Little Beta and the Lame Giant
NEAR the top of a high, high mountain there lived a great giant. He was a very wonderful giant indeed. From the door of his rocky cave he could look into the distance and see for miles and miles over the surrounding country, even to the point where the land touched the great ocean, yet so clearly that he could observe the smile or the frown on a child's face three miles away. More wonderful still, he could look through the darkest cloud which ever covered the sky and see the sun still shining beyond and above it. And then his hands! Oh how I wish you could have seen his hands! They were so large and strong. Such wonderful hands, too! With them he could lift up a rock as big as this room and set it to one side. Sometimes his fingers could make the sweetest kind of music come from a crude violin which he had fashioned for himself.
Then, too, he knew so much, and he knew it well. I don't believe that ten of the wisest men that our universities ever sent out could have told you such extraordinary things. He knew all about every plant which grew on the mountain, and just where the rich mines of gold and silver were hidden inside the mountain. He could have pointed out to you which pebbles could be polished into emeralds and topazes and sapphires and which were worthless. Had you asked him he could have taken you to the secret spring from which flowed the sparkling stream of healing waters, sought by all the sick folks in the country round. He was such a wonderful giant that it would take me the whole day to tell you of all the things which he could do—but—he was lame and somehow could never get down the mountain to where the ordinary mortal lived. So for ages he had been alone upon his mountain top, seeing all the people below him, loving them with all his heart, and knowing just what would help them, yet never being able to come near to them.
In one of the valleys of the great mountain lived a little maiden called Beta. She was so small that most people thought her a young child and so weak that she could not even carry a bucket of water from the well to the house. Then too, she was a very plain looking girl, not at all pretty. Her mother used to say to her: "My dear daughter, you are neither rich, nor clever, nor beautiful, therefore you must learn to be useful to others if you would be loved."
The little maiden often wondered how she was to be of any use to the people about her. She would say to herself, "I have no money to give to them; my hands are not skilled enough to do much work for them and my brain is not quick, therefore I can not give them beautiful thoughts which will help them." Still she was a loving-hearted little girl, and love, you know, always finds a way to be helpful.
One day it occurred to her that she could gather some wild flowers and take them to the old woman who lived all alone at the end of the village and who was so deaf that nobody ever tried to talk to her.
With this thought in mind she started out in search of the brightest flowers she could find. She climbed the mountain side and gathered a whole armful of beautiful yellow golden-rod and purple asters and red Indian pinks. These she carried joyfully to the little house at the end of the village. They made the dingy old room take on a look of warmth and happiness. Gay as they were, however, the face of the old deaf woman was brighter still as she said, "Bless you, my child, bless you! Who but little Beta would ever have thought of bringing flowers to me?"
The next day Beta thought she would take some flowers to the blind weaver who made all the carpets that the villagers used. "This time," she said to herself, "I must hunt for the flowers which have a sweet odor, as he cannot see their gay colors." So she gathered some wild roses and some sweet scented violets and some witch hazel. As she entered his small shop he lifted his head from his work and said, "Ah me, what is this I smell? It has been many a day since I have been near enough to the mountain's own flowers to breathe in their perfume." Beta placed them in a mug near his loom and as she ran home she was very happy, yet she hardly knew why.
After this she went daily to the mountain to gather flowers for some dear soul who could not go out to get them. Sometimes they were taken to the gentle mother who had so many children that she never found time to leave her home. Sometimes they went to the village church and made the Sunday seem more beautiful than other days. Each time she climbed higher and higher as she had soon learned that the rarer and more beautiful flowers could only be found far up the mountain. At last one day, when she had climbed farther than she had ever ventured before, she suddenly came upon the lame giant sitting on a large stump in front of his cave. In his hand was his violin, but he was not playing; his face wore a thoughtful, almost a sad look.
Beta was so frightened that the flowers dropped from her hands and she nearly stopped breathing. She had never before in all her life, seen a real, live giant. He was so big that she could hardly believe her own eyes as she looked at him. Her first impulse was to run down the mountain as quickly as possible, but somehow, the very sight of such a wonderful being held her spell-bound, so she stood motionless, gazing at him from behind a huge rock.
Soon he put his violin in position under his chin and taking up his bow began to play. He played so softly and sweetly that little Beta felt sure he could not be wicked and cruel as were the giants she had read about. Little by little she came shyly toward him. As soon as he saw her he laid down his violin and held out his hand, smiling as he did so. "Come near to me, child," he said, "I will not hurt you." Beta thus encouraged, came slowly forward.
"Tell me, little one," said he gently, "from whence came you, and how did you find your way so far up the mountain side? None but strong mountain guides have ever before come near my cave." "I was gathering flowers," answered little Beta, "and I thought I might find some blue forget-me-nots among these rocks." "So you have learned already, have you, that forget-me-nots can best be found near the mountain tops." With that he laughed softly to himself. His laugh was such a kindly laugh that it took away all fear and made Beta feel quite at home with him. "What is your name?" said she, "and why do you live up here? Do you not sometimes get lonesome?" The great giant did not answer her, but began talking about something else. In a short time he had led the little maiden into telling him all about herself and the people of the village and the flower gathering. It was not until he rose to point out to her where forget-me-nots could be found in abundance, that she noticed he was lame. She had soon gathered a whole apron full of the beautiful flowers and bidding him good-bye she climbed down the mountain, sometimes slipping and sliding, but always holding fast to the hem of her apron that the flowers might not be lost.
Many times after that she climbed the mountain to the cave of the giant and sat on a little stone at his feet while he told her stories of things which had happened in the village long before any of the people who lived in it were born. She loved best to listen to the tales of gods and heroes of the olden times. Then when she was tired of stories he would show her where the flowers grew most profusely. Little by little he taught her to know the herbs which were good for sick people. Oftentimes they were very humble looking plants which she would have passed by unnoticed. She soon learned how to brew these into drinks and medicines for the feeble and sick folks of the village. Sometimes, though not often, he would play on his violin for her. He always played such strange, weird music that it made her think of Siegfried, and of Lohengrin and the white swan, or of other beautiful beings whom she had never seen, but of whom she had heard.
Each day when she returned to her home she told the people of the village about the wonderful giant who lived so high up the mountain that its top could be seen from his cave door, but they only laughed and said, "Little Beta has been dreaming." Even after they had learned to call upon her for herbs with which to poultice bruised limbs and strengthen weak stomachs or quiet restless fevers, they gave no heed to what she said about the giant.
Years passed by and the little maiden still continued to climb the mountain to learn of the lame giant more and more of what was wonderful and beautiful in the world about her. Much climbing in the open air had made her strong and well. As time wore on, she unconsciously made a path up the mountain side, which of course caused the climbing to be much easier than in the days when she had to scramble over the rocks and push aside the underbrush to make her way up. The path too, was firm and smooth now, with no stones suddenly slipping from beneath her feet and causing painful falls.
At last one day Beta persuaded two or three of her companions to go with her to the cave. Now that there was a respectable path, the undertaking did not seem so foolish as in the days when Beta had gone scrambling up the rocks, nobody knew whither. So they laughingly consented to go, more to please Beta, whom they had learned to love, than with any expectation of seeing a real giant at the end of the journey. Therefore they were greatly astonished when, after much climbing, a sudden turn in the road brought them face to face with a being five times as large as an ordinary man, whose strong hands looked as if they might easily crush any one of them, yet whose kindly face re-assured them.
The great giant received them pleasantly, as they were little Beta's friends, and soon they were eagerly plying him with all sorts of questions. "Did he know those strange creatures, the centaurs, whose bodies were half man and half horse? They had heard that those centaurs lived somewhere among the mountains, and that they could teach any boy how to become a great hero. Had he ever ridden on the back of Pegasus, the flying horse, whom none but giants could ride without tumbling off? Did he ever drink from the fountain of youth which had the power to keep mortals from growing old? Was it true that he could change the dirt beneath their feet into golden money?" All these and many other questions they asked him and to each he gave an answer.
That night, when they returned to the village, they could talk of nothing else but the wonderful giant whose home was near the mountain top. Next day a larger number of the villagers climbed the mountain to the cave, and each succeeding day more were persuaded to make the journey, until everybody in the little valley, that is, everybody who could climb, had visited the lame giant. Then they began to discuss how they could open a road up the mountain to the cave. Finally they decided to unite together and build a broad, winding road, one wide enough to let horses and vehicles pass each other. "Then," said they, "we can take our dear old grandsires and granddames and even our little children up to the good giant that he may teach them also."
Soon the whole village was humming with the sound of pickaxe and spade. Everybody worked and everybody was eager and happy in the work. It took a long time, several years, in fact, before the road was completed, but it was done at last and it proved a greater blessing than they had anticipated, for not only could they now drive up the mountain to the lame giant's cave, but he was able to come down to them! This was a thing of which they had never dreamed, and great was the rejoicing on the occasion of his first visit to them.
Years passed by and the little valley became the most famous spot on the whole earth, so rich was its soil, so remarkable the products it sent out. People came from all over the land now to visit the lame giant and learn of him some of the wonderful secrets which had been hidden for centuries, and all loved him and revered him.
My story would not be complete if I did not tell you that he too became less lame, since the journeys up and down the mountain helped to make him much stronger.
Perhaps some day you may go to this valley yourselves and learn how to do many wonderful things, which now seem impossible to you.