Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Four Gifts
By Émile Souvestre (1806–1854)
From ‘Le Foyer Breton’

IF I had an income of three hundred crowns, I would go to live at Quimper, where there is the finest church of Cornouaille, and where there are weather-vanes on the roofs of the houses. If I had two hundred crowns, I would dwell at Carhaix, on account of its game and the sheep on its heath. But if I had only a hundred crowns, I should want to keep house at Pont-Aven, for there is the greatest abundance of everything. At Pont-Aven you may have the butter for the price of the milk, the chicken for the price of the egg, the linen for the price of the green flax.  1
  Thus one sees good farms there; where salt pork is served three times a week, and where even the shepherds eat as much bread mixed of wheat and rye as they like.  2
  In one of these farms lived Barbaïk Bourhis,—a brave-hearted woman, who supported her house as if she had been a man, and who owned fields and crops enough to keep two sons at school.  3
  Now Barbaïk had one niece who earned more than her keep cost; so she was able to put the gains of each day with those of the day before.  4
  But savings too easily won always beget some plague. By heaping up wheat you draw rats to your barns, and by hoarding crowns you beget avarice in your heart. Old Bourhis had come to care for nothing except increasing her property, and to esteem those only who paid a large sum to the collector every month. So she looked angry whenever she saw Dénès, the day-laborer from Plover, chatting with her niece behind the gable. One morning when she had surprised them again, she cried harshly to Téphany:—  5
  “Isn’t it a shame that you should be chatting all the time like this, with a young man who hasn’t anything, when there are so many others who would gladly buy you a silver ring?”  6
  “Dénès is a good worker, and a true Christian,” answered the young girl. “Some day or other he will find a farm to rent, where he can bring up children.”  7
  “And you want to be their mother?” interrupted the old woman. “God forbid! I would rather see you in the door-yard well than this vagabond’s wife. No, no: it shall never be said that I brought up my sister’s daughter only to have her marry a man who could put his whole fortune in his tobacco pouch.”  8
  “What matters fortune when one has health, and when the Virgin can read our intentions?” answered Téphany gently.  9
  “What matters fortune!” repeated the scandalized mistress of the farm. “Ah! So you have come to despise the goods God gives us? May the saints take pity on us! Since this is the way of it, you piece of effrontery, I forbid you ever to speak to Dénès; and if he appears at the farm again, I will go to the rector, and have him put you in his Sunday admonition.”  10
  “Oh! You would not do that, aunt!” cried Téphany, terrified.  11
  “As surely as there is a Paradise, I will do it!” answered the old woman angrily; “but in the mean time, do you go to the washing-place, wash the linen, and dry it on the hawthorn bushes: for since you have had an ear for the wind from Plover, nothing is done, and your two arms are not worth the five fingers of a one-armed cripple.”  12
  Téphany tried in vain to reply. Mother Bourhis pointed imperiously to the bucket, the soap, and the washing-beetle, ordering her to go at once.  13
  The young girl obeyed; but her heart swelled with grief and resentment.  14
  “Old age is harder than the stones of the farm-house sill,” she thought,—“yes, a hundred times harder; for by continual dropping, rain wears out the stone, but tears cannot soften the will of old people. God knows that chatting with Dénès was the only pleasure I had. If I cannot see him any more, I might as well enter a convent! And yet the good angel was always with us. Dénès taught me only beautiful songs; talked to me only about what we would do when we were husband and wife together on a farm,—he cultivating the land and I taking care of the stables. Is it forbidden then honestly to give ourselves to each other in hope and courage? God would not have made marriage if it was a sin to think of marrying some day; and he would not have given us judgment if he forbade us to choose. Ah! it is doing me a great wrong to keep me from knowing Dénès better, for he is the only one who holds my heart.”  15
  While thus talking to herself, Téphany had reached the washing-place. As she went to set down her bucket of linen on one of the white stones, she saw an old woman who was not of the parish, and who was leaning her head against a little blackthorn staff yellowed by fire. In spite of her trouble, Téphany saluted her.  16
  “My aunt [a Breton title of respect] is enjoying the fresh air under the alders?” she said, placing her load farther off.  17
  “Who has only the roof of the sky for house, rests where he may,” answered the old woman in a trembling voice.  18
  “Are you so deserted?” asked Téphany compassionately; “and have you no relative left who can make you a place at his fireside?”  19
  “All have long been dead,” answered the unknown; “and I have no other family than kind hearts.”  20
  The young girl took the bread, spread with lard, which Barbaïk had wrapped in a bit of linen and placed near her beetle.  21
  “Here, poor aunt,” she said, offering it to the beggar. “To-day at least you shall dine like a Christian, with the bread of the good God: only remember my dead parents in your prayers.”  22
  The old woman took the bread, then looked at Téphany.  23
  “Those who aid, deserve to be aided,” she said. “Your eyes are still red because Barbaïk, the miser, has forbidden you to talk to the young man from Plover; but he is an honest-hearted fellow, who only wishes what is right, and I will give you a means of seeing him every day.”  24
  “You!” exclaimed the young girl, stupefied at finding the beggar-woman so well informed.  25
  “Take this long brass pin,” answered the old woman; “and every time you put it on, Mother Bourhis will have to go out and count her cabbages. As long as you wear the pin, you will be free; and your aunt will not return until the pin is back in its case.”  26
  With these words the beggar rose, made a sign of farewell, and disappeared.  27
  Téphany remained astonished. Evidently the old woman was not a beggar, but a saint or a singer of truth [i.e., a fairy fortune-teller].  28
  At all events, the young girl clutched the pin fast, quite determined to test its power on the morrow.  29
  Therefore, toward the hour when Dénès usually came, she placed it at her collar. Barbaïk immediately took her sandals and went into the door-yard, where she began to count her cabbages. Then from the door-yard she went to the orchard, and from the orchard to the other fields; so that the young girl could chat as long as she liked with the young man from Plover.  30
  It was the same the next day, and all the following days for several weeks. As soon as the pin was taken from its case, the good woman ran to her cabbages; always beginning over again to calculate how many there were of big ones, of little ones, of smooth ones and frizzled ones.  31
  At first Dénès seemed charmed with this liberty; but little by little he became less eager. He had taught Téphany all his songs. He had told her all his plans. Now he was obliged to seek something to tell her, and to get it ready beforehand as a minister does his sermon. Sometimes, even, giving his carting and wheeling as excuse, he did not come at all; and Téphany had her trouble for nothing. She saw that her lover’s affection had cooled, and became more sad than before.  32
  One day when she had waited in vain for the young man, she took her pitcher and went to the fountain, her heart heavy with grief.  33
  As she reached it, she saw the same old woman who had given her the magic pin. She was standing near the spring; and seeing Téphany, she began with a little laugh like a grasshopper’s note:—  34
  “Ah! Ah! The pretty girl is happier, isn’t she, now that she can converse with her lover at any hour of the day?”  35
  “Alas! for that I must be with him,” answered Téphany sadly, “and familiarity has rendered my company less pleasing to him. Ah! aunt, since you gave me the means of seeing him every day, you should have given me at the same time enough wit to keep him.”  36
  “Is that what my daughter would like?” asked the old woman. “Then here is a feather plucked from the wing of a wise angel. When she places it in her hair, nothing can stop her; for she will have as much wit and cunning as Master Jean himself” [mischievous elf].  37
  Téphany, red with joy, seized the feather; and the next day, before Dénès’s visit, she stuck it in her blue hair-band. At the same instant it seemed to her that the sun was rising in her mind. She knew all that the kloeirs take ten years to learn, and many things that the wisest do not know at all; for with the learning of men, she had too the cunning of women. So Dénès was astonished at all she said to him. She spoke in verse like the bazvalanes [matchmakers], knew more songs than the beggars of Scaër, and repeated the local stories told at all the lime-kilns and mills of the country.  38
  The young man returned the next day, and the following days; and Téphany always found something new to tell him. Dénès had never seen a man or a woman with so much wit; but after enjoying it, he grew frightened. Téphany had not been able to keep from wearing her feather for others than him. Her songs and malicious speeches were repeated everywhere, and every one said:—  39
  “She has a bad heart. Whoever marries her will be led by the bridle.”  40
  The young man from Plover repeated this prediction to himself; and as he had always thought he would rather hold the bridle than wear it, he began to find it more difficult to laugh at Téphany’s pleasantries.  41
  One day when he was going to a dance in a new barn, the young girl exercised all her wit to keep him away; but Dénès, who did not wish to be influenced, would not listen to her, and repulsed her prayers.  42
  “Ah! I see very well why you are so anxious about the new barn,” said Téphany, vexed. “You will meet Azilicz of Penenru there!”  43
  Azilicz was the prettiest girl in the canton; and according to all her good friends, the most coquettish. Penenru was near Plover; so the pretty girl and Dénès had become acquainted from living in the same neighborhood.  44
  “Yes, Azilicz will be there,” said Dénès, who liked to make his sweetheart jealous; “and to see her is worth going a long way.”  45
  “Go then where your heart leads you,” said the young girl, wounded.  46
  And she went back to the house, refusing to hear anything more.  47
  But she sat down on the hearth, overcome with sadness; and after thinking a long time, she exclaimed as she threw down the wonderful feather which had been given her:—  48
  “What good does wit do young girls, since the men are drawn by beauty as flies by the sun? Ah! what I needed, old aunt, was not to be the most learned, but the most beautiful.”  49
  “Be then also the most beautiful,” answered a voice suddenly.  50
  Téphany turned, astonished, and saw near the door the old woman with the thorn staff, who said to her:—  51
  “Take this necklace; and as long as you wear it around your neck, you will seem among other women like the queen of the fields among other wild flowers.”  52
  Téphany could not repress a cry of joy. She hastened to put on the necklace, ran to her little mirror, and stood there delighted. Never was girl so pink and so white,—so charming to look at.  53
  Wishing to judge at once of the effect she produced upon Dénès, she dressed in her best; put on her woolen stockings and her buckled shoes, and took the road toward the new barn.  54
  But behold, when she reached the cross-road, she met a young lord, who at sight of her made his coachman stop.  55
  “By my life!” he cried with admiration, “I did not know there was such a beautiful creature in the country; and if it were to cost me my soul, she must bear my name.”  56
  But Téphany answered him:—  57
  “Go on, sir. Go on your way. I am only a poor peasant used to winnowing, and milking, and mowing.”  58
  “And I will make you a great lady!” answered the lord, taking her hand and trying to lead her to his carriage.  59
  The young girl hung back.  60
  “I do not wish to marry any one but Dénès, the laborer from Plover,” she said resolutely.  61
  He wished to insist; but when he saw her approaching the ditch in order to escape into the wheat-field, he ordered his servants to seize her and put her by force in the carriage, which started again on a gallop.  62
  At the end of an hour they reached the castle, which was built of cut stones and covered with slate, as the houses of the nobility are. The young lord sent out for a priest to marry them; and since, while they were waiting, Téphany refused to listen to him and tried to escape, he had her shut up in a great room closed by three bolted doors, and ordered his servants to guard her. But with her pin Téphany sent them all to the garden to count cabbages; with her feather she discovered a fourth door hidden in the wood-work; and she escaped. Then, fervently recommending herself to God, she fled through the underbrush like a hare which has heard the hounds.  63
  She went as long as she could, until night began to fall. Then she saw the belfry of a convent, and knocked at the little grated door to ask for shelter; but on seeing her the porter shook her head.  64
  “Go on, go on,” she said: “there is no place here for such pretty girls running on the roads alone at this hour.”  65
  And closing the gate, she went away without listening to anything more.  66
  Forced to go on, Téphany stopped at the door of a farmhouse where several women were chatting with some young fellows, and made the same request as at the convent.  67
  The mistress of the house hesitated to answer; but all the young men, amazed at Téphany’s beauty, exclaimed at once, offering to take her to their fathers’ houses, and each one trying to promise her more than the others. From promises they came to quarrels, and from quarrels to blows; so that the frightened women began to scold Téphany, telling her it was a great shame to come and trouble the men with her beauty. The poor girl, beside herself, tried to escape; but the young men pursued her. Then she remembered her necklace; and tearing it from her neck, she threw it around that of a sow which was browsing in the spearwort. At the same instant the charm vanished from her, and all the young men began to chase the frightened beast.  68
  Téphany went on in spite of fatigue; and finally reached her aunt’s farm, very weary, and still more sad. Her wishes had succeeded so ill thus far that it was several days before she made another. However, Dénès came mere and more irregularly. He had undertaken to cultivate a warren, and worked there from morning to night. When the young girl expressed regret at not seeing him, he always answered that his work was their only resource, and that one must have dowries and inheritances to spend time chatting.  69
  Then Téphany began to complain and to wish.  70
  “God pardon me!” she said to herself; “but what I should have asked was not liberty to see Dénès every day, for he is tired of it; nor wit, for he is afraid of it; nor beauty, for it causes trouble and distrust: but instead, money, with which one is master of oneself and others. Ah! if I dared make one more request of the old aunt, I should be wiser.”  71
  “Be satisfied,” said the voice of the old beggar, whom Téphany could not see. “If you look in your right pocket you will find a little box. Rub your eyes with the ointment it contains, and you will have in yourself a treasure.”  72
  The young girl quickly sought in her pocket, found the box, opened it, and was rubbing her eyes as directed when Barbaïk Bourhis entered.  73
  She, who for some time had been losing whole days in spite of herself at counting cabbages, seeing all the farm work behind-hand, only wanted an occasion to vent her ill-temper on some one. Finding her niece seated and idle, she clasped her hands.  74
  “So that is the way you work when I am out!” she exclaimed. “Ah! I am no longer surprised to find ruin in the house! Aren’t you ashamed thus to steal the bread of a relative?”  75
  Téphany wanted to excuse herself, but Barbaïk’s anger was like milk heated over a brush fire: as soon as it boils, it bubbles up and goes over. From reproaches she passed to threats, and from threats to a blow. Téphany, who had borne the rest patiently enough, could not help weeping; but judge her surprise when she saw that each of her tears was a beautiful pearl, round and shining.  76
  Mother Bourhis, who also perceived this, cried out with admiration and began to gather them.  77
  Dénès, who entered at this moment, was not less amazed.  78
  “Pearls! genuine pearls!” he cried, taking them.  79
  “It’s a fortune!” said Barbaïk, who went on gathering them.  80
  “Ah! what fairy has bestowed this gift?”  81
  “No one must know about it, Dénès; I will share with you, but with no one else. Keep on, my girl, keep on. You will profit too.”  82
  She held her apron, and Dénès his hat. He thought only of the pearls, and forgot they were tears.  83
  Téphany, choking, tried to escape; but her aunt stopped her, reproaching her with wanting to wrong them, and repeating whatever would make her weep more. The young girl sought to control herself, and wiped her eyes.  84
  “It’s over already!” cried Barbaïk. “Ah! Blessed Mary! If I had such a gift, I would not want to stop any more than the big spring on the green road. Can’t we beat her a little to see?”  85
  “No,” interrupted Dénès: “we must not tire her too much at first. I will go at once to town and find out how much each pearl is worth.”  86
  Barbaïk and he went out together, guessing the value in advance, and settling the division, in which Téphany was forgotten.  87
  She pressed her clasped hands against her heart with a sigh, and raised her eyes to heaven; but they fell upon the old beggar, who, leaning upon her staff in the darkest corner of the hearth, was looking at her with a mocking air. The young girl trembled; and seizing the pin, the feather, and the box of ointment—  88
  “Take them back, take them all back,” she cried wildly. “Misfortune to those who are not content with what God gave! He had endowed me according to his wisdom, which I foolishly questioned! Carry liberty, wit, beauty, and riches to others. I am not, and I do not want to be, anything but the simple girl I was, loving and serving as well as I could.”  89
  “Very well, Téphany,” answered the old woman. “The trial is over: let it profit you. The Trinity sent me to give you this lesson. I am your guardian angel: now that you understand the truth you will live tranquilly, for God has promised peace to well-intentioned hearts.”  90
  With these words the beggar changed into an angel gleaming with light, dispersing the perfume of incense and violets through the house, then vanishing like a flash.  91
  Téphany forgave Dénès for wanting to sell her tears. Become less exacting, she accepted such happiness as one may have upon earth; and she married the young man from Plover, who was always a good husband and a courageous worker.  92

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.