WEEK 18 |
O F course Mary did not waken early the next morning. She slept late because she was tired, and when Martha brought her breakfast she told her that though Colin was quite quiet he was ill and feverish as he always was after he had worn himself out with a fit of crying. Mary ate her breakfast slowly as she listened.
"He says he wishes tha' would please go and see him as soon as tha' can," Martha said. "It's queer what a fancy he's took to thee. Tha' did give it him last night for sure—didn't tha'? Nobody else would have dared to do it. Eh! poor lad! He's been spoiled till salt won't save him. Mother says as th' two worst things as can happen to a child is never to have his own way—or always to have it. She doesn't know which is th' worst. Tha' was in a fine temper tha'self, too. But he says to me when I went into his room, 'Please ask Miss Mary if she'll please come an' talk to me?' Think o' him saying please! Will you go, Miss?"
"I'll run and see Dickon first," said Mary. "No, I'll go and see Colin first and tell him—I know what I'll tell him," with a sudden inspiration.
She had her hat on when she appeared in Colin's room and for a second he looked disappointed. He was in bed and his face was pitifully white and there were dark circles round his eyes.
"I'm glad you came," he said. "My head aches and I ache all over because I'm so tired. Are you going somewhere?"
Mary went and leaned against his bed.
"I won't be long," she said. "I'm going to Dickon, but I'll come back. Colin, it's—it's something about the secret garden."
His whole face brightened and a little color came into it.
"Oh! is it!" he cried out. "I dreamed about it all night. I heard you say something about gray changing into green, and I dreamed I was standing in a place all filled with trembling little green leaves—and there were birds on nests everywhere and they looked so soft and still. I'll lie and think about it until you come back."
In five minutes Mary was with Dickon in their garden. The fox and the crow were with him again and this time he had brought two tame squirrels.
"I came over on the pony this mornin'," he said. "Eh! he is a good little chap—Jump is! I brought these two in my pockets. This here one he's called Nut an' this here other one's called Shell."
When he said "Nut" one squirrel leaped on to his right shoulder and when he said "Shell" the other one leaped on to his left shoulder.
When they sat down on the grass with Captain curled at their feet, Soot solemnly listening on a tree and Nut and Shell nosing about close to them, it seemed to Mary that it would be scarcely bearable to leave such delightfulness, but when she began to tell her story somehow the look in Dickon's funny face gradually changed her mind. She could see he felt sorrier for Colin than she did. He looked up at the sky and all about him.
"Just listen to them birds—th' world seems full of 'em—all whistlin' an' pipin'," he said. "Look at 'em dartin' about, an' hearken at 'em callin' to each other. Come springtime seems like as if all th' world's callin'. The leaves is uncurlin' so you can see 'em—an', my word, th' nice smells there is about!" sniffing with his happy turned-up nose. "An' that poor lad lyin' shut up an' seein' so little that he gets to thinkin' o' things as sets him screamin'. Eh! my! we mun get him out here—we mun get him watchin' an' listenin' an' sniffin' up th' air an' get him just soaked through wi' sunshine. An' we munnot lose no time about it."
When he was very much interested he often spoke quite broad Yorkshire though at other times he tried to modify his dialect so that Mary could better understand. But she loved his broad Yorkshire and had in fact been trying to learn to speak it herself. So she spoke a little now.
"Aye, that we mun," she said (which meant "Yes, indeed, we must"). "I'll tell thee what us'll do first," she proceeded, and Dickon grinned, because when the little wench tried to twist her tongue into speaking Yorkshire it amused him very much. "He's took a graidely fancy to thee. He wants to see thee and he wants to see Soot an' Captain. When I go back to the house to talk to him I'll ax him if tha' canna' come an' see him to-morrow mornin'—an' bring tha' creatures wi' thee—an' then—in a bit, when there's more leaves out, an' happen a bud or two, we'll get him to come out an' tha' shall push him in his chair an' we'll bring him here an' show him everything."
When she stopped she was quite proud of herself. She had never made a long speech in Yorkshire before and she had remembered very well.
"Tha' mun talk a bit o' Yorkshire like that to Mester Colin," Dickon chuckled. "Tha'll make him laugh an' there's nowt as good for ill folk as laughin' is. Mother says she believes as half a hour's good laugh every mornin' 'ud cure a chap as was makin' ready for typhus fever."
"I'm going to talk Yorkshire to him this very day," said Mary, chuckling herself.
The garden had reached the time when every day and every night it seemed as if Magicians were passing through it drawing loveliness out of the earth and the boughs with wands. It was hard to go away and leave it all, particularly as Nut had actually crept on to her dress and Shell had scrambled down the trunk of the apple-tree they sat under and stayed there looking at her with inquiring eyes. But she went back to the house and when she sat down close to Colin's bed he began to sniff as Dickon did though not in such an experienced way.
"You smell like flowers and—and fresh things," he cried out quite joyously. "What is it you smell of? It's cool and warm and sweet all at the same time."
"It's th' wind from th' moor," said Mary. "It comes o' sittin' on th' grass under a tree wi' Dickon an' wi' Captain an' Soot an' Nut an' Shell. It's th' springtime an' out o' doors an' sunshine as smells so graidely."
She said it as broadly as she could, and you do not know how broadly Yorkshire sounds until you have heard some one speak it. Colin began to laugh.
"What are you doing?" he said. "I never heard you talk like that before. How funny it sounds."
"I'm givin' thee a bit o' Yorkshire," answered Mary triumphantly. "I canna' talk as graidely as Dickon an' Martha can but tha' sees I can shape a bit. Doesn't tha' understand a bit o' Yorkshire when tha' hears it? An' tha' a Yorkshire lad thysel' bred an' born! Eh! I wonder tha'rt not ashamed o' thy face."
And then she began to laugh too and they both laughed until they could not stop themselves and they laughed until the room echoed and Mrs. Medlock opening the door to come in drew back into the corridor and stood listening amazed.
"Well, upon my word!" she said, speaking rather broad Yorkshire herself because there was no one to hear her and she was so astonished. "Whoever heard th' like! Whoever on earth would ha' thought it!"
There was so much to talk about. It seemed as if Colin could never hear enough of Dickon and Captain and Soot and Nut and Shell and the pony whose name was Jump. Mary had run round into the wood with Dickon to see Jump. He was a tiny little shaggy moor pony with thick locks hanging over his eyes and with a pretty face and a nuzzling velvet nose. He was rather thin with living on moor grass but he was as tough and wiry as if the muscle in his little legs had been made of steel springs. He had lifted his head and whinnied softly the moment he saw Dickon and he had trotted up to him and put his head across his shoulder and then Dickon had talked into his ear and Jump had talked back in odd little whinnies and puffs and snorts. Dickon had made him give Mary his small front hoof and kiss her on her cheek with his velvet muzzle.
"Does he really understand everything Dickon says?" Colin asked.
"It seems as if he does," answered Mary. "Dickon says anything will understand if you're friends with it for sure, but you have to be friends for sure."
Colin lay quiet a little while and his strange gray eyes seemed to be staring at the wall, but Mary saw he was thinking.
"I wish I was friends with things," he said at last, "but I'm not. I never had anything to be friends with, and I can't bear people."
"Can't you bear me?" asked Mary.
"Yes, I can," he answered. "It's very funny but I even like you."
"Ben Weatherstaff said I was like him," said Mary. "He said he'd warrant we'd both got the same nasty tempers. I think you are like him too. We are all three alike—you and I and Ben Weatherstaff. He said we were neither of us much to look at and we were as sour as we looked. But I don't feel as sour as I used to before I knew the robin and Dickon."
"Did you feel as if you hated people?"
"Yes," answered Mary without any affectation. "I should have detested you if I had seen you before I saw the robin and Dickon."
Colin put out his thin hand and touched her.
"Mary," he said, "I wish I hadn't said what I did about sending Dickon away. I hated you when you said he was like an angel and I laughed at you but—but perhaps he is."
"Well, it was rather funny to say it," she admitted frankly, "because his nose does turn up and he has a big mouth and his clothes have patches all over them and he talks broad Yorkshire, but—but if an angel did come to Yorkshire and live on the moor—if there was a Yorkshire angel—I believe he'd understand the green things and know how to make them grow and he would know how to talk to the wild creatures as Dickon does and they'd know he was friends for sure."
"I shouldn't mind Dickon looking at me," said Colin; "I want to see him."
"I'm glad you said that," answered Mary,
Quite suddenly it came into her mind that this was the minute to tell him. Colin knew something new was coming.
"Because what?" he cried eagerly.
Mary was so anxious that she got up from her stool and came to him and caught hold of both his hands.
"Can I trust you? I trusted Dickon because birds trusted him. Can I trust you—for sure—for sure?" she implored.
Her face was so solemn that he almost whispered his answer.
"Well, Dickon will come to see you to-morrow morning, and he'll bring his creatures with him."
"Oh! Oh!" Colin cried out in delight.
"But that's not all," Mary went on, almost pale with solemn excitement. "The rest is better. There is a door into the garden. I found it. It is under the ivy on the wall."
If he had been a strong healthy boy Colin would probably have shouted "Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!" but he was weak and rather hysterical; his eyes grew bigger and bigger and he gasped for breath.
"Oh! Mary!" he cried out with a half sob. "Shall I see it? Shall I get into it? Shall I live to get into it?" and he clutched her hands and dragged her toward him.
"Of course you'll see it!" snapped Mary indignantly. "Of course you'll live to get into it! Don't be silly!"
And she was so un-hysterical and natural and childish that she brought him to his senses and he began to laugh at himself and a few minutes afterward she was sitting on her stool again telling him not what she imagined the secret garden to be like but what it really was, and Colin's aches and tiredness were forgotten and he was listening enraptured.
"It is just what you thought it would be," he said at last. "It sounds just as if you had really seen it. You know I said that when you told me first."
Mary hesitated about two minutes and then boldly spoke the truth.
"I had seen it—and I had been in," she said. "I found the key and got in weeks ago. But I daren't tell you—I daren't because I was so afraid I couldn't trust you—for sure!"
T HERE was once a painter whose name was Zeuxis. He could paint pictures so life-like that they were mistaken for the real things which they represented.
At one time he painted the picture of some fruit which was so real that the birds flew down and pecked at it. This made him very proud of his skill.
"I am the only man in the world who can paint a picture so true to life," he said.
There was another famous artist whose name was Parrhasius. When he heard of the boast which Zeuxis had made, he said to himself, "I will see what I can do."
So he painted a beautiful picture which seemed to be covered with a curtain. Then he invited Zeuxis to come and see it.
Zeuxis looked at it closely. "Draw the curtain aside and show us the picture," he said.
Parrhasius laughed and answered, "The curtain is the picture."
"Well," said Zeuxis, "you have beaten me this time, and I shall boast no more. I deceived only the birds, but you have deceived me, a painter."
Some time after this, Zeuxis painted another wonderful picture. It was that of a boy carrying a basket of ripe red cherries. When he hung this painting outside of his door, some birds flew down and tried to carry the cherries away.
"Ah! this picture is a failure," he said. "For if the boy had been as well painted as the cherries, the birds would have been afraid to come near him."
Two little kittens, one stormy night,
Began to quarrel, and then to fight;
One had a mouse and the other had none,
And that's the way the quarrel begun.
"I'll have that mouse," said the biggest cat,
"You'll have that mouse? We'll see about that!"
"I will have that mouse," said the eldest son;
"You shan't have that mouse," said the little one.
I told you before 'twas a stormy night
When these two little kittens began to fight;
The old woman seized her sweeping broom,
And swept the two kittens right out of the room.
The ground was covered with frost and snow,
And the two little kittens had nowhere to go.
So they laid them down on the mat at the door
While the angry old woman finished sweeping the floor.
Then they crept in, as quiet as mice,
All wet with snow and as cold as ice;
For they found it was better, that stormy night,
To lie down and sleep than to quarrel and fight.
WEEK 18 |
LFRED died in
When Edward the Elder and Ethelfleda both died, Edward's son, Athelstane, came to the throne. He, too, was a good king, and he, too, had to fight with the Danes. After him came six kings who have been called the "boy kings," because they were all so young when they came to the throne. Some of these boy kings were wise and good, and all of them had to fight with the Danes.
Year by year the Danes were becoming more and more powerful in England. They not only came and went in their ships, but many more of them settled in the country. They made their homes in England and forgot about their old homes in Denmark. That would not have mattered much, if they had become good English subjects, willing to obey an English king. But that is what they did not do. Instead, they rebelled always against the king, and so wars and fighting went on.
Now you shall hear about the last of the "boy kings." His name was Ethelred, and because he was foolish and slow, he was also called the Unready. He lived about a hundred years after Alfred.
In his reign everything seemed to go wrong. The Danes soon found out what a foolish man he was, and they came in greater numbers than ever. Ethelred had not spirit enough to be a good leader. He was never sure of what he wanted to do, so his soldiers lost heart and his captains quarrelled among themselves.
He built ships, but they were shattered by storms. The city of London caught fire by accident and was burnt to the ground. Everywhere there was misery and misfortune.
Then Ethelred thought of an unhappy plan for ridding the country of the Danes. He said to them, "I will give you a large sum of money if you will go away."
The Danes, of course, were delighted at the idea of getting money so easily, and they gladly promised. Ethelred gave them the gold, and they sailed away and the English people rejoiced.
But the Danes, as you know, were never careful about keeping their promises. They went home, it is true, but when they had spent all the money which Ethelred had given them, they said, "Let us go to England again and rob the people. Perhaps their foolish king will give us more money."
And so they sailed to England. Ethelred again gave them money to go back to Denmark; again they sailed away, but when the money was spent, once more they returned.
Over and over again the same thing happened, Ethelred always giving the Danes larger and larger sums, for they grew more and more greedy when they saw how easy it was to make the foolish English king give them money.
How did Ethelred get all the money which he gave to the Danes? Was it his own? No. In order to get the money, Ethelred taxed the people, that is, he made each person pay a certain sum every year, and this was called Danegelt or Danemoney.
The English were already accustomed to pay taxes for various things, and at first they did not mind paying this new one. Indeed they were glad to do it, in the hope of getting rid of their terrible enemies. But when the Danes returned time after time, when year by year the tax grew heavier and heavier, the people grew wary of it, and angry.
"We strive and toil," they said, "to earn money, that we may live in peace and comfort, but it is of no use. The King takes our money and gives it to these idle heathen. We will work and pay no more." So the people grew moody, and the country was in greater misery than before.
Then Ethelred thought of another plan by which to get rid of the Danes. This plan was both terrible and wicked.
He sent messengers into every part of England, telling the English that, on the 13th of November, they were to kill all the Danes, men, women and children.
This was a most cruel and wicked order. Besides, it was not
the Danes who were living in England who gave the greatest
trouble, but those who year by year came across the sea in
their ships, to plunder and kill. But Ethelred was weak and
cowardly. He dared not fight the fierce
And the most dreadful thing is that Englishmen all over the country were found willing to carry out the cruel order. Yet we must not think too hardly of these old Englishmen, for they had suffered so much from the Danes that it was little wonder that they hated them.
Even those Danes, who were living peaceably in England, were so proud and haughty that the English hated them. They always thought they should have the best of everything, they expected to be called "Lord Dane," they treated the English like slaves, and if an Englishman and a Dane met in a narrow passage or on a bridge the Englishman had to go back until "my Lord Dane" had passed.
So when the 13th of November came, the Englishmen rose and slaughtered the Danes, every one, man, woman and child, rich and poor, high and low. None were saved.
Among those who were killed was the Princess Gunhilda, sister of the King of Denmark. She had married an English lord and was living with him in England. She was not only very beautiful, but good. The Danes were heathen, but Gunhilda had become Christian, and in her gentle way she tried to bring about peace between the English and the Danes.
When the terrible slaughter began, and the air was filled with shrieks, Gunhilda's husband, son and servants gathered round her, to protect her. Bravely they fought for her, but all in vain. First her husband and then her son fell dead at her feet, pierced by many spears.
Then a cruel man seized the beautiful Gunhilda by the hair and buried his sword in her heart.
"Alas!" she said, as she sank dying to the ground, "my death will bring great sorrow upon England."
One spring morning Uncle David came into the house and remarked, "A troublesome ground-hog has been visiting our vegetable garden and eating most of the early planting of peas."
"That must be our Polly Woodchuck," began Anne calmly. "She likes vegetables—especially peas. I saw her this morning when I went out to see the sun come up. Polly was eating her breakfast of young pea vines." Then Anne's voice trembled a little. "I thought I'd tell you," she said, "that Polly can have my share and I'll go without green peas this summer."
Dick looked at his uncle's face. There was almost a frown in his forehead and almost a smile at the corners of his mouth. "We'll chase Polly over to the hill, Uncle David, where she will not damage the garden any more!" he said quickly.
Polly had three holes opening from her tunnel. One was quite near the end of the peas in the garden. Two were under stone piles in the hedgerow between the garden and the meadow. The children had been watching the woodchuck for several days and knew where she ran when Sandy chased her.
It took the cousins all the morning to move the stones away from Polly's holes in the hedgerow. They carried a lot of the small stones to the garden and rolled them into the opening that was near the peas. Then they plugged the end of one of the other holes. The third one they left open so that Polly could come out easily without digging a new hole.
Polly stayed in her tunnel nearly all day. The noises near her doorways had frightened her. But late in the afternoon as all seemed quiet, she came out of her one free hole and stood up and looked out. She rested one paw against the trunk of a tree and let the other droop. She turned her head and listened with her short ears. After a while she gave a long churr‑rr‑rr‑ing whistle.
Dick, who was sitting on a branch of a big apple-tree near the hedgerow, heard her. He thought it was a lonesome sounding whistle. Then from far up the meadow he heard another woodchuck calling. Polly heard the sound, too, and trotted along the meadow toward the hill.
Dick climbed down the tree and packed little stones into the remaining doorway of Polly's dugout. "Of course she can dig other holes if she wishes to do it," he thought, "but maybe she will not care to come back. She hasn't had a very pleasant day here."
That evening at supper time, Uncle David asked, "What's the latest news of Polly?"
"Oh," said Dick cheerfully, "Whistling Wejack met her in the meadow and I think he invited her over to the hill."
Dick's guess was right. Polly did not come back to the garden. Instead she helped Wejack improve his home. They dug several more branches to his tunnel so as to have more doorways when they wished to go in or out. They made three or four little dugout chambers or dens in widened places in the tunnel. In these they spread comfortable beds of dry stubble and leaves. They found their bedding in the meadow and on the hill and they carried it home in their mouths. Sometimes they rested in one chamber and sometimes in another. They kept them all fresh and clean.
The Rocks of Holiday Hill
It was on a pleasant day in early summer, while Anne was sitting at the foot of the hill not far from one of Wejack's holes, that she saw seven little animals come out to play among the rocks.
They had fluffy bodies and very short legs. Their ears were little and their mouths drooped at the corners. They resembled Polly and Wejack but they were prettier and very small. They were lively little woodchucks and tumbled and rolled about on the ground, biting and hugging and tussling with one another in joyful frolic.
One of Polly and Wejack's children.
During their play they ran quite near to Anne. She kept very still. One of her hands was resting on the ground and in it was a half-eaten chocolate candy. Two of the young woodchucks stopped near her and sniffed. Next they crept to her hand and tasted the candy. Then, quick as a flash, one of them pulled it out of her hand and went off with it.
Anne chuckled. "You darlings!" she said.
Wejack, all this time, had been sunning himself on his favorite rock. When Anne spoke, he looked at her and whistled softly. He did not seem very much worried. After all these weeks of seeing Anne frequently he was rather used to her. Besides, it did not seem to be his task to take care of his seven sons and daughters. Polly liked to do that.
Polly took care of them now. She stood up near a rock, resting her paws on top of it. When she saw Anne, she whistled a long shrill command. Her seven children understood what she said to them and ran pell-mell for their nearest hole.
After that Dick and Anne came nearly every pleasant day to see the young woodchucks. They brought crackers soaked in milk, and cookies and chocolate candy. After placing these dainties near Wejack's door they sat down not far away and "froze" while they waited for the little woodchucks to come out for their treat. At first the youngsters did not seem at all timid. They had not learned to be afraid of people. But Polly attended to their education and the more she whistled to them when Dick and Anne were near the more shy they became.
Mr. and Mrs. Wejack and the seven young Wejacks were very busy during the late summer and fall. They were getting food enough to last them all winter. They did not gather extra food and store it away as squirrels and muskrats and beavers and certain other of their relatives do. They prepared for winter as bears and raccoons do,—by eating as much as they could of the best tasting food they found and becoming very very fat indeed.
Early in the season the woodchucks had enjoyed eating dandelion blossoms, but of course they did not find many of these flowers in the fall. There were plenty of other kinds, however. The late blossoms of red clover tasted good to them and they liked these even after the flowers went to seed. Indeed they ate the seeds of various plants including some grain. Seeds are fattening, you know, so the diet they chose naturally was the best sort for them.
Wejack sometimes found his way to the cornfield.
By the time really cold weather came, the nine woodchucks were all so fat that their plump bodies were rather heavy for such short legs to carry. They seemed lazy in their motions. There came an extra chilly day, indeed, when they were too lazy to make any motions at all. They just lay curled up in the warm beds in their dens with their noses tucked under their round stomachs and slept.
Exactly how long they stayed there, I cannot tell you. There is a legend, as perhaps you know, that woodchucks always waken the second day of February and come out to test the weather. If the sun is shining, as it does on a snappy clear cold day, so the legend goes, the woodchucks see their shadows and return to their dens for another nap of six weeks.
Legends are most interesting though they cannot be taken for fact. This much, however, is certain,—these animals have that one day in the year named for them and February 2nd is known in our calendar as Ground-hog Day.
This marmot is a western relative of the eastern woodchuck.
How sweet is the shepherd's sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.
For he hears the lambs' innocent call,
And he hears the ewes' tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their shepherd is nigh.
WEEK 18 |
"P OCKETS are very handy things for little people who are thrifty and who live largely on small seeds. Without pockets in which to carry the seeds, I am afraid some of them would never be able to store up enough food for winter," began Old Mother Nature, as soon as everybody was on hand the next morning.
"I wouldn't be without my pockets for anything," spoke up Striped Chipmunk.
Old Mother Nature smiled. "You certainly do make good use of yours," said she. "But there are others who have even greater need of pockets, and among them are the Pocket Mice. Of course, it is because of their pockets that they are called Pocket Mice. All of these pretty little fellows live in the dry parts of the Far West and Southwest in the same region where Longfoot the Kangaroo Rat lives. They are close neighbors and relatives of his.
"Midget the Silky Pocket Mouse is one of the smallest animals in all the Great World, so small that Whitefoot the Wood Mouse is a giant compared with him. He weighs less than an ounce and is a dear little fellow. His back and sides are yellow, and beneath he is white. He has quite long hind legs and a long tail, and these show at once that he is a jumper. In each cheek is a pocket opening from the outside, and these pockets are lined with hair. He is called Silky Pocket Mouse because of the fineness and softness of his coat. He has some larger cousins, one of them being a little bigger than Nibbler the House Mouse. Neighbors and close relatives are the Spiny Pocket Mice."
"Do they have spines like Prickly Porky?" demanded Peter Rabbit.
Old Mother Nature laughed. "I don't wonder you ask," said she. "I think it is a foolish name myself, for they haven't any spines at all. Their fur isn't as fine as that of Midget, and it has all through it long coarse hairs almost like bristles, and from these they get their name. The smallest of the Spiny Pocket Mice is about the size of Nibbler the House Mouse and the largest is twice as big. They are more slender than their Silky cousins, and their tails are longer in proportion to their size and have little tufts of hair at the ends. Of course, they have pockets in their cheeks.
"In habits all the Pocket Mice are much alike. They make burrows in the ground, often throwing up a little mound with several entrances which lead to a central passageway connecting with the bedroom and storerooms. By day the entrances are closed with earth from inside, for the Mice are active only at night. Sometimes the burrows are hidden under bushes, and sometimes they are right out in the open. Living as they do in a hot, dry country, the Pocket Mice have learned to get along without drinking water. Their food consists mainly of a variety of small seeds.
"Another Mouse of the West looks almost enough like Whitefoot to be a member of his branch of the family. He has a beautiful yellowish-brown coat and white waistcoat, and his feet are white. But his tail is short in comparison with Whitefoot's and instead of being slim is quite thick. His fur is like velvet. He is called the Grasshopper Mouse."
"Is that because he eats Grasshoppers?" asked Peter Rabbit at once.
"You've guessed it," laughed Old Mother Nature. "He is very, very fond of Grasshoppers and Crickets. He eats many kinds of insects, Moths, Flies, Cutworms, Beetles, Lizards, Frogs and Scorpions. Because of his fondness for the latter he is called the Scorpion Mouse in some sections. He is fond of meat when he can get it. He also eats seeds of many kinds. He is found all over the West from well up in the North to the hot dry regions of the Southwest. When he cannot find a convenient deserted burrow of some other animal, he digs a home for himself and there raises several families each year. In the early evening he often utters a fine, shrill, whistling call note.
"Another little member of the Mouse family found clear across the country is the Harvest Mouse. He is never bigger than Nibbler the House Mouse and often is much smaller. In fact, he is one of the smallest of the entire family. In appearance he is much like Nibbler, but his coat is browner and there are fine hairs on his tail. He loves grassy, weedy or brushy places.
"As a rule he does little harm to man, for his food is chiefly
seeds of weeds, small wild fruits and parts of wild plants of no
value to man. Once in a while his family becomes so large that
they do some damage in grain fields. But this does not happen
often. The most interesting thing about this little Mouse is the
way he builds his home. Sometimes he uses a hole in a tree or
post and sometimes a deserted birds' nest, but more frequently
he builds a nest for
"Now this is all about the native Mice and—what is it, Peter?"
"You've forgotten Nibbler the House Mouse," replied Peter.
"How impatient some little folks are and how fearful that their curiosity will not be satisfied," remarked Old Mother Nature. "As I was saying, this is all about our native Mice; that is, the Mice who belong to this country. And now we come to Nibbler the House Mouse, who, like Robber the Brown Rat, has no business here at all, but who has followed man all over the world and like Robber has become a pest to man."
Peter Rabbit looked rather sheepish when he discovered that Old Mother Nature hadn't forgotten, and resolved that in the future he would hold his tongue.
"Have any of you seen Nibbler?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"I have," replied Danny Meadow Mouse. "Once I was carried to Farmer Brown's barn in a shock of corn and I found Nibbler living in the barn."
"It is a wonder he wasn't living in Farmer Brown's house," said Old Mother Nature. "Probably other members of his family were. He is perfectly at home in any building put up by man, just as is Robber the Rat. Because of his small size he can go where Robber cannot. He delights to scamper about between the walls. Being a true Rodent he is forever gnawing holes in the corners of rooms and opening on to pantry shelves so that he may steal food. He eats all sorts of food, but spoils more for man, by running about over it, than he eats. In barns and henhouses he gets into the grain bins and steals a great deal of grain.
Here are two of the worst pests in the world. Neither is native to America.
"It is largely because of Robber the Rat and Nibbler that men keep the Cats you all hate so. A Cat is Nibbler's worst enemy. Nibbler is slender and graceful, with a long, hairless tail and ears of good size. He is very timid, ready to dart into his hole at the least sound. He raises from four to nine babies at a time and several sets of them in a year.
"If Mr. and Mrs. Nibbler are living in a house, their nest is made of scraps of paper, cloth, wool and other soft things stolen from the people who live in the house. In getting this material they often do great damage. If they are living in a barn, they make their nest of hay and any soft material they can find.
"While Nibbler prefers to live in or close to the homes of men, he sometimes is driven out and then takes to the fields, especially in summer. There he lives in all sorts of hiding places, and isn't at all particular what the place is, if it promises safety and food can be obtained close by. I'm sorry Nibbler ever came to this country. Man brought him here and now he is here to stay and quite as much at home as if he belonged here the way the rest of you do.
"This finishes the lessons on the order of Rodents, the animals related by reason of having teeth for the purpose of gnawing. I suspect these are the only ones in whom you take any interest, and so you will not care to come to school any more. Am I right?"
"No, marm," answered Happy Jack the Gray
Squirrel, who, you remember,
had laughed at Peter Rabbit for wanting to go to school. "No, marm.
There are ever so many other people of the Green Forest and the
Green Meadows we want to know more about than we now know. Isn't
"There is one little fellow living right near here who looks to me
as if he must be a member of the Mouse family, but he isn't like any
of the Mice you have told us about," continued
"You mean Teeny Weeny the Shrew," replied Old Mother Nature, smiling
at Happy Jack. "He isn't a Mouse. He isn't even a Rodent. I'll
try to have him here
After a time Franklin started a printing office of his own. He was very much in debt for his printing press and types. To pay for them he worked very hard. Men saw him at work when they got up in the morning, and when they went to bed at night the candle in his office was still shining. When he wanted paper he would sometimes take the wheelbarrow himself and bring it from the store at which he bought it to his printing office.
Printing Press of Franklin's Time
People began to say: "What an honest, hard-working young man that Franklin is! He is sure to get on!" And then, to help him get on, they brought their work to his office.
He started a newspaper. Now his reading of good books and his practice in writing since he was a little boy helped him. He could write intelligently on almost any subject, and his paper was the best one printed in all America at that time.
Franklin married Miss Deborah Read, the same who had laughed when she saw him walking the street with a roll under each arm and his spare clothes in his pockets. His wife helped him to attend the shop, for he sold stationery in connection with his printing. They kept no servant, and Franklin ate his breakfast of plain bread and milk out of an earthen porringer with a pewter spoon. In time he paid off all his debts and began to grow rich.
In those days books were scarce and people had but few of them. But everybody bought an almanac. Franklin published one of these useful little pamphlets every year. It was known as "Poor Richard's Almanac," because it pretended to be written by a poor man named Richard Saunders, though everybody knew that Richard was Franklin himself. This almanac was very popular on account of the wise and witty sayings of Poor Richard about saving time and money.
Franklin did not spend all his time making money. He studied hard as usual, and succeeded in learning several languages without the help of a teacher. This knowledge was afterwards of the greatest use to him.
Like other people in America at that time, he found it hard to get the books he wanted. To help himself and to do good to others, he started a public library in Philadelphia, which was the first ever started in America. Many like it were established in other towns, and the people in America soon had books within their reach. It was observed, after a while, that plain people in America knew more than people in the same circumstances in other countries.
Franklin did many other things for the public. Seeing how wasteful the old fireplaces were, since they burned a great deal of wood and made the rooms cold and full of draughts, and often filled the house with smoke, he invented a system of saving heat by means of a small iron fireplace or open stove. He founded a high school, which afterwards became a great university. When the frontier people were slai8n by Indians during the French War, he was the chief man in raising and arming troops for their relief.
These and other acts of the sort made Franklin well known in Pennsylvania. But he presently did one thing which made him famous all the world over. This one thing was accomplished in a very short time; but it came from the habits of study he formed when he was a little boy. He was always reading, to get more knowledge, and making experiments, to find out things. People did not know a great deal about electricity at that time. In Europe many learned men were trying to find out what they could about various sorts of electricity, and lectures on the subject had been given in Philadelphia. Something made Franklin think that the electricity which was produced by a machine was of the same nature as the lightning in the sky. So he devised a plan to find out. He set a trap to catch the lightning. He made a kite by stretching a silk handkerchief on a frame. Then he fastened a metal point to the kite and tied a hemp string to it to fly it with. He thought that if lightning were electricity, it would go from the metal point down the hemp string. At the lower end of the string he tied a key, and a silk string to catch hold of, so that he should not let the electricity escape though his hand.
Franklin knew that if a grown man were seen flying a kite he would soon be surrounded by a crowd. So one stormy night he went out and sent up his kite. He waited under a shed to see if the electricity would come. When he saw the little fibers of the hemp stand up charged with electricity, he held his hand near the key and felt a shock. Then he went home, the only man in the world that knew certainly that lightning was electricity. When he had found out this secret he invented the lightning rod, which takes electricity from the air to the earth and keeps it from doing harm.
When the learned men of Europe heard that a man who had hardly ever been at school had made a great discovery, they were struck with wonder, and Franklin was soon considered one of the great men of the world, and was called Dr. Franklin.
When the troubles between England and her colonies began, there was no one so suitable to make peace as the famous Dr. Franklin. Franklin went to England and tried hard to settle matters. But he would not consent to any plan by which Americans should give up their rights.
When the war broke out Dr. Franklin came home again. He was made a member of Congress, and he helped to make the Declaration of Independence. After the Americans had declared themselves independent they found it a hard task to fight against so powerful a country as England. They wanted to get some other country to help them. So Franklin, who was well known in Europe, and who had studied French when he was a poor printer, was sent to France.
When Franklin went to France he had to appear at the finest court in the world. But in the midst of all the display and luxury of the French court he wore plain clothes, and did not pretend to be anything more than he was in Philadelphia. This pleased the French, who admired his independent spirit and called him "the philosopher." He persuaded the French Government to give money and arms to the Americans. He fitted out vessels to attack English ships, and during the whole War of the Revolution he did much for his country.
When the war was ended there came the hard task of making peace. In this Franklin took a leading part.
When peace had been made, Dr. Franklin set out to leave Paris. As he was old and feeble, the queen's litter, which was carried by mules, was furnished to him. On this litter he traveled till he reached the sea. After he got home he was the most honored man in America next to Washington. He became a member of the Convention of 1787, which formed the Constitution of the United States. He died in 1790, at the age of eighty-four.
Franklin on the Queen's Litter
When Franklin was a boy his father used to repeat to him Solomon's proverb, "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings." This was always an encouragement to him, though he did not expect really to stand before kings. But he was presented to five different kings in his lifetime.
'Tis the hour of fairy ban and spell:
The wood-tick has kept the minutes well;
He has counted them all with click and stroke,
Deep in the heart of the mountain oak,
And he has awakened the sentry elve
Who sleeps with him in the haunted tree,
To bid him ring the hour of twelve,
And call the fays to their revelry;
Twelve small strokes on his tinkling bell—
('T was made of the white snail's pearly shell)—
"Midnight comes, and all is well!
Hither, hither, wing your way!
'Tis the dawn of the fairy-day."
WEEK 18 |
Now among all the joyous company who feasted and made merry in the Hart Hall there was one who bore a gloomy face and angry heart. This was a knight named Hunferth. At Hrothgar's feet he sat in jealous wrath, for he could not bear that any knight in all the world should have greater fame than he himself. The praise of Beowulf was bitterness to him, and thus he spake in scoffing words:
"Art thou that Beowulf who didst contend with Breca on the wide sea in a swimming match? Art thou he who with Breca, out of vain pride swam through the sea, and for foolhardiness ventured your lives in deep waters? No man, 'twas said, nor friend nor foe could turn ye from the foolish play. 'Twas winter-time and the waves dashed with loud fury. Yet for a week ye twain strove upon the waters.
"He overcame thee in swimming, he had more strength. Then at morning-time the sea drave him to shore. Thence he departed to his own land where he owned a nation, a town, and much wealth. Yea, in that contest thou hadst not the better. Now although thou art so splendid in war, I expect a worse defeat for thee, if thou darest to abide here the coming of Grendel."
"Friend Hunferth," said Beowulf quietly, "thou hast spoken much of Breca and of our contest. Now will I tell thee the truth of the matter. Rightly I claim to have the greatest strength upon the sea, more skill than any man upon the waves.
"Breca and I when we were boys talked much thereon, and swore that when we were grown to men we should venture our lives upon the sea. And even so we did.
"As we swam forth into the waves, our naked swords we held in hand. That was right needful to defend us against the whale-fishes.
"Breca was not fleeter than I upon the waves. Strive as he might, he could not flee from me. And so for five nights upon the sea we swam. Then a great storm arose and drave us asunder. Fierce and cold were the waves, dark and terrible the night. The north wind drave upon us till the ocean boiled in madness of wrath.
"Then too the anger of the sea-monsters arose. Glad was I then that my shirt of mail, gold adorned and trusty, wrapped my body. For a spotted monster seized me fast in his grim grip and dragged me to the floor of the sea. But I strove with him and my bright blade was dyed in the blood of the sea-brute.
"So I escaped me that time. Yet, although one was slain, around me swarmed many another fearful foe. But my dear sword served me well. They did not have joy of their feast, the Evil-doers! They did not sit around on the floor of the sea to swallow me down. Nay rather, in the morning, put to sleep with the sword, they lay among the sea-weeds on the shore, cast up by the waves. And never since upon the great waters have they troubled the sailors.
"Yea, in that contest I slew nine sea-brutes. Never have I heard of a fiercer fight by night under the arch of heaven. Never have I heard of a man more wretched upon the waves. Yet I escaped. And when the sun at morning rose above the sea, the waves cast me upon the shore of Finland, spent and weary of my journey.
"I have never heard it said that thou, Hunferth, didst make such play of sword, no nor Breca, nor any of you. Ye have not done such deeds. But in sooth I would not boast myself. Yet I say unto thee, Hunferth, that Grendel, the evil monster, had never done so many horrors against thy king, that he had never brought such shame upon this fair Hall, hadst thou been so battle-fierce as thou vauntest that thou art. Yea, he hath seen that he hath no need to fear the boasted courage of the Dane folk. So he warreth, and slayeth, and feasteth as he pleaseth. He looketh not for battle at the hands of the Danes. But I, a Goth, shall offer him war, war fierce and long. And after that, he who will may go proudly to Hart Hall."
When Beowulf had ceased speaking there was a cry from all the thanes and earls. The Hall rang with the sound of clashing armour and loud shouts as the Dane folk cheered the hero.
But Hunferth abashed held his peace.
Then forth from the bower came Wealtheow, Hrothgar's queen. Stately and tall, and very beautiful she came, clothed in rich garments girdled with gold. A golden crown was upon her head, and jewels glittered upon her neck. In her hand she held a great golden cup set with gems. First to King Hrothgar she went and gave to him the beaker.
"Hail to thee," she cried, "mayest thou have joy of the drinking, joy of the feast, ever dear to thy people."
And Hrothgar drank, merry of heart, glad with thoughts of the morrow.
Then through all the Hall Wealtheow moved, speaking gracious words, giving to each warrior, young and old, wine from the golden cup. At last she, the crowned queen, courteous and beautiful, came to Beowulf.
Giving to each warrior, young and old, wine from the golden cup
Graciously Wealtheow smiled upon the Goth lord, holding the beaker to him.
"I thank the Lord of All, that thou art come to us," she said. "Thou art come, noble earl, to bring us comfort, and to deliver us out of our sorrows."
The fierce warrior bowed before the beautiful queen, as he held the wine-cup. He felt the joy of battle rise within him, and aloud he spake:
"I sware it when I did set out upon the deep sea, as I stood by my comrades upon the ship. I sware that I alone would do the deed or go down to death in the grip of the monster. As an earl I must fulfil my word, or here in the Hart Hall must I await my death-day."
The queen was well pleased with the proud words of the Goth lord. And so in splendour and high state she moved through the Hall till she came again to the Gift-seat, and there beside the king she sat.
Then again in the Hall there was sound of laughter and merriment. The minstrels sang, and the earls told of mighty deeds until the evening shadows slanted along the wall. Then all arose. The sound of song and laughter was stilled. It was time to be gone.
Farewells were said. Man greeted man, not knowing what the morning might bring forth. But all knew that battle was making ready for those who waited in that great Hall. When the sun had gone down, and dark night covered all the land, ghostly creatures would creep forth to war in the shadow.
So with grave words Hrothgar bade Beowulf farewell.
"Good luck bide with thee," he said. "Into thy keeping I give the Hall of the Dane folk. Never before did I commit it to any man. Keep it now right bravely. Remember thy fame, show thy great valour, and watch against the Evil-doer. If thou overcome him, there is no desire of thine that shall be unfulfilled, so that it lieth in my power to give it thee."
Then Hrothgar and his band of warriors and thanes went forth from the Hall, and Beowulf with his comrades was left to guard it.
The beds were spread around the walls, and Beowulf prepared himself strangely for battle. His coat of mail, firmly wrought with shining rings of steel, he cast aside. He took his helmet from his head, and with his sword and shield, and all his glittering war-harness, gave it to the keeping of a servant.
And thus all unarmed, clad only in his silken coat, he proudly spake:
"In war-craft I deem I am no worse than Grendel. Therefore not with the sword shall I put him to sleep, though that were easy. Not thus shall I take his life, for he is not learned in the use of war-weapons. So without them we twain this night shall fight. And God the all-wise shall give victory even as it shall seem best to Him."
Having so spoken Beowulf laid his head upon his pillow and all around him his warriors lay down to take their rest. None among them thought ever again to see his own land. For they had heard of the terrible death that had carried off so many of the Dane folk from Hart Hall. Little they thought to escape that death. Yet so reckless were they of life that soon they slept. They who were there to guard that high Hall slept—all save one.
Beowulf alone, watchful and waiting for the foe, impatiently longed for the coming battle.
A Fox and a Leopard, resting lazily after a generous dinner, amused themselves by disputing about their good looks. The Leopard was very proud of his glossy, spotted coat and made disdainful remarks about the Fox, whose appearance he declared was quite ordinary.
The Fox prided himself on his fine bushy tail with its tip of white, but he was wise enough to see that he could not rival the Leopard in looks. Still he kept up a flow of sarcastic talk, just to exercise his wits and to have the fun of disputing. The Leopard was about to lose his temper when the Fox got up, yawning lazily.
The Fox and the Leopard
"You may have a very smart coat," he said, "but you would be a great deal better off if you had a little more smartness inside your head and less on your ribs, the way I am. That's what I call real beauty."
A fine coat is not always an indication of an attractive mind.
Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he, laughing, said to me:
"Pipe a song about a lamb!"
So I piped with merry cheer.
"Piper, pipe that song again."
So I piped: he wept to hear.
"Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;
Sing thy songs of happy cheer!"
So I sung the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.
"Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read."
So he vanished from my sight;
And I plucked a hollow reed,
And I made a rural pen,
And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.
WEEK 18 |
"Long live the Beggars! Christians, ye must cry.
Long live the Beggars! pluck up courage then.
Long live the Beggars! if ye would not die.
Long live the Beggars! shout, ye Christian men."
—Beggar's Song (1570)
T HE story of the fight of the Netherlands for liberty now becomes more or less the story of one man's life. That man was William of Orange, or William the Silent, as he was called from his quiet ways. It was on his shoulder that the broken-down old emperor had leant when, thirteen years before this, he had resigned his empire and returned to Spain, leaving Philip to manage his affairs.
William of Orange had been left in the Netherlands to rule over the provinces in the north—Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, and Friesland. He soon discovered Philip's plan of planting the Inquisition in the Netherlands, and from this time up to the last tragic moment of his life he toiled to suppress it and to uphold the ancient rights and liberties of his country. From this time he came forward to champion the cause of the Netherlands. He was to prove, indeed, the "guiding-star of a whole brave nation." Of him it would be truly said that he went through life "bearing the load of a people's sorrows upon his shoulders with a smiling face."
"Tranquil amid raging waves," was the motto of his life. And perhaps no man ever carried out their life's decree more completely than did this man, William the Silent.
He had been born in Germany and brought up as a follower of Luther, but Charles V. had carried him off to Spain and educated him as a Roman Catholic. When Philip introduced the Inquisition and burnt people for their opinions, William grew very thoughtful. He thought that Christians of every kind should live together in peace, and for this end he worked in a cruel age; which could not understand so high a creed. The result of his own deep thought, combined with all that had passed, was, that he returned to the belief of his boyhood, and enrolled himself for ever a soldier of the Reformation.
William had been in Germany, when his friends the Counts Egmont and Horn had been led forth to die in the square at Brussels, raising troops for his brothers to march against the Duke of Alva. But they had fought in vain. They were no match for the brilliant Spanish commander and his well-trained troops.
Unsuccessful by land, William, undaunted, turned his eyes to the sea. The men of the Netherlands were more at home on the sea, after all; they had always been sailors and fishermen, and every sea-coast city had its ships. They would chase the Spaniard by sea and destroy the ships sailing to ruin their fair country. So the "Sea Beggars," as they were called, began their wild work, sailing over the high seas, living as the old Vikings had done, by pillage and plunder.
One day—it was the 1st of April—they were coasting about the mouth of the Meuse, when they found they had eaten all their food. There were some 300 of them at most, and they must land in order to avert starvation. The little seaport town of Briel, or The Brille, lies near the mouth of the broad river Meuse. It was known to be in the hands of the Duke of Alva, like the rest of the country, at this time; but the Sea Beggars were hungry, the Sea Beggars were also desperate. So about two o'clock on this April afternoon a ferryman from Briel saw the squadron sailing up the broad mouth of the river towards Briel. He at once gave the alarm that the Sea Beggars were here, though secretly the stout-hearted ferryman was in sympathy with the marauders.
The inhabitants of Briel were struck with terror. "How many of the Sea Beggars were coming?"
"There might be some 5000," carelessly answered the ferryman. The Spaniards and townspeople decided to take refuge in flight. They sent two men to confer with the strangers, while they fled from the town. So the Sea Beggars entered the deserted town of Briel, and the admiral took lawful possession of it in the name of William of Orange.
It was the first step in the freedom of Holland, and it was achieved by some 250 wild seamen driven from their country by Spanish rulers.
"Up with Orange!" was the cry henceforth wrung from the very hearts of the stricken people.
The hero prince should yet come to his own again. The first ray of light had penetrated the gloom of years, and all hands were now stretched out to William the Silent, who should yet save their country.
And while the rage of the Duke of Alva knew no bounds, the men of Holland sang aloud in their joy the popular couplet—
"On April Fools' Day
Duke Alva's spectacles were stolen away."
Meanwhile Cupid lay tossing and groaning in his bed in his mother's palace, for his scalded shoulder gave him great pain. Venus wondered what could possibly have happened, for all her questioning could get nothing from him but moans. And maybe she would never have known, had not a sea-gull come to her with a whole budget of scandal: among the rest, how Cupid was carrying on a love affair with a mortal. And when the gull told her that the girl's name was said to be Psyche, the rage of the goddess knew no bounds. She hurried to Cupid's bedside, and gave him such a scolding that he must have forgotten the pain of the scald. Then she went, still storming, to Juno, and demanded the instant arrest and punishment of Psyche. From Juno she went to Jupiter himself, who put Mercury at her service. Mercury received from her a little book in which was written the name and description of Psyche, and with this he went about the world, proclaiming that whoever should seize a certain princess of that name, an escaped handmaid of Venus, should receive seven kisses from the goddess herself for a reward.
Knowing nothing of all this, Psyche wandered on and on till she saw a temple on the top of a mountain. She thought it might be the dwelling of Cupid, so she climbed up to it and found it littered with sheaves of corn, bound and unbound, scythes, sickles, and such things, all lying about in confusion. Shocked at finding a temple in such a state, she set to work to put everything in order. She was in the middle of her work, when a beautiful lady appeared before her, crowned with a wreath of wheat ears, whom she knew to be Ceres, the goddess of harvest.
"Who are you?" said the goddess graciously, "who work so hard to put the floor of my house in order?"
"Psyche," said she; "and I implore you, great goddess, to grant me shelter for a few days. I will serve you faithfully and well."
But when the goddess heard the name of Psyche, her face changed. "Willingly would I shelter you," said she. "But I dare not shelter one whom the wrath of Venus is following through earth and air. Begone! and be thankful that I do not keep you as a prisoner. Not even I dare offend Venus. My poor girl! I am sorry for you. But begone!"
Turned away by the kindest of all the goddesses, Psyche wandered on and on till she came to another temple in a gloomy valley, which proved to be the temple of Juno, to whom Psyche, falling on her knees before the alter, prayed for succour. But Juno, appearing to her, said:—
"Willingly would I help you; but though I am the Queen of Heaven, I must obey the law. Venus claims you as her handmaid, and nobody may give protection to a fugitive slave. Be thankful that I do not deliver you to your mistress. I pity you; but begone!"
So not even the greatest of all the goddesses could help her against the vengeance of Venus. Again she wandered on and on, helpless and despairing, till one of the servants of Venus met her and knew her. Seizing Psyche by the hair, she dragged her into the presence of the terribly beautiful goddess, who broke into a laugh of cruel triumph when she found her rival in her power. Venus delivered her over to her torturers, Anguish and Sorrow. They, having scourged and tormented her, brought her again before Venus, who flew at her like a fury, as if she would tear her limb from limb.
"You ugly slave!" said Venus, as soon as she recovered breath; "you want a lover, do you? Well, perhaps you may get one if you know how to drudge; you certainly won't any other way. I'll give you a trial."
So she took wheat, barley, millet, poppy seed, vetches, lentils, and beans, mixed them up together, and said:—
"Sort out every seed into its proper heap before evening. If you can do that, you shall not be scourged again."
Psyche sat down before her task in silent despair, crushed in heart, and aching in every limb. She could only pray that death would come to her before nightfall; for she could not bear the thought of those cruel scourges. And so she sat motionless until a little white ant, taking more pity on her than Ceres or Juno, called together his whole tribe, who sorted out the heap, grain by grain, into proper parcels, in no time, and then ran away.
Judge of the surprise of Venus when she found the work done. "Somebody has helped you!" said she. But she could not order her to be scourged, the work being done; so she threw her a piece of coarse bread for supper, and had her shut up in a wretched shed till day.
In the morning Venus came to her again. "Do you see yonder sheep, with golden fleeces, wandering without a shepherd? Go and bring me a piece of their wool, that you may escape another scourging."
Psyche set out, not to get the wool, but to drown herself in the river that ran along the meadow where the sheep were feeding. She was about to leap into the water, when one of the reeds spoke to her, and said, murmuring:—
"Pollute not these pure waters by thy death, nor yet venture to approach yonder sheep during the heat of the sun; for they are fierce and savage, and they will slay thee with their horns. But when they are resting towards evening, creep into the meadow, and collect the wool that has clung to the bushes."
Thus Psyche brought to Venus a whole lapful of golden wool. "Somebody has helped you!" again said the goddess, angrily. But she had to keep her word.
Still she could not bring herself to believe that Psyche could have performed these tasks unaided. She strongly suspected Cupid, though she kept him closely shut up in his chamber, making believe that his scalded shoulder still wanted careful nursing, for fear lest he might come across Psyche. She was quite sure he had never left his chamber for a moment. Nevertheless she resolved to send Psyche next time where not Love himself could follow or help her.
"Do you see yonder mountain-peak?" she said to her next morning. "From that peak falls a black fountain, as cold as ice. Take this urn, fill it with the cold back water, and bring it to me."
Psyche started off at once for the mountain-peak, meaning to throw herself from it, and so bring her miseries to an end. But it was not so easy to reach the top as she had hoped. The black fountain fell headlong from the middle of a terrible rock into a still more dark and terrible ravine, from which fierce and horrible dragons stretched up their long necks to guard the waters; and the roar of the water as it fell was this—"Begone, or perish!"
In the midst of her terror, an eagle came flying overhead, and called out to her:—
"Do not touch the water: this is the spring of the Styx, that sacred and dreadful river by whom the gods swear. Give me your urn."
So, swooping down, he took the urn in his talons, and flew with it through the gaping jaws of the dragons so swiftly that they had not time to close upon him, or to pierce him with their fiery tongues. Thus he reached the water, filled the urn, and flew back with it to Psyche, who brought it to Venus just as she had been bidden.
Venus was more enraged than ever; but this time she hid her anger with a smile. "I see there is nothing too hard for you," she said—"nothing. So do me one little service before we make friends. Nobody else could do it; but then one who is clever enough to steal the waters of the Styx can do everything. You see I have grown pale and thin with anxiety about my poor boy. Go as quickly as you can to the palace of King Pluto, and ask to see the Lady Proserpine. When you see her, say to her, 'Madam, Venus requests you to lend her a little of your beauty till to-morrow morning.' Here is a casket to bring it in; and be quick with your errand."
Then indeed did Psyche give herself up for lost. For she knew what you have read in the story of the Gods and the Giants—that Pluto was the King of Hades, that underground world of ghosts and spirits where men and women go when they die. And of this world of Hades the Lady Proserpine was queen.
Thinking that the shortest way to the world below was the best, she went to the top of a high tower, meaning to hurl herself out of life headlong. But the tower said:—
"Pause! for know that from the world where you are going none ever return. There is only one path by which you can reach Pluto's palace and come back again: and that path I will tell you. Listen carefully to all I say. Near to the city of Lacedæmon is a hill called Tænărus. In the hill is hidden a cavern which you must find; and from this cavern a path, which no mortal has yet trodden, runs straight into the hill. Take the path, but provide yourself first with these things: two pieces of barley-bread sopped in honey—one in each hand—and two pieces of money in your mouth. If anybody accosts you on the way, pass him by in silence. Give nothing to anybody with your hand. Show no pity. Help nobody. Taste nothing but dry bread, and open not the box you carry; for Venus knows you to be pitiful and helpful, and a little inquisitive as well, and will set traps for you to fall into. Therefore, be wise, and trust to nothing you see in the world of dreams and shadows. If you follow my directions, you may go and return in safety; if you fail in the least of them, you are a lost soul."
Psyche set off at once to the city of Lacedæmon, and, with a honey-sop in each hand and two silver coins in her mouth, sought for the cavern in the hill. She found it at last, and started along the path, blacker than night, which wound downwards into the heart of the earth. After she had traveled many hours, the path became illuminated with a pale twilight, by which she could just manage to see—a strange sort of half-light, such as one never sees above ground. It seemed to Psyche as if the path would never end. At last she saw figures approaching her in the distance; and these, as they approached, proved to be a lame man driving a lame ass laden with wood, which was slipping from its cords.
"Lady," said the lame man, "you see I am weak and helpless; help me to tie up my wood again so that it may not fall."
Psyche was just about to lay down her honey-sops and help him, when she remembered the tower's warning, and passed him by without a word.
On she went until she came to the bank of a broad river with water as black as ink; and just where the path ran down to the water was a ferry-boat, in which sat a very old man naked to the waist, and holding an oar. Psyche stepped into the boat, and the old man, in dead silence, pushed off, and began to row heavily across the black and sluggish stream. When the boat reached the middle, she looked down, and saw a skinny hand raise itself slowly out of the water. Then she perceived that the hand belonged to a corpse-like form floating half under the black ooze, which, in a hollow voice, thus besought her:—
"Lady, for pity's sake take me into your boat, that I may reach the other side. Else must I float here between life and death forever."
Psyche was about to bid the ferryman take the poor, half-dead creature into the boat, when she remembered the tower's warning against pity, and let the body drift by.
Arrived at the other side, the ferryman held out his hand for his fee. Psyche was about to take one of the coins from her mouth, when she suddenly remembered the tower's warning to give nothing to anybody with her hand. So, bringing one of the coins between her teeth, she dropped it into the open palm of the ferryman, and went her way.
A little farther on she came upon some old women weaving.
"Lady," said the eldest, "we are old, and it is dark, and our eyes are dim, and we have much to do before nightfall. Help us with our web, we pray you."
Psyche was about to comply, when she remembered the tower's warning against giving help, and passed on.
Still on and on she went until she reached a huge palace built of black marble, which she knew at once to be the abode of Pluto and Proserpine. But how was she to enter? For on the threshold stood a monstrous dog, with three heads and six flaming eyes, barking thunderously, and with horrible yawning jaws. This was the dog Cerberus, who never sleeps, and guards the palace of Pluto night and day. There was only one chance of passing him, and Psyche took it. She threw him one of her honey-sops, and ran past him while he was swallowing it down.
In the hall beyond the threshold sat Proserpine, Queen of Hades, and goddess of the Underworld, dark and beautiful, and crowned with white poppies and stars, with a two-pronged scepter in her hand. She received Psyche kindly, made her sit down on a cushion beside her, and bade the attendants bring meat, fruit, and wine. Psyche, hungry and thirsty after her long journey, was about to eat, when she remembered the tower's warning, and refreshed herself with a little dry bread only. Then rising, she said to Proserpine:—
"Madam, Venus requests you to lend her a little of your beauty till to-morrow morning, and here is a casket for me to carry it in."
"With pleasure," said Proserpine, taking the casket, opening it, breathing into it, closing it again, and returning it to Psyche, who, having performed her errand, departed reverently.
She got past Cerberus by throwing him her other sop, and gave the ferryman her other piece of money to row her back across the river. And so, without further peril or adventure, she reached the cavern in the hill, and the sunshine, and the broad light of day, with the casketful of beauty safe in her hand.
Then a great curiosity came upon her to know what this beauty of the Underworld might be—beauty so great that even Venus desired it to add to her charms. At last Psyche's curiosity grew so strong that she could withstand it no longer, and the tower's last warning was forgotten. What harm could a single glimpse do? So, first timidly, then more boldly, she raised the lid of the casket. And from the casket into which Proserpine had breathed there came forth a deep sleep, which fell over Psyche, so that first she felt faint, then her blood turned dull and cold, and the color left her cheeks, then her heart stopped, and then her breath,—for the Sleep of Death had come upon her, and she lay in the sunshine, pale and cold. For Death is the beauty of Proserpine.
Cupid, wearied out of patience by being kept prisoner in his chamber on account of a trifling hurt that no longer pained him, and loving his lost Psyche as much as ever, thought and thought how he might escape from the tiresome watchfulness of his mother. And it happened at last that the nurse on duty threw open the window for a moment to let in a breath of air. That moment was enough for Cupid: spreading his wings, he was through the window and away before the nurse could tell him from a bird. His wings had grown the stronger from their long rest, and he reveled in the freedom of the sunshine and the open air. Never had life felt so full of joy. Ah, if he could only find Psyche, not his mother herself should part them any more! And surely he would find her, for what cannot Love find or do?
He fled fast to the palace in the secret valley, but she was not there. There was scarce a corner of the world where he did not fly, in less time than it would take the very swiftest of birds. And at last—
He found her; and his wings lost their strength, and his heart melted for sorrow when he saw her stretched in the Sleep of Death upon the hillside—beautiful still, but with the beauty of Proserpine. The fatal casket lay open beside her, so he knew what had befallen. "Alas!" he thought, "if I had not flown from her in my anger she would not have died." He clasped her in his arms; he kissed her lips with enough love to wake the dead, if such a thing could be.
And such a thing could be—such a thing was! For at the kiss of Love the Sleep of Death began to slowly pass away. Back came the color to her lips and cheeks; her heart fluttered and beat; she breathed; she opened her eyes. And then she woke in his arms, glad and alive.
This is the story of Cupid and Psyche, of which there is nothing more to tell except that Psyche's troubles had a very happy and glorious ending indeed. For Jupiter, to make her a fitting wife for Cupid, received her into heaven, and on her arrival gave her with his own hands a goblet of nectar to drink—the wine of the gods, which makes all who taste of it immortal. Even Venus became reconciled to her, and the wedding-feast of Cupid and Psyche is one of the most famous festivals in the whole history of the skies.
I said a little way back that most of these stories have some sort of meaning, and people have found more meaning in the story of Psyche than in most of them. "Psyche" is the Greek for "soul," and I have already told you that "Cupid" means "love." So the story may show how the soul of man is loved by heaven; but how it has to pass through many sufferings and trials, and at last through death, before it reaches immortal happiness.
"Psyche" also means "butterfly," and Psyche herself, after she was received into heaven, always appears in pictures with a butterfly's wings. It seems curious at first that the same word means "soul" and "butterfly"; but it is not so curious when one thinks a little of the story. Just as the caterpillar that crawls on the earth seems to die when it becomes a chrysalis and then rises again as a winged butterfly, so man, bound down to earth like a caterpillar, seems to die, and then lives again, only changed.
In some very old pictures you may see a butterfly flying out from between a man's lips. That means that he is dying, and that his "Psyche," his "soul" or "butterfly," is leaving him.
WEEK 18 |
O NCE there was a widow, and she had one son, called Jack. Jack and his mother owned just three cows. They lived well and happy, for a long time; but at last hard times came down on them, and the crops failed, and poverty looked in at the door, and things got so sore against the poor widow that for want of money and for want of necessities she had to make up her mind to sell one of the cows. "Jack," she said one night, "go over in the morning to the fair to sell the branny cow."
Well and good: in the morning my brave Jack was up early, and took a stick in his fist and turned out the cow, and off to the fair he went with her; and when Jack came into the fair, he saw a great crowd gathered in a ring in the street. He went into the crowd to see what they were looking at, and there in the middle of them he saw a man with a wee, wee harp, a mouse, and a bum-clock [cockroach], and a bee to play the harp. And when the man put them down on the ground and whistled, the bee began to play and the mouse and the bum-clock to dance; and there wasn't a man or woman, or a thing in the fair, that didn't begin to dance also; and the pots and pans, and the wheels and reels jumped and jigged, all over the town, and Jack himself and the branny cow were as bad as the next.
There was never a town in such a state before or since, and after a while the man picked up the bee, the harp, and the mouse, and the bum-clock and put them into his pocket; and the men and women, Jack and the cow, the pots and pans, wheels and reels, that had hopped and jigged, now stopped, and every one began to laugh as if to break its heart. Then the man turned to Jack. "Jack," says he, "how would you like to be master of all these animals?"
"Why," says Jack. "I should like it fine."
"Well, then," says the man, "how will you and me make a bargain about them?"
"I have no money," says Jack.
"But you have a fine cow," says the man. "I will give you the bee and the harp for it."
"O, but," Jack says, says he, "my poor mother at home is very sad and sorrowful entirely, and I have this cow to sell and lift her heart again."
"And better than this she cannot get," says the man. "For when she sees the bee play the harp, she will laugh if she never laughed in her life before."
"Well," says Jack, says he, "that will be grand."
He made the bargain. The man took the cow; and Jack started home with the bee and the harp in his pocket, and when he came home, his mother welcomed him back.
"And Jack," says she, "I see you have sold the cow."
"I have done that," says Jack.
"Did you do well?" says the mother.
"I did well and very well," says Jack.
"How much did you get for her?" says the mother.
"O," says he, "it was not for money at all I sold her, but for something far better."
"O, Jack! Jack!" says she, "what have you done?"
"Just wait until you see, mother," says he, "and you will soon say I have done well."
Out of his pocket he takes the bee and the harp and sets them in the middle of the floor, and whistles to them, and as soon as he did this the bee began to play the harp, and the mother she looked at them and let a big, great laugh out of her, and she and Jack began to dance, the pots and pans, the wheels and reels began to jig and dance over the floor, and the house itself hopped about also.
When Jack picked up the bee and the harp again the dancing all stopped, and the mother laughed for a long time. But when she came to herself, she got very angry entirely with Jack, and she told him he was a silly, foolish fellow, that there was neither food nor money in the house, and now he had lost one of her good cows also. "We must do something to live," says she. "Over to the fair you must go tomorrow morning, and take the black cow with you and sell her."
And off in the morning at an early hour brave Jack started, and never halted until he was in the fair. When he came into the fair, he saw a big crowd gathered in a ring in the street. Said Jack to himself, "I wonder what are they looking at."
Into the crowd he pushed, and saw the wee man this day again with a mouse and a bum-clock, and he put them down in the street and whistled. The mouse and the bum-clock stood up on their hind legs and got hold of each other and began to dance there and jig; and as they did there was not a man or woman in the street who didn't begin to jig also, and Jack and the black cow, and the wheels and the reels, and the pots and pans, all of them were jigging and dancing all over the town, and the houses themselves were jumping and hopping about, and such a place Jack or any one else never saw before.
When the man lifted the mouse and the bum-clock into his pocket, they all stopped dancing and settled down, and everybody laughed right hearty. The man turned to Jack. "Jack," said he, "I am glad to see you; how would you like to have these animals?"
"I should like well to have them," says Jack, says he, "only I cannot."
"Why cannot you?" says the man.
"O," says Jack, says he, "I have no money, and my poor mother is very down-hearted. She sent me to the fair to sell this cow and bring some money to lift her heart."
"O," says the man, says he, "if you want to lift your mother's heart, I will sell you the mouse; and when you set the bee to play the harp and the mouse to dance to it, your mother will laugh if she never laughed in her life before."
"But I have no money," says Jack, says he, "to buy your mouse."
"I don't mind," says the man, says he, "I will take your cow for it."
Poor Jack was so taken with the mouse and had his mind so set on it that he thought it was a grand bargain entirely, and he gave the man his cow, and took the mouse and started off for home, and when he got home his mother welcomed him.
"Jack," says she, "I see you have sold the cow."
"I did that," says Jack.
"Did you sell her well?" says she.
"Very well indeed," says Jack, says he.
"How much did you get for her?"
"I didn't get money," says he, "but I got value."
"O, Jack! Jack!" says she, "what do you mean?"
"I will soon show you that, mother," says he, taking the mouse out of his pocket and the harp and the bee, setting all on the floor; and when he began to whistle the bee began to play, and the mouse got up on its hind legs and began to dance and jig, and the mother gave such a hearty laugh as she never laughed in her life before. To dancing and jigging herself and Jack fell, and the pots and pans and the wheels and reels began to dance and jig over the floor, and the house jigged also. And when they were tired of this, Jack lifted the harp and the mouse and the bee and put them in his pocket, and his mother she laughed for a long time.
But when she got over that, she got very down-hearted and very angry entirely with Jack. "And O, Jack," she says, "you are a stupid, good-for-nothing fellow. We have neither money nor meat in the house, and here you have lost two of my good cows, and I have only one left now. Tomorrow morning," she says, "you must be up early and take this cow to the fair and sell her. See to get something to lift my heart up."
"I will do that," says Jack, says he. So he went to his bed, and early in the morning he was up and turned out the spotty cow and went to the fair.
When Jack got to the fair, he saw a crowd gathered in a ring in the street. "I wonder what they are looking at, anyhow," says he. He pushed through the crowd, and there he saw the same wee man he had seen before, with a bum-clock; and when he put the bum-clock on the ground, he whistled, and the bum-clock began to dance, and the men, women and children in the street, and Jack and the spotty cow began to dance and jig also, and everything on the street and about it, the wheels and reels, the pots and pans, began to jig, and the houses themselves began to dance likewise. And when the man lifted the bum-clock and put it in his pocket, everybody stopped jigging and dancing and every one laughed loud. The wee man turned and saw Jack.
"Jack, my brave boy," says he, "you will never be right fixed until you have this bum-clock, for it is a very fancy thing to have."
"O, but," says Jack, says he, "I have no money."
"No matter for that," says the man; "you have a cow, and that is as good as money to me."
"Well," says Jack, "I have a poor mother who is very downhearted at home, and she sent me to the fair to sell this cow and raise some money and lift her heart."
"O, but Jack," says the wee man, "this bum-clock is the very thing to lift her heart, for when you put down your harp and bee and mouse on the floor and put the bum-clock along with them, she will laugh if she never laughed in her life before."
"Well, that is surely true," says Jack, says he, "and I think I will make a swap with you."
So Jack gave the cow to the man and took the bum-clock himself and started for home. His mother was glad to see Jack back, and says she, "Jack, I see that you have sold the cow."
"I did that, mother," says Jack.
"Did you sell her well, Jack?" says the mother.
"Very well indeed, mother," says Jack.
"How much did you get for her?" says the mother.
"I didn't take any money for her, mother, but value," says Jack and he takes out of his pocket the bum-clock and the mouse, and set them on the floor and began to whistle, and the bee began to play the harp and the mouse and the bum-clock stood up on their hind legs and began to dance, and Jack's mother laughed very hearty, and everything in the house, the wheels and the reels, and the pots and pans, went jigging and hopping over the floor, and the house itself went jigging and hopping about likewise.
When Jack lifted up the animals and put them in his pocket, everything stopped, and the mother laughed for a good while. But after a while, when she came to herself and saw what Jack had done and how they were now without either money, or food, or a cow, she got very, very angry at Jack and scolded him hard, and then sat down and began to cry.
Poor Jack, when he looked at himself, confessed that he was a stupid fool entirely. "And what," says he, "shall I now do for my poor mother?" He went out along the road, thinking and thinking, and he met a wee woman who said, "Good-morrow to you, Jack," says she, "how is it you are not trying for the King's daughter of Ireland?"
"What do you mean?" says Jack.
Says she: "Didn't you hear what the whole world has heard, that the King of Ireland has a daughter who hasn't laughed for seven years, and he has promised to give her in marriage and to give the kingdom along with her, to any man who will take three laughs out of her."
"If that is so," says Jack, says he, "it is not here I should be."
Back to the house he went, and gathers together the bee, the harp, the mouse, and the bum-clock, and putting them into his pocket, he bade his mother good-by, and told her it wouldn't be long till she got good news from him, and off he hurries.
When he reached the castle, there was a ring of spikes all round the castle and men's heads on nearly every spike there.
"What heads are these?" Jack asked one of the King's soldiers.
"Any man that comes here trying to win the King's daughter and fails to make her laugh three times, loses his head and has it stuck on a spike. These are the heads of the men that failed," says he.
"A mighty big crowd," says Jack, says he. Then Jack sent word to tell the King's daughter and the King that there was a new man who had come to win her.
In a very little time the King and the King's daughter and the King's court all came out and sat themselves down on gold and silver chairs in front of the castle and ordered Jack to be brought in until he should have his trial. Jack, before he went, took out of his pocket the bee, the harp, the mouse, and the bum-clock, and he gave the harp to the bee, and he tied a string to one and the other, and took the end of the string himself, and marched into the castle yard before all the court, with his animals coming on a string behind him.
When the Queen and the King and the court and the princes saw poor ragged Jack with his bee, and mouse, and bum-clock hopping behind him on a string, they set up one roar of laughter that was long and loud enough, and when the King's daughter herself lifted her head and looked to see what they were laughing at and saw Jack and his paraphernalia, she opened her mouth and she let out of her such a laugh as was never heard before.
Then Jack dropped a low courtesy, and said, "Thank you, my lady; I have one of the three parts of you won."
Then he drew up his animals in a circle, and began to whistle, and the minute he did, the bee began to play the harp, and the mouse and the bum-clock stood up on their hind legs, got hold of each other, and began to dance, and the King and the King's court and Jack himself began to dance and jig, and everything about the King's castle, pots and pans, wheels and reels and the castle itself began to dance also. And the King's daughter, when she saw this, opened her mouth again, and let out of her a laugh twice louder than she let before, and Jack, in the middle of his jigging, drops another courtesy, and says "Thank you, my lady; that is two of the three parts of you won."
Jack and his menagerie went on playing and dancing, but Jack could not get the third laugh out of the King's daughter, and the poor fellow saw his big head in danger of going on the spike. Then the brave mouse came to Jack's help and wheeled round upon its heel, and as it did so its tail swiped into the bum-clock's mouth, and the bum-clock began to cough and cough and cough. And when the King's daughter saw this she opened her mouth again, and she let out the loudest and hardest and merriest laugh that was ever heard before or since; and, "Thank you, my lady," says Jack, dropping another courtesy; "I have all of you won."
Then when Jack stopped his menagerie, the King took himself and the menagerie within the castle. He was washed and combed, and dressed in a suit of silk and satin with all kinds of gold and silver ornaments, and then was led before the King's daughter. And true enough she confessed that a handsomer and finer fellow than Jack she had never seen, and she was very willing to be his wife.
Jack sent for his poor old mother and brought her to the wedding, which lasted nine days and nine nights, every night better than the other. All the lords and ladies and gentry of Ireland were at the wedding. I was at it, too, and got brogues, broth and slippers of bread and came jigging home on my head.
T HE web of the spider is made of two kinds of silk. The silk of the rays is smooth. The silk that goes across the rays has tiny drops of glue on it. This makes the line stick to the rays.
Mrs. Spider begins her lines at the outer edge. They are laid nearer to each other as she gets to the centre of the web. When all is done, she is in the centre, and does not need to walk on her new web.
She has a nest near her web. From the nest runs a line. Mrs. Spider can sit in the door of her nest, and hold the line in her claw. When a bug or fly goes on the web, the web shakes. She feels her line move. She runs down the line and gets the fly or bug, and takes it to her nest to eat.
Before she takes the prey to her nest, she kills or stuns it. Then she winds some fine web about it. She makes a neat bundle of it, and then carries it off.
You can make Mrs. Spider run down her line if you shake the web a very little with a bit of grass or stick. She will run out to see if she has caught a bee or a fly.
The nest of the spider is made of close, fine silk. It is like soft, nice cloth.
In shape it may be like a ball, or a horn, or a basket. Each kind of spider makes its web in the shape it likes best. In the nest the spider lays her eggs in a silk ball. The eggs, at first, are very soft. After a time they grow harder.
More than two spiders never live in a nest. Often a spider lives all alone. Spiders often bite off each other's legs. A spider can live and run when half its legs are gone. It can also get a fine new leg as a crab can. The new leg is smaller than the one lost.
When the baby spiders come out of the egg, they must be fed. The mother takes good care of them.
They grow fast. When they are grown, they go off and make their own webs. Sometimes the eggs are left in the silk ball all winter.
The baby spiders come out in the spring. Then the old ones are dead. But the young ones know how to hunt and to spin. The very young spiders do not have as rich a dress as the old ones. The hairs of their coat are not so thick at first.
The soft, silk-like coat, with its rich color, is the only beauty a spider has. People do not admire his long legs and his round, soft, bag-like body. Still, some people who watch spiders learn to like them very well.
This is how the flowers grow:
I have watched them and I know.
First, above the ground is seen
A tiny blade of purest green,
Reaching up and peeping forth
East and west, and south and north.
Then it shoots up day by day,
Circling in a curious way
Round a blossom, which it keeps
Warm and cozy while it sleeps.
Then the sunbeams find their way
To the sleeping bud and say,
"We are children of the sun
Sent to wake thee, little one."
And the leaflet opening wide
Shows the tiny bud inside,
Peeping with half-opened eye
On the bright and sunny sky.
Breezes from the west and south
Lay their kisses on its mouth;
Till the petals all are grown,
And the bud's a flower blown.
This is how the flowers grow:
I have watched them and I know.
WEEK 18 |
II Kings iv: 8 to 37.
HE prophet Elisha went through the land of Israel, meeting in many places the people who worshipped the Lord, and teaching them. On one of his journeys he visited the little city of Shunem, which was on a hill looking over the great plain of Esdraelon from the east. A rich woman who was living in that place asked him to come to her house, and to take his meals there whenever he journeyed by. So, as often as Elisha came to Shunem on his journeys, he stopped for a meal or a night at this woman's home. After a time the lady said to her husband, "I see that this is a holy man of God who comes to our house so often. Let us build a little room for him on the side of the house; and let us place in the room for him a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick; so that when he comes it will be a home for him, and he can sleep there."
So they built the room, and as often as Elisha passed by he stayed there with his servant, the man who waited on him, as Elisha himself in other days had waited upon Elijah. The servant's name was Gehazi. At one time Elisha said to the woman, "You have been very kind to me and to my helper, and have done much for us. Now, what can I do for you? Shall I ask the king to show you some favor? Or would you like anything that the chief of the army can do for you?" The woman said, "I live among my own people, and there is nothing else that I wish." Then Gehazi said to Elisha, "This woman has no son." And Elisha said to her, "A year from this time, God will give to you a little boy."
The promise made the woman very happy; but she could scarcely believe it to be true, until the little child came. He grew up, and became old enough to go with his father out into the field among the men who were reaping grain. Suddenly, in the field, the child cried out to his father, "O my head, my head!"
His father saw that he was very ill, and he told one of his men to take him to his mother. He lay in his mother's arms until noon, and then he died. The mother did not tell her husband that the boy was dead; but she rode as quickly as she could go to the prophet, who was on the other side of the plain, near Mount Carmel.
While she was yet far off, Elisha saw her coming, and
he said to Gehazi, his servant, "Run to meet this lady
of Shunem, and ask her, 'Is it well with you? Is it
well with your husband? Is it well with the
She answered, "It is well;" but she did not stop until she met the prophet, and then she fell down before him and took hold of his feet. Gehazi, the prophet's servant, did not think it was proper for her to seize him in this manner, and was about to take her away. But Elisha said to him, "Let her alone, for she is in deep trouble; and the Lord has hid it from me, and has not told me."
And the woman said, "Did I ask for a son? Did I not
say, 'Do not deceive
But the mother was not content to have the servant only go to her house. She wanted Elisha himself to go; and she said, "As surely as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you."
Then Elisha followed her back to Shunem, across the plain. On the way they met Gehazi coming back. He had laid the staff, as he had been told to lay it, on the face of the child; and he said, "The child is not awaked."
When Elisha came he found the child dead, and laid upon the bed in the prophet's room, the staff upon his face. He shut the door, and prayed beside the bed to the Lord. And after his prayer, he lay with his face upon the child's face, and his hands on the child's hands; and as he lay the child's body began to grow warm. Then he rose up, and walked up and down in the house; and again he lay upon the child, and put his arms around him. Suddenly the child began to sneeze, and then he opened his eyes, alive once more.
Elisha lays his face on the child's face.
Elisha told his servant to call the mother, and when she came he said to her, "Take up your son."
The mother saw that her son was alive from the dead; she fell at Elisha's feet to show how great was her thankfulness to him, and then she took her son up in her arms, and went out.
"This has been a wonderful day!" said Mole, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. "Do you know, I've never been in a boat before in all my life."
"What?" cried the Rat, open-mouthed: "Never been in a—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?"
"Is it so nice as all that?" asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.
"Nice? It's the only thing," said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward
for his stroke. "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute
nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply
messing," he went on dreamily: "messing—about—in—boats;
"Look ahead, Rat!" cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.
The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with a sigh of full contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the soft cushions. "What a day I'm having!" he said. "Let us start at once!"
"Hold hard a minute, then!" said the Rat. He looped the painter through a ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above, and after a short interval reappeared staggering under a fat wicker luncheon-basket.
"Shove that under your feet," he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.
"What's inside it?" asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.
"There's cold chicken inside it," replied the Rat briefly;
"cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls
cress sandwiches potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda
"O stop, stop," cried the Mole in ecstacies. "This is too much!"
"Do you really think so?" enquired the Rat seriously. "It's only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I'm a mean beast and cut it very fine!"
The Mole never heard a word he was saying. Absorbed in the new life he was entering upon, intoxicated with the sparkle, the ripple, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight, he trailed a paw in the water and dreamed long waking dreams. The Water Rat, like the good little fellow he was, sculled steadily on and forebore to disturb him.
"I like your clothes awfully, old chap," he remarked after some half an hour or so had passed. "I'm going to get a black velvet smoking-suit myself some day, as soon as I can afford it."
"I beg your pardon," said the Mole, pulling himself together with an effort. "You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me. So—this—is—a—River!"
"The River," corrected the Rat.
"And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!"
"By it and with it and on it and in it," said the Rat. "It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times we've had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, it's always got its fun and its excitements. When the floods are on in February, and my cellars and basement are brimming with drink that's no good to me, and the brown water runs by my best bedroom window; or again when it all drops away and, shows patches of mud that smells like plum-cake, and the rushes and weed clog the channels, and I can potter about dry shod over most of the bed of it and find fresh food to eat, and things careless people have dropped out of boats!"
"But isn't it a bit dull at times?" the Mole ventured to ask. "Just you and the river, and no one else to pass a word with?"
"No one else to—well, I mustn't be hard on you," said the Rat with forbearance. "You're new to it, and of course you don't know. The bank is so crowded nowadays that many people are moving away altogether: O no, it isn't what it used to be, at all. Otters, kingfishers, dabchicks, moorhens, all of them about all day long and always wanting you to do something—as if a fellow had no business of his own to attend to!"
"What lies over there?" asked the Mole, waving a paw towards a background of woodland that darkly framed the water-meadows on one side of the river.
"That? O, that's just the Wild Wood," said the Rat shortly. "We don't go there very much, we river-bankers."
"Aren't they—aren't they very nice people in there?" said the Mole, a trifle nervously.
"W-e-ll," replied the Rat, "let me see. The squirrels are all right. And the rabbits—some of 'em, but rabbits are a mixed lot. And then there's Badger, of course. He lives right in the heart of it; wouldn't live anywhere else, either, if you paid him to do it. Dear old Badger! Nobody interferes with him. They'd better not," he added significantly.
"Why, who should interfere with him?" asked the Mole.
"Well, of course—there—are others," explained the Rat in a hesitating sort of way. "Weasels—and stoats—and foxes—and so on. They're all right in a way—I'm very good friends with them—pass the time of day when we meet, and all that—but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then—well, you can't really trust them, and that's the fact."
The Mole knew well that it is quite against animal-etiquette to dwell on possible trouble ahead, or even to allude to it; so he dropped the subject.
"And beyond the Wild Wood again?" he asked; "where it's all blue and dim, and one sees what may be hills or perhaps they mayn't, and something like the smoke of towns, or is it only cloud-drift?"
"Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World," said the Rat. "And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all. Don't ever refer to it again, please. Now then! Here's our backwater at last, where we're going to lunch."
Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sight like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge, brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a grey-gabled mill-house, filled the air with a soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking up cheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp: "O my! O my! O my!"
There was an old man, who lived in a wood,
As you may plainly see;
He said he could do as much work in a day,
As his wife could do in three.
"With all my heart," the old woman said,
"If that you will allow,
To-morrow you'll stay at home in my stead,
And I'll go drive the plough.
"But you must milk the Tidy cow,
For fear that she go dry;
And you must feed the little pigs
That are within the sty;
And you must mind the speckled hen,
For fear she lay away;
And you must reel the spool of yarn,
That I spun yesterday."
The old woman took a staff in her hand,
And went to drive the plough:
The old man took a pail in his hand,
And went to milk the cow;
But Tidy hinched, and Tidy flinched,
And Tidy broke his nose,
And Tidy gave him such a blow,
That the blood ran down to his toes.
"High! Tidy! ho! Tidy! high!
Tidy! do stand still;
If ever I milk you, Tidy, again,
'Twill be sore against my will!"
He went to feed the little pigs
That were within the sty;
He hit his head against the beam,
And he made the blood to fly.
He went to mind the speckled hen,
For fear she'd lay astray,
And he forgot the spool of yarn
His wife spun yesterday.
So he swore by the sun, the moon, and the stars,
And the green leaves on the tree,
"If my wife doesn't do a day's work in her life,
She shall ne'er be ruled by me."