Violette doesn”t know. Poor Violette rode on a big dog–he ran, oh! so fast–so fast, a long time! Violette was so tired, she fell down and slept!”
“And the dog, where is he?”
Violet turned in every direction and called softly:
No dog appeared.
“Alas! Ami has gone! Poor Violette is alone–alone!”
Ourson took Violette”s hand and she did not withdraw it but smiled sweetly.
“Shall I go and seek mamma, Violette?”
“No, no! Violette cannot stay all alone in this wood. Violette will go.”
“Come, then, with me, dear little girl. I will take you to my mother.”
Ourson and Violette now turned their steps towards the farm. Ourson gathered strawberries and cherries for Violette, who would not touch them till Ourson had eaten half. When she found that he still held his half in his hand, she took them, and placed them herself in his mouth, saying:
“Eat–eat, little cub. Violette will not eat unless you eat. Violette cannot have little cub unhappy. Violette will not see you weep.”
She looked at him to see if he was content and happy. Ourson was really happy. He saw that his good and pretty little companion not only tolerated him but was interested in him and sought to make herself agreeable. His eyes were sparkling with joy, his voice, always soft and sad, was now tender. After half an hour”s walk, he said to her:
“Violette, you are no longer afraid of poor Ourson, are you?”
“Oh! no, no, no!” exclaimed she. “Ourson is good–Violette will not leave him.”
“You are willing, then, that I shall embrace you? you are no longer afraid of me?”
Violette, without further reply, threw herself in his arms. Ourson embraced her tenderly and pressed her to his heart.
“Dear Violette, I will always love you. I will never forget that you are the only child who was ever willing to speak to me, touch me or embrace me.”
A short time after they arrived at the farm. Agnella and Passerose were seated at the door, talking together. When they saw Ourson arrive holding a little girl richly dressed by the hand, they were so surprised that neither could utter a word.
“Dear mamma, here is a good and charming little girl whom I found sleeping in the forest. She is called Violette. She is very well bred and is not afraid of me. She even embraced me when she saw me weeping.”
“And why did you weep, my poor boy?” said Agnella.
“Because the little girl was afraid of me,” said Ourson, in a sad and trembling voice, “and hurt herself when trying to run away from me.”
“Violette is not afraid now,” said she, interrupting him hastily. “Violette gave her hand to poor Ourson, embraced him and fed him with cherries and strawberries.”
“But what is all this about?” said Passerose. “Why has our Ourson the charge of this little girl? why was she alone in the wood? who is she? Answer, Ourson, I do not understand this.”
“I know nothing more than yourself, dear Passerose,” said Ourson. “I saw this little child asleep in the wood all alone. She awoke and began to weep. Suddenly she saw me and cried out in terror. I spoke to her and began to approach her; but she screamed again with fright. I was sorrowful–oh! so very sorrowful! I wept bitterly.”
“Hush! hush! poor Ourson,” exclaimed Violette, putting her little hand on his mouth; “Violette will certainly never make you cry again.”
While saying these words Violette”s voice was trembling and her sweet eyes were full of tears.
“Good little girl!” said Agnella, embracing her; “you love our poor Ourson, who is so unhappy!”
“Oh, yes! Violette loves Ourson–will always love Ourson!”
Agnella and Passerose asked Violette many questions about her father, mother and country; but they could learn nothing more from her than she had already told Ourson. Her father was a king, her mother a queen and she did not know how she came to be alone in the forest.
Agnella did not hesitate to take under her protection this poor lost child. She loved her already because of the affection the little one seemed to entertain for Ourson and because of the happiness Ourson”s whole manner expressed on seeing himself loved by some one else than his mother and Passerose.
It was now the hour for supper. Passerose laid the cloth and they all took their seats at the table. Violette asked to be put at Ourson”s side. She was gay and laughed and talked merrily. Ourson was more happy than he had ever been. Agnella was contented, and Passerose jumped for joy on seeing a little playmate for her dear Ourson. In her transports she spilled a pan of cream which was not lost, however, as a cat came and licked it up to the last drop. After supper, Violette fell asleep in her chair.
“Where shall we lay her?” said Agnella. “I have no bed for her.”
“Give her mine, dear mamma,” said Ourson; “I can sleep quite as well in the stable.”
Agnella and Passerose at first refused but Ourson insisted so much upon being allowed to make this little sacrifice, that they at last consented. Passerose carried Violette still sleeping in her arms, undressed her without awaking her and laid her quietly in Ourson”s bed, near that of Agnella. Ourson went to sleep in the stable on the bundles of hay. He slept peacefully with content in his heart.
Passerose rejoined Agnella in the parlor. She found her meditating, with her head resting on her hand.
“Of what are you thinking, dear queen?” said she; “your eyes are sad, your lips do not smile. I am come to show you the bracelets of the little stranger. This medallion ought to open but I have tried in vain to open it. Perhaps we shall find here a portrait or a name.”
“Give it to me, my child. These bracelets are beautiful; they may aid us, perhaps, in finding a resemblance which presents itself vaguely to my remembrance and which I am trying in vain to make clear.”
Agnella took the bracelets and turned them from side to side and pressed them in every way, trying to open the medallion, but she succeeded no better than Passerose had done.
At the moment when, weary of her vain efforts, she returned them to Passerose, she saw in the middle of the room a woman glittering as the sun; her face was of dazzling whiteness, her hair seemed made of threads of gold and a crown of glittering stars adorned her brow. Her waist was small and her person seemed transparent, it was so delicate and luminous; her floating robe was studded with stars like those which formed her crown. Her glance was soft yet she smiled maliciously but still with goodness.
“Madam,” said she to Agnella, “you see in me the fairy Drolette, the protectress of your son and of the little princess whom he brought home this morning from the forest. This princess is nearly related to you for she is your niece–the daughter of your brother-in-law Indolent and sister-in-law Nonchalante. Your husband succeeded after your flight in killing Indolent and Nonchalante, who did not distrust him and who passed all their time in sleeping, eating and lounging. Unfortunately, I could not prevent this crime as I was absent assisting at the birth of a prince whose parents are under my protection, and I forgot myself while playing tricks upon a wicked old maid of honor and an old chamberlain who was cruel and avaricious, both of them friends of my sister, the fairy Furious. But I arrived in time to save the princess Violette, only daughter and heiress of King Indolent and Queen Nonchalante. She was playing in the garden while the king Ferocious was seeking her with his poniard in his hand. I induced her to mount on the back of my dog Ami, who was ordered to leave her in the forest and to that point I directed the steps of the prince your son. Conceal from both of them their birth and your own and do not allow Violette to see these bracelets, which contain the portraits of her father and mother, nor the rich clothing which I have replaced by other articles better suited to the quiet existence she will lead here. I have here,” said the fairy, “a casket of precious stones. It contains the happiness of Violette but you must hide them from all eyes and not open the casket until she shall have been lost and found.”
“I will execute your orders most faithfully, madam, but I pray you tell me if my unhappy son must long wear his frightful covering.”
“Patience! patience!” cried the fairy, “I watch over you, over Violette and over your son. Inform Ourson of the faculty he has of exchanging his skin with any one who loves him well enough to make this sacrifice for his sake. Remember that no one must know the rank of Ourson or of Violette. Passerose, on account of devotion, deserves to be the only one initiated into this mystery and she can always be trusted. Adieu, queen; count always upon my protection. Here is a ring, which you must place upon your little finger. As long as you wear it there you will want for nothing.”
Waving her farewell with her hand, the fairy took the form of a lark and flew away singing merrily.
Agnella and Passerose looked at each other. Agnella sighed, Passerose smiled.
“Let us hide this precious casket, dear queen, and the clothing of Violette. I am going now to see what the fairy has prepared for Violette”s dress to-morrow morning.”
She ran quickly and opened the wardrobe, and found it filled with clothing, linen and hosiery, all plain but good and comfortable. After having looked at all, counted all and approved all and after having assisted Agnella to undress, Passerose went to bed and was soon sound asleep.