KING OF ROOT VALLEY
AND HIS CURIOUS DAUGHTER.
A Fairy Tale.
With Eight Illustrations, by T. Von Oer and R. Reinick.
LONDON: CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY. 1856.
PRINTED BY JOHN EDWARD TAYLOR, LITTLE QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS.
CHAPTER THE FIRST. PAGE
THE ROOT-VALLEY AND ITS INHABITANTS.—THE STORY-TELLING GUESTS.—THE KING OF ROOT-VALLEY AND HIS CURIOUS DAUGHTER.—THE AERIAL CHARIOT.—FESTIVITIES IN THE TOWN.—RETURN THROUGH THE AIR FROM THE ROOF OF THE TOWN-HOUSE.—WHIMS OF THE PRINCESS 1
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
THE SPRING FESTIVAL IN ROOT-VALLEY.—THE NUT-FIELD.—THE MIGRATING BIRDS.—A STRANGE PEOPLE MAKE THEIR APPEARANCE.—NUTCRACKER AND HARLEQUIN.—THE PRINCESS FALLS INTO RAPTURES 7
CHAPTER THE THIRD.
THE WONDERFUL BROOK.—THE OVERTURNED CARRIER'S WAGGON.—NUTCRACKER AND HARLEQUIN COME TO LIFE.—THE THREE WISHES.—THE BOX OF NUREMBERG TOYS.—THE WANDERING RATS.—HOW HARLEQUIN BRINGS TO LIFE A WHOLE NATION AND ARMY.—BATTLE WITH THE RATS.—HOMAGE.—PROCESSION TO THE ROOT-VALLEY 11
CHAPTER THE FOURTH.
NUTCRACKER IS BETROTHED TO THE PRINCESS OF ROOT-VALLEY, AND TAKES POSSESSION OF THE NUTFIELD.—THE BIRDS DEPART.—WHAT ILL COMES OF IT.—WEDDING AND PARTING 19
CHAPTER THE FIFTH.
THE PUPPET-KINGDOM IS SET IN ORDER.—HAUGHTINESS OF NUTCRACKER, HIS WIFE, AND SUBJECTS.—ANTIPATHY OF THE TWO PEOPLES.—THE ROOT-KING ABDICATES HIS CROWN.—NUTCRACKER A TYRANT.—PREPARATIONS FOR WAR IN ROOT-VALLEY.—THE WAR.—HARLEQUIN'S DEATH.—FLIGHT AND DESTRUCTION OF THE PUPPET-KINGDOM.—NUTCRACKER'S DEATH.—THE PRINCESS SAVED 22
CHAPTER THE SIXTH.
THE BIRDCATCHER AND HIS FAMILY.—HOW THE CHILDREN RETURN HOME WITH RARE TREASURES.—NUTCRACKER'S DEAD BODY.—THE LITTLE MAIDEN IN THE STORK'S NEST, AND WHO SHE WAS.—AFFECTING RECONCILIATION ON THE NUTFIELD.—THREATENING DANGER TO THE ROOTMEN.—EMIGRATION OF THE ROOTMEN 28
The King of Root Valley
His Curious Daughter.
CHAPTER THE FIRST.
THE ROOT-VALLEY AND ITS INHABITANTS.—THE STORY-TELLING GUESTS.—THE KING OF ROOT-VALLEY AND HIS CURIOUS DAUGHTER.—THE AERIAL CHARIOT.—FESTIVITIES IN THE TOWN.—RETURN THROUGH THE AIR FROM THE ROOF OF THE TOWN-HOUSE.—WHIMS OF THE PRINCESS.
The road between Nuremberg and Leipsic ran in former times, in one part, along the edge of a dark forest, which stretched into the country far over the mountains. In the middle of this forest the rocks enclosed a deep green valley, bordered by almost impenetrable hedges, so that neither man nor beast could enter it. Here dwelt at that time the merry little people of the Rootmen. They were pretty little creatures, in form and look like human beings,—the tallest about six inches high, and the smallest as long as your little finger. In summer they lived in mossy bowers and under the leaves of the tall fern; in winter they nestled among the roots of trees, in the holes of some gnarled old trunk, and crept into the clefts in the rocks. Their dress was fine and elegant: the little men wore coats and hose of moss, and the little women dresses of pretty variegated flowers, leaves, and gossamer, according as the weather was warm or cold. They never felt the time long, having always plenty of employment; they had to keep their roads in order, gather in their stores, and the like; their favourite pastimes were climbing and jumping, and arranging grand water-parties in nutshells upon the brook which ran through their country. At other times they would play at Hunt-the-hare with the Grasshoppers and May-beetles, and dance the most graceful dances to the song of the Birds: nor must it be forgotten that they understood the language of all living creatures.
Two festivals in the year gave the little Rootmen especial delight. On certain days in Spring and Autumn there arrived large troops of merry guests, who were hospitably welcomed and entertained, and who in return used to tell the inquisitive little people what was passing in the world without.
These guests were no other than the thousands and thousands of Birds of Passage, who in Spring came from the South, and in Autumn from the North. The Storks told their village stories, the Swallows twittered their fairy-tales, and the Nightingales brought with them new and beautiful songs. There came frequently too a troop of migrating Rats, who gave descriptions of their travels, while Magpies and Ravens told legends and tales of marvel that made one shudder. In this manner the little Rootmen received constantly news of the whole wide world. Such stories of course filled them with curiosity to make acquaintance with Men, but an innate feeling of dread prevented the little beings from quitting their peaceful Valley.
Now one time there reigned over this people a dear good old King, who had one daughter, a very beautiful Princess; she was however more full of curiosity than all other maidens in the world, nay even more so indeed than her own little countrywomen. Her longing to see Men and Women in the world without, of whom she had heard so many wonderful things, had grown very strong. The good old King did all in his power to dissuade her from this wish, representing Men as fierce and selfish giants: "No living creature," said he, "is secure from their mastery; the biggest elephant is obliged to dance to their will, as well as the smallest flea." But all was of no avail; his daughter had taken it into her head to visit the world, and go she would. The thought of this preyed upon her mind, and she grew more and more melancholy and thin; until at length the King resolved to grant her wish, in the hope that the sight would frighten her for ever, and drive away her curiosity.
A beautiful new Birds'-nest was therefore immediately selected, cushioned with feathers and moss, and over this was fixed a shadowy roof of leaves, as a shelter from the sun. In this car the Root-King seated himself with the Princess; nor was it forgotten to place in it also a delicate repast of juicy berries, honey, and tender young buds. Two Cranes, who had practised their task for a week previously, took up the nest with their bills, and flew with it through the air to the nearest large Town inhabited by Men.
In a few hours the two birds were hovering with the nest over the houses of the town. With a gentle flight they descended, and deposited the royal aerial chariot carefully upon the tower of the Townhouse, whence there was a view over all the streets, without any fear of being seen. That was indeed a sight! Even the King himself had never imagined that a city of Men could be so splendid. The Princess too shouted and jumped with joy, until she nearly fell out of the nest, had not one of the Cranes with his long bill suddenly caught her by her little leg.
Now, as chance would have it, on this same day the Prince of that country was celebrating his wedding with the daughter of a foreign King, so that the whole city was in one blaze of splendour.
What shows and sights were there to be seen! processions, fairs, reviews of a thousand regiments, theatres in the open air, rope-dancers, races,—in short, it is impossible to describe them all. But first and foremost the Prince and his young wife! how splendid he looked in his scarlet uniform, with the star upon his breast, moustachios, and large blue eyes; and she, in a red velvet dress, covered with pearls and precious stones, which sparkled and sent their light high up to the very gallery of the Townhouse. Wherever you looked there was something new and strange, and so it went on from early in the morning until the sun disappeared behind the mountains.
However much all these marvellous sights delighted the old King, his opinion of Mankind remained unaltered, and he was sorry that his daughter should just have chosen this day to witness the most brilliant side of Men's doings. He was however too weak to deny himself a view of the scene; nay, he would even have remained up there still longer, but that, as night fell and darkness came on, some men suddenly appeared on the gallery, to illuminate the building and let off the fireworks. The men approached the nest. How the Princess started with affright at the sight of such gigantic forms! The King too lost his speech from terror; and had not the Cranes, of themselves, lifted up the stork's nest into the air and borne it quickly off, there would have been an end of the King and his daughter, and of our story too. However fortunately they were just in time: and still from afar off the aerial travellers saw the fireworks fly into the air, whizzing and fizzing, and crackling and sparkling, from the tower of the Townhouse, which was certainly all very splendid at a distance, but close by would have been certain death. So the King and his daughter returned safe and sound to their own Root-Valley.
The little Princess of course now saw well that Men were too big for her to be able to share in their grand doings; still her old fancies and longing returned, and even stronger than ever, although in a somewhat altered form. She was firmly convinced that there must be upon earth yet another race of beings as small as her own little countrymen, but as clever and wise as Men; and so she resolved never in her life to marry, unless a Prince of her own size should take her for his wife; but then too he must have exactly such an hussar's jacket, and exactly such a star on his breast, and just the same large blue eyes, as the Man-Prince in the city; and he must also rule over a little People, who possessed exactly the same peculiarities as they.
These whims and fancies of his daughter made the good old King quite sad. Right gladly would he have had a son-in-law,—but such a one! where in the wide world was he to be found? He indeed did all in his power to form and teach his People according to the rules and laws of Men, but nothing came of it,—they were not a whit the cleverer. The little fellows were never tired of hearing of Men and their doings, but to become like them—no indeed! They would remain for ever and aye what they were,—free, merry little Rootmen! The end of it was that the Princess got no husband, and the King no son-in-law.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
THE SPRING FESTIVAL IN ROOT-VALLEY.—THE NUT-FIELD.—THE MIGRATING BIRDS.—A STRANGE PEOPLE MAKE THEIR APPEARANCE.—NUTCRACKER AND HARLEQUIN.—THE PRINCESS FALLS INTO RAPTURES.
Several years had passed, and the Spring Festival was returning. All was green and blooming; the trees and hedges were already in full leaf, and rock, vale, hill and dale were clothed with their new dress. The Rootmen had already quitted their dark winter-quarters, and betaken themselves to their summer abodes by the cool brook, which now once more ran purling merrily along. All awaited with eager expectation the appearance of the winged guests.
At length the important day arrived. It was a fine May morning; through the young foliage of the nut-trees the sunshine played and sparkled on flowers and turf, on pebbles and rippling waters. Early in the morning the little Heralds, decked out in new coats of moss, were seen riding through the Valley upon grasshoppers, and crying aloud with a clear voice,—
"Come forth, ye Rootmen, all come out! For the Spring is come, and the birds are about."
The summons was no sooner heard, than the whole of the little People came pouring from all sides into the Nut-field, which was set apart for such festivals, and was on this occasion decked out in the most beautiful manner. In the middle, upon a molehill prettily covered with small pebbles, stood the throne for the good King and his fair daughter; it was made of snail-shells and mussel-shells, and cushioned with feathers. A long alley of lilies-of-the-valley, six deep, led up to the throne; and when the royal procession galloped up on squirrels, all the little lily-bells rang with a lovely melody; for at each lily was stationed a spider, to pull the bells with a thread of its cobweb.
A solemn silence followed. The Birds had not yet made their appearance. They had probably alighted somewhere in the neighbourhood, to smooth and arrange their feathers, ruffled by their long flight; they must of course show themselves to their kind hosts in decent attire! On a sudden was heard from afar a sound, which drew nearer and nearer, the usual sign that the guests were approaching; and soon there was a great rustling in the air. First came a flock of birds flying over the forest, then more and more, until at last the whole field was quite overshadowed by the winged guests, who alighted in large flocks upon the ground.
A general shout of joy resounded on all sides. The newly-arrived guests were speedily refreshed with food and drink, and then an old Stork, the most famous story-teller of his time, mounted upon a large stone, which served him for a rostrum. He had just put on that pleasant look with which he used to begin all his stories, he had just cleared his throat and opened his long red bill, when on a sudden he was interrupted by a loud murmur from the crowd, and a strange sound, as of many carriages and horses, was heard in the distance. The Heralds of the Root-King instantly hastened to ascertain the cause, and presently returned announcing that a new and strange People were coming through the forest in innumerable troops, led by a Prince in a scarlet hussar's uniform, with large blue eyes, and a star upon his breast: his name was Prince Nutcracker, and with his councillor Harlequin he sought a gracious audience of the Root-King and his daughter.
At this news the Princess turned red as scarlet, and the King pale as death, with affright. The Princess imagined that the Man-Prince in the town had perceived her on the gallery of the Townhouse, and was now coming to marry her; but the King feared that the giant race of Men were come to destroy his subjects and conquer his country. When however they heard that Prince Nutcracker and his followers were not bigger than the Rootmen, the Princess's fear was changed into such joy, that she fell on her father's neck, and kissed his hands again and again; then the King commanded the Stork to cease his storytelling, and the Prince with his followers to be conducted immediately to his presence.
How Prince Nutcracker and his councillor Harlequin happened to come hither the following Chapter will tell.
CHAPTER THE THIRD.
THE WONDERFUL BROOK.—THE OVERTURNED CARRIER'S WAGGON.—NUTCRACKER AND HARLEQUIN COME TO LIFE.—THE THREE WISHES.—THE BOX OF NUREMBERG TOYS.—THE WANDERING RATS.—HOW HARLEQUIN BRINGS TO LIFE A WHOLE NATION AND ARMY.—BATTLE WITH THE STAR.—HOMAGE.—PROCESSION TO THE ROOT-VALLEY.
The road from Nuremberg to Leipsic, at the time of our story, ran in one part close to a deep hollow, through which a clear brook wound its way. The stream flowed directly from Root-Valley, and had the marvellous property, that whatever fell into it instantly became alive, provided only that it had previously had the form of some living thing.
It chanced one day that a carrier's waggon was passing this spot on its way to the Leipsic Fair, packed full of boxes, when on a sudden a wheel came off, and the waggon rolled over into a hollow. Now in the boxes were Nuremberg toys of all kinds, enough to fit out a whole fair. When the poor carrier saw his waggon overthrown into the hollow, where he could not get at it, off he ran in despair, and nobody ever after heard what became of him. Certain it is that by the upset of the waggon some of the boxes were broken, and, of the puppets which they contained, a Nutcracker and a Harlequin rolled into the brook. No sooner were they touched by the water, than instantly a marvellous animation darted through their limbs. Slowly they raised themselves, and stared at one another with amazement. There stood Nutcracker, upon his stiff legs, like a post, beautifully varnished over, with his bright blue eyes, his wooden pigtail, and the star upon his breast; while Harlequin, in his particoloured jacket, with his laughing face, clapped together his hands and legs over his head for very joy, and hopped about like a magpie.
When these first signs of animation subsided into more tranquil reflection, Harlequin opened his lips, and said, "Great Prince! that you are a Prince, and I your merry councillor, is clear enough, for otherwise you would have no star on your breast, and I no merry-andrew's jacket; but what shall we do first?"
"That is a question for you to answer, not for me," replied Nutcracker, whom the consciousness of his high birth had already made grave and haughty. Muttering in his beard, he kept on moving his under jaw up and down, and continued, "Dear Harlequin! that I am, as you rightly say, born to be a great man, is proved, not only by my star, but also by three wishes which have just come into my head. The first wish is to have a dishfull of the finest nuts, for which I have a marvellous appetite; the second is to have a faithful people and a brilliant army, for unquestionably I am born to govern; the third and last wish is to marry a rich and beautiful Princess, who shall bring me as her dowry a pretty portion of land, where I may live with your assistance in all possible ease and comfort, eat nuts, govern my people, and pass the time merrily. Your duty is now to advise me how these wishes may be fulfilled."
"Better do than advise," cried Harlequin: "only trust, my Prince, to my merriment. Before the sun goes down, you shall be in possession of all these trifles, or my name is not Harlequin, and my legs will never more dance and clatter over my head."
So saying, in a twinkling he climbed up the nearest nut-tree, and shook it with all his might. The large nuts fell like a shower of hail, and the hungry Prince began to crack and eat them with all speed; and he did not feel quite revived until he had eaten his fill.
The second wish it was far more difficult to accomplish; nevertheless Harlequin found ways and means to counsel in this case likewise. The contents of the waggon, which lay scattered about, contained people and soldiers enough; he had only to open the boxes, and bring to life all the thousands of puppets which were shut up in them; but unluckily the lids of the boxes were fastened down so tight, that the united strength of the two little men was unable to force them open. They toiled and moiled till they were quite exhausted, but all in vain. In this perplexity a word of advice was worth something. Nutcracker's big blue eyes started out of his head from the mere effort of considering and contriving, till they looked like those of a crayfish; Harlequin, on the contrary, never lost heart or ceased his merriment for an instant. He twirled round and round like a top, looking for help on all sides; and before he himself thought of it, indeed an unexpected aid came in a marvellous way.
Afar off the brown fields which bordered the forest-glen appeared all at once to become alive. An immense host of migrating Rats, on their journey from the South to the North, were advancing this way, and by chance fell directly upon the scattered heap of boxes.
"Out of the way, my Prince!" cried Harlequin, "if we would not let ourselves be devoured like hazelnuts."
They both sprang on one side. The Rats, which, as every one knows, never turn out of their road, but always go straight forward, through field and wood, over hedge and ditch, gnawing their way through stick and stone, fell without ado upon the chests and boxes. The fresh young pine-wood boards were a welcome prize to their sharp teeth, and so too the strong hempen ropes. Speedily off fell the box-lids, one here, one there,—crack went a rope on this side, another on that! The most splendid toys presently lay scattered about in confusion on the road, and some of the Rats fell to gratifying their nibbling propensity upon them. When Harlequin beheld this, he cried aloud to the Rats, "A good appetite to you, ye board-eaters! have you enough?" And so saying he jumped into the brook, and flung his legs and arms about him, till the water splashed over all the other little Nutcrackers, Harlequins, and tin and wooden soldiers, who instantly became alive and jumped upon their legs.
"Follow me!" cried Harlequin: "one fool makes many,—one wise man many wise!" And he was right. Fresh puppets kept continually rising up and coming to life; the regiments formed themselves, the little horses were soon harnessed to the cannons and drew them, the tin Generals put themselves at the head of their troops, and the order of battle was arranged against the Rats. It was indeed high time, for many of the puppets had already fallen under the sharp teeth of their assailants. At the sight of this, Nutcracker's spirit and heroic courage were aroused; his eyes rolled, his jaws chattered with very thirst of fight, his wooden pigtail accompanied all the motions of his mouth with rapid twitchings. Impatiently he drew his sword, and at the head of his Body-guard (who were also Nutcrackers, but without the star, and therefore no princes) he led his army to battle.
And now he gave the signal to fire! Instantly all the firearms and cannons of the innumerable regiments were discharged at the Rats, who, terrified by the strange noise, took to flight in all haste. Thus a brilliant victory was gained, and in place of the late confusion of overturned boxes, there was now to be seen quite a new world, glittering in all the colours of the rainbow. Towns and villages, fortresses and country-houses, kitchens and drawing-rooms, lay scattered one upon another, whilst thousands of little men and animals were running about. The first thing now was, of course, that Prince Nutcracker should receive the homage of his subjects as their ruler.
But there still remained the third task to be accomplished,—to find a Princess, and with her hand to obtain a piece of land upon which the new colony might settle. Here again Harlequin's ingenuity soon suggested advice and aid. Some of the wounded and captured Rats were commanded to give a description of all the Princesses whom they had met with in the course of their travels. When they came to tell of the beauty of the Princess of Root-Valley, the wooden heart of Prince Nutcracker, as he listened to their description, warmed so, that a sound shot through it as if a deal board were cracking and splitting in a room suddenly heated. This sound he regarded as an omen; this and no other Princess was to be his Queen. He therefore resolved instantly to go with all his People to where the Princess lived, and sue for her hand.
The procession was forthwith marshalled in due order; the Rat prisoners served as pioneers and guides; after these followed the cavalry, then the Prince with all his Court, and behind him the cannons and infantry. Now came rocking-horses, heavily laden with band-boxes, in which were towns, villages, theatres, fortresses, kitchens, and so forth, and all the furniture and cooking utensils; behind these followed the little baggage-waggons, and tin and wooden coaches crammed full of passengers; then people on foot, of all sorts, in every fashion of dress from the time of Adam to the present day. After all these came long droves of animals, large and small, out of all the Noah's-arks and menageries which had been in the waggon,—first the tame and then the wild animals, the latter accompanied by tin Bedouins and Circassians, who had to watch lest the little roaring beasts should devour each other or any other harmless beings. And all the while Harlequins, Scaramouches, and Pantaloons kept jumping and skipping about in the procession, and by their tricks and merriment kept all the people in good heart and humour on the long and arduous march.
Meanwhile a large fleet of magnetic ships, with tin swans, ducks, and fishes swimming around them, floated in state on the wonderful brook, along the bank of which the procession marched. Now let the Reader picture to himself this interminable multitude advancing in the beautiful green woods, all amidst lilies-of-the-valley, violets and buttercups, lettuce-leaves, nettles, and ferns, marching over hill and dale, in a sparkling sunshine, and with a blue sky overhead,—and withal the toil and efforts of the little wights, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of whips, the word of command resounding through the ranks, the music and singing when the path was smooth and easy, and the cries and shrieks upon the bad roads,—how pretty and animated and merry the whole scene must have been! No wonder indeed that, along the whole way which the procession journeyed, the birds came out of the trees and hedges, the beetles crept out of the flowers, even the worms and snails came out of their hiding-places, all full of curiosity to see the sight; and no wonder too that they were all impressed with great admiration for Prince Nutcracker, who ruled over such a splendid people, and even made long travels with them!
After long and arduous toil, and incredible efforts, the Colony arrived at the large Nutfield, of which we have before heard.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH.
NUTCRACKER IS BETROTHED TO THE PRINCESS OF ROOT-VALLEY, AND TAKES POSSESSION OF THE NUTFIELD.—THE BIRDS DEPART.—WHAT ILL COMES OF IT.—WEDDING AND PARTING.
Prince Nutcracker and his followers were received in the most friendly manner by the good King of Root-Valley. The Princess was in a sea of rapture at the brilliant appearance of the bright, varnished, wooden Prince, who in a formal and well-turned speech declared his love for her, together with his other wishes, in a pleasing and appropriate manner. The old King even was so moved by his words, that without more ado he gave him his daughter to wife, and the whole Nutfield as her dowry. And now, when the old man tenderly embraced his future son-in-law, all the people around shouted with joy, and all the thousands of little birds joined in the general jubilee, piping and singing, and clapping their wings, amidst shouts of "Long live Prince Nutcracker and his Bride!" Then it was arranged that the whole procession of the Puppet-people should take possession of their new land, the Nutfield, before the eyes of the assembled Rootmen, which immediately took place.
As often happens in life, that dear old friends are forgotten and put aside for new ones, so it fell out in this instance. The migrating Birds, who had formerly been treated with the greatest attention and respect, and who on this occasion testified their sympathy and joy at the union of the two Peoples, had in the course of this day to experience the mortification of seeing their old friends turn their backs upon them. The little Root-mannikins, in eager curiosity, pushed them back on all sides, and gave them pretty clearly to understand that they might take to flight, and remain away for ever.
Indignant at such treatment, the Birds rose all together upon the wing, like one, hovered an instant over the heads of the two Peoples with a loud noise, and then disappeared with rapid flight in the blue distance.
Oh horror and alarm! What happened then? The sudden flight of these thousands of Birds created such a rush of air, like a whirlwind, that scarcely a man of the newly-arrived guests could keep himself on his feet. Whole ranks of tin soldiers fell one upon another; the cardpaper heroes, actors, and huntsmen were swept far away over the fields; and even Prince Nutcracker himself, who was at that instant just going in a polite manner to kiss the hand of his beloved Princess, was so shaken that he staggered and fell, rolled down the molehill, and lay sprawling at the foot of it with open mouth.
An ill omen this for the power of the new Government! The great admiration which the Rootmen had hitherto felt for their new friends quickly turned into disdain at this catastrophe. The good King and the fair Princess alone did not allow themselves to be carried away by their astonishment; they instantly descended from their throne, and helped the fallen Prince to regain his legs. But Nutcracker broke out into bitter reproaches; he called the Birds, who had upset him, silly high-flying fools, who set themselves above the whole world, and overturned all rule and order. His anger was not to be softened, until his future father-in-law promised that, to prevent the recurrence of any similar disaster, he would allow nothing flying to enter his kingdom, not even flying leaves.
One by one all the little people got up on their legs again, and the rest of the day was passed in merriment and feasting. On the morrow the wedding of Prince Nutcracker and his fair Bride was celebrated with the grandest solemnities; after which the two Peoples took leave of one another in the most friendly manner; the Root-mannikins returned to their own Valley, and the Puppet-folks remained on the Nutfield.
CHAPTER THE FIFTH.
THE PUPPET-KINGDOM IS SET IN ORDER.—HAUGHTINESS OF NUTCRACKER, HIS WIFE, AND SUBJECTS.—ANTIPATHY OF THE TWO PEOPLES.—THE ROOT-KING ABDICATES HIS CROWN.—NUTCRACKER A TYRANT.—PREPARATIONS FOR WAR IN ROOT-VALLEY.—THE WAR.—HARLEQUIN'S DEATH.—FLIGHT AND DESTRUCTION OF THE PUPPET-KINGDOM.—NUTCRACKER'S DEATH.—THE PRINCESS SAVED.
It took Prince Nutcracker a full week to put his State in order, to erect towns, fortresses, and villages on their proper spots, and to assign to his subjects their places and sphere of activity. All this was admirably executed with the aid of his indefatigable councillor Harlequin, who was the soul of the whole undertaking. Everything too seemed to favour the new State, for as yet there had been no cloud in the sky, no gust of wind to overthrow a company of soldiers, no rain to wash off the beautiful colours of the castles, or to wet the princely decorations of the great theatre.
Thus lived the young Princess for some days with her husband in joy and splendour. She had laid aside her old dresses of leaves, flowers, and gossamer, and was arrayed like the most elegant State Puppet, after the newest Paris fashions. She left off her natural lively movements, and assumed the stiff and stately deportment of her husband and the ladies of the Court, who considered it unbecoming to turn their head ever so little on one side. She almost wholly forgot how to walk, while she was constantly driving to balls, concerts, and parades, to cockchafer-hunts and fly-chases. Her chief delight was in finery: every day she put on a new dress, and before her windows were shops of all the newest fashions, so that her first glance fell upon them when she got up in the morning.
Her husband too, and his subjects, grew continually more and more haughty. They looked down with contempt upon everything that was not a Puppet, or so finely painted and varnished as they. Every bird that flew past, or came near them, was pursued with the greatest cruelty.
Even the Rootmen, who came from time to time for their pleasure, were received with more and more coldness, insomuch that they soon ceased coming at all. Nay the good King himself was compelled to witness how his son-in-law and his own daughter came in time to treat him with indifference. Naturally the former friendship of the two Peoples was soon turned into bitter hatred. Before a month had elapsed Prince Nutcracker's arrogance became so great, that he demanded of the Rootmen a monthly tribute of two thousand of the finest hazelnuts: at the same time he assembled his troops and planted his fortresses in a line on the frontier of the Root-kingdom, resolving, in case of refusal, to invade with his army the territory of his father-in-law.
Such a violation of all right naturally filled the gentle spirit of the good old King with indignation. One whole day long he wept tears of bitterness into his mossy beard; he then publicly renounced his ungrateful daughter, and forbade her ever to come into his sight again. At length he retired from all affairs of government; he felt that he was too tender-hearted for such arduous business.
The tidings of this soon reached his daughter. Her eyes were now at once opened, and she saw how unworthily she had given away her hand, how from vanity she had violated her duty to her father, and to all those who had once been dear to her. Alas, it was too late! She tried all means to dissuade her husband from his unjust demands, but he was resolute; and when she continued unceasingly her entreaties, his anger turned against her likewise; he shut her up in her room, and would not hear a word more from her. Instead of joy and peace, her constant companions now were sorrow and repentance.
Meanwhile in the Root-kingdom a young and vigorous King was elected, who shared the hostility of his people against the insolent intruders, and forthwith declared war upon them. He resolved by a decisive battle either to annihilate or drive them away, and to this end he summoned his Allies from all sides to his aid. Rabbits and moles, lizards and worms, were to invade Nutcracker's country by an underground attack, and overthrow towns and villages; locusts, bees, and cockchafers were to fall upon the enemy from the air; whilst on the ground the Rootmen themselves should assail the foe with sharp rush-lances and two-edged blades of grass.
The morning of the fatal battle dawned gloomily; the sky was covered with black clouds. Clad in their green and brown moss coats the Rootmen marched toward the Nutfield, so that the enemy did not observe them until they were close under his fortresses. Suddenly there burst forth a cannonade and firing from all the loopholes; but the balls remained sticking in the moss of the assailants, who answered the terrific discharge with loud laughter. Quickly the army of the Rootmen pressed onward into the Nutfield: Prince Nutcracker threw himself upon them with his Body-guard, but was driven back; whereupon he fled into the palace, and made Harlequin his Fieldmarshal. With wild leaps of despair Harlequin led the main army to the field.
But soon a general panic seized upon all. The subterranean Allies of the enemy had already undermined the ground along which the army of Puppets were marching, and with it the fortresses, towns, and villages on the Nutfield; at the same time almost all the buildings round about tumbled one upon another with a loud crash. Fieldmarshal Harlequin himself was seized by the leg by a fierce old Mole, who dragged him down into the earth, in spite of the most heroic struggles: he was never seen again!
This was the signal for a general and wild flight of Nutcracker's brilliant army, who fled to the royal palace with the cry of "Save yourselves as you can!" The palace consisted of strongly-built wooden saloons, and longest withstood the labours of the undermining animals. Here Nutcracker had already put the horses to his State-carriage; then quickly jumping into it with his wife, he holloa'd to the coachman, "Off and away, far out of this Valley, as fast as you can, and as far as possible!" And all his people crowded round the coach in wild confusion to find a refuge, for on every side insects came flying and buzzing around in the air, and with their wings overthrew everything that was not firmly fixed.
Away went the fugitives, rolling over the field like a great ball. Although hard pressed by the enemy, and with the loss of many killed, they succeeded in creeping through the great hedge which surrounded the Valley, and escaping into the forest.
The reverses of the insolent Prince and his subjects now reached their height: the very sky waged war against them, and poured down upon them torrents of rain. Nutcracker and his Princess saw with grief, from the windows of their coach, the torrent increasing and overflowing the road,—their subjects, houses, and furniture swept past in the whirlpool, one after another falling under the toils of the march, tumbling over precipices or getting entangled in roots, nettles, and heaps of fallen leaves, and perishing miserably. Nutcracker's whole People were speedily destroyed: he too had not gone many yards, when the water unglued the joints of his coach, and the princely pair were carried away by the flood. But the natural strong and active spirit of the Princess was now re-awakened by the danger. How had she once used to skip about exultingly, and swim upon the waves in such weather! With one hand she seized her husband's pigtail, and with the other a twig. She tried with a spring to reach the root of a tree; but alas! the hair of the terrified Prince was not strong enough: the pigtail remained in her hand, and she saw her husband carried away by the torrent and vanish from her sight.
At first she called sorrowfully after him, but presently her natural spirit became only the more daring. She threw off her silly fashionable dress, soaked with the rain, which cramped her slender limbs; and quickly clothing herself in the first leaves she could find, climbed up like a squirrel into an old tree, and in a hole in its branches sought shelter from the storm and the approaching night.
CHAPTER THE SIXTH.
THE BIRDCATCHER AND HIS FAMILY.—HOW THE CHILDREN RETURN HOME WITH RARE TREASURES.—NUTCRACKER'S DEAD BODY.—THE LITTLE MAIDEN IN THE STORK'S NEST, AND WHO SHE WAS.—AFFECTING RECONCILIATION ON THE NUTFIELD.—THREATENING DANGER TO THE ROOTMEN.—EMIGRATION OF THE ROOTMEN.
At the time when all these wonderful occurrences happened, there lived at the entrance of this forest an old Birdcatcher and his family. During the two years since he had settled here, his business had prospered remarkably; and, especially in the Spring and Autumn, so many birds had been taken in his nets, that he had earned many a bright dollar, and had laid by many a spare penny.
Now once on a Spring day a heavy rain had fallen, and, strange to say, ever since that time not a bird was longer to be seen there: every morning the Birdcatcher found his nets torn, his limed twigs destroyed, and even his screech-owl and other decoy-birds had vanished from their cages and perches. And yet he knew well enough there lived no other man in the whole forest who could have done all this.
One day he had sent his children with the cart deep into the forest, to fetch brushwood. Evening came on, and they did not return. It already began to grow dark, and as they still had not come back, his anxiety increased, and he determined to go in search of them. He had just crossed the threshold, when suddenly he heard a shouting and singing at a distance in the wood. Joyous sounds! it was his dear children, who were dragging and pushing along the little cart, piled up and closely packed.
"You good-for-nothing little brats, where have you been all this time?" he exclaimed, half angrily, though overjoyed. But they laughed, and removing the green brushwood with which they had covered the loaded cart, they exclaimed, quite red in the face with delight, "Only see, father, what we have here!" And, lo and behold, the cart was filled from top to bottom with broken, bent, and gnaw'd playthings!
And now they went on to tell the whole story of their treasures; and amidst a Babel of voices, all speaking together, one louder than another, the sum and substance of the story was this. After losing their way, they had wandered about till they came to a narrow, smooth dale, which lost itself like a footpath in the wood. The ground was all wet and miry from the rain. Suddenly, to their amazement, they found all these splendid things scattered about in radiant confusion; and, had not the sun already sunk behind the pine-trees, they would have followed the path still further. It seemed to have no end, but disappeared deep in the thicket, and, as far as they could see, it was all bestrewn with similar treasures.
The story seemed strange to their father, and he resolved to follow the path they spoke of the next day, hoping in his own mind to discover a track of the culprit who had decoyed away the birds and torn his nets.
The next morning, as soon as the dawn glimmered through the still forest, the Birdcatcher's whole family were on their way with the wood-cart to the dale; and, truly enough, there they found everything as the children had described.
"Look, look, father! there is another splendid little wooden fellow!" exclaimed the youngest child, raking out of the mire a little Nutcracker, bedaubed with mud, his colours all washed off, and his pedestal lost.
"Heyday! what a face the fellow has, and what a mouth, and what goggling eyes!" cried all the children in one voice.
"Silly nonsense! stupid toy!" exclaimed the old man angrily, as he snatched the Nutcracker from them, and flung it far away into the wood.
But now a wonderful sight presented itself to his view.
Out of a Crane's nest, high up on an old oak-tree, there rose a little maiden of human form, quite enveloped in gossamer. She climbed down from the tree like a squirrel, ran with all speed to the spot where Nutcracker lay, dug him a grave with her hands, and, with the aid of the two Cranes, laid him in it, and raked the earth over the spot; after which she climbed again up the tree, and into the nest.
The Birdcatcher and his family stood open-mouthed, in silent astonishment; they feared to frighten away the little maiden, but this strange sight made them hesitate what to do.
"So, so, then, you are the little witch who robs me of my bread!" at last exclaimed the Birdcatcher, giving vent to his repressed anger. "Wait there awhile, my pretty little bird: tomorrow morning we will come again with axe and nets; we will then cut down your tree in a trice and catch you. For the present let us see where this path leads, and whether there are not more of you here."
Before he had finished speaking, he espied the little maiden peeping anxiously from under her white veil out of the nest, and making a sign. And instantly the Cranes came flying to her, took up the nest with their bills, raised it from the branches, and bore it swiftly through the air.
Who other could the little maiden be than our Princess of Root-Valley?
Fear of her father and her countrypeople had prevented her returning to her native Valley. At the same time a feeling of sorrow for the haughtiness with which she had treated the Birds whom she had once loved, had grown so strong in her heart, that she resolved to make amends for her former ill-conduct to these good-natured creatures. Since the fatal day when her husband and his people had been all destroyed, she had made her abode in this tree, and taken under her tender care all the young birds whose parents had died. Indeed she it really was who, in spite of her fear of Men, had every night destroyed the Birdcatcher's nets, and had warned the birds against venturing near him.
At this instant however she saw the danger which threatened her countrymen, if these selfish people should discover the Root-kingdom. All other considerations therefore must yield. Without delay she desired the Cranes to convey her straight to her own Valley, where she was resolved to alight, happen what might.
In the Nutfield, which had so recently been the scene of her false splendour and her follies, the Rootmen happened on this very day to be assembled. Notwithstanding her wrong conduct, they had not yet given up the Princess, and, at the entreaties of her father, they were met to consider what steps could be taken to search for her.
The Cranes alighted with the nest. In an instant the repentant daughter fell on the neck of her overjoyed father, and all the People compassionated her, and forgave her from the bottom of their hearts. In their delight at seeing her again, all were ready to give themselves up to unrestrained rejoicing, but the Princess checked their merriment. She told her People the danger which threatened them of being discovered by Men. Anxiety and terror seized the Rootmen at this news: it was no longer possible to remain in the forest. They at once resolved to leave Root-Valley, and to emigrate by subterranean passages to distant lands.
The whole body put themselves forthwith in motion, when just at that instant there appeared upon the rocky heights, behind the thick hedge, the Birdcatcher with his family. If these folks had been astonished at the first instant, how much more so were they now, when they saw all the little Rootmen disappear in the rocks!
Angry and impatient at not being able to get at them, the Birdcatcher tried all he could to break through the hedge, but in vain,—he only came off with scratched and bleeding hands.
"Ill-luck!" he exclaimed; "had I but my axe and nets, to catch those tiny little creatures, I might sell them in the town, or make a show of them, and become the richest man in the world!" And thereupon he took his whistle, and began to whistle an alluring melody, thinking by this means to entice the little People like birds; but this attempt was likewise in vain. All the little Rootmen passed before his eyes into the rock, actually laughing and making faces at him; and when the very last little elf vanished in the rock, the opening closed. Since that time no one has ever again seen the little Rootmen.
Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been retained; however, some mid-paragraph illustrations have been moved to the beginning of the chapter.
The caret in "Third Chapt^r" indicates a superscripted letter "r."