Gateway to the Classics: The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by Jane Andrews
The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by  Jane Andrews

What the Frost Giants Did to Nannie's Run

The Frost Giants

D O you believe in giants? No, do you say? Well, listen to my story, which is a really true one, and then answer my question.

Many hundreds of years ago, certain people who lived in the North, and were therefore called Northmen, had a strange idea of the form and situation of the earth: they thought it was a flat, circular piece of land, surrounded by a great ocean; and that this ocean was again surrounded by a wall of snow-covered mountains, where lived the race of Frost Giants.

I have seen a pretty picture of this world of theirs, with a lovely rainbow bridge arching up over the sea to the earth, and a great coiled serpent, holding his tail in his mouth, lying in mid-ocean like a ring around the land. Perhaps you will some day read about it all, but at present we have only to do with the Frost Giants; for I want to tell you, that, although no one now thinks of believing about the serpent or the flat earth or the rainbow bridge, yet the Frost Giants still live, and their home is really among the mountains.

You may call them by what name you like, and we may all know certainly that they are not what the old Northmen believed them to be, but are God's workmen, a part of Nature's family, employed to work in the great garden of the world; but, whenever we look at their work, we cannot fail to admit that to do it needed a giant's strength, and so they deserve their title.

Have you sometimes seen great bowlder stones, as big as a small house, that stand alone by themselves in some field, or on some seashore, where no other rocks are near? Well, the Frost Giants carried these bowlders about, and dropped them down miles away from their homes, as you might take a pocketful of pebbles, and drop them along the road as you walk. Sometimes they roll great rocks down the mountain-sides, playing a desperate game of ball with each other. Sometimes they are sent to make a bridge over Niagara Falls, or to build a dam across a mountain torrent in an hour's time. Now and then they have to rake off a steep mountain-side as you might a garden-bed, and sometimes to bury a whole village so quickly that the poor inhabitants do not know what strange hand brought such sudden destruction upon them. Their deeds often seem to be cruel, and we cannot understand their meaning; but we shall some time know that the loving Father who sent them orders nothing for our hurt, but has always a loving purpose, though it may be hidden.

While I thus introduce to you the Frost Giants, let me also present their tiny brethren and sisters, the Frost Fairies, who always accompany them on their expeditions; and, however terrible is the deed that has to be done, these little people adorn it with the most lovely handiwork,—tiny flowers and crystals and veils of delicate lace-work, fringes and spangles and star-work and carving; so that nothing is so hard and ugly and bare that they cannot beautify it.

Now that you are introduced, you will perhaps like to join a Frost party that started out to work one day in the early spring of 1861, from their homes among the Olympic Mountains.

Nannie's Run

C AN you imagine a beautiful oval-shaped bay, almost encircled by a long arm of sand stretching out from the mainland? In its deep water the largest vessels might ride at anchor, but at the time of my story a lonelier place could scarcely be found. Now and then Indian canoes glided over the water, and at long intervals some vessel from the great island away yonder to the North visited the little settlement upon the shore of the bay. It is indeed a very little settlement,—a few houses clustered together upon the sandy beach close to the blue water; behind the houses rises a cliff crowned with great fir-trees, standing tall and dark in thick ranks, making a dense forest; and beyond this forest, cold, snow-covered mountains lift their peaks against the sky,—a fitting home for the Frost Giants.

Three streams, straying from the far-away mountains, and fed by their melted snows and hidden springs, find their way through the forest, leap and tumble over the cliff, and, passing through the little settlement, reach the sea. The people who live here call these little streams runs,  and one of them is Nannie's Run.

And, now, who is Nannie? Why, Nannie is Nannie Dwight,—a little girl not yet five years old, who lives in the small square house standing under the cliff. She sits even now on the door-step, and her red dress looks like one gay flower brightening the sombre shadow of the firs. Her father and mother came here to live when she was but a baby, and before there was a single house built in the place; and it is out of compliment to her that one of the streams has been named Nannie's Run.

While Nannie sits on the doorstep, and looks out at the sea, watching for the vessel that will bring her father home from Victoria, we will go through the forest, and up the mountain-sides, till we find the home of the Frost Giants, and see what they are about to-day.

They have been working all winter, but not quite so busily as now; for since yesterday they have cracked that big rock in two, and dug the great cave under the hill, and now they are gathered in council on the mountain-side that overlooks a dashing little stream. As we followed this stream from the seashore, we happen to know that it is no other than Nannie's Run. And as we have already begun to care for the little girl, and therefore for her namesake, we are anxious to know what the giants think of doing. We have not long to wait before we shall see, and hear too; for a great creaking and cracking begins, and, while we gaze astonished, the mountain-side begins to slide, and presently, with a rush and a roar, dashes into the stream, and chokes it with a huge dam of earth and rocks and trees.

What will the stream do now? For a moment the water leaps into the air, all foam and sparkle, as if it would jump over the barrier, and find its way to the sea at any rate. But this proves entirely unsuccessful; and at last, after whirling and tumbling, trying to creep under; trying to leap over, it settles itself quietly in its prison, as if to think about the matter.

Now, if you will stay and watch it day after day, you will see what good result will come from this waiting; for every hour more and more water is running to its aid, and, as its forces increase, we begin to feel sure, that, although it can neither pass over nor under, it will some day be strong enough to break through the Frost Giants' dam. And the day comes at last, when, summoning all its waters to the attack, it makes a breach in the great earth wall, and in a strong, grand column, as high as this room, marches away towards the sea.

As we have the wings of thought to travel with, let us hurry back to the settlement, and see where Nannie is now, and tell the people, if we only can, what a wall of water is marching down upon them; for you see the little channel that used to hold Nannie's Run is not a quarter large enough for this torrent, that has gathered so long behind the dam.

Peep in at the window, and see how Nannie stands at the kitchen table, cutting out little cakes from a bit of dough that her mother has given her; she is all absorbed in her play, and her mother has gone to look into the oven at the nicely browning loaves.

Oh, don't we wish the house had been built up on the cliff among the fir-trees, safe above the reach of the water! But, alas! here it stands, just in the path that the torrent will take, and we have no power to tell of the danger that is approaching.

Mrs. Dwight turns from the oven, and, passing the window on her way to the table, suddenly sees the great wall of water only a few rods from her house. With one step she reaches the bedroom, seizes the blankets from the bed, wraps Nannie in them, and with the little girl on one arm, grasps Frankie's hand, and, telling Harry to run beside her, opens the door nearest the cliff, and almost flies up its steep side.

Five minutes afterwards, sitting breathless on the roots of an old tree, with her children safe beside her, she sees the whole shore covered with surging water, and the houses swept into the bay, tossing and drifting there like boats in a stormy sea. And this is what the Frost Giants did to Nannie's Run.

The Indians

W HAT will Nannie do now? Here in our New-England towns it would seem hard enough to have one's house swept away before one's eyes; but then you know you could take the next train of cars, and go to your aunt in Boston, or your uncle in New York, to stay until a new house could be prepared for you. But here is Nannie hundreds and thousands of miles away from any such help; for there are not only no railroads to travel upon, but not even common roads nor horses nor wagons; nevertheless, there are neighbors who will bring help.

You remember reading in your history, how, when our great-great-grandfathers came to this country to live, they found it occupied by Indians. The Indians are all gone from our part of the country now; but out in the far North-West, where Nannie lives, they still have their wigwams and canoes, still dress in blankets, and wear feathers on their heads, and in that particular part of the country lives a tribe called the Flatheads. They take this odd name because of a fashion they have of binding a board upon the top of a child's head, while he is yet very young, in order that he may grow up with a flattened head, which is considered a mark of beauty among these savages, just as small feet are so considered among the Chinese, you know.

The Flatheads are Nannie's only neighbors, and perhaps you would consider them rather undesirable friends; but when I tell you how they came at once with blankets and food, and all sorts of friendly offers of shelter and help, you will think that some white people might well take a lesson from them.

They had been in the habit of bringing venison and salmon to the settlement for sale; and when Nannie's mother tells them that she has no longer any money to buy, they say, "Oh, no, it is a potlach!" which in their language mean a present.

Happily the warm weather is approaching; and a little girl who has lived out of doors so much does not find it unsafe to sleep in the hammock which Hunter has slung for her among the trees, or even on the ground, rolled in an Indian blanket; and when her shoes wear out, she can safely run barefooted in the woods or on the sand.

Before many weeks have passed, some of the tall fir-trees are cut down, and a new house is built, this time safely perched on top of the cliff; and, so far as I know, the Frost Giants have never succeeded in touching it.

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