WEEK 37 |
T HERE was much expectation and preparation about the house on the following evening, and it was easy to see that the lady who was coming was one whose opinion was highly thought of, and for whom everybody had a great respect. Tinette had a new white cap on her head, and Sebastian collected all the footstools he could find and placed them in convenient spots, so that the lady might find one ready to her feet whenever she chose to sit. Fraülein Rottenmeier went about surveying everything, very upright and dignified, as if to show that though a rival power was expected, her own authority was not going to be extinguished.
And now the carriage came driving up to the door, and Tinette and Sebastian ran down the steps, followed with a slower and more stately step by the lady, who advanced to greet the guest. Heidi had been sent up to her room and ordered to remain there until called down, as the grandmother would certainly like to see Clara alone first. Heidi sat herself down in a corner and repeated her instructions over to herself. She had not to wait long before Tinette put her head in and said abruptly, "Go downstairs into the study."
Heidi had not dared to ask Fraülein Rottenmeier again how she was to address the grandmother: she thought the lady had perhaps made a mistake, for she had never heard any one called by other than their right name. As she opened the study door she heard a kind voice say, "Ah, here comes the child! Come along in and let me have a good look at you."
Heidi walked up to her and said very distinctly in her clear voice, "Good-evening," and then wishing to follow her instructions called her what would be in English "Mrs. Madam."
"Well!" said the grandmother, laughing, "is that how they address people in your home on the mountain?"
"No," replied Heidi gravely, "I never knew any one with that name before."
"Nor I either," laughed the grandmother again as she patted Heidi's cheek. "Never mind! when I am with the children I am always grandmamma; you won't forget that name, will you?"
"No, no," Heidi assured her, "I often used to say it at home."
"I understand," said the grandmother, with a cheerful little nod of the head. Then she looked more closely at Heidi, giving another nod from time to time, and the child looked back at her with steady, serious eyes, for there was something kind and warm-hearted about this newcomer that pleased Heidi, and indeed everything to do with the grandmother attracted her, so that she could not turn her eyes away. She had such beautiful white hair, and two long lace ends hung down from the cap on her head and waved gently about her face every time she moved, as if a soft breeze were blowing round her, which gave Heidi a peculiar feeling of pleasure.
"And what is your name, child?" the grandmother now asked.
"I am always called Heidi; but as I am now to be called
Adelaide, I will try and take
"Frau Sesemann will no doubt agree with me," she interrupted, "that it was necessary to choose a name that could be pronounced easily, if only for the sake of the servants."
"My worthy Rottenmeier," replied Frau Sesemann, "if a person is called 'Heidi' and has grown accustomed to that name, I call her by the same, and so let it be."
Fraülein Rottenmeier was always very much annoyed that the old lady continually addressed her by her surname only; but it was no use minding, for the grandmother always went her own way, and so there was no help for it. Moreover the grandmother was a keen old lady, and had all her five wits about her, and she knew what was going on in the house as soon as she entered it.
When on the following day Clara lay down as usual on her couch after dinner, the grandmother sat down beside her for a few minutes and closed her eyes, then she got up again as lively as ever, and trotted off into the dining-room. No one was there. "She is asleep, I suppose," she said to herself, and then going up to Fraülein Rottenmeier's room she gave a loud knock at the door. She waited a few minutes and then Fraülein Rottenmeier opened the door and drew back in surprise at this unexpected visit.
"Where is the child, and what is she doing all this time? That is what I came to ask," said Frau Sesemann.
"She is sitting in her room, where she could well employ herself if she had the least idea of making herself useful; but you have no idea, Frau Sesemann, of the out-of-the-way things this child imagines and does, things which I could hardly repeat in good society."
"I should do the same if I had to sit in there like that child, I can tell you; I doubt if you would then like to repeat what I did, in good society! Go and fetch the child and bring her to my room; I have some pretty books with me that I should like to give her."
"That is just the misfortune," said Fraülein Rottenmeier with a despairing gesture, "what use are books to her? She has not been able to learn her A B C even, all the long time she has been here; it is quite impossible to get the least idea of it into her head, and that the tutor himself will tell you; if he had not the patience of an angel he would have given up teaching her long ago."
"That is very strange," said Frau Sesemann, "she does not look to me like a child who would be unable to learn her alphabet. However, bring her now to me, she can at least amuse herself with the pictures in the books."
Fraülein Rottenmeier was prepared with some further remarks, but the grandmother had turned away and gone quickly towards her own room. She was surprised at what she had been told about Heidi's incapacity for learning, and determined to find out more concerning this matter, not by inquiries from the tutor, however, although she esteemed him highly for his uprightness of character; she had always a friendly greeting for him, but always avoided being drawn into conversation with him, for she found his style of talk somewhat wearisome.
Heidi now appeared and gazed with open-eyed delight and wonder at the beautiful colored pictures in the books which the grandmother gave her to look at. All of a sudden, as the latter turned over one of the pages to a fresh picture, the child gave a cry. For a moment or two she looked at it with brightening eyes, then the tears began to fall, and at last she burst into sobs. The grandmother looked at the picture—it represented a green pasture, full of young animals, some grazing and others nibbling at the shrubs. In the middle was a shepherd leaning upon his staff and looking on at his happy flock. The whole scene was bathed in golden light, for the sun was just sinking below the horizon.
The grandmother laid her hand kindly on Heidi's. "Don't cry, dear child, don't cry," she said, "the picture has reminded you perhaps of something. But see, there is a beautiful tale to the picture which I will tell you this evening. And there are other nice tales of all kinds to read and to tell again. But now we must have a little talk together, so dry your tears and come and stand in front of me, so that I may see you well—there, now we are happy again."
But it was some little time before Heidi could overcome her sobs. The grandmother gave her time to recover herself, saying cheering words to her now and then, "There, it's all right now, and we are quite happy again."
When at last she saw that Heidi was growing calmer, she said, "Now I want you to tell me something. How are you getting on in your school-time; do you like your lessons, and have you learnt a great deal?"
"O no!" replied Heidi, sighing, "but I knew beforehand that it was not possible to learn."
"What is it you think impossible to learn?"
"Why, to read, it is too difficult."
"You don't say so! and who told you that?"
"Peter told me, and he knew all about it, for he had tried and tried and could not learn it."
"Peter must be a very odd boy then! But listen, Heidi, we must not always go by what Peter says, we must try for ourselves. I am certain that you did not give all your attention to the tutor when he was trying to teach you your letters."
"It's of no use," said Heidi in the tone of one who was ready to endure what could not be cured.
"Listen to what I have to say," continued the grandmother. "You have not been able to learn your alphabet because you believed what Peter said; but now you must believe what I tell you—and I tell you that you can learn to read in a very little while, as many other children do, who are made like you and not like Peter. And now hear what comes after—you see that picture with the shepherd and the animals—well, as soon as you are able to read you shall have that book for your own, and then you will know all about the sheep and the goats, and what the shepherd did, and the wonderful things that happened to him, just as if some one were telling you the whole tale. You will like to hear about all that, won't you?"
Heidi had listened with eager attention to the grandmother's words and now with a sigh exclaimed, "Oh, if only I could read now!"
"It won't take you long now to learn, that I can see; and now we must go down to Clara; bring the books with you." And hand in hand the two returned to the study.
Since the day when Heidi had so longed to go home, and Fraülein Rottenmeier had met her and scolded her on the steps, and told her how wicked and ungrateful she was to try and run away, and what a good thing it was that Herr Sesemann knew nothing about it, a change had come over the child. She had at last understood that day that she could not go home when she wished as Dete had told her, but that she would have to stay on in Frankfurt for a long, long time, perhaps for ever. She had also understood that Herr Sesemann would think it ungrateful of her if she wished to leave, and she believed that the grandmother and Clara would think the same. So there was nobody to whom she dared confide her longing to go home, for she would not for the world have given the grandmother, who was so kind to her, any reason for being as angry with her as Fraülein Rottenmeier had been. But the weight of trouble on the little heart grew heavier and heavier; she could no longer eat her food, and every day she grew a little paler. She lay awake for long hours at night, for as soon as she was alone and everything was still around her, the picture of the mountain with its sunshine and flowers rose vividly before her eyes; and when at last she fell asleep it was to dream of the rocks and the snowfield turning crimson in the evening light, and waking in the morning she would think herself back at the hut and prepare to run joyfully out into—the sun—and then—there was her large bed, and here she was in Frankfurt far, far away from home. And Heidi would often lay her face down on the pillow and weep long and quietly so that no one might hear her.
Heidi's unhappiness did not escape the grandmother's notice. She let some days go by to see if the child grew brighter and lost her downcast appearance. But as matters did not mend, and she saw that many mornings Heidi had evidently been crying before she came downstairs, she took her again into her room one day, and drawing the child to her said, "Now tell me, Heidi, what is the matter; are you in trouble?"
But Heidi, afraid if she told the truth that the grandmother would think her ungrateful, and would then leave off being so kind to her, answered, "I can't tell you."
"Well, could you tell Clara about it?"
"Oh, no, I cannot tell any one," said Heidi in so positive a tone, and with a look of such trouble on her face, that the grandmother felt full of pity for the child.
"Then, dear child, let me tell you what to do: you know that when we are in great trouble, and cannot speak about it to anybody, we must turn to God and pray Him to help, for He can deliver us from every care, that oppresses us. You understand that, do you not? You say your prayers every evening to the dear God in Heaven, and thank Him for all He has done for you, and pray Him to keep you from all evil, do you not?"
"No, I never say any prayers," answered Heidi.
"Have you never been taught to pray, Heidi; do you not know even what it means?"
"I used to say prayers with the first grandmother, but that is a long time ago, and I have forgotten them."
"That is the reason, Heidi, that you are so unhappy, because you know no one who can help you. Think what a comfort it is when the heart is heavy with grief to be able at any moment to go and tell everything to God, and pray Him for the help that no one else can give us. And He can help us and give us everything that will make us happy again."
A sudden gleam of joy came into Heidi's eyes. "May I tell Him everything, everything?"
"Yes, everything, Heidi, everything."
Heidi drew her hand away, which the grandmother was holding affectionately between her own, and said quickly, "May I go?"
"Yes, of course," was the answer, and Heidi ran out of the room into her own, and sitting herself on a stool, folded her hands together and told God about everything that was making her so sad and unhappy, and begged Him earnestly to help her and to let her go home to her grandfather.
It was about a week after this that the tutor asked Frau Sesemann's permission for an interview with her, as he wished to inform her of a remarkable thing that had come to pass. So she invited him to her room, and as he entered she held out her hand in greeting, and pushing a chair towards him, "I am pleased to see you," she said, "pray sit down and tell me what brings you here; nothing bad, no complaints, I hope?"
"Quite the reverse," began the tutor. "Something has happened
that I had given up hoping for, and which no one, knowing what
has gone before, could have guessed, for, according to
all expectations, that which has taken place could only be looked
upon as a miracle, and yet it really has come to pass and in the
most extraordinary manner, quite contrary to all that one could
"Has the child Heidi really learnt to read at last?" put in Frau Sesemann.
The tutor looked at the lady in speechless astonishment. At last he spoke again. "It is indeed truly marvellous, not only because she never seemed able to learn her A B C, even after all my full explanations, and after spending unusual pains upon her, but because now she has learnt it so rapidly, just after I had made up my mind to make no further attempts at the impossible but to put the letters as they were before her without any dissertation on their origin and meaning, and now she has as you might say learnt her letters over night, and started at once to read correctly, quite unlike most beginners. And it is almost as astonishing to me that you should have guessed such an unlikely thing."
"Many unlikely things happen in life," said Frau Sesemann with a pleased smile. "Two things coming together may produce a happy result, as for instance, a fresh zeal for learning and a new method of teaching, and neither does any harm. We can but rejoice that the child has made such a good start and hope for her future progress."
After parting with the tutor she went down to the study to make sure of the good news. There, sure enough, was Heidi, sitting beside Clara and reading aloud to her, evidently herself very much surprised, and growing more and more delighted with the new world that was now open to her as the black letters grew alive and turned into men and things and exciting stories. That same evening Heidi found the large book with the beautiful pictures lying on her plate when she took her place at table, and when she looked questioningly at the grandmother, the latter nodded kindly to her and said, "Yes, it's yours now."
"Mine, to keep always? even when I go home?" said, Heidi, blushing with pleasure.
"Yes, of course, yours forever," the grandmother assured her. "To-morrow we will begin to read it."
"But you are not going home yet, Heidi, not for years," put in Clara. "When grandmother goes away, I shall want you to stay on with me."
When, Heidi went to her room that night she had another look at her book before going to bed, and from that day forth her chief pleasure was to read the tales which belonged to the beautiful pictures over and over again. If the grandmother said, as they were sitting together in the evening, "Now Heidi will read aloud to us," Heidi was delighted, for reading was no trouble to her now, and when she read the tales aloud the scenes seemed to grow more beautiful and distinct, and then grandmother would explain and tell her more about them still.
Still the picture she liked best was the one of the shepherd leaning on his staff with his flock around him in the midst of the green pasture, for he was now at home and happy, following his father's sheep and goats. Then came the picture where he was seen far away from his father's house, obliged to look after the swine, and he had grown pale and thin from the husks which were all he had to eat. Even the sun seemed here to be less bright and everything looked gray and misty. But there was the third picture still to this tale: here was the old father with outstretched arms running to meet and embrace his returning and repentant son, who was advancing timidly, worn out and emaciated and clad in a ragged coat. That was Heidi's favorite tale, which she read over and over again, aloud and to herself, and she was never tired of hearing the grandmother explain it to her and Clara. But there were other tales in the book besides, and what with reading and looking at the pictures the days passed quickly away, and the time drew near for the grandmother to return home.
O NE day John Randolph, of Roanoke, set out on horseback to ride to a town that was many miles from his home. The road was strange to him, and he traveled very slowly.
When night came on he stopped at a pleasant roadside inn and asked for lodging. The innkeeper welcomed him kindly. He had often heard of the great John Randolph, and therefore he did all that he could to entertain him well.
A fine supper was prepared, and the innkeeper himself waited upon his guest. John Randolph ate in silence. The innkeeper spoke of the weather, of the roads, of the crops, of politics. But his surly guest said scarcely a word.
In the morning a good breakfast was served, and then Mr. Randolph made ready to start on his journey. He called for his bill and paid it. His horse was led to the door, and a servant helped him to mount it.
As he was starting away, the friendly innkeeper said, "Which way will
Mr. Randolph looked at him in no gentle way, and answered, "Sir!"
"I only asked which way you intend to travel," said the man.
"Oh! have I paid you my bill?"
"Do I owe you anything more?"
"Then, I intend to travel the way I wish to go—do you understand?"
He turned his horse and rode away. He had not gone farther than to the
end of the innkeeper's field, when to his surprise he found that the
road forked. He did not know whether he should take the
He paused for a while. There was no signboard to help him. He looked
back and saw the innkeeper still standing by the door. He called to
"My friend, which of these roads shall I travel to go to Lynchburg?"
"Mr. Randolph," answered the innkeeper, "you have paid your bill and
don't owe me a cent. Travel the way you wish to go.
As bad luck would have it, Mr. Randolph took the wrong road. He went far out of his way and lost much time, all on account of his surliness.
John Randolph, of Roanoke, lived in Virginia one hundred years ago.
He was famous as a lawyer and statesman. He was a member of Congress
for many years, and was noted for his odd manners and strong
Here's a lyric for September,
Best of all months to remember;
Month when summer breezes tell
What has happened, wood and dell,
Of the joy the year has brought,
And the changes she has wrought.
She has turned the verdure red;
In the blue sky overhead,
She the harvest moon has hung,
Like a silver boat among
Shoals of stars—bright jewels set
In the earth's blue coronet;
She has brought the orchard's fruit
To repay the robin's flute
Which has gladdened half the year
With a music liquid, clear;
And she makes the meadow grass
Catch the sunbeams as they pass,
Till the autumn's floor is rolled
With a fragrant cloth of gold.
WEEK 37 |
W HEN King John died, the anger of the barons died too, and, although he was only nine years old, they chose his son Henry to be their King. "His father was wicked," said the barons, "but the prince has done us no wrong. Why should we be angry with him?" So they crowned Henry, and told Louis to return to his own country.
But Louis was angry that, having been brought from France and promised the crown of England, he should be told to go away again. He would not go. So there was fighting once more.
Louis sent to France for men, and a great fleet of ships, filled with soldiers, came sailing to England.
Long ago, you remember, Alfred the Great had seen how much better it would be to stop the Danes from landing at all, and he built ships and fought them at sea.
Now a brave man called Hubert de Burgh saw the same thing. When he heard that more Frenchmen were coming, he said, "We will never let them land. We will fight and conquer them at sea." So under his command a brave little English fleet sailed out from Dover to meet the great French fleet.
And the English conquered the French, as Hubert had said they would. The wind was blowing from the English to the French, and the English threw quicklime in the air, which was blown into the eyes of the French and blinded them. The English archers then poured arrows among them while their quick little ships crashed with their pointed prows against the great French vessels, piercing holes in their sides until the water rushed in and they sank. The English were altogether so quick and fearless that the French were no match for them, and their fleet was utterly destroyed.
On land, too, the English beat the French, and Louis, seeing that his cause was lost, went back to France.
But in spite of his good and wise teacher Henry grew up to be neither good nor wise. Listening to the advice of evil friends, he treated Hubert very badly and at last obliged him to fly for his life.
One night while Hubert was sleeping quietly, he was suddenly awakened by a friend. "Fly, my Lord Hubert," he cried, "stay not a moment. The King has sent his soldiers to take you. I have ridden hard, but they are close behind me. You have not a moment to lose."
Hubert got out of bed and, not even waiting to dress, fled with bare feet and only a cloak round him to the nearest church. There, with his hand upon the cross, he waited in the dark and cold.
Hubert fled to a church for sanctuary or safety. When any one was hunted by his enemies, if he ran into a church, reached the altar steps and laid hold upon the cross, no one dared to hurt him. This was called "taking sanctuary."
It was considered a dreadful and wicked thing to kill any one in sanctuary. Yet, you remember, the knights killed Thomas à Becket on the steps of the altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
Hubert waited in the cold and silent church until, with the first grey streaks of dawn and the first early twitter of the birds, he heard the distant tramp of feet and the clatter of swords and armour. Nearer and nearer came the sounds till at last a knight, followed by three hundred armed men, dashed into the church.
"Hubert de Burgh," said the knight, "In the King's name I command you to leave this holy place. Give yourself into my hands, that I may take you before the King to answer for your misdeeds as a rebel and a traitor."
"Nay," replied Hubert, "to my King have I ever been true, but he has listened to false friends who would take my life. Here have I sought God's safety. Here will I remain."
"That shalt thou not do," cried the knight, fiercely. "On, men, and seize him!"
Then the armed men rushed forward, forced Hubert from the altar, and carried him out of the church.
"He is indeed a mighty man and strong," said the knight, when he saw how Hubert struggled. "He must be fettered, or we shall never carry our prize to London."
Near the church stood a smith's forge, and the smith, who had been already aroused by the noise, was ordered to light his fire and make fetters for the prisoner.
Soon the red fire glowed in the grey morning light, and the ring of hammer and anvil was heard.
"For whom do I make these fetters?" asked the smith, as he paused in his work.
"For the traitor and rebel, Hubert de Burgh," replied the knight.
"What!" cried the smith, throwing down his hammer, "for Hubert de Burgh. That will I never do. Hubert de Burgh is no rebel. He saved us from the French, he gave us safety and peace. Some one else may do your evil deeds. No iron of mine shall ever fetter such noble hands."
"Fool!" cried the knight, drawing his sword, "do as I command you or die."
"I can die," replied the smith calmly. "Yes, kill me, do with me what you like; I will never make fetters for Hubert de Burgh."
When the smith spoke like this, the knight began to feel rather ashamed, but he would not let Hubert go, both because he hated Hubert, and because he feared the King. So he and his followers bound Hubert with a rope, set him upon a horse, and took him to the Tower of London.
When the Bishop of London heard what had happened, he was very angry. Being a brave man he went straight to the King.
"My liege," he said to him, "have you heard how your soldiers have broken the peace of holy Church and have dragged Hubert de Burgh from sanctuary, casting him into prison?"
"I know that the rebel and traitor, Hubert de Burgh, is now in prison," replied Henry.
"Hubert de Burgh is no rebel," said the bishop, "and if he were, the soldiers have still no right to drag him from the safety of the Church. Let him go back, or I shall excommunicate every man who has had to do with it."
Very unwillingly the King allowed Hubert to go back to his place of safety. But he sent soldiers to dig a trench round the church and round the bishop's house which was close to it. There the soldiers watched day and night so that Hubert might not escape, and so that no food might be taken in to him.
But in spite of the strict watch kept by the soldiers, Hubert's friends found means to send him food, and for many days he lived in the church. Then still closer watch was kept and, at last, thinking it a disgrace to die of hunger, Hubert left the church of his own accord, and gave himself up to the King's soldiers, who at once carried him off to the Tower of London.
There he was kept for some time, but at last Henry, who was not really cruel, although he was weak and foolish, set him free. After that, Hubert lived quietly in his own home, and took no more part in the ruling of the kingdom.
T HE latest of the yellow pond-lilies had gone to seed. Rana, the frog, had stopped hunting for the season. Most of the pond was frozen over. The only open place was near the bubbling spring.
In spite of the cold, however, guests still came to Holiday Pond. The dusky ducks paddled happily about near the spring. They drank some of the icy water without a shiver. They poked their heads under the edge of the ice and pulled up some chilly stems of arrowhead for an early breakfast, and it tasted good to them. Then they flew to the sea, where they swam and hunted until they were thirsty again for fresh spring water.
The dusky duck poked his head under the edge of the ice and pulled up some chilly stems for breakfast.
It was not only in winter that the dusky ducks came to Holiday Pond. They were there at other seasons, too. Indeed, two of them, old Drake and Duck Anas, had begun to stop there for meals in April.
That was after they had been badly frightened at Reedy Lake, a few miles away. They had been visiting that large lake during March and early April; but one morning about sunrise they heard a sudden frightening noise. At the same moment they caught sight of an unpleasant man with a gun.
They flew up swiftly, almost as if they had jumped quite high into the air. Both Drake and Duck Anas said "Quack" several times rather quickly and in scared tones. As they flew they showed the silvery white linings of their wings.
After they had gone several miles, they looked down and saw Holiday Pond. The water was still and peaceful in the early morning. Nothing seemed to be stirring except a small flock of ducks that had come down from Holiday Farm for a breakfast swim. The farm ducks were so contented and unafraid that Drake and Duck Anas stopped near them for company.
The dusky ducks did not look like the farm ducks. They were dark brown, with streaky buff-colored heads and necks. Their wings each had a black-bordered patch of beautiful violet-blue feathers near one edge.
Although the dusky ducks came often to Holiday Pond after that, the people at the farm seldom saw them. These ducks were timid and visited the pond only when it was quiet. Early in the morning before dawn, evenings, and moonlight nights were the times they chose.
Late in April, Duck Anas hid herself in a brushy corner of Holiday Pasture. The pasture was next to the woods, and some old trees had fallen across one corner during a heavy windstorm. Their trunks made a sort of fence, past which the cows could not crowd. Some bushes had grown in a thick mass around a stump. On one side of the stump was a sheltered little hollow. It was in this hollow that Duck Anas chose to hide.
She stayed there almost a month. When she was very hungry, she crept to a place where some tender, juicy weeds were growing. Sometimes she was thirsty, and then she would go quietly to the little brook in a bog not far away.
Old Drake knew where she was, but he was careful to keep her secret, and not even Lotor, the coon, saw him when he went to visit Duck Anas.
The hollow where the dusky duck sat night and day for four weeks was lined with dry grass and leaves. There was a soft, warm layer of downy feathers, too, and on the down were ten eggs. The eggs were almost cream-colored, with just a tinge of pale green.
The ducklings inside the shells kept their mother waiting about twenty-eight days before they were hatched. But after they had broken their shells and dried their first, fluffy down, they did not keep her many hours at the nest. They were ready to go with her when she spoke softly to them and started for a walk.
Like their mother, the young ducks all had a queer way of walking. They were boat-shaped, and their legs were back under their bodies not far from their tails. Their three front toes were connected with flaps or webs of skin, so that their feet were rather like paddles.
Their bodies were, indeed, better shaped for swimming than for walking, and it is not surprising that Duck Anas led them to water. When they came to the first pool in the bog, they went into it and began to swim. They did not need to be taught how. For some time they lived contentedly in the pools and the brook. When they were frightened, they hid among the clumps of grass and sedges.
There were so many wrigglers, or young mosquitoes, in the bog pools that the man who owned Holiday Farm thought that he might need to drain the bog to get rid of them. But the dusky ducks liked to eat wrigglers, and they feasted on thousands and thousands of them, so that there were not so many mosquitoes as usual that spring. Those wrigglers that did escape the ducks and become mosquitoes flew into the air, where the swallows were waiting for them. So the bog did not need to be drained at all.
Wrigglers were not the only meat the ducklings ate. Many kinds of water insects were caught in their flat, broad bills. Flies that came down to the water plants were quickly grabbed and swallowed. Aphids that crowded thickly on arrowhead and pond-lily stems made many a luncheon for the ducks. That was one reason why there were not more aphids to fly to the plum trees in the fall. So it was that the wild ducks helped take care of the fruit in the orchard.
Sometimes Duck and Drake Anas led their young ones away from the brook to jolly moonlight picnics on land. At such times they lunched on grasshoppers and crickets and beetles. Now and then they ate cutworms.
The dusky ducks liked green salads, and they gathered them fresh. One minute a tender, juicy plant would be growing beside the brook, and the next minute it would be slipping out of sight in a duck's bill.
When the plants were old enough to have seeds, the ducks feasted on those. As twenty thousand seeds make only a fair-sized meal for a duck, you can guess what became of a lot of the seeds of smartweeds and sedges that summer.
You may think, too, that it was very fortunate for Drake and Duck Anas that they did not need to gather food for the ducklings. It would have been a hard summer for the old ducks if those ten greedy young ones could not have gathered their own food.
The ducklings needed care in other ways, however. Their father and mother led them into the safest places they knew, and they taught them to be more and more timid.
One day in the spring, while they were still very young, they heard shouts near them in the bog. Two boys from Holiday Farm were hunting for pitcher-plants. Duck Anas said "Quack" to the young ones in a tone that meant "Hide." Then she went away and left her babies.
But she did not go high into the air and fly quickly, as she did that day when the man at Reedy Lake tried to shoot her. She flew slowly, in a tumbly way, as if she had a broken wing. She fluttered very close to the ground.
"Look," said one of the boys, "there's a wild duck, and it has been hurt. Let's catch it and see if Uncle can mend its wing." So the boys tried to catch Duck Anas. They ran until they were out of breath, and the mother duck kept just a little ahead of them all the time. Then, after they had gone a long way, Duck Anas lifted her strong wings and flew rapidly out of sight.
Then the boys laughed. They had seen other birds do that same trick. They said: "She fooled us all right. She led us away from that place in the bog. She must be a mother duck. Probably there is a brood of young ones in the brook. Let's go back and find them."
They hunted and hunted, but they did not catch a glimpse of a duckling. Each little bird had obeyed the mother's "Quack" and had hidden among the clumps of sedges.
After the boys had given up the search and gone home, Duck Anas slipped quietly into the water. She said "Quack" softly and in a tone that meant "Come." One by one the little ducks left their sedges and gathered around their mother. They had a glad, safe feeling. The boys from the farm would have done them no harm, but they did not know that. All dusky ducks must grow to be very, very timid, and they were learning how.
Although the young ones could walk and swim even while they were in their first suits of down, they could not fly until their wings had grown large and strong. By August, however, they no longer needed to be left behind, hiding among the sedges, when Drake and Duck Anas went for long flights. They could go too.
One day in September the whole Anas family flew together to Holiday Cove. After the young ducks had had their first swim in the sea, they felt hungry. So they had a shore-dinner.
There were snails in little pools left when the tide went out. And there were blue mussels, too, among the pebbles. It was fun for the ducks to break the shells that covered such food. They did not need any nutcrackers to help them. Their flat bills were strong enough. For a salad they ate plenty of eelgrass.
As the weather grew colder in the fall, the Anas family spent more and more time at the cove and on the sea. They often met other dusky ducks swimming over and between the ocean waves. Sometimes they joined large flocks of them.
Whenever the ducks were thirsty, they sought fresh water. Sea water was too salty for them to drink. For a while they visited the streams at night, when no people were near. But in time the streams were frozen over. Then Drake and Duck Anas remembered the bubbling spring at Holiday Pond. They had been there to drink the winter before. So they led the way, and others of the flock followed.
One bitterly cold night when the ducks visited the pond, they found that the ice had crept to all sides of the spring and nearly covered it. The pond lay still under a thick blanket of new snow. There was only a little spot where there was open water, and the ducks crowded and pushed each other to reach it. The ice at the edge was thin and broke under their weight. They drank and drank. Would even this little spot be frozen over next time they came?
Holiday Pond lay under a thick blanket of snow.
The next day the man of Holiday Farm happened to pass the pond. He saw the tracks of the ducks. He noticed how their webbed feet had packed the snow on the ice about the spring. He looked at the smoke curling up from his own comfortable home. He felt safe, with shelter and warmth and food and water. Then he looked again at the tracks on the pond. Little points of ice were reaching into the few inches of clear water about the spring. The wind was blowing from the north.
The man turned suddenly away from the pond. He went to his woodshed and came back with an ax and a shovel. He shoveled the snow away from all sides of the spring. He broke the ice back for several feet and pushed it out of the way on the shore.
That evening he came and stood by some cedar trees near the pond. Soon he heard a sound of wings in the air and then a splash of water at the spring. He smiled and went quietly back to his fireside. He could enjoy the comforts of his home better because the dusky ducks were quenching their thirst.
O holy virgin! clad in purest white,
Unlock heav'n's golden gates, and issue forth;
Awake the dawn that sleeps in heaven; let light
Rise from the chambers of the east, and bring
The honied dew that cometh on waking day.
O radiant morning, salute the sun,
Roused like a huntsman to the chase; and, with
Thy buskined feet, appear upon our hills.
WEEK 37 |
"W HO remembers the name of the order to which all members of the Deer family belong?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"I remember what it means, but not the name," spoke up
"Ungulata," Old Mother Nature finished for him. "And
"Thunderfoot is more closely related to Bossy,
Farmer Brown's Cow,
than are the members of the Deer family, for he has true horns, not
antlers. These are hollow and are not dropped each year, but are
carried through life.
"Thunderfoot is a great, heavy fellow the size of Farmer Brown's Ox, and has a great hump on his shoulders. He carries his head low and from his throat hangs a great beard. His head is large and is so covered with thick, curly hair that it appears much larger than it really is. His tail is rather short and ends in a tassel of hair. The hair on his body and hind quarters is short and light brown, but on his shoulders and neck and his fore legs to the knees it is long and shaggy, dark brown above and almost black below."
"He must be a queer looking fellow," spoke up Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
"He is," replied Old Mother Nature. "The front half of him looks so much bigger than the rear half that it almost seems as if they didn't belong together."
"What does he eat?" asked Jumper the Hare.
"Grass," replied Old Mother Nature promptly. "He grazes just as does Bossy. When the weather becomes hot his thick coat, although much of it has been shed, becomes most uncomfortable. Also he is tormented by flies. Then he delights in rolling in mud until he is plastered with it from head to feet.
"Many years ago there were more Bison than any other large animal in this country, and they were found in nearly all parts of it. Some lived in the woods and were called Wood Buffaloes, but the greatest number lived on the great plains and prairies, where the grass was plentiful. I have told you about the great herd of Barren Ground Caribou, but this is nothing to the great herds of Bison that used to move north or south, according to the season, across the great prairies. In the fall they moved south. In the spring they moved north, following the new grass as it appeared. When they galloped, the noise of their feet was like thunder.
"But the hunters with terrible guns came and killed them for their
skins, killed them by hundreds of thousands, and in just a few years
those great herds became only a memory. Thunderfoot, once Lord of
the Prairies, was driven out of all his great kingdom, and the Bison,
from being the most numerous of all large animals, is
"A close neighbor of Thunderfoot's in the days when he was Lord of the Prairies was Fleetfoot the Antelope. Fleetfoot is about the size of a small Deer, and in his graceful appearance reminds one of Lightfoot, for he has the same trim body and long slim legs. He is built for speed and looks it. From just a glance at him you would know him for a runner just as surely as a look at Jumper the Hare would tell you that he must travel in great bounds. The truth is, Fleetfoot is the fastest runner among all my children in this country. Not one can keep up with him in a race.
Unless rigidly protected this beautiful animal will soon become extinct.
"Fleetfoot's coat is a light yellowish-brown on the back and white
underneath. His forehead is brown and the sides of his face white.
His throat and under side of his neck are white, crossed by two bands
of brown. His hoofs, horns and eyes are black, and there is a black
spot under each ear. Near the end of his nose he is also black, and
down the back of his neck is a black line of stiff longer hairs. A
large white patch surrounds his short tail. Who remembers what I
told you about Antelope Jack, the big
"I do!" cried Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare together.
"What was it, Jumper?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"You said that he has a way of making the white of his sides seem to grow so that he seems almost all white, and can signal his friends in this way," replied Jumper.
"Quite right," replied Old Mother Nature. "I am glad to find that you remember so well. Fleetfoot does the same thing with this white patch around his tail. The hairs are quite long and he can make them spread out so that that white patch becomes much larger, and when he is running it can be seen flashing in the sun long after he is so far away that nothing else of him can be seen. His eyes are wonderfully keen, so by means of these white patches he and his friends can signal each other when they are far apart.
"Fleetfoot has true horns, but they are unlike any other horns in that they are shed every year, just like the antlers of the Deer family. They grow straight up just over the eyes, are rather short, and fork. One branch is much shorter than the other, and the longer one is turned over at the end like a hook. From these horns he gets the name of Pronghorn.
"When running from danger he carries his head low and makes long leaps. When not frightened he trots and holds his head high and proudly. He prefers flat open country, and there is no more beautiful sight on all the great plains of the West than a band of Fleetfoot and his friends. He is social and likes the company of his own kind.
"The time was when these beautiful creatures were almost as numerous as the Bison, but like the latter they have been killed until now there is real danger that unless man protects them better than he is doing there will come a day when the last Antelope will be killed, and one of the most beautiful and interesting of all my children will be but a memory."
There was a note of great sadness in Old Mother Nature's voice. For a few minutes no one spoke. All were thinking of the terrible thing that had happened at the hands of man to the great hosts of two of the finest animals in all this great land, the Bison and Antelope, and there was bitterness in the heart of each one, for there was not one there who did not himself have cause to fear man.
Old Mother Nature was the first to break the silence. "Now," said
she, "I will tell you of the oddest member of the Cattle and Sheep
family. It is Longcoat the
He is related to both cattle and sheep and his home is in the Arctic regions.
"Longcoat the Musk Ox lives in the Farthest North, the land of snow
and ice. He has been found very near the Arctic Ocean, and how he
finds enough to eat in the long winter is a mystery to those who
"This hair is so long that it hangs down on each side so that often
it touches the snow and hides his legs nearly down to his feet. In
color it is very
"Underneath this coat of long hair is another coat of woolly, fine
"Longcoat is seldom found alone, but usually with a band of his friends. This is partly for protection from his worst enemies, the Wolves. When the latter appear, Longcoat and his friends form a circle with their heads out, and it is only a desperately hungry Wolf that will try to break through that line of sharp-pointed horns.
"In rough, rocky country he is as
"My, how time flies! This is all for
I am about to tell you the story of a very great and noble man. It is the story of one whom all the world honors—of one whose name will forever be remembered with admiration. Benjamin Franklin was not born to greatness. He had none of the advantages which even the poorest boys may now enjoy. But he achieved greatness by always making the best use of such opportunities as came in his way. He was not afraid of work. He did not give up to discouragements. He did not overestimate his own abilities. He was earnest and faithful in little things; and that, after all, is the surest way of attaining to great things. There is no man to whom we Americans owe a greater debt of gratitude. Without his aid the American colonies would hardly have won independence. It was said of him that he knew how to subdue both thunder and tyranny; and a famous orator who knew him well, described him as "the genius that gave freedom to America and shed torrents of light upon Europe." But, at the close of a very long life, the thing which gave him the greatest satisfaction was the fact that he had made no man his enemy; there was no human being who could justly say, "Ben Franklin has wronged me."
Nearly two hundred years ago, there lived in Boston a little boy whose name was Benjamin Franklin.
On the day that he was seven years old, his mother gave him a few pennies.
He looked at the bright, yellow pieces and said, "What shall I do with these coppers, mother?"
It was the first money that he had ever had.
"You may buy something with them, if you would like," said his mother.
"And will you give me more when they are gone?" he asked.
His mother shook her head and said: "No, Benjamin. I cannot give you any more. So you must be careful not to spend them foolishly."
The little fellow ran out into the street. He heard the pennies jingle in his pocket as he ran. He felt as though he was very rich.
Boston was at that time only a small town, and there were not many stores. As Benjamin ran down toward the busy part of the street, he wondered what he should buy.
Should he buy candy or toys? It had been a long time since he had tasted candy. As for toys, he hardly knew what they were.
If he had been the only child in the family, things might have been different. But there were fourteen boys and girls older than he, and two little sisters that were younger.
It was as much as his father could do to earn food and clothing for so many. There was no money to spend for toys.
Before Benjamin had gone very far he met a boy blowing a whistle.
"That is just the thing that I want," he said. Then he hurried on to the store where all kinds of things were kept for sale.
"Have you any good whistles?" he asked.
He was out of breath from running, but he tried hard to speak like a man.
"Yes, plenty of them," said the man.
"Well, I want one, and I'll give you all the money I have for it," said the little fellow. He forgot to ask the price.
"How much money have you?" asked the man.
Benjamin took the coppers from his pocket. The man counted them and said, "All right, my boy. It's a bargain."
Then he put the pennies into his money drawer, and gave one of the whistles to the boy.
Benjamin Franklin was a proud and happy boy. He ran home as fast as he could, blowing his whistle as he ran.
His mother met him at the door and said, "Well, my child, what did you do with your pennies?"
"I bought a whistle!" he cried. "Just hear me blow it!"
"How much did you pay for it?"
"All the money I had."
One of his brothers was standing by and asked to see the whistle. "Well, well!" he said, "did you spend all of your money for this thing?"
"Every penny," said Benjamin.
"Did you ask the price?"
"No. But I offered them to the man, and he said it was all right."
His brother laughed and said, "You are a very foolish fellow. You paid four times as much as it is worth."
"Yes," said his mother, "I think it is rather a dear whistle. You had enough money to buy a whistle and some candy, too."
The little boy saw what a mistake he had made. The whistle did not please him any more. He threw it upon the floor, and began to cry. But his mother took him upon her lap and said: "Never mind, my child. We must all live and learn; and I think that my little boy will be careful, after this, not to pay too dear for his whistles."
When Benjamin Franklin was a boy there were no great public schools in Boston as there are now. But he learned to read almost as soon as he could talk, and he was always fond of books.
His nine brothers were older than he, and every one had learned a trade. They did not care so much for books.
"Benjamin shall be the scholar of our family," said his mother.
"Yes, we will educate him for a minister," said his father. For at that time all the most learned men were ministers.
And so, when he was eight years old, Benjamin Franklin was sent to a grammar school, where boys were prepared for college. He was a very apt scholar, and in a few months was promoted to a higher class.
But the lad was not allowed to stay long in the grammar school. His father was a poor man. It would cost a great deal of money to give Benjamin a college education. The times were very hard. The idea of educating the boy for the ministry had to be given up.
In less than a year he was taken from the grammar school, and sent to another school where arithmetic and writing were taught.
He learned to write very well, indeed; but he did not care so much for arithmetic, and so failed to do what was expected of him.
When he was ten years old he had to leave school altogether. His father needed his help; and though Benjamin was but a small boy, there were many things that he could do.
He never attended school again. But he kept on studying and reading; and we shall find that he afterwards became the most learned man in America.
Benjamin's father was a soap-boiler and candle-maker. And so when the boy was taken from school, what kind of work do you think he had to do?
He was kept busy cutting wicks for the candles, pouring the melted tallow into the candle-moulds, and selling soap to his father's customers.
Do you suppose that he liked this business?
He did not like it at all. And when he saw the ships sailing in and out of Boston harbor, he longed to be a sailor and go to strange, far-away lands, where candles and soap were unknown.
But his father would not listen to any of his talk about going to sea.
Busy as Benjamin was in his father's shop, he still had time to play a good deal.
He was liked by all the boys of the neighborhood, and they looked up to him as their leader. In all their games he was their captain; and nothing was undertaken without asking his advice.
Not far from the home of the Franklins there was a mill pond, where the boys often went to swim. When the tide was high they liked to stand at a certain spot on the shore of the pond and fish for minnows.
But the ground was marshy and wet, and the boys' feet sank deep in the mud.
"Let us build a wharf along the water's edge," said Benjamin. "Then we can stand and fish with some comfort."
"Agreed!" said the boys. "But what is the wharf to be made of?"
Benjamin pointed to a heap of stones that lay not far away. They had been hauled there only a few days before, and were to be used in building a new house near the mill pond.
The boys needed only a hint. Soon they were as busy as ants, dragging the stones to the water's edge.
Before it was fully dark that evening, they had built a nice stone wharf on which they could stand and fish without danger of sinking in the mud.
The next morning the workmen came to begin the building of the house. They were surprised to find all the stones gone from the place where they had been thrown. But the tracks of the boys in the mud told the story.
It was easy enough to find out who had done the mischief.
When the boys' fathers were told of the trouble which they had caused, you may imagine what they did.
Young Benjamin Franklin tried hard to explain that a wharf on the edge of the mill pond was a public necessity.
His father would not listen to him. He said, "My son, nothing can ever be truly useful which is not at the same time truly honest."
And Benjamin never forgot this lesson.
As I have already said, young Benjamin did not like the work which he had to do in his father's shop.
His father was not very fond of the trade himself, and so he could not blame the boy. One day he said:
Benjamin, since you have made up your mind not to be a candle-maker, what trade do you think you would like to learn?"
"You know I would like to be a sailor," said the boy.
"But you shall not be a sailor," said his father. "I intend that you shall learn some useful business on land; and, of course, you will succeed best in that kind of business which is most pleasant to you."
The next day he took the boy to walk with him among the shops of Boston. They saw all kinds of workmen busy at their various trades.
Benjamin was delighted. Long afterwards, when he had become a very great man, he said, "It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools."
He gave up the thought of going to sea, and said that he would learn any trade that his father would choose for him.
His father thought that the cutler's trade was a good one. His cousin, Samuel Franklin, had just set up a cutler's shop in Boston, and he agreed to take Benjamin a few days on trial.
Benjamin was pleased with the idea of learning how to make knives and scissors and razors and all other kinds of cutting tools. But his cousin wanted so much money for teaching him the trade that his father could not afford it; and so the lad was taken back to the candle-maker's shop.
Soon after this, Benjamin's brother, James Franklin, set up a printing press in Boston. He intended to print and publish books and a newspaper.
"Benjamin loves books," said his father. "He shall learn to be a printer."
And so, when he was twelve years old, he was bound to his brother to learn the printer's trade. He was to stay with him until he was twenty-one. He was to have his board and clothing and no other wages, except during the last year. I suppose that during the last year he was to be paid the same as any other workman.
When Benjamin Franklin was a boy there were no books for children. Yet he spent most of his spare time in reading.
His father's books were not easy to understand. People nowadays would think them very dull and heavy.
But before he was twelve years old, Benjamin had read the most of them. He read everything that he could get.
After he went to work for his brother he found it easier to obtain good books. Often he would borrow a book in the evening, and then sit up nearly all night reading it so as to return it in the morning.
When the owners of books found that he always returned them soon and clean, they were very willing to lend him whatever he wished.
He was about fourteen years of age when he began to study how to write clearly and correctly. He afterwards told how he did this. He said:
"About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. I had never before seen any of them.
"I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it.
"I thought the writing excellent, and wished if possible to imitate it.
"With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiments in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should occur to me.
"Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults and corrected them.
"But I found that I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them.
"Therefore, I took some of the tales in the Spectator and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again."
About this time his brother began to publish a newspaper.
It was the fourth newspaper published in America, and was called the New England Courant.
People said that it was a foolish undertaking. They said that one newspaper was enough for this country, and that there would be but little demand for more.
In those days editors did not dare to write freely about public affairs. It was dangerous to criticise men who were in power.
James Franklin published something in the New England Courant about the lawmakers of Massachusetts. It made the lawmakers very angry. They caused James Franklin to be shut up in prison for a month, and they ordered that he should no longer print the newspaper called the New England Courant.
But, in spite of this order, the newspaper was printed every week as before. It was printed, however, in the name of Benjamin Franklin. For several years it bore his name as editor and publisher.
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
WEEK 37 |
When Robin first came to live in Sherwood Forest he was rather sad, for he could not at once forget all he had lost. But he was not long lonely. When it became known that he had gone to live in the Green Wood, other poor men, who had been driven out of their homes by the Normans, joined him. They soon formed a band and were known as the "Merry Men."
Robin was no longer Robin of Huntingdon, but Robin of Sherwood Forest. Very soon people shortened Sherwood into Hood, though some say he was called Hood from the green hoods he and his men wore. How he came to have his name does not matter much. People almost forgot that he was really an earl, and he had become known, not only all over England, but in many far countries, as Robin Hood.
Robin Hood was captain of the band of Merry Men. Next to him came Little John. He was called Little John because he was so tall, just as Midge the miller's son was called Much because he was so small.
Robin loved Little John best of all his friends. Little John loved Robin better than any one else in all the world. Yet the first time they met they fought and knocked each other about dreadfully.
"How they came acquainted, I'll tell you in brief,
If you will but listen a while;
For this very jest, among all the rest,
I think it may cause you to smile."
It happened on a bright, sunshiny day in early spring. All through the winter Robin and his men had had a very dull time. Nearly all their fun and adventures happened with people travelling through the forest. As there were no trains, people had to travel on horseback. In winter the roads were so bad, and the weather so cold and wet, that most people stayed at home. So it was rather a quiet time for Robin and his men. They lived in great caves during the winter, and spent their time making stores of bows and arrows, and mending their boots and clothes.
This bright, sunshiny morning Robin felt dull and restless, so he took his bow and arrows, and started off through the forest in search of adventure.
He wandered on for some time without meeting any one. Presently he came to a river. It was wide and deep, swollen by the winter rains. It was crossed by a very slender, shaky bridge, so narrow, that if two people tried to pass each other on it, one would certainly fall into the water.
Robin began to cross the bridge, before he noticed that a great, tall man, the very tallest man he had ever seen, was crossing too from the other side.
"Go back and wait till I have come over," he called out as soon as he noticed the stranger.
The stranger laughed, and called out in reply, "I have as good a right to the bridge as you. You can go back till I get across."
This made Robin very angry. He was so accustomed to being obeyed that he was very much astonished too. Between anger and astonishment he hardly knew what he did.
He drew an arrow from his quiver and fitting it to his bow, called out again, "If you don't go back I'll shoot."
"If you do, I'll beat you till you are black and blue," replied the stranger.
"Quoth bold Robin Hood, Thou dost prate like an ass,
For, were I to bend my bow,
I could send a dart quite through thy proud heart,
Before thou couldst strike a blow."
"If I talk like an ass you talk like a coward," replied the stranger. "Do you call it fair to stand with your bow and arrow ready to shoot at me when I have only a stick to defend myself with? I tell you, you are a coward. You are afraid of the beating I would give you."
Robin was not a coward, and he was not afraid. So he threw his bow and arrows on the bank behind him.
"You are a big, boastful bully," he said. "Just wait there until I get a stick. I hope I may give you as good a beating as you deserve."
The stranger laughed. "I won't run away; don't be afraid," he said.
Robin Hood stepped to a thicket of trees and cut himself a good, thick oak stick. While he was doing this, he looked at the stranger, and saw that he was not only taller but much stronger than himself.
However that did not frighten Robin in the least. He was rather glad of it indeed. The stranger had said he was a coward. He meant to prove to him that he was not.
Back he came with a fine big stick in his hand and a smile on his face. The idea of a real good fight had made his bad temper fly away, for, like King Richard, Robin Hood was rather fond of a fight.
"We will fight on the bridge," said he, "and whoever first falls into the river has lost the battle."
"All right," said the stranger. "Whatever you like. I'm not afraid."
Then they fell to, with right good will.
It was very difficult to fight standing on such a narrow bridge. They kept swaying backwards and forwards trying to keep their balance. With every stroke the bridge bent and trembled beneath them as if it would break. All the same they managed to give each other some tremendous blows. First Robin gave the stranger such a bang that his very bones seemed to ring.
Bang! smash! their blows fell fast and thick as if they had been threshing corn
"Ah, ha!" said he, "I'll give you as good as I get," and crack he went at Robin's crown.
Bang, smash, crack, bang, they went at each other. Their blows fell fast and thick as if they had been threshing corn.
"The stranger gave Robin a knock on the crown,
Which caused the blood to appear,
Then Robin enraged, more fiercely engaged,
And followed with blows more severe.
So thick and fast did he lay it on him,
With a passionate fury and ire,
At every stroke he made him to smoke,
As if he had been all on fire."
When Robin's blows came so fast and furious, the stranger felt he could not stand it much longer. Gathering all his strength, with one mighty blow he sent Robin backwards, right into the river. Head over heels he went, and disappeared under the water.
The stranger very nearly fell in after him. He was so astonished at Robin's sudden disappearance that he could not think for a minute or two where he had vanished to. He knelt down on the bridge, and stared into the water. "Hallo, my good man," he called. "Hallo, where are you?"
He thought he had drowned Robin, and he had not meant to do that. All the same he could not help laughing. Robin had looked so funny as he tumbled into the water.
"I'm here," called Robin, from far down the river. "I'm all right. I'm just swimming with the tide."
The current was very strong and had carried him down the river a good way. He was, however, gradually making for the bank. Soon he caught hold of the overhanging branches of a tree and pulled himself out. The stranger came running to help him too.
"You are not an easy man to beat or to drown either," he said with a laugh, as he helped Robin on to dry land again.
"Well," said Robin, laughing too, "I must own that you are a brave man and a good fighter. It was a fair fight, and you have won the battle. I don't want to quarrel with you any more. Will you shake hands and be friends with me?"
"With all my heart," said the stranger. "It is a long time since I have met any one who could use a stick as you can."
So they shook hands like the best of friends, and quite forgot that a few minutes before they had been banging and battering each other as hard as they could.
Then Robin put his bugle horn to his mouth, and blew a loud, loud blast.
"The echoes of which through the valleys did ring,
At which his stout bowmen appeared,
And clothèd in green, most gay to be seen,
So up to their master they steered."
When the stranger saw all these fine men, dressed in green, and carrying bows and arrows, come running to Robin he was very much astonished. "O master dear, what has happened?" cried Will Stutely, the leader, as he ran up. "You have a great cut in your forehead, and you are soaked through and through," he added, laying his hand on Robin's arm.
"It is nothing," laughed Robin. "This young fellow and I have been having a fight. He cracked my crown and then tumbled me into the river."
When they heard that, Robin's men were very angry. "If he has tumbled our master into the river, we will tumble him in," said they. "We will see how he likes that," and they seized him, and would have dragged him to the water to drown him, but Robin called out, "Stop, stop, it was a fair fight. He is a brave man, and we are very good friends now."
Then turning to the stranger, Robin bowed politely to him, saying, "I beg you to forgive my men. They will not harm you now they know that you are my friend, for I am Robin Hood."
The stranger was very much astonished when he heard that he had actually been fighting with bold Robin Hood, of whom he had heard so many tales.
"If you will come and live with me and my Merry Men," went on Robin, "I will give you a suit of Lincoln green. I will teach you how to use bow and arrows as well as you use your good stick."
"I should like nothing better," replied the stranger. "My name is John Little, and I promise to serve you faithfully."
"John Little!" said Will Stutely laughing. "John Little! what a name for a man that height! John Little! why he is seven feet tall if he is an inch!"
Will laughed and laughed, till the tears ran down his face. He thought it was such a funny name for so big a man.
Robin laughed because Will laughed. Then John Little laughed because Robin laughed. Soon they were all laughing as hard as they could. The wind carried the sound of it away, till the folk in the villages round about said, "Hark, how Robin Hood and his Merry Men do laugh."
"Well," said Robin at last, "I have heard it said, 'Laugh and grow fat,' but if we don't get some dinner soon I think we will all grow very lean. Come along, my little John, I'm sure you must be hungry too."
"Little John," said Will Stutely, "that's the very name for him. We must christen him again, and I will be his godfather."
Back to their forest home they all went, laughing and talking as merrily as possible, taking John Little along with them. Dinner was waiting for them when they arrived. The head cook was looking anxiously through the trees saying, "I do wish Master Robin would come, or the roast venison will be too much cooked and the rabbits will be stewed to rags."
Just at that moment they appeared. The cook was struck dumb at the sight of the giant, stalking along beside Robin. "Where has master gotten that Maypole?" he said, laughing to himself, as he ran away to dish the dinner.
They had a very merry dinner. Robin found that John was not only a good fighter but that he had a wise head and a witty tongue. He was more and more delighted with his new companion.
But Will and the others had not forgotten that he was to be christened again. Seven of them came behind him, and in spite of all his kicking and struggling wrapped him up in a long, green cloak, pretending he was a baby.
It was a very noisy christening. The men all shouted and laughed. John Little laughed and screamed in turn, and kicked and struggled all the time.
"Hush, baby, hush," they said. But the seven foot baby wouldn't hush.
Then Will stepped up beside him and began to speak.
"This infant was called John Little, quoth he,
Which name shall be changed anon,
The words we'll transpose, so wherever he goes,
His name shall be called Little John."
They had some buckets of water ready. These they poured over poor Little John till he was as wet as Robin had been after he fell into the river. The men roared with laughter. Little John looked so funny as he rolled about on the grass, trying to get out of his long, wet, green robe. He looked just like a huge green caterpillar.
Robin laughed as much as any one. At last he said, "Now, Will, don't you think that is enough?"
"Not a bit," said Will. "You wouldn't let us duck him in the river when we had him there so we have brought the river to him."
At last all the buckets were empty, and the christening was over. Then all the men stood round in a ring and gave three cheers for Little John, Robin's new man.
"Then Robin he took the sweet pretty babe,
And clothed him from top to toe
In garments of green, most gay to be seen,
And gave him a curious long bow."
After that they sang, danced, and played the whole afternoon. Then when the sun sank and the long, cool shadows fell across the grass they all said "good night" and went off into their caves to sleep.
From that day Little John always lived with Robin. They became very, very great friends and Little John was next to Robin in command of the men.
"And so ever after as long as he lived,
Although he was proper and tall,
Yet, nevertheless, the truth to express,
Still Little John they did him call."
One cold stormy day a Goatherd drove his Goats for shelter into a cave, where a number of Wild Goats had also found their way. The Shepherd wanted to make the Wild Goats part of his flock; so he fed them well. But to his own flock, he gave only just enough food to keep them alive. When the weather cleared, and the Shepherd led the Goats out to feed, the Wild Goats scampered off to the hills.
"Is that the thanks I get for feeding you and treating you so well?" complained the Shepherd.
"Do not expect us to join your flock," replied one of the Wild Goats. "We know how you would treat us later on, if some strangers should come as we did."
It is unwise to treat old friends badly for the sake of new ones.
Allen-a-Dale has no fagot for burning,
Allen-a-Dale has no furrow for turning,
Allen-a-Dale has no fleece for the spinning,
Yet Allen-a-Dale has red gold for the winning.
Come, read me my riddle! come, hearken my tale!
And tell me the craft of bold Allen-a-Dale.
The Baron of Ravensworth prances in pride,
And he views his domains upon Arkindale side;
The mere for his net, and the land for his game;
The chase for the wild and the park for the tame;
Yet the fish of the lake, and the deer of the vale,
Are less free to Lord Dacre than Allen-a-Dale!
Allen-a-Dale was ne'er belted a knight,
Though his spur be as sharp, and his blade be as bright;
Allen-a-Dale is no baron or lord,
Yet twenty tall yeomen will draw at his word,
And the best of our nobles his bonnet will vail
Who at Rere-cross on Stanmore meets Allen-a-Dale!
Allen-a-Dale to his wooing is come;
The mother, she ask'd of his household and home;
"Though the castle of Richmond stand fair on the hill,
My hall," quoth bold Allen, "shows gallanter still;
'T is the blue vault of heaven, with its crescent so pale,
And with all its bright spangles," said Allen-a-Dale.
The father was steel, and the mother was stone;
They lifted the latch, and they bade him begone;
But loud on the morrow, their wail and their cry;
He had laugh'd on the lass with his bonny black eye,
And she fled to the forest to hear a love-tale,
And the youth it was told by was Allen-a-Dale!
WEEK 37 |
"Row, brothers, row, the stream runs fast,
The Rapids are near, and the daylight's past."
—T. Moore, Canadian Boat Song.
W HILE Henry Hudson was sailing up his newly discovered river, and the little colony of Virginia was growing daily stronger under Captain John Smith, other countries were busy colonising on the shores of the New World. If there was a New England and a New Holland over the seas, there was also a New France.
Some sixty years before this time, when the spirit of discovery was abroad and all eyes were turned towards the
golden East, a French sailor called Jacques Cartier left his native shores to try and find a new passage to
India by way of America. His home was at St Malo, a seaport in Brittany—the nursery of hardy mariners such
as himself. In the town hall there
He left France in the summer of 1534 with three small ships, and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the storm-beaten shores of Labrador, already discovered by Cabot. Passing through the narrow straits between that coast and Newfoundland, he came to a great expanse of water, which he named the Bay of St Lawrence, a name he gave later to the great river which flows into this mighty bay. Undaunted by the dangers of the unknown, Jacques Cartier, with two young natives, made his way up the river St Lawrence till he came to some great cliffs standing high above the surging current below. Little did he think, as he looked at those silent heights, that here should be the site of the busy city of Quebec in Canada, now full of heroic memories. At this time only a cluster of rude huts crowned the summit of the rock. But this little native village was not the capital of the forest state, so the Indians told the French sailor.
On the banks of the river, some days' journey hence, stood the great native town called Hochelaga. In a little boat, with fifty sailors, Cartier set out for the mysterious city. Forests with trees thickly hung with grapes lined the shores of the river up which they now rowed, the water was alive with wildfowl, the air rang with the song of blackbird and thrush. As they neared the city, Indians thronged the shore. Wild with delight, dancing, singing, crowding round the strangers, they threw into the boat presents of fish and maize. As it grew dark, fires were lit, and the Frenchmen could see the excited natives still leaping and dancing by the blaze. When day dawned Cartier followed his guides by a forest path to Hochelaga. Beneath the oaks of the forest the ground was thickly strewn with acorns. Before him rose a great mountain, at the foot of which lay the Indian town. Swarms of natives now rushed round the white men, touching their beards and feeling their faces.
"We will call the mountain here Mont Royal," said Jacques Cartier, and the name survives in Montreal,
It would take too long to tell of Jacques Cartier's return down the river, how winter came on him suddenly and hemmed him in until the river itself froze over and the whole earth was deeply wrapped in snow. He returned to France in course of time, with his account of the two native villages built on the river St Lawrence.
Cartier had discovered. It was for another man to build and colonise. This man was Champlain, known as the "Father of New France." And he did more than build, he sailed farther up the river and discovered Lake Ontario and the famous rapids, now known as the Falls of Niagara (Thunder of Waters.)
In the year 1603 Champlain found himself at the mouth of the St Lawrence river, anxious to examine the native villages of which Cartier had brought such glowing reports. For some unknown reason all was now silent and deserted. He passed under the bare rock of Quebec and made his way to the once populous village of Hochelaga. But all signs of life were gone since the days of Jacques Cartier. As he rowed back, the rugged charm of the place seized his fancy. He saw the broad river, the good seaport, the thick forests in their varying hues, and the idea of building cities on the native sites appealed strongly to him. Five years later he was ready, and sailed from France with men, arms, and stores for a colony on the banks of the river St Lawrence.
On a level piece of land between the summit of the cliffs and the river, where a cluster of native huts had
once stood, Champlain chose his site. The woodmen were soon engaged in making a clearing, and in a few weeks a
pile of wooden buildings had arisen just where the busy city of Quebec now stands. Very soon winter was upon
them. They must stand by their colony, though building should be impossible through the frost and snow. With
twenty-eight men Champlain
prepared to hold the settlement. Sadly he watched the many-tinted autumn leaves fall from the forest trees; the
sunshine of October faded, and November brought a bare waste of country. The river froze over, and soon a heavy
blanket of snow buried the earth. The winters of Canada are very long, and it was May before anything further
could be done. By this time twenty men out of twenty-eight were dead, and the others were all suffering from
illness, when a welcome sail appeared on the river below with help and food. Champlain was now free to found
another trading station at the Mont Royal of Cartier—the Montreal of
For twenty-seven years he toiled ceaselessly to build up the New France beyond the seas, and the early history of Canada is centred in the life-story of Champlain, the Father of New France. Quebec and Montreal were active centres of French trade, until they passed into English hands; and it is but a few years ago that an Englishman unveiled a statue of Champlain in the very heart of the city he had founded nearly three hundred years ago.
THE next labor which Eurystheus laid upon Hercules was to clean out a stable.
That does not sound very much after the others. But then the stable was that of Augeas, King of Elis, which was at once the largest and the dirtiest in the whole world.
Augeas had a prodigious number of oxen and goats, and the stable in which they were all kept had never been cleaned. The result was a mountain of filth and litter, which not even Hercules could clear away in a lifetime—not, of course, from want of strength, but from want of time. Hercules beheld with disgust and dismay the loathsome and degrading toil in which he was to spend the rest of his days. The other labors had at least been honorable, and befitting a prince: this would have appalled a scavenger.
"It is very good of such a hero as you," said Augeas, "to undertake to clean my stable. It really does want cleaning, as you see: and it was very kind of Eurystheus to think of it. You shall not find me ungrateful. I will give you one ox and one goat in every ten—when the job is done."
He could very safely promise this, because he knew that the job could never be done.
"I am not serving for hire," said Hercules. "Nevertheless it is only right that you should not let your stable get into such a state as this, and then get it put right for nothing. You want a lesson: and you shall have it, too."
Seeing that mere strength would be wasted in such toil, Hercules went to work with his brain as well. Through the land of Elis ran the river Alpheus, that same Alpheus which had told Ceres what had become of Proserpine. Hercules carefully studied the country; and having laid his plans, dug a channel from near the source of the river to one of the entrances of the stable. Then, damming up the old channel, he let the stream run into the new. The new course was purposely made narrow, so that the current might be exceedingly strong. When all was ready, he opened the sluice at one entrance of the stable, so that the water poured in a flood through the whole building, and out at a gate on the other side. And it had all been so managed that when the river had poured through, and was shut off again, all the filth and litter had been carried away by the Alpheus underground, and the stable had been washed clean, without a scrap of refuse to be found anywhere. For the Alpheus you must know, did not run into the sea, like other rivers. It disappeared down a deep chasm, then ran through a natural tunnel under the sea, and rose again, far away, in the island of Sicily, where it had brought to Ceres the news from underground. Thus everything thrown into it in Elis came up again in Sicily—and the Sicilians must have been considerably astonished at that extraordinary eruption of stable litter. Perhaps it is that which, acting as manure, has helped to make Sicily so fertile.
Hercules made a point of claiming his price. But Augeas said:—
"Nonsense! A bargain is a bargain. You undertook to clean my stable: and you have done nothing of the kind. No work, no pay."
"What can you mean?" asked Hercules. "Surely I have cleaned your stable—you will not find in it a broken straw."
"No," said Augeas. "It was the Alpheus did that: not you."
"But it was I who used the Alpheus—"
"Yes; no doubt. But the impudence of expecting me to pay a tenth of all my flocks and herds for an idea so simple that I should have thought of it myself, if you hadn't, just by chance, happened to think of it before me! You have not earned your wages. You cleaned the stable by an unfair trick: and it was the river cleaned it—not you."
"Very well," said Hercules grimly. "If you had paid me honestly, I would have given you your goats and your oxen back again; for, as I told you, I do not serve for reward. But now I perceive that I have not quite cleaned your stable. There is still one piece of dirt left in it—and that is a cheating knave, Augeas by name. So, as I cannot go back to Mycenæ till my work is done—"
He was about to throw Augeas into the river, to follow the rest of the litter: and about what afterwards happened, different people tell different things. I very strongly agree, however, with those who tell that Hercules spared the life of Augeas after having given him a lesson: for certainly he was not worth the killing. And I am the more sure of this because, after his death, Augeas was honored as hero—which surely would not have happened if he had not learned to keep both his stables and his promises clean before he died.
WEEK 37 |
O NCE upon a time there stood in the midst of a bleak moor, in the north country, a certain village; all its inhabitants were poor, for their fields were barren, and they had little trade, but the poorest of them all were two brothers called Scrub and Spare, who followed the cobbler's craft, and had but one stall between them. It was a hut built of clay and wattles. The door was low and always open, for there was no window. The roof did not entirely keep out the rain, and the only thing comfortable about it was a wide hearth, for which the brothers could never find wood enough to make a sufficient fire. There they worked in most brotherly friendship, though with little encouragement.
The people of that village were not extravagant
in shoes, and better cobblers than Scrub and Spare might be
found. Spiteful people said there were no shoes so bad that
they would not be worse for their mending. Nevertheless
Scrub and Spare managed to live between their own trade, a
small barley field, and a cottage garden, till one unlucky
day when a new cobbler arrived in the village. He had lived
in the capital city of the kingdom, and, by his own account,
cobbled for the queen and the princesses. His awls were
sharp, his lasts were new; he set up his stall in a neat
cottage with two windows. The villagers soon found out that
one patch of his would outwear two of the brothers'. In
short, all the mending left Scrub and Spare, and went to the
new cobbler. The season had been wet and cold, their barley
did not ripen well, and the cabbages never half closed in
the garden. So the brothers were poor that winter, and when
Christmas came they had nothing to feast on but a barley
loaf, a piece of rusty bacon, and some small beer of their
own brewing. Worse than that, the snow was very deep, and
they could get no firewood. Their hut stood at the end of
the village, beyond it
spread the bleak moor, now all white
and silent; but that moor had once been a forest, great
roots of old trees were still to be found in it, loosened
from the soil and laid bare by the winds and rains—one of
these, a rough, gnarled log, lay hard by their door, the
half of it above the snow, and Spare said to this
"Shall we sit here cold on Christmas while the great root lies yonder? Let us chop it up for firewood, the work will make us warm."
"No," said Scrub; "it's not right to chop wood on Christmas; besides, that root is too hard to be broken with any hatchet."
"Hard or not we must have a fire," replied Spare. "Come, brother, help me in with it. Poor as we are, there is nobody in the village will have such a yule log as ours."
Scrub liked a little grandeur, and in hopes of having a fine yule log, both brothers strained and strove with all their might till, between pulling and pushing, the great old root was safe on the hearth, and beginning to crackle and blaze with the red embers. In high glee, the cobblers sat down to their beer and bacon. The door was shut, for there was nothing but cold moonlight and snow outside; but the hut, strewn with fir boughs, and ornamented with holly, looked cheerful as the ruddy blaze flared up and rejoiced their hearts.
"Long life and good fortune to ourselves brother!" said Spare. "I hope you will drink that toast, and may we never have a worse fire on Christmas—but what is that?"
Spare set down the drinking-horn, and the brothers listened astonished, for out of the blazing root they heard, "Cuckoo! cuckoo!" as plain as ever the spring-bird's voice came over the moor on a May morning.
"It is something bad," said Scrub, terribly frightened.
"May be not," said Spare; and out of the deep hole at the
side which the fire had not reached flew a large grey
cuckoo, and lit on the table before them. Much as the
cobblers had been surprised, they were still more so when it
"Good gentlemen, what season is this?"
"It's Christmas," said Spare.
"Then a merry Christmas to you!" said the cuckoo. "I went to sleep in the hollow of that old root one evening last summer, and never woke till the heat of your fire made me think it was summer again; but now since you have burned my lodging, let me stay in your hut till the spring comes round—I only want a hole to sleep in, and when I go on my travels next summer be assured I will bring you some present for your trouble."
"Stay, and welcome," said Spare, while Scrub sat wondering if it were something bad or not; "I'll make you a good warm hole in the thatch. But you must be hungry after that long sleep?—here is a slice of barley bread. Come help us to keep Christmas!"
The cuckoo ate up the slice, drank water from the brown jug, for he would take no beer, and flew into a snug hole which Spare scooped for him in the thatch of the hut.
Scrub said he was afraid it wouldn't be lucky; but as it slept on, and the days passed he forgot his fears. So the snow melted, the heavy rains came, the cold grew less, the days lengthened, and one sunny morning the brothers were awoke by the cuckoo shouting its own cry to let them know the spring had come.
"Now I'm going on my travels," said the bird, "over the world to tell men of the spring. There is no country where trees bud or flowers bloom, that I will not cry in before the year goes round. Give me another slice of barley bread to keep me on my journey, and tell me what present I shall bring you at the twelve-month's end."
Scrub would have been angry with his brother for cutting so large a slice, their store of barley-meal being low; but his mind was occupied with what present would be most prudent to ask: at length a lucky thought struck him.
"Good master cuckoo," said he, "if a great traveller who sees all the world like you, could know of any place where diamonds or pearls were to be found, one of a tolerable size brought in your beak would help such poor men as my brother and I to provide something better than barley bread for your next entertainment."
"I know nothing of diamonds or pearls," said the cuckoo; "they are in the hearts of rocks and the sands of rivers. My knowledge is only of that which grows on the earth. But there are two trees hard by the well that lies at the world's end—one of them is called the golden tree, for its leaves are all of beaten gold: every winter they fall into the well with a sound like scattered coin, and I know not what becomes of them. As for the other, it is always green like a laurel. Some call it the wise, and some the merry tree. Its leaves never fall, but they that get one of them keep a blithe heart in spite of all misfortunes, and can make themselves as merry in a hut as in a palace."
"Good master cuckoo, bring me a leaf off that tree!" cried Spare.
"Now, brother, don't be a fool!" said Scrub! "think of the leaves of beaten gold! Dear master cuckoo, bring me one of them!"
Before another word could be spoken, the cuckoo had flown out of the open door, and was shouting its spring cry over moor and meadow. The brothers were poorer than ever that year; nobody would send them a single shoe to mend. The new cobbler said, in scorn, they should come to be his apprentices; and Scrub and Spare would have left the village but for their barley field, their cabbage garden, and a certain maid called Fairfeather, whom both the cobblers had courted for seven years without even knowing which she meant to favour.
Sometimes Fairfeather seemed inclined to Scrub, sometimes
she smiled on Spare; but the brothers never disputed for
that. They sowed their barley, planted their cabbage, and
now that their trade was gone, worked in the rich villagers'
fields to make out a scanty living. So the seasons came and
passed: spring, summer, harvest, and winter followed each
other as they have done from the beginning. At the end of
the latter, Scrub and Spare had grown so poor and ragged
that Fairfeather thought them beneath her notice. Old
neighbours forgot to invite them to wedding feasts or
merrymaking; and they thought the cuckoo had forgotten them
too, when at daybreak, on the first of April, they heard a
beak knocking at their door, and a voice
"Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Let me in with my presents."
Spare ran to open the door, and in came the cuckoo, carrying on one side of his bill a golden leaf larger than that of any tree in the north country; and in the other, one like that of the common laurel, only it had a fresher green.
"Here," it said, giving the gold to Scrub and the green to Spare, "it is a long carriage from the world's end. Give me a slice of barley bread, for I must tell the north country that the spring has come."
Scrub did not grudge the thickness of that slice, though it was cut from their last loaf. So much gold had never been in the cobbler's hands before, and he could not help exulting over his brother.
"See the wisdom of my choice!" he said, holding up the large leaf of gold. "As for yours, as good might be plucked from any hedge. I wonder a sensible bird would carry the like so far."
"Good master cobbler," cried the cuckoo, finishing the slice, "your conclusions are more hasty than courteous. If your brother be disappointed this time, I go on the same journey every year, and for your hospitable entertainment will think it no trouble to bring each of you whichever leaf you desire."
"Darling cuckoo!" cried Scrub, "bring me a golden one"; and
Spare, looking up from the green leaf on which he gazed as
though it were a crown jewel,
"Be sure to bring me one from the merry tree," and away flew the cuckoo.
"This is the Feast of All Fools, and it ought to be your birthday," said Scrub. "Did ever man fling away such an opportunity of getting rich! Much good your merry leaves will do in the midst of rags and poverty!" So he went on, but Spare laughed at him, and answered with quaint old proverbs concerning the cares that come with gold, till Scrub, at length getting angry, vowed his brother was not fit to live with a respectable man; and taking his lasts, his awls, and his golden leaf, he left the wattle hut, and went to tell the villagers.
They were astonished at the folly of Spare and charmed with Scrub's good sense, particularly when he showed them the golden leaf, and told that the cuckoo would bring him one every spring. The new cobbler immediately took him into partnership; the greatest people sent him their shoes to mend; Fairfeather smiled graciously upon him, and in the course of that summer they were married, with a grand wedding feast, at which the whole village danced, except Spare, who was not invited, because the bride could not bear his low-mindedness, and his brother thought him a disgrace to the family.
Indeed, all who heard the story concluded that Spare must be mad, and nobody would associate with him but a lame tinker, a beggar boy, and a poor woman reputed to be a witch because she was old and ugly. As for Scrub, he established himself with Fairfeather in a cottage close by that of the new cobbler, and quite as fine. There he mended shoes to everybody's satisfaction, had a scarlet coat for holidays, and a fat goose for dinner every wedding-day. Fairfeather, too, had a crimson gown and fine blue ribands; but neither she nor Scrub were content, for to buy this grandeur the golden leaf had to be broken and parted with piece by piece, so the last morsel was gone before the cuckoo came with another.
Spare lived on in the old hut, and worked in the cabbage garden. (Scrub had got the barley field because he was the eldest.) Every day his coat grew more ragged, and the hut more weather-beaten; but people remarked that he never looked sad nor sour; and the wonder was, that from the time they began to keep his company, the tinker grew kinder to the poor ass with which he travelled the country, the beggar-boy kept out of mischief, and the old woman was never cross to her cat or angry with the children.
Every first of April the cuckoo came tapping at their doors with the golden leaf to Scrub and the green to Spare. Fairfeather would have entertained him nobly with wheaten bread and honey, for she had some notion of persuading him to bring two gold leaves instead of one; but the cuckoo flew away to eat barley bread with Spare, saying he was not fit company for fine people, and liked the old hut where he slept so snugly from Christmas till Spring.
Scrub spent the golden leaves, and Spare kept the merry ones; and I know not how many years passed in this manner, when a certain great lord, who owned that village came to the neighbourhood. His castle stood on the moor. It was ancient and strong, with high towers and a deep moat. All the country, as far as one could see from the highest turret, belonged to its lord; but he had not been there for twenty years, and would not have come then, only he was melancholy. The cause of his grief was that he had been prime-minister at court, and in high favour, till somebody told the crown-prince that he had spoken disrespectfully concerning the turning out of his royal highness's toes, and the king that he did not lay on taxes enough, whereon the north country lord was turned out of office, and banished to his own estate. There he lived for some weeks in very bad temper. The servants said nothing would please him, and the villagers put on their worst clothes lest he should raise their rents; but one day in the harvest time his lordship chanced to meet Spare gathering watercresses at a meadow stream, and fell into talk with the cobbler.
How it was nobody could tell, but from the hour of that discourse the great lord cast away his melancholy: he forgot his lost office and his court enemies, the king's taxes and the crown-prince's toes, and went about with a noble train hunting, fishing, and making merry in his hall, where all travellers were entertained and all the poor were welcome. This strange story spread through the north country, and great company came to the cobbler's hut—rich men who had lost their money, poor men who had lost their friends, beauties who had grown old, wits who had gone out of fashion, all came to talk with Spare, and whatever their troubles had been, all went home merry. The rich gave him presents, the poor gave him thanks. Spare's coat ceased to be ragged, he had bacon with his cabbage, and the villagers began to think there was some sense in him.
By this time his fame had reached the capital city, and even the court. There were a great many discontented people there besides the king, who had lately fallen into ill-humour because a neighbouring princess, with seven islands for her dowry, would not marry his eldest son. So a royal messenger was sent to Spare, with a velvet mantle, a diamond ring, and a command that he should repair to court immediately.
"To-morrow is the first of April," said Spare, "and I will go with you two hours after sunrise."
The messenger lodged all night at the castle, and the cuckoo came at sunrise with the merry leaf.
"Court is a fine place," he said when the cobbler told him he was going; "but I cannot come there, they would lay snares and catch me; so be careful of the leaves I have brought you, and give me a farewell slice of barley bread."
Spare was sorry to part with the cuckoo, little as he had of his company; but he gave him a slice which would have broken Scrub's heart in former times, it was so thick and large; and having sewed up the leaves in the lining of his leathern doublet, he set out with the messenger on his way to court.
His coming caused great surprise there. Everybody wondered what the king could see in such a common-looking man; but scarce had his majesty conversed with him half an hour, when the princess and her seven islands were forgotten, and orders given that a feast for all comers should be spread in the banquet hall.
The princess of the blood, the great lords and ladies, ministers of state, and judges of the land, after that discoursed with Spare, and the more they talked the lighter grew their hearts, so that such changes had never been seen at court. The lords forgot their spites and the ladies their envies, the princes and ministers made friends among themselves, and the judges showed no favour.
As for Spare, he had a chamber assigned him in the palace, and a seat at the king's table; one sent him rich robes and another costly jewels; but in the midst of all his grandeur he still wore the leathern doublet, which the palace servants thought remarkably mean. One day the king's attention being drawn to it by the chief page, his majesty inquired why Spare didn't give it to a beggar? But the cobbler answered:
"High and mighty monarch, this doublet was with me before silk and velvet came—I find it easier to wear than the court cut; moreover, it serves to keep me humble, by recalling the days when it was my holiday garment."
The king thought this a wise speech, and commanded that no one should find fault with the leathern doublet. So things went, till tidings of his brother's good fortune reached Scrub in the moorland cottage on another first of April, when the cuckoo came with two golden leaves, because he had none to carry for Spare.
"Think of that!" said Fairfeather. "Here we are spending our lives in this humdrum place, and Spare making his fortune at court with two or three paltry green leaves! What would they say to our golden ones? Let us pack up and make our way to the king's palace; I'm sure he will make you a lord and me a lady of honour, not to speak of all the fine clothes and presents we shall have."
Scrub thought this excellent reasoning, and their packing up began: but it was soon found that the cottage contained few things fit for carrying to court. Fairfeather could not think of her wooden bowls, spoons, and trenchers being seen there. Scrub considered his lasts and awls better left behind, as without them, he concluded, no one would suspect him of being a cobbler. So putting on their holiday clothes, Fairfeather took her looking-glass and Scrub his drinking-horn, which happened to have a very thin rim of silver, and each carrying a golden leaf carefully wrapped up that none might see it till they reached the palace, the pair set out in great expectation.
How far Scrub and Fairfeather journeyed I cannot say, but when the sun was high and warm at noon, they came into a wood both tired and hungry.
"If I had known it was so far to court," said Scrub, "I would have brought the end of that barley loaf which we left in the cupboard."
"Husband," said Fairfeather, "you shouldn't have such mean thoughts: how could one eat barley bread on the way to a palace? Let us rest ourselves under this tree, and look at our golden leaves to see if they are safe." In looking at the leaves, and talking of their fine prospects, Scrub and Fairfeather did not perceive that a very thin old woman had slipped from behind the tree, with a long staff in her hand and a great wallet by her side.
"Noble lord and lady," she said, "for I know ye are such by your voices, though my eyes are dim and my hearing none of the sharpest, will ye condescend to tell me where I may find some water to mix a bottle of mead which I carry in my wallet, because it is too strong for me?"
As the old woman spoke, she pulled out a large wooden bottle such as shepherds used in the ancient times, corked with leaves rolled together, and having a small wooden cup hanging from its handle.
"Perhaps ye will do me the favour to taste," she said. "It is only made of the best honey. I have also cream cheese, and a wheaten loaf here, if such honourable persons as you would eat the like."
Scrub and Fairfeather became very condescending after this speech. They were now sure that there must be some appearance of nobility about them; besides, they were very hungry, and having hastily wrapped up the golden leaves, they assured the old woman they were not at all proud, notwithstanding the lands and castles they had left behind them in the north country, and would willingly help to lighten the wallet. The old woman could scarcely be persuaded to sit down for pure humility, but at length she did, and before the wallet was half empty, Scrub and Fairfeather firmly believed that there must be something remarkably noble-looking about them. This was not entirely owing to her ingenious discourse. The old woman was a wood-witch; her name was Buttertongue; and all her time was spent in making mead, which, being boiled with curious herbs and spells, had the power of making all who drank it fall asleep and dream with their eyes open. She had two dwarfs of sons; one was named Spy, and the other Pounce. Wherever their mother went they were not far behind; and whoever tasted her mead was sure to be robbed by the dwarfs.
Scrub and Fairfeather sat leaning against the old tree. The cobbler had a lump of cheese in his hand; his wife held fast a hunch of bread. Their eyes and mouths were both open, but they were dreaming of great grandeur at court, when the old woman raised her shrill voice:
"What ho, my sons! come here and carry home the harvest."
No sooner had she spoken, than the two little dwarfs darted out of the neighbouring thicket.
"Idle boys!" cried the mother, "what have ye done to-day to help our living?"
"I have been to the city," said Spy, "and could see nothing. These are hard times for us—everybody minds their business so contentedly since that cobbler came; but here is a leathern doublet which his page threw out of the window; it's of no use, but I brought it to let you see I was not idle." And he tossed down Spare's doublet, with the merry leaves in it, which he had carried like a bundle on his little back.
To explain how Spy came by it, I must tell you that the forest was not far from the great city where Spare lived in such high esteem. All things had gone well with the cobbler till the king thought that it was quite unbecoming to see such a worthy man without a servant. His majesty, therefore, to let all men understand his royal favour toward Spare, appointed one of his own pages to wait upon him. The name of this youth was Tinseltoes, and, though he was the seventh of the king's pages, nobody in all court had grander notions. Nothing could please him that had not gold or silver about it, and his grandmother feared he would hang himself for being appointed page to a cobbler. As for Spare, if anything could have troubled him, this token of his majesty's kindness would have done it.
The honest man had been so used to serve himself that the page was always in the way, but his merry leaves came to his assistance; and, to the great surprise of his grandmother, Tinseltoes took wonderfully to the new service. Some said it was because Spare gave him nothing to do but play at bowls all day on the palace-green. Yet one thing grieved the heart of Tinseltoes, and that was his master's leathern doublet; but for it he was persuaded people would never remember that Spare had been a cobbler, and the page took a deal of pains to let him see how unfashionable it was at court; but Spare answered Tinseltoes as he had done the king, and at last, finding nothing better would do, the page got up one fine morning earlier than his master, and tossed the leathern doublet out of the back window into a certain lane where Spy found it, and brought it to his mother.
"That nasty thing!" said the old woman; "where is the good in it?"
By this time, Pounce had taken everything of value from Scrub and Fairfeather—the looking-glass, the silver-rimmed horn, the husband's scarlet coat, the wife's gay mantle, and, above all, the golden leaves, which so rejoiced old Buttertongue and her sons, that they threw the leathern doublet over the sleeping cobbler for a jest, and went off to their hut in the heart of the forest.
The sun was going down when Scrub and Fairfeather awoke from dreaming that they had been made a lord and a lady, and sat clothed in silk and velvet, feasting with the king in his palace-hall. It was a great disappointment to find their golden leaves and all their best things gone. Scrub tore his hair, and vowed to take the old woman's life, while Fairfeather lamented sore; but Scrub, feeling cold for want of his coat, put on the leathern doublet without asking or caring whence it came.
Scarcely was it buttoned on when a change came over him; he addressed such merry discourse to Fairfeather, that, instead of lamentations, she made the wood ring with laughter. Both busied themselves in getting up a hut of boughs, in which Scrub kindled a fire with a flint and steel, which, together with his pipe, he had brought unknown to Fairfeather, who had told him the like was never heard of at court. Then they found a pheasant's nest at the root of an old oak, made a meal of roasted eggs, and went to sleep on a heap of long green grass which they had gathered, with nightingales singing all night long in the old trees about them. So it happened that Scrub and Fairfeather stayed day after day in the forest, making their hut larger and more comfortable against the winter, living on wild birds' eggs and berries, and never thinking of their lost golden leaves, or their journey to court.
In the meantime Spare had got up and missed his doublet. Tinseltoes, of course, said he knew nothing about it. The whole palace was searched, and every servant questioned, till all the court wondered why such a fuss was made about an old leathern doublet. That very day things came back to their old fashion. Quarrels began among lords, and jealousies among the ladies. The king said his subjects did not pay him half enough taxes, the queen wanted more jewels, the servants took to their old bickerings and got up some new ones. Spare found himself getting wonderfully dull, and very much out of place: nobles began to ask what business a cobbler had at the king's table, and his majesty ordered the palace chronicles to be searched for a precedent. The cobbler was too wise to tell all he had lost with that doublet, but being by this time somewhat familiar with court customs, he proclaimed a reward of fifty gold pieces to any who would bring him news concerning it.
Scarcely was this made known in the city, when the gates and outer courts of the palace were filled by men, women, and children, some bringing leathern doublets of every cut and colour; some with tales of what they had heard and seen in their walks about the neighbourhood; and so much news concerning all sorts of great people came out of these stores, that the lords and ladies ran to the king with complaints of Spare as a speaker of slander; and his majesty, being now satisfied that there was no example in all the palace records of such a retainer, issued a decree banishing the cobbler for ever from court, and confiscating all his goods in favour of Tinseltoes.
That royal edict was scarcely published before the page was in full possession of his rich chamber, his costly garments, and all the presents the courtiers had given him; while Spare, having no longer the fifty pieces of gold to give, was glad to make his escape out of the back window, for fear of the nobles, who vowed to be revenged on him, and the crowd, who were prepared to stone him for cheating them about his doublet.
The window from which Spare let himself down with a strong rope, was that from which Tinseltoes had tossed the doublet, and as the cobbler came down late in the twilight, a poor woodman, with a heavy load of fagots, stopped and stared at him in great astonishment.
"What's the matter, friend?" said Spare. "Did you never see a man coming down from a back window before?"
"Why," said the woodman, "the last morning I passed here a leathern doublet came out of that very window, and I'll be bound you are the owner of it."
"That I am, friend," said the cobbler. "Can you tell me which way that doublet went?"
"As I walked on," said the woodman, "a dwarf, called Spy, bundled it up and ran off to his mother in the forest."
"Honest friend," said Spare, taking off the last of his fine clothes (a grass-green mantle edged with gold), "I'll give you this if you will follow the dwarf, and bring me back my doublet."
"It would not be good to carry fagots in," said the woodman. "But if you want back your doublet, the road to the forest lies at the end of this lane," and he trudged away.
Determined to find his doublet, and sure that neither crowd nor courtiers could catch him in the forest, Spare went on his way, and was soon among the tall trees; but neither hut nor dwarf could he see. Moreover, the night came on; the wood was dark and tangled, but here and there the moon shone through its alleys, the great owls flitted about, and the nightingales sang. So he went on, hoping to find some place of shelter. At last the red light of a fire, gleaming through a thicket, led him to the door of a low hut. It stood half open, as if there was nothing to fear, and within he saw his brother Scrub snoring loudly on a bed of grass, at the foot of which lay his own leathern doublet; while Fairfeather, in a kirtle made of plaited rushes, sat roasting pheasants' eggs by the fire.
"Good-evening, mistress," said Spare, stepping in.
The blaze shone on him, but so changed was her brother-in-law with his court-life, that Fairfeather did not know him, and she answered far more courteously than was her wont.
"Good-evening, master. Whence come ye so late? but speak low, for my good man has sorely tired himself cleaving wood, and is taking a sleep, as you see, before supper."
"A good rest to him," said Spare, perceiving he was not known. "I come from the court for a day's hunting, and have lost my way in the forest."
"Sit down and have a share of our supper," said Fairfeather, "I will put some more eggs in the ashes; and tell me the news of court—I used to think of it long ago when I was young and foolish."
"Did you never go there?" said the cobbler. "So fair a dame as you would make the ladies marvel."
"You are pleased to flatter," said Fairfeather; "but my husband has a brother there, and we left our moorland village to try our fortune also. An old woman enticed us with fair words and strong drink at the entrance of this forest, where we fell asleep and dreamt of great things; but when we woke, everything had been robbed from us—my looking-glass, my scarlet cloak, my husband's Sunday coat; and, in place of all, the robbers left him that old leathern doublet, which he has worn ever since, and never was so merry in all his life, though we live in this poor hut."
"It is a shabby doublet, that," said Spare, taking up the garment, and seeing that it was his own, for the merry leaves were still sewed in its lining. "It would be good for hunting in, however—your husband would be glad to part with it, I dare say, in exchange for this handsome cloak"; and he pulled off the green mantle and buttoned on the doublet, much to Fairfeather's delight, who ran and shook Scrub, crying:
"Husband! husband! rise and see what a good bargain I have made."
Scrub gave one closing snore, and muttered something about the root being hard; but he rubbed his eyes, gazed up at his brother, and said:
"Spare, is that really you? How did you like the court, and have you made your fortune?"
"That I have, brother," said Spare, "in getting back my own good leathern doublet. Come, let us eat eggs, and rest ourselves here this night. In the morning we will return to our own old hut, at the end of the moorland village where the Christmas Cuckoo will come and bring us leaves."
Scrub and Fairfeather agreed. So in the morning they all returned, and found the old hut little the worse for wear and weather. The neighbours came about them to ask the news of court, and see if they had made their fortune. Everybody was astonished to find the three poorer than ever, but somehow they liked to go back to the hut. Spare brought out the lasts and awls he had hidden in a corner; Scrub and he began their old trade, and the whole north country found out that there never were such cobblers.
They mended the shoes of lords and ladies as well as the common people; everybody was satisfied. Their custom increased from day to day, and all that were disappointed, discontented, or unlucky, came to the hut as in old times, before Spare went to court.
The rich brought them presents, the poor did them service. The hut itself changed, no one knew how. Flowering honeysuckle grew over its roof; red and white roses grew thick about its door. Moreover, the Christmas Cuckoo always came on the first of April, bringing three leaves of the merry tree—for Scrub and Fairfeather would have no more golden ones. So it was with them when I last heard the news of the north country.
Y OU may perhaps read of what are called "Termites," or White Ants. You must not think that these are true ants, for they are not. They belong to another Order of insects. They have four wings all of the same size. But true ants have one pair of wings smaller than the other.
The white ants live in the ground and also in trees. They do much harm by gnawing wood and trees. They swarm into houses, and eat the tables and chairs and such things. They eat all kinds of food. They are much like real ants in their ways. There are many of them in our country.
Now you must hear about the ants that keep cows. I have told you that ants like honey. They take all their food by lapping and sucking it. They suck honey from flowers.
If you look at the plants in the garden or house, you may see on the leaves some very small green things, that seem to eat the leaves. Your mother will tell you these are "plant lice," and that they spoil her plants.
The name of this little insect is Aphis. That is a very pretty name. The aphis is very small, and is often of the color of the leaf it feeds on.
This wee thing can make honey in its body much as bees do. But the aphis does not store up the honey; it drops it on the leaf as it feeds. This is called "honey dew."
The ants eat the honey dew from the leaves, and they know that it comes from the aphis. They stroke and tap the aphis with their feelers, so that more dew will be let fall.
Have you seen the milkmaid go from cow to cow, and fill her pail with milk? So the ants go from one aphis to another, until they get all the honey they want.
The ants can carry home this honey, and give it to other ants. The nurse ants will carry it to the baby ants. The workers take it to the queens, owners, and soldiers.
The aphis is called the "ant's cow." A hill of ants will seem to own a herd of these wee green Cows. They go to them on their leaf, and get the honey. They know and claim their own cows. It is just like having a drove of cows in pasture, as the farmer does.
You know that people often keep cows in stables and feed them there. The ant has this way also. There is a kind of aphis that loves the dark and feeds on roots. Some ants keep a herd of these, hidden in the ground. They pet, stroke, and clean them to get their honey dew.
Ants have been seen to fight for days over a herd of aphis-cows. One hill of ants had no cows, and they tried to steal the cows that belonged to another hill. After four days the lady that watched them got twenty cows, and gave them to the hill that had none. Then the war ended.
The ants which got the new cows seemed very glad. They licked and petted the cows, and put them in a safe place. They took honey from them and fed the soldiers.
This seems just like a fairy tale. But it is quite true. All these things can be seen if you look out or them. But you must be patient and anxious to learn.
In warm summer days, when your mother tells you that it is too hot to run about much, what will you do? Why not make a tent of an umbrella, placed near an ant-hill, and watch these pretty and curious little creatures?
When I was a little boy,
I lived by myself,
And all the bread and cheese I got,
I put upon my shelf.
The rats and the mice,
They made such a strife,
I had to go to London
To buy me a wife.
The streets were so broad,
And the lanes were so narrow,
I had to bring my wife home
On a wheelbarrow.
The wheelbarrow broke,
And my wife had a fall;
Down tumbled wheelbarrow,
Little wife and all.
WEEK 37 |
Daniel iii: 1 to 30.
T one time King Nebuchadnezzar caused a great image to be made and to be covered with gold. This image he set up as an idol to be worshipped, on the plain of Dura, near the city of Babylon. When it was finished, it stood upon its base or foundation almost a hundred feet high, so that upon the plain it could be seen far away. Then the king sent out a command for all the princes, and rulers, and nobles in the land to come to a great gathering, when the image was to be set apart for worship.
The great men of the kingdom came from far and near, and stood around the image. Among them, by command of the king, were Daniel's three friends, the young Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. For some reason Daniel himself was not there. He may have been busy with the work of the kingdom in some other place.
At one moment in the service before the image all the trumpets sounded, the drums were beaten, and music was made upon musical instruments of all kinds, as a signal for all the people to kneel down and worship the great golden image. But while the people were kneeling there were three men who stood up and would not bow down. These were the three young Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They knelt down before the Lord God only.
Many of the nobles had been jealous of these young men because they had been lifted to high places in the rule of the kingdom, and these men, who hated Daniel and his friends, were glad to find that these three men had not obeyed the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had said that if any one did not worship the golden image he should be thrown into a furnace of fire. These men who hated the Jews came to the king, and said, "O king, may you live forever! You gave orders that when the music sounded every one should bow down and worship the golden image; and that if any man did not worship he should be thrown into a furnace of fire. There are some Jews whom you have made rulers in the land, and they have not done as you commanded. Their names are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They do not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up."
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with rage and fury at knowing that any one should dare to disobey his words. He sent for these three men, and said to them, "O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, was it by purpose that you did not fall down and worship the image of gold? The music shall sound once more, and if you then will worship the image, it shall be well. But if you will not, then you shall be thrown into the furnace of fire to die."
These three young men were not afraid of the king. They said, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, we are ready to answer you at once. The God whom we serve is able to save us from the fiery furnace and we know that he will save us. But if it is God's will that we should die, even then, you may understand, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up."
This answer made the king more furious than before. He said to his servants, "Make a fire in the furnace hotter than ever it has been before, as hot as fire can be made, and throw these three men into it."
Then the soldiers of the king's army seized the three young Jews as they stood in their loose robes, with their turbans or hats on their heads. They tied them with ropes, and dragged them to the mouth of the furnace, and threw them into the fire. The flames rushed from the opened door with such fury that they burned even to death the soldiers who were holding these men; and the men themselves fell down bound into the middle of the fiery furnace.
King Nebuchadnezzar stood in front of the furnace, and looked into the open door. As he looked he was filled with wonder at what he saw; and he said to the nobles around him:
"Did we not throw three men bound into the fire? How is it then that I see four men loose, walking in the furnace, and the fourth man looks as though he were a son of the gods?"
King Nebuchadnezzar looking into the fiery furnace.
The king came near to the door of the furnace as the fire became lower, and he called out to the three men within it:
"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye who serve the Most High God, come out of the fire and come to me."
They came out and stood before the king, in the sight of all the princes, and nobles, and rulers; and every one could see that they were alive. Their garments had not been scorched, not their hair singed, nor was there even the smell of fire upon them. The king, Nebuchadnezzar, said before all his rulers:
"Blessed be the God of these men, who has sent his angel and has saved their lives. I make a law that no man in all my kingdoms shall say a word against their God, for there is no other god who can save in this manner. And if any man speaks a word against their God, the Most High God, that man shall be cut in pieces, and his house shall be torn down." And after this the king lifted up these three young men to still higher places in the land of Babylon.
The three young Jews were not afraid of the king.
T HE Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why. To all appearance the summer's pomp was still at fullest height, and although in the tilled acres green had given way to gold, though rowans were reddening, and the woods were dashed here and there with a tawny fierceness, yet light and warmth and colour were still present in undiminished measure, clean of any chilly premonitions of the passing year. But the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk to a casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers; the robin was beginning to assert himself once more; and there was a feeling in the air of change and departure. The cuckoo, of course, had long been silent; but many another feathered friend, for months a part of the familiar landscape and its small society, was missing too and it seemed that the ranks thinned steadily day by day. Rat, ever observant of all winged movement, saw that it was taking daily a southing tendency; and even as he lay in bed at night he thought he could make out, passing in the darkness overhead, the beat and quiver of impatient pinions, obedient to the peremptory call.
Nature's Grand Hotel has its Season, like the others. As the guests one by one pack, pay, and depart, and the seats at the table-d'hôte shrink pitifully at each succeeding meal; as suites of rooms are closed, carpets taken up, and waiters sent away; those boarders who are staying on, en pension, until the next year's full re-opening, cannot help being somewhat affected by all these flittings and farewells, this eager discussion of plans, routes, and fresh quarters, this daily shrinkage in the stream of comradeship. One gets unsettled, depressed, and inclined to be querulous. Why this craving for change? Why not stay on quietly here, like us, and be jolly? You don't know this hotel out of the season, and what fun we have among ourselves, we fellows who remain and see the whole interesting year out. All very true, no doubt, the others always reply; we quite envy you—and some other year perhaps—but just now we have engagements—and there's the bus at the door—our time is up! So they depart, with a smile and a nod, and we miss them, and feel resentful. The Rat was a self-sufficing sort of animal, rooted to the land, and, whoever went, he stayed; still, he could not help noticing what was in the air, and feeling some of its influence in his bones.
It was difficult to settle down to anything seriously, with all this flitting going on. Leaving the water-side, where rushes stood thick and tall in a stream that was becoming sluggish and low, he wandered country-wards, crossed a field or two of pasturage already looking dusty and parched, and thrust into the great sea of wheat, yellow, wavy, and murmurous, full of quiet motion and small whisperings. Here he often loved to wander, through the forest of stiff strong stalks that carried their own golden sky away over his head—a sky that was always dancing, shimmering, softly talking; or swaying strongly to the passing wind and recovering itself with a toss and a merry laugh. Here, too, he had many small friends, a society complete in itself, leading full and busy lives, but always with a spare moment to gossip, and exchange news with a visitor. To-day, however, though they were civil enough, the field-mice and harvest-mice seemed preoccupied. Many were digging and tunnelling busily; others, gathered together in small groups, examined plans and drawings of small flats, stated to be desirable and compact, and situated conveniently near the Stores. Some were hauling out dusty trunks and dress-baskets, others were already elbow-deep packing their belongings; while everywhere piles and bundles of wheat, oats, barley, beech-mast and nuts, lay about ready for transport.
"Here's old Ratty!" they cried as soon as they saw him. "Come and bear a hand, Rat, and don't stand about idle!"
"What sort of games are you up to?" said the Water Rat severely. "You know it isn't time to be thinking of winter quarters yet, by a long way!"
"O yes, we know that," explained a field-mouse rather shamefacedly; "but it's always as well to be in good time, isn't it? We really must get all the furniture and baggage and stores moved out of this before those horrid machines begin clicking round the fields; and then, you know, the best flats get picked up so quickly nowadays, and if you're late you have to put up with anything; and they want such a lot of doing up, too, before they're fit to move into. Of course, we're early, we know that; but we're only just making a start."
"O, bother starts," said the Rat. "It's a splendid day. Come for a row, or a stroll along the hedges, or a picnic in the woods, or something."
"Well, I think not to-day, thank you,"
replied the field-mouse hurriedly.
"Perhaps some other day—when we've
The Rat, with a snort of contempt, swung round to go, tripped over a hat-box, and fell, with undignified remarks.
"If people would be more careful," said a field-mouse rather stiffly, "and look where they're going, people wouldn't hurt themselves—and forget themselves. Mind that hold-all, Rat! You'd better sit down somewhere. In an hour or two we may be more free to attend to you."
"You won't be 'free' as you call it much this side of Christmas, I can see that," retorted the Rat grumpily, as he picked his way out of the field.
He returned somewhat despondently to his river again—his faithful, steady-going old river, which never packed up, flitted, or went into winter quarters.
In the osiers which fringed the bank he spied a swallow sitting. Presently it was joined by another, and then by a third; and the birds, fidgeting restlessly on their bough, talked together earnestly and low.
"What, already," said the Rat, strolling up to them. "What's the hurry? I call it simply ridiculous."
"O, we're not off yet, if that's what you mean," replied the first swallow. "We're only making plans and arranging things. Talking it over, you know—what route we're taking this year, and where we'll stop, and so on. That's half the fun!"
"Fun?" said the Rat; "now that's just what I don't understand.
If you've got to
leave this pleasant place, and your friends who will miss you, and your snug
homes that you've just settled into, why, when the hour strikes I've no doubt
you'll go bravely, and face all the trouble and discomfort and change and
newness, and make believe that you're not very unhappy. But to want to talk
about it, or even think about it, till you really
"No, you don't understand, naturally," said the second swallow. "First, we feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest; then back come the recollections one by one, like homing pigeons. They flutter through our dreams at night, they fly with us in our wheelings and circlings by day. We hunger to inquire of each other, to compare notes and assure ourselves that it was all really true, as one by one the scents and sounds and names of long-forgotten places come gradually back and beckon to us."
"Couldn't you stop on for just this year?" suggested the Water Rat, wistfully. "We'll all do our best to make you feel at home. You've no idea what good times we have here, while you are far away."
"I tried 'stopping on' one year," said the third swallow. "I had grown so fond of the place that when the time came I hung back and let the others go on without me. For a few weeks it was all well enough, but afterwards, O the weary length of the nights! The shivering, sunless days! The air so clammy and chill, and not an insect in an acre of it! No, it was no good; my courage broke down, and one cold, stormy night I took wing, flying well inland on account of the strong easterly gales. It was snowing hard as I beat through the passes of the great mountains, and I had a stiff fight to win through; but never shall I forget the blissful feeling of the hot sun again on my back as I sped down to the lakes that lay so blue and placid below me, and the taste of my first fat insect! The past was like a bad dream; the future was all happy holiday as I moved southwards week by week, easily, lazily, lingering as long as I dared, but always heeding the call! No, I had had my warning; never again did I think of disobedience."
"Ah, yes, the call of the South, of the South!" twittered the other two
dreamily. "Its songs its hues, its radiant air! O, do you
"Why do you ever come back, then, at all?" he demanded of the swallows jealously. "What do you find to attract you in this poor drab little country?"
"And do you think," said the first swallow, "that the other call is not for us too, in its due season? The call of lush meadow-grass, wet orchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle, of haymaking, and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect Eaves?"
"Do you suppose," asked the second one, that you are the only living thing that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo's note again?"
"In due time," said the third, "we shall be home-sick once more for quiet water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream. But to-day all that seems pale and thin and very far away. Just now our blood dances to other music."
They fell a-twittering among themselves once more, and this time their intoxicating babble was of violet seas, tawny sands, and lizard-haunted walls.
All night long and every night,
When my mama puts out the light,
I see the people marching by,
As plain as day before my eye.
Armies and emperors and kings,
All carrying different kinds of things,
And marching in so grand a way,
You never saw the like by day.
So fine a show was never seen
At the great circus on the green;
For every kind of beast and man
Is marching in that caravan.
As first they move a little slow,
But still the faster on they go,
And still beside me close I keep
Until we reach the town of Sleep.