THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE LAZYBONES AND OTHER STORIES
MRS. W. J. HAYS
Author of "Princess Idleways"
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York and London
THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE LAZYBONES
FLORIO AND FLORELLA: A CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE
BOREAS BLUSTER'S CHRISTMAS PRESENT
"Good-evening, my dear Prince" (Frontispiece)
"Approach of the swanlike boat"
"Look! There's an eagle"
"Making the sturgeon useful"
THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE LAZY BONES
Of all the illustrious families who have shone like gems upon the earth's surface, none have been more distinguished in their way than the Lazybones family; and were I so disposed I might recount their virtues and trace their talents from a long-forgotten period. But interesting as the study might prove, it would be a difficult task, and the attention I crave for Prince Leo would be spent on his ancestors.
Of princely blood and proud birth, Leo was a youth most simple-minded. He knew that much was expected of him, and that he was destined to rule; yet so easily was he satisfied that his greatest happiness was to lie all day basking in the sun or dawdling through his father's park with his dog at his heels, the heels themselves in a very down-trodden state of humility, watching with languid gaze the movements of the world about him.
And the world just where he lived was very beautiful. On a fertile plain, surrounded by mountain-peaks of great height, threaded by silver streams, and so well watered that its vegetation was almost tropical, was the estate of Leo's father, Prince Morpheus Lazybones. It had been in the family for ages, and was so rich in timber and mineral resources that none of its owners had cared to cultivate the land. Timber was cut sparingly, however, because the market for it was too distant, and the minerals remained in their native beds for much the same reason.
The family throve, notwithstanding, and were well supplied with all manner of delicacies, for the servants were many, and there was never a lack of corn or wine.
Leo was most fair to see. To be sure, his drooping lids half concealed his azure eyes, and his golden locks sometimes hid his snowy forehead; but his smile was charming; his face had such an expression of calm satisfaction, such a patient tranquillity, that his smile was as the sudden sunshine on a placid lake. It was the smile of the family, an inherited feature, like the blue hood of a Spanish Don. And then it was given so freely: the beggar would have preferred it to be accompanied with the jingle of a coin, but as the coin never came and the smile did, he tried to think that it warmed his heart, though his wallet went empty.
There were those who said a smile cost nothing, else it would not have been bestowed. It had a peculiarity of its own which these same critics also objected to—it nearly always ended in a yawn.
But Leo heard none of these ill-natured remarks, and, if he had, would not have minded them any more than he did the burs which clung to his garments as he rambled through the woods. Poor fellow! he would gladly have shared his coppers with a beggar, but he had none to share.
Morpheus Lazybones never seemed to think his son required anything; so long as the boy made no demands, surely nothing could be wanting, and every one knew he was not equal to any exertion. For years he had lived the life of an invalid, shut up in his room most of the time, venturing from it only in the sunniest weather, and then with great caution. He had no particular malady except that he was a poet, but surely that was burden enough. To have to endure the common sights and sounds of this earth when one is composing poetry is indeed a trying and troublesome thing. So Morpheus found it, and therefore he frequently stayed in bed, and allowed his fancy to rove at its own sweet will.
They lived in what had been a monastery. There had been houses and farms on the Lazybones property, but the money not being forthcoming for repairs, they had been each in turn left for another in better condition, until the monastery—what was left of it—with its solidly built walls, offered what seemed to be a permanent home.
Here Morpheus lined a cell with tapestries and books, and wrote his sonnets. Here Leo slept and ate, and housed his dogs. The servants grumbled at the damp and mould, but made the chimneys roar with blazing logs, and held many a merry carousal where the old monks had prayed and fasted. The more devout ones rebuked these proceedings, and said they were enough to provoke a visit from the Evil One; but as yet the warning had no effect, as the revels went on as usual.
Besides being a poet, Morpheus was conducting Leo's education. Undertaken in the common way, this might have interfered with the delicate modes of thought required for the production of poems, but the Lazybones were never without ingenuity. Morpheus so arranged matters that Leo could study without damage to his father's poems. The books were marked for a month's study, and Leo's recitations consisted of a written essay which was to comprise all the knowledge acquired in that time. Thus writing and spelling were included, and made to do duty for the higher flights of his mind.
I do not tell how often Leo made his returns, neither do I mention how many papers Morpheus found no time to examine, but I may urge that Leo's out-door exercise demanded much attention, and that his father's excursions in Dream-land were equally exacting. But Leo, though he hated books, did not hate information. He knew every feathered thing by name as far as he could see it. He knew every oak and pine and fir and nut tree as a familiar friend. He knew every rivulet, every ravine, every rabbit-burrow. The streams seemed to him as melodious as the song-birds, and the winds had voices. He knew where to find the first blossom of spring and the latest of autumn, the ripest fruit and most abundant vines. He could tell just where the nests were and the number of eggs, whether of the robin or the waterfowl. He knew the sunniest bank and shadiest dell, the smoothest path, with its carpet of pine-needles and fringe of fern, or the roughest crag and darkest abyss. He could read the clouds like an open page, and predict fine weather or the coming storm. He knew where the deer couched and where they came to drink, and when the fawns would leave their mothers, and no trout was too cunning for him.
But he did not know the use of a rifle. He had all sorts of lures for the creatures he wanted to tame, but no ways of killing them. For why should he kill them? There was always food enough; he was seldom hungry, and these were his friends. He liked to look them in the eyes; he liked to win them to him, soothe their fears if they had any, and then watch their pretty joy when their liberty was regained. And how could he have done this if their blood had been upon his hands? How could he have quieted the throbbing little hearts if murder had been in his own?
Thus Leo spent his time, delightfully and innocently. If life were only a summer's day! But already winter was approaching. Discontent was brewing on the estate. Taxes were unpaid; tenants were grumbling at high rents; laborers were threatening and their wives complaining.
Frequently, in the very midst of composing a poem, Morpheus would be called to adjust a difficulty, settle a dispute, or revise an account. This so disturbed his delicate nerves that illness, or the appearance of it, was sure to follow. He would then take to his bed, refuse all but a little spiced wine, allowing no coarse food to pass his lips, and strive to remember the beautiful words of which he had intended to make verses; but, alas! the words had flown, as well as the ideas which had suggested them, like so many giddy little butterflies.
The monastery had been a grand old pile in its day; it was not one simple building, but a cluster of habitations which had grown with the growth and resources of the order which founded it. Like all feudal structures it had its means of defence—its moat and drawbridge, its tower of observation, and in its heavy gates and thick walls loop-holes and embrasures for weapons.
But grass grew now in the moat and birds nested in the embrasures, while Leo's dogs bounded through chapel and refectory and cloister, parts of the latter being converted into a stable.
Many of the walls had tumbled in hopeless confusion, but those of the buildings yet in use had carved buttresses and mullioned windows, on which much skill had been displayed.
Leo knew, or thought he knew, every nook and cranny of his home, for when it rained, or heavy fogs hung threateningly about, his rambles were confined to the various quarters of the monastery.
On such days the stone floors and bare walls were very inhospitable, but he would sometimes find a new passage to loiter in or a window-ledge to loll over and look from as he watched the rain drip from the carved nose of an ugly old monk whose head adorned the water-spout.
I don't know whether it ever occurred to Leo that this world is a busy one. The very persistence of the pouring rain might have suggested it, as well as the beehives down in the kitchen court, where some of his many friends were storing their winter provision, for bees as well as birds were familiar to him; but he had the true Lazybones instinct of not following a thought too far, and so he looked and lolled and yawned, wishing for fine weather, for a new lining to his ragged old coat, or soles to his slipshod shoes, but never once supposing that any effort of his own could gain them.
When it was cold the kitchen was apt to be his resort. It was a long and low apartment on the ground-floor, and its wide fireplace, with stone settle beside the hooks and cranes for pots and kettles, had doubtless been as cheery a corner for the old monks to warm their toes after a foraging expedition as it was for Leo, who liked to smell the savory stews.
On the day of which I write the rain had fallen incessantly, and Leo had been more than usually disturbed by it, for cold and dreary though it was, the servants had turned him out of the kitchen. They would not have him there.
"Idle, worthless fellow!" said the cook; "he lolls about as a spy upon us, to repeat to the master every word he hears."
This was quite untrue and unjust, for Leo rarely conversed with his father, and seldom saw him since Morpheus took his meals as well as his woes to bed with him, as he had done at the present moment.
But the household was in revolt; the uneasiness from outside had crept within, and there was quarrelling among the servants.
"What shall I do?" said Leo to himself. "The rain is too heavy, or I would go out in it; but I have no place to get dry when I become soaked, and I can't go to bed in the daytime, as my father does. I wonder what he'd say if I went to him? Probably this: 'You have given wings to the finest of rhymes, and spoiled the turn of an exquisite verse; now, sir, what atonement can you make for so great an injury? It's the world's loss, remember.' That's the way it always is when I disturb him. Heigh-ho! what a dull day!"
"A very dull day indeed, your highness."
Leo started, his yawn ending abruptly, and he turned more quickly than he had ever done in his life towards the sound which saluted him. Surely he had been alone. Who ever came to this corridor? He looked up and down its dingy length, but saw no one. He must have been mistaken. Then he listened. The wind swept wailing through its accustomed approaches; shutters and windows shook with the blast, but no footfall was to be heard. He turned to the diamond-paned lattice, and again watched the drops trickling from the nose of the water-spout. No one had spoken. Again he yawned prodigiously, but brought his jaws together with a snap which might have damaged his teeth; for, to his great surprise, a voice said,
"I think I could amuse you."
"And pray who are you?" asked Leo, feeling very queer, and as if he were talking to himself.
"That is of little consequence, so long as I do what I have proposed," was the reply.
"Very true," said Leo; "but I never before heard of a ghost in the daytime."
"I am no ghost, your highness; I'd scorn to be such a useless thing."
"What are you, then, and where are you?"
"You will find out what I am after a while; and as to where I am, why, I am here beside you. Do you suppose you human beings have all the world to yourselves?"
"Not quite, to be sure; the birds and beasts have their share. But one can see them."
"So could you see me if your vision were not imperfect. How about all the living things you swallow every time you drink?"
"I have heard of something of the kind, but it was too much trouble to understand it."
"Poor boy! It's a pity some old ghost of a monk could not interest himself in your education; but, as I said before, ghosts are absurdly useless, except to scare people whose consciences are bad, and nothing more is needed to make me doubt their existence than the fact of your living here in what should be their stronghold, and they never raise hand or foot to help you. It's quite in keeping with their ridiculous pretensions. Believe in ghosts? No, I never did, and I never will."
The voice, small and weak though it was, grew quite angry in tone, and it seemed to Leo as if it were accompanied by the stamp of a foot; but he saw nothing, not so much as a spider crawling over the stone corridor.
It was very peculiar. He pinched himself to see if he was awake. Yes, wide-awake, no doubt of that; besides, he seldom dreamed—indeed, never, unless his foot had slipped in climbing a crag to peep into a nest, when the fall was sometimes repeated in his sleep. Who was this speaking to him? As if in answer to his thoughts, the voice went on:
"So far from being a good-for-nothing old ghost, I am one of the founders of the S.P.C.C., a very old society—much older than people of the present day imagine."
Leo was quite ashamed to be so ignorant, but he ventured to ask,
"What is the S.P.C.C.?"
"Is it possible you have never heard of it?"
"Never," replied Leo, still feeling as if he were talking to the walls.
There was a queer little gurgling "Ha! ha!" which was at once suppressed.
"Well, how could you know away off in this remote region?"
"I am sure I don't understand you at all," said Leo.
"No, I see you don't; and it's by no means remarkable. You live so entirely alone, and are so wretchedly neglected, that it is a wonder you know anything."
Leo began to be angry, but it was too much of an effort; besides, what was there to be angry at—a voice? So he remained sulkily silent until the voice resumed, in a changed tone:
"I beg your highness's pardon; I quite forgot myself. I am very apt to do that when I am much interested; it is a great fault, for I appreciate fine manners. But to explain. In the faraway cities where people live like ants in an ant-hill, all crowded together, there is often much cruelty and oppression, as well as vice and poverty. Now for this state of things they have laws and punishments, means of redress; but they relate principally to grown people's affairs; so the kind-hearted ones, noticing that little children are often in need of pity and care and protection, have an association called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It is as old as the hills, but they think it a modern invention. I am one of the original founders of that society, little as they know me; but human beings are so vain."
"Indeed!" said Leo, lazily; he was already tired of the whole matter.
"Yes, vain and pretentious. Look at your father and his poems; he thinks his doggerel verses a mark of genius."
"What has my father done to you that you attack him so rudely?" asked Leo, angrily.
"Ah! you are aroused at last. I am glad. What has your father not done, you had better ask. But I acknowledge that I am rude, and I won't say more than just this: Your father has failed to prepare you for your duties. Trouble is coming, and how are you to meet it?"
"Don't know, and don't care," came out with characteristic Lazybones indifference.
"Ah! my dear Prince, do not speak so; it is quite time you knew and cared. Do you study geography?"
"All surface work, I suppose?"
"Now my plan of study comprehends an interior view of the earth's formation."
Leo gave a tremendous yawn, and said,
"Oh, please don't bother any more; I am awfully tired."
"So I should think. Well, do you want to be amused?"
"No; I don't want anything."
"Come with me, then."
"No matter where; just do as I bid you."
"How can I, when I don't even see you?"
"True. It will be necessary to anoint your eyes; shall I do it?"
"Just as you please."
Leo felt a little pressure forcing down his eyelids, and the pouring of a drop of cool liquid on each.
When he opened his eyes again there stood before him the quaintest, queerest being he had ever beheld.
Leo had heard of kobolds and gnomes and elves, but in all his wanderings over the Lazybones estate in the brightness of noon, the dewy dawn, or dusky eve, or later when the moon bathed every shrub in silver, he had never so much as caught a glimpse of fairy folk.
Here, however, was a real elf—a most peculiar person. He was extremely small, thin, and wiry, about two and a half inches high, and his costume a cross between that of a student or professor and that of a miner, for on his bushy head was a miner's cap with a lantern, and on his back was a student's gown, while his thin legs were incased in black silk stockings, and his feet in rough hobnailed boots. Slung over one shoulder was a leather bag, and in his hand was a curious sort of a tool.
"The Master Professor Knops has the honor of saluting Prince Leo Lazybones," was the way in which this extraordinary person introduced himself, making at the same time a deep bow and a military salute, but with no raising of the cap from which the little lantern gleamed with a bright blue flame. Leo returned the salutation with a lazy grace, smiling curiously upon the queer little object before him, who proceeded to say:
"And now let us go; I lead—you follow."
"Forward, then," responded Leo, rising from his lounging attitude.
The elf went nimbly down the corridor, as if accustomed to it, and paused before a door which led to a flight of stone steps.
"Are you going down cellar?" asked Leo, who knew where the stairs led.
"I am," replied Knops; "but these huge doors and heavy hinges bother me. Be so good as to open and close them for me. By-the-way, you may get hungry; shall we find food down here?"
"Perhaps so," said Leo, following, and doing as requested.
They went down step after step, and it was wonderful how much light came from that little blue flame.
On skipped the elf, his gown puffing out, his nailed boots pattering over the stones, and Leo found himself quite breathless when they reached the cellar, so unused was he to any rapidity of movement.
"Suppose we meet some one," said Leo.
"And what have we to fear if we do? No one can see me, and if you are afraid of a scullion or house-maid you are not the Prince I take you for. Tut! tut! don't be afraid—come on."
The cellar was damp, and great curtains of cobwebs, like gray lace, fell over the empty bins and wine-vaults. From a heap of winter vegetables Leo filled his pockets with apples and turnips.
They came at last to a door which Leo remembered having opened once, but finding that it led to a passage which was dark, dismal, and unused, he had not cared to explore it. He now followed the elf through it, but not without misgivings, for as he groped along he stepped on a round object which, to his horror when the little blue flame of the elf's lantern revealed its empty sockets and grinning jaws, proved to be a skull.
Knops turned with a smile when he saw Leo's agitation, and said, blandly,
"You are not interested in this form of natural history, I see." Then taking up the skull, he placed it in a crevice of the wall, saying, "Here is another proof that there are no ghosts about. Do you think any one would be so careless of his knowledge-box as to leave it to be kicked around in that way? Oh, those old monks were miserable house-keepers; the idea of stowing away their skeletons so near their kitchen closets!"
Leo smiled faintly, and went on after Knops, who every once in a while gave a tap on the walls with his tool, starting the echoes.
"There!" said he, "do you hear that? This is the way we make old houses haunted. I don't do it for fun, as do the elves of folly. I have a sensible purpose; but they like nothing better than to frighten people, and so they make these noises at all hours, and get up reports that a house is bewitched; but even a common insect like the cricket can do that, human beings are such ridiculous cowards."
Leo made an effort to assume the courage which he did not feel, and asked his guide how much farther he intended to lead him.
"Now," said Knops, stopping, and putting on an air of intense gravity, as if he were about to deliver a lecture, "I must beg you, my dear Prince, to place perfect confidence in me. I promised not to harm you. As a member of the S.P.C.C., I am pledged to protect you; besides, you have no idea how much I am interested in you; this expedition has been planned entirely for your benefit. Trust me, then, and give yourself entirely up to my control. Ask as many questions as you wish, provided they are useful ones. Just say, without ceremony, 'Knops, why is this? or, Knops, what is that?' and I, in return, if you will be so good as to allow me, will say, frankly, 'Leo, this is this,' or 'that is that.' But here is the entrance to our habitations. You will have to stoop a little." Striking again with his tool, a panel slid open in the wall, through which they crept.
It was still dark, but the air had changed greatly; instead of the musty dampness of a vault, there was a soft warmth, which was fragrant and spicy, and a beam as of moonlight began to illuminate the passage, which broadened until they stood at its termination, when Leo found himself on a ledge or gallery of rock, which was but one of many in the vast cavern which opened before them.
On its floor was burning an immense bonfire, which flashed and flamed, and around which was a bevy of dwarfs, shovelling on fuel from huge heaps of sandal-wood. Every gallery swarmed with elves and dwarfs in all sorts of odd costumes, but all bore little lanterns in their caps, and tools in their hands. Some were hammering at great bowlders, others with picks were working in passages similar to the one Leo had left, and others seemed to be turning lathes, sharpening knives, cutting and polishing heaps of brilliant stones. Every once in a while a party of queer little creatures much smaller than Knops would trundle in wheelbarrows full of rough pebbles, and dumping them down before those employed in cutting and polishing, would be off again in a jiffy for another load.
Leo was so astonished that he stood perfectly silent, gazing now at the flashing fire which reflected from all sides of the brilliant quartz of the cavern, and now at the tier upon tier of galleries full of busy little people.
"This is one of our workshops," said Knops, "but not the most important. Now that you have rested a moment I will take you to that."
Line upon line of red and green in rubies and emeralds were at the base of the grotto, and then he found that the emeralds sprang up into long grasses, and the rubies into flaming roses, and on slender spears were lilies of pearls and daisies of diamonds, and blending with these were vines of honeysuckle and strawberries, gleaming with sapphires and topaz and amethysts, wreathing and flashing up to a ceiling of lapis lazuli blue as a June sky. The floor was a mosaic of turquoise forget-me-nots on a turf of Egyptian jasper.
When Leo had looked at all this bewildering beauty, Knops pushed open the mica door again, and they began to traverse the galleries of the rock cavern. He was surprised that none of the elves noticed him, nor even looked at him, and he asked Knops the reason.
"I have rendered you invisible to them, my dear Leo, for two reasons: one is that you may be undisturbed in your examination of their work, and the other is that they may not be interrupted; for of course your presence would be a source of lively interest to them, and yet any stoppage of work would necessitate punishment."
"Punishment?" repeated Leo, questioningly.
"Oh yes; most of our hardest workers are elves of mischief and it is only by keeping them thus constantly employed that we prevent disorder. You have no idea what pranks they play."
"And what is your authority among them?" asked Leo.
"I am one of our King's cabinet; my title is Master Professor. My learning qualifies me to decide upon the plans of work, where to search for precious stones, and how best to prepare them for man's finding. Nothing is more amusing than the wonder and surprise men exhibit at what they consider their discoveries of minerals and gems, when for ages we have been arranging them for their clumsy hands."
"How do you do this?"
"Ah! it's a long story. Here you see the result of our long searches, and were it not for the processes we conduct none of these stones would ever be found. We can penetrate where man has never been; we can construct what man has in vain tried to do. Come with me to our diamond-room: we do not make many, preferring to find them; but as an interesting scientific experiment we have always liked to test our ability."
So saying, Knops turned down a little lane lighted by what looked like small globes of white fire.
"Electric light," said Knops, with a gesture of disdain, as he saw Leo blinking with wonder—"the commonest sort of a blaze; and yet men have nearly addled their brains over it, while we made it boil our kettles. It's the simplest and cheapest fuel one can have; but having utilized it so long, I am on the lookout for something new. Here, this is the way;" and again he opened a mica door.
Blow-pipes and retorts, crucibles and jars, porcelain and glass vessels, of all odd sorts and shapes, confronted them on tables and shelves, and seated before small furnaces, with gauze protectors for their faces and metal ones for their knees, and queer little rubber gloves for their hands, were the very queerest of all the elves Leo had yet seen. They were thinner and much less muscular than the miners and stone-polishers, with eyes too large and legs too small for their bodies, so that they resembled nothing so much as spiders.
"See how in the pursuit of the beautiful one can lose all beauty," said Knops, confidentially.
"How hot it is here!" said Leo, gasping for breath.
"Yes, my dear fellow, there's no doubt of that; the heat is tremendous. Now some of your thermometers go no higher than one hundred and thirty, while ours can ascend to three and four hundred; that is, for the common air of our dwellings. Of course the heat demanded by many of our experiments is practically incalculable; for instance—"
"Oh, get me out of this!" entreated Leo.
"Here, step into this niche, put your mouth to this opening"—and Knops pointed to one of many silver tubes which projected near them—"now breathe. Is not that refreshing?"
"Yes," said Leo, reviving, as he took a long draught of fresh cool air. "How do your people endure such heat?"
"They are used to it; besides, they can come to these little tubes, as you have done, whenever they please."
"Where does this air come from?"
"It is pure oxygen; we manufacture it, and here is a lump of pure carbon which we also manufacture," and he laid in Leo's hand what looked like a drop of dew. It was a diamond of exquisite lustre.
As Leo looked with surprise and admiration at it, an elf came staggering up to the niche. After breathing the oxygen he turned to Knops with a heart-rending cry.
"I have lost it—lost it, Master Knops."
"Lost what, Paz?"
"The finest stone I ever made, and I have been years at it."
"How did that happen?"
"Burned it too long—look!" and he produced in his spidery hand a small mass of charcoal.
"Never mind, Paz; better luck next time," said Knops, kindly.
"No, I am no longer fit for the profession; such a mistake is inexcusable. I cannot hold up my head among the others. I meant that diamond for our King's tiara or the Queen's necklace—bah! Please, Master Professor, put me among the miners, or take me for your valet. I care not what I do."
"You are depressed just now; wait awhile."
"No, I must go. I have broken my crucible and put out my furnace. I will not stay to be scorned."
"Come with me, then, and I will see what I can do for you."
"He may be useful to us," said Knops to Leo, adding, "we never allow these diamonds to be put in the quartz beds; they are all reserved for our own particular uses. It takes so long a time to make them that only elves of great patience and a certain quiet habit of mind are trained to the task. Look!"
He pointed towards what appeared to be a glittering cobweb hanging from a projection on the wall. It was composed of silver wires, on which were strung numbers of small but most exquisite gems, each of which sparkled and flashed with its imprisoned light.
"In the same way," he resumed, "all the pearls we use are of our own cultivation, if I may use the term. We secure the oysters and insert small objects within the shells, generally a seed-pearl of insignificant size, leaving it to be worked upon by the living fish; when enough time for the incrustation has elapsed we find our pearls grown to a remarkable size, of rarest beauty and value. These processes are not unknown to man, but men are so clumsy that they seldom succeed in perfecting them."
Leo by this time was quite exhausted both by what he had seen and by what he had heard, and he begged Knops to allow him to rest.
"Certainly, certainly, my dear," said Knops. "Pardon me for wearying you. I am more scientific than hospitable. Come to our sleeping apartment. I think I shall allow Paz to see you, for, as he is so unhappy, it will divert him to serve you while you remain with us, and perhaps, too, he can suggest something suitable for your food. I ought to have thought of this before."
Leo had, with three or four bites, disposed of an apple, and had already begun on a turnip, when Knops, giving Paz a peculiar sign, the spidery little fellow reached up and snatched the turnip from Leo's hand.
"What's the matter now?" asked Leo, too tired to regain it, easily as he could have done so.
"I can't see anybody eat such wretched stuff as that; wait till I cook it," said Paz.
"Well, Paz, I am glad you can help me out of my difficulty," said Knops. "I really am puzzled what to do for Prince Leo's hunger. My breakfast is a wren's egg; for dinner, a sardine with a slice of mushroom is enough for four of us; for supper, a pickled mouse tongue. How long could you live on such fare, Leo?"
"Not long, I fear."
"So I supposed. Well, here is the dormitory; by pushing up a dozen or more beds, you can stretch out awhile. Meanwhile I can attend to some professional duties, after I have despatched Paz for your food. What are you going to do with that turnip, Paz?"
"An elf who can make diamonds from charcoal can perhaps produce beefsteak from a turnip," said Leo.
"Ah! don't remind me of my bitter humiliation, kind sir," said Paz, in a sad tone. "I will do what I can for you. Do you like soup?"
"And roast quail?"
"Adieu, then, for an hour."
Knops too departed, leaving Leo to look about him, with curious eyes, upon rows of little beds, each with a scarlet blanket, and each having its pitcher and basin conveniently at hand. But he soon was fast asleep.
While all this was happening to Leo, at the monastery there was great confusion. The servants had gone in a body to Prince Morpheus's bedroom to demand their wages. With tearful eyes and wailing voice he had protested that he had no money, that his life was hanging by a thread, and that his brain was on fire. They loudly urged their claims, declaring they would instantly leave the premises unless they were paid. As they could not get a satisfactory reply from their master, who hid his eyes at the sight of their angry faces, and put his fingers in his ears to keep out their noisy voices, they concluded to go; so, packing their boxes and bags, and pressing the mules and oxen into their service, they one by one went off to the nearest village.
One old woman, who had never known any other home, alone remained, and when the storm subsided and the house was quiet, Morpheus, being hungry, crawled down to the kitchen fire to find her boiling porridge.
"Where is my son?" asked Morpheus.
The old woman was deaf, and only muttered, "Gone—all gone."
"Alas! and has my son also deserted his father?" cried Morpheus.
The old woman nodded, partly with the palsy, and partly because she knew of nothing to say. Morpheus smote his forehead with a tragic gesture, and allowed himself to fall—gently—upon the floor. When he had remained in an apparent swoon long enough he was revived by some hot porridge being poured down his throat, and his hair and hands sprinkled with vinegar. Rousing himself as if with great effort, but really with great ease, he stood up, and finding the kitchen warmer than his cell, concluded to remain there; but the old woman was too stiff with rheumatism to wait upon him, so he had to ladle out his own portion of porridge, get his books and candle for himself, and finally bring in some fagots for the fire.
When he sat down to study he found himself in a more cheerful mood than he had been in for many a day, though he could not help wondering what had become of Leo. As he went on thinking where the boy could be he was inspired to write what he called a sonnet upon the subject. Here it is:
"My boy has fled his father's home, No more he treads these halls; In vain my voice invokes his name, In vain my tears, my calls. The night winds sigh, the owlets cry, The moon's pale light appears, The stars are shivering in the sky— I tremble at my fears. Has then the Knight of Shadowy Dread My Leo forced away From his fond parent's loving heart In Death's grim halls astray? I bow reluctant to my fate; 'Tis mine to weep and mine to wait!"
He counted the lines over carefully; the eighth and tenth seemed short, but it scanned after a fashion. On the whole it suited him, and was rather better done than many of his verses, so with soothed nerves he sought his pillow.
The old woman had slumbered all the evening in her chair. Indeed her snoring had been even and regular enough to act as a measure in marking the time for the musical cadences of the sonnet.
Morpheus, having a pretty good appetite, ate some bread and cheese and drank some ale before retiring.
Leo was awakened by being rudely jostled about and tumbled upon the floor. When he opened his eyes the cause was apparent. The elves had found their beds in disorder, and not being able to see him, had, in their efforts to restore order, pitched him out. Hardly had Leo reached the floor when in came Paz to the rescue.
"I beg your pardon, sir, for being so long absent," he said, "but the hunters had not come in with any game, and the cooks had use for all the skillets, so that I was obliged to go to the laboratory for a vessel large enough to hold your turnip. Soup is made in great quantities for our work-people, and by adding a few sauces I hope I have made it so that it will please you. If you come with me now I think you may relish your meal."
Leo followed Paz to a small cavern hung with a velvety gray moss, on which were clusters of red berries. A small electric light burned in a globe of crystal, set in bands of turquoise, and shone upon a table which, like the bed he had used, was composed of several small ones, covered with a cloth of crimson plush, over which was again spread a white fabric of the thinnest texture and edged with lace. On this was laid a dinner service, so small that it was evidently more for ornament than use. Plates of crystal were bordered with gems, and jars and cups of embossed metal glittered with precious stones. He was obliged, however, to eat his soup from the tureen, and the turnip, now cooked in a sort of pate, was presented on a silver platter. Slices of smoked rabbit, with salted steaks of prairie-dog, were offered in place of the quail, which had not come; but Leo, having a fondness for sweets, saw with wonder one tart made from about a quarter of an apple. This proved to be such a sweet morsel that he kept Paz running for more until he had eaten a dozen. No wine was offered, but ices which looked like heaps of snow with the sun shining on them were dissolving in glass vases, and water as pure as the dew filled his goblet. Rising refreshed from his meal Leo met Knops coming towards him. He had exchanged his dress for what looked like a bathing suit of India rubber.
"Are you rested?" he inquired, kindly.
"Oh yes, very much, and I must thank you and Paz for so good a dinner," responded Leo.
"Don't mention it. If I had not acted on the spur of the moment, when the impulse to amuse you seized me, I would have been better prepared. We use many things for food which you would disdain, but I might have secured antelope meat or Rocky Mountain mutton, and by way of rarity something from Russia or China. Have you ever tasted birds' nests."
"But I suppose you know why they are thought so great a delicacy?"
"It is merely the gluten with which they are fastened together, so to speak, by the birds, which renders them agreeable. The Chinese like rats, and in this we agree with them. Well dressed, stuffed with chestnuts or olives, and roasted, they are delicious."
Leo made a wry face.
"Ah! you are not cosmopolitan."
"What is that?"
"A citizen of the world, a person free from national prejudices. Ah, these words are long for you; I will try to be simple: you have not learned to eat everything that is good."
"But rats are not good; they are vermin."
"Bah! yes, because you let them feed like your hogs on anything. We do better; we pen them, and give them grain until they are fat and sweet, and make them eatable."
Leo could not disguise his dislike, so Knops, shrugging his shoulders, did not attempt any longer to convince him, but said,
"Are you interested in what I have shown you?"
"Certainly I am," said Leo, with more spirit than he had ever put into words.
"And you care to go on?"
"Prepare then for great exertion. As you are so large it will be necessary for you to creep through many passages. I am going to take you to see our water-work. The visit may be tiresome, but I think you will be repaid. It is generally supposed that giants have greater power than we. It may be that it is true, but I think it is doubtful. But you may wonder why I speak now of giants. It is because they have originated the opinion among men that the great water-falls and cataracts, such as those of the Nile and Niagara, are entirely of their producing, but we all know the familiar adage, 'Great oaks from little acorns grow.' I am going to show you where the little springs and rivulets have their rise."
Leo's attention had flagged during this speech—he was so unaccustomed to many words—now his interest revived.
"Do you remember a certain shady spot about half a mile from the monastery, beneath a group of birch-trees, and overhung with alders?" asked Knops.
"Do I not, indeed?" responded Leo, eagerly. "It is the sweetest, coolest water on the estate. The moss around that spring is just like green velvet. Many a time I have plunged my whole head in it. The birds know it too, and always come there to drink. I sometimes find four or five of them dipping in at once; it is a pretty sight to see them bathe; they throw the water up under their wings until they drip, and then they are hardly satisfied."
"Well," said Knops, "we have the supplying of that spring."
All the time they had been talking, Knops had been leading the way through long passages and down steep steps, of which Leo's long legs had to compass several at a stride.
Now they came to a low tunnel through which Leo had to creep for what seemed to him miles. Strange to say, the weariness which so often compelled him to rest or doze seemed to be leaving him. He felt an altogether new impulse, a desire to explore these recesses, and a great respect for Knops's learning also made him desirous of conversation, which was something he had always avoided by answering questions in the shortest possible way.
The tunnel was not only long and low, but it was dripping with moisture, and the air oppressive with what seemed to be steam. Leo heard wheezing and groaning sounds, which, though not frightful, were very peculiar, and then the thump-thump, as of engines.
Very glad was he when the tunnel opened into another large cavern, at the bottom of which was a lake. He could not have seen this had it not been for the electric fluid which blazed like daylight from a great globe overhead. On the margin of the lake were all kinds of hydraulic machines, small as toys, but of every conceivable form; derricks and wheels and screws and pumps, and all under the management of busy little elves, who panted and puffed and tugged at ropes and wheels and pipes as they worked, and kept up a constant chant not unlike the song of the wind on a stormy night.
Leo watched them intently. Once in a while one restless little sprite would turn a hose upon his companions, when the chant would stop long enough for the rest to dip him head and heels into the lake, which had a very quieting effect. Leo noticed great numbers of pipes running up the sides of the cavern in all directions, but Knops soon opened the door of what he called "the model-room," and here were new wonders displayed.
The model-room of the elves' water-work department was a grotto of salt—glittering, dazzling, sparkling, and flashing—divided into two equal parts, or as if a huge shelf had been placed across it.
On the top of the shelf was a tiny park or forest, with all the natural differences of the ground exactly represented by grasses, plants, flowers, rocks, and trees, living and growing, but on a scale so small that Leo was forced to use a microscope to properly enjoy its beauty. Even the herbage was minute, and the trees no larger than small ferns, but as his eyes grew accustomed to the glass he was amazed to find the hills and dales of his home here reproduced in the most familiar manner.
It was truly an exquisite scene. Field upon field dotted with daisies, woodland as dense and wild as untrained nature leaves it, and hill upon hill clambering over one another, all so minute and yet so real, and dashing down from the tiny mountains was a stream of foaming water, winding about and gathering in from all sides other tributary brooks, so small that they would hardly have floated a good-sized leaf.
And now Leo understood the meaning of it all, as he looked underneath the shelf where tiny pumps and rams were forcing up the water for this stream.
Knops touched a spring and set a new series of wheels in motion, when, instantly, a gushing fountain flowed up in a small stone basin beneath a rustic cross; then a little lake appeared, on which were sailing small swans; and finally a rushing, roaring flood started some mill-wheels and almost threatened destruction to the tiny buildings upon its banks.
"This," said Knops, "shows you how we use the power of our reservoirs, but it can give you no idea of the immense trouble we have in laying pipes for great distances. Some of our elves find it so difficult that they beg for other work, and many run off altogether and live above-ground, inhabiting the regions of springs and brooks, and so muddying them and filling them up with weeds that men let them alone, which is just what they desire."
"Do fish ever clog your pipes?" asked Leo.
"Never. We have none in our lakes; the water is too pure and free from vegetable matter for fish. It is doubly distilled. Taste it."
Leo took the glass which Knops offered, and confessed he had never tasted anything more delicious.
"We sometimes force carbonic gas into mineral springs, but that, as well as the salts considered so beneficial, is left to our chemists to regulate. Paz, do you know anything about this?"
"Not much, Master Knops. I have seen iron in various forms introduced, but think that is usually controlled by the earth's formation."
Leo sighed at his own ignorance, and vowed to study up these matters; but Knops, seeing his look of dejection, asked, "How would you like a bath?"
"Delightful. Where? Surely not in the lake; it looks so cold and glassy I should not dare."
"Oh, no, no," laughed Knops. "Do you think I'd let you bathe in a reservoir? Never! We are too cleanly for that, begging your pardon. Here is our general bath. It's quite a tub, isn't it?"
"I should think so," said Leo, surveying quite a spacious apartment, about which were pipes and faucets, clothes-lines and screens.
Here his friend left him, and he was glad to doff his garments for a plunge. He found that he could make the water hot or cold at will, and so luxurious was it that he would have stayed in any length of time had not a crowd of elves come chattering in, and with whoop and scream surrounded him. Though they could not see him, they were conscious of some disturbing force in the water, and in an instant a lot of them had scrambled on his back, and were making a boat of him. They pulled his hair and his ears unmercifully, and because he swam slowly, with their weight upon him, they whacked and thumped him like little pirates. But he had his revenge, for with one turn he tumbled them all off, and sprang from the bath, leaving them to squirm and squabble by themselves.
Laughing heartily at their antics, he rejoined Knops and Paz, whom he found poring over some maps spread out before them.
"We have been discussing the length of a journey to the Geysers of Iceland, also to the hot springs of the Yellowstone, but I am afraid either would require too much time. Was your bath agreeable?"
"Very," said Leo, describing how he had been pummelled.
"Those were the fellows from the steam-rooms—stokers probably. Rough enough they are. Do you care to have a glance at them at work?"
"Don't care if I do," said Leo, in his old drawling manner; then, correcting himself, he added: "If it suits your convenience, I shall be very happy to take a look."
"That is all it will be, I promise you," said Paz; "the heat is awful."
Leo thought as much when Knops, having tied a respirator over his mouth, opened another door. Such a cloud of vapor puffed out that he could but dimly discern what seemed to be a tank of boiling, bubbling water, resting on a bed of soft coal, about which stark little forms were dancing and poking with long steel bars until flames leaped out like tongues of fire.
"Oh," said Leo, as he quickly turned from his place, "how do they endure it? It is dreadful!"
"They are used to it; they all came from Terra del Fuego," replied Knops, calmly. "And now, as a contrast to them, look in here."
A hut of solid ice presented itself. Long pendants of ice hung from the ceiling, snow in masses was being formed into shapes of statue-like grace by a company of little furry objects whose noses were not even visible, and others were tracing out, on a broad screen of lace-like texture, patterns of every star and leaf and flower imaginable.
Leo was so delighted that, although shivering, he could not bear to leave them, but begged Knops to lend him a wrap.
Taking from a pile of furs in a corner several small garments, Paz pinned them together and threw them over Leo's shoulders, and as he continued to watch the beautiful work Knops explained its character.
"This is our place for working out designs for those who are unskilled in frost-work. Frostwork is something too delicate for human hands, but in it we excel. Have you never seen on your window-pane of a cold winter morning the picture of a forest of pines, or sheets of sparkling stars and crystals? I am sure you have. Well, we do all that work on your windows, not with artificial snow and ice such as you see here, but by dexterous management we catch the falling flakes and mould them to our will, sometimes doing nothing more than spangling a sheet of glass, and again working out the most elaborate and fantastic marvels of embroidery. But in art our productions are almost endless. We color the tiniest blades of grass and beds of strawberry leaves until the moss upon which they rest look like velvet with floss needlework. We polish the chestnuts till they appear as if carved of rosewood. We strip thistles of their prickly coat, and use the down for pillows. The milk-weed, as it ripens its silken-winged seeds, serves us for many beautiful purposes. We tint the pebbles of a brook till they compare with Florentine mosaics. We wreathe and festoon every bare old bowlder and every niche made barren by the winds. Indeed, the list of our works would fill a volume."
Leo listened and looked, though his feet were getting numb and his fingers nearly frozen. Many a time he had seen just such cappings to gate-posts and projections as were here being moulded, and just such rows of pearly drops on a gable's edge; but when, as if to specially please him, the busy workers carved a little snow maid winding a scarf about her curly locks, he clapped his hands in admiration, making such a noise that each little Esquimau dropped his tool in alarm.
"Gently! gently!" said Paz and Knops; "they are easily frightened. Though they do not see you, their instinct is so fine that they can nearly guess your presence."
"I am sorry if I have frightened them," said Leo. "Can't you say something to soothe them? Tell them how lovely their things are. I long to try and imitate them."
Knops said a few words in a language Leo did not comprehend, and the little people gathered up their trowels again. But it was time to go, and Leo had to follow his guides and leave the snow people with more reluctance than anything he had yet seen.
Knops now led Leo through so many places full of machines and contrivances which the water-power kept active that he was glad when they went up a long inclined plane, and came out into a wide gallery lined with mother-of-pearl, and paved with exquisite sea-shells.
Here was a luxurious couch of beautiful feathers, the plumage of birds he had never beheld, and he was not sorry to see Paz bringing out another dozen of tarts for his refreshment. As he ate them, he asked of Knops, who was peeling a lime, "Have you no women and children among your elves?"
"Oh yes," said Knops, smiling; "but they are not to be found near our workshops."
"Where, then, do they live?"
Knops put on an air of mystery as he replied: "I am not permitted to reveal everything concerning us, dear Leo. Our private life is of no public interest; but I may tell you that our children are bred entirely in the open air. Many an empty bird's nest is used as an elf cradle, for so highly do we esteem pure air, sunshine, and exposure as a means of making our children hardy, that we even accustom them to danger, and let them, like the birds, face the fury of the weather."
"And do they all work as you do?"
"They do, not at the same employments, nor is all our labor done by hand, as you might suppose. The songs which you hear are not all sung by birds or insects, the crying child has often a pretty tale whispered in his ear to soothe his grief or passion, and your garden roses are witness to many a worm in the bud choked by the hand of an elf. But we have many tribes, and the habits of each are different. I do not conceal that much trouble is made by some of them. But look at the Indians of North America and the Afghans of Asia."
Leo was yawning again fearfully, when a little "turn, turn, turn," came to his ears, and as Knops ceased speaking a band of elves, habited as troubadours in blue and silver, with long white plumes in their velvet caps, climbed over the balustrade and began to play on zithers.
The music was a gentle tinkle, not unlike a rippling brook, and appeared to be in honor of Master Knops, who listened with pleased attention, and dismissed them politely.
Then came a message for Knops. A council was awaiting his presence; so, leaving Leo to Paz, with promise of a speedy return, he departed.
"How do you get about so fast?" asked Leo. Paz took from his pocket a tiny pipe, curiously carved from a nut; then he opened a small ivory box, showing Leo a wad of something which looked like raw cotton sprinkled with black seeds.
"One whiff of this, as it burns in my pipe, and I can wish myself where I please."
"Let me have a try," said Leo, taking up the pipe.
Paz smiled. "It would have no more effect upon you than so much tobacco—not as much, probably, for tobacco makes you deathly sick, does it not?"
"Yes," said Leo, listlessly, disappointed that he could not go to the ends of the earth by magic.
Paz noticed the disappointment, and said, by way of diversion, "Where do you like best to be?"
"At home I like the kitchen," said Leo, with a little shrug.
"Good! Come, then, to one of ours: we can be back by the time Master Knops returns." So saying, he started off, and Leo followed.
Paz trotted down a winding staircase that made Leo feel as if he were a corkscrew, and in a little while ushered him into a place where jets of gas gave a garden-like effect, sprouting as they did from solid rock in the form of tulips and tiger-lilies, but over each was a wire netting, and from the netting were suspended shining little copper kettles and pans of all sorts and shapes.
Busily bending over these was a regiment of cooks, but instead of paper caps on their heads, each wore a white bonnet of ludicrous form, which they could tip over so as to shield their faces from the heat. It gave them a top-heavy appearance which was extremely funny.
In the centre of the kitchen was a long table, before which were seated a number of elves testing each compound to see if it were properly prepared, and examining the cooked dishes as they were brought in that all should be served rightly.
"I had an idea," said Leo, "that elves and fairies lived on rose leaves and honey, and that you never had to have things cooked."
"The truth is," answered Paz, "we do both; it all depends on what are our employments, whether we are living in the wild wood or down in these caverns. I would ask nothing better than to dine off honeysuckle and a bird's egg, or fill my pockets with gooseberries; but I must adapt myself to circumstances, and while toiling here have to share the more solid food provided for us." As he said this he handed Leo a pudding of about three inches in the round, iced on the top.
Leo swallowed it down with such zest that Paz asked him to dispense with ceremony, and help himself to anything he saw. The tasting-table was full of puffs and tarts, and in a twinkling Leo had eaten two or three dozen of them. They were really so light and frothy that they were hardly equal to an ounce of lollypops such as an ordinary child could devour, but Paz cautioned him, telling him that the sweet was so concentrated he might have a headache.
While he was doing this, Leo watched with interest the bringing in of some squirrels and rabbits, skinned and ready to be roasted. It took six elves to bear the weight of an ordinary meat dish on which these were; then they trussed and skewered them, and put them in small ovens.
"How do you kill your game?" asked Leo.
"We trap everything, and then have a mode of killing the creatures which is entirely painless."
By this time Knops would have returned, so Paz hurried Leo off, not, however, without first filling his pockets with goodies. Up they clambered, until it seemed as if they might reach the stars by going a little farther, and now Leo was really so tired that when he sank down on the feathery couch in the sea-shell corridor he was asleep before he could explain to Knops the cause of his absence.
He must have slept a very long while—a time quite equal to an ordinary night, if not longer—for when he awoke he was thoroughly rested and refreshed, and ready for any exertion he might be called upon to make; but he found himself entirely alone.
At first this did not affect him, for he supposed his elfin friends had taken the opportunity to rest themselves, but after minutes lengthened into hours he began to be uneasy. What should he do if they never came back? How would he ever find his way out of these caverns? The thought was frightful, and to relieve his fears he began to call. His calls became shouts, yells, and yet no answer came; nothing but echoes responded.
After a long and impatient listening the echoes of Leo's calls seemed to prolong themselves into musical strains, which, faint and far away at first, gradually came nearer and nearer.
Soft as the sighing of the wind was this elfin music, but swelling into mimic bursts of harmony and clashing of small cymbals.
Leo leaned over the balustrade of the corridor, and gazed down into the depths of a cavernous abyss. Instantly the space seemed filled with sprites in every conceivable attire. Some were dressed in the party-colored habits of court pages, some in royal robes of ermine, others as shepherds with crooks, and again others as cherubs with gauzy wings; but all were whirling like snow-flakes to the strains of the music.
Leo looked in vain for Paz or Knops. Indeed, so many were the fantastic forms, and so rapidly did they move, that it was like watching a snow-storm, and this effect was heightened by misty wreaths, upon which were borne aloft the more radiant members, who danced and flashed as heat-lightning on the clouds of a summer's night. The light, instead of being a bright glare, was soft and mellow, and fell from crescent-shaped lanterns on the staffs of pages, who moved in a measured way among the throng, producing a kaleidoscopic effect.
Leo watched them with eager eyes. Beautiful as the sight was, he yet was oppressed with fear, for he knew not how to reveal himself to these sportive beings, and he could not imagine how he should ever be released from his imprisonment.
Suddenly the dancers fled as if pursued, the music became martial, and the steady tramp of a host of elves was heard. They were clad in mail, with helmets and shields of flashing steel, and armed with glittering lances; half of them had blue plumes and half had crimson. And now began their mimic warfare. Ranged line upon line, facing each other, with shouts and drum beats and bugle blasts, they fell upon each other in the fury of combat. Swords clashed, javelins were hurled, and the slain fell in heaps; but still the leaders charged, and still the martial blasts were heard; and over and over were repeated the manoeuvres of the advance, the retreat, the parrying of blows, the redoubled ardor of assault, until Leo's breath came short and hard with the excitement of the scene. It seemed a veritable battle-field, and to add to the glamour rays as of moonbeams, shone now and again clouded by the shadows of an approaching storm.
Gradually the rage of the combatants subsided. Those who were able withdrew with those of their companions who were disabled, leaving the prostrate forms of the dead and dying.
And now the music portrayed the rising of the wind, the falling of rain, the roar of thunder. This was succeeded by low, plaintive strains, as of people weeping, and a party of elves in the garb of monks headed a procession bearing lighted tapers and carrying biers, upon which they placed the inanimate forms of the warriors. Slowly they paced about, chanting in low tones, and constantly accompanied by the funeral dirge of the musicians.
And now to Leo's almost overtaxed vision came a picture of a lonely graveyard in the mountains, where the procession stopped. Even as he looked it faded away; the sun streamed forth, shining upon a field of grain where merry reapers swung their scythes and sang with glee. Trees sprouted from fissures in the rock, birds flew about and perched undismayed, and little hay-carts, piled high with their loads, came creaking along, led by peasant elves, who were also seated on top of their fragrant heaps of hay. Then the sun beamed upon a party of drovers—elves in smock-frocks or blouses, driving flocks of sheep and horned cattle, while the bleating of the sheep and the blowing of the cattle were well imitated by the music. All this was succeeded by vineyards, grape trellises, and arbors, with busy elves gathering the fruit which hung in purple clusters, and beneath the arbors other elves rattling castanets, beating tambourines, and dancing.
Again the scene changed. Snow fell; the birds disappeared; the tree boughs were glittering with ice, and were bending over a wide field of the same glassy substance. On it were elves in bright costumes, merrily skating. They glided about, cutting curious figures, pausing to bend and bow to each other, or to warm themselves at bonfires blazing on the banks.
Then night came again, and the darkness was only broken by twinkling stars. The music became softer and more plaintive; it sounded like little flutes.
A church tower loomed up, and then a blaze of light issued from its arched doors. Two by two, in white array, came forth the elves, and from the floating veils Leo saw that it was meant to represent a bridal procession. Garlands were on their arms, and ribbons fluttered from their caps. Roses were strewn in their path.
Again, these were followed by a company of elves in the habit of nuns and Sisters of Charity. The music became a hymn. The church grew dark and vanished. The space filled again with shadowy forms, as if all the little actors had poured in. The sound of their coming was like that of a bevy of birds with wings fluttering. Suddenly a starry cross appeared; it flashed and flamed with a light which was as if it were composed of myriads of gems, and then a clear radiance streamed from it, revealing the whole multitude of elves kneeling in devotion. This lasted but a few moments, and again all was still and dark, and Leo was alone.
But he was no longer afraid. His mind was filled with the beautiful scenes he had witnessed, his imagination stirred to activity. Why might he not behold these things again as a reality, instead of only a semblance of it? How grand it would be to travel and see novel and beautiful sights, to learn also wonderful things! And as he quietly thought, he heard the click, click of little boots, and Knops was beside him, followed by Paz. Leo greeted them warmly.
"Did you suppose that we had deserted you?" asked Knops, sitting down by his side on the couch as if exhausted.
"Yes, I was a little alarmed; it was so strange to find myself alone in such a place, for of course I had no idea which way to turn or what to do."
"You were so soundly asleep that I had not the cruelty to disturb you, and it was necessary for Paz to go with me. From what you have witnessed you may guess how we have been employed and how much we have had to detain us; but you may rest assured that nothing would keep me from finishing what I have undertaken. You have now had a Vision of Life and a Vision of Labor, for such I call our two pantomimes. Am I wrong in supposing that they have pleased you?"
"No, indeed," said Leo, quickly, his usual drawl giving place to a tone of bright animation. "I thank you a thousand times for your entertainment and instruction. I have been so pleased and delighted that I can hardly express myself as I ought to do. I am afraid I seem a very good-for-nothing fellow to you."
"Indeed you do not. Don't suppose I would waste time on a good-for-naught. Paz can tell you what attracted me to you—can't you, Paz?"
"Yes, sir; the Prince Leo's kindness of heart is the secret of his power with us."
Leo blushed as he looked up and asked, "How did you know I was soft-hearted?"
"By your kindness to animals and all living things. Ah! we are close observers, are we not, Paz?"
"Necessarily, Master Professor."
"Our powers of observation have revealed to us many of the mysteries which man longs to solve. There's the Gulf Stream, for instance. But you are not up in science yet. No matter. You have time enough before you if you will only apply yourself. Has anything you have seen made you anxious to know more?"
"Oh, don't mention it!" exclaimed Leo. "I am so awfully ashamed of my ignorance that I would do anything to get rid of it. I want to know all about those curious things."
"Good! the seed is sown, Paz," said Knops, complacently, with the nearest approach to a wink Leo had seen on his grave little countenance. "Now you must rest again before we start for home."
Leo would have been very willing to do without more rest, remembering his alarm, but he could not be so selfish as to deprive his companion of it; so he at once assented, tempted to ask only that he might not be left quite so long again alone. But fearing this would imply distrust, and being really no coward, he said nothing. He was relieved, however, to hear Knops command Paz to remain with him.
Leo tried to go to sleep; but after doing everything he could think of, such as imagining a flock of sheep jumping a fence, and counting a hundred backward and forward, he gave it up as useless. All the strange things he had seen would come back, and his eyelids were like little spring doors that bobbed open in spite of his attempts to close them. As they lifted for the hundredth time he saw Paz doubled up in a heap, with his knees drawn up to his chin, his elbows resting on them, and his face in his hands. He was intently watching Leo.
"Hallo!" said Leo, "can't you go to sleep either?"
"No need at present."
"I was going through a formula in D."
"What under the sun is that?"
"Something relating to my pursuits. Don't trouble yourself to try and find out everything. In my opinion Master Knops has crammed you too hard. What do you say to my telling you a story or two?"
"Splendid! I'm ready when you are."
"No, you are not; you're hungry. You must have a bite first; what shall it be? Oh, no matter; I'll get you something if you promise not to ask any questions."
"All right," said Leo, inwardly cringing at the thought of stuffed rats.
Paz was gone but a little while. When he came back he was carrying a basket, from which he produced a small flask of a very sweet, fruity sirup, a dish of something that looked like little fish swimming in golden jelly—salt and savory Leo found them—and a sort of salad garnished with tiny eggs. These were followed by nuts of a peculiar flavor, and small fruits as exquisite to look at as they were delicious to taste.
When Leo had done ample justice to all these things Paz looked relieved, as if he had feared they might not suit.
"Never ate anything better in my life," said Leo.
"I am glad to hear it; tastes differ so. Now these things come from all parts of the world—the fish from Spain, the eggs from Africa, the nuts from Italy, the fruits from France, and the sirup from Portugal."
"Oh dear!" said Leo, wondering how their freshness was preserved.
"Yes, I suppose you have no idea of our canning business."
"None in the world."
"I presumed as much," said Paz, wisely, "nor am I going to bore you with any more information."
Leo looked quite shocked.
"Oh, well," said Paz, profoundly, "there's a limit to all things, and I'm not a Knops."
"But have you been to all parts of the world?" asked Leo.
"Oh, yes," answered Paz, carelessly. "I have wandered far and wide in my time. Until I caught the diamond fever I was used as an envoy."
"Indeed!" said Leo, having but a faint idea of what an envoy was. "What did you do?"
"I went on errands of importance."
"Who for, and where did you go?"
"I was sent generally to carry messages from our King to the Queen of the Wind Fairies or the Herb Elves, or the Sylphs, sometimes to warn them of trouble or danger, sometimes to tell them that imps were rampaging or giants were about to make war, but oftener to inform them of some plan for assisting man, or some good to be done for a child: in these things we delight."
"How kind!" said Leo.
"Kindness has so much power, if people only knew it. But you are waiting; I must not detain you." So, without further preface, thus began
"It was a time of trouble to mankind—a year of strange events, and yet so stupid are ordinary mortals—begging your pardon—that none were making preparations either to meet or to avoid disaster. The King of the Kobolds had been negotiating with our King for the purchase of some immense tracts of iron ore, and in the course of conversation said he had received news from Italy that there would soon be a volcanic outbreak, that the giants there were quarrelling fiercely, and had not hesitated to declare that unless matters were arranged to suit them they would bid Vesuvius pour forth its death-dealing fires.
"Now on the side of that well-known mountain were living some friends of our King—two children, a girl and a boy, Tessa and Tasso, daughter and son of an Italian peasant.
"In their little vineyard one day our King's son, an infant, was swinging in his leafy cradle; it looked like a bird's nest, and so I suppose they thought it, but a rude playmate of theirs tried to tear it down from its airy height, and would have succeeded had not both Tessa and Tasso resolutely opposed him.
"First they sought to make him stop by appealing to his feelings, asking him how he would like to have his cottage ruined, his home desolated; but at this he only mocked and jeered. Then they urged that birds had the same right to live and rear their young as had human beings; which having no more effect, they openly forbade his attempt, saying that the ground was theirs, the birds were their friends, and they should defend them. Blows followed, Tessa and Tasso bearing their part bravely, and compelling the young ruffian to take himself off. Little did they know whom they were defending.
"Our King heard of the occurrence, and vowed unending friendship; so when the King of the Kobolds told him of the danger impending at Vesuvius I was at once sent for to convey the information, and do what I could to save the lives of Tessa and Tasso. It took but a whiff of my pipe to bring me to the desired place, but so calm and bright and peaceful was the scene that I found it hard to believe in the threatening evil. Never had I seen a bluer sky reflected in a more silvery mirror than were the clouds and bay of Naples that day. The people were merry and careless, tending their cattle, gathering their fruit, singing their songs, and as indifferent to their old enemy as if he had never harmed them.
"How should I approach the object of my mission? how put fear into the hearts of joyous innocence? Their father had bidden them go to the city with a load of oranges. These were to be conveyed in large baskets, or panniers, on the back of a faithful donkey. If I could keep them away from home, delay them by some pretext from returning for at least a day, I might aid them. So with this determination I proceeded to act.
"At every place or with every person to whom they offered their fruit I whispered objections, asked if their prices were not very high, or if the fruit were not picked too early. So well did I succeed that I had nearly upset my own plans, for poor Tessa, becoming discouraged, wanted to return home at once, but Tasso stoutly declared he would sell every orange before going back—that his fruit was good and ripe, and it should be appreciated. I was pained to see Tessa's tears, but what could I do? Already thick smoke was pouring down the mountain's side, and so many were the rumbling sounds that although these children were accustomed to such disturbances, fears began to assail them.
"They were now well away from home, and had paused at the roadside to eat their bread-and-cheese. People were becoming unusually numerous. Excitement was prevailing, and Tessa saw with alarm women and children hurrying past. At that moment a travelling carriage appeared. One could see at a glance from its neat compactness that it was English. I put my head in the window, and whispered something. At once a gray-haired lady leaned out, and beckoned to Tessa, who tremblingly obeyed.
"'My child,' said the lady, kindly, 'I want some oranges. Can you give them to me quickly? You know we have no time to spare.'
"'Yes, madame,' said Tessa. 'But what is the matter? You and every one look so anxious.'
"Instantly, as she spoke, there was a terrible quivering of the earth, which made every one shudder. The driver could scarcely hold his horses; they plunged and reared and trembled.
"'Ah! we cannot wait,' said the lady; but seeing the terrified looks of the children, she paused to ask, 'Are you children alone?'
"'Entirely so, signorina.'
"'And where are you going?'
"'Home, to the mountain.'
"'You cannot go there; it is too late.' Then with a sudden resolution she turned to the maid beside her. 'We will take them with us; their load is too heavy for them to get on fast enough. Quick! quick! Leave your donkey; he is tired; every one is so frightened he will not be stolen if he escapes. Come in here,' pushing open the carriage door.
"Tessa turned irresolutely to Tasso, who was also uncertain what to do; but the tone was imperative; they were accustomed to obey. Crowds were now jostling them; women were crying; children were pushed hither and thither, their little toys trodden underfoot, more a grievance to them than the quaking earth. With a regretful glance at the donkey, Tessa and Tasso jumped into the carriage, which drove away as fast as the frightened horses could get through the throng. Miles and miles away they went until the horses could go no farther. Then they stopped for the night at a little inn overflowing with strangers, where they heard that Vesuvius was pouring forth lava, and where they could see the lurid glare of its flames reddening the evening sky. They were saved. My mission was fulfilled."
Paz stopped; but Leo was unsatisfied.
"And what became of them? Did they ever go home again? Were their father and mother killed?"
"No; their parents escaped, but their home was buried in ashes. The children were cared for by the English lady until it was safe to return. All that was left them was the one poor donkey which, unharmed, strayed back to the place of its past abode, and with it they began a trade in lava which proved very remunerative."
"Trade in lava?" repeated Leo, inquisitively.
"Yes; the people pour melted lava in moulds before it cools, and so fashion ornaments out of it—perhaps they also carve it. I know they color it beautifully, for I have had to carry bracelets made of it to various people with whom we are on friendly terms, and they were blue as a bird's egg or turquoise."
"No; they were not remarkable, not half as singular as coral formations."
"What are they?"
"Don't tell me you know nothing of coral!"
"I believe I have seen it, but that is all."
"Coral is made by wonderful little animals who live and die in its cells until their structures are big enough for islands; but I will leave that to Knops: my plan is not to cram."
"Well," said Leo, "you are not going to stop, I hope."
"Oh no," said Paz, cheerfully, "I can spin yarns with any sailor. What will you have now?"
"I wish I could oblige you, but fun is not my strong point. I went from Greenland to the South Seas one day in search of a laugh, but I failed to find it; indeed I came near doing worse, for in getting into the hoop of a native's nose-ring for a swing—just by way of a new sensation—I forgot to make myself invisible, and he caught me, thought I was a spider, and would have crushed me, had not a baby put out its little hands in glee to play with me. I can assure you I was for a time averse to trying new sensations."
"How did you get out of your scrape?"
"I travelled down that baby's back in a hurry, and hid in an ant-hill; he poked about with his little black fingers for a quarter of an hour, but he did not find me. Ah, those were the days of my youth!"
"Do you ever have anything to do with witches?"
"Mark my words, ghosts and witches live only in the imagination of silly human beings. We useful people scorn them. Now imps might be said to belong to the same family were it not for the proofs we have of their existence. They are everlastingly getting children into trouble by suggesting things to them they never would have thought of—"
"Such as what?"
"Do you suppose I am going to tell you? No, indeed; they can do it fast enough for themselves. Persons who take too much wine are their most constant companions; they pounce upon them and twitch and tease and torment them until the poor wine-bibber trembles from head to foot. They won't let him sleep or eat or think, and fairly drive him crazy. Oh, imps are really to be dreaded! But I must now begin my second story."
PAZ'S SECOND STORY
"There was to be a grand birthday festival among the Fays, who inhabit the tropics. The wind fairies had brought us news of it as well as urgent invitations for our royal family to be present; but so deeply engrossed was our King at that moment in supplying the oil wells of Pennsylvania with petroleum that he could not absent himself. The Queen never goes from home without her liege lord.
"The princes and princesses were all too young, and could not be allowed to leave their lessons; so the regrets were inscribed on lotus leaves, and sent by special messenger—a bird of the Cypselina family. He was a great sooty-black fellow, with a tinge of green in his feathers, strong, well able to fly, as his family generally do from America to Asia. But the gift could not be intrusted to him. I was chosen as bearer of that.
"Much discussion had taken place as to what this gift should be. It was desirable that nothing ordinary should be offered, for the Fays are, as a rule, fastidious. Gems they possess in abundance. Flowers are so common that their beds are made of them. Their books are 'the running brooks,' and their art treasures hang on every bough. The Queen had woven a veil of lace with her own fingers; it was filmy and exquisite, but my heart sank within me when she declared that nothing less than a wreath of snow-flakes must accompany it. To obtain this wreath and carry it to the Fays as a birthday gift was to be my duty.
"How should I accomplish it? I dared not suggest the difficulties, for at once I should have been displaced, and another elf chosen for the performance of this arduous task. Besides, if it could be accomplished by any one, I must be that person, having always been unwilling ever to allow difficulties to deter me from any duty. Pride of the right sort is a great help. I went to the frost-workers and told them what I wanted. They said they could imitate any flower; but the Queen had expressly said that the wreath must be of snow-flakes. Now the fantastic impulse of a snow-storm is well known, but it is not so generally known that there is a scientific accuracy even in the formation of snow-flakes."
Here Paz stopped, shook his head, smiled, and said, "I do believe I am as bad as Knops."
"Please go on," said Leo.
"Well, you must forgive me, for I shall have to tell you that the frost-workers said there were no less than a thousand different forms among the crystals of which snow-flakes are made.
"Now how could I tell what pattern to choose? It was impossible; so I told them I should have nothing to do with the pattern. 'Make the wreath,' said I, 'box it, and I will carry it, or die in the attempt.'
"They did so. The crystals were more beautiful than diamond stars. They put it in a solid square of ice, which was packed in charcoal and straw, and then cased in cocoa matting. To this I attached cords, and slung it about my neck. The veil, in a satin case half an inch square, was in my wallet.
"I started in the track of the marten that carried the despatches, but changed my course many times, striving to keep in cold currents. Finding, however, that as I neared the Equator this was impossible, I took to the sea, and went down to its highway. Of course I had on garments impervious to water—that is to say, water-proof—and my wallet was as dry as a bone; but not being in the habit of travelling under ocean, my eyes were a little affected by the salt, and I became conscious that I was being followed.
"Fishes, you know, are not down on the hard rocky bed of the sea, and I had passed the homes of mermen, so I was puzzled to know who could be my enemy. I would not so much as betray my fears by looking behind, and I had enough to do in looking forward, for at every other step there were fissures which had to be leaped, deep abysses to be avoided, chasms to be crossed, and sands which might ingulf me.
"Still, as I struggled on, I could hear the sound of other feet following mine, now nearing me, now farther away, as my speed asserted itself. It made me shiver to think what might be my fate, and I can honestly say that the thought of failing to fulfill my errand bore as heavily upon me as the sense of personal dangers; for it is a great thing to be trusted, to be looked upon as honest and true, and deemed capable of transacting affairs even of small moment.
"But this was not a trifling matter. The neglect to deliver this gift could bring about serious trouble. The Fays were our friends, and friendship is never to be slighted. It is not kind to allow selfish matters to stand in the way when we are bidden to a joyous celebration, and had not our King felt that the claims of man were more urgent than those of the Fays he would have attended this feast in person. As he could not, the gift was to represent him. I trust I have made it clear to you."
"Quite so," said Leo. "But I am crazy to know who was following you."
"So was I at that time, and I resolved to get into the first empty shell I could find where I might hide. There was soon an opportunity. A heap of cast-off shells presented itself, and I popped into an enormous crab cover, where I waited for my unknown companion to overtake me.
"As the steps came near I peeped carefully out, and what should I see but an ugly South American river-wolf, about three and a half feet long, with a short, close fur of a bright ruddy yellow. I could not imagine what had brought him after me, but the ways of the wicked are often difficult to explain. There he was, and if once he could get me within reach I was lost. On he came, snuffing and barking like a dog, making my very hair stand on end. I waited for him to pass, but I think his instinct must have told him I had paused, for he began to turn over the shells with his ugly nose, as if searching for something. My single weapon was a small dirk, as we kill only in self-defence.
"Bracing myself against the wall of my slight shelter, I stood in expectation of an assault, and I had not long to wait. With an angry cry he rushed upon me. His size seemed to me enormous, but my little knife was a trusty blade, and with a great effort I drew it across his dreadful throat.
"I will not dwell on these particulars. I had overcome my enemy. I resumed my journey, and soon came to a region of the most beautiful water-plants growing in greatest profusion. I knew by these that I was not far from the home of the Fays.
"I neglected to tell you that before starting out the chief frost-worker had given me a small vial of clear liquid, which, in case of any danger from heat, I was to use for the preservation of the snow-wreath. In my tussle with the wolf this vial must have become partly uncorked, for I became aware of a strong odor diffusing itself about me, and an overpowering sleepiness getting the better of me. I had drawn the bottle out, recorked it, and put it away again; but this was no sooner done than I fell in a sleepy swoon on the roadside.
"I have no idea how long I slept: there is neither day nor night down there, only a dim sort of twilight, which at times becomes illuminated by the phosphorescent rays of fishes, or the fitful gleam of ocean glow-worms. I was startled from my swoon by a rattling, dragging noise, and came very near being scooped up by an uncouth-looking iron thing which was attached to a cable. It flashed upon me, stupid as I was, that this must be a deep-sea dredge; and as I was not at all inclined to be hauled up on shipboard, in a lot of mud and shells as a rare specimen of the sea, I got as quickly out of the way as possible.
"But it was now time for me to get on terra firma, as Knops would say, or dry land, as I prefer to put it. Among the beautiful vermilion leaves or tentacles of the curious half animals and half flowers I observed a vine not unlike the honeysuckle, only of tougher fibre. On this I clambered up to take a look about me, and discovered that I was much nearer shore than I supposed. Hardly had I done this when, to my horror, I saw the arms of an octopus stretching towards me, its horid beak projecting from between its ugly eyes. More alarmed than at any previous danger, I strove to retain my self-command, but the fearful creature was already touching me. Remembering, with wits sharpened by distress, the effect of the drug in my little bottle, I drew out the cork, and making a sudden lunge, dashed the ether in its face—if you can so call any part of its disgusting head.
"Instantly it lost all power over its members, curled up in a writhing, wriggling mass, and I with a bound reached the sandy shore."
Paz, taking a long breath, and looking at Leo to see the effect of his narrative, went on:
"It was quite time for me to be on land, for in the moonlight, which bathed everything in silver, were to be seen troops of fays hurrying to the festival. Some sailed along the shore in mussel shells, others were on the backs of black swans whose bills looked like coral, and others were skimming along with their own gauzy wings, or lolling luxuriously on the feathers of flamingoes.
"I joined the ones on foot, and with them reached the plantation, which presented a scene of great brilliancy. Gold and silver ferns hedged the rose-leaf path which led to the bower of beauty; on every leaf were myriads of fireflies, and glowing from higher plants bearing many-hued flowers were Brazilian beetles. Plunging into the thicket, I made a hasty toilet at a brook-side, and then rejoined the advancing guests. The bell-bird could be heard clearly summoning our approach, while sweetest warblers poured out their melody. The throne was formed of the Santo-Spirito flowers, and beneath the wings of its dove-like calyx was the lovely fay in whose honor was all this gayety, surrounded by her young companions.
"Approaching quickly, I unstrapped my package, took the satin case from my pocket, and fell upon my knees in the customary manner; perceiving which, the beautiful being motioned for me to rise, and with the most unassuming grace received my burden. As she unfolded the lace from its silken cover a cry of delight escaped her, and shaking out its gossamer folds she threw it over her head. With all the care I could use I had laid bare the block of ice, which shone like silver in the moonbeams, and now with a sudden blow of my dagger I cleft the ice, and lifted out the wreath, placing it as I did so on the head of the fay.
"There was no time for ceremony. Had I waited to pass it from hand to hand of the attendants it would have been gone. There was a hush over all as I crowned the fay. Each snowy star stood out in perfect beauty. She alone could not see its peerless charm. But I had provided for this. Chipping off a thin layer of the ice-block, I laid a silver-lined leaf from a neighboring bough behind it, and held this mirror before the fay's wondering eyes. Never have I seen anything so beautiful or so fleeting. Even as I held the reflected image before its reality, drops as of dew began falling over the lace, and in a moment the wreath was gone.
"Like a little child robbed of a treasure, the look of wonder and delight gave place to one of bewildered disappointment. She turned a questioning gaze upon me.
"'Alas!' said I, 'most sovereign lady, 'tis not in elfin power to reproduce this wreath; it was the emblem of human life, as brief, as fleeting. My Queen desired me to bring it. I have met with great difficulties in so doing, but none has saddened me like your disappointment.'
"With eager sweetness she bade her cavaliers respond. They assured me of her gratitude and delight, and bade me welcome. The warbling birds again started their liquid strains, and a mazy dance began which resembled a fluttering band of snowy butterflies tangled in a silvery web. Slipping off, I came to the side of a lake on which were boats and Indian canoes of the moccasin flower. Here I rested, watching the measures of the dance, and taking little refreshing sips of cocoa-nut milk. A swift-winged night-hawk having been placed at my disposal, I had a safe and speedy journey home."
"And is that all?" inquired Leo.
"Yes," said Paz, "for here comes Master Knops."
Leo thanked Paz warmly, and turned towards Knops, who, with hat in hand, stood gravely waiting to speak.
"Is it the wish of Prince Leo to make further explorations, or will he now return to his father and his home?"
With some self-reproach at having quite forgotten that he had a father and a home, Leo said he was ready to return.
"And may his humble servants, the distinguished savant Paz and the Master Professor Knops, have the pleasant assurance of Prince Leo's satisfaction at this visit?" asked Knops, still in the most formal manner.
"I cannot thank you half as I should like to do," replied Leo, "but I hope to be able to show you that your entertainment and instruction have not been wasted."