A LITTLE BOY LOST
By W. H. Hudson
Illustrated by A. D. M'Cormick
I THE HOME ON THE GREAT PLAIN,
II THE SPOONBILL AND THE CLOUD,
III CHASING A FLYING FIGURE,
IV MARTIN IS FOUND BY A DEAF OLD MAN,
V THE PEOPLE OF THE MIRAGE,
VI MARTIN MEETS WITH SAVAGES,
VII ALONE IN THE GREAT FOREST,
VIII THE FLOWER AND THE SERPENT,
IX THE BLACK PEOPLE OF THE SKY,
X A TROOP OF WILD HORSES,
XI THE LADY OF THE HILLS,
XII THE LITTLE PEOPLE UNDERGROUND,
XIII THE GREAT BLUE WATER,
XIV THE WONDERS OF THE HILLS,
XV MARTIN'S EYES ARE OPENED,
XVI THE PEOPLE OF THE MIST,
XVII THE OLD MAN OF THE SEA,
XVIII MARTIN PLAYS WITH THE WAVES,
THE HOME ON THE GREAT PLAIN
Some like to be one thing, some another. There is so much to be done, so many different things to do, so many trades! Shepherds, soldiers, sailors, ploughmen, carters—one could go on all day naming without getting to the end of them. For myself, boy and man, I have been many things, working for a living, and sometimes doing things just for pleasure; but somehow, whatever I did, it never seemed quite the right and proper thing to do—it never quite satisfied me. I always wanted to do something else—I wanted to be a carpenter. It seemed to me that to stand among wood-shavings and sawdust, making things at a bench with bright beautiful tools out of nice-smelling wood, was the cleanest, healthiest, prettiest work that any man can do. Now all this has nothing, or very little, to do with my story: I only spoke of it because I had to begin somehow, and it struck me that I would make a start that way. And for another reason, too. His father was a carpenter. I mean Martin's father—Martin, the Little Boy Lost. His father's name was John, and he was a very good man and a good carpenter, and he loved to do his carpentering better than anything else; in fact as much as I should have loved it if I had been taught that trade. He lived in a seaside town, named Southampton, where there is a great harbour, where he saw great ships coming and going to and from all parts of the world. Now, no strong, brave man can live in a place like that, seeing the ships and often talking to the people who voyaged in them about the distant lands where they had been, without wishing to go and see those distant countries for himself. When it is winter in England, and it rains and rains, and the east wind blows, and it is grey and cold and the trees are bare, who does not think how nice it would be to fly away like the summer birds to some distant country where the sky is always blue and the sun shines bright and warm every day? And so it came to pass that John, at last, when he was an old man, sold his shop, and went abroad. They went to a country many thousands of miles away—for you must know that Mrs. John went too; and when the sea voyage ended, they travelled many days and weeks in a wagon until they came to the place where they wanted to live; and there, in that lonely country, they built a house, and made a garden, and planted an orchard. It was a desert, and they had no neighbours, but they were happy enough because they had as much land as they wanted, and the weather was always bright and beautiful; John, too, had his carpenter's tools to work with when he felt inclined; and, best of all, they had little Martin to love and think about.
But how about Martin himself? You might think that with no other child to prattle to and play with or even to see, it was too lonely a home for him. Not a bit of it! No child could have been happier. He did not want for company; his playfellows were the dogs and cats and chickens, and any creature in and about the house. But most of all he loved the little shy creatures that lived in the sunshine among the flowers—the small birds and butterflies, and little beasties and creeping things he was accustomed to see outside the gate among the tall, wild sunflowers. There were acres of these plants, and they were taller than Martin, and covered with flowers no bigger than marigolds, and here among the sunflowers he used to spend most of the day, as happy as possible.
He had other amusements too. Whenever John went to his carpenter's shop—for the old man still dearly loved his carpentering—Martin would run in to keep him company. One thing he liked to do was to pick up the longest wood-shavings, to wind them round his neck and arms and legs, and then he would laugh and dance with delight, happy as a young Indian in his ornaments.
A wood-shaving may seem a poor plaything to a child with all the toyshops in London to pick and choose from, but it is really very curious and pretty. Bright and smooth to the touch, pencilled with delicate wavy lines, while in its spiral shape it reminds one of winding plants, and tendrils by means of which vines and creepers support themselves, and flowers with curling petals, and curled leaves and sea-shells and many other pretty natural objects.
One day Martin ran into the house looking very flushed and joyous, holding up his pinafore with something heavy in it.
"What have you got now?" cried his father and mother in a breath, getting up to peep at his treasure, for Martin was always fetching in the most curious out-of-the-way things to show them.
"My pretty shaving," said Martin proudly.
When they looked they were amazed and horrified to see a spotted green snake coiled comfortably up in the pinafore. It didn't appear to like being looked at by them, for it raised its curious heart-shaped head and flicked its little red, forked tongue at them.
His mother gave a great scream, and dropped the jug she had in her hand upon the floor, while John rushed off to get a big stick. "Drop it, Martin—drop the wicked snake before it stings you, and I'll soon kill it."
Martin stared, surprised at the fuss they were making; then, still tightly holding the ends of his pinafore, he turned and ran out of the room and away as fast as he could go. Away went his father after him, stick in hand, and out of the gate into the thicket of tall wild sunflowers where Martin had vanished from sight. After hunting about for some time, he found the little run-away sitting on the ground among the weeds.
"Where's the snake?" he cried.
"Gone!" said Martin, waving his little hand around. "I let it go and you mustn't look for it."
John picked the child up in his arms and marched back to the room and popped him down on the floor, then gave him a good scolding. "It's a mercy the poisonous thing didn't sting you," he said. "You're a naughty little boy to play with snakes, because they're dangerous bad things, and you die if they bite you. And now you must go straight to bed; that's the only punishment that has any effect on such a harebrained little butterfly."
Martin, puckering up his face for a cry, crept away to his little room. It was very hard to have to go to bed in the daytime when he was not sleepy, and when the birds and butterflies were out in the sunshine having such a good time.
"It's not a bit of use scolding him—I found that out long ago," said Mrs. John, shaking her head. "Do you know, John, I can't help thinking sometimes that he's not our child at all."
"Whose child do you think he is, then?" said John, who had a cup of water in his hand, for the chase after Martin had made him hot, and he wanted cooling.
"I don't know—but I once had a very curious dream."
"People often do have curious dreams," said wise old John.
"But this was a very curious one, and I remember saying to myself, if this doesn't mean something that is going to happen, then dreams don't count for much."
"No more they do," said John.
"It was in England, just when we were getting ready for the voyage, and it was autumn, when the birds were leaving us. I dreamed that I went out alone and walked by the sea, and stood watching a great number of swallows flying by and out over the sea—flying away to some distant land. By-and-by I noticed one bird coming down lower and lower as if he wanted to alight, and I watched it, and it came down straight to me, and at last flew right into my bosom. I put my hand on it, and looking close saw that it was a martin, all pure white on its throat and breast, and with a white patch on its back. Then I woke up, and it was because of that dream that I named our child Martin instead of John as you wished to do. Now, when I watch swallows flying about, coming and going round the house, I sometimes think that Martin came to us like that one in the dream, and that some day he will fly away from us. When he gets bigger, I mean."
"When he gets littler," you mean, said John with a laugh. "No, no, he's too big for a swallow—a Michaelmas goose would be nothing to him for size. But here I am listening to your silly dreams instead of watering the melons and cucumbers!" And out he went to his garden, but in a minute he put his head in at the door and said, "You may go and tell him to get up if you like. Poor little fellow! Only make him promise not to go chumming with spotted snakes any more, and not to bring them into the house, because somehow they disagree with me."
THE SPOONBILL AND THE CLOUD
As Martin grew in years and strength, his age being now about seven, his rambles began to extend beyond the waste grounds outside of the fenced orchard and gate. These waste grounds were a wilderness of weeds: here were the sunflowers that Martin liked best; the wild cock's-comb, flaunting great crimson tufts; the yellow flowering mustard, taller than the tallest man; giant thistle, and wild pumpkin with spotted leaves; the huge hairy fox-gloves with yellow bells; feathery fennel, and the big grey-green thorn-apples, with prickly burs full of bright red seed, and long white wax-like flowers, that bloomed only in the evening. He could never get high enough on anything to see over the tops of these plants; but at last he found his way through them, and discovered on their further side a wide grassy plain with scarcely a tree on it, stretching away into the blue distance. On this vast plain he gazed with wonderment and delight. Behind the orchard and weedy waste the ground sloped down to a stream of running water, full of tall rushes with dark green polished stems, and yellow water-lilies. All along the moist banks grew other flowers that were never seen in the dry ground above—the blue star, and scarlet and white verbenas; and sweet-peas of all colours; and the delicate red vinegar flower, and angel's hair, and the small fragrant lilies called Mary's-tears, and tall scattered flags, flaunting their yellow blossoms high above the meadow grass.
Every day Martin ran down to the stream to gather flowers and shells; for many curious water-snails were found there with brown purple-striped shells; and he also liked to watch the small birds that build their nests in the rushes.
There were three of these small birds that did not appear to know that Martin loved them; for no sooner would he present himself at the stream than forth they would flutter in a great state of mind. One, the prettiest, was a tiny, green-backed little creature, with a crimson crest and a velvet-black band across a bright yellow breast: this one had a soft, low, complaining voice, clear as a silver bell. The second was a brisk little grey and black fellow, with a loud, indignant chuck, and a broad tail which he incessantly opened and shut, like a Spanish lady playing with her fan.
The third was a shy, mysterious little brown bird, peering out of the clustering leaves, and making a sound like the soft ticking of a clock. They were like three little men, an Italian, a Dutchman, and a Hindoo, talking together, each in his own language, and yet well able to understand each other. Martin could not make out what they said, but suspected that they were talking about him; and he feared that their remarks were not always of a friendly nature.
At length he made the discovery that the water of the stream was perpetually running away. If he dropped a leaf on the surface it would hasten down stream, and toss about and fret impatiently against anything that stood in its way, until, making its escape, it would quickly hurry out of sight. Whither did this rippling, running water go? He was anxious to find out. At length, losing all fear and fired with the sight of many new and pretty things he found while following it, he ran along the banks until, miles from home, he came to a great lake he could hardly see across, it was so broad. It was a wonderful place, full of birds; not small, fretful creatures flitting in and out of the rushes, but great majestic birds that took very little notice of him. Far out on the blue surface of the water floated numbers of wild fowl, and chief among them for grace and beauty was the swan, pure white with black head and neck and crimson bill. There also were stately flamingoes, stalking along knee-deep in the water, which was shallow; and nearer to the shore were flocks of rose-coloured spoonbills and solitary big grey herons standing motionless; also groups of white egrets, and a great multitude of glossy ibises, with dark green and purple plumage and long sickle-like beaks.
The sight of this water with its beds of rushes and tall flowering reeds, and its great company of birds, filled Martin with delight; and other joys were soon to follow. Throwing off his shoes, he dashed with a shout into the water, frightening a number of ibises; up they flew, each bird uttering a cry repeated many times, that sounded just like his old father's laugh when he laughed loud and heartily. Then what was Martin's amazement to hear his own shout and this chorus of bird ha, ha, ha's, repeated by hundreds of voices all over the lake. At first he thought that the other birds were mocking the ibises; but presently he shouted again, and again his shouts were repeated by dozens of voices. This delighted him so much that he spent the whole day shouting himself hoarse at the waterside.
When he related his wonderful experience at home, and heard from his father that the sounds he had heard were only echoes from the beds of rushes, he was not a bit wiser than before, so that the echoes remained to him a continual wonder and source of never-failing pleasure.
Every day he would take some noisy instrument to the lake to startle the echoes; a whistle his father made him served for a time; after that he marched up and down the banks, rattling a tin canister with pebbles in it; then he got a large frying-pan from the kitchen, and beat on it with a stick every day for about a fortnight. When he grew tired of all these sounds, and began casting about for some new thing to wake the echoes with, he all at once remembered his father's gun—just what he wanted, for it was the noisiest thing in the world. Watching his opportunity, he got secretly into the room where it was kept loaded, and succeeded in carrying it out of the house without being seen; then, full of joyful anticipations, he ran as fast as the heavy gun would let him to his favourite haunt.
When he arrived at the lake three or four spoonbills—those beautiful, tall, rose-coloured birds—were standing on the bank, quietly dozing in the hot sunshine. They did not fly away at his approach, for the birds were now so accustomed to Martin and his harmless noises that they took very little notice of him. He knelt on one knee and pointed the gun at them.
"Now, birdies, you don't know what a fright I'm going to give you—off you go!" he cried, and pulled the trigger.
The roar of the loud report travelled all over the wide lake, creating a great commotion among the feathered people, and they rose up with a general scream into the air.
All this was of no benefit to Martin, the recoil of the gun having sent him flying over, his heels in the air; and before he recovered himself the echoes were silent, and all the frightened birds were settling on the water again. But there, just before him, lay one of the spoonbills, beating its great rose-coloured wings against the ground.
Martin ran to it, full of keen distress, but was powerless to help; its life's blood was fast running away from the shot wounds it had received in its side, staining the grass with crimson. Presently it closed its beautiful ruby-coloured eyes and the quivering wings grew still.
Then Martin sat down on the grass by its side and began to cry, Oh, that great bird, half as tall as himself, and so many times more lovely and strong and beautiful in its life—he had killed it, and it would never fly again! He raised it up very tenderly in his arms and kissed it—kissed its pale green head and rosy wings; then out of his arms it tumbled back again on to the grass.
"Oh, poor bird," he cried suddenly, "open your wings and fly away!"
But it was dead.
Then Martin got up and stared all round him at the wide landscape, and everything looked strange and dim and sorrowful. A shadow passed over the lake, and a murmur came up out of the rushes that was like a voice saying something that he could not understand. A great cry of pain rose from his heart and died to a whisper on his lips; he was awed into silence. Sinking down upon the grass again, he hid his face against the rosy-breasted bird and began to sob. How warm the dead bird felt against his cheek—oh, so warm—and it could not live and fly about with the others.
At length he sat up and knew the reason of that change that had come over the earth. A dark cloud had sprung up in the south-west, far off as yet, and near the horizon; but its fringe already touched and obscured the low-hanging sun, and a shadow flew far and vast before it. Over the lake flew that great shadow: the waters looked cold and still, reflecting as in a polished glass the motionless rushes, the glassy bank, and Martin, sitting on it, still clasping in his arms the dead rose-coloured bird.
Swifter and vaster, following close upon the flying shadow, came the mighty cloud, changing from black to slaty grey; and then, as the sun broke forth again under its lower edge, it was all flushed with a brilliant rose colour. But what a marvellous thing it was, when the cloud covered a third of the wide heavens, almost touching the horizon on either side with its wing-like extremities; Martin, gazing steadily at it, saw that in its form it was like an immense spoonbill flying through the air! He would gladly have run away then to hide himself from its sight, but he dared not stir, for it was now directly above him; so, lying down on the grass and hiding his face against the dead bird, he waited in fear and trembling.
He heard the rushing sound of the mighty wings: the wind they created smote on the waters in a hurricane, so that the reeds were beaten flat on the surface, and a great cry of terror went up from all the wild birds. It passed, and when Martin raised his bowed head and looked again, the sun, just about to touch the horizon with its great red globe, shone out, shedding a rich radiance over the earth and water; while far off, on the opposite side of the heavens, the great cloud-bird was rapidly fading out of sight.
CHASING A FLYING FIGURE
After what had happened Martin could never visit the waterside and look at the great birds wading and swimming there without a feeling that was like a sudden coldness in the blood of his veins. The rosy spoonbill he had killed and cried over and the great bird-cloud that had frightened him were never forgotten. He grew tired of shouting to the echoes: he discovered that there were even more wonderful things than the marsh echoes in the world, and that the world was bigger than he had thought it. When spring with its moist verdure and frail, sweet-smelling flowers had gone; when the great plain began to turn to a rusty-brown colour, and the dry hard earth was full of cracks, and the days grew longer and the heat greater, there came an appearance of water that quivered and glittered and danced before his wondering sight, and would lead him miles from home every day in his vain efforts to find out what it was. He could talk of nothing else, and asked endless questions about it, and they told him that this strange thing was nothing but the Mirage, but of course that was not telling him enough, so that he was left to puzzle his little boy-brains over this new mystery, just as they had puzzled before over the mystery of the echoes. Now this Mirage was a glittering whiteness that looked just like water, always shining and dancing before him and all round him, on the dry level plain where there was no water. It was never quiet, but perpetually quivering and running into wavelets that threw up crests and jets of sprays as from a fountain, and showers of brilliant drops that flashed like molten silver in the sunlight before they broke and vanished, only to be renewed again. It appeared every day when the sun was high and the air hot, and it was often called The False Water. And false it was, since it always flew before him as he ran, so that although he often seemed to be getting nearer to it he could never quite overtake it. But Martin had a very determined spirit for a small boy, and although this appearance of water mocked his efforts a hundred times every day with its vanishing brightness and beauty, he would not give up the pursuit.
Now one day when there was not a cloud on the great hot whitey-blue sky, nor a breath of air stirring, when it was all silent, for not even a grass-hopper creaked in the dead, yellow, motionless grass, the whole level earth began to shine and sparkle like a lake of silvery water, as Martin had never seen it shine before. He had wandered far away from home—never had he been so far—and still he ran and ran and ran, and still that whiteness quivered and glittered and flew on before him; and ever it looked more temptingly near, urging him to fresh exertions. At length, tired out and overcome with heat, he sat down to rest, and feeling very much hurt at the way he had been deceived and led on, he shed one little tear. There was no mistake about that tear; he felt it running like a small spider down his cheek, and finally he saw it fall. It fell on to a blade of yellow grass and ran down the blade, then stopped so as to gather itself into a little round drop before touching the ground. Just then, out of the roots of the grass beneath it, crept a tiny dusty black beetle and began drinking the drop, waving its little horns up and down like donkey's ears, apparently very much pleased at its good fortune in finding water and having a good drink in such a dry, thirsty place. Probably it took the tear for a drop of rain just fallen out of the sky.
"You are a funny little thing!" exclaimed Martin, feeling now less like crying than laughing.
The wee beetle, satisfied and refreshed, climbed up the grass-blade, and when it reached the tip lifted its dusty black wing-cases just enough to throw out a pair of fine gauzy wings that had been neatly folded up beneath them, and flew away.
Martin, following its flight, had his eyes quite dazzled by the intense glitter of the False Water, which now seemed to be only a few yards from him: but the strangest thing was that in it there appeared a form—a bright beautiful form that vanished when he gazed steadily at it. Again he got up and began running harder than ever after the flying mocking Mirage, and every time he stopped he fancied that he could see the figure again, sometimes like a pale blue shadow on the brightness; sometimes shining with its own excessive light, and sometimes only seen in outline, like a figure graved on glass, and always vanishing when looked at steadily. Perhaps that white water-like glitter of the Mirage was like a looking-glass, and he was only chasing his own reflection. I cannot say, but there it was, always before him, a face as of a beautiful boy, with tumbled hair and laughing lips, its figure clothed in a fluttering dress of lights and shadows. It also seemed to beckon to him with its hand, and encourage him to run on after it with its bright merry glances.
At length when it was past the hour of noon, Martin sat down under a small bush that gave just shade enough to cover him and none to spare. It was only a little spot of shade like an island in a sea of heat and brightness. He was too hot and tired to run more, too tired even to keep his eyes open, and so, propping his back against the stem of the small bush, he closed his tired hot eyes.
MARTIN IS FOUND BY A DEAF OLD MAN
Martin kept his eyes shut for only about a minute, as he thought; but he must have been asleep some time, for when he opened them the False Water had vanished, and the sun, looking very large and crimson, was just about to set. He started up, feeling very thirsty and hungry and bewildered; for he was far, far from home, and lost on the great plain. Presently he spied a man coming towards him on horseback. A very funny-looking old man he proved to be, with a face wrinkled and tanned by sun and wind, until it resembled a piece of ancient shoe-leather left lying for years on some neglected spot of ground. A Brazil nut is not darker nor more wrinkled than was the old man's face. His long matted beard and hair had once been white, but the sun out of doors and the smoke in his smoky hut had given them a yellowish tinge, so that they looked like dry dead grass. He wore big jack-boots, patched all over, and full of cracks and holes; and a great pea-jacket, rusty and ragged, fastened with horn buttons big as saucers. His old brimless hat looked like a dilapidated tea-cosy on his head, and to prevent it from being carried off by the wind it was kept on with an old flannel shirtsleeve tied under his chin. His saddle, too, like his clothes, was old and full of rents, with wisps of hair and straw-stuffing sticking out in various places, and his feet were thrust into a pair of big stirrups made of pieces of wood and rusty iron tied together with string and wire.
"Boy, what may you being a doing of here?" bawled this old man at the top of his voice: for he was as deaf as a post, and like a good many deaf people thought it necessary to speak very loud to make himself heard.
"Playing," answered Martin innocently. But he could not make the old man hear until he stood up on tip-toe and shouted out his answer as loud as he could.
"Playing," exclaimed the old man. "Well, I never in all my life! When there ain't a house 'cepting my own for leagues and leagues, and he says he's playing! What may you be now?" he shouted again.
"A little boy," screamed Martin.
"I knowed that afore I axed," said the other. Then he slapped his legs and held up his hands with astonishment, and at last began to chuckle. "Will you come home along o' me?" he shouted.
"Will you give me something to eat?" asked Martin in return.
"Haw, haw, haw," guffawed the old fellow. It was a tremendous laugh, so loud and hollow, it astonished and almost frightened Martin to hear it. "Well I never!" he said. "He ain't no fool, neither. Now, old Jacob, just you take your time and think a bit afore you makes your answer to that."
This curious old man, whose name was Jacob, had lived so long by himself that he always thought out loud—louder than other people talk: for, being deaf, he could not hear himself, and never had a suspicion that he could be heard by others.
"He's lost, that's what he is," continued old Jacob aloud to himself. "And what's more, he's been and gone and forgot all about his own home, and all he wants is summat to eat. I'll take him and keep him, that's what I'll do: for he's a stray lamb, and belongs to him that finds him, like any other lamb I finds. I'll make him believe I'm his old dad; for he's little and will believe most anything you tells him. I'll learn him to do things about the house—to boil the kettle, and cook the wittels, and gather the firewood, and mend the clothes, and do the washing, and draw the water, and milk the cow, and dig the potatoes, and mind the sheep and—and—and that's what I'll learn him. Then, Jacob, you can sit down and smoke your pipe, 'cos you'll have some one to do your work for you."
Martin stood quietly listening to all this, not quite understanding the old man's kind intentions. Then old Jacob, promising to give him something to eat, pulled him up on to his horse, and started home at a gallop.
Soon they arrived at a mud hovel, thatched with rushes, the roof sloping down so low that one could almost step on to it; it was surrounded with a ditch, and had a potato patch and a sheep enclosure; for old Jacob was a shepherd, and had a flock of sheep. There were several big dogs, and when Martin got down from the horse, they began jumping round him, barking with delight, as if they knew him, half-smothering him with their rough caresses. Jacob led him into the hut, which looked extremely dirty and neglected, and had only one room. In the corners against the walls were piles of sheep-skins that had a strong and rather unpleasant smell: the thatch above was covered with dusty cobwebs, hanging like old rags, and the clay floor was littered with bones, sticks, and other rubbish. The only nice thing to see was a teakettle singing and steaming away merrily on the fire in the grate. Old Jacob set about preparing the evening meal; and soon they sat down at a small deal table to a supper of cold mutton and potatoes, and tea which did not taste very nice, as it was sweetened with moist black sugar. Martin was too hungry to turn up his nose at anything, and while he ate and drank the old man chuckled and talked aloud to himself about his good fortune in finding the little boy to do his work for him. After supper he cleared the table, and put two mugs of tea on it, and then got out his clay pipe and tobacco.
"Now, little boy," he cried, "let's have a jolly evening together. Your very good health, little boy," and here he jingled his mug against Martin's, and took a sip of tea.
"Would you like to hear a song, little boy?" he said, after finishing his pipe.
"No," said Martin, who was getting sleepy; but Jacob took no to mean yes, and so he stood up on his legs and sang this song:—
"My name is Jacob, that's my name; And tho' I'm old, the old man's game— The air it is so good, d'ye see: And on the plain my flock I keep, And sing all day to please my sheep, And never lose them like Bo-Peep, Becos the ways of them are known to me."
"When winter comes and winds do blow, Unto my sheep so good I go— I'm always good to them, d'ye see— Ho, sheep, say I, both ram, both ewe, I've sung you songs all summer through, Now lend to me a skin or two, To keep the cold and wet from out o' me."
This song, accompanied with loud raps on the table, was bellowed forth in a dreadfully discordant voice; and very soon all the dogs rushed into the room and began to bark and howl most dismally, which seemed to please the old man greatly, for to him it was a kind of applause. But the noise was too much for Martin; so he stopped up his ears, and only removed his fingers from them when the performance was over. After the song the old man offered to dance, for he had not yet had amusement enough.
"Boy, can you play on this?" he shouted, holding up a frying-pan and a big stick to beat it with. Of course Martin could play on that instrument: he had often enough played on one like it to startle the echoes on the lake, in other days. And so, when he had been lifted on to the table, he took the frying-pan by the handle, and began vigorously beating on it with the stick. He did not mind the noise now since he was helping to make it. Meanwhile old Jacob began flinging his arms and legs about in all directions, looking like a scarecrow made to tumble about by means of springs and wires. He pounded the clay floor with his ponderous old boots until the room was filled with a cloud of dust; then in his excitement he kicked over chairs, pots, kettles, and whatever came in his way, while he kept on revolving round the table in a kind of crazy fandango. Martin thought it fine fun, and screamed with laughter, and beat his gong louder than ever; then to make matters worse old Jacob at intervals uttered whoops and yells, which the dogs answered with long howls from the door, until the din was something tremendous.
At length they both grew tired, and then after resting and sipping some more cold tea, prepared to go to bed. Some sheep-skins were piled up in a corner for Martin to sleep on, and old Jacob covered him with a horse-rug, and tucked him in very carefully. Then the kind old man withdrew to his own bed on the opposite side of the room.
About midnight Martin was wakened by loud horrible noises in the room, and started up on bed trembling with fear. The sounds came from the old man's nose, and resembled a succession of blasts on a ram's horn, which, on account of its roughness and twisted shape, makes a very bad trumpet. As soon as Martin discovered the cause of the noise he crept out of bed and tried to waken the old snorer by shouting at him, tugging at his arms and legs, and finally pulling his beard. He refused to wake. Then Martin had a bright idea, and groping his way to the bucket of cold water standing beside the fire-place, he managed to raise it up in his arms, and poured it over the sleeper. The snoring changed to a series of loud choking snorts, then ceased. Martin, well pleased at the success of his experiment, was about to return to his bed when old Jacob struggled up to a sitting posture.
"Hullo, wake up, little boy!" he shouted. "My bed's all full o' water—goodness knows where it comes from."
"I poured it over you to wake you up. Don't you know you were making a noise with your nose?" cried Martin at the top of his voice.
"You—you—you throwed it over me! You—O you most wicked little villain you! You throwed it over me, did you!" and here he poured out such a torrent of abusive words that Martin was horrified and cried out, "O what a naughty, wicked, bad old man you are!"
It was too dark for old Jacob to see him, but he knew his way about the room, and taking up the wet rug that served him for covering he groped his way to Martin's bed and began pounding it with the rug, thinking the naughty little boy was there.
"You little rascal you—I hope you like that!—and that!—and that!" he shouted, pounding away. "I'll learn you to throw water over your poor old dad! And such a—a affectionate father as I've been too, giving him sich nice wittels—and—and singing and dancing to him to teach him music. Perhaps you'd like a little more, you takes it so quietly? Well, then, take that!—and that!—and that! Why, how's this—the young warmint ain't here arter all! Well, I'm blowed if that don't beat everythink! What did he go and chuck that water over me for? What a walloping I'll give him in the morning when it's light! and now, boy, you may go and sleep on my bed, 'cos it's wet, d'ye see; and I'll sleep on yourn, 'cos it's dry."
Then he got into Martin's bed, and muttered and grumbled himself to sleep. Martin came out from under the table, and after dressing himself with great secrecy crept to the door to make his escape. It was locked and the key taken away. But he was determined to make his escape somehow, and not wait to be whipped; so, by and by, he drew the little deal table close against the wall, and getting on to it began picking the rushes one by one out of the lower part of the thatch. After working for half-an-hour, like a mouse eating his way out of a soft wooden box, he began to see the light coming through the hole, and in another half hour it was large enough for him to creep through. When he had got out, he slipped down to the ground, where the dogs were lying. They seemed very glad to see him, and began pressing round to lick his face; but he pushed them off, and ran away over the plain as fast as he could. The stars were shining, but it was very dark and silent; only in moist places, where the grass grew tall, he heard the crickets strumming sadly on their little harps.
At length, tired with running, he coiled himself in a large tussock of dry grass and went to sleep, just as if he had been accustomed to sleep out of doors all his life.
THE PEOPLE OF THE MIRAGE
In that remote land where Martin was born, with its bright warm climate and rich soil, no person need go very long hungry—not even a small boy alone and lost on the great grassy plain. For there is a little useful plant in that place, with small leaves like clover leaves and a pretty yellow flower, which bears a wholesome sweet root, about as big as a pigeon's egg and of a pearly white colour. It is so well known to the settlers' children in that desert country that they are always wandering off to the plain to look for it, just as the children in a town are always running off with their halfpence to the sweet-stuff shop. This pretty white root is watery, so that it satisfies both hunger and thirst at the same time. Now when Martin woke next morning, he found a great many of the little three-leaved plants growing close to the spot where he had slept, and they supplied him with a nice sweet breakfast. After he had eaten enough and had amused himself by rolling over and over several times on the grass, he started once more on his travels, going towards the sunrise as fast as he could run. He could run well for a small boy, but he got tired at last and sat down to rest. Then he jumped up and went on again at a trot: this pace he kept up very steadily, only pausing from time to time to watch a flock of small white birds that followed him all the morning out of curiosity. At length he began to feel so hot and tired that he could only walk. Still he kept on; he could see no flowers nor anything pretty in that place—why should he stay in it? He would go on, and on, and on, in spite of the heat, until he came to something. But it grew hotter as the day advanced, and the ground about him more dry and barren and desolate, until at last he came to ground where there was scarcely a blade of grass: it was a great, barren, level plain, covered with a slight crust of salt crystals that glittered in the sun so brightly that it dazzled and pained his eyesight. Here were no sweet watery roots for refreshment, and no berries; nor could Martin find a bush to give him a little shade and protection from the burning noonday sun. He saw one large dark object in the distance, and mistaking it for a bush covered with thick foliage he ran towards it; but suddenly it started up, when he was near, and waving its great grey and white wings like sails, fled across the plain. It was an ostrich!
Now this hot, shadeless plain seemed to be the very home and dwelling-place of the False Water. It sparkled and danced all round him so close that there only appeared to be a small space of dry ground for him to walk on; only he was always exactly in the centre of the dry spot; for as he advanced, the glittering whiteness, that looked so like shiny water, flew mockingly before his steps. But he hoped to get to it at last, as every time he flagged in the chase the mysterious figure of the day before appeared again to lure him still further on. At length, unable to move another step, Martin sat right down on the bare ground: it was like sitting on the floor of a heated oven, but there was no help for it, he was so tired. The air was so thick and heavy that he could hardly breathe, even with his mouth wide open like a little gasping bird; and the sky looked like metal, heated to a white heat, and so low down as to make him fancy that if he were to throw up his hands he would touch it and burn his fingers.
And the Mirage—oh, how it glistened and quivered here where he had sat down, half blinding him with its brightness! Now that he could no longer run after it, nor even walk, it came to him, breaking round and over him in a thousand fantastic shapes, filling the air with a million white flakes that whirled about as if driven by a furious wind, although not a breath was stirring. They looked like whitest snow-flakes, yet stung his cheeks like sparks of fire. Not only did he see and feel, he could even hear it now: his ears were filled with a humming sound, growing louder and louder every minute, like the noise made by a large colony of bumble-bees when a person carelessly treads on their nest, and they are angered and thrown into a great commotion and swarm out to defend their home. Very soon out of this confused murmur louder, clearer sounds began to rise; and these could be distinguished as the notes of numberless musical instruments, and voices of people singing, talking, and laughing. Then, all at once, there appeared running and skipping over the ground towards him a great company of girls—scores and hundreds of them scattered over the plain, exceeding in loveliness all lovely things that he had ever beheld. Their faces were whiter than lilies, and their loose, fluttering hair looked like a mist of pale shining gold; and their skirts, that rustled as they ran, were also shining like the wings of dragon-flies, and were touched with brown reflections and changing, beautiful tints, such as are seen on soap-bubbles. Each of them carried a silver pitcher, and as they ran and skipped along they dipped their fingers in and sprinkled the desert with water. The bright drops they scattered fell all around in a grateful shower, and flew up again from the heated earth in the form of a white mist touched with rainbow colours, filling the air with a refreshing coolness.
At Martin's side there grew a small plant, its grey-green leaves lying wilted on the ground, and one of the girls paused to water it, and as she sprinkled the drops on it she sang:—
"Little weed, little weed, In such need, Must you pain, ask in vain, Die for rain, Never bloom, never seed, Little weed? O, no, no, you shall not die, From the sky With my pitcher down I fly. Drink the rain, grow again, Bloom and seed, Little weed."
Martin held up his hot little hands to catch some of the falling drops; then the girl, raising her pitcher, poured a stream of cool water right into his face, and laughing at what she had done, went away with a hop, skip, and jump after her companions.
The girls with pitchers had all gone, and were succeeded by troops of boys, just as beautiful, many of them singing and some playing on wind and stringed instruments; and some were running, others quietly walking, and still others riding on various animals—ostriches, sheep, goats, fawns, and small donkeys, all pure white. One boy was riding on a ram, and as he came by, strum-strumming on a little silver-stringed banjo, he sang a very curious song, which made Martin prick up his ears to listen. It was about a speckled snake that lived far away on a piece of waste ground; how day after day he sought for his lost playmate—the little boy that had left him; how he glided this way and that on his smooth, bright belly, winding in and out among the tall wild sunflowers; how he listened for the dear footsteps—listened with his green leaf-shaped, little head raised high among the leaves. But his playmate was far away and came no more to feed him from his basin of bread and milk, and caress his cold, smooth coils with his warm, soft, little hand.
Close after the boy on the ram marched four other little boys on foot, holding up long silver trumpets in readiness to blow. One of them stopped, and putting his trumpet down close to Martin's ear, puffed out his little, round cheeks, and blew a blast that made him jump. Laughing at the joke, they passed on, and were succeeded by others and still others, singing, shouting, twanging their instruments, and some of them stopping for a few moments to look at Martin or play some pretty little trick on him.
But now all at once Martin ceased to listen or even look at them, for something new and different was coming, something strange which made him curious and afraid at the same time. It was a sound, very deep and solemn, of men's voices singing together a song that was like a dirge and coming nearer and nearer, and it was like the coming of a storm with wind and rain and thunder. Soon he could see them marching through the great crowd of people—old men moving in a slow procession, and they had pale dark faces and their hair and long beards were whiter than snow, and their long flowing robes were of the silvery dark colour of a rain-cloud. Then he saw that the leaders of the procession were followed by others who carried a couch of mother-o'-pearl resting on their shoulders, that on the couch reposed a pale sweet-looking youth dressed in silk clothes of a delicate rose-colour. He also wore crimson shoes, and a tight-fitting apple-green skull cap, which made his head look very small. His eyes were ruby-red, and he had a long slender nose like a snipe's bill, only broad and flattened at the tip. And then Martin saw that he was wounded, for he had one white hand pressed to his side and it was stained with blood, and drops of blood were trickling through his fingers.
He was troubled at the sight, and he gazed at him, and listened to the words of that solemn song the old men were singing but could not understand them. Not because he was a child, for no person, however aged and wise and filled with all learning he might be, could have understood that strange song about Wonderful Life and Wonderful Death. Yet there was something in it too which any one who heard it, man or child, could understand; and he understood it, and it went into his heart to make it so heavy and sad that he could have put his little face down on the ground and cried as he had never cried before. But he did not put his face down and cry, for just then the wounded youth looked down on him as they carried him past and smiled a very sweet smile: then Martin felt that he loved him above all the bright and beautiful beings that had passed before him.
Then, when he was gone from sight; when the solemn sound of the voices began to grow fainter in the distance like the sound of a storm when it passes away, his heaviness of heart and sorrow left him, and he began to listen to the shouts and cries and clanging of noisy instruments of music swiftly coming nearer and nearer; and then all round and past him came a vast company of youths and maidens singing and playing and shouting and dancing as they moved onwards. They were the most beautiful beings he had ever seen in their shining dresses, some all in white, others in amber-colour, others in sky-blue, and some in still other lovely colours. "The Queen! the Queen!" they were shouting. "Stand up, little boy, and bow to the Queen."
"The Queen! Kneel to the Queen, little boy," cried others.
Then many others in the company began crying out together, "The Queen! lie down flat on the ground, little boy."
"The Queen! Shut your eyes and open your mouth, little boy."
"The Queen! Run away as fast as you can, little boy."
"Stand on your head to the Queen, little boy!"
"Crow like a cock and bark like a dog, little boy!"
Trying to obey all these conflicting commands at one and the same time, poor Martin made strange noises and tumbled about this way and that and set them all laughing at him.
"The Queen wishes to speak to you—stand up, little boy," said one of the brightest beings, touching Martin on the cheek.
There before him, surrounded by all that beautiful company, stood the horses that drew her—great milk-white horses impatiently pawing the dusty ground with their hoofs and proudly champing their gold bridles, tossing the white froth from their mouths. But when he lifted his eyes timidly to the majestic being seated in her chariot before him he was dazzled and overcome with the sight. Her face had a brightness that was like that of the Mirage at noon, and the eyes that gazed on him were like two great opals; she appeared clothed in a white shining mist, and her hair spread wide on her shoulders looked white—whiter than a lamb's fleece, and powdered with fine gold that sparkled and quivered and ran through it like sparks of yellow fire: and on her head she wore a crown that was like a diamond seen by candle-light, or like a dewdrop in the sun, and every moment it changed its colour, and by turns was a red flame, then a green, then a yellow, then a violet.
"Child, you have followed me far," said the Queen, "and now you are rewarded, for you have looked on my face and I have refreshed you; and the Sun, my father, will never more hurt you for my sake."
"He is a naughty boy and unworthy of your goodness," spoke one of the bright beings standing near. "He killed the spoonbill."
"He cried for the poor slain bird," replied the Queen. "He will never remember it without grief, and I forgive him."
"He went away from his home and thinks no more of his poor old father and mother, who cry for him and are seeking for him on the great plain," continued the voice.
"I forgive him," returned the Queen. "He is such a little wanderer—he could not always rest at home."
"He emptied a bucketful of water over good old Jacob, who found him and took him in and fed him, and sang to him, and danced to him, and was a second father to him."
At that there was great laughter; even the Queen laughed when she said that she forgave him that too. And Martin when he remembered old Jacob, and saw that they only made a joke of it, laughed with them. But the accusing voice still went on:
"And when the good old shepherd went to sleep a second time, then the naughty little boy climbed on the table and picked a hole in the thatch and got out and ran away."
Another burst of laughter followed; then a youth in a shining, violet-coloured dress suddenly began twanging on his instrument and wildly capering about in imitation of old Jacob's dancing, and while he played and danced he sang—
"Ho, sheep whose ways are known to me, Both ewe and lamb And horned ram Wherever can that Martin be? All day for him I ride Over the plains so wide, And on my horn I blow, Just to let him know That Jacob's on his track, And soon will have him back, I look and look all day, And when I'm home I say: He isn't like a mole To dig himself a hole; Them little legs he's got They can't go far, trot, trot, They can't go far, run run, Oh no, it is his fun; I'm sure he's near, He must be here A-skulking round the house Just like a little mouse. I'll get a mouse-trap in a minute, And bait with cheese that's smelly To bring him helter-skelly— That little empty belly, And then I'll have him in it. Where have he hid, That little kid, That good old Jacob was so kind to? And when a rest I am inclined to Who'll boil the cow and dig the kittles And milk the stockings, darn the wittles? Who mugs of tea Will drink with me? When round and round I pound the ground With boots of cowhide, boots of thunder, Who'll help to make the noise, I wonder? Who'll join the row Of loud bow-wow With din of tin and copper clatter With bang and whang of pan and platter? O when I find Him fast I'll bind And upside down I'll hold him; And when a-home I gallop late-o I'll give him no more cold potato, But cuff him, box him, bang him, scold him, And drench him with a pail of water, And fill his mouth with wool and mortar, Because he don't do things he oughter, But does the things he ought not to, Then tell me true, Both ram and ewe, Wherever have that Martin got to? For Jacob's old and deaf and dim And never knowed the ways of him."
"I forgive him everything," said the Queen very graciously, when the song ended, at which they all laughed. "And now let two of you speak and each bestow a gift on him. He deserves to be rewarded for running so far after us."
Then one of those bright beautiful beings came forward and cried out: "He loves wandering; let him have his will and be a wanderer all his days on the face of the earth."
"Well spoken!" cried the Queen.
"A wanderer he is to be," said another: "let the sea do him no harm—that is my gift."
"So be it," said the Queen; "and to your two gifts I shall add a third. Let all men love him. Go now, Martin, you are well equipped, and satisfy your heart with the sight of all the strange and beautiful things the world contains."
"Kneel and thank the Queen for her gifts," said a voice to Martin.
He dropped on to his knees, but could speak no word; when he raised his eyes again the whole glorious company had vanished.
The air was cool and fragrant, the earth moist as if a shower had just fallen. He got up and slowly walked onward until near sunset, thinking of nothing but the beautiful people of the Mirage. He had left the barren salt plain behind by now; the earth was covered with yellow grass, and he found and ate some sweet roots and berries. Then feeling very tired, he stretched himself out on his back and began to wonder if what he had seen was nothing but a dream. Yes, it was surely a dream, but then—in his life dreams and realities were so mixed—how was he always to know one from the other? Which was most strange, the Mirage that glittered and quivered round him and flew mockingly before him, or the people of the Mirage he had seen?
If you are lying quite still with your eyes shut and some one comes softly up and stands over you, somehow you know it, and open your eyes to see who it is. Just in that way Martin knew that some one had come and was standing over him. Still he kept his eyes shut, feeling sure that it was one of those bright and beautiful beings he had lately seen, perhaps the Queen herself, and that the sight of her shining countenance would dazzle his eyes. Then all at once he thought that it might be old Jacob, who would punish him for running away. He opened his eyes very quickly then. What do you think he saw? An ostrich—that same big ostrich he had seen and startled early in the day! It was standing over him, staring down with its great vacant eyes. Gradually its head came lower and lower down, until at last it made a sudden peck at a metal button on his jacket, and gave such a vigorous tug at it that Martin was almost lifted off the ground. He screamed and gave a jump; but it was nothing to the jump the ostrich gave when he discovered that the button belonged to a living boy. He jumped six feet high into the air and came down with a great flop; then feeling rather ashamed of himself for being frightened at such an insignificant thing as Martin, he stalked majestically away, glancing back, first over one shoulder then the other, and kicking up his heels behind him in a somewhat disdainful manner.
Martin laughed, and in the middle of his laugh he fell asleep.
MARTIN MEETS WITH SAVAGES
When, on waking next morning, Martin took his first peep over the grass, there, directly before him, loomed the great blue hills, or Sierras as they are called in that country. He had often seen them, long ago in his distant home on clear mornings, when they had appeared like a blue cloud on the horizon. He had even wished to get to them, to tread their beautiful blue summits that looked as if they would be soft to his feet—softer than the moist springy turf on the plain; but he wished it only as one wishes to get to some far-off impossible place—a white cloud, for instance, or the blue sky itself. Now all at once he unexpectedly found himself near them, and the sight fired him with a new desire. The level plain had nothing half so enchanting as the cloud-like blue airy hills, and very soon he was up on his feet and hurrying towards them. In spite of hurrying he did not seem to get any nearer; still it was pleasant to be always going on and on, knowing that he would get to them at last. He had now left the drier plains behind; the earth was clothed with green and yellow grass easy to the feet, and during the day he found many sweet roots to refresh him. He also found quantities of cam-berries, a round fruit a little less than a cherry in size, bright yellow in colour, and each berry inside a green case or sheath shaped like a heart. They were very sweet. At night he slept once more in the long grass, and when daylight returned he travelled on, feeling very happy there alone—happy to think that he would get to the beautiful hills at last. But only in the early morning would they look distinct and near; later in the day, when the sun grew hot, they would seem further off, like a cloud resting on the earth, which made him think sometimes that they moved on as he went towards them.
On the third day he came to a high piece of ground; and when he got to the top and looked over to the other side he saw a broad green valley with a stream of water running in it: on one hand the valley with its gleaming water stretched away as far as he could see, or until it lost itself in the distant haze; but on the other hand, on looking up the valley, there appeared a great forest, looking blue in the distance; and this was the first forest Martin had ever seen. Close by, down in the green valley before him, there was something else to attract his attention, and this was a large group of men and horses. No sooner had he caught sight of them than he set off at a run towards them, greatly excited; and as he drew near they all rose up from the grass where they had been sitting or lying to stare at him, filled with wonder at the sight of that small boy alone in the desert. There were about twenty men and women, and several children; the men were very big and tall, and were dressed only in robes made of the skins of some wild animal; they had broad, flat faces, and dark copper-coloured skins, and their long black hair hung down loose on their backs.
These strange, rude-looking people were savages, and are supposed to be cruel and wicked, and to take pleasure in torturing and killing any lost or stray person that falls into their hands; but indeed it is not so, as you shall shortly find. Poor ignorant little Martin, who had never read a book in his life, having always refused to learn his letters, knew nothing about savages, and feared them no more than he had feared old Jacob, or the small spotted snake, the very sight of which had made grown-up people scream and run away. So he marched boldly up and stared at them, and they in turn stared at him out of their great, dark, savage eyes.
They had just been eating their supper of deer's flesh, roasted on the coals, and after a time one of the savages, as an experiment, took up a bone of meat and offered it to him. Being very hungry he gladly took it, and began gnawing the meat off the bone.
When he had satisfied his hunger, he began to look round him, still stared at by the others. Then one of the women, who had a good-humoured face, caught him up, and seating him on her knees, tried to talk to him.
"Melu-melumia quiltahou papa shani cha silmata," she spoke, gazing very earnestly into his face.
They had all been talking among themselves while he was eating; but he did not know that savages had a language of their own different from ours, and so thought that they had only been amusing themselves with a kind of nonsense talk, which meant nothing. Now when the woman addressed this funny kind of talk to him, he answered her in her own way, as he imagined, readily enough: "Hey diddle-diddle, the cat's in the fiddle, fe fo fi fum, chumpty-chumpty-chum, with bings on her ringers, and tells on her boes."
They all listened with grave attention, as if he had said something very important. Then the woman continued: "Huanatopa ana ana quiltahou."
To which Martin answered, "Theophilus Thistle, the thistle-sifter, sifted a sieve of unsifted thistles; and if Theophilus—oh, I won't say any more!"
Then she said, "Quira-holata silhoa mari changa changa."
"Cock-a-doodle-do!" cried Martin, getting tired and impatient. "Baa, baa, black sheep, bow, wow, wow; goosey, goosey gander; see-saw, Mary Daw; chick-a-dee-dee, will you listen to me. And now let me go!"
But she held him fast and kept on talking her nonsense language to him, until becoming vexed he caught hold of her hair and pulled it. She only laughed and tossed him up into the air and caught him again, just as he might have tossed and caught a small kitten. At length she released him, for now they were all beginning to lie down by the fire to sleep, as it was getting dark; Martin being very tired settled himself down among them, and as one of the women threw a skin over him he slept very comfortably.
Next morning the hills looked nearer than ever just across the river; but little he cared for hills now, and when the little savage children went out to hunt for berries and sweet roots he followed and spent the day agreeably enough in their company.
On the afternoon of the second day his new playfellows all threw off their little skin cloaks and plunged into the stream to bathe; and Martin, seeing how much they seemed to enjoy being in the water, undressed himself and went in after them. The water was not too deep in that place, and as it was rare fun splashing about and trying to keep his legs in the swift current and clambering over slippery rocks, he went out some distance from the bank. All at once he discovered that the others had left him, and looking back he saw that they were all scrambling out on to the bank and fighting over his clothes. Back he dashed in haste to rescue his property, but by the time he reached the spot they had finished dividing the spoil, and jumping up they ran away and scattered in all directions, one wearing his jacket, another his knickerbockers, another his shirt and one sock, another his cap and shoes, and the last the one remaining sock only. In vain he pursued and called after them; and at last he was compelled to follow them unclothed to the camping ground, where he presented himself crying piteously; but the women who had been so kind to him would not help him now, and only laughed to see how white his skin looked by contrast with the dark copper-coloured skins of the other children. At length one of them compassionately gave him a small soft-furred skin of some wild animal, and fastened it on him like a cloak; and this he was compelled to wear with shame and grief, feeling very strange and uncomfortable in it. But the feeling of discomfort in that new savage dress was nothing to the sense of injury that stung him, and in his secret heart he was determined not to lose his own clothes.
When the children went out next day he followed them, watching and waiting for a chance to recover anything that belonged to him; and at last, seeing the little boy who wore his cap off his guard, he made a sudden rush, and snatching it off the young savage's head, put it firmly upon his own. But the little savage now regarded that cap as his very own: he had taken it by force or stratagem, and had worn it on his head since the day before, and that made it his property; and so at Martin he went, and they fought stoutly together, and being nearly of a size, he could not conquer the little white boy. Then he cried out to the others to help him, and they came and overthrew Martin, and deprived him not only of his cap, but of his little skin cloak as well, and then punished him until he screamed aloud with pain. Leaving him crying on the ground, they ran back to the camp. He followed shortly afterwards, but got no sympathy, for, as a rule, grown-up savages do not trouble themselves very much about these little matters: they leave their children to settle their own disputes.
During the rest of that day Martin sulked by himself behind a great tussock of grass, refusing to eat with the others, and when one of the women went to him and offered him a piece of meat he struck it vindictively out of her hand. She only laughed a little and left him.
Now when the sun was setting, and he was beginning to feel very cold and miserable in his nakedness, the men were seen returning from the hunt; but instead of riding slowly to the camp as on other days, they came riding furiously and shouting. The moment they were seen and their shouts heard the women jumped up and began hastily packing the skins and all their belongings into bundles; and in less than ten minutes the whole company was mounted on horseback and ready for flight. One of the men picked Martin up and placed him on the horse's back before him, and then they all started at a swift canter up the valley towards that great blue forest in the distance.
In about an hour they came to it: it was then quite dark, the sky powdered with numberless stars; but when they got among the trees the blue, dusky sky and brilliant stars disappeared from sight, as if a black cloud had come over them, so dark was it in the forest. For the trees were very tall and mingled their branches overhead; but they had got into a narrow path known to them, and moving slowly in single file, they kept on for about two hours longer, then stopped and dismounted under the great trees, and lying down all close together, went to sleep. Martin, lying among them, crept under the edge of one of the large skin robes and, feeling warm, he soon fell fast asleep and did not wake till daylight.
ALONE IN THE GREAT FOREST
Imagine to yourself one accustomed to live in the great treeless plain, accustomed to open his eyes each morning to the wide blue sky and the brilliant sunlight, now for the first time opening them in that vast gloomy forest, where neither wind nor sunlight came, and no sound was heard, and twilight lasted all day long! All round him were trees with straight, tall grey trunks, and behind and beyond them yet other trees—trees everywhere that stood motionless like pillars of stone supporting the dim green roof of foliage far above. It was like a vast gloomy prison in which he had been shut, and he longed to make his escape to where he could see the rising sun and feel the fanning wind on his cheeks. He looked round at the others: they were all stretched on the ground still in a deep sleep, and it frightened him a little to look at their great, broad, dark faces framed in masses of black hair. He felt that he hated them, for they had treated him badly: the children had taken his clothes, compelling him to go naked, and had beaten and bruised him, and he had not been pitied and helped by their elders. By and by, very quietly and cautiously he crept away from among them, and made his escape into the gloomy wood. On one side the forest shadows looked less dark than the other, and on that side he went, for it was the side on which the sun rose, and the direction he had been travelling when he first met with the savages. On and on he went, over the thick bed of dark decaying leaves, which made no rustling sound, looking like a little white ghost of a boy in that great gloomy wood. But he came to no open place, nor did he find anything to eat when hunger pressed him; for there were no sweet roots and berries there, nor any plant that he had ever seen before. It was all strange and gloomy, and very silent. Not a leaf trembled; for if one had trembled near him he would have heard it whisper in that profound stillness that made him hold his breath to listen. But sometimes at long intervals the silence would be broken by a sound that made him start and stand still and wonder what had caused it. For the rare sounds in the forest were unlike any sounds he had heard before. Three or four times during the day a burst of loud, hollow, confused laughter sounded high up among the trees; but he saw nothing, although most likely the creature that had laughed saw him plainly enough from its hiding-place in the deep shadows as it ran up the trunks of the trees.
At length he came to a river about thirty or forty yards wide; and this was the same river that he had bathed in many leagues further down in the open valley. It is called by the savages Co-viota-co-chamanga, which means that it runs partly in the dark and partly in the light. Here it was in the dark. The trees grew thick and tall on its banks, and their wide branches met and intermingled above its waters that flowed on without a ripple, black to the eye as a river of ink. How strange it seemed when, holding on to a twig, he bent over and saw himself reflected—a white, naked child with a scared face—in that black mirror! Overcome by thirst, he ventured to creep down and dip his hand in the stream, and was astonished to see that the black water looked as clear as crystal in his hollow hand. After quenching his thirst he went on, following the river now, for it had made him turn aside; but after walking for an hour or more he came to a great tree that had fallen across the stream, and climbing on to the slippery trunk, he crept cautiously over and then went gladly on in the old direction.
Now, after he had crossed the river and walked a long distance, he came to a more open part; but though it was nice to feel the sunshine on him again, the underwood and grass and creepers trailing over the ground made it difficult and tiring to walk, and in this place a curious thing happened. Picking his way through the tangled herbage, an animal his footsteps had startled scuttled away in great fear, and as it went he caught a glimpse of it. It was a kind of weasel, but very large—larger than a big tom-cat, and all over as black as the blackest cat. Looking down he discovered that this strange animal had been feasting on eggs. The eggs were nearly as large as fowls', of a deep green colour, with polished shells. There had been about a dozen in the nest, which was only a small hollow in the ground lined with dry grass, but most of them had been broken, and the contents devoured by the weasel. Only two remained entire, and these he took, and tempted by his hunger, soon broke the shells at the small end and sucked them clean. They were raw, but never had eggs, boiled, fried, or poached, tasted so nice before! He had just finished his meal, and was wishing that a third egg had remained in the ruined nest, when a slight sound like the buzzing of an insect made him look round, and there, within a few feet of him, was the big black weasel once more, looking strangely bold and savage-tempered. It kept staring fixedly at Martin out of its small, wicked, beady black eyes, and snarling so as to show its white sharp teeth; and very white they looked by contrast with the black lips, and nose, and hair. Martin stared back at it, but it kept moving and coming nearer, now sitting straight up, then dropping its fore-feet and gathering its legs in a bunch as if about to spring, and finally stretching itself straight out towards him again, its round flat head and long smooth body making it look like a great black snake crawling towards him. And all the time it kept on snarling and clicking its sharp teeth and uttering its low, buzzing growl. Martin grew more and more afraid, it looked so strong and angry, so unspeakably fierce. The creature looked as if he was speaking to Martin, saying something very easy to understand, and very dreadful to hear. This is what it seemed to be saying:—
"Ha, you came on me unawares, and startled me away from the nest I found! You have eaten the last two eggs; and I found them, and they were mine! Must I go hungry for you—starveling, robber! A miserable little boy alone and lost in the forest, naked, all scratched and bleeding with thorns, with no courage in his heart, no strength in his hands! Look at me! I am not weak, but strong and black and fierce; I live here—this is my home; I fear nothing; I am like a serpent, and like brass and tempered steel—nothing can bruise or break me: my teeth are like fine daggers; when I strike them into the flesh of any creature I never loose my hold till I have sucked out all the blood in his heart. But you, weak little wretch, I hate you! I thirst for your blood for stealing my food from me! What can you do to save yourself? Down, down on the ground, chicken-heart, where I can get hold of you! You shall pay me for the eggs with your life! I shall hold you fast by the throat, and drink and drink until I see your glassy eyes close, and your cheeks turn whiter than ashes, and I feel your heart flutter like a leaf in your bosom! Down, down!"
It was terrible to watch him and seem to hear such words. He was nearer now—scarcely a yard away, still with his beady glaring eyes fixed on Martin's face: and Martin was powerless to fly from him—powerless even to stir a step or to lift a hand. His heart jumped so that it choked him, his hair stood up on his head, and he trembled so that he was ready to fall. And at last, when about to fall to the ground, in the extremity of his terror, he uttered a great scream of despair; and the sudden scream so startled the weasel, that he jumped up and scuttled away as fast as he could through the creepers and bushes, making a great rustling over the dead leaves and twigs; and Martin, recovering his strength, listened to that retreating sound as it passed away into the deep shadows, until it ceased altogether.
THE FLOWER AND THE SERPENT
His escape from the horrible black animal made Martin quite happy, in spite of hunger and fatigue, and he pushed on as bravely as ever. But it was slow going and very difficult, even painful in places, on account of the rough thorny undergrowth, where he had to push and crawl through the close bushes, and tread on ground littered with old dead prickly leaves and dead thorny twigs. After going on for about an hour in this way, he came to a stream, a branch of the river he had left, and much shallower, so that he could easily cross from side to side, and he could also see the bright pebbles under the clear swift current. The stream appeared to run from the east, the way he wished to travel towards the hills, so that he could keep by it, which he wras glad enough to do, as it was nice to get a drink of water whenever he felt thirsty, and to refresh his tired and sore little feet in the stream.
Following this water he came before very long to a place in the forest where there was little or no underwood, but only low trees and bushes scattered about, and all the ground moist and very green and fresh like a water-meadow. It was indeed pleasant to feel his feet on the soft carpet of grass, and stooping, he put his hands down on it, and finally lying down he rolled on it so as to have the nice sensation of the warm soft grass all over his body. So agreeable was it lying and rolling about in that open green place with the sweet sunshine on him, that he felt no inclination to get up and travel on. It was so sweet to rest after all his strivings and sufferings in that great dark forest! So sweet was it that he pretty soon fell asleep, and no doubt slept a long time, for when he woke, the sun, which had been over his head, was now far down in the west. It was very still, and the air warm and fragrant at that hour, with the sun shining through the higher branches of the trees on the green turf where he was lying. How green it was—the grass, the trees, every tiny blade and every leaf was like a piece of emerald green glass with the sun shining through it! So wonderful did it seem to him—the intense greenness, the brilliant sunbeams that shone into his eyes, and seemed to fill him with brightness, and the stillness of the forest, that he sat up and stared about him. What did it mean—that brightness and stillness?
Then, at a little distance away, he caught sight of something on a tree of a shining golden yellow colour. Jumping up he ran to the tree, and found that it was half overgrown with a very beautiful climbing plant, with leaves divided like the fingers of a hand, and large flowers and fruit, both green and ripe. The ripe fruit was as big as a duck's egg, and the same shape, and of a shining yellow colour. Reaching up his hand he began to feel the smooth lovely fruit, when, being very ripe, it came off its stem into his hand. It smelt very nice, and then, in his hunger, he bit through the smooth rind with his teeth, and it tasted as nice as it looked. He quickly ate it, and then pulled another and ate that, and then another, and still others, until he could eat no more. He had not had so delicious a meal for many a long day.
Not until he had eaten his fill did Martin begin to look closely at the flowers on the plant. It was the passion-flower, and he had never seen it before, and now that he looked well at it he thought it the loveliest and strangest flower he had ever beheld; not brilliant and shining, jewel-like, in the sun, like the scarlet verbena of the plains, or some yellow flower, but pale and misty, the petals being of a dim greenish cream-colour, with a large blue circle in the centre; and the blue, too, was misty like the blue haze in the distance on a summer day. To see and admire it better he reached out his hand and tried to pluck one of the flowers; then in an instant he dropped his hand, as if he had been pricked by a thorn. But there was no thorn and nothing to hurt him; he dropped his hand only because he felt that he had hurt the flower. Moving a step back he stared at it, and the flower seemed like a thing alive that looked back at him, and asked him why he had hurt it.
"O, poor flower!" said Martin, and, coming closer he touched it gently with his finger-tips; and then, standing on tiptoe, he touched its petals with his lips, just as his mother had often and often kissed his little hand when he had bruised it or pricked it with a thorn.
Then, while still standing by the plant, on bringing his eyes down to the ground he spied a great snake lying coiled up on a bed of moss on the sunny side of the same tree where the plant was growing. He remembered the dear little snake he had once made a friend of, and he did not feel afraid, for he thought that all snakes must be friendly towards him, although this was a very big one, thicker than his arm and of a different colour. It was a pale olive-green, like the half-dry moss it was lying on, with a pattern of black and brown mottling along its back. It was lying coiled round and round, with its flat arrow-shaped head resting on its coils, and its round bright eyes fixed on Martin's face. The sun shining on its eyes made them glint like polished jewels or pieces of glass, and when Martin moved nearer and stood still, or when he drew back and went to this side or that, those brilliant glinting eyes were still on his face, and it began to trouble him, until at last he covered his face with his hands. Then he opened his fingers enough to peep through them, and still those glittering eyes were fixed on him.
Martin wondered if the snake was vexed with him for coming there, and why it watched him so steadily with those shining eyes. "Will you please look some other way?" he said at last, but the snake would not, and so he turned from it, and then it seemed to him that everything was alive and watching him in the same intent way—the passion-flowers, the green leaves, the grass, the trees, the wide sky, the great shining sun. He listened, and there was no sound in the wood, not even the hum of a fly or wild bee, and it was so still that not a leaf moved. Finally he moved away from that spot, but treading very softly, and holding his breath to listen, for it seemed to him that the forest had something to tell him, and that if he listened he would hear the leaves speaking to him. And by-and-by he did hear a sound: it came from a spot about a hundred yards away, and was like the sound of a person crying. Then came low sobs which rose and fell and then ceased, and after a silent interval began again. Perhaps it was a child, lost there in the forest like himself. Going softly to the spot he discovered that the sobbing sounds came from the other side of a low tree with widespread branches, a kind of acacia with thin loose foliage, but he could not see through it, and so he went round the tree to look, and startled a dove which flew off with a loud clatter of its wings.
When the dove had flown away it was again very silent. What was he to do? He was too tired now to walk much farther, and the sun was getting low, so that all the ground was in shadow. He went on a little way looking for some nice shelter where he could pass the night, but could not find one. At length, when the sun had set and the dark was coming, he came upon an old half-dead tree, where there was a hollow at the roots, lined with half dry moss, very soft to his foot, and it seemed a nice place to sleep in. But he had no choice, for he was afraid of going further in the dark among the trees; and so, creeping into the hollow among the old roots, he curled himself up as comfortably as he could, and soon began to get very drowsy, in spite of having no covering to keep him warm. But although very tired and sleepy, he did not go quite to sleep, for he had never been all alone in a wood by night before, and it was different from the open plain where he could see all round, even at night, and where he had feared nothing. Here the trees looked strange and made strange black shadows, and he thought that the strange people of the wood were perhaps now roaming about and would find him there. He did not want them to find him fast asleep; it was better to be awake, so that when they came he could jump up and run away and hide himself from them. Once or twice a slight rustling sound made him start and think that at last some one was coming to him, stealing softly so as to catch him unawares, but he could see nothing moving, and when he held his breath to listen there was no sound.
Then all at once, just when he had almost dropped off, a great cry sounded at a distance, and made him start up wide awake again. "O look! look! look!" cried the voice in a tone so deep and strange and powerful that no one could have heard it without terror, for it seemed to be uttered by some forest monster twenty times bigger than an ordinary man. In a moment an answer came from another part of the wood. "What's that?" cried the answering voice; and then another voice cried, and then others far and near, all shouting "What's that?" and for only answer the first voice shouted once more, "O look! look! look!"
Poor Martin, trembling with fright, crouched lower down in his mossy bed, thinking that the awful people of the forest must have seen him, and would be upon him in a few moments. But though he stared with wide-open eyes into the gloom he could see nothing but the trees, standing silent and motionless, and no sound of approaching footsteps could he hear.
After that it was silent again for a while, and he began to hope that they had given up looking for him; when suddenly, close by, sounded a loud startling "Who's that?" and he gave himself up for lost. For he was too terrified to jump up and run away, as he had thought to do: he could only lie still, his teeth chattering, his hair standing up on his head. "Who's that?" exclaimed the terrible voice once more, and then he saw a big black shape drop down from the tree above and settle on a dead branch a few feet above his hiding-place. It was a bird—a great owl, for now he could see it, sharply outlined against the clear starry sky; and the bird had seen and was peering curiously at him. And now all his fear was gone, for he could not be afraid of an owl; he had been accustomed to see owls all his life, only they were small, and this owl of the forest was as big as an eagle, and had a round head and ears like a cat, and great cat-like eyes that shone in the dark.
The owl kept staring at Martin for some time, swaying his body this way and that, and lowering then raising his head so as to get a better view. And Martin, on his side, stared back at the owl, and at last he exclaimed, "O what a great big owl you are! Please say Who's that? again."
But before the owl said anything Martin was fast asleep in his mossy bed.
THE BLACK PEOPLE OF THE SKY
Whether or not the great owl went on shouting O look! look! look! and asking What's that? and Who's that? all night, Martin did not know. He was fast asleep until the morning sun shone on his face and woke him, and as he had no clothes and shoes to put on he was soon up and out. First he took a drink of water, then, feeling very hungry he went back to the place where he had found the ripe fruit and made a very good breakfast. After that he set out once more through the wood towards sunrise, still following the stream. Before long the wood became still more open, and at last to his great joy he found that he had got clear of it, and was once more on the great open plain. And now the hills were once more in sight—those great blue hills where he wished to be, looking nearer and larger than before, but they still looked blue like great banks of cloud and were a long distance away. But he was determined to get to them, to climb up their steep sides, and by and by when he found the stream bent away to the south, he left it so as to go on straight as he could to the hills. Away from the water-side the ground was higher, and very flat and covered with dry yellow grass. Over this yellow plain he walked for hours, resting at times, but finding no water and no sweet roots to quench his thirst, until he was too tired to walk any further, and so he sat down on the dry grass under that wide blue sky. There was not a cloud on it—nothing but the great globe of the sun above him; and there was no wind and no motion in the yellow grass blades, and no sight or sound of any living creature.
Martin lying on his back gazed up at the blue sky, keeping his eyes from the sun, which was too bright for them, and after a time he did see something moving—a small black spot no bigger than a fly moving in a circle. But he knew it was something big, but at so great a height from the earth as to look like a fly. And then he caught sight of a second black speck, then another and another, until he could make out a dozen or twenty, or more, all moving in wide circles at that vast height.
Martin thought they must be the black people of the sky; he wondered why they were black and not white, like white birds, or blue, and of other brilliant colours like the people of the Mirage.
Now it was impossible for Martin to lie like that, following those small black spots on the hot blue sky as they wheeled round and round continuously, without giving his eyes a little rest by shutting them at intervals. By-and-by he kept them shut a little too long; he fell asleep, and when he woke he didn't wake fully in a moment; he remained lying motionless just as before, with eyes still closed, but the lids just raised enough to enable him to see about him. And the sight that met his eyes was very curious. He was no longer alone in that solitary place. There were people all round him, dozens and scores of little black men about two feet in height, of a very singular appearance. They had bald heads and thin hatchet faces, wrinkled and warty, and long noses; and they all wore black silk clothes—coat, waistcoat and knickerbockers, but without shoes and stockings; their thin black legs and feet were bare; nor did they have anything on their bald heads. They were gathered round Martin in a circle, but a very wide circle quite twenty to thirty feet away from him, and some were walking about, others standing alone or in groups, talking together, and all looking at Martin. Only one who appeared to be the most important person of the company kept inside the circle, and whenever one or more of the others came forward a few steps he held up his hand and begged them to go back a little.
"We must not be in a hurry," he said. "We must wait."
"Wait for what?" asked one.
"For what may happen," said the important one. "I must ask you again to leave it to me to decide when it is time to begin." Then he strutted up and down in the open space, turning now towards his fellows and again to Martin, moving his head about to get a better sight of his face. Then, putting his hand down between his coat and waistcoat he drew out a knife with a long shining blade, and holding it from him looked attentively at it. By and by he breathed gently on the bright blade, then pulling out a black silk pocket handkerchief wiped off the stain of his breath, and turning the blade about made it glitter in the sun. Then he put it back under his coat and resumed his walk up and down.
"We are getting very hungry," said one of the others at length.
"Very hungry indeed!" cried another. "Some of us have not tasted food these three days."
"It certainly does seem hard," said yet another, "to see our dinner before us and not be allowed to touch it."
"Not so fast, my friends, I beg," exclaimed the man with the knife. "I have already explained the case, and I do think you are a little unfair in pressing me as you do."
Thus rebuked they consulted together, then one of them spoke. "If, sir, you consider us unfair, or that we have not full confidence in you, would it not be as well to get some other person to take your place?"
"Yes, I am ready to do that," returned the important one promptly; and here, drawing forth the knife once more, he held it out towards them. But instead of coming forward to take it they all recoiled some steps, showing considerable alarm. And then they all began protesting that they were not complaining of him, that they were satisfied with their choice, and could not have put the matter in abler hands.
"I am pleased at your good opinion," said the important one. "I may tell you that I am no chicken. I first saw the light in September, 1739, and, as you know, we are now within seven months and thirteen days of the end of the first decade of the second half of the nineteenth century. You may infer from this that I have had a pretty extensive experience, and I promise you that when I come to cut the body up you will not be able to say that I have made an unfair distribution, or that any one has been left without his portion."
All murmured approval, and then one of the company asked if he would be allowed to bespeak the liver for his share.
"No, sir, certainly not," replied the other. "Such matters must be left to my discretion entirely, and I must also remind you that there is such a thing as the carver's privilege, and it is possible that in this instance he may think fit to retain the liver for his own consumption."
After thus asserting himself he began to examine the blade of his knife which he still held in his hand, and to breathe gently on it, and wipe it with his handkerchief to make it shine brighter in the sun. Finally, raising his arm, he flourished it and then made two or three stabs and lunges in the air, then walking on tiptoe he adyanced to Martin lying so still on the yellow grass in the midst of that black-robed company, the hot sun shining on his naked white body.
The others all immediately pressed forward, craning their necks and looking highly excited: they were expecting great things; but when the man with a knife had got quite close to Martin he was seized with fear and made two or three long jumps back to where the others were; and then, recovering from his alarm, he quietly put back the knife under his coat.
"We really thought you were going to begin," said one of the crowd.
"Oh no; no indeed; not just yet," said the other.
"It is very disappointing," remarked one.
The man with the knife turned on him and replied with dignity, "I am really surprised at such a remark after all I have said on the subject. I do wish you would consider the circumstances of the case. They are peculiar, for this person—this Martin—is not an ordinary person. We have been keeping our eyes on him for some time past, and have witnessed some remarkable actions on his part, to put it mildly. Let us keep in mind the boldness, the resource, the dangerous violence he has displayed on so many occasions since he took to his present vagabond way of life."
"It appears to me," said one of the others, "that if Martin is dead we need not concern ourselves about his character and desperate deeds in the past."
"If he is dead!" exclaimed the other sharply. "That is the very point,—is he dead? Can you confidently say that he is not in a sound sleep, or in a dead faint, or shamming and ready at the first touch of the knife to leap up and seize his assailant—I mean his carver—by the throat and perhaps murder him as he once murdered a spoonbill?"
"That would be very dreadful," said one.
"But surely," said another, "there are means of telling whether a person is dead or not? One simple and effectual method, which I have heard, is to place a hand over the heart to feel if it still beats."
"Yes, I know, I have also heard of that plan. Very simple, as you say; but who is to try it? I invite the person who makes the suggestion to put it in practice."
"With pleasure," said the other, coming forward with a tripping gait and an air of not being in the least afraid. But on coming near the supposed corpse he paused to look round at the others, then pulling out his black silk handkerchief he wiped his black wrinkled forehead and bald head. "Whew!" he exclaimed, "it's very hot to-day."
"I don't find it so," said the man with the knife. "It is sometimes a matter of nerves."
It was not a very nice remark, but it had the effect of bracing the other up, and moving forward a little more he began anxiously scrutinizing Martin's face. The others now began to press forward, but were warned by the man with a knife not to come too near. Then the bold person who had undertaken to feel Martin's heart doubled back the silk sleeve of his coat, and after some further preparation extended his arm and made two or three preliminary passes with his trembling hand at a distance of a foot or so from the breast of the corpse. Then he approached it a little nearer, but before it came to the touching point a sudden fear made him start back.