ONCE upon a time there was a Widow, a very worthy woman, who had two daughters, both of whom were very amiable; the eldest was named Blanche, the second Vermeille. They had been given these names because the first had the fairest complexion in the world, and the second cheeks and lips as red as vermilion or the finest coral. One day the good Widow, sitting at her door spinning, saw a poor old woman, who could with difficulty walk, even with the aid of a stick. "You seem very tired," said the good Widow to the old creature; "sit down a moment and rest," and immediately desired her daughter to place a chair for her. They both rose directly, but Vermeille ran quicker than her sister and brought the chair. "Will you take something to drink?" said the good woman to the old one. "With all my heart," replied she; "I could even eat something, if you could give me a morsel to refresh me." "I will give you all in my power," said the good Widow: "but I am poor, and it will not be much." At the same time she told her daughters to attend on the old woman, who placed herself at the table; and the good Widow told her eldest daughter to go and gather some plums from a tree which the young girl had planted herself, and of which she was very fond.
Blanche, instead of obeying her mother cheerfully, murmured against this order, and said to herself, "It was not for this old greedy creature that I have taken so much care of my plum-tree." She dared not refuse, however, to gather some of the plums; but she did so with an ill grace, and unwillingly.
"And you, Vermeille," said the good woman to her second daughter, "you have no fruit to give this good lady, for your grapes are not yet ripe." "True," said Vermeille, "but I hear my hen cluck; she has just laid an egg, and if madame will like to eat it warm I will give it her with all my heart." At the same time, without awaiting the reply of the old woman, she ran to fetch her egg; but at the same moment that she presented it to the stranger she disappeared, and they saw in her place a beautiful lady, who said to the mother, "I am about to reward your two daughters according to their deserts. The eldest shall become a great Queen, the second a farmer's wife." At the same time striking the cottage with her stick, it disappeared, and they saw in its place a pretty farm. "There is your lot," said she to Vermeille. "I know that I have given to each that which she will like best."
The Fairy departed as she uttered these words, and the mother, as well as her two daughters, remained struck with astonishment. They entered the farmhouse, and were charmed with the style of the furniture. The chairs were only of wood, but they were so polished that they could see themselves reflected in them as in a mirror. The bed-linen was white as snow. In the farmyard there were twenty rams and as many sheep, four oxen, four cows, and in the poultry-yard all kinds of fowls, hens, ducks, pigeons, &c. There was also a pretty garden, filled with fruits and flowers. Blanche saw without envy the present which had been made to her sister, and revelled in the delightful anticipations of being a Queen. Suddenly she heard hunters passing, and going to the door to see them, she appeared so beautiful in the eyes of the King, who was returning from the chase, that he resolved immediately to marry her.
Blanche having become Queen, said to her sister Vermeille, "I will not have you remain a farmer; come with me, sister, and I will give you in marriage to a great lord." "I am much obliged, sister," replied Vermeille, "but I am accustomed to the country, and wish to remain there." For the first few months Queen Blanche was so much occupied with balls, fine clothes, and plays, that she thought of nothing else. But she soon became accustomed to such things, and they amused her no longer; on the contrary, she became very miserable. All the ladies of the Court paid her great respect in her presence, but she knew that they did not like her, and that they said amongst themselves, "Look at this little peasant, how she assumes the fine lady: the King had a very low taste to choose such a wife." This kind of conversation made the King reflect. He began to think he had done wrong in marrying Blanche, and as his love for her declined he neglected her, and passed his time with the handsomest ladies of his Court.
When it was perceived that the King no longer loved his wife, the courtiers ceased to pay her any respect. She was very unhappy, for she had not a single real friend to whom she could relate her griefs. She saw that it was the fashion at Court to betray friends for interested motives, to appear to love those whom they hated, and to tell falsehoods every moment. She was obliged to look serious, because they said a Queen ought to have a grave and majestic air. She had several children, and during all this time she had a doctor continually attending her, who examined everything she ate, and took from her everything she liked. They put no salt in her soup; they forbade her to walk when she was inclined to do so; in a word, she was contradicted from morning till night. They gave governesses to her children, who brought them up very improperly, without her having the liberty to find fault. Poor Blanche was near dying of grief, and she became so thin that she excited the commiseration of everybody. She had not seen her sister during the three years that she had been Queen, because she thought that a person of her rank would be degraded by visiting a farmer; but being overcome with melancholy, she resolved at length to go and pass some days in the country to amuse herself a little. She asked permission of the King, who willingly granted it, because he thought it would be a good riddance.
On her road she came to the farm of Vermeille, and at a distance she saw before the door a troop of shepherds and shepherdesses, dancing and amusing themselves with all their hearts. "Alas!" said the Queen, sighing, "when shall I ever divert myself like these poor people, with no one to find fault with me?" As soon as she appeared her sister ran to her to embrace her. She had such a contented air, she was grown so stout, that the Queen could not help crying at seeing her. Vermeille had married a young peasant who had no fortune, but he always remembered that he was indebted to his wife for all that he possessed, and he sought, by his indulgent manner, to mark his gratitude for her. Vermeille had not many servants, but they were as fond of her as if they had been her children, because she treated them as such. All her neighbours also loved her, and all sought to give her proof of it. She had not much money, but she had no need of it, for she obtained from her land corn, wine, and oil in sufficiency. Her flocks furnished her with milk, with which she made butter and cheese. She spun the wool of her sheep to make clothes for herself, as well as for her husband, and for two children which she had. They were in wonderfully good health; and in the evenings, when their work was done, they amused themselves with all kinds of games. "Alas!" cried the Queen, "the Fairy has made me an unlucky present in bestowing on me a crown. Happiness is not to be found in magnificent palaces, but in the innocent occupations of the country."
Hardly had she uttered these words when the Fairy appeared. "I intended not to reward you but to punish you by making you a Queen," said the Fairy, "because you begrudged giving me your plums. In order to be happy, you must, like your sister, only possess such things as are necessary, and wish for no more." "Ah! Madam," cried Blanche, "you are sufficiently revenged. Terminate my misery." "It is ended," replied the Fairy; "the King, who loves you no longer, has just repudiated you to marry another wife, and to-morrow his officers will come to order you, in his name, not to return to the palace." This occurred as the Fairy had predicted. Blanche passed the rest of her days with her sister Vermeille in peace and happiness, and never thought of the court but to thank the Fairy for having brought her back to the village.
LA VEUVE ET SES DEUX FILLES is better known by the title of Blanche and Vermillion, under which it has been frequently printed, and was also produced on the French stage by Mons. Florian, in March, 1781. The moral of the story is declared by the Fairy to be that excessively trite and common-place axiom, that happiness consists in content, or, in the words of the author, the possession of things only that are necessary without wishing for more; but the author forgot to show us that Blanche was discontented. It does not appear that she wished for superfluities, or to be a "great Queen," or that such an idea ever entered her head till the Fairy promised her she should become one, "not to reward," but "to punish," her for begrudging to give away her plums. Poor Blanche is therefore made an unhappy queen; her low birth renders her an object of contempt at Court; the King is a worthless person, who neglects the innocent girl his passion induced him to place upon his throne, and who is the mother of his children; and at length the miserable wife exclaims that "happiness is not to be found in magnificent palaces but in the innocent occupations of the country." Now this is foolish--it is worse, for it is false and injurious. There is as much happiness in palaces and on thrones, thank God, as there is in cottages. The occupations of a virtuous sovereign are as innocent as those of a husbandman, while the power to do good, existing with the will, must make the balance of happiness greatly in favour of the former. The cares of State are burdensome enough, no doubt, and the more conscientious the monarch, the weightier the sense of responsibility; but has the countryman no cares, no sorrows, no vices? The legal occupations of all classes are "innocent." Is it only kings and nobles who yield to temptations or indulge in the evil propensities of our common nature? There has been too much of this fallacy infused into what are called moral stories, and at the risk of being accused of breaking a butterfly on the wheel, I have singled out this particular instance, as Blanche and Vermillion is to be found in almost every child's story-book. That the author's intention was laudable, I do not doubt; but to read a wholesome lesson, she should have shown Blanche to have been discontented with the lot assigned to her by Providence, pining to mix in society for which she was neither fitted by birth nor education, and dreaming that happiness consisted solely in rank, wealth, and luxury. The moral should have been, not that such possessions were incompatible with virtue and happiness, but that their owners were not exempted from the frailties and sufferings of humanity, and that unequal marriages were rarely fortunate ones. All this, it will be said, she might mean, but it is not evident; and the only impression made upon a child's mind by this story, if any impression can be made by it whatever, is the very absurd and objectionable one, that all kings and queens are wicked and unhappy, and all farmers and dairy-maids virtuous and contented.
Widow and Her Two Daughters, The
Beaumont, Jeanne Leprince de (Madame de Beaumont)
Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers
Planché, J. R.
G. Routledge & Co.
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Country of Origin:
ATU 480: The Kind and the Unkind Girls