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.
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.
"You can go," said she, "on this side as far as that beautiful river, but never to the opposite shore; and you may hunt in this wood; but beware," said she, "of passing a great oak, which is in the midst of the forest; it is very remarkable, for it has roots and trunk of iron. If you go beyond it, misfortunes may happen to you, from which I cannot protect you; and, besides that, I should not perhaps be in a position to assist you promptly, for a fairy has plenty of occupation."
The young shepherds assured her that they would do exactly as she prescribed; and all four, leading their flocks into the meadows, left Madam Tu-tu alone with the Good Woman. She remarked some anxiety in her manner. "What is the matter, madam?" said the Fairy; "what cloud has come over your mind?" "I will not deny," said the Good Woman, "that I am uneasy at leaving them all thus together. I have for some time perceived with sorrow that Finfin and Lirette love each other more than is desirable, and here, to add to my trouble, another attachment springs up: the Prince and Mirtis do not dislike each other, and I fear to leave their youth exposed to the wandering of their hearts."
"You have brought up these two young girls so well," replied Madam Tu-tu, "that you need fear nothing: I will answer for their discretion; I will enlighten you as to their destiny."
She then informed her that Finfin was the son of the wicked King, and brother of the young Prince; that Mirtis and Lirette were sisters, and daughters of the deceased King, who had been murdered, and who was the brother of the Queen, whom the cruel usurper had married,--so that these four young persons were near relations; that the wicked King had ascended the throne after having committed a hundred atrocities, which he wished to crown by the murder of the two Princesses; that the Queen did all she could to prevent him, and not being able to succeed, she had called her (the Fairy) to her assistance; that she then told the Queen she would save them, but that she could only do so by taking with them her eldest son; that she undertook to promise she should see them again some day in happiness; that on those conditions, the Queen had consented to a separation, which appeared at first very hard; that she had carried them all three off, and that she had confided them to the care of the Good Woman as the person most worthy of such an office.
After this the Fairy begged her to be at ease, assuring her that the union of these young Princes would restore peace to the kingdom, wherein Finfin would reign with Lirette. The Good Woman listened to this discourse with great interest; but not without letting fall some tears. Madam Tu-tu was surprised at this emotion, and asked the cause. "Alas!" said she, "I fear they will lose their innocence by this grandeur to which they will be elevated, and that so brilliant a fortune will corrupt their virtue."
"No," replied the Fairy, "do not fear so great a misfortune; the principles you have instilled into them are too excellent. It is possible to be a king and yet an honest man. You know that there is one in the universe who is the model of perfect monarchs.  Therefore set your mind at rest; I shall be with you as much as possible, and I hope you will not be melancholy here."
The Good Woman believed her, and after a short time felt perfectly satisfied. The young shepherds were so happy also that they desired nothing but the continuance of their agreeable mode of life. Their pleasures, although tranquil, were not without interest: they saw each other every day, and the days only appeared to them too short.
The bad King learnt that they were with Madam Tu-tu, but all his power could not take them away from her. He knew by what magic spells she protected them; he saw clearly that he could only get the better of them by stratagem; he had not been able to inhabit the House of Roses in consequence of the continual tricks played on him by Madam Tu-tu; he hated her more than ever, as well as the Good Woman; and his hatred now extended also to his son.
He employed all kinds of artifice in order to get into his power some one of the four young shepherds, but his art did not extend to the dominions of Madam Tu-tu. One unlucky day (there are some which we cannot avoid), these amiable shepherds had bent their steps in the direction of the fatal oak, when the beautiful Lirette perceived upon a tree, about twenty paces distant, a bird of such rare plumage, that she let fly an arrow at it on the impulse of the moment, and seeing the bird fall dead, ran to pick it up. All this was done instantaneously, and without reflection; but the poor Lirette found, to her cost, that she was caught herself. It was impossible for her to return; she desired, but had no power to do so. She discovered her error, and all she could do was to extend her arms for pity to her brothers and sisters. Mirtis began to cry, and Finfin, without hesitation, ran to her. "I will perish with you," he cried, and in a moment had joined her.
Mirtis wished to follow them, but the young Prince detained her. "Let us go and apprise Madame Tu-tu of this," said he; "that is the best assistance we can render them." At the same moment they saw the people of the wicked King seize them, and all they could do was to cry adieu to each other.
The King had caused this beautiful bird to be placed there by his hunters, to serve as a snare for the shepherds: he fully expected what had come to pass. They led Lirette and Finfin before the cruel monarch, who abused them terribly, and had them confined in a dark and strong prison: it was then they began to lament that their little cherry and almond had lost their virtue. The fawn and the partridge sought for them, but the fawn not being able to see them, shed some tears of grief, and finding the King had given orders that she should be taken and burnt alive, she saved herself by running fast to Mirtis. The partridge was more fortunate, for she saw them every day through the grating of their prison: happily for them, the King had not thought of separating them. When one loves, it is a pleasure to suffer together.
The partridge flew back every day, and came to tell the news to Madame Tu-tu, the Good Woman, and Mirtis. Mirtis was very unhappy, and without the handsome Prince she would have been inconsolable. She resolved to write to these poor captives by the faithful partridge, and hung a little bottle of ink to her neck, with some paper, and put a pen in her beak. The good partridge, thus loaded, presented herself at the bars of the prison, and it was a great delight to our young shepherds to see her again. Finfin put out his hand and took from her all she brought him, after which they began to read as follows: 
Mirtis and the Prince to Lirette and Finfin.
"Know you how we languish during this cruel separation; that we sigh incessantly, and that perhaps it may kill us. We should already have died, had we not been sustained by hope. That hope has supported us ever since Madam Tu-tu has assured us that you still lived. Believe us, dear Lirette and Finfin, we shall meet again, despite of malice, and be happy."
This letter had a powerful effect on the minds of Lirette and Finfin. They were filled with joy, and wrote immediately this reply:--
Lirette and Finfin to Mirtis and the Prince.
"We have received your letter with extreme pleasure. It has rejoiced us more than we could have anticipated. In these regions of horror our torments would be insupportable, but for the sweet consolation we derive from each other's presence. Near the object of our affections, we are insensible to pain, and love renders everything delightful. Adieu, dear Prince, adieu, Mirtis. Encourage your mutual passion. Be always inspired by a tender fidelity. You hold out a hope to us in which we participate. The greatest blessing which can occur to us will be accompanied by your presence."
Finfin having attached this note to the neck of the partridge, she flew away with it very quickly. The young shepherds received great consolation from it, but the Good Woman could not be comforted from the moment she had been separated from those so dear to her, and whom she knew to be in so much peril. "How quickly my happiness has vanished," said she to Madame Tu-tu; "I seem to have been born only to be continually agitated. I thought I had taken the only means for ensuring my repose; how purblind are mortals!" "And do you not know," replied the Fairy, "that there is no state of existence in this world in which one can live always happily." "I do," replied the Good Woman, mournfully; "and if one cannot find happiness in one's self, it is seldom found elsewhere. But, Madam, consider the fate of my children, I beg of you!" "They have not remembered the orders I gave them," replied Madame Tu-tu; "but let us think of a remedy."
Madame Tu-tu entered her library with the Good Woman. She read nearly all the night, and having at length taken down and opened a large book, which she had frequently passed over, although its sides were covered with plates of gold, she appeared plunged, on a sudden, into a state of excessive sadness. After some time, and just as day was breaking, the Good Woman observing a few tears fall on the leaves of the book, took the liberty to ask the cause of the Fairy's sorrow. "I grieve," said she, "at the irrevocable decree of Fate, which I have learned from these pages, and which I shudder and tremble to acquaint you with." "Are they dead?" cried the Good Woman. "No," pursued Madame Tu-tu; "but nothing can save them, unless you or I go and present ourselves to the King, and satisfy his vengeance. I confess the truth to you, Madam," continued the Fairy, "that I do not feel sufficient affection for them, nor enough courage, to go thus and expose myself to his fury, and I question, also, if any one could be found capable of such a sacrifice." "Pardon me, Madam," replied the Good Woman, with great firmness; "I will go seek this King; no sacrifice is too great for me that will save my children. I will pour out for them, with all my heart, every drop of blood which I have in my veins."
Madam Tu-tu could not sufficiently admire so grand a resolution; she promised to assist her in every way in her power; but that she found herself limited in this instance, in consequence of the fault which they had committed. The Good Woman took leave of her, and would not acquaint Mirtis or the Prince with her design, for fear of affecting them and weakening her own determination. She set out with the partridge flying by her side; and as they passed the iron oak, the partridge snatched with her beak a little moss from its trunk, and placed it in the hands of the Good Woman. "When you are in the greatest peril which can befall you," said she to her, "throw this moss at the feet of the King." The Good Woman treasured up these words, and hardly had she advanced some steps when she was seized by some of the wicked King's soldiers, whom he always kept in readiness on the outskirts of the domain of Madam Tu-tu. They led her before him. "I have thee at last, wicked creature!" said he; "I will put thee to death by the most cruel torture!" "I came but for that purpose," replied she, "and thou mayst exercise thy cruelty as thou wilt on me, only spare my children, who are so young and incapable of having offended thee. I offer thee my life for theirs." All who heard these words were filled with pity at her magnanimity; the King alone was unmoved. The Queen, who was present, shed a torrent of tears. The King was so indignant with her that he would have killed her, if her attendants had not placed themselves between them. She fled, uttering piercing cries.
The barbarous King caused the Good Woman to be shut up, ordering them to feed her well, in order to render approaching death more frightful to her. He commanded them to fill a pit with snakes, vipers, and serpents, promising himself the pleasure of precipitating the Good Woman into it. What a horrible mode of execution! It makes one shudder to think of it!
The officers of this unjust Prince obeyed him with regret; and when they had fulfilled this frightful order, the King came to the spot. They were about to bind the Good Woman, when she begged them not to do so, assuring them that she had sufficient courage to meet death with her hands free; and, feeling she had no time to lose, she approached the King, and threw the moss at his feet. He was at that moment close to the frightful gulf, and stepping forward to inspect it again with pleasure, his feet slipped on the moss, and he fell in. Hardly had he reached the bottom of the pit, when the sanguinary reptiles darted upon him, and stung him to death, and the Good Woman, at the same instant, found herself in company with her dear partridge in the House of Roses.
Whilst these things were happening, Finfin and Lirette were almost dead with misery in their fearful prison; their innocent affection alone kept them alive. They were saying very sad and very affecting things to each other, when they perceived on a sudden the doors of their dungeon open and admit Mirtis, the handsome Prince, and Madam Tu-tu, who threw themselves on their necks, and who, though speaking all at once, failed not, in the midst of this joyful confusion, to announce the death of the King. "He was your father, Finfin, as well as that of the Prince," said Madam Tu-tu; "but he was unnatural and tyrannical, and would a hundred times have put the Queen, your dear mother, to death. Let us go to seek her." They did so. Her amiable nature made her feel some regret at the death of the King, her husband. Finfin and the Prince also paid all decent respect to his memory. Finfin was acknowledged King, and Mirtis and Lirette Princesses. They went all together to the House of Roses, to see the generous Good Woman, who thought she should die of joy in embracing them. They all acknowledged that they owed their lives to her, and more than their lives, as they were indebted to her for their happiness also.
From that moment they considered themselves perfectly happy. The marriages were celebrated with great pomp. King Finfin espoused the Princess Lirette, and Mirtis the Prince. When these splendid nuptials were over, the Good Woman asked permission to retire to the House of Roses. They were very unwilling to consent to this, but yielded to her sincere wish. The widowed Queen also desired to pass the rest of her life with the Good Woman, and the partridge and the fawn did likewise. They were quite disgusted with the world, and found tranquillity in that charming retreat. Madam Tu-tu often went to visit them, as did the King and Queen, the Prince and Princess.
Happy those who can imitate the actions of the Good Woman. Such grandeur of soul must ever meet due reward. Little do they fear being wrecked on the shoals of Fortune, who can give up all with so much courage. Discretion, Sense, Virtue--what may not mortals owe to you, their truest friends in need.