She got the bauble when she was a little girl; she found it when she was trying to help a kitten whose mother had neglected it. The mother wasn’t an evil cat, but she was young, it was her first kitten and she didn’t seem to understand how to care for it. The kitten died, and the bauble formed from the young girl’s tears. She picked it up and slipped in her pocket, thinking what a beautiful thing it was. “I must be beautiful, too, to receive such a thing,” she whispered to the west wind that night, as she stared out the window at the sky and stars.
As she grew up, from time to time, events would cause her to take it out and proffer it to one person or another, shyly, but no one much took notice. Now and then, someone would accept it briefly, but they tended to be careless of it and fearing damage, she would take it back. She had moments, as all children do, of unthinking cruelty, and there were times when the bauble tarnished. When she saw this, she regretted her unkindness and tried to repair the damage and the bauble emerged shining again.
As her life progressed, she shared the bauble more freely – with a lost child, a lonely older person, with anyone in need. One day, she met a young man. She believed their relationship was growing, deepening, and finally, she thought she’d found the person who she could gift with the bauble, who would take it and care for it – and her – forever.
She ran to find him, joyously, feeling lighter in spirit than ever before. But when she presented the bauble to him, he laughed – “you can’t be serious! Look at you!” He turned her to face the mirror, and she gasped. “No man would take you for that bauble! You’re ugly.” Something inside her broke then, and she saw the bauble as he must see it – a silly, gimcrack thing of no value.
The years passed, and she kept the bauble hidden away, and herself. No more did she pass through the marketplace with a smile on her face and a song on her lips. A black shawl covered her face and she only went out at dusk and as rarely as possible. She never locked her door – what did she have of any worth? Besides, no one would bother someone as ugly as she was.
One day, a trader passed through, going from door to door, buying and selling. He was tall and handsome, with black hair and kind eyes and many of the women whose doors he knocked on laughed and flirted and brought out their best wares to tempt him, but as he went from house to house, he bought nothing.
She was spinning thread when she heard a knock. Quietly, with eyes cast down, she answered it.
“I’m a trader passing through. Have you anything to trade?”
She shook her head hastily and stepped back. “No, not I.”
When she made to close the door, he put up one big hand and held it open. “Nothing, my lady? Surely you must have something.”
She looked into the gentle eyes, and hesitated. “Well, one thing. I thought it valuable once, perhaps –“
“Bring it out and let us see.”
She removed the bauble from the drawer where it had lain for many a year, wrapped in sackcloth, unused. He took it from her carefully and gasped as he unwrapped it.
“So wonderful a thing! Why have you hidden it away? Do you know how many have need of this?”
So softly that he could barely hear, she said, “But no one will accept it from one so – so ugly as I.”
He stepped into the humble cottage and placed the bauble on the table. Then he lowered the shawl from her face and studied her. Finally, he shook his head and sighed. “I see no ugliness.”
“But – he told me so. Showed me my face in a mirror.”
He cupped her face in his hands and raised it so their eyes met. “Dear lady, some men see crookedly and they make those they look upon see themselves the same way.” He picked up the bauble and placed it in her hands. “Live in the light of day and use this well.”
“I would – I would give it to you,” she said, suddenly, for his kindness had touched her as nothing had for a very long time.
A slow smile spread across his face. “Be you sure?”
“Yes.” Her unpracticed smile matched his. “Yes, very sure.”
“Then I accept, fully and freely.”
Everyone in the village was surprised when the she and the trader handfasted and moved on together, and no one more than he who had rejected her so long ago.
It’s said that the two of them went many places and did great good in the world with the bauble, but that’s merely an old tale, and only the beldames know the truth of it.