WEEK 23 |
A T half past nine, that night, Tom and Sid were sent to bed, as usual. They said their prayers, and Sid was soon asleep. Tom lay awake and waited, in restless impatience. When it seemed to him that it must be nearly daylight, he heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. He would have tossed and fidgeted, as his nerves demanded, but he was afraid he might wake Sid. So he lay still, and stared up into the dark. Everything was dismally still. By and by, out of the stillness, little, scarcely perceptible noises began to emphasize themselves. The ticking of the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began to crack mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits were abroad. A measured, muffled snore issued from Aunt Polly's chamber. And now the tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a death-watch in the wall at the bed's head made Tom shudder—it meant that somebody's days were numbered. Then the howl of a far-off dog rose on the night air, and was answered by a fainter howl from a remoter distance. Tom was in an agony. At last he was satisfied that time had ceased and eternity begun; he began to doze, in spite of himself; the clock chimed eleven, but he did not hear it. And then there came, mingling with his half-formed dreams, a most melancholy caterwauling. The raising of a neighboring window disturbed him. A cry of "Scat! you devil!" and the crash of an empty bottle against the back of his aunt's woodshed brought him wide awake, and a single minute later he was dressed and out of the window and creeping along the roof of the "ell" on all fours. He "meow'd" with caution once or twice, as he went; then jumped to the roof of the woodshed and thence to the ground. Huckleberry Finn was there, with his dead cat. The boys moved off and disappeared in the gloom. At the end of half an hour they were wading through the tall grass of the graveyard.
It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western kind. It was on a hill, about a mile and a half from the village. It had a crazy board fence around it, which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest of the time, but stood upright nowhere. Grass and weeds grew rank over the whole cemetery. All the old graves were sunken in, there was not a tombstone on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards staggered over the graves, leaning for support and finding none. "Sacred to the memory of" So-and-So had been painted on them once, but it could no longer have been read, on the most of them, now, even if there had been light.
A faint wind moaned through the trees, and Tom feared it might be the spirits of the dead, complaining at being disturbed. The boys talked little, and only under their breath, for the time and the place and the pervading solemnity and silence oppressed their spirits. They found the sharp new heap they were seeking, and ensconced themselves within the protection of three great elms that grew in a bunch within a few feet of the grave.
Then they waited in silence for what seemed a long time. The hooting of a distant owl was all the sound that troubled the dead stillness. Tom's reflections grew oppressive. He must force some talk. So he said in a whisper:
"Hucky, do you believe the dead people like it for us to be here?"
"I wisht I knowed. It's awful solemn like, ain't it?"
"I bet it is."
There was a considerable pause, while the boys canvassed this matter inwardly. Then Tom whispered:
"Say, Hucky—do you reckon Hoss Williams hears us talking?"
"O' course he does. Least his sperrit does."
Tom, after a pause:
"I wish I'd said Mister Williams. But I never meant any harm. Everybody calls him Hoss."
"A body can't be too partic'lar how they talk 'bout these yer dead people, Tom."
This was a damper, and conversation died again.
Presently Tom seized his comrade's arm and said:
"What is it, Tom?" And the two clung together with beating hearts.
"There! Now you hear it."
"Lord, Tom, they're coming! They're coming, sure. What'll we do?"
"I dono. Think they'll see us?"
"Oh, Tom, they can see in the dark, same as cats. I wisht I hadn't come."
"Oh, don't be afeard. I don't believe they'll bother us. We ain't doing any harm. If we keep perfectly still, maybe they won't notice us at all."
"I'll try to, Tom, but, Lord, I'm all of a shiver."
The boys bent their heads together and scarcely breathed. A muffled sound of voices floated up from the far end of the graveyard.
"Look! See there!" whispered Tom. "What is it?"
"It's devil-fire. Oh, Tom, this is awful."
Some vague figures approached through the gloom, swinging an old-fashioned tin lantern that freckled the ground with innumerable little spangles of light. Presently Huckleberry whispered with a shudder:
"It's the devils, sure enough. Three of 'em! Lordy, Tom, we're goners! Can you pray?"
"I'll try, but don't you be afeard. They ain't going to hurt us. Now
I lay me down to sleep,
"What is it, Huck?"
"They're humans! One of 'em is, anyway. One of 'em's old Muff Potter's voice."
"No—'tain't so, is it?"
"I bet I know it. Don't you stir nor budge. He ain't sharp enough to notice us. Drunk, the same as usual, likely—blamed old rip!"
"All right, I'll keep still. Now they're stuck. Can't find it. Here they come again. Now they're hot. Cold again. Hot again. Red hot! They're p'inted right, this time. Say, Huck, I know another o' them voices; it's Injun Joe."
"That's so—that murderin' half-breed! I'd druther they was devils a dern sight. What kin they be up to?"
The whisper died wholly out, now, for the three men had reached the grave and stood within a few feet of the boys' hiding-place.
"Here it is," said the third voice; and the owner of it held the lantern up and revealed the face of young Dr. Robinson.
Potter and Injun Joe were carrying a handbarrow with a rope and a couple of shovels on it. They cast down their load and began to open the grave. The doctor put the lantern at the head of the grave and came and sat down with his back against one of the elm trees. He was so close the boys could have touched him.
"Hurry, men!" he said, in a low voice; "the moon might come out at any moment."
They growled a response and went on digging. For some time there was no noise but the grating sound of the spades discharging their freight of mold and gravel. It was very monotonous. Finally a spade struck upon the coffin with a dull woody accent, and within another minute or two the men had hoisted it out on the ground. They pried off the lid with their shovels, got out the body and dumped it rudely on the ground. The moon drifted from behind the clouds and exposed the pallid face. The barrow was got ready and the corpse placed on it, covered with a blanket, and bound to its place with the rope. Potter took out a large spring-knife and cut off the dangling end of the rope and then said:
"Now the cussed thing's ready, Sawbones, and you'll just out with another five, or here she stays."
"That's the talk!" said Injun Joe.
"Look here, what does this mean?" said the doctor. "You required your pay in advance, and I've paid you."
"Yes, and you done more than that," said Injun Joe, approaching the doctor, who was now standing. "Five years ago you drove me away from your father's kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something to eat, and you said I warn't there for any good; and when I swore I'd get even with you if it took a hundred years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did you think I'd forget? The Injun blood ain't in me for nothing. And now I've got you, and you got to settle, you know!"
He was threatening the doctor, with his fist in his face, by this time. The doctor struck out suddenly and stretched the ruffian on the ground. Potter dropped his knife, and exclaimed:
"Here, now, don't you hit my pard!" and the next moment he had grappled with the doctor and the two were struggling with might and main, trampling the grass and tearing the ground with their heels. Injun Joe sprang to his feet, his eyes flaming with passion, snatched up Potter's knife, and went creeping, catlike and stooping, round and round about the combatants, seeking an opportunity. All at once the doctor flung himself free, seized the heavy head-board of Williams' grave and felled Potter to the earth with it—and in the same instant the half-breed saw his chance and drove the knife to the hilt in the young man's breast. He reeled and fell partly upon Potter, flooding him with his blood, and in the same moment the clouds blotted out the dreadful spectacle and the two frightened boys went speeding away in the dark.
Presently, when the moon emerged again, Injun Joe was standing over the two forms, contemplating them. The doctor murmured inarticulately, gave a long gasp or two and was still. The half-breed muttered:
"That score is settled—damn you."
Then he robbed the body. After which he put the fatal knife in Potter's open right hand, and sat down on the dismantled coffin. Three—four—five minutes passed, and then Potter began to stir and moan. His hand closed upon the knife; he raised it, glanced at it, and let it fall, with a shudder. Then he sat up, pushing the body from him, and gazed at it, and then around him, confusedly. His eyes met Joe's.
"Lord, how is this, Joe?" he said.
"It's a dirty business," said Joe, without moving. "What did you do it for?"
"I! I never done it!"
"Look here! That kind of talk won't wash."
Potter trembled and grew white.
"I thought I'd got sober. I'd no business to drink to-night. But it's in my head yet—worse'n when we started here. I'm all in a muddle; can't recollect anything of it, hardly. Tell me, Joe—honest, now, old feller—did I do it? Joe, I never meant to—'pon my soul and honor, I never meant to, Joe. Tell me how it was, Joe. Oh, it's awful—and him so young and promising."
"Why, you two was scuffling, and he fetched you one with the headboard and you fell flat; and then up you come, all reeling and staggering, like, and snatched the knife and jammed it into him, just as he fetched you another awful clip—and here you've laid, as dead as a wedge till now."
"Oh, I didn't know what I was a-doing. I wish I may die this minute if I did. It was all on account of the whiskey; and the excitement, I reckon. I never used a weepon in my life before, Joe. I've fought, but never with weepons. They'll all say that. Joe, don't tell! Say you won't tell, Joe—that's a good feller. I always liked you, Joe, and stood up for you, too. Don't you remember? You won't tell, will you, Joe?" And the poor creature dropped on his knees before the stolid murderer, and clasped his appealing hands.
"No, you've always been fair and square with me, Muff Potter, and I won't go back on you. There, now, that's as fair as a man can say."
"Oh, Joe, you're an angel. I'll bless you for this the longest day I live." And Potter began to cry.
"Come, now, that's enough of that. This ain't any time for blubbering. You be off yonder way and I'll go this. Move, now, and don't leave any tracks behind you."
Potter started on a trot that quickly increased to a run. The half-breed stood looking after him. He muttered:
"If he's as much stunned with the lick and fuddled with the rum as he had the look of being, he won't think of the knife till he's gone so far he'll be afraid to come back after it to such a place by himself—chicken-heart!"
Two or three minutes later the murdered man, the blanketed corpse, the lidless coffin, and the open grave were under no inspection but the moon's. The stillness was complete again, too.
W hen a knight galloped into the courtyard of a castle, his helm and armour glittering, his sword clanking at his side, his plume waving, and his horse prancing and caracoling, it is small wonder if the boys of the place gathered to see him, and if each said to himself, "I wish I were a knight."
The boy who was to be a knight must be of noble birth. His training generally began when he was only seven or eight years old. He was taken away from his mother and his father's castle, for it was the custom for boys to be brought up in the castle of some friend of their father's or perhaps of some one of higher rank than he. A castle was a gloomy stone building, with strong walls and towers, usually placed either high up on a cliff or in a swamp, so that it could not be easily captured. Within it were dungeons and treasure rooms and rooms for the lord and his family. It had also a well and perhaps a garden, and it was protected by a moat and a drawbridge.
A Castle in Sussex, England
The little boy about to begin his training at such a castle was first called a page; and before he could hope to become even a squire there was much for him to learn. Until he was fourteen or fifteen his first business was to wait upon the ladies of the household, to run on their errands, carry messages for them, and ride with them when they went out hunting or hawking. He must always be polite and obedient, for no one could imagine such a thing as a knight who was rude or would not obey the laws of knighthood. He must learn to play chess and draughts, to read, to sing, to dance, to play on the flute and harp, and to say his catechism. He was also taught that he must choose some lady and must serve her truly. There is a story that a lady of the French court once asked a little page who was the mistress of his heart. "I love my mother best and my sister next," he replied. "Yes, but who is your lady-love in chivalry?" she asked, and he finally chose a little ten-year old girl. "That is not the way," declared his teacher. "You must not choose a child, but some lady of noble birth who can advise and help you. Some day you must do daring deeds for her sake, and you must be so humble and faithful to her that she cannot help being kind to you."
A Squire Becoming a Knight
Most of the training of the page was given him by the ladies of the household; but he was also taught to ride and leap, to hurl a light spear, and to fight in sham battles with the other pages of the castle. He waited upon his lord and the ladies at the table, and sometimes he accompanied his lord to battle. He did no fighting there, but simply served in any way that a boy could. He was in no danger, for it would have been a disgrace to any knight to wound a page.
Of course all this time the boy was looking forward to the day when he would be promoted and would become a squire. That came to pass when he was about fourteen. Then he not only served at table and brought water for the lord and his guests to wash their hands before and after the meal, but he learned to carve, he brought his lord's special cup of wine at retiring, and waited upon him in every way. In a large castle where there were many squires, one cared for the dining hall, arranged it for singing or made the tables ready for chess. A squire was not permitted to sit at table with a knight, not even if the knight was his own father, but he might join in the amusements. Each in turn was "squire of the body," and the one in office was he whom all the others envied, for when his lord went to battle, this squire was his regular attendant. The young page might carry the helm, but the squire bore the armour and shield, and it was his task—no easy one—to encase his lord in the heavy armor that was then worn. If the knight lost his weapon, the squire must be ready with another. If he took prisoners, they were handed over to the squire to guard; and if the knight was thrown from his horse, the squire must help him to mount again.
Although a squire was rarely made a knight before he was twenty or twenty-one, he had little chance to be idle. He was still expected to keep up his attendance upon the ladies of the castle; but he now learned to use, not the light weapons with which he had practiced as a page, but the battle-axe and sword and lance of the knight. He must become a master of horsemanship and be perfect in leaping and swimming and climbing. He must learn to bear heat and cold and hunger without a word of complaint, and he must accustom himself to wearing the heavy armor of the time and to moving easily in it. There was one exercise in particular which he was expected to practice until he had become perfect. This was called the quintain. A figure of a man arrayed with sword and shield as if for battle was fastened to a post in such a way that it swung about easily. The young squire rode up to the figure full tilt and struck it with his lance. If he hit it on the breast, nothing happened, but if he aimed badly and hit the legs or the arms or was slow in getting away, then the courtyard re-echoed with shouts of laughter, for the figure whirled about and the unskilful squire was struck a heavy blow with a sandbag.
When the time had come for the young man to become a knight, there was much ceremony, and every act had its meaning. He went into a bath and afterward put on a white garment to indicate purity. A red one was placed over it to show that he would shed his blood for the right. One whole night he spent fully armed, praying and meditating in a church. On the following day he gave his sword to the priest, who laid it upon the altar, blessed it, and returned it. He made solemn vows to defend the church, to be true to the king, and to help every lady who was in distress. Then the knight of highest rank came forward. The young man knelt before him with clasped hands and declared solemnly that his earnest wish was to maintain religion and chivalry. After this, the knights and ladies put on, first, his spurs, then the other pieces of his armour. The chief knight fixed on the sword and struck him upon the neck a slight blow called the accolade, and said aloud, "I dub thee knight in the name of God and the saints." The other knights embraced him, and the priest prayed that he might ever be faithful and loyal. Then the people all went out of the church, and the newly made knight sprang upon his horse and rode about in his gleaming armour, flashing his sword and spurring on his steed to prance and curvet and caracol. After this he dismounted. He made as generous gifts as he could afford to the servants and minstrels of the castle in which he had received his training. The rest of the day was given to feasting and entertainments.
Of course this ceremony differed somewhat in different countries, and sometimes a man was made a knight on the battlefield, because he had just performed some deed of valour. If a knight broke his vows, his spurs were cut off, his sword broken over his head, his armour taken from him, and he was laid in a coffin. Then the burial service was read over him as if he were dead.
A Knight in Armour
The great pleasure and amusement of the knights was the tournament, or mock battle, and they would journey long distances to see one or take part in one. The battle took place in what was called the lists, a large oblong space marked off by railings. Close to these were the galleries, or seats for the spectators. It was all made as gorgeous as possible with a vast display of banners and tapestry and coats of mail, and especially by the brilliant robes of the ladies. When the trumpet sounded and the cry was heard, "Come forth, knights, come forth!" the two bodies of knights that were to tilt, one against the other, galloped forward at full speed from opposite ends of the lists with their lances in rest and met with a terrible shock. The ribbons of their lady-loves waved from their helmets. Pieces of wood were fastened to the points of the lances, for the object of the charge was not to kill but to unhorse opponents. There were strict rules for the behaviour of knights during a tournament, and an accurate method of counting their honours. To strike an opponent out of his saddle counted three, to break a lance on his helm counted ten. The ladies were the judges of all questions, but they usually resigned their power into the hands of an umpire called the Knight of Honour. After the tournament had come to an end, some fair lady who had been chosen Queen of Beauty and Love, presented the prizes.
Knighthood flourished from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries. Armour grew heavier and heavier till it became almost impossible for a knight to mount his horse without help, and if his horse was slain, he rolled off helplessly and became an easy prey for his foes. About the middle of the fourteenth century, the English won two great battles, at Crécy and at Poitiers, against the French, not by the power of the knights, but by the valour of the foot soldiers with their bows and arrows. Then came the invention of gunpowder, and after that the knight became little more than a useless encumbrance. His time was past, and his armour is now exhibited as a curiosity in museums.
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands,—
Curtsied when you have and kiss'd;
(The wild waves whist)—
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.
The watchdog's bark,
Hark, hark, I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer,
WEEK 23 |
W HEN Henry VIII. broke away from the Church of Rome he did not make much change in the services or in the ruling of the Church. He merely said that the Pope had nothing to do with the Church in England, and he commanded the services to be read in English, instead of Latin. But by degrees many Protestants began to think that the Church of England was too like the Church of Rome. They wanted to have no prayer book at all. They wanted to have very simple services and very simple churches. These people were called Puritans. They were very stern and grave, but many of the best and bravest men in England joined them.
At this time men did not wear plain, dark clothes as they do now. They wore bright colors and their clothes were often made of silk and velvet, and trimmed with lace. They wore their hair long and curly, and they had feathers in their hats. But the Puritans thought this gay dress was wicked. They cut their hair short and wore dark clothes and plain linen collars, instead of lace and feathers and gay-coloured silks and satins. They even spoke in a slow and sad tone of voice, using curious and long words, and they very seldom laughed.
The Puritans felt that in England they could not worship God in what seemed to them the right way. So, although they loved their country, they resolved to leave it, and sail away over the sea to the new lands which had been discovered. There they would found a New England where they could be free.
The first of these Puritans who left England were called the Pilgrim Fathers. The ship they sailed in was called the Mayflower. There were only one hundred of them—men, women, and children.
Before they started there were many sad partings. All left
dear friends behind; some said
They started in the summer, but they had so many delays and misfortunes that it was winter before they reached America. They did not come to the part of America to which they had expected to come, but reached land much further north, where the winter was very cold—far colder than the English winter.
As the little Mayflower drew near, the shore of their new
home looked very dark and dreary to those Pilgrim Fathers.
There were no people to greet them on the beach, no houses
with twinkling lights by night and cheerful smoke by day.
There was nothing but the rough, rocky shore, and beyond it,
a mass of bare, brown trees. There was no sound but the roar
of the waves, the call of
The little band of pilgrims felt very lonely when they landed in this strange country, hundreds and hundreds of miles from any white people. Dark woods and wilderness lay in front, behind the cold grey sea separating them from all their loved ones; and round them, day and night, the fear of attack from the wild Red Indians who inhabited the land.
But in spite of dangers and hardships they did not lose heart. Soon the noise of axe and saw was heard in the forest as the Pilgrim Fathers felled trees and cut them into planks with which to build their houses. Through cold and wind and rain they worked, and a little town of wooden houses rose round the little wooden meeting-house, as they called their church.
The building went on slowly for all the Pilgrim Fathers could not work at once. Some of them had to keep watch in case of attack from the Red Indians, while the remainder built the houses and laid out the gardens.
The little band struggled bravely. They were often cold and hungry, weary and afraid, still they did not give up hope. They had very little to eat. Sometimes they did not even know at night if they would have anything for breakfast in the morning. Once an eagle was shot, and they thought it was a great treat. It tasted something like mutton. Once a sailor found a herring on the shore. As it was only enough for one, the captain had it for supper. But many of the pilgrims, unused to such hardships, died during the winter.
At last the dark days passed, and with the sunshine of the spring came brighter times. And with the spring the Mayflower, which had lain in the bay all winter, sailed back to England.
With sad hearts the pilgrims saw it go. It was the last link which bound them to their old home. Yet in spite of the longing in their hearts for the green fields and white cliffs of England, in spite of all the hardships they had suffered, not one pilgrim returned home with the Mayflower. They knelt upon the shore, watching with tear-dimmed eyes till the last glimmer of its white sails died away in the distance, then they turned back to their work. But for many days after, the bay seemed sad and empty with no little Mayflower riding at anchor in it.
The Pilgrim Fathers named their town Plymouth, after the town in England from which they had sailed. From these few settlers the great American nation has grown, and although America is no longer a British colony, but a separate nation, it is a nation which has grown out of the British nation.
If you look at the map of America you will see Plymouth marked in the State of Massachusetts. In that town there is a hall called Pilgrim Hall, and in front of it stands a rock which is railed round and carefully preserved. It is the rock which the feet of the Pilgrim Fathers first touched when they landed to found New England. The people of America are proud to remember that they are descended from those stern, brave men and women, so they guard the stone as something precious, and the 22nd of December, the day on which the Pilgrim Fathers landed, is called Forefathers' Day and is kept as a holiday.
The breaking waves dashed high on a stern and rockbound coast,
And the woods against the stormy sky their giant branches tossed.
And the heavy night hung dark, the hills and water o'er;
When a band of exiles moor'd their bark on the wild New England shore.
Not as the conqueror comes, they the true-hearted came;
Not with the roll of stirring drums and the trumpet that sings of fame.
Not as the flying come, in silence and in fear;
They shook the depths of the desert gloom with their hymns of lofty cheer.
Amidst the storm they sang, and the stars heard and the sea,
And the sounding aisles of the dim wood rang to the anthem of the free.
The ocean eagle soared from his nest by the white waves' foam,
And the rocking pines of the forest roar'd, this was their welcome home.
There were men with hoary hair amidst that pilgrim band:
Why had they come to wither there, away from their childhood's land?
There was woman's fearless eye, lit by her deep love's truth,
There was manhood's brow serenely high, and the fiery heart of youth.
What sought they thus afar? bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas? the spoils of war? no—'twas a faith's pure shrine.
Yes, call it holy ground, which first their brave feet trod!
They have left unstain'd what there they found, freedom to worship God!
A band of exiles moor'd their bark on the wild New England shore.
T HE frogs! You can have no spring until you hear the frogs. The first shrill notes, heard before the ice is fairly out of the marshes, will be the waking call of the hylas, the tiny tree-frogs that later on in the summer you will find in the woods. Then, as the spring advances and this silvery sleigh-bell jingle tinkles faster, other voices will join in—the soft croak of the spotted leopard frogs, the still softer melancholy quaver of the common toad, and away down at the end of the scale the deep, solemn bass of the great bullfrog saying, "Go round! Better go round!"
You must hear, besides the first spring notes of the bluebird and the robin, four bird songs this spring. First (1) the song of the wood thrush or the hermit thrush, whichever one lives in your neighborhood. No words can describe the purity, the peacefulness, the spiritual quality of the wood thrush's simple "Come to me."
It is the voice of the tender twilight, the voice of the tranquil forest, speaking to you. After the thrush (2) the brown thrasher, our finest, most gifted songster, as great a singer, I think (and I have often heard them both), as the Southern mockingbird.
Then (3) the operatic catbird. She sits lower down among the bushes than the brown thrasher, as if she knew that, compared with him, she must take a back seat; but for variety of notes and length of song, she has few rivals. I say she, when really I ought to say he, for it is the males of most birds that sing, but the catbird seems so long and slender, so dainty and feminine, that I think of this singer as of some exquisite operatic singer in a woman's rôle. Then (4) the bobolink; for his song is just like Bryant's bubbling poem, only better! Go to the meadows in June and listen as he comes lilting and singing over your head.
There are some birds that cannot sing: the belted kingfisher, for instance; he can only rattle. You must hear him rattle. You can do as well yourself if you will shake a "pair of bones" or heave an anchor and let the chain run fast through the hawse-hole. You then must hear the downy woodpecker doing his rattling rat-ta-tat-tat-tat-tat (across the page and back again), as fast as rat-ta-tat can tat. How he makes the old dead limb or fence-post rattle as he drums upon it with his chisel bill. He can be heard half a mile around.
Then high-hole, the flicker (or golden-winged woodpecker), you must hear him yell, Up-up-up-up-up up-up-up-up-up-up, —a ringing, rolling, rapid kind of yodel that echoes over the spring fields.
You must hear the nighthawk and the whip-poor-will. Both birds are to be heard at twilight, and the whip-poor-will far into the night. At the very break of dawn is also a good time to listen to them.
At dusk you will see (I have seen him from the city roofs in Boston) a bird about the size of a pigeon mounting up into the sky by short flights, crying peent, until far over your head the creature will suddenly turn and on half-closed wings dive headlong toward the earth, when, just before hitting the ground, upward he swoops, at the same instant making a weird booming sound, a kind of hollow groan with his wings, as the wind rushes through their large feathers. This diver through the dim ocean of air is the nighthawk. Let one of the birds dive close to your head on a lonely dusky road, and your hair will try to jump out from under your hat.
The whip-poor-will's cry you all know. When you hear one this spring, go out into the twilight and watch for him. See him spring into the air, like a strange shadow, for flies; count his whip-poor-wills (he may call it more than a hundred times in as many seconds!). But hear a circle of the birds, if possible, calling through the darkness of a wood all around you!
There is one strange bird song that is half song and half dance that perhaps most of you may never be able to hear and see; but as it is worth going miles to hear, and nights of watching to witness, I am going to set it here as one of your outdoor tasks or feats: you must hear the mating song of the woodcock. I have described the song and the dance in Roof and Meadow, in the chapter called "One Flew East and One Flew West." Mr. Bradford Torrey has an account of it in his Clerk of the Woods, in the chapter named "Woodcock Vespers." To hear the song is a rare experience for the habitual watcher in the woods, but one that you might have the first April evening that you are abroad.
Go down to your nearest meadow—a meadow near a swampy piece of woods is best—and here, along the bank of the meadow stream, wait in the chilly twilight for the speank, speank, or the peent, peent, from the grass—the signal that the song is about to begin.
One of the dreadful—positively dreadful—sounds of the late spring that I hear day in and day out is the gobbling, strangling, ghastly cries of young crows feeding. You will surely think something is being murdered. The crying of a hungry baby is musical in comparison. But it is a good sound to hear, for it reminds one of the babes in the woods—that a new generation of birds is being brought through from babyhood to gladden the world. It is a tender sound! The year is still young.
You should hear the hum of the honey-bees on a fresh May day in an apple tree that is just coming into perfect bloom. The enchanting loveliness of the pink and white world of blossoms is enough to make one forget to listen to the hum-hum-hum-humming-ing-ing-ing-ing of the excited bees. But hear their myriad wings, fanning the perfume into the air and filling the sunshine with the music of work. The whir, the hum of labor—of a busy factory, of a great steamship dock—is always music to those who know the blessedness of work; but it takes that knowledge, and a good deal of imagination besides, to hear the music in it. Not so with the bees. The season, the day, the colors, and perfumes—they are the song; the wings are only the million-stringed æolian upon which the song is played.
You should hear the grass grow. What! I repeat, you should hear the grass grow. I have a friend, a sound and sensible man, but a lover of the out-of-doors, who says he can hear it grow. But perhaps it is the soft stir of the working earthworms that he hears. Try it. Go out alone one of these April nights; select a green pasture with a slope to the south, at least a mile from any house, or railroad; lay your ear flat upon the grass, listen without a move for ten minutes. You hear something—or do you feel it? Is it the reaching up of the grass? is it the stir of the earthworms? is it the pulse of the throbbing universe? or is it your own throbbing pulse? It is all of these, I think; call it the heart of the grass beating in every tiny living blade, if you wish to. You should listen to hear the grass grow.
The fires have gone out on the open hearth. Listen early in the morning and toward evening for the rumbling, the small, muffled thunder, of the chimney swallows, as they come down from the open sky on their wonderful wings. Don't be frightened. It isn't Santa Claus this time of year; nor is it the Old Nick! The smothered thunder is caused by the rapid beating of the swallows' wings on the air in the narrow chimney-flue, as the birds settle down from the top of the chimney and hover over their nests. Stick your head into the fireplace and look up! Don't smoke the precious lodgers out, no matter how much racket they make.
Hurry out while the last drops of your first May
thunder-shower are still falling and listen to the
robins singing from the tops of the trees. Their liquid
songs are as fresh as the shower, as if the raindrops
in falling were running down from the trees in song—as indeed they are in the overflowing trout-brook. Go
out and listen, and write a better poem than this one
that I wrote the other afternoon when listening to the
birds in our first spring
The warm rain drops aslant the sun
And in the rain the robins sing;
Across the creek in twos and troops,
The hawking swifts and swallows wing.
The air is sweet with apple bloom,
And sweet the laid dust down the lane,
The meadow's marge of calamus,
And sweet the robins in the rain.
O greening time of bloom and song!
O fragrant days of tender pain!
The wet, the warm, the sweet young days
With robins singing in the rain.
Down in a green and shady bed
A modest violet grew;
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head,
As if to hide from view.
And yet it was a lovely flower,
Its colours bright and fair!
It might have graced a rosy bower,
Instead of hiding there.
Yet there it was content to bloom,
In modest tints arrayed;
And there diffused its sweet perfume,
Within the silent shade.
Then let me to the valley go,
This pretty flower to see;
That I may also learn to grow
In sweet humility.
WEEK 23 |
OONER or later, according to its species, a day comes when
the larva feels itself strong enough to face the perils of
metamorphosis. It has valiantly done its duty, since to
stuff its paunch is the duty of a worm; it has eaten for
two, itself and the matured insect. Now it is advisable to
renounce feasting, retire from the world, and prepare itself
a quiet shelter for the
"Certain larvæ simply bury themselves in the ground,
others hollow out round niches with polished sides. There
are some that make themselves a case out of dry leaves;
there are others that know how to glue together a hollow
ball out of grains of sand or rotten wood or loam. Those
that live in
"An ashy white caterpillar, the size of the little finger, is raised in large numbers for its cocoon, with which silk stuffs are made. It is called the silkworm. In very clean rooms are placed reed screens, on which they put mulberry leaves, and the young caterpillars come from eggs hatched in the house. The mulberry is a large tree cultivated on purpose to nourish these caterpillars; it has no value except for its leaves, the sole food of silkworms. Large tracts are devoted to its cultivation, so precious is the handiwork of the worm. The caterpillars eat the ration of leaves that is frequently renewed on the screens, and from time to time change their skin, according to their rate of growth. Their appetite is such that the clicking of their jaws is like the noise of a shower falling during a calm on the foliage of the trees. It is true that the room contains thousands and thousands of worms. The caterpillar gets its growth in four or five weeks. Then the screens are set with sprigs of heather, on which the worms climb when the time comes for them to spin their cocoons. They settle themselves one by one amid the sprigs and fasten here and there a multitude of very fine threads, so as to make a kind of network which will hold them suspended and serve them as scaffolding for the great work of the cocoon.
Eggs, worm, cocoon, and butterfly
"The silk thread comes out of the under lip, through a hole called the spinneret. In the body of the caterpillar the silk material is a very thick, sticky liquid, resembling gum. In coming through the opening of the lip, this liquid is drawn out into a thread, which glues itself to the preceding threads and immediately hardens. The silk matter is not entirely contained in the mulberry leaf that the worm eats, any more than is milk in the grass that the cow browses. The caterpillar makes it out of the materials of its food, just as the cow makes milk of the constituents of her forage. Without the caterpillar's help man could never extract from the mulberry leaves the material for his costliest fabrics. Our most beautiful silk stuffs really take birth in the worm that drivels them into a thread.
"Let us return to the caterpillar suspended in the midst of its net. Now it is working at the cocoon. Its head is in continual motion. It advances, retires, ascends, descends, goes to right and left, while letting escape from its lip a tiny thread, which rolls itself loosely around the animal, sticks itself to the thread already in place, and finishes by forming a continuous envelope the size of a pigeon's egg. The silken structure is at first transparent enough to permit one to see the caterpillar at work; but as it grows thicker what passes within is soon hidden from view. What follows can easily be guessed. For three or four days the caterpillar continues to thicken the walls of the cocoon until it has exhausted its store of liquid silk. Here it is at last, retired from the world, isolated, tranquil, ready for the transfiguration so soon to take place. Its whole life, its long life of a month, it has worked in anticipation of the metamorphosis; it has crammed itself with mulberry leaves, has extenuated itself to make the silk for its cocoon, but thus it is going to become a butterfly. What a solemn moment for the caterpillar!
"Ah! my children, I had almost forgotten man's part in all
this. Hardly is the work of the cocoon finished when he runs
to the heather sprig, lays violent hands on the cocoons and
sells them to the manufacturer. The latter, without delay,
puts them into an oven and subjects them to the action of
burning vapor to kill the future butterfly, whose tender
flesh is beginning to form. If he delayed, the butterfly
would pierce the cocoon, which, no longer capable of being
unwound on account of its broken threads, would lose its
value. This precaution taken, the rest is done at leisure.
The cocoons are unwound in factories called spinning mills.
They are put into a pan of boiling water to dissolve the
gum which holds the successive windings together. A
"In the center of the threadbare cocoon is the chrysalis, scorched and killed by the fire. Later the silk undergoes divers operations which give it more suppleness and luster; it passes into the dyer's vats where it takes any color desired; finally it is woven and converted into fabric."
IN the early part of the eighteenth century, when
Boston was a little town of less than ten thousand
inhabitants, there lived just opposite the Old South
Church a good soap boiler and candle maker, named
Josiah Franklin. He had seven daughters and ten sons.
And this story is about the youngest of his sons,
Benjamin, who was born in Boston,
With so many mouths to feed, Josiah Franklin could not afford to keep any one of his children long in school. However, Benjamin learned to read when he was very young, and at the age of eight he was sent to the Latin Grammar School. The next year he went to a school where arithmetic and writing were taught. These two years were all that he spent in school.
Like most boys who live near the sea, Benjamin Franklin was a good swimmer and could handle a boat like an old seaman. Like most boys, too, he was always on the lookout for adventure and sometimes led his friends into trouble.
One of his favorite playgrounds was on the edge of a salt marsh, where at high tide he could fish for minnows. Running about on its banks the boys had trampled them into a mere quagmire. The mud was so deep that the fun was spoiled. What could they do? Never at a loss for some way out of his difficulties, Benjamin was ready with a scheme. Not far from the marsh a new house was being built, and the builders had already brought the stones and piled them ready for use. Why couldn't the boys get these stones and build a wharf in the mud? The very thing, they all thought.
So that night after the workmen had left the new house, Benjamin and his friends met there and began to move the stones. Some of them were pretty large and very heavy, and it took two or three boys to carry them. But they worked as hard and fast as they could, until they got all the stones to the edge of the marsh and their wharf built.
Picture the surprised workmen when they went to use their stones in the morning! Not one was left. Who could have taken them and where were they? A search was made. The little wharf was soon discovered, and word was sent to the fathers of the boys.
Franklin says of the occasion, "Several of us were corrected by our fathers; and though I pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest."
In olden times boys began quite early to learn some
trade. The natural thing for a boy to do was to learn
his father's trade. So for two years after leaving
Benjamin worked for his father, cutting wicks, molding
candles, tending shop, and running errands. As he did
not like this kind of work in the least,
At last, his great liking for the few books at his
command persuaded his father to make a printer of him.
Benjamin's brother James was a printer; and when the
lad was twelve years old, he was apprenticed to this
elder brother. In return for his board and clothes, and
for being taught the printer's trade, Benjamin was to
work for his brother until he was
Once in the printing house, Benjamin had better opportunities for reading. Often the booksellers would lend him books, which he would sit up all night to read that they might be returned in the morning. One of James Franklin's friends took a fancy to the boy and invited him to his own library, loaning him as many books as he cared to read.
Inspired by his reading he began to practice writing and worked at it faithfully, always trying to improve his language. All day long he worked hard at his trade; but in the early mornings, in the evenings, and on Sundays, he would read and write to his heart's content. It was through his ability in writing that Benjamin Franklin was able to do great good in later life, as you shall see.
Two years after Benjamin went to work for his brother, James began to print a newspaper which he called the New England Courant. Benjamin was very anxious to write something for this paper, but he was sure that James would not print anything if he knew that it had been written by his little brother. So one night Benjamin slipped under the door of the printing house a little story that he had written. James Franklin found it and showed it to some of his friends. All agreed that it had been written by some very clever man. This delighted the young writer, and he kept up his secret writings for some time, enjoying the joke on James immensely.
When Benjamin was sixteen, James printed something in his paper which the Massachusetts Assembly did not like. They therefore refused to let him publish the New England Courant any more. So he decided to print the paper under the name of Benjamin Franklin.
Now the paper was more clever than ever before. Every number was full of fresh news and lively jokes. The paper sold like hot cakes. Things would have gone very well had not James Franklin proved a harsh master to his young brother, often beating him.
Finally Benjamin could bear it no longer and left the printing house. This made James very angry. He went around to all the other printers in Boston and told them not to give Benjamin any work. Surely this was a sorry plight for the young printer.
UNABLE to get work in Boston, young Franklin decided to slip away on a packet boat which was going to New York. This meant a sea journey of three hundred miles and was quite an undertaking for those days. In October, 1723, he reached New York, a lad of seventeen, an entire stranger in the city, with very little money in his pocket.
He went to William Bradford, the only printer in New
Franklin set out in a boat that was going to Amboy on
the coast of
The next morning it was raining hard; but Franklin started on foot to Burlington, a distance of fifty miles. All day he walked. That night he stopped at a poor inn, soaking wet and very tired. He wished that he had never left home. Early the next morning he was on his way again; and when evening came, he found himself within ten miles of Burlington. On the third morning he reached Burlington, where he found a boat which was going to Philadelphia that evening.
As there was no wind, the whole distance had to be rowed. When midnight came, nothing had been seen of Philadelphia. Probably impressed by the amount of rowing they had done, some of the men insisted that they must have passed the city, and that they would go no farther. So there was nothing to do but to land and wait for the morning. A fire was built with the rails of an old fence, and the men huddled around it until dawn.
Then Philadelphia was seen a little way ahead; and by nine o'clock Franklin had left his traveling companions and was wandering alone up one of the streets of the Quaker city.
It is no wonder that after all his travel and lack of rest Franklin was tired and hungry. The first thing he did was to try to find out where he could get some breakfast. A boy directed him to a bakeshop. It seems that bread must have cost more in Boston than in Philadelphia; for when Franklin asked for a modest threepenny worth, to his surprise he was handed out three great puffy loaves. They were much too large to put into his pockets, so he tucked one under each arm and, eating the third, went on up the street.
As luck would have it, he sauntered thus by the house
of a certain
After finding a lodging house and being refreshed by a
good night's rest, Franklin started out to find
Bradford, the printer.
Keimer got Franklin a boarding place at
While Franklin was working for Keimer, his
One day when Franklin and Keimer were at work near the window of the printing house, they saw two finely dressed gentlemen coming to the door. Keimer thought of course that the distinguished visitors were for him. He was very much surprised when one of them said that he was the Governor of Pennsylvania and wanted to see Benjamin Franklin.
The Governor told Benjamin that there was great need of a good printer in the colonies, and that if he would set up in business for himself he should have all the public printing of Pennsylvania and Delaware. This was indeed an honor.
Furthermore the Governor offered to send Franklin to London that he might choose for himself those things necessary for his start as an independent printer. Of course Franklin was delighted, and when the yearly ship sailed from Philadelphia to London he was one of its passengers. He was to find letters of credit from the Governor waiting for him on his ship, but for some unaccountable reason the Governor failed to send them. This fact Franklin did not discover until the ship had almost reached England. And soon he was alone in London, the greatest city in the world, without money or friends.
However, Benjamin Franklin was not to be easily discouraged. He soon found employment in a printing house and went to work with a will.
There was a young man at the printing house, whom Benjamin thought very good company. Admiring Franklin's skill in swimming this young man proposed that they should travel together through Europe, giving swimming lessons. Benjamin was quite pleased with the plan, and the first great American came very near becoming a swimming master. However, he decided to give up the idea and to return once more to Philadelphia.
For a while after he reached Philadelphia, Benjamin worked for his old employer, Keimer. But in a short time, through his good sense and thrifty habits, he was able to set up in business for himself. He was soon making a success of job printing, but he was not satisfied with this. His aims were higher.
At this time William Bradford printed the only
newspaper in Pennsylvania, and that was a very poor
one. In 1729, when Franklin was
He set vigorously to work. In a little while everyone wanted the Pennsylvania Gazette , for that was the name of the paper. It always had the best and latest news, although, as there were no railroads or telegraphs or telephones, this was not always very new. When there was not news enough to fill the paper, Franklin would write funny articles, which surprised and pleased the quiet old Quaker town. Sometimes he would ask funny questions in one paper and answer them himself in the next, pretending to be a different person each time.
Once Franklin published an article in his paper which some of the rich men of Philadelphia did not like. Hearing of their complaint Franklin invited the dissatisfied gentlemen to take supper with him. When they sat down at the table, they saw before them only two puddings made of corn meal, and a stone jug of water. Franklin politely helped his guests and then, filling his own plate, ate heartily. The guests tried to eat, but they were not used to such fare. At last Franklin rose and said, "My friends, anyone who can live on sawdust pudding and water, as I can, needs no man's patronage."
When Franklin was
In those days everyone read the almanac very carefully. No matter how few books people had, they were sure to buy an almanac every year. In 1732, the very year that George Washington was born, Benjamin Franklin made up his mind to publish an almanac. It was to contain not only all the useful information usually found in almanacs, but also a great deal of wisdom, which should benefit the common people who bought scarcely any other books.
This almanac was called Poor Richard's Almanack.
"Dost love thy life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."
"The sleeping fox catches no poultry."
"Lost time is never found again."
"Laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes it."
"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
"One to-day is worth two
But you must find the rest of Poor Richard's sayings for yourself. How much the world thinks of them you may know by the fact that they have been translated into ten languages.
IN 1736 Franklin was elected to his first public office. He was made clerk of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. The next year he was made deputy postmaster general. He now began to think considerably of public affairs, always planning something to help the common people.
The first thing that he did was to organize a better
police force. Then he formed a fire company, the first
in Philadelphia. This company had no engines or hose
carts, as fire companies have
In Franklin's day all the houses were heated by great open fireplaces, near which you might sit and scorch your face while your back froze. Franklin invented an open stove which heated the entire room and at the same time saved fuel.
And, lover of learning that he was, he could not be satisfied to think that Pennsylvania had no college. In 1749 he succeeded in getting an academy founded. This was the beginning of the present University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia's public library, too, was started through Franklin's efforts.
Once a doctor came to him and asked him to help in
establishing a hospital for poor sick people. The
doctor said, "When I ask people to subscribe to this,
they always say, 'Have you consulted Franklin, what
does he think of
A great many more things were done for Pennsylvania, and especially for Philadelphia, by Franklin. He had the streets cleaned, paved, and lighted. He invented street lamps that did not smoke as the London lamps did.
Once when Franklin was in Boston, he met a man who showed him several electrical experiments. Franklin had known nothing of electricity before this time and was much interested in it.
A Dutchman living in the Dutch city of Leyden had discovered how to collect electricity in bottles, which he called Leyden jars. Franklin got one of these jars filled with electricity and soon had tried many experiments with it. His house was crowded with friends who came to see what he could do. He wrote a paper claiming that electricity and lightning were the same, and performed a famous experiment in proof of his belief.
He made a kite by fastening two cross sticks to a silk handkerchief. To the upright stick was fastened an iron point. The string of the kite was of common hemp, except the end which he held in his hand; this was of silk. Where hemp and silk were fastened together, a key was tied. When Franklin saw a thunderstorm coming he went out into the fields and raised the kite. A thundercloud passed over it; and, after a little, the loose fibers of the hemp string stood out stiffly. Franklin put his knuckles to the key and received a strong spark. Then he tried to fill a Leyden jar with the electricity which came down the string, and he succeeded. Thus he had proved his theory.
Franklin's next invention was the lightning rod to
protect houses from lightning by conducting electricity
into the ground. Even King
I must tell you about one of Franklin's experiments, which came near being disastrous. One night he was about to kill a turkey by the shock from two large Leyden jars, when he thoughtlessly took hold of the apparatus and received the whole shock through his body. For a little while he lost his senses entirely. His words upon coming to himself were, "Well, I meant to kill a turkey, and instead I nearly killed a goose."
In 1753 Franklin was made postmaster general of the colonies, and made many improvements in the postal service.
The people of the colonies now began to see that the French were pushing their way to the headwaters of the Ohio and down Lake Champlain from the north, and that they were determined to profit by the discoveries which Champlain and La Salle had made many years before. Something must be done to stop the French, so the English colonies sent men to Albany to meet the chiefs of the Iroquois (the old enemies of the French) and to find means of holding the country. Pennsylvania sent Franklin as her representative to the convention. On the way to Albany, Franklin made a plan for the union of the colonies under one government.
When the convention met, several plans were talked over, and it was decided that Franklin's was the best. But when the scheme was laid before the different colonies they did not like it because, they said, "it did not give the colonists enough power." And when it was laid before the people of England, they said it gave the colonists too much power. So the plan, wise as it was, was not adopted.
In 1757 the descendants of William Penn still governed
Pennsylvania. They were not at all like
When Franklin arrived in England he found that everyone knew about him there because of his discoveries in electricity and his clever writings. The English people were more willing to listen to him than to any other American, and the King finally took the government into his own hands, as Franklin asked him to do.
However when several years later the war between the colonies and the French came to an end, the Penns again refused to pay their share of the heavy taxes. So once more Franklin was sent to England to complain.
This time he stayed more than ten years. When he came back his faithful wife was dead, his daughter was married, and he himself was an old man. The battle of Lexington had been fought, and the farmers at Concord had "fired the shot heard round the world." The American Revolution had begun.
As soon as Franklin got back to America he was sent as
a delegate to the Second Continental Congress; and he
was one of the five men chosen to prepare the
Declaration of Independence, which was signed
As the members of the Congress were signing the
"Yes," said Franklin, "we must hang together or we shall hang separately."
You must remember that while England was a very rich and powerful nation the United States was very poor indeed. So her Congress decided to send to France to ask for aid in her fight for liberty. In all America there was just one man who could persuade the French people to help the United States, and Congress knew it. They sent Benjamin Franklin, seventy years old, and suffering with rheumatism and gout. "I am old and good for nothing," he said; "as the storekeepers say of their remnants of cloth, I am but a fag end; you may have me for what you please."
When Franklin got to Paris he found the whole city ready to receive him. Everyone had heard of the great Dr. Franklin.
But while fame was plenty, money was scarce. Franklin
had to be very careful and very wise indeed to get the
help which the United States needed. Finally,
In 1781 the glad news reached Paris that the English general, Cornwallis, had surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown. The war was over. In 1783 men from America and England met in Paris to make the treaty of peace. Through all this time Benjamin Franklin's wise counsel was serving his country well.
It was not until 1785 that Franklin came home for the
last time. He was so feeble that he could not ride in a
carriage and had to be taken from Paris to the
When he had been home but a few weeks Franklin was elected president of Pennsylvania. Old and weak as he was, the people would not let him off. "They have eaten my flesh," he said jokingly, "and now they are picking my bones."
In 1787 Franklin performed his last duty to his country. The wise men of the United States met in Philadelphia to make the Constitution, and Franklin was chosen one of the delegates.
In 1790 the first great American passed away. His work lives after him in the nation that he did so much to build.
Once in a golden hour
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower,
The people said, a weed.
To and fro they went
Thro' my garden bower,
And muttering discontent
Cursed me and my flower.
Then it grew so tall
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves from o'er the wall
Stole the seed by night.
Sow'd it far and wide
By every town and tower,
Till all the people cried,
"Splendid is the flower!"
Read my little fable:
He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.
And some are pretty enough,
And some are poor indeed;
And now again the people
Call it but a weed.
WEEK 23 |
M ONTEMAR was too near the frontier to be a safe abode for the little Duke, and his uncle, Count Hubert of Senlis, agreed with Bernard the Dane that he would be more secure beyond the limits of his own duchy, which was likely soon to be the scene of war; and, sorely against his will, he was sent in secret, under a strong escort, first to the Castle of Coucy, and afterwards to Senlis.
His consolation was, that he was not again separated from his friends; Alberic, Sir Eric, and even Fru Astrida, accompanied him, as well as his constant follower, Osmond. Indeed, the Baron would hardly bear that he should be out of his sight; and he was still so carefully watched, that it was almost like a captivity. Never, even in the summer days, was he allowed to go beyond the Castle walls; and his guardians would fain have had it supposed that the Castle did not contain any such guest.
Osmond did not give him so much of his company as usual, but was always at work in the armourer's forge—a low, vaulted chamber, opening into the Castle court. Richard and Alberic were very curious to know what he did there; but he fastened the door with an iron bar, and they were forced to content themselves with listening to the strokes of the hammer, keeping time to the voice that sang out, loud and cheerily, the song of "Sigurd's sword, and the maiden sleeping within the ring of flame." Fru Astrida said Osmond was quite right—no good weapon-smith ever toiled with open doors; and when the boys asked him questions as to his work, he only smiled, and said that they would see what it was when the call to arms should come.
They thought it near at hand, for tidings came that Louis had assembled his army, and marched into Normandy to recover the person of the young Duke, and to seize the country. No summons, however, arrived, but a message came instead, that Rouen had been surrendered into the hands of the King. Richard shed indignant tears. "My father's Castle! My own city in the hands of the foe! Bernard is a traitor then! None shall hinder me from so calling him. Why did we trust him?"
"Never fear, Lord Duke," said Osmond. "When you come to the years of Knighthood, your own sword shall right you, in spite of all the false Danes, and falser Franks, in the land."
"What! you too, son Osmond? I deemed you carried a cooler brain than to miscall one who was true to Rollo's race before you or yon varlet were born!" said the old Baron.
"He has yielded my dukedom! It is mis-calling to say he is aught but a traitor!" cried Richard. "Vile, treacherous, favour-seeking—"
"Peace, peace, my Lord," said the Baron. "Bernard has more in that wary head of his than your young wits, or my old ones, can unwind. What he is doing I may not guess, but I gage my life his heart is right."
Richard was silent, remembering he had been once unjust, but he grieved heartily when he thought of the French in Rollo's tower, and it was further reported that the King was about to share Normandy among his French vassals. A fresh outcry broke out in the little garrison of Senlis, but Sir Eric still persisted in his trust in his friend Bernard, even when he heard that Centeville was marked out as the prey of the fat French Count who had served for a hostage at Rouen.
"What say you now, my Lord?" said he, after a conference with a messenger at the gate. "The Black Raven has spread its wings. Fifty keels are in the Seine, and Harald Blue-tooth's Long Serpent at the head of them."
"The King of Denmark! Come to my aid!"
"Ay, that he is! Come at Bernard's secret call, to right you, and put you on your father's seat. Now call honest Harcourt a traitor, because he gave not up your fair dukedom to the flame and sword!"
"No traitor to me," said Richard, pausing.
"No, verily, but what more would you say?"
"I think, when I come to my dukedom, I will not be so politic," said Richard. "I will be an open friend or an open foe."
"The boy grows too sharp for us," said Sir Eric, smiling, "but it was spoken like his father."
"He grows more like his blessed father each day," said Fru Astrida.
"But the Danes, father, the Danes!" said Osmond. "Blows will be passing now. I may join the host and win my spurs?"
"With all my heart," returned the Baron, "so my Lord here gives you leave: would that I could leave him and go with you. It would do my very spirit good but to set foot in a Northern keel once more."
"I would fain see what these men of the North are," said Osmond.
"Oh! they are only Danes, not Norsemen, and there are no Vikings, such as once were when Ragnar laid waste—"
"Son, son, what talk is this for the child's ears?" broke in Fru Astrida, "are these words for a Christian Baron?"
"Your pardon, mother," said the grey warrior, in all humility, "but my blood thrills to hear of a Northern fleet at hand, and to think of Osmond drawing sword under a Sea-King."
The next morning, Osmond's steed was led to the door, and such men- at-arms as could be spared from the garrison of Senlis were drawn up in readiness to accompany him. The boys stood on the steps, wishing they were old enough to be warriors, and wondering what had become of him, until at length the sound of an opening door startled them, and there, in the low archway of the smithy, the red furnace glowing behind him, stood Osmond, clad in bright steel, the links of his hauberk reflecting the light, and on his helmet a pair of golden wings, while the same device adorned his long pointed kite-shaped shield.
"Your wings! our wings!" cried Richard, "the bearing of Centeville!"
"May they fly after the foe, not before him," said Sir Eric. "Speed thee well, my son—let not our Danish cousins say we learn Frank graces instead of Northern blows."
With such farewells, Osmond quitted Senlis, while the two boys hastened to the battlements to watch him as long as he remained in view.
The highest tower became their principal resort, and their eyes were constantly on the heath where he had disappeared; but days passed, and they grew weary of the watch, and betook themselves to games in the Castle court.
One day, Alberic, in the character of a Dragon, was lying on his back, panting hard so as to be supposed to cast out volumes of flame and smoke at Richard, the Knight, who with a stick for a lance, and a wooden sword, was waging fierce war; when suddenly the Dragon paused, sat up, and pointed towards the warder on the tower. His horn was at his lips, and in another moment, the blast rang out through the Castle.
With a loud shout, both boys rushed headlong up the turret stairs, and came to the top so breathless, that they could not even ask the warder what he saw. He pointed, and the keen-eyed Alberic exclaimed, "I see! Look, my Lord, a speck there on the heath!"
"I do not see! where, oh where?"
"He is behind the hillock now, but—oh, there again! How fast he comes!"
"It is like the flight of a bird," said Richard, "fast, fast—"
"If only it be not flight in earnest," said Alberic, a little anxiously, looking into the warder's face, for he was a borderer, and tales of terror of the inroad of the Vicomte du Contentin were rife on the marches of the Epte.
"No, young Sir," said the warder, "no fear of that. I know how men ride when they flee from the battle."
"No, indeed, there is no discomfiture in the pace of that steed," said Sir Eric, who had by this time joined them.
"I see him clearer! I see the horse," cried Richard, dancing with eagerness, so that Sir Eric caught hold of him, exclaiming, "You will be over the battlements! hold still! better hear of a battle lost than that!"
"He bears somewhat in his hand," said Alberic.
"A banner or pennon," said the warder; "methinks he rides like the young Baron."
"He does! My brave boy! He has done good service," exclaimed Sir Eric, as the figure became more developed. "The Danes have seen how we train our young men."
"His wings bring good tidings," said Richard. "Let me go, Sir Eric, I must tell Fru Astrida."
The drawbridge was lowered, the portcullis raised, and as all the dwellers in the Castle stood gathered in the court, in rode the warrior with the winged helm, bearing in his hand a drooping banner; lowering it as he entered, it unfolded, and displayed, trailing on the ground at the feet of the little Duke of Normandy, the golden lilies of France.
A shout of amazement arose, and all gathered round him, asking hurried questions. "A great victory—the King a prisoner—Montreuil slain!"
Richard would not be denied holding his hand, and leading him to the hall, and there, sitting around him, they heard his tidings. His father's first question was, what he thought of their kinsmen, the Danes?
"Rude comrades, father, I must own," said Osmond, smiling, and shaking his head. "I could not pledge them in a skull-goblet—set in gold though it were."
"None the worse warriors," said Sir Eric. "Ay, ay, and you were dainty, and brooked not the hearty old fashion of tearing the whole sheep to pieces. You must needs cut your portion with the fine French knife at your girdle."
Osmond could not see that a man was braver for being a savage, but he held his peace; and Richard impatiently begged to hear how the battle had gone, and where it had been fought.
"On the bank of the Dive," said Osmond. "Ah, father, you might well call old Harcourt wary—his name might better have been Fox-heart than Bear-heart! He had sent to the Franks a message of distress, that the Danes were on him in full force, and to pray them to come to his aid."
"I trust there was no treachery. No foul dealing shall be wrought in my name," exclaimed Richard, with such dignity of tone and manner, as made all feel he was indeed their Duke, and forget his tender years.
"No, or should I tell the tale with joy like this?" said Osmond. "Bernard's view was to bring the Kings together, and let Louis see you had friends to maintain your right. He sought but to avoid bloodshed."
"And how chanced it?"
"The Danes were encamped on the Dive, and so soon as the French came in sight, Blue-tooth sent a messenger to Louis, to summon him to quit Neustria, and leave it to you, its lawful owner. Thereupon, Louis, hoping to win him over with wily words, invited him to hold a personal conference."
"Where were you, Osmond?"
"Where I had scarce patience to be. Bernard had gathered all of us honest Normans together, and arranged us beneath that standard of the King, as if to repel his Danish inroad. Oh, he was, in all seeming, hand-and-glove with Louis, guiding him by his counsel, and, verily, seeming his friend and best adviser! But in one thing he could not prevail. That ungrateful recreant, Herluin of Montreuil, came with the King, hoping, it seems, to get his share of our spoils; and when Bernard advised the King to send him home, since no true Norman could bear the sight of him, the hot-headed Franks vowed no Norman should hinder them from bringing whom they chose. So a tent was set up by the riverside, wherein the two Kings, with Bernard, Alan of Brittany, and Count Hugh, held their meeting. We all stood without, and the two hosts began to mingle together, we Normans making acquaintance with the Danes. There was a red-haired, wild-looking fellow, who told me he had been with Anlaff in England, and spoke much of the doings of Hako in Norway; when, suddenly, he pointed to a Knight who was near, speaking to a Cotentinois, and asked me his name. My blood boiled as I answered, for it was Montreuil himself! 'The cause of your Duke's death!' said the Dane. 'Ha, ye Normans are fallen sons of Odin, to see him yet live!'"
"You said, I trust, my son, that we follow not the laws of Odin?" said Fru Astrida.
"I had no space for a word, grandmother; the Danes took the vengeance on themselves. In one moment they rushed on Herluin with their axes, and the unhappy man was dead. All was tumult; every one struck without knowing at whom, or for what. Some shouted, 'Thor Hulfe!' some 'Dieu aide!' others 'Montjoie St. Denis!' Northern blood against French, that was all our guide. I found myself at the foot of this standard, and had a hard combat for it; but I bore it away at last."
"And the Kings?"
"They hurried out of the tent, it seems, to rejoin their men. Louis mounted, but you know of old, my Lord, he is but an indifferent horseman, and the beast carried him into the midst of the Danes, where King Harald caught his bridle, and delivered him to four Knights to keep. Whether he dealt secretly with them, or whether they, as they declared, lost sight of him whilst plundering his tent, I cannot say; but when Harald demanded him of them, he was gone."
"Gone! is this what you call having the King prisoner?"
"You shall hear. He rode four leagues, and met one of the baser sort of Rouennais, whom he bribed to hide him in the Isle of Willows. However, Bernard made close inquiries, found the fellow had been seen in speech with a French horseman, pounced on his wife and children, and threatened they should die if he did not disclose the secret. So the King was forced to come out of his hiding-place, and is now fast guarded in Rollo's tower—a Dane, with a battle-axe on his shoulder, keeping guard at every turn of the stairs."
"Ha! ha!" cried Richard. "I wonder how he likes it. I wonder if he remembers holding me up to the window, and vowing that he meant me only good!"
"When you believed him, my Lord," said Osmond, slyly.
"I was a little boy then," said Richard, proudly. "Why, the very walls must remind him of his oath, and how Count Bernard said, as he dealt with me, so might Heaven deal with him."
"Remember it, my child—beware of broken vows," said Father Lucas; "but remember it not in triumph over a fallen foe. It were better that all came at once to the chapel, to bestow their thanksgivings where alone they are due."
A youth who was wandering through the forest saw a Hawk circling about a tree. He stood still a moment to watch what the bird was doing. He soon saw that the Hawk carried a bit of meat in his bill, which he was tearing into pieces and feeding to a young Raven that had fallen into his nest.
"Thus are the lazy always cared for," mused the Youth. "Henceforth, instead of working hard to earn my living, I will remain quietly at home. Surely some one will take care of me, for a man is of much greater importance in the world than is a Raven."
So for three days the Youth stayed within his house. Each day he grew thinner and feebler from want of food, but still no one came near him.
"Alas," he sighed at length, "how foolish I have been! I was strong and as well able to work as the Hawk. How much better it would have been to imitate him instead of the Raven!"
From the forests and highlands
We come, we come;
From the river-girt islands,
Where loud waves are dumb,
Listening to my sweet pipings.
The wind in the reeds and the rushes,
The bees on the bells of thyme,
The birds on the myrtle bushes,
The cicale above in the lime,
And the lizards below in the grass,
Were as silent as ever old Tmolus was,
Listening to my sweet pipings.
Liquid Penëus was flowing,
And all dark Tempe lay
In Pelion's shadow outgrowing
The light of the dying day,
Speeded by my sweet pipings.
The Sileni, and Sylvans, and Fauns,
And the Nymphs of the woods and waves,
To the edge of the moist river-lawns,
And the brink of the dewy caves,
And all that did then attend and follow,
Were silent with love, as you now, Apollo,
With envy of my sweet pipings.
I sang of the dancing Stars,
I sang of the daedal Earth,
And of Heaven, and the giant wars,
And Love, and Death, and Birth.
And then I changed my pipings—
Singing how down the vale of Maenalus
I pursued a maiden, and clasped a reed:
Gods and men, we are all deluded thus;
It breaks in our bosom, and then we bleed.
All wept—as I think both ye now would,
If envy or age had not frozen your blood,
At the sorrow of my sweet pipings.
WEEK 23 |
"Beyond the vast Atlantic tide
Extend your healing influence wide,
Where millions claim your care;
Inspire each just, each filial thought,
And let the natives round be taught
The British oak is there."
T HE hour of the American Revolution had come, but England knew it not. The conduct of the men of Boston roused her wrath, and she prepared punishment. The liberties of Massachusetts—enjoyed for a hundred and fifty years—were taken away: the port of Boston was blockaded.
"The die is cast," said George III. triumphantly. "The colonies must either triumph or submit. We must be resolute."
But there was resolution on the other side of the Atlantic too. A Congress of colonists met at Philadelphia to consider the question. Men from all the thirteen colonies were there, their petty disputes forgotten in the face of this common danger.
"I am not a Virginian, I am an American," said one member, speaking for all.
They now drew up and sent to England their famous Declaration of Rights. They did not ask for independence as yet: they did not want to break with the mother country. They asked for the freedom of their forefathers, for the right of making their own laws and levying their own taxes.
England was astonished and dismayed. Pitt, no longer the Great Commoner but Earl of Chatham, came forward and begged for moderation.
"It will soon be too late," he pleaded. "It is not repealing a piece of parchment that can win back America. You must respect her fears and resentments, and you may then hope for her love and gratitude."
But Chatham's ominous words "availed no more than the whistling of the winds." More English troops were sent out to Boston, and America prepared to resist by force. The call to arms went forth. Washington was made commander-in-chief of the army of the "United Colonies of America." The thunder-cloud so long hanging over the land had broken at last.
Already skirmishes had taken place between the English and Americans, but the first battle was fought at Bunker's Hill in the year 1775. It was one of the strangest battles ever fought. Entrenched on the hills above the town of Boston were some 1600 simple civilian citizens. They had no uniform: each man was dressed in his homely working clothes, each man carried his own gun. All were unskilled in warfare.
At the foot of the hills were 4000 of the finest troops in the world. Their uniforms shone with scarlet, white, and gold, while on their banners blazed the names of famous battles won.
But resplendent as they were, the British troops were unable to endure the destructive fire of the colonists. Again and again they advanced up the hill; again and again they reeled back with shattered ranks, leaving heaps of English dead upon the fire-swept slope.
"Are the Yankees cowards?" shouted the men of Massachusetts, as the English retreated before them.
But there came a time when the colonial troops could hold out no longer. They had fired their last volley, their supply of powder was exhausted, and the English charged the hill and took it.
A hundred and fifteen Americans lay dead across the threshold of their country, but they had shown what they could do.
"How did they behave?" asked Washington anxiously, when he heard news of the battle.
"They stood their ground well," was the proud answer.
"Then the liberties of the country are safe," replied Washington, with a weight of doubt lifted from his heart, as he rode on to take supreme command of the troops.
Declaration of Independence.
There was stiff work yet before him. All through the long winter of snow and ice he defended Boston with his raw, ill-fed, ill-armed army, until, in the spring of 1776, the English were obliged to withdraw to New York.
And Washington entered the gates of Boston in triumph, the flag of the thirteen stripes—emblem of the thirteen united colonies—waving above his head.
Gradually an idea of independence was growing in the colonies—of separation from the mother country, who had failed to understand her children. They would have clung to her still, had she but treated them with the consideration they had deserved.
Congress met at Philadelphia, and on July 4 1776 the colonists drew up their famous Declaration of Independence, disclaiming all obedience to the British crown. The words of the Declaration are still read aloud on the anniversary of every year.
The war was continued with renewed vigour. The sufferings of the Americans were very great, and would have broken the heart of any man of less heroic mould than George Washington. But the autumn of 1777 saw one of his noblest triumphs, when 3500 British soldiers were surrounded and forced to surrender on the heights of Saratoga. It was the turning-point of the war.
"You cannot conquer America," cried Chatham once more. "Redress their grievance and let them dispose of their own money. Mercy can do no harm: it will seat the king where he ought to be—throned in the hearts of his people."
His words were too late. The British disaster at Saratoga had encouraged the French, and early in 1778 France openly allied herself to America, acknowledging the independence of the United States. For five years more the war languished, and then England too had to acknowledge the independence of her colonies. She had learnt a lesson which would teach her in future how much consideration was due to those dependencies which were left.
The United States were now a Republic. Their government was to consist of a President, a Vice-President, and a Congress, to sit at New York.
And who should the colonists choose for their first President but George Washington? He had led them to victory. He should guide them through peace.
As he stepped forward to accept the honoured post a great shout of joy arose from the enthusiastic colonists. He looked an old man now, grown grey and blind in the service of his country. Dressed in simple dark-brown cloth, his sword by his side, he solemnly swore to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." And so, amid the waving of flags, the ringing of bells, the firing of guns, and the shouts of the people, the great ceremony ended.
George Washington, soldier and patriot, was the first President of the United States of America.
N Asgard there were two places that meant strength and joy to the Æsir and the Vanir: one was the garden where grew the apples that Iduna gathered, and the other was the Peace Stead, where, in a palace called Breidablik, Baldur the Well-beloved dwelt.
In the Peace Stead no crime had ever been committed, no blood had ever been shed, no falseness had ever been spoken. Contentment came into the minds of all in Asgard when they thought upon this place. Ah! Were it not that the Peace Stead was there, happy with Baldur's presence, the minds of the Æsir and the Vanir might have become gloomy and stern from thinking on the direful things that were arrayed against them.
Baldur was beautiful. So beautiful was he that all the white blossoms on the earth were called by his name. Baldur was happy. So happy was he that all the birds on the earth sang his name. So just and so wise was Baldur that the judgment he pronounced might never be altered. Nothing foul or unclean had ever come near where he had his dwelling:
'Tis Breidablik called,
Where Baldur the Fair
Hath built him a bower,
In the land where I know
Least loathliness lies.
Healing things were done in Baldur's Stead. Tyr's wrist was healed of the wounds that Fenrir's fangs had made. And there Frey's mind became less troubled with the foreboding that Loki had filled it with when he railed at him about the bartering of his sword.
Now after Fenrir had been bound to the rock in the far-away island the Æsir and the Vanir knew a while of contentment. They passed bright days in Baldur's Stead, listening to the birds that made music there. And it was there that Bragi the Poet wove into his never-ending story the tale of Thor's adventures amongst the Giants.
But even into Baldur's Stead foreboding came. One day little Hnossa, the child of Freya and the lost Odur, was brought there in such sorrow that no one outside could comfort her. Nanna, Baldur's gentle wife, took the child upon her lap and found ways of soothing her. Then Hnossa told of a dream that had filled her with fright.
She had dreamt of Hela, the Queen that is half living woman and half corpse. In her dream Hela had come into Asgard saying, "A lord of the Æsir I must have to dwell with me in my realm beneath the earth." Hnossa had such a fear from this dream that she had fallen into a deep sorrow.
A silence fell upon all when the dream of Hnossa was told. Nanna looked wistfully at Odin All-Father. And Odin, looking at Frigga, saw that a fear had entered her breast.
He left the Peace Stead and went to his watch-tower Hlidskjalf. He waited there till Hugin and Munin should come to him. Every day his two ravens flew through the world, and coming back to him told him of all that was happening. And now they might tell him of happenings that would let him guess if Hela had indeed turned her thoughts towards Asgard, or if she had the power to draw one down to her dismal abode.
The ravens flew to him, and lighting one on each of his shoulders, told him of things that were being said up and down Ygdrassil, the World Tree. Ratatösk the Squirrel was saying them. And Ratatösk had heard them from the brood of serpents that with Nidhögg, the great dragon, gnawed ever at the root of Ygdrassil. He told it to the Eagle that sat ever on the top-most bough, that in Hela's habitation a bed was spread and a chair was left empty for some lordly comer.
And hearing this, Odin thought that it were better that Fenrir the Wolf should range ravenously through Asgard than that Hela should win one from amongst them to fill that chair and lie in that bed.
E mounted Sleipner, his eight-legged steed, and rode down towards the abodes of the Dead. For three days and three nights of silence and darkness he journeyed on. Once one of the hounds of Helheim broke loose and bayed upon Sleipner's tracks. For a day and a night Garm, the hound, pursued them, and Odin smelled the blood that dripped from his monstrous jaws.
At last he came to where, wrapped in their shrouds, a field of the Dead lay. He dismounted from Sleipner and called upon one to rise and speak with him. It was on Volva, a dead prophetess, he called. And when he pronounced her name he uttered a rune that had the power to break the sleep of the Dead.
There was a groaning in the middle of where the shrouded ones lay. Then Odin cried out, "Arise, Volva, prophetess." There was a stir in the middle of where the shrouded ones lay, and a head and shoulders were thrust up from amongst the Dead.
"Who calls on Volva the Prophetess? The rains have drenched my flesh and the storms have shaken my bones for more seasons than the living know. No living voice has a right to call me from my sleep with the Dead."
"It is Vegtam the Wanderer who calls. For whom is the bed prepared and the seat left empty in Hela's habitation?"
"For Baldur, Odin's son, is the bed prepared and the seat left empty. Now let me go back to my sleep with the Dead."
But now Odin saw beyond Volva's prophecy. "Who is it," he cried out, "that stands with unbowed head and that will not lament for Baldur? Answer, Volva, prophetess!"
"Thou seest far, but thou canst not see clearly. Thou art Odin. I can see clearly but I cannot see far. Now let me go back to sleep with the Dead."
"Volva, prophetess!" Odin cried out again.
But the voice from amongst the shrouded ones said, "Thou canst not wake me any more until the fires of Muspelheim blaze above my head."
Then there was silence in the field of the Dead, and Odin turned Sleipner, his steed, and for four days, through the gloom and silence, he journeyed back to Asgard.
RIGGA had felt the fear that Odin had felt. She looked towards Baldur, and the shade of Hela came between her and her son. But then she heard the birds sing in the Peace Stead and she knew that none of all the things in the world would injure Baldur.
And to make it sure she went to all the things that could hurt him and from each of them she took an oath that it would not injure Baldur, the Well-beloved. She took an oath from fire and from water, from iron and from all metals, from earths and stones and great trees, from birds and beasts and creeping things, from poisons and diseases. Very readily they all gave the oath that they would work no injury on Baldur.
Then when Frigga went back and told what she had accomplished the gloom that had lain on Asgard lifted. Baldur would be spared to them. Hela might have a place prepared in her dark habitation, but neither fire nor water, nor iron nor any metal, nor earths nor stones nor great woods, nor birds nor beasts nor creeping things, nor poisons nor diseases, would help her to bring him down. "Hela has no arms to draw you to her," the Æsir and the Vanir cried to Baldur.
Hope was renewed for them and they made games to honour Baldur. They had him stand in the Peace Stead and they brought against him all the things that had sworn to leave him hurtless. And neither the battle-axe flung full at him, nor the stone out of the sling, nor the burning brand, nor the deluge of water would injure the beloved of Asgard. Æsir and the Vanir laughed joyously to see these things fall harmlessly from him while a throng came to join them in the games; Dwarfs and friendly Giants.
But Loki the Hater came in with that throng. He watched the games from afar. He saw the missiles and the weapons being flung and he saw Baldur stand smiling and happy under the strokes of metal and stones and great woods. He wondered at the sight, but he knew that he might not ask the meaning of it from the ones who knew him.
He changed his shape into that of an old woman and he went amongst those who were making sport for Baldur. He spoke to Dwarfs and friendly Giants. "Go to Frigga and ask. Go to Frigga and ask," was all the answer Loki got from any of them.
Then to Fensalir, Frigga's mansion, Loki went. He told those in the mansion that he was Groa, the old Enchantress who was drawing out of Thor's head the fragments of a grindstone that a Giant's throw had embedded in it. Frigga knew about Groa and she praised the Enchantress for what she had done.
"Many fragments of the great grindstone have I taken out of Thor's head by the charms I know," said the pretended Groa. "Thor was so grateful that he brought back to me the husband that he once had carried off to the end of the earth. So overjoyed was I to find my husband restored that I forgot the rest of the charms. And I left some fragments of the stone in Thor's head."
So Loki said, repeating a story that was true. "Now I remember the rest of the charm," he said, "and I can draw out the fragments of the stone that are left. But will you not tell me, O Queen, what is the meaning of the extraordinary things I saw the Æsir and the Vanir doing?"
"I will tell you," said Frigga, looking kindly and happily at the pretended old woman. "They are hurling all manner of heavy and dangerous things at Baldur, my beloved son. And all Asgard cheers to see that neither metal nor stone nor great wood will hurt him."
"But why will they not hurt him?" said the pretended Enchantress.
"Because I have drawn an oath from all dangerous and threatening things to leave Baldur hurtless," said Frigga.
"From all things, lady? Is there no thing in all the world that has not taken an oath to leave Baldur hurtless?"
"Well, indeed there is one thing that has not taken the oath. But that thing is so small and weak that I passed it by without taking thought of it."
"What can it be, lady?"
"The Mistletoe that is without root or strength. It grows on the eastern side of Valhalla. I passed it by without drawing an oath from it."
"Surely you were not wrong to pass it by. What could the Mistletoe—the rootless Mistletoe—do against Baldur?"
Saying this the pretended Enchantress hobbled off.
But not far did the pretender go hobbling. He changed his gait and hurried to the eastern side of Valhalla. There a great oak tree flourished and out of a branch of it a little bush of Mistletoe grew. Loki broke off a spray and with it in his hand he went to where the Æsir and Vanir were still playing games to honour Baldur.
All were laughing as Loki drew near, for the Giants and the Dwarfs, the Asyniur and the Vana, were all casting missiles. The Giants threw too far and the Dwarfs could not throw far enough, while the Asyniur and the Vana threw far and wide of the mark. In the midst of all that glee and gamesomeness it was strange to see one standing joyless. But one stood so, and he was of the Æsir—Hödur, Baldur's blind brother.
"Why do you not enter the game?" said Loki to him in his changed voice.
"I have no missile to throw at Baldur," Hödur said.
"Take this and throw it," said Loki. "It is a twig of the Mistletoe."
"I cannot see how to throw it," said Hödur.
"I will guide your hand," said Loki. He put the twig of Mistletoe in Hödur's hand and he guided the hand for the throw. The twig flew towards Baldur. It struck him on the breast and it pierced him. Then Baldur fell down with a deep groan.
The Æsir and the Vanir, the Dwarfs and the friendly Giants, stood still in doubt and fear and amazement. Loki slipped away. And blind Hödur, from whose hand the twig of Mistletoe had gone, stood quiet, not knowing that his throw had bereft Baldur of life.
Then a wailing rose around the Peace Stead. It was from the Asyniur and the Vana. Baldur was dead, and they began to lament him. And while they were lamenting him, the beloved of Asgard, Odin came amongst them.
"Hela has won our Baldur from us," Odin said to Frigga as they both bent over the body of their beloved son.
"Nay, I will not say it," Frigga said.
When the Æsir and the Vanir had won their senses back the mother of Baldur went amongst them. "Who amongst you would win my love and good-will?" she said. "Whoever would let him ride down to Hela's dark realm and ask the Queen to take ransom for Baldur. It may be she will take it and let Baldur come back to us. Who amongst you will go? Odin's steed is ready for the journey."
Then forth stepped Hermod the Nimble, the brother of Baldur. He mounted Sleipner and turned the eight-legged steed down towards Hela's dark realm.
OR nine days and nine nights Hermod rode on. His way was through rugged glens, one deeper and darker then the other. He came to the river that is called Giöll and to the bridge across it that is all glittering with gold. The pale maid who guards the bridge spoke to him.
"The hue of life is still on thee," said Modgudur, the pale maid. "Why dost thou journey down to Hela's deathly realm?"
"I am Hermod," he said, "and I go to see if Hela will take ransom for Baldur."
"Fearful is Hela's habitation for one to come to," said Modgudur, the pale maid. "All round it is a steep wall that even thy steed might hardly leap. Its threshold is Precipice. The bed therein is Care, the table is Hunger, the hanging of the chamber is Burning Anguish."
"It may be that Hela will take ransom for Baldur."
"If all things in the world still lament for Baldur, Hela will have to take ransom and let him go from her," said Modgudur, the pale maid that guards the glittering bridge.
"It is well, then, for all things lament Baldur, I will go to her and make her take ransom."
"Thou mayst not pass until it is of a surety that all things still lament him. Go back to the world and make sure. If thou dost come to this glittering bridge and tell me that all things still lament Baldur, I will let thee pass and Hela will have to hearken to thee."
"I will come back to thee, and thou, Modgudur, pale maid, wilt have to let me pass."
"Then I will let thee pass," said Modgudur.
Joyously Hermod turned Sleipner and rode back through the rugged glens, each one less gloomy than the other. He reached the upper world, and he saw that all things were still lamenting for Baldur. Joyously Hermod rode onward. He met the Vanir in the middle of the world and he told them the happy tidings.
Then Hermod and the Vanir went through the world seeking out each thing and finding that each thing still wept for Baldur. But one day Hermod came upon a crow that was sitting on the dead branch of a tree. The crow made no lament as he came near. She rose up and flew away and Hermod followed her to make sure that she lamented for Baldur.
He lost sight of her near a cave. And then before the cave he saw a hag with blackened teeth who raised no voice of lament. "If thou art the crow that came flying here, make lament for Baldur," Hermod said.
"I, Thaukt, will make no lament for Baldur," the hag said, "let Hela keep what she holds."
"All things weep tears for Baldur," Hermod said.
"I will weep dry tears for him," said the hag.
She hobbled into her cave, and as Hermod followed a crow fluttered out. He knew that this was Thaukt, the evil hag, transformed. He followed her, and she went through the world croaking, "Let Hela keep what she holds. Let Hela keep what she holds."
Then Hermod knew that he might not ride to Hela's habitation. All things knew that there was one thing in the world that would not lament for Baldur. The Vanir came back to him, and with head bowed over Sleipner's mane, Hermod rode into Asgard.
OW the Æsir and the Vanir, knowing that no ransom would be taken for Baldur and that the joy and content of Asgard were gone indeed, made ready his body for the burning. First they covered Baldur's body with a rich robe, and each left beside it his most precious possession. Then they all took leave of him, kissing him upon the brow. But Nanna, his gentle wife, flung herself on his dead breast and her heart broke and she died of her grief. Then did the Æsir and the Vanir weep afresh. And they took the body of Nanna and they placed it side by side with Baldur's.
On his own great ship, Ringhorn, would Baldur be placed with Nanna beside him. Then the ship would be launched on the water and all would be burned with fire.
But it was found that none of the Æsir or the Vanir were able to launch Baldur's great ship. Hyroken, a Giantess, was sent for. She came mounted on a great wolf with twisted serpents for a bridle. Four Giants held fast the wolf when she alighted. She came to the ship and with a single push she sent it into the sea. The rollers struck out fire as the ship dashed across them.
Then when it rode the water fires mounted on the ship. and in the blaze of the fires one was seen bending over the body of Baldur and whispering into his ear. It was Odin All-Father. Then he went down off the ship and all the fires rose into a mighty burning. Speechlessly the Æsir and the Vanir watched with tears streaming down their faces while all things lamented, crying, "Baldur the Beautiful is dead, is dead."
And what was it that Odin All-Father whispered to Baldur as he bent above him with the flames of the burning ship around? He whispered of a heaven above Asgard that Surtur's flames might not reach, and of a life that would come to beauty again after the world of men and the world of the Gods had been searched through and through with fire.
You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do not wrong;
Come not near our fairy queen.
Philomel, with melody,
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby!
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good-night, with lullaby.
Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm, nor snail, do no offence.
Philomel, with melody,
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby!
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good-night, with lullaby.
WEEK 23 |
T HERE was once a merchant who was so rich that he could pave the whole street with gold and almost have enough left for a little lane. But he did not do that; he knew how to employ his money differently. When he spent a shilling he got back a crown, such a clever merchant was he; and this continued till he died.
His son now got all this money; and he lived merrily, going to the masquerade every evening, making kites out of dollar notes, and playing at ducks and drakes on the sea-coast with gold pieces instead of pebbles. In this way the money might soon be spent, and indeed it was so. At last he had no more than four shillings left, and no clothes to wear but a pair of slippers and an old dressing-gown. Now his friends did not trouble themselves any more about him, as they could not walk with him in the street; but one of them, who was good-natured, sent him an old trunk, with the remark, "Pack up!" Yes, that was all very well, but he had nothing to pack, therefore he seated himself in the trunk.
That was a wonderful trunk. So soon as any one pressed the lock the trunk could fly. He pressed, and, whir! away flew the trunk with him through the chimney and over the clouds, farther and farther away.
But as often as the bottom of the trunk cracked a little he was in great fear lest it might go to pieces, and then he would have flung a fine somersault. In that way he came to the land of the Turks. He hid the trunk in a wood under some dry leaves, and then went into the town. He could do that very well, for among the Turks all the people went about dressed like himself, in dressing-gown and slippers. Then he met a nurse with a little child.
"Here, you Turkish nurse," he began, "what kind of a great castle is that close by the town, in which the windows are so high up?"
"There dwells the Sultan's daughter," replied she. "It is prophesied that she will be very unhappy respecting a lover; and therefore nobody may go near her unless the Sultan and Sultana are there, too."
"Thank you!" said the Merchant's Son; and he went out into the forest, seated himself in his trunk, flew on the roof, and crept through the window into the Princess's room.
She was lying asleep on the sofa, and she was so beautiful that the Merchant's Son was compelled to kiss her. Then she awoke, and was startled very much; but he said he was a Turkish angel who had come down to her through the air, and that pleased her.
They sat down side by side, and he told her stories about her eyes; and he told her they were the most glorious dark lakes, and that thoughts were swimming about in them like mermaids. And he told her about her forehead; that it was a snowy mountain with the most splendid halls and pictures. And he told her about the stork who brings the lovely little children.
Yes, those were fine histories! Then he asked the Princess if she would marry him, and she said, "Yes," directly.
"But you must come here on Saturday," said she. "Then the Sultan and Sultana will be here to tea. They will be very proud that I am to marry a Turkish angel. But take care that you know a very pretty story, for both my parents are very fond indeed of stories. My mother likes them high-flown and moral, but my father likes them merry, so that one can laugh."
"Yes, I shall bring no marriage gift but a story," said he; and so they parted. But the Princess gave him a saber, the sheath embroidered with gold pieces, and that was very useful to him.
Now he flew away, bought a new dressing-gown, and sat in the forest and made up a story; it was to be ready by Saturday, and that was not an easy thing.
By the time he had finished it Saturday had come. The Sultan and his wife and all the court were at the Princess's to tea. He was received graciously.
"Will you relate us a story?" said the Sultana; "one that is deep and edifying."
"Yes, but one that we can laugh at," said the Sultan.
"Certainly," he replied; and so began.
And now listen well.
"There was once a bundle of Matches, and these Matches were particularly proud of their high descent. Their genealogical tree—that is to say, the great fir-tree of which each of them was a little splinter—had been a great old tree out in the forest. The Matches now lay between a Tinder-box and an old Iron Pot; and they were telling about the days of their youth. 'Yes, when we were upon the green boughs,' they said, 'then we were really on the green boughs! Every morning and evening there was diamond tea for us—I mean dew; we had sunshine all day long whenever the sun shone, and all the little birds had to tell stories. We could see very well that we were rich, for the other trees were only dressed out in summer, while our family had the means to wear green dresses in the winter as well. But then the wood-cutter came, like a great revolution, and our family was broken up. The head of the family got an appointment as mainmast in a first-rate ship which could sail round the world if necessary; the other branches went to other places, and now we have the office of kindling a light for the vulgar herd. That's how we grand people came to be in the kitchen.'
"And the Pot went on telling his story, and the end was as good as the beginning.
"All the Plates rattled with joy, and the Carpet-broom brought some green parsley out of the dust-hole and put it like a wreath on the Pot, for he knew that it would vex the others. 'If I crown him to-day,' he thought, 'he will crown me to-morrow.'
"Now the Tea-urn was to sing; but she said she had taken cold and could not sing unless she felt boiling within. But that was only affectation; she did not want to sing except when she was in the parlor with the grand people.
"In the window sat an old Quill Pen with which the maid generally wrote; there was nothing remarkable about this Pen except that it had been dipped too deep into the ink, but she was proud of that. 'If the Tea-urn won't sing,' she said, 'she may leave it alone. Outside hangs a nightingale in a cage, and he can sing. He hasn't had any education, but this evening we'll say nothing about that.'
"The servant-girl took the Matches and lighted the fire with them. Mercy! how they sputtered and burst out into flame! 'Now every one can see,' thought they, 'that we are the first. How we shine! what a light!'—and they burned out."
"That was a capital story," said the Sultana. "I feel myself quite carried away to the kitchen, to the Matches. Yes, now thou shalt marry our daughter."
"Yes, certainly," said the Sultan, "thou shalt marry our daughter on Monday."
And they called him thou because he was to belong to the family.
The wedding was decided on, and on the evening before it the whole city was illuminated. Biscuits and cakes were thrown among the people, the street-boys stood on their toes, called out "Hurrah!" and whistled on their fingers. It was uncommonly splendid.
"Yes, I shall have to give something as a treat," thought the Merchant's Son. So he bought rockets and crackers, and every imaginable sort of firework, put them all into his trunk, and flew up into the air.
"Crack!" how they went, and how they went off! All the Turks hopped up with such a start that their slippers flew about their ears; such a meteor they had never yet seen. Now they could understand that it must be a Turkish angel who was going to marry the Princess.
What stories people tell! Every one whom he asked about it had seen it in a separate way; but one and all thought it fine.
"I saw the Turkish angel himself," said one. "He had eyes like glowing stars and a beard like foaming water."
"He flew up in a fiery mantle," said another; "the most lovely little cherub peeped forth from among the folds."
Yes, they were wonderful things that he heard; and on the following day he was to be married.
Now he went back to the forest to rest himself in his trunk. But what had become of that? A spark from the fireworks had set fire to it, and the trunk was burned to ashes. He could not fly any more, and could not get to his bride.
She stood all day on the roof waiting; and most likely she is waiting still. But he wanders through the world telling fairy tales; but they are not so merry as that one he told about the Matches.
O NE cannot go on adding several thousand members a week to one's family without sooner or later being obliged to enlarge the house—or move out. The Apis people move out.
As soon as a young queen comes out of her cell, the old queen packs up, so to speak, and prepares to depart.
She does not carry as much luggage as the Queen of England carries when she goes from Buckingham Palace to the Isle of Wight.
She merely gathers up her thousands of eyes, her shortish, but still valuable tongue, her basketless legs, and other personal possessions and starts off, taking with her most of the old bees in the hive, and leaving behind the young queen with the young bees and the honey-comb, and the brood comb full of eggs and larvæ and pupæ.
She is very generous to the young queen, who of course is her own daughter, and leaves all the furniture and silver spoons and everything of that sort behind.
Away she goes, with her faithful followers surrounding her in a dense swarm.
The whole swarm goes careering through the air like a small cyclone, and I for one should not like to stand in its path.
Some say the bees send out scouts to find a good place before the swarm starts, either a hollow tree or some other convenient shelter, or else they go into a nice new hive if somebody has been watching and has one ready.
Into the new home they go, and to work they go; and in a little while you would never suspect the family had recently moved in, so busy and so thoroughly at home do they all appear.
They build new combs, make new honey and bee-bread, and just as soon as the cells are ready the queen continues her egg-laying.
WEEK 23 |
Matthew xiv: 13 to 36;
Mark vi: 30 to 56;
Luke ix: 10 to 17;
John vi: 1 to 71.
HEN the twelve disciples came back to Jesus, after preaching in his name among the villages of Galilee, they told him of all that they had done, and of what they had said to the people. The multitudes seeking after Jesus were now greater than ever before, for it was again near the time of the Passover, and very many on their way to Jerusalem turned aside to see and to hear the great Teacher. So many people were coming and going that they could scarcely find time even to eat. Jesus said to the twelve:
"Come with me apart into a quiet place, away from the crowds, and let us rest for a time."
They went into the boat and rowed across the lake to an open place, where no one lived, not far from the city of Bethsaida. But they could not be alone, for the people saw them going, and watched them from the shore, and went on foot around the northern end of the lake, and found them. When Jesus saw how eager the crowds were to hear him, he took pity on them and taught them, and healed such among them as were sick.
As it began to grow toward evening, the disciples said to Jesus, "This is a lonely place, and there is nothing here for such a crowd of people to eat. Send them away before it is too late, and tell them to go to the towns and get food."
But Jesus said to them, "They need not go away. You can give them food to eat."
They said to him, "Shall we go into the town and buy two hundred shillings' worth of bread, so that each one of them may have a little?"
Jesus turned to Philip, one of his disciples, and said to him, "Philip, where shall we find bread, that all these may eat?"
Jesus said this to try Philip's faith, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip looked at the great crowd, full five thousand men, besides women and children, and he said, "Two hundred shillings' worth of bread would not be enough to give to every one even a little piece."
Just then another of the disciples, Andrew, the brother of Peter, said to Jesus, "There is a boy here who has five loaves of barley bread and two little fishes; but what use would they be among so many people?"
Jesus said to the disciples, "Go out among the people, and divide them into companies of fifty and a hundred, and tell them to sit down in order."
So the people all sat down; and upon the green grass, arranged in rows and squares in their garments of different colors, they looked like beds of flowers.
Then Jesus took into his hands the five loaves and the two fishes which the boy had brought. He looked up to heaven, and blessed the food; and broke the loaves and the dried fishes, and gave the pieces to the disciples. They went among the companies of people, and gave to everyone bread and fish, as much as each needed. So they all ate, and had enough.
Jesus blesses the food.
Then Jesus said, "Gather up the pieces of food that are left, so that nothing may be lost."
Each of the disciples carried a basket among the people, and when they came to Jesus all the twelve baskets were filled with pieces that were left over of the five loaves and the two fishes.
When the people saw that here was one who could give them food, they were ready at once to make Jesus their king, and to break away from the rule of the Romans. Jesus was a King, but he would not be such a king as they wished. His kingdom was to be in the hearts of men who loved him, not a kingdom set up by the swords of soldiers. He found that his disciples were ready to help the people to make him a king, even against his own will.
So Jesus first compelled his disciples to go on board the boat, though they were not willing to do so, and to row across the lake to Capernaum. Then he sent away the great crowd of people who were still eager that he should be their king. And when all had gone away, and he was left alone, he went up into the mountain to pray. While he was praying in the night a great storm arose upon the lake, and from the mountain Jesus could see his disciples working hard with their oars against the waves, although they could not see him. A little after midnight, when the storm was the highest, Jesus went to his disciples, walking upon the water, just as though the sea was dry land. The men in the boat saw a strange figure coming near them upon the sea, and cried out with fear, for they thought that it must be a spirit. But Jesus called out to them, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid!" And then they knew that it was their Lord.
"Be of good cheer, it is I."
Peter spoke to Jesus, and said, "Lord, if it be thou, let me come to thee, walking upon the water." And Jesus said to Peter, "Come."
Then Simon Peter leaped overboard from the ship, and he, too, walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw how great was the storm on the sea, he began to be afraid, and forgetting to trust in the word of Jesus, he began to sink. He cried out, "Lord, save me!"
And Jesus reached out his hand, and caught hold of him, and lifted him up, saying, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt my word?"
When Jesus came on board the boat with Peter, at once the wind ceased and the sea was calm. The disciples wondered greatly as they saw the power of Jesus. They fell down before him, and said, "In truth thou art the Son of God!" When they came to the shore, and the daylight arose, they saw that they were at the land of Gennesaret, a plain a little to the south of Capernaum. They went ashore; and as soon as the people saw Jesus, and knew who he was, they brought their sick to him, and begged that they might only touch the border of his garment; and as many as touched him were made well.
Soon after this Jesus came again to Capernaum, and went into the synagogue, which was full of people, some of whom had eaten of the five loaves a few days before. These people wished Jesus to feed them in the same way again, but Jesus said to them, "Seek not for food that passes away, but for the food that gives everlasting life, such as the Son of man can give you."
They said to him, "What sign can you show that God has sent you? Moses gave our fathers bread from heaven, the manna in the desert. What can you do?"
You have read of the manna which fed the Israelites in the wilderness in Story 24. Then Jesus said to them, "It was not Moses, but God, who gave your fathers bread; and God gives you now the true bread from heaven, in his Son who came down from heaven, to give life to the world."
As soon as the people found that Jesus would not work wonders to please them, they turned away from him and left him, although only a few days before they would have made him a king. When Jesus saw that the great crowds of people were with him no longer, Jesus said to his twelve disciples, "Will you also go away and leave me?"
Then Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom else can we go? for thou only hast the words that will give us everlasting life."
"C OME in, Irene," said the silvery voice of her grandmother.
The princess opened the door, and peeped in. But the room was quite
dark, and there was no sound of the spinning-wheel. She grew
frightened once more, thinking that, although the room was there,
the old lady might be a dream after all. Every little girl knows
how dreadful it is to find a room empty where she thought somebody
was; but Irene had to fancy for a moment that the person she came
to find was nowhere at all. She remembered however that at night
she spun only in the moonlight, and concluded that must be why
there was no sweet, bee-like humming: the old lady might be
somewhere in the darkness. Before she had time to think another
thought, she heard her voice again, saying as
"Come in, Irene."
From the sound, she understood at once that she was not in
the room beside her. Perhaps she was in her bedroom. She turned
across the passage, feeling her way to the other door. When her
hand fell on the lock, again the old lady
"Shut the other door behind you, Irene. I always close the door of my workroom when I go to my chamber."
Irene wondered to hear her voice so plainly through the door; having shut the other, she opened it and went in. Oh, what a lovely haven to reach from the darkness and fear through which she had come! The soft light made her feel as if she were going into the heart of the milkiest pearl; while the blue walls and their silver stars for a moment perplexed her with the fancy that they were in reality the sky which she had left outside a minute ago covered with rain-clouds.
"Oh, what a lovely haven to reach."
"I've lighted a fire for you, Irene: you're cold and wet," said her grandmother.
Then Irene looked again, and saw that what she had taken for a huge bouquet of red roses on a low stand against the wall, was in fact a fire which burned in the shapes of the loveliest and reddest roses, glowing gorgeously between the heads and wings of two cherubs of shining silver. And when she came nearer, she found that the smell of roses with which the room was filled, came from the fire-roses on the hearth. Her grandmother was dressed in the loveliest pale-blue velvet, over which her hair, no longer white, but of a rich golden colour, streamed like a cataract, here falling in dull gathered heaps, there rushing away in smooth shining falls. And even as she looked, the hair seemed pouring down from her head, and vanishing in a golden mist ere it reached the floor. It flowed from under the edge of a circle of shining silver, set with alternated pearls and opals. On her dress was no ornament whatever, neither was there a ring on her hand, or a necklace or carcanet about her neck. But her slippers glimmered with the light of the Milky Way, for they were covered with seed-pearls and opals in one mass. Her face was that of a woman of three-and-twenty.
The princess was so bewildered with astonishment and admiration that she could hardly thank her, and drew nigh with timidity, feeling dirty and uncomfortable. The lady was seated on a low chair by the side of the fire, with hands outstretched to take her, but the princess hung back with a troubled smile.
"Why, what's the matter?" asked her grandmother. "You haven't been doing anything wrong—I know that by your face, though it is rather miserable. What's the matter, my dear?"
And she still held out her arms.
"Dear grandmother," said Irene, "I'm not so sure that I haven't done something wrong. I ought to have run up to you at once when the long-legged cat came in at the window, instead of running out on the mountain, and making myself such a fright."
"You were taken by surprise, my child, and you are not so likely to do it again. It is when people do wrong things willfully that they are the more likely to do them again. Come."
And still she held out her arms.
"But, grandmother, you're so beautiful and grand with your crown on! and I am so dirty with mud and rain!—I should quite spoil your beautiful blue dress."
With a merry little laugh, the lady sprung from her chair, more lightly far than Irene herself could, caught the child to her bosom, and kissing the tear-stained face over and over, sat down with her in her lap.
"Oh, grandmother! you'll make yourself such a mess!" cried Irene, clinging to her.
"You darling! do you think I care more for my dress than for my little girl? Beside—look here."
As she spoke she set her down, and Irene saw to her dismay that the lovely dress was covered with the mud of her fall on the mountain road. But the lady stooped to the fire, and taking from it, by the stalk in her fingers, one of the burning roses, passed it once and again and a third time over the front of her dress; and when Irene looked, not a single stain was to be discovered.
"There!" said her grandmother, "you won't mind coming to me now?"
But Irene again hung back, eyeing the flaming rose which the lady held in her hand.
"You're not afraid of the rose—are you?" she said, and she was about to throw it on the hearth again.
"Oh! don't, please!" cried Irene. "Won't you hold it to my frock and my hands and my face? And I'm afraid my feet and my knees want it too!"
"No," answered her grandmother, smiling a little sadly, as she threw the rose from her; "it is too hot for you yet. It would set your frock in a flame. Besides, I don't want to make you clean to-night. I want your nurse and the rest of the people to see you as you are, for you will have to tell them how you ran away for fear of the long-legged cat. I should like to wash you, but they would not believe you then. Do you see that bath behind you?"
The princess looked, and saw a large oval tub of silver, shining brilliantly in the light of the wonderful lamp.
"Go and look into it," said the lady.
Irene went, and came back very silently, with her eyes shining.
"What did you see?" asked her grandmother.
"The sky and the moon and the stars," she answered. "It looked as if there was no bottom to it."
The lady smiled a pleased, satisfied smile, and was silent also for
a few moments. Then she
"Any time you want a bath, come to me. I know you have a bath every morning, but sometimes you want one at night too."
"Thank you, grandmother; I will—I will indeed," answered Irene, and was again silent for some moments thinking. Then she said, "How was it, grandmother, that I saw your beautiful lamp—not the light of it only—but the great round silver lamp itself, hanging alone in the great open air high up? It was your lamp I saw—wasn't it?"
"Yes, my child; it was my lamp."
"Then how was it? I don't see a window all round."
"When I please, I can make the lamp shine through the walls—shine so strong that it melts them away from before the sight, and shows itself as you saw it. But, as I told you, it is not everybody can see it."
"How is it that I can then? I'm sure I don't know."
"It is a gift born with you. And one day I hope everybody will have it."
"But how do you make it shine through the walls?"
"Ah! that you would not understand if I were to try ever so much to make you—not yet—not yet. But," added the lady, rising, "you must sit in my chair while I get you the present I have been preparing for you. I told you my spinning was for you. It is finished now, and I am going to fetch it. I have been keeping it warm under one of my brooding pigeons."
Irene sat down in the low chair, and her grandmother left her, shutting the door behind her. The child sat gazing, now at the rose-fire, now at the starry walls, now at the silvery light; and a great quietness came over her heart. If all the long-legged cats in the world had come rushing helter-skelter at her then, she would not have been afraid of them for a single moment. How this was, she could not tell;—she only knew there was no fear in her, and everything was so right and safe that it could not get in.
She had been gazing at the lovely lamp for some minutes fixedly: turning her eyes, she found the wall had vanished, for she was looking out on the dark cloudy night. But though she heard the wind blowing, none of it blew upon her. In a moment more, the clouds themselves parted, or rather vanished like the wall, and she looked straight into the starry herds, flashing gloriously in the dark blue. It was but for a moment. The clouds gathered again and shut out the stars; the wall gathered again and shut out the clouds; and there stood the lady beside her with the loveliest smile on her face, and a shimmering ball in her hand, about the size of a pigeon's egg.
"There, Irene; there is my work for you!" she said, holding out the ball to the princess.
She took it in her hand, and looked at it all over. It sparkled a little, and shone here and shone there, but not much. It was of a sort of gray whiteness, something like spun glass.
"Is this all your spinning, grandmother?" she asked.
"All since you came to the house. There is more there than you think."
"How pretty it is! What am I to do with it?"
"That I will now explain to you," answered the lady, turning from her, and going to her cabinet.
She came back with a small ring in her hand. Then she took the ball from Irene's, and did something with the two—Irene could not tell what.
"Give me your hand," she said.
Irene held up her right hand.
"Yes, that is the hand I want," said the lady, and put the ring on the forefinger of it.
"What a beautiful ring!" said Irene. "What is the stone called?"
"It is a fire-opal."
"Please, am I to keep it?"
"Oh, thank you, grandmother! It's prettier than anything I ever saw, except those—of all colors—in your—Please, is that your crown?"
"Yes, it is my crown. The stone in your ring is of the same sort—only not so good. It has only red, but mine have all colors, you see."
"Yes, grandmother. I will take such care of it!—
"But what?" asked her grandmother.
"What am I to say when Lootie asks me where I got it?"
"You will ask her where you got it," answered the lady smiling.
"I don't see how I can do that."
"You will though."
"Of course I will, if you say so. But you know I can't pretend not to know."
"Of course not. But don't trouble yourself about it. You will see when the time comes."
So saying, the lady turned, and threw the little ball into the rose-fire.
"Oh, grandmother!" exclaimed Irene; "I thought you had spun it for me."
"So I did, my child. And you've got it."
"No; it's burnt in the fire."
The lady put her hand in the fire, brought out the ball, glimmering as before, and held it toward her. Irene stretched out her hand to take it, but the lady turned, and going to her cabinet, opened a drawer, and laid the ball in it.
"Have I done anything to vex you, grandmother?" said Irene pitifully.
"No, my darling. But you must understand that no one ever gives anything to another properly and really without keeping it. That ball is yours."
"Oh! I'm not to take it with me! You are going to keep it for me!"
"You are to take it with you. I've fastened the end of it to the ring on your finger."
Irene looked at the ring.
"I can't see it there, grandmother," she said.
"Feel—a little way from the ring—toward the cabinet," said the lady.
"Oh! I do feel it!" exclaimed the princess. "But I can't see it," she added, looking close to her outstretched hand.
"No. The thread is too fine for you to see it. You can only feel it. Now you can fancy how much spinning that took, although it does seem such a little ball."
"But what use can I make of it, if it lies in your cabinet?"
"That is what I will explain to you. It would be of no use to you—it wouldn't be yours at all if it did not lie in my cabinet. Now listen. If ever you find yourself in any danger—such, for example, as you were in this evening—you must take off your ring, and put it under the pillow of your bed. Then you must lay your forefinger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you."
"Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, grandmother, I know!"
"Yes. But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too."
"It is very wonderful!" said Irene thoughtfully. Then suddenly becoming aware, she jumped up, crying—"Oh, grandmother! here have I been sitting all this time in your chair, and you standing! I beg your pardon."
The lady laid her hand on her shoulder and said:
"Sit down again, Irene. Nothing pleases me better than to see any one sit in my chair. I am only too glad to stand so long as any one will sit in it."
"How kind of you!" said the princess, and sat down again.
"It makes me happy," said the lady.
"But," said Irene, still puzzled, "won't the thread get in somebody's way and be broken, if the one end is fast to my ring and the other laid in your cabinet?"
"You will find all that arrange itself. I am afraid it is time for you to go."
"Mightn't I stay and sleep with you to-night, grandmother?"
"No, not to-night. If I had meant you to stay to-night, I should have given you a bath; but you know everybody in the house is miserable about you, and it would be cruel to keep them so all night. You must go down stairs."
"I'm so glad, grandmother, you didn't say—go home— for this is my home. Mayn't I call this my home?"
"You may, my child. And I trust you will always think it your home. Now come. I must take you back without anyone seeing you."
"Please, I want to ask you one question more," said Irene. "Is it because you have your crown on that you look so young?"
"No, child," answered her grandmother; "it is because I felt so young this evening, that I put my crown on. And it occurred to me that you would like to see your old grandmother in her best."
"Why do you call yourself old? You're not old, grandmother."
"I am very old indeed. It is so silly of people—I don't mean
you, for you are such a tiny, and couldn't know better—but
so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and
witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and
rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing
whatever to do with all that. The right old age means strength and
beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes and strong painless
limbs. I am older than you are able to think,
"And look at you, grandmother!" cried Irene, jumping up, and flinging her arms about her neck. "I won't be so silly again, I promise you. At least—I'm rather afraid to promise—but if I am, I promise to be sorry for it—I do.—I wish I were as old as you, grandmother. I don't think you are ever afraid of anything."
"Not for long, at least, my child. Perhaps by the time I am two thousand years of age, I shall, indeed, never be afraid of anything. But I confess that I have sometimes been afraid about my children—sometimes about you, Irene."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, grandmother!—To-night, I suppose, you mean."
"Yes—a little to-night; but a good deal when you had all but made up your mind that I was a dream, and no real great-great-grandmother.—You must not suppose I am blaming you for that, I daresay it was out of your power to help it."
"I don't know, grandmother," said the princess, beginning to cry. "I can't always do myself as I should like. And I don't always try.—I'm very sorry anyhow."
The lady stooped, lifted her in her arms, and sat down with her in her chair, holding her close to her bosom. In a few minutes the princess had sobbed herself to sleep. How long she slept, I do not know. When she came to herself she was sitting in her own high chair at the nursery table, with her doll's house before her.
There's a bower of roses by Bendemeer's stream,
And the nightingale sings round it all the day long;
In the time of my childhood 'twas like a sweet dream.
To sit in the roses and hear the bird's song.
That bower and its music I never forget,
But oft when alone, in the bloom of the year,
I think—is the nightingale singing there yet?
Are the roses still bright by the calm Bendemeer?
No, the roses soon wither'd that hung o'er the wave,
But some blossoms were gather'd while freshly they shone,
And a dew was distill'd from their flowers, that gave
All the fragrance of summer, when summer was gone.
Thus memory draws from delight, ere it dies,
An essence that breathes of it many a year;
Thus bright to my soul, as 'twas then to my eyes,
Is that bower on the banks of the calm Bendemeer!