The Story of A DEWDROP.
THE STORY OF A DEWDROP
J. R. MACDUFF D D
WITH FOUR COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON MARCUS WARD & CO BELFAST
A Dewdrop is a small affair; and the world would not be the least interested, nor a bit the wiser, by knowing how I come affectionately to dedicate the story I have written about it to you. I may tell you it was one line of eleven words, read one night from a musty old volume of last century, which suggested it.
Everybody must have their play-hours and moments of recreation. I think I have gone back to other and more serious work all the better after writing a page or two of what follows. I am happy thus to have had my little holiday along with you in this ideal region of quaint conceits.
Shall we hope that others may share our pleasure?
Let us try.
List of ILLUSTRATIONS.
The Procession of the Queen of the Morning (p. 41), Frontispiece.
The Bird-talk and its surroundings, 14
The Nightingale and the Dewdrop, 19
The Ascent of the Million Army, 53
The Story of A DEWDROP.
CHAPTER THE FIRST.
Three birds of very favourable repute in these regions met together one evening—a Thrush, a Lark, and a Nightingale. And all for what purpose, think you? It was a queer one—to hold a solemn conference about a DEWDROP!
Yes, it must be allowed it was an original thought which brought these three feathered friends thus into council; and a pretty talk to be sure they had about it.
They selected, as an appropriate time for preliminaries, the close of a bright day in early summer; just when things in outer nature were looking their best. The snowdrop and crocus had long ago hid their faces to make way for more ambitious rivals. That always pleasant season was a great way past, when you see the drowsy plants (after being tucked up—it may have been for weeks—in a white snowy coverlet), first roused from their sound winter sleep, yawning and stretching themselves, and rubbing their little eyes, and looking; wonderingly about them, saying—"What! is it now time to wake up and dress?" The tree foliage was approaching, if it had not already reached, perfection; all the mosses, too, looked so green and fresh; and how prettily the various ferns were uncoiling themselves among the rocks and shady nooks by the stream; while on this particular occasion the very Sun seemed to have coaxed his setting beams into the production of most gorgeous colouring. Belts of golden cloud were streaking the western sky; such long trails of them, that it was impossible to say whether the great ball of fire, which gave them their glory, had actually gone down behind the horizon, or was just about to do so. At all events, it was unmistakably sundown: though the scene was far removed from northern latitudes, it might be designated by the familiar Scotch "gloamin'." The groves, and dells, and hedgerows, which had kept up a goodly concert the livelong day, were now silent. Their winged tenants had, one after another, slunk to their nests, with very tired throats. They had left, apparently, all, or nearly all the music to the aforesaid brook in the dell. A stone's-throw higher up the valley, this latter, fed by recent rains, rattled in gleeful style over a bed of white and grey pebbles—the tiny limpid waves chasing one another as if they were playing at hide-and-seek amid the sedges, king-cups, and rushes. But it had now reached a quieter spot where, however, it still kept up a gentle, soothing evensong, a lullaby peculiar to itself, as if it wanted to hush the little birds asleep in their varied leafy cradles. The very cattle, that had been seen lying lazily out of the heat under the beech-trees, had ceased their lowings. In fact, Nature had rung her curfew bell, and the sentry stars were coming out, one by one, to keep their night-watch.
* * * * *
Let me first, however, say a word about this Dewdrop, which had awakened so much curiosity as to gather three representative members of the bird-world together.
It was a great puzzle, this Dewdrop was. It was a puzzle where it came from; what it had come about; and a still greater puzzle, what it was made of. It was evidently a visitor from some unknown land. Very quietly, too, it had travelled to its adopted country. These birds, in succession (with the curiosity birds generally have), had endeavoured by stealth to track its dainty fairy footsteps, and learn its past history. But it was to no purpose. However, there it was; not perhaps making its appearance every night, but almost every night. And, then, it invariably managed to perch itself so daintily on the tip of a rose-leaf. All three birds agreed that it had substantiated its claim in this, to be decidedly a lover of the beautiful. The leaf, moreover, which it made its resting-place, was not only pretty in itself, of a subdued delicate green, but it hung right over a full-blown rose, with a mass of pink leaves. The Dewdrop quite seemed as if it had said to its own little personality regarding this round coral ball (or cup, if you prefer to call it so)—"Well, I shall have a good look at you at all events, from my cozy couch, the last thing at night, and the first thing in the morning."
I somehow really believe the rose must have heard this complimentary speech, or at all events, by some instinctive way, have correctly surmised what the Dewdrop was thinking about; for, in the last fading, glimmering light, it covered up its face so coyly with both hands, and blushed a deeper and deeper crimson.
* * * * *
But to return to the birds. It was just outside a copsy retreat that these three winged acquaintances met. The Thrush, with his brown plumage and yellow spotted neck, being the biggest, and, if anything, the more talkative of the three, began the conversation.
The consultation was a long and animated one, too long indeed to report in full, besides there being a considerable amount of superfluous talk, what in bird-language is called chattering; but I can give the close of it.
"Well," said the Thrush, summing up the discussion, "I must now be off to bed—at all events after providing something suitable in the way of supper for my wife and family, and seeing them made tolerably comfortable for the night. And so too must you," he added, with a quizzical look to the Lark, whose left eye was beginning to droop, as he stood, with one leg up, in the significant fashion our woodland friends indulge in when they indicate that they are tired. "We shall leave to you, Bird of the night"—were his last words, as he addressed the Nightingale—"we shall leave to you the first interview with this little sparkling thing from fairyland, or whatever other land it has quitted. We shall defer our visit till to-morrow."
So away the two brown-winged companions sped, I know not exactly where. But, though both in a great hurry to get home, they judiciously deemed, as I have just observed, that they might do a trifle of purveying business on the way, by picking up a few seeds; or if a manageable slug or grub presented itself, so much the better. I had not the curiosity to follow them; but I believe they each contrived to carry home a dainty supper; the one to the hole of a big ash-tree, the other to its nest in the furrow beside some tufts of golden gorse. It may be interesting, however, to know, by way of completing their domestic history, that both had promising young households—the one of three, and the other of four—to support; and the wee downy children had arrived too at a very ravenous age, with any capacity for food, which indeed amounted, at times, on the part alike of father and mother, to a trial of temper.
The Nightingale, now left all alone for the discharge of a somewhat novel duty, seemed at first to feel his responsibility: perhaps a feeling allied to nervousness in the human being. But he was a knowing little fellow too; and resolved to proceed in the most alluring as well as discreet way to his task. Being fully acquainted with the position of the rose-leaf, he took wing, and settled himself on the branch of a birch close by. Without any possible warning, he forthwith began (it was the best way of getting over these nervous sensations) to pipe one of his very best and most enchanting songs. He had somewhat unwarrantably indulged the expectation that he would get an immediate response from the Dewdrop. He had however, in this, to exercise the virtue of patience.
"Answer me, pretty Dewdrop," he said in his most bewitching trill.
But the Dewdrop was silent. It appeared to pay not the slightest attention.
Another chirrup and mellifluous note, and then, coming to a lower and still nearer spray of the birch-tree, quite within whispering distance:
"Pretty little noiseless thing," continued the Nightingale, "what are you? Where were you born? Have you any father or mother? or are you an orphan? My two brother birds spoke of your brightness and lustre. My eyes are tolerably good; but I confess I can see none of these things about you; you seem rather somehow to appear sad, though I trust I am wrong."
"I have reason to be sad," at last replied the Dewdrop, in the quietest, mildest, silveriest voice imaginable, and trembling with an emotion real or pretended. "You call me a Dewdrop, but in truth I am not, I am a teardrop; a teardrop which fell from the sky."
"A teardrop from the sky!" said the Nightingale, in undisguised astonishment. "I cannot comprehend you. Pray tell me what you mean?"
"It is true, despite of your surprise," said the other. "The Sky always weeps at the loss of the Sun; and no wonder. I tell you again, believe it or not as you please, I am one of the tears it shed to-night. You need not, however, grieve for me. I shall be all right" (the tiny voice rising to a falsetto) "when the Sun appears again. Indeed, I venture to say, you will hardly know me then. That I am sure of."
"Ay!" said the Nightingale, with a sceptical, incredulous chirp.
"Yes! I always get bright, that I do, when the Sun shows himself. Look up to those stars, glittering in the sky. Do you know how they twinkle so? I am myself neither scholar nor philosopher, and have no pretensions either way. But a confidential friend once told me, and I quite believe him, that it is because they are either suns themselves, or else get light from that beautiful Sun you saw some time ago tingeing the sky with red and gold. My Sun," continued the dwarf thing of mystery, raising its tones, with a sort of conscious pride. (If it had been aught else but a beaded drop, I would have described it standing on tip-toe as it said this.) It had, however, fairly exhausted itself with a very unwonted effort in the shape of a speech, and, without saying another word, turned on its side on the leafy bed, shut both eyes, and went to sleep. The Nightingale was of course too polite, civil, and considerate to prolong. So he simply said, "Good night to you, little Teardrop, or Dewdrop, whatever you prefer calling yourself. It is time, and more than time, for me to be on the wing. I have one or two domestic anxieties which, in the first place, I must see to; and, after that, I have an engagement among these old hawthorns to serenade till morning."
"Good night, kind bird," replied the Dewdrop, turning in politeness half round on its pillow; "thank you for thinking of me in my loneliness." And away the songster flew, first to his home, and then, after some outstanding duties and civilities, over to his thicket among the May blossoms. The extreme beauty of the night seemed to dispel all care, and to have a decidedly inspiring effect on his nerves. I cannot tell whether he had really any such ambitious thought, but it almost seemed, from the gush of song, an attempt was made that every star in the heavens might at all events hear, if they could not appreciate his melodies.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
It was now morning. The mist still slept drowsily in the valley; in some places so dense, that the smoke of the early fires in the hamlet could scarcely pierce it. Already our friend the Thrush had completed both toilet and breakfast, and had issued forth on his round of daily work and pleasure; as active and busy as the thrush family always are. When he first rose from bed, he was not exactly in the very best of humours; for he had, what was always a cross to him when it occurred (though that was rarely), a disturbed night. Shall I tell you how his rest came thus to be invaded? Why, the Nightingale, on his way from the rose-leaf, had, perhaps somewhat inconsiderately, tapped at his door, to inform him that all he could get out of the Dewdrop was (a very incomprehensible sentiment to a sleepy bird), that he was a tear wept by the Sky when it lost the Sun; and he was bound in all sincerity to add, that it seemed rather a dull and uninteresting tear to boot.
"I know better," growled the Thrush. (I have used the word "growl," because I can find no better to describe the reality.) Growling, I am well aware, is a very uncommon demonstration of feeling in the case of a warbler. At all events, if it was not a growl, it was the nearest approach his beak could make to one, as he turned on the pillow which had been thus rudely disturbed. After, however, dozing for a few more hours, breakfast over, and his family seen to, off he sped with all his former cheerfulness and activity, till he found himself perched on a branch of the very tallest elm-tree he could pick out, and one, too, right above where the rose and the dewdrop were. Dear me! how he piped, and chirruped, and throstled! I thought the Nightingale had done wonders in that way; but it was nothing to the Thrush. He doubtless was under the impression that the Dewdrop was sound asleep, and needed no ordinary efforts in the way of rousing. I am sure if one could have dived under the yellow feathers, the little throat must have been purple.
After these musical preliminaries, our new friend (Songster No. 2) ventured by-and-by to come nearer. But, in doing so, he could hardly believe his eyes, specially after what the Nightingale had told him.
"A teardrop" indeed! There was not a bit of the tear about it. Where had been the Nightingale's eyes? It was something at all events very like a bright, unmistakable, beautiful diamond on which the Thrush looked. How it glistened and sparkled; and that too with all the prismatic colours! The spectator could only (what was an effort to any member of the Thrush family) gaze in mute wonder.
"What in all the world can you be, you lovely, silent sleeper on the rose-leaf, with your round crystal cheeks? Dewdrop we thought you were; teardrop you say you are: I cannot think you are either. If you are not a diamond set in rubies—stolen, for anything I know, from yesterday's rainbow—you look the thing uncommonly well."
"I am indeed a diamond," answered the Dewdrop. "Look at me," said the little gleaming dot, with the air of an aristocrat; "do you not say I am fit for a monarch's crown? And it is a monarch's crown I am presently to be set in. Every day I meet the Queen of the Morning.—Stay," it suddenly exclaimed, "I see her even now advancing with her rosy feet, 'sowing the earth with pearls.' See, for yourself, how the few stars which still linger in the sky, and which with their glittering torches lighted her out of the Eastern Gate, are paling every minute behind her! She says, of all the jewels in her tiara there is not one she is fonder of, or prouder of, than me. Away, away, little bird," stammered out the Dewdrop, with some nervous twitchings presently to be accounted for; "I must prepare to meet this Queen Aurora. But," it added in a kind of afterthought, "the procession will soon be over; come back shortly and see me, if you please." The keen diamond eye twinkled with a humorous, comical expression when these last words were uttered; as much as to say, "I shall manage to cheat you, old fellow, wont I?"
The Thrush had some small quantum of poetry in his nature; but he had a great deal of shrewd common sense too, and an immense idea of propriety. Accordingly, he at once took the hint as to departure; but with guileless simplicity cherished the resolution of renewing the intercourse, in an hour or two at latest, after the royal cavalcade had swept by.
This interlude was no peculiar hardship to our erratic friend, who knew he could spend the time merrily and profitably among his numerous kinsfolk in the groves. To tell the truth, he was not sorry to get away from the court pageantry, as all such ceremonial and pomp of circumstance was an abomination to him, and had always been so. It was, therefore, with pleasant anticipations of an early return that, by a few fleet bounces, he was lost from sight in the nearest thicket.
Barely, however, had the specified period elapsed, when he was back again upon his twig on the tall elm. He had certainly not exhausted his strength or conversational music-powers in that round of morning visits, for he renewed, then and there, his merriest notes, quite in the old style; and after this prelude, by way of making sure that the course was clear, he flew with more than wonted alacrity in the direction of the rose-leaf.
But, can you imagine? To his wonder, sorrow, and chagrin, lo! when he looked for it, the leaf was empty! Its small householder was gone! Not a trace of either Dewdrop or Diamond left! There was no need of asking any questions; he comprehended in a moment what the roguish twinkle of the eye meant an hour before. He had, in a word, been "sold." It was more than a mere innocent trick played on him. His feelings and bird-dignity had, he felt, been a little compromised by what, had it occurred at night, would have been called "a moonlight flitting." It was more like what the big creatures in the world around him were in the habit of describing as an April errand. It was only too evident that the Queen of the Morning, in passing by, had picked up the dew diamond, and had inserted it in her crown; and that the little thing had made no demur to the appropriation.
Well, it must be owned that, anyhow for once, the Thrush was crestfallen. He almost never knew any ditties but joyous ones; but on the present occasion, with no attempt at concealment, he went away wailing to the thicket, and outpoured his wounded vanity in something very like a dirge. He then buried his beak in rather sulky fashion under his wing, and went to sleep.
CHAPTER THE THIRD.
But what is this? It is a change of scene. Away up in the morning sky, oh, how blue it is! and the light fleecy clouds, how they float in folds of white ether! The Sun has climbed higher. It is now above the tallest of the poplars; and the long shadows cast by trunks and stems and branches are visibly shortened. And see! the cattle are again lowing in the fat meadows, and by degrees beating a safe retreat from the coming heat under the forest trees.
High in that bright dome of azure, there is a delightful frolicsome twitter heard. It is not the Nightingale; no, not so clear and mellow as that. Not the Thrush; no, not so loud or gushing as that. It is our little friend the Lark. Oh! how merry he is! more so than either of the other two. And what is he about? He seems to be floating and soaring, sauntering and curtseying, skimming and dipping, rollicking and frolicking—now up, now down—now describing gyrations, now imitating a pendulum—now trying to be so steady with his fluttering wings, that he looks like a star twinkling in the day-time—in short, playing all sorts of droll antics, indulging in every imaginable pirouette and somersault, in all the world (in his case above the world) like a school-boy beginning his holidays; certainly appearing to put himself to a great deal of unnecessary trouble and exertion. But he is unmistakably, with his winning ways, about something, and something to the purpose. But what that is, no mortal could guess. As the thing however must be guessed, or otherwise found out, Gentle Reader, I shall take you into confidence, and unriddle the secret.
The Queen of the Morning, as you already know, or at all events know now, had come with all her court, and troupe of gay courtiers. The Young Hours had unbarred for her the Gates of Day, and she at once sallied forth. Beautiful little pages in the shape of pink clouds, quite like tiny angels with wings, were holding up her train. Some of those fairy cherubs seemed, too, to have censers in their hands, at least if one could judge from the delicate wreaths of mist which rose like incense from them. Others appeared to be discharging tiny golden arrows from silver bows; others to paint, with invisible pencils, in delicate and varying hues of amber and purple, the fringes of clouds; while the Queen herself at times laid her own finger upon the larger of these, and braided them with snow and crimson. And then, how loyal everything seemed to be on the earth beneath! How each flower that had been asleep all night instantly rose on awaking, and, in the most duteous manner uncovering its head, prepared to take its place in the royal procession. The more gorgeous ones of the garden led the way, with their velvet tassels, and silken brocades, and pendants of opal and turquoise; some apparently carrying chalices filled with nectar. Then the fields and hedgerows, in their rough, rustic, plebeian fashion, with their fustian jackets and smock-frocks, said—"We shall not be behind our betters;" so their buttercups and wood-anemones, speedwell and scarlet pimpernel, the meadow violet with its modest blue, the cowslip with its burnished cells, the daisy with its "golden eye and white silver eyelashes," all did fealty to their adored Queen. Some went down on their knees; others doffed their caps; others smiled bewitchingly; others could do nothing but waft sweet perfumes. There were even bands of very varied music and musicians, all assisting with their efforts in swelling the Queen's Anthem. The brook, though it had sung all night, and had need of a little respite, seemed to say—"No, I shall go warbling on; she shall have my very best treble of a ripple." And then there were minor performers in this nature-choir. The Blackbird and Redbreast, Goldfinch and Linnet, and Chaffinch, each took part with striking effect. Even the Swallow in his own quiet way twittered, and the Tomtit chattered, and the Beetle droned, and the Bee hummed, and the big Dragon-fly, in armour of brightest cobalt, whirred; and the Grasshopper, poor fellow! did his very uttermost,—he chirruped, he could do no more. The Butterfly, who could not raise a single note, came out in his best plush court-dress of gold, vermilion, and blue, dainty little silent outrider that he is, waking up any exceptional sleepers. He carried, truth to say, his zeal sometimes too far; as when I saw him unjustly reproaching the Foxglove for having bells and not ringing them, a thing they were never meant to do. Even the Spider hung his silver-tissued web from spray to spray; as if he had weaved a gossamer mantle, in case his Queen might like to use it in the chill of early dawn. (See Frontispiece.)
Well, the latter—I mean the Queen—at last came to a pause, and, with most radiant grace in her countenance, she put her hand up to her crown, and took out the diamond. There was a little pet of a crimson cloud that happened to be floating past at the moment. She laid the lustrous gem on this roseate pillow; and then, slowly and gradually, she and all her retainers, in ghostly shape, vanished clean from sight.
* * * * *
But what, you will say, has all this to do with our friend the Lark? His quick little eye had discerned what your dull sight and mine could not. He had watched everything I have now described. How indeed could he miss seeing that flashing speck of light lying so daintily on its cushion of state? No wonder he circles and zigzags, and does bird-homage to the brightest gem of the Regalia. Up, down—hither, thither—just as I have already told, doing obeisance in every possible and conceivable way; till at last, poising himself immediately above, fluttering with all his might, and settling himself in the fixed attitude in which the lark family are such adepts, he mustered up courage and said—
"Pretty sparkling thing! I know what you are. You are a rare diamond just taken from the crown of the Queen of the Morning. But, I confess, you look, too, very like the Dewdrop I spied at a distance, a few hours ago, on the tip of a rose-leaf."
"What a capital guesser you are, tiny minstrel," was the reply; "but you had better leave me with my diamond name, at all events for the present. I shall not say whether some scientific bird-winged philosophers are right or wrong when they aver that, though the Queen of the Morning borrowed me, I am really and truly a jewel from the crown of the Sun; that when he took off his royal robes last evening, to lay his head on his nightly pillow, I dropped out of his crown, and tumbled down to the earth. I may tell you, however, confidentially (just in a whisper, you know)," added the brilliant speaker, "that though they call me Diamond, I like quite as well the name with which God's beautiful mist baptized me, that of Dewdrop. But I have brief time (indeed no time) to converse further with you now. You have seen, a short while ago, how the Queen of the Morning vanished. Will you be astonished when I tell you that I am about to do the very same myself? I am going," it continued, "to my Palace yonder" (an extra gleam, in the absence of a finger, was its own special way of pointing upwards). "I have said my Palace—I should rather perhaps say, my Home. We may meet," it added, "pretty soaring warbler, on the way to it. But please leave me now."
What I have said of the Thrush was true also of the Lark. He was a peculiarly biddable and discreet bird, and when he got a hint he always took it. Moreover, the Dewdrop had spoken so courteously (he thought condescendingly) to him, he would not for the world intrude his company longer than desired. The other evidently wished to be all alone, to pack up and prepare for this great and distant journey.
So the Lark plunged down to the stream among the alders to bathe his wings and refresh himself. After the lustrations were duly completed, up again he rose like an arrow into the bright, blue sky. Says he to himself, "I shall certainly be on the sharp out-look for that ascent of the Dewdrop. I can at all events be a silent spectator, if my services cannot otherwise be of use." And, to be sure, he did not require to watch long; for, with that keenness of perception that belonged to all his ancestors, he found that he had soared right into the very midst of a golden mist. Some people say and believe (though I am not wise enough in bird-lore to know the truth of it), that the lark family have eyes almost like a microscope; things invisible to us are said to be quite visible, and indeed conspicuous, to them. At all events, this was true in the case of the present representative of that discriminating race. So that what, if we had been there, would only have seemed an aggregation of glistening atoms, were to him nothing less than a vast army in visible shape—chariots and charioteers, knights mounted on steeds with white trappings and gold and silver bridles; other horsemen carrying glittering spears, polished shields, and flashing swords; others bearing standards of cloth of gold. I am only telling you what the Lark saw, or thought he saw; and a most wonderful army on march you can very well believe it was.
Oh, just see how he twitters and carols, as I have more than once pictured, and cannot do so too often—shaking first his little wings, and then his little throat; the old zigzagging to and fro—here, there, everywhere—whisking in this direction, and bouncing in that direction, restless gymnastic that he is, in a very whirl and vortex of excitement!
"You told me, a little while ago," said he, mustering up courage, with an effort, to speak to this wondrous mass of knight-errantry; "at all events the Diamond-drop, of which I know you are the fragments, told me you were going to some Palace in the sky. Where is that?"
"It is our Home, soaring warbler," said the million million little voices, their spears and helmets flashing brightly in the radiance, their horses prancing and pawing the path of light—"It is Home, Home, Home!" said the myriads, the very air tremulous with the shout.
"Yes, but where is that?" repeated the Lark, determined to come to the point, and not to be numerically extinguished, as he darted like lightning round and round the brilliant host.
"The Sun! the Sun!" one after another made answer. The Dewdrop was a tear that fell from the sky because the Sun was gone. But, as you have just told us, we are all parts of it—everyone of us are; and we are on our way again to the golden entrance to his Palace.
The army of misty globules rose and rose, higher and yet higher. They seemed, too, to get brighter and brighter in the ascent, the Lark rising with them, indeed till his little wings were tired. Then when he felt that he could act as convoy no farther, down he came at one long unpausing dart to the furrow adjoining the wooded dell below, which was now all streaked with fleckered light. He thought (and we shall not quarrel with the fancy) that these patches of light were nothing else than the golden arrows he had seen shot from the bow of the Cherubs—the little Angels of the Dawn—and that they were now lying thick in the green arcade. He just took breath, after the exhaustion and excitement, alike of both body and mind, which his aerial adventure had entailed; and then hastened straight to the home of the Nightingale and Thrush, to tell of the glorious ascent (what the old and learned creatures of the earth would have called the apotheosis) of the Dewdrop on the rose-leaf; its severance into a million fragments; and how these, in the shape of a great army, had marched right within
THE SUN'S GOLDEN GATES!
An Angel's Whisper.
The Soul—the Spirit of Man—apart from the Great Sun, becomes a teardrop. All is dark to it, when that All-glorious Source of Light and Love is away. Earth's sweetest songs cannot cheer it. But when the morning comes, and the Sun returns, the teardrop becomes a Dewdrop—gleaming like a diamond in that peerless radiance. And at death, when it seems to be dissolved, and has apparently vanished from sight, it is exhaled—not annihilated. It passes upward to the Golden Gates, to be lost in the splendour of THE EVERLASTING LIGHT!