WEEK 21 |
O NE of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun—which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes.
And it was like that with Colin when he first saw and heard and felt the Springtime inside the four high walls of a hidden garden. That afternoon the whole world seemed to devote itself to being perfect and radiantly beautiful and kind to one boy. Perhaps out of pure heavenly goodness the spring came and crowded everything it possibly could into that one place. More than once Dickon paused in what he was doing and stood still with a sort of growing wonder in his eyes, shaking his head softly.
"Eh! it is graidely," he said. "I'm twelve goin' on thirteen an' there's a lot o' afternoons in thirteen years, but seems to me like I never seed one as graidely as this 'ere."
"Aye, it is a graidely one," said Mary, and she sighed for mere joy. "I'll warrant it's th' graidelest one as ever was in this world."
"Does tha' think," said Colin with dreamy carefulness, "as happen it was made loike this 'ere all o' purpose for me?"
"My word!" cried Mary admiringly, "that there is a bit o' good Yorkshire. Tha'rt shapin' first-rate—that tha' art."
And delight reigned.
They drew the chair under the plum-tree, which was snow-white with blossoms and musical with bees. It was like a king's canopy, a fairy king's. There were flowering cherry-trees near and apple-trees whose buds were pink and white, and here and there one had burst open wide. Between the blossoming branches of the canopy bits of blue sky looked down like wonderful eyes.
Mary and Dickon worked a little here and there and Colin watched them. They brought him things to look at—buds which were opening, buds which were tight closed, bits of twig whose leaves were just showing green, the feather of a woodpecker which had dropped on the grass, the empty shell of some bird early hatched. Dickon pushed the chair slowly round and round the garden, stopping every other moment to let him look at wonders springing out of the earth or trailing down from trees. It was like being taken in state round the country of a magic king and queen and shown all the mysterious riches it contained.
"I wonder if we shall see the robin?" said Colin.
"Tha'll see him often enow after a bit," answered Dickon. "When th' eggs hatches out th' little chap he'll be kep' so busy it'll make his head swim. Tha'll see him flyin' backward an' for'ard carryin' worms nigh as big as himsel' an' that much noise goin' on in th' nest when he gets there as fair flusters him so as he scarce knows which big mouth to drop th' first piece in. An' gapin' beaks an' squawks on every side. Mother says as when she sees th' work a robin has to keep them gapin' beaks filled, she feels like she was a lady with nothin' to do. She says she's seen th' little chaps when it seemed like th' sweat must be droppin' off 'em, though folk can't see it."
This made them giggle so delightedly that they were obliged to cover their mouths with their hands, remembering that they must not be heard. Colin had been instructed as to the law of whispers and low voices several days before. He liked the mysteriousness of it and did his best, but in the midst of excited enjoyment it is rather difficult never to laugh above a whisper.
Every moment of the afternoon was full of new things and every hour the sunshine grew more golden. The wheeled chair had been drawn back under the canopy and Dickon had sat down on the grass and had just drawn out his pipe when Colin saw something he had not had time to notice before.
"That's a very old tree over there, isn't it?" he said.
Dickon looked across the grass at the tree and Mary looked and there was a brief moment of stillness.
"Yes," answered Dickon, after it, and his low voice had a very gentle sound.
Mary gazed at the tree and thought.
"The branches are quite gray and there's not a single leaf anywhere," Colin went on. "It's quite dead, isn't it?"
"Aye," admitted Dickon. "But them roses as has climbed all over it will near hide every bit o' th' dead wood when they're full o' leaves an' flowers. It won't look dead then. It'll be th' prettiest of all."
Mary still gazed at the tree and thought.
"It looks as if a big branch had been broken off," said Colin. "I wonder how it was done."
"It's been done many a year," answered Dickon. "Eh!" with a sudden relieved start and laying his hand on Colin. "Look at that robin! There he is! He's been foragin' for his mate."
Colin was almost too late but he just caught sight of him, the flash of red-breasted bird with something in his beak. He darted through the greenness and into the close-grown corner and was out of sight. Colin leaned back on his cushion again, laughing a little.
"He's taking her tea to her. Perhaps it's five o'clock. I think I'd like some tea myself."
And so they were safe.
"It was Magic which sent the robin," said Mary secretly to Dickon afterward. "I know it was Magic." For both she and Dickon had been afraid Colin might ask something about the tree whose branch had broken off ten years ago and they had talked it over together and Dickon had stood and rubbed his head in a troubled way.
"We mun look as if it wasn't no different from th' other trees," he had said. "We couldn't never tell him how it broke, poor lad. If he says anything about it we mun—we mun try to look cheerful."
"Aye, that we mun," had answered Mary.
But she had not felt as if she looked cheerful when she gazed at the tree. She wondered and wondered in those few moments if there was any reality in that other thing Dickon had said. He had gone on rubbing his rust-red hair in a puzzled way, but a nice comforted look had begun to grow in his blue eyes.
"Mrs. Craven was a very lovely young lady," he had gone on rather hesitatingly. "An' mother she thinks maybe she's about Misselthwaite many a time lookin' after Mester Colin, same as all mothers do when they're took out o' th' world. They have to come back, tha' sees. Happen she's been in the garden an' happen it was her set us to work, an' told us to bring him here."
Mary had thought he meant something about Magic. She was a great believer in Magic. Secretly she quite believed that Dickon worked Magic, of course good Magic, on everything near him and that was why people liked him so much and wild creatures knew he was their friend. She wondered, indeed, if it were not possible that his gift had brought the robin just at the right moment when Colin asked that dangerous question. She felt that his Magic was working all the afternoon and making Colin look like an entirely different boy. It did not seem possible that he could be the crazy creature who had screamed and beaten and bitten his pillow. Even his ivory whiteness seemed to change. The faint glow of color which had shown on his face and neck and hands when he first got inside the garden really never quite died away. He looked as if he were made of flesh instead of ivory or wax.
They saw the robin carry food to his mate two or three times, and it was so suggestive of afternoon tea that Colin felt they must have some.
"Go and make one of the men servants bring some in a basket to the rhododendron walk," he said. "And then you and Dickon can bring it here."
It was an agreeable idea, easily carried out, and when the white cloth was spread upon the grass, with hot tea and buttered toast and crumpets, a delightfully hungry meal was eaten, and several birds on domestic errands paused to inquire what was going on and were led into investigating crumbs with great activity. Nut and Shell whisked up trees with pieces of cake and Soot took the entire half of a buttered crumpet into a corner and pecked at and examined and turned it over and made hoarse remarks about it until he decided to swallow it all joyfully in one gulp.
The afternoon was dragging toward its mellow hour. The sun was deepening the gold of its lances, the bees were going home and the birds were flying past less often. Dickon and Mary were sitting on the grass, the tea-basket was re-packed ready to be taken back to the house, and Colin was lying against his cushions with his heavy locks pushed back from his forehead and his face looking quite a natural color.
"I don't want this afternoon to go," he said; "but I shall come back to-morrow, and the day after, and the day after, and the day after."
"You'll get plenty of fresh air, won't you?" said Mary.
"I'm going to get nothing else," he answered. "I've seen the spring now and I'm going to see the summer. I'm going to see everything grow here. I'm going to grow here myself."
"That tha' will," said Dickon. "Us'll have thee walkin' about here an' diggin' same as other folk afore long."
Colin flushed tremendously.
"Walk!" he said. "Dig! Shall I?"
Dickon's glance at him was delicately cautious. Neither he nor Mary had ever asked if anything was the matter with his legs.
"For sure tha' will," he said stoutly. "Tha'—tha's got legs o' thine own, same as other folks!"
Mary was rather frightened until she heard Colin's answer.
"Nothing really ails them," he said, "but they are so thin and weak. They shake so that I'm afraid to try to stand on them."
Both Mary and Dickon drew a relieved breath.
"When tha' stops bein' afraid tha'lt stand on 'em," Dickon said with renewed cheer. "An' tha'lt stop bein' afraid in a bit."
"I shall?" said Colin, and he lay still as if he were wondering about things.
They were really very quiet for a little while. The sun was dropping lower. It was that hour when everything stills itself, and they really had had a busy and exciting afternoon. Colin looked as if he were resting luxuriously. Even the creatures had ceased moving about and had drawn together and were resting near them. Soot had perched on a low branch and drawn up one leg and dropped the gray film drowsily over his eyes. Mary privately thought he looked as if he might snore in a minute.
In the midst of this stillness it was rather startling when Colin half lifted his head and exclaimed in a loud suddenly alarmed whisper:
"Who is that man?"
Dickon and Mary scrambled to their feet.
"Man!" they both cried in low quick voices.
Colin pointed to the high wall.
"Look!" he whispered excitedly. "Just look!"
Mary and Dickon wheeled about and looked. There was Ben Weatherstaff's indignant face glaring at them over the wall from the top of a ladder! He actually shook his fist at Mary.
"If I wasn't a bachelder, an' tha' was a wench o' mine," he cried, "I'd give thee a hidin'!"
He mounted another step threateningly as if it were his energetic intention to jump down and deal with her; but as she came toward him he evidently thought better of it and stood on the top step of his ladder shaking his fist down at her.
"I never thowt much o' thee!" he harangued. "I couldna' abide thee th'
first time I set eyes on thee. A scrawny buttermilk-faced young besom,
allus askin' questions an' pokin' tha' nose where it wasna' wanted. I
never knowed how tha' got so thick wi' me. If it hadna' been for th'
"Ben Weatherstaff," called out Mary, finding her breath. She stood below him and called up to him with a sort of gasp. "Ben Weatherstaff, it was the robin who showed me the way!"
Then it did seem as if Ben really would scramble down on her side of the wall, he was so outraged.
"Tha' young bad 'un!" he called down at her. "Layin' tha' badness on a robin,—not but what he's impidint enow for anythin'. Him showin' thee th' way! Him! Eh! tha' young nowt,"—she could see his next words burst out because he was overpowered by curiosity—"however i' this world did tha' get in?"
"It was the robin who showed me the way," she protested obstinately. "He didn't know he was doing it but he did. And I can't tell you from here while you're shaking your fist at me."
He stopped shaking his fist very suddenly at that very moment and his jaw actually dropped as he stared over her head at something he saw coming over the grass toward him.
At the first sound of his torrent of words Colin had been so surprised that he had only sat up and listened as if he were spellbound. But in the midst of it he had recovered himself and beckoned imperiously to Dickon.
"Wheel me over there!" he commanded. "Wheel me quite close and stop right in front of him!"
And this, if you please, this is what Ben Weatherstaff beheld and which made his jaw drop. A wheeled chair with luxurious cushions and robes which came toward him looking rather like some sort of State Coach because a young Rajah leaned back in it with royal command in his great black-rimmed eyes and a thin white hand extended haughtily toward him. And it stopped right under Ben Weatherstaff's nose. It was really no wonder his mouth dropped open.
"Do you know who I am?" demanded the Rajah.
How Ben Weatherstaff stared! His red old eyes fixed themselves on what was before him as if he were seeing a ghost. He gazed and gazed and gulped a lump down his throat and did not say a word.
"Do you know who I am?" demanded Colin still more imperiously. "Answer!"
Ben Weatherstaff put his gnarled hand up and passed it over his eyes and over his forehead and then he did answer in a queer shaky voice.
"Who tha' art?" he said. "Aye, that I do—wi' tha' mother's eyes starin' at me out o' tha' face. Lord knows how tha' come here. But tha'rt th' poor cripple."
Colin forgot that he had ever had a back. His face flushed scarlet and he sat bolt upright.
"I'm not a cripple!" he cried out furiously. "I'm not!"
"He's not!" cried Mary, almost shouting up the wall in her fierce indignation. "He's not got a lump as big as a pin! I looked and there was none there—not one!"
Ben Weatherstaff passed his hand over his forehead again and gazed as if he could never gaze enough. His hand shook and his mouth shook and his voice shook. He was an ignorant old man and a tactless old man and he could only remember the things he had heard.
"Tha'—tha' hasn't got a crooked back?" he said hoarsely.
"No!" shouted Colin.
"Tha'—tha' hasn't got crooked legs?" quavered Ben more hoarsely yet.
It was too much. The strength which Colin usually threw into his tantrums rushed through him now in a new way. Never yet had he been accused of crooked legs—even in whispers—and the perfectly simple belief in their existence which was revealed by Ben Weatherstaff's voice was more than Rajah flesh and blood could endure. His anger and insulted pride made him forget everything but this one moment and filled him with a power he had never known before, an almost unnatural strength.
"Come here!" he shouted to Dickon, and he actually began to tear the coverings off his lower limbs and disentangle himself. "Come here! Come here! This minute!"
Dickon was by his side in a second. Mary caught her breath in a short gasp and felt herself turn pale.
"He can do it! He can do it! He can do it! He can!" she gabbled over to herself under her breath as fast as ever she could.
There was a brief fierce scramble, the rugs were tossed on to the ground, Dickon held Colin's arm, the thin legs were out, the thin feet were on the grass. Colin was standing upright—upright—as straight as an arrow and looking strangely tall—his head thrown back and his strange eyes flashing lightning.
"Look at me!" he flung up at Ben Weatherstaff. "Just look at me—you! Just look at me!"
"He's as straight as I am!" cried Dickon. "He's as straight as any lad i' Yorkshire!"
What Ben Weatherstaff did Mary thought queer beyond measure. He choked and gulped and suddenly tears ran down his weather-wrinkled cheeks as he struck his old hands together.
"Eh!" he burst forth, "th' lies folk tells! Tha'rt as thin as a lath an' as white as a wraith, but there's not a knob on thee. Tha'lt make a mon yet. God bless thee!"
Dickon held Colin's arm strongly but the boy had not begun to falter. He stood straighter and straighter and looked Ben Weatherstaff in the face.
"I'm your master," he said, "when my father is away. And you are to obey me. This is my garden. Don't dare to say a word about it! You get down from that ladder and go out to the Long Walk and Miss Mary will meet you and bring you here. I want to talk to you. We did not want you, but now you will have to be in the secret. Be quick!"
Ben Weatherstaff's crabbed old face was still wet with that one queer rush of tears. It seemed as if he could not take his eyes from thin straight Colin standing on his feet with his head thrown back.
"Eh! lad," he almost whispered. "Eh! my lad!" And then remembering himself he suddenly touched his hat gardener fashion and said, "Yes, sir! Yes, sir!" and obediently disappeared as he descended the ladder.
W HEN Andrew Jackson was a little boy he lived with his mother in South Carolina. He was eight years old when he heard about the ride of Paul Revere and the famous fight at Lexington.
It was then that the long war, called the Revolutionary War, began.
The king's soldiers were sent into every part of the country. The
people called them the British. Some called them
There was much fighting; and several great battles took place between the British and the Americans.
At last Charleston, in South Carolina, was taken by the British. Andrew
Jackson was then a tall
"I am going to help drive those red-coated British out of the country," he said to his mother.
Then, without another word, he mounted his brother's little farm horse and rode away. He was not old enough to be a soldier, but he could be a scout—and a good scout he was.
He was very tall—as tall as a man. He was not afraid of anything. He was strong and ready for every duty.
One day as he was riding through the woods, some British soldiers saw him. They quickly surrounded him and made him their prisoner.
"Come with us," they said, "and we will teach you that the king's soldiers are not to be trifled with."
They took him to the British camp.
"What is your name, young rebel?" said the British captain.
"Well, Andy Jackson, get down here and clean the mud from my boots."
Andrew's gray eyes blazed as he stood up straight and proud before the haughty captain.
"Sir," he said, "I am a prisoner of war, and demand to be treated as such."
"You rebel!" shouted the captain. "Down with you, and clean those boots at once."
The slim, tall boy seemed to grow taller, as he answered, "I'll not be the servant of any Englishman that ever lived."
The captain was very angry. He drew his sword to hit the boy with its flat side. Andrew threw out his hand and received an ugly gash across the knuckles.
Some other officers, who had seen the whole affair, cried out to the captain, "Shame! He is a brave boy. He deserves to be treated as a gentleman."
Andrew was not held long as a prisoner. The British soldiers soon returned to Charleston, and he was allowed to go home.
In time, Andrew Jackson became a very great man. He was elected to Congress, he was chosen judge of the supreme court of Tennessee, he was appointed general in the army, and lastly he was for eight years the president of the United States.
Come, follow, follow me,
You fairy elves that be;
Which circle on the green,
Come follow Mab your queen.
Hand in hand let's dance around,
For this place is fairy ground.
When mortals are at rest,
And snoring in their nest,
Unheard and unespied
Through keyholes we do glide;
Over tables, stools and shelves,
We trip it with our fairy elves.
And if the house be foul
With platter, dish or bowl,
Upstairs we nimbly creep,
And find the sluts asleep;
There we pinch their arms and thighs;
None escapes, nor none espies.
But if the house be swept,
And from uncleanness kept,
We praise the household maid,
And duly she is paid;
For we use before we go
To drop a tester in her shoe.
Upon a mushroom's head
Our tablecloth is spread;
A grain of rye or wheat
Is manchet, which we eat;
Pearly drops of dew we drink
In acorn cups filled to the brink.
The grasshopper, gnat and fly,
Serve for our minstrelsy;
Grace said, we dance awhile
And so the time beguile;
And if the moon doth hide her head,
The glowworm lights us home to bed.
On tops of dewy grass
So nimbly do we pass,
The young and tender stalk
Ne'er bends when we do walk;
Yet in the morning may be seen
Where we the night before have been.
WEEK 21 |
Y OU remember that, when the Danes invaded England in the time of Sweyn, Canute's father, Ethelred, who was then king, fled to France with his wife and children. After Ethelred's death Edmund Ironside, one of his sons, became king, shared the kingdom with Canute, and died after a reign of only seven months. Edward, whom the English now chose to be king, was Edmund Ironside's brother, another son of King Ethelred the Unready.
Edward was a boy when he was first taken to Normandy, so although he was English, he had lived all his life in Normandy, and he liked the Normans better than the English.
He brought Norman friends over from France with him. The Norman language, Norman customs and fashions were soon heard and seen everywhere in England.
It had been greatly through the advice of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, that Edward had been chosen, and now the earl was sorry when he found that the king seemed not to be English, but Norman.
However, Godwin thought that an English wife might make Edward love England better, so he persuaded the King to marry his daughter Edith. But although Edward married this beautiful and good lady, he never loved her. Indeed, although he was perhaps not really cruel to her, he was not kind, and he hardly ever even spoke to her. So she had no chance of making him love England better.
The Normans, like the Danes, were very proud and haughty. And Edward's friends behaved so haughtily towards the English, that very soon they were hated, just as the Danes had been hated. The hatred grew and grew, and at last it broke out into fighting.
It happened that one of Edward's friends, called Eustace, Count of Boulogne, was going back to France, after having visited the King. Like most of the Normans Eustace was proud, and he and his company rode into Dover, on their way to their ships, with jingling swords and clanking armour, making a great noise and stir, and behaving as if the whole town belonged to them.
They went to the best houses, rudely demanding food and lodging. They entered the houses without leave, and took what they wanted without a word of thanks.
Now the English have ever been hospitable, but an Englishman's house is his castle. He will give freely, but he does not like to be bullied and robbed. So one brave man refused to allow the Normans to enter his house. Angry at that, a Norman soldier struck him in the face. The man returned the blow. It was enough. In a few minutes a fierce fight had begun, the Normans against the men of Dover.
The Englishmen fought well. They were glad to have a chance of showing their dislike of the Normans, they beat them thoroughly, and drove them out of the town.
Back to King Edward rode Count Eustace in furious rage. "See," he cried, bursting into the room where the King was, "see how these Englishmen of yours have treated us. They set upon us as we rode peaceably through Dover. They have killed twenty of my men, and I myself have barely escaped with my life. Is this the way to treat your friend and guest, my lord king?
Count Eustace, you see, did not tell the story truly. He did not tell King Edward that he and his men had begun the quarrel and were to blame.
King Edward was very angry with the English. He sent at once for Earl Godwin, as Dover was in his earldom. Godwin came, but when he had heard the story of the fight, he felt sure that the fault was not all on the side of the English. So when the King told him to take an army and go to punish the brave men of Dover, he refused. "You have only heard one side of the story," he said. "You have no right to blame or punish the Englishmen until you have heard what they have to say. I will not go."
King Edward was so angry at this, that he banished Earl Godwin and his sons from the land, and gave their earldoms to other people. Then he shut Queen Edith up in a convent, because she was Godwin's daughter.
Now there was no one to hinder the King from doing just as he wanted. He brought more people than ever from France, and among them came his cousin, the Duke of Normandy.
William of Normandy only came for a visit, but many of the other nobles remained in England, and Edward gave them all the best places at court.
William thought England was a very beautiful country, and before he went away he made Edward promise that he should be king next. And Edward was so fond of his cousin that he promised.
Of course Edward had no right to do this. He could not give away the crown of England to any one without the consent of the people. And certainly the people did not wish a Norman king. The kings of England had really no power to act in great matters without calling together a council of the nobles and wise men. The English had always been a free people, who had a share in governing themselves. Their kings had been kings, not tyrants.
Nearly all the chief men at court were now Normans, and the people longed for Godwin and his sons to return and free them from these hated strangers. At last they did return.
Edward was angry when he heard that these banished men had come back without leave. But the people rejoiced and flocked to join the great earl, and it seemed as if there might be war. But there was none. Earl Godwin was very clever, and somehow he forced the king to send away his Norman favourites, and put Englishmen in their places, without any fighting at all. The Frenchmen fled back to their own country, and the things went better in England.
Soon after this, Earl Godwin died and his son Harold took his place. During what remained of Edward's reign it was really Harold who ruled, for the king was growing old and feeble. And Harold governed well, for love of England filled his heart. He even banished his own brother, Tostig, who was Earl of Northumbria, because he governed his earldom badly. This was a difficult thing for Harold to do. But although he loved his brother, he loved his country more, and when he had to choose between them, he chose his country.
Now a very sad thing happened which, together with Edward's foolish promise, made a great difference in the lives of the English people, and perhaps changed all our island story.
One day Harold was sailing upon the sea when a terrible storm arose. The sailors worked hard and tried to get into a safe port, but it was of no use. The masts were broken, the sails torn away. The ship drifted helplessly, and at last was dashed to pieces on the rocky coast of Normandy. Harold and some of the sailors escaped drowning, but they fell into the hands of Duke William.
Now Duke William had never forgotten what a beautiful country England was, and he still hoped to be its king. He knew that Harold was a very great man in England, and he was glad to have him in his power.
Duke William pretended to treat Harold very kindly, but he really kept him prisoner. He would not let him go home until he promised to help him to become king when Edward died.
At last Harold promised. Now of course Harold had no more right to do this than Edward had. But there was more excuse for Harold than for Edward, because the King was a free man in his own country, while Harold was a prisoner in a foreign country, and to make this promise was his only hope of freedom. We must blame Harold for making a promise which he did not mean to keep, but we must blame William more for forcing him to make it, as he took a mean advantage of a helpless prisoner.
Harold went back home, glad to be free, but sad at heart at the remembrance of what William had forced him to do, and hating the Normans more than ever.
Very soon after this, on 5th January
King Edward on the whole was a good king, but he had not those things in him which make a great king. He was gentle and pious, and after his death people began to think that he was really a holy man and called him Edward the Confessor, by which name we remember him in history.
If his reign was a happy one for England, it was partly because the great Earl Godwin and his noble son Harold were so powerful that they forced the King to act justly.
Edward did not feel as all great kings must feel, that they are put in their high position, not to please themselves but to do what is best for their people. Edward did not love his people, and he pleased himself by bringing his proud Norman friends from France, and by giving them all the chief posts in England. He thought more about building churches and buying relics or bones of holy men, long since dead, than of strengthening his castles and trying to make the lives of his people peaceful and happy. This and his foolish promise to his cousin, Duke William of Normandy, brought great sorrow upon the country.
H OLIDAY MEADOW stretches from its high dry part, where it touches Holiday Hill, to a low swamp where it slopes down to Holiday Stream.
In the bank of the stream there is a round hole, the opening from a long tunnel. The water splashes against the hole and, during rainy weather, rises and covers it. The hole is not large enough for a rat to enter. It is larger than a mouse would need.
Some wild iris plants grow beside the hole and their lovely blue June and July flowers are reflected in the water.
The iris made blue reflections in the water.
Sedges and rushes are near enough so that the tips of some of their long narrow grass-like green leaves touch the iris. Their brown worn-out last year's leaves lie tangled on the ground like a rough mat. Beyond the iris and sedges the fluffy white tops of the cotton grass are stirred by the breezes.
The Fluffy White Tops of the Cotton Grass
And in August the swampy place is bright with yellow golden-rod and soft with rose-purple Joe-Pye Weed.
The hole in the bank of the stream was not always empty. Often a furry little animal poked her head out of it and dipped her queer snout into the water. The end of her nose was shaped somewhat like two star-fishes pressed together, because it was circled with twenty-two slender feelers that pointed outward. This quaint animal was a star-nosed mole.
The Front Part of a Star‑Nosed Mole
Sometimes little Star Nose came out of the hole and swam in the water. Sometimes she ran on top of the ground under the mat of brown sedge leaves. Indeed, she had a path under the sedge leaves. The path was rather smooth and firm where her feet and body had pressed against it. It had an arched roof where her back had pushed up against the brown fibers while she ran along the trail. There were places where the roof had been torn by the hard feet of Daisy, the cow, when she was out of the pasture and came down to the stream to drink.
But, even when Star Nose ran along that part of the path where the roof was gone, it is likely that she never saw the white tips of the cotton grass swaying in the wind or the yellow blossoms of the golden-rod or the rose-purple Joe-Pye flowers.
The Rose‑Purple Blossoms of Joe-Pye Weed
And, when she drank at the hole by the stream, she probably saw neither the blue iris blossoms above her head nor their blue reflections in the water below her funny nose. She may not have known what the experience would be like to see the shape or the color of anything in the world.
You need not feel sorry for Star Nose. You need not pity her because her tiny eyes were so covered by fur that she could, perhaps, sense no more than a difference between the brightness of the sunshine, where it touched the water near her drinking hole, and the darkness of her deepest underground trails. It was enough for her to feel and hear and smell and taste.
Star Nose was a hunter. She had hunted day and night ever since she was old enough to follow the hunting paths. Of course she rested now and then, but her recesses from hunting were short because she was so well and strong that she seemed never to be really tired.
While some of Star Nose's hunting paths were above ground, covered by old brown matted swamp leaves, most of them were underground tunnels that went here and there through the soil. For long distances these trails lay just under the sod of the meadow but in many places they were several feet deep in the ground.
Every time Star Nose passed along one of the paths her feet, pressing against the floor, made it a bit more firm; and her fur, where it touched the sides, brushed them a bit more smooth.
The more Star Nose ran the hungrier she became; and the more she ate the more she felt like running. So her days and nights were busy—hunting and eating. Almost as soon as she had eaten her breakfast she was ready to hunt for a luncheon and by the time one luncheon was over she was in the mood to scurry off for another. That is the sort of lively hunter Star Nose was!
For many of her meals she ate insects. There was a flavor about white-grubs that she relished. White-grubs, as perhaps you know, hatch from the eggs that May-beetles lay. Their bodies are plump and curled and they lie on their backs in the ground while they reach up and chew the roots of grasses or other plants. Some years there were thousands and thousands of white-grubs in the meadow, so many, indeed, that had it not been for Star Nose and the other moles much of the grass would have died for lack of roots.
This kind of mole does not have a star nose.
There was a taste about cutworms that pleased Star Nose. Cutworms, as you may have heard, hatch from the eggs that owlet-moths lay. There are many kinds of these hairless caterpillars that spend their days resting in the ground and their nights nibbling parts of meadow or garden plants. If it were not for moles, cutworms would do much more harm to wild and cultivated plants because then there would be so many more of them.
Star Nose enjoyed many a dinner of wireworms. Wireworms hatch from the eggs of click-beetles (or snapping-beetles). They live in the ground and eat the roots of grasses and certain other plants. If it had not been for Star Nose and others of her kind, the loads of Timothy grass would not have been as large as they were on hay day.
It would take too many pages for the full bill-of-fare of Star Nose. Perhaps enough has been said to suggest that many of the plants of Holiday Meadow were better off because Star Nose lived and hunted there. But at least one more article of the mole's diet should be mentioned. She liked to eat earthworms.
Earthworms, of course, hatch from earthworm eggs and grow only from little earthworms to big earthworms and never change into anything else whatever. They make their homes in the ground although they come out of their holes at night and crawl about in the dark. They need moisture. In rainy weather, when the ground is wet, they stay near the surface; but during drought they go deeper into the soil until they reach damp earth. They need, also, to escape getting too cold so they go below frost for the winter.
It is largely because of earthworms that some of the hunting paths of the moles are deep in the ground. The hunters follow their game—up when the earth is moist and down when the soil is dry or very cold.
Star Nose, herself, did not so much mind the cold. Sometimes, indeed, she swam in the stream even after the surface of the water was covered with ice. Sometimes, on a winter day, she dug up through the snow that lay on the meadow.
Her thick coat was warm. The fine soft hairs were close together and they stood straight on end. She was in no danger of having her fur rubbed the wrong way for it looked the same whether it was stroked up from the tail or down from the head.
During most of the year Star Nose hunted alone and paid little attention to other moles when she chanced to meet them at the crossings of the hunting paths. But in the spring there were four little moles who received her devoted care. They were her baby sons and daughters, so of course she did not neglect them.
She had a comfortable den for them in a dry place under a stump in the hedgerow. The hedge was at one side of the meadow and even when the swampy land near the stream was flooded in spring, the ground about the hedge was well drained and above water level.
Star Nose's den under the stump was about a foot deep in the ground. She had put a ball of fine grass in the den and in this soft round nest the four little moles had their bed.
At first the babies were naked and fat and wrinkled and pink and helpless. They could not hunt and for a while their only food was their mother's milk. This agreed with them so well that they grew rapidly. Before they were many weeks old they were full-sized moles and looked like their mother and father.
Their thick soft velvety fur coats were of a dark color that seemed almost too black to be gray and almost too gray to be black. Their noses were star-shaped. And they had most wonderful hands.
Of course all the underground hunting paths and highways and dens of the moles must first be dug before they can be used. And for this digging moles need no other shovels than their paddle-shaped hands.
Suppose you should try to dig with your hands long tunnels in the ground big enough so that you could crawl through them! Would not your fingers soon become tired and sore? And even if your hands were strong enough for so rough a task, would not the dirt come tumbling into your eyes and your ears? Would you not be more comfortable with undeveloped eyes covered over with fur with no dirt getting into them and making them ache? And, if you had tunnels to dig day after day, would you not prefer to have no big ear-flaps to catch the dirt—even if you could not hear quite so well without them?
The sort of digging that would be impossible for an animal whose body is not fitted for such work is as natural as swimming for a mole. Indeed, when the soil is moist and soft and a mole digs close to the sod, he moves through the dirt as if he were swimming with strong slow strokes. He puts his large powerful hands forward, palms outward, until the tips of his claws touch in front of his nose. Then he thrusts his hands outward and backward, pushing the soil aside and forcing his body ahead. The damp soil close to the sod is loose enough so that he does not need to bring any of it to the surface to get it out of his way. He just pushes it aside and packs it firmly as he "swims" through the ground.
But when a mole digs his deep runways where the soil is not loose enough to be pushed aside in this manner, he brings earth, which he digs from his tunnel, to the surface of the ground and throws it outside in a heap.
After the four young moles were old enough to do their own hunting and digging, each one ran off alone along the hunting trails. If one of the sons met his mother, Star Nose, at some crossing, he did not tease her to bring him a white-grub for dinner. If one of the daughters met her father, Mold‑warp, she did not beg him to show her where the grasshopper eggs were thickest. If one of them met a grandmother or grandfather or uncle or aunt or cousin, the relatives did not spend time in visiting. For a mole is a natural hunter. He would rather hunt than play.
So, even when Holiday Meadow looks very quiet indeed, you may know that quaint little creatures of the underways are scurrying here and there along old hunting paths or busily digging new ones. And if you ever expect to see one of these busy creatures throwing earth in a tiny hill, outside his hole you will need to "tread softly that the blind mole may not hear a foot fall" or feel the ground tremble as you step.
The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.
Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing—
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.
WEEK 21 |
N the dusk of early evening, as Peter Rabbit sat trying to make
up his mind whether to spend that night at home in the dear Old
Briar-patch with timid little
"Better stay at home, Peter Rabbit. Better stay at home
"Hello, Flitter!" exclaimed Peter, as he stared up at a little dark form darting this way, twisting that way, now up, now down, almost brushing Peter's head and then flying so high he could hardly be seen. "Why should I stay at home?"
"Because I saw Old Man Coyote sneaking along the edge of the Green Forest, Reddy Fox is hunting on the Green Meadows, and Hooty the Owl is on watch in the Old Orchard," replied Flitter the Red Bat. "Of course it is no business of mine what you do, Peter Rabbit, but were I in your place I certainly would stay at home. Gracious! I'm glad I can go where I please when I please. You ought to fly, Peter. You ought to fly. There is nothing like it."
"I wish I could," sighed Peter.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you," squeaked Flitter, and darted
away in the direction of Farmer Brown's house. Peter wisely
decided that the dear Old Briar-patch was the best place for him
that night, so he remained at home, to the joy of timid little
Flitter was still in his mind when he started for school the next morning, and by the time he got there he was bubbling over with curiosity and questions. He could hardly wait for school to be called to order. Old Mother Nature noticed how fidgety he was.
"What have you on your mind, Peter?" she asked.
"Didn't you tell us that the Shrew family and the Mole family are the only families in this country in the order of insect-eaters?" asked Peter.
"I certainly did," was the prompt reply. "Doesn't Flitter the Bat live on insects?" asked Peter.
Old Mother Nature nodded. "He does," said she. "In fact he lives altogether on insects."
"Then why isn't he a member of that order?" demanded Peter.
Old Mother Nature smiled, for she was pleased that Peter had thought
of this. "That question does you credit, Peter," said she. "The
reason is that he and his relatives are so very different from other
animals that they have been placed in an order of their own. It is
"I've often seen him," declared Jumper the Hare.
"So have I," said Chatterer the Red Squirrel. Each of the others said the same thing. There wasn't one who hadn't watched and envied Flitter darting about in the air just at dusk of early evening or as the Black Shadows were stealing away in the early morning. Old Mother Nature smiled.
"Seeing him isn't knowing him," said she. "Who is there who knows anything about him and his ways save that he flies at night and catches insects in the air?"
She waited a minute or two, but no one spoke. The fact is there was not one who really knew anything about Flitter. "It is one of the strange things of life," said she, "that people often know nothing about the neighbors whom they see every day. But in this case it is not to be wondered at. I suspect none of you has seen Flitter, excepting in the air, and then he moves so rapidly that there is no chance to get a good look at him. I think this is just the time and place for you to really make the acquaintance of Flitter the Red Bat."
She stepped over to a bush and parted the leaves. Hanging from a twig was what appeared at first glance to be a rumpled, reddish-brown dead leaf. She touched it lightly. At once it came to life, stirring uneasily. A thin, squeaky voice peevishly demanded to know what was wanted.
"You have some callers, a few of your friends who want to get really acquainted with you. Suppose you wake up for a few minutes," explained Old Mother Nature pleasantly.
Flitter, for that is just who it was, yawned once or twice sleepily, shook himself, then grinned down at the wondering faces of his friends crowded about just under him. "Hello, folks," said he in that thin, squeaky voice of his.
The sunlight fell full on him, but he seemed not to mind it in the
least. In fact, he appeared to enjoy its warmth. He was hanging
by his toes, head down, his wings folded. He was about four inches
long, and his body was much like that of a Mouse. His fur was
fine and thick, a beautiful
This is the Red Bat, also called Tree Bat.
"Where did that saying 'blind as a Bat' ever come from?" demanded Peter.
Old Mother Nature laughed. "Goodness knows; I don't," said she. "There is nothing blind about Flitter. He sleeps through the day and does his hunting in the dusk of evening or early morning, but if he is disturbed and has to fly during the day, he has no trouble in seeing. Flitter, stretch out one of your wings so that everybody can see it."
Obediently Flitter stretched out one of his wings. Everybody gasped, for it was the first time any of them ever had seen one of those wings near enough to know just what it was like. Flitter's arm was long, especially from his elbow to his hand. But the surprising thing was the length of his three fingers. Each finger appeared to be about as long as the whole arm. From his shoulder a thin, rubbery skin was stretched to the ends of the long fingers, then across to the ankle of his hind foot on that side, and from there across to the tip of his tail. A little short thumb with a long, curved claw stuck up free from the edge of the wing.
"Now you can see just why he is called wing-handed," explained Old Mother Nature, as Flitter folded the wing. In a minute he began to clean it. Everybody laughed, for it was funny to watch him. He would take the skin of the wing in his mouth and pull and stretch it as if it were rubber. He washed it with his tiny tongue. Then he washed his fur. You see, Flitter is very neat. With the little claw of his thumb he scratched his head and combed his hair. All the time he remained hanging head down, clinging to the twig with his toes.
"Where is Mrs. Flitter?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Don't know," replied Flitter, beginning on the other wing. "She's quite equal to looking after herself, so I don't worry about her."
"Nor about your babies. Flitter, I'm ashamed of you. You are a poor kind of father," declared Old Mother Nature severely. "If you don't know where to find your family, I'll show you."
She stepped over to the very next tree, parted the leaves, and
there, sure enough, hung
"Flitter the Red Bat is one of the best known of the whole family in this country," said Old Mother Nature, as they left Flitter to resume his nap. He is found from the East to the Far West, from ocean to ocean. Like the birds, he migrates when cold weather comes, returning in the early summer. Although, like all Bats, he sleeps all day as a rule, he doesn't mind the sunlight, as you have just seen for yourselves. Sometimes on dull, dark days he doesn't wait for evening, but flies in the afternoon. Usually he is the first of the Bat family to appear in the evening, often coming out while it is still light enough to show the color of his red coat. No other member of his family has a coat of this color.
"Some people call him the Tree Bat. After seeing him hanging over there I think you can guess why. He rarely goes to a cave for his daytime sleep, as most of his relatives do, but hangs by his toes from a twig of a tree or bush, frequently not far from the ground, just as he is right now.
"As all of you who have watched him know, Flitter is a swift flier. This is because his wings are long and narrow. They are made for speed. I want you to know that the Bats are among the most wonderful of all my little people. Few if any birds can equal them in the air because of their wonderful ability to twist and turn. They are masters of the art of flying. Moreover, they make no sound with their wings, something which only the Owls among birds can boast of.
"You all saw the three babies clinging to
"Flitter has many cousins. One of these is the Little Brown Bat, one of the smallest members of the family and found all over the country. He is brown all over. He is sometimes called the Cave Bat, because whenever a cave is to be found he sleeps there. Sometimes great numbers of these little Bats are found crowded together in a big cave. When there is no cave handy, a barn or hollow tree is used. Often he will creep behind the closed blinds of a house to spend the day.
He is about to catch a fly on the surface of the water.
"Very like this little fellow in color is his cousin the Big Brown
Bat, called the
"The Silvery Bat is of nearly the same size and in many places is
more common than any of its cousins. The fur is dark brown or black
with white tips, especially in the young. From this it gets its
name. One of the largest and handsomest of the Bat cousins, and
one of the rarest is the Hoary Bat. His fur is a mixture of dark
and light brown tipped with white. He is very handsome. His
wings are very long and narrow and he is one of the most wonderful
of all fliers. He is a lover of the Green Forest and does his
hunting high above the
"Down in the Southeast is a member of the family with ears so big
that he is called the
"All members of the Bat family are great drinkers and usually the first thing they do when they start out at dusk is to seek water. All live wholly on insects, and for this reason they are among the very best friends of man. They eat great numbers of Mosquitoes. They do no harm whatever, which is more than can be said for some of the rest of you little folks. Now who shall we learn about next?"
Washington lived for many years quietly at Mount Vernon, and he did not intend to have anything more to do with a soldier's life. He was fond of hunting and fishing. He sometimes helped to haul a seine in the Potomac River. He rode over his large plantation to see that all went well, and he made maps of all his fields, and kept his accounts carefully and neatly, as he had always done. All traveling strangers were sure of welcome at his house, and the poor, when in danger of suffering, were provided with corn from his granary.
But, as time went on, the English Parliament tried to collect a tax from the Americans. The Americans declared that, so long as they elected no members of Parliament, that body had no right to tax them without the consent. But the men who governed in England did not think that people in the colonies had the same rights as people in England, so they oppressed the Americans in many ways. Without asking consent of the colonies, they put a tax on all the tea that came into America; and when some of the tea got to Boston, the people turned Boston Harbor into one big teapot by pitching the whole shipload of tea into the water. The English government resolved to punish Boston, but the other colonies took sides with the people of that town.
In order to make the English government cease their oppressions, the Americans agreed not to wear clothes made of English cloth, nor to use anything else brought from England. Washington and other great gentlemen of that time put on homespun American clothes, which were coarse, for the Americans had not yet learned how to make fine goods. American ladies, who were extremely fond of tea, which they drank from pretty little cups brought from China, now gave up their favorite drink. Instead of it, they sipped a tea made from the leaves of the sage plants in their gardens, or from the roots and flowers of the sassafras. Probably they tried to drink these homegrown teas with cheerful faces, and to make believe that they liked sage and sassafras as well as the real tea from China. It must have been a pleasure to feel that they were fighting a battle for liberty over their tea tables.
Washington, in his quiet way, was a strong supporter of liberty against the King of England and the Parliament. In order to bring all the thirteen colonies to stand by one another against England a meeting, called a "Congress," was appointed in 1774, and men were sent from each colony to attend it. Washington was a member of this Congress, which sent a letter to the king, demanding that they should be allowed the same liberties as his subjects in England.
But neither the King of England nor the English Parliament would repeal the laws which the Americans disliked. As the Americans would not obey them, the quarrel grew hotter, and English troops were sent to bring the Americans to submit. On the 19th of April, 1775, the Revolutionary War was begun by a battle at Lexington, near Boston, between British troops and American farmers. These farmers, who were called "minutemen," drove the troops back into Boston, firing on them from every field and fence as they retreated.
Seeing that war had begun, Congress looked about for a leader. They remembered the prudent and brave conduct of Colonel George Washington, when a young man, in the French and Indian War. He was chosen to be general and commander in chief of all the armies of the colonies.
Before Washington reached the army near Boston, the battle of Bunker Hill had taken place. In this battle the Americans had been driven from the hill, but their little force of plain countrymen had fought so stubbornly against the well-trained English troops that all America was encouraged.
For many months Washington kept a fine British army shut up in Boston. When he was strong enough he suddenly sent a body of troops to Dorchester Heights, near Boston, where, by the help of bales of hay, breastworks were built in a single night. When the English general saw these works, he said, "The rebels have done more in one night than my army would have done in one month." The Americans began to throw shells from the Dorchester battery into Boston, which soon became so uncomfortable a place to stay in that the English army got into ships and sailed away.
The Americans at first were fighting only to get their rights as subjects of England. But since neither the King nor the Parliament of England would let them have their rights, they got tired of calling themselves Englishman. They determined to set up an independent government. On the 4th of July, 1776, Congress declared the colonies "free and independent." This is called the "Declaration of Independence."
Soon after the Declaration was adopted the English government sent a fleet and an army to take New York. Washington fought against the English army on Long Island, and was defeated and forced to give up New York. After a while he had to fall back across New Jersey. It seemed as though all were lost. But though his men were too few to fight the whole English army, Washington felt that he must strike a blow at some part of it in order to give the Americans courage. The English people did not like the war against the Americans, so the king had hired some Hessian soldiers to fight for him. About a thousand of these were in Trenton, N.J., while Washington was on the other side of the Delaware, a little way off. On Christmas night the Hessians were celebrating the day. Washington celebrated it in his own fashion. He took part of his army, and crossed the Delaware in the midst of floating ice. There was a severe snowstorm, and two of his men were frozen to death. He marched quickly to Trenton, and after a sharp fight he took about a thousand prisoners, as Christmas presents for his country.
Crossing the Delaware
March to Trenton
Washington got back across the Delaware with his prisoners, but in a few days he was again in Trenton, where he came near being surrounded and captured by the English general Cornwallis. The Delaware was so full of ice that the Americans could not get back to the other side of it, and a strong English force was pressing upon them in front. Something must be done quickly. So at night Washington had all his camp fires built up, in order to deceive the enemy. He put a few men to digging in the trenches, and had them make as much noise as possible. Then he took his army silently by a back road around the English army till he got behind it. While Cornwallis thought he had Washington cooped up in Trenton, the Americans were marching on Princeton, where there was a detachment of the English troops. Washington, after a sharp battle, defeated the English in Princeton. Cornwallis had gone to bed boasting that he "would bag the fox" in the morning; but when morning came, "the fox" was gone. Cornwallis thought at first that the Americans had retreated across the Delaware, but soon he heard the booming of cannons away behind him at Princeton; then he knew that Washington had outwitted him. He had to hasten back to New Brunswick to save his stores, while Washington went into the hills at Morristown, having forced the British to give up the greater part of New Jersey.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why.
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
Flash'd all their sabers bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sab'ring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd;
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the saber-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not—
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd:
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of death
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them—
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
Oh, the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade—
Noble six hundred!
WEEK 21 |
Down and down and down Beowulf dived. It seemed to him that he dived for a whole day's space ere he reached the bottom of that dark lake.
But as soon as he touched the water, the grim and greedy Water Witch knew by the movement of the waves that a mortal man was coming. So she made ready to seize the daring one in her horrid clutches.
No sooner then did Beowulf near the bottom than he was grasped by long and skinny fingers. The fingers crushed him, and tore at him, but so strong and trusty was his coat of mail that the Water Witch could in no wise hurt him.
Then seeing that she could not so easily as she had hoped harm him, she dragged him into her dwelling. And so fast was Beowulf in her clutches that he could not unsheath his sword.
As the Water Witch dragged Beowulf along, wondrous sea-brutes followed them. Beasts they were with terrible tusks, shining scales and sharp fins. With these they attacked the hero so fiercely that his armour was rent, yet was he unwounded.
At last the Water Witch reached a great cave. Here there was no water, and a fire burned with a strange weird flame, lighting up the vast dim place.
Then by the pale light of the goblin fire Beowulf saw that it was no other than Grendel's mother, the Water Witch, who held him. And he knew that the time for battle had come.
With a mighty effort he wrenched himself free. Then drawing the sword Hrunting which Hunferth had given him, he dealt with it many great blows. But all his strength was vain. Hrunting, so famous in many battles, was useless against the Water Witch. No harm could the warrior do to her.
Then in wrath Beowulf threw the shining blade upon the ground. He would trust no more in weapons but with his hands alone would he fight.
Seizing the Water Witch by the shoulders, he dragged her downwards. But she grappled with him fiercely. Then was there a fearful fight in that dim hall, deep under the water, far from all hope of help.
Back and forth the two swayed, the strong warrior in armour and the direful Water Witch. So strong was she that at last she bore him to the ground and kneeled upon his breast. She drew her dagger. Now she would avenge her son, her only son.
She bore him to the ground and kneeled upon his breast
The dagger shone and fell again and yet again. And then truly Beowulf's last hour had come had his armour not been of such trusty steel. But through it neither point nor edge of dagger might pierce. The blows of the Water Witch were all in vain, and again Beowulf sprang to his feet.
And now among the many weapons with which the walls were hung, Beowulf saw a huge sword. It seemed the work of giants. Its edge was keen and bright, the hilt of glittering gold.
Quickly Beowulf grasped the mighty weapon. And now fighting for his very life he swung it fiercely, and smote with fury.
Down upon the floor sank the Water Witch, and from the red-dyed blade a sudden flame shone out, and all the cave was lighted up.
Curiously Beowulf gazed around him. Dead at his feet lay the Water Witch, and hard by on a couch lay the body of Grendel.
Then Beowulf was minded to bear away with him some prize. So once more swinging the great sword, he smote off the Ogre's head.
Meanwhile far up above beyond the water-waves Hrothgar and his men and all Beowulf's comrades sat waiting and watching. And now as Beowulf smote off Grendel's head they saw the waves all dyed with blood.
Then the old men shook their heads and spoke together. They talked sadly of the brave champion who had gone alone beneath that awful water. For now that they saw the waves red-dyed they had no longer hope that he would ever return. Nay, these red and turgid waters seemed to prove to them that the Water Witch had overcome Beowulf and torn him in pieces.
So as the hours passed, and Beowulf came no more, Hrothgar arose, and he and all his warriors sadly wended their way homeward. Nevermore did they hope to see the hero.
But Beowulf's comrades would not go. Sad at heart they sat by the lake's edge gazing into the water, wishing, but hardly hoping, that they might see their dear lord again.
And now far beneath the dark waves a strange thing happened. As Beowulf struck off the head of Grendel, the great sword began to melt away. More quickly than ice when the thaw is come melted the shining steel, until there was nothing left but the golden hilt which Beowulf held in his hand. Such was the poison of the Ogre's blood.
Beowulf gazed in wonder at the miracle. Then he made haste to be gone. All around him lay great treasure. Gold and gems gleamed in the pale firelight. Yet of it all Beowulf took nothing save the hilt of the sword wherewith he had slain the Water Witch.
Hunferth's sword, Hrunting, he once more hung at his side, then, with the grisly head of Grendel in his hand, he dived up through the waves. And as he swam through it, all the water was made pure and clear again, for the power of the grim Ogre was over for ever.
Long time Beowulf swam upwards, but at last he reached the surface and sprang to land. Then round him, greatly rejoicing, crowded his thanes. Quickly they loosed his helmet and coat of mail, and joyed to find that he had suffered no hurt.
They carried with them the hideous head of Grendel
Then right merrily they turned back to Hart Hall. With them they carried the hideous head of Grendel, which was so huge and heavy that it had need of four of them to bear it. Yet gladly they bore it, rejoicing as they went at the return of their master.
A Dog asleep in a manger filled with hay, was awakened by the Cattle, which came in tired and hungry from working in the field. But the Dog would not let them get near the manger, and snarled and snapped as if it were filled with the best of meat and bones, all for himself.
The Cattle looked at the Dog in disgust. "How selfish he is!" said one. "He cannot eat the hay and yet he will not let us eat it who are so hungry for it!" Now the farmer came in. When he saw how the Dog was acting, he seized a stick and drove him out of the stable with many a blow for his selfish behavior.
Do not grudge others what you cannot enjoy yourself.
Get up, get up, for shame the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the gods unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair,
Fresh-quilted colors through the air;
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew-bespangled herb and tree.
Each flower has wept, and bowed toward the East
Above an hour since, yet you are not drest,
Nay not so much as out of bed,
When all the birds have matins said,
And sung their thankful hymns; 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand virgins on this day
Spring sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.
Come, my Corinna, come, and coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park,
Made green and trimmed with trees! see how
Devotion gives each house a bough,
Or branch! each porch, each door, ere this
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of whitethorn neatly interwove,
As if he were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields, and we not see't?
Come we'll abroad, and let's obey
The proclamation made for May.
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying,
But, my Corinna! come, let's go a-Maying.
WEEK 21 |
"As long as he lived he was the guiding star of a whole brave nation,
and when he died the little children cried in the streets."
W ILLIAM THE SILENT now became more popular than ever. Untiring was his work for his country's good, unwearying his patience, unflagging his energy. But he saw more plainly than ever that the Netherlands, now split up into seventeen provinces, must be united in the face of a common foe, and to this end he worked.
"Union is important above all," he cried to his chosen people. "Act together. Separate twigs can be snapped in two easily, but no one is strong enough to break a fagot. Unite yourselves firmly. Do this and the people will be a shield and buckler of their rights, and will no longer ebb and flow like the waves of the sea. Do this and you will be an example to all free people and to all unjust oppressors."
A terrible massacre of Protestants at Antwerp soon showed how right he was in his advice. The Spaniard was yet bent on the destruction of those who had accepted the Reformed faith, and this terrible deed, known to history as the "Spanish Fury," by which 8000 people lost their lives, showed that something must be done and at once.
In 1577 a union was decided on at Ghent between the seventeen provinces, and it is known as the Pacification of Ghent. There is a curious Dutch picture representing the seventeen provinces as seventeen ladies, each holding the coat of arms of a province. They are all penned like sheep in an enclosure, the entrance of which is guarded by the Belgian lion with shield and sword. All around the peaceful enclosure stand men at arms with guns and bayonets, while three great cannons stand facing the entrance. It is typical of the strength of the union.
But the troubles of the Netherlands were not over yet. Spain now sent one of her strongest and best generals to try and quell the disturbances.
Don John of Austria was half-brother of Philip, King of Spain, and son of the late Emperor Charles V. He had already done much for Spain, and was known as the "hero of Lepanto" for a famous victory that he had gained. He now entered Brussels with a flourish of trumpets as Governor-General of the country.
Meanwhile, at the request of his people, William the Silent made a tour of the newly united provinces. His reception was simple and pathetic. There were no triumphal arches, no martial music, only the cries wrung from the hearts of the people, "Father William is come! Father William is come!" He had guided them through the storm. He would deliver them yet.
But even the Prince could not do the impossible. Don John with a large Spanish army came against him and defeated the Netherlanders near Brussels. Further union was now necessary, and in the year 1579 the famous "Union of Utrecht" was made, strengthening the union at Ghent and laying the foundation of the powerful Republic of the United Netherlands, which was to play its part in the world's history.
Out of chaos and night a new light seemed dawning—but slowly.
It was recognised that the Prince was a danger, and that he must be got rid of somehow. A price was accordingly set upon his head. It was March 15, 1580, when the famous ban was put forth by Spain declaring William of Orange to be a traitor to his country, and ordering that he be banished from the realm. He, who had already beggared himself to serve his country, was now to be an outlaw, an exile, a traitor. He answered the ban by the ever-famous document known as his "Apology."
"I am in the hand of God," he pleaded; "my worldly goods and my life have long been given to His service."
So much did he love his country, that he was willing to go into exile if his absence would help them.
"What reward can I hope after my long service and the almost total wreck of my earthly fortunes, if not the prize of having acquired your liberty?" he cried to his people. "If then, my masters, you judge that my absence or my death can serve you, behold me ready to obey. Command me—send me to the ends of the earth—I will go. But, if you judge that my life can yet be of service to you, I dedicate it afresh to you and to the country."
This was followed by a further step in the direction of liberty. The men of the Netherlands drew up a Declaration of Independence refusing any longer to be subject to Spain. William of Orange was their Prince and master—him only would they obey.
But William their Prince was not to be with them much longer. A price was already on his head. As he had lived for them, so now he was to die for them. The summer of 1584 found him living at Delft, a quiet little old-world city near Rotterdam. It was a Sunday morning when a shabby, travel-stained man begged for money wherewith to buy some shoes and stockings to attend church. The Prince, on hearing this, ordered a sum of money to be given him. Next day the poor man, whose name was Gerard, bought a pair of pistols with the Prince's own money. The following day the Prince with his wife on his arm went into the dining-room about midday. He rose to leave for his own room, when suddenly a man emerged from a dark corner and shot him. As he felt what had happened, the Prince fell back into the arms of one of his servants.
"O God, have mercy upon this poor people!" he uttered with touching pathos.
They were his last words. A few minutes later he breathed his last. Bitterly the country mourned him. "Father William" was gone from them. He had borne the load of the people's sorrows, their name had been the last word on his lips. True, indeed, were the last words of the historian who so loved him: "As long as he lived he was the guiding star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the street."
Ever grateful have the Dutch people been to the House of Orange. Still the colours of William the Silent are their colours; still his motto, "I will maintain," is their national motto; still one of the House of Orange rules the country. And when Dutchmen have left their shores and gone to dwell in distant lands beyond the sea, still the name of Orange has marked their love of this ancient hero, and the Orange River Colony in South Africa, no less than the Orange county in New York State, America, bear testimony that William the Silent has never been forgotten.
"Not far from Enna's walls there lies a lake,
Pergus by name: than which not Cayster's stream
Is fuller of the songs of gliding swans.
A woodland girds it with a veil of leaves
To shelter from the heat; where the fresh soil
Bears purple flowers, and keeps perpetual spring."
S O the poet Ovid describes the pleasant place where the nymph Proserpine, the beautiful daughter of Ceres, goddess of the fruits of the earth, was one day with her companions, gathering violets and lilies. All were trying who should gather the most, and were very happy and merry. In her search for flowers, Proserpine wandered out of sight of her companions, who went on gathering and singing and laughing: till suddenly their merriment was stopped by a piercing scream for help; and then by another and another; till the cries grew fainter and fainter, and were at last heard no more.
Where was Proserpine? They were sure it was her cries they had heard: and, though they searched through the whole wood, they could not find her anywhere. All they could do was to go to Ceres, and tell her that her daughter had disappeared, and could not be found for all their seeking.
Ceres, who is the best and kindest of all the goddesses, loved her daughter dearly, and was disconsolate at the news. Though always so busy with seed-time and harvest, fields and orchards, she set out to seek for her lost Proserpine; or at least to find out what had become of her. "Mother!" had been Proserpine's last cry. Ceres wandered, in her search, over the whole world,—nay, she explored the very depths of the sea,—but all in vain. She questioned gods, goddesses, nymphs, fauns, and satyrs, men and women; but none could give her any news of Proserpine. She never slept, but set fire to the pine-trees on the top of Mount Ætna to serve as torches, so that she might see to search by night as well as by day. She forgot to eat and drink, and, though the goddess of Corn and Plenty, she would have perished of hunger and thirst had not an old woman named Baubo, though ignorant who she was, taken pity on her, and given her some hot porridge, which Ceres drank eagerly—so eagerly that a boy who saw her drinking jeered at her for a glutton. This was too much for the goddess, in her despair, to bear. She for once lost her temper, and threw the rest of the hot porridge over the grinning boy, whom it turned into a spotted lizard for laughing at a stranger's needs and an old woman's charity.
At length, worn out and desperate, the poor mother wandered back to Sicily, so changed that nobody knew her. Nor could she say who she was, for grief had made her dumb. In this state she arrived at a place called Cyăne, near to where Proserpine had been lost. And here one day, while looking at a pool (for she never ceased to look everywhere) she saw her daughter's girdle lying at the bottom of the water. Then, giving up her last spark of hope, she found her voice again, and mourned aloud. Her grief was terrible to hear and see. She cursed the earth, so that it no longer brought forth corn: she broke the ploughs: the seeds perished in the fields, and the cattle in their stalls.
But one day Ceres, roaming along the banks of the river Alpheus, plainly heard its waters say:—
"We have seen Proserpine! She is unhappy; but she is a great queen: she is the wife of Pluto, the King of the Underworld."
Then Ceres knew that Proserpine had been carried off by the great and dreadful god Pluto, to whom, when Jupiter divided the world, had been given Hades—the underground kingdom of ghosts and of the souls of the dead: the greatest kingdom of all. It was true:—Pluto had seen Proserpine while she was gathering flowers in the wood, had snatched her up into his chariot with black horses, and, in spite of her struggles and cries for help, had driven off with her to his underground palace through a cavern which he opened with a touch of his two-pronged scepter: the cavern then filled up with water, and became the lake of Cyane, at the bottom of which Ceres had found the girdle. As soon as she could recover her senses, Ceres flew up to heaven, threw herself before Jupiter, and passionately demanded that her daughter should be given back to her.
It was a difficult question for Jupiter to settle. He pitied Ceres with all his heart, and wished to help her. But high reasons of state made him unwilling to offend Pluto: and then, who had ever heard of anybody coming back from Hades? That would be against all the laws of gods and men.
But there were three mysterious beings, of whom I have not yet told you, called the Fates—three sisters who rule over life and death, and whose will even the gods of heaven, even Jupiter himself, must obey. Somewhere or other they sit and spin with their distaffs the histories of nations and the lives and deaths of men. Nothing can happen without their leave; and nobody can prevent them from coming to pass whatever the Fates decree. So Jupiter inquired of the Fates if it was their will that Proserpine should return from the kingdom of the grave.
"She may return," they said. "But not if she has eaten or drunk in the kingdom of Pluto. If she has tasted the food of death, then she may not return."
When Pluto received this message he was greatly troubled; for, though he had carried off Proserpine in that cruel way, he very deeply loved her, and hoped that, if he could keep her with him, he should at last conquer her sorrow and get her to love him in return. He had made her his wife and queen, and could not bear the thought of losing her. He anxiously inquired of every ghost and spirit in Hades if Queen Proserpine had tasted food, if ever so little; but not one had seen her touch even bread or water since she had been brought below. It was Pluto's turn to lose Proserpine. Ceres was already rejoicing in the thought of seeing her long-lost daughter. Proserpine was just about to return to earth, when there stepped forth one of Pluto's courtiers, named Asculaphus, and accused Proserpine of having tasted the juice of seven pomegranate seeds. And the Fates knew that it was true.
And Proserpine also knew it, and cried aloud for sorrow that she should never see her mother again; and her cry turned the treacherous, tale-bearing Asculaphus into a hooting owl. But this did not undo the work of those seven fatal pomegranate seeds. Even the Fates were filled with pity; even the heart of Pluto was touched by the mother's and the daughter's despair. The Fates could not change their decree. But it was settled that, though Proserpine must continue to be the wife of Pluto and the Queen of Hades, she should be allowed to spend six months out of every year on earth with Ceres. And that is the reason of summer and winter. It is summer when Ceres is happy with her daughter, and makes the earth rejoice with flowers and fruit and corn. It is winter when she is left alone, and Proserpine goes back to Pluto until next spring. Proserpine is the beauty and joy of the earth, which seems to die in winter, but only to come to life again. And she is the beauty of death besides. You will remember what you read in the story of Psyche about the beauty of Proserpine.
It was Ceres who taught men to plow, harrow, sow, and reap; and they were very grateful to her everywhere. The worship of Ceres, under many names, was the chief part of the religion of ancient times. You will know her, from pictures and statues, as a noble and stately goddess, crowned with a garland of corn, holding a lighted torch, sometimes standing in a chariot drawn by flying dragons. I have said she had many names, one of the most famous being Dēmētēr, which means "Mother Earth"; and "Bona Dea," that is to say "the Good Goddess," was another.
Proserpine, as Queen of Hades, became a very strange and mysterious goddess indeed. One of her names is Hĕcătē, and under that name she rules over magic. She often wears a veil, and a crown of stars; and, like Pluto, carries the scepter with two prongs, differing from Neptune's trident, which has three.
Pluto was a dark and gloomy god. No temples were ever built to him, and only black animals were sacrificed upon his altars. But he was just, although pitiless and stern. He sits upon a throne of sulphur in his underground palace, from which flow the four rivers of Hades—Cocytus, the river of Lamentation; Achĕron, the river of Sorrow; Lēthē, the river of Forgetfulness; and Phlegĕthon, the river of Fire. On his left hand sits Proserpine, near to whom stand the Furies, three fiends with snakes instead of hair; on his right stand the Fates spinning; at his feet lies the three-headed dog, Cerberus; and the Harpies hover over him, waiting for orders.
On the whole, it is not strange that Proserpine should be glad when the time for her six months' visit to her mother comes round.
WEEK 21 |
O NCE upon a time a strong and powerful Tzar ruled in a country far away. And among his servants was a young archer, and this archer had a horse—a horse of power—such a horse as belonged to the wonderful men of long ago—a great horse with a broad chest, eyes like fire, and hoofs of iron. There are no such horses nowadays. They sleep with the strong men who rode them, the bogatirs, until the time comes when Russia has need of them. Then the great horses will thunder up from under the ground, and the valiant men leap from the graves in the armour they have worn so long. The strong men will sit those horses of power, and there will be swinging of clubs and thunder of hoofs, and the earth will be swept clean from the enemies of God and the Tzar. So my grandfather used to say, and he was as much older than I as I am older than you, little ones, and so he should know.
Well, one day long ago, in the green time of the year, the young archer rode through the forest on his horse of power. The trees were green; there were little blue flowers on the ground under the trees; the squirrels ran in the branches, and the hares in the undergrowth; but no birds sang. The young archer rode along the forest path and listened for the singing of the birds, but there was no singing. The forest was silent, and the only noises in it were the scratching of four-footed beasts, the dropping of fir cones, and the heavy stamping of the horse of power in the soft path.
"What has come to the birds?" said the young archer.
He had scarcely said this before he saw a big curving feather lying in the path before him. The feather was larger than a swan's, larger than an eagle's. It lay in the path, glittering like a flame; for the sun was on it, and it was a feather of pure gold. Then he knew why there was no singing in the forest. For he knew that the fire-bird had flown that way, and that the feather in the path before him was a feather from its burning breast.
The horse of power spoke and
"Leave the golden feather where it lies. If you take it you will be sorry for it, and know the meaning of fear."
But the brave young archer sat on the horse of power and looked at the golden feather, and wondered whether to take it or not. He had no wish to learn what it was to be afraid, but he thought, "If I take it and bring it to the Tzar my master, he will be pleased; and he will not send me away with empty hands, for no Tzar in the world has a feather from the burning breast of the fire-bird." And the more he thought, the more he wanted to carry the feather to the Tzar. And in the end he did not listen to the words of the horse of power. He leapt from the saddle, picked up the golden feather of the fire-bird, mounted his horse again, and galloped back through the green forest till he came to the palace of the Tzar.
He went into the palace, and bowed before the Tzar and
"O Tzar, I have brought you a feather of the fire-bird."
The Tzar looked gladly at the feather, and then at the young archer.
"Thank you," says he; "but if you have brought me a feather of the fire-bird, you will be able to bring me the bird itself. I should like to see it. A feather is not a fit gift to bring to the Tzar. Bring the bird itself, or, I swear by my sword, your head shall no longer sit between your shoulders!"
The young archer bowed his head and went out. Bitterly he wept, for he knew now what it was to be afraid. He went out into the courtyard, where the horse of power was waiting for him, tossing its head and stamping on the ground.
"Master," says the horse of power, "why do you weep?"
"The Tzar has told me to bring him the fire-bird, and no man on earth can do that," says the young archer, and he bowed his head on his breast.
"I told you," says the horse of power, "that if you took the feather you would learn the meaning of fear. Well, do not be frightened yet, and do not weep. The trouble is not now; the trouble lies before you. Go to the Tzar and ask him to have a hundred sacks of maize scattered over the open field, and let this be done at midnight."
The young archer went back into the palace and begged the Tzar for this, and the Tzar ordered that at midnight a hundred sacks of maize should be scattered in the open field.
Next morning, at the first redness in the sky, the young archer rode out on the horse of power, and came to the open field. The ground was scattered all over with maize. In the middle of the field stood a great oak with spreading boughs. The young archer leapt to the ground, took off the saddle, and let the horse of power loose to wander as he pleased about the field. Then he climbed up into the oak and hid himself among the green boughs.
The sky grew red and gold, and the sun rose. Suddenly there was a noise in the forest round the field. The trees shook and swayed, and almost fell. There was a mighty wind. The sea piled itself into waves with crests of foam, and the fire-bird came flying from the other side of the world. Huge and golden and flaming in the sun, it flew, dropped down with open wings into the field, and began to eat the maize.
The horse of power wandered in the field. This way he went, and that, but always he came a little nearer to the fire-bird. Nearer and nearer came the horse. He came close up to the fire-bird, and then suddenly stepped on one of its spreading fiery wings and pressed it heavily to the ground. The bird struggled, flapping mightily with its fiery wings, but it could not get away. The young archer slipped down from the tree, bound the fire-bird with three strong ropes, swung it on his back, saddled the horse, and rode to the palace of the Tzar.
He stepped on one of its fiery wings and pressed it to the ground.
The young archer stood before the Tzar, and his back was bent under the great weight of the fire-bird, and the broad wings of the bird hung on either side of him like fiery shields, and there was a trail of golden feathers on the floor. The young archer swung the magic bird to the foot of the throne before the Tzar; and the Tzar was glad, because since the beginning of the world no Tzar had seen the fire-bird flung before him like a wild duck caught in a snare.
The Tzar looked at the fire-bird and laughed with pride. Then he
lifted his eyes and looked at the young archer, and says
"As you have known how to take the fire-bird, you will know how to bring me my bride, for whom I have long been waiting. In the land of Never, on the very edge of the world, where the red sun rises in flame from behind the sea, lives the Princess Vasilissa. I will marry none but her. Bring her to me, and I will reward you with silver and gold. But if you do not bring her, then, by my sword, your head will no longer sit between your shoulders!"
The young archer wept bitter tears, and went out into the courtyard, where the horse of power was, stamping the ground with its hoofs of iron and tossing its thick mane.
"Master, why do you weep?" asked the horse of power.
"The Tzar has ordered me to go to the land of Never, and to bring back the Princess Vasilissa."
"Do not weep—do not grieve. The trouble is not yet; the trouble is to come. Go to the Tzar and ask him for a silver tent with a golden roof, and for all kinds of food and drink to take with us on the journey."
The young archer went in and asked the Tzar for this, and the Tzar gave him a silver tent with silver hangings and a gold-embroidered roof, and every kind of rich wine and the tastiest of foods.
Then the young archer mounted the horse of power and rode off to the land of Never. On and on he rode, many days and nights, and came at last to the edge of the world, where the red sun rises in flame from behind the deep blue sea.
On the shore of the sea the young archer reined in the horse of power, and the heavy hoofs of the horse sank in the sand. He shaded his eyes and looked out over the blue water, and there was the Princess Vasilissa in a little silver boat, rowing with golden oars.
The young archer rode back a little way to where the sand ended and the green world began. There he loosed the horse to wander where he pleased, and to feed on the green grass. Then on the edge of the shore, where the green grass ended and grew thin and the sand began, he set up the shining tent, with its silver hangings and its gold embroidered roof. In the tent he set out the tasty dishes and the rich flagons of wine which the Tzar had given him, and he sat himself down in the tent and began to regale himself, while he waited for the Princess Vasilissa.
The Princess Vasilissa dipped her golden oars in the blue water, and the little silver boat moved lightly through the dancing waves. She sat in the little boat and looked over the blue sea to the edge of the world, and there, between the golden sand and the green earth, she saw the tent standing, silver and gold in the sun. She dipped her oars, and came nearer to see it the better. The nearer she came the fairer seemed the tent, and at last she rowed to the shore and grounded her little boat on the golden sand, and stepped out daintily and came up to the tent. She was a little frightened, and now and again she stopped and looked back to where the silver boat lay on the sand with the blue sea beyond it. The young archer said not a word, but went on regaling himself on the pleasant dishes he had set out there in the tent.
At last the Princess Vasilissa came up to the tent and looked in.
The young archer rose and bowed before her. Says
"Good-day to you, Princess! Be so kind as to come in and take bread and salt with me, and taste my foreign wines."
And the Princess Vasilissa came into the tent and sat down with the young archer, and ate sweetmeats with him, and drank his health in a golden goblet of the wine the Tzar had given him. Now this wine was heavy, and the last drop from the goblet had no sooner trickled down her little slender throat than her eyes closed against her will, once, twice, and again.
"Ah me!" says the Princess, "it is as if the night itself had perched on my eyelids, and yet it is but noon."
And the golden goblet dropped to the ground from her little fingers, and she leant back on a cushion and fell instantly asleep. If she had been beautiful before, she was lovelier still when she lay in that deep sleep in the shadow of the tent.
Quickly the young archer called to the horse of power. Lightly he lifted the Princess in his strong young arms. Swiftly he leapt with her into the saddle. Like a feather she lay in the hollow of his left arm, and slept while the iron hoofs of the great horse thundered over the ground.
They came to the Tzar's palace, and the young archer leapt from the horse of power and carried the Princess into the palace. Great was the joy of the Tzar; but it did not last for long.
"Go, sound the trumpets for our wedding," he said to his servants; "let all the bells be rung."
The bells rang out and the trumpets sounded, and at the noise of the horns and the ringing of the bells the Princess Vasilissa woke up and looked about her.
"What is this ringing of bells," says she, "and this noise of trumpets? And where, oh, where is the blue sea, and my little silver boat with its golden oars?" And the Princess put her hand to her eyes.
"The blue sea is far away," says the Tzar, "and for your little silver boat I give you a golden throne. The trumpets sound for our wedding, and the bells are ringing for our joy."
But the Princess turned her face away from the Tzar; and there was no wonder in that, for he was old, and his eyes were not kind.
And she looked with love at the young archer; and there was no wonder in that either, for he was a young man fit to ride the horse of power.
The Tzar was angry with the Princess Vasilissa, but his anger was as useless as his joy.
"Why, Princess," says he, "will you not marry me, and forget your blue sea and your silver boat?"
"In the middle of the deep blue sea lies a great stone," says the Princess, "and under that stone is hidden my wedding dress. If I cannot wear that dress I will marry nobody at all."
Instantly the Tzar turned to the young archer, who was waiting before the throne.
"Ride swiftly back," says he, "to the land of Never, where the red sun rises in flame. There—do you hear what the Princess says?—a great stone lies in the middle of the sea. Under that stone is hidden her wedding dress. Ride swiftly. Bring back that dress, or, by my sword, your head shall no longer sit between your shoulders!"
The young archer wept bitter tears, and went out into the courtyard, where the horse of power was waiting for him, champing its golden bit.
"There is no way of escaping death this time," he said.
"Master, why do you weep?" asked the horse of power.
"The Tzar has ordered me to ride to the land of Never, to fetch the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa from the bottom of the deep blue sea. Besides, the dress is wanted for the Tzar's wedding, and I love the Princess myself."
"What did I tell you?" says the horse of power. "I told you that there would be trouble if you picked up the golden feather from the fire-bird's burning breast. Well, do not be afraid. The trouble is not yet; the trouble is to come. Up! into the saddle with you, and away for the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa!"
The young archer leapt into the saddle, and the horse of power, with his thundering hoofs, carried him swiftly through the green forests and over the bare plains, till they came to the edge of the world, to the land of Never, where the red sun rises in flame from behind the deep blue sea. There they rested, at the very edge of the sea.
The young archer looked sadly over the wide waters, but the horse of power tossed its mane and did not look at the sea, but on the shore. This way and that it looked, and saw at last a huge lobster moving slowly, sideways, along the golden sand.
Nearer and nearer came the lobster, and it was a giant among lobsters, the Tzar of all the lobsters; and it moved slowly along the shore, while the horse of power moved carefully and as if by accident, until it stood between the lobster and the sea. Then, when the lobster came close by, the horse of power lifted an iron hoof and set it firmly on the lobster's tail.
"You will be the death of me!" screamed the lobster—as well he might, with the heavy foot of the horse of power pressing his tail into the sand. "Let me live, and I will do whatever you ask of me."
"Very well," says the horse of power; "we will let you live," and he slowly lifted his foot. "But this is what you shall do for us. In the middle of the blue sea lies a great stone, and under that stone is hidden the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa. Bring it here."
The lobster groaned with the pain in his tail. Then he cried out in a voice that could be heard all over the deep blue sea. And the sea was disturbed, and from all sides lobsters in thousands made their way towards the bank. And the huge lobster that was the oldest of them all and the Tzar of all the lobsters that live between the rising and the setting of the sun, gave them the order and sent them back into the sea. And the young archer sat on the horse of power and waited.
After a little time the sea was disturbed again, and the lobsters in their thousands came to the shore, and with them they brought a golden casket in which was the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa. They had taken it from under the great stone that lay in the middle of the sea.
The Tzar of all the lobsters raised himself painfully on his bruised tail and gave the casket into the hands of the young archer, and instantly the horse of power turned himself about and galloped back to the palace of the Tzar, far, far away, at the other side of the green forests and beyond the treeless plains.
The young archer went into the palace and gave the casket into the hands of the Princess, and looked at her with sadness in his eyes, and she looked at him with love. Then she went away into an inner chamber, and came back in her wedding dress, fairer than the spring itself. Great was the joy of the Tzar. The wedding feast was made ready, and the bells rang, and flags waved above the palace.
The Tzar held out his hand to the Princess, and looked at her with his old eyes. But she would not take his hand.
"No," says she; "I will marry nobody until the man who brought me here has done penance in boiling water."
Instantly the Tzar turned to his servants and ordered them to make a great fire, and to fill a great cauldron with water and set it on the fire, and, when the water should be at its hottest, to take the young archer and throw him into it, to do penance for having taken the Princess Vasilissa away from the land of Never.
There was no gratitude in the mind of that Tzar.
Swiftly the servants brought wood and made a mighty fire, and on it they laid a huge cauldron of water, and built the fire round the walls of the cauldron. The fire burned hot and the water steamed. The fire burned hotter, and the water bubbled and seethed. They made ready to take the young archer, to throw him into the cauldron.
"Oh, misery!" thought the young archer. "Why did I ever take the
golden feather that had fallen from the fire-bird's burning breast?
Why did I not listen to the wise words of the horse of power?" And he
remembered the horse of power, and he begged the
"O lord Tzar, I do not complain. I shall presently die in the heat of the water on the fire. Suffer me, before I die, once more to see my horse."
"Let him see his horse," says the Princess.
"Very well," says the Tzar. "Say good-bye to your horse, for you will not ride him again. But let your farewells be short, for we are waiting."
The young archer crossed the courtyard and came to the horse of power, who was scraping the ground with his iron hoofs.
"Farewell, my horse of power," says the young archer. "I should have listened to your words of wisdom, for now the end is come, and we shall never more see the green trees pass above us and the ground disappear beneath us, as we race the wind between the earth and the sky."
"Why so?" says the horse of power.
"The Tzar has ordered that I am to be boiled to death—thrown into that cauldron that is seething on the great fire."
"Fear not," says the horse of power, "for the Princess Vasilissa has made him do this, and the end of these things is better than I thought. Go back, and when they are ready to throw you in the cauldron, do you run boldly and leap yourself into the boiling water."
The young archer went back across the courtyard, and the servants made ready to throw him into the cauldron.
"Are you sure that the water is boiling?" says the Princess Vasilissa.
"It bubbles and seethes," said the servants.
"Let me see for myself," says the Princess, and she went to the fire and waved her hand above the cauldron. And some say there was something in her hand, and some say there was not.
"It is boiling," says she, and the servants laid hands on the young archer; but he threw them from him, and ran and leapt boldly before them all into the very middle of the cauldron.
Twice he sank below the surface, borne round with the bubbles and foam of the boiling water. Then he leapt from the cauldron and stood before the Tzar and the Princess. He had become so beautiful a youth that all who saw cried aloud in wonder.
"This is a miracle," says the Tzar. And the Tzar looked at the beautiful young archer, and thought of himself—of his age, of his bent back, and his gray beard, and his toothless gums. "I too will become beautiful," thinks he, and he rose from his throne and clambered into the cauldron, and was boiled to death in a moment.
And the end of the story? They buried the Tzar, and made the young archer Tzar in his place. He married the Princess Vasilissa, and lived many years with her in love and good fellowship. And he built a golden stable for the horse of power, and never forgot what he owed to him.
B Y this time I am sure you think that all the small bugs, flies, spiders, and crabs will soon be dead. You have found how cold kills them. You have heard how they kill each other. You know that men and birds and beasts kill them.
How can any live? What is there to save the poor things? The two chief things that save them are their shape and their color. Why, how is that? Let us see how shape and color protect these living things.
On the sand by the sea the crab that lives mostly out in the air is of a gray color. It has fine red spots like sand. The shell of this crab looks so much like sand that, if he lies flat and still, you can scarcely see him.
The crab that lives on the sea-side mud is black-green like the mud. Birds cannot see him very well, he is so like the mud that he lies upon.
The spiders that live in the woods have the color of a dead leaf.
Some of them, as they lie in their webs, fold up their legs and look like a dead leaf. One spider puts a row of dead leaves and moss all along her web. She lies on this row, and looks like part of it. Birds cannot see her, as she lies in this way.
One small bee that lives in trees is green, like a new leaf. The bees, in brown, black, and gold, look like parts of the flowers on which they alight.
Birds and beasts that live in snow lands are often white, as the polar bear and the eider duck.
Snakes that live on trees, or on the ground, are often brown or green. They look like the limbs of trees.
Little lizards in walls are gray like stone. In woods, they often are the color of a dead twig. They can fold up, or stretch out, and look like twigs, or leaves, or balls of grass or hay.
All this will keep them from being seen by animals that would kill them.
Some of them, you know, have hard shells to shield them. Did I not once tell you how fast they move? They dart, and run, and jump, quick as a flash of light. That helps them to get out of the way.
Did I not tell you, also, that the crab has his eyes set on pegs? He can turn them every way to see what is near him.
The insect and the spider do not have their eyes on long pegs. Some kinds have six or eight eyes. These eyes are set in a bunch, and some face one way, some another. They can see all ways at once.
Then, too, so many small live things grow each year, that they cannot all be put out of the way.
Each crab will lay more eggs than fifty hens. One spider has more baby spiders than you can count. One bee has more new bees in the hive each year than there are people in a large city. In a wasp's big nest there are, no doubt, as many wasps as there are leaves on a great tree.
Of the creatures which it is most easy to kill, very many are born. And so, while many of them perish each day, many are left to live.
Sing for the oak tree,
The monarch of the wood;
Sing for the oak tree
That groweth green and good;
That groweth broad and branching,
Within the forest shade;
That groweth now, and yet shall grow
When we are lowly laid.
The oak tree was an acorn once,
And fell upon the earth;
And the sun and showers nourished it,
And gave the oak tree birth.
The little sprouting oak tree!
Two leaves it had at first,
Till sun and showers had nourished it,
Then out the branches burst.
The little sapling oak tree!
Its roots are like a thread,
Till the kindly earth had nourished it,
Then out it freely spread.
On this side and on that side
It grappled with the ground,
And in the ancient rifted rock
Its firmest footing found.
WEEK 21 |
II Kings vi: 24, to vii: 20.
FTER a time there was another great war between Syria and Israel; and Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, led a mighty army into the land of Israel, and laid siege against the city of Samaria. So hard and so long was the siege that the people in Samaria could find nothing to eat; many died from want of food, and some killed their own children, and ate them.
But through all the siege Elisha encouraged the king of
Israel not to give up the city. When it seemed that
there could be no hope, Elisha said to the king, "Hear
the word of the Lord,
One of the nobles, on whose arm the king was learning, did not believe Elisha's word, and said, scornfully, "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, and rain down wheat and barley, then this might be." "You shall see it with your own eyes," answered Elisha; "but you shall not eat any of the food."
On the next morning, about daybreak, four men that were lepers were standing together outside the gate of Samaria. Being lepers, they were not allowed by the laws of Israel inside the walls of the city. (We have read of leprosy and lepers in the story of Naaman, Story 86). These four men said to each other, "What shall we do? If we go into the city we must die there from the want of food; if we stay here we must die. Let us go to the camp of the Syrians; perhaps they will let us live; and at the worst they can do no more than kill us."
So the four men went toward the Syrian camp; but as they came near they were surprised to find no one standing on guard. They went into a tent, and found it empty, as though it had been left very suddenly, for there were food, and drink, and garments, and gold, and silver. As no one was there they ate and drank all they needed; and then they took away valuable things and hid them. They looked into another tent, and another, and found them like the first, but not a man was in sight. They walked through the camp; but not a soldier was there, and the tents were left just as they had been when men were living in them.
The lepers visit a tent of the Syrians.
In the night the Lord had caused the Syrians to hear a great noise, like the rolling of chariots, and the trampling of horses, and the marching of men. They said to each other, in great fear, "The king of Israel has sent for the Hittites on the north, and the Egyptians on the south, to come against us."
And so great and so sudden was their terror, that in the night they rose up and fled away, leaving everything in their camp; even leaving their horses tied, and their asses, and all their treasure, and all their food, in their tents.
After a time the lepers said to each other, "We do wrong not to tell this good news in the city. If they find it out, they will blame us for not letting them know, and we may lose our lives on account of it."
So they went up to the gate, and called the men on guard, and told them how they had found the camp of the Syrians, with tents standing, and horses tied, but not a man left. The men on guard told it at the king's palace. But the king, when he heard it, thought that it was a trick of the Syrians to hide themselves, and to draw the men out of the city, so that they might take the city.
The king sent out two men with horses and chariots, and they found that not only had the camp been left, but that the road down the mountains to the river Jordan was covered with garments, and arms, and treasures that the Syrians had thrown away in their wild flight.
The news soon spread through the city of Samaria; and in a few hours all the city was at the gate. And when the food was brought in from the camp, there was abundance for all the people. And it came to pass as Elisha had said, a peck of grain, and two pecks of barley were sold for sixty cents in the gate of Samaria by noon of that day.
The king chose the noble upon whose arm he had leaned the day before to have charge of the gate. So he saw with his own eyes that which the prophet had foretold; but he did not eat of it, for the crowd was so great that the people pressed upon him, and he was trodden under their feet, and killed in the throng.
Thus the king and all the city of Samaria knew that Elisha had indeed spoken the word of the Lord.
We have seen how different from the ways of Elijah were the ways of Elisha. Elijah lived alone in the wilderness, and never came before kings except to tell them of their evil deeds, and to warn them of punishment. But Elisha lived in the city, at times even in the city of Samaria, often sent helpful messages to the king, and seemed to be his friend. Both these men were needed, Elijah and Elisha, one to destroy the evil in the land, and the other to build up the good.
Late in the evening, tired and happy and miles from home, they drew up on a remote common far from habitations, turned the horse loose to graze, and ate their simple supper sitting on the grass by the side of the cart. Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk. At last they turned in to their little bunks in the cart; and Toad, kicking out his legs, sleepily said, "Well, good night, you fellows! This is the real life for a gentleman! Talk about your old river!"
"I don't talk about my river," replied the patient Rat. "You know I don't, Toad. But I think about it," he added pathetically, in a lower tone: "I think about it—all the time!"
The Mole reached out from under his blanket, felt for the Rat's paw in the darkness, and gave it a squeeze. "I'll do whatever you like, Ratty," he whispered. "Shall we run away to-morrow morning, quite early—very early—and go back to our dear old hole on the river?"
"No, no, we'll see it out," whispered back the Rat. "Thanks awfully, but I ought to stick by Toad till this trip is ended. It wouldn't be safe for him to be left to himself. It won't take very long. His fads never do. Good night!"
The end was indeed nearer than even the Rat suspected.
After so much open air and excitement the Toad slept very soundly, and no amount of shaking could rouse him out of bed next morning. So the Mole and Rat turned to, quietly and manfully, and while the Rat saw to the horse, and lit a fire, and cleaned last night's cups and platters, and got things ready for breakfast, the Mole trudged off to the nearest village, a long way off, for milk and eggs and various necessaries the Toad had, of course, forgotten to provide. The hard work had all been done, and the two animals were resting, thoroughly exhausted, by the time Toad appeared on the scene, fresh and gay, remarking what a pleasant easy life it was they were all leading now, after the cares and worries and fatigues of housekeeping at home.
They had a pleasant ramble that day over grassy downs and along narrow by-lanes, and camped as before, on a common, only this time the two guests took care that Toad should do his fair share of work. In consequence, when the time came for starting next morning, Toad was by no means so rapturous about the simplicity of the primitive life, and indeed attempted to resume his place in his bunk, whence he was hauled by force. Their way lay, as before, across country by narrow lanes, and it was not till the afternoon that they came out on the high-road, their first high-road; and there disaster, fleet and unforeseen, sprang out on them—disaster momentous indeed to their expedition, but simply overwhelming in its effect on the after career of Toad.
They were strolling along the high-road easily, the Mole by the horse's head, talking to him, since the horse had complained that he was being frightfully left out of it, and nobody considered him in the least; the Toad and the Water Rat walking behind the cart talking together—at least Toad was talking, and Rat was saying at intervals, "Yes, precisely; and what did you say to him?"—and thinking all the time of something very different, when far behind them they heard a faint warning hum, like the drone of a distant bee. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out the dust a faint "Poop-poop!" wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. Hardly regarding it, they turned to resume their conversation, when in an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, It was on them! The "Poop-poop" rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment's glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.
The old grey horse, dreaming, as he plodded along, of his quiet paddock, in a new raw situation such as this, simply abandoned himself to his natural emotions. Rearing, plunging, backing steadily, in spite of all the Mole's efforts at his head, and all the Mole's lively language directed at his better feelings, he drove the cart backwards towards the deep ditch at the side of the road. It wavered an instant—then there was a heart-rending crash—and the canary-coloured cart, their pride and their joy, lay on its side in the ditch, an irredeemable wreck.
The Rat danced up and down in the road, simply transported with passion. "You villains!" he shouted, shaking both fists, "You scoundrels, you highwaymen, you—you—road-hogs!—I'll have the law of you! I'll report you! I'll take you through all the Courts!" His home-sickness had quite slipped away from him, and for the moment he was the skipper of the canary-coloured vessel driven on a shoal by the reckless jockeying of rival mariners, and he was trying to recollect all the fine and biting things he used to say to masters of steam-launches when their wash, as they drove too near the bank, used to flood his parlour-carpet at home.
Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid satisfied expression, and at intervals he faintly murmured "Poop-poop!"
The Mole was busy trying to quiet the horse, which he succeeded in doing after a time. Then he went to look at the cart, on its side in the ditch. It was indeed a sorry sight. Panels and windows smashed, axles hopelessly bent, one wheel off, sardine-tins scattered over the wide world, and the bird in the bird-cage sobbing pitifully and calling to be let out.
The Rat came to help him, but their united efforts were not sufficient to right the cart. "Hi! Toad!" they cried. "Come and bear a hand, can't you!"
The Toad never answered a word, or budged from his seat in the road; so they went to see what was the matter with him. They found him in a sort of a trance, a happy smile on his face, his eyes still fixed on the dusty wake of their destroyer. At intervals he was still heard to murmur "Poop-poop!"
The Rat shook him by the shoulder. "Are you coming to help us, Toad?" he demanded sternly.
"Glorious, stirring sight!" murmured Toad, never offering to move. "The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here to-day—in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped—always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!"
"O stop being an ass, Toad!" cried the Mole despairingly.
"And to think I never knew!" went on the Toad in a dreamy monotone. "All those wasted years that lie behind me, I never knew, never even dreamt! But now—but now that I know, now that I fully realise! O what a flowery track lies spread before me, henceforth! What dust-clouds shall spring up behind me as I speed on my reckless way! What carts I shall fling carelessly into the ditch in the wake of my magnificent onset! Horrid little carts—common carts—canary-coloured carts!"
"What are we to do with him?" asked the Mole of the Water Rat.
"Nothing at all," replied the Rat firmly. "Because there is really nothing to be done. You see, I know him from of old. He is now possessed. He has got a new craze, and it always takes him that way, in its first stage. He'll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him. Let's go and see what there is to be done about the cart."
A careful inspection showed them that, even if they succeeded in righting it by themselves, the cart would travel no longer. The axles were in a hopeless state, and the missing wheel was shattered into pieces.
The Rat knotted the horse's reins over his back and took him by the head, carrying the bird-cage and its hysterical occupant in the other hand. "Come on!" he said grimly to the Mole. "It's five or six miles to the nearest town, and we shall just have to walk it. The sooner we make a start the better."
"Come on!" he said. "We shall just have to walk it."
"But what about Toad?" asked the Mole anxiously, as they set off together. "We can't leave him here, sitting in the middle of the road by himself, in the distracted state he's in! It's not safe. Supposing another Thing were to come along?"
"O, bother Toad," said the Rat savagely; "I've done with him!"
They had not proceeded very far on their way, however, when there was a pattering of feet behind them, and Toad caught them up and thrust a paw inside the elbow of each of them; still breathing short and staring into vacancy.
"Now, look here, Toad!" said the Rat sharply: "as soon as we get to the town, you'll have to go straight to the police-station, and see if they know anything about that motor-car and who it belongs to, and lodge a complaint against it. And then you'll have to go to a blacksmith's or a wheelwright's and arrange for the cart to be fetched and mended and put to rights. It'll take time, but it's not quite a hopeless smash. Meanwhile, the Mole and I will go to an inn and find comfortable rooms where we can stay till the cart's ready, and till your nerves have recovered their shock."
"Police-station! Complaint!" murmured Toad dreamily. "Me complain of that beautiful, that heavenly vision that has been vouchsafed me! Mend the cart! I've done with carts for ever. I never want to see the cart, or to hear of it, again. O, Ratty! You can't think how obliged I am to you for consenting to come on this trip! I wouldn't have gone without you, and then I might never have seen that—that swan, that sunbeam, that thunderbolt! I might never have heard that entrancing sound, or smelt that bewitching smell! I owe it all to you, my best of friends!"
The Rat turned from him in despair. "You see what it is?" he said to the Mole, addressing him across Toad's head: "He's quite hopeless. I give it up—when we get to the town we'll go to the railway station, and with luck we may pick up a train there that'll get us back to river bank to-night. And if ever you catch me going a-pleasuring with this provoking animal again!"—He snorted, and during the rest of that weary trudge addressed his remarks exclusively to Mole.
On reaching the town they went straight to the station and deposited Toad in the second-class waiting-room, giving a porter twopence to keep a strict eye on him. They then left the horse at an inn stable, and gave what directions they could about the cart and its contents. Eventually, a slow train having landed them at a station not very far from Toad Hall, they escorted the spellbound, sleep-walking Toad to his door, put him inside it, and instructed his housekeeper to feed him, undress him, and put him to bed. Then they got out their boat from the boat-house, sculled down the river home, and at a very late hour sat down to supper in their own cosy riverside parlour, to the Rat's great joy and contentment.
The following evening the Mole, who had risen late and taken things very easy all day, was sitting on the bank fishing, when the Rat, who had been looking up his friends and gossiping, came strolling along to find him. "Heard the news?" he said. "There's nothing else being talked about, all along the river bank. Toad went up to Town by an early train this morning. And he has ordered a large and very expensive motor-car."
Tree-toad is a small gray person
With a silver voice.
Tree-toad is a leaf-gray shadow
Tree-toad is never seen
Unless a star squeezes through the leaves,
Or a moth looks sharply at a gray branch.
How would it be, I wonder,
To sing patiently all night,
Never thinking that people are asleep?
Raindrops and mist, starriness over the trees,
The moon, the dew, the other little singers,
Cricket . . . toad . . . leaf rustling . . .
They would listen:
It would be music like weather
That gets into all the corners
Every night I see little shadows
I never saw before.
Every night I hear little voices
I never heard before.
When night comes trailing her starry cloak,
I start out for slumberland,
With tree-toads calling along the roadside.
Good-night, I say to one, Good-by, I say to another:
I hope to find you on the way
We have traveled before!
I hope to hear you singing on the Road of Dreams!