From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children
Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.
Once there was a woman who lived on a farm in the country, and she was just about like all the other farmers’ wives around her, neither more beautiful nor uglier, neither richer nor poorer, neither more nor less fortunate, and neither happier nor more discontented with her lot. This woman had a friend who was a fairy, which is more common in the country than city folk imagine, and when it came time for our farmer’s wife to give birth to her first child, she naturally invited her friend the fairy to her lying-in.
All went as well as could be expected, and the woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Immediately the fairy snatched the child into her arms and said to the mother, “Choose now whether your daughter shall have beauty greater than any other woman’s, with wit and understanding greater than her beauty, and be the empress and autocrat of an immense country, but unhappy; or whether she shall be the ugliest creature in seven counties, with only so much intelligence as she needs to keep her from falling down a well, and with just enough in the way of possessions to keep body and soul together, but contented.”
The farmer’s wife, still recovering from her labor, answered slowly. “It is a hard decision. You say she would be empress with unlimited authority?”
“Unlimited,” the fairy answered.
“And the most beautiful woman on earth?”
“None would surpass her,” said the fairy.
“Just barely able to feed herself.”
“And to be contented she has to be ugly and poor, but to be exalted and beautiful she has to be miserable?”
“Yes, that is the alternative.”
“Well, what if, instead of an empress, she were, say, prime minister of a prosperous medium-sized republic? Would she still have to be unhappy?”
The fairy thought for a moment. “I suppose that, in return for a diminution of her autocratic powers, she might be allowed a few moments of happiness every so often. Not too much, you know, because prime minister is still a pretty big prize.”
“And suppose, say, she were not quite so beautiful: suppose, I mean, she were only the second-most-beautiful woman in the world, or possibly the third.”
“A few rays of happiness might shine into her life,” the fairy reluctantly admitted, “in return for the sacrifice of some of her beauty.”
“Or suppose I chose ugliness and poverty, but instead of absolute contentment, she always wished she had practiced the piano more assiduously. Would she have to be quite so unfortunate then?”
“A small but gnawing regret might gain a little less ugliness and a little more prosperity, I suppose,” said the fairy.
“Or suppose I chose beauty and prosperity, but, instead of prime minister, she were, say, a county commissioner, in a large and prosperous county of course.”
“I dare say the drop from prime minister to county commissioner would purchase several days of happiness.”
And so the conversation went, while the child patiently waited (for the issue of happiness or discontent for her had not yet been decided), until at last the mother and the fairy had reached an arrangement much less extreme than the one the fairy had originally proposed.
So the girl grew up into a woman, and she was not exceptionally beautiful, but not really what you would call ugly, and in spite of a receding chin could actually be quite attractive in certain lights; and she was not by any means rich, but not really poor either, and she was able to support herself and her family when it arrived; and she was not a great wit, but not stupid, and her intellect was adequate to most of the tasks demanded of it; and she had her share of misfortunes and disappointments, but she managed to get through them somehow, and her life was enlivened by moments of sincere delight. In short she was just like the rest of us; for it turns out that most mothers have fairies for friends, and they all end up making more or less the same deal.