WEEK 24 |
T HE secret garden was not the only one Dickon worked in. Round the cottage on the moor there was a piece of ground enclosed by a low wall of rough stones. Early in the morning and late in the fading twilight and on all the days Colin and Mary did not see him, Dickon worked there planting or tending potatoes and cabbages, turnips and carrots and herbs for his mother. In the company of his "creatures" he did wonders there and was never tired of doing them, it seemed. While he dug or weeded he whistled or sang bits of Yorkshire moor songs or talked to Soot or Captain or the brothers and sisters he had taught to help him.
"We'd never get on as comfortable as we do," Mrs. Sowerby said, "if it wasn't for Dickon's garden. Anything'll grow for him. His 'taters and cabbages is twice th' size of any one else's an' they've got a flavor with 'em as nobody's has."
When she found a moment to spare she liked to go out and talk to him. After supper there was still a long clear twilight to work in and that was her quiet time. She could sit upon the low rough wall and look on and hear stories of the day. She loved this time. There were not only vegetables in this garden. Dickon had bought penny packages of flower seeds now and then and sown bright sweet-scented things among gooseberry bushes and even cabbages and he grew borders of mignonette and pinks and pansies and things whose seeds he could save year after year or whose roots would bloom each spring and spread in time into fine clumps. The low wall was one of the prettiest things in Yorkshire because he had tucked moorland foxglove and ferns and rock-cress and hedgerow flowers into every crevice until only here and there glimpses of the stones were to be seen.
"All a chap's got to do to make 'em thrive, mother," he would say, "is to be friends with 'em for sure. They're just like th' 'creatures.' If they're thirsty give 'em a drink and if they're hungry give 'em a bit o' food. They want to live same as we do. If they died I should feel as if I'd been a bad lad and somehow treated them heartless."
It was in these twilight hours that Mrs. Sowerby heard of all that happened at Misselthwaite Manor. At first she was only told that "Mester Colin" had taken a fancy to going out into the grounds with Miss Mary and that it was doing him good. But it was not long before it was agreed between the two children that Dickon's mother might "come into the secret." Somehow it was not doubted that she was "safe for sure."
So one beautiful still evening Dickon told the whole story, with all the thrilling details of the buried key and the robin and the gray haze which had seemed like deadness and the secret Mistress Mary had planned never to reveal. The coming of Dickon and how it had been told to him, the doubt of Mester Colin and the final drama of his introduction to the hidden domain, combined with the incident of Ben Weatherstaff's angry face peering over the wall and Mester Colin's sudden indignant strength, made Mrs. Sowerby's nice-looking face quite change color several times.
"My word!" she said. "It was a good thing that little lass came to th' Manor. It's been th' makin' o' her an' th' savin' o' him. Standin' on his feet! An' us all thinkin' he was a poor half-witted lad with not a straight bone in him."
She asked a great many questions and her blue eyes were full of deep thinking.
"What do they make of it at th' Manor—him being so well an' cheerful an' never complainin'?" she inquired.
"They don't know what to make of it," answered Dickon. "Every day as comes round his face looks different. It's fillin' out and doesn't look so sharp an' th' waxy color is goin'. But he has to do his bit o' complainin'," with a highly entertained grin.
"What for, i' Mercy's name?" asked Mrs. Sowerby.
"He does it to keep them from guessin' what's happened. If the doctor knew he'd found out he could stand on his feet he'd likely write and tell Mester Craven. Mester Colin's savin' th' secret to tell himself. He's goin' to practise his Magic on his legs every day till his father comes back an' then he's goin' to march into his room an' show him he's as straight as other lads. But him an' Miss Mary thinks it's best plan to do a bit o' groanin' an' frettin' now an' then to throw folk off th' scent."
Mrs. Sowerby was laughing a low comfortable laugh long before he had finished his last sentence.
"Eh!" she said, "that pair's enjoyin' theirselves, I'll warrant. They'll get a good bit o' play actin' out of it an' there's nothin' children likes as much as play actin'. Let's hear what they do, Dickon lad."
Dickon stopped weeding and sat up on his heels to tell her. His eyes were twinkling with fun.
"Mester Colin is carried down to his chair every time he goes out," he explained. "An' he flies out at John, th' footman, for not carryin' him careful enough. He makes himself as helpless lookin' as he can an' never lifts his head until we're out o' sight o' th' house. An' he grunts an' frets a good bit when he's bein' settled into his chair. Him an' Miss Mary's both got to enjoyin' it an' when he groans an' complains she'll say, 'Poor Colin! Does it hurt you so much? Are you so weak as that, poor Colin?'—but th' trouble is that sometimes they can scarce keep from burstin' out laughin'. When we get safe into the garden they laugh till they've no breath left to laugh with. An' they have to stuff their faces into Mester Colin's cushions to keep the gardeners from hearin', if any of 'em's about."
"Th' more they laugh th' better for 'em!" said Mrs. Sowerby, still laughing herself. "Good healthy child laughin's better than pills any day o' th' year. That pair'll plump up for sure."
"They are plumpin' up," said Dickon. "They're that hungry they don't know how to get enough to eat without makin' talk. Mester Colin says if he keeps sendin' for more food they won't believe he's an invalid at all. Miss Mary says she'll let him eat her share, but he says that if she goes hungry she'll get thin an' they mun both get fat at once."
Mrs. Sowerby laughed so heartily at the revelation of this difficulty, that she quite rocked backward and forward in her blue cloak, and Dickon laughed with her.
"I'll tell thee what, lad," Mrs. Sowerby said when she could speak. "I've thought of a way to help 'em. When tha' goes to 'em in th' mornin's tha' shall take a pail o' good new milk an' I'll bake 'em a crusty cottage loaf or some buns wi' currants in 'em, same as you children like. Nothin's so good as fresh milk an' bread. Then they could take off th' edge o' their hunger while they were in their garden an' th' fine food they get indoors 'ud polish off th' corners."
"Eh! mother!" said Dickon admiringly, "what a wonder tha' art! Tha' always sees a way out o' things. They was quite in a pother yesterday. They didn't see how they was to manage without orderin' up more food—they felt that empty inside."
"They're two young 'uns growin' fast, an' health's comin' back to both of 'em. Children like that feels like young wolves an' food's flesh an' blood to 'em," said Mrs. Sowerby. Then she smiled Dickon's own curving smile. "Eh! but they're enjoyin' theirselves for sure," she said.
She was quite right, the comfortable wonderful mother creature—and she
had never been more so than when she said their
"Your appetite is improving very much, Master Colin," the nurse had said one day. "You used to eat nothing, and so many things disagreed with you."
"Nothing disagrees with me now," replied Colin, and then seeing the nurse looking at him curiously he suddenly remembered that perhaps he ought not to appear too well just yet. "At least things don't so often disagree with me. It's the fresh air."
"Perhaps it is," said the nurse, still looking at him with a mystified expression. "But I must talk to Dr. Craven about it."
"How she stared at you!" said Mary when she went away. "As if she thought there must be something to find out."
"I won't have her finding out things," said Colin. "No one must begin to find out yet."
When Dr. Craven came that morning he seemed puzzled, also. He asked a number of questions, to Colin's great annoyance.
"You stay out in the garden a great deal," he suggested. "Where do you go?"
Colin put on his favorite air of dignified indifference to opinion.
"I will not let any one know where I go," he answered. "I go to a place I like. Every one has orders to keep out of the way. I won't be watched and stared at. You know that!"
"You seem to be out all day but I do not think it has done you harm—I do not think so. The nurse says that you eat much more than you have ever done before."
"Perhaps," said Colin, prompted by a sudden inspiration, "perhaps it is an unnatural appetite."
"I do not think so, as your food seems to agree with you," said Dr. Craven. "You are gaining flesh rapidly and your color is better."
"Perhaps—perhaps I am bloated and feverish," said Colin, assuming a discouraging air of gloom. "People who are not going to live are often—different."
Dr. Craven shook his head. He was holding Colin's wrist and he pushed up his sleeve and felt his arm.
"You are not feverish," he said thoughtfully, "and such flesh as you have gained is healthy. If we can keep this up, my boy, we need not talk of dying. Your father will be very happy to hear of this remarkable improvement."
"I won't have him told!" Colin broke forth fiercely. "It will only disappoint him if I get worse again—and I may get worse this very night. I might have a raging fever. I feel as if I might be beginning to have one now. I won't have letters written to my father—I won't—I won't! You are making me angry and you know that is bad for me. I feel hot already. I hate being written about and being talked over as much as I hate being stared at!"
"Hush-h! my boy," Dr. Craven soothed him. "Nothing shall be written without your permission. You are too sensitive about things. You must not undo the good which has been done."
He said no more about writing to Mr. Craven and when he saw the nurse he privately warned her that such a possibility must not be mentioned to the patient.
"The boy is extraordinarily better," he said. "His advance seems almost abnormal. But of course he is doing now of his own free will what we could not make him do before. Still, he excites himself very easily and nothing must be said to irritate him."
Mary and Colin were much alarmed and talked together anxiously. From this time dated their plan of "play actin'."
"I may be obliged to have a tantrum," said Colin regretfully. "I don't want to have one and I'm not miserable enough now to work myself into a big one. Perhaps I couldn't have one at all. That lump doesn't come in my throat now and I keep thinking of nice things instead of horrible ones. But if they talk about writing to my father I shall have to do something."
He made up his mind to eat less, but unfortunately it was not possible to carry out this brilliant idea when he wakened each morning with an amazing appetite and the table near his sofa was set with a breakfast of home-made bread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and clotted cream. Mary always breakfasted with him and when they found themselves at the table—particularly if there were delicate slices of sizzling ham sending forth tempting odors from under a hot silver cover—they would look into each other's eyes in desperation.
"I think we shall have to eat it all this morning, Mary," Colin always ended by saying. "We can send away some of the lunch and a great deal of the dinner."
But they never found they could send away anything and the highly polished condition of the empty plates returned to the pantry awakened much comment.
"I do wish," Colin would say also, "I do wish the slices of ham were thicker, and one muffin each is not enough for any one."
"It's enough for a person who is going to die," answered Mary when first she heard this, "but it's not enough for a person who is going to live. I sometimes feel as if I could eat three when those nice fresh heather and gorse smells from the moor come pouring in at the open window."
The morning that Dickon—after they had been enjoying themselves in the garden for about two hours—went behind a big rose-bush and brought forth two tin pails and revealed that one was full of rich new milk with cream on the top of it, and that the other held cottage-made currant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin, buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot, there was a riot of surprised joyfulness. What a wonderful thing for Mrs. Sowerby to think of! What a kind, clever woman she must be! How good the buns were! And what delicious fresh milk!
"Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon," said Colin. "It makes her think of ways to do things—nice things. She is a Magic person. Tell her we are grateful, Dickon—extremely grateful."
He was given to using rather grown-up phrases at times. He enjoyed them. He liked this so much that he improved upon it.
"Tell her she has been most bounteous and our gratitude is extreme."
And then forgetting his grandeur he fell to and stuffed himself with buns and drank milk out of the pail in copious draughts in the manner of any hungry little boy who had been taking unusual exercise and breathing in moorland air and whose breakfast was more than two hours behind him.
This was the beginning of many agreeable incidents of the same kind. They actually awoke to the fact that as Mrs. Sowerby had fourteen people to provide food for she might not have enough to satisfy two extra appetites every day. So they asked her to let them send some of their shillings to buy things.
Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the wood in the park outside the garden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild creatures there was a deep little hollow where you could build a sort of tiny oven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it. Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury and very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king—besides being deliciously satisfying. You could buy both potatoes and eggs and eat as many as you liked without feeling as if you were taking food out of the mouths of fourteen people.
Every beautiful morning the Magic was worked by the mystic circle under the plum-tree which provided a canopy of thickening green leaves after its brief blossom-time was ended. After the ceremony Colin always took his walking exercise and throughout the day he exercised his newly found power at intervals. Each day he grew stronger and could walk more steadily and cover more ground. And each day his belief in the Magic grew stronger—as well it might. He tried one experiment after another as he felt himself gaining strength and it was Dickon who showed him the best things of all.
"Yesterday," he said one morning after an absence, "I went to Thwaite for mother an' near th' Blue Cow Inn I seed Bob Haworth. He's the strongest chap on th' moor. He's the champion wrestler an' he can jump higher than any other chap an' throw th' hammer farther. He's gone all th' way to Scotland for th' sports some years. He's knowed me ever since I was a little 'un an' he's a friendly sort an' I axed him some questions. Th' gentry calls him a athlete and I thought o' thee, Mester Colin, and I says, 'How did tha' make tha' muscles stick out that way, Bob? Did tha' do anythin' extra to make thysel' so strong?' An' he says 'Well, yes, lad, I did. A strong man in a show that came to Thwaite once showed me how to exercise my arms an' legs an' every muscle in my body.' An' I says, 'Could a delicate chap make himself stronger with 'em, Bob?' an' he laughed an' says, 'Art tha' th' delicate chap?' an' I says, 'No, but I knows a young gentleman that's gettin' well of a long illness an' I wish I knowed some o' them tricks to tell him about.' I didn't say no names an' he didn't ask none. He's friendly same as I said an' he stood up an' showed me good-natured like, an' I imitated what he did till I knowed it by heart."
Colin had been listening excitedly.
"Can you show me?" he cried. "Will you?"
"Aye, to be sure," Dickon answered, getting up. "But he says tha' mun do 'em gentle at first an' be careful not to tire thysel'. Rest in between times an' take deep breaths an' don't overdo."
"I'll be careful," said Colin. "Show me! Show me! Dickon, you are the most Magic boy in the world!"
Dickon stood up on the grass and slowly went through a carefully practical but simple series of muscle exercises. Colin watched them with widening eyes. He could do a few while he was sitting down. Presently he did a few gently while he stood upon his already steadied feet. Mary began to do them also. Soot, who was watching the performance, became much disturbed and left his branch and hopped about restlessly because he could not do them too.
From that time the exercises were part of the day's duties as much as the Magic was. It became possible for both Colin and Mary to do more of them each time they tried, and such appetites were the results that but for the basket Dickon put down behind the bush each morning when he arrived they would have been lost. But the little oven in the hollow and Mrs. Sowerby's bounties were so satisfying that Mrs. Medlock and the nurse and Dr. Craven became mystified again. You can trifle with your breakfast and seem to disdain your dinner if you are full to the brim with roasted eggs and potatoes and richly frothed new milk and oat-cakes and buns and heather honey and clotted cream.
"They are eating next to nothing," said the nurse. "They'll die of starvation if they can't be persuaded to take some nourishment. And yet see how they look."
"Look!" exclaimed Mrs. Medlock indignantly. "Eh! I'm moithered to death with them. They're a pair of young Satans. Bursting their jackets one day and the next turning up their noses at the best meals Cook can tempt them with. Not a mouthful of that lovely young fowl and bread sauce did they set a fork into yesterday—and the poor woman fair invented a pudding for them—and back it's sent. She almost cried. She's afraid she'll be blamed if they starve themselves into their graves."
Dr. Craven came and looked at Colin long and carefully. He wore an extremely worried expression when the nurse talked with him and showed him the almost untouched tray of breakfast she had saved for him to look at—but it was even more worried when he sat down by Colin's sofa and examined him. He had been called to London on business and had not seen the boy for nearly two weeks. When young things begin to gain health they gain it rapidly. The waxen tinge had left Colin's skin and a warm rose showed through it; his beautiful eyes were clear and the hollows under them and in his cheeks and temples had filled out. His once dark, heavy locks had begun to look as if they sprang healthily from his forehead and were soft and warm with life. His lips were fuller and of a normal color. In fact as an imitation of a boy who was a confirmed invalid he was a disgraceful sight. Dr. Craven held his chin in his hand and thought him over.
"I am sorry to hear that you do not eat anything," he said. "That will not do. You will lose all you have gained—and you have gained amazingly. You ate so well a short time ago."
"I told you it was an unnatural appetite," answered Colin.
Mary was sitting on her stool nearby and she suddenly made a very queer sound which she tried so violently to repress that she ended by almost choking.
"What is the matter?" said Dr. Craven, turning to look at her.
Mary became quite severe in her manner.
"It was something between a sneeze and a cough," she replied with reproachful dignity, "and it got into my throat."
"But" she said afterward to Colin, "I couldn't stop myself. It just burst out because all at once I couldn't help remembering that last big potato you ate and the way your mouth stretched when you bit through that thick lovely crust with jam and clotted cream on it."
"Is there any way in which those children can get food secretly?" Dr. Craven inquired of Mrs. Medlock.
"There's no way unless they dig it out of the earth or pick it off the trees," Mrs. Medlock answered. "They stay out in the grounds all day and see no one but each other. And if they want anything different to eat from what's sent up to them they need only ask for it."
"Well," said Dr. Craven, "so long as going without food agrees with them we need not disturb ourselves. The boy is a new creature."
"So is the girl," said Mrs. Medlock. "She's begun to be downright pretty since she's filled out and lost her ugly little sour look. Her hair's grown thick and healthy looking and she's got a bright color. The glummest, ill-natured little thing she used to be and now her and Master Colin laugh together like a pair of crazy young ones. Perhaps they're growing fat on that."
"Perhaps they are," said Dr. Craven. "Let them laugh."
A THOUSAND years ago boys and girls did not learn to read. Books were very scarce and very precious, and only a few men could read them.
Each book was written with a pen or a brush. The pictures were painted by hand, and some of them were very beautiful. A good book would sometimes cost as much as a good house.
In those times there were even some kings who could not read. They thought more of hunting and fighting than of learning.
There was one such king who had four sons,
Ethelbald, Ethelbert, Ethelred, and Alfred.
The three older boys were sturdy,
One day when they were with their mother, she showed them a wonderful book that some rich friend had given her. She turned the leaves and showed them the strange letters. She showed them the beautiful pictures, and told them how they had been drawn and painted.
They admired the book very much, for they had never seen anything like it.
"But the best part of it is the story which it tells," said their mother. "If you could only read, you might learn that story and enjoy it. Now I have a mind to give this book to one of you."
"Will you give it to me, mother?" asked little Alfred.
"I will give it to the one who first learns to read in it," she answered.
"I am sure I would rather have a good bow with arrows," said Ethelred.
"And I would rather have a young hawk that has been trained to hunt," said Ethelbert.
"If I were a priest or a monk," said Ethelbald, "I would learn to read. But I am a prince, and it is foolish for princes to waste their time with such things."
"But I should like to know the story which this book tells," said Alfred.
A few weeks passed by. Then, one morning, Alfred went into his mother's room with a smiling, joyous face.
"Mother," he said, "will you let me see that beautiful book again?"
His mother unlocked her cabinet and took the precious volume from its place of safe keeping.
Alfred opened it with careful fingers. Then he began with the first word on the first page and read the first story aloud without making one mistake.
"O my child, how did you learn to do that?" cried his mother.
"I asked the monk, Brother Felix, to teach me," said Alfred. "And every day since you showed me the book, he has given me a lesson. It was no easy thing to learn these letters and how they are put together to make words. Now, Brother Felix says I can read almost as well as he."
"How wonderful!" said his mother.
"How foolish!" said Ethelbald.
"You will be a good monk when you grow up," said Ethelred, with a sneer.
But his mother kissed him and gave him the beautiful book. "The prize is yours, Alfred," she said. "I am sure that whether you grow up to be a monk or a king, you will be a wise and noble man."
And Alfred did grow up to become the wisest and noblest king that England ever had. In history he is called Alfred the Great.
Where the pools are bright and deep,
Where the gray trout lies asleep,
Up the river and o'er the lea,
That's the way for Billy and me.
Where the blackbird sings the latest,
Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest,
Where the nestlings chirp and flee,
That's the way for Billy and me.
Where the mowers mow the cleanest,
Where the hay lies thick and greenest,
There to trace the homeward bee,
That's the way for Billy and me.
Where the hazel bank is steepest,
Where the shadow falls the deepest,
Where the clustering nuts fall free.
That's the way for Billy and me.
Why the boys should drive away,
Little sweet maidens from the play,
Or love to banter and fight so well,
That's the thing I never could tell.
But this I know, I love to play,
Through the meadow, among the hay;
Up the water and o'er the lea,
That's the way for Billy and me.
WEEK 24 |
W HILE these things were happening in York, the great duke had finished his preparations. He had gathered together his huge army and his mighty fleet of ships. The wind blew fair from the coast of France, and he set sail for England.
Over the blue sea they came, the white-sailed vessels
crowded with knights in armour, champing
No army was awaiting them. King Harold who had, for so many months, watched anxiously for their coming, was far away fighting another foe. And when at last the white sails glimmered in the distance, only the frightened fisherfolk stood upon the shore watching, and the peasants fled in fear to hide.
On came the duke's fleet, till the vessels touched the shore. Duke William was the first to spring to land, but as he did so he stumbled and fell.
"Alas! what bad luck," cried the soldiers around him; but William sprang up with a laugh, and turning to them showed his hands full of earth.
"See," he cried, "I have already taken hold of my kingdom."
Then a soldier, who had sprung ashore after the duke, ran to a cottage, and tearing from it some thatch, said, "Take hold not only of England, but of what England holds."
"I accept it," said the duke. "May God be with us."
Soon the whole army landed. The duke then caused all the ships to be sunk or pulled far up the shore, so that they could not be put out to sea again. "For," said he, "we will either conquer or die. We will never return to Normandy disgraced."
Now, after the battle of Stamford Bridge, while Harold and his men were resting in York before going southward again, the clatter of horses' hoofs was heard at the castle gate, and in a few minutes a breathless messenger flung himself at the king's feet.
"My lord," he cried, "my lord, William of Normandy has landed in England. I myself have seen him. He has come with a great and fierce host, and is laying waste all the land. I have not rested night nor day, but have hasted with the tidings."
This was very terrible news. Harold's men were wounded and weary with fighting, but before an hour had passed he and they were again on the great Roman road marching southward.
As he went, King Harold sent messages into all the country, calling the soldiers together. From every side they came to him, for they loved their king and country.
Harold had done a very wonderful thing when he marched his men north in so short a time. Now he did an even more wonderful thing when he brought them back again, for it is said that he arrived in London on 6th October, and they had to ride and walk all the way from York, which they only left on 27th September.
Here in London they rested a few days until more soldiers were gathered together. And here Gurth, his brother, tried to make Harold remain behind and let him go forward with the army to meet William. "It will not matter so much if I am killed," he said, "and besides, I have made no promises to William, so I can fight him better. Then you must burn all the houses, cut down the trees, and lay waste the cornfields between here and the seacoast, so that if I cannot keep William back, he will find no food nor shelter for his army when he arrives."
But Harold looked proudly at his brother. "I am the King," he said. "I will never harm an English village nor an English house. I will never harm the goods nor lands of any Englishman. How can I hurt the people who are given me to rule?"
So once more the King set out at the head of his army and on 12th October they arrived in sight of the Normans, who had camped near Hastings, on the south coast.
Harold camped on the hill called Senlac, and there it was that the battle took place. And from the names of the two camps, the battle is sometimes called Hastings, sometimes Senlac.
The English army was not nearly so large as the Norman, but Harold chose a very good place on the top of a hill. He also built a strong fence all round his camp.
When the battle began, the first person who advanced from the Norman side was not a soldier, but a minstrel or singer called Taillefer.
He rode out from the ranks, gaily dressed. He was tall and handsome, and had a laughing, merry face. On he came, riding not as if in battle, but as if in play.
His horse capered and pranced while he whirled his sword, throwing it high into the air, and catching it again and again.
And as he so rode and played, he sang. The song he sang was an old song of France, telling of the wonderful deeds of the great hero, Roland. It stirred the hearts of the Frenchmen, making them eager to fight and conquer. So, led by their minstrel, the whole army took up the song, and as they marched, the air was full of the music of men's voices.
"O Roland, sound your ivory horn,
To the ear of Karl shall the blast be borne.
He will bid his legions backward bend,
And all his barons their aid will lend.
Now God forbid it, for very shame,
That for me my kindred were stained with blame,
Or that gentle France to such vileness fell.
This good sword that hath served me well
My Durindana such strokes shall deal
That with blood encrimsoned shall be the steel.
By their evil star are the felons led;
They shall all be numbered among the dead.
Taillefer whirled his sword, struck a mighty blow, and the first Englishman fell dead.
"I will not sound on mine ivory horn;
It shall never be spoken of me in scorn,
That for heathen felons one blast I blew.
I may not dishonour my lineage true,
But I will strike ere this fight be o'er
A thousand strokes and seven hundred more.
And my Durindana shall drip with gore.
Our Franks will bear them like vassals brave,
The Saracens flock but to find a grave.
Again the sword of Taillefer flashed in the sunlight, and
again an Englishmen lay dead. It seemed as if he rode alone
to defy the whole English army, but behind him marched a
It seemed as if he rode alone to defy the whole English army.
God and His angels of heaven defend,
That France through me from her glory bend,
Death were better than fame laid low,
Our emperor loveth a downright blow.
Then the singer's voice was dumb, for an English sword
flashed, and the bright blade was buried in his heart. But
over his dead body swept the host still
Then from the Franks resounded
"Mountjoie!" Whoever had heard that cry
Would hold remembrance of chivalry.
Then ride they—how proudly, O God, they ride!
With rowels dashed in their coursers' side.
Fearless too are their paynim foes,
Franks and Saracens thus they close.
So the fight began, and all through the long day it raged. Sometimes it seemed as if one side would win, sometimes as if the other.
Once a cry went through the Norman ranks that Duke William was killed. Hearing that they would have fled, but Duke William rode among them bareheaded, calling to them and cheering them on. And when the Normans saw their great duke's face, they took heart and turned once more to the fight.
As the day drew to an end it was seen, alas, that the English were beaten. They gathered close around their king and his standard, fighting fiercely and bravely to the last. And when Harold fell, pierced with an arrow, his brave knights fought still over his dead body. But when night came, all the bravest and the best men of England lay with their king, dead upon the field.
The splendid standard of Harold was torn, bloodstained, and trampled in the dust, and the three lions of Normandy, fluttering in the cold autumn wind, kept watch over the dead.
William came o'er the sea,
With bloody sword came he,
Cold heart and bloody hand
Now rule the English land.
King Harold was buried on the seashore, not far from where he fell. Even William, fierce and cruel though he was, must have felt some pity for the man who had fought so bravely for his country. "Let him lie by the seashore," he said. "He guarded it well while he lived. Let him still guard it in death."
So, wrapped in a purple robe, as befits a king, they buried him by the sounding sea, beneath the great arch of heaven. Over his grave William caused a stone to be placed. Upon it in Latin were engraved the words:—"Here lies Harold the unhappy."
But after many years the body was removed to Waltham Abbey, which Harold himself had founded. On the spot where Harold fell, William of Normandy, perhaps in sorrow and remorse, built another great abbey, which he called Battle Abbey, and the remains of both may be seen to this day.
So died Harold, the last of the English kings. He had
reigned only nine months, and died, fighting for the freedom
of his people and his country, on Saturday,
Usually most of the birds in the flock were sociable and happy while they ate and their mealtime twitter was cheerful to hear. It seemed surprising that they could pick up their food so quickly and chatter so fast at the same time.
During a storm, however, when the snow began to cover the food, the birds became anxious. Then each one that found a little heap of seeds guarded it and tried to keep other birds away.
At first Dick and Anne thought the buntings were rather mean and stingy when they would not share such food with their comrades. But the more they watched the birds and thought about their ways, the more it seemed to them that the habits of the flock were rather good ones—for wild birds to have. For each bird that was driven away would be so hungry that it would try its very best to find some food for itself. So, in the end, all the birds were better fed than they could have been if they had all eaten at a few places and let the rest of the seeds become covered too deeply in the snow to be found.
Such habits would, of course, work the same way with hungry buntings that were feeding on weed seeds in a meadow. No bird could be lazy and take what another had found. Each one must be busy and find its own seeds. So all the birds in the flock would be able to take care of themselves. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why buntings are so strong and well during the cold winter weather.
Dick and Anne often watched one or another of the buntings hunt in the snow for seeds. It would put its bill down into the fresh snow and then jerk its head from side to side, throwing the snow to right and left until more and more food was uncovered.
All the buntings had the same way of shoveling snow with their bills by swinging their heads quickly from side to side; but certain other winter birds that also visited the picnic ground did not do this when they were hunting in the snow.
One day Anne chanced to look out of the window while the snow was falling fast and only a little seed remained in sight. One redpoll, one junco, and one bunting were feeding not far from one another.
The bunting was, of course, throwing the soft snow from side to side with its bill. The redpoll put its bill down directly in front of it and picked up what it could reach in that way. The junco scratched the snow in all directions—scratched with both feet, scattering the seeds widely, Some of them were thrown near the redpoll and the bunting and were eaten by these birds before the junco could pick them up himself.
The table-manners of these three birds were so amusing that Anne chuckled as she watched them.
The first day the buntings visited their picnic grounds they flew back across the field far from the yard every time they were frightened. Before long, however, they became less timid and began to perch in the trees near the house. There was a row of oak, maple, and elm trees along one side of the driveway. The buntings used all these trees, but most of all the tall elm which was not near the main road that passed the house.
The snowflakes flew to the tree‑tops.
If a heavy truck went along the road while the buntings were on the ground eating their seeds, or if they were startled by other moving or noisy objects, they flew to the topmost branches of this big elm. There they waited and seemed to feel as safe as if they had flown far across the meadow. When all was quiet again they would drift from the tree down to the ground.
These flights from the ground to the tree and down again took place many times a day. Dick and Anne never tired of watching the birds come down and counting them as they came. Usually the first bird to leave the tree would utter a sharp "Zurk" just as he started. After him, others would drift down one by one. Then as they began to chatter contentedly over the picnic seeds, the others would join them a few at a time.
If a strong wind was blowing, the birds would turn to face it just before reaching the ground, and then they would land with what seemed to be one shift of their wings. When there was no wind they fluttered their wings in a hovering motion while alighting.
Sometimes they floated from the topmost twigs directly to the ground in long slanting flight like flakes of drifting snow. But usually they dropped from the high branches to lower ones and then to those still lower, thus coming to the picnic ground in several short flights.
When Dick and Anne first noticed the buntings in the trees, they were surprised; for they were used to seeing them only in meadows and other open fields. Then, too, they had read in their bird books that snowflakes are ground birds, rarely perching in trees.
There are plenty of reasons, indeed, why these birds spend most of their time on the ground. In summer they nest in far northern treeless places. In winter they seek the seedy tops of grass and other plants of the fields. It is thus natural for them to run along the ground and walk on top of the snow.
Nevertheless snow buntings belong to the large order of perching birds; and, like their relatives the sparrows and finches, they can be comfortable and happy in trees. Doubtless the only reason why these birds do not rest on the twigs of trees more often is that usually trees are not near their feeding places.
However, Dick and Anne were now used to seeing the snow buntings in the tall trees of their yard for this was the third winter the cousins had kept their picnic ground ready for them.
The children belonged to a bird club which met once a month in the nearest city. Many of the members of the club had never seen snow buntings near at hand or heard them sing. So in March Dick and Anne gave a number of "snowflake parties" to which they invited their friends, four or five at a time. They served each time a simple "afternoon tea" sort of luncheon; and while the bird club guests were having their refreshments near the window inside the house, the buntings came down to their picnic served on the snow outside.
Then when the birds flew up to the tall elm near the back door, the tea party guests would tiptoe quietly into the back entry and stand by the open door to hear the sweet tinkling voices of the bunting chorus.
That March the voices of the buntings were the first morning sounds Dick and Anne heard through the open windows of their bedrooms. The children looked at their watches each morning when they heard the buntings and kept records in their notebooks.
Their favorite record was that of March the fourth. On that morning they heard the chattering calls of the buntings as they were flying toward the elm tree at just half past five. The cousins put on their warm robes and slippers and watched from the window. A large flock of the twittering birds settled on the high twigs of the elm.
Ten minutes later, one of the birds called "Zurk" and flew down to the picnic ground. The moon was bright in the sky at the time and Dick and Anne could see the birds against the snow as they drifted from the tree to the ground. Thirty went down, one at a time, and there were still many left twittering in the tree. Later, when it was lighter, the cousins counted eighty-four in the morning flock.
That day the time of sunrise was at twelve minutes past six, so you see the birds had come nearly three-quarters of an hour before sunrise.
Most of the time that month from sunrise or before to sunset or later, there were snow buntings on the picnic ground or in the elm tree. They took short flights to other places and the size of the flock varied from time to time. Some days as many as one hundred were there part of the time and some days the most that came were about twenty or thirty.
After the middle of March there was a change in the bunting chorus. Above the tinkling twitter, trills could be heard. Some of the trills were faltering and broken as if they came from birds that had never trilled before. Some were long and steady as if sung by birds that had trilled during other Marches. Each day the trilling became more clear and sure. It was never loud music and the faint tones could be heard only a little way; but before the end of March the full chorus had become wonderfully sweet.
Spring had touched the voices of the snow buntings! And spring was touching their wings! The flock was becoming smaller. Early in April the last of the buntings ate a farewell luncheon.
Under the high sun the snow on the fields had settled until the plant tops and stems were in plain sight. There was a seedy path from Holiday Meadow leading toward the north.
Northward Ho! the snow buntings were gone.
And later, when the meadowlarks that had spent their winter farther south were nesting in Holiday Meadow, Dick and Anne liked to think, too, of the snowflakes, far to the north, happy and busy with their grass-and-deer-hair nests in some sunny Arctic field.
Merry, merry sparrow!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Sees you, swift as arrow,
Seek your cradle narrow,
Near my bosom.
Pretty, pretty robin!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing,
Pretty, pretty robin,
Near my bosom.
WEEK 24 |
E VERY one was on hand when school opened the next morning, despite the fear that the mere mention of Shadow the Weasel had aroused in all save Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porky. You see, all felt they must be there so that they might learn all they possibly could about one they so feared. It might help them to escape should they discover Shadow hunting them sometime.
In his winter coat of white he is called the Ermine.
"Striped Chipmunk," said Old Mother Nature, "you know something about Shadow the Weasel, tell us what you know."
"I know I hate him!" declared Striped Chipmunk, and all the others nodded their heads in agreement. "I don't know a single good thing about him," he continued, "but I know plenty of bad things. He is the one enemy I fear more than any other because he is the one who can go wherever I can. Any hole I can get into he can. I've seen him just twice in my life, and I hope I may never see him again."
"What did he look like?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Like a snake on legs," declared Striped Chipmunk. "Anyway, that is what he made me think of, because his body was so long and slim and he twisted and turned so easily. He was about as long as Chatterer the Red Squirrel but looked longer because of his slim body and long neck. He was brown above and white below. His front feet were white, and his hind feet rather whitish, but not clear white. His short, round tail was black at the end. Somehow his small head and sharp face made me think of a Snake. Ugh! I don't like to think about him!"
"I saw him once, and he wasn't brown at all. Striped Chipmunk is all wrong, excepting about the end of his tail," interrupted Jumper the Hare. "He was all white, every bit of him but the end of his tail, that was black."
"Striped Chipmunk is quite right and so are you," declared Old Mother Nature. "Striped Chipmunk saw him in summer and you saw him in winter. He changes his coat according to season, just as you do yourself, Jumper. In winter he is trapped for his fur and he isn't called Weasel then at all, but Ermine."
"Oh," said Jumper and looked as if he felt a wee bit foolish.
"What was he doing when you saw him?" asked Old Mother Nature, turning to Striped Chipmunk.
"Hunting," replied Striped Chipmunk, and shivered. "He was hunting me. He had found my tracks where I had been gathering beechnuts, and he was following them with his nose just the way Bowser the Hound follows Reddy Fox. I nearly died of fright when I saw him."
"You are lucky to be alive," declared Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"I know it," replied Striped Chipmunk and shivered again. "I know
it. I guess I wouldn't be if
"I never ran harder in my life than the time I saw him," spoke up Jumper the Hare. "He was hunting me just the same way, running with his nose in the snow and following every twist and turn I had made. But for that black-tipped tail I wouldn't have seen him until too late."
"Pooh!" exclaimed Jimmy Skunk. "The idea of a big fellow like you running from such a little fellow as my Cousin Shadow!"
"I'm not ashamed of running," declared Jumper. "I may be ever so much bigger, but he is so quick I wouldn't stand the least chance in the world. When I suspect Shadow is about, I go somewhere else, the farther the better. If I could climb a tree like Chatterer, it would be different."
"No, it wouldn't!" interrupted Chatterer. "No, it wouldn't. That fellow can climb almost as well as I can. The only thing that saved me from him once was the fact that I could make a long jump from one tree to another and he couldn't. He had found a hole in a certain tree where I was living, and it was just luck that I wasn't at home when he called. I was just returning when he popped out. I ran for my life."
"He is the most awful fellow in all the Great World," declared Whitefoot the Wood Mouse.
Jimmy Skunk chuckled right out. "A lot you know about the Great World," he said. "Why, you are farther from home now than you've ever been in your life before, yet I could walk to it in a few minutes. How do you know Shadow is the most awful fellow in the Great World?"
"I just know, that's all," retorted Whitefoot in a very positive though squeaky voice. "He hunts and kills just for the love of it, and no one, no matter how big he is, can do anything more awful than that. I have a lot of enemies. Sometimes it seems as if almost every one of my neighbors is looking for a Mouse dinner. But all but Shadow the Weasel hunt me when they are hungry and need food. I can forgive them for that. Every one must eat to live. But Shadow hunts me even when his stomach is so full he cannot eat another mouthful. That fellow just loves to kill. He takes pleasure in it. That is what makes him so awful."
"Whitefoot is right," declared Old Mother Nature, and she spoke sadly. "If Shadow was as big as Buster Bear or Puma the Panther or even Tufty the Lynx, he would be the most terrible creature in all the Great World because of this awful desire to kill which fills him. He is hot-blooded, quick-tempered and fearless. Even when cornered by an enemy against whom he has no chance he will fight to the last gasp. I am sorry to say that there is no kindness nor gentleness in him towards any save his own family. Outside of that he hasn't a friend in the world, not one."
"Hasn't he any enemies?" asked Peter Rabbit.
"Oh, yes," replied Old Mother Nature.
"Shadow is known as the Common Weasel, Short-tailed Weasel, Brown Weasel, Bonaparte Weasel and Ermine, and is found all over the forested parts of the northern part of the country. A little farther south in the East is a cousin very much like him called the New York Weasel. On the Great Plains of the West is a larger cousin with a longer tail called the Long-tailed Weasel, Large Ermine, or Yellow-bellied Weasel. His smallest cousin is the Least Weasel. The latter is not much longer than a Mouse. In winter he is all white, even the tip of his tail. In summer he is a purer white underneath than his larger cousins. All of the Weasels are alike in habits. When running they bound over the ground much as Peter Rabbit does.
"In that part of the West where Yap Yap the Prairie Dog lives is
a relative called the
Blackfooted Ferret who looks like a large
Weasel. He is about the size of Billy Mink, but instead of the
rich dark brown of Billy's coat his coat is a creamy yellow. His
feet are black and so is the tip of his tail. His face is whitish
with a dark band across the eyes. He is most frequently found in
Prairie dog towns and lives largely on
Yap Yap the Prairie Dog fears no one more than this relative of Shadow the Weasel.
"The one good thing Shadow the Weasel does is to kill Robber the Rat whenever they meet. Robber, as you know, is big and savage and always ready for a fight when cornered. But all the fight goes out of him when Shadow appears. Perhaps it is because he knows how hopeless it is. When Shadow finds a barn overrun with Rats he will sometimes stay until he has killed or driven out the last one. Then perhaps he spoils it all by killing a dozen Chickens in a night.
"It is a sad thing not to be able to speak well of any one, but
Shadow the Weasel, like Robber the Rat, has by his ways made
himself hated by all the little people of the Green Forest and
the Green Meadows and by man. There is not one to say a good
word for him. Now
Daniel boone was born in Pennsylvania in 1735. Boone was a hunter from the time he was old enough to hold a gun to his shoulder. He got just enough education to know how to read and write in a rough way. But in the woods he learned the lessons that made him the great pioneer and explorer.
The Boy Hunter
One day the boy did not return from his hunting. The neighbors searched several days before they found him. He had built a little cabin of sod and boughs. Skins of animals were drying around the hut, and the young half-savage was toasting a piece of meat before the fire. This love for the wilderness was the ruling passion of his life.
Trying to be a Savage
By the time Daniel was thirteen the part of Pennsylvania in which he lived had become settled. The Boones, like true backwoodsmen, moved to a wilder region on the Yadkin River, in North Carolina. While Daniel's father and brothers cleared a new farm, the boy hunter was left to supply the table with meat.
One of Boone's modes of hunting was by "shining deer," as it was called in that country-that is, hunting deer at night with torches, and killing them by shooting at their glistening eyes. One night, Boone, hunting in this fashion, saw a pair of eyes shining in the dark which he thought to be deer's eyes, but which proved to be those of a neighbor's daughter, whom Boone afterwards married.
As the country was settling, he moved on to the headwaters of the river, where he and his young wife set up their log cabin in the lonesome wilderness. At this time the Alleghany Mountains formed a great wall, beyond which was a vast wilderness, with no inhabitants but Indians and wild animals. (See map, page 110.) Boone was too fond of wild life and too daring not to wish to take on the other side. Fifteen years before the Revolutionary War began, he pushed across the mountain wall and hunted bears in what is now Tennessee.
In 1769 he went into Kentucky with five others. Here he hunted the buffalo for the first time, and came near being run down by a herd of them. At length he and a man named Stewart were taken captive by the Indians. Boone pretended to be very cheerful. When he had been seven days in captivity, the Indians, having eaten a hearty supper, all fell into a sound sleep. Boone sat up. One of the Indians moved. Boone lay down again. After a while he rose up once more. As the Indians all lay still, he wakened Stewart, and they took two guns and quietly slipped away, getting back in safety to a cabin they had built. But they never found any trace of the four men who had crossed the Alleghanies with them.
One day, when Boone and Stewart were hunting, a lot of arrows were shot out of a canebrake near them, and Stewart fell dead. Boone's brother and another man had come from North Carolina to find Daniel. The other man walked out one day and was eaten up by wolves. There were now only the two Boones left of eight men in all who had crossed the mountains.
By this time Boone ought to have had enough of the wilderness. But the fearless Daniel sent his brother back to North Carolina for ammunition and horses, while he spent the winter in this almost boundless forest, with no neighbors but Indians, wolves, and other wild creatures. This was just what Daniel Boone liked, for he was himself a wild man.
Once the Indians chased him. Seeing them at a distance, following his tracks like dogs after a deer, he caught hold of one of those long, wild grapevines that dangle from the tall trees in Kentucky, and swung himself away out in the air and then dropped down. When the Indians came to the place they could not follow his tracks, and Boone got away.
He lived alone three months, till his brother returned. Then the Boones selected a spot on which to settle, and went back to North Carolina for their families and their friends. On their way out again, in 1773, the Indians attacked Boone's party and killed six men, among whom was Boone's eldest son. The women of the party now went to the nearest settlement, but Boone made several journeys to and fro. In 1775, just as the Revolutionary War broke out, he built a fort in Kentucky, and called it Boonesborough. Even while building the fort Boone and his friends were attacked by Indians. When the fort was completed, Boone's wife and daughters came to Boonesborough, and they were the first white women in Kentucky.
A daughter of Boone's and two other girls were captured by the Indians while picking flowers outside of the fort. These cunning backwoods girls managed to drop shreds torn from their clothes, and to break a bough now and then, so as to guide their fathers in following them. The party was overtaken by Boone and others, and the girls were rescued.
A Backwoods Girl
To tell of all the battles around Boonesborough, or of all of Daniel Boone's fights and escapes, would take a great part of this book. Once, when hunting, he encountered two Indians. He "treed," as they called it-that is, he got behind one of the large trees of the forest. The Indians did the same. Boone partly exposed himself, and one of the Indian fired, but Boone, who was very quick, dodged at the flash of the Indian's gun. He played the same trick on the other. Then he shot one of the Indians, and killed the Indian with a knife such as hunters of that time carried in their belts.
One day Boone was attacked by a hundred savages. He tried the speed of his legs, but one young Indian was swifter than he, and he was captured. The Indians thought him a great prize. They shaved his head, leaving a single lock, painted his face, and dressed him up like an Indian. Then they gave him to an old woman who had lost her son. She had her choice to adopt him or give him up to be burned alive. After looking at him a long time the squaw made up her mind to adopt him.
The Indians among whom Boone was a prisoner were fighting on the English side in the Revolution. The English officers who were then at Detroit bought all their captives from the Indians, except Boone, and they offered five hundred dollars for Captain Boone. But the Indians would not sell so great a warrior. The English officers were sorry for him, and out of real kindness, when they could not buy him, they offered him money. Boone refused to receive any favors from those who were fighting against his country.
He pretended to like the Indian way of living. He stayed a long time with them, and took part in all their sports. He seemed to have forgotten his own people. But when he found that they were preparing to attack Boonesborough, he got ready to escape. Pretending to chase a deer, while holding a piece of his breakfast in his hand, he succeeded in getting away. By running in streams of water he kept the Indians from following his tracks. He lived on roots and berries, and only once ventured to discharge his gun to get food.
When he got back to Boonesborough he found that his family had given him up for dead and gone back to North Carolina. He repaired the fort, and beat off five hundred Indians who attacked it.
Boone brought his family to Kentucky again, and was in many severe fights after this. Kentucky had no rest from bloodshed until Wayne defeated the Indians in Ohio, in 1794. (See page 146.) When Kentucky had filled up with people, the old pioneer went off to Missouri so as to get "elbowroom." The amusements of his old age were lying in wait for deer, shooting wild turkeys, and hunting for bee trees. He was eighty-five years old when he died.
O Columbia, the gem of the ocean,
The home of the brave and the free,
The shrine of each patriot's devotion,
A world offers homage to thee.
Thy mandates make heroes assemble,
When Liberty's form stands in view;
Thy banners make tyranny tremble—
When borne by the red, white, and blue!
When borne by the red, white, and blue,
When borne by the red, white, and blue,
Thy banners make tyranny tremble,
When borne by the red, white, and blue.
When war winged its wide desolation,
And threatened the land to deform,
The ark then of Freedom's foundation,
Columbia, rode safe through the storm;
With her garlands of vict'ry around her,
When so bravely she bore her brave crew,
With her flag proudly floating before her,
The boast of the red, white, and blue.
The boast of the red, white and blue,
The boast of the red, white, and blue,
With her flag proudly floating before her,
The boast of the red, white and blue.
The star-spangled banner bring hither,
O'er Columbia's true sons let it wave;
May the wreaths they have won never wither,
Nor its stars cease to shine on the brave.
May thy service united ne'er sever,
But hold to the colors so true;
The army and navy forever,
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
The army and navy forever,
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue.
WEEK 24 |
Beowulf left his comrades upon the rocky point jutting out into the sea, and alone he strode onward until he spied a great stone arch. From beneath the arch, from out the hillside, flowed a stream seething with fierce, hot fire. In this way the Dragon guarded his lair, for it was impossible to pass such a barrier unhurt.
So upon the edge of this burning river Beowulf stood and called aloud in anger. Stout of heart and wroth against the winged beast was he.
The king's voice echoed like a warcry through the cavern. The Dragon heard it and was aroused to fresh hate of man. For the guardian of the treasure-hoard knew well the sound of mortal voice. Now was there no long pause ere battle raged.
First from out the cavern flamed forth the breath of the winged beast. Hot sweat of battle rose from out the rock. The earth shook and growling thunder trembled through the air.
The Dragon, ringed around with many-coloured scales, was now hot for battle, and, as the hideous beast crept forth, Beowulf raised his mighty shield and rushed against him.
Already the king had drawn his sword. It was an ancient heirloom, keen of edge and bright. Many a time it had been dyed in blood; many a time it had won glory and victory.
But ere they closed, the mighty foes paused. Each knew the hate and deadly power of the other.
The mighty prince, firm and watchful, stood guarded by his shield. The Dragon, crouching as in ambush, awaited him.
Then suddenly like a flaming arch the Dragon bent and towered, and dashed upon the Lord of the Goths. Up swung the arm of the hero, and dealt a mighty blow to the grisly, many-coloured beast. But the famous sword was all too weak against such a foe. The edge turned and bit less strongly than its great king had need, for he was sore pressed. His shield, too, proved no strong shelter from the wrothy Dragon.
The warlike blow made greater still the anger of the fiery foe. Now he belched forth flaming fire. All around fierce lightnings darted.
Now he belched forth flaming fire
Beowulf no longer hoped for glorious victory. His sword had failed him. The edge was turned and blunted upon the scaly foe. He had never thought the famous steel would so ill serve him. Yet he fought on ready to lose his life in such good contest.
Again the battle paused, again the king and Dragon closed in fight.
The Dragon guardian of the treasure had renewed his courage. His heart heaved and boiled with fire, and fresh strength breathed from him. Beowulf was wrapped in flame. Dire was his need.
Yet of all his comrades none came near to help. Nay, as they watched the conflict they were filled with base fear, and fled to the wood hard by for refuge.
Only one among them sorrowed for his master, and as he watched his heart was wrung with grief.
Wiglaf was this knight called, and he was Beowulf's kinsman. Now when he saw his liege lord hard pressed in battle he remembered all the favours Beowulf had heaped upon him. He remembered all the honours and the wealth which he owed to his king. Then could he no longer be still. Shield and spear he seized, but ere he sped to aid his king he turned to his comrades.
"When our lord and king gave us swords and armour," he cried, "did we not promise to follow him in battle whenever he had need? When he of his own will chose us for this expedition he reminded us of our fame. He said he knew us to be good warriors, bold helmet-wearers. And although indeed our liege lord thought to do this work of valour alone, without us, because more than any man he hath done glorious and rash deeds, lo! now is the day come that hath need of strength and of good warriors. Come, let us go to him. Let us help our chieftain although the grim terror of fire be hot.
"Heaven knoweth I would rather the flame would blast my body than his who gave me gold. It seemeth not fitting to me that we should bear back our shields to our homes unless we may first fell the foe and defend the life of our king. Nay, it is not of the old custom of the Goths that the king alone should suffer, that he alone should sink in battle. Our lord should be repaid for his gifts to us, and so he shall be by me even if death take us twain."
But none would hearken to Wiglaf. So alone he sped through the deadly smoke and flame, till to his master's side he came offering aid.
"My lord Beowulf," he cried, "fight on as thou didst in thy youth-time. Erstwhile didst thou say that thou wouldest not let thy greatness sink so long as life lasteth. Defend thou thy life with all might. I will support thee to the utmost."
When the Dragon heard these words his fury was doubled. The fell wicked beast came on again belching forth fire, such was his hatred of men. The flame waves caught Wiglaf's shield, for it was but of wood. It was burned utterly, so that only the boss of steel remained. His coat of mail alone was not enough to guard the young warrior from the fiery enemy. But right valiantly he went on fighting beneath the shelter of Beowulf's shield now that his own was consumed to ashes by the flames.
Then again the warlike king called to mind his ancient glories, again he struck with main strength with his good sword upon the monstrous head. Hate sped the blow.
But alas! as it descended the famous sword Nægling snapped asunder. Beowulf's sword had failed him in the conflict, although it was an old and well-wrought blade. To him it was not granted that weapons should help him in battle. The hand that swung the sword was too strong. His might overtaxed every blade however wondrously the smith had welded it.
And now a third time the fell Fire-Dragon was roused to wrath. He rushed upon the king. Hot, and fiercely grim the great beast seized Beowulf's neck in his horrid teeth. The hero's life-blood gushed forth, the crimson stream darkly dyed his bright armour.
Then in the great king's need his warrior showed skill and courage. Heeding not the flames from the awful mouth, Wiglaf struck the Dragon below the neck. His hand was burned with the fire, but his sword dived deep into the monster's body and from that moment the flames began to abate.
The horrid teeth relaxed their hold, and Beowulf, quickly recovering himself, drew his deadly knife. Battle-sharp and keen it was, and with it the hero gashed the Dragon right in the middle.
The foe was conquered. Glowing in death he fell. They twain had destroyed the winged beast. Such should a warrior be, such a thane in need.
To the king it was a victorious moment. It was the crown of all his deeds.
Then began the wound which the Fire-Dragon had wrought him to burn and to swell. Beowulf soon found that baleful poison boiled in his heart. Well knew he that the end was nigh. Lost in deep thought he sat upon the mound and gazed wondering at the cave. Pillared and arched with stone-work it was within, wrought by giants and dwarfs of old time.
And to him came Wiglaf his dear warrior and tenderly bathed his wound with water.
Then spake Beowulf, in spite of his deadly wound he spake, and all his words were of the ending of his life, for he knew that his days of joy upon this earth were past.
He knew that his days of joy upon this earth were past
"Had a son been granted to me, to him I should have left my war-garments. Fifty years have I ruled this people, and there has been no king of all the nations round who durst meet me in battle. I have known joys and sorrows, but no man have I betrayed, nor many false oaths have I sworn. For all this may I rejoice, though I be now sick with mortal wounds. The Ruler of Men may not upbraid me with treachery or murder of kinsmen when my soul shall depart from its body.
"But now, dear Wiglaf, go thou quickly to the hoard of gold which lieth under the hoary rock. The Dragon lieth dead; now sleepeth he for ever, sorely wounded and bereft of his treasure. Then haste thee, Wiglaf, for I would see the ancient wealth, the gold treasure, the jewels, the curious gems. Haste thee to bring it hither; then after that I have seen it, I shall the more contentedly give up my life and the kingship that I so long have held."
Quickly Wiglaf obeyed his wounded lord. Into the dark cave he descended, and there outspread before him was a wondrous sight. Treasure of jewels, many glittering and golden, lay upon the ground. Wondrous vessels of old time with broken ornaments were scattered round. Here, too, lay old and rusty helmets, mingled with bracelets and collars cunningly wrought.
Upon the walls too hung golden flags. From one a light shone forth by which the whole cavern was made clear. And all within was silent. No sign was there of any guardian, for without lay the Dragon, sleeping death's sleep.
Quickly Wiglaf gathered of the treasures all that he could carry. Dishes and cups he took, a golden ensign and a sword curiously wrought. In haste he returned, for he knew not if still he should find his lord in life where he had left him.
And when Wiglaf came again to where Beowulf sat he poured the treasure at his feet. But he found his lord in a deep swoon. Again the brave warrior bathed Beowulf's wound and laved the stricken countenance of his lord, until once more he came to himself.
Then spake the king: "For this treasure I give thanks to the Lord of All. Not in vain have I given my life, for it shall be of great good to my people in need. And now leave me, for on this earth longer I may not stay. Say to my warriors that they shall raise a mound upon the rocky point which jutteth seaward. High shall it stand as a memorial to my people. Let it soar upward so that they who steer their slender barks over the tossing waves shall call it Beowulf's mound."
The king then took from his neck the golden collar. To Wiglaf, his young thane and kinsman, he gave it. He gave also his helmet adorned with gold, his ring and coat of mail, and bade the warrior use them well.
"Thou art the last of our race," he said. "Fate hath swept away all my kinsmen, all the mighty earls. Now must I too follow them."
That was the last word of the aged king. From his bosom the soul fled to seek the dwellings of the Just. At Wiglaf's feet he lay quiet and still.
A Mule had had a long rest and much good feeding. He was feeling very vigorous indeed, and pranced around loftily, holding his head high.
"My father certainly was a full-blooded racer," he said. "I can feel that distinctly."
Next day he was put into harness again and that evening he was very downhearted indeed.
"I was mistaken," he said. "My father was an Ass after all."
Be sure of your pedigree before you boast of it.
"And where have you been, my Mary,
And where have you been from me?"
"I have been to the top of the Caldon Low,
The midsummer night to see."
"And what did you see, my Mary,
All up on the Caldon Low?"
"I saw the glad sunshine come down,
And I saw the merry winds blow."
"And what did you hear, my Mary,
All up on the Caldon Hill?"
"I heard the drops of water made,
And the ears of the green corn fill."
"Oh, tell me all, my Mary—
All, all that ever you know;
For you must have seen the fairies,
Last night, on the Caldon Low."
"Then take me on your knee, mother;
And listen, mother of mine;
A hundred fairies danced last night,
And the harpers they were nine;
"And their harp strings rung so merrily
To their dancing feet so small;
But oh, the words of their talking
Were merrier far than all."
"And what were the words, my Mary,
That then you heard them say?"
"I'll tell you all, my mother;
But let me have my way.
"Some of them played with the water,
And rolled it down the hill;
'And this,' they said, 'shall speedily turn
The poor old miller's mill;
" 'For there has been no water
Ever since the first of May;
And a busy man will the miller be
At dawning of the day.
" 'Oh, the miller, how he will laugh
When he sees the mill dam rise!
The jolly old miller, how he will laugh
Till the tears fill both his eyes.'
"And some they seized the little winds
That sounded over the hill;
And each put a horn into his mouth,
And blew both loud and shrill;
" 'And there,' they said, 'the merry winds go
Away from every horn;
And they shall clear the mildew dank
From the blind old widow's corn.
" 'Oh, the poor, blind widow,
Though she has been blind so long,
She'll be blithe enough when the mildew's gone,
And the corn stands tall and strong.'
"And some they brought the brown lint seed,
And flung it down from the Low;
'And this,' they said, 'by the sunrise,
In the weaver's croft shall grow.
" 'Oh, the poor, lame weaver,
How he will laugh outright,
When he sees his dwindling flax field
All full of flowers by night!'
"And then outspoke a brownie,
With a long beard on his chin:
'I have spun up all the tow,' said he,
'And I want some more to spin.
" 'I 've spun a piece of hempen cloth,
And I want to spin another;
A little sheet for Mary's bed,
And an apron for her mother.'
"With that I could not help but laugh,
And I laughed out loud and free;
And then on the top of the Caldon Low
There was no one left but me.
"And all on the top of the Caldon Low
The mists were cold and gray,
And nothing I saw but the mossy stones,
That round about me lay.
"But, coming down from the hilltop,
I heard afar below,
How busy the jolly miller was,
And how the wheel did go.
"And I peeped into the widow's field,
And, sure enough, were seen
The yellow ears of the mildewed corn
All standing stout and green.
"And down by the weaver's croft I stole,
To see if the flax were sprung;
And I met the weaver at his gate,
With the good news on his tongue!
"Now this is all I heard, mother,
And all that I did see;
So, pr'ythee, make my bed, mother,
For I'm tired as I can be."
WEEK 24 |
"Coastwise—cross seas—round the world and back again."
D RAKE'S chance came at last, and with the sanction of his queen he sailed out of Plymouth harbour, bound for the chartless ocean, hitherto only crossed by Magellan.
It was the middle of November in the year 1577. Drake was now thirty-two, in the prime of his strength and manhood. Dressed in his seaman's shirt, belted at the waist, a scarlet cap with gold band on his head, he waved his farewell to England from the deck of his flagship the Pelican, a small vessel indeed for the vast expedition before him. The seamen—some 150 in number—knew nothing of their destination, but they must have guessed, from the twenty guns on the Pelican, that there was danger ahead.
There was, indeed, danger ahead, but there was danger on board too. Second in command of the little fleet was one Thomas Doughty. His conduct was suspicious from the very first, and by the time South America was reached there was no longer any room to doubt that he was a traitor. Having run the ships into a harbour on the coast of Patagonia, Drake called his men together to take council what should be done. It was the spot where Magellan had tried his mutinous men years ago, and the stump of his gallows stood on the desolate wind-swept shore. The trial lasted two days. The case was even more desperate than Drake had imagined. Doughty had betrayed the queen's secret, he had nearly upset the whole expedition.
"They that think this man worthy of death, let them, with me, hold up their hands," cried Drake at the last.
As the words left his lips a throng of brown hands were raised. The traitor must die. A block was prepared. An altar was raised beside it. Then the two old friends, Drake and Doughty, knelt side by side to ask forgiveness; rising, they kissed one another, and in another minute the sword had fallen, and as Doughty's head was held up to view, Drake cried, "Lo, this is the end of traitors."
From this moment his rule was undisputed. Treason and mutiny played no further part in the expedition. Boldly now Drake entered the Straits of Magellan, bound for the Southern Sea. Storms and tempests burst upon the little ships, but the commander's splendid seamanship triumphed over unknown dangers, till after fourteen days they sailed out into the Pacific Ocean. Here a terrific storm burst upon them. The sky was dark, by night and day the wind roared and howled. This went on for fifty-three days, at the end of which time Drake found himself alone. His little fleet had entirely disappeared. But the winds had driven him farther south than any ship had been before. He landed on an unknown island, and laying himself flat on the earth, he embraced with his arms the southernmost point of the world, now known as Cape Horn.
A month later a Spanish ship was lazily waiting in the harbour of Valparaiso for a wind to carry her to Panama with a cargo of gold from Peru, when a sail hove in sight. The Spaniards ran up flags and beat their drums to welcome their supposed countrymen. The Pelican shot alongside and English sailors leapt on board, crying, "Down, dogs! down!" as they caught and bound the astonished Spaniards. It was not long before the Spanish crew were stowed safely away, and their precious cargo was transferred to the Pelican. For three days the plunder went on. The English, who had lived on salt penguin for months, were refreshed, and the Pelican, richly freighted with Spanish goods, sailed northwards with its prize.
Still chasing and plundering Spanish ships on the coast of South America, Drake made his way northwards and ever northwards, up the coast of North America to San Francisco, still hugging his treasure. The cold was intense, his rigging was frozen, his crew sick, but his hot courage never failed him.
On July 25, 1579, he struck across the unknown ocean, bound for the Moluccas. As if by inspiration, he pushed on and on. Sixty-eight days passed with no signs of land, till at last he reached the Philippine Islands, where Magellan had met his tragic end.
It would take too long to tell of the homeward voyage, by the Cape of Good Hope,—how the treasure-laden ship ran on to a reef among the East India Islands, and how even her commander gave her up as lost; but she overcame all difficulties and accomplished her great exploit. It was three years after Drake had sailed from England that the Pelican, whose name was now changed to the Golden Hind, laboured into Plymouth Sound. The prayer uttered by Drake six years before had been fulfilled. He had sailed the Pacific Ocean in an English ship, and he had sailed it from side to side. Its secret was England's at last, and, laden with its wealth, the triumphant explorer was now stepping ashore to lay his booty at the feet of his queen.
Soon all England was ringing with his name. Elizabeth herself went to Plymouth, and, after a banquet on board, knighted the "master thief of the unknown world." She ordered the Golden Hind to be preserved for ever as a worthy rival of Magellan's Victoria.
The tide of the great Spanish empire had turned at last.
T HERE was just one mortal who kept clear of Hades altogether. But whether he was really lucky in that or not, I must leave you to settle when you have heard his story.
If you have ever seen the sun rise, you have seen the wings of Aurora. Aurora is the dawn; and as she opens her wings you see all their colors—first pale-grey; then a delicate amber, which deepens into saffron; then the tint of a pink-rose, which grows fuller and fuller till it becomes crimson and purple, which turns to gold when the chariot of the Sun appears. It is she who throws open the gates of the sky for Phœbus Apollo to start upon his daily journey, just as it is Thetis who shuts them, and brings the twilight, when his journey is done.
Aurora is always glad and beautiful and young; always full of hope, because she closes her splendid wings and goes to sleep before the troubles of the day begin; and her only work is to feed the flowers with dew. But once upon a time she fell in love with a mortal named Tithōnus; and she promised to grant him whatever boon he most desired.
I suppose almost everybody has tried to think of what he would wish for if a goddess or fairy gave him such a chance. Tithonus though hard for a minute, and then said:—
"Great and beautiful goddess, my wish is that I may never die, so that I may see you every morning forever."
Now of course it was against all the laws of Hades that a mortal should never die—unless, of course, he was allowed to taste the Ambrosia, the food of the gods, which was very seldom allowed. How Aurora managed it, I cannot tell, because I have never been told. But she kept her word somehow, and Tithonus got leave to live forever.
And so long as he was young and strong, and could get up early in the morning to look at the color of Aurora's wings, that was all very well. It did just as well as if he were to die in time, like other men. But it happened at last that, while Aurora remained as young as ever, Tithonus began to get old. The promise of endless life did not prevent him from growing bald, and toothless, and liable to catch cold if he went out into the keen morning air. By the time that he was a hundred years old, he became tired of getting up to see the sun rise day after day. At two hundred he felt like a bundle of aches and pains, and he liked a doze in the sun better than a thousand Auroras. At three hundred he became tired of living, and wanted to be able to creep into some quiet corner of Hades, drink a cup of Lethe, and go to sleep and think of nothing. But he could not; for though racked with pain and weary of life, he could not die!
He could only shrink and shrivel till, after many hundreds of years, he was less than two inches long. His skin turned dry and brown. His voice became cracked, and thin, and shrill. He lost his senses, and kept on chirping the same thing over and over again. He never stirred from the warmth of the chimney-corner, night or day. His legs grew as thin as threads of cotton. He dwindled into a dry, wooden-like insect.
In short, a Cricket.
And such he remains to this day. But Aurora is as young and as beautiful and as fresh as ever, and has clean forgotten him; while he spends his life in trying to be merry, and in chirping:—
"Oh, how I want to die!"
WEEK 24 |
O NCE upon a time there lived a gentleman who owned fine lands and houses, and he very much wanted to have a son to be heir to them. So when his wife brought him a daughter, though she was bonny as bonny could be, he cared nought for her, and said:
"Let me never see her face."
So she grew up to be a beautiful maiden, though her father never set eyes on her till she was fifteen years old and was ready to be married.
Then her father said roughly, "She shall marry the first that comes for her." Now when this became known, who should come along and be first but a nasty, horrid, old man. So she didn't know what to do, and went to the hen-wife and asked her advice. And the hen-wife said, "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat of silver cloth." Well, they gave her a coat of silver cloth, but she wouldn't take him for all that, but went again to the hen-wife, who said, "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat of beaten gold." Well, they gave her a coat of beaten gold, but still she would not take the old man, but went again to the hen-wife, who said, "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat made of the feathers of all the birds of the air." So they sent out a man with a great heap of peas; and the man cried to all the birds of the air, "Each bird take a pea and put down a feather." So each bird took a pea and put down one of its feathers: and they took all the feathers and made a coat of them and gave it to her; but still she would not take the nasty, horrid, old man, but asked the hen-wife once again what she was to do, and the hen-wife said, "Say they must first make you a coat of catskin." Then they made her a coat of catskin; and she put it on, and tied up her other coats into a bundle, and when it was nighttime ran away with it into the woods.
Now she went along, and went along, and went along, till at the end of the wood she saw a fine castle. Then she hid her fine dresses by a crystal waterfall and went up to the castle gates and asked for work. The lady of the castle saw her, and told her, "I'm sorry I have no better place, but if you like you may be our scullion." So down she went into the kitchen, and they called her Catskin, because of her dress. But the cook was very cruel to her, and led her a sad life.
Well, soon after that it happened that the young lord of the castle came home, and there was to be a grand ball in honour of the occasion. And when they were speaking about it among the servants, "Dear me, Mrs. Cook," said Catskin, "how much I should like to go!"
"What! You dirty impudent slut," said the cook, "you go among all the fine lords and ladies with your filthy catskin? A fine figure you'd cut!" and with that she took a basin of water and dashed it into Catskin's face. But Catskin only shook her ears and said nothing.
Now when the day of the ball arrived, Catskin slipped out of the house and went to the edge of the forest where she had hidden her dresses. Then she bathed herself in a crystal waterfall, and put on her coat of silver cloth, and hastened away to the ball. As soon as she entered all were overcome by her beauty and grace, while the young lord at once lost his heart to her. He asked her to be his partner for the first dance; and he would dance with none other the livelong night.
When it came to parting time, the young lord said, "Pray tell me, fair maid, where you live?"
But Catskin curtsied and said:
"Kind sir, if the truth I must tell,
At the sign of the 'Basin of Water' I dwell."
Then she flew from the castle and donned her catskin robe again, and slipped into the scullery, unbeknown to the cook.
The young lord went the very next day and searched for the sign of the "Basin of Water"; but he could not find it. So he went to his mother, the lady of the castle, and declared he would wed none other but the lady of the silver dress, and would never rest till he had found her. So another ball was soon arranged in hopes that the beautiful maid would appear again.
So Catskin said to the cook, "Oh, how I should like to go!" Whereupon the cook screamed out in a rage, "What, you, you dirty, impudent slut! You would cut a fine figure among all the fine lords and ladies." And with that she up with a ladle and broke it across Catskin's back. But Catskin only shook her ears, and ran off to the forest, where, first of all, she bathed, and then she put on her coat of beaten gold, and off she went to the ballroom.
As soon as she entered all eyes were upon her; and the young lord at once recognized her as the lady of the "Basin of Water," claimed her hand for the first dance, and did not leave her till the last. When that came, he again asked her where she lived. But all that she would say was:
"Kind sir, if the truth I must tell,
At the sign of the 'Broken Ladle' I dwell";
and with that she curtsied and flew from the ball, off with her golden robe, on with her catskin, and into the scullery without the cook's knowing.
Next day, when the young lord could not find where the sign of the "Broken Ladle" was, he begged his mother to have another grand ball, so that he might meet the beautiful maid once more.
Then Catskin said to the cook, "Oh, how I wish I could go to the ball!" Whereupon the cook called out: "A fine figure you'd cut!" and broke the skimmer across her head. But Catskin only shook her ears, and went off to the forest, where she first bathed in the crystal spring, and then donned her coat of feathers, and so off to the ballroom.
When she entered every one was surprised at so beautiful a face and form dressed in so rich and rare a dress; but the young lord at once recognized his beautiful sweetheart, and would dance with none but her the whole evening. When the ball came to an end he pressed her to tell him where she lived, but all she would answer was:
"Kind sir, if the truth I must tell,
At the sign of the 'Broken Skimmer' I dwell";
and with that she curtsied, and was off to the forest. But this time the young lord followed her, and watched her change her fine dress of feathers for her catskin dress, and then he knew her for his own scullery maid.
Next day he went to his mother, and told her that he wished to marry the scullery maid, Catskin.
"Never," said the lady of the castle, "never so long as I live."
Well, the young lord was so grieved that he took to his bed and was very ill indeed. The doctor tried to cure him, but he would not take any medicine unless from the hands of Catskin. At last the doctor went to the mother, and said that her son would die if she did not consent to his marriage with Catskin; so she had to give way. Then she summoned Catskin to her, and Catskin put on her coat of beaten gold before she went to see the lady; and she, of course, was overcome at once, and was only too glad to wed her son to so beautiful a maid.
So they were married, and after a time a little son was born to them, and grew up a fine little lad. Now one day, when he was about four years old, a beggar woman came to the door, and Lady Catskin gave some money to the little lord and told him to go and give it to the beggar woman. So he went and gave it, putting it into the hand of the woman's baby child; and the child leant forward and kissed the little lord.
Now the wicked old cook (who had never been sent away, because Catskin was too kind-hearted) was looking on, and she said, "See how beggars' brats take to one another!"
This insult hurt Catskin dreadfully: and she went to her husband, the young lord, and told him all about her father, and begged he would go and find out what had become of her parents. So they set out in the lord's grand coach, and travelled through the forest till they came to the house of Catskin's father. Then they put up at an inn near, and Catskin stopped there, while her husband went to see if her father would own she was his daughter.
Now her father had never had any other child, and his wife had died; so he was all alone in the world, and sat moping and miserable. When the young lord came in he hardly looked up, he was so miserable. Then Catskin's husband drew a chair close up to him, and asked him, "Pray, sir, had you not once a young daughter whom you would never see or own?"
And the miserable man said with tears, "It is true; I am a hardened sinner. But I would give all my worldly goods if I could but see her once before I die."
Then the young lord told him what had happened to Catskin, and took him to the inn, and afterwards brought his father-in-law to his own castle, where they lived happy ever afterwards.
N OW we must learn more about that string of eggs that Mrs. Conch left on the sand. First it was like a thread with knots tied close together on it. Then it grew to be a yard long. It grew very fast.
The knots grew into little cases, or pockets. They were set close to each other. At the ends of the string the cases were small, but after three or four small ones, the others were of the size and shape of big Lima beans.
Once I was out on the sand with a boy.
We found a string of this kind. It had been cast up by the waves. It was of a pale straw-color, and like a long curl.
The boy said, "It is a sea-weed."
I said, "No." Then he said, "It is some kind of a bean or seed." I said, "It is fish seed." Let us look at it.
Each case, or pocket, is flat, and has a rim. The rim has lines in it. In the front edge is a small, round spot, where the case is very thin. This is the door of the case.
Out in the Cold
The sides of the case are very tough. Let us cut one case open. It is full of white gum, or jelly.
I see in it specks like grains of sand. Here is one more string, far up on the sand. This one is dry, hard, and light. The little thin places are real holes now.
The cases are quite empty. Here is one more string. This, too, is light and dry. But the holes in front are not open.
Shake it. Does it rattle? Yes. Cut a case open.
Why! Each case is full of wee shells! Each shell is as small as a grain of rice! See how thin and white these shells are.
A million little diamonds
Sparkled on the trees;
And all the little maidens cried,
"Give me a diamond, please!"
But while they held their hands out far,
To catch the diamonds gay,
A million little sunbeams came,
And stole them all away.
WEEK 24 |
L ONG years ago, when Rome was mistress of the world and her soldiers and citizens were to be found everywhere, even the little island of Britain had its place among the colonies of the great empire. Here the Romans laid their roads and planted their towns, built temples to their gods, and ruled the barbarians with a firm strong hand. Many noble Roman families lived in Britain in those days, and although the life was ruder and rougher than that they were accustomed to in the wonderful city of Rome, still they made their houses as luxurious and comfortable as they could and tried to be content.
It was in one of these well-built houses, with inlaid floors and marble baths, that the little Alban was born, heir to a great Roman family. The parents had settled in the town of Verulam, on the banks of the little river Ver, but they always looked upon Britain as a land of exile, and planned to send their boy back to Rome as soon as he should be old enough to be taught and trained to be a Roman citizen.
But the child himself was very happy in his island home. The little stream that ran past the town was in his eyes a wonderful river which would carry his boats far out to sea. The green hill on the opposite bank was a playground fit for the gods, with its carpet of golden-eyed daisies and yellow buttercups, and the smooth grassy slopes that were so soft to roll upon. The great forests that looked so dark and gloomy held him spell-bound, and he loved to watch the grey mists come rolling over the marshy land, turning everything into a world of mystery.
Never was there a happier child in all the world; but the reason of his happiness was not because he had so many pleasures, but because he was kind and generous to every one round about him. It seemed as if there was a little singing bird in the golden cage of his heart, a bird that was always singing happy songs, and its name was Unselfishness.
Now, as soon as the boy grew old enough, he was sent away to Rome as his parents had planned, for they wished him to learn many things which he could never be taught in the little island of Britain. It seemed to Alban as if he had come to a different world when first he entered the city of Rome. Accustomed as he was to the little town with its few well-built houses, the rude huts and wild marsh wastes, the rolling mists and grey skies, he had never dreamed of such a city as this. Palaces of white marble triumphantly rearing their columns up to heaven; temples of the gods more beautiful than a dream; baths luxurious as those of a king's dwelling; and above all the blue sky, such a blue as he had never even dreamed of, and sunshine which kept him even warmer than his fur coat had ever done.
There was much to learn and much to do in this new world of wonder and magnificence, but as Alban grew into a man, he found that there was something he loved better than all this splendour and luxury. Far away on the banks of the little river, in the island of the mist and grey skies, there was something which bound his heart with a golden thread of love and memory which nothing could snap. Although the house at Verulam was no grand palace; although the country was rough and wild and often cold and bleak, it was home. The great forests, the green flowery hills, the rolling mists seemed to be calling him. It meant home to him, and he loved it better than all the glory of Rome.
So Alban returned to the island of the mists, and lived once more in the house where he was born, on the banks of the little river. He was rich and powerful and had everything that heart could desire, and he was as happy as ever, for he was so kind and generous that every one loved him. Rich and poor alike were welcome at his house, and no one who needed help asked for it in vain. Travellers always stopped at his gate, and he never refused hospitality to any guest.
It was late one night, when doors were barred and every one had gone to rest, that a knocking was heard at the outer gate. It was an urgent knocking although not very loud, and the servants at last went to see who it was that sought shelter at that unseemly hour. A weary-looking man dressed in a long cloak was standing there, and he begged that he might be taken in secretly and hidden from his pursuers, who were even now close at hand.
The servants, knowing their master's will, brought him quickly in, and one went to his lord to tell him of the new arrival. "He hath a strange cloak and seemeth to be a teacher, and one of those whom men call Christians," said the servant, as he told his tale: "he saith that even now he is pursued and hath endured great persecutions."
"See that he is made welcome," said Alban, "and that he is hidden secretly, and let no man prate of his presence here."
The poor hunted man, who was indeed a Christian priest, was brought in and secretly hidden, as Alban had commanded, and for a while his pursuers sought for him in vain.
Alban knew well how cruel were the tortures and punishments which these Christians endured, and he looked to find his guest stricken with terror and fear, but to his surprise the priest's face was calm and even happy.
"Art thou not afraid that thy persecutors may track thee here?" asked Alban curiously.
"My Master is stronger than they," answered the priest calmly. "He will protect me."
"Who is thy master?" asked Alban wonderingly.
"The Lord Christ," answered the priest.
"That poor man who died the death of a criminal?" said Alban, in a mocking voice.
"The King of Heaven, who deigned to come to earth as a helpless child," answered the priest, "and who became Man that He might teach us to be Men."
"And what reward dost thou receive for thy service to this King?" asked Alban, looking at the worn clothes, the weary thin face of the man before him.
"They who serve Christ have no thought of reward," answered the priest. "Their only thought is how much service they may offer their Master. Stripes, persecutions, tortures, death, these are the rewards which His faithful soldiers gladly suffer, that they may be fit to call Him 'Lord.' Wilt thou listen to the story of my King?"
"These are strange sayings of thine," said Alban, "but I will hear no more. 'Tis almost like a call to battle in my ears, and yet I know it is but foolishness. Be silent; I will have no more of thy idle talk."
Disturbed and angry, Alban turned to go, but all that day the words he had heard rang in his ears. How royally was this King served by His followers! Who was He that could command such splendid service? He had heard of this God of the Christians, but had never troubled himself to learn what His life had been.
Then when night came and he lay sleeping, a dream was sent—a dream which told him the story of the King, which he had refused to hear that day. He saw the Man, crowned with the wreath of thorns; he saw the face of majesty and power gazing so pitifully at the cruel throng who seized Him and nailed Him to the cross. He saw the body laid in the tomb, and then the figure of the living Christ ascending with great glory into heaven. And sweeping upwards, there followed a great multitude in white robes, following Him who had conquered death, for whom they too had laid down their lives.
Early next morning Alban went to the secret chamber to seek the priest and ask what that dream could mean.
"God has been very gracious to thee, my son," answered the priest solemnly. "He has taught thee Himself what thou didst refuse to hear from me."
"Tell me more," said Alban humbly; "I will listen to every word that thou canst tell me now."
With a glad heart the priest told over again the story of his Master's life, and Alban listened eagerly. Again the battle-call sounded in his ears, and he longed to serve a Master such as this.
"But hast thou indeed counted the cost of such a service?" asked the teacher. "It is no pleasant service which He offers."
"I seek no pleasant service," answered Alban.
"A cruel death may be thy only reward," said the priest again. "Dost thou not repent the kindness which made thee harbour a Christian?"
"Nay," replied Alban; "thou hast brought me life instead of death. I have never yet repented of one kind or merciful act which I have done to any man."
Then the priest could no longer refuse to baptize the new soldier into the service of the King; but as they knelt in prayer together the servants came hurriedly to the door telling of a band of soldiers who had entered the courtyard and demanded to search the house for the hidden fugitive.
Alban sprang to his feet, and caught up the heavy cloak and cowl of the priest. "Quick! quick!" he cried, "escape thou in my mantle, and I will stay here in thy place. They will scarce discover who I am until thou hast escaped far away out of their reach."
"How can I do this?" said the priest. "Thou wilt suffer in my stead."
" 'Tis my first call to arms," said Alban gladly. "Let me thus begin to serve the King."
There was no time for words; the soldiers were at the door; but when they entered there was but one cloaked figure there, and he showed no resistance, but quietly gave himself into their hands.
The judge was in the temple, sacrificing to his gods, when they brought the fugitive Christian to receive his sentence. And when the cloak was thrown back and he saw the young Roman noble, he was doubly furious because he had been deceived.
"Thou has hidden a traitor in thy house, and well dost thou deserve to bear his punishment," he cried angrily. "Perhaps thou too art a Christian. Sacrifice at once to the gods, and beg for mercy."
"It is as thou sayest; I am a Christian," answered Alban calmly. "I serve the King of Heaven, and will offer no sacrifice to thy false gods."
There was a note of triumph in the voice of the young Roman, and the people wondered when they saw him standing there so fearless and triumphant. Did he not know what it meant to call himself a Christian? He was young and rich and powerful; all the pleasures of life, gay and alluring, lay spread out before him; all the great things which men strive after lay within his grasp; and yet he was choosing torture, dishonour and death. The wondering "why?" was echoed in every heart.
But there was little time for wonder. The soldiers, by order of the judge, seized Alban and dragged him away to be tortured, and then he was led out to be executed in the arena on the opposite side of the river.
All the inhabitants of the town came out to see the sight, and some looked on with pity, remembering the kindness they had received at the hands of the young Roman noble. Others again came out to mock. How gallant and happy he had always looked. There would surely be no smile on his face now! But when they pressed forward, and caught sight of that pale young face, their mocking words were silenced, and a feeling of awe fell upon the crowd. Yes, the old happy look was there still, but there was something higher and purer added to it. A light of wondrous happiness seemed to shine forth, and the people as they looked felt as did those men who gazed upon Saint Stephen. "They saw his face, as it had been the face of an angel."
Down to the little river they led him; but when they came to the bridge there was no room to pass, for the crowd was so great. The order was given to ford the river, but the legend tells us that before Saint Alban could step down, the stream dried up, and he crossed over, without so much as wetting his feet.
Then the old legend goes on to tell how the executioner, who watched this miracle from the opposite bank, was struck with fear and remorse. How could he put to death a man whom heaven itself so carefully guarded? He would not fight against the God of Alban, so he threw down his sword and refused to touch him.
But Alban walked steadfastly on to the place of execution. Up the grassy slopes of the green hill he went, along the flowery path of scented thyme and golden-eyed daisies, where he had loved to play as a little lad. On this bright June day the hill was starred with flowers, and they seemed indeed a fitting carpet to spread beneath the feet of the first English martyr.
There were other executioners ready to do the bidding of the governor, and there, on the green hillside, the first faithful English soldier in the noble army of martyrs laid down his life.
A clear spring of water, it is said, sprang up to mark the spot where Saint Alban was put to death, near the little town of Verulam which now bears his name; but the miracle was scarcely needed. The memory that sprang from the life laid down in merciful kindness for another, in the service of the King, is a spring of living water that can never fail or be cut off.
T HEY waited patiently for what seemed a very long time, stamping in the snow to keep their feet warm. At last they heard the sound of slow shuffling footsteps approaching the door from the inside. It seemed, as the Mole remarked to the Rat, like some one walking in carpet slippers that were too large for him and down at heel; which was intelligent of Mole, because that was exactly what it was.
There was the noise of a bolt shot back, and the door opened a few inches, enough to show a long snout and a pair of sleepy blinking eyes.
"Now, the very next time this happens," said a gruff and suspicious voice, "I shall be exceedingly angry. Who is it this time, disturbing people on such a night? Speak up!"
"Oh, Badger," cried the Rat, "let us in, please. It's me, Rat, and my friend Mole, and we've lost our way in the snow."
"What, Ratty, my dear little man!" exclaimed the Badger, in quite a different voice. "Come along in, both of you, at once. Why, you must be perished. Well I never! Lost in the snow! And in the Wild Wood, too, and at this time of night! But come in with you."
The two animals tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get inside, and heard the door shut behind them with great joy and relief.
The Badger, who wore a long dressing-gown, and whose slippers were indeed very down at heel, carried a flat candlestick in his paw and had probably been on his way to bed when their summons sounded. He looked kindly down on them and patted both their heads. "This is not the sort of night for small animals to be out," he said paternally. "I'm afraid you've been up to some of your pranks again, Ratty. But come along; come into the kitchen. There's a first-rate fire there, and supper and everything."
He shuffled on in front of them, carrying the light, and they followed him, nudging each other in an anticipating sort of way, down a long, gloomy, and, to tell the truth, decidedly shabby passage, into a sort of a central hall; out of which they could dimly see other long tunnel-like passages branching, passages mysterious and without apparent end. But there were doors in the hall as well—stout oaken comfortable-looking doors. One of these the Badger flung open, and at once they found themselves in all the glow and warmth of a large fire-lit kitchen.
The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney-corners tucked away in the wall, well out of any suspicion of draught. A couple of high-backed settles, facing each other on either side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodations for the sociably disposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger's plain but ample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.
The kindly Badger thrust them down on a settle to toast themselves at the fire, and bade them remove their wet coats and boots. Then he fetched them dressing-gowns and slippers, and himself bathed the Mole's shin with warm water and mended the cut with sticking-plaster, till the whole thing was just as good as new, if not better. In the embracing light and warmth, warm and dry at last, with weary legs propped up in front of them, and a suggestive clink of plates being arranged on the table behind, it seemed to the storm-driven animals, now in safe anchorage, that the cold and trackless Wild Wood just left outside was miles and miles away, and all that they had suffered in it a half-forgotten dream.
When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to the table, where he had been busy laying a repast. They had felt pretty hungry before, but when they actually saw at last the supper that was spread for them, really it seemed only a question of what they should attack first where all was so attractive, and whether the other things would obligingly wait for them till they had time to give them attention. Conversation was impossible for a long time; and when it was slowly resumed, it was that regrettable sort of conversation that results from talking with your mouth full. The Badger did not mind that sort of thing at all, nor did he take any notice of elbows on the table, or everybody speaking at once. As he did not go into Society himself, he had got an idea that these things belonged to the things that didn't really matter. (We know of course that he was wrong, and took too narrow a view; because they do matter very much, though it would take too long to explain why.) He sat in his arm-chair at the head of the table, and nodded gravely at intervals as the animals told their story; and he did not seem surprised or shocked at anything, and he never said, "I told you so," or, "Just what I always said," or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to have done something else. The Mole began to feel very friendly towards him.
When supper was really finished at last, and each animal felt that his skin was now as tight as was decently safe, and that by this time he didn't care a hang for anybody or anything, they gathered round the glowing embers of the great wood fire, and thought how jolly it was to be sitting up so late, and so independent, and so full; and after they had chatted for a time about things in general, the Badger said heartily, "Now then! tell us the news from your part of the world. How's old Toad going on?"
"Oh, from bad to worse," said the Rat gravely, while the Mole, cocked up on a settle and basking in the firelight, his heels higher than his head, tried to look properly mournful. "Another smash-up only last week, and a bad one. You see, he will insist on driving himself, and he's hopelessly incapable. If he'd only employ a decent, steady, well-trained animal, pay him good wages, and leave everything to him, he'd get on all right. But no; he's convinced he's a heaven-born driver, and nobody can teach him anything; and all the rest follows."
"How many has he had?" inquired the Badger gloomily.
"Smashes, or machines?" asked the Rat. "Oh, well, after all, it's the same thing—with Toad. This is the seventh. As for the others—you know that coach-house of his? Well, it's piled up—literally piled up to the roof—with fragments of motor-cars, none of them bigger than your hat! That accounts for the other six—so far as they can be accounted for."
"He's been in hospital three times," put in the Mole; "and as for the fines he's had to pay, it's simply awful to think of."
"Yes, and that's part of the trouble," continued the Rat. "Toad's rich, we all know; but he's not a millionaire. And he's a hopelessly bad driver, and quite regardless of law and order. Killed or ruined—it's got to be one of the two things, sooner or later. Badger! we're his friends—oughtn't we to do something?"
The Badger went through a bit of hard thinking. "Now look here!" he said at last, rather severely; "of course you know I can't do anything now?"
His two friends assented, quite understanding his point. No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter. All are sleepy—some actually asleep. All are weather-bound, more or less; and all are resting from arduous days and nights, during which every muscle in them has been severely tested, and every energy kept at full stretch.
"Very well then!" continued the Badger. "But, when once the year has really
turned, and the nights are shorter, and halfway through them one rouses and
feels fidgety and wanting to be up and doing by sunrise, if not
Both animals nodded gravely. They knew!
"Well, then," went on the Badger, "we—that is, you and me and our friend the Mole here—we'll take Toad seriously in hand. We'll stand no nonsense whatever. We'll bring him back to reason, by force if need be. We'll make him be a sensible Toad. We'll—you're asleep, Rat!"
"Not me!" said the Rat, waking up with a jerk.
"He's been asleep two or three times since supper," said the Mole, laughing. He himself was feeling quite wakeful and even lively, though he didn't know why. The reason was, of course, that he being naturally an underground animal by birth and breeding, the situation of Badger's house exactly suited him and made him feel at home; while the Rat, who slept every night in a bedroom the windows of which opened on a breezy river, naturally felt the atmosphere still and oppressive.
"Well, it's time we were all in bed," said the Badger, getting up and fetching flat candlesticks. "Come along, you two, and I'll show you your quarters. And take your time tomorrow morning—breakfast at any hour you please!"
He conducted the two animals to a long room that seemed half bedchamber and half loft. The Badger's winter stores, which indeed were visible everywhere, took up half the room—piles of apples, turnips, and potatoes, baskets full of nuts, and jars of honey; but the two little white beds on the remainder of the floor looked soft and inviting, and the linen on them, though coarse, was clean and smelt beautifully of lavender; and the Mole and the Water Rat, shaking off their garments in some thirty seconds, tumbled in between the sheets in great joy and contentment.
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong
That it can follow the flight of song?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.