THE FAIRY TALE AND THE TRUE STORY
HE six of them were gathered together. Uncle Paul was
reading in a big book, Jacques braiding a wicker basket,
Mother Ambroisine plying her distaff, Claire marking linen
with red thread, Emile and Jules playing with the Noah's
Ark. And when they had lined up the horse after the camel,
the dog after the horse, then the sheep, donkey, ox, lion,
elephant, bear, gazelle, and a great many others,—when
they had them all arranged in a long procession leading to
the ark, Emile and Jules, tired of playing, said to Mother
Ambroisine: "Tell us a story, Mother Ambroisine—one that
will amuse us."
And with the simplicity of old age Mother Ambroisine spoke
as follows, at the same time twirling her spindle:
"Once upon a time a grasshopper went to the fair with an
ant. The river was all frozen. Then the grasshopper gave a
jump and landed on the other side of the ice, but the ant
could not do this; and it said to the grasshopper: 'Take me
on your shoulders; I weigh so little.' But the grasshopper
said: 'Do as I do; give a spring, and jump.' The ant gave a
spring, but slipped and broke its leg.
"Ice, ice, the strong should be kind; but you are wicked,
to have broken the ant's leg—poor little leg.
 "Then the ice said: 'The sun is stronger than I, and it
"Sun, sun, the strong should be kind; but you are wicked, to
melt the ice; and you, ice, to have broken the ant's leg—poor little leg.
"Then the sun said: 'The clouds are stronger than I; they
"Clouds, clouds, the strong should be kind; but you are
wicked, to hide the sun; you, sun, to melt the ice; and you,
ice, to have broken the ant's leg—poor little leg.
"Then the clouds said: 'The wind is stronger than we; it
drives us away.'
"Wind, wind, the strong should be kind; but you are wicked,
to drive away the clouds; you, clouds, to hide the sun; you,
sun, to melt the ice; and you, ice, to have broken the ant's
leg—poor little leg.
"Then the wind said: 'The walls are stronger than I; they
"Walls, walls, the strong should be kind; but you are
wicked, to stop the wind; you, wind, to drive away the
clouds; you, clouds, to hide the sun; you, sun, to melt the
ice; and you, ice, to have broken the ant's leg—poor
"Then the walls said: 'The rat is stronger than we; it
bores holes through us.'
"Rat, rat, the strong—"
"But it is all the same thing, over and over again, Mother
Ambroisine," exclaimed Jules impatiently.
"Not quite, my child. After the rat comes the cat that eats
the rat, then the broom that strikes the cat,
 then the fire
that burns the broom, then the water that puts out the fire,
then the ox that quenches his thirst with the water, then
the fly that stings the ox, then the swallow that snaps up
the fly, then the snare that catches the swallow, then—"
"And does it go on very long like that?" asked Emile.
"As long as you please," replied Mother Ambroisine, "for
however strong one may be, there are always others stronger
"Really, Mother Ambroisine," said Emile, "that story tires
"Then listen to this one: Once upon a time there lived a
woodchopper and his wife, and they were very poor. They had
seven children, the youngest so very, very small that a
wooden shoe answered for its bed."
"I know that story," again interposed Emile. "The seven
children are going to get lost in the woods. Little
Hop-o'-my-Thumb marks the way at first with white pebbles,
then with bread crumbs. Birds eat the crumbs. The children
get lost. Hop-o'-my-Thumb, from the top of a tree, sees a
light in the distance. They run to it: rat-tat-tat! It is
the dwelling of an ogre!"
"There is no truth in that," declared Jules, "nor in
Puss-in-Boots, nor Cinderella, nor Bluebeard. They are fairy
tales, not true stories. For my part, I want stories that
are really and truly so."
At the words, true stories, Uncle Paul raised his head and
closed his big book. A fine opportunity offered for turning
the conversation to more useful
 and interesting subjects
than Mother Ambroisine's old tales.
"I approve of your wanting true stories," said he. "You will
find in them at the same time the marvelous, which pleases
so much at your age, and also the useful, with which even at
your age you must concern yourselves, in preparation for
after life. Believe me, a true story is much more
interesting than a tale in which ogres smell fresh blood and
fairies change pumpkins into carriages and lizards into
lackeys. And could it be otherwise? Compared with truth,
fiction is but a pitiful trifle; for the former is the work
of God, the latter the dream of man. Mother Ambroisine could
not interest you with the ant that broke its leg in trying
to cross the ice. Shall I be more fortunate? Who wants
to hear a true story of real ants?"
"I! I!" cried Emile, Jules, and Claire all together.