38. The Sacrifice
Ourson turned homeward, discouraged and exhausted. He walked slowly and arrived at the farm late. Violette ran to meet him, took him by the hand, and without saying a word led him to his mother. There she fell on her knees and said:—
“My mother, I know what our well-beloved Ourson has suffered today. During his absence the fairy Furious told me everything and the good fairy Drolette has confirmed her story. My mother, when our Ourson was, as we believed, lost to us forever and lost for my sake you revealed to me that which he wished to conceal. I know that by changing skins with him I can restore to him his original beauty. Happy, a hundred times happy in having this opportunity to repay the tenderness and devotion of my dearly-loved brother Ourson, I demand to make this exchange allowed by the fairy Drolette and I beg her to complete the transfer immediately.”
“Violette! Violette!” exclaimed Ourson, in great agitation, “take back your words! You do not know to what you are doing. You can’t comprehend the life of anguish and misery, the life of solitude and isolation to which you condemn yourself. You don’t know the unceasing desolation you will feel at knowing that you are an object of fear to all mankind. Violette, Violette, take back your words!”
“Dear Ourson,” said Violette, calmly, but determinedly, “in making what you believe to be so great a sacrifice, I accomplish the dearest wish of my heart. I secure my own happiness. I satisfy a fervent desire to prove my tenderness and my gratitude. I should despise myself if I left it undone.”
“Pause, Violette, for one instant longer, I beg you! Think of my grief, when I no longer see my beautiful Violette, when I think of you exposed to the scorn, the horror of men. Oh! Violette, do not condemn your poor Ourson to this anguish.”
The lovely face of Violette was filled with sadness. The fear that Ourson would feel repelled by her made her heart tremble, but this thought, was very fleeting—it could not triumph over her devoted tenderness. Her only response was to throw herself in the arms of Agnella, and say, “Mother, embrace your fair and pretty Violette for the last time.”
While Agnella, Ourson and Passerose embraced her and looked lovingly upon her—while Ourson, on his knees, begged her to leave him his bear-skin to which he had been accustomed for twenty years—Violette called out again in a loud voice:—
“Fairy Drolette! Fairy Drolette! Come and accept the price of the life and health of my dear Ourson.”
At this moment the fairy Drolette appeared in all her glory. She was seated in a massive chariot of gold, drawn by a hundred and fifty larks. She was clothed with a robe of butterflies’ wings, of the most brilliant colors while from her shoulders fell a cloak of diamonds, which trailed ten feet behind her and it was so fine in texture that it was light as gauze. Her hair, glittering like tissue of gold, was ornamented by a crown of rubies more brilliant than the sun; each of her slippers was carved from a single ruby and her beautiful face, soft, yet gay, breathed contentment. She gazed upon Violette most affectionately.
“You wish it, then, my daughter?” she said.
“Madam,” cried Ourson, falling at her feet, “please listen to me. You, who have given me so much—you, good and just—will you really grant the mad wish of my dear Violette? Will you make my whole life wretched by forcing me to accept this sacrifice? No, no, charming and kind fairy, you could not, you will not do it!”
Whilst Ourson was thus pleading, the fairy gave Violette a light touch with her wand of pearl and Ourson another—then said:—
“Let it be according to the wish of your heart, my daughter. Let it be contrary to your fervent desires, my son.”
At the same moment, the face, arms and the whole body of the lovely young girl were covered with the long hair which Ourson had worn, and Ourson appeared with a white smooth skin.
Violette gazed at him with admiration, while he, his eyes cast down and full of tears, dared not look at his poor Violette, so horribly transformed. At last he looked up, threw himself in her arms, and they wept together.
Ourson was marvelously handsome. Violette was, as Ourson had been, without form, without beauty, but not ugly. When Violette raised her head and looked at Agnella, the latter extended her hands towards her, and said, “Thanks, my daughter, my noble, generous child.”
“Mother,” said Violette, in low voice, “do you still love me?”
“Do I love you, my cherished child? Yes, a hundred times, a thousand times more than ever before.”
“Violette,” said Ourson, “never fear being ugly in our eyes. To my eyes, you are a hundred times more beautiful than when clothed with all your loveliness. To me you are a sister—a friend incomparable. You will always be the companion of my life, the ideal of my heart.”