Every one wondered why the Cuckoo took such trouble as this, and certain people say to this day, "as silly as a Cuckoo," because of it; but when all the birds had eaten their fill, the Cuckoo hopped upon the table and addressed the assembled company.
"It seems to me," said the Cuckoo, "that things have been going very badly with us for some time, and that all would be remedied if we had a king to settle our affairs and rule over us. I would suggest that we choose a king to-day."
Oh, how the birds chirped, and chattered, and peeped at that. The Cuckoo had imagined that she would have the say as to which bird should be king, and she had in mind one of her own sons, but, no indeed! Each bird at the tea party was sure that he had royal blood in his veins, and they all began to argue and quarrel about it.
About that time a Rooster and a Hen passed by, taking their daily airing. They had not been invited to the tea party and so they were greatly excited at hearing the commotion; grandfathers, and fathers, and cousins, and sons among the birds were all talking and arguing at once.
"Wat? Wat?" clucked the Hen.
"I will go and see, my dear," said the Rooster, and so he rushed into the midst of the tea party to see what all the hubbub was about. When he found out, he had a plan to offer. He was often called upon to settle disputes among the Hens, so he was always quite willing to help in any such matters.
"Have a test! Have a test!" said the Rooster. "You will never decide anything by arguing in this way; but it shall be decided that the bird who is able to fly the highest shall be your king."
This seemed a fair way of settling the matter. All the birds agreed to it except the Plover, who went off into the woods and has lived there, wild, ever since.
Then the birds lighted in a row, and spread their wings, and flew with all their strength, and as high as they could, up, up into the air. One by one, though, they dropped back for they did not all have the same strength of wing. The Lark flew higher, indeed, than most of them, but finally he, too, was outstripped by the Eagle, who soared and soared until he was only a speck in the sky.
"The Eagle is our king! The Eagle is king of the birds!" sang all the others; but, no! Way, way above the Eagle flew another bird, so tiny that he looked like nothing but a mote, floating in the sunlight. It was the little brown bird that sings alone in the hedges, and had no name then. He had hidden himself in the Eagle's feathers and had been carried up with him until he wanted to fly on by himself.
"I am the king of the birds!" he twittered as he flew down among the others again.
But the other birds did not wish this. They did not like to think of so tiny and humble a bird being exalted to be their king. They were about to fall upon the little brown bird and drive him out of their midst when the Rooster spoke to them again. Since the plan had been his, he wanted to make a success of it, so he said,
"The mistake was mine, all mine. This is how we will arrange it. The bird that is able to fall deepest into the earth shall be your king."
The Rooster had a plan of his own in mind when he said this. As all the birds began to look about for places to jump into deeper places, and the Duck tried to see how long he could hold his head under water, the Rooster called to the Hen. He instructed the Hen to scratch, and when she had made a deep hole, he hid himself in it.
"I am king of the birds! I am your king!" the Rooster crowed, poking his head up out of the hole.
But the little brown bird that sings in the hedges, and had no name then, had again got the best of them all. What had he done but creep into a mouse hole, and there he was, deeper down in the earth than any of them.
"I am your king!" he twittered up to them.
Then all the birds were very much put out, for they saw that the little brown bird was truly the king. They decided, though, that they would not recognize him, and they appointed the Owl to sit, night and day, at the opening of the mouse hole and not allow the little brown bird to come out. Then all the birds went home from the Cuckoo's tea party, and to bed, for they were quite worn out with all the excitement.
All went well that night with the Owl. He watched the mouse hole and did not allow the little brown bird to so much as put his bill out. When it came to be day, though, the Owl was tired, and he closed, first, one eye, and then the other eye. There he was, fast asleep, and out hopped the little brown bird who had a name now, because he was the little Hedge King.
It was a great disappointment to the other birds to be obliged to recognize so humble a little brown bird as their king, and they blamed the Owl for it. That is why he still sleeps in the daytime now, and looks about only at night. And that is why, also, he is such an enemy of the mice, continually hunting them in their holes.
But the little brown bird who sings alone in the hedges really made himself king of the birds. He has two names now, Hedge King, and Wren.
THE LITTLE RED PRINCESS
Every one knew that she was a princess because she wandered all day through the castle without doing any work. It was a very busy kingdom indeed even if it was so tiny. It was only about two inches high above the meadow, not nearly as tall as the grass blades that grew all around it. The grass looked like a forest of trees to the little red princess, and a wild forget-me-not that bent down over the castle made her sky, for it was almost as blue and nearly as large to her wee eyes.
There were many roads and streets that went up and down through the kingdom, none of them much wider than the stalk of a daisy. There were many little houses along the streets and there was the castle of the little red princess with more windows than one could count, and more winding passages than she could walk through.
The castle was full of other busy little people in red who waited on the princess. They milked her cows, and played with her, and managed the house-keeping so that she did not have to do a bit of work. She was the only one, though, in the whole kingdom who did not work.
As the little red princess looked from her highest window she saw her subjects hurrying to and fro. They were always bringing sand for building, whole lines of them, and putting up new houses, and making better roads. Sentinels watched the gates of the city, and hundreds of workers in red brought in food from the meadow.
If one could have heard so tiny a person as the little red princess speak, she would have said,
"Why should I work when I have so many subjects to wait upon me? I was intended to look pretty, and sit in my doorway, and keep the whole kingdom working for me!"
One day something wonderful happened. The little red princess felt a strange pricking on her shoulders. When she turned her tiny head about to see what was the matter, she found out that she had a beautiful pair of wee, gossamer wings!
If any of the little red workers of the kingdom had been in doubt as to whether their princess were a real princess or not, they were sure now. Hadn't she wings? They waited on the princess more carefully than ever for fear she might hurt herself. And they declared a holiday for her to try her wings when they would stop work and go with her outside of the kingdom.
The little red princess was very much excited indeed about her flight. She had never been outside in all her life, and she went at the head of a procession, all the workers dancing and running along beside her.
Oh, how wonderful she found it in the meadow! The wind in the grass was like a forest wind to her. The sun dazzled her. Now she knew that the blue flower was not at the top of things. Far, far above it was more blue, and yellow sunlight, that she thought was gold, shone all for her because she was a princess!
She spread her wings! Up, up she flew! The others who had no wings watched her and clapped their hands as she rose in the bright air. It was not such a very long flight, not much higher than a tall parasol of Queen Anne's lace, but it was like flying into the clouds to the little red princess.
"I shall fly all the time!" she thought to herself. "I will alight only long enough to tell my subjects to go back to work for me. I am going to fly all the rest of the time."
So the little red princess dropped lightly to the ground again.
How they crowded about her! But she pushed them all aside a little scornfully. They looked surprised and tried to lead her toward the gate of the kingdom again. Then she pushed harder, and stamped her tiny feet. She tried to spread her wings, but they would not let her.
The little red workers surrounded their princess. They began cutting off her wings! It was a rule of the kingdom that a princess might fly only once. She did not know it, of course.
Some princesses were satisfied with trying their wings just once and then took them off themselves, but she was not that kind of princess. She wanted wings all the time!
She struggled, and tried to bite her kind little red subjects who really knew what was best for her. They did not pay any attention to her, though. They did not hurt her very much, but they did not stop until every scrap of her gossamer wings was gone.
"Now look at me! Just see what you have done to your princess!" she tried to say.
"Yes, just look! See what has happened to you!" the others tried to reply, hopping merrily around her.
It was true. Something wonderful had happened to the little red princess. She had changed into a little red queen!
So she did not mind in the least losing her wings. In fact, she was rather glad. She went home to the castle and went right to work ordering her servants about, and keeping house, and taking care of her royal family and all the nurses. She very seldom has time to look out of her castle window, so you may never see her. Her kingdom lies very near you, though, for the little red queen is the real, true queen of the ant hill!
HOW THE FLOWERS CAME
Ever so many years ago the world was as bare and gray as the roads. The Earth King grew very tired of it, and covered the ground with a carpet of green. We call it grass. For years and years there was nothing but green, until the Earth King grew as tired of the green as he had been of the gray. He decided that he must have more colors. So one day he took his royal retinue and journeyed to a hillside where he knew there grew the finest grasses in all the kingdom. At the blast of the King's bugler the grasses assembled, and the King addressed them in simple words.
"My faithful grasses," he said. "It is many years since I placed you here. You have served me well. You have kept true green. It now pleases me to announce to you that I am about to reward a certain number of you and make you lords and ladies of the field. To-morrow I shall come hither at this same hour. You are to assemble before me, and the fairest of your number and the most pleasing I will honor with a great and lasting reward. Farewell."
How the grasses whispered and put their heads together then as a breeze crept up the hillside! They arose next morning before the sun, that they might wash their ribbons in the gleaming pearls of dew. What prinking and preening! What rustling of ruffles and sashes! What burnishing of armor and spears! At length the King's bugle rang out to call them into grand assembly. Full of excitement, they stood before the King, each hoping that he might be chosen for one of the great honors.
The King greeted them as he had on the previous day, but he said,
"In this Court of Judgment I must have willing servants to help me. First, I must have a keeper of the gate so that no outsider may enter. Which one of this host will be keeper of the gate?"
Not a man-grass stirred in his tracks, for each feared that if he became a servant of the King he would lose his chance to be a lord.
"Which one?" asked the King again. "Which one will volunteer to keep the gate for me?"
At this moment a sturdy grass was seen coming down the hillside. He was not handsome, but he was strong. His shoulders were broad, and his chest was deep, and he was armed to the teeth. Spear points stuck from every one of his pockets, and in each hand he carried a lance as sharp as lightning.
"Let the others wait for their honors," he thought, as he said,
"I will serve the King."
"So be it," said the King. "Take your station at the gate. And now," continued the King, "I must have a herald to announce my awards and my commands. Who will be my herald?"
Again there was silence among the man-grasses, until at last one was seen to advance. He was short and round and smiling, as happy a grass as grew on the hill. He came before the King as fast as his short legs could carry him.
"So it please the King," he said. "I will be his royal herald."
"So be it," said the King. "Stand here at my feet."
"Two torch-bearers I need," the King went on, "two torch-bearers, tall and comely, to hold the lights on high. Who will serve the King as torch-bearers?"
And now there was silence and stiffness among the lady-grasses as each feared to lose her chance to be given a title, and waited for the others. At last two slender grass-maidens advanced with glowing faces but reluctant step. They were not as beautiful as some of their sisters. Their ribbons were few and some of them were frayed. They scarcely expected the King to accept them, but they meekly offered themselves, as they said,
"We, O King, will be your torch-bearers."
The King looked greatly pleased as he replied,
"So be it, indeed. Stand here on either hand. And now," continued the King, "I must have an incense-bearer to swing my censer over the meadows. Who will be my incense-bearer?"
For a moment there was silence again among the lady-grasses, but only for a moment. Then out stepped one of the daintiest of them all. She tripped quickly and quietly down the hill to the King, saying modestly as she approached,
"I will be your incense-bearer."
"Let it be so," said the King. "Await my commands. Yet one more servant," he added. "I need some one to ring the chimes. Who among all these loyal subjects, man or maid, will ring the chimes?"
Scarcely had the King's words left his lips when one of the noblest grasses of all, her broad green ribbons rustling as she moved, left the crowded ranks of the grasses, and eagerly advanced before the King. "If it please your Majesty, I will ring the chimes," she said.
Then the King looked around, satisfied, upon his eager and expectant audience, and spoke a few brief words to them. He had come, he said, fearing that the task was almost too great for even a king—to choose among so many and so beautiful subjects. But they had helped him by choosing for themselves, and he had now only to award the honors.
"Keeper of the gate," he commanded, "stand before the King!"
The keeper of the gate came awkwardly forward, pricking all who brushed against him as he passed.
"Because you have been willing to serve," said the King, "I reward you with distinguished honor." Then, taking from the hand of a page a great velvet cap of purplish red, he placed it upon the head of the gatekeeper, saying as he did so, "I dub you: My Lord, the Thistle.
"Let the King's herald stand forth!"
The little round, happy herald obeyed. The King took a great gold coronet from the hand of a page and placed it upon the herald's head, saying,
"Because of your readiness to serve the King, I create you a noble of the field, and dub you: My Lord, the Dandelion.
"Let the torch-bearers stand forth!"
Then the two shy grass-maidens bowed before the King. On the head of each the King placed a shining crown, one all gold, and the other of gold rimmed with white, that they might be told apart; and he said to them,
"Because of your generous deed, I dub you: Lady Buttercup and Lady Daisy.
"Now, my incense-bearer!"
The dainty grass-maiden knelt at his feet and bowed her head.
The King beckoned to a page, who brought him a tiny hood of beautiful blue. This the King placed upon her head, saying,
"I am grateful for your service. I dub you: Lady Violet.
"Let the ringer of the royal chimes appear!"
The beautiful grass with the broad, shining ribbons stood proudly before him, and bent her head in salute. The King took a silver bell and gave it to her, saying,
"This shall be the sign of your royal office. I dub you: Lady Lily-of-the-Field."
Then the King charged his new-made lords and ladies to be faithful to their service, and never cease, year by year, to return and beautify the earth. Then the assembly was dissolved, but not until the whole host of grasses on the hillside had applauded what the King had done. They were disappointed, but they knew that the bravest and truest had been made the most beautiful among them, and crowned with the honor due.
THE THREE LITTLE BUTTERFLY BROTHERS
There were once three little butterfly brothers, one white, one red, and one yellow. They played in the sunshine, and danced among the flowers in the garden, and they never grew tired because they were so happy.
[Footnote 1: From Weick and Grebner's "Eclectic German Third Reader." Copyright, American Book Company, publishers.]
One day there came a heavy rain and it wet their wings. They flew away home, but when they got there they found the door locked and the key gone. So they had to stay outdoors in the rain, and they grew wetter and wetter.
By and by they flew to the red and yellow striped tulip, and said, "Friend Tulip, will you open your flower-cup and let us in until the storm is over."
The tulip answered: "The red and yellow butterflies may enter because they are like me, but the white one may not come in."
But the red and yellow butterflies said: "If our white brother may not find shelter in your flower-cup, why, then, we will stay outside in the rain with him."
It rained harder and harder, and the poor little butterflies grew wetter and wetter, so they flew to the white lily and said: "Good Lily, will you open your bud a little so we may creep in out of the rain?"
The lily answered, "The white butterfly may come in, because he is like me, but the red and yellow ones must stay outside in the storm."
Then the white butterfly said: "If you won't receive my red and yellow brothers, why, then, I will stay out in the rain with them. We would rather be wet than parted."
So the three little butterflies flew away.
But the sun, who was behind a cloud, heard it all. He knew what good little brothers the butterflies were and how they had kept together in spite of the wet. So the sun pushed his face through the clouds and chased away the rain, and shone brightly on the garden.
He dried the wings of the three little butterflies, and warmed their bodies. They ceased to sorrow, and danced among the flowers until evening. Then they flew away home, and found the door wide open.
WHY PETER RABBIT WEARS A WHITE PATCH
The Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind had been tumbled out of her big bag very early one morning. Indeed, they were hardly awake when Old Mother West Wind shook them out on the Green Meadows and hurried away to her day's work, for she knew it was to be a very busy day.
[Footnote 2: Copyright, 1913, by Little, Brown and Company.]
The Merry Little Breezes had watched her go. They saw the great windmill in Farmer Brown's barn-yard begin to whirl as she passed. They saw the million little leaves of the Green Forest shake, until a million little drops of dew, like a million little diamonds, fell down to the earth. And then Old Mother West Wind disappeared on her way to the Great Ocean, there to blow the white-winged ships along their way all day long.
The Merry Little Breezes stretched themselves and then began to dance across the Great Meadows to kiss the buttercups and daisies and to waken the sleepy little meadow people, who hadn't got their nightcaps off yet. But no one wanted to play so early in the morning. No, Sir, no one wanted to play. You see every one had something more important to do. They loved the Merry Little Breezes, but they just couldn't stop to play. Finally the Merry Little Breezes gave it up and just curled up among the grasses for a sun-nap. That is, all but one did. That one kept hopping up every few minutes to see if any one was in sight who would be likely to play a little while.
By and by he saw Peter Rabbit coming down the Lone Little Path from the Green Forest on his way to the dear old briar-patch on the Green Meadows. Peter looked sleepy. The truth is, Peter had been out all night, and he was on his way home.
Half-way down the Lone Little Path Peter stopped, and sitting up very straight, looked over towards the Smiling Pool. He could see Mr. Redwing flying 'round and 'round, this way and that way over the bulrushes. He could hear Mr. Redwing's voice, and it sounded as if Mr. Redwing was very much excited. The more Mr. Peter looked and listened, the more certain he became that something very important must have happened over in the bulrushes on the edge of the Smiling Pool.
Now curiosity is Peter Rabbit's besetting sin. Sleepy as he was, he just couldn't go home without first finding out what had happened in the bulrushes. So away Peter started for the Smiling Pool, lipperty-lipperty-lip. Of course the Merry Little Breeze saw him go. Then the Merry Little Breeze waked all the other Merry Little Breezes, and away they all danced across the Green Meadows to the Smiling Pool and stole in among the bulrushes behind Peter Rabbit to see what he was about. They came up just in time to hear Peter say:
"Hello, Mr. Redwing! You seem very much excited this fine morning. What is it all about? Has anything happened?"
Mr. Redwing hovered right over Peter Rabbit.
"Tra-la-la-la-lee, cherokee, cherokee! I'm happy, oh, so happy! I am happy as can be!"
sang Mr. Redwing, looking down at Peter, who was sitting very straight and looking up.
"You seem to be. But what is it all about? What is it that makes you so happy this morning, Mr. Redwing?" Peter asked.
"Tra-la-la-la-lee, cherokee, cherokee! We've another speckled egg, and this one makes it three!"
carolled Mr. Redwing, and flew over to the nest in the bulrushes where Mrs. Redwing was fussing about in a very important manner.
"Pooh!" said Peter Rabbit. "Is that all? What a little thing to make such a fuss about. I think I'll pay my respects to Grandfather Frog and then I'll go home."
Peter yawned. Then he hopped out where he could see all over the Smiling Pool. There sat Grandfather Frog on his big green lily-pad, just as usual.
"Good morning, Grandfather Frog!" said Peter Rabbit.
"Chugarum! Of course it's good morning. Every morning is good," replied Grandfather Frog gruffly.
"Oh!" said Peter Rabbit, and then he couldn't think of another thing to say.
The Merry Little Breezes giggled, and Grandfather Frog looked over at them and very slowly winked. Then he rolled his big goggly eyes up and stared into the sky. Peter Rabbit looked up to see what Grandfather Frog was looking at so intently. There was Redtail the Hawk swinging 'round and 'round in great big circles, as if he were trying to bore his way right into the clouds. Peter didn't stop to watch.
"When ol' Mr. Hawk is a-riding in the sky, Keep a-moving, keep a-moving, keep a-moving mighty spry!"
chanted Peter, and taking his own advice, off he went, lipperty-lipperty-lip.
Grandfather Frog watched the white patch of the seat of Peter's pants bobbing through the rushes until finally Peter was out of sight.
"Did you ever hear how Peter Rabbit happens to always wear a white patch on the seat of his pants?" asked Grandfather Frog.
"No; do tell us," exclaimed the Merry Little Breezes of Old Mother West Wind.
Grandfather Frog snapped up a foolish green fly, smacked his lips, cleared his throat, and began:
"Once upon a time when the world was young, Old Mother Nature found she had her hands full. Yes, Sir, she certainly did have her hands full. Her family was so big that she couldn't keep an eye on each one all the time. Dear me, dear me, such a lot of trouble as Old Mother Nature did have in those days! And no one made her more trouble than Peter Rabbit's grandfather a thousand times removed. Mr. Rabbit was always in mischief. He just naturally couldn't keep out of it. He just hopped out of one scrape right plumb into another.
"Seemed like Old Mother Nature was busy just straightening out trouble Mr. Rabbit had made. Even she wasn't always quite sure who had made it, and no one else suspected Mr. Rabbit at all. He wore a brown coat, just like the brown leaves, and when he ran he looked just like a little old bunch of leaves blowing along. So Mr. Rabbit used to creep up and listen to what others were saying, for he was just as curious as Peter Rabbit is now, and he used to play all kinds of tricks and never get caught, because of that little old brown suit of his.
"One day in the early spring, when gentle Sister South Wind had melted all the snow, excepting a little patch right under the window of Mr. Skunk's house, Mr. Rabbit came strolling along that way with nothing special on his mind. Mr. and Mrs. Skunk were having a little family talk, and Mr. Skunk was speaking some loud. Mr. Rabbit stopped. Then Mr. Rabbit grinned and sat right down on that bed of snow under Mr. Skunk's window, where he could hear every word.
"Mr. Rabbit had been a-sitting there some time, listening to things that were none of his business, when he happened to look up. There was Old Mother Nature coming through the woods. She hadn't seen him yet, and Mr. Rabbit didn't mean that she should. Off he ran as fast as he could through the brown leaves, chuckling to himself. But Mr. Rabbit had forgotten to brush off the seat of his pants, and of course they were all white with snow.
"Old Mother Nature's eyes are sharp, and so of course she saw the white spot bobbing through the bushes, saw it right away. Mr. Rabbit had to stop and tell what he had been doing to get the seat of his pants all white with snow, and he told the truth, for it's of no use to tell anything else to Old Mother Nature. She looked very stern and she opened her mouth to tell Mr. Rabbit what she thought of him, and just then she had an idea. She just marched Mr. Rabbit off and sewed a white patch on the seat of his pants. And after that, when Mr. Rabbit tried to run away from the mischief he had got into, every one knew who it was by the white patch on the seat of his pants.
"And from that day to this all of Mr. Rabbit's family have worn a white patch, and that is why Peter wears one now, and whenever he stops running, if it is only for a minute, sits down on it so that it cannot be seen," concluded Grandfather Frog.
"Thank you! Thank you, Grandfather Frog!" cried the Merry Little Breezes, and hurried to see who would be the first one to blow a big, fat, foolish green fly within reach of Grandfather Frog's mouth.
THE ANIMALS' NEW YEAR'S EVE
Centuries ago, in Sweden, a dean was riding through the dense forest on a New Year's Eve. He was on horseback, dressed in a fur coat and cap. On the pommel of his saddle hung a satchel in which he carried his book of prayers. He had been with a sick person who lived in a far away forest settlement until late in the evening. Now he was on his way home but he feared that he should not get back to his house until after midnight.
The dean's horse was strong and sturdy, and quite as wise as a human being. He could find his way home from any part of the forest. So the dean rode along now in the gray night, through the bewildering woods, with the reins dangling and his thoughts far away. It was a long time before he noticed how far along he was on his homeward way. When he did glance up, he saw that the forest was as dense as it had been at the beginning.
He intended to turn the horse at once, but the animal had never strayed. Perhaps he, himself, was mistaken, the dean thought. But suddenly a big branch struck him and almost swept him from the horse.
They were riding over a soft marsh through which there was no beaten track, although the horse trotted along at a brisk pace and showed no uncertainty. The dean seized the reins and turned the horse about, guiding him back to the roadway. No sooner was he there than he turned again and made straight for the woods.
The dean decided to walk and lead the horse until they came to more familiar roads. He dismounted, wound the reins around his arm, and started along on foot. It was no easy matter to tramp through the forest in a heavy fur coat; and the horse refused to follow. He planted his hoofs firmly on the ground and balked.
At last the dean was angry. He had never beaten his horse, nor would he now. Instead he threw the reins down and walked away.
"We may as well part company, since you want to go your own way," he said.
He had not taken more than two steps before the horse came after him, took a cautious grip on his master's coat sleeve, and stopped him. Afterward the dean could not understand how it happened but, dark as it was, the horse looked straight in his eyes. He gave his master a look that was both pleading and reproachful.
"I have served you day after day and done your bidding," he seemed to say. "Will you not follow me this one night?"
Without further delay the dean sprang into the saddle.
"Go on!" he said. "I will not desert you when you are in trouble."
He let the horse go as he wished and it was a hazardous journey, uphill all the way. The forest grew so thick that he could not see two feet ahead, but it seemed as if they were climbing a high mountain. The horse took perilous steps.
"Surely you don't intend to go up Black's Ridge, do you?" asked the dean, who knew that was one of the highest peaks in Haelsingland.
They mounted up and up, and the higher they went the more scattering were the trees. At last they rode on bare highland where the dean could look in every direction. Great tracts of land went up and down in mountains and valleys covered with dark trees. He could make out where they were.
"Why, of course it's Black's Ridge!" he said. "What an adventure!"
When they were at the top the horse stopped behind a thick pine, as if to hide. The dean bent forward and pushed aside the branches that he might see.
The mountain's bald top was there. It was not empty, though. In the middle of the open space was an immense boulder around which many wild beasts were gathered. They were having a meeting of some sort.
Near to the big rock he saw bears, so firmly and heavily built that they seemed like fur-clad figures of stone. They were lying down and their little eyes blinked impatiently, for they had come from their winter sleep to attend court and could hardly keep awake. Behind the bears, in tight rows, were hundreds of wolves. They were not sleepy, for wolves are more alert in winter than in summer. They sat upon their haunches, like dogs, whipping the ground with their tails and panting—their tongues lolling far out of their jaws.
Behind the wolves, the lynx skulked, stiff-legged and clumsy, like misshapen cats. They hissed and spat when one came near them. The row back of the lynx was filled with wolverines; they had dog faces and bear coats. They were not happy on the ground, and they stamped their pads impatiently, longing to get into the trees. Behind them, covering the entire space of the forest border, leaped the foxes, the weasels, and the martens. They were small and perfectly formed, but they looked even more savage and blood thirsty than the larger beasts.
All this the dean plainly saw for the whole place was light. Upon the huge rock at the centre was the Wood-nymph, who held in her hand a pine torch which burned in a big red flame. The Nymph was as tall as the tallest tree in the forest. She wore a spruce-brush mantle, and had spruce-cone hair. She stood very still, her face turned toward the forest. She was watching and listening.
Suddenly the dean heard the sound of a familiar bell. The next moment he heard footfalls and crackling of branches, as of many animals breaking through the forest. A big herd of cattle was climbing the mountain. They came through the forest in the order in which they had marched to the mountain ranches. First came the bell cow followed by the bull, then the other cows and the calves. After them came the goats, and last were the horses and colts. The sheep-dog trotted along beside the sheep; but neither shepherd nor shepherdess was with them.
The domestic animals came in great terror, straight toward the wild beasts. The cattle came with faltering step; the goats had no desire to play or butt. The bodies of the horses were all a-quiver with fright. The most pathetic of all was the sheep-dog. He kept his tail between his legs and crawled on the ground.
As the creatures reached the summit and filed past the Wood-nymph, the dean saw her lower her pine torch over one and another of them.
Every time this happened the wild beasts broke into exultant roars, particularly when the Wood-nymph indicated a cow or some other large creature. The animal that saw the torch turned toward it, uttered a frightful cry, as if it had received a knife thrust in its flesh. Herd upon herd followed, without a break in the line of procession. It was the same with all.
Then the dean understood the meaning of what he saw. He had heard that the animals assembled on Black's Ridge every New Year's Eve that the Wood-nymph might mark out which of the tame beasts would that year be eaten by the wild beasts. It was terrible! He thought of the farmers who had so much love for their creatures.
"They would risk their own lives rather than let their cattle be doomed by the Wood-nymph," the dean thought.
The last herd to come was the dean's own, from the rectory farm. He heard the sound of his bell cow a long way off. The horse, too, must have heard it, for he began to shake in every limb and was bathed in sweat.
"So it is your turn to pass before the Wood-nymph and receive your sentence," the dean said to the horse. "Don't be afraid. Now I know why you brought me here, and I shall not leave you."
The beautiful cattle from the rectory farm came out of the forest and marched to the Wood-nymph and the wild beasts. Last in line was the horse. The dean did not leave the saddle, but let the animal take him to the Wood-nymph.
The dean had nothing for his defence, but he had taken out his book of prayers and sat pressing it to his heart. At first he seemed unnoticed, but his cattle filed by and the Wood-nymph did not lower her pine torch toward any of these. When the faithful horse stepped forward, though, she made a movement to mark him for death.
Instantly the dean held up his book of prayers, and the torch light fell on its cover. The Wood-nymph uttered a loud, shrill cry; and the torch dropped from her hand and fell to the ground.
Immediately the flame was extinguished, and all about was the profound stillness of a wilderness in winter. Then the dark clouds parted, and through the opening stepped the full round moon to shed its light upon the ground. Not one of the many wild beasts was there. The dean and his horse were alone on Black's Ridge, the horse trembling and foaming.
By the time the dean reached home he no longer knew if it had been a vision or reality—this that he had seen; but he took it as a warning to him to remember the poor creatures who are at the mercy of wild beasts. He preached so powerfully to the peasants that in his day all the wild beasts were exterminated in that part of the country.
THE COUNTRY CAT
Cats and mice didn't use to be such bad friends as they are now. They used to visit back and forth, once upon a time, just like neighbors.
What made them fall out?
Well, it came about this way.
Old Miss Pussy Cat lived in the country but she was very curious to know about town doings. She told all her friends and relatives how she longed to see the sights.
In the middle of the night Mr. Gray Moose knocked on her door, and said that he had a cousin going up to town. If Miss Pussy Cat still wanted to see the sights this cousin would be proud to give her a lift.
Then Miss Pussy Cat tied on her bonnet, and put on her shawl, and packed a basket full of victuals, and started out with Mr. Mouse. Mice do their travelling by night, and the cat and the mouse travelled all night, and they got to town the next day.
When they came where all the people were, Mr. Mouse picked up his feet and ran down a rat hole; but Miss Pussy Cat sat down by the side of the road to eat a little. She was sitting there, spreading out all her good country sausage and good country ham and such things, when a town cat came prowling along past.
This town cat was hungry. He was just as ragged as a beggar man, and he wanted Miss Pussy Cat's victuals mighty bad.
"My land," he said. "Where did you get that big lunch?"
"Oh, that's just a little snack," said Miss Pussy Cat very politely. "I brought it with me from home. Won't you join me, sir?"
Now that old, hungry town cat wanted all Miss Pussy Cat's victuals mighty bad. He didn't want to join her. So he said, "Do you really eat such a mess as that in the country where you come from?"
"Yes, indeed," said Miss Pussy Cat, who was mighty glad to meet even a beggar cat from town and learn town ways.
"Don't you eat sausages and ham in town? What do you eat in town, anyway?" she asked.
The town cat looked all about. He was bound to send Miss Pussy Cat on an errand that would take her away from those good victuals. Just then he saw Mr. Mouse peep out of the hole to ask Miss Pussy Cat if she was having a good time. The town cat reasoned that if he could start Miss Pussy Cat running after Mr. Swift Foot Mouse he would have time to steal her dinner.
"We eat mice!" he said in the grandest manner. "You never will learn town ways until you learn to eat mice."
Miss Pussy Cat was bound she would learn to do as town folks did. Up she hopped and left the lunch as quick as you could wink—and the old, hungry town cat grabbed it just as quickly. Miss Pussy Cat chased Mr. Mouse all the way to the Court House. There she caught him and there she ate him, all but his squeak and his teeth.
Then, by that, she got the taste; and cats have been eating mice and rats ever since, to this day.
THE THREE BROTHERS
Once upon a time there lived three poor little dwarfs in a tumble-down house by a roadside, and each dwarf owned a china mug.
One little dwarf was stingy. He did his mug up in tissue paper and cotton batting and kept it locked up in his third bureau drawer. "I will keep it safe," said he, "where nobody can ever use it. It is my mug. My mug shall never get broken, and when I need a mug to drink from, I can use one that belongs to some one else."
The second little dwarf was selfish. He carried his mug in his pocket. "I am going to keep this mug to drink from myself. It belongs to me. If others need a mug to drink from, let them look out for themselves," he said.
The third little dwarf was generous. "I'm so glad that I own a pretty mug!" he chuckled to himself. "Every one can use it. It is the very thing to offer a thirsty traveller who stops at our tumble-down house to ask for a drink of water. My brothers can use it, too. I am sure they will both be quite as careful of it as if it belonged to them. We need only the one mug, for we share alike, because we love one another."
Now one day there came a traveller over the dusty highroad. He was thirsty and tired. He saw the well, and he went up to the door of the tumble-down house and knocked, rat-tat-tat!
The stingy little dwarf was yawning in the parlor, because he never did any work—he let the others do it. When he heard the rat-tat-tat he kept very quiet.
The selfish little dwarf was in the dining-room, pretending to sweep—but he was only sweeping the crumbs under the mat, for he did not like to clean. He heard the rat-tat-tat! but he pretended that he was too busy to answer it.
The third little dwarf was in the kitchen, scrubbing the hearth with a mop. His sleeves were rolled up, and he had overalls on, but he could not bear to keep a tired traveller waiting at the door. "I must go at once," he thought. And he went.
"Come right round to the well," he said. "I will get a mug and give you a drink of our nice cold water. You must be tired, for the highway is warm, and dusty." He set the best chair for the traveller, and gave him a fan.
He went to fetch his mug. But what do you think! When he found it at last, it was soiled—and the stingy dwarf had carelessly broken the handle off, and the selfish dwarf had dropped it on the floor and nicked the rim! "Oh! Oh! It's not fit for company use!" cried the generous little dwarf. "I must have something better!"
He asked Stingy to let him take his mug.
"No. You can't take mine," said Stingy. "Nobody can ever use it. It is all put away. It's mine, and I won't lend it to anybody."
Then he asked Selfish to let him take his mug.
"No," said Selfish. "I can't let you take my mug. Give him yours. What do you care if it is nicked, and the handle is off—it is good enough for a beggar, I should think!"
So there was nothing for the generous little dwarf to do except to take his own broken mug to the stranger. But he cut some slices of bread and put them on the prettiest plate that he could find.
"I'm sorry I haven't a better mug to offer you," he said, "but the others were all put away. They belong to my brothers. Oh, I wish that they would come out to see you,—they are so nice,—but they said they were busy at present. Stingy is dusting the parlor, and Selfish is brushing up the dining-room. Their mugs are nicer than mine, because they always know just how to take care of their things. Wouldn't you like some more bread? I am sorry we haven't butter to offer you—but we never buy it."
The traveller thanked Generous for all he had done. He said, "I am so grateful to you that I should like to do something for you before I go. I should like to give you something to remember me by. Let me take your mug again, little dwarf. Have you a big pail that I can use?"
"Oh, yes," returned the generous little dwarf. "I have one." And he ran to the kitchen and rinsed out the one that he had been using.
The stranger took the broken mug that had lost its handle and had a chipped rim, and he began to dip water from the bucket into the pail.
At the first dip, the handle came back on the mug, and the mug became quite whole and new. At the second dip, the mop-pail turned into gold. At the third dip, the tumble-down house became new and splendid. At the fourth dip, the cupboards became filled with pots, kettles, and good things to eat. At the fifth dip, Stingy and Selfish came running out of the house, and they were changed. They were not stingy or selfish any longer, but were like their brother, generous, and good, and loving. They carried their mugs and gave them to the stranger. And they kissed the generous little brother dwarf. The one who had been stingy said he was sorry that he had never helped with the work. And the one who had been selfish said that he was sorry, too, and that he never would sweep crumbs under the mat again—for it only made work for other people to do. And at the seventh dip, the pail was filled full of gold.
Then the stranger bade them good-bye, and went on his way.
Who was he? A good fairy, no doubt. He may have heard of the generous little dwarf, and wanted to help him. If that were so, he probably wanted to help Stingy and Selfish, too, and make them into Good and Happy. At any rate, they all lived happily ever after, and the mug that belonged to the generous little dwarf was kept at the wellside for travellers to use.
THE CRY FAIRY
There was once a fairy who wanted to know all the things that ever were. This was very unusual, because most fairies know a great deal more than they have time to do; but somehow this fairy, who was named Gillibloom, had an idea that mortals know a great deal and that fairies would be happier if they could find out what some of the things are.
So he went to the Fairy Queen and asked for leave of absence for thirty-three and a third years, that he might go and live among mortals and learn things.
At the end of thirty-three and a third years he came back again, and he found the fairies dancing just as if they had never left off. They were all perfectly delighted to see him, and they left off dancing and crowded round him and cried out all together, which is the way the fairies sometimes talk: "O Gillibloom, what have you learned?"
Gillibloom looked at them a few minutes very solemnly, as if he wanted them to pay great attention to what he was going to say. Then he answered: "I have not really learned anything, but I have almost learned to cry."
"To cry, Gillibloom?" called the fairies. "What is that?"
"I know," cried a fairy who was a great traveller, and had once gone on a moonbeam excursion to a large town. "It's what mortals do when they want something they haven't got, or have something they don't want."
"Yes," said Gillibloom, "that is it."
"But what good is it?" asked the other fairies.
"I don't really know," said Gillibloom: "but I think it is really very good indeed, because so many of them do it. Sometimes if you are very little and want something, and cry and cry, somebody brings it to you."
"But we don't want anything we can't get without crying," said the fairies.
"Yes, that is true," said Gillibloom. "But it can't be that so many people would cry if there wasn't some use in it. Try as I may, I can't find out what the use is, but I thought I might form a class and we could all cry together, and then we should see what happened."
Now some of the fairies were too busy painting flowers to join a class, and more were too busy riding on bees' wings, but there were a few dozen who said:
"We might as well join. Why not? It will please Gillibloom, and maybe there is some use in it, after all."
So Gillibloom appointed the next night by the banks of the Standing Pool, for, he said, it would be quite impossible at first to cry anywhere except by the side of still water.
The next night they were all there, twenty-seven of them, each with a moss-cup in his hand.
So the fairies all sat down in a circle, and looked pleasantly about at one another and said: "We are here to cry."
"Now, in the beginning," said Gillibloom, "I will show you how it is done. The first three of you there by the acorn must run at me and knock off my cap."
So the first three ran gaily at him and knocked off his cap, but they might as well not have done it, for another cap, just as green and with just as red a feather, blew right down from somewhere else and settled on his head, and the fairies laughed, and Gillibloom did, too.
"Well," said he, "the next three of you must trip me up, and I'll fall down on the ground, and then I'll show you how to cry."
So the next three tripped him up, and Gillibloom didn't mind it in the least, because, whatever you do in the fairy woods, it never hurts. But he remembered that he was the teacher, and if he didn't begin to teach he would pretty soon be no teacher at all. So he sat there on the ground and made up a dreadful face, and wrinkled his forehead and shut his eyes and pulled down the corners of his mouth. And then he dipped his own moss-cup carefully into the Standing Pool, and brought up a drop of water. And he put his fingers in it and splashed some on his face; and it ran down his cheeks, and he said proudly: "Now I am almost crying."
"Ho!" said the fairies, "is that all? We can do that without being taught."
So they wrinkled up their foreheads and shut their eyes and drew down their mouths and dipped their fingers in the moss-cups, and sprinkled their faces, and made a bellowing noise, and they said proudly: "Now we are almost crying, too."
Gillibloom had opened his eyes and wiped his cheeks on a bit of everlasting petal.
"That was very good," he said, "very good indeed! To-morrow we will go on with the second lesson."
But the twenty-seventh fairy was thinking just then that he might have been dancing all this time, and he said: "Gillibloom, I don't see what good it will do."
"It must be remembered that we have only learned Almost Crying to-day," said Gillibloom, with dignity. "When we have learned Quite Crying it will be a different matter."
"I can't help it," said the twenty-seventh fairy. "I'm not coming any more. Anybody want my cup?"
But nobody did, because all the other pupils had kept their cups very carefully, and he tossed it into the Standing Pool and danced away through the forest, singing:
"School's dismissed! School's dismissed! Out of so many I shan't be missed. By and by they'll learn to cry. But if any one's there, it won't be I. I'd rather sing or dance or fly, Or swim in a puddle where star-shines lie. I'll not cry—not I!"
And the next day it was just the same. The twenty-six fairies, sat by the side of the Standing Pool, and Gillibloom wrinkled up his forehead and shut his eyes and drew down his mouth and bellowed and wet his cheeks with water out of his moss-cup, and they all did the same, and then they said: "Now we are Almost Crying."
But when the lesson was over, the twenty-sixth fairy said he had some wheat ripening to attend to in a field ever so far away, and the next day the twenty-fifth fairy said there was a Crow Caucus on, and he wanted to see what they meant to do about the scare-crow in the field they owned, and he couldn't come any more, and the next day the twenty-fourth fairy said there were ever so many dancing steps he hadn't practised for a long time, and he couldn't come any more, and the next day the twenty-third fairy said there was a queer-shaped leaf on the watercress down by the spring, and he thought he ought to look round a bit and see if there were any more like it, and he couldn't come any more.
And so it went on until Gillibloom was the only one left, and he sat by the Standing Pool and dished up water to splash his face and wrinkled up his forehead and shut his eyes and drew down his mouth and bellowed; and whenever the rest of the fairies heard him or saw him, they clapped their hands over their eyes, and put their fingers in their ears, and ran away as hard as they could. And so it happened that the forest about the Standing Pool was perfectly quiet, for no bird or squirrel or bee or any other thing that lives and breathes in the forest will stay after the fairies are gone.
And the Sun looked in and said: "There is nobody there but that silly Gillibloom, and he is Almost Crying all the time. I'll go away somewhere else."
And the Moon looked down at night and said: "Why, there's nothing in that forest but a Dreadful Sound. There's no use in my troubling myself to squeeze down through the branches, for sounds can get along just as well by themselves."
So she drove off very fast to the fairy green, and rolled such a river of light into the fairy ring that the fairies gave up dancing, and got flower-cups and sailed on the river, and some who couldn't stop to get flower-cups swam in it, and it was the gayest night ever to be remembered.
Now, when Gillibloom found that the fairies had all gone and left him to himself, and the four-footed things and the two-footed things, and the things that have feathers and fur and gauze-wings and shell-wings had gone too, he had felt differently from what he ever had before. He had been bellowing for a long time that night, because he was determined to learn to cry and get it over, and then go back to his people, but now he said to himself: "I will not cry any more. And anyway it is not Quite Crying, and if Almost Crying makes everything run away from me, I don't know what Quite Crying would do."
So he tried to shut his mouth, and stop its bellowing, but it would not stop. And he tried to smooth his forehead, and it stayed wrinkled, and he tried to draw up the corners of his mouth, and they would not stay, and he tried to open his eyes, and they would not open. And there was a strange feeling in his throat, and his heart beat very fast, and though he had not dipped up the water of the Standing Pool for as much as two hours, his cheeks were all wet.
"Oh," said Gillibloom to himself, "what has happened to me! what has happened to me!"
And he started running as fast as he could through the silent forest to the Earth-Woman's house, and as he ran he said to himself: "What has happened to me? What has happened to me? Am I afraid?"
Now for a fairy to be afraid is just as impossible as for it not to be a fairy, but Gillibloom knew he was somehow changed, and he could only run and call aloud at the top of his voice, "Am I afraid? Am I afraid?"
Now the Earth-Woman lives in the very middle of the wood, in a green house that nobody can see by day, and a dark brown house that nobody can see by night. And when she heard Gillibloom come screaming through the forest, she stepped to her door and stood waiting for him, and in a minute he was there, and laid hold of her skirts and clung to them.
"Well! Well!" said the Earth-Woman, "and who is this?" Then she stooped down and took up Gillibloom between her thumb and forefinger, and looked at him. "By acorns and nuts!" said she. "It's the Cry Fairy."
"No! no!" said Gillibloom. "No! no! I'm the Almost Cry Fairy. I'm never going to Quite Cry, for I don't know what it would do to me."
The Earth-Woman laid her finger to Gillibloom's cheek and touched it and put it, all wet, to her lips. She nodded and then shook her head.
"Well," said she, "you were a silly, weren't you? Now what do you want me to do?"
Gillibloom kept on bellowing.
"I want to be with the others."
"What others?" asked the Earth-Woman severely. "The other cry-babies?"
"The fairies and the furs and the feathers and the wings and the fins and the tails and the sun and the moon," bellowed Gillibloom, though now you could hardly have understood a word he said.
But the Earth-Woman could understand. She understood everything.
"Then," she said, "you must open your eyes, smooth out your forehead and pull up your mouth, and stop that noise."
Gillibloom tried, because, whatever the Earth-Woman says in the forest, it has to be done. But he could not do it. And worse than that, he found he didn't really want to.
"Do you like to have your throat feel all pinched up, as if you couldn't swallow a drop of honey?" the Earth-Woman asked him.
"No!" screamed Gillibloom. And then he roared louder than ever. You could have heard him across twenty violets.
"Do you like to have your mouth all salt with tears, and your pretty tunic wet with them?"
"No! No!" said Gillibloom.
But he kept on roaring.
"There, you see!" said the Earth-Woman. "Now I'll tell you something, Gillibloom, and you keep it in your mind until you forget it. The more you cry, the harder it is to stop, and the only way to stop crying is to smile."
"Cry?" said Gillibloom. "Is this Quite Crying? Isn't it Almost Crying?"
"That's as may be," said the Earth-Woman wisely. "Now you come in here with me."
So she carried him into her hut, where it is very dark but light enough to see to do all sorts of wonderful things, and she ironed out his forehead and put a nice polish on it, and she opened his eyes and told them to stay open, and she shut his mouth and told it to stay shut, and when it had really done it, she stretched it very carefully indeed, until it was perhaps two cat's hairs wider than it had been for a long time.
"There!" said she, "I can't do any more until it softens a little. Lie down there, Gillibloom, and think about leaves in spring."
So Gillibloom lay down on a very soft couch that was perhaps rose-leaves and perhaps thistledown and perhaps cornsilk, and when he had lain there a day and a night, the Earth-Woman stretched his mouth a little more, and a little more. And one night she said to him: "Now, Gillibloom, your cure will take quite a long time yet, but you must do the rest of it yourself. And this is what you must do. Whenever you think of crying, you must stretch your mouth just as wide as you can."
"Why, that's what the mortals call smiling," said Gillibloom.
"And you must keep on doing it until you've forgotten to cry. Now. I wish you were in the fairy ring."
And she had no sooner said it than he was there. All the fairies were dancing the new dance that is called, "Remember the Robins and Roses To-day and Think of the Lilies and Larks." Now when they saw Gillibloom standing there among them, balancing on one foot and trying to look very bold and gay, they stopped dancing and half turned away, and looked at him over their shoulders. If Gillibloom was going to teach, they didn't propose to stay more than a second and a half in his company.
Gillibloom looked very nice. The Earth-Woman had got the salt stains out of his tunic, and pressed it neatly for him, and brought him a new pair of grasshopper tights. They were very much worn at that time. And he was stretching his mouth as hard as he could, and he put up one hand and touched his cheek, and it was quite dry. That gave him courage.
"Come on, fellows," he said. "On with the dance!"
Just then the moon looked down, and she was so pleased to see Gillibloom back again that she tossed a moon-wreath down over his shoulders, and it brightened up the old tunic wonderfully and sent a splendid light up into his face. And the fairies could see he was smiling, and they began singing together.
"Gillibloom!" they sang, "Gillibloom! Gillibloom's come back!"
Once upon a time there was a king who had twelve sons. When they were grown big, he told them they must go out into the world and win themselves wives, but these wives must be able to spin, and weave, and sew a shirt in one day. If they could not, he would not have them for daughters-in-law.
To each son he gave a horse and a new suit of clothes, and they went out into the world to look for brides. When they had gone a little way together, they said that they would not have Boots, their youngest brother, with them, for he was stupid.
So Boots had to stay behind, and he did not know what to do or where to turn. He became very downcast, and got off his horse, and sat down in the tall grass to think. But after he had sat there a while, one of the tufts in the grass began to stir and move, and out of it came a little white thing. When it came nearer, Boots saw that it was a charming little lassie, and such a tiny bit of a thing, no larger than a small doll.
The lassie went up to Boots and asked him if he would like to come down and call on her, and she said that her name was Doll-in-the-Grass.
Boots said that he would be greatly pleased to accept her invitation. When he leaned down a little closer, there sat Doll-in-the-Grass on a chair. She was the tiniest lassie you can imagine, and very, very beautiful. She asked Boots where he was going, and what was his business. So he told her how there were twelve brothers of them, and how the king had told each one of them to go out into the world and find himself a wife who could spin, and weave, and sew a shirt all in one day.
"But if you will only say at once that you will be my wife," Boots said to Doll-in-the-Grass, "I will not go a step farther."
She was willing, and so she made haste and spun, and wove, and sewed the shirt, but it was very, very tiny. It was no more than two inches long. Boots went off home with it, but when he took it out he was almost ashamed of it, it was so small. But the king was pleased with it, and said he should have her. So Boots set off, glad and happy, to fetch the little lassie.
When he came to Doll-in-the-Grass, he wished to take her up before him on his horse. But she would not have that, for she said she would sit and drive along in a silver spoon, and that she had two white horses to draw it. So off they started, Boots on his horse, and Doll-in-the-Grass in her silver spoon; and the two horses that drew her were two tiny white mice. But Boots always kept on the other side of the road, for he was afraid lest he should ride over her, she was so little.
When they had gone a little way they came to a great piece of water. Here Boots' horse grew frightened, and shied across the road. The spoon upset, and Doll-in-the-Grass tumbled into the water. Then Boots was in great distress, for he did not know how to get her out again; but, suddenly, up came a merman with her. How wonderful; Doll-in-the-Grass was now as tall and well grown as other girls! So Boots took her up before him on his horse, and rode home.
All Boots' brothers had come back with their sweethearts, but not one had woven so dainty a little shirt as had Doll-in-the-Grass, and none was half so lovely. When the brothers saw her they were as jealous as could be of their brother. But the king was so delighted with her that he gave them the finest wedding feast of all. He allowed them to live with him in his palace, and gave out word that they should succeed him on the throne.
THE PLOUGHMAN AND HIS SONS
A wealthy Ploughman, drawing near his end, Called in his sons apart from every friend, And said, "When of your sire bereft, The heritage your father left Guard well, nor sell a single field. A treasure in it is concealed. The place, precisely, I don't know, But industry will serve to show. The harvest past, Time's forelock take, And search with plough, and spade, and rake; Turn over every inch of sod, Nor leave unsearched a single clod!" The father died. The sons in vain Turned o'er the soil, and o'er again. That year their acres bore More grain than e'er before. Though hidden money found they none, Yet had their father wisely done, To show by such a measure That toil itself is treasure.
* * * * *
The farmer's patient care and toil Are oftener wanting than the soil.
THE BAG OF DUST
There was once a prince who went to his father, the King, to receive his fortune. And when the King ordered it to be brought in, what do you think it was—a great, gray bag of dust!
The Prince, now that he was old enough to go out in the world, had expected a very different fortune from this—a Kingdom all his own in some other land, a chest of jewels, and a gold crown.
But his father, the King, helped the Prince to put the bag of dust, which was very heavy indeed, upon his back.
"You are to carry this to the boundary line of the Kingdom without once dropping it," he said. And the Prince, who always did what his father, the King, said, set out.
It seemed as if the bag grew heavier at every step. The Prince had not known that dust could weigh so much. It sifted out of the coarse bag and covered his fine velvet cloak so that you could not have told him from the poorest subject in the Kingdom. The folk in the streets laughed at him, and the dogs barked at his heels.
Before the Prince had gone very far he came to a field where all the princes from the Kingdoms near by were playing games and riding their beautiful horses. The Prince stopped a moment, because he wanted to join them. He could ride a horse without a saddle, and hit the centre of a target with his bow and arrow. But as he stopped he remembered the bag of dust upon his back which his father, the King, had said that he must not set down.
So he started on again, but the bag was heavier now.
He had not gone much farther, when he came to a beautiful park, set in the midst of a green forest. There were rustic seats, placed beneath trees whose branches hung low with ripe fruit of all kinds. Some one must have known that the Prince was coming, for a table was set for him with sweets and other fruits and all manner of dainty things to eat. The Prince was very hungry, for it was long past noon and he had eaten nothing. He was about to sit down at the table when he remembered the bag of dust upon his back. He knew that he must not set it down.
So he started on again, but the bag was even heavier now.
He went on, farther and farther, and the way was strange to him now, for he had come a long way. The bag seemed to grow larger with every step that he took; it covered his back, and bent his shoulders, and bowed his head. Although he had come so far, he seemed no nearer the boundary of the Kingdom than he had been when he started out. Suddenly he saw, like a white cloud in front of him, a great lovely castle.
There was no one in the pretty rose garden in front save soft-eyed deer. There was no one looking out of the bright windows, or at the door which stood wide open. It seemed as if the castle was waiting for the Prince and, because he was very tired from carrying his load of dust so far, he went through the garden and up to the door. But, just as he was going inside, he discovered that the door was not large enough to let his bag through, too, and he knew that he must not set it down.
So he started on again, but the bag was heavier than it had ever been before.
On and on went the Prince, but he felt like an old man and his steps were slow because he was so tired. He wanted to turn back, and he wanted to set down his load, but his father, the King, had said that he must carry it to the boundary of the Kingdom. The day was almost done, but it seemed as if he would never reach it.
Suddenly, though, he came to the end of the road and looked over the edge of the Kingdom.
There was a castle, not white, but gold. All about it were more beautiful gardens than those which he had left behind. In the door stood his father, the King, come in his chariot by another road to welcome him.
"Set down your bag," said the King, so the Prince did and he felt suddenly rested and young again.
"Look inside it," said the King. So the Prince looked inside the bag, and he found out what had made it so heavy.
Each grain of dust had turned to gold!
THE CAMEL AND THE PIG
A Camel and a Pig chanced to meet in a far country, and as neither had seen the other before, they began at once to boast.
"The greatest distinction and the most good in the world comes from being tall," said the Camel. "Look at me, Pig; behold how tall I am!"
The Pig looked at the Camel, so far above him in height, but he had made up his mind not to be outdone by him.
"You are in the wrong, Camel," argued the Pig. "There is nothing in the world so important as being short. Look at me, and behold how short I am!"
The Camel looked down at the Pig but he was not of his opinion. "This matter must be settled by a test," he said. "If I fail to prove the truth of what I feel about myself, I will give up my hump."
"That is well spoken," replied the Pig. "And if I cannot show you the truth of what I have said I will give up my snout."
"It is a bargain!" said the Camel.
"Agreed!" said the Pig.
So the Camel and the Pig started on a journey together to find out which of the two was the more honorable, and in the course of time they came to a garden. It was entirely surrounded by a low stone wall in which there was no opening.
The Camel stood beside the wall and looked at the green plants, growing in such profusion inside the garden. Then he stretched his long neck over the wall and ate a hearty breakfast of juicy green leaves and stalks. Then he turned and jeered at the Pig who stood at the bottom of the wall and could not catch a glimpse even of the good things in the garden.
"Which would you rather be, Pig, tall or short?" asked the Camel as they travelled on again, and the Pig did not answer.
Soon, though, they came to a second garden, enclosed by a very high wall. At one end there was a wicket gate. The Pig quickly squeezed himself under the gate and went into the garden. He ate a hearty meal of the ripe vegetables that he found there, and came out, laughing in his turn at the Camel who had not been able to reach over the wall.
"Which would you rather be, Camel, short, or tall?" asked the Pig, and the Camel did not answer.
So the two thought the matter over and they decided that the Camel had reason to keep his hump and the Pig to keep his snout. For it is good to be tall when height is needed; and it is also important, at times, to be short.
HOW THE MOON WAS KIND TO HER MOTHER
Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, the Sun, the Wind, and the Moon were three sisters, and their mother was a pale, lovely Star that shone, far away, in the dark evening sky.
One day their uncle and aunt, who were no more or less than the Thunder and Lightning, asked the three sisters to have supper with them, and their mother said that they might go. She would wait for them, she said, and would not set until all three returned and told her about their pleasant visit.
So the Sun in her dress of gold, the Wind in a trailing dress that rustled as she passed, and the Moon in a wonderful gown of silver started out for the party with the Thunder and Lightning. Oh, it was a supper to remember! The table was spread with a cloth of rainbow. There were ices like the snow on the mountain tops, and cakes as soft and white as clouds, and fruits from every quarter of the earth. The three sisters ate their fill, especially the Sun and the Wind, who were very greedy, and left not so much as a crumb on their plates. But the Moon was kind and remembered her mother. She hid a part of her supper in her long, white fingers to take home and share with her mother, the Star.
Then the three sisters said good-bye to the Thunder and Lightning and went home. When they reached there, they found their mother, the Star, waiting and shining for them as she had said she would.
"What did you bring me from the supper?" she asked.
The Sun tossed her head with all its yellow hair in disdain as she answered her mother.
"Why should I bring you anything?" she asked. "I went out for my own pleasure and not to think of you."
It was the same with the Wind. She wrapped her flowing robes about her and turned away from her mother.
"I, too, went out for my own entertainment," she said, "and why should I think of you, mother, when you were not with me?"
But it was very different with the Moon who was not greedy and selfish as her two sisters, the Sun and the Wind, were. She turned her pale sweet face toward her mother, the Star, and held out her slender hands.
"See, mother," cried the Moon, "I have brought you part of everything that was on my plate. I ate only half of the feast for I wanted to share it with you."
So the mother brought a gold plate and the food that her unselfish daughter, the Moon, had brought her heaped the plate high. She ate it, and then she turned to her three children, for she had something important to say to them. She spoke first to the Sun.
"You were thoughtless and selfish, my daughter," she said. "You went out and enjoyed yourself with no thought of one who was left alone at home. Hereafter you shall be no longer beloved among men. Your rays shall be so hot and burning that they shall scorch everything they touch. Men shall cover their heads when you appear, and they shall run away from you."
And that is why, to this day, the Sun is hot and blazing.
Next the mother spoke to the Wind.
"You, too, my daughter, have been unkind and greedy," she said. "You, also, enjoyed yourself with no thought of any one else. You shall blow in the parching heat of your sister, the Sun, and wither and blast all that you touch. No one shall love you any longer, but all men will dislike and avoid you."
And that is why, to this day, the Wind, blowing in hot weather, is so unpleasant.
But, last, the mother spoke to her kind daughter, the Moon.
"You remembered your mother, and were unselfish," she said. "To those who are thoughtful of their mother, great blessings come. For all time your light shall be cool, and calm, and beautiful. You shall wane, but you shall wax again. You shall make the dark night bright, and all men shall call you blessed."
And that is why, to this day, the Moon is so cool, and bright, and beautiful.
THE RABBIT WHO WAS GRATEFUL
Everything in the woods was covered deep with snow, the berries, the juicy young bushes, and the roots. The animals had stowed themselves away for the winter to sleep; the bear in a deep cave, the chipmunk in a hollow log, and the wild mouse in a cozy hole beneath the roots of a tree. The wind sang a high, shrill song in the tops of the pine trees, and the doors of the wigwams were shut tight.
But the door of Son-of-a-Brave's wigwam suddenly opened a little way and the Indian boy, himself, looked out. He had his bow and a newly tipped arrow in his hands.
While the snow and the ice had been piling up outside in the Indian village, Son-of-a-Brave had been very busy working beside the home fire making his new arrow head. First, he had gone to the wigwam of the village arrow maker to ask him for a piece of stone, and the arrow maker had been good enough to give Son-of-a-Brave a piece of beautiful white quartz. Then Son-of-a-Brave had set to work on it. He had shaped it with a big horn knife and chipped it with a hammer. He had polished it in a dish of sand until it shone like one of the icicles outside. Then he had fitted it to a strong arrow and wished that he had a chance to shoot. That was why Son-of-a-Brave stood at the entrance of the wigwam, looking out across the snow that not even a deer had tracked because the winter was so severe.
All at once Son-of-a-Brave saw something. An old hare struggled out of a snow bank and limped down the path that led by the wigwam. In the summer the hare was gray, the color of the trees among which he lived, but in the winter he turned white so as not to be seen by hunters when he went along through the snow. He did not think now, however, whether any one saw him or not. He was a very old hare indeed, and the winter was proving too hard for him. He was lame and hungry and half frozen. He stopped right in front of Son-of-a-Brave and sat up on his haunches, his ears drooping.
"Don't shoot me," he was trying to say. "I am at your mercy, too starved to run away from you."
Son-of-a-Brave slipped his newly tipped arrow in his bow and aimed at the old hare. It would be very easy indeed to shoot him, for the hare did not move, and the boy thought what a warm pair of moccasin tops his skin would make. Then Son-of-a-Brave took his arrow out again, for another thought had come to him. He knew that it would be cowardly to shoot a hare that was too weak to run away.
The boy stooped down and picked up the old hare, wrapping him up close to his own warm body in his blanket. Then he went with him through the snow of the woods until they came to a place where a stream lay, and there were young willow trees growing along the edge. Here he set down the hare, and began to dig away the ice and frozen earth with his new arrow tip until the roots of the trees could be seen, and the soft bark. How the hare did eat these! As Son-of-a-Brave left him and went home, he could still see the famished creature nibbling the food for which he had been so hungry.
The Indian boy never saw the hare again that winter. He knew that he had dug a large enough hole so that the hare could find shelter and have enough food. His bow and arrow were hung on the wall, and Son-of-a-Brave sat by the fire with his mother and father until spring came.
One day a bird sang out in the forest. Then the streams began to sing, and the moss that made a carpet all over the ground outside the wigwam was again green. Son-of-a-Brave felt like running and shouting. He left off his blanket and went out into the woods to play.
He had scarcely gone a rod from the wigwam when he saw a large gray hare, following him. This was strange for one usually ran away. Son-of-a-Brave waited, and the hare came close to him. Then he saw, because it limped, that it was the old hare that he had befriended in the winter, but fat and well fed, and dressed in his summer coat.
The hare flopped his ears to Son-of-a-Brave and hopped a little way ahead, so the boy followed. He went on, without stopping, until he came to the very spot beside the stream where Son-of-a-Brave had dug away the snow with his new arrow head to give the hare food.
Oh, what did the boy see there!
Blossoming out of the bare earth were beautiful flowers, as white outside as a hare's ears in the winter time, and pink inside, like their lining. They had a sweet perfume, different from anything that had grown in the woods before. The grateful hare stood beside them and seemed to be trying to say that these new flowers were his gift to the boy who had helped him.
The Indian story tellers say that those were the first Mayflowers, and that they have been blossoming in the woods ever since because the hare brought them out of thankfulness to Son-of-a-Brave.
WHY THE BEES GATHER HONEY
Once upon a time, when it was the story age, and things were very different from what they are now, two tribes of pygmies lived very near each other.
These tribes of little people looked just alike, they both were very, very tiny, and they both lived out of doors in the fields. But in one respect they were quite different. One tribe of little folks spent a great deal of time gathering food of all kinds from the woods and the wild orchards, and storing it away for the winter. The other tribe of little people never harvested or saved at all; they spent all their time playing.
"Come and have a good time with us; winter is a long way off, and you are wasting these sunny days," the lazy pygmies would call to the industrious ones. But the busy pygmies always made the same reply to their little neighbors,
"It is you who are wasting these days. Winter may be far away, but it will be cold and barren when it does come. Everything will be covered deep with snow, and what will we eat if we do not harvest now?"
But the lazy little people danced, and sang, and played on all summer. "Why should we think of the winter?" they said to one another. "Our neighbors who are gathering food so busily will probably have a large enough store for two tribes. They will feed us."
And that is just what happened. When the snow flew, and the lazy pygmies were almost at the point of starving, their kind little neighbors brought them pots of wild honey on which they feasted and grew fat.
Then another summer came. Like all industrious folk, the working pygmies planned to accomplish more that season than they had the year before.
"If we move, so as to live nearer the wild flowers, we can gather more honey," they said. And the whole tribe of industrious little people went to another field where wild roses and lilies, dripping with nectar, grew.
At first the lazy pygmies did not even miss their kind little neighbors. They danced, and sang, and played again through all the long, bright summer days. When it grew cold, and they had to hide themselves to escape the frost and had no food, they said,
"What does it matter? Our friends will come back to us soon with supplies for the winter."
It was too long a journey, though, for the little workers to take through the snow. The days grew more and more cold, and storms swept the earth. The lazy little people cried out in their hunger to the manito, the spirit who watched all outdoors, to come and help them.
So the manito came, but first he went to the industrious tribe of little folk to reward them.
"You shall have wings," the manito said, "to take you from flower to flower that you may gather honey with ease. You shall be called honey bees, and, as you fly, you shall hum so that mortals may hear you and take pattern from your industry. All your life long, you shall live on honey."
Then the manito visited the lazy pygmies. "You, too, shall have wings," he said, "but they shall be to carry you away as mortals drive you from place to place. You shall have buzzing voices to tell mortals you are near that they may kill you. Your food shall be only that which is thrown away. You are the despised flies."
And ever since then the bees have gathered honey, and the flies have been killed in memory of the day when one tribe of little people was busy and kind, and the other tribe indolent and selfish.
THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
One afternoon, as Mother sat out on the long porch paring apples, the children came running in. There were Cousin Pen, who was visiting at the farm, and Brother Fred, and little Ben, and they all began to talk at the same time.
"To-morrow is Grandmother's birthday," they cried. "What can we give her for a birthday present?"
"I think a silk dress would be nice if we had enough money to buy it," said Cousin Pen.
"Let's give her a watermelon, the biggest one we can find," said Brother Fred.
"Or one of the new kittens; Grandmother likes cats," said little Ben.
"A roll of fresh butter, as yellow as gold and as sweet as clover," said Mother, "if you will do the churning yourselves."
"Oh, yes, we will churn," promised the children, and they ran off to their play, well satisfied, for they could think of nothing nicer than a roll of fresh butter, as yellow as gold and as sweet as clover, for Grandmother's birthday present.
By and by the cows came home. Their names were Daisy and Dandelion and Dolly, and as soon as the children heard the tinkle of their bells in the lane they made haste to open the big back gate, for it was milking time.
Father milked, and when he carried his buckets of sweet white milk to the house, Mother strained the milk into the bright tin pans that stood in a row on the dairy room shelves. The next afternoon every pan was covered with thick yellow cream, all ready for the churning. Mother skimmed the cream into the great stone churn.
"Who will churn first?" she asked.
"I will," said Cousin Pen. "I like to make the dasher go dancing up and down."
So Cousin Pen put on one of Mother's gingham aprons and began to churn. "It is easy to churn," she said at first, but after a little her arms grew tired and the dasher grew heavy. She did not think of giving up, though, for she was churning to get her Grandmother's birthday butter, and the dasher seemed to say to her as it splashed up and down:
Oh, the cream to butter's turning, In the churning, churning, churning. It will turn, turn, turn, As you churn, churn, churn, All the cream to butter turning, In the churning, churning, churning.
"Brother Fred's turn," called Mother, and Brother Fred came running up the kitchen steps to take the dasher from Cousin Pen.
"I think it is fun to churn. I don't believe I will ever get tired," he said.
He did get tired, but he would not stop even to rest, for he was churning to get his Grandmother's birthday butter, and the dasher seemed to say to him:
Hear the buttermilk a-bumming, For the yellow butter's coming. It will come, come, come, With a bum, bum, bum, All the buttermilk a-bumming, When the yellow butter's coming.
"Little Ben's turn," called Mother. Little Ben had to stand on a box to churn, and his cheeks were as red as roses as he worked away.
"Don't you want us to help you?" asked the other children.
"No, indeed," said little Ben; "I guess I can churn to get my Grandmother some birthday butter," and he churned with a will, till the dasher seemed to say to him:
Bum, bum, Butter's come.
Mother looked in the churn and, sure enough, the flakes of golden butter were floating on the milk.
"Hurrah!" cried little Ben. "Hurrah!" cried Cousin Pen and Brother Fred, and they hurried into the kitchen to watch Mother as she gathered the butter, and worked it, and salted it, and patted it into a very fine roll. When she had done that she printed a star on top of the roll, and the butter was ready to take to Grandmother.
"You must make Grandmother guess what it is," said Mother as she put the butter into a nice little basket and covered it with a white napkin.
"All right," said the children; so when they got to Grandmother's house they called, "Grandmother, Grandmother, guess what we have brought you for a birthday present."
"It is yellow as gold," said Brother Fred.
"It's sweet as clover," said Cousin Pen.
"We churned it ourselves," said little Ben; and Grandmother guessed what it was with her very first guess.
"It is just what I wanted," she said, and she kissed them every one. She had been thinking about them, too, all the long day, and she had baked a beautiful cake for their tea.
Mother and Father came to tea, and all together they had the best birthday party they had ever known.
The children thought the birthday cake was the nicest that they had ever tasted, but Grandmother said she thought nothing could be nicer than her birthday butter.
THE BIRTHDAY OF THE INFANTA
It was the birthday of the Infanta. She was just twelve years old, and the sun shone brightly in the garden of the palace.
On ordinary days, she was only allowed to play with children of her own rank, but on this, her birthday, the King had given orders that she was to invite any one whom she liked to amuse her. So she had many children with whom to play, but she was the most beautiful of them all. Her robe was of gray satin, embroidered with silver and studded with pearls. Two tiny slippers with big pink rosettes peeped out beneath her dress as she walked. Pink and pearl was her great gauze fan, and in her hair, which, like an aureole of gold, stood out stiffly around her pale little face, she had a beautiful white rose.
The Infanta watched her companions play hide and seek round the stone vases and the old moss-grown statues of the garden. Then a procession of noble boys came out to meet her and led her solemnly to a little gilt and ivory chair that was placed on a raised dais above an arena. The children grouped themselves all round, laughing and whispering, for the Infanta's birthday sports were now to begin.
There was a marvellous bull fight in which some of the boys pranced about on richly caparisoned hobby horses and vanquished a bull made of wicker work and stretched hide. Next came the puppet show, and then a juggler who played on a curious reed pipe for two green and gold snakes to dance. He made a tiny orange tree grow out of sand, and blossom and bear fruit; and he took the Infanta's fan and changed it into a bluebird that flew about and sang. Then a shaggy brown bear and some little apes were brought in. The bear stood on his head, and the apes fought with tiny swords and went through a regular soldiers' drill like the King's own bodyguard.
But the funniest part of the whole morning's entertainment was undoubtedly the dancing of the little dwarf.
When he stumbled into the arena, waddling on his crooked legs and wagging his huge misshapen head from side to side, the children went off into a loud shout of delight; and the Infanta, herself, laughed so much that one of the Court ladies had to remind her that such merriment was not befitting a princess.
It was the dwarf's first appearance, too. He had been discovered only the day before, running wild in the forest, and had been brought to the palace to surprise the Infanta. His father, a poor charcoal burner, was pleased to get rid of so ugly and useless a child. Perhaps the most amusing thing about the little dwarf was his happiness. He did not know how ugly he was; he did not know that he was a dwarf.
When the children laughed, he laughed as joyously as any of them. At the close of each dance he made the funniest bows, smiling and nodding to them just as if he were one of them. As for the Infanta, he could not keep his eyes off her and seemed to dance for her alone. When, in jest, she took the beautiful white rose out of her hair and threw it at him, the dwarf put his hand on his heart and knelt before her, his little bright eyes sparkling with pleasure.
The Infanta laughed at him until long after he had run out of the arena, and she commanded that his dance be immediately repeated. But it was growing warm in the garden. The Infanta was reminded that a wonderful feast awaited her, including a birthday cake with her initials worked all over it in painted sugar, and a lovely silver flag waving in the top. So she rose with great dignity, and gave orders that the little dwarf should perform before her again, after she had taken her nap.
Now when the little dwarf heard that he was to dance a second time before the Infanta, he was so proud that he ran about the garden, kissing the white rose in his great delight. She had given him her beautiful rose; she must love him, he thought. Perhaps she would put him at her right hand in the throne room and let him be her playmate, for, although the dwarf had never been in a palace before, he knew a great many wonderful things.