He could make little cages out of rushes for the grasshoppers to sing in, and he knew where the wood pigeon built her nest. All the wild dances he knew: the swift dance in a red mantle with the autumn, the light dance in blue sandals over the corn, the dance with white snow wreaths in the winter, and the blossom dance through the orchards in the spring. The Infanta would love his forest friends, too, the rabbits that scurried about in the fern, the hedgehogs that could curl themselves up into prickly balls, and the great wise tortoises that crawled slowly about, nibbling the leaves and shaking their heads. Yes, she must certainly come to the forest to play with him!
He would give her his own little bed, and would watch outside the window until dawn to see that the wolves did not creep too near the hut. Then, in the morning, he would tap at the shutters and wake her, and they would go out and play together all day long.
But where was the Infanta?
The whole palace seemed asleep. The dwarf wandered around looking for some place through which he might gain an entrance, and at last he caught sight of a small door that was lying open. He slipped through, and found himself in a splendid hall. He followed it to the end, slipping through velvet curtains from one gilded room to another, each one more magnificent than the last. Here was another room, the brightest and most beautiful of all. The walls were patterned with birds and dotted with silver blossoms. The furniture was of heavy silver festooned with wreaths. It seemed as if the Infanta must run across the pale green floor to meet him. At last he discovered that he was no longer alone in the palace. Standing under the shadow of the doorway, at the extreme end of the room, he saw a little figure watching him. His heart trembled, a cry of joy broke from his lips, and he moved out into the sunlight. As he did so, the figure moved out also, and the little dwarf saw it plainly.
The Infanta? No, it was a monster; not properly shaped as all other people were, but with a crooked back and limbs! The little dwarf frowned and the monster frowned. He struck at it, and it returned blow for blow. What was it, he asked himself? He took the Infanta's rose from his coat and kissed it to comfort himself, for he was afraid. The monster had a rose, too, and kissed it also.
So the truth came to the little dwarf. It was he who was misshapen and ugly to look at; a mirror had shown him. He could not bear it and he fell, crying, to the floor.
At that moment the Infanta, herself, came in through the open door, and when she saw the ugly little dwarf lying on the ground and beating it with his clenched hands, she went off into shouts of happy laughter.
"His dancing was funny," said the Infanta, "but his acting is funnier still. He is almost as good as the puppets," and she clapped her hands.
But the little dwarf never looked up, and his sobs grew fainter and fainter, and suddenly he gave a curious gasp and clutched his side. And then he fell back, and lay quite still.
"That was splendid!" said the Infanta, "and now you must get up and dance for me!"
But the little dwarf made no answer.
The Infanta stamped her foot, and called to the Court Chamberlain.
"My funny little dwarf is sulking," she cried. "You must wake him up and tell him to dance for me!"
So the Chamberlain came in from the terrace where he had been walking and bent over the dwarf, tapping him on his cheek with his embroidered glove.
But the little dwarf never moved.
The Chamberlain looked grave, and he knelt beside the dwarf, putting his hand on his heart. And after a few moments he rose up, and making a low bow to the Infanta, said,
"My beautiful Princess, your funny little dwarf will never dance again. It is a pity, for he is so ugly that he might have made the King smile."
"But why will he not dance again?" asked the Infanta, laughing.
"Because his heart is broken," answered the Chamberlain.
And the Infanta frowned, and her rose-leaf lips curled in scorn. "For the future let those who come to play with me have no hearts," she cried, and she ran out into the garden.
THE PRICKLY BUSH
It was the only growing thing in the whole, beautiful garden that was prickly. It stood beside the sunny path, so low that the white rabbit could jump over it. It longed to spread its branches across the path to be touched by the gardener and the children, but no one cared to go very near the little bush that was so covered with thorns.
The day lily had broad, soft leaves without a single thorn. It spread them away from the prickly bush. The tulips had tall, smooth leaves. They held them very high, and away from the bush that was so full of thorns. The white rabbit that lived in the garden and loved to sun himself beneath the plants was very careful not to go near the prickly little bush.
"I must tie this bush so that it cannot hurt any one," the gardener said one day as he passed it. "The thorns on it are growing larger and larger every day." So he cut a long, straight stick, and painted it green, and stuck it in the ground beside the prickly little bush. Then he tied the bush tightly to the stick, which kept it from leaning over the path.
"Be very careful not to go near that ugly little bush," said the children to each other. "It will scratch you even worse than the cat scratches."
All this was very discouraging, and the prickly little bush drooped and did not feel like growing.
The days of the summer grew warmer, the sun shone, and soft rains fell upon the garden. A pleasant breeze came singing down the path, and the sun, and the rain, and the breeze, each one, spoke to the prickly little bush.
"Climb up a little higher," the great, yellow sun seemed to say. So the prickly little bush pulled and stretched its prickly branches up toward the blue sky, and as it grew higher and higher, its thorns went, too, out of the way of the rabbit and the children.
"Push harder," the pattering raindrops seemed to say to the roots of the prickly little bush as they soaked down through the ground. So the roots of the prickly little bush pushed, and pushed until the branches seemed bursting, and green leaves and tiny buds came and covered over the thorns so that they could scarcely be seen at all.
"Open your buds as wide as you can," the warm breezes seemed to sing as they stopped in the branches of the prickly little bush. So the little bush unfolded its brown buds as wide and as prettily as it could.
Then it came to be the most beautiful day of all, the mother's birthday. The children went out to the garden to try to find the loveliest thing that grew there to be their mother's birthday gift. And that was not easy because the garden was so full of lovely things.
"I am sure that she will like this tall white lily," said one of the children.
"But the lily fades so quickly after it is picked," said another child. "I think that she would like a red tulip."
"But our mother loves pink better than she loves red," said the youngest child. "Do let us go on a little farther before we decide what to take her for her birthday. Oh, how pretty—" The youngest child stopped in front of the prickly little bush, and the others crowded close to see, too.
They never would have known that it was the prickly bush, at all. It stood as proudly and as straight as a little tree, and its green leaves covered it like a beautiful dress. Peeping out from between the leaves were the most lovely pink flowers, as soft as velvet and with so many curling petals that one could not count them. They smelled more sweetly than any other flower in the garden, and the children could scarcely speak at first, they were so surprised.
"Roses!" said one child.
"Pink roses!" said another child.
"The prickly little bush has turned into a rose bush for our mother's birthday," said the youngest child.
So they smelled of the beautiful pink roses, and touched them to feel how soft and like velvet the petals were. Then they decided that the pink roses that had bloomed on the prickly little bush were the loveliest flowers in the whole garden, and they picked the largest pink rose of all to carry into the house for their mother's birthday gift.
On the way they met the gardener, and they showed him the beautiful rose, telling him how it had grown upon the prickly little bush. He smiled, for he knew a great deal about the strange ways of his plants.
"I thought it would bear roses this year," the gardener said. "It often happens that the bush with the sharpest thorns to carry, once it blooms, has the prettiest roses."
THE TINKER'S WILLOW
One day, when my Grandfather Gifford was about seven years old, he looked across the road to his father's blacksmith shop, and seeing some one sitting on the bench by the door, went over to learn who it was.
He found a little old man, with thick, bushy eyebrows and bright blue eyes. His clothes were made all of leather, which creaked and rattled when he moved. By his side was a partly open pack, in which grandfather could see curious tools and sheets of shiny tin. By that he knew that the man was the travelling tinker, who came once or twice a year to mend leaky pans and pails, and of whom he had heard his mother speak.
The old man was eating his luncheon—a slice or two of bread, a bit of cold meat, and a cold potato; and because it seemed so poor a luncheon, grandfather went back to the house and brought two big apples from the cellar. The old man thanked him and ate the apples. Then he got up, brushed the bread crumbs from his leather breeches, and taking a little tin dipper from his pack, went down to the brook for a drink of water. When he had had his fill, he came back to the bench and sat down.
"Now, my boy," he said, "we will make a tree to grow here by the brook. There ought to be one, for shade."
"Make a tree!" cried grandfather. "How can we make a tree? I thought only God made trees."
"True," said the old man. "Only God makes trees, but sometimes we can help Him."
With that, he took from the bench at his side a stick that he had cut somewhere by the road, and had been using for a cane. It was slender and straight, and grandfather noticed that the bark was smooth and of a beautiful light green.
"Of this," said the old man, "we will make a tree in which the birds of the air shall build their nests, and under which the beasts of the field shall find shelter, and rest in the heat of the day. But first there shall be music, to please the spirits of the springtime. Take this stick down to the brook, and wet it all over."
So my grandfather took the stick and did as the old man told him. When he came back to the bench, the tinker had a large horn-handled knife open in his hand. With the blade, which seemed very sharp, he made a single cut through the bark of the stick, about a foot from one end, and by holding the knife still, and spinning the stick slowly toward him in his fingers, he carried the cut all the way round. Then, near the end, he cut a deep notch, and four or five smaller notches in a line farther down; and after that he laid the stick across his knee, and turning it all the while, began to pound it gently with the handle of the knife.
When he had pounded a long time, he laid down the knife, and taking the stick in both hands, gave it a little twist. At that, grandfather heard something pop, and saw the bark slip from the end of the stick above the knife-cut, all whole except for the notches, a smooth, green tube.
Of the part of the stick from which he had slipped the bark, the old man cut away more than half, and across the upper end he made a smooth, slanting cut. Then he bade grandfather wet the stick again, and when he had done it, he slipped the bark back to its place, and put the end of the stick in his mouth and began to blow; and out of the holes that he had cut, and which he stopped, one after another, with his fingers, came what grandfather said was the sweetest music he had ever heard—music like the voice of a bird singing a long way off, or like that of a tiny bell.
As the old man played, he seemed to forget all about my grandfather; but by and by he laid down the whistle, and smiled and said, "Come. Now we will make the tree." And together the old man and the boy walked down to the brook, and crossed over on some stepping stones, to a place where the ground was soft and black and wet; and there, while the boy held the stick straight, the old man pushed it far down into the mud until it stood firm and true, with the whistle at the upper end of it. And the old man took off his hat, and bowing to the stick, seemed to my grandfather to make a speech to it.
"Little brother," he said, "we leave you here, where you will never be hungry or thirsty. You have made your little music for us to-day, but when you have grown tall and strong, One Who is greater than I shall play upon you with the breath of His mighty winds; and when this little boy is older than I am now,"—and here he put his hand on my grandfather's head,—"his children's children shall hear your music and be glad."
In a little while after that, the old man put on his pack and went away; but my grandfather could not forget him, and almost every day he looked at the stick by the brook. The whistle at the top began to wither and dry up, and the loose bark cracked open and fell away, until it seemed as if the whole stick must be dead; but one day my grandfather saw that a tiny bud had appeared below where the whistle had been; and the bud became a little sprout, and the sprout a shoot, and other shoots followed, until the stick was indeed a little tree.
Through all the years that came after, it grew taller and stronger, until "The Tinker's Willow" was known as the greatest tree in all the countryside, and the birds did, indeed, build their nests among its branches, and the cattle lay in its shade in the hot noontide.
Even when my grandfather was an old, old man, and had grown-up sons and daughters, and many grandchildren, he loved to sit on the bench by the shop and listen to the voice of the wind among the leaves of the great tree; and then, if we asked him, he would tell us again of the tinker who planted it, and of the music that came from the stick out of which it grew.
THE STORY OF THE LAUREL
Once upon a time there was a great flood over all the earth. Some wicked people had angered the gods, and Jupiter sent all the waters of the earth and sky to cover the earth.
He did not want the waters to dry up until all the people were drowned, so he shut fast in their caverns all the winds except the south wind, which was sometimes called the messenger of the rain. And Jupiter sent this messenger of his to wander over all the earth.
A mighty figure of ruin he was, as he swept along, emptying the clouds as he passed. His face was covered with a veil like the night, his hair was loaded with showers, and his wings and his cloak were dripping wet. The gods of the ocean and the river gods all helped him in his work; till, in a short time the whole earth was out of sight under a vast sea and all the wicked were drowned.
Then Jupiter was sorry to see the earth looking so empty and deserted, so he called home the south wind and set the other winds free. The north wind and the east wind and the gentle west wind swept over the earth until it was again dry and green. After that Jupiter sent a new race of better men and women to live upon it.
But, strange to say, the water had brought forth many queer new animals; and among them was a huge monster, so ugly that I will not even try to tell you what it looked like, and so wicked and cruel that the people for miles around the swampy land where it dwelt lived in constant terror.
No one dared go near the hideous creature until one day, the archer Apollo, the sun-god, came with his glittering arrows, and slew it, after a fierce battle. The people were then very happy. They made a great hero of Apollo, and he left the country feeling very proud of himself.
As he was going along, whom should he meet but the little god Cupid, armed with his bow and arrows. Cupid was the young god of love, sometimes called the god of the bow, and there are many stories about how wonderful his arrows were.
Some of Cupid's arrows were sharp-pointed and made of shining gold, and whoever was pierced by one of these felt love very deeply, at once. But his other arrows were blunt and made of dull lead and, strange as it may seem, made the people whom they struck hate each other.
When Apollo met Cupid thus armed, he began to taunt him.
"What have you to do with the arrow?" he said in a boastful tone. "That is my weapon. I have just proved it by slaying the terrible monster. Come, Cupid, give up the bow which rightfully belongs to me."
Now, Cupid was a very quick tempered little god, and he cried in a passion, "Though your arrow may pierce all other things, my arrow can wound you." Then he flew off in a very bad humor, and tried to think of some way in which he could make Apollo feel which of them was a better marksman.
By and by, he came to a grove in which a beautiful nymph, Daphne, was wandering. This was just what Cupid wanted. He shot an arrow of lead into her heart, and the nymph felt a cold shiver run through her. She looked up to see what had happened, and caught a glimpse of Apollo's golden garments above the tree-tops.
Cupid saw him at the same instant, and, quick as a flash, he planted a golden arrow in Apollo's heart. Then he flew away, satisfied.
The golden arrow did its work only too well. No sooner had the sun-god caught a glimpse of the beautiful nymph, Daphne, than he began to feel a deep love for her. And, just as quickly, Daphne had been made to fear Apollo, and turned and fled from him into the woods.
Apollo followed Daphne in hot haste, calling to her not to be afraid and not to run so fast, for fear she might hurt herself on the thorns and brambles. At last he cried, "Do not try to run from me. I love you, and will do you no harm. I am the great sun-god Apollo!"
But Daphne was only the more terrified at these words and fled more swiftly, while Apollo still pursued her. He had almost reached her side, when she stretched out her arms to her father, the god of the river, along whose banks she was fleeing.
"Oh, father," she cried, "help me! Either let the earth open and swallow me, or so change this form of mine that Apollo will not love me."
Hardly had Daphne finished her plea, when her limbs grew heavy, and a thin bark began to cover her flesh. Her hair changed to green leaves, her arms to slender branches, and her feet, which had borne her along so swiftly, were now rooted to the ground. Her father had answered her plea. Daphne, the nymph, was changed into a laurel tree.
When Apollo saw that his beautiful Daphne had become a tree, he threw his arms about the newly-formed bark and cried, "Since you cannot be my wife, fair Daphne, at least you shall be my tree, my laurel. Your leaves shall be used to crown the heads of the victorious brave, and they shall remain green alike in summer and in winter."
And so it came to pass. The laurel, Apollo's emblem from that day on, became the sign of honor and triumph.
THE LITTLE ACORN
It was a little acorn that hung on the bough of a tree.
It had a tender green cup and a beautifully carved saucer to hold it. The mother oak fed it with sweet sap every day, the birds sang good-night songs above it, and the wind rocked it gently to and fro. The oak leaves made a soft green shade above it, so the sun might not shine too warmly on its green cover, and it was as happy as an acorn could be.
There were many other acorns on the tree, and the mother tree, through her wind voices, whispered loving words to all her babies.
The summer days were so bright and pleasant that the acorn never thought of anything but sunshine and an occasional shower to wash the dust off the leaves. But summer ends, and the autumn days came. The green cup of the acorn turned to a brown cup, and it was well that it grew stiffer and harder, for the cold winds began to blow.
The leaves turned from green to golden brown, and some of them were whisked away by the rough wind. The little acorn began to grow uneasy.
"Isn't it always summer?" it asked.
"Oh, no," whispered the mother oak, "the cold days come and the leaves must go and the acorns too. I must soon lose my babies."
"Oh, I could never leave this kind bough," said the frightened acorn. "I should be lost and forgotten if I were to fall."
So it tried to cling all the closer to its bough; but at last it was alone there. The leaves were blown away, and some of them had made a blanket for the brown acorns lying on the ground.
One night the tree whispered a message to the lonely acorn. "This tree is your home only for a time. This is not your true life. Your brown shell is only the cover for a living plant, which can never be set free until the hard shell drops away, and that can never happen until you are buried in the ground and wait for the spring to call you. So, let go, little acorn, and fall to the ground, and some day you will wake to a new and glorious life."
The acorn listened and believed, for was not the tree its mother? It bade her good-bye, and, loosing its hold, dropped to the ground.
Then, indeed, it seemed as if the acorn were lost. That night a high wind blew and covered it deep under a heap of oak leaves. The next day a cold wind washed the leaves closer together, and trickling streams from the hillside swept some earth over them. The acorn was buried.
"But I shall wake again," it said, and so it fell asleep. It was very cold, but the frost fairies wove a soft, white snow blanket to cover it, and so it was kept warm.
If you had walked through the woods that winter, you would have said that the acorn was gone. But spring came and called to all the sleeping things underground to waken and come forth. The acorn heard and tried to move, but the brown shell held it fast. Some raindrops trickled through the ground to moisten the shell, and one day the pushing life within set it free. The brown shell was of no more use and was lost in the ground, but the young plant lived. It heard voices of birds calling it upward. It must grow. "A new and glorious life," the mother oak had said.
"I must arise," the acorn thought, and up the living plant came, up into the world of sunshine and beauty. It looked around. There was the same green moss in the woods; it could hear the same singing brook.
"Now I know that I shall live and grow," it said.
"Yes," rustled the mother oak, "you are now an oak tree. This is your real life."
And the little oak tree was glad, and stretched higher and higher toward the sun.
* * * * *
BOOKS BY CAROLYN SHERWIN BAILEY
DAILY PROGRAM OF GIFT AND OCCUPATION WORK
FOR THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
STORIES AND RHYMES FOR A CHILD
SONGS OF HAPPINESS
FOR THE STORY TELLER
EVERY CHILD'S FOLK SONGS AND GAMES
STORIES CHILDREN NEED
TELL ME ANOTHER STORY
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