Introducing the Marsh Realm
D URING the day it seemed to sleep; cradled in the lap of the bay, it drowsed in the golden sunlight, and no one guessed that it was a little world apart, a world of shadowy waterways along which little marsh-people passed nightly and lived their lives as God had destined.
But at night, when the waves ceased their whispering and the breeze softened to a sigh, and the tall pines on the point, that separated it from the blue lake-waters, massed and darkened—this Marsh Realm stirred to life. The reeds and rushes lifted their heads to catch the dew; the fireflies lit their millions of lamps, and all throughout the water-waste strange sounds grew up to tell that the little live things, who knew no other kingdom than this, their own, were up and about their business.
The almost noiseless patter of eager feet on the dead grasses; the low call of kind to kind; and, sometimes—for life requires sustenance—a little choking cry, mercifully quickly hushed, that bespoke tragedy.
It was a beautiful world, too, this one of waters crowned with rushes, although the eye of the casual observer might fail to mark its beauties; for, during the day of sunlight, its myriad tiny water-pockets drew the gold and blue from sun and sky and held them softly, and, when darkness had fallen, let them go again, so these baby spirits of light, passing upward to the stars, left in the waters a tinge of amber, blue, and amethyst.
To the denizens of this little world, it was a place of wonders, a secluded realm for them alone. The pine forest, southward, held no charm for them. They did not belong there. Seldom did they investigate the big world of the Beyond. True, some of the most daring strayed at times into the forbidden realms—the mink, the swamp-coon, the crow and the owl—but even they were well content with their own kingdom, their forests of reeds, their myriad lakes, the eternal song of swishing rushes and lapping waves. Here they followed the hunting trails, their wild hearts ever atune to the low chord which Nature sang them throughout the moon-gladdened nights.
Here they loved and mated and brought up their families; here they enjoyed to the utmost what was theirs by divine birthright. You must not think that all their thoughts were on the seeking of food or in fighting for their rights. Certainly they did fight at times, fiercely, but in Marsh Realm it required a fight to establish a perfect understanding. After all, they were a little colony banded together for a common safety; consequently, between them there existed a strange bond of sympathy and understanding amounting to almost friendliness. They knew each other well. They had dwelt together a long, long time.
Of them all, perhaps Old Man Turtle was the sagest and most fun-loving. To him came the down-spirited, and he made them laugh; when in trouble, they sought his advice, even the owl, Amberorbs, who really believed himself his superior in wisdom and general knowledge. Then there were Daddy Long-Neck the crane, Mammy and Daddy Muskrat and more than a hundred other denizens of Marsh Realm, including Goggle Eyes, the bullfrog, who was a very arrogant fellow and very proud of his bass voice.
When the day was clear, you could see the timbered boundary of this realm, sweeping like a protecting arm, westward, on the bay's far side. Almost, too, you could catch the murmur of the wind among the hardwoods, in which dwelt creatures of the wild, who were alien to our little folk of Marsh Realm.
Sometimes during their conclaves—for often they met together in amity to discuss affairs of government—our little people would plan what they would do, supposing their enemies should sweep down upon them from this rival kingdom. But in their hearts they held little fear of an invasion, because they knew that Nature had not equipped the larger and fiercer animals of the mainland to carry warfare into their beloved kingdom.
And they, too, had their forest; a tiny one, to be sure, but to them the most wonderful in all the world. It rested on a small island not more than two acres in extent and was composed of elms, pines and a few stunted oaks. These, it must be confessed, leaned a little toward the mother forest of the point, as though yearning, like children yearn, for home. But Old Man Turtle always maintained that this was due to the prevalent west winds bending them when they were but slender saplings, and not because they were dissatisfied with their lot.
There were wonderful gardens in Marsh Realm, too; gardens of yellow and white lilies, and pale blue Iris that sent their sweetness through the dewy night; gardens of tangled ferns, spicy and cool; patches of pale green cat-tails, nodding brown heads to nesting blackbirds.
Too, there were submarine plants that reached with rainbow tentacles beneath the water. These, Old Man Turtle asserted, caught their glad tints from the stars, which dropped into the pools from the sky, at night; an assertion which Amberorbs pooh-poohed, his contention being that the water plants fed on imprisoned sunbeams.
Mammy Muskrat sniffed at the explanation of both sages. "Foolish sentimentality," she chided. "If these plants didn't glow through the water, how could the mother of nine baby muskrats ever hope to gather enough roots to feed them?"
And now, having given you a picture of Marsh Realm, we shall let the little people themselves live their own story.