The Phoenix was going on with some of his reminiscences, or perhaps beginning again, when just at this point there was a rustling in the bushes, and in burst the oldest of the Tufters who had been away hunting for news. All the rest bustled about him as he smoothed his feathers to make his manners to the Phoenix.
"I have some very important news!" began he, with great dignity. "Isal's father, the woodman is dying."
"Is he, indeed!" exclaimed the rest in chorus, except the Phoenix, who stood with one eye shut, painfully distracted between the desire to administer a rebuke and to hear further.
"That may be," said he, finally, "but you should not have interrupted me while I was speaking. Besides you have not told us yet the particulars."
"I was flying up the river," proceeded the eldest Tufter, respectfully, "when I happened to recollect little Isal, and how we brought her away from her house. I was passing the very spot, so I just flew in for a moment, and there I saw the woodman, her father, lying upon his bed very sick. There was no one with him."
"How sad!" said Rosedrop, mournfully.
"The cot from which we took Isal," added the Tufter, "was there still, just as we left it, in precisely the same spot."
"How remarkable!" said the rash Tufter, who had become prudent.
While all this cackling was going on, the Phoenix maintained a stiff silence. At last he stroked his beak with a claw. "Hush!" said the second Tufter, "we shall hear something now." And surely the Phoenix did speak.
"Children, Isal must know of this. We took her away on the Old Brown Coat. My great-great-great grandfather made the coat. He was called Phoenix the Tailor." It was very hard for the Phoenix to avoid speaking of this whenever the Old Brown Coat was mentioned, and he continued for some time to wander upon the subject, till they all thought he was through, and the Tufter, who had once been rash asked: "And who shall tell Isal?" The Phoenix was not really through, though. He was just in the midst of the sentence, "The world is growing very degenerate—" only the last word stuck in his throat—and he was exceedingly vexed that he should be interrupted by an upstart Tufter. "You—" are a goose, he tried to say, but the difficulty in his throat occurred again, and prevented any word beyond the first, and the Tufter taking it for a command to carry the news—he was too quick sometimes,—set off for the palace as fast as his wings could carry him.
"How provoking!" said the oldest; "he will spoil it all with his rashness!" The Phoenix now recovered himself, and having finished his two broken sentences together, "degenerate—are a goose," for he never left anything undone, told Rosedrop to fly faster and carry the news before the other. Rosedrop sped swiftly, and overtaking her brother, went with him in company and soon persuaded him, for he was a good-natured fellow, to let her undertake the message. So when they reached the palace garden, while her brother remained without, Rosedrop flew in at the open window where she had tapped nearly five years ago, and hovering over Isal as she lay asleep, told her the sad message, and flying out rejoined her bother.
"Did she hear you?" asked he.
"Oh, yes," said Rosedrop. "I told her all about it, and she looked very sad indeed. How sorry I am for her. I am sure I shall feel dreadfully when the Phoenix dies."
Now Isal really did hear all that Rosedrop told her; for as the Tufter flew through the open window, a suggestion entered the open window of her mind as she lay asleep, and this is what it showed her:—A lonely woodman's hut in the forest upon the bank of a great blue river; in the hut a solitary man, pale and thin, worn out with sickness and sorrow stretched upon a bed; not a living thing about the house; the axe lying rusty from disuse by the trunk of a fallen tree; one little bed deserted in the other corner of the room, toward which the sick man is turned with longing look, while his lips move but refuse to speak the name his heart dwells upon. And just as the Tufter flew out, having told her message, so did the picture vanish from Isal's mind, and in its place followed others in quick succession, all of them centering about one person—a maiden, who is now playing by the same hut, now surrounded mysteriously by strange birds, now waking to find herself kissed by a noble-looking man, who marries her and makes her Queen of the land. With this she awoke, and saw the Prince leaning over her.
"What were you dreaming about, Morning-Star, that made you look so sad just before I kissed you?" said the Prince. Then Isal told him her dream.
"My father is sick unto death," she said sorrowfully, when she had finished, "and longs to see his daughter." But the Prince comforted her, and told her that he would send messengers who should travel over the whole country to find her father and bring her word of him. So the messengers were sent out in search of the woodman. But the Prince did not know nor Isal, that he lived so far away and so hidden that it would not be possible to reach him before he died.
Meanwhile the Phoenix and the Tufters kept watch over the whole matter. The eldest Tufter returned one night from a visit to the palace where he had seen his friend, the Rabbit. "The Peacock," said he, "would have nothing to do with me since I took to calling on the Rabbit; but I am not sorry, for he is very tiresome and is for ever talking about his tail. The Rabbit is much more sensible, though he has some strange tastes. Do you know, he is very fond of chewing parsley? Is it not queer? I asked the Rabbit what the news was. He said he would ask the Mouse and proposed to me to go and call on him. I was afraid to at first; the Mouse is so learned; but then the Rabbit is on very good terms with him and promised to introduce me. So I got the Squirrel to brush me down—he always carries a whisk brush with him and is very obliging—and went with the Rabbit to call on the Mouse. The Rabbit did not seem at all disconcerted. He was chewing parsley all the way; but I was trying to think what it was proper to say upon entering."
"The Mouse lives in a very small house; he had to come out to the door to us; it was quite impossible for us to enter. He looked very venerable indeed, and very learned. His hair was brushed back over his forehead, and his whiskers were grown very long. I noticed the Rabbit wore his so; he told me afterwards that it was the fashion among learned men, and though he did not presume to call himself a learned man, yet he thought it best to be in the fashion. I hardly knew what to say to the Mouse; I had been trying all the way to think of some book I might mention, but the Rabbit opened the way very easily. He told the Mouse where I was from and mentioned my connection with you, sir," (turning to the Phoenix; the Phoenix bowed—"Yes, I am well known," he said.) "Ah, indeed," said the Mouse. "The Phoenix? yes. I came across an account of the Phoenicians in a book the other day; the book was elegantly bound; the Phoenicians are a very enterprising race."
"The Phoenicians! indeed!" broke in the angry Phoenix. "There is but one Phoenix. I am the only Phoenix, I am nearly five hundred years old. My great-great-great-grandfather made the Old Brown Coat." And he went on with his reminiscences till he was quite exhausted. After that the Tufter hardly dared mention the Mouse, and, indeed, began to suspect that he was not so very learned after all; but he proceeded to state how he had gathered that the Prince had sent messengers to find the woodman, Isal's father.
"It is in vain," said the Phoenix, who had recovered himself, and was really growing very wise, as the days of his life neared their end. "It is in vain, children, you must go again to the Palace—all of you. I would go myself, but I am getting too old, and besides, I must begin to gather my spices and make my dying nest. This you must tell Isal. Her father longs to see her once before he dies. Yet if she chooses to go to him she must die after him, for she has worn the Old Brown Coat. If she remains with the Prince she shall be happy for many years, and be beloved by her husband and king. If she decide to go, then do you four bear her away to her father."
Away flew the Tufters to the Palace. Again did Rosedrop fly through the window, and hovering over the bed, unknown to the Prince give her message to the sleeping Isal. Again, and at the same time, did a suggestion fly through the open window of the Queen's mind, showing her in succession two pictures:—In one she saw a maiden sitting by the bedside of a dying man in a lonely woodman's hut by the banks of a great blue river; the woodman's eyes are bent on her and all his pain and sorrow are gone; gently he closes his life in the sleep of death; and the maiden alone, with only the dead man upon the bed, sickens also, and lying upon the other cot, slowly, painfully closes her life with no one to hold her hand. Then Isal saw another picture—a Queen in the Palace honored by the people, having everything that she could desire, dearly loved and cherished by the King her husband, and living thus for many years, and when dying at last, wept over by all and kissed at the very moment of death by the good Prince. Then Isal woke up just as before by the kiss of the Prince, who was leaning over her. "You are sad again, my Morning-Star," said he. "Be comforted; your father will be found." But Isal did not tell him her dream this time.
"What is she going to do?" asked the rather forward Tufter of Rosedrop, as she came forth through the window again.
"She is perplexed," said Rosedrop. "We will come for her answer to-morrow night." All that day did Isal think over the two pictures she had seen, until at last the second one quite faded from view; only the first remained. "I will go," said she to herself, "even if I must die." The next night when the Tufters came for the answer, they found the window closed. Rosedrop tapped upon it with her beak. Isal within heard it. "It is the summons for me to go," said she. She leaned over the prince; he was asleep; she longed to give him a last kiss. "I will kiss him very gently," said she, but first she opened the window. There were the strange birds again; the beautiful one upon the sill; the rest hovering close by; she went back and lightly kissed the Prince. "Quick!" she said to herself as he stirred. "He is awaking!" She hastened to the window; she stood upon the sill; the birds floated in front of her, and letting herself sink upon their soft downy backs, and throwing her arms round Rosedrop's neck, off they flew, swifter than the rushing wind.
The Prince awakened by the kiss and the rustling opened his eyes only to see his Queen rising like a white cloud to the sky.
"Ah! she is gone! my Morning-Star has returned again to the sky!" he wailed, and stretching his supplicating hands he cried, "Come back to me! My Love! My Morning-Star!" And Isal heard him as she was swiftly borne, and her hot tears fell on Rosedrop's neck.
Just when the morning-star disappeared from the sky before the dawn, the Tufters laid Isal upon her cot in the woodman's hut, and fluttering around her for a moment, they flew away to the Phoenix, leaving Rosedrop only to keep watch. In the hut upon his pallet lay stretched the lonely woodman, who was dying. Day and night did Isal sit by his side and hold his hand while he gazed in her face, too weak to speak. Slowly the pain and the sorrow left his face, and instead came a smile of holy joy which never left him. For seven days and seven nights did Isal sit beside him. Then he died, and she, just able to reach her old cot, lay down upon it, weak and suffering. For seven days and seven nights did she lie there, racked with pain. This was a sad exchange for her happy life in the Palace; but she never repented; she could not when she saw the dead face with its heavenly smile still upon it.
"Isal is fast dying," said little Rosedrop sadly, as she flew back from the hut to the Phoenix and her brothers. "Oh! she suffers dreadfully."
"That must be so," said the Phoenix wisely. "It could not be otherwise." The Phoenix now was so old that in an hour he would die. He had gathered his spice and built his nest; already had he taken his seat upon it, and was awaiting the last moment of the five hundredth year, while the Tufters stood around sorrowfully, each upon one leg, manifesting their respect to the old bird by making their manners constantly; it pleased the Phoenix so much. And the grand bird as he neared his end grew more and more wise and prophetic.
"Rosedrop!" said he to his favorite Tufter. "Go quickly to Isal's cot. She will die; but when she dies, watch for her spirit and bear it hither ere I die." Swiftly sped Rosedrop to the hut by the river. There she watched by Isal's bedside; saw her go through terrible suffering, but at last the struggle was over, and Rosedrop saw through her tears, which she shed for the first and only time, Isal's spirit floating upward. She clasped it to her bosom and darted to the Phoenix.
"It is the hour!" said the Bird, before Rosedrop had returned. "My life is closed. I have lived five hundred years." He plucked a golden feather from his breast, and lighted the nest of spices on which he reclined. The smoke rose slowly, enveloping him in it, while the Tufters, overcome with grief, forgot their manners, and stood on both legs peering into the smoke. At that moment Rosedrop, with the spirit of Isal, darted into the circle. The Phoenix saw her.
"Lay the spirit in the nest," said he, and Rosedrop heedless of the fire which burned her beautiful body, laid Isal's spirit in the nest by the Phoenix.
"It is enough!" said the Phoenix. "I am perishing, but another Phoenix shall arise and the spirit of Isal shall live in it. Isal is the Phoenix that is to be. I die but she shall live."
As he said it, there was a smouldering in the nest; a heap of embers enveloped in smoke lay before the Tufters; in a moment the smoke parted and out of the embers soared with crimson and golden plumage the new Phoenix!
* * * * *
But the new Phoenix remembered still the life that belonged to him when he was a maiden. The Phoenix, moreover, is a most wonderful bird. It can change itself into many shapes. Every New Year's Day did this Phoenix visit the Palace and present itself at the Festivity of the Old Brown Coat, and every New Year's night, after the Sixteen Coat Tails had robed and unrobed the lonely Prince with the greatest care, did the Phoenix visit the Prince alone, and for one night he returned to the old shape of the beautiful Isal. And when the Prince died he was changed into a palm-tree, and the Phoenix dwelt in the branches.
New Year's Day in the Garden.
It may not generally be known, yet so it is, that New Year's Day in the Garden varies each year, but is established by one sure sign—the blooming of the Lilac. When this takes place it is the custom of the inhabitants of the Garden to celebrate their New Year's Day. In the year when this happened which I am about to tell, the Lilac was later than usual, and there was great impatience felt at its slowness. Some of the younger ones, in fact, had serious doubts whether it would come to flower at all, and that they agreed would be a calamity, but the older ones bade them wait, for the time certainly would come. The old Buttonwood tree that stood in the corner of the Garden, and who was said to be the oldest inhabitant, grew very tiresome, for he counted up on his branches the number of years that he had seen the Lilac blow, and declared twenty times a day, as if he had not said it at all, that he had never known the bush to be so tardy. But on the night before the twentieth of May there was a plenteous shower; the next morning the sun rose splendidly upon the fresh earth, and the Lilac sent its strong perfume all over the Garden. It was unanimously agreed that New Year's Day had come at last, and that there should be an unusual celebration of it.
Now listen and you shall hear how the day was celebrated. It was divided into two parts; the first part was the morning, and was occupied after the manner of the inhabitants of the Garden in giving and receiving calls.
Owing to the slowness of the Lilac, many of the fair ones were not so elegantly dressed as they had hoped to be and were quite mortified; but the shower in the night had freshened them and taken away much of their faded appearance, so that none but the most fastidious of their visitors could detect any failing. The Garden walks were quite lively with such of the callers as were obliged to walk, while those that kept their wings, and so could fly, were moving in the air in every direction. The Bee, in his shining yellow coat, was rushing about making a great to do and acting as if no one were of so much importance. He made his first call upon the Rose, who was dressed in a charming robe of a blush-colour, and who received a great deal of attention.
"The compliments of the Lilac to you, my dear Miss," said he, bustling in. "I am a business character; have fifty calls to make and so have commenced early, as you see. What a disgraceful thing it was for the Lilac to be so unpunctual. Really I lost all patience with it. Prompt is my word. 'Improve each shining hour,' you know, my dear Miss, as the poet somewhere says, so I bid you good-morning," and the corpulent fellow in his yellow coat buzzed graciously to the Rose and hurried off to pay his respects to the next on his list.
As he went out, in came the Butterfly and the Moth, who made their calls together. The Moth was clad in grey, and the Butterfly liked that, because it set off his own brilliant colours so well.
"Bon jour, mademoiselle!" said the Butterfly, who always spoke in a foreign tongue when there was no need for it, and then he continued in his own, for he was not very perfect in the foreign tongue after all. "How charming you look this morning! What shall we do to the Lilac for denying us so long the sight of your beauty? I say, Moth, we shall have to attend to that fellow." The Moth, who remained in a corner merely bowed and smiled; he was not so brilliant as his companion, and besides was always in a state of anxiety about his coat, which was liable to be rubbed.
"Oh, Mr. Butterfly," said the Rose, "the Lilac is not to blame, and the day is all the more charming for being a little later."
"It is not the day that is so charming," said the Butterfly with a smirk. "But we have a few calls yet to make—seventy-five or a hundred, say. Come, Moth. Au revoir, Mademoiselle," and they fluttered off. "Did you see her blush, Moth, when I said that about the day not being so charming?" said the Butterfly. "That's what they like. Halloa! there goes that simpleton of a Humming-Bird. He thinks he's got the gayest coat in the Garden. What a conceited fellow!"
He said this loud enough for the Humming-Bird to hear, but that graceful creature took no notice of it. He also was out, but he made only one call, and that was to the Honeysuckle, for they were betrothed. Of course it never would do to say what they whispered to each other.
The Spring Crocus also kept open house, though she was so old that the others said it was all affectation. But she dressed herself in a yellow dress, which, however, did not make her look any younger. She had one caller. It was the Grasshopper, who was clad in his major's uniform. He came along the Garden walk that led to the Crocus in a very formal fashion, taking step with great precision, for he went exactly the same distance at each spring, and halted the same length of time between the jumps. The last spring—for he had calculated it exactly—landed him by the Crocus. The Crocus, who had watched him coming, was highly flattered though rather flustered. It was the first call she had received that day, and she had even feared she might not receive any.
"Your most obedient, madam," said the Grasshopper, lifting his elbow.
"Yes, a very warm day," said the Crocus, not quite at her ease.
"The Lilac is later than usual," continued the Grasshopper.
"Oh, yes, the Lilac, yes," said the Dowager Crocus, "quite so,—the Lilac, oh, yes! it is certainly very wrong. You are looking uncommonly well, Major," and she began to recover her composure and to look less heated.
"Thank you, madam," said the Grasshopper, raising his elbow again, "and I must say that I have never seen you looking better, and, if I may be allowed to say it, younger."
"Oh, la!" exclaimed the Dowager, quite confusedly and getting into a heat again.
"Do you find your company agreeable this morning?" asked the Grasshopper, to change the subject. He referred to the calls she was supposed to have received, but the Crocus thought he referred to himself, for she was still a little off her balance. She was just thinking how she could say something witty, when the Grasshopper added—
"You have had a number of calls, I presume?"
"Oh, yes! a great many. I am quite tired out," said she, though she ought not to have said so, for it was not true, and besides, it might be construed into a piece of rudeness. But the Grasshopper knew she had had none though he did not say so. He had nothing more to say, however, and he bade her good morning, and jumped by measurement down the Garden walk.
This was the first year that the Pansy had received calls and she was quite excited. She was very prettily pressed in a purple bodice with white skirt and yellow slippers. "Some one is coming!" she exclaimed to her mother, who was not far off. "I can hear a step on the Garden walk." "Be composed," said her mother, "Is your bodice smooth?" She felt of it and it was. The Red Ant and the Black Ant had come in company. The Red Ant is a clerk and the Black Ant is his uncle and an undertaker. They both entered at once and were graciously received. The Red Ant is so methodical and so used to system, that he had arranged beforehand with his uncle precisely what they should say and in what order. So the Black Ant advanced and said quite soberly:
"This is a very lovely day," and the Red Ant immediately added—
"The Lilac is much later than usual this year."
"Isn't it!" said the Pansy very eagerly. "I declare I thought it never would come out. Mother told me over and over again not to be so impatient but I did get so vexed!"
"It makes very little difference with us," said the Red Ant whose turn it now was; "every thing is arranged in the Hill so perfectly that nothing can put us out. We each of us carry fifty grains of sand a day."
"Oh, how severe it must be for you!" said the Pansy. "I don't believe I ever could live so systematically. It is so nice just to enjoy the air and the sun without thinking much about it. Don't you ever get a holiday?"
"It is my turn, you know," whispered the Undertaker to his nephew, and the Red Ant was so systematic that he did not answer the question, for he had forgotten to allow for it in his calculation. So the Black Ant next said—
"It makes no difference to me either. In my profession, though we cannot of course be quite so systematic as my nephew here, yet we make it a point to be at our post, rain or shine. Nephew, it must be time for us to be going."
"Yes," said the Red Ant, "it is exactly time. We allow five minutes for each call and ten minutes between each place. Good-morning!" and they marched off and said exactly the same thing at the next place.
The Pansy thought it was not quite so interesting as she expected, though it was pretty good fun, but soon she had a call from the Dragon-Fly, and that was worth while. So the morning went by, and was fully occupied with giving and receiving calls. Every one professed to have had a very good time, though the Earthworm to be sure had not succeeded in making a single call, he moved so slowly. The Bee was through long before noon, and boasted of it. "Prompt is my word," said he, "I made fifty calls, at an average of fifteen calls an hour."
That was the way they celebrated New Year's morning.
In the evening it was different but no less gay. Great preparations were going on under the Lilac-Bush. Beetles had been at work all day clearing the grass and putting things in order. At nightfall the Turtles and the Frogs sounded the chimes, and a merry noise they made of it. The Catbird rang only one bell. Something evidently was to occur. A little later the glow-worms began to collect, and the place was illuminated. The Lilac-Bush was hung with quantities of them, and others darted about in the air as if they were on the most important business. The Cherry Blossoms in the tree nearby were very curious to know what it all could mean. One of them agreed to go and find out. He sailed down gently and into a cluster of Lilacs.
"This is the grand celebration," said they in answer to his question. "For one night in the year the Little People are coming out for sport before midnight. The Queen will be here, and we are to drop leaves upon her." But the Cherry Blossom was unable to carry the news back, for the winds were not favourable. It was as the Lilacs had said. This was the Queen Faery's reception night, being the first night of the year, and it was under the Lilac that she was to receive her subjects and their gifts.
At last the procession approached, attended above and at all sides by myriads of glow-worms. Foremost came a body of Daddy-Long-Legs, who walked marvellously fast, and cleared the way for the procession. Then a band of crickets followed all in uniform, and every one kept step to their music, though that was a difficult matter. Behind the band was the Queen Faery driving as usual her twelve Lady-Birds, which drew her acorn carriage; she was attended by a body-guard of Dor-Bugs, all in coats of mail. Then came troops of Faeries, some mounted, some on foot. They bore banners spun by the most skillful spiders and silk-worms, each company having its own device. For there were Faeries from the woods, from the streams, from the flags in the marshes, from the tops of the firs, from the sea, from the inside of caves, house-faeries, church-faeries, and gypsy faeries, that lived wherever they pleased and were always trespassing.
The fire-flies made it very light and there was no difficulty in finding the Bush. There they halted, and when the Queen alighted she found a delicious cushion for her to step upon; it was the messenger Cherry Blossom which had dropped upon the ground for that purpose. The Queen's throne was a dandelion flower and a regal throne it was. The Spider spun a winding staircase to the top, and stretched a canopy over it that glittered with diamonds of dew. While she was taking her seat the cricket band played the Throning of the Queen—one of their finest pieces, and composed for the occasion by the largest cricket in the band.
It was now the part of all, and permitted as well to the inhabitants of the Garden, to come up in order and be presented to the Queen, and to offer any gifts they might wish to bring. Two of the insects commonly called Walking-Sticks were in attendance, and were the ushers to announce each as they came up. It was proper that the Faeries should have the first place.
These came up in companies, according to their place in the procession. They where duly ushered into the presence of the Queen, and there was a spokesman for each party, who made a little address and offered a gift. The Faeries from the woods brought an anemone flower, set in dead forest leaf, and the spokesman explained that the flower was the anticipation of summer, and that it was fitting it should have such a back-ground. The Faeries from the streams were obliged to come sitting in shells filled with water and drawn by dragon-flies. They made a fine appearance and brought the scale of a trout; it was more beautiful than mother of pearl. The Faeries from the flags in the marshes brought a carpet made of leaves of the white violet; the central figure was a marsh mallow. The Faeries from the tops of the Firs brought a complete dinner service made of scales of the cone. The Faeries from the sea came upon the sea-foam, and the East Wind brought them. It made the place exceedingly chilly, and the Queen shivered. One could smell the saltness all over the Garden, and one of the Faeries was so overpowered by it that she fainted. They left their present, however, which was a necklace of crystal salt, and were off again. The Queen could not wear the necklace, however, for it made her head ache. The Faeries from the inside of caves came riding upon bats, and brought a stalactite made in the form of a horse of dandelion-down, for there is a favourite story among the Faeries in which such a horse figures. This was a very pretty piece of sculpture. The house Faeries brought a beautiful shawl made of the interwoven golden hair of the youngest child and the silver hair of her old grandfather. The church Faeries brought a sound from the organ; it was very solemn, and every one was quiet when it was offered. As for the gypsy Faeries they said they had nothing to give, and so would sing a song, which they did to the great delight of all, though the Walking-Sticks thought it not quite becoming.
The inhabitants of the Garden had been quite impatient for the Faeries to be through, for their turn was yet to come. It would be quite impossible to enumerate them all. The Flowers could not come themselves but they sent their choicest perfumes, and the Miller was so obliging as to carry for them a great many charming and delicate tints. The Bee gave a drop of honey, but he was so loud and coarse in his way and carried so many weapons about him that all were glad when he went. The Humming-Bird would not come, the Honeysuckle was his Queen, he said. The Red Ant said it was all fol-de-rol and there was no such thing as a faery in his opinion, much less a Queen Faery; and he stayed in the Hill and walked through all the passages to see that every thing was in order. The Butterfly, poor thing! was dead, and the Black Ant of course was too busy burying him to attend to such frivolous matters. The Grasshopper, however, came the whole length of the Garden, and each skip was precisely as long as the last. It took just one hundred and sixty-seven skips to reach the Lilac Bush. His uniform looked finely, and the Walking-Sticks rejoiced that here at last was one come who had style and observed etiquette. It was rather formal to be sure. The Walking-Sticks each bowed eleven times, and the Grasshopper raised his elbow so often and with so much precision, that you would have said it was very nicely calculated. He made a set speech which the Queen listened to, and then he passed out again; but he left no present, perhaps he thought he had honoured her enough by coming to pay his respects.
The Faeries agreed that the reception must be all over now and that the last of the inhabitants had come and gone; so they were ready for sport. They did not know—how should they? that the Earth worm was on the way; but he never reached the place in time; he was so blind that he lost the road frequently. Room was now made for a dance. The Fire-flies improved their lights and arranged them more artistically, and the Faeries took their places. The inhabitants of the Garden could only look on. Just as they were ready to begin, a bustling and confusion was observed among the group of house Faeries. What could be the stir? They were evidently very much excited, and the reason was this: One of their number, their spokesman at the reception, was leaning against a stalk of clover and looking up at the sky through the Lilac Bush. We think it hard to count the stars, they are so many in number, but to a Faery who once lived among them the stars are familiar as household faces. Thus the little Faery was aware of a new star that at that instant appeared in the sky. It was a very little star and rested between two larger ones, but it did not escape his quick eye and he was now all alive with excitement.
"We must lose no time!" cried he to his companions: "there is a new star! the child is born! come!" and they all sped to the house. One only remained for a moment to explain it to the Queen and then followed the rest.
The event produced great commotion in the Faery circle and all looked to the Queen to see what was to be done. The Queen instantly called her bugler, the tame Musquito, and bade him call the scattered Faeries all about her. So they came every one about the dandelion throne, and the herald of the Queen—the Fly in his blue coat, made proclamation that a child had been born and that it was a rare thing, and an excellent fortune both to Faeries and to the child, that it would be born upon the first day of the year. "Wherefore," he concluded, "let all the Faeries here gathered proceed as before and accompany the Queen to the place where the child lies, and let the gifts that have been brought to the Queen be carried by trusty servants."
So they set out as before in exactly the same order, except that the House-Faeries and the Sea-Faeries were not there. The Daddy-long-legs cleared the way to the door of the house, and the band of Crickets played their sweetest air—'twas the Birth of the Daisy in fact. Arrived at the door the Daddy-long-legs took their place in lines upon each side of the step, and the Cricket band sate upon the scraper, for these might not enter. But the Faeries preceded by their Queen did enter, and their gifts went with them. They came into the room where little Janet lay. The House-Faeries were already there with hushed movements and ordering everything about the room. Around the bed gathered the hosts of Faeries—even the Faeries of the stream were there, a little drier than usual, though the House-Faeries made them keep on the outer circle.
The Queen was in the centre directly over little Janet. She bent nearer and nearer until she stood upon the forehead. She touched it with her lips, and that was the seal by which she signified that the newborn child of New-Year's Day was to be gifted with all that Faeries could give. The gifts which the Queen had received that night were freely offered to the little child. They were laid at her feet. None there saw them for none but the Faeries and the child could know of them. Each Faery, too, in the fulness of love and joy offered other gifts directly from their own nature; the Gypsy Faeries were very generous. They withdrew then and the Queen was left alone. She had her gift yet to bestow. "All of these," said she, "have richly endowed this child of New-Years Day." She looked at the gifts and knew that there was one thing wanting, yet she dreaded to bestow it. "It must be," she murmured, and kissing once more the brow of the child, dropped a tear upon it. Then she too left. The gifts were complete but the Queen was sad.
"She is a child of earth," she said, as she turned away; "it must be so."
The festivities of the day were finished and all was quiet in the Garden. The moon now rose and soon its light touched the Lilac Bush. At the touch the sweet perfume of the Lilac rose like a cloud of incense from the Bush. The air was filled with it, but the Bush was now deserted. "It was a great gift," it said, "that I should be permitted to have so much enjoyment. I am indeed happy, though twelve long months must pass before I bloom again, and these blossoms now upon me have lost their fragrance and shall fall to the ground. Yes, it is sweet to live, even though one's flowers die and one's fragrance is lost."
But the fragrance was not lost. It rose higher and higher; the clouds kept it not back and it ascended even to heaven.
Horace E. Scudder
* * * * *
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL: A Biography. With portraits and other illustrations, an Appendix, and a full Bibliography. 2 vols.
MEN AND LETTERS. Essays in Characterization and Criticism.
CHILDHOOD IN LITERATURE AND ART: With some Observations on Literature for Children.
NOAH WEBSTER. In American Men of Letters. With Portrait.
GEORGE WASHINGTON. An Historical Biography. In Riverside School Library.
THE DWELLERS IN FIVE SISTERS COURT. A Novel.
STORIES AND ROMANCES.
DREAM CHILDREN. Illustrated.
SEVEN LITTLE PEOPLE AND THEIR FRIENDS. Illustrated.
STORIES FROM MY ATTIC. For Children. Illustrated.
BOSTON TOWN. The Story of Boston told to Children. Illustrated.
THE CHILDREN'S BOOK. A Collection of the Best Literature for Children. New Holiday Edition. Illustrated.
THE BOOK OF FABLES.
THE BOOK OF FOLK STORIES.
THE BOOK OF FABLES AND FOLK STORIES. School Edition. Illustrated.
THE BOOK OF LEGENDS.
THE BODLEY BOOKS. Including Doings of the Bodley Family in Town and Country, The Bodleys Telling Stories, The Bodleys on Wheels, The Bodleys Afoot, Mr. Bodley Abroad, The Bodley Grandchildren and their Journey in Holland, The English Bodleys, and The Viking Bodleys. Illustrated. Eight vols.
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