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The Blue Moon
by Laurence Housman
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The beauty of the white doe was like strong drink to his memory: the beautiful limbs that had leapt so fast and escaped—they alone, of all the wild life in the world, had conquered him. "Ah!" he cried, "let me see her, too; let her come tame to mv hand, and I will not hurt her!"

His wife answered: "The heart of the white doe is too wild a thing; she cannot come tame to the hand of any hunter under heaven. Sleep again, dear husband, and wake well! For a whole year you have been sufficiently happy; the white doe would only wound you again in your two hands."

When his wife was not by, the hunter took the two children upon his knee, and said, "Tell me, what was the white doe like? what did she do? and what way did she go?"

The children sprang off his knee, and leapt to and fro over the stream. "She was like this," they cried, "and she did this, and this was the way she went!" At that the hunter drew his hand over his brow. "Ah," he said, "I seemed then almost to see the white doe."

Little peace had he from that day. Whenever his wife was not there he would call the little ones to him, and cry, "Show me the white doe and what she did." And the children would leap and spring this way and that over the little stream before the door, crying, "She was like this, and she did this, and this was the way she went!"

The huntsman loved his wife and children with a deep affection, yet he began to have a dread that there was something hidden from his eyes which he wished yet feared to know. "Tell me," he cried one day, half in wrath, when the fever of the white doe burned more than ever in his blood, "tell me where the white doe lives, and why she comes, and when next. For this time I must see her, or I shall die of the longing that has hold of me!" Then, when his wife would give no answer, he seized his bow and arrows and rushed out into the forest, which for a whole year had not known him, slaying all the red deer he could find.

Many he slew in his passion, but he brought none of them home, for before the end a strange discovery came to him, and he stood amazed, dropping the haunch which he had cut from his last victim. "It is a whole year," he said to himself, "that I have not tasted meat; I, a hunter, who love only the meat that I kill!"

Returning home late, he found his wife troubling her heart over his long absence. "Where have you been?" she asked him, and the question inflamed him into a fresh passion.

"I have been out hunting for the white doe," he cried; "and she carries a spot in her side where some day my arrow must enter. If I do not find her I shall die!"

His wife looked at him long and sorrowfully; then she said: "On your life and soul be it, and on mine also, that your anger makes me tell what I would have kept hidden. It is to-night that she comes. Now it remains for you to remember your word once given to me!"

"Give it back to me!" he cried; "it is my fate to finish the quest of the white doe."

"If I give it," said she, "your happiness goes with it, and mine, and that of our children."

"Give it back to me!" he said again; "I cannot live unless I may master the white doe! If she will come tame to my hand, no harm shall happen to her."

And when she denied him again, he gave her his bow and arrows, and bade her shoot him to the heart, since without his word rendered back to him he could not live.

Then his wife took both his hands and kissed them tenderly, and with loud weeping quickly set him free of his promise. "As well," said she, "ask the hunter to go bound to the lion's den as the white doe to come tame into your keeping; though she loved you with all her heart, you could not look at her and not be her enemy." She gazed on him with full affection, and sighed deeply. "Lie down for a little," she said, "and rest; it is not till midnight that she comes. When she comes I will wake you."

She took his head in her hands and set it upon her knee, making him lie down. "If she will come and stand tame to my hand," he said again, "then I will do her no harm."

After a while he fell asleep; and, dreaming of the white doe, started awake to find it was already midnight, and the white doe standing there before him. But as soon as his eyes lighted on her they kindled with such fierce ardour that she trembled and sprang away out of the door and across the stream. "Ah, ah, white doe, white doe!" cried the wind in the feathers of the shaft that flew after her.

Just at her leaping of the stream the arrow touched her; and all her body seemed to become a mist that dissolved and floated away, broken into thin fragments over the fast-flowing stream.

By the hunter's side his wife lay dead, with an arrow struck into her heart. The door of the house was shut; it seemed to be only an evil dream from which he had suddenly awakened. But the arrow gave real substance to his hand: when he drew it out a few true drops of blood flowed after. Suddenly the hunter knew all he had done. "Oh, white doe, white doe!" he cried, and fell down with his face to hers.

At the first light of dawn he covered her with dried ferns, that the children might not see how she lay there dead. "Run out," he cried to them, "run out and play! Play as the white doe used to do!" And the children ran out and leapt this way and that across the stream, crying, "She was like this, and she did this, and this was the way she went!"

So while they played along the banks of the stream, the hunter took up his beautiful dead wife and buried her. And to the children he said, "Your mother has gone away; when the white doe comes she will return also."

"She was like this," they cried, laughing and playing, "and she did this, and this was the way she went!" And all the time as they played he seemed to see the white doe leaping before him in the sunlight.

That night the hunter lay sleepless on his bed, wishing for the world to end; but in the crib by his side the two children lay in a sound slumber. Then he saw plainly in the moonlight the white doe, with a red mark in her side, standing still by the doorway. Soon she went to where the young ones were lying, and, as she touched the coverlet softly with her right fore-foot, all at once two young fawns rose up from the ground and sprang away into the open, following where the white doe beckoned them.

Nor did they ever return. For the rest of his life the huntsman stayed where they left him, a sorrowful and lonely man. In the grave where lay the woman's form he had slain he buried his bow and arrows far from the sight of the sun or the reach of his own hand; and coming to the place night by night, he would watch the mists and the moonrise, and cry, "White doe, white doe, will you not some day forgive me?" and did not know that she had forgiven him when, before she died, she kissed his two hands and made him sleep for the last time with his head on her knee.



THE GENTLE COCKATRICE

Far above the terraces of vine, where the goat pastures ended and the rocks began, the eye could take a clear view over the whole plain. From that point the world below spread itself out like a green map, and the only walls one could see were the white flanks and tower of the cathedral rising up from the grey roofs of the city; as for the streets, they seemed to be but narrow foot-tracks, on which people appeared like ants walking.

This was the view of the town which Beppo, the son of the common hangman, loved best. It was little pleasure to him to be down there, where all the other lads drove him from their play: for the hang-man had had too much to do with the fathers and brothers of some of them, and his son was not popular. When there was a hanging they would rush off to the public square to see it; afterwards they made it their sport to play at hanging Beppo, if by chance they could catch him; and that play had a way at times of coming uncomfortably near to reality.

Beppo did not himself go to the square when his father's trade was on; the near view did not please him. Perched on the rocky hillside, he would look down upon a gathering of black specks, where two others stood detached upon a space in their midst, and would know that there his father was hanging a man.

Sometimes it was more than one, and that made Beppo afraid. For he knew that for every man that he hanged his father took a dram to give him courage for the work; and if there were several poor fellows to be cast off from life, the hangman was not pleasant company afterwards for those very near and dear to him.

It happened one day that the hangman was to give the rope to five fellows, the most popular and devil-may-care rakes and roysterers in the whole town. Beppo was up very early that morning, and at the first streak of light had dropped himself over the wall into the town ditch, and was away for the open country and the free air of the hills; for he knew that neither at home nor in the streets would life be worth living for a week after, because of all the vengeances that would fall on him.

Therefore he had taken from the home larder a loaf of bread and a clump of dried figs; and with these hoped to stand the siege of a week's solitude rather than fall in with the hard dealings of his own kind. He knew a cave, above where the goats found pasture, out of which a little red, rusty water trickled; there he thought to make himself a castle and dream dreams, and was sure he would be happy enough, if only he did not grow afraid.

Beppo had discovered the cave one day from seeing a goat push out through a thicket of creepers on the side of the hill; and, hidden under their leaves, he had found it a wonderful, cool refuge from the heat of summer noons. Now, as he entered, the place struck very cold; for it was early spring, and the earth was not yet warmed through with the sun. So he set himself to gather dead grass, and briers, and tufts of goat's hair, and from farther down the hillside the wood of a ruined goat-paddock, till he had a great store of fuel at hand. He worked all day like a squirrel for its winter hoard; and as his pile mounted he grew less and less afraid of the cave where he meant to live.

Seeing so large a heap of stuff ready for the feeding of his fire, he began to rise to great heights in his own imagination. First he had been a poor outlaw, a mere sheep-stealer hiding from men's clutches; then he became a robber-chief; and at last he was no less than the king of the mountains.

"This mountain is all caves," he said to himself, "and all the caves are full of gold; and I am the king to whom it all belongs."

In the evening Beppo lighted his fire, in the far back of his cave, where its light would not be seen, and sat down by its warmth to eat dried figs and bread and drink brackish water. To-morrow he meant to catch a kid and roast it and eat it. Why should he ever go home again? Kid was good—he did not get that to eat when he was at home; and now in the streets the boys must be looking for him to play at their cruel game of hanging. Why should he go back at all?

The fire licked its way up the long walls of the cavern; slowly the warmth crept round on all sides. The rock where Beppo laid his hand was no longer damp and cold; he made himself a bed of the driest litter in a niche close to the fire, laid his head on a smooth knob of stone, and slept. But even in his sleep he remembered his fire, dreading to awake and find himself in darkness. Every time the warmth of it diminished he raised himself and put on more fuel.

In the morning—for faint blue edges of light marking the ridged throat of the cavern told that outside the day had begun—he woke fully, and the fire still burned. As he lay, his pillow of rock felt warm and almost soft; and, strangely enough, through it there went a beating sound as of blood. This must be his own brain that he heard; but he lifted his head, and where he laid his hand could feel a slow movement of life going on under it. Then he stared hard at the overhanging rock, and surely it heaved softly up and down, like some great thing breathing slowly in its sleep.

Yet he could make out no shape at all till, having run to the other side of the cave, he turned to see the whole face of the rock which seemed to be taking on life. Then he realised very gradually what looked to be the throat and jaws of a great monster lying along the ground, while all the rest passed away into shadow or lay buried under masses of rock, which closed round it like a mould. Below the nether jaw-bone the flames licked and caressed the throat; and the tough, mud-coloured hide ruffled and smoothed again as if grateful for the heat that tickled its way in.

Very slowly indeed the great Cockatrice, which had lain buried for thousands of years, out of reach of the light or heat of the sun, was coming round again to life. That was Beppo's own doing, and for some very curious reason he was not afraid.

His heart was uplifted. "This is my cave," thought he, "so this must be my Cockatrice! Now I will ride out on him and conquer the world. I shall be really a king then!"

He guessed that it must have been the warmth which had waked the Cockatrice, so he made fires all down the side of the cave; wherever the great flank of the Cockatrice seemed to show, there he lighted a fire to put heat into the slumbering body of the beast.

"Warm up, old fellow," he cried; "thaw out, I tell you! I want you to talk to me."

Presently the mouth of the Cockatrice unsealed itself, and began to babble of green fields. "Hay—I want hay!" said the Cockatrice; "or grass. Does the world contain any grass?"

Beppo went out, and presently returned with an armful. Very slowly the Cockatrice began munching the fresh fodder, and Beppo, intent on feeding him back to life, ran to and fro between the hillside and the cavern till he was exhausted and could go no more. He sat down and watched the Cockatrice finish his meal.

Presently, when the monster found that his fodder was at an end, he puckered a great lid, and far up aloft in the wall of the cave flashed out a green eye.

If all the emeralds in the world were gathered together, they might shine like that; if all the glow-worms came up out of the fields and put their tails together, they might make as great an orb of fire. All the cave looked as green as grass when the eye of the Cockatrice lighted on it; and Beppo, seeing so mighty an optic turning its rays on him, felt all at once shrivelled and small, and very weak at the knees.

"Oh, Cockatrice," he said, in a monstrous sad voice, "I hope I haven't hurt you!"

"On the contrary," said the Cockatrice, "you have done me much good. What are you going to do with me now?"

"I do with you?" cried Beppo, astonished at so wild a possibility offering to come true. "I would like to get you out, of course—but can I?"

"I would like that dearly also!" said the Cockatrice.

"But how can I?" inquired Beppo.

"Keep me warm and feed me," re-turned the monster. "Presently I shall be able to find out where my tail is. When I can move that I shall be able to get out."

Beppo undertook whatever the Cockatrice told him—it was so grand to have a Cockatrice of his own. But it was a hard life, stoking up fires day and night, and bringing the Cockatrice the fodder necessary to replenish his drowsy being. When Beppo was quite tired out he would come and lay his head against the monster's snout; and the Cockatrice would open a benevolent eye and look at him affectionately.

"Dear Cockatrice," said the boy one day, "tell me about yourself, and how you lived and what the world was like when you were free!"

"Do you see any green in my eye?" said the Cockatrice.

"I do, indeed!" said Beppo. "I never saw anything so green in all the world."

"That's all right, then!" said the Cockatrice. "Climb up and look in, and you will see what the world was like when I was young."

So Beppo climbed and scrambled, and slipped and clung, till he found himself on the margin of a wonderful green lake, which was but the opening into the whole eye of the Cockatrice.

And as soon as Beppo looked, he had lost his heart for ever to the world he saw there. It was there, quite real before him: a whole world full of living and moving things—the world before the trouble of man came to it.

"I see green hills, and fields, and rocks, and trees," cried Beppo, "and among them a lot of little Cockatrices are playing!"

"They were my brothers and sisters; I remember them," said the Cockatrice. "I have them all in my mind's eye. Call them—perhaps they will come and talk to you; you will find them very nice and friendly."

"They are too far off," said Beppo, "they cannot hear me."

"Ah, yes," murmured the Cockatrice, "memory is a wonderful thing!"

When Beppo came down again he was quite giddy, and lost in wonder and joy over the beautiful green world the Cockatrice had shown him. "I like that better than this!" said he.

"So do I," said the Cockatrice. "But perhaps, when my tail gets free, I shall feel better."

One morning he said to Beppo: "I do really begin to feel my tail. It is somewhere away down the hill yonder. Go and look out for me, and tell me if you can see it moving."

So Beppo went to the mouth of the cave, and looked out towards the city, over all the rocks and ridges and goat-pastures and slopes of vine that lay between.

Suddenly, as he looked, the steeple of the cathedral tottered, and down fell its weathercock and two of its pinnacles, and half the chimneys of the town snapped off their tops. All that distance away Beppo could hear the terrified screams of the inhabitants as they ran out of their houses in terror.

"I've done it!" cried the Cockatrice, from within the cave.

"But you mustn't do that!" exclaimed Beppo in horror.

"Mustn't do what?" inquired the Cockatrice.

"You mustn't wag your tail! You don't know what you are doing!"

"Oh, master!" wailed the Cockatrice; "mayn't I? For the first time this thousand years I have felt young again."

Beppo was pale and trembling with agitation over the fearful effects of that first tail-wagging. "You mustn't feel young!" said he.

"Why not?" asked the Cockatrice, with a piteous wail.

"There isn't room in the world for a Cockatrice to feel young nowadays," answered Beppo gravely.

"But, dear little master and benefactor," cried the Cockatrice, "what did you wake me up for?"

"I don't know," replied Beppo, terribly perplexed. "I wouldn't have done it had I known where your tail was."

"Where is it?" inquired the Cockatrice, with great interest. "It's right underneath the city where I mean to be king," said Beppo; "and if you move it the city will come down; and then I shall have nothing to be king of."

"Very well," said the Cockatrice sadly; "I will wait!"

"Wait for what?" thought Beppo. "Waiting won't do any good." And he began to think what he must do. "You lie quite still!" said he to the Cockatrice. "Go to sleep, and I will still look after you."

"Oh, little master," said the Cockatrice, "but it is difficult to go to sleep when the delicious trouble of spring is in one's tail! How long does this city of yours mean to stay there? I am so alive that I find it hard to shut an eye!"

"I will let the fires that keep you warm go down for a bit," said Beppo, "and you mustn't eat so much grass; then you will feel better, and your tail will be less of an anxiety."

And presently, when Beppo had let the fires which warmed him get low, and had let time go by without bringing him any fresh fodder, the Cockatrice dozed off into an uneasy, prehistoric slumber.

Then Beppo, weeping bitterly over his treachery to the poor beast which had trusted him, raked open the fires and stamped out the embers; and, leaving the poor Cockatrice to get cold, ran down the hill as fast as he could to the city he had saved—the city of which he meant to be king.

He had been away a good many days, but the boys in the street were still on the watch for him. He told them how he had saved the city from the earth-quake; and they beat him from the city gate to his father's door. He told his own father how he had saved the city; and his father beat him from his own door to the city gate. Nobody believed him.

He lay outside the town walls till it was dark, all smarting with his aches and pains; then, when nobody could see him, he got up and very miserably made his way back to the cave on the hill. And all the way he said to himself, "Shall I put fire under the Cockatrice once more, and make him shake the town into ruins? Would not that be fine?"

Inside, the cave was quite still and cold, and when he laid his hand on the Cockatrice he could not feel any stir or warmth in its bones. Yet when he called, the Cockatrice just opened a slit of his green eye and looked at him with trust and affection.

"Dear Cockatrice," cried Beppo, "forgive me for all the wrong I have done you!" And as he clambered his way toward the green light, a great tear rolled from under the heavy lid and flowed past him like a cataract.

"Dear Cockatrice," cried Beppo again, when he stood on the margin of the green lake, "take me to sleep with you in the land where the Cockatrices are at play, and keep quite still with your tail!"

Slowly and painfully the Cockatrice opened his eye enough to let Beppo slip through; and Beppo saw the green world with its playful cockatrices waiting to welcome him. Then the great eyelid shut down fast, and the waking days of the Cockatrice were over. And Beppo's native town lay safe, because he had learned from the Cockatrice to be patient and gentle, and had gone to be king of a green world where everything was harmless.



THE RAT-CATCHER'S DAUGHTER

Once upon a time there lived an old rat-catcher who had a daughter, the most beautiful girl that had ever been born. Their home was a dirty little cabin; but they were not so poor as they seemed, for every night the rat-catcher took the rats he had cleared out of one house and let them go at the door of another, so that on the morrow he might be sure of a fresh job.

His rats got quite to know him, and would run to him when he called; people thought him the most wonderful rat-catcher, and could not make out how it was that a rat remained within reach of his operations.

Now any one can see that a man who practised so cunning a roguery was greedy beyond the intentions of Providence. Every day, as he watched his daughter's beauty increase, his thoughts were: "When will she be able to pay me back for all the expense she has been to me?" He would have grudged her the very food she ate, if it had not been necessary to keep her in the good looks which were some day to bring him his fortune. For he was greedier than any gnome after gold.

Now all good gnomes have this about them: they love whatever is beautiful, and hate to see harm happen to it. A gnome who lived far away underground below where stood the rat-catcher's house, said to his fellows: "Up yonder is a man who has a daughter; so greedy is he, he would sell her to the first comer who gave him gold enough! I am going up to look after her."

So one night, when the rat-catcher set a trap, the gnome went and got himself caught in it. There in the morning, when the rat-catcher came, he found a funny little fellow, all bright and golden, wriggling and beating to be free.

"I can't get out!" cried the little gnome. "Let me go!"

The rat-catcher screwed up his mouth to look virtuous. "If I let you out, what will you give me?" "A sack full of gold," answered the gnome, "just as heavy as myself—not a pennyweight less!"

"Not enough!" said the rat-catcher. "Guess again!"

"As heavy as you are!" cried the gnome, beginning to plead in a thin, whining tone.

"I'm a poor man," said the rat-catcher; "a poor man mayn't afford to be generous!"

"What is it you want of me?" cried the gnome.

"If I let you go," said the rat-catcher, "you must make me the richest man in the world!" Then he thought of his daughter: "Also you must make the king's son marry my daughter; then I will let you go."

The gnome laughed to himself to see how the trapper was being trapped in his own avarice as, with the most melancholy air, he answered: "I can make you the richest man in the world; but I know of no way of making the king's son marry your daughter, except one."

"What way?" asked the rat-catcher.

"Why," answered the gnome, "for three years your daughter must come and live with me underground, and by the end of the third year her skin will be changed into pure gold like ours. And do you know any king's son who would refuse to marry a beautiful maiden who was pure gold from the sole of her foot to the crown of her head?"

The rat-catcher had so greedy an inside that he could not believe in any king's son refusing to marry a maiden of pure gold. So he clapped hands on the bargain, and let the gnome go.

The gnome went down into the ground, and fetched up sacks and sacks of gold, until he had made the rat-catcher the richest man in the world. Then the father called his daughter, whose name was Jasome', and bade her follow the gnome down into the heart of the earth. It was all in vain that Jasome' begged and implored; the rat-catcher was bent on having her married to the king's son. So he pushed, and the gnome pulled, and down she went; and the earth closed after her.

The gnome brought her down to his home under the hill upon which stood the town. Everywhere round her were gold and precious stones; the very air was full of gold dust, so that when she remained still it settled on her hands and her hair, and a soft golden down began to show itself over her skin. So there in the house of the gnome sat Jasome', and cried; and, far away overhead, she heard the days come and go, by the sound of people walking and the rolling of wheels.

The gnome was very kind to her; nothing did he spare of underground commodities that might afford her pleasure. He taught her the legends of all the heroes that have gone down into earth, and been forgotten, and the lost songs of the old poets, and the buried languages that once gave wisdom to the world: down there all these things are remembered.

She became the most curiously accomplished and wise maiden that ever was hidden from the light of day. "I have to train you," said the gnome, "to be fit for a king's bride!" But Jasome', though she thanked him, only cried to be let out.

In front of the rat-catcher's house rose a little spring of salt water with gold dust in it, that gilded the basin where it sprang. When he saw it, he began rubbing his hands with delight, for he guessed well enough that his daughter's tears had made it; and the dust in it told him how surely now she was being turned into gold.

And now the rat-catcher was the richest man in the world: all his traps were made of gold, and when he went rat-hunting he rode in a gilded coach drawn by twelve hundred of the finest and largest rats. This was for an advertisement of the business. He now caught rats for the fun of it, and the show of it, but also to get money by it; for, though he was so rich, ratting and money-grubbing had become a second nature to him: unless he were at one or the other, he could not be happy.

Far below, in the house of the gnome, Jasome' sat and cried. When the sound of the great bells ringing for Easter came down to her, the gnome said: "To-day I cannot bind you; it is the great rising day for all Christians. If you wish, you may go up, and ask your father now to release you."

So Jasome' kissed the gnome, and went up the track of her own tears, that brought her to her father's door. When she came to the light of day, she felt quite blind; a soft yellow tint was all over her, and already her hair was quite golden.

The rat-catcher was furious when he saw her coming back before her time. "Oh, father," she cried, "let me come back for a little while to play in the sun!" But her father, fearing lest the gilding of her complexion should be spoiled, drove her back into the earth, and trampled it down over her head.

The gnome seemed quite sorry for her when she returned; but already, he said, a year was gone—and what were three years, when a king's son would be the reward?

At the next Easter he let her go again; and now she looked quite golden, except for her eyes, and her white teeth, and the nails on her pretty little fingers and toes. But again her father drove her back into the ground, and put a heavy stone slab over the spot to make sure of her.

At last the third Easter came, and she was all gold. She kissed the gnome many times, and was almost sorry to leave him, for he had been very kind to her. And now he told her about her father catching him in the trap, and robbing him of his gold by a hard bargain, and of his being forced to take her down to live with him, till she was turned into gold, so that she might marry the king's son. "For now," said he, "you are so compounded of gold that only the gnomes could rub it off you."

So this time, when Jasome' came up once more to the light of day, she did not go back again to her cruel father, but went and sat by the roadside, and played with the sunbeams, and wondered when the king's son would come and marry her. And as she sat there all the country-people who passed by stopped and mocked her; and boys came and threw mud at her because she was all gold from head to foot—an object, to be sure, for all simple folk to laugh at. So presently, instead of hoping, she fell to despair, and sat weeping, with her face hidden in her hands.

Before long the king's son came that road, and saw something shining like sunlight on a pond; but when he came near, he found a lovely maiden of pure gold lying in a pool of her own tears, with her face hidden in her hair.

Now the king's son, unlike the country-folk, knew the value of gold; but he was grieved at heart for a maiden so stained all over with it, and more, when he beheld how she wept. So he went to lift her up; and there, surely, he saw the most beautiful face he could ever have dreamed of. But, alas! so discoloured—even her eyes, and her lips, and the very tears she shed were the colour of gold! When he could bring her to speak, she told him how, because she was all gold, all the people mocked at her, and boys threw mud at her; and she had nowhere to go, unless it were back to the kind gnome who lived underground, out of sight of the sweet sun.

So the prince said, "Come with me, and I will take you to my father's palace, and there nobody shall mock you, but you shall sit all your days in the sunshine, and be happy." And as they went, more and more he wondered at her great beauty—so spoiled that he could not look at her without grief—and was taken with increasing wonder at the beautiful wisdom stored in her golden mind; for she told him the tales of the heroes which she had learned from the gnome, and of buried cities; also the songs of old poets that have been forgotten; and her voice, like the rest of her, was golden.

The prince said to himself, "I shut my eyes, and am ready to die loving her; yet, when I open them, she is but a talking statue!"

One day he saki to her, "Under all this disguise you must be the most beautiful thing upon earth! Already to me you are the dearest!" and he sighed, for he knew that a king's son might not marry a figure of gold. Now one day after this, as Jasome' sat alone in the sunshine and cried, the little old gnome stood before her, and said, "Well, Jasome', have you married the king's son?"

"Alas!" cried Jasome', "you have so changed me: I am no longer human! Yet he loves me, and, but for that, he would marry me."

"Dear me!" said the gnome. "If that is all, I can take the gold off you again: why, I said so!"

Jasome' entreated him, by all his former kindness, to do so for her now.

"Yes," said the gnome, "but a bargain is a bargain. Now is the time for me to get back my bags of gold. Do you go to your father, and let him know that the king's son is willing to marry you if he restores to me my treasure that he took from me; for that is what it comes to."

Up jumped Jasome', and ran to the rat-catcher's house. "Oh, father," she cried, "now you can undo all your cruelty to me; for now, if you will give back the gnome his gold, he will give my own face back to me, and I shall marry the king's son!"

But the rat-catcher was filled with admiration at the sight of her, and would not believe a word she said. "I have given you your dowry," he answered; "three years I had to do without you to get it. Take it away, and get married, and leave me the peace and plenty I have so hardly earned!"

Jasome' went back and told the gnome.

"Really," said he, "I must show this rat-catcher that there are other sorts of traps, and that it isn't only rats and gnomes that get caught in them! I have given him his taste of wealth; now it shall act as pickle to his poverty!"

So the next time the rat-catcher put his foot out of doors the ground gave way under it, and, snap!—the gnome had him by the leg.

"Let me go!" cried the rat-catcher; "I can't get out!"

"Can't you?" said the gnome. "If I let you out, what will you give me?"

"My daughter!" cried the rat-catcher; "my beautiful golden daughter!"

"Oh no!" laughed the gnome. "Guess again!"

"My own weight in gold!" cried the rat-catcher, in a frenzy; but the gnome would not close the bargain till he had wrung from the rat-catcher the promise of his last penny.

So the gnome carried away all the sacks of gold before the rat-catcher's eyes; and when he had them safe underground, then at last he let the old man go. Then he called Jasome' to follow him, and she went down willingly into the black earth.

For a whole year the gnome rubbed and scrubbed and tubbed her to get the gold out of her composition; and when it was done, she was the most shiningly beautiful thing you ever set eyes on.

When she got back to the palace, she found her dear prince pining for love of her, and wondering when she would return. So they were married the very next day; and the rat-catcher came to look on at the wedding.

He grumbled because he was in rags, and because he was poor; he wept that he had been robbed of his money and his daughter. But gnomes and daughters, he said, were in one and the same box; such ingratitude as theirs no one could beat.



WHITE BIRCH

Once upon a time there lived in a wood a brother and sister who had been forgotten by all the world. But this thing did not greatly grieve their hearts, because they themselves were all the world to each other: meeting or parting, they never forgot that. Nobody remained to tell them who they were; but she was "Little Sister," and he was "Fair Brother," and those were the only names they ever went by.

In their little wattled hut they would have been perfectly happy but for one thing which now and then they remembered and grieved over. Fair Brother was lame—not a foot could he put to the ground, nor take one step into the outside world. But he lay quiet on his bed of leaves, while Little Sister went out and in, bringing him food and drink, and the scent of flowers, and tales of the joy of earth and of the songs of birds.

One day she brought him a litter of withered birch-leaves to soften his bed and make it warmer for the approaching season of cold; and all the winter he lay on it, and sighed. Little Sister had never seen him so sad before.

In the spring, when the songs of the pairing birds began, his sorrow only grew greater. "Let me go out, let me go out," he cried; "only a little way into the bright world before I die!" She kissed his feet, and took him up in her arms and carried him. But she could only go a very little way with her burden; presently she had to return and lay him down again on his bed of leaves.

"Have I seen all the bright world?" he asked. "Is it such a little place?"

To hide her sorrow from him, Little Sister ran out into the woods, and as she went, wondering how to comfort his grief, she could not help weeping.

All at once at the foot of a tree she saw the figure of a woman seated. It was strange, for she had never before seen anybody else in the wood but themselves. The woman said to her, "Why is it that you weep so?"

"The heart of Fair Brother is breaking," replied Little Sister. "It is because of that that I am weeping."

"Why is his heart breaking?" inquired the other. "I do not know," answered Little Sister. "Ever since last autumn fell it has been so. Always, before, he has been happy; he has no reason not to be, only he is lame."

She had come close to the seated figure; and looking, she saw a woman with a very white skin, in a robe and hood of deep grey. Grey eyes looked back at her with just a soft touch in them of the green that comes with the young leaves of spring.

"You are beautiful," said Little Sister, drawing in her breath. "Yes, I am beautiful," answered the other. "Why is Fair Brother lame? Has he no feet?"

"Oh, beautiful feet!" said Little Sister. "But they are like still water; they cannot run."

"If you want him to run," said the other, "I can tell you what to do. What will you give me in exchange?"

"Whatever you like to ask," answered Little Sister; "but I am poor."

"You have beautiful hair," said the woman; "will you let that go?"

Little Sister stooped down her head, and let the other cut off' her hair. The wind went out of it with a sigh as it fell into the grey woman's lap. She hid it away under her robe, and said, "Listen, Little Sister, and I will tell you! To-night is the new moon. If you can hold your tongue till the moon is full, the feet of Fair Brother shall run like a stream from the hills, dancing from rock to rock."

"Only tell me what I must do!" said Little Sister.

"You see this birch-tree, with its silver skin?" said the woman. "Cut off two strips of it and weave them into shoes for Fair Brother. And when they are finished by the full moon, if you have not spoken, you have but to put them upon Fair Brother's feet, and they will outrun yours."

So Little Sister, as the other had told her, cut off two strips from the bark of the birch-tree, and ran home as fast as she could to tell her brother of the happiness which, with only a little waiting, was in store for them. But as she came near home, over the low roof she saw the new moon hanging like a white feather in the air; and, closing her lips, she went in and kissed Fair Brother silently.

He said, "Little Sister, loose out your hair over me, and let me feel the sweet airs; and tell me how the earth sounds, for my heart is sick with sorrow and longing." She took his hand and laid it upon her heart that he might feel its happy beating, but said no word. Then she sat down at his feet and began to work at the shoes. All the birch-bark she cut into long strips fit for weaving, doing everything as the grey woman had told her.

Fair Brother fretted at her silence, and cried, calling her cruel; but she only kissed his feet, and went on working the faster. And the white birch shoes grew under her hands; and every night she watched and saw the moon growing round.

Fair Brother said, "Little Sister, what have you done with your hair in which you used to fetch home the wind? And why do you never go and bring me flowers or sing me the song of the birds?" And Little Sister looked up and nodded, but never answered or moved from her task, for her fingers were slow, and the moon was quick in its growing.

One night Fair Brother was lying asleep, and his head was filled with dreams of the outer world into which he longed to go. The full moon looked in through the open door, and Little Sister laughed in her heart as she slipped the birch shoes on to his feet. "Now run, dear feet," she whispered; "but do not outrun mine."

Up in his sleep leapt Fair Brother, for the dream of the white birch had hold of him. A lady with a dark hood and grey eyes full of the laughter of leaves beckoned him. Out he ran into the moonlight, and Little Sister laughed as she ran with him.

In a little while she called, "Do not outrun me, Fair Brother!" But he seemed not to hear her, for not a bit did he slacken the speed of his running.

Presently she cried again, "Rest with me a while, Fair Brother! Do not outrun me!" But Fair Brother's feet were fleet after their long idleness, and they only ran the faster. "Ah, ah!" she cried, all out of breath. "Come back to me when you have done running, Fair Brother." And as he disappeared among the trees, she cried after him, "How will you know the way, since you were never here before? Do not get lost in the wood, Fair Brother!"

She lay on the ground and listened, and could hear the white birch shoes carrying him away till all sound of them died.

When, next morning, he had not returned, she searched all day through the wood, calling his name.

"Where are you, Fair Brother? Where have you lost yourself?" she cried, but no voice answered her.

For a while she comforted her heart, saying, "He has not run all these years—no wonder he is still running. When he is tired he will return."

But days and weeks went by, and Fair Brother never came back to her. Every day she wandered searching for him, or sat at the door of the little wattled hut and cried.

One day she cried so much that the ground became quite wet with her tears. That night was the night of the full moon, but weary with grief she lay down and slept soundly, though outside the woods were bright.

In the middle of the night she started up, for she thought she heard somebody go by; and, surely, feet were running away in the distance. And when she looked out, there across the doorway was the print of the birch shoes on the ground she had made wet with her tears.

"Alas, alas!" cried Little Sister. "What have I done that he comes to the very door of our home and passes by, though the moon shines in and shows it him?"

After that she searched everywhere through the forest to discover the print of the birch shoes upon the ground. Here and there after rain she thought she could see traces, but never was she able to track them far.

Once more came the night of the full moon, and once more in the middle of the night Little Sister started up and heard feet running away in the distance. She called, but no answer came back to her.

So on the third full moon she waited, sitting in the door of the hut, and would not sleep.

"If he has been twice," she said to herself, "he will come again, and I shall see him. Ah, Fair Brother, Fair Brother, I have given you feet; why have you so used me?"

Presently she heard a sound of footsteps, and there came Fair Brother running towards her. She saw his face pale and ghostlike, yet he never looked at her, but ran past and on without stopping.

"Fair Brother, Fair Brother, wait for me; do not outrun me!" cried Little Sister; and was up in haste to be after him.

He ran fast, and would not stop; but she ran fast too, for her love would not let him go. Once she nearly had him by the hair, and once she caught him by the cloak; but in her hand it shredded and crumbled like a dry leaf; and still, though there was no breath left in her, she ran on.

And now she began to wonder, for Fair Brother was running the way that she knew well—towards the tree from which she had cut the two strips of bark. Her feet were failing her; she knew that she could run no more. Just as they came together in sight of the birch-tree Little Sister stumbled and fell.

She saw Fair Brother run on and strike with his hands and feet against the tree, and cry, "Oh, White Birch, White Birch, lift the latch up, or she will catch me!" And at once the tree opened its rind, and Fair Brother ran in.

"So," said Little Sister, "you are there, are you, Brother? I know, then, what I have done to you."

She went and laid her ear to the tree, and inside she could hear Fair Brother sobbing and crying. It sounded to her as if White Birch were beating him.

"Well, well, Fair Brother, she shall not beat you for long!" said Little Sister.

She went home and waited till the next full moon had come. Then, as soon as it was dark, she went along through the wood until she came to the place, and there she crept close to the white birch-tree and waited.

Presently she heard Fair Brother's voice come faintly out of the heart of the tree: "White Birch, it is the full moon and the hour in which Little Sister gave life to my feet. For one hour give me leave to go, that I may run home and look at her while she sleeps. I will not stop or speak, and I promise you that I will return."

Then she heard the voice of White Birch answer grudgingly: "It is her hour and I cannot hold you, therefore you may go. Only when you come again I will beat you."

Then the tree opened a little way, and Fair Brother ran out. He ran so quickly in his eager haste that Little Sister had not time to catch him, and she did not dare to call aloud. "I must make sure," she said to herself, "before he comes back. To-night White Birch will have to let him go."

So she gathered as many dry pieces of wood as she could find, and made them into a pile near at hand; and setting them alight, she soon had a brisk fire burning.

Before long she heard the sound of feet in the brushwood, and there came Fair Brother, running as hard as he could go, with the breath sobbing in and out of his body.

Little Sister sprang out to meet him, but as soon as he saw her he beat with his hands and feet against the tree, crying, "White Birch, White Birch, lift the latch up, or she will catch me!"

But before the tree could open Little Sister had caught hold of the birch shoes, and pulled them off his feet, and running towards the fire she thrust them into the red heart of the embers.

The white birch shivered from head to foot, and broke into lamentable shrieks. The witch thrust her head out of the tree, crying, "Don't, don't! You are burning my skin! Oh, cruel! how you are burning me!"

"I have not burned you enough yet," cried Little Sister; and raking the burning sticks and faggots over the ground, she heaped them round the foot of the white birch-tree, whipping the flames to make them leap high.

The witch drew in her head, but inside she could be heard screaming. As the flames licked the white bark she cried, "Oh, my skin! You are burning my skin. My beautiful white skin will be covered with nothing but blisters. Do you know that you are ruining my complexion?"

But Little Sister said, "If I make you ugly you will not be able to show your face again to deceive the innocent, and to ruin hearts that were happy."

So she piled on sticks and faggots till the outside of the birch-tree was all black and scarred and covered with blisters, marks of which have remained to this day. And inside, the witch could be heard dancing time to the music of the flames, and crying because of her ruined complexion.

Then Little Sister stooped and took up Fair Brother in her arms. "You cannot walk now," she whispered, "I have taken away your feet; so I will carry you."

He was so starved and thin that he was not very heavy, and all the long way home Little Sister carried him in her arms. How happy they were, looking in each other's eyes by the clear light of the moon! "Can you ever be happy again in the old way?" asked Little Sister. "Shall you not want to run?"

"No," answered Fair Brother; "I shall never wish to run again. And as for the rest"—he stroked her head softly—"why, I can feel that your hair is growing—it is ever so long, and I can see the wind lifting it. White Birch has no hair of her own, but she has some that she wears, just the same colour as yours."

THE END

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