"Chapter V: The white Stone of Happiness." by Lilian Gask (1865-).
Publication: Gask, Lilian (1865-) The Fairies and the Christmas Child. Illustrated by Willy Pogány (1882-1955). London: Harrap & Co., n.d. [First published 1912] pp. 89-108.
The fruit trees were a-glow with blossom when we reached Normandy, and the pink and white Elves who played hide-and-seek in the boughs were as lovely as Titania. We spent some time at a big farm, where Father had stayed long ago with Mother, and we drove all over the country in the farmer's gig.
One day I woke quite early, when the birds had only just commenced to twitter, and the sky was still rosy with dawn. I threw open my little casement window as wide as it would go, and the air smelt so sweet, and it was all so beautiful, that I longed to be out-of-doors. In the quiet of the early morning the Elves might be abroad, so I slipped on my things and stole down to the orchard. And there, sure enough, were the Elfin hosts.
But though I told them who I was, they were too shy to talk, and scattered the blossom on my upturned face, when I tried to coax them. A fat brown thrush scolded me for disturbing her babies at their breakfast, and fluttered round me, beating her wings, until I moved away, when the Elves seemed to be as pleased as she was, for they wanted to be left to themselves.
On the opposite side of the orchard was a bank of moss, and I strolled across and sat down in a little hollow. The moss was soft as velvet, and through the boughs of a pear tree, laden with bloom, I could see the gate to the farm-yard. A speckled hen was the only creature in sight, and it amused me to watch how daintily she pecked this side and that. All at once there came an excited chorus of "Cluck-Cluck-Cluck!" and it seemed as if every fowl in the place were trying to go through the gate. They were led by a fine young cock, with beautifully bright green head feathers. Once he was safely through, he perched himself on an empty pail, and crowed indignantly.
"Cock-adoodle-do-oo!" mocked a voice behind him, and a little boy in a red cap gave him a box on the ears which sent him flying.
"That bird thinks twice too much of himself," he grinned, as he ran to me over the grass. "Who am I? Why, Nain Rouge of Normandy, first cousin to Puck and Robin Goodfellow across the water."
He had twinkling eyes that were never still, and a roguish face. I knew I was going to like him immensely, so I showed him my new knife and said he might whittle his stick if he'd promise to give it back to me. Nain Rouge felt both blades with a small brown finger, and said they were too blunt for him.
"Blunt?" I cried. "Why, they're as sharp as sharp can be! Just see!" But when I tried to show him how sharp they were, neither would cut at all. I was so surprised that I hadn't a word to say, and Nain Rouge doubled himself in two with laughter.
"Never mind," he gasped, when he could speak, "I'll make them all right for you." He touched them again, twisting his tongue round the corner of his mouth, and screwing his eyes up comically.
"Now cut!" he said, and when I found they were as sharp as ever, I shut up the blades, and put the knife back into my pocket. I was glad I had left my watch in the house, for Nain Rouge might have tried to play tricks with that.
"Another name I go by is the 'Lutin,'" he said, throwing himself on the ground beside me. "When I have nothing better to do, I lutine, or twist, the horses' manes. One summer afternoon two lazy maids fell fast asleep in the hay loft, when they ought to have been down with the reapers in the long field. I lutined their hair so nicely for them that when they woke they could not untwist it, and had to cut it off! The House Spirits made rather a fuss, for those girls were pets of theirs, but Abundia, Queen of the Fées and Lutins, said I had done quite right. We can't bear laziness, you know, for we're always busy ourselves."
"What do you do besides mischief?" I said slyly, as he smoothed the feather in his pretty cap. Nain Rouge looked quite offended.
"If the truth were told," he said in a huff, "I should fancy I'm twice as much use as you are. The farmers couldn't get on without me. I look after the horses, and help to rub the poor beasts down when they come home tired at the end of the day; I stir their food so that it agrees with them, and scare off the grey goblins who might put it into their heads to work no more at the plough. And I'm as good to the farmers' wives as an extra maid, even if I do take my pay in a drink of cream. I dance my shadow on the wall to amuse the children if they are fretful, and tell them stories when the wind moans down the chimney and would frighten them if it could. And I pinch their toes when they are naughty, and hide the playthings they leave about."
He looked so much in earnest while he told me all this, and so very good, that I was beginning to think he was not half so mischievous as Puck, when he gave a funny little chuckle, and rubbed his hands.
"Such fun as I have with the fishermen!" he cried. "If they forget to cross themselves with holy water before they go to sea, I fill their nets with heavy stones, or entice away the fish. When the fancy takes me, I change myself into the form of a handsome young man, and if folks do not then treat me with proper respect, and call me 'Bon Garçon' civilly, I pelt them with stones until they run! Their wives and daughters are always gentle to poor Nain Rouge, however; and when I can, I do them a good turn. Shall I tell you how I consoled the fair Marguerite when she wept? Then listen well!"
The White Stone of Happiness.
"A favourite haunt of mine," began Nain Rouge, "is a little fishing village, close to Dieppe. The maidens there are more to my mind than those on any other part of the coast; their skin is like clear pale amber, warmed into redness where the sun has kissed it, and their eyes–ah! you should see them! The fairest of all was Marguerite, and often I sat for hours on her window-sill to watch her at her spinning. Etienne would come and watch her too, and he thought, foolish lad, that her angel-face meant an angel temper; but I knew she had a tongue.
And such a tongue! It was like the brook, for it never stopped, and she said such sharp and bitter things that the love of her friends withered up as they heard them, just as spring lilies droop before a cruel East wind. Etienne was a stranger, or he would have known better than to woo her seriously. Strange to relate, the wayward maid was different from the day he came. I had never known her so soft and sweet, and the neighbours said that surely some good fairy had laid her under a spell.
Etienne and she were wed one summer morning, but the little new moon had not shone in the heavens a second time when there was trouble between them. Marguerite's tongue was sharper than ever from its long rest, and Etienne could not believe it belonged to his 'angel' bride. He left the cottage without a word, and when he came back his month was grim, for his mates had hastened to make things worse by telling him many tales. A foolish man was Etienne, or he would not have heeded them; but that is neither here nor there.
From this time on he made as though he were deaf when Marguerite railed at him, and he took her no more to his breast when he came back from the sea. And Marguerite grieved, for she loved him well in her woman's way, and longed for his caresses. The sight of his pale set face, and his sombre eyes–they were like the eyes of a dog in pain, when the hand he loves best has struck him–stung her to fresh taunts, and there came a day when he answered her back in the same way, and all but struck her. Ah! a woman's tongue can do rare mischief! His mother had never heard an ugly word from him.
One eve I met Marguerite on the shore. She was sobbing bitterly, for she had just come out of a cave in the rocks, where dwelt a Witch who could read the future.
I had taken the form of a slim, dark, serious looking lad, and laying a gentle hand upon her arm, 'What ails you, Madame Marguerite?' I said. She glanced at me piteously, as one who seeks a refuge and knows not where to turn, and wrung her hands.
'I have lost my Etienne's heart for ever, for ever,' she wailed, 'unless I can find the White Stone of Happiness, which a mermaid throws from the depths of the sea once in a thousand years. I may search for months, and never find it; and Etienne holds aloof from me, and grows further away each day.'
Now just at her feet lay a small white stone, smooth and round as a Fairy's plaything. I picked it up and showed it to her.
'It shall be yours,' I told her gravely, 'if you give me your solemn promise to heed my words.'
'I promise!' she answered fervently, and the wind tossed her unbound hair until it floated round her shoulders like a Kelpie's mane. A seventh wave rushed up to her feet, and as she moved nearer the breakwater, I sang her this little song:
'Fairy stone of fairy spell,Then I gave her the stone, and she clasped it against her bosom and sped to her home.
Marguerite, O guard it well!
When thine anger doth arise
Elves would rob thee of thy prize.
Press it 'neath thy tongue so red,
Hold it firm till wrath has sped.
Smile, speak softly, and behold,
Love shall warm thee as of old.'
When Etienne returned he was in a bitter mood. Luck had been against him; he had caught no fish, and his largest net had been torn on the rocks. Marguerite set a meal before him, but he pushed it angrily away; for the broth had burned while she was with the Witch, and tasted anything but pleasant.
'Such food is not fit for a dog!' he cried. ''Twas an ill day for me when I came to Le Pollet! I had done better to drown myself.'
Marguerite stayed her fierce reply that she might slip the white stone between her lips; and as she held it beneath her tongue her anger suddenly melted. She thought now of Etienne's hunger and weariness, and was sorry that she had nought in the house for him to eat. And as he sat in moody silence she stole away, and begged some good broth from her godmother, who had always enough and to spare. This she placed before him beside the hearth, and smiled, and spoke in a gentle voice that made him turn to her with a start–it was just as if the Marguerite he loved had come back to him from the grave. Then he drew her to him, hiding his face in her dress; and for the first time since many a long day there was peace between them. Marguerite kept that white stone always, and when she was tempted to speak in anger it worked like a Fairy spell."
"And wasn't it one?" I asked, as Nain Rouge put on his cap again, and a delicious smell of fried eggs and bacon came from the farmhouse-kitchen on the breeze.
"Not it," said Nain Rouge, laughing heartily, "there were thousands like it on the beach, but you see it did just as well. For if once a woman can be induced to hold her tongue when she is angry, there'll be little trouble 'twixt man and wife. This has been so from all time."
"Cock-a-doodle doo!" cried the black cock, strutting grandly in front of us. Nain Rouge darted after him, and I left them to themselves and went in to breakfast.
I did not see Nain Rouge again, but I heard a great deal about him from Madame Daudet, the farmer's wife; she called him "the plague of her life." She said he hid her spectacles every time that she laid them down, and that it was quite impossible to make good butter, for he would play tricks with the cream. I think she was fond of him, all the same, for when I mentioned his name her jolly old face crinkled up into smiles, and she looked quite pleased and happy.
One day when Father had gone to the village to see some sick child whom the peasants believed to have been gazed at with "an evil eye," because it seemed unable to get well, Madame came to me as I stood prodding with a stick some fat black pigs who would not stir.
"Since you are so fond of Fairy Folk," she said, "why not go to the valley, and see if you can meet a Fée? I have never seen one myself, but my great-great-grandmother came across a bevy of them in a forest near Bayeux. The loveliest one was their Queen, and my great-great-grandmother talked of her beauty until her dying day."
"All right," I said. And she gave me some brown bread and a golden apple, so that I need not come home for tea. Perhaps she wanted to get me out of the way, for the sick child's aunt was coming to pay her a visit, and she liked a gossip.
The valley was very still. Even the birds seemed to have gone to sleep, and the stream that trickled down from the hill tinkled very softly, as if it had to be careful not to wake the ferns that fringed its banks. As I looked up the glade I saw a lovely little lady coming slowly towards me, and my heart began to thump in the queerest way. She wore a trailing silvery gown, with a deep band of blue at its border. Her shoes were set with tiny diamonds, and her dainty feet moved through the grass as prettily and as softly as the wind does through the corn. She did not see me until she had come quite close, for I stood in the shade of a blossoming bush. As I took off my cap, her fair face flushed deeply, and for a moment I feared she would run away. So I hastened to tell her that I was a Christmas Child, and why I had come to the valley. At this she smiled, and I saw that her eyes were as blue as the depths of the sea.
"You are welcome," she said, "though at first I feared you. Such sorrow has come to Fées through mortals that we are wont to fly at man's approach. But a Christmas Child is almost a Fée himself, and I may talk to you. My name is Méllisande."
Then she asked me to walk with her through the wood, and I felt quite proud when she took my hand. A cheeky little Elf, who overheard me say that I would go with her anywhere, turned a somersault in the air and burst out laughing, but I pretended not to hear. It wasn't his business, anyhow, and I wished that that walk through the valley had been twice as long.
At the further end, quite hidden among the larches, was a natural grotto of moss-grown stones, and just inside it a heap of ferns, piled up to make a throne that was fit for a queen. Méllisande seated herself on this, and I sat down at her feet.
We did not talk for a long while, for she seemed to be thinking as she stroked my hair, and I only wanted to look at her. After awhile I asked her if she had been one of the Fées that Madame Daudet's great-great-grandmother had met in a forest near Bayeux. She smiled and sighed as she told me "Yes," and a wood dove flew out of the trees and perched on her shoulder.