Rosalie looked in eagerly. The little house was dark; she could see nothing but she heard the little voice:—
"Thanks, Rosalie, it is to you that I owe my deliverance."
The voice seemed to come from the earth. She looked, and saw in a corner two brilliant little eyes gazing at her maliciously.
"My cunning trick has succeeded, Rosalie, and betrayed you into yielding to your curiosity. If I had not spoken and sung you would have returned with the key and I should have been lost. Now that you have set me at liberty, you and your father are both in my power."
Rosalie did not yet fully comprehend the extent of the misfortune she had brought about by her disobedience. She knew, however, that it was a dangerous foe which her father had held captive and she wished to retire and close the door.
"Stop, Rosalie! It is no longer in your power to keep me in this odious prison from which I never could have escaped if you had waited until your fifteenth birth-day."
At this moment the little house disappeared entirely, and Rosalie saw with the greatest consternation that the key alone remained in her hand. She now saw at her side a small gray mouse who gazed at her with its sparkling little eyes and began to laugh in a thin, discordant voice.
"Ha! ha! ha! What a frightened air you have, Rosalie! In truth you amuse me very much. But it is lucky for me that you had so much curiosity. It has been nearly fifteen years since I was shut up in this frightful prison, having no power to injure your father, whom I hate, or to bring any evil upon you, whom I detest because you are his daughter."
"Who are you, then, wicked mouse?"
"I am the mortal enemy of your family, my pet. I call myself the fairy Detestable and the name suits me, I assure you. All the world hates me and I hate all the world. I shall follow you now for the rest of your life, wherever you go."
"Go away at once, miserable creature! A mouse is not to be feared and I will find a way to get rid of you."
"We shall see, my pet! I shall remain at your side wherever you go!"
Rosalie now ran rapidly towards the house; every time she turned she saw the mouse galloping after her, and laughing with a mocking air. Arrived at the house, she tried to crush the mouse in the door, but it remained open in spite of every effort she could make and the mouse remained quietly upon the door-sill.
"Wait awhile, wicked monster!" cried Rosalie, beside herself with rage and terror.
She seized a broom and tried to dash it violently against the mouse but the broom was on fire at once, blazed up and burned her hands; she threw it quickly to the floor and pushed it into the chimney with her foot, lest it should set fire to the house. Then seizing a kettle which was boiling on the fire, she emptied it upon the mouse but the boiling water was changed into good fresh milk and the mouse commenced drinking it, saying:—
"How exceedingly amiable you are, Rosalie! Not content with having released me from captivity, you give me an excellent breakfast."
Poor Rosalie now began to weep bitterly. She was utterly at a loss what to do, when she heard her father entering.
"My father!" cried she, "my father! Oh! cruel mouse, I beseech you in pity to go away that my father may not see you!"
"No, I shall not go but I will hide myself behind your heels until your father knows of your disobedience."
The mouse had scarcely concealed herself behind Rosalie, when Prudent entered. He looked at Rosalie, whose paleness and embarrassed air betrayed her fear.
"Rosalie," said Prudent, with a trembling voice, "I forgot the key of the little garden-house; have you found it?"
"Here it is, father," said Rosalie, presenting it to him, and coloring deeply.
"How did this cream come to be upset on the floor?"
"Father, it was the cat."
"The cat? Impossible. The cat brought a vessel of milk to the middle of the room and upset it there?"
"No! no! father, it was I that did it; in carrying it, I accidentally overturned it."
Rosalie spoke in a low voice, and dared not look at her father.
"Take the broom, Rosalie, and sweep up this cream."
"There is no broom, father."
"No broom! there was one when I left the house."
"I burned it, father, accidentally, by—— by——"
She paused—her father looked fixedly at her, threw a searching unquiet glance about the room, sighed and turned his steps slowly towards the little house in the garden.
Rosalie fell sobbing bitterly upon a chair; the mouse did not stir. A few moments afterwards, Prudent entered hastily, his countenance marked with horror.
"Rosalie! unhappy child! what have you done? You have yielded to your fatal curiosity and released our most cruel enemy from prison."
"Pardon me, father! oh pardon me!" she cried, throwing herself at his feet; "I was ignorant of the evil I did."
"Misfortune is always the result of disobedience, Rosalie; disobedient children think they are only committing a small fault, when they are doing the greatest injury to themselves and others."
"But, father, who and what then is this mouse, who causes you this terrible fear? How, if it had so much power, could you keep it so long a prisoner and why can you not put it in prison again?"
"This mouse, my unhappy child, is a wicked fairy, but very powerful. For myself, I am the genius Prudent and since you have given liberty to my enemy, I can now reveal to you that which I should have concealed until you were fifteen years old.
"I am, then, as I said to you, the genius Prudent; your dear mother was a simple mortal but her virtues and her graces touched the queen of the fairies and also the king of the genii and they permitted me to wed her. I gave a splendid festival on my marriage-day. Unfortunately I forgot to invoke the fairy Detestable, who was already irritated against me for having married a princess, after having refused one of her daughters. She was so exasperated against me that she swore an implacable hatred against me, my wife and my children. I was not terrified at her threats, as I myself had a power almost equal to her own and I was much beloved by the queen of the fairies. Many times by the power of my enchantments, I triumphed over the malicious hatred of the fairy Detestable.
"A few hours after your birth your mother was thrown into the most violent convulsions which I could not calm. I left her for a few moments to invoke the aid of the queen of the fairies. When I returned your mother was dead.
"The wicked fairy Detestable had profited by my absence and caused her death. She was about to endow you with all the passions and vices of this evil world, when my unexpected return happily paralyzed her efforts. I interrupted her at the moment when she had endowed you with a curiosity sufficient to make you wretched and to subject you entirely to her power at fifteen years of age. By my power, united to that of the queen of the fairies, I counter-balanced this fatal influence and we decided that you should not fall under her power at fifteen years of age, unless you yielded three times under the gravest circumstances to your idle curiosity.
"At the same time the queen of the fairies, to punish the fairy Detestable, changed her into a mouse, shut her up in the little garden house, and declared that she should never leave it unless you voluntarily opened the door. Also, that she should never resume her original form of fairy unless you yielded three times to your criminal curiosity before you were fifteen years of age. Lastly, that if you resisted once the fatal passion you should be for ever released, as well as myself, from the power of the fairy Detestable.
"With great difficulty I obtained all these favors and only by promising that I would share your fate and become, like yourself, the slave of the fairy Detestable, if you weakly allowed yourself to yield three times to your curiosity. I promised solemnly to educate you in such a manner as to destroy this terrible passion, calculated to cause so many sorrows.
"For all these reasons I have confined myself and you, Rosalie, in this enclosure. I have permitted you to see no one, not even a domestic. I procured by my power all that your heart desired and I have been feeling quite satisfied in having succeeded so well with you. In three weeks you would have been fifteen, and for ever delivered from the odious yoke of the fairy Detestable.
"I was alarmed when you asked for the key of the little house, of which you had never before seemed to think. I could not conceal the painful impression which this demand made upon me. My agitation excited your curiosity. In spite of your gaiety and assumed thoughtlessness, I penetrated your thoughts, and you may judge of my grief when the queen of the fairies ordered me to make the temptation possible and the resistance meritorious by leaving the key at least once in your reach. I was thus compelled to leave it, that fatal key, and thus facilitate by my absence my own and your destruction.
"Imagine, Rosalie, what I suffered during the hour of my absence, leaving you alone with this temptation before your eyes and when I saw your embarrassment and blushes on my return, indicating to me too well that you had allowed your curiosity to master you.
"I was commanded to conceal everything from you; to tell you nothing of your birth or of the dangers which surround you, until your fifteenth birthday. If I had disobeyed, you would at once have fallen into the power of the fairy Detestable.
"And yet, Rosalie, all is not lost. You can yet repair your fault by resisting for fifteen days this terrible passion. At fifteen years of age you were to have been united to a charming prince, who is related to us, the prince Gracious. This union is yet possible.
"Ah, Rosalie! my still dear child, take pity on yourself, if you have no mercy for me and resist your curiosity."
Rosalie was on her knees before her father, her face concealed in her hands and weeping bitterly. At these words she took courage, embraced him tenderly and said to him:—
"Oh, father! I promise you solemnly that I will atone for this fault. Do not leave me, dear father! With you by me, I shall be inspired with a courage which would otherwise fail me. I dare not be deprived of your wise paternal counsel."
"Alas! Rosalie! it is no longer in my power to remain with you for I am now under the dominion of my enemy. Most certainly she will not allow me to stay by your side and warn you against the snares and temptations which she will spread at your feet. I am astonished at not having seen my cruel foe before this time. The view of my affliction and despair would have for her hard heart an irresistible charm."
"I have been near you all the time, at your daughter's feet," said the little gray mouse, in a sharp voice, stepping out and showing herself to the unfortunate genius. "I have been highly entertained at the recital of all that I have already made you suffer, and the pleasure I felt in hearing you give this account to your daughter induced me to conceal myself till this moment. Now say adieu to your dear but curious Rosalie; she must accompany me, and I forbid you to follow her."
Saying these words, she seized the hem of Rosalie's dress with her sharp little teeth and tried to draw her away. Rosalie uttered a piercing cry and clung convulsively to her father but an irresistible force bore her off. The unfortunate genius seized a stick and raised it to strike the mouse but before he had time to inflict the blow the mouse placed one of her little paws on the genius's foot and he remained as immovable as a statue. Rosalie embraced her father's knees and implored the mouse to take pity upon her but the little wretch gave one of her sharp, diabolical laughs and said:—
"Come, come, my pretty! Pity it is not here that you will find the temptations to yield twice to your irresistible fault! We will travel all over the world together and I will show you many countries in fifteen days."
The mouse pulled Rosalie without ceasing. Her arms were still clasped around her father, striving to resist the overpowering force of her enemy. The mouse uttered a discordant little cry and suddenly the house was in flames. Rosalie had sufficient presence of mind to reflect that if she allowed herself to be burned there would be no means left of saving her father, who must then remain eternally under the power of Detestable. Whereas, if she preserved her own life there remained always some chance of rescuing him.
"Adieu, adieu, dear father!" she cried; "we will meet again in fifteen days. After having given you over to your enemy, your Rosalie will yet save you."
She then tore herself away, in order not to be devoured by the flames. She ran on rapidly for some time without knowing where she was going. She walked several hours but at last, exhausted with fatigue and half dead with hunger, she resolved to approach a kind-looking woman who was seated at her door.
"Madam," said she, "will you give me a place to sleep? I am dying with hunger and fatigue. Will you not be so kind as to allow me to enter and pass the night with you?"
"How is it that so beautiful a girl as yourself is found upon the highways and what ugly animal is that with the expression of a demon which accompanies you."
Rosalie turned round and saw the little gray mouse smiling upon her mockingly. She tried to chase it away but the mouse obstinately refused to move. The good woman, seeing this contest, shook her head and said:—
"Go on your ways, my pretty one. The Evil One and his followers cannot lodge with me."
Weeping bitterly, Rosalie continued her journey, and wherever she presented herself they refused to receive her and the mouse, who never quitted her side. She entered a forest where happily she found a brook at which she quenched her thirst. She found also fruits and nuts in abundance. She drank, ate and seated herself near a tree, thinking with agony of her father and wondering what would become of him during the fifteen days.
While Rosalie was thus musing she kept her eyes closed so as not to see the wicked little gray mouse. Her fatigue, and the silence and darkness around her, brought on sleep and she slept a long time profoundly.
Notes: The book contains 5 long French folktales. Each story has several chapters.
Author: Comtesse de Ségur
Publisher: The Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia