Wise Grandchildren French folktale

In the middle of a great forest there lived a long time ago a charcoal-burner and his wife. They were both young and handsome and strong when they got married, and thought work would never fail them. But bad times came, so they had to go hungry to bed more and more often.

Now one evening the king of that country was hunting near the charcoal-burner's hut. As he passed the door, he heard sobs and stopped, thinking that perhaps he might be able to give some help.

"Were there ever two people so unhappy!' said a woman's voice. "Here we are, ready to work the whole day long, and can get no work. It is all because Eve got too curious back in Eden. If she had not wanted to taste a forbidden fruit there, we would all be as happy as kings today, with plenty to eat, warm clothes to wear, and -"

At this point a loud knock interrupted her. "It is the king. Let me in."

Full of surprise the woman jumped up and pulled the bar away from the door. There was no chairs to sit in the room, so the king did not make his visit long, but only said, "Tell me, are you very unhappy?"

"My husband and I have no work, and we have eaten nothing for two days!" she answered. "In the end we are going to die of hunger."

"No, no," cried the king, "Come with me to my castle, both of you. In return I only ask that you shall obey my orders exactly."

The charcoal-burner and his wife both stared at him, and then and exclaimed together: "Oh, yes, and we will do everything you tell."

The king smiled, and his eyes twinkled. "Well, let us start at once," said he. "Lock your door, and put the key in your pocket."

The woman looked as if she thought they would never come back. But she did as the king told her.

After walking through the forest for a couple of miles, they all three reached the palace. By the king's orders servants led the charcoal-burner and his wife into rooms filled with beautiful things. First they bathed in green marble baths, and then they put on silk clothes that felt soft and pleasant. When they were ready, one of the king's special servants took them into a small hall, where dinner was laid. They were just about to sit down to the table when the king walked in.

"I hope you will enjoy your dinner. My steward will take care you have all you want, and I wish you to do just as you please. There is one thing, though! You notice that soup-tureen in the middle of the table? Be careful on no account to lift the lid. If you take off the cover, your good fortune will end."

"We won't end our good fortune," answered the wife. But she could not help wondering what was inside that tureen.

For many days life went on like a beautiful dream. One day when the king came to see them, he smiled as he glanced at the man, who was getting rosier and plumper each day. But when his eyes rested on the woman, he stopped smiling, and looked thoughtful. She had grown silent.

"Why are you so silent?" her husband asked her some time later "A little while ago you used to be chattering all the day long, and now I have almost forgotten the sound of your voice."

"Oh, I don't feel much for talking these days," she said, adding, "Don't you wonder what is in that soup-tureen?'

"No," answered the husband. "It is no affair of ours."

As time went on, the woman spoke even less, and seemed so wretched that her husband grew quite alarmed. As to her food, she refused one thing after another.

"Dear wife," said the man at last, "you really must eat something. What is the matter with you? If you go on like this you will die."

"I would rather die than not know what is in that tureen," she burst forth so violently that the husband was quite startled.

"Is that it?" he cried. "Are you making yourself miserable because of that? Why, you know we should be turned out of the palace if we do, and sent away to starve."

"Oh no, the king is too good-natured. And there is no need to lift the lid off altogether. Just raise one corner so that I may peep. We are quite alone: nobody will ever know."

The man hesitated: it did seem to be a "little thing," and if it could make his wife happy and satisfied it was perhaps worth the risk. So he took hold of the handle of the cover and raised it very slowly and carefully, while the woman stooped down to peep. Suddenly she startled back with a scream, for a small mouse had sprung from the inside of the tureen, and had nearly hit her in the face. Round and round the room it ran, round and round they both ran after it, trying to catch it and put it back in the tureen. In the middle of all the noise the door opened, and there was the king. "Hear what I have to say," he said.

"I know what it is," answered the charcoal-burner, hanging his head. "The mouse has escaped."

"A guard of soldiers will take you back to your hut," said the king. "Your wife has got the key."

"Weren't they silly?" cried the grandchildren of the charcoal-burners when they heard the story. "How we wish that we had had the chance! We should never have wanted to know what was in the soup-tureen!"