"What is it? What did you see?" cried the others.
"I'm not sure there wasn't a twitch of the eyelid," he replied.
"Never mind the eyelid—feel his heart," said one.
"That's all very well," he returned, "but how would you like it yourself? Will you come and do it?"
"No, no!" they all cried. "You have undertaken this, and must go through with it."
Thus encouraged, he once more turned to the corpse, and again anxiously began to examine the face. Now Martin had been watching them through the slits of his not quite closed eyes all the time, and listening to their talk. Being hungry himself he could not help feeling for them, and not thinking that it would hurt him to be cut up in pieces and devoured, he had begun to wish that they would really begin on him. He was both amused and annoyed at their nervousness, and at last opening wide his eyes very suddenly he cried, "Feel my heart!"
It was as if a gun had been fired among them; for a moment they were struck still with terror, and then all together turned and fled, going away with three very long hops, and then opening wide their great wings they launched themselves on the air.
For they were not little black men in black silk clothes as it had seemed, but vultures—those great, high-soaring, black-plumaged birds which he had watched circling in the sky, looking no bigger than bees or flies at that vast distance above the earth. And when he was watching them they were watching him, and after he had fallen asleep they continued moving round and round in the sky for hours, and seeing him lying so still on the plain they at last imagined that he was dead, and one by one they closed or half-closed their wings and dropped, gliding downwards, growing larger in appearance as they neared the ground, until the small black spots no bigger than flies were seen to be great black birds as big as turkeys.
But you see Martin was not dead after all, and so they had to go away without their dinner.
A TROOP OF WILD HORSES
It seemed so lonely to Martin when the vultures had gone up out of sight in the sky, so silent and solitary on that immense level plain, that he could not help wishing them back for the sake of company. They were an amusing people when they were walking round him, conversing together, and trying without coming too near to discover whether he was dead or only sleeping.
All that day it was just as lonely, for though he went on as far as he could before night, he was still on that great level plain of dry yellow grass which appeared to have no end, and the blue hills looked no nearer than when he had started in the morning. He was hungry and thirsty that evening, and very cold too when he nestled down on the ground with nothing to cover him but the little heap of dry grass he had gathered for his bed.
It was better next day, for after walking two or three hours he came to the end of that yellow plain to higher ground, where the earth was sandy and barren, with a few scattered bushes growing on it—dark, prickly bushes like butcher's broom. When he got to the highest part of this barren ground he saw a green valley beyond, stretching away as far as he could see on either hand. But it was nice to see a green place again, and going down into the valley he managed to find some sweet roots to stay his hunger and thirst; then, after a rest, he went on again, and when he got to the top of the high ground beyond the valley, he saw another valley before him, just like the one he had left behind. Again he rested in that green place, and then slowly went up the high land beyond, where it was barren and sandy with the dark stiff prickly bushes growing here and there, and when he got to the top he looked down, and behold! there was yet another green valley stretching away to the right and left as far as he could see.
Would they never end—these high barren ridges and the long green valleys between!
When he toiled slowly up out of this last green resting-place it was growing late in the day, and he was very tired. Then he came to the top of another ridge like the others, only higher and more barren, and when he could see the country beyond, lo! another valley, greener and broader than those he had left behind, and a river flowing in it, looking like a band of silver lying along the green earth—a river too broad for him to cross, stretching away north and south as far as he could see. How then should he ever be able to get to the hills, still far, far away beyond that water?
Martin stared at the scene before him for some time; then, feeling very tired and weak, he sat down on the sandy ground beside a scanty dark bush. Tears came to his eyes: he felt them running down his cheeks; and all at once he remembered how long before when his wandering began, he had dropped a tear, and a small dusty beetle had refreshed himself by drinking it. He bent down and let a tear drop, and watched it as it sank into the ground, but no small beetle came out to drink it, and he felt more lonely and miserable than ever. He began to think of all the queer creatures and people he had met in the desert, and to wish for them. Some of them had not been very kind to him, but he did not remember that now, it was so sad to be quite alone in the world without even a small beetle to visit him. He remembered the beautiful people of the Mirage and the black people of the sky; and the ostrich, and old Jacob, and the savages, and the serpent, and the black weasel in the forest. He stood up and stared all round to see if anything was coming, but he could see nothing and hear nothing.
By-and-by, in that deep silence, there was a sound; it seemed to come from a great distance, it was so faint. Then it grew louder and nearer; and far away he saw a little cloud of dust, and then, even through the dust, dark forms coming swiftly towards him. The sound he heard was like a long halloo, a cry like the cry of a man, but wild and shrill, like a bird's cry; and whenever that cry was uttered, it was followed by a strange confused noise as of the neighing of many horses. They were, in truth, horses that were coming swiftly towards him—a herd of sixty or seventy wild horses. He could see and hear them only too plainly now, looking very terrible in their strength and speed, and the flowing black manes that covered them like a black cloud, as they came thundering on, intending perhaps to sweep over him and trample him to death with their iron-hard hoofs.
All at once, when they were within fifty yards of Martin, the long, shrill, wild cry went up again, and the horses swerved to one side, and went sweeping round him in a wide circle. Then, as they galloped by, he caught sight of the strangest-looking being he had ever seen, a man, on the back of one of the horses; naked and hairy, he looked like a baboon as he crouched, doubled up, gripping the shoulders and neck of the horse with his knees, clinging with his hands to the mane, and craning his neck like a flying bird. It was this strange rider who had uttered the long piercing man-and-bird-like cries; and now changing his voice to a whinnying sound the horses came to a stop, and gathering together in a crowd they stood tossing their manes and staring at Martin with their wild, startled eyes.
In another moment the wild rider came bounding out from among them, and moving now erect, now on all fours, came sideling up to Martin, flinging his arms and legs about, wagging his head, grimacing and uttering whinnying and other curious noises. Never had Martin looked upon so strange a man! He was long and lean so that you could have counted his ribs, and he was stark naked, except for the hair of his head and face, which half covered him. His skin was of a yellowish brown colour, and the hair the colour of old dead grass; and it was coarse and tangled, falling over his shoulders and back and covering his forehead like a thatch, his big brown nose standing out beneath it like a beak. The face was covered with the beard which was tangled too, and grew down to his waist, After staring at Martin for some time with his big, yellow, goat-like eyes, he pranced up to him and began to sniff round him, then touched him with his nose on his face, arms, and shoulders.
"Who are you?" said Martin in astonishment.
For only answer the other squealed and whinnied, grimacing and kicking his legs up at the same time. Then the horses advanced to them, and gathering round in a close crowd began touching Martin with their noses. He liked it—the softness of their sensitive skins, which were like velvet, and putting up his hands he began to stroke their noses. Then one by one, after smelling him, and being touched by his hand, they turned away, and going down into the valley were soon scattered about, most of them grazing, some rolling, others lying stretched out on the grass as if to sleep; while the young foals in the troop, leaving their dams, began playing about and challenging one another to run a race.
Martin, following and watching them, almost wished that he too could go on four legs to join them in their games. He trusted those wild horses, but he was still puzzled by that strange man, who had also left him now and was going quietly round on all fours, smelling at the grass. By-and-by he found something to his liking in a small patch of tender green clover, which he began nosing and tearing it up with his teeth, then turning his head round he stared back at Martin, his jaws working vigorously all the time, the stems and leaves of the clover he was eating sticking out from his mouth and hanging about his beard. All at once he jumped up, and flying back at Martin, snatched him up from the ground, carried him to the clover patch, and set him upon it, face down, on all fours; then when Martin sat up he grasped him by the head and forced it down until his nose was on the grass so as to make him smell it and know that it was good. But smell it he would not, and finally the other seized him roughly again and, opening his mouth, forced a bunch of grass into it.
"It's grass, and I sha'n't eat it!" screamed Martin, crying with anger at being so treated, and spewing the green stuff out of his mouth.
Then the man released him, and, withdrawing a space of two or three yards, sat down on his haunches, and, planting his bony elbows on his knees, thrust his great brown fingers in his tangled hair, and stared at Martin with his big yellow goat's eyes for a long time.
Suddenly a wild excited look came into his eyes, and, leaping up with a shrill cry, which caused all the horses to look round at him, he once more snatched Martin up, and holding him firmly gripped to his ribby side by his arm, bounded off to where a mare was standing giving suck to her young foal. With a vigorous kick he sent the foal away, and forced Martin to take his place, and, to make it easier for him, pressed the teat into his mouth. Martin was not accustomed to feed in that way, and he not only refused to suck, but continued to cry with indignation at such treatment, and to struggle with all his little might to free himself. His striving was all in vain; and by-and-by the man, seeing that he would not suck, had a fresh idea, and, gripping Martin more firmly than ever, with one hand forced and held his mouth open, and with the other drew a stream of milk into it. After choking and spluttering and crying more than ever for a while, Martin began to grow quiet, and to swallow the milk with some satisfaction, for he was very hungry and thirsty, and it tasted very good. By-and-by, when no more milk could be drawn from the teats, he was taken to a second mare, from which the foal was kicked away with as little ceremony as the first one, and then he had as much more milk as he wanted, and began to like being fed in this amusing way.
Of what happened after that Martin did not know much, except that the man seemed very happy after feeding him. He set Martin on the back of a horse, then jumped and danced round him, making funny chuckling noises, after which he rolled horse-like on the grass, his arms and legs up in the air, and finally, pulling Martin down, he made him roll too.
But the little fellow was too tired to keep his eyes any longer open, and when he next opened them it was morning, and he found himself lying wedged in between a mare and her young foal lying side by side close together. There too was the wild man, coiled up like a sleeping dog, his head pillowed on the foal's neck, and the hair of his great shaggy beard thrown like a blanket over Martin.
He very soon grew accustomed to the new strange manner of life, and even liked it. Those big, noble-looking wild horses, with their shining coats, brown and bay and black and sorrel and chestnut, and their black manes and tails that swept the grass when they moved, were so friendly to him that he could not help loving them. As he went about among them when they grazed, every horse he approached would raise his head and touch his face and arms with his nose. "O you dear horse!" Martin would exclaim, rubbing the warm, velvet-soft, sensitive nose with his hand.
He soon discovered that they were just as fond of play as he was, and that he too was to take part in their games. Having fed as long as they wanted that morning, they all at once began to gather together, coming at a gallop, neighing shrilly; then the wild man, catching Martin up, leaped upon the back of one of the horses, and away went the whole troop at a furious pace to the great open dry plain, where Martin had met with them on the previous day. Now it was very terrifying for him at first to be in the midst of that flying crowd, as the animals went tearing over the plain, which seemed to shake beneath their thundering hoofs, while their human leader cheered them on with his shrill, repeated cries. But in a little while he too caught the excitement, and, losing all his fear, was as wildly happy as the others, crying out at the top of his voice in imitation of the wild man.
After an hour's run they returned to the valley, and then Martin, without being compelled to do so, rolled about on the grass, and went after the young foals when they came out to challenge one another to a game. He tried to do as they did, prancing and throwing up his heels and snorting, but when they ran from him they soon left him hopelessly behind. Meanwhile the wild man kept watch over him, feeding him with mare's milk, and inviting him from time to time to smell and taste the tender grass. Best of all was, when they went for another run in the evening, and when Martin was no longer held with a tight grip against the man's side, but was taught or allowed to hold on, clinging with his legs to the man's body and clasping him round the neck with his arms, his fingers tightly holding on to the great shaggy beard.
Three days passed in this way, and if his time had been much longer with the wild horses he would have become one of the troop, and would perhaps have eaten grass too, and forgotten his human speech, or that he was a little boy born to a very different kind of life. But it was not to be, and in the end he was separated from the troop by accident.
At the end of the third day, when the sun was setting, and all the horses were scattered about in the valley, quietly grazing, something disturbed them. It might have been a sight or sound of some feared object, or perhaps the wind had brought the smell of their enemies and hunters from a great distance to their nostrils. Suddenly they were all in a wild commotion, galloping from all sides toward their leader, and he, picking Martin up, was quickly on a horse, and off they went full speed, but not towards the plain where they were accustomed to go for their runs. Now they fled in the opposite direction down to the river: into it they went, into that wide, deep, dangerous current, leaping from the bank, each horse, as he fell into the water with a tremendous splash, disappearing from sight; but in another moment the head and upper part of the neck was seen to rise above the surface, until the whole lot were in, and appeared to Martin like a troop of horses' heads swimming without bodies over the river. He, clinging to the neck and beard of the wild man, had the upper half of his body out of the cold, rushing water, and in this way they all got safely across and up the opposite bank. No sooner were they out, than, without even pausing to shake the water from their skins, they set off at full speed across the valley towards the distant hills. Now on this side, at a distance of a mile or so from the river, there were vast reed-beds standing on low land, dried to a hard crust by the summer heat, and right into the reeds the horses rushed and struggled to force their way through. The reeds were dead and dry, so tall that they rose high above the horses' heads, and growing so close together that it was hard to struggle through them. Then when they were in the midst of this difficult place, the dry crust that covered the low ground began to yield to the heavy hoofs, and the horses, sinking to their knees, were thrown down and plunged about in the most desperate way, and in the midst of this confusion Martin was struck and thrown from his place, falling amongst the reeds. Luckily he was not trampled upon, but he was left behind, and then what a dreadful situation was his, when the whole troop had at last succeeded in fighting their way through, and had gone away leaving him in that dark, solitary place! He listened until the sound of heavy hoofs and the long cries of the man had died away in the distance; then the silence and darkness terrified him, and he struggled to get out, but the reeds grew so close together that before he had pushed a dozen yards through them he sank down, unable to do more.
The air was hot and close and still down there on the ground, but by leaning his head back, and staring straight up he could see the pale night sky sprinkled with stars in the openings between the dry leaves and spikes of the reeds. Poor Martin could do nothing but gaze up at the little he could see of the sky in that close, black place, until his neck ached with the strain; but at last, to make him hope, he heard a sound—the now familiar long shrill cry of the wild man. Then, as it came nearer, the sound of tramping hoofs and neighing of the horses was heard, and the cries and hoof-beats grew louder and then fainter in turns, and sounded now on this side, now on that, and he knew that they were looking for him. "I'm here, I'm here," he cried; "oh, dear horses, come and take me away!" But they could not hear him, and at last the sound of their neighing and the wild long cries died away altogether, and Martin was left alone in that black silent place.
THE LADY OF THE HILLS
No escape was possible for poor little Martin so long as it was dark, and there he had to stay all night, but morning brought him comfort; for now he could see the reed-stems that hemmed him in all round, and by using his hands to bend them from him on either side he could push through them. By-and-by the sunlight touched the tops of the tall plants, and working his way towards the side from which the light came he soon made his escape from that prison, and came into a place where he could walk without trouble, and could see the earth and sky again. Further on, in a grassy part of the valley, he found some sweet roots wrhich greatly refreshed him, and at last, leaving the valley, he came out on a high grassy plain, and saw the hills before him looking very much nearer than he had ever seen them look before. Up till now they had appeared like masses of dark blue banked up cloud resting on the earth, now he could see that they were indeed stone—blue stone piled up in huge cliffs and crags high above the green world; he could see the roughness of the heaped up rocks, the fissures and crevices in the sides of the hills, and here and there the patches of green colour where trees and bushes had taken root. How wonderful it seemed to Martin that evening standing there in the wide green plain, the level sun at his back shining on his naked body, making him look like a statue of a small boy carved in whitest marble or alabaster. Then, to make the sight he gazed on still more enchanting, just as the sun went down the colour of the hills changed from stone blue to a purple that was like the purple of ripe plums and grapes, only more beautiful and bright. In a few minutes the purple colour faded away and the hills grew shadowy and dark. It was too late in the day, and he was too tired to walk further. He was very hungry and thirsty too, and so when he had found a few small white partridge-berries and had made a poor supper on them, he gathered some dry grass into a little heap, and lying down in it, was soon in a sound sleep.
It was not until the late afternoon next day that Martin at last got to the foot of the hill, or mountain, and looking up he saw it like a great wall of stone above him, with trees and bushes and trailing vines growing out of the crevices and on the narrow ledges of the rock. Going some distance he came to a place where he could ascend, and here he began slowly walking upwards. At first he could hardly contain his delight where everything looked new and strange, and here he found some very beautiful flowers; but as he toiled on he grew more tired and hungry at every step, and then, to make matters worse, his legs began to pain so that he could hardly lift them. It was a curious pain which he had never felt in his sturdy little legs before in all his wanderings.
Then a cloud came over the sun, and a sharp wind sprang up that made him shiver with cold: then followed a shower of rain; and now Martin, feeling sore and miserable, crept into a cavity beneath a pile of overhanging rocks for shelter. He was out of the rain there, but the wind blew in on him until it made his teeth chatter with cold. He began to think of his mother, and of all the comforts of his lost home—the bread and milk when he was hungry, the warm clothing, and the soft little bed with its snowy white coverlid in which he had slept so sweetly every night.
"O mother, mother!" he cried, but his mother was too far off to hear his piteous cry.
When the shower was over he crept out of his shelter again, and with his little feet already bleeding from the sharp rocks, tried to climb on. In one spot he found some small, creeping, myrtle plants covered with ripe white berries, and although they had a very pungent taste he ate his fill of them, he was so very hungry. Then feeling that he could climb no higher, he began to look round for a dry, sheltered spot to pass the night in. In a little while he came to a great, smooth, flat stone that looked like a floor in a room, and was about forty yards wide: nothing grew on it except some small tufts of grey lichen; but on the further side, at the foot of a steep, rocky precipice, there was a thick bed of tall green and yellow ferns, and among the ferns he hoped to find a place to lie down in. Very slowly he limped across the open space, crying with the pain he felt at every step; but when he reached the bed of ferns he all at once saw, sitting among the tall fronds on a stone, a strange-looking woman in a green dress, who was gazing very steadily at him with eyes full of love and compassion. At her side there crouched a big yellow beast, covered all over with black, eye-like spots, with a big round head, and looking just like a cat, but a hundred times larger than the biggest cat he had ever seen. The animal rose up with a low sound like a growl, and glared at Martin with its wide, yellow, fiery eyes, which so terrified him that he dared not move another step until the womaan, speaking very gently to him, told him not to fear. She caressed the great beast, making him lie down again; then coming forward and taking Martin by the hand, she drew him up to her knees.
"What is your name, poor little suffering child?" she asked, bending down to him, and speaking softly. "Martin—what's yours?" he returned, still half sobbing, and rubbing his eyes with his little fists.
"I am called the Lady of the Hills, and I live here alone in the mountain. Tell me, why do you cry, Martin?"
"Because I'm so cold, and—and my legs hurt so, and—and because I want to go back to my mother. She's over there," said he, with another sob, pointing vaguely to the great plain beneath their feet, extending far, far away into the blue distance, where the crimson sun was now setting.
"I will be your mother, and you shall live with me here on the mountain," she said, caressing his little cold hands with hers. "Will you call me mother?"
"You are not my mother," he returned warmly. "I don't want to call you mother."
"When I love you so much, dear child?" she pleaded, bending down until her lips were close to his averted face.
"How that great spotted cat stares at me!" he suddenly said. "Do you think it will kill me?"
"No, no, he only wants to play with you. Will you not even look at me, Martin?"
He still resisted her, but her hand felt very warm and comforting—it was such a large, warm, protecting hand. So pleasant did it feel that after a little while he began to move his hand up her beautiful, soft, white arm until it touched her hair. For her hair was unbound and loose; it was dark, and finer than the finest spun silk, and fell all over her shoulders and down her back to the stone she sat on. He let his fingers stray in and out among it; and it felt like the soft, warm down that lines a little bird's nest to his skin. Finally, he touched her neck and allowed his hand to rest there, it was such a soft, warm neck. At length, but reluctantly, for his little rebellious heart was not yet wholly subdued, he raised his eyes to her face. Oh, how beautiful she was! Her love and eager desire to win him had flushed her clear olive skin with rich red colour; out of her sweet red lips, half parted, came her warm breath on his cheek, more fragrant than wild flowers; and her large dark eyes were gazing down into his with such a tenderness in them that Martin, seeing it, felt a strange little shudder pass through him, and scarcely knew whether to think it pleasant or painful. "Dear child, I love you so much," she spoke, "will you not call me mother?"
Dropping his eyes and with trembling lips, feeling a little ashamed at being conquered at last, he whispered "Mother."
She raised him in her arms and pressed him to her bosom, wrapping her hair like a warm mantle round him; and in less than one minute, overcome by fatigue, he fell fast asleep in her arms.
THE LITTLE PEOPLE UNDERGROUND
When he awoke Martin found himself lying on a soft downy bed in a dim stone chamber, and feeling silky hair over his cheek and neck and arms, he knew that he was still with his new strange mother, the beautiful Lady of the Mountain. She, seeing him awake, took him up in her arms, and holding him against her bosom, carried him through a long winding stone passage, and out into the bright morning sunlight. There by a small spring of clearest water that gushed from the rock she washed his scratched and bruised skin, and rubbed it with sweet-smelling unguents, and gave him food and drink. The great spotted beast sat by them all the time, purring like a cat, and at intervals he tried to entice Martin to leave the woman's lap and play with him. But she would not let him out of her arms: all day she nursed and fondled him as if he had been a helpless babe instead of the sturdy little run-away and adventurer he had proved himself to be. She also made him tell her the story of how he had got lost and of all the wonderful things that had happened to him in his wanderings in the wilderness—the people of the Mirage, and old Jacob and the savages, the great forest, the serpent, the owl, the wild horses and wild man, and the black people of the sky. But it was of the Mirage and the procession of lovely beings about which he spoke most and questioned her.
"Do you think it was all a dream?" he kept asking her, "the Queen and all those people?"
She was vexed at the question, and turning her face away, refused to answer him. For though at all other times, and when he spoke of other things, she was gentle and loving in her manner, the moment he spoke of the Queen of the Mirage and the gifts she had bestowed on him, she became impatient, and rebuked him for saying such foolish things.
At length she spoke and told him that it was a dream, a very very idle dream, a dream that was not worth dreaming; that he must never speak of it again, never think of it, but forget it, just as he had forgotten all the other vain silly dreams he had ever had. And having said this much a little sharply, she smiled again and fondled him, and promised that when he next slept he should have a good dream, one worth the dreaming, and worth remembering and talking about.
She held him away from her, seating him on her knees, to look at his face, and said, "For oh, dear little Martin, you are lovely and sweet to look at, and you are mine, my own sweet child, and so long as you live with me on the hills, and love me and eall me mother, you shall be happy, and everything you see, sleeping and waking, shall seem strange and beautiful."
It was quite true that he was sweet to look at, very pretty with his rosy-white skin deepening to red on his cheeks; and his hair curling all over his head was of a bright golden chestnut colour; and his eyes were a very bright blue, and looked keen and straight at you just like a bird's eyes, that seem to be thinking of nothing, and yet seeing everything.
After this Martin was eager to go to sleep at once and have the promised dream, but his very eagerness kept him wide awake all day, and even after going to bed in that dim chamber in the heart of the hill, it was a long time before he dropped off. But he did not know that he had fallen asleep: it seemed to him that he was very wide awake, and that he heard a voice speaking in the chamber, and that he started up to listen to it.
"Do you not know that there are things just as strange underground as above it?" said the voice.
Martin could not see the speaker, but he answered quite boldly: "No—there's nothing underground except earth and worms and roots. I've seen it when they've been digging."
"Oh, but there is!" said the voice. "You can see for yourself. All you've got to do is to find a path leading down, and to follow it. There's a path over there just in front of you; you can see the opening from where you are lying."
He looked, and sure enough there was an opening, and a dim passage running down through the solid rock. Up he jumped, fired at the prospect of seeing new and wonderful things, and without looking any more to see who had spoken to him, he ran over to it. The passage had a smooth floor of stone, and sloped downward into the earth, and went round and round in an immense spiral; but the circles were so wide that Martin scarcely knew that he was not travelling in a straight line. Have you by chance ever seen a buzzard, or stork, or vulture, or some other great bird, soaring upwards into the sky in wide circles, each circle taking it higher above the earth, until it looked like a mere black speck in the vast blue heavens, and at length disappeared altogether? Just in that way, going round and round in just such wide circles, lightly running all the time, with never a pause to rest, and without feeling in the least tired, Martin went on, only down and down and further down, instead of up and up like the soaring bird, until he was as far under the mountain as ever any buzzard or crane or eagle soared above it.
Thus running he came at last out of the passage to an open room or space so wide that, look which way he would, he could see no end to it. The stone roof of this place was held up by huge stone pillars standing scattered about like groups of great rough-barked trees, many times bigger round than hogsheads. Here and there in the roof, or the stone overhead, were immense black caverns which almost frightened him to gaze up at them, they were so vast and black. And no light or sun or moon came down into that deep part of the earth: the light was from big fires, and they were fires of smithies burning all about him, sending up great flames and clouds of black smoke, which rose and floated upwards through those big black caverns in the roof. Crowds of people were gathered around the smithies, all very busy heating metal and hammering on anvils like blacksmiths. Never had he seen so many people, nor ever had he seen such busy men as these, rushing about here and there shouting and colliding with one another, bringing and carrying huge loads in baskets on their backs, and altogether the sight of them, and the racket and the smoke and dust, and the blazing fires, was almost too much for Martin; and for a moment or two he was tempted to turn and run back into the passage through which he had come. But the strangeness of it all kept him there, and then he began to look more closely at the people, for these were the little men that live under the earth, and they were unlike anything he had seen on its surface. They were very stout, strong-looking little men, dressed in coarse dark clothes, covered with dust and grime, and they had dark faces, and long hair, and rough, unkempt beards; they had very long arms and big hands, like baboons, and there was not one among them who looked taller than Martin himself. After looking at them he did not feel at all afraid of them; he only wanted very much to know who they were, and what they were doing, and why they were so excited and noisy over their work. So he thrust himself among them, going to the smithies where they were in crowds, and peering curiously at them. Then he began to notice that his coming among them created a great commotion, for no sooner would he appear than all work would be instantly suspended; down would go their baskets and loads of wood, their hammers and implements of all kinds, and they would stare and point at him, all jabbering together, so that the noise was as if a thousand cockatoos and parrots and paroquets were all screaming at once. What it was all about he could not tell, as he could not make out what they said; he could only see, and plainly enough, that his presence astonished and upset them, for as he went about among them they fell back before him, crowding together, and all staring and pointing at him.
But at length he began to make out what they were saying; they were all exclaiming and talking about him. "Look at him! look at him!" they cried. "Who is he? What, Martin—this Martin? Never. No, no, no! Yes, yes, yes! Martin himself—Martin with nothing on! Not a shred—not a thread! Impossible—it cannot be! Nothing so strange has ever happened! Naked—do you say that Martin is naked? Oh, dreadful—from the crown of his head to his toes, naked as he was born! No clothes—no clothes—oh no, it can't be Martin. It is, it is!" And so on and on, until Martin could not endure it longer, for he had been naked for days and days, and had ceased to think about it, and in fact did not know that he was naked. And now hearing their remarks, and seeing how they were disturbed, he looked down at himself and saw that it was indeed so—that he had nothing on, and he grew ashamed and frightened, and thought he would run and hide himself from them in some hole in the ground. But there was no place to hide in, for now they had gathered all round him in a vast crowd, so that whichever way he turned there before him they appeared—hundreds and hundreds of dark, excited faces, hundreds of grimy hands all pointing at him. Then, all at once, he caught sight of an old rag of a garment lying on the ground among the ashes and cinders, and he thought he would cover himself with it, and picking it hastily up was just going to put it round him when a great roar of "No!" burst out from the crowd; he was almost deafened with the sound, so that he stood trembling with the old dirty rag of cloth in his hand. Then one of the little men came up to him, and snatching the rag from his hand, flung it angrily down upon the floor; then as if afraid of remaining so near Martin, he backed away into the crowd again.
Just then Martin heard a very low voice close to his ear speaking to him, but when he looked round he could see no person near him. He knew it was the same voice which had spoken to him in the cave where he slept, and had told him to go down into that place underground.
"Do not fear," said the gentle voice to Martin. "Say to the little men that you have lost your clothes, and ask them for something to put on."
Then Martin, who had covered his face with his hands to shut out the sight of the angry crowd, took courage, and looking at them, said, half sobbing, "O, Little Men, I've lost my clothes—won't you give me something to put on?"
This speech had a wonderful effect: instantly there was a mighty rush, all the Little Men hurrying away in all directions, shouting and tumbling over each other in their haste to get away, and by-and-by it looked to Martin as if they were having a great struggle or contest over something. They were all struggling to get possession of a small closed basket, and it was like a game of football with hundreds of persons all playing, all fighting for possession of the ball. At length one of them succeeded in getting hold of the basket and escaping from all the others who opposed him, and running to Martin he threw it down at his feet, and lifting the lid displayed to his sight a bundle of the most beautiful clothes ever seen by child or man.
With a glad cry Martin pulled them out, but the next moment a very important-looking Little Man, with a great white beard, sprang forward and snatched them out of his hand.
"No, no," he shouted. "These are not fit for Martin to wear! They will soil!" Saying which, he flung them down on that dusty floor with its litter of cinders and dirt, and began to trample on them as if in a great passion. Then he snatched them up again and shook them, and all could see that they were unsoiled and just as bright and beautiful as before. Then Martin tried to take them from him, but the other would not let him.
"Never shall Martin wear such poor clothes," shouted the old man. "They will not even keep out the wet," and with that he thrust them into a great tub of water, and jumping in began treading them down with his feet. But when he pulled them out again and shook them before their faces, all saw that they were as dry and bright as before.
"Give them to me!" cried Martin, thinking that it was all right now.
"Never shall Martin wear such poor clothes—they will not resist fire," cried the old man, and into the flames he flung them.
Martin now gave up all hopes of possessing them, and was ready to burst into tears at their loss, when out of the fire they were pulled again, and it was seen that the flames had not injured or tarnished them in the least. Once more Martin put out his arms and this time he was allowed to take those beautiful clothes, and then just as he clasped them to him with a cry of delight he woke!
His head was lying on his new mother's arm, and she was awake watching him.
"O, mother, what a nice dream I had! O such pretty clothes—why did I wake so soon?"
She laughed and touched his arms, showing him that they were still clasping that beautiful suit of clothes to his breast—the very clothes of his wonderful dream!
THE GREAT BLUE WATER
There was not in all that land, nor perhaps in all the wide world, a happier little boy than Martin, when after waking from his sleep and dream he dressed himself for the first time in that new suit, and went out from the cave into the morning sunlight. He then felt the comfort of such clothes, for they were softer than the finest, softest down or silk to his skin, and kept him warm when it was cold, and cool when it was hot, and dry when it rained on him, and the earth could not soil them, nor the thorns tear them; and above everything they were the most beautiful clothes ever seen. Their colour was a deep moss green, or so it looked at a little distance, or when seen in the shade, but in the sunshine it sparkled as if small, shining, many-coloured beads had been sewn in the cloth; only there were no beads; it was only the shining threads that made it sparkle so, like clean sand in the sun. When you looked closely at the cloth, you could see the lovely pattern woven in it—small leaf and flower, the leaves like moss leaves, and the flowers like the pimpernel, but not half so big, and they were yellow and red and blue and violet in colour.
But there were many, many things besides the lovely clothes to make him contented and happy. First, the beautiful woman of the hills who loved and cherished him and made him call her by the sweet name of "mother" so many times every day that he well nigh forgot she was not his real mother. Then there was the great stony hill-side on which he now lived for a playground, where he could wander all day among the rocks, overgrown with creepers and strange sweet-smelling flowers he had never seen on the plain below. The birds and butterflies he saw there were different from those he had always seen; so were the snakes which he often found sleepily coiled up on the rocks, and the little swift lizards. Even the water looked strange and more beautiful than the water in the plain, for here it gushed out of the living rock, sparkling like crystal in the sun, and was always cold when he dipped his hands in it even on the hottest days. Perhaps the most wonderful thing was the immense distance he could see, when he looked away from the hillside across the plain and saw the great dark forest where he had been, and the earth stretching far, far away beyond.
Then there was his playmate, the great yellow-spotted cat, who followed him about and was always ready for a frolic, playing in a very curious way. Whenever Martin would prepare to take a running leap, or a swift run down a slope, the animal, stealing quietly up behind, would put out a claw from his big soft foot—a great white claw as big as an owl's beak—and pull him suddenly back. At last Martin would lose his temper, and picking up a stick would turn on his playmate; and away the animal would fly, pretending to be afraid, and going over bushes and big stones with tremendous leaps to disappear from sight on the mountain side. But very soon he would steal secretly back by some other way to spring upon Martin unawares and roll him over and over on the ground, growling as if angry, and making believe to worry him with his great white teeth, although never really hurting him in the least. He played with Martin just as a cat plays with its kitten when it pretends to punish it.
Whenever Martin began to show the least sign of weariness the Lady of the Hills would call him to her. Then, lying back among the ferns, she would unbind her long silky tresses to let him play with them, for this was always a delight to him. Then she would gather her hair up again and dress it with yellow flowers and glossy dark green leaves to make herself look more lovely than ever. At other times, taking him on her shoulders, she would bound nimbly as a wild goat up the steepest places, springing from crag to crag, and dancing gaily along the narrow ledges of rock, where it made him dizzy to look down. Then when the sun was near setting, when long shadows from rocks and trees began to creep over the mountain, and he had eaten the fruits and honey and other wild delicacies she provided, she would make him lie on her bosom. Playing with her loose hair and listening to her singing as she rocked herself on a stone, he would presently fall asleep.
In the morning on waking he would always find himself lying still clasped to her breast in that great dim cavern; and almost always when he woke he would find her crying. Sometimes on opening his eyes he would find her asleep, but with traces of tears on her face, showing that she had been awake and crying.
One afternoon, seeing him tired of play and hard to amuse, she took him in her arms and carried him right up the side of the mountain, where it grew so steep that even the big cat could not follow them. Finally she brought him out on the extreme summit, and looking round he seemed to see the whole world spread out beneath him. Below, half-way down, there were some wild cattle feeding on the mountain side, and they looked at that distance no bigger than mice. Looking eastwards he beheld just beyond the plain a vast expanse of blue water extending leagues and leagues away until it faded into the blue sky. He shouted with joy when he saw it, and could not take his eyes from this wonderful world of water.
"Take me there—take me there!" he cried.
She only shook her head and tried to laugh him out of such a wish; but by-and-by when she attempted to carry him back down the mountain he refused to move from the spot; nor would he speak to her nor look up into her pleading face, but kept his eyes fixed on that distant blue ocean which had so enchanted him. For it seemed to Martin the most wonderful thing he had ever beheld.
At length it began to grow cold on the summit; then with gentle caressing words she made him turn and look to the opposite side of the heavens, where the sun was just setting behind a great mass of clouds—dark purple and crimson, rising into peaks that were like hills of rose-coloured pearl, and all the heavens beyond them a pale primrose-coloured flame. Filled with wonder at all this rich and varied colour he forgot the ocean for a moment, and uttered an exclamation of delight.
"Do you know, dear Martin," said she, "what we should find there, where it all looks so bright and beautiful, if I had wings and could fly with you, clinging to my bosom like a little bat clinging to its mother when she flies abroad in the twilight?"
"What?" asked Martin.
"Only dark dark clouds full of rain and cutting hail and thunder and lightning. That is how it is with the sea, Martin: it makes you love it when you see it at a distance; but oh, it is cruel and treacherous, and when it has once got you in its power then it is more terrible than the thunder and lightning in the cloud. Do you remember, when you first came to me, naked, shivering with cold, with your little bare feet blistered and bleeding from the sharp stones, how I comforted you with my love, and you found it warm and pleasant lying on my breast? The sea will not comfort you in that way; it will clasp you to a cold, cold breast, and kiss you with bitter salt lips, and carry you down where it is always dark, where you will never never see the blue sky and sunshine and flowers again."
Martin shivered and nestled closer to her; and then while the shadows of evening were gathering round them, she sat rocking herself to and fro on a stone, murmuring many tender, sweet words to him, until the music of her voice and the warmth of her bosom made him sleep.
THE WONDERS OF THE HILLS
Now, although Martin had gone very comfortably to sleep in her arms and found it sweet to be watched over so tenderly, he was not the happy little boy he had been before the sight of the distant ocean. And she knew it, and was troubled in her mind, and anxious to do something to make him forget that great blue water. She could do many things, and above all she could show him new and wonderful things in the hills where she wished to keep him always with her. To caress him, to feed and watch over him by day, and hold him in her arms when he slept at night—all that was less to him than the sight of something new and strange; she knew this well, and therefore determined to satisfy his desire and make his life so full that he would always be more than contented with it.
In the morning he went out on the hillside, wandering listlessly among the rocks, and when the big cat found him there and tried to tempt him to a game he refused to play, for he had not yet got over his disappointment, and could think of nothing but the sea. But the cat did not know that anything was the matter with him, and was more determined to play than ever; crouching now here, now there among the stones and bushes, he would spring out upon Martin and pull him down with its big paws, and this so enraged him that picking up a stick he struck furiously at his tormentor. But the cat was too quick for him; he dodged the blows, then knocked the stick out of his hand, and finally Martin, to escape from him, crept into a crevice in a rock where the cat could not reach him, and refused to come out even when the Lady of the Hills came to look for him and begged him to come to her. When at last, compelled by hunger, he returned to her, he was silent and sullen and would not be caressed.
He saw no more of the cat, and when next day he asked her where it was, she said that it had gone from them and would return no more—that she had sent it away because it had vexed him. This made Martin sulk, and he would have gone away and hidden himself from her had she not caught him up in her arms. He struggled to free himself, but could not, and she then carried him away a long distance down the mountain-side until they came to a small dell, green with creepers and bushes, with a deep carpet of dry moss on the ground, and here she sat down and began to talk to him.
"The cat was a very beautiful beast with his spotted hide," she said; "and you liked to play with him sometimes, but in a little while you will be glad that he has gone from you."
He asked her why.
"Because though he was fond of you and liked to follow you about and play with you, he is very fierce and powerful, and all the other beasts are afraid of him. So long as he was with us they would not come, but now he has gone they will come to you and let you go to them."
"Where are they?" said Martin, his curiosity greatly excited.
"Let us wait here," she said, "and perhaps we shall see one by-and-by."
So they waited and were silent, and as nothing came and nothing happened, Martin sitting on the mossy ground began to feel a strange drowsiness stealing over him. He rubbed his eyes and looked round; he wanted to keep very wide awake and alert, so as not to miss the sight of anything that might come. He was vexed with himself for feeling drowsy, and wondered why it was; then listening to the low continuous hum of the bees, he concluded that it was that low, soft, humming sound that made him sleepy. He began to look at the bees, and saw that they were unlike other wild bees he knew, that they were like humble-bees in shape but much smaller, and were all of a golden brown colour: they were in scores and hundreds coming and going, and had their home or nest in the rock a few feet above his head. He got up, and climbing from his mother's knee to her shoulder, and standing on it, he looked into the crevice into which the bees were streaming, and saw their nest full of clusters of small round objects that looked like white berries.
Then he came down and told her what he had seen, and wanted to know all about it, and when she answered that the little round fruit-like objects he had seen were cells full of purple honey that tasted sweet and salt, he wanted her to get him some.
"Not now—not to-day," she replied, "for now you love me and are contented to be with me, and you are my own darling child. When you are naughty, and try to grieve me all you can, and would like to go away and never see me more, you shall taste the purple honey."
He looked up into her face wondering and troubled at her words, and she smiled down so sweetly on his upturned face, looking very beautiful and tender, that it almost made him cry to think how wilful and passionate he had been, and climbing on to her knees he put his little face against her cheek.
Then, while he was still caressing her, light tripping steps were heard over the stony path, and through the bushes came two beautiful wild animals—a doe with her fawn! Martin had often seen the wild deer on the plains, but always at a great distance and running; now that he had them standing before him he could see just what they were like, and of all the four-footed creatures he had ever looked on they were undoubtedly the most lovely. They were of a slim shape, and of a very bright reddish fawn-colour, the young one with dappled sides; and both had large trumpet-like ears, which they held up as if listening, while they gazed fixedly at Martin's face with their large, dark, soft eyes. Enchanted with the sight of them, he slipped down from his mother's lap, and stretched out his arms towards them, and the doe, coming a little nearer, timidly smelt at his hand, then licked it with her long, pink tongue.
In a few minutes the doe and fawn went away and they saw them no more; but they left Martin with a heart filled with happy excitement; and they were but the first of many strange and beautiful wild animals he was now made acquainted with, so that for days he could think of nothing else and wished for nothing better.
But one day when she had taken him a good way up on the hillside, Martin suddenly recognized a huge rocky precipice before him as the one up which she had taken him, and from the top of which he had seen the great blue water. Instantly he demanded to be taken up again, and when she refused he rebelled against her, and was first passionate and then sullen. Finding that he would not listen to anything she could say, she sat down on a rock and left him to himself. He could not climb up that precipice, and so he rambled away to some distance, thinking to hide himself from her, because he thought her unreasonable and unkind not to allow him to see the blue water once more. But presently he caught sight of a snake lying motionless on a bed of moss at the foot of a rock, with the sun on it, lighting up its polished scales so that they shone like gems or coloured glass. Resting his elbows on the stone and holding his face between his hands he fell to watching the snake, for though it seemed fast asleep in the sun its gem-like eyes were wide open.
All at once he felt his mother's hand on his head: "Martin," she said, "would you like to know what the snake feels when it lies with eyes open in the bright hot sun? Shall I make you feel just how he feels?"
"Yes," said Martin eagerly, forgetting his quarrel with her; then taking him up in her strong arms she walked rapidly away, and brought him to that very spot where he had seen the doe and fawn.
She sat him down, and instantly his ears were filled with the murmur of the bees; and in a moment she put her hand in the crevice and pulled out a cluster of white cells, and gave them to Martin. Breaking one of the cells he saw that it was full of thick honey, of a violet colour, and tasting it he found it was like very sweet honey in which a little salt had been mixed. He liked it and he didn't like it; still, it was not the same in all the cells; in some it was scarcely salt at all; and he began to suck the honey of cell after cell, trying to find one that was not salt; and by and by he dropped the cluster of cells from his hand, and stooping to pick it up forgot to do so, and laying his head down and stretching himself out on the mossy ground looked up into his mother's face with drowsy, happy eyes. How sweet it seemed, lying there in the sun, with the sun shining right into his eyes, and filling his whole being with its delicious heat! He wished for nothing now—not even for the sight of new wonderful things; he forgot the blue water, the strange, beautiful wild animals, and his only thought, if he had a thought, was that it was very nice to lie there, not sleeping, but feeling the sun in him, and seeing it above him; and seeing all things—the blue sky, the grey rocks and green bushes and moss, and the woman in her green dress and her loose black hair—and hearing, too, the soft, low, continuous murmur of the yellow bees.
For hours he lay there in that drowsy condition, his mother keeping watch over him, and when it passed off, and he got up again, his temper appeared changed: he was more gentle and affectionate with his mother, and obeyed her every wish. And when in his rambles on the hill he found a snake lying in the sun he would steal softly near it and watch it steadily for a long time, half wishing to taste that strange purple honey again, so that he might lie again in the sun, feeling what the snake feels. But there were more wonderful things yet for Martin to see and know in the hills, so that in a little while he ceased to have that desire.
MARTIN'S EYES ARE OPENED
One morning when they went up into a wild rocky place very high up on the hillside a number of big birds were seen coming over the mountain at a great height in the air, travelling in a northerly direction. They were big hawks almost as big as eagles, with very broad rounded wings, and instead of travelling straight like other birds they moved in wide circles, so that they progressed very slowly.
They sat down on a stone to watch the birds, and whenever one flying lower than the others came pretty near them Martin gazed delightedly at it, and wished it would come still nearer so that he might see it better. Then the woman stood up on the stone, and, gazing skywards and throwing up her arms, she uttered a long call, and the birds began to come lower and lower down, still sweeping round in wide circles, and by and by one came quite down and pitched on a stone a few yards from them. Then another came and lighted on another stone, then another, and others followed, until they were all round him in scores, sitting on the rocks, great brown birds with black bars on their wings and tails, and buff-coloured breasts with rust-red spots and stripes. It was a wonderful sight, those eagle-like hawks, with their blue hooked beaks and deep-set dark piercing eyes, sitting in numbers on the rocks, and others and still others dropping down from the sky to increase the gathering.
Then the woman sat down by Martin's side, and after a while one of the hawks spread his great wings and rose up into the air to resume his flight. After an interval of a minute or so another rose, then another, but it was an hour before they were all gone.
"O the dear birds—they are all gone!" cried Martin. "Mother, where are they going?"
She told him of a far-away land in the south, from which, when autumn comes, the birds migrate north to a warmer country hundreds of leagues away, and that birds of all kinds were now travelling north, and would be travelling through the sky above them for many days to come.
Martin looked up at the sky, and said he could see no birds now that the buzzards were all gone.
"I can see them," she returned, looking up and glancing about the sky.
"O mother, I wish I could see them!" he cried. "Why can't I see them when you can?"
"Because your eyes are not like mine. Look, can you see this?" and she held up a small stone phial which she took from her bosom.
He took it in his hand and unstopped and smelt at it. "Is it honey? Can I taste it?" he asked.
She laughed. "It is better than honey, but you can't eat it!" she said. "Do you remember how the honey made you feel like a snake? This would make you see what I see if I put some of it on your eyes." He begged her to do so, and she consenting poured a little into the palm of her hand. It was thick and white as milk; then taking some on her finger tip, she made him hold his eyes wide open while she rubbed it on the eye-balls. It made his eyes smart, and everything at first looked like a blue mist when he tried to see; then slowly the mist faded away and the air had a new marvellous clearness, and when he looked away over the plain beneath them he shouted for joy, so far could he see and so distinct did distant objects appear. At one point where nothing but the grey haze that obscured the distance had been visible, a herd of wild cattle now appeared, scattered about, some grazing, others lying down ruminating, and in the midst of the herd a very noble-looking, tawny-coloured bull was standing.
"O mother, do you see that bull?" cried Martin in delight.
"Yes, I see him," she returned. "Sometimes he brings his herd to feed on the hillside, and when I see him here another time I shall take you to him, and put you on his back. But look now at the sky, Martin."
He looked up, and was astonished to see numbers of great birds flying north, where no birds had appeared before. They were miles high, and invisible to ordinary sight, but he could see them so distinctly, their shape and colours, that all the birds he knew were easily recognized. There were swans, shining white, with black heads and necks, flying in wedge-shaped flocks, and rose-coloured spoonbills, and flamingoes with scarlet wings tipped with black, and ibises, and ducks of different colours, and many other birds, both water and land, appeared, flock after flock, all flying as fast as their wings could bear them towards the north.
He continued watching them until it was past noon, and then he saw fewer and fewer, only very big birds, appearing; and then these were seen less and less until there were none. Then he turned his eyes on the plain and tried to find the herd of wild cattle, but they were no longer visible; it was as he had seen it in the morning with the pale blue haze over all the distant earth. He was told that the power to see all distant things with a vision equal to his mother's was now exhausted, and when he grieved at the loss she comforted him with the promise that it would be renewed at some other time.
Now one day when they were out together Martin was greatly surprised and disturbed at a change in his mother. When he spoke to her she was silent; and byand-by, drawing a little away, he looked at her with a fear which increased to a kind of terror, so strangely altered did she seem, standing motionless, gazing fixedly with wide-open eyes at the plain beneath them, her whole face white and drawn with a look of rage. He had an impulse to fly from her and hide himself in some hole in the rocks from the sight of that pale, wrathful face, but when he looked round him he was afraid to move from her, for the hill itself seemed changed, and now looked black and angry even as she did. The ground he stood on, the grey old stones covered with silvery-white and yellow lichen and pretty flowery, creeping plants, so beautiful to look at in the bright sunlight a few moments ago, now were covered with a dull mist which appeared to be rising from them, making the air around them dark and strange. And the air, too, had become sultry and close, and the sky was growing dark above them. Then suddenly remembering all her love and kindness he flew to her, and clinging to her dress sobbed out, "O mother, mother, what is it?"
She put her hand on him, then drew him up to her side, with his feet on the stone she was standing by. "Would you like to see what I see, Martin?" she asked, and taking the phial from her bosom she rubbed the white thick liquid on his eye-balls, and in a little while, when the mistiness passed off, she pointed with her hand and told him to look there.
He looked, and as on the former occasion, all distant things were clearly visible, for although that mist and blackness given off by the hill had wrapped them round so that they seemed to be standing in the midst of a black cloud, yet away on the plain beneath the sun was shining brightly, and all that was there could be seen by him. Where he had once seen a herd of wild cattle he now saw mounted men, to the number of about a dozen, slowly riding towards the hill, and though they were miles away he could see them very distinctly. They were dark, black-bearded men, strangely dressed, some with fawn-coloured cloaks with broad stripes, others in a scarlet uniform, and they wore cone-shaped scarlet caps. Some carried lances, others carbines; and they all wore swords—he could see the steel scabbards shining in the sun. As he watched them they drew rein and some of them got off their horses, and they stood for some time as if talking excitedly, pointing towards the hill and using emphatic gestures.
What were they talking about so excitedly? thought Martin. He wanted to know, and he would have asked her, but when he looked up at her she was still gazing fixedly at them with the same pale face and terrible stern expression, and he could but dimly see her face in that black cloud which had closed around them. He trembled with fear and could only murmur, "Mother! mother!" Then her arm was put round him, and she drew him close against her side, and at that moment—O how terrible it was!—the black cloud and the whole universe was lit up with a sudden flash that seemed to blind and scorch him, and the hill and the world was shaken and seemed to be shattered by an awful thunder crash. It was more than he could endure: he ceased to feel or know anything, and was like one dead, and when he came to himself and opened his eyes he was lying in her lap with her face smiling very tenderly, bending over him.
"O, poor little Martin," she said, "what a poor, weak little boy you are to lose your senses at the lightning and thunder! I was angry when I saw them coming to the hill, for they are wicked, cruel men, stained with blood, and I made the storm to drive them away. They are gone, and the storm is over now, and it is late—come, let us go to our cave;" and she took him up and carried him in her arms.
THE PEOPLE OF THE MIST
When Martin first came to the hills it was at the end of the long, hot, dry summer of that distant land: it was autumn now, and the autumn was like a second summer, only not so hot and dry as the first. But sometimes at this season a wet mist came up from the sea by night and spread over all the country, covering it like a cloud; to a soaring bird looking down from the sky it must have appeared like another sea of a pale or pearly grey colour, with the hills rising like islands from it. When the sun rose in the morning, if the sky was clear so that it could shine, then the sea-fog would drift and break up and melt away or float up in the form of thin white clouds. Now, whenever this sea-mist was out over the world the Lady of the Hills, without coming out of her chamber, knew of it, and she would prevent Martin from leaving the bed and going out. He loved to be out on the hill-side, to watch the sun come up, and she would say to him, "You cannot see the sun because of the mist; and it is cold and wet on the hill; wait until the mist has gone and then you shall go out."
But now a new idea came into her mind. She had succeeded in making him happy during the last few days; but she wished to do more—she wished to make him fear and hate the sea so that he would never grow discontented with his life on the hills nor wish to leave her. So now, one morning, when the mist was out over the land, she said to Martin when he woke, "Get up and go out on to the hill and see the mist; and when you feel its coldness and taste its salt on your lips, and see how it dims and saddens the earth, you will know better than to wish for that great water it comes from."
So Martin got up and went out on the hill, and it was as she had said: there was no blue sky above, no wide green earth before him: the mist had blotted all out; he could hardly see the rocks and bushes a dozen yards from him; the leaves and flowers were heavy laden with the grey wet; and it felt clammy and cold on his face, and he tasted its salt on his lips. It seemed thickest and darkest when he looked down and lightest when he looked up, and the lightness led him to climb up among the dripping, slippery rocks; and slipping and stumbling he went on and on, the light increasing as he went, until at last to his delight he got above the mist. There was an immense crag there which stood boldly up on the hillside, and on to this he managed to climb, and standing on it he looked down upon that vast moving sea of grey mist that covered the earth, and saw the sun, a large crimson disc, rising from it.
It was a great thing to see, and made him cry out aloud for joy: and then as the sun rose higher into the pure, blue sky the grey mist changed to silvery white, and the white changed in places to shining gold: and it drifted faster and faster away before the sun, and began to break up, and when a cloud of mist swept by the rock on which he stood it beat like a fine rain upon his face, and covered his bright clothes with a grey beady moisture.
Now, looking abroad over the earth, it appeared to Martin that the thousands and tens and hundreds of thousands of fragments of mist, had the shapes of men, and were like an innumerable multitude of gigantic men with shining white faces and shining golden hair and long cloud-like robes of a pearly grey colour, that trailed on the earth as they moved. They were like a vast army covering the whole earth, all with their faces set towards the west, all moving swiftly and smoothly on towards the west. And he saw that every one held his robes to his breast with his left hand, and that in his right hand, raised to the level of his head, he carried a strange object. This object was a shell—a big sea-shell of a golden yellow colour with curved pink lips; and very soon one of the mist people came near him, and as he passed by the rock he held the shell to Martin's ear, and it sounded in his ear—a low, deep murmur as of waves breaking on a long shingled beach, and Martin knew, though no word was spoken to him, that it was the sound of the sea, and tears of delight came to his eyes, and at the same time his heart was sick and sad with longing for the sea.
Again and again, until the whole vast multitude of the mist people had gone by, a shell was held to his ear; and when they were all gone, when he had watched them fade like a white cloud over the plain, and float away and disappear in the blue sky, he sat down on the rock and cried with the desire that was in him.
When his mother found him with traces of tears on his cheeks; and he was silent when she spoke to him, and had a strange look in his eyes as if they were gazing at some distant object, she was angrier than ever with the sea, for she knew that the thought of it had returned to him and that it would be harder than ever to keep him.
One morning on waking he found her still asleep, although the traces of tears on her cheeks showed that she had been awake and crying during the night.
"Ah, now I know why she cries every morning," thought Martin; "it is because I must go away and leave her here alone on the hills."
He was out of her arms and dressed in a very few moments, moving very softly lest she should wake; but though he knew that if she awoke she would not let him go, he could not leave her without saying goodbye. And so coming near he stooped over her and very gently kissed her soft cheek and sweet mouth and murmured, "Good-bye, sweet mother." Then, very cautiously, like a shy, little wild animal he stole out of the cavern. Once outside, in the early morning light, he started running as fast as he could, jumping from stone to stone in the rough places, and scrambling through the dew-laden bushes and creepers, until, hot and panting, he arrived down at the very foot of the hill.
Then it was easier walking, and he went on a little until he heard a voice crying, "Martin! Martin!" and, looking back, he saw the Lady of the Hills standing on a great stone near the foot of the mountain, gazing sadly after him. "Martin, oh, my child, come back to me," she called, stretching out her arms towards him. "Oh, Martin, I cannot leave the hills to follow you and shield you from harm and save you from death, Where will you go? Oh me, what shall I do without you?"
For a little while he stood still, listening with tears in his eyes to her words, and wavering in his mind; but very soon he thought of the great blue water once more and could not go back, but began to run again, and went on and on for a long distance before stopping to rest. Then he looked back, but he could no longer see her form standing there on the stone.
All that day he journeyed on towards the ocean over a great plain. There was no trees and no rocks nor hills, only grass on the level earth, in some places so tall that the spikes, looking like great white ostrich plumes, waved high above his head. But it was easy walking, as the grass grew in tussocks or bunches, and underneath the ground was bare and smooth so that he could walk easily between the bunches.
He wondered that he did not get to the sea, but it was still far off, and so the long summer day wore to an end, and he was so tired that he could scarcely lift his legs to walk. Then, as he went slowly on in the fading light, where the grass was short and the evening primroses were opening and filling the desert air with their sweet perfume, he all at once saw a little grey old man not above six inches in height standing on the ground right before him, and staring fixedly at him with great, round, yellow eyes.
"You bad boy!" exclaimed this curious, little, old man; whereupon Martin stopped in his walk and stood still, gazing in the greatest surprise at him.
"You bad boy!" repeated the strange little man.
The more Martin stared at him the harder he stared back at Martin, always with the same unbending severity in his small, round, grey face. He began to feel a little afraid, and was almost inclined to run away; then he thought it would be funny to run from such a very small man as this, so he stared bravely back once more and cried out, "Go away!"
"You bad boy!" answered the little grey man without moving.
"Perhaps he's deaf, just like that other old man," said Martin to himself, and throwing out his arms he shouted at the top of his voice, "Go away!"
And away with a scream he went, for it was only a little grey burrowing owl after all! Martin laughed a little at his own foolishness in mistaking that common bird he was accustomed to see every day for a little old man.
By-and-by, feeling very tired, he sat down to rest, and just where he sat grew a plant with long white flowers like tall thin goblets in shape. Sitting on the grass he could see right into one of the flower-tubes, and presently he noticed a little, old, grey, shrivelled woman in it, very, very small, for she was not longer than the nail of his little finger. She wore a grey shawl that dragged behind her, and kept getting under her feet and tripping her up. She was most active, whisking about this way and that inside the flower; and at intervals she turned to stare at Martin, who kept getting nearer and nearer to watch her until his face nearly touched the flower; and whenever she looked at him she wore an exceedingly severe expression on her small dried-up countenance. It seemed to Martin that she was very angry with him for some reason. Then she would turn her back on him, and tumble about in the tube of the flower, and gathering up the ends of her shawl in her arms begin dusting with great energy; then hurrying out once more she would shake the dust from her big, funny shawl in his eyes. At last he carefully raised a hand and was just going to take hold of the queer, little, old dame with his forefinger and thumb when up she flew. It was only a small, grey, twilight moth!
Very much puzzled and confused, and perhaps a little frightened at these curious deceptions, he laid himself down on the grass and shut his eyes so as to go to sleep; but no sooner had he shut his eyes than he heard a soft, soft little voice calling, "Martin! Martin!"
He started up and listened. It was only a field cricket singing in the grass. But often as he lay down and closed his eyes the small voice called again, plainly as possible, and oh so sadly, "Martin! Martin!"
It made him remember his beautiful mother, now perhaps crying alone in the cave on the mountain, no little Martin resting on her bosom, and he cried to think of it. And still the small voice went on, calling, "Martin! Martin!" sadder than ever, until, unable to endure it longer, he jumped up and ran away a good distance, and at last, too tired to go any further, he crept into a tussock of tall grass and went to sleep.
THE OLD MAN OF THE SEA
Next day Martin journeyed on in the old way, jumping up and taking a good long run, then dropping into a trot, then a walk, and finally sitting down to rest. Then up again and another run, and so on. But although feeling hungry and thirsty, he was so full of the thought of the great blue water he was going to see, so eager to look upon it at last after wishing for it so long, that he hardly gave himself any time to hunt for food. Nor did he think of his mother of the hills, alone to-day, and grieving at his loss, so excited was he at the prospect of what lay before him.
A little past noon he began to hear a low murmuring sound that seemed in the earth beneath him, and all about him, and in the air above him; but he did not know that it was the sound of the sea. At length he came to a place where the earth rose up in long ridges of yellow sand, on which nothing grew but scattered tufts of stiff, yellow grass. As he toiled over the loose sand, sometimes sinking ankle-deep in it, the curious deep murmuring sound he had heard for so long grew louder and louder, until it was like the sound of a mighty wind in a wood, but deeper and hoarser, rising and falling, and at intervals broken by great throbs, as of thunder echoed and re-echoed among the distant hills. At length he had toiled over the last ridge of sand; and then all at once the world—his world of solid earth at all events—came to an abrupt end; for no more ground on which to set a foot was before him, but only the ocean—that ocean which he had wanted so badly, and had loved at a distance more than the plains and hills, and all they contained to delight him! How wide, how vast it was, stretching away to where it melted into the low sky, its immense grey-blue surface broken into ten thousand thousand waves, lit with white crests that came in sight and vanished like lightning flashes! How tremendous, how terrible it was in its agitation—O the world had nothing to compare with it, nothing to hold his heart after it; and it was well that the earth was silent, that it only gazed upon it with the sun and moon and stars, listening day and night for ever to the great voice of the sea!
Only by lying flat on his chest could Martin look down over the edge of the awful cliff, which is one of the highest in the world; and then the sight of the sea swirling and beating at the foot of that stupendous black precipice, sending up great clouds of spray in its fury, made him shudder, it was so awful to look upon. But he could not stir from that spot; there he stayed lying flat on his chest, gazing and gazing, feeling neither hunger nor thirst, forgetful of the beautiful woman he had called mother, and of everything besides. And as he gazed, little by little, that great tumult of the waves grew less; they no longer lifted themselves up, wave following wave, to beat upon the cliff, and make it tremble; but sank lower and lower; and at last drew off from the precipice, leaving at its foot a long narrow strip of sand and shingle exposed to sight. A solemn calm fell upon the waste of waters; only near the shore it continued to move a little, rising and falling like the chest of a sleeping giant, while along the margin small waves continued to form and break in white foam on the shingle with a perpetual low, moaning sound. Further out it was quite calm, its surface everywhere flushed with changing violet, green, and rosy tints: in a little while these lovely colours faded as from a sunset cloud, and it was all deep dark blue: for the sun had gone, and the shadows of evening were over land and sea. Then Martin, his little heart filled with a great awe and a great joy, crept away a few yards from the edge of the cliff and coiled himself up to sleep in a hollow in the soft warm sand.
On the following morning, after satisfying his hunger and thirst with some roots which he had not to go very far to find, he returned to watch the sea once more, and there he remained, never removing his eyes from the wonderful scene until the sun was directly over his head; then, when the sea was calm once more, he got up and started to walk along the cliff.
Keeping close to the edge, occasionally stopping to lie down on his chest and peer over, he went on and on for hours, until the afternoon tide once more covered the strip of shingled beach, and the waves rising high began to beat with a sound like thunder against the tremendous cliff, making the earth tremble under him. At length he came to a spot where there was a great gap in the line of the cliff, where in past times a portion of it had tumbled down, and the stupendous masses of rock had rolled far out into the sea, and now formed islands of black jagged rock, standing high above the water. Here among the rocks the sea boiled and roared its loudest, churning its waters into masses of white froth. Here a fresh wonder met his sight: a number of big animals unlike any creature he had ever seen before were lying prone on the rocks just out of the reach of the waves that beat round them. At first they looked like cows, then he saw that they had neither horns nor legs, that their heads were like dog's but without ears, and that they had two great flapper-shaped feet on their chests with which they walked or crawled upon the rocks whenever a wave broke on them, causing them to move a little higher.
They were sea-lions, a very big sort of seal, but Martin had never heard of such a creature, and being anxious to look more closely at them he went into the gap, and began cautiously climbing down over the broken masses of rock and clay until he got quite near the sea. Lying there on a flat rock he became absorbed in watching these strange dog-headed legless cattle of the sea; for he now had them near, and they could see him, and occasionally one would lift its head and gaze earnestly at him out of large dark eyes that were soft and beautiful like the eyes of the doe that came to him on the hills. O how glad he was to know that the sea, the mighty waters roaring so loud as if in wrath, had its big beasts too for him to love, like the hills and plains with their cattle and deer and horses!
But the tide was still rising, and very soon the biggest waves began to come quite over the rocks, rolling the big beasts over and even washing them off, and it angered them when the waves struck them, and they roared aloud, and by and by they began to go away, some disappearing beneath the water, others with heads above the surface swimming away out into the open sea, until all were gone. Martin was sorry to lose them, but the sight of the sea tumbling and foaming on the rocks still held him there, until all the rocks but one had been covered by the waters, and this one was a great black jagged rock close to the shore, not above twenty or thirty yards from him. Against this mass of rock the waves continued to dash themselves with a mighty noise, sending up a cloud of white foam and spray at every blow. The sight and sound fascinated him. The sea appeared to be talking, whispering, and murmuring, and crying out aloud to him in such a manner that he actually began trying to make out what it was saying. Then up would come a great green wave rushing and moaning, to dash itself to pieces right before his face; and each time it broke against the rock, and rose high up it took a fantastic shape that began to look more and more the shape of a man. Yes, it was unmistakably like a monstrous grey old man, with a vast snow-white beard, and a world of disordered white hair floating over and around its head. At all events it was white for a moment, then it looked green—a great green beard which the old man took with his two hands and twisted just as a washerwoman twists a blanket or counterpane, so as to wring the water out of it.