They threw themselves at the feet of the beautiful lady, in terror; for a natural instinct made them feel that great power is always more or less to be dreaded, even when employed in acts of beneficence. The lady meanwhile kindly raised them, and having spoken of the courage and generosity of their sons, who exposed themselves to the fury of wolves rather than take flight and abandon her, she said that her name was the Fairy Coquette, and that she would willingly relate her history.
“Previously, madam,” said the woodcutter, “will you have the goodness to tell me, what is a fairy? During thirty years that I have inhabited this forest, I have heard of the devil, of the Were wolf, of the monster of Gevaudan, but never have I heard of fairies.”
“We exist, notwithstanding,” replied Coquette, “but not in all ages, nor in all countries. We are supernatural beings, to whom has been imparted a portion of supernatural power, which we make use of for good or evil, according to our natural disposition; in that alone consists our resemblance to men.”
The woodcutter, who was very simple, understood little of this explanation; but, like many others, had a profound respect for what he could not comprehend. He bowed down to the ground, and only requested the fairy to inform him, why a supernatural being, so highly gifted, could have fallen into a pit prepared for wolves.
“It is,” replied Coquette, “because I have an enemy still more powerful than myself, the Enchanter Barabapatapouf, the most wicked ogre in the world; he has but three teeth, three hairs, one eye, and is fifteen feet high. With all these charms he happened to fall in love with me, and merely for mischief I affected to accept him. He then invited his friends to the nuptials; when, to his great mortification, I took them to witness that I would never be the wife of such a monster. Barabapatapouf was deeply incensed, swore to be revenged, and has never lost an opportunity of keeping his word. I should have remained three days in that horrible pit but for the generosity of your children.”
“They have done nothing more than their duty,” replied the woodcutter.
“I must also do mine,” said Coquette, “but my power is limited. I can satisfy but two wishes, and it is necessary that each of you should choose freely, unbiased by the other. You must separate accordingly, and to-morrow at early dawn, come to inform me what you have all resolved on during the night.”
Mother Thomas was very uneasy in thinking how she could accommodate the fairy, for neither her children’s beds nor her own were worthy of offering to such a grand lady; but Coquette desired her to feel at ease, as she would provide everything needful. She then drew forth some grains of sand, which she scattered on the floor. Instantly there arose on the spot a bed of rose-leaves three feet high; the bolster was of violets, heartsease and orange flowers, all breathing delicious perfumes; and the counterpane, entirely composed of butterflies’ wings, exhibited colours so brilliant and varied that one could never be weary of examining it. The three lambs which had followed the fairy lay down at her feet, and as the room was rather damp, they gently warmed it with their breath, with a care and intelligence almost human. The woodcutter and his sons felt so surprised at all these wonders, that they imagined themselves dreaming. Coquette warned Mother Thomas that if she should speak once to her husband before she again saw her, the wishes could not be realized. The strictest injunctions were indeed necessary, to prevent their communicating on a subject which interested both so deeply. When day appeared, Coquette summoned them to her presence.
The woodcutter first came, and said, with his usual simplicity, that he never could have believed it so difficult to form a wish. Till that moment he had considered himself happy, but now finding it possible to obtain one thing, he desired a thousand. Wearied with the fatigue of thought, he had fallen asleep without coming to a determination; but seeing in his dreams five purses filled with gold, it seemed as if one were for him, one for his wife, and one for each of his children.