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HOLIDAYS AT THE GRANGE, OR A WEEK'S DELIGHT.
Games and Stories for Parlor and Fireside.
EMILY MAYER HIGGINS.
Philadelphia: Porter & Coates. Copyright, 1886, by Porter & Coates.
CHAPTER I. PAGE The Gathering.—Christmas Eve.—"Consequences."—"How do you like it?" 9
Christmas Day.—"Rhymes."—"Cento."—"Genteel Lady."—The Fairy Wood. 21
"The Rhyming Game."—Orikama, or the White Water-Lily; an Indian Tale. 62
"Proverbs."—"Twenty Questions."—The Spectre of Alcantra, or the Conde's Daughters; a Tale of Spain. 98
A Skating Adventure.—"What is my Thought like?"—"Questions."—The Orphan's Tale, or the Vicissitudes of Fortune. 140
Sunday.—Bible Stories.—"Capping Bible Verses."—Bible-Class. 181
Sequel to the Orphan's Tale.—"Who can he be?"—"Elements."—The Astrologers. 206
"Confidante."—"Lead-Merchant."—"Trades."—The Rose of Hesperus; a Fairy Tale. 246
New-Year's Day.—"Characters, or Who am I?"—"Quotations."—"Acting Charades."—"Riddles." 281
Whispering Gallery.—Potentates.—Three Young Men. 295
GAMES AND STORIES.
THE GATHERING.—CHRISTMAS EVE.—CONSEQUENCES.—HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?
Not many miles from Philadelphia, in a beautifully wooded and hilly country, may be seen a large rambling mansion, whose substantial walls show that it was built at a time when more attention was paid to the durability of dwellings than at present. It is, indeed, quite an ancient house for this part of the world, having been erected by a certain John Wyndham, a hundred years ago; and it has remained in the family ever since, the owner of it generally inheriting the name of John, a taste for rural life, and the old homestead together. It was constructed in good taste, and with great regard for comfort; the broad hall, the favorite resort in summer, was ornamented with family portraits of many ages back, and a complete suit of armor, visor and all, struck awe into the hearts of young visitors, who almost expected its former occupant to resume possession, with his gauntleted hand to draw the sword from its scabbard, and, seizing the flag over his head, to drive the modern usurpers from the house. Large antlers, bows and arrows, and rusty fowling-pieces against the wall, intimated that the descendants of the grim warrior had exercised their valor in the chase; while a guitar with blue ribbon, in the corner, told that gentler days had come, and spoke of peace, domestic joys, and woman's influence.
Many were the bright sunshiny chambers in that cheerful home; but I will describe one apartment only, the sitting-room, with which we are chiefly concerned. The furniture is quaint and massive; but it is the rich mellow light streaming through the room that principally attracts the eye. Is it the western sun, tinted by the colored glass of the bay-window, or is it the ruddy hickory fire? What a remarkable chimney-place! few such can be seen now-a-days; they had gone out of date a hundred years ago; but it was ancient John Wyndham's fancy, as far as possible, to possess a fac-simile of the family mansion in England, in which his childish days had been spent. What elaborate carving upon the huge mantel-piece!—hunters with their guns and dogs; shepherds and shepherdesses, with crooks and sheep; scriptural scenes and rural incidents, afford endless amusement to the groups gathered before the fire. Before, did I say? around, is the right expression; for so large is the chimney, that while crackling up-piled logs blaze upon the hearth, a number might be accommodated on the benches at the side, as well as in front. It is the most sociable gathering-place in the world, and the stiffest and most formal person would soon relax there; while fingers are thawed, hearts are melted by that fire—warm and kind affections are drawn out—sparkles of wit fly about the room, as if in emulation of the good hickory: it is a chimney corner most provocative of ancient legends, of frightful ghost-stories, of tales of knight-errantry and romantic love, of dangers and of hair-breadth escapes; in short, of all that can draw both old and young away from their every-day cares, into the brighter world of fiction and poesy. In the recess on one side is a small library, comfortable enough to entice the student from the merry group so near him; on the other, is a room looked upon with great affection by the juvenile members of the family, for here does Aunt Lucy manufacture and keep for distribution those delicious cakes, never to be refused at lunch time; and those pies, jellies, whips, and creams, which promise to carry down her name to posterity as the very nonpareil of housekeepers.
Three persons are sitting in the room, whom in common politeness I should introduce to the reader: very pleasant people are they to know and to visit. Uncle John and Aunt Lucy Wyndham, the master and mistress of the house, are remarkable for kindness, and make their nephews and nieces, and whole troops of friends, feel perfectly at home at once; they are Uncle John and Aunt Lucy to all their young acquaintances, and delight in the title. Perhaps they would not have been generally called so, had they any children of their own; but they have none, and the only young person in the house at present is Mary Dalton—Cousin Mary—an orphan niece of Mrs. Wyndham, whom they have brought up from a child. She looks like her aunt, plump, rosy, good natured and sensible; she is just seventeen, and very popular with the whole cousinhood. She has many accomplishments: she does not talk French, Spanish, or Italian, but she knows how to play every game that ever was invented, can tell stories to suit every age, can soothe a screaming child sooner than any one else, can rattle off cotillions on the piano-forte of a winter's evening without thinking it hard that she cannot join in the dance; and lastly, can lay down an interesting book or piece of crochet work to run on an errand for Aunt, or untangle the bob-tails of a kite, without showing any signs of crossness. Self is a very subordinate person with her, and indeed she seems hardly to realize her separate individuality; she is everybody's Cousin Mary, and frowns vanish, and smiles brighten up the countenance, wherever she appears. A very happy looking group they are, but restless, this afternoon of the 24th of December; Uncle John frequently goes to the hall door; Aunt Lucy lays down her knitting to listen; and Cousin Mary does not pretend to read the book she holds, but gazes out of the window, down the long avenue of elms, as if she expected an arrival. Old Caesar, "the last of the servants," as Mr. Wyndham styles him, a white-haired negro who was born in the house, and is devoted to the family, always speaking of our house, our carriage, and our children, as if he were chief owner, vibrates constantly between the kitchen and the porter's lodge, feeling it to be his especial duty and prerogative to give the first welcome to the guests.
And soon the sound of wheels is heard, and merry voices resound through the hall, and cheeks rosy with the cold are made yet rosier by hearty kisses; it is the young Wyndhams, come to spend their Christmas holidays at the Grange with Uncle John. There is Cornelia, a bright, intelligent girl of sixteen, full of fun, with sparkling black eyes. John, a boy of fourteen, matter-of fact and practical, a comical miniature of Uncle John, whom he regards with veneration, as the greatest, wisest, and best of living men, and only slightly inferior to General Washington himself; and George, his twin brother and very devoted friend, a good boy in the main, but so very full of mischief! he would get into a thousand scrapes, if his more sober companion did not restrain him. We must not overlook little Amy, the sweet child of twelve, with flowing golden hair and languishing eyes, the gentle, unspoiled pet and playmate of all. Her cheek is pale, for she has ever been the delicate flower of the family, and the winter winds must not visit her too roughly: she is one to be carefully nurtured. And the more so, as her mind is highly imaginative and much in advance of her age; already does the light of genius shine forth in her eye. Scarcely are these visitors well ensconced in the chimney corner, after their fur wrappings are removed, before the sound of wheels is again heard, and shouts of joy announce the arrival of the Greens. That tall, slender, intellectual girl, with pale oval face and expressive eyes, is Ellen. Her cousins are very proud of her, for she has just returned from boarding-school with a high character for scholarship, and has carried away the prize medal for poetry from all competitors; the children think that she can speak every language, and she is really a refined and accomplished girl. She has not seen Mary or Cornelia for a couple of years, and great are the rejoicings at their meeting; they are warm friends already. Her manly brother Tom, although younger, looks older than she does: a fine, handsome fellow he is. The younger Greens are almost too numerous to particularize; Harry and Louis, Anna and Gertrude—merry children all, noisy and frolicsome, but well-inclined and tolerably submissive to authority; they ranged from nine years old, upward. Just as the sun was setting, and Aunt Lucy had almost given them up, the third family of cousins arrived, the Boltons. Charlie Bolton is the elder of the two—he will be called Charlie to the end of his days, if he live to be a white-haired grandfather, he is so pleasant and full of fun, so ready with his joke and merry laugh; he is Cornelia's great friend and ally, and the two together would keep any house wide awake. His sister Alice is rather sentimental, for which she is heartily laughed at by her harum-skarum brother; but she is at an age when girls are apt to take this turn—fourteen; she will leave it all behind her when she is older. Sentimentality may be considered the last disease of childhood; measles, hooping-cough, and scarlatina having been successfully overcome, if the girl passes through this peril unscathed, and no weakness is left in her mental constitution, she will probably be a woman of sane body and mind. Alice is much given to day-dreams, and to reading novels by stealth; she is very romantic, and would dearly love to be a heroine, if she could. The only objection to the scheme, in her mind, is that her eyes have a very slight cast, and that her nose is un petit nez retrousse—in other words, something of a pug; and Alice has always been under the impression that a heroine must have straight vision, and a Grecian nose. Hers is a face that will look very arch and piquante, when she acquires more sense, and lays aside her lack-a-daisical airs; but, at present, the expression and the features are very incongruous. It is excessively mortifying! but it cannot be helped; many times a day does she cast her eyes on the glass, but the obstinate pug remains a pug, and Alice is forced to conclude that she is not intended for a heroine. Yet she always holds herself ready for any marvellous adventure that may turn up, and she is perfectly convinced that there must be concealed doors, long winding passages in the walls, and perhaps a charmingly horrible dungeon, at The Grange. Why not? Such things are of constant occurrence in story books, and that house is the oldest one she knows. She is determined on this visit to explore it thoroughly, and perhaps she may become the happy discoverer of a casket of jewels, or a skeleton, or some other treasure.
Thirteen young people there are in all, with pleasant faces and joyful hearts; and none of them, I am happy to say were of the perfect sort you read of in books. Had they been, their Aunt Lucy, who was used to real children, would have entertained serious fears for their longevity. They all required a caution or a reprimand now and then, and none were so wise as not to make an occasional silly speech, or to do a heedless action. But they were good-tempered and obliging, as healthy children should always be, and were seldom cross unless they felt a twinge of toothache. How fast did their tongues run, that first hour! How much had all to tell, and how much to hear! And how happy did Uncle John appear, as he sat in the centre of the group, with little Amy on his lap, leaning her languid head against his broad and manly chest, while a cluster of the younger ones contended together for possession of the unoccupied knee.
After the hearty, cheerful country supper, the whole party of visitors was escorted into a dark room adjoining the hall, while Aunt Lucy and Cousin Mary were engaged in certain preparations, well understood by the older guests, who were too discreet to allay the curiosity of the younger ones, who for the first time were allowed to share the hospitality of the Grange at Christmas. At last the folding-doors were thrown open, and the hall appeared to be in a blaze of light; colored lamps were suspended in festoons from the ceiling, showing how prettily the old portraits were adorned with evergreens. Even the man in armor looked less grim, as if his temper was mollified by the ivy wreath wound around his helmet. But the chief object of interest was a stately tree at the end of the hall, from whose trunk proceeded thirteen branches, brilliantly illuminated with wax lights and pendant lamps of various hues; while gilded fruit, and baskets of flowers and confectionary, looked to the uninitiated as if the fairies themselves had been at work. Many were the exclamations of delight, and intense the excitement; the old hall echoed with the shouts of the boys. Uncle John, ever happy in the enjoyment of others, declared that he believed himself to be the youngest child there, and that he enjoyed the revels of Christmas Eve more than any of them.
When the noise and rapture had somewhat subsided, Cousin Mary proposed that they should try some games, by way of variety. Chess, checkers, backgammon, Chinese puzzles, dominoes, jack-straws, etc., were mentioned, and each one of them was declared by different members of the group to be exceedingly entertaining; but Charlie Bolton said that "although he was neither Grand Turk nor perpetual Dictator, he must put his veto upon all such games as being of an unsocial nature. It was all very well, when only two persons were together, to amuse themselves with such things; but for his part, he did hate to see people ride in sulkies, and play solitaire, when they could have such agreeable society as was there gathered together;" making, as he spoke, a dashing bow to the girls. "Has not any one wit enough to think of a game at which we can all assist?"
"Do you know how to play 'Consequences?'" said Mary.
"I never heard of it," replied Cornelia; "how do you play it?"
"With paper and pencils. Here is my writing-desk full of paper, and my drawing-box with pencils ready sharpened, and you have nothing to do but all to write according to my directions, and doubling down the paper, to hand it to a neighbor, so that each time you have a different slip. When it is finished, I will read them aloud, supplying some words which will make sense—or, what is much better, arrant nonsense—of the whole. So begin by writing a term descriptive of a gentleman."
"Now write a gentleman's name—some one you know, or some distinguished person."
"Next, an adjective descriptive of a lady."
"And now, a lady's name."
"Mention a place, and describe it."
"Now write down some date, or period of time when a thing might happen."
"Put a speech into the gentleman's mouth."
"Make the lady reply."
"Tell what the consequences were."
"And what the world said of it."
"And now allow me to enlighten the company. Here is one specimen:
"The gallant and accomplished Nero met the beautiful, but rather coquettish Mrs. Wyndham at Gretna Green, that place once so famous for runaway couples and matrimonial blacksmiths, upon the 4th of July, 1900 A.D. He said, 'Dearest madam, my tender heart will break if you refuse my hand;' but she replied, 'La, sir, don't talk such nonsense!' The consequences were, that their names were embalmed together in history; and the world said, 'It is exactly what I expected.'"
"Are you sure, Mary," said Mrs. Wyndham, laughing, "that you are not taking any liberties with my name?"
"Here it is ma'am, you can see it yourself; but I think you escaped very well. Here's another: "The refined and dandified Jack the Giant-Killer met the modest, retiring Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, at the Pyramids, (ah! some one peeped!) those wonderful monuments of ages long since passed away, on Christmas Day, in the year One. He said, 'I never entertained a very lofty opinion of your ladyship;' she replied, 'I perfectly agree with the noble sentiments you have just uttered: our hearts shall henceforward be united in the strictest friendship.' The consequences were that they parted, to meet no more; and the partial world remarked, 'What a pair of fools!'"
"Here is another: "The brave, daring, thoughtless King Solomon met the elegant, fashionable Queen Semiramis upon the top of Mont Blanc, that lofty mountain, crowned with perpetual snow, on the 30th of February. He remarked, 'Do you like the last style of bonnets, Madam?' She answered, 'Sir, do not press the matter. I am but young; you can speak to my papa.' The consequences were, that they took an ice-cream, and went up to the clouds in an air-balloon; and the amiable world said, 'Who would have believed it?'"
After reading all the papers, which caused much diversion, one of the party proposed playing "How do you like it." While Tom Green was waiting in another room, the remainder of the company fixed upon a word of double or treble meaning, which it was his duty to discover by the answers given to three questions he was to ask of all in succession. If unable to guess the word at the end of the third round, he would be crowned with the dunce-cap, and must recommence his questions: if, on the contrary, he hit upon the right word, the person whose answer led him to conjecture it must take his place.
"Anna," said Tom, "how do you like it? Now, don't tell me you like it very well, or not at all; give me something descriptive."
"I like it with a large capital."
"You do? Then it may either be a word, a state, a pillar, or a man of business. Cousin Alice, how do you like it?"
"I like it shady and covered with moss."
"And you, Sister Ellen?"
"With vaults secure and well filled."
"What do you say, Gertrude?"
"I like it covered with violets."
"How do you prefer it, Charlie?"
"With a good board of directors."
"And you, Amy?"
"Covered with strong and skilful rowers."
"What is your preference, George?"
"I like it high and picturesque."
"How do you like it, John?"
"With numerous branches."
"It can't be a tree—how do you like it, Mary?"
"And you, Harry?"
"Of red brick or white marble."
"How contradictory! What have you to answer, Cornelia?"
"I like it steep and rocky."
"And you, Louis?"
"I like it warranted not to break."
"When do you like it, Anna?"
"When I have an account in it."
"When do you like it, Alice?"
"When I am in the country, and feel weary."
"And you, Ellen?"
"When I hold a check in my hand."
"And you, Gertrude?"
"In the spring of the year, when I feel languid and sentimental."
"When do you prefer it, Charlie?"
"When I want a loan, and can give good security."
"And you, Amy?"
"When I am in a boat, and becalmed."
"And you, George?"
"When I am at sea, anxiously looking out for land."
"What say you, John?"
"When I am a merchant, engaged in large transactions."
"When do you like it, Mary?"
"When my eye is weary of a flat, dull country."
"And you, Harry?"
"When I am a stockholder."
"So I should think, if it paid a good dividend. And if I were to ask you my third question, 'Where will you put it!' one would place it under an umbrageous tree, another by the sea, a third by a river, and a fourth on a good business street, near the Exchange. My good friends, I would be dull indeed if I did not guess it to be a BANK; and you, Sister Ellen, may take my place; your well-filled vaults first gave me the clue."
After amusing themselves a little longer, they adjourned to the sitting-room, as the tall, old-fashioned clock in the hall gave warning of the rapid flight of time; and Mary, as was her custom, brought to her uncle the large family Bible. When he opened the holy book, the very youngest and wildest of the children listened with reverence to the solemn words, and tried to join in the thanks which the good man offered up to Heaven for bringing them together in health and peace, and granting them so much happiness.
And then kisses and good-nights were exchanged, and the young group was scattered; but not without a parting charge to each from Aunt Lucy, "not to forget to hang up the stocking for Kriss-Kinkle, near the chimney place; and not on any account to lock their doors—for they might easily be taken sick in the night."
CHRISTMAS DAY.—RHYMES.—CENTO.—GENTEEL LADY.—THE FAIRY WOOD.
Sound were the slumbers that night at the Grange, notwithstanding the determination of little Amy to lie awake and catch Kriss-Kinkle for once; although as she said, "I know it must be Cousin Mary." Those happy days of innocence and unsuspecting faith have passed away, when children believed in a literal Kriss-Kinkle, clad in furs, and laden with presents for the good, and sticks of wood for the naughty little urchins who refuse to learn their A, B, C's, and to stand still while mamma combs out their hair. The "infantry" of America have quite given up their old-fashioned credulity, and as, according to the obsolete saying of the older philosophers, "nature abhors a vacuum," and there must be some children in the world, to keep the balance, the spirit-rappers have kindly stepped into their vacant places, and may be regarded as the true and only children on this side the Atlantic. The frightful skepticism of the young ones with regard to Kriss-Kinkle has come to such a pass, that a little girl of three years old, who had been kept, as her relations thought, in all the verdure becoming to her tender years, upon her aunt telling her that she ought not to expect many gifts that season, as it was such stormy weather that poor Kriss-Kinkle could scarcely venture out, replied: "But, Aunty! could he not take grandma's carriage—he would not get wet then!"
If the merry old soul really came down the chimney at the Grange, he shewed great discernment in the gifts he bestowed, for each found in the stocking some article that had been ardently desired. Ellen, who was deeply interested in the study of Italian, found a beautiful copy of Dante's "Divina Commedia;" Mary, who possessed a fine talent for drawing, and frequently sketched from nature, discovered that a complete set of artist's colors and brushes had fallen to her lot; George, who was devoted to skating, found a pair of skates, "real beauties," as he said, appended to his stocking; all plainly saw that their individual tastes and peculiarities had been consulted in a very gratifying manner. Of course they did not neglect to express their pleasure and gratitude to their kind friends, requesting them to inform that very worthy old gentleman, Mr. Kriss-Kinkle, of their delight at his selection. Nor were Uncle John and Aunt Lucy forgotten: their nephews and nieces had all provided some little gifts, as expressions of love. Mrs. Wyndham declared that she was quite set up in crochet bags and purses, for a year to come; and tastefully worked book-markers, with appropriate sentiments, were very plentiful. Tom Green made himself exceedingly agreeable to the whole party, by presenting to each some pretty little box, thimble-case, or other ingenious trifle, which he had made at his leisure with the aid of his turning-lathe; whereupon Charlie Bolton assumed an irresistibly ludicrous air of dejection, and asserted that he felt quite crushed by Tom's superior gallantry. "Really, a fellow is not much thought of now-a-days, unless he can do something in the pretty line. I must get a turning-lathe at once, or else learn to carve brooches out of marbles, and rings out of peach-stones, and baskets out of cherry and apricot stones. If I can't get up that much artistic talent, I might as well resign myself to complete insignificance all my life." Cornelia Wyndham highly approved of his intentions, and told him that when he had come to perfection in the fancy business, she hoped he would remember her devoted and perfectly disinterested friendship; her cousinly affection was of the warmest and truest quality, especially when there were any hopes of cherry-stone baskets.
Full of enjoyment as they were, none were too intent upon fun and frolic to neglect accompanying their kind relatives to the pretty little country church, for it was their uncle's habit to begin the day with religious exercises: he said it seemed to him ungrateful to spend it in unbroken jollity, and to forget entirely the original motive of its institution. It was a very pleasant custom, and very conducive to mutual attachment, for friends and relations to give and to receive presents: but this should be subordinate to the remembrance of God's Great Gift to the children of men, which was celebrated on that happy day. So the young people passed a unanimous vote that church-going was as regular a part of keeping Christmas as presents or mince-pie, and gladly set off to walk through the frosty air to the ivy-covered church, shaded by ancient trees. It was situated on a hill, and was approached by numerous paths running across the fields; and as Ellen gazed upon its spire, standing in relief against the deep blue sky, she thought of that beautiful line of Wordsworth,
"Pointing its taper finger up to heaven!"
The chime of bells, too, joyfully pealing out, appeared to be the voice of the church calling upon all who heard it, to return thanks to Him who blesses the families of men; it seemed to say, "Both young men and maidens, old men and children, let them praise the name of the Lord." What a mistake it is, to think of religion only as a refuge from sorrow, and a solace for the disappointments of the world! It is that, truly, but it is also the sanctifier of joy: the happy young heart should be laid upon God's altar, as well as the stricken spirit, and the eye moistened with tears. That the services of the church had not a depressing effect upon the minds of any, was very evident from the heart-felt greetings and warm shakes of the hand which were exchanged by all, as they left the house of prayer. It was a very pleasant sight to behold young and old, rich and poor, joined together in one common feeling of brotherhood, under the genial influences of the season. "A merry Christmas" seemed not only to spring from every tongue, but to sparkle in every eye.
If I were to attempt to describe the varied pleasures of that day, which was declared by Charlie Bolton to be the most glorious one he had ever spent, I should be obliged to dip my pen, not in ink, but in a solution of rainbow, or dancing sun-beams, or in any thing else that is proved to be the most joyful thing in nature. At dinner-table, after being helped the second time to a slice of "splendid" turkey with oyster sauce, little Louis Green, the youngest of the party, occasioned a general burst of laughter by laying down his knife and fork, which certainly deserved a little rest if activity ever can earn it, and leaning back in his chair, saying with the greatest earnestness: "Uncle, if I were asked to point out the very happiest time of the whole year, I would fix upon Christmas day, at exactly this hour—the dinner hour—as the thing for me!"
"O you gormandizer!" said his sister Ellen, "you don't really think the dinner the best part of the day?"
"Indeed I do, though," replied Louis; "and I rather guess a good many people are of the same opinion. And, sister Ellen, if you were a boy, and just come home from boarding-school, where they always want you to eat potatoes, I think you'd value turkey and mince-pie as much as I do! Hurra for Christmas, I say!"
There was some conversation at the dinner-table about the origin of the different modes of keeping Christmas day in our country. Mr. Wyndham remarked, that probably the reason why it was so universally kept in Philadelphia, was from the large mixture of the German element in the population of Pennsylvania: perhaps the little Swedish colony which Penn found already settled on the ground when he came over, may have had some influence, as the nations in the middle and north of Europe have always celebrated the day, making it a sort of festival of home, and fireside pleasures. He said that when he was a young man he had passed a winter in Germany, and was spending some time in the house of a friend, in the month of December: being very intimate with all the family, he had been admitted into numerous little secrets, both by young and old. He had seen beforehand the drawings and the ornamental needle-work which were intended as a surprise to the parents, and were executed after they had retired to rest; and he had been allowed to hear the new songs and pieces of instrumental music, learnt by stealth during their absence from home; and had even been privileged to hear the little boy of eight, the pet of the family, recite the verses composed in honor of the joyful occasion, by his oldest sister. And the parents, also, had their own mysteries: for a fortnight before the eventful day, the blooming, comfortable mamma rode out regularly, and returned laden with bundles, which were immediately transferred to a certain large parlor, the windows of which were carefully bolted, the door locked, and the very key-hole stopped up, so that nothing was visible. The children were sent out of the way, and then there were raps at the door, and the carrying of heavy articles along the hall, into the mysterious chamber—Blue Beard's room of horrors was not more eagerly gazed at, than was this parlor, but its blank walls told no secrets.
At length the long-expected day arrived; on Christmas Eve all were assembled in a dark room adjacent—you see I have taken a few hints from my German friends—and at last the doors being thrown open, the mystery was revealed. The room was ornamented with evergreens and colored lamps, very much in the style of our hall, and a large tree blazed with light and sparkled with candied fruits and gilded cornucopias; I made up my mind then, that if ever I had a house of my own, I would keep Christmas Eve in the same way. The little children stood a while, awe-struck by the grandeur of the spectacle: for I can tell you, young people, that the German children are kept in a state of innocence—what you would call greenness—that would amaze you. The good mother then came forward, and took them by the hand: "Come in, Carl; come in, Hermann; fear nothing, little Ida; come in and see if there is any thing here for you." Encouraged by this invitation, all entered, and the room was found to be lined with tables, piled with articles both for use and pleasure; there was a separate table for every one in the house, including the servants, who in Germany live many years in one family, and even for the baby. Their guest also was not forgotten; I found upon my table a pair of slippers, and sundry other gifts, some of which I still keep with care, as a memorial of that very happy evening.
"That must have been really charming! I think the mystery adds very much to the pleasure," said Alice. "And, uncle, is not the custom of hanging up the stocking derived from Germany?"
"I think it is. In Holland there is a little variation, for there the shoe is placed at the door of the chamber, for adults as well as children enter into the sport. I heard an amusing story connected with this practice, when I was in Holland; if you like, I will relate it; the event is said really to have happened."
"Do tell it, uncle!" said John Wyndham. "I like true stories."
"There was a poor, but very handsome and excellent young minister, a licentiate, I think they call it, when a young man is not yet settled in a church; to support himself until he was appointed to a congregation, he took the place of tutor in a rich burgomaster's family, where he fell in love with the pretty, amiable, and mischievous daughter. She fully reciprocated his feelings, and as her parents approved of the match, she gave the bashful young man all the encouragement she could: she felt very sure as to the nature of his sentiments towards her, but notwithstanding all she could do, the young man would not propose—as she rightly concluded, the thought of her superior wealth deterred him; and meantime the foolish fellow became pale and melancholy, as if he seriously meditated going into a decline. So the merry maiden thought, 'This will never do; I must take strong measures, or the poor soul will mope himself to death.' Christmas Eve came round, and the assembled family were joking about the presents they expected. 'Put your slippers outside your door to-night, Dominie,' said the father, calling him by the title commonly applied to clergymen in Holland, and among the descendants of the Dutch in the State of New York, 'I have no doubt your friend Caterina has something to put in them.' 'Oh, it is not worth while—no one cares for me, sir.' 'But, indeed, we do,' replied little Caterina; 'I have something for you, but I am not at all sure you will condescend to accept it. 'Have you indeed, Miss Caterina? I shall feel highly honored; I give you my word that whatever it is, I will accept it joyfully.' 'Very well: only please to remember this, when you see what is in your slippers.'
"The next morning, when the young Dominie opened his door, full of eagerness to see what was in store for him, lo and behold! his slippers had vanished. 'I might have known that the light-hearted, mischievous maiden was only laughing at me—and well I deserve it—fool that I am to dream about one so much above me!' Thus trying to scold himself into stoicism, the young man went over to the breakfast-table, where all were gathered together except Caterina. 'A very merry Christmas! but my dear Dominie, how sober you look!' 'Do I, indeed? that is very improper; but I've been thinking of going away—I had better do so—that makes me look rather sad, perhaps; I've spent so many happy hours among you all.' 'Going away! oh, no, you are not to think of that; I cannot allow such a word. By the way, what have you found in your slippers?' 'To reprove my presumption, no doubt, my slippers have been spirited away in the night: it is not for a poor fellow like me to receive gifts from lovely young ladies.' As he spoke these words, the door opened, and Caterina entered, bright as the morning, her face covered with smiles and blushes; she shuffled along in a strange way, and all eyes naturally fell upon her little feet, which were sailing about in the Dominie's slippers! Amid the general laughter, she walked up to the diffident youth, who could scarcely believe his eyes, and said with an air of irresistible drollery, by which she tried to cover her confusion: 'Here is your Christmas present, sir; do you hold to your promise of accepting it?' Of course, the lady having broken the ice, the Dominie could do no less than speak out, and, all being willing, the two were soon converted into one; a good church was procured for him by the influence of the burgomaster, and they lived as happily as possible all their days."
"She was a determined damsel!" cried Cornelia; "I think she had brass enough to set up a foundry."
"Probably it was leap-year, Cornelia," replied Ellen; "you know it is then the ladies' privilege—great privilege, forsooth!—to pay attention to the lords of the creation."
"I hope, when women take advantage of their prescriptive rights, they will wear the Bloomer costume, and make themselves look as little like the rest of their sex as possible!" said Mary.
"Come, girls," cried Charlie Bolton, "you are too hard on that frank little Caterina; I approve of such conduct entirely, and some ten years hence, when I am ready to be appropriated, I shall certainly leave my slippers outside my door as a hint to whomsoever it may concern. It would save us men a great deal of trouble, if all girls were as sensible as Caterina."
"Us men, indeed! How long since?" said Cornelia.
"Ever since I got out of frocks and into trowsers," replied Charlie, laughing good-naturedly. He and Cornelia were always sparring, but never quarrelled.
In the evening they played at various games; among others, at writing rhymes. Each had a slip of paper, and would write a line, then double it down, and hand it to the next, telling the last word; the second person then added a line rhyming with the first, the third started a fresh rhyme, and so it went on. When read, it of course made the greatest farrago of nonsense imaginable. Ellen then proposed "Cento," a Spanish or Italian game, which requires great readiness of memory, and a large acquaintance with poetry. One person quotes a well-known line, the next another that rhymes with it, and so on, making some sort of connection whenever it can be done; but after trying it, and finding that only three or four of the eldest could think of appropriate passages, they voted Cento a bore, Cornelia remarking that there was great stupidity somewhere; of course they could not think it was in themselves, and therefore it must be in the game.
Mary said that there was another game requiring a good memory, but the advantage of it was, that the more you forgot the more merriment you made; if you were not witty yourself, you were the cause of wit in others. It was called Genteel Lady, and was played by one person politely bowing to his neighbor, and reciting a certain formula, which must be repeated, with an addition, by the next, and so round the circle; whenever the least mistake or omission was made, the person had to drop the title of Genteel Lady, or Genteel Gentleman, and putting a horn of twisted paper in the hair or button-hole, could now glory in the dignity of being a One-horned Lady or Gentleman. Very soon horns become so plenty that few can claim any gentility; as the description proceeds, and becomes more complicated, it is perfectly laughable, and the whole party look ludicrous enough.
"Here is a whole bundle of lamp-lighters," said Cornelia; "let us begin the game, I think it must be comical."
Mary bowed to Tom Green, and commenced. "Good evening, genteel gentleman, ever genteel, I, a genteel lady, ever genteel, come from that genteel lady, ever genteel, to tell you that she owns a little dog with hair on its back."
Tom bowed to Ellen: "Good evening, genteel lady, ever genteel, I, a genteel gentleman, ever genteel, come from that genteel lady, ever genteel (bowing to Mary), to tell you that she owns a little dog with hair on its back, and a red tongue in its mouth."
Ellen took up the play: "Good evening, genteel gentleman, ever genteel, I, a genteel lady, ever genteel, come from that genteel gentleman, ever genteel, to tell you that he owns a little dog with hair on its back, a red tongue in its mouth, and two ears on its head."
It was now Charlie Bolton's turn: "Good evening, genteel lady, ever genteel, I, a genteel gentleman, ever genteel, come from that genteel lady, ever genteel, to say that she owns a little dog with ears on its back, a tongue in its head, hair in its mouth, and a bone between its teeth."
"Charlie! Charlie! three horns!"
"All honorable horns! hurra! I'm the only one with horns!"
"You'll soon have companions in misfortune," said Mary, laughing.
"Good morning, genteel lady, ever genteel," said Gertrude, bowing to Alice, "I, a genteel lady, ever genteel, come from that three-horned gentleman, ever three-horned, to say that he owns a little dog with hair on its back, a red tongue in its mouth, two ears on its head, a bone between its teeth, and a tail a yard long."
"Good morning, she said! that's one horn!" cried the other children.
"Good evening, genteel gentleman, ever genteel," said Alice, reverently bowing to John Wyndham, "I, a genteel lady, ever genteel, come from that one-horned lady, ever one-horned, to say that she owns a little dog with hair on its back, a red tongue in its mouth, a bone between its teeth, a fell a yard long, and three legs and a half."
"You left out two ears on its head! a horn!"
"I'm resigned," said Alice, "gentility seems to be at a discount."
So the game went on, becoming every moment more difficult and more ludicrous—as Charlie called it, more trippy—and by the time it went round the second time, none escaped the horns. Any thing will do for the genteel lady to own, and it makes it more agreeable to vary it each time it is played: for instance, an eagle with a golden beak, silver claws, diamond eyes, ostrich feathers, bird-of-paradise tail, a crown on its head, a diamond ring on its thumb, a gold chain round its neck, a pocket-handkerchief in its hand, and any other nonsense you can string together. A lady's etagere or what-not would be a good medium for collecting together absurdities—Mont Blanc at the top, a gridiron below, a gold thimble at the side, the poets in a corner, a breakfast set on one shelf, a card-case above, a smelling-bottle at the side, a work-box, a writing-desk, a piece of coral, etc. A genteel lady's description of her mansion—certainly an extraordinary one—would be suitable; a modern-built house, with a porto-ricco in front, and a pizarro in the rear, a summer-house contagious, and turpentine walks, etc.
Being now weary of games, Amy proposed that they should vary their pleasures by a tale, which gained the general approval; and Ellen Green was commissioned to relate it. Ever ready to oblige, she told them she would, if they chose a subject. "What sort of a story will you have?"
"An Indian story!" exclaimed the younger boys.
"Do tell us about some great historical character—Washington, or King Alfred, or Napoleon Bonaparte, or some other hero!" cried John Wyndham.
"I go in for a very frightful ghost-story, that will make our hair stand on end, and make the girls afraid to go to bed!" said his brother George.
"Tell us a romantic narrative about a knight going to the Crusades, and his fair lady following him in the disguise of a page!" said Alice Bolton.
"That's exactly like you!" cried her brother Charlie; "now, I say give us some exciting adventures by sea or by land; a real fish-story, or escape from a lion or tiger, or a tale of a bear, or something of that sort."
"Poor Cousin Ellen! How can she please you all?" said Mary. "As Amy first proposed it, let us leave it to her to choose the kind of story she prefers, and so settle the difficulty."
"Agreed! agreed! choose, Amy!"
"As for me, I always like a real fairy-tale," said Amy, her eyes sparkling with pleasure as she saw with what good nature all had left the choice to her.
"Then you shall have it; and I don't doubt that Aunt Lucy or Cousin Mary will contrive to please all in turn, another day."
"Most especially, I hope they will not forget to give Charlie that brush with the bear's tail that he wants so much!" said Cornelia, with a saucy glance of her eye.
"Attention, Miss Cornelia! or you will prove that you deserve it yourself. Don't you see that Ellen is ready to begin?"
The Fairy Wood.
Upon the banks of the Rhine there stand the ruins of an ancient castle, which still attracts the attention of the passer-by, from its gigantic remains, and the exceeding beauty of its situation. And if now, when its glory has departed, the traveller is irresistibly impelled to ask its name, how imposing must it have been when its dark shadow was thrown unbroken upon the smooth waters below, and troops of cavaliers and armed retainers rode over its drawbridge, and mounted its battlements. Here, in the olden time, dwelt the noble Baron Sigismund; and here, nothing daunted by the gloomy grandeur of the fortress, his little son Rudolph romped and frolicked the live-long day. A charming fellow he was, with eyes of heavenly blue, and a complexion of pure milk and roses; a true boy, full of activity and vivacity, and with not a slight touch of mischief in his composition. And yet he was such an affectionate and good-hearted little soul, that his arms would be about your neck in a moment, if he thought you were offended by his conduct; and so generous, that he would take the cake from his own lips to give it to the beggar—no trifling stretch of charity in a boy.
Is it wonderful, that Rudolph was the idol of his parents, the favorite of his playmates, and the cherished darling of the whole castle? His merry spirit and winning ways completely gained the hearts of the servants and retainers, and many voices in the adjacent cottages were loud in the praise of the beautiful, golden-haired boy. What a proud man was Fritz, the old seneschal, when he taught him to manage the horse, to couch the lance, and draw the bow! and when, for the first time, the young heir followed him to the chase, who so happy as he? And Rudolph reciprocated his affection; next to papa and dear mamma, sweet little black-eyed Cousin Bertha, and the ugly, shaggy mastiff to which he was devoted, old Fritz came in for his warmest love. And some people were malicious enough to say that there was a strong resemblance between these last two favorites, both in countenance and character; certain it is, that both Bruno and Fritz were faithful, every ready to contribute to his amusement, and although rough with other people, gentle enough with their young master.
One day, in the absence of his father, he set out to ride, with Fritz for his only attendant. It was a splendid afternoon; the sky was of that pure exquisite blue you sometimes see, rendered deeper by a pile of snowy clouds in the west; the birds were silent, as if unwilling to disturb the holy calm of nature; not a leaf stirred, save here and there a quivering aspen, emblem of a restless, discontented mind. Rudolph was in excellent spirits, and Saladin, his good Arab steed, flew like the wind; old Fritz tried to restrain his ardor, but in vain; the impetuous boy kept far ahead. They were soon some miles from home, and Rudolph saw before him a point where the road branched off in several directions, one of them leading back again to the castle, another taking a circuit of some distance, and a third, a narrow, unfrequented path, entering into a dark forest. Into this wood the boy had never been allowed to enter, from the evil name it had acquired in the traditions of the peasantry. Some said that robbers haunted its deep recesses, for travellers had entered it, notwithstanding all the entreaties of those who would have detained them, but had never been seen again; in fact, none had ever been known to return, who had been fool-hardy enough to enter into that snare. Others argued that they had been devoured by the wild beasts, whose savage roar might sometimes be heard at night; or that, losing their way, they had perished with hunger. But the older and wiser shook their heads at these suggestions, insinuating that skepticism on such awful subjects might bring down vengeance upon the unbelieving; and intimated, more by look and by gesture than by word, that the whole forest was enchanted ground, and that powers more than mortal claimed it as their own. All agreed that the Fairy Wood—so it was called—was a dangerous place, and few, indeed, would venture into its shady depths. Rudolph's curiosity had been excited in the most vivid manner by what he had heard concerning the mysteries of the forest, and he had long determined to seize the first opportunity of gratifying it. Old Fritz would not have consented to his entering it, if he had given him his weight in gold, but the worthy seneschal was now out of sight, and here was a glorious opportunity for the boy—he dashed into the wood, and urging Saladin onward, was soon involved in the intricacies of the forest.
On went the fearless boy, determined to explore, and doubting nothing, although the dark, gloomy shades might well have appalled an older person, and the numerous, faintly defined paths would certainly have made an experienced one hesitate. On he went, deeper and deeper into the wood, until he was suddenly startled by low, prolonged, growling thunder. He tried to retrace his steps, but was only more entangled in the maze: the sky had become black as midnight, the rain fell in torrents, the lightnings flashed fearfully, and all nature appeared convulsed. Rudolph had never before witnessed such a storm, and brave boy as he was, his heart quaked with terror—he felt how powerless a human being is, when, unsheltered, he is brought face to face with the elements, lashed up to fury. He now realized, in addition, that he had lost his way, and feared that in his efforts to extricate himself, he might penetrate still deeper into the wood; so he determined to throw the reins upon his horse's head, and trust to his instinct, as he had often heard that travellers had done successfully, when they had wandered out of their road. He accordingly did so, and speaking cheerily to Saladin, allowed him to choose his own path: to his surprise his beautiful Arab left the track, and set off on what he concluded to be a short cut out of the forest. After about an hour, however, poor little Rudolph began to doubt the instinct of horses, for the aspect of every thing around him became wilder every moment; but, happily, the rain had ceased falling, and as far as he could judge from the occasional glimpse he got of the sky, it had cleared up. On went Saladin, and did not stop until they entered an open glade; when, as if his task were quite accomplished, he came to a dead halt. Rudolph alighted, and looked about him: all was so still and beautiful, that it had the effect of calming the agitation of his spirits, and filling his mind with an indescribable awe,—it looked pure and holy, as if the foot of man had never trod there, from the foundation of the world. The setting sun, at this moment, pierced through the clouds, tinting them with purple, crimson, and gold, and revealing the full beauty of the scene. Rudolph found himself in a circular opening, around which lofty trees, overgrown with moss and lichen, seemed planted as a wall of defence. As he approached, seeking to leave the spot, they tossed their long arms as if warning him away, and the thick darkness behind appeared to become denser, and to frown him back. A superstitious fear crept into his heart, and he turned his eyes to the sweet glade rejoicing in the sunlight, where all looked smiling and inviting. In the centre, upon a gentle mound covered with a carpet of the softest, richest green, there towered a majestic oak, which had looked upward to the sky for centuries, while generation after generation of men had entered the world, had laughed and wept, grown old and died. It showed no signs of the decrepitude of age, and raised up its head proudly like the monarch of the forest; but a deep rent in its heart showed that decay was at work, and that the lofty tree would, one day, he laid low in the dust. Led by an irresistible impulse, Rudolph ascended the mound, and entered the little chamber in the oak. The boy was exhausted by fatigue and excitement, and, insensibly, his eyes closed, and his weary frame was wrapt in slumber.
And now a strange thing occurred. Whether he dreamed, or whether he waked, he scarcely knew; but delicious music stole through his soul, and he opened his eyes. The little woodland glen was steeped in soft moonlight; and, if it looked wonderful and beautiful when the sun shone upon it, how much more so now, when the very light was mysterious, and suggestive of something beyond! Around the mound there doated—for that word only can express their motion—like bright and fleecy clouds, a band of lovely beings, resembling none he had ever seen before. As he gazed upon them, he thought not of creatures of earthly mould, but of the most rapturous and fleeting sights and sounds of nature;—of the rainbow, spanning the sky after a storm; of the dashing cataract, descending in mist from stupendous heights; of the nightingale, singing in her hidden nest; of harmless sheet-lightning, suddenly revealing hills, domes, and castles in the clouds, then as suddenly dispelling the illusion. As he looked more closely, he found that, as with linked hands they glided round, their gossamer wings moving through the air waked up a melody like that of the Eolian harp; while a few, standing apart, made silvery music by shaking instruments, which looked like spikes of bell-shaped flowers, and deeper tones were evolved from larger, single bells, struck with rays of light. As the bells swung to the breeze, and the cadence swelled and rose, a delicious fragrance of wild-flowers filled the air, and from the depths of the forest all animated creatures came forth to gaze upon the spectacle. The glow-worm crept there, but his tiny lamp was dimmed by brighter fairy eyes; the noisy cricket and the songsters of the grove hushed their notes, to listen to the harmony. The wolf and the bear drew near together, but laid aside their fierceness; the deer and the hare came forward fearlessly, under the influence of the potent spell. Suddenly, from a hollow in the oak, an owl with glaring eyes flew down: the music and the dance were hushed, and all listened to his voice. To his surprise, Rudolph found that he could understand the language of all animals, which had formerly seemed to him mere unmeaning sounds.
"Bright Fairy Queen, shall mortal dare On beauty gaze beyond compare; Shall one of earth unpunish'd see The mazes of your revelry? That ancient oak, by your donation, For years has been my habitation; And now a child usurps my right, Sleeping within its heart to-night; Nor that alone, but dares to view The mysteries of nature too. And shall he go, unscath'd, away? As Privy Counsellor, I say nay! Else man will learn our secrets dread. And higher raise his haughty head: All nature soon would subject be, Nor place be left us, on land or sea. E'en now, prophetic, I see the day When steam exerts resistless sway— And iron monsters, with breath of flame, Shall blot from earth the fairy name. Then to the beasts that throng the wild, Dread Queen, give up the intruding child!"
At this address, to which the wolves howled a dismal chorus of assent, all eyes were turned upon the chamber in the ancient oak, in which Rudolph sat, his heart quaking with terror at the thought of the fate before him. But a sweet voice, clear and piercing, spoke his name, and commanded him to descend, fearing nothing if his conscience was pure, and if he had not obtruded through vain curiosity upon the revels of the Queen of Fairy Land. Rudolph obeyed. The Queen was standing, with the ladies of her court ranged on either side. They all were beautiful, but she was like the brightness of the morning and the freshness of flowers. Dazzling loveliness distinguished her, and a dignity to which all paid obeisance. Upon her brow sparkled the evening star, her only diadem. She gazed mildly, yet searchingly, upon the boy, as if she read his very thoughts; and then she spoke:
"'Tis true, wise Counsellor, that according to our laws of Fairy Realm, the child should die; and yet my heart yearns to the innocent, blue-eyed boy. Does no one have compassion upon him? Have none a plea to offer for his pardon? I solemnly declare that he shall be saved, were my very crown and life endangered, if but one act of kindness and mercy shown by him to weaker creatures, can be proved. For to the kind and merciful, mercy should ever be shown; this law stands higher than any judicial enactment."
As she spoke these words, a dove with gentle eyes and downy breast flew to her feet, and thus timidly offered her prayer:
"I plead for mercy, gracious Queen, I pray you to forgive! And if my voice were silent now, I were not fit to live. One day, when absent from my nest, A falcon, fierce and strong, Seized me, all helpless to resist— Soon would have ceased my song. Just then, young Rudolph, brave and fair, Perceived my urgent need; He risk'd his life in saving mine— And shall that kind heart bleed?"
"It shall not: he is saved; and you, gentle dove, ever wear this collar round your neck as a token of my approbation; it shall descend in your family to the latest generations." The Queen then touched Rudolph with her golden wand; an electric thrill passed through his frame, and he fell down senseless to the ground. When he awoke, he found himself lying upon a couch of purple and gold, in a superb crystal hall, whose pillars, sparkling with gems, rose upward to a lofty transparent dome of blue, through which the sun was shining brilliantly. Over him bent the Fairy Queen, radiant in beauty, and eying him with indescribable tenderness. At last she spoke, kindly caressing him: "My son, you are now in my dwelling, where no harm shall befall you; fear nothing. Here you shall live forever, in splendor and happiness; your every wish shall be gratified; no more scorching suns, no more dark and gloomy days for you—all shall be joy, unvaried pleasure, eternal youth and health. One solitary restriction I must lay upon you, but that is positive; on no account shed a tear, for on that day when you weep, you must return to earth—even my power could not keep you here. Tears must never sully the palace of the Fairy Queen. But why should you weep? I myself will take care of you, teach you, be a mother to you: when you feel a desire, mention it to me, and it is already accomplished."
With ardent gratitude and passionate love and admiration, Rudolph embraced the beautiful Queen, and said, "Is this really true? and is this splendid place to be my own home?" "It really is; I have adopted you for my son. It is my intention to educate you myself." "How very good of you! how I love you! And my papa and mamma, and dear little Bertha, can they live here too? And may Bruno, and Saladin, and old Fritz come too?" "Oh no, little Rudolph, you must not talk about those other people; they belong to the earth—let them stay there. You must forget about that old home of yours, for all that has passed away; your home is with me, in Fairy Land. It is much more beautiful here; there is nothing on earth that can compare with it. I will show you such splendid things! I will teach you how to paint the flowers, and to make diamonds, and emeralds, and pearls. You shall see me mix the rainbow, and scatter the dew upon the flowers at night. I have a thousand pretty things I want to teach you: do you not wish to learn them?" "Oh, very much indeed! I should like to do such things; I love dearly to work: mamma often lets me water her flowers with a little watering-pot; is that the way you scatter the dew?" "Child, child! How ignorant he is! But under my tuition he will soon learn to understand the mysteries of nature. On earth, children are so mismanaged—no wonder they become the sort of men they do. My Rudolph shall be different; he shall hear no silly nursery tales, shall waste no time in learning exploded nonsense, but shall early become acquainted with things, and shall learn to value science. I quite long to begin! It is a grand experiment; the work of education is a noble one. And when he is a man, and has become under my teaching a perfect specimen of what a man should be, what then? Shall I let him return to earth? It is time enough yet to think of that." "May I go now, and play, pretty lady? You are not talking to me." "True, I forgot myself; come with me, Rudolph, and I will show you through my palace and pleasure-grounds: recollect that you are now my son."
What words can describe the sights of beauty that awaited him? All spectacles that could enchant the eye, all melodies that could ravish the ear, were collected together, in infinite variety. Nothing that was exquisite upon earth was unrepresented; but the grossness and the imperfection which will cleave to every thing earthly, was left out. It was the very palace of delights. And nothing faded here—the flowers were ever-blooming, and if picked, were instantly replaced by fairer blossoms. Delicious fruit, ever ripe, but never decaying, hung from the boughs; streams of milk, wine, sherbet, and other delicious drinks, trickled from the rocks into marble basins, and gold cups were suspended near, to invite the thirsty to partake; while pure, sparkling water rose high into the air, as if ambitious to greet the kindred clouds, and then fell into large receptacles, fashioned out of one pearl, emerald, or ruby. The pleasure-grounds were separated from the gross outer world by a thick and lofty wall of evergreens, impervious to mortals, which forbade both ingress and egress: at least, Rudolph's eyes could see no mode of exit. But what could be wished for beyond? It was a paradise!
Rudolph was allowed to roam undisturbed through the splendid saloons, vast halls, and pillared galleries of the palace, where at every step he saw some new subject of wonder. No treasure-house of princes could for one moment compare with the wealth and grandeur here exhibited, and the Fairy Queen informed him that all should be his, when by knowledge he had earned a title to it—it should be the reward of his application to the noble studies to which she wished to introduce him. "I would do a good deal to get all these beautiful things: I hope the lessons are not very hard, for I never did like to study. I love play a great deal better." "But play is only meant for babies and kittens, Rudolph: it is unworthy of a being who can think. I know you have great talents, and I am the one to develop them. I mean to teach you mineralogy and chemistry, natural philosophy and history, astronomy and geology, botany and geometry. You shall be wise, and shall learn to look beyond the surface of things into their natures and constituent parts. You shall know why every thing was made just as it is, and shall understand the exact proportions of all things to each other, and to the universe, so that the whole system goes on in perfect and beautiful harmony. You shall learn the balancings of the clouds, and the potent spell which keeps the sun in its place, and makes the moon circle round the world. You shall go with me into the dark caverns of the earth, and see how rocks and metals are made in nature's forging shop. You shall witness the operation of the subterranean forces which have altered the whole aspect of this planet, and thrown up the lofty mountains, and tossed out from the treasury below the varied wealth it held, making the world both beautiful and rich. And I will show you ancient creatures, more huge than whales, which once frolicked on the earth, before man was made: oh, I have a thousand wonders to point out to you, and a great deal to teach." "Thank you; you are very good. But indeed it sounds very hard, and I don't like such things at all. I'd much rather play ball."
"Silly child!" thought the Fairy Queen, "he has been too long perverted by the trifling ways of man: I should have taken him younger. I see that I cannot at once indoctrinate him into the arcana of nature; I must gradually lead him on, as if in play. Good! a bright idea! that must be the right way to educate frivolous, frolicksome childhood. Science in sport! excellent. Yes, I'll teach him the vocabularies in rhyme, and set them to lively music—that will do; he'll like it nearly as well as if it were nonsense. I'll lead him on to the knowledge of principles, by means of beautiful experiments: he'll think I am amusing him, when I am gravely in earnest in the work of instruction. I will set rewards before him, to impel him onward: I will excite his curiosity, and make it a favor to gratify it; and then the boy will swallow knowledge as if it were cake."
"Come with me, Rudolph, I have something pretty to show you." "That I will: I love to see pretty things, dear lady." "Call me mamma, Rudolph: you are now my son." "Indeed I cannot: nobody is mamma but my own dear mamma who loves me so—oh, I do so wish I could see her!" "Hush, child, that's silly. Now keep very quiet in this dark room, and you'll see something. What is this I hold in my hand?" "A great glass jar, like one of mamma's preserve jars, only much larger." "Do you see any thing in it?" "Yes, ma'am, ever so much iron wire twisted round and round." "Is there any thing else in the jar?" "Nothing at all." "Nothing you can see, but there is a kind of gas we call oxygen, which will burn when I put in a lighted piece of stick, very carefully. Look!" "Oh, beautiful, beautiful! how the wire burns! only look at the sparks! that is very pretty indeed, ma'am. Now it has all burnt out—what a pity!" "Now, Rudolph, I want to tell you about it. You must know that the air we breathe is made up of this oxygen, of nitrogen, a very little carbonic acid gas, and a small quantity of water. If the oxygen was taken out of the air, you could not live for one moment: I'll show you. You see this jar? It is full of nitrogen—of air with the oxygen taken out." "But what are you putting into it? A little mouse, I declare!" "Yes: but you see it dies instantly; it cannot live because there is no oxygen in the air." "Poor little mouse, how I wish you had not killed it! It is a shame! If I did such a cruel thing, my mamma would punish me." "Don't talk so, child! it's silly. The mouse died without any pain, and if one principle of science is fixed in your head, it is well worth the sacrifice of its insignificant life. There will be less cheese eaten in the world—that's all. Now, do you understand about oxygen and nitrogen, which chiefly make up the atmospheric air?" "I know that oxygen made the wire burn beautifully, and I know that horrid nitrogen killed the poor little mouse; but I don't half believe that they are in the air I breathe. I like to see pretty experiments, but I do hate explanations. Now will you let me fly a kite?" "Yes; come out into the open air—remember it is composed of oxygen and nitrogen—and I'll make you a kite."
So saying, she led him into the gardens, and waving her wand over a piece of birch bark, behold three splendid kites! The larger one resembled an eagle, and as it mounted into the air, and its light wings flapped in the wind, it seemed about to pounce upon the two smaller kites, which were in shape like pigeons. Rudolph was enchanted, and clapped his hands with glee. After allowing him to enjoy the novelty for some time, the Fairy said to him, "To-morrow I will show you another kite, more wonderful than these. I will make it so, that it will draw down the electricity from the sky. Have you ever rubbed a cat's fur the wrong way, in the dark?" "Oh, that I have! it's great fun. There's our black cat, at home, I have often done it to her, and I can see the sparks in cold weather." "Well, that is electricity, and there is electricity in every thing, only some objects have more than others. When you see the sparks, it is the electricity leaving a thing which is overcharged with it, for another which has less, to keep up a balance. The lightning is nothing but electricity, and to-morrow I'll make a storm, to show you how to draw down this subtle element from the clouds." "Oh, don't trouble yourself! I like this kind of kite well enough: if I have to learn about that old electricity, I'd rather give up playing kite."
"Rudolph, would you like to play at soap-bubbles?" "That I would! How I wish Bertha was here—wouldn't she clap her hands and jump, as the large bubbles fly up into the air!" "I do not wish you to think about little Bertha. Here are your basin of soapsuds and your golden pipe; now blow away, my boy!" "Oh, how very pretty! Do you see that big fellow, how he shines in the sun, and shows all the colors of the rainbow? Isn't it fine?" "That is the very thing I want to tell you about. The sun, shining upon vapor and falling water, makes all these beautiful colors. That is the way I mix the rainbow. The science which teaches about the rays of light, their reflection and refraction, and the coloring they give to different objects, is called Optics: it is an interesting study, and I wish you to be a proficient in it." "Optics, is it? That seems to me very different from blowing soap-bubbles. I do hate to be cheated into learning big words, and understanding things, when I am playing."
"The child has no brains for science, I fear!" thought the fairy. "I almost repent my bargain! However, I will not be discouraged quite yet, perhaps the proper chord has not been struck." Accordingly, she invented for him various pretty toys, since then copied by men: the kaleidoscope, with its infinite variety of shifting figures; the orrery; the prism; the burning-glass; the microscope and the telescope; and the magic lantern, with its vast variety of entertainment. Another magic spell she put into operation, by which, with the aid of an instrument in a little square box, the sun was compelled to paint landscapes and portraits, so true to life that they seemed only to lack motion. Rudolph was very happy, playing with these beautiful and ingenious toys: he thought them more entertaining than marbles, or battledore and shuttle-cock. But when the rationale came to be explained, his preceptress found her labor was all lost—there was no mistaking the fact that the child had an invincible dislike to science.
"I believe I see my mistake," thought the unconquerable Fairy. "I began at the wrong end. Children feel before they think. I must elevate his fancy, and train his imagination by communion with forms of beauty. I see that he cannot yet penetrate into the reason of things around him; but he can feel the power of the external, and when his nature is sufficiently exalted and matured, then he will of his own accord seek knowledge. Yes, sentiment comes first, and reflection will follow in its train."
Accordingly, the Fairy Queen commenced his poetical training, and for some time she flattered herself that it advanced charmingly. As the attraction of novelty had worn off from her extensive pleasure-grounds, she caused the landscape daily to change, so that all the beauties, scattered over the wide earth, were in succession placed before him. At one time, the lofty Alps rose to the sky, filling his soul with the sense of the sublime; and the chamois, with fleet foot, climbed their snowy pinnacles; while the deep, frowning precipices and the dark valleys gave him a sensation of terror, not unmingled with pleasure. Suddenly the scene would change, and he stood upon an island of the Pacific, a little emerald gem of the ocean. Around the coral reefs the waves lashed themselves into fury, and the white surf flew upward; but one little opening admitted the water gently into a quiet bay, where the deep blue rivalled that of the sky, and the water-birds swam in peace. The cocoa-nut, the plantain, and the banana spread their broad leaves to the sun, and flowers of brilliant hues and exquisite fragrance enlivened the landscape. Behind, there uprose tall cliffs covered with the richest foliage, and cascades, like silver threads, dashed downward to the sea. Again the spectacle changed, and Vesuvius appeared in flames, reddening the sky, and paling the moon; floods of lava rolled down, and rocks and ashes were tossed aloft. It seemed as if evil spirits were sporting beneath, and the mountain shook in agony. In the distance, peacefully slept the city of Naples, and that broad and beautiful bay, the admiration of the world. These objects, however, did not last. Rudolph soon lingered among sweet-scented orange groves, and plucked the golden fruit by the light of the moon, and rejoiced in perfect beauty; or wandered off into a magnolia forest, where the huge white flowers shone forth among the dark glistening leaves, and the air was heavy with fragrance. Or he paddled his small canoe among the waters of the Amazon, and saw those magnificent water-lilies, on one of whose round green leaves, with up-turned edges, he could float with perfect safety; while the brilliant tropical birds flew around, and monkeys climbed the tall trees, which were festooned with vines of luxuriant growth. Again did the scene vary—and Niagara thundered down its cliffs, filling his heart with delighted awe; resistless and changeless, rolled it then, when the deer wandered undisturbed upon its shores, as now, when thousands of visitors marvel at its grandeur, and feel the infinitude of nature and the insignificance of man.
One day the Rhine was presented to his view—its vine-clad hills, its frowning castles, its romantic scenery, and the happy peasants coming from the vintage, with songs of rejoicing. But this struck a chord untouched before. It brought up home and homely pleasures with a force and vividness that made the boy, in the midst of all sensual delights, feel a sudden sickness of the heart, a longing for the fireside, and for the every-day occupations from which he had been snatched. He thought of his father and mother, so kind and good; of merry little Bertha, ever so pleased to frolic with him—and he almost felt her chubby arm around his neck; he remembered old Fritz, and his rides upon Saladin, with his arched neck and flowing mane. He thought of the ancient hall, in which he had played such mad pranks with Bruno—even the black cat came in for a portion of his regret. And never, never more was he to behold these objects of his love! So feels the Swiss, when in a foreign land, when breathing the balmy air of Italy, or wandering amid the gayeties of Paris, he hears the Ranz des Vaches; the simple notes recall the Alpine home, the mother and the friends: he sickens and dies.
Rudolph's sad countenance soon attracted the notice of his kind protectress, who eagerly asked what she could do to promote his happiness. He told his trouble, and especially dwelt upon his loneliness; he longed to see his papa and mamma, and little Bertha; and he wanted companions of his own age—human children, with whom he could laugh and play, whom he could toss in the snow in winter, and with whom he could rove the fields in summer, picking the flowers and chasing the butterflies. The Fairy Queen shook her head: "You ask an impossibility, Rudolph; my very existence was endangered by bringing you here, and how can I convey other mortals to the crystal palace, the inner temple of nature? It cannot be—however, now I think of a plan; yes, to-morrow you shall have your wish, only you must smile and be happy once more, Rudolph."
On the morrow, with the early dawn, a troop of merry, rosy children awaited his waking: how soon they were friends! children, and child-like hearts, are not long in knowing each other. They were all pretty, but different, both in appearance and disposition; they were crowned with flowers and green leaves, of various sorts. "What funny names you have!" said Rudolph, as they introduced themselves. "Yes; but we did not name ourselves," they replied; "it is not our fault if we have hard names—you'll soon learn them." And so he did: there was Cochlearia, a sharp-witted girl, who made rather biting speeches occasionally; there was Daucus, a red-headed youngster, and Raphanus, a pretty child of brilliant complexion, crowned with violet-colored flowers; there was Brassica, and Zea, and Maranta, and Capsicum, a fiery fellow, and Nasturtium, crowned with bright orange-flowers, and a great many others. Rudolph liked most of them very much, but his especial favorites were little Solanum and Farinacea, brother and sister, both crowned with blue flowers. He thought they were so good, he could never get tired of them; perhaps Brassica and Zea were sweeter, and Raphanus was more piquant, but these two friends of his could never cloy his taste; he should always love them. As for Cochlearia, he could not abide her: she was so pert. Several times she came near disturbing the harmony of the little band by her speeches: she reproached Daucus with his carroty head, and told Capsicum that his temper was too hot, and called Nasturtium only a weedy fellow, after all. Hereupon, Solanum, who was a very amiable soul, told her she was enough to bring tears into anybody's eyes; and at that, she turned round, and informed him that he was such a mealy-mouthed fellow, he was no judge at all. At last Rudolph was obliged to tell her that he had never known a child whose society he relished so little, and that he would be compelled to complain of her, unless she went away; accordingly she did so, and then they enjoyed uninterrupted peace. How happy was that day! how varied the amusements! what joyful shouts! what heart-felt laughter! Rudolph, long debarred from the company of other children, was almost out of his wits with excitement.
But the sun now approached the west, and with one accord they hastened away, notwithstanding all his entreaties. "Why must they go? They could sleep with him; there was plenty of room in the palace; they should not leave." "They would return to-morrow, but now they must go; before the sun set—good-by, good-by." "You shall not go," cried Rudolph, seizing hold of Solanum and Farinacea, who struggled hard to evade him, while their companions swiftly passed them, and vanished through a little postern gate he had never seen before, into the forest beyond. "Why should you want to go? Do you not love me?" said Rudolph, as the two struggled yet more earnestly to escape his grasp. "I assure you we have hearts, but we cannot now stay," was all they could utter, for at that moment the sun sank below the horizon, and the beautiful children vanished from his sight: in their place, there fell to the ground—two potatoes! Scarcely believing his eyes, he quickly opened the little gate, calling to his friends to return; but no voice replied, and no children were to be seen. Instead, scattered about upon the ground, were radishes, carrots, turnips, parsneps, cabbages—all that remained of his playmates. The disappointed child burst into a fit of passionate weeping. Was all deception, illusion? Was there nothing real, naught to satisfy the heart? Was he ever to be alone, consumed by vain longings for affection he was destined never to receive? What did he care for all that beauty and grandeur—one heart-given human kiss was worth it all.
The child was still sobbing bitterly when the Fairy Queen drew near. Her starry crown was dim, like the evening star seen through a mist; the sparkle had gone out of her eye and her face. She was sad, for she knew that she must lose her little protege; she was vexed, for she had been completely baffled. "And cannot I make you happy?" she said. "Is all the power, and the grandeur, and the wisdom, and the beauty you see in Fairy Land, insufficient to satisfy that foolish heart of yours? Silly boy! he longs for human love. Go then—even if I could keep you, I think I scarcely would; I can teach you nothing." "And may I really go? Go to my own dear, sweet mamma? Oh, how happy I am!" "You little ungrateful wretch! is that all the thanks I get for the pains I have taken to make a man of you?" "Of course you are very good: but indeed I always told you I wanted to remain a little boy." "Out of my sight!" said she, stamping her tiny foot upon the rock on which she was standing—sympathizing with her passion, it threw out sparks, which hardened into diamonds when they cooled. "My experiment has proved a signal failure; I see a child will be a child, in spite of all the charms of science: if ever I take another—if ever I try again to bring up a philosopher, may I lose my crown!"
Rudolph, affrighted, had run through the little gate, which immediately closed behind him. He looked around; the scene was strangely familiar. He found himself at the border of a wood, in a place where three roads crossed. "It was there," thought he, "that, a year or two ago, I dashed into the forest on Saladin, and got lost: and since then I have been in Fairy Land." At that moment he lifted up his eyes, and saw old Fritz approach, leading Saladin; he ran forward to meet him, and Fritz, on his part, seemed overjoyed at seeing his young master. "You dear old soul! how glad I am to see you! Why, you don't look a day older than when we parted!" "It would be queer if I did, as we only parted company an hour ago, when you rode off and left your poor old Fritz. How you have frightened me! I thought you had gone home the nearest way, and rode there to see: but no, you were not at the castle. So I came back again, very much worried about you on account of the shower that came up so suddenly, and met your horse, quite near the wood. I'm glad to find you at last!" "Is it possible it was only an hour ago? I can hardly believe it." "Oh yes, no more, though it has seemed longer to me, I have been so anxious." Rudolph laughed. "I do believe I have been asleep! and I have had the funniest dream! Do you know, I thought I was in Fairy Land? It was all so sweet, and so grand, and learned, and tiresome—Oh, I am glad it was only a dream. I did want so much to get home again, and have some fun."
"How could he wish to leave such a charming place, where there was every thing that was lovely on earth?" cried Gertrude. "I think he had very little taste."
"There was all there," said Aunt Lucy, "but the very things he wanted—his father and mother, his playmates, kind old Fritz, and his horse and dog—not to speak of a very important thing in a boy's eyes, liberty to play without being pestered with continual lectures."
"I think your Fairy Queen has a tart temper of her own, sister Ellen," said Tom. "When she was rating the poor little fellow for ingratitude, I thought of that passage in Virgil, where the rage of the gods is spoken of—'Tantaene animis coelestibus irae!'"
"Do translate, for the benefit of the unlearned. It is so mannish to quote Latin," said Cornelia.
"'Can such anger dwell in celestial souls?' You see I am all obedience," answered Tom.
"You should remember, my dear critic, that fairies never yet claimed to be perfect beings. They are very far from being angels, and are decidedly of the earth, earthy. You know that the inferior specimens of the race—the vulgar fairies—delight in playing tricks upon careless housekeepers, spilling their cream and spoiling their butter: that is not very angelic, I'm sure. Of course, the Queen would be too dignified and too spiritual for such frolics; but she could not understand much about human nature, or child-nature, and especially she would think the affections to be great nonsense. But she has bought her experience now, with Rudolph."
"One comfort is, that she does not intend to take another child to educate—she has had enough!" said Amy.
"She could not, if she would," replied Mary. "I think the day has now come, foreseen by the prophetic owl,
'When iron monsters, with breath of flame, Shall blot from earth the fairy name.'"
"Steam engines and locomotives?" said Louis.
"Nothing else," replied Ellen. "I do not doubt in the least that the whole of that Fairy Wood has been carefully surveyed and graded, and iron tracks run directly through the palace itself."
"Oh what a shame!" cried Harry.
"'Tis very sad, indeed, to have all romance spoiled in this way," said Mrs. Wyndham. "But we have a modern substitute for the magic of Elfdom—this very steam-engine, which works such wonders; the electric telegraph, which beats time itself, making news depart from Philadelphia for St. Louis, and reach its destination an hour before it started, if you may believe the clock. And some of those toys, originally invented by the Fairy Queen, if we may credit Ellen—the telescope, bringing down the moon so near to you, that you feel inclined to take a long step, and place yourself in another planet—and photography, which enables you in one moment to possess upon metal or paper an exact fac-simile of your friend. If these things do not surpass all we read of in Fairy Land, I know nothing about it."
"I have one very serious objection to your Fairy Queen, Cousin Ellen," said Charlie Bolton, trying to keep a long, sober face.
"What is that? Poor Queen, how she is criticised! If she were here, she would show her temper now, I think!"
"She is such a horrid blue. It's all very well for her to dance, and mix the rainbow, and sprinkle the dew upon her flowers, and wear the evening star on her forehead, if she does not find its weight oppressive—that's all feminine enough. But when she tries to come over us as an esprit fort—a strong-minded woman—it's rather too much. Oxygen and hydrogen, and all the ologies—I never can stand that sort of thing in a woman."
"Just as if we had not a right to knowledge as well as the lords of the creation! And besides, I want to know, Master Charlie, which is the most disgusting—for a woman to lisp learning, or for a man to talk politics, as the creatures will do!"
"Oh, I beg your pardon—I very humbly retract, my dear Coz. I must use the words of that sensible 'Coon, who has earned immortality by meeting his death like a philosopher—'Is that you, Captain Scott?' 'Yes.' 'Then you need not fire—don't take the trouble to raise your rifle—if it's you, Captain Scott, I might as well come down.' So, if it's you, Miss Cornelia Wyndham, you can spare your shot, for I'll come down at once;—I would rather face the Woman's Rights' Convention, in full conclave assembled, than my Cousin Cornelia, when she stands up for the rights of her sex to be pedantic and disagreeable!"
"I was quite amused at the Queen's experiments in education," said Mr. Wyndham. "She is not the only one who has tried to force knowledge upon unwilling minds, and to develop children as we would spring peas and asparagus, by subjecting them to hot-house stimulants. These fancy methods of training the young idea do not appear to succeed very well; to see some of the cards used in infant schools, and to read occasional school advertisements, you would deem it quite impossible that any dunces could escape the elevating processes now applied to the unfortunate little ones—yet, happily, the constitutions of most children are very elastic, and there are not as many instances of dropsy on the brain as we might expect."