32. The Toad Again
Some years passed peacefully and unremarkably. Agnella thought no more of Violette’s frightful dream. Her caution had greatly relaxed and she often allowed her to walk alone or accompanied by Ourson.
Ourson was now fifteen years of age and he was tall and strong. No one could say whether he was handsome or ugly for his long black hair covered his body and face entirely. He was good, generous and loving—always ready to help, always contented and cheerful. Since the day when he had found Violette in the wood his sadness had disappeared. He was utterly indifferent to the general hostility which he inspired and he no longer walked in lonely places but lived happily in the circle of the three people whom he cherished and who loved him.
Violette was now ten years old and she had not lost a single sweet charm of her beauty in growing up. Her eyes were softer and more angelic, her complexion fresher and purer. She had grown much in height—was tall, light and graceful and her rich blonde hair fell to her feet and entirely enveloped her like a veil. Passerose had the care of this splendid hair and Agnella never ceased to admire it.
Violette had learned many things during those seven years. Agnella had taught her how to do housework. In other things, Ourson had been her teacher. He had taught her to read, write and keep accounts and he often read aloud to her while she was sewing. There was also clothing and other necessary things for Violette, Ourson, Agnella and Passerose. There was no longer any need to go to market to sell or the neighboring village to buy. Through the ring on Agnella’s little finger everything they wished for, or had need of, was quickly brought to them.
One day when Ourson was walking with Violette she stumbled against a stone, fell and hurt her foot. Ourson was frightened when he saw his beloved Violette bleeding. He did not know what to do to relieve her. He saw how much she suffered, for, despite all her efforts, she could not stop the tears which escaped from her eyes but finally he remembered that a stream flowed just ten paces from them.
“Dear Violette,” he said, “lean on me and we will try to reach the stream—the fresh water will relieve you.”
Violette tried to walk while Ourson supported her. He succeeded in seating her on the bank of the stream where she took off her shoe and bathed her delicate little foot in the fresh flowing water.
“I will run to the house, dear Violette, and bring some linen to wrap up your foot. Wait for me, I shall not be long and take good care not to get nearer the stream for this little brook is deep and if you slip you might drown.”
When Ourson was out of sight, Violette felt an uneasiness. An unaccountable repulsion made her withdraw her foot from the water in which it was hanging. Before she decided to obey this strange impulse she saw the water swirl and the head of an enormous toad appear on the surface. The great swollen angry eyes of the loathsome animal were fixed on Violette, who since her dream had always had a dread of toads. The appearance of this hideous creature, its monstrous swollen body and menacing glance, froze her with such horror that she could neither move nor cry out.
“Aha! You are at last in my domain, little fool!” said the toad. “I am the fairy Furious, the enemy of your family. I have been lying in wait for you a long time and should have had you before if my sister, the fairy Drolette, had not protected you and sent you a dream to warn you against me. Ourson whose hairy skin is a talisman of safety is now absent, my sister is on a journey and you are at last mine.”
Saying these words, she seized Violette’s foot with her cold and shining paws and tried to drag her down into the water. Violette uttered the most piercing shriek. She struggled and caught hold of the plants and shrubs growing on the bank of the stream. The first, alas, gave way, and Violette in despair seized hold of others.
“Ourson! Oh, Ourson! Help, help! Dear Ourson, save me, save your poor Violette! Save me! Help! Help!”
The fairy Furious, in the form of a toad, was about to carry her off. The last shrub had given way and Violette’s last cry was hushed.
The poor Violette disappeared under the water just as another cry, more despairing, more terrible, answered her own. But, alas! Her hair alone appeared above the water when Ourson reached the spot, breathless and panting with terror. He had heard Violette’s cries and had turned back with the speed of lightning.
Without a moment’s hesitation he sprang into the water and seized Violette by her long hair but he felt instantly that he was sinking with her. The fairy Furious was drawing them to the bottom of the stream. He knew he was sinking but he did not panic. Instead of releasing Violette, he seized her both arms and called the fairy Drolette. When they reached the bottom, he gave one vigorous push with his heel which brought him again to the surface. Holding Violette securely with one arm, he swam strongly with the other and through great effort he reached the shore where he placed the unconscious Violette.
Her eyes were closed, her teeth tightly clenched and the pallor of death was on her face. Ourson threw himself on his knees by her side weeping bitterly. Brave Ourson, whom no dangers could frighten, no suffering could overcome, now wept like a child. His sweet sister, so beloved! His only friend, his consolation, his happiness was lying there motionless, lifeless! Ourson’s strength and courage had deserted him and he sank down without consciousness by the side of his beloved Violette.
At this moment a lark flew rapidly up, approached Violette and Ourson, gave one stroke of her little beak to Ourson and another to Violette and disappeared.
Ourson was not the only one who replied to the shrieks of Violette. Passerose had heard them and then the more terrible cry of Ourson which followed them. She ran to the house to tell Agnella and they both ran quickly toward the stream from which the cries for help seemed to come.
On approaching, they saw with surprise and alarm that Violette and Ourson were lying on the ground in a state of unconsciousness. Passerose placed her hand on Violette’s heart and felt it still beating. Agnella saw at the same moment that Ourson was still living. She directed Passerose to take Violette home, undress her and put her to bed while she tried to waken Ourson with herbs before taking him to the farm. Ourson was too tall and heavy to be carried while Violette, on the contrary, was light and it was easy for Passerose to carry her to the house. When she arrived there, she was soon awake. She was still agitated with a vague memory of terror but without knowing what had alarmed her.
During this time the tender care of Agnella had returned Ourson to life. He opened his eyes, gazed tenderly at his mother and threw himself weeping upon her neck.
“Mother, dear mother!” he exclaimed, “My Violette, my beloved sister, has gone! Let me die with her!”
“Be calm, my son,” replied Agnella; “Violette still lives. Passerose has carried her to the house and will give her all the attention she requires.”
Ourson seemed to revive on hearing these words. He rose and wished to run to the farm but his second thought was consideration for his mother and he restrained his impatience. On their way to the farm he told his mother all that he knew of the events which had almost cost Violette and himself their lives. He added that the slime from the mouth of the fairy Furious had left a strange dullness in his head.
Agnella now told him how Passerose and herself had found them stretched unconscious upon the bank of the stream. They soon arrived at the farm, and Ourson, still dripping, rushed into Violette’s presence.
On seeing him Violette remembered everything and she sprang towards him. She threw her arms around him and wept. Ourson also wept and Agnella and Passerose were both in tears. It was enough to soften all hearts. Passerose put an end to it by crying out, “Would not one say that we were the most unfortunate people in the universe!—Look at our poor Ourson, wet as a water-reed, bathing himself in his own and Violette’s tears. Courage, children, courage and happiness! See, we are all alive, thanks to Ourson.”
“Oh, yes!” interrupted Violette, “thanks to Ourson—to my dear, my well-beloved Ourson. How shall I ever repay him for all I owe him? How can I ever prove my gratitude, my tender affection?”
“By loving me always as you do now, my dear Violette, my sister. Ah! If it has indeed been in my power to give you some little service, have you not changed my whole existence? Have you not made me happy—me who was so wretched and so miserable before? Are you not every day and every hour of the day the consolation and happiness of my life and of that of my wonderful mother?”
Violette was still weeping and she answered only by pressing more tenderly to her heart her Ourson, her adopted brother.
“Dear son,” said his mother, “you are dripping wet. Go and change your clothing. Violette has need of some rest. We will meet again at dinner.”
Violette agreed to go to bed but did not sleep for her heart was melting, overflowing with gratitude and tenderness. She sought in vain for some means of rewarding the devotion of Ourson. She could think of no other way than that of trying to become perfect so as to increase the happiness of Ourson and Agnella.