HotFreeBooks.com
A Little Book of Profitable Tales
by Eugene Field
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

Lizzie got jest wrapped up in that boy; toted him round ever'where 'nd never let on like it made her tired,—powerful big 'nd hearty child too, but heft warn't nothin' 'longside of Lizzie's love for the Old Man. When he caught the measles from Sairy Baxter's baby Lizzie sot up day 'nd night till he wuz well, holdin' his hands 'nd singin' songs to him, 'nd cryin' herse'f almost to death because she dassent give him cold water to drink when he called f'r it. As for me, my heart wuz wrapped up in the Old Man, too, but, bein' a man, it wuzn't for me to show it like Lizzie, bein' a woman; and now that the Old Man is—wall, now that he has gone, it wouldn't do to let on how much I sot by him, for that would make Lizzie feel all the wuss.

Sometimes, when I think of it, it makes me sorry that I didn't show the Old Man some way how much I wuz wrapped up in him. Used to hold him in my lap 'nd make faces for him 'nd alder whistles 'nd things; sometimes I'd kiss him on his rosy cheek, when nobody wuz lookin'; oncet I tried to sing him a song, but it made him cry, 'nd I never tried my hand at singin' again. But, somehow, the Old Man didn't take to me like he took to his mother: would climb down outern my lap to git where Lizzie wuz; would hang on to her gownd, no matter what she wuz doin',—whether she wuz makin' bread, or sewin', or puttin' up pickles, it wuz alwuz the same to the Old Man; he wuzn't happy unless he wuz right there, clost beside his mother.

'Most all boys, as I've heern tell, is proud to be round with their father, doin' what he does 'nd wearin' the kind of clothes he wears. But the Old Man wuz different; he allowed that his mother was his best friend, 'nd the way he stuck to her—wall, it has alwuz been a great comfort to Lizzie to recollect it.

The Old Man had a kind of confidin' way with his mother. Every oncet in a while, when he'd be playin' by hisself in the front room, he'd call out, "Mudder, mudder;" and no matter where Lizzie wuz,—in the kitchen, or in the wood-shed, or in the yard, she'd answer: "What is it, darlin'?" Then the Old Man 'u'd say: "Turn here, mudder, I wanter tell you sumfin'." Never could find out what the Old Man wanted to tell Lizzie; like 's not he didn't wanter tell her nothin'; maybe he wuz lonesome 'nd jest wanted to feel that Lizzie wuz round. But that didn't make no diff'rence; it wuz all the same to Lizzie. No matter where she wuz or what she wuz a-doin', jest as soon as the Old Man told her he wanted to tell her somethin' she dropped ever'thing else 'nd went straight to him. Then the Old Man would laff one of his sollum, sad-like laffs, 'nd put his arms round Lizzie's neck 'nd whisper—or pertend to whisper—somethin' in her ear, 'nd Lizzie would laff 'nd say, "Oh, what a nice secret we have atween us!" and then she would kiss the Old Man 'nd go back to her work.

Time changes all things,—all things but memory, nothin' can change that. Seems like it was only yesterday or the day before that I heern the Old Man callin', "Mudder, mudder, I wanter tell you sumfin'," and that I seen him put his arms around her neck 'nd whisper softly to her.

It had been an open winter, 'nd there wuz fever all around us. The Baxters lost their little girl, and Homer Thompson's children had all been taken down. Ev'ry night 'nd mornin' we prayed God to save our darlin'; but one evenin' when I come up from the wood-lot, the Old Man wuz restless 'nd his face wuz hot 'nd he talked in his sleep. Maybe you've been through it yourself,—maybe you've tended a child that's down with the fever; if so, maybe you know what we went through, Lizzie 'nd me. The doctor shook his head one night when he come to see the Old Man; we knew what that meant. I went out-doors,—I couldn't stand it in the room there, with the Old Man seein' 'nd talkin' about things that the fever made him see. I wuz too big a coward to stay 'nd help his mother to bear up; so I went out-doors 'nd brung in wood,—brung in wood enough to last all spring,—and then I sat down alone by the kitchen fire 'nd heard the clock tick 'nd watched the shadders flicker through the room.

I remember Lizzie's comin' to me and sayin': "He's breathin' strange-like, 'nd his little feet is cold as ice." Then I went into the front chamber where he lay. The day wuz breakin'; the cattle wuz lowin' outside; a beam of light come through the winder and fell on the Old Man's face,—perhaps it wuz the summons for which he waited and which shall some time come to me 'nd you. Leastwise the Old Man roused from his sleep 'nd opened up his big blue eyes. It wuzn't me he wanted to see.

"Mudder! mudder!" cried the Old Man, but his voice warn't strong 'nd clear like it used to be. "Mudder, where be you, mudder?"

Then, breshin' by me, Lizzie caught the Old Man up 'nd held him in her arms, like she had done a thousand times before.

"What is it, darlin'? Here I be," says Lizzie.

"Tum here," says the Old Man,—"tum here; I wanter tell you sumfin'."

The Old Man went to reach his arms around her neck 'nd whisper in her ear. But his arms fell limp and helpless-like, 'nd the Old Man's curly head drooped on his mother's breast.

1889.



BILL, THE LOKIL EDITOR



BILL, THE LOKIL EDITOR

Bill wuz alluz fond uv children 'nd birds 'nd flowers. Ain't it kind o' curious how sometimes we find a great, big, awkward man who loves sech things? Bill had the biggest feet in the township, but I'll bet my wallet that he never trod on a violet in all his life. Bill never took no slack from enny man that wuz sober, but the children made him play with 'em, and he'd set for hours a-watchin' the yaller-hammer buildin' her nest in the old cottonwood.

Now I ain't defendin' Bill; I'm jest tellin' the truth about him. Nothink I kin say one way or t'other is goin' to make enny difference now; Bill's dead 'nd buried, 'nd the folks is discussin' him 'nd wond'rin' whether his immortal soul is all right. Sometimes I hev worried 'bout Bill, but I don't worry 'bout him no more. Uv course Bill had his faults,—I never liked that drinkin' business uv his'n, yet I allow that Bill got more good out'n likker, and likker got more good out'n Bill, than I ever see before or sence. It warn't when the likker wuz in Bill that Bill wuz at his best, but when he hed been on to one uv his bats 'nd had drunk himself sick 'nd wuz comin' out uv the other end of the bat, then Bill wuz one uv the meekest 'nd properest critters you ever seen. An' po'try? Some uv the most beautiful po'try I ever read wuz writ by Bill when he wuz recoverin' himself out'n one uv them bats. Seemed like it kind uv exalted an' purified Bill's nachur to git drunk an' git over it. Bill c'u'd drink more likker 'nd be sorrier for it than any other man in seven States. There never wuz a more penitent feller than he wuz when he wuz soberin'. The trubble with Bill seemed to be that his conscience didn't come on watch quite of'n enuff.

It'll be ten years come nex' spring sence Bill showed up here. I don't know whar he come from; seemed like he didn't want to talk about his past. I allers suspicioned that he had seen trubble—maybe, sorrer. I reecollect that one time he got a telegraph,—Mr. Ivins told me 'bout it afterwards,—and when he read it he put his hands up to his face 'nd groaned, like. That day he got full uv likker 'nd he kep' full uv likker for a week; but when he come round all right he wrote a pome for the paper, 'nd the name uv the pome wuz "Mary," but whether Mary wuz his sister or his wife or an old sweetheart uv his'n I never knew. But it looked from the pome like she wuz dead 'nd that he loved her.

Bill wuz the best lokil the paper ever had. He didn't hustle around much, but he had a kind er pleasin' way uv dishin' things up. He c'u'd be mighty comical when he sot out to be, but his best holt was serious pieces. Nobody could beat Bill writing obituaries. When old Mose Holbrook wuz dyin' the minister sez to him: "Mr. Holbrook, you seem to be sorry that you're passin' away to a better land?"

"Wall, no; not exactly that," sez Mose, "but to be frank with you, I hev jest one regret in connection with this affair."

"What's that?" asked the minister.

"I can't help feelin' sorry," sez Mose, "that I ain't goin' to hev the pleasure uv readin' what Bill Newton sez about me in the paper. I know it'll be sumthin' uncommon fine; I loant him two dollars a year ago last fall."

The Higginses lost a darned good friend when Bill died. Bill wrote a pome 'bout their old dog Towze when he wuz run over by Watkins's hay-wagon seven years ago. I'll bet that pome is in every scrap-book in the county. You couldn't read that pome without cryin',—why, that pome w'u'd hev brought a dew out on the desert uv Sary. Old Tim Hubbard, the meanest man in the State, borrered a paper to read the pome, and he wuz so 'fected by it that he never borrered anuther paper as long as he lived. I don't more'n half reckon, though, that the Higginses appreciated what Bill had done for 'em. I never heerd uv their givin' him anythink more'n a basket uv greenin' apples, and Bill wrote a piece 'bout the apples nex' day.

But Bill wuz at his best when he wrote things about the children,—about the little ones that died, I mean. Seemed like Bill had a way of his own of sayin' things that wuz beautiful 'nd tender; he said he loved the children because they wuz innocent, and I reckon—yes, I know he did, for the pomes he writ about 'em showed he did.

When our little Alice died I started out for Mr. Miller's; he wuz the undertaker. The night wuz powerful dark, 'nd it wuz all the darker to me, because seemed like all the light hed gone out in my life. Down near the bridge I met Bill; he weaved round in the road, for he wuz in likker.

"Hello, Mr. Baker," sez he, "whar be you goin' this time o' night?"

"Bill," sez I, "I'm goin' on the saddest errand uv my life."

"What d' ye mean?" sez he, comin' up to me as straight as he c'u'd.

"Why, Bill," sez I, "our little girl—my little girl—Allie, you know—she's dead."

I hoarsed up so I couldn't say much more. And Bill didn't say nothink at all; he jest reached me his hand, and he took my hand and seemed like in that grasp his heart spoke many words of comfort to mine. And nex' day he had a piece in the paper about our little girl; we cut it out and put it in the big Bible in the front room. Sometimes when we get to fussin', Martha goes 'nd gets that bit of paper 'nd reads it to me; then us two kind uv cry to ourselves, 'nd we make it up between us for the dead child's sake.

Well, you kin see how it wuz that so many uv us liked Bill; he had soothed our hearts,—there's nothin' like sympathy after all. Bill's po'try hed heart in it; it didn't surprise you or scare you; it jest got down in under your vest, 'nd before you knew it you wuz all choked up. I know all about your fashionable po'try and your famous potes,—Martha took Godey's for a year. Folks that live in the city can't write po'try,—not the real, genuine article. To write po'try, as I figure it, the heart must have somethin' to feed on; you can't get that somethin' whar there ain't trees 'nd grass 'nd birds 'nd flowers. Bill loved these things, and he fed his heart on 'em, and that's why his po'try wuz so much better than anybody else's.

I ain't worryin' much about Bill now; I take it that everythink is for the best. When they told me that Bill died in a drunken fit I felt that his end oughter have come some other way,—he wuz too good a man for that. But maybe, after all, it was ordered for the best. Jist imagine Bill a-standin' up for jedgment; jist imagine that poor, sorrowful, shiverin' critter waitin' for his turn to come. Pictur', if you can, how full of penitence he is, 'nd how full uv po'try 'nd gentleness 'nd misery. The Lord ain't a-goin' to be too hard on that poor wretch. Of course we can't comprehend Divine mercy; we only know that it is full of compassion,—a compassion infinitely tenderer and sweeter than ours. And the more I think on 't, the more I reckon that Bill will plead to win that mercy, for, like as not, the little ones—my Allie with the rest—will run to him when they see him in his trubble and will hold his tremblin' hands 'nd twine their arms about him, and plead, with him, for compassion.

You've seen an old sycamore that the lightnin' has struck; the ivy has reached up its vines 'nd spread 'em all around it 'nd over it, coverin' its scars 'nd splintered branches with a velvet green 'nd fillin' the air with fragrance. You've seen this thing and you know that it is beautiful.

That's Bill, perhaps, as he stands up f'r jedgment,—a miserable, tremblin', 'nd unworthy thing, perhaps, but twined about, all over, with singin' and pleadin' little children—and that is pleasin' in God's sight, I know.

What would you—what would I—say, if we wuz settin' in jedgment then?

Why, we'd jest kind uv bresh the moisture from our eyes 'nd say: "Mister recordin' angel, you may nolly pros this case 'nd perseed with the docket."

1888.



THE LITTLE YALLER BABY



THE LITTLE YALLER BABY

I hev allus hed a good opinion uv the wimmin folks. I don't look at 'em as some people do; uv course they're a necessity—just as men are. Uv course if there warn't no wimmin folks there wouldn't be no men folks—leastwise that's what the medikil books say. But I never wuz much on discussin' humin economy; what I hev allus thought 'nd said wuz that wimmin folks wuz a kind uv luxury, 'nd the best kind, too. Maybe it's because I hain't hed much to do with 'em that I'm sot on 'em. Never did get real well acquainted with more'n three or four uv 'em in all my life; seemed like it wuz meant that I shouldn't hev 'em round me as most men hev. Mother died when I wuz a little tyke, an' Aunt Mary raised me till I wuz big enuff to make my own livin'. Down here in the Southwest, you see, most uv the girls is boys; there ain't none uv them civilizin' influences folks talk uv,—nothin' but flowers 'nd birds 'nd such things as poetry tells about. So I kind uv growed up with the curi's notion that wimmin folks wuz too good for our part uv the country, 'nd I hevn't quite got that notion out'n my head yet.

One time—wall, I reckon 't wuz about four years ago—I got a letter frum ol' Col. Sibley to come up to Saint Louey 'nd consult with him 'bout some stock int'rests we hed together. Railroad travellin' wuz no new thing to me. I hed been prutty prosperous,—hed got past hevin' to ride in a caboose 'nd git out at every stop to punch up the steers. Hed money in the Hoost'n bank 'nd used to go to Tchicargo oncet a year; hed met Fill Armer 'nd shook hands with him, 'nd oncet the city papers hed a colume article about my bein' a millionnaire; uv course 't warn't so, but a feller kind uv likes that sort uv thing, you know.

The mornin' after I got that letter from Col. Sibley I started for Saint Louey. I took a bunk in the Pullman car, like I hed been doin' for six years past; 'nd I reckon the other folks must hev thought I wuz a heap uv a man, for every haff-hour I give the nigger ha'f a dollar to bresh me off. The car wuz full uv people,—rich people, too, I reckon, for they wore good clo'es 'nd criticized the scenery. Jest across frum me there wuz a lady with a big, fat baby,—the pruttiest woman I hed seen in a month uv Sundays; and the baby! why, doggone my skin, when I wuzn't payin' money to the nigger, darned if I didn't set there watchin' the big, fat little cuss, like he wuz the only baby I ever seen. I ain't much of a hand at babies, 'cause I hain't seen many uv 'em, 'nd when it comes to handlin' 'em—why, that would break me all up, 'nd like 's not 't would break the baby all up too. But it has allus been my notion that nex' to the wimmin folks babies wuz jest about the nicest things on earth. So the more I looked at that big, fat little baby settin' in its mother's lap 'cross the way, the more I wanted to look; seemed like I wuz hoodooed by the little tyke; 'nd the first thing I knew there wuz water in my eyes; don't know why it is, but it allus makes me kind ur slop over to set 'nd watch a baby cooin' 'nd playin' in its mother's lap.

"Look a' hyar, Sam," says I to the nigger, "come hyar 'nd bresh me off ag'in! Why ain't you 'tendin' to bizness?"

But it didn't do no good 't all; pertendin' to be cross with the nigger might fool the other folks in the car, but it didn't fool me. I wuz dead stuck on that baby—gol durn his pictur'! And there the little tyke set in its mother's lap, doublin' up its fists 'nd tryin' to swaller 'em, 'nd talkin' like to its mother in a lingo I couldn't understan', but which the mother could, for she talked back to the baby in a soothin' lingo which I couldn't understand, but which I liked to hear, 'nd she kissed the baby 'nd stroked its hair 'nd petted it like wimmin do.

It made me mad to hear them other folks in the car criticizin' the scenery 'nd things. A man's in mighty poor bizness, anyhow, to be lookin' at scenery when there's a woman in sight,—a woman and a baby!

Prutty soon—oh, maybe in a hour or two—the baby began to fret 'nd worrit. Seemed to me like the little critter wuz hungry. Knowin' that there wuz no eatin'-house this side of Bowieville, I jest called the train-boy, 'nd says I to him: "Hev you got any victuals that will do for a baby?"

"How is oranges 'nd bananas?" says he.

"That ought to do," says I. "Jist do up a dozen uv your best oranges 'nd a dozen uv your best bananas 'nd take 'em over to that baby with my complerments."

But before he could do it, the lady hed laid the baby on one uv her arms 'nd hed spread a shawl over its head 'nd over her shoulder, 'nd all uv a suddint the baby quit worritin' and seemed like he hed gone to sleep.

When we got to York Crossin' I looked out'n the winder 'nd seen some men carryin' a long pine box up towards the baggage-car. Seein' their hats off, I knew there wuz a dead body in the box, 'nd I couldn't help feelin' sorry for the poor creetur that hed died in that lonely place uv York Crossin'; but I mought hev felt a heap sorrier for the creeters that hed to live there, for I'll allow that York Crossin' is a leetle the durnedest lonesomest place I ever seen.

Well, just afore the train started ag'in, who should come into the car but Bill Woodson, and he wuz lookin' powerful tough. Bill herded cattle for me three winters, but hed moved away when he married one uv the waiter-girls at Spooner's Hotel at Hoost'n.

"Hello, Bill," says I; "what air you totin' so kind uv keerful-like in your arms there?"

"Why, I've got the baby," says he; 'nd as he said it the tears come up into his eyes.

"Your own baby, Bill?" says I.

"Yes," says he. "Nellie took sick uv the janders a fortnight ago, 'nd—'nd she died, 'nd I'm takin' her body up to Texarkany to bury. She lived there, you know, 'nd I'm goin' to leave the baby there with its gran'ma."

Poor Bill! it wuz his wife that the men were carryin' in that pine box to the baggage-car.

"Likely-lookin'baby, Bill," says I, cheerful like. "Perfect pictur' uv its mother; kind uv favors you round the lower part uv the face, tho'."

I said this to make Bill feel happier. If I'd told the truth, I'd 've said the baby wuz a sickly, yaller-lookin' little thing, for so it wuz; looked haff-starved, too. Couldn't help comparin' it with that big, fat baby in its mother's arms over the way.

"Bill," says I, "here's a ten-dollar note for the baby, 'nd God bless you!"

"Thank ye, Mr. Goodhue," says he, 'nd he choked all up as he moved off with that yaller little baby in his arms. It warn't very fur up the road he wuz goin', 'nd he found a seat in one uv the front cars.

But along about an hour after that back come Bill, moseyin' through the car like he wuz huntin' for somebody. Seemed like he wuz in trubble and wuz huntin' for a friend.

"Anything I kin do for you, Bill?" says I, but he didn't make no answer. All uv a suddint he sot his eyes on the prutty lady that had the fat baby sleepin' in her arms, 'nd he made a break for her like he wuz crazy. He took off his hat 'nd bent down over her 'nd said somethin' none uv the rest uv us could hear. The lady kind uv started like she wuz frightened, 'nd then she looked up at Bill 'nd looked him right square in the countenance. She saw a tall, ganglin', awkward man, with long yaller hair 'nd frowzy beard, 'nd she saw that he wuz tremblin' 'nd hed tears in his eyes. She looked down at the fat baby in her arms, 'nd then she looked out'n the winder at the great stretch uv prairie land, 'nd seemed like she wuz lookin' off further 'n the rest uv us could see. Then at last she turnt around 'nd said, "Yes," to Bill, 'nd Bill went off into the front car ag'in.

None uv the rest uv us knew what all this meant, but in a minnit Bill come back with his little yaller baby in his arms, 'nd you never heerd a baby squall 'nd carry on like that baby wuz squallin' 'nd carryin' on. Fact is, the little yaller baby wuz hungry, hungrier 'n a wolf, 'nd there wuz its mother dead in the car up ahead 'nd its gran'ma a good piece up the road. What did the lady over the way do but lay her own sleepin' baby down on the seat beside her 'nd take Bill's little yaller baby 'nd hold it on one arm 'nd cover up its head 'nd her shoulder with a shawl, jist like she had done with the fat baby not long afore. Bill never looked at her; he took off his hat and held it in his hand, 'nd turnt around 'nd stood guard over that mother, 'nd I reckon that ef any man bed darst to look that way jist then Bill would 've cut his heart out.

The little yaller baby didn't cry very long. Seemed like it knowed there wuz a mother holdin' it,—not its own mother, but a woman whose life hed been hallowed by God's blessin' with the love 'nd the purity 'nd the sanctity uv motherhood.

Why, I wouldn't hev swapped that sight uv Bill an' them two babies 'nd that sweet woman for all the cattle in Texas! It jest made me know that what I'd allus thought uv wimmin was gospel truth. God bless that lady! I say, wherever she is to-day, 'nd God bless all wimmin folks, for they're all alike in their unselfishness 'nd gentleness 'nd love!

Bill said, "God bless ye!" too, when she handed him back his poor little yaller baby. The little creeter wuz fast asleep, 'nd Bill darsent speak very loud for fear he'd wake it up. But his heart wuz 'way up in his mouth when he says "God bless ye!" to that dear lady; 'nd then he added, like he wanted to let her know that he meant to pay her back when he could: "I'll do the same for you some time, marm, if I kin."

1888.



THE CYCLOPEEDY



THE CYCLOPEEDY

Havin' lived next door to the Hobart place f'r goin' on thirty years, I calc'late that I know jest about ez much about the case ez anybody else now on airth, exceptin' perhaps it's ol' Jedge Baker, and he's so plaguy old 'nd so powerful feeble that he don't know nothin'.

It seems that in the spring uv '47—the year that Cy Watson's oldest boy wuz drownded in West River—there come along a book-agent sellin' volyumes 'nd tracks f'r the diffusion uv knowledge, 'nd havin' got the recommend of the minister 'nd uv the selectmen, he done an all-fired big business in our part uv the county. His name wuz Lemuel Higgins, 'nd he wuz ez likely a talker ez I ever heerd, barrin' Lawyer Conkey, 'nd everybody allowed that when Conkey wuz round he talked so fast that the town pump 'u'd have to be greased every twenty minutes.

One of the first uv our folks that this Lemuel Higgins struck wuz Leander Hobart. Leander had jest marr'd one uv the Peasley girls, 'nd had moved into the old homestead on the Plainville road,—old Deacon Hobart havin' give up the place to him, the other boys havin' moved out West (like a lot o' darned fools that they wuz!). Leander wuz feelin' his oats jest about this time, 'nd nuthin' wuz too good f'r him.

"Hattie," sez he, "I guess I'll have to lay in a few books f'r readin' in the winter time, 'nd I've half a notion to subscribe f'r a cyclopeedy. Mr. Higgins here says they're invalerable in a family, and that we orter have 'em, bein' as how we're likely to have the fam'ly bime by."

"Lor's sakes, Leander, how you talk!" sez Hattie, blushin' all over, ez brides allers does to heern tell uv sich things.

Waal, to make a long story short, Leander bargained with Mr. Higgins for a set uv them cyclopeedies, 'nd he signed his name to a long printed paper that showed how he agreed to take a cyclopeedy oncet in so often, which wuz to be ez often ez a new one uv the volyumes wuz printed. A cyclopeedy isn't printed all at oncet, because that would make it cost too much; consekently the man that gets it up has it strung along fur apart, so as to hit folks oncet every year or two, and gin'rally about harvest time. So Leander kind uv liked the idee, and he signed the printed paper 'nd made his affidavit to it afore Jedge Warner.

The fust volyume of the cyclopeedy stood on a shelf in the old seckertary in the settin'-room about four months before they had any use f'r it. One night Squire Turner's son come over to visit Leander 'nd Hattie, and they got to talkin' about apples, 'nd the sort uv apples that wuz the best. Leander allowed that the Rhode Island greenin' wuz the best, but Hattie and the Turner boy stuck up f'r the Roxbury russet, until at last a happy idee struck Leander, and sez he: "We'll leave it to the cyclopeedy, b'gosh! Whichever one the cyclopeedy sez is the best will settle it."

"But you can't find out nothin' 'bout Roxbury russets nor Rhode Island greenin's in our cyclopeedy," sez Hattie.

"Why not, I'd like to know?" sez Leander, kind uv indignant like.

"'Cause ours hain't got down to the R yet," sez Hattie. "All ours tells about is things beginnin' with A."

"Well, ain't we talkin' about Apples?" sez Leander. "You aggervate me terrible, Hattie, by insistin' on knowin' what you don't know nothin' 'bout."

Leander went to the seckertary 'nd took down the cyclopeedy 'nd hunted all through it f'r Apples, but all he could find wuz "Apple—See Pomology."

"How in thunder kin I see Pomology," sez Leander, "when there ain't no Pomology to see? Gol durn a cyclopeedy, anyhow!"

And he put the volyume back onto the shelf 'nd never sot eyes into it ag'in.

That's the way the thing run f'r years 'nd years. Leander would 've gin up the plaguy bargain, but he couldn't; he had signed a printed paper 'nd had swore to it afore a justice of the peace. Higgins would have had the law on him if he had throwed up the trade.

The most aggervatin' feature uv it all wuz that a new one uv them cussid cyclopeedies wuz allus sure to show up at the wrong time,—when Leander wuz hard up or had jest been afflicted some way or other. His barn burnt down two nights afore the volyume containin' the letter B arrived, and Leander needed all his chink to pay f'r lumber, but Higgins sot back on that affidavit and defied the life out uv him.

"Never mind, Leander," sez his wife, soothin' like, "it's a good book to have in the house, anyhow, now that we've got a baby."

"That's so," sez Leander, "babies does begin with B, don't it?"

You see their fust baby had been born; they named him Peasley,—Peasley Hobart,—after Hattie's folks. So, seein' as how it wuz payin' f'r a book that told about babies, Leander didn't begredge that five dollars so very much after all.

"Leander," sez Hattie one forenoon, "that B cyclopeedy ain't no account. There ain't nothin' in it about babies except 'See Maternity'!"

"Waal, I'll be gosh durned!" sez Leander. That wuz all he said, and he couldn't do nothin' at all, f'r that book-agent, Lemuel Higgins, had the dead wood on him,—the mean, sneakin' critter!

So the years passed on, one of them cyclopeedies showin' up now 'nd then,—sometimes every two years 'nd sometimes every four, but allus at a time when Leander found it pesky hard to give up a fiver. It warn't no use cussin' Higgins; Higgins just laffed when Leander allowed that the cyclopeedy was no good 'nd that he wuz bein' robbed. Meantime Leander's family wuz increasin' and growin'. Little Sarey had the hoopin' cough dreadful one winter, but the cyclopeedy didn't help out at all, 'cause all it said wuz: "Hoopin' Cough—See Whoopin' Cough"—and uv course there warn't no Whoopin' Cough to see, bein' as how the W hadn't come yet!

Oncet when Hiram wanted to dreen the home pasture, he went to the cyclopeedy to find out about it, but all he diskivered wuz:

"Drain—See Tile." This wuz in 1859, and the cyclopeedy had only got down to G.

The cow wuz sick with lung fever one spell, and Leander laid her dyin' to that cussid cyclopeedy, 'cause when he went to readin' 'bout cows it told him to "See Zoology."

But what's the use uv harrowin' up one's feelin's talkin' 'nd thinkin' about these things? Leander got so after a while that the cyclopeedy didn't worry him at all: he grew to look at it ez one uv the crosses that human critters has to bear without complainin' through this vale uv tears. The only thing that bothered him wuz the fear that mebbe he wouldn't live to see the last volyume,—to tell the truth, this kind uv got to be his hobby, and I've heern him talk 'bout it many a time settin' round the stove at the tarvern 'nd squirtin' tobacco juice at the sawdust box. His wife, Hattie, passed away with the yaller janders the winter W come, and all that seemed to reconcile Leander to survivin' her wuz the prospect uv seein' the last volyume of that cyclopeedy. Lemuel Higgins, the book-agent, had gone to his everlastin' punishment; but his son, Hiram, had succeeded to his father's business 'nd continued to visit the folks his old man had roped in. By this time Leander's children had growed up; all on 'em wuz marr'd, and there wuz numeris grandchildren to amuse the ol' gentleman. But Leander wuzn't to be satisfied with the common things uv airth; he didn't seem to take no pleasure in his grandchildren like most men do; his mind wuz allers sot on somethin' else,—for hours 'nd hours, yes, all day long, he'd set out on the front stoop lookin' wistfully up the road for that book-agent to come along with a cyclopeedy. He didn't want to die till he'd got all the cyclopeedies his contract called for; he wanted to have everything straightened out before he passed away. When—oh, how well I recollect it—when Y come along he wuz so overcome that he fell over in a fit uv paralysis, 'nd the old gentleman never got over it. For the next three years he drooped 'nd pined, and seemed like he couldn't hold out much longer. Finally he had to take to his bed,—he was so old 'nd feeble,—but he made 'em move the bed up ag'inst the winder so he could watch for that last volyume of the cyclopeedy.

The end come one balmy day in the spring uv '87. His life wuz a-ebbin' powerful fast; the minister wuz there, 'nd me, 'nd Dock Wilson, 'nd Jedge Baker, 'nd most uv the fam'ly. Lovin' hands smoothed the wrinkled forehead 'nd breshed back the long, scant, white hair, but the eyes of the dyin' man wuz sot upon that piece uv road down which the cyclopeedy man allus come.

All to oncet a bright 'nd joyful look come into them eyes, 'nd ol' Leander riz up in bed 'nd sez, "It's come!"

"What is it, Father?" asked his daughter Sarey, sobbin' like.

"Hush," says the minister, solemnly; "he sees the shinin' gates uv the Noo Jerusalum."

"No, no," cried the aged man; "it is the cyclopeedy—the letter Z—it's comin'!"

And, sure enough! the door opened, and in walked Higgins. He tottered rather than walked, f'r he had growed old 'nd feeble in his wicked perfession.

"Here's the Z cyclopeedy, Mr. Hobart," sez Higgins.

Leander clutched it; he hugged it to his pantin' bosom; then stealin' one pale hand under the piller he drew out a faded banknote 'nd gave it to Higgins.

"I thank Thee for this boon," sez Leander, rollin' his eyes up devoutly; then he gave a deep sigh.

"Hold on," cried Higgins, excitedly, "you've made a mistake—it isn't the last—"

But Leander didn't hear him—his soul hed fled from its mortal tenement 'nd hed soared rejoicin' to realms uv everlastin' bliss.

"He is no more," sez Dock Wilson, metaphorically.

"Then who are his heirs?" asked that mean critter Higgins.

"We be," sez the family.

"Do you conjointly and severally acknowledge and assume the obligation of deceased to me?" he asked 'em.

"What obligation?" asked Peasley Hobart, stern like.

"Deceased died owin' me f'r a cyclopeedy!" sez Higgins.

"That's a lie!" sez Peasley. "We all seen him pay you for the Z!"

"But there's another one to come," sez Higgins.

"Another?" they all asked.

"Yes, the index!" sez he.

So there wuz, and I'll be eternally gol durned if he ain't a-suin' the estate in the probate court now f'r the price uv it!

1889



DOCK STEBBINS



DOCK STEBBINS

Most everybody liked Dock Stebbins, fur all he wuz the durnedest critter that ever lived to play jokes on folks! Seems like he wuz born jokin' 'nd kep' it up all his life. Ol' Mrs. Stebbins used to tell how when the Dock wuz a baby he used to wake her up haff a dozen times uv a night cryin' like he wuz hungry, 'nd when she turnt over in bed to him he w'u'd laff 'nd coo like he wuz sayin', "No, thank ye—I wuz only foolin'!"

His mother allus thought a heap uv the Dock, 'nd she allus put up with his jokes 'nd things without grumblin'; said it warn't his fault that he wuz so full uv tricks 'nd funny business; kind uv took the responsibility uv it onto herself, because, as she allowed, she'd been to a circus jest afore he wuz born.

Nothin' tickled the Dock more 'n to worry folks,—not in a mean way, but jest to sort uv bother 'em. Used to hang round the post-office 'nd pertend to have fits,—sakes alive! but how that scared the wimmin folks. One day who should come along but ol' Sue Perkins; Sue wuz suspicioned uv takin' a nip uv likker on the quiet now 'nd then, but nobody had ever ketched her at it. Wall, the Dock he had one uv his fits jest as Sue hove in sight, 'nd Lem Thompson (who stood in with Dock in all his deviltry) leant over Dock while he wuz wallerin' 'nd pertendin' to foam at the mouth, and Lem cried out: "Nothink will fetch him out'n this turn but a drink uv brandy." Sue, who wuz as kind-hearted a' old maid as ever super'ntended a strawbeiry festival, whipped a bottle out'n her bag 'nd says: "Here you be, Lem, but don't let him swaller the bottle." Folks bothered Sue a heap 'bout this joke till she moved down into Texas to teach school.

Dock had a piece uv wood 'bout two inches long,—maybe three: it wuz black 'nd stubby 'nd looked jest like the butt uv a cigar. Nobody but Dock w'u'd ever hev thought uv sech a fool thing, but Dock used to go round with that thing in his mouth like it wuz a cigar, and when he 'd meet a man who wuz smokin' he'd say: "Excuse me, but will you please to gimme a light?" Then the man w'u'd hand over his cigar, and Dock w'u'd plough that wood stub uv his'n around in the lighted cigar and would pertend to puff away till he had put the real cigar out, 'nd then Dock w'u'd hand the cigar back, sayin', kind uv regretful like: "You don't seem to have much uv a light there; I reckon I'll wait till I kin git a match." You kin imagine how that other feller's cigar tasted when he lighted it ag'in. Dock tried it on me oncet, 'nd when I lighted up ag'in seemed like I wuz smokin' a piece uv rope or a liver-pad.

One time Dock 'nd Lem Thompson went over to Peory on the railroad, 'nd while they wuz settm' in the car in come two wimmin 'nd set in the seat ahead uv 'em. All uv a suddint Dock nudged Lem 'nd says, jest loud enuff fur the wimmin to hear: "I didn't git round till after it wuz over, but I never see sech a sight as that baby's ear wuz."

Lem wuz onto Dock's methods, 'nd he knew there wuz sumthin' ahead. So he says: "Tough-lookin' ear, wuz it?"

"Wall, I should remark," says Dock. "You see it wuz like this: the mother had gone out into the back yard to hang some clo'es onto the line, 'nd she laid the baby down in the crib. Baby wa'n't more 'n six weeks old,—helpless little critter as ever you seen. Wall, all to oncet the mother heerd the baby cryin', but bein' busy with them clo'es she didn't mind much. The baby kep' cryin' 'nd cryin', 'nd at last the mother come back into the house, 'nd there she found a big rat gnawin' at one uv the baby's ears,—had e't it nearly off! There lay that helpless little innocent, cryin' 'nd writhin', 'nd there sat that rat with his long tail, nippin' 'nd chewin' at one uv them tiny coral ears—oh, it wuz offul!"

"Jest imagine the feelinks uv the mother!" says Lem, sad like.

"Jest imagine the feelinks uv the baby," says Dock. "How'd you like to be lyin' helpless in a crib with a big rat gnawin' your ear?"

Wall, all this conversation wuz fur from pleasant to those two wimmin in the front seat, fur wimmin love babies 'nd hate rats, you know. It wuz nuts fur Dock 'nd Lem to see the two wimmin squirm, 'nd all the way to Peory they didn't talk about nuthink but snakes 'nd spiders 'nd mice 'nd caterpillers. When the train got to Peory a gentleman met the two wimmin 'nd says to one uv 'em: "I'm 'feered the trip hain't done you much good, Lizzie," says he. "Sakes alive, John," says she, "it's a wonder we hain't dead, for we've been travellin' forty miles with a real live Beadle dime novvell!"

'Nuther trick Dock had wuz to walk 'long the street behind wimmin 'nd tell about how his sister had jest lost one uv her diamond earrings while out walkin'. Jest as soon as the wimmin heerd this they'd clap their han's up to their ears to see if their earrings wuz all right. Dock never laffed nor let on like he wuz jokin', but jest the same this sort uv thing tickled him nearly to de'th.

Dock went up to Chicago with Jedge Craig oncet, 'nd when they come back the jedge said he'd never had such an offul time in all his born days. Said that Dock bought a fool Mother Goose book to read in the hoss-cars jest to queer folks; would set in a hoss-car lookin' at the pictur's 'nd readin' the verses 'nd laffin' like it wuz all new to him 'nd like he wuz a child. Everybody sized him up for a' eject, 'nd the wimmin folks shook their heads 'nd said it was orful fur so fine a lookin' feller to be such a torn fool. 'Nuther thing Dock did wuz to git hold uv a bad quarter 'nd give it to a beggar, 'nd then foller the beggar into a saloon 'nd git him arrested for tryin' to pass counterf'it money. I reckon that if Dock had stayed in Chicago a week he'd have had everybody crazy.

No, I don't know how he come to be a medikil man. He told me oncet that when he found out that he wuzn't good for anythink he concluded he'd be a doctor; but I reckon that wuz one uv his jokes. He didn't have much uv a practice: he wuz too yumorous to suit most invalids 'nd sick folks. We had him tend our boy Sam jest oncet when Sam wuz comin' down with the measles. He looked at Sam's tongue 'nd felt his pulse 'nd said he'd leave a pill for Sam to take afore goin' to bed.

"How shell we administer the pill?" asked my wife.

"Wall," says Dock, "the best way to do is to git the boy down on the floor 'nd hold his mouth open 'nd gag him till he swallers the pill. After the pill gits into his system it will explode in about ten minnits, 'nd then the boy will feel better."

This wuz cheerful news for the boy. No human power c'u'd ha' got that pill into Sam. We never solicited Dock's perfeshional services ag'in.

One time Dock 'nd Lem Thompson drove over to Knoxville to help Dock Parsons cut a man's leg off. About four miles out uv town 'nd right in the middle uv the hot peraroor they met Moses Baker's oldest boy trudgin' along with a basket uv eggs. The Dock whoaed his hoss 'nd called to the boy,—

"Where be you goin' with them eggs?" says he.

"Goin' to town to sell 'em," says the boy.

"How much a dozen?" asked the Dock.

"'Bout ten cents, I reckon," says the boy.

"Putty likely-lookin' eggs," says the Dock; 'nd he handed the lines over to Lem, 'nd got out'n the buggy.

"How many hev you got?" he asked.

"Ten dozen," says the boy.

"Git out!" says Dock. "There hain't no ten dozen eggs in that basket!"

"Yes, there is," says the boy, "fur I counted 'em myself."

The Dock allowed that he wuzn't goin' to take nobody's count on eggs; so he got that fool boy to stan' there in the middle uv that hot peraroor, claspin' his two hands together, while he, the Dock, counted them eggs out'n the basket one by one into the boy's arms. Ten dozen eggs is a heap; you kin imagine, maybe, how that boy looked with his arms full uv eggs! When the Dock had got about nine dozen counted out he stopped all uv a suddint 'nd said, "Wall, come to think on 't, I reckon I don't want no eggs to-day, but I'm jest as much obleeged to you fur yer trubble." And so he jumped back into the buggy 'nd drove off.

Now, maybe that fool boy wuzn't in a peck uv trubble! There he stood in the middle uv that hot—that all-fired hot—peraroor with his arms full uv eggs. What wuz there fur him to do? He wuz afraid to move, lest he should break them eggs; yet the longer he stood there the less chance there wuz uv the warm weather improvin' the eggs.

Along in the summer of '78 the fever broke out down South, 'nd one day Dock made up his mind that as bizness wuzn't none too good at home he'd go down South 'nd see what he could do there. That wuz jest like one of Dock's fool notions, we all said. But he went. In about six weeks along come a telegraph sayin' that Dock wuz dead,—he'd died uv the fever. The minister went up to the homestead 'nd broke the news gentle like to Dock's mother; but, bless you! she didn't believe it—she wouldn't believe it. She said it wuz one uv Dock's jokes; she didn't blame him, nuther—it wuz her fault, she allowed, that Dock wuz allus that way about makin' fun uv life 'nd death. No, sir; she never believed that Dock wuz dead, but she allus talked like he might come in any minnit; and there wuz allus his old place set fur him at the table 'nd nuthin' wuz disturbed in his little room up-stairs. And so five years slipped by 'nd no Dock come back, 'nd there wuz no tidin's uv him. Uv course, the rest uv us knew; but his mother—oh, no, she never would believe it.

At last the old lady fell sick, and the doctor said she couldn't hold out long, she wuz so old 'nd feeble. The minister who wuz there said that she seemed to sleep from the evenin' uv this life into the mornin' uv the next. Jest afore the last she kind uv raised up in bed and cried out like she saw sumthin' that she loved, and she held out her arms like there wuz some one standin' in the doorway. Then they asked her what the matter wuz, and she says, joyful like: "He's come back, and there he stan's jest as he used ter: I knew he wuz only jokin'!"

They looked, but they saw nuthin'; 'nd when they went to her she wuz dead.

1888.



THE FAIRIES OF PESTH



THE FAIRIES OF PESTH [1]

An old poet walked alone in a quiet valley. His heart was heavy, and the voices of Nature consoled him. His life had been a lonely and sad one. Many years ago a great grief fell upon him, and it took away all his joy and all his ambition. It was because he brooded over his sorrow, and because he was always faithful to a memory, that the townspeople deemed him a strange old poet; but they loved him and they loved his songs,—in his life and in his songs there was a gentleness, a sweetness, a pathos that touched every heart. "The strange, the dear old poet," they called him.

Evening was coming on. The birds made no noise; only the whip-poor-will repeated over and over again its melancholy refrain in the marsh beyond the meadow. The brook ran slowly, and its voice was so hushed and tiny that you might have thought that it was saying its prayers before going to bed.

The old poet came to the three lindens. This was a spot he loved, it was so far from the noise of the town. The grass under the lindens was fresh and velvety. The air was full of fragrance, for here amid the grass grew violets and daisies and buttercups and other modest wild-flowers. Under the lindens stood old Leeza, the witchwife.

"Take this," said the poet to old Leeza, the witchwife; and he gave her a silver piece.

"You are good to me, master poet," said the witchwife. "You have always been good to me. I do not forget, master poet, I do not forget."

"Why do you speak so strangely?" asked the old poet. "You mean more than you say. Do not jest with me; my heart is heavy with sorrow."

"I do not jest," answered the witchwife. "I will show you a strange thing. Do as I bid you; tarry here under the lindens, and when the moon rises, the Seven Crickets will chirp thrice; then the Raven will fly into the west, and you will see wonderful things, and beautiful things you will hear."

Saying this much, old Leeza, the witch-wife, stole away, and the poet marvelled at her words. He had heard the townspeople say that old Leeza was full of dark thoughts and of evil deeds, but he did not heed these stories.

"They say the same of me, perhaps," he thought. "I will tarry here beneath the three lindens and see what may come of this whereof the witch wife spake."

The old poet sat amid the grass at the foot of the three lindens, and darkness fell around him. He could see the lights in the town away off; they twinkled like the stars that studded the sky. The whip-poor-will told his story over and over again in the marsh beyond the meadow, and the brook tossed and talked in its sleep, for it had played too hard that day.

"The moon is rising," said the old poet. "Now we shall see."

The moon peeped over the tops of the far-off hills. She wondered whether the world was fast asleep. She peeped again. There could be no doubt; the world was fast asleep,—at least so thought the dear old moon. So she stepped boldly up from behind the distant hills. The stars were glad that she came, for she was indeed a merry old moon.

The Seven Crickets lived in the hedge. They were brothers, and they made famous music. When they saw the moon in the sky they sang "chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp," three times, just as old Leeza, the witchwife, said they would.

"Whir-r-r!" It was the Raven flying out of the oak-tree into the west. This, too, was what the old witchwife had foretold. "Whir-r-r" went the two black wings, and then it seemed as if the Raven melted into the night. Now, this was strange enough, but what followed was stranger still.

Hardly had the Raven flown away, when out from their habitations in the moss, the flowers, and the grass trooped a legion of fairies,—yes, right there before the old poet's eyes appeared, as if by magic, a mighty troop of the dearest little fays in all the world.

Each of these fairies was about the height of a cambric needle. The lady fairies were, of course, not so tall as the gentleman fairies, but all were of quite as comely figure as you could expect to find even among real folk. They were quaintly dressed; the ladies wearing quilted silk gowns and broadbrim hats with tiny feathers in them, and the gentlemen wearing curious little knickerbockers, with silk coats, white hose, ruffled shirts, and dainty cocked hats.

"If the witchwife had not foretold it I should say that I dreamed," thought the old poet. But he was not frightened. He had never harmed the fairies, therefore he feared no evil from them.

One of the fairies was taller than the rest, and she was much more richly attired. It was not her crown alone that showed her to be the queen. The others made obeisance to her as she passed through the midst of them from her home in the bunch of red clover. Four dainty pages preceded her, carrying a silver web which had been spun by a black-and-yellow garden spider of great renown. This silver web the four pages spread carefully over a violet leaf, and thereupon the queen sat down. And when she was seated the queen sang this little song:

"From the land of murk and mist Fairy folk are coming To the mead the dew has kissed, And they dance where'er they list To the cricket's thrumming.

"Circling here and circling there, Light as thought and free as air, Hear them ciy, 'Oho, oho,' As they round the rosey go.

"Appleblossom, Summerdew, Thistleblow, and Ganderfeather! Join the airy fairy crew Dancing on the swaid together! Till the cock on yonder steeple Gives all faery lusty warning, Sing and dance, my little people,— Dance and sing 'Oho' till morning!"

The four little fairies the queen called to must have been loitering. But now they came scampering up,—Ganderfeather behind the others, for he was a very fat and presumably a very lazy little fairy.

"The elves will be here presently," said the queen, "and then, little folk, you shall dance to your heart's content. Dance your prettiest to-night, for the good old poet is watching you."

"Ah, little queen," cried the old poet, "you see me, then? I thought to watch your revels unbeknown to you. But I meant you no disrespect,— indeed, I meant you none, for surely no one ever loved the little folk more than I."

"We know you love us, good old poet," said the little fairy queen, "and this night shall give you great joy and bring you into wondrous fame."

These were words of which the old poet knew not the meaning; but we, who live these many years after he has fallen asleep,—we know the meaning of them.

Then, surely enough, the elves came trooping along. They lived in the further meadow, else they had come sooner. They were somewhat larger than the fairies, yet they were very tiny and very delicate creatures. The elf prince had long flaxen curls, and he was arrayed in a wonderful suit of damask web, at the manufacture of which seventy-seven silkworms had labored for seventy-seven days, receiving in payment therefor as many mulberry leaves as seven blue beetles could carry and stow in seven times seven sunny days. At his side the elf prince wore a sword made of the sting of a yellow-jacket, and the hilt of this sword was studded with the eyes of unhatched dragon-flies, these brighter and more precious than the most costly diamonds.

The elf prince sat beside the fairy queen. The other elves capered around among the fairies. The dancing sward was very light, for a thousand and ten glowworms came from the marsh and hung their beautiful lamps over the spot where the little folk were assembled. If the moon and the stars were jealous of that soft, mellow light, they had good reason to be.

The fairies and elves circled around in lively fashion. Their favorite dance was the ring-round-a-rosey which many children nowadays dance. But they had other measures, too, and they danced them very prettily.

"I wish," said the old poet, "I wish that I had my violin here, for then I would make merry music for you."

The fairy queen laughed. "We have music of our own," she said, "and it is much more beautiful than even you, dear old poet, could make."

Then, at the queen's command, each gentleman elf offered his arm to a lady fairy, and each gentleman fairy offered his arm to a lady elf, and so, all being provided with partners, these little people took their places for a waltz. The fairy queen and the elf prince were the only ones that did not dance; they sat side by side on the violet leaf and watched the others. The hoptoad was floor manager; the green burdock badge on his breast showed that.

"Mind where you go—don't jostle each other," cried the hoptoad, for he was an exceedingly methodical fellow, despite his habit of jumping at conclusions.

Then, when all was ready, the Seven Crickets went "chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp," three times, and away flew that host of little fairies and little elves in the daintiest waltz imaginable:—



The old poet was delighted. Never before had he seen such a sight; never before had he heard so sweet music. Round and round whirled the sprite dancers; the thousand and ten glowworms caught the rhythm of the music that floated up to them, and they swung their lamps to and fro in time with the fairy waltz. The plumes in the hats of the cunning little ladies nodded hither and thither, and the tiny swords of the cunning little gentlemen bobbed this way and that as the throng of dancers swept now here, now there. With one tiny foot, upon which she wore a lovely shoe made of a tanned flea's hide, the fairy queen beat time, yet she heard every word which the gallant elf prince said. So, with the fairy queen blushing, the mellow lamps swaying, the elf prince wooing, and the throng of little folk dancing hither and thither, the fairy music went on and on:—



"Tell me, my fairy queen," cried the old poet, "whence comes this fairy music which I hear? The Seven Crickets in the hedge are still, the birds sleep in their nests, the brook dreams of the mountain home it stole away from yester morning. Tell me, therefore, whence comes this wondrous fairy music, and show me the strange musicians that make it."



"Look to the grass and the flowers," said the fairy queen. "In every blade and in every bud lie hidden notes of fairy music. Each violet and daisy and buttercup,—every modest wild-flower (no matter how hidden) gives glad response to the tinkle of fairy feet. Dancing daintily over this quiet sward where flowers dot the green, my little people strike here and there and everywhere the keys which give forth the harmonies you hear."

Long marvelled the old poet. He forgot his sorrow, for the fairy music stole into his heart and soothed the wound there. The fairy host swept round and round, and the fairy music went on and on.



"Why may I not dance?" asked a piping voice. "Please, dear queen, may I not dance, too?"

It was the little hunchback that spake,—the little hunchback fairy who, with wistful eyes, had been watching the merry throng whirl round and round.

"Dear child, thou canst not dance," said the fairy queen, tenderly; "thy little limbs are weak. Come, sit thou at my feet, and let me smooth thy fair curls and stroke thy pale cheeks."

"Believe me, dear queen," persisted the little hunchback, "I can dance, and quite prettily, too. Many a time while the others made merry here I have stolen away by myself to the brookside and danced alone in the moonlight,—alone with my shadow. The violets are thickest there. 'Let thy halting feet fall upon us, Little Sorrowful,' they whispered, 'and we shall make music for thee.' So there I danced, and the violets sang their songs for me. I could hear the others making merry far away, but I was merry, too; for I, too, danced, and there was none to laugh."

"If you would like it, Little Sorrowful," said the elf prince, "I will dance with you."

"No, brave prince," answered the little hunchback, "for that would weary you. My crutch is stout, and it has danced with me before. You will say that we dance very prettily,—my crutch and I,—and you will not laugh, I know."

Then the queen smiled sadly; she loved the little hunchback and she pitied her.

"It shall be as you wish," said the queen. The little hunchback was overjoyed.

"I have to catch the time, you see," said she, and she tapped her crutch and swung one little shrunken foot till her body fell into the rhythm of the waltz.

Far daintier than the others did the little hunchback dance; now one tiny foot and now the other tinkled on the flowers, and the point of the little crutch fell here and there like a tear. And as she danced, there crept into the fairy music a tenderer cadence, for (I know not why) the little hunchback danced ever on the violets, and their responses were full of the music of tears. There was a strange pathos in the little creature's grace; she did not weary of the dance: her cheeks flushed, and her eyes grew fuller, and there was a wondrous light in them. And as the little hunchback danced, the others forgot her limp and felt only the heart-cry in the little hunchback's merriment and in the music of the voiceful violets.



Now all this saw the old poet, and all this wondrously beautiful music he heard. And as he heard and saw these things, he thought of the pale face, the weary eyes, and the tired little body that slept forever now. He thought of the voice that had tried to be cheerful for his sake, of the thin, patient little hands that had loved to do his bidding, of the halting little feet that had hastened to his calling.

"Is it thy spirit, O my love?" he wailed, "Is it thy spirit, O dear, dead love?"

A mist came before his eyes, and his heart gave a great cry.

But the fairy dance went on and on. The others swept to and fro and round and round, but the little hunchback danced always on the violets, and through the other music there could be plainly heard, as it crept in and out, the mournful cadence of those tenderer flowers.

And, with the music and the dancing, the night faded into morning. And all at once the music ceased and the little folk could be seen no more. The birds came from their nests, the brook began to bestir himself, and the breath of the new-born day called upon all in that quiet valley to awaken.

So many years have passed since the old poet, sitting under the three lindens half a league the other side of Pesth, saw the fairies dance and heard the fairy music,—so many years have passed since then, that had the old poet not left us an echo of that fairy waltz there would be none now to believe the story I tell.



Who knows but that this very night the elves and the fairies will dance in the quiet valley; that Little Sorrowful will tinkle her maimed feet upon the singing violets, and that the little folk will illustrate in their revels, through which a tone of sadness steals, the comedy and pathos of our lives? Perhaps no one shall see, perhaps no one else ever did see, these fairy people dance their pretty dances; but we who have heard old Robert Volkmann's waltz know full well that he at least saw that strange sight and heard that wondrous music.

And you will know so, too, when you have read this true story and heard old Volkmann's claim to immortality.

1887.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse