In the old land of Brittany, once called Cornwall, there lived a woman named Barbaik Bourhis, who spent all her days in looking after her farm with the help of her niece Tephany. Early and late the two might be seen in the fields or in the dairy, milking cows, making butter, feeding fowls; working hard themselves and taking care that others worked too. Perhaps it might have been better for Barbaik if she had left herself a little time to rest and to think about other things, for soon she grew to love money for its own sake, and only gave herself and Tephany the food and clothes they absolutely needed. And as for poor people she positively hated them, and declared that such lazy creatures had no business in the world.
Well, this being the sort of person Barbaik was, it is easy to guess at her anger when one day she found Tephany talking outside the cowhouse to young Denis, who was nothing more than a day labourer from the village of Plover. Seizing her niece by the arm, she pulled her sharply away, exclaiming:
‘Are you not ashamed, girl, to waste your time over a man who is as poor as a rat, when there are a dozen more who would be only too happy to buy you rings of silver, if you would let them?’
‘Denis is a good workman, as you know very well,’ answered Tephany, red with anger, ‘and he puts by money too, and soon he will be able to take a farm for himself.’
‘Nonsense,’ cried Barbaik, ‘he will never save enough for a farm till he is a hundred. I would sooner see you in your grave than the wife of a man who carries his whole fortune on his back.’
‘What does fortune matter when one is young and strong?’ asked Tephany, but her aunt, amazed at such words, would hardly let her finish.
‘What does fortune matter?’ repeated Barbaik, in a shocked voice. ‘Is it possible that you are really so foolish as to despise money? If this is what you learn from Denis, I forbid you to speak to him, and I will have him turned out of the farm if he dares to show his face here again. Now go and wash the clothes and spread them out to dry.’
Tephany did not dare to disobey, but with a heavy heart went down the path to the river.
‘She is harder than these rocks,’ said the girl to herself, ‘yes, a thousand times harder. For the rain at least can at last wear away the stone, but you might cry for ever, and she would never care. Talking to Denis is the only pleasure I have, and if I am not to see him I may as well enter a convent.’
Thinking these thoughts she reached the bank, and began to unfold the large packet of linen that had to be washed. The tap of a stick made her look up, and standing before her she saw a little old woman, whose face was strange to her.
‘You would like to sit down and rest, granny?’ asked Tephany, pushing aside her bundle.
‘When the sky is all the roof you have, you rest where you will,’ replied the old woman in trembling tones.
‘Are you so lonely, then?’ inquired Tephany, full of pity. ‘Have you no friends who would welcome you into their houses?’
The old woman shook her head.
‘They all died long, long ago,’ she answered, ‘and the only friends I have are strangers with kind hearts.’
The girl did not speak for a moment, then held out the small loaf and some bacon intended for her dinner.
‘Take this,’ she said; ‘to-day at any rate you shall dine well,’ and the old woman took it, gazing at Tephany the while.
‘Those who help others deserve to be helped,’ she answered; ‘your eyes are still red because that miser Barbaik has forbidden you to speak to the young man from Plover. But cheer up, you are a good girl, and I will give you something that will enable you to see him once every day.’