Once upon a time there lived in France a man whose name was Jalm Riou. You might have walked a whole day without meeting anyone happier or more contented, for he had a large farm, plenty of money, and above all, a daughter called Barbaik, the most graceful dancer and the best-dressed girl in the whole country side. When she appeared on holidays in her embroidered cap, five petticoats, each one a little shorter than the other, and shoes with silver buckles, the women were all filled with envy, but little cared Barbaik what they might whisper behind her back as long as she knew that her clothes were finer than anyone else’s and that she had more partners than any other girl.
Now amongst all the young men who wanted to marry Barbaik, the one whose heart was most set on her was her father’s head man, but as his manners were rough and he was exceedingly ugly she would have nothing to say to him, and, what was worse, often made fun of him with the rest.
Jegu, for that was his name, of course heard of this, and it made him very unhappy. Still he would not leave the farm, and look for work elsewhere, as he might have done, for then he would never see Barbaik at all, and what was life worth to him without that?
One evening he was bringing back his horses from the fields, and stopped at a little lake on the way home to let them drink. He was tired with a long day’s work, and stood with his hand on the mane of one of the animals, waiting till they had done, and thinking all the while of Barbaik, when a voice came out of the gorse close by.
‘What is the matter, Jegu? You mustn’t despair yet.’
The young man glanced up in surprise, and asked who was there.
‘It is I, the brownie of the lake,’ replied the voice.
‘But where are you?’ inquired Jegu.
‘Look close, and you will see me among the reeds in the form of a little green frog. I can take,’ he added proudly, ‘any shape I choose, and even, which is much harder, be invisible if I want to.’
‘Then show yourself to me in the shape in which your family generally appear,’ replied Jegu.
‘Certainly, if you wish,’ and the frog jumped on the back of one of the horses, and changed into a little dwarf, all dressed in green.
This transformation rather frightened Jegu, but the brownie bade him have no fears, for he would not do him any harm; indeed, he hoped that Jegu might find him of some use.
‘But why should you take all this interest in me?’ asked the peasant suspiciously.
‘Because of a service you did me last winter, which I have never forgotten,’ answered the little fellow. ‘You know, I am sure, that the korigans* (* The spiteful fairies) who dwell in the White Corn country have declared war on my people, because they say that they are the friends of man. We were therefore obliged to take refuge in distant lands, and to hide ourselves at first under different animal shapes. Since that time, partly from habit and partly to amuse ourselves, we have continued to transform ourselves, and it was in this way that I got to know you.’
‘How?’ exclaimed Jegu, filled with astonishment.
‘Do you remember when you were digging in the field near the river, three months ago, you found a robin redbreast caught in a net?
‘Yes,’ answered Jegu, ‘I remember it very well, and I opened the net and let him go.’
‘Well, I was that robin redbreast, and ever since I have vowed to be your friend, and as you want to marry Barbaik, I will prove the truth of what I say by helping you to do so.’
‘Ah! my little brownie, if you can do that, there is nothing I won’t give you, except my soul.’