The Lilac Fairy Book
A French Puck
Among the mountain pastures and valleys that lie in the centre of France there dwelt a
mischievous kind of spirit, whose delight it was to play tricks on everybody, and
particularly on the shepherds and the cowboys. They never knew when they were safe
from him, as he could change himself into a man, woman or child, a stick, a goat, a
ploughshare. Indeed, there was only one thing whose shape he could not take, and that
was a needle. At least, he could transform himself into a needle, but try as he might he
never was able to imitate the hole, so every woman would have found him out at once,
and this he knew.
Now the hour oftenest chosen by this naughty sprite (whom we will call Puck) for
performing his pranks was about midnight, just when the shepherds and cowherds, tired
out with their long day's work, were sound asleep. Then he would go into the cowsheds
and unfasten the chains that fixed each beast in its own stall, and let them fall with a
heavy clang to the ground. The noise was so loud that it was certain to awaken the
cowboys, however fatigued they might be, and they dragged themselves wearily to the
stable to put back the chains. But no sooner had they returned to their beds than the same
thing happened again, and so on till the morning. Or perhaps Puck would spend his night
in plaiting together the manes and tails of two of the horses, so that it would take the
grooms hours of labour to get them right in the morning, while Puck, hidden among the
hay in the loft, would peep out to watch them, enjoying himself amazingly all the time.
One evening more than eighty years ago a man named William was passing along the
bank of a stream when he noticed a sheep who was bleating loudly. William thought it
must have strayed from the flock, and that he had better take it home with him till he
could discover its owner. So he went up to where it was standing, and as it seemed so
tired that it could hardly walk, he hoisted it on his shoulders and continued on his way.
The sheep was pretty heavy, but the good man was merciful and staggered along as best
he could under his load.
'It is not much further,' he thought to himself as he reached an avenue of walnut trees,
when suddenly a voice spoke out from over his head, and made him jump.
'Where are you?' said the voice, and the sheep answered:
'Here on the shoulders of a donkey.'
In another moment the sheep was standing on the ground and William was running
towards home as fast as his legs would carry him. But as he went, a laugh, which yet was
something of a bleat, rang in his ears, and though he tried not to hear, the words reached
him, 'Oh, dear! What fun I have had, to be sure!'
Puck was careful not always to play his tricks in the same place, but visited one village
after another, so that everyone trembled lest he should be the next victim. After a bit he
grew tired of cowboys and shepherds, and wondered if there was no one else to give him
some sport. At length he was told of a young couple who were going to the nearest town