Transcriber's notes: Alternative spelling and hyphenation have been retained as they appear in the original publication. Changes have been made as follows:
Page 125 on the top of a dias changed to on the top of a dais
Page 131 tobogganned down a steep changed to tobogganed down a steep
AUTHOR OF "THE FOX FAMILY," "THE OBSTINATE ELM LEAF," "THE BEARS OF WUNDERMERK," ETC.
JAMES POTT & CO., 14 & 16, ASTOR PLACE.
VERA, ELSIE, OSKAR, OLGA, ERIK, NEVA, JESSIE, LEO, DOROTHY, CLAUDE, AND HERBERT.
It was twilight, and the children, tired of playing, gathered round the fire.
Outside, the snow fell softly, softly; and the bare trees shook their branches in the keen air. The pleasant glow of the blazing logs lighted up the circle of happy faces, and peopled the distant corners with elfin shadows.
All the afternoon the children, pipe in hand, with soap suds before them, had been blowing airy bubbles that caught the gleams of a hundred flying rainbows—but now in the fading daylight, the pipes were put aside, and they threw themselves down on the fur rug, and looked with thoughtful eyes into the caverns of the fire.
"What can we do now?" they cried, "Won't you make us some bubbles?"
And someone sitting in the shadow, who had watched and admired their handiwork; whipped up some white froth in a fairy basin, and taking a pipe, she blew them some bubbles.
Not so beautiful as the children's own, with their pure reflections of the light and sunshine—but the best she could fashion with the materials she had at hand; for the only soap she could find was Imagination, and her pipe was a humble black pen.
THE TROLL IN THE CHURCH FOUNTAIN 1
THE IMP IN THE CHINTZ CURTAIN 13
A STORY OF SIENA 27
THE STONE-MAIDEN 44
THE GRASS OF PARNASSUS 51
THE HEDGEHOGS' COFFEE PARTY 53
UNCLE VOLODIA 68
THE ANGEL AND THE LILIES 95
THE ALPEN-ECHO 100
THE SCROLL IN THE MARKET PLACE 103
A SCRAP OF ETRUSCAN POTTERY 109
THE GOATS ON THE GLACIER 114
THE GREAT LADY'S CHIEF-MOURNER 139
DAME FOSSIE'S CHINA DOG 142
PRINCESS SIDIGUNDA'S GOLDEN SHOES 161
THE BADGER'S SCHOOL 179
BOBBIE'S TWO SHILLINGS 203
THE TROLL IN THE CHURCH FOUNTAIN.
It was a village of fountains. They poured from the sides of houses, bubbled up at street corners, sprang from stone troughs by the roadside, and one even gushed from the very walls of the old Church itself, and fell with a monotonous tinkle into a carved stone basin beneath.
The old Church stood on a high plateau overlooking the lake. It jutted out so far, on its great rock, that it seemed to overhang the precipice; and as the neighbours walked upon the terrace on Sundays, and enjoyed the shade of the row of plane trees, they could look down over the low walls of the Churchyard almost into the chimneys of the wooden houses clustering below.
There were wide stone seats on the terrace, grey and worn by the weather, and by the generations of children who had played round them; and here the mothers and grandmothers, with their distaffs in their hands, loved to collect on summer evenings.
Often Terli had seen them from his home by the mountain torrent, for he was so high up, he looked down upon the whole village; and he had often longed to join them and hear what they were saying; but as he was nothing but a River-Troll, he was not able to venture within sight or sound of the water of the holy Church Fountain.
Anywhere else he was free to roam; teazing the children, worrying the women as they washed their clothes at the open stone basins, even putting his lean fingers into the fountain spout to stop the water, while the people remained staring open-mouthed, or ran off to fetch a neighbour to find out what was the matter.
This was all very pleasant to Terli, and at night he would hurry back to his relations in their cave under the stones of the torrent, and enjoy a good laugh at the day's adventures.
There was only one thing that worried him. Several of the cleverest old women of the village, who had on several occasions seen Terli dancing about the country, agreed to hang a little pot of the Church water in the doors of their houses; and once or twice the Troll, on attempting to enter in order to teaze the inhabitants, had suddenly caught sight of the water, and rushed away with a scream of rage and disappointment.
"Never River-Troll can stand the sight of the Church Fountain!" said the old women, and rubbed their hands gleefully.
In the early summer there was to be a great wedding at the old Church, the Bridegroom the son of a rich farmer, the Bride one of the young girls of the village; and Terli, who had known them both from childhood, determined that for once in his life he would enter the unknown region of the Church Terrace.
"Elena has often annoyed me in the past," laughed Terli, "so it is only fair I should try and annoy her in the future"—and he sat down cross-legged at the bottom of a water trough to arrange his plans quietly in seclusion.
An old horse came by, dragging a creaking waggon, and the driver stopped to allow the animal to drink.
The Troll raised himself leisurely, and as the horse put in his head, Terli seized it in both hands, and hung on so firmly that it was impossible for the poor creature to get away.
"Let go!" said the horse, angrily—for he understood the Troll language. "Let me go! What are you doing?"
"I shan't let you go till you make me a promise. You get the Wood-Troll to cork up the Church Fountain at daybreak on Friday morning, and I'll let you drink as much as you like now, and go without hindrance afterwards."
"I shan't promise," said the horse, crossly. "I don't see why I should."
"Well, I shall hang on till you do," said the Troll with a disagreeable laugh; and he gripped the old horse more tightly than ever.
"Oh, leave off! I'm being suffocated. I'll promise anything," cried the horse.
Terli withdrew his hands immediately, sinking down to the bottom of the trough with a chuckle that made the water bubble furiously; and the old horse, without waiting to drink, trotted off with an activity that surprised his master.
"Remember your promise!" called the Troll, putting his head suddenly over the edge of the trough, and pointing a thin finger. "On Friday at daybreak the Church Fountain stopped, or you don't drink comfortably for a twelve-month!"
Early on Friday morning the bridal procession started gaily, and all the village folks were so occupied they never noticed that the Church Fountain had ceased to bubble.
The bells rang out; while the Troll, hidden in the branches of a tree close to the entrance door, glanced first at the procession and then at a wedge of wood sticking out of the stone mouth of the Fountain, and he laughed elfishly.
"Ha, ha! The old horse has kept his promise. This is seeing the world," he whispered triumphantly.
The marriage ceremony was soon over, and as the newly-wedded pair stepped out upon the terrace again, Terli drew from his pocket a little jar of water, and splash! fell some drops from it right in the eyes of the Bride and Bridegroom.
"It is beginning to rain! I saw the clouds gathering! Run, run, for the nearest shelter!" cried everyone confusedly, and off dashed the crowd, panting and breathless.
Now it was an unfortunate thing, that after the wedding everything in the new household seemed to go wrong.
"The young people have had their heads turned," whispered the old women, and the poor Bride looked pale and disconsolate.
"It is a wretched house to have married into," she said to her mother. "Nothing but these poor boards for furniture, no good fields or garden—all so dull and disagreeable; and then my husband—he seems always discontented. I think I was happier at home;" and she tapped her foot impatiently.
Her mother argued and remonstrated, and at last began to weep bitterly.
"You must be bewitched, Elena, to complain like this! You have everything a reasonable girl can wish for."
"Everything? Why I have nothing!" cried Elena angrily, and ran from the room; leaving Terli, who was hiding in a water-bucket, to stamp his feet with delight.
"Ha! ha! it is going on excellently," he shouted in his little cracked voice. "Once let them have the water from the Trolls' well in their eyes, they'll never be contented again!" and he upset the bucket in which he was standing over the feet of the Bride's mother, who had to run home hastily to change her wet shoes.
"This is the work of the River-Trolls, I believe," she said to herself, as she held up her soaked skirts carefully. "I'll find out all about it on St. John's Eve, if I can't do so before"—and she nodded angrily towards the mountain torrent.
Days passed, and the sad temper of the newly-married couple did not improve.
They scarcely attempted to speak to each other, and groaned so much over the hardships of their life, that all their friends became tired of trying to comfort them.
"They're bewitched," said the Bride's mother, "bewitched, and nothing else. But wait till St. John's Eve, and you'll see I shall cure them."
She spoke mysteriously, but as she was a sensible woman everyone believed her.
On St. John's Eve—as I daresay you know—all animals have the power of talking together like human beings, and punctually as the clock struck twelve the Bride's mother put on her thick shoes, and taking the stable lantern from its nail, she went off to the stable, refusing to allow either her husband or son to accompany her.
As she entered the door of the outhouse, she heard the oxen already whispering to each other, and the old horse, with his head over the division, addressing friendly remarks to a family of goats close by.
"Do you know anything of Terli or the Wood-Trolls?" enquired the old woman, looking at the oxen severely.
"No, no, no!" and they shook their heads slowly.
The Bride's mother then repeated her question to the goat family, who denied any knowledge of the Trolls with a series of terrified bleats.
"There is only you, then," said the Bride's mother to the old horse. "You have served us faithfully, and we have been kind masters to you. Tell me: do you know anything of Terli or the Wood-Trolls?"
"I do," said the old horse with dignity. "I can tell you more than anyone else dreams of;" and he stepped from his stall with an air of the greatest importance.
The old woman sat down upon an upturned stable-bucket, and prepared to listen.
"Just before the wedding," commenced the horse, "I was passing through the village with old master, when we stopped to drink. No sooner had I got my nose into the Fountain than, heuw! Terli had hold of me, and not an inch would he loosen his grip till I promised to let him see the wedding by getting the Wood-Trolls to stop up the Church Fountain. What was I to do? I was forced to agree, and from that promise comes all the misery of the Bride and Bridegroom."
The old horse then went on to explain what Terli had done on the wedding day, while the Bride's mother jumped up from the water-bucket with a cry of delight.
"All will be well now. You have done us the greatest possible service, and shall live in leisure for the rest of your life," she said; and ran out of the stables towards the house, before the astonished animals could recover themselves.
"I've found it all out," she cried to her husband. "Now all we have to do is to catch Terli."
"Not so easy, wife," said the Bride's father, but the old woman smiled in a mysterious manner.
"Leave it to me, husband, I shall manage it. Our children will be happy again to-morrow, you will see."
The next day at sunrise, the Bride's mother crept off secretly to the Church Fountain and brought back a large pailful of the water. This she emptied into a wash-tub and covered with some green pine branches, and on the top of all she placed a wooden bowl half filled with butter-milk.
"Terli likes it so much—he will do anything for butter-milk," she said to herself, as she propped open the kitchen door, and went off with a light heart to see her daughter.
She carried with her a jug of the Church water, and when she arrived at the farm house, she gave it to her daughter and son-in-law, and begged them to bathe their eyes with it immediately.
With much grumbling they obeyed her; but what a change occurred directly they had done so!
The day, which had seemed cloudy and threatening rain, now appeared bright and hopeful. The Bride ran over her new house with exclamations of delight at all the comfortable arrangements, and the Bridegroom declared he was a lucky man to have married a good wife, and have a farm that anyone might reasonably be proud of!
"How could we ever have troubled over anything?" said the young Bride, "I can't understand it! We are young, and we are happy."
The old woman smiled wisely. "It was only the Troll's well-water," she said, and went home as fast as her feet would carry her.
As she neared her own door, she heard sounds of splashing and screaming in a shrill piping voice; and on entering, saw Terli struggling violently in the tub of Church water, the little bowl of butter-milk lying spilt upon the floor.
"Take me out! Take me out! It gives me the toothache!" wailed the Troll, but the Bride's mother was a wise woman, and determined that now she had caught their tormentor she would keep him safely.
"I've got the toothache in every joint!" shouted Terli. "Let me out, and I'll never tease you any more."
"It serves you very well right," said the old woman, and she poured the contents of the tub—including Terli—into a large bucket, and carried it off in triumph to the Church Fountain.
Here she emptied the bucket into the carved stone basin, and left Terli kicking and screaming, while she went home to the farmhouse to breakfast.
"That's a good morning's work, wife; if you never do another:" said the Bride's father, who had come into the kitchen just as Terli upset the bowl of butter-milk, and fell through the pine branches headlong into the tub beneath. "We shall live in peace and quietness now, for Terli was the most mischievous of the whole of the Troll-folk."
The words of the Bride's father proved to be quite true, for after the capture of the Water-Troll the village enjoyed many years of quietness and contentment.
As to Terli, he lived in great unhappiness in the Church Fountain; enduring a terrible series of tooth-aches, but unable to escape from the magic power of the water.
At the end of that time, however, a falling tree split the sides of the carved stone basin into fragments, and the Troll, escaping with the water which flowed out, darted from the Churchyard and safely reached his old home in the bed of the mountain torrent.
"The Church Fountain is broken, and Terli has escaped," said the good folks the next morning—and the old people shook their heads gravely, in alarm—but I suppose Terli had had a good lesson, for he never troubled the village any more.
THE IMP IN THE CHINTZ CURTAIN.
He was a wicked-looking Imp, and he lived in a bed curtain.
No one knew he was in the house, not even the master and mistress. The little girl who slept in the chintz-curtained bed was the only person who knew of his existence, and she never mentioned him, even to her old nurse.
She had made his acquaintance one Christmas Eve, as she lay awake, trying to keep her tired eyes open long enough to see Santa Klaus come down the chimney. The Imp sprang into view with a cr-r-r-ick, cr-r-r-ack of falling wood in the great fireplace, and there he stood bowing to Marianne from the left-hand corner of the chintz curtain.
A green leaf formed his hat, some straggling branches his feet; his thin body was a single rose-stem, and his red face a crumpled rose-bud.
A flaw in the printing of the chintz curtain had given him life—a life distinct from that of the other rose leaves.
"You're lying awake very late to-night—what's that for?" he enquired, shaking the leaf he wore upon his head, and looking at Marianne searchingly.
"Why, don't you see I'm waiting for Santa Klaus?" replied Marianne. "I've always missed him before, but this time nothing shall make me go to sleep!" She sat up in bed and opened her eyes as widely as possible.
"He has generally been here before this," said the Imp. "I can remember your great-aunt sleeping in this very bed and being in just the same fuss. I got down and danced about all night, and she thought I was earwigs."
"I should never think you were an earwig—you're too pink and green—but don't talk, I can hear something buzzing."
"Santa Klaus doesn't buzz," said the Chintz Imp. "He comes down flop! Once in your aunt's time, I knew him nearly stick in the chimney. He had too many things in his sack. You should have heard how he struggled, it was like thunder! Everyone said how high the wind was."
"I hope he won't do it to-night," said Marianne, "I could never pull him down by myself!"
As she spoke the room seemed to be violently shaken, and there was a sound of falling plaster, followed by some loud kicks.
"Whew—w!" cried the Chintz Imp, "he's done it again!"
Marianne started up in great excitement. She sprang from her bed, and ran towards the old-fashioned fireplace.
Nothing was at first to be seen; but as the fire had died down to a few hot embers, Marianne could, by craning her head forwards, look right up into the misty darkness of the great chimney.
There, to her astonishment, she saw a pair of large brown-covered feet hanging down helplessly; while a deep voice from above cried—
"Get me out of this, or I shall break down the chimney!"
"Oh, what am I to do?" exclaimed Marianne anxiously, "I'm not tall enough to reach you! Shall I fetch my Aunt Olga, or would you prefer my old nurse?"
"Certainly not," said the voice, with decision. "I have never been seen by a grown-up person, and I don't intend to begin now. Either you must get me down by yourself, or I shall manage to work out at the top again—and then I'm sorry to say you'll have to go without your presents."
Marianne sat down on the hearthrug in a state of anxious consideration. There waved the great brown feet, and two or three steps would land them safely on the hearthrug, but how could it possibly be managed?
The Chintz Imp curled up his green legs and sat down beside her, his bright red eyes blinking thoughtfully.
"We must hang on to him," he said at last; "or what do you say to my trying to collect a dozen or so children, to pull?"
"Why they'd all be in bed hours ago," said Marianne. "Besides, their parents would never let them come, and Uncle Max would want to know whatever we were doing."
"Yes. I see that idea is no good. Have you such a thing as a pocket-knife?" enquired the Chintz Imp.
"A beauty," said Marianne; "four blades, a button-hook, and a corkscrew."
"Ah, the corkscrew might be of some use if we could draw him out with it; but he might object. However, I'll try what I can do with the knife."
"You won't cut him! You'll have to be very careful!"
"Of course," said the Chintz Imp. "Do you think I am as old as your great-aunt, without knowing much more than you do! Bring me the knife. I'm going to swarm up the chimney and scratch away the mortar. Leave it entirely to me, and Santa Klaus will be down here in an hour or two!"
Marianne ran off to her little play box, and returned with the knife. It was almost as large as the Chintz Imp, but he possessed so much wiry strength in his thin arms and backbone that he was able to clamber up the chimney without difficulty.
"Are you all right?" cried Marianne, standing with her bare feet on the edge of the stone fender, and holding up the night-light as high as she could without singeing Santa Klaus.
"Getting up," replied the Chintz Imp, "but he's in very tight!"
"Is it his sack that's stuck?" enquired Marianne, anxiously.
"Yes, yes! It's only my sack!" cried the deep voice; "you get that loose, and I shall drop into the room like a fairy."
Marianne strained her eyes up the chimney, but could see nothing.
"Take care! Here's a lot of plaster falling!"
The warning was just in time, for, as Marianne's head disappeared, a handful of cement fell rattling into the fireplace, just escaping her bare feet as she jumped on to the hearthrug.
"The knife does beautifully," cried the voice of the Chintz Imp. "I think when I've loosened this paint box, he'll fall down immediately."
"Oh, do be careful!" said Marianne. "A paint box is what I've been longing for! Don't chip it if you can possibly help it!"
"Of course I shan't," replied the Chintz Imp. "If he wouldn't kick so much, I should get him out in half the time."
"I'm not kicking," cried Santa Klaus's voice indignantly. "I've been as still as a rock, even with that horrid penknife close to my ear the whole time."
"Have a little patience," said the Chintz Imp soothingly. "I promise not to hurt you."
Marianne began to feel very cold. The excitement, so far, had buoyed her up; but now the monotonous chip, chipping of the Chintz Imp continued so long that she jumped into her chintz-curtained bed, determined to stay there until something new and interesting called her up again.
"I can't do any good, so I may as well be comfortable," she thought, and pulled the eider-down quilt up to her chin luxuriously.
"I hope he'll get out! It would be a disappointment to have that paint-box taken away again. Perhaps it would be given to someone who wouldn't care for it. I wonder if it's tin, with moist colours? I must ask Uncle Max to have that chimney made wider——" At this point Marianne's eyes closed and she fell asleep.
She was awakened by a loud thump! that seemed to shake the very bed in which she was lying; and as she sprang up in a state of great excitement, she saw Santa Klaus picking himself up from the hearthrug on which he had apparently fallen with great violence.
"Oh dear!" cried Marianne, "I hope you are not hurt? How careless of the Chintz Imp to throw you down like that!"
"It was no one's fault but my own," said Santa Klaus as he dusted the remains of soot and plaster off his brown cloak. "I should have remembered my experience with your great-aunt, but I knew how much you wanted that paint-box," and he slipped into Marianne's stocking a japanned box with a whole sheaf of paint brushes.
"Oh, thank you, Santa Klaus! You can't think how I've wished for it; my own is such a horrid little thing. And those beautiful pictures for my scrap-book, and the things for the doll's house—and I really believe that's the book of fairy tales I've been longing for for months!"
Marianne's face shone with delighted expectation as she opened the top of her stocking and peeped in.
"Not till the morning," cried Santa Klaus; "you know my rule," and patting Marianne on the head, he disappeared, with his sack much lightened, up the chimney.
"Oh, do come here!" cried Marianne to the Chintz Imp. "I must talk to somebody."
"I think you certainly ought to talk to me," said the Chintz Imp, coming carefully down the brickwork, hand over hand, and laying the knife down in the fender. "Without me you wouldn't have had a single present."
"Of course, I'm very grateful," said Marianne. "I wish he had brought you something, though I'm sure I don't know what would be useful to you."
"Well, I should like a good many things," replied the Chintz Imp, perching himself on a brass knob at the end of the bedstead, "and one or two I think you can get me easily. I'm tired of this room and the little society I see, and I long for the great world. Can't you get me put on a settee in the Servants' Hall, or somewhere lively?"
"I'll ask Aunt Olga," said Marianne. "She promised me a Christmas present, and I was to choose. Suppose I choose new bed curtains?"
"Certainly," said the Chintz Imp, "but be sure you bargain to hang me in some cheerful place. Sixty years in one room is too much of a good thing—I want a change!" and he stretched himself wearily.
"I really will do my best for you," said Marianne. "I'm afraid you're too faded for the drawing-room, but I won't have new curtains until I can see you put somewhere nice. I suppose you wouldn't like the passages?"
"Decidedly not," replied the Chintz Imp. "Dull places. No fun, and nothing going on. The Servants' Hall, or stay where I am!" He folded his green arms with determination.
"I'm sure I can manage it," said Marianne, and fell asleep again while she was arranging the words in which she should make the suggestion to Aunt Olga.
The next day Marianne awoke betimes, and immediately inspected the contents of her stocking.
There, stuffed clumsily inside it, was everything she had been wishing for during the year, and more too!
"Do come and look at my things!" cried Marianne to the Chintz Imp, but he remained rigidly against his shiny spotted background and refused to move, though Marianne thought she saw a twinkle in his eye, which showed he was not quite so impassive as he appeared to be.
"I'll try and get him put into the Servants' Hall as soon as possible," she thought. "It makes me quite nervous to think he may pounce upon me any minute. Besides, one must keep one's promises! How extraordinary it is he can make himself so perfectly flat."
As soon as she was dressed she ran down to the dining room.
"Dear Aunt Olga, I've got such quantities of things to show you!" she cried, "and as you said I might choose, may I please have new chintz to my bed, and no pattern on it, so that it can't come out and be Imps—I mean, have funny shapes on it. And may my old curtains be put in the Servants' Hall? He says it will be more cheerful for him, and though, of course, he's been very kind to me, I think I would rather he went somewhere else. Besides, it is dull for him up there, all by himself—I mean, it would be dull for any kind of chintz."
"I do think Santa Klaus has got into your head, Marianne!" said Aunt Olga, laughing; but she promised to buy the new curtains.
In course of time they arrived—the palest blue, with little harmless frillings to them; and the old chintz was carried off to the Servants' Hall to make a box cover.
There it still hangs, and if you stoop down and examine it closely, you will see the Chintz Imp looking more lively than ever, with his green hat on one side, and a twinkling red eye on the watch for any sort of amusement.
Marianne often goes to see him, but, rather to her disappointment, he looks the other way, and appears not to recognize her.
"Perhaps it's just as well," she says to herself, "for he seems very happy, and if the servants knew he was here I believe they would turn him out immediately."
The three-cornered scrap of garden by the elm tree, with a border of stones, and a neat trodden path down the middle, belonged to little Bethea.
It grew things in a most wonderful way. Stocks and marigolds, primroses and lupines, Canterbury bells and lavender; all came out at their different seasons, and all flourished—for Bethea watered and tended them so faithfully that they loved her.
On a soft spring day Bethea stood by her garden with scissors and basket, snipping away at the brightest and best of her children; carefully, so that she might not hurt them, and with judgment, so that they might bloom again when they wished to.
"Do you know where you're going?" she said—"To the Hospital. Grandmamma's going to take me, and you're being gathered to cheer up the sick people there—aren't you pleased?" And the flowers nodded.
"I don't suppose I shall be picked. I don't think I'm good enough!" whispered a very small purple pansy, who had only recently been planted, to a beetle who happened to be crawling by. "I should like to go with the others, though I don't suppose it would cheer anyone to see me, I'm not light enough!"
"Don't be too sure," said the beetle solidly. "You've a nice velvety softness about you, and then you have the best name of them all. What sick person wouldn't like to have Heartsease?"
"I think I've got enough now," said Bethea, as she laid the last primula in her basket.
"Oh, do take me!" cried the pansy, touching her little brown shoe with one of its leaves to attract her attention, "I do want to help!" and Bethea stooped down, she scarcely knew why, gathered it, and put it with the rest of her flowers.
The drive to the Hospital was along a dusty country road, and the flowers under their paper covering, gasped for breath.
As soon as they arrived, Bethea, following her grandmother, carried them up to the room where children were lying in the little white beds, and gave them to the woman who was in charge of it.
"Please would you mind putting them in water for the children," she said in her soft voice, and the woman smiled and nodded.
Bethea took a few of the flowers out, and went round to the different beds offering one or two, shyly, until she came to a thin pale boy—a new patient, whom she had never seen before.
"He's only been here a fortnight," said the woman in a whisper, "and we can't get him to take any interest in anything—I don't know what we're going to do with him!"
"Is he very ill?" asked Bethea, wistfully.
"No, not so bad as some. A crooked leg, that will get well in time if only we can wake him up a little."
"I'm so sorry I have nothing but this flower left," said Bethea, as she stooped over the boy's curly head, and gave him the small purple pansy.
"Oh, I wish I was more beautiful!" sighed the little dark flower. "Now would be an opportunity to do some good in the world!"
The boy turned wearily, but his face lighted up as he saw the pansy. His eyes brightened and he seized it eagerly.
"Heartsease! Oh, it's like home. We've lots of that growing in our garden. I always had some on Sundays!" he cried. "Do let me keep it. It seems just a bit of home—a bit of home—a bit of home."
He murmured it over and over again, as if there was rest and happiness in the very sound of it.
"I'll keep fresh as long as ever I can," said the pansy, "It's the least I can do for him, poor fellow!"
"At all events the flowers are all out of my own garden," said Bethea, sitting down by the white bed, and then she talked away so gently that the boy's weary face smoothed out, and he went to sleep.
In a few days' time Bethea begged her grandmother to let her go again to the hospital, and she persuaded the gardener to give her a beautiful bunch of pansies to take to the sick boy.
As she entered the room, she saw that the little purple pansy was standing in a tumbler of water, on a chair by the boy's bed.
Its head hung over on one side, but it looked quite fresh and healthy.
"Hasn't it lasted well?" said the boy, happily. He looked much better and spoke in a loud, cheerful voice. "It's been talking to me about all sorts of things! the country, and gardens, and springtime, and being out and about in the fresh air and sunshine!"
"Well, I certainly have tried to make myself as pleasant as possible," said the pansy, but it spoke so low that nobody heard it except the boy whose ears were sharpened by illness.
"I've brought you some more," said Bethea, holding out her bouquet, "shall I put them in the tumbler with the little one?"
"Oh, no!" cried the boy anxiously, "I think if you don't mind I'd rather you gave those to some of the other children. I can't like any fine new flowers as well as that little fellow. I feel as if he had made me well again!"
The pansy expanded with pride, and a tear of gratitude rolled out of its eye, and fell with a splash on the cane chair-seat.
"I'm going to have it dried in my old pocket book, when it's really withered," continued the boy, "and then I shall be able to look at it always."
When little Bethea next visited the hospital, the boy with the crooked leg was just leaving; but his leg was not crooked any longer; his face was bright and healthy, and safely buttoned up in his coat he carried a shabby old pocket book, in which lay a withered flower, with one word written underneath in large pencilled letters—"Heartsease."
A STORY OF SIENA.
The house stands on a hill on the outskirts of Siena, not far from the high red walls that still enclose the town, as entirely as they did in the times long passed by, when Siena was the powerful rival of Florence.
Old frescoes, and the stone coats-of-arms of the dead and gone rulers of the place, decorate the great gates; which seem only waiting for a troop of knights and soldiers to pass through, and with a blast of their bugles awake the ancient inhabitants of the crooked streets, and fill them once more with the picturesque crowds of the middle ages.
We can imagine that the old owners are but lying asleep in their many storied gothic palaces, their vaulted courtyards, and shady loggias; ready to rub their eyes and come out as they hear the well-known sounds ringing across the wide piazza.
But the knights never come, and the old people go on sleeping; and the new people walk about the streets, and haggle at the market, and drive their country carts with the great patient white oxen, and crowd on Sunday up the broad Cathedral steps to kneel in the dim light before the lighted altar, as generations have done before them.
All round the town stretches the open country. Low sandy hills dotted with olive and cyprus trees, melting into a blue sweep of mountains; and about a mile from one of the gates stands the rambling white house with closed shutters in which Maddalena, the housekeeper, lived alone with her two grandchildren.
She was a kind old woman and fond of the twins, who had been left orphans when they were mere babies, but she often thought that surely no grandmother had ever been plagued before, as she was plagued by Tuttu and Tutti.
"When they were infants it was easy enough," she would declare to a sympathizing neighbour. "Give them a fig or something to play with, and they were perfectly happy; but at times now I am tempted to wish they had no legs, what with accidents and mischief.—Not that they're not fine children, and may be a comfort to my old age, but it's a harassing thing, waiting."
It was certainly a fact that Tuttu and Tutti were constantly in mischief; and yet their curly black heads, red cheeks, and great brown eyes, were so attractive, that people—even those whose property had been seriously injured by them—treated them leniently, and let them off with a scolding.
The twins were always repentant after one of their misfortunes, and made serious promises of amendment; but at the next temptation they forgot all their good resolutions, and never remembered them until they were in disgrace again.
Grandmother Maddalena devised numerous punishments for the children, such as tacking a cow's head cut out of red stuff, on their backs, when they had teazed Aunt Eucilda's cow—or tieing them up by one leg, with a long cord to the table, for stone-throwing; but Tuttu and Tutti were incorrigible.
They wept loudly, embraced their grandmother, made all kinds of promises—and the next day went off to do just the same things all over again.
There was only one person who had any influence over them, Father Giacomo, the priest of the little Church of Sancta Maria del Fiore, close by. He had known them from the time they were helpless babies in swaddling clothes, till they grew to be mischievous creatures in homespun trousers; and in every stage of character and clothing he had borne with them, taught them, played with them, and loved them, until the Padre had become their idea of all that was wise and good, and they would do more for the sake of pleasing him than for anyone in the world, not even excepting their grandmother.
Every Sunday afternoon Father Giacomo called to take them for a walk, the one only sure way of keeping them out of mischief; and sometimes to their great delight they would go along the olive-bordered road to Siena, returning in the evening to the Padre's house, in time to have a good game with the two cats Neri and Bianca, who had lived there since their infancy, as important members of the household.
On their eighth birthday, Tuttu and Tutti assured their grandmother that they really intended to reform. They promised faithfully to give up tree climbing, fishing in the pond, and many other favourite sports, and commenced to dig in the piece of kitchen garden under their grandmother's direction. In fact so zealous did Tuttu become that he borrowed a knife from one of the farm labourers who was vine pruning, and cut the whole of the branches off a vine near the house, ending with a terrible gash in his own thumb, which necessitated his being carried in an ox-cart to the hospital in Siena, supported in his grandmother's arms; while Tutti walked behind weeping bitterly, under the impression that the doctor would certainly kill Tuttu this time for his carelessness.
Tuttu was not killed, however. The cut was sewn up, while the ox-cart with its good-natured driver waited outside, and the depressed party returned home, grandmother Maddalena clasping her little earthen pot full of hot wood ashes, which even in the excitement of the accident she had not forgotten to take with her, for it was a cold day in early springtime.[A]
[A] A scaldino, carried about by all the Siennese women, and used in the house instead of a fire.
Tutti was allowed to ride home in the cart, and sat holding Tuttu's hand, his eyes round with solemnity, the traces of tears still on his cheeks.
That night he went to sleep with his arm thrown round Tuttu's neck, his curly head resting against his shoulder—and though Tuttu was cramped and uncomfortable, and his thumb pained him, he remained heroically still until he also dropped asleep, and the two little brothers dreamed peacefully of pleasant things until the morning.
"Well, thank Heaven! those children are safe for the present," said Maddalena, as she sat on a stone bench in the sun, with the dark clipped cyprus hedge behind her.
To the right rose the stuccoed Palazzo, with its great stone coat-of-arms hanging over the entrance, and inside, a peep of the shady courtyard, with green tubs of orange trees, and the twinkle of a fountain that shot up high into the sunshine, and fell with a splash into a marble basin.
Maddalena, in her broad Tuscan hat with its old-fashioned black velvet—for she would never give in to the modern innovations of flowers and ostrich feathers—held her distaff in her hand, and as she twisted the spindle and drew out the thread evenly, she thought with satisfaction of the improved behaviour of the twins.
Ever since the accident they had been different creatures, and she wondered how long it would be before they could be apprenticed to some useful trade, and begin to bring in a little money.
"When I can get hold of the Padre alone I'll ask him about it; but he really does spoil these boys till I don't know which tyrannizes over him most—the two cats or the two children!"
Maddalena's reflections were suddenly interrupted at this point by the appearance of her grandchildren from the back of the yew hedge by which she was sitting—Tuttu on all fours, neighing like a horse, with Tutti on his back, blowing a clay whistle.
"We're only doing 'cavalry,' grandmother," gasped Tuttu, with a scarlet face, attempting to prance in a military manner.
"Cavalry!" cried Maddalena, starting up. "Those children will be the death of me. Cavalry indeed! Look at your trousers, you disgrace. All the knees yellow sand, and the elbows in holes!" and she seized her distaff and waved it at them threateningly.
To avoid his grandmother's arm, Tuttu hastily scrambled under the stone seat, but his unfortunate rider thrown off his balance, fell head first against the earthen scaldino, which was broken, and its ashes scattered on the path in all directions.
When Tuttu, lying flat with only his head visible, saw this terrible misfortune; he crawled out from his hiding-place, and taking Tutti's hand helped him to get up, and stood courageously in front of his grandmother.
"It was all my fault, grandmother. Don't scold him! I made him do it, and I'm so sorry," he said, with a quiver in his voice, but Maddalena was too angry to listen to him. She had thrown her distaff on the ground, and was picking up the pieces of the yellow scaldino to see if it could possibly be fitted together again.
"Go in both of you to bed," she called out without looking up, "and don't let me see either of you again to-day! Just when I had a moment's peace too, thinking you were at the Padre's. It really is too much."
Tutti burst into loud sobs of terror and remorse, but Tuttu took him by the hand and, without speaking, led him away to the house.
"Why don't you cry, too, Tuttu?" asked Tutti, stopping his tears to look in astonishment at his brother.
"I'm too old," said Tuttu. "Grandmother's quite right, we do behave badly to her." And that was the beginning of a new era for Tuttu.
The next day as soon as he was awake, he began to think seriously over any possible way by which he could earn enough money to buy a new scaldino. He dressed hurriedly and ran off to talk it over with Father Giacomo, and the result of the conference was a long but kind lecture of good advice, and permission to weed in the Padre's garden for the sum of one halfpenny for a large basketful.
Tuttu danced about with delight. "Why, I shall earn the money in no time at that rate," he cried, "and I'll buy the best scaldino in Siena!"
He felt that he must commence work immediately, and in the evening he staggered into Father Giacomo's, with a scarlet face, carrying a great hamper of green stuff.
When he had a little recovered himself, he unfolded to his old friend another plan he had thought of during the day, which he was quite sure would please his grandmother.
"I've got a broken fiasco that the gardener's given me," he said, "and I and Tutti mean to put a bean each into it every day we are really good. Then, at the end of the month—a whole month, mind!—we might take it up to grandmother."
Father Giacomo highly approved of this idea, and encouraged the children by every means in his power; so that, for more than three weeks, the beans went in regularly and the halfpence in Tuttu's store, which he kept like a magpie hidden away in a crack of the woodwork, increased rapidly.
Old Maddalena had long ago forgiven the children, for though she was often angry with them, she loved them really. She guessed that Tuttu was determined to replace the scaldino, as on several occasions he had not been able to resist a veiled hint on the subject; but she pretended perfect ignorance, and the two little boys might whisper and laugh to their heart's content—it was quite certain she never heard anything!
One soft evening in May, Tuttu came into the Palazzo garden in a state of great excitement. His last basket of weeds had been handed in to Father Giacomo, and the entire sum for the scaldino lay in small copper pieces in a crumpled scarlet pocket handkerchief.
"It's all here," whispered Tuttu, one great smile stretching across his good-tempered little face. "Every penny of it!—Shall it be brown or yellow? It must have a pattern. We'll go into Siena to-morrow and buy it."
"To Siena!" said Tutti in an awe-struck whisper, "We've never been there by ourselves."
"Never mind, we're older now," replied Tuttu. "Don't you say anything about it, it's to be a surprise from beginning to end."
Tutti agreed, as he always did with his brother. Of course Tuttu knew best, and it would sure to be all right.
They started early in the morning, having put on their holiday clothes and brushed themselves; and as Bianca, who had come over from the Padre's house, insisted on following them, they tied a string to her red collar and determined to let her share the pleasure of their visit to the "great town."
Their grandmother was still sleeping, but they left word with the gardener's boy that they had gone into Siena "on business."
This sounded well, Tuttu thought, and would disarm suspicion.
The walk along the dusty high road was long and tiring, and they were glad when they arrived safely in the Piazza, where the market people had already begun to collect, for it was market day.
Tuttu carried his precious earnings tied up with intricate knots in the handkerchief, and stowed away in the largest of his pockets. He walked with conscious pride, knowing that he was a person of "property," and entering the pottery shop at the corner of the Piazza, began to cunningly tap the scaldinos, and peer into them; while Tutti stood by, lost in admiration at his brother's acuteness.
Finally, a brown pot, with yellow stripes and spots, was chosen and paid for, wrapped in the red handkerchief, and carried off in triumph towards the Porta Camolla.
"Whatever will grandmother say!" cried Tuttu, almost shouting for joy, "I wish I could run all the way. There'll be a big bean in the fiasco for each of us to-night, won't there, Tutti?"
"You've got a little money left, haven't you, Tuttu?" enquired Tutti, who was always practical; "Couldn't we buy some cakes. I really feel very hungry."
"Certainly not," said Tuttu, firmly, "I shall put it inside the scaldino for grandmother. That'll be the second surprise. Don't you see, Tutti?"
"But it's only two half-pennies," argued Tutti.
"Oh, she'll be glad enough of that!" said Tuttu, and tramped on steadily up the street. "Come along, Tutti, we'll go into the Cathedral."
Tutti remonstrated no more, he knew it was useless; and the two little boys, ascending a steep flight of steps, entered the Cathedral at a side door, and knelt down in the dim light in one of the chapels.
Tuttu repeated a prayer he had been taught, and then continued rapidly, "Thank you, too, very much, for making me and Tutti good; and please let us go on putting beans into the fiasco till it can't hold any more—and then we'll find something else...." He paused to meditate. "Make grandmother pleased with us, and bless the cats."
Here Tuttu could think of nothing else, and nudged Tutti.
"You go on, Tutti."
"I think Tuttu's said everything," commenced Tutti in a whisper. "But please keep us out of the pond, and make us grow so that we can be artillery; and take us home safe, for the road's rather long, and we've never been there alone, and there's oxen about."
"You shouldn't say that, Tutti," said Tuttu, reprovingly. "Oxen won't hurt you, and you shouldn't be a coward."
"Well, shall I pray not to be a coward?" enquired Tutti.
"If you think it's necessary," said Tuttu. "But you can save that for another time—we ought to be going now"—so Tutti got up, and the children pushed their way through the heavy curtain by the door, and found themselves once more in the bright sunshine.
Certainly Bianca had been no trouble to them. In the Cathedral she behaved in the most serious manner, sitting by their side, and never moving until they pulled the string to which she was fastened; when she got up solemnly, and followed them on to the Piazza.
"I'm glad I prayed for you, Bianca, good cat!" said Tuttu. "You would never have allowed anyone to touch that scaldino, would you?"
Bianca mewed. She was rather bewildered by her walk through the town, but as long as her two friends were satisfied, that was enough for her.
As they came out upon the more crowded thoroughfare, the twins with their white cat attracted some attention, and many laughing remarks were shouted to them as they edged their way along the narrow paved street, where the absence of any pathway made it necessary to keep their eyes very wide open indeed, to avoid being run over by the carts and carriages.
Tutti walked in charge of Bianca, while Tuttu devoted all his attention to the scaldino in its red handkerchief, and a large green cotton umbrella he had brought from home in case the day should turn out to be rainy.
This umbrella seemed to be endowed with life, so extraordinary was its power of wriggling itself under the legs of the passers by. It had to be constantly wrenched out, with many apologies, by its owner; while the person who had been nearly tripped up by it, went on his—or her—way grumbling.
No one did more than grumble, however, for the look of horror on Tuttu's face was irresistible.
"Go on, Tutti; do hurry!" he cried, urgently. "I'm getting so hot with this horrible umbrella. It seems to catch hold of people whichever way I carry it!"
"I am going," replied Tutti laconically. "But remember, I've got the cat."
As he spoke a boy darted out from one of the grim old houses close by, and picking up a loose stone threw it at Bianca, grazing her head, and leaving a great red stain that commenced to trickle slowly down her spotless white body.
Tuttu, his eyes blazing with wrath, placed the scaldino by the side of the kerbstone, and darted at the boy, waving his umbrella; while Tutti threw his arms round Bianca's neck and tried to hush her mews of terror by a shower of tears and kisses.
"How dare you?" shouted Tuttu, beside himself with anger. "Go away, and leave our poor Bianca! You've killed her, I expect; and I wish I could kill you!" But even in the midst of his ungovernable rage, Tutti's voice reached him.
"Oh, Tuttu, Tuttu! the scaldino!"
Tuttu darted across the street towards the stone where he had left the precious red bundle. There it was, lying unhurt, and he was about to seize it and carry it to a place of safety, when a fast-trotting horse with one of the light country gigs behind him, dashed down the street.
"Get out of the way! Get out of the way!" shouted the driver—but it was too late!
The gig flew on, and Tuttu lay white and quiet, the scaldino still grasped in his two little outstretched hands.
"Where's the scaldino, grandmother?" were Tuttu's first words, when he woke up to find himself lying on a little bed in a long room, with Maddalena and Father Giacomo bending over him. "We saved up.... It's all for you...." he muttered brokenly, "Have you got it?"
"Yes, my lamb. A beautiful one it is," said the old woman, the tears streaming down her wrinkled face. "You lie still and get better, my Tuttu."
"I will, grandmother, but I want you to see the surprise inside. It's from weeding.... Father Giacomo will tell you. I'm so tired, grandmother.... How's Bianca?"
"Very well, Tuttu, she has only a slight scratch.... Oh, my poor boy!" and Father Giacomo's voice broke.
"Is it near evening?" said Tuttu, after a few minutes, during which he lay moving his head restlessly.
"It soon will be," said the Padre. "Why do you ask, Tuttu?"
"The fiasco.... Do you think I may put a bean in to-night, or was I too angry?"
"You may, Tuttu," said Father Giacomo, turning away his head. "If you tell me where it is, I will send for it."
"By the melon bed. Tutti knows. He'll bring it," whispered Tuttu. "It's nearly full—only four days more. Put one in for Tutti."
As the setting sun streamed into the long room, Tutti crept in, holding Father Giacomo's hand; carrying the broken fiasco.
Tuttu awoke from a restless sleep as they entered, and smiled with a faint reflection of his old happy laugh. "That's right, Tutti. You have been good, haven't you?"
"Yes," quavered Tutti, lifting his terrified, tear-stained face to his brother.
"Put your bean in then, Tutti, and give me mine. It's getting so late, it's almost night-time."
Tutti held out the bean with a trembling hand, and as it dropped into the old bottle, little Tuttu gave a quiet sigh.
"It only wants four more," he said happily.
Only four more! But Tuttu might never put them in. That night he started on a long, long journey, and as the old grandmother with choking sobs placed the broken bottle on a shelf among her treasures, she turned to Tutti who was lying, worn out with grief, upon the doorstep.
"Come, my Tutti," she said, "there are only us two now. We must try and be very good to each other."
* * * * *
Years afterwards, Tutti, coming home on leave—for he had clung to his childish idea of being a soldier—found the broken fiasco in the corner where his grandmother had hidden it; and taking out the beans that had been lying there so long, he carried them to a little grave with a small white cross at the head of it.
"Dear Tuttu! He would like to have these growing round him," he thought, and planted them carefully amongst the flowers and grasses.
Grandmother Maddalena was too old to move out of the house now, but Father Giacomo watered the beans lovingly, and in the soft spring air they grew rapidly, so that they soon formed a beautiful tangle, hiding the cross and even the name that still stood there clearly in black letters
Atven was the son of a fisherman, and lived with his father on a flat sandy coast far away in the North-land.
Great rocks strewed the shore about their hut, and the child had often been told how, long, long ago, the giant Thor fought single-handed against a shipload of wild men who attempted to land in the little bay; and drove them off—killing some, and changing others into the wonderful stones that remained there to that day.
The country people called them "Thor's balls;" and Atven often wandered about amongst them, trying to find likenesses to the old warriors in their weather-worn surfaces; and peering into every hole and cranny—half dreading, half hoping to see a stone hand stretched out to him from the misty shadows of the past.
Here and there, a row of smaller boulders lay half sunk in the sand, with only their rounded tops, covered with long brown seaweed, appearing above the surface.
These, Atven decided, must be the heads of the ancient Norsemen, and further on stood their huge mis-shapen bodies, twisted into every imaginable form, and covered by myriads of shell-fish, that clung to their grey sides like suits of shining armour.
Atven was often lonely; for he had no brothers or sisters, and his mother had died many years before. He was a shy, wild boy—more at home with the sea birds that flew about the lonely shore, than with the children he met sometimes as he wandered about the country; but in spite of his shyness he had friends who loved him everywhere he went. The house dogs on every farm knew his step, and ran out to greet him; the horses rubbed their noses softly upon his homespun tunic; the birds clustered on his shoulders; the cats came purring up, and the oxen lowed and shook their bells as soon as they caught sight of him. The very hens cackled loudly for joy—and Atven would caress them all with his brown hand, and had a kind word for every one of them.
All the short Northern summer, Atven spent his evenings in searching about amongst "Thor's balls" for traces of the warriors of the old legend; and one night, in the soft clearness of the twilight, he came upon something that rewarded him for all his patient perseverance.
Lifting a mass of seaweed that had completely covered one of the larger rocks, he saw before him the graceful form of a little Stone-maiden!
There she lay, as though quietly sleeping, her long dress falling in straight folds to her feet, her rippled hair spreading about her. One small hand grasped a chain upon her neck, the other was embedded in the rock on which she was lying.
Atven was so astonished that he stared at the child-figure as if turned into a statue himself.
Then he realized that his long search had been rewarded, and he fell on his knees and prayed that the Stone-maiden might be released from her prison, and given to him to be a little playfellow.
As soon as it was daylight the next morning, he started off to ask the advice of his one friend, the old Priest of Adgard.
The day was fine, with a crisp northern air, and a bright sun that danced on the long stretches of sandy grass, and on the swaying boughs of the fir trees.
Atven's heart beat hopefully as he neared the neat wooden house in which the old Priest lived.
Father Johannes welcomed him kindly, as he always did; and listened attentively whilst Atven told his story.
"It must have consideration, my child," he said. "I will come down to the shore to-morrow—perhaps I may be able to think of something."
Atven took up his cap humbly, and started on his homeward journey.
As he threaded his way beneath the shadows of the pine-trees, the sun's fingers darted through the branches and drew a golden pattern on the mossy ground under his feet; the mosquitoes hummed drowsily, the air was full of soft summer warmth and brightness—but Atven's thoughts were far away with the ancient legend and the Stone-maiden.
How had she come to be amongst the shipload of "wild-men" in the misty ages when Thor yet walked the earth? Had she a father and mother who loved her, and perhaps brothers and sisters—and how long had she been sleeping so quietly in the arms of the great rock?
It was a strange cradle, with only the sea to sing her lullaby, and wash her lovingly, like a tender mother!
Atven hurried on; and as he peered before him with sun-dazzled eyes, he thought he saw a figure flitting in and out between the brown tree stems.
It was a small, light figure, with a strange kind of loose dress, and long floating hair of a beautiful gold colour. It glided along so rapidly that Atven had some difficulty in keeping pace with it.
Every now and again it seemed to be beckoning to him with one little hand; and at last as he ran faster and faster, it suddenly turned its head, and he saw the face of a beautiful young woman. Her brown eyes were soft and clear, and her cheeks tinted with a colour so delicate, it reminded Atven of the little pink shells he sometimes found after a storm upon the sea-shore.
"Atven! Atven!" she murmured, "You have found my child. Give her life! Give her life!"
"Tell me what I am to do!" cried Atven, and stretched out his hands towards the beautiful young woman; but at that moment she reached the shore, and gliding between the boulders, disappeared amongst their dark shadows.
Atven threw himself down beside the rock on which the Stone-maiden lay sleeping. He grieved for her so much that tears rolled slowly down his cheeks, and as they touched the stone, the great boulder shook and crumbled, and a shudder passed over the figure of the Stone-maiden. She seemed to Atven to sigh gently, and half open her eyes; but in a moment they closed again; the rock settled into its place, and everything was motionless.
"To-morrow! To-morrow!" he said to himself, "When Father Johannes comes, he will help me."
Early next morning the old Priest knocked at the door of the fisherman's hut. He had started at daybreak, for he knew that Atven would be anxiously awaiting him.
They went down together to the shore; and when Father Johannes saw the figure of the sleeping child, he took out of his bark basket, a little jar of water from the Church Well, and sprinkled it over her.
The Stone-maiden stirred and opened her eyes. She raised her hands, breathed gently, and lifting her head, gazed at the old Priest and the boy with wistful brown eyes, like those of the figure Atven had met in the forest.
"Where is my father? Where am I?" she asked, in a low soft voice, as she rose up from the rock, and shook out the folds of her long dress.
Father Johannes took her hand, and gently repeated the old legend; while the Stone-maiden listened with wide-open eyes.
"I remember it all now," she said, as the puzzled look faded from her face. "We had but just landed when the thick cloud came down, and a shower of stones fell upon us. My father was smitten down with all his followers, and I only was left weeping upon the shore. A cold air seemed to breathe upon me, and I fell asleep."
She spoke slowly, in the old Norse tongue, but Father Johannes had studied it, and understood her without much questioning.
"Where was your mother?" he asked kindly, as Atven with smiles of delight, seized her other hand.
"My mother died just before we set sail, and my father would not leave me lonely," answered the Stone-maiden sadly.
"But we will all love you now," cried Atven. "I will grow tall and strong to work for you, and you shall never be unhappy any more!"
The Stone-maiden smiled, as she stood on the threshold of her new life. She looked up trustingly at her two friends, and the old Priest of Asgard, bending down, laid his hand upon her head with a gentle blessing.
* * * * *
The Warriors' heads, with their tangled elf-locks, still peer out of the drifting sand—the twisted bodies in their sea armour, lie half surrounded by the green waters; but the log hut, and Atven have vanished into the misty shadows of the past. They, and the good old priest, have drifted away to Shadow-Land.
Only the sea talks of them still; and croons them a lullaby, as soft as the centuries-old song, it sang over the cradle of the enchanted Stone-maiden.
THE GRASS OF PARNASSUS.
On the banks of a clear stream in one of the far away Greek islands, grew a small flowering plant, with delicate stem and transparent white flower, called "Grass of Parnassus."
Every day it saw its own face, reflected in the running water, and every day it made the same complaint—
"This place is beautiful, the soft earth wraps me round, the branches bend over me, but I can never be happy, for I have never seen a River-God!"
The fish swimming close to the shore had talked to the Grass, of the mysterious race who lived in the shallows of the river, higher up, where it broadened into a lake; and played on their rude pipes as they rested in the flickering gloom of the water-weeds and rushes.
"Everyone has seen the River-Gods but me!" said the white flower. "The wind brings me the floating sound of their piping—I can even hear their laughter, and the echo of their voices. Yet they do not come, and I may wither, and never have the happiness I long for!"
But one day, the river-side thrilled, with a strange, new feeling of hope and expectation. The sun shone, a faint breeze stirred the trees; and down the stream waded a beautiful youth, carrying his pipes in his hand, blowing a few notes mournfully, at long intervals. His hair, crowned with an ivy wreath, hung down, curled and tangled; his hoof-feet splashed in the shallows of the water, and he cried—
"Nadiae! Nadiae! Where are you hiding—Why do you not come to me?"
The white flower remained, enchanted and motionless, upon its stem, bending its yellow eye upon the stranger.
"Nadiae! Nadiae!" the voice wailed, "Do not hide from me any more!—Come to me!"
The bushes rustled and parted; a delicate girl's face looked out, and a wood nymph in floating garments, slid to the side of the stream, and dabbled her white feet in the water.
The youth gave a cry of joy; "I have found you, Nadiae! I have piped to you, and called to you till I was weary; but I loved you, and at last I have found you!"
The wood nymph smiled as she sat in the flickering shadows—and the River-God bending down, gathered the Grass of Parnassus, and placed it timidly in her shining tresses.
The wish of the white flower had been fulfilled; but the end of its life's longing was—Death.
THE HEDGEHOGS' COFFEE PARTY.
A STORY OF THURINGIA.
It was winter time, and the Thuringia-Wald lay still and white under its snowy covering.
The fir trees waved their branches in the frosty air, and a clear moon had risen over the mountains.
All was quiet and deserted, except that a faint sound of music and singing floated on the wind, coming undoubtedly from the comfortable burrow of the Hedgehog family, who lived under one of the largest pine stumps.
Councillor Igel—for the father was a member of the Hedgehog Government—had consented to allow the young people to have one or two friends to coffee, and they had been dancing with the greatest spirit for the last half hour.
By the porcelain stove stood the Councillor's only brother, Uncle Columbus, who had devoted himself since childhood to learned pursuits, and was much respected by the rest of the family.
He looked down upon all amusements as frivolous, but then he had been to College, so his superior mind was only what was to be expected.
The Councillor belonged to an ancient Thuringian race who had been settled for centuries in the forest near the little town of Ruhla. They were a proud family, for one of their uncles had, some years before, been called to take up the position of Court Hedgehog at the Royal country Palace, where he moved in the highest society, and occasionally invited his relations to visit him.
"But fifty miles is really almost too far to go with nothing but a cup of coffee at the end," said the Hedgehog-mother, "and he never invites us to sleep. We don't, therefore, see so much of him as we otherwise should do."
"That must be very trying," replied the Mole-mother, to whom these confidences were being poured out.
"Yes, for of course it would be an inestimable advantage to the children to see a little Court life. However, with the fashions altering so quickly, it would be difficult for me to arrange their dresses in the last mode—and I couldn't have them looked down upon."
"Of course not," humbly replied the Mole-mother. She was sitting by the table, with her homespun knitting in her hand; and though she was trying to pay attention to her friend's words, she was arranging her dinner for the next day at the same time, and wondering whether her eldest child could have one more tuck let out of her frock before Christmas time.
"It's all very well for the Hedgehog-mother," she thought. "She comes of a high family, and can live in luxury; but with all my children, and my poor husband working away from morning till night, I'm obliged to plan every coffee bean, or I could never keep the house together!"
The Councillor's wife, however, talked on without noticing her distraction.
"Do you ever find any inconveniences from living so near the town?" she enquired. "Do the boys ever annoy you? They are sometimes very ill-bred."
"Our house is in such a retired position, I seldom see anyone," replied the Mole-mother. "The Forester's family are our nearest neighbours, and really they are so kind they might almost be Moles themselves."
"That is very pleasant for you," said the Frau Councillor. "Our case is quite different. The Rats who keep the inn at the cross roads, are most disagreeable people. We can't associate with them."
"Gypsies!" cried Uncle Columbus at this moment. He had an unpleasant habit when he did not like the conversation, of suddenly reminding the family of a tragedy that had happened some sixty years ago, when a promising young Hedgehog had been carried off to captivity by a band of travelling Tinkers, and finally disposed of in a way too terrible to be alluded to.
The Councillor's wife looked angry, and hastily changed the subject.
"He is quite a trial to us sometimes!" she whispered to the Mole-mother. "Such bad taste to mention Gypsies. It makes me tremble in every quill!"
"I think I must be going now," said the Mole-mother hurriedly, putting away her knitting into a reticule, and tying a woollen hood over her head—for she felt that it would not do for strangers to be mixed up in these family matters.
Calling her children to her, she helped them into their warm galoshes; and lighting a small lantern, they were soon out in the snowy forest.
"Oh, mother, I wish we were rich like the Hedgehogs," cried the eldest daughter, Emmie; "Wilhelm and Fritz are so fashionable, and on Berta's birthday they are going to give a grand coffee party, to which the Court Hedgehog is expected!"
"Well, they won't ask us, so you had better not think too much about it," said the Mole-mother; "don't let your mind run on vanities."
As she spoke they saw the two rats from the Inn coming towards them. The elder—the proprietor of the Inn—in a peasant's dress with a pipe in his mouth, dragging a small sledge on which three infant rats were seated, wrapped in a fur rug, while their mother walked beside them, her homespun cloak trailing over the snow.
"Good evening, neighbours!" cried the Mole-mother pleasantly, for though she did not exactly approve of the Rat household, she always treated them with civility. "Where are you out so late? How well the children are looking!"
"Yes, they grow rapidly—bless their little tails and whiskers!" said the Rat-mother proudly. "We have just been to my brother's in the town, taking a cup of coffee with him, and there we heard some news. I can tell you! There's to be a grand Coffee Party at the Hedgehogs, and though all the guests have been invited, we alone are left out. Most insulting I call it!"
"Well, it is rude," allowed the Mole-mother, "but they've not asked us either. You see the Court Hedgehog is to be there, and so it is very select."
"Select! I'll make them select!" growled the proprietor of the Inn with a scowl. "Who are they I should like to know? They may have Gypsies upon them at any moment!"
"Oh, I hope not!" cried the Mole-mother.
"There's a Tinker's boy in the town," said the Innkeeper, darkly, "and he's always looking out for Hedgehogs—I shouldn't be surprised if he heard where the family live."
"Good-night!" said the Mole-mother, nervously, and hurried on with her children.
"Some mischief will be done if we don't watch," she said to Emmie, who was a mole of unusual intelligence. "I'll tell your brother to keep his eye on the Rat Inn."
After about half an hour's walking, they arrived at home; for their house was in a secluded position in the most unfrequented part of the forest.
Though very simple, it was clean and well kept, and furnished with a large cooking stove, a four-post bedstead, and a few wooden benches.
In the one arm-chair sat the Mole-father, reading the newspaper; while his sister, Aunt Betta, with a cap with long streaming ribbons on her head, was busily stirring something in a saucepan.
As the Mole-mother and her family, descended the stone stairway that led from the upper air, a delicious smell of cooking greeted them. Two large tallow candles were burning brightly, and altogether the house presented a very lively appearance.
"Here you are at last," cried the Mole-father. "Supper is just ready, and I have sent Karl to the Inn for some lager-beer."
"I wonder if he will hear anything," said the Mole-mother taking off her galoshes; and then she related all the news of the evening.
"If there isn't some mischief brewing, may I be made into waistcoats!" exclaimed the Mole-father, throwing down his newspaper.
It was his favourite expression when much excited, and never failed to give the Mole-mother a shiver all down her back. She called it such very strong language.
At this moment Karl came clattering down the steps.
"Oh, father! mother! I have heard something!" he shouted. "The Rat-father has started off to the Tinker's to tell the boy where the Hedgehogs are living!"
The Mole-mother sank down on a bench gasping.
"He's done it then! Oh, the poor Hedgehogs!" she cried wringing her hands, "They'll be cooked in clay before they can turn round."
"Don't be in such a hurry, wife," said the Mole-father. "I've thought of something. We won't terrify the Hedgehogs—What can they do?—but we'll collect all the Moles of the neighbourhood, and make a burrow all round the house; then if the Tinker's son comes, he'll fall in, and can't get any further. What do you think of that, eh?"
"An excellent idea!" said the Mole-mother, recovering. "Send Karl round to-night, and begin the first thing to-morrow morning."
As soon as daylight dawned in the forest, the Mole-father, accompanied by his wife and children, and all their friends; went out in a long procession, with their shovels and wheelbarrows, and commenced work round the Hedgehogs' house.
The Councillor's family were so busily occupied in turning out, and arranging, their rooms for the festivity—which was to include a dance in the evening—that they had no time to take any notice of the Moles' digging; in fact they never even observed it. The younger Hedgehogs were roasting coffee. The house-mother sugared the cakes in the back-kitchen, while the Councillor, with a large holland apron, rubbed down the floor, and gave a final dust to the furniture.
As to Uncle Columbus—he sat on a sort of island of chairs in one corner, studying a book, and looking on misanthropically at the preparations.
The Moles, therefore, were quite uninterrupted, and burrowed away vigorously, until the earth all round the house was mined to a depth of several feet; and they returned home to dinner in high spirits.
"If that boy dares to venture, may I be made into waistcoats, if he doesn't fall in!" cried the Mole-father, wiping his face with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief—for though the snow was on the ground the work was exhausting.
The Tinker's family sat round a fire, in one of the tumble-down wooden cottages that dotted the outskirts of the little town of Ruhla.
A small stove scarcely warmed the one room, for great cracks appeared in the walls in every direction.
"We've got no dinner to-day; are you going after those Hedgehogs?" said the Tinker to his son Otto. "Now you know where they are, it will be an easy thing to get hold of them."
"Yes; we'll have a fine supper to-night," said Otto, stamping his feet to get them warm. "Come with me, Johann, and we'll take the old sack over our shoulders to bring them back in."
They started off over the crisp snow sparkling in the early sunshine, away to the forest; and straight towards the great pine tree, which sheltered the underground home of Councillor Igel.
"Come, Johann!" cried Otto, bounding along over the slippery pathway; but Johann was small and fat, and his little legs could not keep pace with Otto's long ones. He soon fell behind, and Otto raced on by himself.
"Do be careful, Otto! There's lots of Moles here," cried little Johann, but Otto did not stop to listen. On he ran almost up to the pine tree; when Johann saw him suddenly jump into the air, and disappear through the snow with a loud shriek.
At the sound of the fall, the Councillor ran up the steps to his front door, and put out his head cautiously to see what was the matter.
"Gypsies!" said Uncle Columbus without raising his eyes from his book; and for the first time in his life he was right!
Gypsies it certainly was, as the Councillor soon determined; and he hastily scratched some snow over the door, and retired to the back kitchen with his whole family, in a terrible state of fright and excitement.
"What can the boy have fallen into?" he enquired vainly of the Hedgehog-mother, and of Uncle Columbus, in turn. "There are no houses there that I know of. We have been saved by almost a miracle!"
As they remained shuddering in a little frightened knot—only Uncle Columbus maintaining his philosophical calm—the air filled with the odour of burnt sugar; a faint knocking was heard against the side of the stove pipe, and in another minute the Mole-father's red nightcap appeared through a hole, and his kind face shortly followed.
"Don't be frightened," he said reassuringly. "I have made a little tunnel and come through—merely to explain things. I thought perhaps you might be a little alarmed."
"Alarmed!" cried the Hedgehog-mother. "It doesn't describe it! Terrified, and distracted, is nearer to the real thing. The sugar biscuits are all spoilt, for I forgot them in the oven; and my daughter Berta fainted on the top of the stove, and is so seriously singed, she will be unable to appear at the party. Not that we shall be able to have a party now," continued the Hedgehog-mother, weeping, "for Uncle Columbus sat down on the plum cake in mistake for a foot-stool, and Fritz has trodden on the punch bottles. Oh, what a series of misfortunes!"
"Cheer up, my good neighbour, all will come right in time," said the Mole-father encouragingly.
"As long as the Court Hedgehog doesn't appear in the middle," wailed the Councillor. "It makes me shudder in every quill to think of it. Not even a front door to receive him at!"
"Oh, as to that, let him come to us, and we will give him the best we have," replied the Mole-father. "Our place is homely, but I daresay he will condescend to put up with it till your house is in order again. I sent Karl on to intercept him, and explain just how it is. He will take him straight to our house till you are ready for him."
"Well, I must say you have been exceedingly thoughtful," said the Councillor, pompously, "and I feel sincerely grateful to you; but now, will you kindly explain to me the cause of this severe disturbance?"
"I think I'll come into the room first, if you'll allow me," said the Mole-father. "I am getting rather a crick in the neck from sticking my head through here."
"Come in by all means," said the Hedgehog-mother, graciously. "I am sorry to be obliged to receive you in this humble apartment."
"Gypsies!" growled Uncle Columbus, who was brushing the currants and crumbs off his coat with a duster.
The Mole-father had by this time worked himself into the kitchen, dragging his spade after him; and seated on a bench by the stove, he related the whole story to the Councillor, but carefully omitted to give the name of the person who had betrayed the Hedgehogs to the Tinker's family; and notwithstanding the requests of the whole family, he firmly refused to do so.
"All's well that ends well," he said cheerfully, "and as I heard the Tinker forbidding his sons ever to come near the place again, you will be quite safe in the future."
"What has happened to that dreadful boy? Is he still in the hole, or have they got him out?" enquired the Hedgehog-mother anxiously.
"Got him out some time ago," said the Mole-father, "and carried him off to the hospital. Broke his leg, I am sorry to say, though it's nothing very bad. He will be all right in six weeks or so. I don't think much of those human fractures."
"Serves him right," said the Councillor viciously. "And now, my good preserver, in what way can we show our gratitude to you? I shall send Fritz and Wilhelm into the town for more provisions, and we might have our Coffee Party after all. What do you say to that, my children?"
The family clapped their hands joyfully.
"I trust you and your family will grace the party?" said the Hedgehog-mother to the old Mole.
"On one condition," he replied, "I shall be delighted to do so; and that is that you will allow me to ask the Rats from the Inn. They are touchy people, and do not readily forgive an injury."
"What I said all along," muttered Uncle Columbus, lifting his eyes from his dusting. "I said 'away with pride,' but I wasn't listened to."
"You will be now," said the Councillor in a soothing and dignified manner. "Certainly; send an invitation to the Inn if you wish it. Just write, 'To meet the Court Hedgehog,' at the top, Wilhelm; it will make it more gratifying."
The Court Hedgehog, with an escort of six guards, had meanwhile arrived at the Mole's house, and was being entertained by the Mole-mother and her children, who were all in a state of great nervousness.
The Court Hedgehog, however, appeared to be more condescending than could have been expected from his position. He accepted some refreshment, and a pipe of the Mole-father's tobacco, and then reclining in the one easy chair, he awaited the course of events with calmness.
Here the Councillor found him some hours later, when the confusion in the Hedgehog household having been smoothed over—a deputation of the father and sons started to bring the distinguished guest home in triumph.
The rooms in the Councillor's house had all been gaily decorated with pine branches; the stove sent out a pleasant glow; and the Hedgehog-mother, in her best cap and a stiff black silk dress, stood waiting to welcome her guests in the ante-room.
By her side sat Berta, who had fortunately recovered sufficiently to be present at the entertainment; though still suffering from the effects of the shock, and with her head tied up in a silk handkerchief.
As the Court Hedgehog appeared in the doorway, three of the younger children, concealed in a bower of branches, commenced to sing an ode composed by Uncle Columbus for the occasion, beginning "Welcome to our honoured guest,"—while a fiddler hired for the occasion accompanied it upon the violin, behind a red curtain.
The first visitors to arrive were the Moles; followed by the Rat family, who were filled with remorse when they received the invitation, at the thought of their treacherous behaviour.
"I declare, mother," said the Innkeeper to his wife in a whisper, "the Mole-father is such a good creature, I shall be ashamed to quarrel with any of his friends for the future. 'Live and let live,' ought to be our motto."
Uncle Columbus did not appear till late in the evening, when he entered the room dressed in an antiquated blue coat with brass buttons, finished off by a high stand-up white collar.
He staggered in, carrying a large plum cake about twice the size of the one he had unfortunately sat down upon; which he placed upon the coffee table, where the Hedgehog-mother was presiding over a large collection of various cups, mugs, and saucers.
"I have only just come back from town, where I went to procure a cake fit for this happy occasion," he whispered. "It does my heart good to see this neighbourly gathering, and I have made up my mind to promise you something in memory of the event. I will from this day, give up for ever a habit which I know has been objectionable to you—the word 'Gypsies' shall never again be mentioned in the family."
A STORY OF A RUSSIAN VILLAGE.
On the one hill of the district, just outside the village of Viletna, stood the great house belonging to Madame Olsheffsky.
All round it lay, what had once in the days gone by, been elaborate gardens, but were now a mere tangle of brushwood, waving grass, and wild flowers.
Beyond this, again, were fields of rye and hemp, bounded on one side by the shining waters of the great Seloe Lake, dug by hundreds of slaves in the time of Madame Olsheffsky's great-grandfather; and on the other by the dim greenness of a pine forest, which stretched away into the distance for mile after mile, until it seemed to melt into the misty line of the horizon.
Between the lake and the gardens of the great house, lay Viletna, with its rough log houses, sandy street, and great Church, crowned with a cupola like a gaily-painted melon; where Elena, Boris, and Daria, the three children of Madame Olsheffsky, drove every Sunday with their mother in the old-fashioned, tumble-down carriage.
All the week the children looked forward to this expedition, for with the exception of an occasional visit to Volodia Ivanovitch's shop in the village, it was the only break in the quiet monotony of their lives.
They were allowed to go to Volodia's, whenever they had money enough to buy anything; and often spent the afternoon there listening to his long tales, and examining the contents of the shop, which seemed to supply all that any reasonable person could wish for—from a ball of twine to a wedding dress.
Volodia himself, had been a servant at the great house many years before, "when the place was kept up as a country gentleman's should be"—he was fond of explaining to the children—"but when the poor dear master was taken off to Siberia—he was as good as a saint, and no one knew what they found out against him—then the Government took all his money, and your mother had to manage as well as she could with the little property left her by your grandfather. She ought to have owned all the country round, but your great-grandfather was an extravagant man, Boris Andreievitch! and he sold everything he could lay hands on!"
Elena and Boris always listened respectfully. They had the greatest opinion of "Uncle Volodia's" wisdom, and they could just remember the time of grief and excitement when their father left them; but it had all happened so long ago that though their mother often spoke of him, and their old nurse Var-Vara was never tired of relating anecdotes of his childhood, they had gradually begun to think of him, not as a living person, but as one of the heroes of the old romances that still lingered on the shelves of the dilapidated library.
It was a happy life the children led in the great white house. It made no difference to them that the furniture was old and scanty, that the rooms were bare, and the plaster falling away in many places from the walls and ceilings.
Their mother was there, and all their old friends, and they wished for nothing further.
Was there not Toulu, the horse, in his stall in the ruined stable; Tulipan, the Pomeranian dog, Adam, the old butler, and Alexis, the "man of all work," who rowed their boat on the lake, tidied the garden—as well as the weeds and his own natural laziness would allow him—and was regarded by Boris as the type of all manly perfection!
What could children want more? Especially as Volodia was always ready at a moment's notice to tell them a story, carve them a peasant or a dog from a chip of pine-wood, dance a jig, or entertain them in a hundred other ways dear to the heart of Russian children.
On one of the clear dry days of an early Russian autumn, when a brilliant glow of colour and sunshine floods the air, and the birch trees turned to golden glories shake their fluttering leaves like brilliant butterflies, Elena, Boris, and Daria, stood on one of the wide balconies of the great house, with their mother beside them, sorting seeds and tying them up in packets for the springtime.
Some large hydrangeas, and orange trees, in green tubs, made a background to the little scene.
The eager children with clumsy fingers, bent on being useful; the pale, thin mother leaning back in her garden chair smiling at their absorbed faces.
"Children, I have something I must tell you," commenced Madame Olsheffsky, seriously, when the last seeds had been put away and labelled. "It is something that will make you sad, but you must try and bear it well for my sake, and for your poor father's—who I hope will return to us one day. I think you are old enough to know something about our affairs, Elena, for you are nearly thirteen. Even my little Boris is almost eleven. Don't look so frightened, darling," continued Madame Olsheffsky, taking little Daria in her arms, "it is nothing very dreadful. I am obliged to enter into a lawsuit—a troublesome, difficult lawsuit. One of our distant cousins has just found some papers which he thinks will prove that he ought to have had this estate instead of your grandfather, and he is going to try and take it from us. I have sent a great box of our title deeds to the lawyer in Viletna, and he is to go through them immediately—but who knows how it may turn out? Oh, children! you must help me bravely, if more ill-fortune is to fall upon us!"