WEEK 48 |
T HE sun had just risen above the mountains and was shedding its first golden rays over the hut and the valley below. Alm-Uncle, as was his custom, had been standing in a quiet and devout attitude for some little while, watching the light mists gradually lifting, and the heights and valley emerging from their twilight shadows and awakening to another day.
The light morning clouds overhead grew brighter and brighter, till at last the sun shone out in its full glory, and rock and wood and hill lay bathed in golden light.
Uncle now stepped back into the hut and went softly up the ladder. Clara had just opened her eyes and was looking with wonder at the bright sunlight that shone through the round window and danced and sparkled about her bed. She could not at first think what she was looking at or where she was. Then she caught sight of Heidi sleeping beside her, and now she heard the grandfather's cheery voice asking her if she had slept well and was feeling rested. She assured him she was not tired, and that when she had once fallen asleep she had not opened her eyes again all night. The grandfather was satisfied at this and immediately began to attend upon her with so much gentleness and understanding that it seemed as if his chief calling had been to look after sick children.
Heidi now awoke and was surprised to see Clara dressed, and already in the grandfather's arms ready to be carried down. She must be up too, and she went through her toilette with lightning-like speed. She ran down the ladder and out of the hut, and there further astonishment awaited her, for grandfather had been busy the night before after they were in bed. Seeing that it was impossible to get Clara's chair through the hut-door, he had taken down two of the boards at the side of the shed and made an opening large enough to admit the chair; these he left loose so that they could be taken away and put up at pleasure. He was at this moment wheeling Clara out into the sun; he left her in front of the hut while he went to look after the goats, and Heidi ran up to her friend.
The fresh morning breeze blew round the children's faces, and every fresh puff brought a waft of fragrance from the fir trees. Clara drew it in with delight and lay back in her chair with an unaccustomed feeling of health and comfort.
It was the first time in her life that she had been out in the open country at this early hour and felt the fresh morning breeze, and the pure mountain air was so cool and refreshing that every breath she drew was a pleasure. And then the bright sweet sun, which was not hot and sultry up here, but lay soft and warm on her hands and on the grass at her feet. Clara had not imagined that it would be like this on the mountain.
"O Heidi, if only I could stay up here for ever with you," she exclaimed happily, turning in her chair from side to side that she might drink in the air and sun from all quarters.
"Now you see that it is just what I told you," replied Heidi delighted; "that it is the most beautiful thing in the world to be up here with grandfather."
The latter at that moment appeared coming from the goat shed and bringing two small foaming bowls of snow-white milk—one for Clara and one for Heidi.
"That will do the little daughter good," he said, nodding to Clara; "it is from Little Swan and will make her strong. To your health, child! drink it up."
Clara had never tasted goat's milk before; she hesitated and smelt it before putting it to her lips, but seeing how Heidi drank hers up without hesitating, and how much she seemed to like it, Clara did the same, and drank till there was not a drop left, for she too found it delicious, tasting just as if sugar and cinnamon had been mixed with it.
"To-morrow we will drink two," said the grandfather, who had looked on with satisfaction at seeing her follow Heidi's example.
Peter now arrived with the goats, and while Heidi was receiving her usual crowded morning greetings, Uncle drew Peter aside to speak to him, for the goats bleated so loudly and continuously in their wish to express their joy and affection that no one could be heard near them.
"Attend to what I have to say," he said. "From to-day be sure you let Little Swan go where she likes. She has an instinct where to find the best food for herself, and so if she wants to climb higher, you follow her, and it will do the others no harm if they go too; on no account bring her back. A little more climbing won't hurt you, and in this matter she probably knows better than you what is good for her; I want her to give as fine milk as possible. Why are you looking over there as if you wanted to eat somebody? Nobody will interfere with you. So now be off and remember what I say."
Peter was accustomed to give immediate obedience to Uncle, and he marched off with his goats, but with a turn of the head and roll of the eye that showed he had some thought in reserve. The goats carried Heidi along with them a little way, which was what Peter wanted. "You will have to come with them," he called to her, "for I shall be obliged to follow Little Swan."
"I cannot," Heidi called back from the midst of her friends, "and I shall not be able to come for a long, long time—not as long as Clara is with me. Grandfather, however, has promised to go up the mountain with both of us one day."
Heidi had now extricated herself from the goats and she ran back to Clara. Peter doubled his fists and made threatening gestures towards the invalid on her couch, and then climbed up some distance without pause until he was out of sight, for he was afraid Uncle might have seen him, and he did not care to know what Uncle might have thought of the fists.
Clara and Heidi had made so many plans for themselves that they hardly knew where to begin. Heidi suggested that they should first write to grandmamma, to whom they had promised to send word every day, for grandmamma had not felt sure whether it would in the long run suit Clara's health to remain up the mountain, or if she would continue to enjoy herself there. With daily news of her granddaughter she could stay on without anxiety at Ragatz, and be ready to go to Clara at a moment's notice.
"Must we go indoors to write?" asked Clara, who agreed to Heidi's proposal but did not want to move from where she was, as it was so much nicer outside. Heidi was prepared to arrange everything. She ran in and brought out her school-book and writing things and her own little stool. She put her reading book and copy book on Clara's knees, to make a desk for her to write upon, and she herself took her seat on the stool and sat to the bench, and then they both began writing to grandmamma. But Clara paused after every sentence to look about her; it was too beautiful for much letter writing. The breeze had sunk a little, and now only gently fanned her face and whispered lightly through the fir trees. Little winged insects hummed and danced around her in the clear air, and a great stillness lay over the far, wide, sunny pasture lands. Lofty and silent rose the high mountain peaks above her, and below lay the whole broad valley full of quiet peace. Only now and again the call of some shepherd-boy rang out through the air, and echo answered softly from the rocks. The morning passed, the children hardly knew how, and now grandfather came with the mid-day bowls of steaming milk, for the little daughter, he said, was to remain out as long as there was a gleam of sun in the sky. The mid-day meal was set out and eaten as yesterday in the open air. Then Heidi pushed Clara's chair under the fir trees, for they had agreed to spend the afternoon under their shade and there tell each other all that had happened since Heidi left Frankfurt. If everything had gone on there as usual in a general way, there were still all kinds of particular things to tell Heidi about the various people who composed the Sesemann household, and who were all so well known to Heidi.
So they sat and chatted under the trees, and the more lively grew their conversation, the more loudly sang the birds overhead, as if wishing to take part in the children's gossip, which evidently pleased them. So the hours flew by and all at once, as it seemed, the evening had come with the returning Peter, who still scowled and looked angry.
"Good-night, Peter," called out Heidi, as she saw he had no intention of stopping to speak.
"Good-night, Peter," called out Clara in a friendly voice. Peter took no notice and went surlily on with his goats.
As Clara saw the grandfather leading away Little Swan to milk her, she was suddenly taken with a longing for another bowlful of the fragrant milk, and waited impatiently for it.
"Isn't it curious, Heidi," she said, astonished at herself, "as long as I can remember I have only eaten because I was obliged to, and everything used to seem to taste of cod-liver oil, and I was always wishing there was no need to eat or drink; and now I am longing for grandfather to bring me the milk."
"Yes, I know what it feels like," replied Heidi, who remembered the many days in Frankfurt when all her food used to seem to stick in her throat. Clara, however, could not understand it; the fact was that she had never in her life before spent a whole day in the open air, much less in such high, life-giving mountain air. When grandfather at last brought her the evening milk, she drank it up so quickly that she had emptied her bowl before Heidi, and then she asked for a little more. The grandfather went inside with both the children's bowls, and when he brought them out again full he had something else to add to their supper. He had walked over that afternoon to a herdsman's house where the sweetly tasting butter was made, and had brought home a large pat, some of which he had now spread thickly on two good slices of bread. He stood and watched with pleasure while Clara and Heidi ate their appetising meal with childish hunger and enjoyment.
That night, when Clara lay down in her bed and prepared to watch the stars, her eyes would not keep open, and she fell asleep as soon as Heidi and slept soundly all night—a thing she never remembered having done before. The following day and the day after passed in the same pleasant fashion, and the third day there came a surprise for the children. Two stout porters came up the mountain, each carrying a bed on his shoulders with bedding of all kinds and two beautiful new white coverlids. The men also had a letter with them from grandmamma, in which she said that these were for Clara and Heidi, and that Heidi in future was always to sleep in a proper bed, and when she went down to Dörfli in the winter she was to take one with her and leave the other at the hut, so that Clara might always know there was a bed ready for her when she paid a visit to the mountain. She went on to thank the children for their long letters and encouraged them to continue writing daily, so that she might be able to picture all they were doing.
So the grandfather went up and threw back the hay from Heidi's bed on to the great heap, and then with his help the beds were transported to the loft. He put them close to one another so that the children might still be able to see out of the window, for he knew what pleasure they had in the light from the sun and stars.
Meanwhile grandmamma down at Ragatz was rejoicing at the excellent news of the invalid which reached her daily from the mountain. Clara found the life more charming each day and could not say enough of the kindness and care which the grandfather lavished upon her, nor of Heidi's lively and amusing companionship, for the latter was more entertaining even than when in Frankfurt with her, and Clara's first thought when she woke each morning was, "Oh, how glad I am to be here still."
Having such fresh assurances each day that all was going well with Clara, grandmamma thought she might put off her visit to the children a little longer, for the steep ride up and down was somewhat of a fatigue to her.
The grandfather seemed to feel an especial sympathy for this little invalid charge, for he tried to think of something fresh every day to help forward her recovery. He climbed up the mountain every afternoon, higher and higher each day, and came home in the evening with a large bunch of leaves which scented the air with a mingled fragrance as of carnations and thyme, even from afar. He hung it up in the goat shed, and the goats on their return were wild to get at it, for they recognised the smell. But Uncle did not go climbing after rare plants to give the goats the pleasure of eating them without any trouble of finding them; what he gathered was for Little Swan alone, that she might give extra fine milk, and the effect of the extra feeding was shown in the way she flung her head in the air with ever-increasing frolicsomeness, and in the bright glow of her eye.
Clara had now been on the mountain for three weeks. For some days past the grandfather, each morning after carrying her down, had said, "Won't the little daughter try if she can stand for a minute or two?" And Clara had made the effort in order to please him, but had clung to him as soon as her feet touched the ground, exclaiming that it hurt her so. He let her try a little longer, however, each day.
It was many years since they had had such a splendid summer among the mountains. Day after day there were the same cloudless sky and brilliant sun; the flowers opened wide their fragrant blossoms, and everywhere the eye was greeted with a glow of color; and when the evening came the crimson light fell on mountain peaks and on the great snowfield, till at last the sun sank in a sea of golden flame.
And Heidi never tired of telling Clara of all this, for only higher up could the full glory of the colors be rightly seen; and more particularly did she dwell on the beauty of the spot on the higher slope of the mountain, where the bright golden rock-roses grew in masses, and the blue flowers were in such numbers that the very grass seemed to have turned blue, while near these were whole bushes of the brown blossoms, with their delicious scent, so that you never wanted to move again when you once sat down among them.
She had just been expatiating on the flowers as she sat with
Clara under the fir trees one evening, and had been telling her
again of the wonderful light from the evening sun, when such an
irrepressible longing came over her to see it all once more that
she jumped up and ran to her grandfather, who was in the shed,
calling out almost before she was
"Grandfather, will you take us out with the goats to-morrow? Oh, it is so lovely up there now!"
"Very well," he answered, "but if I do, the little daughter must do something to please me: she must try her best again this evening to stand on her feet."
Heidi ran back with the good news to Clara, and the latter
promised to try her very best as the grandfather wished, for she
looked forward immensely to the next day's excursion. Heidi was
so pleased and excited that she called out to Peter as soon as
she caught sight of him that
"Peter, Peter, we are all coming out with you to-morrow and are going to stay up there the whole day."
Peter, cross as a bear, grumbled some reply, and lifted his stick to give Greenfinch a blow for no reason in particular, but Greenfinch saw the movement, and with a leap over Snowflake's back she got out of the way, and the stick only hit the air.
Clara and Heidi got into their two fine beds that night full of delightful anticipation of the morrow; they were so full of their plans that they agreed to keep awake all night and talk over them until they might venture to get up. But their heads had no sooner touched their soft pillows than the conversation suddenly ceased, and Clara fell into a dream of an immense field, which looked the color of the sky, so thickly inlaid was it with blue bell-shaped flowers; and Heidi heard the great bird of prey calling to her from the heights above, "Come! come! come!"
O NE day King Henry the Fourth of France was hunting in a large forest. Towards evening he told his men to ride home by the main road while he went by another way that was somewhat longer.
As he came out of the forest he saw a little boy by the roadside, who seemed to be watching for some one.
"Well, my boy," said the king, "are you looking for your father?"
"No, sir," answered the boy. "I am looking for the king. They say he is hunting in the woods, and perhaps will ride out this way. So I'm waiting to see him."
"Oh, if that is what you wish," said King Henry, "get up behind me on the horse and I'll take you to the place where you will see him."
The boy got up at once, and sat behind the king. The horse cantered briskly along, and king and boy were soon quite well acquainted.
"They say that King Henry always has a number of men with him," said the boy; "how shall I know which is he?"
"Oh, that will be easy enough," was the answer. "All the other men will take off their hats, but the king will keep his on."
"Do you mean that the one with his hat on will be the king?"
Soon they came into the main road where a number of the king's men were waiting. All the men seemed amused when they saw the boy, and as they rode up, they greeted the king by taking off their hats.
"Well, my boy," said King Henry, "which do you think is the king?"
"I don't know," answered the boy; "but it must be either you or I, for we both have our hats on."
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold.
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold;
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The vision raised its head,
And, with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again, with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed;
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
WEEK 48 |
INE years passed and the quarrelling between France and
England still went on, and in
But that did not satisfy King John. He demanded that the Prince and the whole English army should give themselves up as prisoners.
The Black Prince refused even to think of such a thing. Then King John said that he would be satisfied if the Prince and one hundred of his best knights gave themselves up. Again the Black Prince refused, and he and his men prepared to fight, and to win or die.
"My men," said the Prince, "we are only a very small body
compared with the army of the French. But numbers do not
always bring victory. Therefore fight manfully, and, if it
please God and
The Prince posted his army very cleverly. Only narrow lanes led to the place he had chosen, behind the hedges of which his archers were hidden. As the French knights rode down the lanes, the English archers shot so fast and well that the knights knew not where to turn, and soon the lanes were filled with dead and dying men and horses.
The English shouted
They were led before the Black Prince, who received them very kindly, and treated them as friends rather than as prisoners. When the evening came, and supper was served, the Prince made the French king and his son take the most honoured places at table, and, instead of sitting down to eat with them, he himself waited upon them.
King John begged the Black Prince to sit down to supper with him, but he would not. "It is honour enough for me," he said, "to serve so great a king and so brave a soldier."
After the battle of Poitiers, the Black Prince remained in France for some time, then he set out for England, taking King John with him.
When King Edward heard that they were coming, he gave orders to the people of London to make the city bright and beautiful in honour of the King of France. So the houses were decked with flags and wreaths of flowers, and the people, dressed in their holiday clothes, marched through the streets in gay crowds, cheering the King of France and their own brave Prince.
King John was mounted upon a beautiful white horse, and beside him rode the Black Prince on a little black pony. It seemed as if the Prince wanted to do everything in his power to make King John forget that he was a prisoner.
But, in spite of all the kindness shown to him by King Edward and the Black Prince, John found the months during which he was kept a prisoner and unable to go back to his own dear land long and weary. At last, after four years, Edward made peace with France for a time, and set King John free on condition that he paid a large sum of money.
King John returned to his own land, but as he could not find enough money with which to pay Edward, he came back to prison, like an honourable man, and died in England.
All these wars in France had cost a great deal of money. The English people were proud of their King and Prince, and glad that they should win so many battles, and make the name of England famous; but the people had to pay for these wars. They had to pay tax after tax, and their poverty and misery grew greater year by year.
It is true the King could no longer tax the people how and when he liked, for the power of Parliament grew stronger and stronger. It was only through Parliament that the King could now get the money he required, and whenever they gave it to him they made him promise something in return. In this way, as the power of Parliament grew, the power of the King became less, and the country became really more free. But the poor, who were robbed of nearly all their money, found it difficult to understand this. So many men had been killed in the wars that there were too few to do all the work of the land. There were still slaves in England at this time, and when these slaves saw that there were not enough people to do the work, they rebelled and refused to work without wages. Other people joined them, and so there was war between rich and poor.
Besides poverty, a terrible sickness called the Black Death fell upon the land. Thousands upon thousands died until there were not enough people left in the land to sow and reap and plough. The fields lay barren, no corn was grown, and the people starved. These were very unhappy times for England.
King Edward's wars still went on, and it became more and more difficult to find money for them and, instead of always winning battles, he now often lost them.
To the sorrow of every one the brave Black Prince died. His health had been broken by the terrible hardships of his long wars in France. At last he became so ill that he could no longer sit upon his horse, nor lead his soldiers in battle, and he came home to England to die. He was buried with great pomp in Canterbury Cathedral. There his tomb is still to be seen, and over it there still hangs the black armour which he used to wear, and from which he took his name of the Black Prince.
King Edward died shortly after his son, and his long reign, which had been so brilliant and glorious, ended in darkness and misery, for the people, instead of loving and admiring their King, had grown to hate him.
H OLIDAY HILL was white with snow. The light from the full moon was so bright that there were dark blue shadows under the tamarack trees.
These trees were growing on a boggy part of the hill. In summer, tufts of fine leaves were like lovely short green tassels on their branches. Near them stood many soppy little green sedge hummocks. Tree trunks that had fallen there were covered with velvety green moss.
But that shining winter night the tamarack grove was not green. The open brown cones on their branches showed that they were related to pine and spruce and fir and other cone-bearing trees. But, unlike other members of the Pine Family, the tamaracks were not evergreens. Their leaves had turned yellow in the fall and had dropped to the ground, where they now lay deep under the snow which covered also the sedgy tussocks and the mossy logs.
The ground was white with snow
If you had tried to walk up the hill you would have found yourself knee-deep in the soft snow, for there was no hard crust to walk on. That is, you would have been wading unless you had put on snowshoes.
The white rabbit who came out of the tamarack grove wore snowshoes on his hind feet. Of course he had not strapped them on as a person does. His snowshoes grew where he needed them.
His hind feet were large at all times of the year. And in winter his long spreading toes were covered with especially thick hair which formed a broad pad on each hind foot. With feet of this sort he could go easily over the snow even when it was soft instead of crusty.
It was important for the white rabbit, or Little Snowshoes as we may call him, to be able to travel on the snow. How else was he to find food in winter?
He had not put away a harvest of cones as Chickaree, the squirrel, had done. He had not stuffed his skin with fat, in preparation for a long foodless sleep after the manner of Wejack, the woodchuck, or Sir Talis, the serpent. When he was hungry he must go in search of something to eat.
It may seem to you like a cheerless and chilly errand to go out at night, no matter how cold the weather, to get your own food and eat it alone on a frozen hillside.
But Little Snowshoes did not mind. He liked his evening picnics all by himself. It was only a few hops from the tamarack grove to a growth of young birches and poplars.
There had once been large trees of these kinds on ground that was not so wet as that where the tamaracks stood. The old trees had been cut and the new ones were more like bushes growing in thick clumps.
The white rabbit was glad to wander through those bushes. He felt at home among them. It was easy to hide there. And he could always find plenty of his favorite food.
For Little Snowshoes was fond of birch and poplar bark. His teeth were just the right sort to use for paring it off the stems. Of course a stem could not grow if its bark was cut off. In some places this might have been a serious matter. But Little Snowshoes did not worry about that. Neither did anyone else. Indeed, Uncle David, down at Holiday Farm, said that the rabbit helped keep the birches from growing large enough to shade the blueberries too much.
As there were always plenty of smaller birches and poplars growing in the summer to take the places of those that had been chewed, Little Snowshoes had good bark to eat each winter. When there was only a little snow on the ground, the white rabbit ate the bark on the lower part of the stems. When the snow was deep, he went out on his snowshoes and peeled the bark from the higher places.
Little Snowshoes in his winter furs
Being white, Little Snowshoes did not show much on the snow. He usually stayed in sheltered places during the day and rested. If he saw a dog or a fox, or if he heard any sound that worried him, he kept as motionless as a hump of snow. That was an excellent way for a white creature to hide. Evening and night and very early morning were the times he chose for his rambles and his picnic luncheons.
If you find the tracks of such a rabbit along the margin of some low swamp trees or on a boggy hillside, you can tell what kind of animal made them by their shape. You can know they are made by a snowshoe rabbit because the prints of his hind feet are so very large.
Of course the marks of his big feet will be ahead of those of his small front feet.
If you wish to know how he gets them that way, perhaps you can find the reason by watching a rabbit when he hops!
The cold season passed quietly and pleasantly enough for the solitary white rabbit. One night when it was nearly spring, Little Snowshoes heard a noise near his camping ground, a muffled thump-thump-thump which sounded almost like the beating of a queer drum. It came through the air in dull booms. It made the ground tremble slightly.
To Little Snowshoes that sound was a challenge. A stranger rabbit had entered his yard and was knocking to announce his arrival. Little Snowshoes answered him. He used his strong hind legs as drumsticks. He let the ground under him serve as a drum. When he pounded there was a dull, rapid thump-thump-thump that sounded through the air and quivered through the ground.
Then Little Snowshoes went to meet his uninvited guest. He did not feel neighborly toward him. He could not speak in words. He could not say: "Go away! You are not welcome here." But, in a manner known to rabbits, he made himself understood. The newcomer was disappointed. But he hopped away.
The next night another rabbit came and pounded upon the ground near Little Snowshoes. He, too, departed without being invited to a picnic meal.
But one night in early March a rabbit came who felt no fear of Little Snowshoes. She heard him drumming and liked his tune. She was timid in many ways, but the thump of a rabbit's feet was pleasant for her to hear.
Little Snowshoes and Wabasso in winter furs
One name of this rabbit was Wabasso. You may have read, in another book, how
the rabbit, the Wabasso,
Sat upright to look and listen.
That is what this Wabasso did when she heard Little Snowshoes drum. Then she went, calmly enough, into his camping ground and stayed there. Little Snowshoes did not try to frighten her away. He liked her and she became Mrs. Wabasso Snowshoes.
If you had met these two rabbits near the tamaracks some moonlight night in April, they would have stood quite still. Do you think you could have seen them, white as snow, against the dark ground? Not at all. These rabbits were not white in April. They were brown. They had molted their thick winter coats and grown their summer furs. Their hind feet were still large and their toes were long and spreading; but their broad hairy snowshoe-like pads were gone for the summer.
Little Snowshoes in summer furs
So you see the reason why rabbits like Little Snowshoes and Wabasso are called "varying hares."
Later that spring Wabasso made a nest in a sheltered place under a heap of old birch branches. She brought some straw and dry brown leaves for the outside of the nest. She lined the hollow with downy fur which she pulled from her breast.
In this soft nest her five little sons and daughters were born. But they did not stay there long. Their mother gave them plenty of milk to drink. So they grew very fast and were soon able to hop here and there and find tender juicy plants to eat.
During the day the baby rabbits rested. By the time night came they were wide awake and ready for picnics and frolics. They were sociable youngsters and jolly playmates. They drummed on the ground with their hind feet, but their thumps were only in fun. They had a game of leaping over one another which they seemed to enjoy like a merry joke.
The young rabbits were brown that summer and early fall. But, by the time the ground was covered with snow, they were wearing white winter furs. They had on their warm coats and their broad snowshoes when they hopped in the moonlight on Christmas Eve and feasted on delicious birch bark.
O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.
He hears me not, but o'er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain'd; sheathed
In ribbed steel, I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear'd his sceptre o'er the world.
Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o'er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.
He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal'st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.
WEEK 48 |
March is a weary month for the wood folk. One who follows them then has it borne in upon him continually that life is a struggle,—a keen, hard, hunger-driven struggle to find enough to keep a-going and sleep warm till the tardy sun comes north again with his rich living. The fall abundance of stored food has all been eaten, except in out-of-the-way corners that one stumbles upon in a long day's wandering; the game also is wary and hard to find from being constantly hunted by eager enemies.
It is then that the sparrow falleth. You find him on the snow, a wind-blown feather guiding your eye to the open where he fell in mid-flight; or under the tree, which shows that he lost his grip in the night. His empty crop tells the whole pitiful story, and why you find him there cold and dead, his toes curled up and his body feather-light. You would find more but for the fact that hunger-pointed eyes are keener than yours and earlier abroad, and that crow and jay and mink and wildcat have greater interest than you in finding where the sparrow fell.
It is then, also, that the owl, who hunts the sparrow o' nights, grows so light from scant feeding that he cannot fly against the wind. If he would go back to his starting point while the March winds are out, he must needs come down close to the ground and yewyaw towards his objective, making leeway like an old boat without ballast or centerboard.
The grouse have taken to bud-eating from necessity—birch buds mostly, with occasional trips to the orchards for variety. They live much now in the trees, which they dislike; but with a score of hungry enemies prowling for them day and night, what can a poor grouse do?
When a belated snow falls, you follow their particular enemy, the fox, where he wanders, wanders, wanders on his night's hunting. Across the meadow, to dine on the remembrance of field mice—alas! safe now under the crust; along the brook, where he once caught frogs; through the thicket, where the grouse were hatched; past the bullbrier tangle, where the covey of quail once rested nightly; into the farmyard, where the dog is loose and the chickens are safe under lock and key, instead of roosting in trees; across the highway, and through the swamp, and into the big bare empty woods; till in the sad gray morning light he digs under the wild apple tree and sits down on the snow to eat a frozen apple, lest his stomach cry too loudly while he sleeps the day away and tries to forget that he is hungry.
Everywhere it is the same story: hard times and poor hunting. Even the chickadees are hard pressed to keep up appearances and have their sweet love note ready at the first smell of spring in the air.
This was the lesson that the great woods whispered sadly when a few idle March days found me gliding on snowshoes over the old familiar ground. Wild geese had honked an invitation from the South Shore; but one can never study a wild goose; the only satisfaction is to see him swing in on broad wings over the decoys—one glorious moment ere the gun speaks and the dog jumps and everything is spoiled. So I left gun and rifle behind, and went off to the woods of happy memories to see how my deer were faring.
The wonder of the snow was gone; there was left only its cold bitterness and a vague sense that it ought no longer to cumber the ground, but would better go away as soon as possible and spare the wood folk any more suffering. The litter of a score of storms covered its soiled rough surface; every shred of bark had left its dark stain where the decaying sap had melted and spread in the midday sun. The hard crust, which made such excellent running for my snowshoes, seemed bitterly cruel when I thought of the starving wild things and of the abundance of food on the brown earth, just four feet below their hungry bills and noses.
The winter had been unusually severe. Reports had come to me from the North Woods of deep snows, and of deer dying of starvation and cold in their yards. I confess that I was anxious as I hurried along. Now that the hunt was over and the deer had won, they belonged to me more than ever—more even than if the stuffed head of the buck looked down on my hall, instead of resting proudly over his own strong shoulders. My snowshoes clicked a rapid march through the sad gray woods, while the March wind thrummed an accompaniment high up among the bare branches, and the ground-spruce nodded briskly, beating time with their green tips, as if glad of any sound or music that would break the chill silence until the birds came back.
Here and there the snow told stories; gay stories, tragic stories, sad, wandering, patient stories of the little woods-people, which the frost had hardened into crust, as if Nature would keep their memorials forever, like the records on the sun-hardened bricks of Babylon. But would the deer live? Would the big buck's cunning provide a yard large enough for wide wandering, with plenty of browse along the paths to carry his flock safely through the winter's hunger? That was a story, waiting somewhere ahead, which made me hurry away from the foot-written records that otherwise would have kept me busy for hours.
Crossbills called welcome to me, high overhead. Nothing can starve them out. A red squirrel rushed headlong out of his hollow tree at the first click of my snowshoes. Nothing can check his curiosity or his scolding except his wife, whom he likes, and the weasel, whom he is mortally afraid of. Chickadees followed me shyly with their blandishments—tsic-a-deeee? with that gentle up-slide of questioning. "Is the spring really coming? Are—are you a harbinger?"
But the snowshoes clicked on, away from the sweet blarney, leaving behind the little flatterers who were honestly glad to see me in the woods again, and who would fain have delayed me. Other questions, stern ones, were calling ahead. Would the cur dogs find the yard and exterminate the innocents? Would Old Wally—but no; Wally had the "rheumatiz," and was out of the running. Ill-wind blew the deer good that time; else he would long ago have run them down on snowshoes and cut their throats, as if they were indeed his "tarnal sheep" that had run wild in the woods.
At the southern end of a great hardwood ridge I found the first path of their yard. It was half filled with snow, unused since the last two storms. A glance on either side, where everything eatable within reach of a deer's neck had long ago been cropped close, showed plainly why the path was abandoned. I followed it a short distance before running into another path, and another, then into a great tangle of deer ways spreading out crisscross over the eastern and southern slopes of the ridge.
In some of the paths were fresh deer tracks and the signs of recent feeding. My heart jumped at sight of one great hoof mark. I had measured and studied it too often to fail to recognize its owner. There was browse here still, to be had for the cropping. I began to be hopeful for my little flock, and to feel a higher regard for their leader, who could plan a yard, it seemed, as well as a flight, and who could not be deceived by early abundance into outlining a small yard, forgetting the late snows and the spring hunger.
I was stooping to examine the more recent signs, when a sharp snort made me raise my head quickly. In the path before me stood a doe, all a-quiver, her feet still braced from the suddenness with which she had stopped at sight of an unknown object blocking the path ahead. Behind her two other deer checked themselves and stood like statues, unable to see, but obeying their leader promptly.
All three were frightened and excited, not simply curious, as they would have been had they found me in their path unexpectedly. The widespread nostrils and heaving sides showed that they had been running hard. Those in the rear (I could see them over the top of the scrub spruce, behind which I crouched in the path) said in every muscle: "Go on! No matter what it is, the danger behind is worse. Go on, go on!" Insistence was in the air. The doe felt it and bounded aside. The crust had softened in the sun, and she plunged through it when she struck, cr-r-runch, cr-r-runch, up to her sides at every jump. The others followed, just swinging their heads for a look and a sniff at me, springing from hole to hole in the snow, and making but a single track. A dozen jumps and they struck another path and turned into it, running as before down the ridge. In the swift glimpses they gave me I noticed with satisfaction that, though thin and a bit ragged in appearance, they were by no means starved. The veteran leader had provided well for his little family.
I followed their back track up the ridge for perhaps half a mile, when another track made me turn aside. Two days before, a single deer had been driven out of the yard at a point where three paths met. She had been running down the ridge when something in front met her and drove her headlong out of her course. The soft edges of the path were cut and torn by suspicious claw marks.
I followed her flight anxiously, finding here and there, where the snow had been softest, dog tracks big and little. The deer was tired from long running, apparently; the deep holes in the snow, where she had broken through the crust, were not half the regular distance apart. A little way from the path I found her, cold and stiff, her throat horribly torn by the pack which had run her to death. Her hind feet were still doubled under her, just as she had landed from her last despairing jump, when the tired muscles could do no more, and she sank down without a struggle to let the dogs do their cruel work.
I had barely read all this, and had not yet finished measuring the largest tracks to see if it were her old enemy that, as dogs frequently do, had gathered a pirate band about him and led them forth to the slaughter of the innocents, when a far-away cry came stealing down through the gray woods. Hark! the eager yelp of curs and the leading hoot of a hound. I whipped out my knife to cut a club, and was off for the sounds on a galloping run, which is the swiftest possible gait on snowshoes.
There were no deer paths here; for the hardwood browse, upon which deer depend for food, grew mostly on the other sides of the ridge. That the chase should turn this way, out of the yard's limits showed the dogs' cunning, and that they were not new at their evil business. They had divided their forces again, as they had undoubtedly done when hunting the poor doe whose body I had just found. Part of the pack hunted down the ridge in full cry, while the rest lay in wait to spring at the flying game as it came on and drive it out of the paths into the deep snow, where it would speedily be at their mercy. At the thought I gripped the club hard, promising to stop that kind of hunting for good, if only I could get half a chance.
Presently, above the scrape of my snowshoes, I heard the deer coming, cr-r-runch! cr-r-runch! the heavy plunges growing shorter and fainter, while behind the sounds an eager, whining trail-cry grew into a fierce howl of canine exultation. Something was telling me to hurry, hurry; that the big buck I had so often hunted was in my power at last, and that, if I would square accounts, I must beat the dogs, though they were nearer to him now than I. The excitement of a new kind of hunt, a hunt to save, not to kill, was tingling all over me when I circled a dense thicket of firs with a rush, and there he lay, up to his shoulders in the snow before me.
He had taken his last jump. The splendid strength which had carried him so far was spent now to the last ounce. He lay resting easily in the snow, his head outstretched on the crust before him, awaiting the tragedy that had followed him for years, by lake and clearing and winter yard, and that burst out behind him now with a cry to make one's nerves shudder. The glory of his antlers was gone; he had dropped them months before; but the mighty shoulders and sinewy neck and perfect head showed how well, how grandly he had deserved my hunting.
He threw up his head as I burst out upon him from an utterly unexpected quarter—the very thing that I had so often tried to do, in vain, in the old glorious days. "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? Well, here am I." That is what his eyes, great, sad, accusing eyes, were saying as he laid his head down on the snow again, quiet as an Indian at the torture, too proud to struggle where nothing was to be gained but pity or derision.
A strange, uncanny silence had settled over the woods. Wolves cease their cry in the last swift burst of speed that will bring the game in sight. Then the dogs broke out of the cover behind him with a fiercer howl that was too much for even his nerves to stand. Nothing on earth could have met such a death unmoved. No ears, however trained, could hear that fierce cry for blood without turning to meet it face to face. With a mighty effort the buck whirled in the snow and gathered himself for the tragedy.
Gathered himself for the tragedy
Far ahead of the pack came a small, swift bulldog that, with no nose of his own for hunting, had followed the pirate leader for mere love of killing. As he jumped for the throat, the buck, with his last strength, reared on his hind legs, so as to get his fore feet clear of the snow, and plunged down again with a hard, swift sabre-cut of his right hoof. It caught the dog on the neck as he rose on the spring, and ripped him from ear to tail. Deer and dog came down together. Then the buck rose swiftly for his last blow, and the knife-edged hoofs shot down like lightning; one straight, hard drive with the crushing force of a ten-ton hammer behind it—and his first enemy was out of the hunt forever. Before he had time to gather himself again the big yellow brindle, with the hound's blood showing in nose and ears,—Old Wally's dog,—leaped into sight. His whining trail-cry changed to a fierce growl as he sprang for the buck's nose.
I had waited for just this moment in hiding, and jumped to meet it. The club came down between the two heads; and there was no reserve this time in the muscles that swung it. It caught the brute fair on the head, where the nose begins to come up into the skull,—and he too had harried his last deer.
Two other curs had leaped aside with quick instinct the moment they saw me, and vanished into the thickets, as if conscious of their evil doing and anxious to avoid detection. But the third, a large collie,—a dog that, when he does go wrong, becomes the most cunning and vicious of brutes,—flew straight at my throat with a snarl like a gray wolf cheated of his killing. I have faced bear and panther and bull moose when the red danger-light blazed into their eyes; but never before or since have I seen such awful fury in a brute's face. It swept over me in an instant that it was his life or mine; there was no question or alternative. A lucky cut of the club disabled him, and I finished the job on the spot, for the good of the deer and the community.
The big buck had not moved, nor tried to, after his last great effort. Now he only turned his head and lifted it wearily, as if to get away from the intolerable smell of his dog enemies that lay dying under his very nose. His great, sorrowful, questioning eyes were turned on me continually, with a look that only innocence could possibly meet. No man on earth, I think, could have looked into them for a full moment and then raised his hand to slay.
I approached very quietly, and dragged the dogs away from him, one by one. His eyes followed me always. His nostrils spread, his head came up with a start when I flung the first cur aside to leeward. But he made no motion; only his eyes had a wonderful light in them when I dragged his last enemy, the one he had killed himself, from under his very head and threw it after the others. Then I sat down quietly in the snow, and we were face to face at last.
He feared me—I could hardly expect otherwise, while a deer has memory—but he lay perfectly still, his head extended on the snow, his sides heaving. After a little while he made a few bounds forward, at right angles to the course he had been running, with marvelous instinct remembering the nearest point in the many paths out of which the pack had driven him. But he stopped and lay quiet at the first sound of my snowshoes behind him. "The chase law holds. You have caught me; I am yours,"—this is what his sad eyes were saying. And sitting down quietly near him again, I tried to reassure him. "You are safe. Take your own time. No dog shall harm you now."—That is what I tried to make him feel by the very power of my own feeling, never more strongly roused than now for any wild creature.
I whistled a little tune softly, which always rouses the wood folk's curiosity; but as he lay quiet, listening, his ears shot back and forth nervously at a score of sounds that I could not hear, as if above the music he caught faint echoes of the last fearful chase. Then I brought out my lunch and, nibbling a bit myself, pushed a slice of black bread over the crust towards him with a long stick.
It was curious and intensely interesting to watch the struggle. At first he pulled away, as if I would poison him. Then a new rich odor began to steal up into his hungry nostrils. For weeks he had not fed full; he had been running hard since daylight, and was faint and exhausted. And in all his life he had never smelled anything so good. He turned his head to question me with his eyes. Slowly his nose came down, searching for the bread. "If he would only eat!—that is a truce which I would never break," I kept thinking over and over, and stopped eating in my eagerness to have him share with me the hunter's crust. His nose touched it; then through his hunger came the smell of the man—the danger smell that had followed him day after day in the beautiful October woods, and over white winter trails when he fled for his life, and still the man followed. The remembrance was too much. He raised his head with an effort and bounded away.
I followed slowly, keeping well out to one side of his trail, and sitting quietly within sight whenever he rested in the snow. Wild animals soon lose their fear in the presence of man if one avoids all excitement, even of interest, and is quiet in his motions. His fear was gone now, but the old wild freedom and the intense desire for life—a life which he had resigned when I appeared suddenly before him, and the pack broke out behind—were coming back with renewed force. His bounds grew longer, firmer, his stops less frequent, till he broke at last into a deer path and shook himself, as if to throw off all memory of the experience.
From a thicket of fir a doe, that had been listening in hiding to the sounds of his coming and to the faint unknown click, which was the voice of my snowshoes, came out to meet him. Together they trotted down the path, turning often to look and listen, and vanished at last, like gray shadows, into the gray stillness of the March woods.
The doors are shut, the windows fast,
Outside the gust is driving past,
Outside the shivering ivy clings,
While on the hob the kettle sings.
Margery, Margery, make the tea,
Singeth the kettle merrily.
The streams are hushed up where they flowed,
The ponds are frozen along the road,
The cattle are housed in shed and byre,
While singeth the kettle on the fire.
Margery, Margery, make the tea,
Singeth the kettle merrily.
The fisherman on the bay in his boat
Shivers and buttons up his coat;
The traveler stops at the tavern door,
And the kettle answers the chimney's roar.
Margery, Margery, make the tea,
Singeth the kettle merrily.
The firelight dances upon the wall,
Footsteps are heard in the outer hall,
And a kiss and a welcome that fill the room,
And the kettle sings in the glimmer and gloom.
Margery, Margery, make the tea,
Singeth the kettle merrily.
WEEK 48 |
T HE town of Orleans was in a desperate state, for it was surrounded by the English, and could not even get provisions. The people were near starvation. When the army of the Soldier-Maid arrived, she herself brought food to the people who lived there.
As Joan advanced on her white steed, the people gathered around with torches to catch a glimpse of her. They felt comforted that she had arrived at last, for they were certain that she could help them.
A few days later Joan heard a tumult in the street; an attack had been made. Hastily she buckled on her armor, springing on her horse, she snatched up her banner and rode into the midst of the battle.
It was the Maid's first real fight. Hurriedly the troops gathered around the girlish figure, and the battle was begun. For three long hours the fight waxed strong, with the seventeen-year-old girl at the front, urging on her brave men. At last the fort of the English enemy was set afire and left a smoking mass of charred ruins. Joan was victorious, and was hailed and cheered by everyone.
Her next great battle was the attack upon the English fortification at Les Tourelles. It was a dangerous spot and the English had to be repulsed and defeated here.
"Whoever loves me, let him follow me," cried Joan, and all the soldiers advanced, their eyes fixed upon the white banner of the Pucelle. Ladders were set in place, and Joan was the first to climb up one of them. As she neared the top, she was struck by an arrow which pierced her shoulder.
Joan was carried from the field and oil was put on her wound to ease the pain. She was very frightened, but her Voices were heard speaking words of comfort to her. She said a little prayer and then returned to the field of battle where her men fought disheartened, for the English were pushing forward with cries of triumph. Joan was filled with renewed energy and she reappeared among her soldiers and again mounted the ladder. The French cheered, and Joan cried out to them, "Friends, do not hesitate, the victory is yours." Their hopes were kindled anew and with glad hearts they followed their brave-spirited leader.
When the English again saw the radiant young girl in the same spot where a few hours before they had seen her fall, covered with blood, they became frightened and their eyes grew haggard, for they had learned to fear the slim Maid dressed in steel.
Evening was drawing near, but Joan would not put off the battle. "Follow my banner," she cried to her men. Then she gave it to a young soldier and bade him carry the banner to the topmost wall of the tower.
"Follow my banner until it touches the wall," she cried again. The soldiers followed, and soon one of them shouted, "Joan! The flag touches."
"Then enter, my brave men, the way is yours," she cried, and immediately rushed upon the fortress, followed by a great band of soldiers.
Scarcely could the English, beaten and terrified, defend themselves. They were forced to flee. So it was that on Friday, May 7, 1429, the fortress of Les Tourelles fell, and with it all the English hope of victory.
The bells of Orleans pealed out joyously that night, sounding over the dark waters of the Loire river. Within a week's time, the little peasant Maid of seventeen had accomplished the great feat which could not be brought about by the wisest warriors of France in seven weary months, and had driven the enemy from the city of Orleans.
A Bull once escaped from a Lion by entering a cave which the Goatherds used to house their flocks in stormy weather and at night. It happened that one of the Goats had been left behind, and the Bull had no sooner got inside than this Goat lowered his head and made a rush at him, butting him with his horns. As the Lion was still prowling outside the entrance to the cave, the Bull had to submit to the insult.
"Do not think," he said, "that I submit to your cowardly treatment because I am afraid of you. When that Lion leaves, I'll teach you a lesson you won't forget."
It is wicked to take advantage of another's distress.
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer's muffled crow,
The stiff rails softened to swan's-down
And still fluttered down the snow.
I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky
And the sudden flurry of snow birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, "Father, who makes the snow?"
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.
Again I looked at the snowfall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o'er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.
I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar that renewed our woe.
And again to the child I whispered,
"The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!"
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her,
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.
WEEK 48 |
"Orange above, De Witt under;
Who says nay, strike him thunder."
—Old Dutch Song.
H OLLAND was now supreme on the seas, and she stood high among the nations of Europe. Under her leader, De Witt, she had thriven and prospered. She was to prosper yet more under the young Prince of Orange, who now comes on the scene. Descended from that William the Silent who had more than a hundred years before delivered his land from the yoke of Spain, he was the ancestor of Holland's present queen. He was to play a great part in preparing England for her wondrous future.
When Charles I. had been torn from his weeping children to be beheaded, he had left a daughter called Mary, who married a great-nephew of William the Silent and lived her life in Holland. They had but one delicate child, born in 1650, the little Prince William, over whose birth the country rejoiced not a little. Always weak and ailing, he was but ten years old when his widowed mother went over to England to visit her brother, Charles II., just restored to the throne. There she caught the smallpox and died.
The little heir of the famous House of Orange was now alone. Fatherless, motherless, almost friendless, the boy was brought up by men who looked on his very life as a danger to the State, then under John de Witt. He was closely guarded. At the age of fifteen the friends in whom he had confided were removed, and he was kept as a State prisoner in the great castle at The Hague. With tears in his eyes the little prince begged for friends with an energy that was pitiful. The refusal affected his health. He was racked with a cough, he could only breathe in the purest air, he could only sleep when raised on many pillows, his face was scored with lines of ceaseless pain. Other boys might have perished, but this boy only braced himself and learned his lesson of self-control. He learned to guard his speech, to keep secrets, to hide all passion under a coolness of manner which lasted through his life. Those who brought him good news saw no trace of pleasure in his face, those who saw him after defeat detected no shade of sorrow. But those who knew him well, knew that under this ice a fierce fire was burning; that where he loved, he loved with the whole force of his strong soul; that when death parted him from these, tears of agony overwhelmed him. He always spoke Dutch, but he knew English and German.
At the age of seventeen he showed a knowledge of the State that surprised older men. At eighteen he sat among the fathers of the States-General or Parliament. At twenty-one, on a "day of gloom and terror," he was placed at the head of his country. This was how it came about.
There was at this time a wonderful King of France called Louis XIV. This king had set his heart on conquering Holland by land, while his friend Charles II. was fighting the Dutch by sea. So in the summer of 1672 he led his great French army across the Rhine and fell upon the Dutch. They were totally unprepared, and the French triumphantly swept through the country, carrying all before them. When the glare of the French watch-fires was seen from Amsterdam, De Witt made an heroic resolve. Holland had once been saved by the sea. She should be saved again. So the dykes were cut which protected the low-lying land from the sea, and soon the friendly water had flowed over the land and saved Holland from a foreign foe. Hundreds of houses and gardens were buried beneath the waves, peasants were flying before the invading French, when De Witt proposed peace. Then the people rose in anger, they thought that he wanted to sell their country to France, and they turned in their despair to the young Prince of Orange.
"Our Prince must be Stadtholder," they cried.
Then, forgetting all they owed to De Witt, they murdered him brutally at The Hague, and William, the young, silent Prince of Orange, became their head. Both England and France now begged him to submit to their terms of peace.
"Do you not see," said the English, "that your country is lost?"
"There is a sure way never to see it lost," answered William, "and that is to die in the last ditch."
So Holland was saved, and province after province was won back from France, by William's dauntless resolve.
The country was still struggling against the growing power of France when the Prince was laid low with smallpox. Devotedly nursed by a faithful friend, he fought his way back to life, while he made plans, in his quiet way, to stop the dangerous strength of Louis XIV. of France.
In 1675 he married Mary, his first cousin, niece of Charles II., reigning King of England, and herself heiress to the throne.
Thus peace was secured, and events hurried on to that fateful day when William and Mary should be crowned King and Queen of England.
WEEK 48 |
F AR away, where the swallows fly when our winter comes on, lived a King who had eleven sons, and one daughter named Eliza. The eleven brothers were Princes, and each went to school with a star on his breast and his sword by his side. They wrote with pencils of diamond upon slates of gold, and learned by heart just as well as they read; one could see directly that they were Princes. Their sister Eliza sat upon a little stool of plate-glass, and had a picture-book which had been bought for the value of half a kingdom.
Oh, the children were particularly well off; but it was not always to remain so.
Their father, who was king of the whole country, married a bad Queen who did not love the poor children at all. On the very first day they could notice this. In the whole palace there was great feasting, and the children were playing there. Then guests came; but instead of the children receiving, as they had been accustomed to do, all the spare cake and all the roasted apples, they only had some sand given them in a teacup, and were told that they might make believe that was something good.
The next week the Queen took the little sister Eliza into the country to a peasant and his wife; and but a short time had elapsed before she told the King so many falsehoods about the poor Princes that he did not trouble himself any more about them.
"Fly out into the world and get your own living," said the wicked Queen. "Fly like great birds without a voice."
But she could not make it so bad for them as she had intended, for they became eleven magnificent white swans. With a strange cry they flew out of the palace windows far over the park and into the wood.
It was yet quite early morning when they came by the place where their sister Eliza lay asleep in the peasant's room. Here they hovered over the roof, turned their long necks and flapped their wings, but no one heard or saw it. They were obliged to fly on, high up toward the clouds, far away into the wide world; there they flew into a great dark wood which stretched away to the seashore.
Poor little Eliza stood in the peasant's room and played with a green leaf, for she had no other playthings. And she pricked a hole in the leaf and looked through it up at the sun, and it seemed to her that she saw her brothers' clear eyes; each time the warm sun shone upon her cheeks she thought of all the kisses they had given her.
Each day passed just like the rest. When the wind swept through the great rose-hedges outside the house it seemed to whisper to them, "What can be more beautiful than you?" But the roses shook their heads and answered, "Eliza!" And when the old woman sat in front of her door on Sunday and read in her hymn-book the wind turned the leaves and said to the book, "Who can be more pious than you?" and the hymn-book said, "Eliza!" And what the rose-bushes and the hymn-book said was the simple truth.
When she was fifteen years old she was to go home. And when the Queen saw how beautiful she was she became spiteful and filled with hatred toward her. She would have been glad to change her into a wild swan like her brothers, but she did not dare to do so at once, because the King wished to see his daughter.
Early in the morning the Queen went into the bath, which was built of white marble and decked with soft cushions and the most splendid tapestry; and she took three toads and kissed them and said to the first:
"Sit upon Eliza's head when she comes into the bath, that she may become as stupid as you. Seat yourself upon her forehead," she said to the second, "that she may become as ugly as you and her father may not know her. Rest on her heart," she whispered to the third, "that she may receive an evil mind and suffer pain from it."
Then she put the toads into the clear water, which at once assumed a green color, and, calling Eliza, caused her to undress and step into the water. And while Eliza dived one of the toads sat upon her hair, and the second on her forehead, and the third on her heart, but she did not seem to notice it; and as soon as she rose three red poppies were floating on the water. If the creatures had not been poisonous and if the witch had not kissed them, they would have been changed into red roses. But at any rate they became flowers because they had rested on the girl's head and forehead and heart. She was too good and innocent for sorcery to have power over her.
When the wicked Queen saw that, she rubbed Eliza with walnut juice so that the girl became dark brown, and smeared a hurtful ointment on her face, and let her beautiful hair hang in confusion. It was quite impossible to recognize the pretty Eliza.
When her father saw her he was much shocked and declared this was not his daughter. No one but the yard dog and the swallows would recognize her; but they were poor animals who had nothing to say in the matter.
Then poor Eliza wept and thought of her eleven brothers, who were all away. Sorrowfully she crept out of the castle and walked all day over field and moor till she came into the great wood. She did not know whither she wished to go, only she felt very downcast and longed for her brothers; they had certainly been, like herself, thrust forth into the world, and she would seek for them and find them.
She had been only a short time in the wood when the night fell; she quite lost the path, therefore she lay down upon the soft moss, prayed her evening prayer, and leaned her head against the stump of the tree. Deep silence reigned around, the air was mild, and in the grass and in the moss gleamed like a green fire hundreds of glowworms; when she lightly touched one of the twigs with her hand the shining insects fell down upon her like shooting-stars.
The whole night long she dreamed of her brothers. They were children again playing together, writing with their diamond pencils upon their golden slates and looking at the beautiful picture-book which had cost half a kingdom. But on the slates they were not writing, as they had been accustomed to do, lines and letters, but the brave deeds they had done and all they had seen and experienced; and in the picture-book everything was alive—the birds sang, and the people went out of the book and spoke with Eliza and her brothers. But when the leaf was turned they jumped back again directly so that there should be no confusion.
When she awoke the sun was already standing high. She could certainly not see it, for the lofty trees spread their branches far and wide above her. But the rays played there above like a gauzy veil, there was a fragrance from the fresh verdure, and the birds almost perched upon her shoulders. She heard the plashing of water; it was from a number of springs all flowing into a lake which had the most delightful sandy bottom. It was surrounded by thick-growing bushes, but at one part the stags had made a large opening, and here Eliza went down to the water. The lake was so clear that if the wind had not stirred the branches and the bushes so that they moved, one would have thought they were painted upon the depths of the lake, so clearly was every leaf mirrored, whether the sun shone upon it or whether it lay in shadow.
When Eliza saw her own face she was terrified, so brown and ugly was she, but when she wetted her little hand and rubbed her eyes and her forehead the white skin gleamed forth again. Then she undressed and went down into the fresh water; a more beautiful king's daughter than she was could not be found in the world. And when she had dressed herself again and plaited her long hair she went to the bubbling spring, drank out of the hollow of her hand, and then wandered into the wood, not knowing whither she went. She thought of her dear brothers, and knew that Heaven would certainly not forsake her. It is God who lets the wild apples grow to satisfy the hungry. He showed her a wild apple-tree, with the boughs bending under the weight of the fruit. Here she took her midday meal, placing props under the boughs, and then went into the darkest part of the forest. There it was so still that she could hear her own footsteps as well as the rustling of every dry leaf which bent under her feet. Not one bird was to be seen, not one ray of sunlight could find its way through the great dark boughs of the trees; the lofty trunks stood so close together that when she looked before her it appeared as though she were surrounded by sets of palings one behind the other. Oh, here was a solitude such as she had never before known!
The night came on quite dark. Not a single glowworm now gleamed in the grass. Sorrowfully she lay down to sleep. Then it seemed to her as if the branches of the trees parted above her head and mild eyes of angels looked down upon her from on high.
When the morning came she did not know if it had really been so or if she had dreamed it.
She went a few steps forward, and then she met an old woman with berries in her basket, and the old woman gave her a few of them. Eliza asked the dame if she had not seen eleven Princes riding through the wood.
"No," replied the old woman, "but yesterday I saw eleven swans swimming in the river close by, with golden crowns on their heads."
And she led Eliza a short distance farther to a declivity, and at the foot of the slope a little river wound its way. The trees on its margin stretched their long leafy branches across toward one another, and where their natural growth would not allow them to come together the roots had been torn out of the ground and hung, intermingled with the branches, over the water.
Eliza said farewell to the old woman and went beside the river to the place where the stream flowed out to the great open ocean.
The whole glorious sea lay before the young girl's eyes, but not one sail appeared upon its surface, and not a boat was to be seen. How was she to proceed? She looked at the innumerable little pebbles on the shore; the water had worn them all round. Glass, iron, stones—everything that was there—had received its shape from the water, which was much softer than even her delicate hand.
"It rolls on unweariedly, and thus what is hard becomes smooth. I will be just as unwearied. Thanks for your lesson you clear, rolling waves; my heart tells me that one day you will lead me to my dear brothers."
On the foam-covered sea-grass lay eleven white swan feathers, which she collected into a bunch. Drops of water were upon them—whether they were dewdrops or tears nobody could tell. Solitary it was there on the strand, but she did not feel it, for the sea showed continual changes—more in a few hours than the lovely lakes can produce in a whole year. Then a great black cloud came. It seemed as if the sea would say, "I can look angry, too"; and then the wind blew, and the waves turned their white side outward. But when the clouds gleamed red and the winds slept the sea looked like a rose-leaf; sometimes it became green, sometimes white. But, however quietly it might rest, there was still a slight motion on the shore; the water rose gently like the breast of a sleeping child.
When the sun was just about to set Eliza saw eleven wild swans, with crowns on their heads, flying toward the land; they swept along one after the other, so that they looked like a long white band. Then Eliza descended the slope and hid herself behind a bush. The swans alighted near her and flapped their great white wings.
As soon as the sun had disappeared beneath the water the swans' feathers fell off and eleven handsome Princes, Eliza's brothers, stood there. She uttered a loud cry, for, although they were greatly altered, she knew and felt that it must be they. And she sprang into their arms and called them by their names; and the Princes felt supremely happy when they saw their little sister again; and they knew her, though she was now tall and beautiful. They smiled and wept; and soon they understood how cruel their stepmother had been to them all.
"We brothers," said the eldest, "fly about as wild swans as long as the sun is in the sky, but directly it sinks down we receive our human form again. Therefore we must always take care that we have a resting-place for our feet when the sun sets, for if at that moment we were flying up toward the clouds we should sink down into the deep as men. We do not dwell here; there lies a land just as fair as this beyond the sea. But the way thither is long; we must cross the great sea, and on our path there is no island where we could pass the night; only a little rock stands forth in the midst of the waves; it is but just large enough for us to rest upon it close to one another. If the sea is rough the foam spurts far over us, but we thank God for the rock. There we pass the night in our human form; but for this rock we could never visit our beloved native land, for we require two of the longest days in the year for our journey. Only once in each year is it granted to us to visit our home. For eleven days we may stay here and fly over the great wood, whence we can see the palace in which we were born and in which our father lives, and the high church tower beneath whose shade our mother lies buried. Here it seems to us as though the bushes and trees were our relatives; here the wild horses career across the steppe as we have seen them do in our childhood; here the charcoal-burner sings the old songs to which we danced as children; here is our fatherland; hither we feel ourselves drawn; and here we have found you, our dear little sister. Two days more we may stay here; then we must away across the sea to a glorious land, but which is not our native land. How can we bear you away, for we have neither ship nor boat?"
"In what way can I release you?" asked the sister; and they conversed nearly the whole night, only slumbering for a few hours.
She was awakened by the rustling of the swans' wings above her head. Her brothers were again enchanted, and they flew in wide circles and at last far away; but one of them, the youngest, remained behind, and the swan laid his head in her lap and she stroked his wings; and the whole day they remained together. Toward evening the others came back, and when the sun had gone down they stood there in their own shapes.
"To-morrow we fly far away from here and cannot come back until a whole year has gone by. But we cannot leave you thus! Have you courage to come with us? My arm is strong enough to carry you in the wood; and should not all our wings be strong enough to fly with you over the sea?"
"Yes, take me with you," said Eliza.
The whole night they were occupied in weaving a net of the pliable willow bark and tough reeds; and it was great and strong. On this net Eliza lay down; and when the sun rose and her brothers were changed into wild swans they seized the net with their beaks and flew with their beloved sister, who was still asleep, high up toward the clouds. The sunbeams fell exactly upon her face, so one of the swans flew over her head that his broad wings might overshadow her.
They were far away from the shore when Eliza awoke; she was still dreaming, so strange did it appear to her to be carried high through the air and over the sea. By her side lay a branch with beautiful ripe berries and a bundle of sweet-smelling roots. The youngest of the brothers had collected them and placed them in there for her. She smiled at him thankfully, for she recognized him; he it was who flew over her and shaded her with his wings.
They were so high that the greatest ship they descried beneath them seemed like a white sea-gull lying upon the waters. A great cloud stood behind them—it was a perfect mountain, and upon it Eliza saw her own shadow and those of the eleven swans; there they flew on, gigantic in size. Here was a picture, a more splendid one than she had ever yet seen. But as the sun rose higher and the cloud was left farther behind them the floating, shadowy images vanished away.
The whole day they flew onward through the air like a whirring arrow, but their flight was slower than it was wont to be, for they had their sister to carry. Bad weather came on; the evening drew near; Eliza looked anxiously at the setting sun, for the lonely rock in the ocean could not be seen. It seemed to her as if the swans beat the air more strongly with their wings. Alas! she was the cause that they did not advance fast enough. When the sun went down they must become men and fall into the sea and drown. Then she prayed a prayer from the depths of her heart; but still she could descry no rock. The dark clouds came nearer in a great, black, threatening body, rolling forward like a mass of lead, and the lightning burst forth, flash upon flash.
Now the sun just touched the margin of the sea. Eliza's heart trembled. Then the swans darted downward, so swiftly that she thought they were falling, but they paused again. The sun was half hidden below the water. And now for the first time she saw the little rock beneath her, and it looked no larger than a seal might look thrusting his head forth from the water.
She saw the little rock beneath her.
The sun sank very fast; at last it appeared only like a star; and then her foot touched the firm land. The sun was extinguished like the last spark in a piece of burned paper; her brothers were standing around her, arm in arm, but there was not more than just enough room for her and for them. The sea beat against the rock and went over her like small rain; the sky glowed in continual fire, and peal on peal the thunder rolled; but sister and brothers held one another by the hand and sang psalms, from which they gained comfort and courage.
Arm in arm stood the brothers around her.
In the morning twilight the air was pure and calm. As soon as the sun rose the swans flew away with Eliza from the island. The sea still ran high, and when they soared up aloft the white foam looked like millions of white swans swimming upon the water.
When the sun mounted higher Eliza saw before her, half floating in the air, a mountainous country with shining masses of ice on its water, and in the midst of it rose a castle, apparently a mile long, with row above row of elegant columns, while beneath waved the palm woods and bright flowers as large as mill-wheels. She asked if this was the country to which they were bound, but the swans shook their heads, for what she beheld was the gorgeous ever-changing palace of Fata Morgana, and into this they might bring no human being. As Eliza gazed at it mountains, woods, and castle fell down, and twenty proud churches, all nearly alike, with high towers and pointed windows, stood before them. She fancied she heard the organs sounding; but it was the sea she heard. When she was quite near the churches they changed to a fleet sailing beneath her, but when she looked down it was only a sea-mist gliding over the ocean. Thus she had a continual change before her eyes, till at last she saw the real land to which they were bound. There arose the most glorious blue mountains with cedar forests, cities, and palaces. Long before the sun went down she sat on the rock in front of a great cave overgrown with delicate green trailing plants looking like embroidered carpets.
"Now we shall see what you will dream of here to-night," said the youngest brother; and he showed her to her bedchamber.
"Heaven grant that I may dream of a way to release you," she replied.
And this thought possessed her mightily, and she prayed ardently for help; yes, even in her sleep she continued to pray. Then it seemed to her as if she were flying high in the air to the cloudy palace of Fata Morgana; and the fairy came out to meet her, beautiful and radiant; and yet the fairy was quite like the old woman who had given her the berries in the wood and had told her of the swans with golden crowns on their heads.
"Your brothers can be released," said she. "But have you courage and perseverance? Certainly water is softer than your delicate hands, and yet it changes the shape of stones; but it feels not the pain that your fingers will feel; it has no heart, and cannot suffer the agony and torment you will have to endure. Do you see the stinging-nettle which I hold in my hand? Many of the same kind grow around the cave in which you sleep; those only and those that grow upon churchyard graves are serviceable—remember that. Those you must pluck, though they will burn your hands into blisters. Break these nettles to pieces with your feet and you will have flax; of this you must plait and weave eleven shirts of mail with long sleeves; throw these over the eleven swans, and the charm will be broken. But recollect well, from the moment you begin this work until it is finished, even though it should take years to accomplish, you must not speak. The first word you utter will pierce your brothers' hearts like a deadly dagger. Their lives hang on your tongue. Remember all this!"
And she touched her hand with the nettle; it was like a burning fire, and Eliza woke with the smart. It was broad daylight, and close by the spot where she had slept lay a nettle like the one she had seen in her dream. She fell upon her knees and prayed gratefully and went forth from the cave to begin her work.
With her delicate hands she groped among the ugly nettles. These stung like fire, burning great blisters on her arms and hands; but she thought she would bear it gladly if she could only release her dear brothers. Then she bruised every nettle with her bare feet and plaited the green flax.
When the sun had set her brothers came, and they were frightened when they found her dumb. They thought it was some new sorcery of their wicked stepmother's; but when they saw her hands they understood what she was doing for their sake, and the youngest brother wept. And where his tears dropped she felt no more pain, and the burning blisters vanished.
She passed the night at her work, for she could not sleep till she had delivered her dear brothers. The whole of the following day, while the swans were away, she sat in solitude, but never had time flown so quickly with her as now. One shirt of mail was already finished, and now she began the second.
Then a hunting-horn sounded among the hills, and she was struck with fear. The noise came nearer and nearer; she heard the barking dogs. And timidly she fled into the cave, bound into a bundle the nettles she had collected and prepared, and sat upon the bundle.
Immediately a great dog came bounding out of the ravine, and then another and another; they barked loudly, ran back, and then came again. Only a few minutes had passed before all the huntsmen stood before the cave, and the handsomest of them was the king of the country. He came forward to Eliza, for he had never seen a more beautiful maiden.
"How did you come hither, you delightful child?" he asked.
"How did you come hither, you delightful child?"
Eliza shook her head, for she might not speak—it would cost her brothers their deliverance and their lives. And she hid her hands under her apron so that the King might not see what she was suffering.
"Come with me," said he. "You cannot stop here. If you are as good as you are beautiful I will dress you in velvet and silk and place the golden crown on your head, and you shall dwell in my richest castle and rule."
And then he lifted her on his horse. She wept and wrung her hands, but the King said:
"I only wish for your happiness; one day you will thank me for this."
And then he galloped away among the mountains with her on his horse, and the hunters galloped at their heels.
When the sun went down the fair, regal city lay before them, with its churches and cupolas; and the King led her into the castle, where great fountains plashed in the lofty marble halls and where walls and ceilings were covered in glorious pictures. But she had no eyes for all this—she only wept and mourned. Passively she let the women put royal robes upon her and weave pearls in her hair and draw dainty gloves over her blistered fingers.
When she stood there in full array she was dazzlingly beautiful, so that the court bowed deeper than ever. And the King chose her for his bride, although the Archbishop shook his head and whispered that the beauteous, fresh maid was certainly a witch who blinded the eyes and led astray the heart of the King.
But the King gave no ear to this, but ordered that the music should sound and that the costliest dishes should be served and the most beautiful maidens should dance before them. And she was led through fragrant gardens into gorgeous halls; but never a smile came upon her lips or shone in her eyes; there she stood, a picture of grief. Then the King opened a little chamber close by, where she was to sleep. This chamber was decked with splendid green tapestry, and completely resembled the cave in which she had been. On the floor lay the bundle of flax which she had prepared from the nettles, and under the ceiling hung the shirt of mail she had completed. All these things one of the huntsmen had brought with him as curiosities.
"Here you may dream yourself back in your former home," said the King. "Here is the work which occupied you there, and now, in the midst of all your splendor, it will amuse you to think of that time."
When Eliza saw this that lay so near her heart a smile played round her mouth and the crimson blood came back into her cheeks. She thought of her brothers' deliverance, and kissed the King's hand; and he pressed her to his heart and caused the marriage feast to be announced by all the church-bells. The beautiful dumb girl out of the wood was to become the queen of the country.
Then the Archbishop whispered evil words into the King's ear, but they did not sink into the King's heart. The marriage would take place; the Archbishop himself was obliged to place the crown on her head, and with wicked spite he pressed the narrow circlet so tightly upon her brow that it pained her. But a heavier ring lay close around her heart—sorrow for her brothers; she did not feel the bodily pain. Her mouth was dumb, for a single word would cost her brothers their lives, but her eyes glowed with love for the kind, handsome King, who did everything to rejoice her. She loved him with her whole heart more and more every day. Oh, that she had been able to confide in him and to tell him of her grief! But she was compelled to be dumb and to finish her work in silence. Therefore at night she crept away from his side and went quietly into the little chamber which was decorated like the cave and wove one shirt of mail after another. But when she began the seventh she had no flax left.
She knew that in the churchyard nettles were growing that she could use, but she must pluck them herself, and how was she to go out there?
"Oh, what is the pain in my fingers to the torment my heart endures?" thought she. "I must venture it, and help will not be denied me!"
With a trembling heart, as though the deed she purposed doing had been evil, she crept into the garden in the moonlight night and went through the lanes and through the deserted streets to the churchyard. There on one of the broadest tombstones she saw sitting a circle of lamias. These hideous wretches took off their ragged garments as if they were going to bathe; then with their skinny fingers they clawed open the fresh graves and with fiendish greed they snatched up the corpses and ate the flesh. Eliza was obliged to pass close by them, and they fastened their evil glances upon her; but she prayed silently and collected the burning nettles and carried them into the castle.
Only one person had seen her, and that was the Archbishop.
He was awake while others slept. Now he felt sure his opinion was correct, that all was not as it should be with the Queen; she was a witch, and thus she had bewitched the King and the whole people.
In secret he told the King what he had seen and what he feared; and when the hard words came from his tongue the pictures of saints in the cathedral shook their heads as though they could have said: "It is not so! Eliza is innocent!" But the Archbishop interpreted this differently—he thought they were bearing witness against her and shaking their heads at her sinfulness. Then two heavy tears rolled down the King's cheeks; he went home with doubt in his heart, and at night pretended to be asleep, but no quiet sleep came upon his eyes, for he noticed that Eliza got up. Every night she did this, and each time he followed her silently and saw how she disappeared from her chamber.
From day to day his face became darker. Eliza saw it, but did not understand the reason; but it frightened her—and what did she not suffer in her heart for her brothers? Her hot tears flowed upon the royal velvet and purple; they lay there like sparkling diamonds, and all who saw the splendor wished they were queens. In the mean time she had almost finished her work. Only one shirt of mail was still to be completed, but she had no flax left and not a single nettle. Once more for the last time, therefore, she must go to the churchyard only to pluck a few handfuls. She thought with terror of this solitary wandering and of the horrible lamias, but her will was firm as her trust in Providence.
Eliza went on, but the King and the Archbishop followed her. They saw her vanish into the churchyard through the wicket-gate; and when they drew near the lamias were sitting upon the tombstone as Eliza had seen them; and the King turned aside, for he fancied her among them whose head had rested against his breast that very evening.
"The people must condemn her," said he.
And the people condemned her to suffer death by fire.
Out of the gorgeous regal halls she was led into a dark, damp cell, where the wind whistled through the grated window; instead of velvet and silk they gave her the bundle of nettles which she had collected; on this she could lay her head; and the hard, burning coats of mail which she had woven were to be her coverlet. But nothing could have been given her that she liked better. She resumed her work and prayed. Without, the street-boys were singing jeering songs about her, and not a soul comforted her with a kind word.
But toward evening there came the whirring of a swan's wings close by the grating—it was the youngest of her brothers. He had found his sister, and she sobbed aloud with joy, though she knew that the approaching night would probably be the last she had to live. But now the work was almost finished, and her brothers were here.
Now came the Archbishop, to stay with her in her last hour, for he had promised the King to do so. And she shook her head, and with looks and gestures she begged him to depart, for in this night she must finish her work, or else all would be in vain—all her tears, her pain, and her sleepless nights. The Archbishop withdrew, uttering evil words against her; but poor Eliza knew she was innocent, and continued her work.
It was still twilight; not till an hour afterward would the sun rise. And the eleven brothers stood at the castle gate and demanded to be brought before the King. That could not be, they were told, for it was still almost night; the King was asleep and might not be disturbed. They begged, they threatened, and the sentries came; yes, even the King himself came out and asked what was the meaning of this. At that moment the sun rose and no more were the brothers to be seen, but eleven wild swans flew away over the castle.
All the people came flocking out at the town gate, for they wanted to see the witch burned. An old horse drew the cart on which she sat. They had put upon her a garment of coarse sack-cloth. Her lovely hair hung loose about her beautiful head; her cheeks were as pale as death; and her lips moved silently, while her fingers were engaged with the green flax. Even on the way to death she did not interrupt the work she had begun; the ten shirts of mail lay at her feet, and she wrought at the eleventh. The mob derided her.
"Look at the red witch, how she mutters! She has no hymn-book in her hand; no, there she sits with her ugly sorcery—tear it in a thousand pieces!"
And they all pressed upon her and wanted to tear up the shirts of mail. Then eleven wild swans came flying up and sat round about her on the cart and beat with their wings; and the mob gave way before them, terrified.
"That is a sign from Heaven! She is certainly innocent!" whispered many. But they did not dare to say it aloud.
Now the executioner seized her by the hand; then she hastily threw the eleven shirts over the swans, and immediately eleven handsome Princes stood there. But the youngest had a swan's wing instead of an arm, for a sleeve was wanting to his shirt—she had not quite finished it.
"Now I may speak!" she said. "I am innocent!"
And the people who saw what happened bowed before her as before a saint; but she sank lifeless into her brothers' arms, such an effect had suspense, anguish, and pain had upon her.
"Yes, she is innocent," said the eldest brother.
And now he told everything that had taken place; and while he spoke a fragrance arose as of millions of roses, for every piece of fagot in the pile had taken root and was sending forth shoots; and a fragrant hedge stood there, tall and great, covered with red roses, and at the top a flower, white and shining, gleaming like a star. This flower the King plucked and placed in Eliza's bosom; and she arose with peace and happiness in her heart. And all the church-bells rang of themselves, and the birds came in great flocks. And back to the castle went such a marriage procession as no king had ever seen.
H AVE you heard people speak of swarms of flies? By a swarm of flies we mean a great number of flies rather near together. By a swarm of bees we mean a number of bees that live and work in one place. A swarm of bees divides the work of its hive. It has one queen bee. She is the mother and ruler of the rest.
But flies have no home where they live in common. They have no work. They have no one mother or queen, for whom the rest work. Each mother fly drops her eggs where it seems best to her. Then she goes off. She leaves her children to grow as best they can.
I have said that the fly likes best to place her eggs on a piece of fresh meat.
These eggs soon turn to worms or grubs, and so spoil the meat. To keep the meat from the flies the cook puts a cover over it. The cover is often made of wire net.
"Now," says the cook, "I can keep away that dirty fly."
But Mrs. Fly says, "Oh, can you, Mrs. Cook? We will see about that."
So Mrs. Fly sits on top of the wire cover. She puts her little egg tube through one of the fine holes in the net. She drops egg after egg from the tube. The eggs fall right on the meat, just where Mrs. Fly wishes them to be.
Then the cook cries out, "How ever did that fly get to my meat?"
Is it not strange that Mrs. Fly knows that her egg tube is the right size to go through the mesh of the wire net? How does she know that the eggs will fall on the meat?
Flies do another queer thing. If many flies are in a room, and you begin to chase them to kill them, they hide. They creep into holes and cracks.
They hide in curtains. They go behind pictures. After the hunt is over, out they come, one by one!
Flies also know how to sham death, "play dead," you would say. If you hit one and make it fall, it will lie very still, and seem to be dead. Then, after a little, it softly spreads out its legs and its wings. Then it shakes itself. A moment more, off it goes.
This fashion of making believe to be dead does not belong to flies only. Nearly all insects, and many other animals, sham death. It is worth while to watch and see how well they do it.
When a fly is killed other flies come to eat up its body. They put their trunks or mouth tubes on the dead fly and begin to suck. Soon the body is sucked dry of all its juice. It is only a dry shell.
I will tell you something that you can do with a dead fly. If it has not been dead so long that it has grown too stiff you can make the wings move. Hold it by the body. Gently tip up one wing. As you lift up one wing the other will rise too. They move together. It is as if they were set on a little spring.
It is as wrong to be cruel to flies as to larger creatures. If they are to be killed, do it quickly, and give as little pain as possible. If we do cruel acts, we make our hearts hard and bad.
WEEK 48 |
Nehemiah i: 1, to vii: 73.
HILE the good scribe Ezra was at work finding the books of the Bible, and copying them, and teaching them, another great man was helping God's people in another way. This man was Nehemiah. He was a nobleman of high rank at the court of the great King Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes reigned after Ahasuerus, of whom we read in the story of the beautiful Queen Esther (Story 106).
Nehemiah was "the cup-bearer" to the king of Persia at Shushan. It was his office to take charge of all the wine that was used at the king's table, to pour it out and hand the cup to the king. This was an important office, for he saw the king every day at his meals, and could speak with him, as very few of even the highest princes could speak. Then, too, the life of the king was in his hands, for if he were an enemy he could have allowed poison to be put into the wine to kill the king. So the cup-bearer was always a man whom the king could trust as his friend.
Nehemiah was a Jew, and, like all the Jews, felt a great love for Jerusalem. At one time a Jew named Hanani, and certain of his friends who had come from Jerusalem, visited Nehemiah. Nehemiah asked them, "How are the Jews in Jerusalem doing? How does the city look?"
And they answered, "The people who are living in the land of Judea are very poor, and are looked down upon by all around them. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
When Nehemiah heard this he was filled with sorrow for his city and his people. After the Jews left him he sat down for days, and would eat nothing. He fasted, and wept, and prayed. He said, "O Lord God of heaven, the great God, who keeps his promises to those who love him and do his will; hear, O Lord, my prayer for the people of Israel, thy servants. We have done very wickedly, O Lord, and because of our sins thou hast scattered us among the nations. Now, O Lord, give me grace this day in the sight of this man, the king of Persia, and may the king help me to do good and to help my people in the land of Israel."
A few days after this Nehemiah was standing beside the king's table, while the king and queen were seated at their meal. As he poured out the wine the king saw that his face was sad, which was not usual, for Nehemiah was of cheerful spirit, and generally showed a happy face. The king said to him, "Nehemiah, why do you look so sad? You do not seem to be sick. I am sure that there is something that gives you trouble. What is it? Tell me."
Then Nehemiah was afraid that the king might be displeased with him, but he said, "Let the king live for ever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city where my fathers are buried lies waste, with its walls broken down, and its gates burned with fire?"
The king said, "Do you wish to ask of me any favor? Tell me what I can do to help you."
Then Nehemiah lifted up a silent prayer to God, and said, "May it please the king, I would be glad if you would send me to Jerusalem, in the land of Judah, with an order to build the walls."
The king said, "How long will the journey be? And when will you come back?"
Nehemiah fixed upon a time, and told the king how long it would be, and he asked also that he might have letters to the men who ruled the different provinces through which he would pass, for them to give him a safe journey; and also a letter to the keeper of the king's forest, to give him wood for the beams of a house which he wished to build, and for repairing the Temple, and for building the wall. The king was kind to Nehemiah, and he gave him all that he asked.
Nehemiah the cup-bearer before the king and queen.
Nehemiah, with a company of horsemen and many friends, made the long journey of almost a thousand miles to Jerusalem. All the people were glad to have a visit from a man of such high rank, and the whole city rejoiced at his coming. But Nehemiah was distressed as he saw how poor and mean and helpless the city lay.
One night, without telling any of the men in the city his purpose, he rose up with a few of his friends, and by the light of the moon rode on his horse around the city. There he saw in how many places the walls were mere heaps of ruins, and gates were broken down and burned. He found great heaps of ashes, and piles of stone, so that in some places his horse could not walk over them. The next day he called together the rulers of the city and the chief priests, and he said to them, "You see how poor and helpless this city lies, without walls, or gates, and open to all its enemies. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, so that no longer other people may look upon us with contempt." Then he told them how God had heard his prayer, and had made the king friendly, and had sent gifts to help them. Then the people and the rulers said, "Let us rise up and build the wall!" So at once they began the work. Each family in Jerusalem agreed to build a part of the wall. The high-priest said that he would build one of the gates, and the wall beside it to a certain tower. Some of the rich men built a long space, and others did very little, and some would do nothing. One man built just as much of the wall as would stand in front of his house, and no more, and another man only as much as fronted upon his own room. One man and his daughters hired workers to build; the goldsmiths built some, and so did the apothecaries, the men who sold medicines; and the merchants built a part. Almost all the men of the city, and some of the women, took part in the building, for the people had a mind to work.
Soon the news went abroad through Judea and the lands around, that the walls of Jerusalem were rising from their ruins. There were many who were far from pleased as they heard this, for they hated the Jews and their God, and they did not wish to see Jerusalem strong, as it had been of old. The leader of these enemies was a man named Sanballat, who came from Samaria, where all the people were jealous of the Jews.
"What are these feeble Jews doing?" said Sanballat. "Do they intend to make their city strong? Will they pile up stones out of the rubbish of the burned city?"
And his servant Tobiah was with him, saying, "Why, if a fox should go up, he could break down their little wall!"
The Arabians from the desert, and the Philistines from Ashdod on the plain, and the Ammonites from the east of Jordan, saw that if the wall should be built they could no more rob and plunder the city. They tried to form an army to come against the city and stop building. But Nehemiah prayed to God for help, and he chose watchmen who should go around the wall, and look out for the coming of the enemies. Half of Nehemiah's men worked on the wall, and the other half held the bows, and spears, and armor of the workers. And in some places a man would hold a spear in one hand while he spread mortar with the other. At other places men worked with their swords hanging at one side, ready for the fight any moment.
Nehemiah rode on his horse around the wall, and his servant walked beside him with a trumpet. He said, "The work is large, and you are apart from each other. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, leave your work, take your arms, and go to the place where it sounds; and there the Lord will fight for us."
But their enemies were not strong enough to fight the Jews; so Sanballat, and Tobiah, and another of their leaders named Geshem, sent a letter to Nehemiah, saying, "Come and meet us in one of the villages on the plain near the Great Sea, and let us talk over this matter."
Now Nehemiah knew that to go to this place and then come back again to Jerusalem would take more than a week; and he sent answer thus, "I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down; why should the work stop, while I leave it, to come down and talk with you?"
Over and over again they sent for Nehemiah, but he refused to come. Finally, Sanballat sent a letter, with this message:
"It is told among all the people, and Geshem says it is a fact, that you are building this city to rebel against the king of Persia, and to set up a kingdom of your own. Come now, and let us talk with you, or trouble may come to you."
Nehemiah wrote back, "You know very well, that there is no truth in all these stories. You have made them up yourselves."
Some of the Jews in the city were friendly to these enemies outside, and these men tried to frighten Nehemiah. One of them made believe that he was a prophet, and said to Nehemiah, "Go into the Temple and hide, for in the night your enemies will come to kill you!"
"Should such a man as I am run away and hide himself?" said Nehemiah. "No; I will not go."
So earnestly did the men of Judah work that in fifty-two days after the work was begun it was finished, and the gates were hung, and guards were placed within, so that no enemies might enter. Thus Jerusalem began to rise from its weakness and helplessness, and once more to be a strong city.
When the other animals came back to luncheon, very boisterous and breezy after a morning on the river, the Mole, whose conscience had been pricking him, looked doubtfully at Toad, expecting to find him sulky or depressed. Instead, he was so uppish and inflated that the Mole began to suspect something; while the Rat and the Badger exchanged significant glances.
As soon as the meal was over, Toad thrust his paws deep into his trouser-pockets, remarked casually, "Well, look after yourselves, you fellows! Ask for anything you want!" and was swaggering off in the direction of the garden, where he wanted to think out an idea or two for his coming speeches, when the Rat caught him by the arm.
Toad rather suspected what he was after, and did his best to get away; but when the Badger took him firmly by the other arm he began to see that the game was up. The two animals conducted him between them into the small smoking-room that opened out of the entrance-hall, shut the door, and put him into a chair. Then they both stood in front of him, while Toad sat silent and regarded them with much suspicion and ill-humour.
"Now, look here, Toad," said the Rat. "It's about this Banquet, and very sorry I am to have to speak to you like this. But we want you to understand clearly, once and for all, that there are going to be no speeches and no songs. Try and grasp the fact that on this occasion we're not arguing with you; we're just telling you."
Toad saw that he was trapped. They understood him, they saw through him, they had got ahead of him. His pleasant dream was shattered.
"Mayn't I sing them just one little song?" he pleaded piteously.
"No, not one little song," replied the Rat firmly,
though his heart bled as he
noticed the trembling lip of the poor disappointed Toad. "It's no good, Toady;
you know well that your songs are all conceit and boasting and vanity; and your
speeches are all self-praise and—and—well, and gross exaggeration
"And gas," put in the Badger, in his common way.
"It's for your own good, Toady," went on the Rat. "You know you must turn over a new leaf sooner or later, and now seems a splendid time to begin; a sort of turning-point in your career. Please don't think that saying all this doesn't hurt me more than it hurts you."
Toad remained a long while plunged in thought. At last he raised his head, and the traces of strong emotion were visible on his features. "You have conquered, my friends," he said in broken accents. "It was, to be sure, but a small thing that I asked—merely leave to blossom and expand for yet one more evening, to let myself go and hear the tumultuous applause that always seems to me—somehow—to bring out my best qualities. However, you are right, I know, and I am wrong. Henceforth I will be a very different Toad. My friends, you shall never have occasion to blush for me again. But, O dear, O dear, this is a hard world!"
And, pressing his handkerchief to his face, he left the room, with faltering footsteps.
"Badger," said the Rat, "I feel like a brute; I wonder what you feel like?"
"O, I know, I know," said the Badger gloomily. "But the thing had to be done. This good fellow has got to live here, and hold his own, and be respected. Would you have him a common laughing-stock, mocked and jeered at by stoats and weasels?"
"Of course not," said the Rat. "And, talking of weasels, it's lucky we came upon that little weasel, just as he was setting out with Toad's invitations. I suspected something from what you told me, and had a look at one or two; they were simply disgraceful. I confiscated the lot, and the good Mole is now sitting in the blue boudoir, filling up plain, simple invitation cards."
At last the hour for the banquet began to draw near, and Toad, who on leaving the others had retired to his bedroom, was still sitting there, melancholy and thoughtful. His brow resting on his paw, he pondered long and deeply. Gradually his countenance cleared, and he began to smile long, slow smiles. Then he took to giggling in a shy, self-conscious manner. At last he got up, locked the door, drew the curtains across the windows, collected all the chairs in the room and arranged them in a semicircle, and took up his position in front of them, swelling visibly. Then he bowed, coughed twice, and, letting himself go, with uplifted voice he sang, to the enraptured audience that his imagination so clearly saw:
Toad's Last Little Song!
There was panic in the parlours and howling in the halls,
There was crying in the cow-sheds and shrieking in the stalls,
When the Toad—came—home!
When the Toad—came—home!
There was smashing in of window and crashing in of door,
There was chivvying of weasels that fainted on the floor,
When the Toad—came—home!
Bang! go the drums!
The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
And the cannon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
In honour of an animal of whom you're justly proud,
For it's Toad's—great—day!
He sang this very loud, with great unction and expression; and when he had done, he sang it all over again.
Then he heaved a deep sigh; a long, long, long sigh.
Then he dipped his hairbrush in the water-jug, parted his hair in the middle, and plastered it down very straight and sleek on each side of his face; and, unlocking the door, went quietly down the stairs to greet his guests, who he knew must be assembling in the drawing-room.
All the animals cheered when he entered, and crowded round to congratulate him and say nice things about his courage, and his cleverness, and his fighting qualities; but Toad only smiled faintly, and murmured, "Not at all!" Or, sometimes, for a change, "On the contrary!" Otter, who was standing on the hearthrug, describing to an admiring circle of friends exactly how he would have managed things had he been there, came forward with a shout, threw his arm round Toad's neck, and tried to take him round the room in triumphal progress; but Toad, in a mild way, was rather snubby to him, remarking gently, as he disengaged himself, "Badger's was the mastermind; the Mole and the Water Rat bore the brunt of the fighting; I merely served in the ranks and did little or nothing." The animals were evidently puzzled and taken aback by this unexpected attitude of his; and Toad felt, as he moved from one guest to the other, making his modest responses, that he was an object of absorbing interest to every one.
The Badger had ordered everything of the best, and the banquet was a great success. There was much talking and laughter and chaff among the animals, but through it all Toad, who of course was in the chair, looked down his nose and murmured pleasant nothings to the animals on either side of him. At intervals he stole a glance at the Badger and the Rat, and always when he looked they were staring at each other with their mouths open; and this gave him the greatest satisfaction. Some of the younger and livelier animals, as the evening wore on, got whispering to each other that things were not so amusing as they used to be in the good old days; and there were some knockings on the table and cries of "Toad! Speech! Speech from Toad! Song! Mr. Toad's song!" But Toad only shook his head gently, raised one paw in mild protest, and, by pressing delicacies on his guests, by topical small-talk, and by earnest inquiries after members of their families not yet old enough to appear at social functions, managed to convey to them that this dinner was being run on strictly conventional lines.
He was indeed an altered Toad!
After this climax, the four animals continued to lead their lives, so rudely broken in upon by civil war, in great joy and contentment, undisturbed by further risings or invasions. Toad, after due consultation with his friends, selected a handsome gold chain and locket set with pearls, which he dispatched to the gaoler's daughter with a letter that even the Badger admitted to be modest, grateful, and appreciative; and the engine-driver, in his turn, was properly thanked and compensated for all his pains and trouble. Under severe compulsion from the Badger, even the barge-woman was, with some trouble, sought out and the value of her horse discreetly made good to her; though Toad kicked terribly at this, holding himself to be an instrument of Fate, sent to punish fat women with mottled arms who couldn't tell a real gentleman when they saw one. The amount involved, it was true, was not very burdensome, the gipsy's valuation being admitted by local assessors to be approximately correct.
Sometimes, in the course of long summer evenings, the friends would take a stroll together in the Wild Wood, now successfully tamed so far as they were concerned; and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were greeted by the inhabitants, and how the mother-weasels would bring their young ones to the mouths of their holes, and say, pointing, "Look, baby! There goes the great Mr. Toad! And that's the gallant Water Rat, a terrible fighter, walking along o' him! And yonder comes the famous Mr. Mole, of whom you so often have heard your father tell!" But when their infants were fractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling how, if they didn't hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey Badger would up and get them. This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect.
King Bruce of Scotland flung himself down
In a lonely mood to think;
'Tis true he was monarch, and wore a crown,
But his heart was beginning to sink.
For he had been trying to do a great deed,
To make his people glad;
He had tried and tried, but couldn't succeed;
And so he became quite sad.
He flung himself down in low despair,
As grieved as man could be;
And after a while as he pondered there,
"I'll give it all up," said he.
Now, just at that moment, a spider dropped,
With its silken, filmy clue;
And the King, in the midst of his thinking, stopped
To see what the spider would do.
'Twas a long way up to the ceiling dome,
And it hung by a rope so fine,
That how it would get to its cobweb home
King Bruce could not divine.
It soon began to cling and crawl
Straight up, with strong endeavor;
But down it came with a slippery sprawl,
As near to the ground as ever.
Up, up it ran, not a second to stay,
To utter the least complaint,
Till it fell still lower, and there it lay,
A little dizzy and faint.
Its head grew steady—again it went,
And traveled a half yard higher;
'Twas a delicate thread it had to tread,
And a road where its feet would tire.
Again it fell and swung below,
But again it quickly mounted;
Till up and down, now fast, now slow,
Nine brave attempts were counted.
"Sure," cried the King, "that foolish thing
Will strive no more to climb;
When it toils so hard to reach and cling,
And tumbles every time."
But up the insect went once more;
Ah me! 'tis an anxious minute;
He's only a foot from his cobweb door,
Oh, say, will he lose or win it?
Steadily, steadily, inch by inch,
Higher and higher he got;
And a bold little run at the very last pinch
Put him into his native cot.
"Bravo, bravo!" the King cried out;
"All honor to those who try;
The spider up there, defied despair;
He conquered, and why shouldn't I?"
And Bruce of Scotland braced his mind,
And gossips tell the tale,
That he tried once more as he tried before,
And that time did not fail.
Pay goodly heed, all ye who read,
And beware of saying, "I can't";
'Tis a cowardly word, and apt to lead
To idleness, folly, and want.
Whenever you find your heart despair
Of doing some goodly thing,
Con over this strain, try bravely again,
And remember the spider and King!