29. Birth and Childhood of Ourson
Three months after the appearance of the toad and the cruel curse of the fairy Furious, Agnella gave birth to a boy whom she named Ourson, as the fairy Drolette had commanded. Neither Agnella nor Passerose could decide if he was ugly or handsome for he was so hairy, so covered with long brown bristles, you could see nothing but his eyes and his mouth, and not even these unless he opened them.
If Agnella had not been his mother and if Passerose had not loved her like a sister, poor Ourson would have died from neglect for he was so frightful no one would have dared to touch him. But Agnella was his mother and her first action was to embrace him lovingly and to exclaim, “Poor little Ourson! Who can ever love you well enough to save you from this horrible curse? Alas! Why won’t the fairy permit me to make this exchange, which is allowed to another who may love you? No one can ever love you as I do.”
Ourson did not reply to this; he slept peacefully.
Passerose wept also in sympathy with Agnella but then she dried her eyes and said to Agnella, “Dear queen, I am very certain that your dear son will be covered just a short time with this terrible bear-skin and from this day I shall call him Prince Marvellous.”
“I beg you not to do so,” said the queen, anxiously; “you know that the fairies love to be obeyed.”
Passerose took the child, clothed it in the linen that had been prepared for it and leaned over to embrace it but she pricked her lips against the rough bristles of Ourson and drew back hastily.
“It will not be I who will hug you often, my boy,” said she, in a low voice; “you prick like a real hedgehog.”
It was Passerose, however, to whom Agnella gave the charge of the little Ourson. He had nothing of the bear but his skin: he was the sweetest-tempered, the most knowing, and the most affectionate child that ever was seen. Passerose soon loved him with all her heart.
As Ourson grew up he was sometimes permitted to leave the farm. He was in no danger for no one knew him in the country. The children always ran away at his approach and the women ignored him. Men avoided him—they looked upon him as something accursed. Sometimes when Agnella went to market she put him on her donkey and took him with her and on those days she found more difficulty in selling her vegetables and cheese. The mothers fled from her, fearing that Ourson would come too near them.
Agnella wept often and vainly begged the fairy Drolette. Whenever a lark flew near her, hope rose in her heart. But the larks, alas, were real larks and not fairies in disguise.