A Fairy's Blunder by Andrew Lang
Once upon a time there lived a fairy whose name was Dindonette. She
was the best creature in the world, with the kindest heart; but she had
not much sense, and was always doing things, to benefit people, which
generally ended in causing pain and distress to everybody concerned. No
one knew this better than the inhabitants of an island far off in the
midst of the sea, which, according to the laws of fairyland, she had
taken under her special protection, thinking day and night of what she
could do to make the isle the pleasantest place in the whole world, as
it was the most beautiful.
Now what happened was this:
As the fairy went about, unseen, from house to house, she heard
everywhere children longing for the time when they would be 'grown-up,'
and able, they thought, to do as they liked; and old people talking
about the past, and sighing to be young again.
'Is there no way of satisfying these poor things?' she thought. And
then one night an idea occurred to her. 'Oh, yes, of course! It has
been tried before; but I will manage better than the rest, with their
old Fountain of Youth, which, after all, only made people young again.
I will enchant the spring that bubbles up in the middle of the orchard,
and the children that drink of it shall at once become grown men and
women, and the old people return to the days of their childhood.'
And without stopping to consult one single other fairy, who might
have given her good advice, off rushed Dindonette, to cast her spell
over the fountain.
It was the only spring of fresh water in the island, and at dawn was
crowded with people of all ages, come to drink at its source. Delighted
at her plan for making them all happy, the fairy hid herself behind a
thicket of roses, and peeped out whenever footsteps came that way. It
was not long before she had ample proof of the success of her
enchantments. Almost before her eyes the children put on the size and
strength of adults, while the old men and women instantly became
helpless, tiny babies. Indeed, so pleased was she with the result of
her work, that she could no longer remain hidden, and went about
telling everybody what she had done, and enjoying their gratitude and
But after the first outburst of delight at their wishes being
granted, people began to be a little frightened at the rapid effects of
the magic water. It was delicious to feel yourself at the height of
your power and beauty, but you would wish to keep so always! Now this
was exactly what the fairy had been in too much of a hurry to arrange,
and no sooner had the children become grown up, and the men and women
become babies, than they all rushed on to old age at an appalling rate!
The fairy only found out her mistake when it was too late to set it
When the inhabitants of the island saw what had befallen them, they
were filled with despair, and did everything they could think of to
escape from such a dreadful fate. They dug wells in their places, so
that they should no longer need to drink from the magic spring; but the
sandy soil yielded no water, and the rainy season was already past.
They stored up the dew that fell, and the juice of fruits and of herbs,
but all this was as a drop in the ocean of their wants. Some threw
themselves into the sea, trusting that the current might carry them to
other shores—they had no boats—and a few, still more impatient, put
themselves to death on the spot. The rest submitted blindly to their
Perhaps the worst part of the enchantment was, that the change from
one age to another was so rapid that the person had no time to prepare
himself for it. It would not have mattered so much if the man who stood
up in the assembly of the nation, to give his advice as to peace or
war, had looked like a baby, as long as he spoke with the knowledge and
sense of a full-grown man. But, alas! with the outward form of an
infant, he had taken on its helplessness and foolishness, and there was
no one who could train him to better things. The end of it all was,
that before a month had passed the population had died out, and the
fairy Dindonette, ashamed and grieved at the effects of her folly, had
left the island for ever.
Many centuries after, the fairy Selnozoura, who had fallen into bad
health, was ordered by her doctors to make the tour of the world twice
a week for change of air, and in one of these journeys she found
herself at Fountain Island. Selnozoura never made these trips alone,
but always took with her two children, of whom she was very
fond—Cornichon, a boy of fourteen, bought in his childhood at a
slave-market, and Toupette, a few months younger, who had been
entrusted to the care of the fairy by her guardian, the genius
Kristopo. Cornichon and Toupette were intended by Selnozoura to become
husband and wife, as soon as they were old enough. Meanwhile, they
travelled with her in a little vessel, whose speed through the air was
just a thousand nine hundred and fifty times greater than that of the
swiftest of our ships.
Struck with the beauty of the island, Selnozoura ran the vessel to
ground, and leaving it in the care of the dragon which lived in the
hold during the voyage, stepped on shore with her two companions.
Surprised at the sight of a large town whose streets and houses were
absolutely desolate, the fairy resolved to put her magic arts in
practice to find out the cause. While she was thus engaged, Cornichon
and Toupette wandered away by themselves, and by-and-by arrived at the
fountain, whose bubbling waters looked cool and delicious on such a hot
day. Scarcely had they each drunk a deep draught, when the fairy, who
by this time had discovered all she wished to know, hastened to the
'Oh, beware! beware!' she cried, the moment she saw them. 'If you
drink that deadly poison you will be ruined for ever!'
'Poison?' answered Toupette. 'It is the most refreshing water I have
ever tasted, and Cornichon will say so too!'
'Unhappy children, then I am too late! Why did you leave me? Listen,
and I will tell you what has befallen the wretched inhabitants of this
island, and what will befall you too. The power of fairies is great,'
she added, when she had finished her story, 'but they cannot destroy
the work of another fairy. Very shortly you will pass into the weakness
and silliness of extreme old age, and all I can do for you is to make
it as easy to you as possible, and to preserve you from the death that
others have suffered, from having no one to look after them. But the
charm is working already! Cornichon is taller and more manly than he
was an hour ago, and Toupette no longer looks like a little girl.'
It was true; but this fact did not seem to render the young people
as miserable as it did Selnozoura.
'Do not pity us,' said Cornichon. 'If we are fated to grow old so
soon, let us no longer delay our marriage. What matter if we anticipate
our decay, if we only anticipate our happiness too?'
The fairy felt that Cornichon had reason on his side, and seeing by
a glance at Toupette's face that there was no opposition to be feared
from her, she answered, 'Let it be so, then. But not in this dreadful
place. We will return at once to Bagota, and the festivities shall be
the most brilliant ever seen.'
They all returned to the vessel, and in a few hours the four
thousand five hundred miles that lay between the island and Bagota were
passed. Everyone was surprised to see the change which the short
absence had made in the young people, but as the fairy had promised
absolute silence about the adventure, they were none the wiser, and
busied themselves in preparing their dresses for the marriage, which
was fixed for the next night.
Early on the following morning the genius Kristopo arrived at the
Court, on one of the visits he was in the habit of paying his ward from
time to time. Like the rest, he was astonished at the sudden
improvement in the child. He had always been fond of her, and in a
moment he fell violently in love. Hastily demanding an audience of the
fairy, he laid his proposals before her, never doubting that she would
give her consent to so brilliant a match. But Selnozoura refused to
listen, and even hinted that in his own interest Kristopo had better
turn his thoughts elsewhere. The genius pretended to agree, but,
instead, he went straight to Toupette's room, and flew away with her
through the window, at the very instant that the bridegroom was
awaiting her below.
When the fairy discovered what had happened, she was furious, and
sent messenger after messenger to the genius in his palace at Ratibouf,
commanding him to restore Toupette without delay, and threatening to
make war in case of refusal.
Kristopo gave no direct answer to the fairy's envoys, but kept
Toupette closely guarded in a tower, where the poor girl used all her
powers of persuasion to induce him to put off their marriage. All
would, however, have been quite vain if, in the course of a few days,
sorrow, joined to the spell of the magic water, had not altered her
appearance so completely that Kristopo was quite alarmed, and declared
that she needed amusement and fresh air, and that, as his presence
seemed to distress her, she should be left her own mistress. But one
thing he declined to do, and that was to send her back to Bagota.
In the meantime both sides had been busily collecting armies, and
Kristopo had given the command of his to a famous general, while
Selnozoura had placed Cornichon at the head of her forces. But before
war was actually declared, Toupette's parents, who had been summoned by
the genius, arrived at Ratibouf. They had never seen their daughter
since they parted from her as a baby, but from time to time travellers
to Bagota had brought back accounts of her beauty. What was their
amazement, therefore, at finding, instead of a lovely girl, a
middle-aged woman, handsome indeed, but quite faded—looking, in fact,
older than themselves. Kristopo, hardly less astonished than they were
at the sudden change, thought that it was a joke on the part of one of
his courtiers, who had hidden Toupette away, and put this elderly lady
in her place. Bursting with rage, he sent instantly for all the
servants and guards of the town, and inquired who had the insolence to
play him such a trick, and what had become of their prisoner. They
replied that since Toupette had been in their charge she had never left
her rooms unveiled, and that during her walks in the surrounding
gardens, her food had been brought in and placed on her table; as she
preferred to eat alone no one had ever seen her face, or knew what she
The servants were clearly speaking the truth, and Kristopo was
obliged to believe them. 'But,' thought he, 'if they have not had a
hand in this, it must be the work of the fairy,' and in his anger he
ordered the army to be ready to march.
On her side, Selnozoura of course knew what the genius had to
expect, but was deeply offended when she heard of the base trick which
she was believed to have invented. Her first desire was to give battle
to Kristopo at once, but with great difficulty her ministers induced
her to pause, and to send an ambassador to Kristopo to try to arrange
So the Prince Zeprady departed for the court of Ratibouf, and on his
way he met Cornichon, who was encamped with his army just outside the
gates of Bagota. The prince showed him the fairy's written order that
for the present peace must still be kept, and Cornichon, filled with
longing to see Toupette once more, begged to be allowed to accompany
Zeprady on his mission to Ratibouf.
By this time the genius's passion for Toupette, which had caused all
these troubles, had died out, and he willingly accepted the terms of
peace offered by Zeprady, though he informed the prince that he still
believed the fairy to be guilty of the dreadful change in the girl. To
this the prince only replied that on that point he had a witness who
could prove, better than anyone else, if it was Toupette or not, and
desired that Cornichon should be sent for.
When Toupette was told that she was to see her old lover again, her
heart leapt with joy; but soon the recollection came to her of all that
had happened, and she remembered that Cornichon would be changed as
well as she. The moment of their meeting was not all happiness,
especially on the part of Toupette, who could not forget her lost
beauty, and the genius, who was present, was at last convinced that he
had not been deceived, and went out to sign the treaty of peace,
followed by his attendants.
'Ah, Toupette: my dear Toupette!' cried Cornichon, as soon as they
were left alone; 'now that we are once more united, let our past
troubles be forgotten.'
'Our past troubles!' answered she, 'and what do you call our lost
beauty and the dreadful future before us? You are looking fifty years
older than when I saw you last, and I know too well that fate has
treated me no better!'
'Ah, do not say that,' replied Cornichon, clasping her hand. 'You
are different, it is true; but every age has its graces, and surely no
woman of sixty was ever handsomer than you! If your eyes had been as
bright as of yore they would have matched badly with your faded skin.
The wrinkles which I notice on your forehead explain the increased
fulness of your cheeks, and your throat in withering is elegant in
decay. Thus the harmony shown by your features, even as they grow old,
is the best proof of their former beauty.'
'Oh, monster!' cried Toupette, bursting into tears, 'is that all the
comfort you can give me?'
'But, Toupette,' answered Cornichon, 'you used to declare that you
did not care for beauty, as long as you had my heart.'
'Yes, I know,' said she, 'but how can you go on caring for a person
who is as old and plain as I?'
'Toupette, Toupette,' replied Cornichon, 'you are only talking
nonsense. My heart is as much yours as ever it was, and nothing in the
world can make any difference.'
At this point of the conversation the Prince Zeprady entered the
room, with the news that the genius, full of regret for his behaviour,
had given Cornichon full permission to depart for Bagota as soon as he
liked, and to take Toupette with him; adding that, though he begged
they would excuse his taking leave of them before they went, he hoped,
before long, to visit them at Bagota.
Neither of the lovers slept that night—Cornichon from joy at
returning home, Toupette from dread of the blow to her vanity which
awaited her at Bagota. It was hopeless for Cornichon to try to console
her during the journey with the reasons he had given the day before.
She only grew worse and worse, and when they reached the palace went
straight to her old apartments, entreating the fairy to allow both
herself and Cornichon to remain concealed, and to see no one.
For some time after their arrival the fairy was taken up with the
preparations for the rejoicings which were to celebrate the peace, and
with the reception of the genius, who was determined to do all in his
power to regain Selnozoura's lost friendship. Cornichon and Toupette
were therefore left entirely to themselves, and though this was only
what they wanted, still, they began to feel a little neglected.
At length, one morning, they saw from the windows that the fairy and
the genius were approaching, in state, with all their courtiers in
attendance. Toupette instantly hid herself in the darkest corner of the
room, but Cornichon, forgetting that he was now no longer a boy of
fourteen, ran to meet them. In so doing he tripped and fell, bruising
one of his eyes severely. At the sight of her lover lying helpless on
the floor, Toupette hastened to his side; but her feeble legs gave way
under her, and she fell almost on top of him, knocking out three of her
loosened teeth against his forehead. The fairy, who entered the room at
this moment, burst into tears, and listened in silence to the genius,
who hinted that by-and-by everything would be put right.
'At the last assembly of the fairies,' he said, 'when the doings of
each fairy were examined and discussed, a proposal was made to lessen,
as far as possible, the mischief caused by Dindonette by enchanting the
fountain. And it was decided that, as she had meant nothing but
kindness, she should have the power of undoing one half of the spell.
Of course she might always have destroyed the fatal fountain, which
would have been best of all; but this she never thought of. Yet, in
spite of this, her heart is so good, that I am sure that the moment she
hears that she is wanted she will fly to help. Only, before she comes,
it is for you, Madam, to make up your mind which of the two shall
regain their former strength and beauty.'
At these words the fairy's soul sank. Both Cornichon and Toupette
were equally dear to her, and how could she favour one at the cost of
the other? As to the courtiers, none of the men were able to understand
why she hesitated a second to declare for Toupette; while the ladies
were equally strong on the side of Cornichon.
But, however undecided the fairy might be, it was quite different
with Cornichon and Toupette.
'Ah, my love,' exclaimed Cornichon, 'at length I shall be able to
give you the best proof of my devotion by showing you how I value the
beauties of your mind above those of your body! While the most charming
women of the court will fall victims to my youth and strength, I shall
think of nothing but how to lay them at your feet, and pay heart-felt
homage to your age and wrinkles.'
'Not so fast,' interrupted Toupette, 'I don't see why you should
have it all. Why do you heap such humiliations upon me? But I will
trust to the justice of the fairy, who will not treat me so.'
Then she entered her own rooms, and refused to leave them, in spite
of the prayers of Cornichon, who begged her to let him explain.
No one at the court thought or spoke of any other subject during the
few days before the arrival of Dindonette, whom everybody expected to
set things right in a moment. But, alas! she had no idea herself what
was best to be done, and always adopted the opinion of the person she
was talking to. At length a thought struck her, which seemed the only
way of satisfying both parties, and she asked the fairy to call
together all the court and the people to hear her decision.
'Happy is he,' she began, 'who can repair the evil he has caused,
but happier he who has never caused any.'
As nobody contradicted this remark, she continued:
'To me it is only allowed to undo one half of the mischief I have
wrought. I could restore you your youth,' she said to Cornichon, 'or
your beauty,' turning to Toupette. 'I will do both; and I will do
A murmur of curiosity arose from the crowd, while Cornichon and
Toupette trembled with astonishment.
'No,' went on Dindonette, 'never should I have the cruelty to leave
one of you to decay, while the other enjoys the glory of youth. And as
I cannot restore you both at once to what you were, one half of each of
your bodies shall become young again, while the other half goes on its
way to decay. I will leave it to you to choose which half it shall
be—if I shall draw a line round the waist, or a line straight down the
middle of the body.'
She looked about her proudly, expecting applause for her clever
idea. But Cornichon and Toupette were shaking with rage and
disappointment, and everyone else broke into shouts of laughter. In
pity for the unhappy lovers, Selnozoura came forward.
'Do you not think,' she said, 'that instead of what you propose, it
would be better to let them take it in turns to enjoy their former
youth and beauty for a fixed time? I am sure you could easily manage
'What an excellent notion!' cried Dindonette. 'Oh, yes, of course
that is best! Which of you shall I touch first?'
'Touch her,' replied Cornichon, who was always ready to give way to
Toupette. 'I know her heart too well to fear any change.'
So the fairy bent forward and touched her with her magic ring, and
in one instant the old woman was a girl again. The whole court wept
with joy at the sight, and Toupette ran up to Cornichon, who had fallen
down in his surprise, promising to pay him long visits, and tell him of
all her balls and water parties.
The two fairies went to their own apartments, where the genius
followed them to take his leave.
'Oh, dear!' suddenly cried Dindonette, breaking in to the farewell
speech of the genius. 'I quite forgot to fix the time when Cornichon
should in his turn grow young. How stupid of me! And now I fear it is
too late, for I ought to have declared it before I touched Toupette
with the ring. Oh, dear! oh, dear! why did nobody warn me?'
'You were so quick,' replied Selnozoura, who had long been aware of
the mischief the fairy had again done, 'and we can only wait now till
Cornichon shall have reached the utmost limits of his decay, when he
will drink of the water, and become a baby once more, so that Toupette
will have to spend her life as a nurse, a wife, and a caretaker.'
After the anxiety of mind and the weakness of body to which for so
long Toupette had been a prey, it seemed as if she could not amuse
herself enough, and it was seldom indeed that she found time to visit
poor Cornichon, though she did not cease to be fond of him, or to be
kind to him. Still, she was perfectly happy without him, and this the
poor man did not fail to see, almost blind and deaf from age though he
But it was left to Kristopo to undo at last the work of Dindonette,
and give Cornichon back the youth he had lost, and this the genius did
all the more gladly, as he discovered, quite by accident, that
Cornichon was in fact his son. It was on this plea that he attended the
great yearly meeting of the fairies, and prayed that, in consideration
of his services to so many of the members, this one boon might be
granted him. Such a request had never before been heard in fairyland,
and was objected to by some of the older fairies; but both Kristopo and
Selnozoura were held in such high honour that the murmurs of disgust
were set aside, and the latest victim to the enchanted fountain was
pronounced to be free of the spell. All that the genius asked in return
was that he might accompany the fairy back to Bagota, and be present
when his son assumed his proper shape.
They made up their minds they would just tell Toupette that they had
found a husband for her, and give her a pleasant surprise at her
wedding, which was fixed for the following night. She heard the news
with astonishment, and many pangs for the grief which Cornichon would
certainly feel at his place being taken by another; but she did not
dream of disobeying the fairy, and spent the whole day wondering who
the bridegroom could be.
At the appointed hour, a large crowd assembled at the fairy's
palace, which was decorated with the sweetest flowers, known only to
fairyland. Toupette had taken her place, but where was the bridegroom?
'Fetch Cornichon!' said the fairy to her chamberlain.
But Toupette interposed: 'Oh, Madam, spare him, I entreat you, this
bitter pain, and let him remain hidden and in peace.'
'It is necessary that he should be here,' answered the fairy, 'and
he will not regret it.'
And, as she spoke, Cornichon was led in, smiling with the
foolishness of extreme old age at the sight of the gay crowd.
'Bring him here,' commanded the fairy, waving her hand towards
Toupette, who started back from surprise and horror.
Selnozoura then took the hand of the poor old man, and the genius
came forward and touched him three times with his ring, when Cornichon
was transformed into a handsome young man.
'May you live long,' the genius said, 'to enjoy happiness with your
wife, and to love your father.'
And that was the end of the mischief wrought by the fairy
[Cabinet des Fées.]