E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE CHILDREN'S PORTION.
Entertaining, Instructive, and Elevating Stories.
Selected and Edited by
ROBERT W. SHOPPELL.
Published by The Christian Herald, Louis Klopsch, Proprietor, Bible House, New York. Copyright 1895, By Louis Klopsch.
The Golden Age. Rev. Alexander McLeod, D. D. The Merchant of Venice. Mary Seymour The Afflicted Prince. Agnes Strickland "His Ludship." Barbara Yechton Pious Constance. Chaucer The Doctor's Revenge. ALOE The Woodcutter's Child. Grimm Brothers Show Your Colors. C. H. Mead Her Danger Signal A Knight's Dilemma. Chaucer "His Royal Highness." C. H. Mead Patient Griselda. Chaucer Let It Alone. Mary C. Bamford The Man Who Lost His Memory. Savinien Lapointe The Story of a Wedge. C. H. Mead Prince Edwin and His Page. Agnes Strickland Cissy's Amendment The Winter's Tale. Mary Seymour A Gracious Deed "Tom." C. H. Mead Steven Lawrence, American. Barbara Yechton
THE CHILDREN'S PORTION.
THE GOLDEN AGE.
REV. ALEXANDER MACLEOD, D. D.
THE KING'S CHILDREN.
There was once, in Christendom, a little kingdom where the people were pious and simple-hearted. In their simplicity they held for true many things at which people of great kingdoms smile. One of these things was what is called the "Golden Age."
There was not a peasant in the villages, nor a citizen in the cities, who did not believe in the Golden Age. If they happened to hear of anything great that had been done in former times, they would say, "That was in the Golden Age." If anybody spoke to them of a good thing he was looking for in years to come, they would say, "Then shall be the Golden Age." And if they should be speaking of something happy or good which was going on under their eyes, they always said, "Yes, the Golden Age is there."
Now, words like these do not come to people in a day. And these words about the Golden Age did not come to the people of that ancient kingdom in a day. More than a hundred years before, there was reigning over the kingdom a very wise king, whose name was Pakronus. And to him one day came the thought, and grew from little to more in his mind, that some time or other there must have been, and some time or other there would be again, for his people and for all people a "Golden Age."
"Other ages," he said, "are silver, or brass, or iron; but one is a Golden Age." And I suppose he was thinking of that Age when he gave names to his three sons, for he called them YESTERGOLD, GOLDENDAY, and GOLDMORROW. Sometimes when he talked about them, he would say, "They are my three captains of the Golden Age." He had also a little daughter whom he greatly loved. Her name was FAITH.
These children were very good. And they were clever as well as good. But like all the children of that old time, they remained children longer than the children of now-a-days. It was many years before their school days came to an end, and when they ended they did not altogether cease to be children. They had simple thoughts and simple ways, just like the people of the kingdom. Their father used to take them up and down through the country, to make them acquainted with the lives of the people. "You shall some day be called to high and difficult tasks in the kingdom," he said to them, "and you should prepare yourselves all you can." Almost every day he set their minds a-thinking, how the lives of the people could be made happier, and hardly a day passed on which he did not say to them, that people would be happier the nearer they got to the Golden Age. In this way the children came early to the thought that, one way or other, happiness would come into the world along with the Golden Age.
But always there was one thing they could not understand: that was the time when the Golden Age should be.
About the Age itself they were entirely at one. They could not remember a year in their lives when they were not at one in this. As far back as the days when, in the long winter evenings, they sat listening to the ballads and stories of their old nurse, they had been lovers and admirers of that Age. "It was the happy Age of the world," the nurse used to say. "The fields were greener, the skies bluer, the rainbows brighter than in other Ages. It was the Age when heaven was near, and good angels present in every home. Back in that Age, away on the lonely pastures, the shepherds watching their flocks by night heard angels' songs in the sky. And the children in the cities, as they were going to sleep, felt the waving of angel wings in the dark. It was a time of wonders. The very birds and beasts could speak and understand what was said. And in the poorest children in the streets might be found princes and princesses in disguise."
They remembered also how often, in the mornings, when they went down to school, their teacher chose lessons which seemed to tell of a Golden Age. They recalled the lessons about the city of pure gold that was one day to come down from heaven for men to dwell in; and other lessons that told of happy times, when nations should learn the art of war no more, and there should be nothing to hurt or destroy in all the earth.
"Yes, my dear children," their mother would say, in the afternoon, when they told her of the teacher's lessons and the nurse's stories. "Yes, there is indeed a happy age for the children of men, which is all that your nurse and teacher say. It is a happy time and a time of wonders. In that time wars cease and there is nothing to hurt or destroy. Princes and princesses in poor clothing are met in the streets, because in that Age the poorest child who is good is a child of the King of Heaven. And heaven and good angels are near because Christ is near. It is Christ's presence that works the wonders. When He is living on the earth, and His life is in the lives of men, everything is changed for the better. There is a new heaven and a new earth. And the Golden Age has come."
It was a great loss to these children that this holy and beautiful mother died when they were still very young. But her good teaching did not die. Her words about the Golden Age never passed out of their minds. Whatever else they thought concerning it in after years, they always came back to this—in this they were all agreed—that it is the presence of Christ that makes the Gold of the Golden Age.
But at this point their agreement came to an end. They could never agree respecting the time of the Golden Age.
Yestergold believed that it lay in the past. In his esteem the former times were better than the present. People were simpler then, and truer to each other and happier. There was more honesty in trade, more love in society, more religion in life. Many an afternoon he went alone into the old abbey, where the tombs of saintly ladies, of holy men, and of brave fighters lay, and as he wandered up and down looking at their marble images, the gates of the Golden Age seemed to open up before him. There was one figure, especially, before which he often stood. It was the figure of a Crusader, his sword by his side, his hands folded across his breast, and his feet resting on a lion. "Ay," he would say, "in that Age the souls of brave men really trod the lion and the dragon under foot." But when the light of the setting sun came streaming through the great window in the west, and kindling up the picture of Christ healing the sick, his soul would leap up for joy, a new light would come into his eyes, and this thought would rise within him like a song—"The Golden Age itself—the Age into which all other Ages open and look back—is pictured there."
But on such occasions, as he came out of the abbey and went along the streets, if he met the people hastening soiled and weary from their daily toils, the joy would go out of his heart. He would begin to think of the poor lives they were leading. And he would cry within himself, "Oh that the lot of these toiling crowds had fallen on that happy Age! It would have been easy then to be good. Goodness was in the very air blessed by His presence. The people had but to see Him to be glad." And sometimes his sorrow would be for himself. Sometimes, remembering his own struggles to be good, and the difficulties in his way, and how far he was from being as good as he ought to be, he would say, "Would that I myself had been living when Jesus was on the earth." More or less this wish was always in his heart. It had been in his heart from his earliest years. Indeed, it is just a speech of his, made when he was a little boy, which has been turned into the hymn we so often sing:—
"I think when I read that sweet story of old, When Jesus was here among men, How He called little children, as lambs, to His fold, I should like to have been with Him then.
"I wish that His hands had been placed on my head, That His arms had been thrown around me, That I might have seen His kind looks when He said, 'Let the little ones come unto Me.'"
Goldmorrow's thoughts were different. They went forward into the future. He had hardly any of Yestergold's difficulties about being good. He did not think much about his own state. What took up all his thoughts was the state of the world in which his brothers and he were living. How was that to be made better? As he went up and down in his father's kingdom, he beheld hovels in which poor people had to live, and drink-shops, and gambling-houses, and prisons. He was always asking himself, how are evils like these to be put away? Whatever good any Age of the past had had, these things had never been cast out. He did not think poorly of the Age when Christ was on the earth. He was as pious as his brother. He loved the Lord as much as his brother. But his love went more into the future than into the past. It was the Lord who was coming, rather than the Lord who had come, in whom he had joy. "The Golden Age would come when Christ returned to the earth," he said. The verses in the Bible where this coming was foretold shone like light for Goldmorrow. And often, as he read them aloud to his brothers and his sister, his eyes would kindle and he would burst out with speeches like this: "I see that happy time approaching. I hear its footsteps. My ears catch its songs. It is coming. It is on the way. My Lord will burst those heavens and come in clouds of glory, with thousands and tens of thousands in His train. And things evil shall be cast out of the kingdom. And things that are wrong shall be put right. There shall be neither squalor, nor wretched poverty, nor crime, nor intemperance, nor ignorance, nor hatred, nor war. All men shall be brothers. Each shall be not for himself but for the kingdom. And Christ shall be Lord of all."
In these discussions Goldenday was always the last to speak. And always he had least to say. I have been told that he was no great speaker. But my impression is that he got so little attention from his brothers when he spoke, that he got into the way of keeping his thoughts to himself. But everybody knew that he did not agree with either of his brothers. His belief was that the present Age, with all its faults, was the Golden Age for the people living in it. And there is no doubt that that was the view of his sister Faith. For when at any time he happened to let out even the tiniest word with that view in it, she would come closer to him, lean up against his side, and give him a hidden pressure of the hand.
SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN AGE.
When these views of the young Princes came to be known, the people took sides, some with one Prince, some with another. The greatest number sided with Yestergold, a number not so great with Goldmorrow, and a few, and these for the most part of humble rank, with Goldenday. In a short time nothing else was talked about, from one end of the kingdom to the other, but the time of the Golden Age. And this became a trouble to the King.
Now there happened to be living at that time in the palace a wise man, a high Councillor of State, whom the King greatly esteemed, and whose counsel he had often sought. To him in his trouble the King turned for advice.
"Let not this trouble thee, O King," the Councillor said. "Both for the Princes and the people it is good that thoughts on this subject should come out into talk. But let the thoughts be put to the test. Let the Princes, with suitable companions, be sent forth to search for this Age of Gold. Although the Age itself, in its very substance, is hid with God, there is a country in which shadows of all the Ages are to be seen. In that country, the very clouds in the sky, the air which men breathe, and the hills and woods and streams shape themselves into images of the life that has been, or is to be among men. And whosoever reaches that country and looks with honest, earnest eyes, shall see the Age he looks for, just as it was or is to be, and shall know concerning it whether it be his Age of Gold. At the end of a year, let the travelers return, and tell before your Majesty and an assembly of the people the story of their search." To this counsel the King gave his assent. And he directed his sons to make the choice of their companions and prepare for their journey.
Yestergold, for his companions, chose a painter and a poet. Goldmorrow preferred two brothers of the Order of Watchers of the Sky. But Goldenday said, "I shall be glad if my sister Faith will be companion to me." And so it was arranged.
Just at that time the King was living in a palace among the hills. And it was from thence the travelers were to leave. It was like a morning in Wonderland. The great valley on which the palace looked down, and along which the Princes were to travel, was that morning filled with vapor. And the vapor lay, as far as the eye could reach, without a break on its surface, or a ruffled edge, in the light of the rising sun, like a sea of liquid silver. The hills that surrounded the palace looked like so many giants sitting on the shores of a mighty sea. It was into this sea the travelers had to descend. One by one, with their companions, they bade the old King farewell. And then, stepping forth from the palace gates and descending toward the valley, they disappeared from view.
The country to which they were going lay many days' distance between the Purple Mountains and the Green Sea. The road to it lay through woods and stretches of corn and pasture land. It was Autumn. In every field were reapers cutting or binding the corn. At every turn of the road were wagons laden with sheaves. Then the scene changed. The land became poor. The fields were covered with crops that were thin and unripe. The people who passed on the road had a look of want on their faces. The travelers passed on. Every eye was searching the horizon for the first glimpse of the mountain peaks. In every heart was the joyful hope of finding the Golden Age. Can you think what the joy of a young student going for the first time to a university is? It was a joy like his. While this joy was in their hearts, the road passed into a mighty forest. And suddenly among the shadows of the trees a miserable spectacle crossed their path. It was a crowd of peasants of the very poorest class. A plague had fallen on their homes, and they were fleeing from their village, which lay among the trees a mile or two to the right.
Yestergold was the first to meet them. He was filled with anguish. His sensitive nature could not bear to see suffering in others. He shrank from the very sight of misery. Turning to his companions, he said, "If the Lord of Life had been traveling on this road as He was on that other, long ago, when the widow of Nain met Him with her dead son, He would have destroyed the plague by a word." "Oh, holy and beautiful Age!" exclaimed the poet, "why dost thou lie in thy soft swathings of light, and power to do mighty deeds, so far behind us in the past?" "But let us use it as a golden background," said the painter. "That is the beautiful Age on which Art is called to portray the Divine form of the Great Physician!" Saying these fine words, the party rode swiftly past.
The terrified villagers were still streaming across the road when Goldmorrow came up. Nothing could exceed the pity which the spectacle stirred in his breast. Tears streamed from his eyes. The bareness, the poverty, the misery of the present time seemed to come into view and gather into a point in what he saw. "Oh!" he cried to his companions, "if Christ were only come! Only He could deal with evils so great as these!" Then, withdrawing his thoughts into himself, and still moved with his humane pity, he breathed this prayer to Christ: "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, and lay thy healing hand on the wounds and sorrows of the world." His companions were also touched with what they saw. And in earnest and reverent words one of them exclaimed: "Blessed hope! Light of the pilgrim! Star of the weary! The earth has waited long thy absent light to see." But, by the time the words were spoken, the villagers were behind them, and, spurring their horses, the travelers hastened forward on their way.
A PLAGUE-STRICKEN VILLAGE.
The dust raised by their horses' hoofs was still floating over the highway when Goldenday, with his sister and their attendants, rode up to the spot. Two or three groups of the fugitives had made a temporary home for the night under the shelter of the trees on the left. Others were still arriving. The pale faces, the terrified looks of the villagers, filled the Prince with concern. "It is the pestilence," they said, in answer to his inquiries. "The pestilence, good sir, and it is striking us dead in the very streets of our village." The Prince turned to his sister. She was already dismounted. A light was in her eye which at once went to his heart. The two understood each other. They knew that it was Christ and not merely a crowd of terrified peasants who had met them. They were His eyes that looked out at them through the tear-filled eyes of the peasantry. It was His voice that appealed to them in their cries and anguish. He seemed to be saying to them: "Inasmuch as ye do it to one of the least of these, ye do it unto Me." In a few moments the Prince had halted his party and unpacked his stores, and was supplying the wants of the groups on the left. Before an hour was past he had brought light into their faces by his words of cheer, and, with his sister and his servants, was on his way to the plague-stricken village.
Most pitiable was the scene which awaited him there. People were really dying in the streets, as he had been told. Some were already dead. A mother had died in front of her cottage, and her little children sat crying beside her body. Another, with a look of despair in her eyes, sat rocking the dead body of the child. The men seemed to have fled.
The Prince's plans were soon formed. He had stores enough to last his party and himself for a year. He would share these with the villagers as far as they would go. He had tents also for the journey. He would use these for a home to his own party and for hospitals for the sick. Before the sun had set, the tents for his own party were erected on a breezy height outside the village. And, ere the sun had arisen the next morning, the largest tent of all had been set in a place by itself, ready to receive the sick.
Goldenday and his sister never reached the country where the images of all the Ages are to be found. A chance of doing good met them on their journey, and they said to each other, "It has been sent to us by God." They turned aside that they might make it their own. They spent the year in the deeds of mercy to which it called them among the plague-stricken villagers.
It would take too long to tell all that this good Prince and his sister achieved in that year. The village lay in a hollow among dense woods and on the edge of a stagnant marsh. The Prince had the marsh drained and the woods thinned. Every house in the village was thoroughly repaired and cleaned. The sick people were taken up to the tent-hospital and cared for until they got well. The men who had fled returned. The terrified mothers ventured back. The sickness began to slacken. In a few months it disappeared. Then the Prince caused wells to be dug to supply water for drinking. Then he built airy schools for the children. Last of all he repaired the church, which had fallen into ruin, and trained a choir of boys to sing thanks to God. But when all these things had been accomplished, the year during which he was to have searched for the Golden Age was within a few weeks of its close. And, what was worse, it was too plain to his sister that the Prince's health had suffered by his toils. Night and day he had labored in his service of love. Night and day he had carried the burden of the sickness and infirmities of the village in his heart. It had proved a burden greater than he could bear. He had toiled on till he saw health restored to every home. He toiled until he saw the village itself protected from a second visitation of the plague. But his own strength was meanwhile ebbing away. The grateful villagers observed with grief how heavily their deliverer had to lean on his sister's arm in walking. And tears, which they strove in vain to conceal, would gather in their eyes as they watched the voice that had so often cheered them sinking into a whisper, and the pale face becoming paler every day.
RETURN OF THE SEARCHERS.
The year granted to the Princes by the King had now come to a close. And he and his nobles and the chief men of his people assembled on the appointed day to welcome the Princes on their return and to hear their reports concerning the time of the Golden Age.
The first to arrive was Prince Yestergold. He was accompanied to the platform on which the throne was set by the painter and poet, who had been his companions during the year. Having embraced his father, he stepped to the front and said:—
"Most high King and father beloved, and you, the honorable nobles and people of his realm, on some future occasion my two companions will, the one recite the songs in which the Age which we went to search for is celebrated, and the other exhibit the pictures in which its life is portrayed. On this occasion it belongs to me to tell the story of our search, and of what we found and of what we failed to find. We went forth to discover the time of the Golden Age. We went in the belief that it was the time when our Lord was on the earth. How often have I exclaimed in your hearing, 'Oh that I had been born in that age! How much easier to have been a Christian then!' I have this day, with humbleness of heart, to declare that I have found myself entirely in the wrong. I have been in the country where images of the Ages are stored. I have seen the very copy of the Age of our Lord. I was in it as if I had been born in it. I saw the scenes which those who then lived saw. I saw the crowds who moved in those scenes. I beheld the very person of the Divine Lord. And oh! my father, and oh! neighbors and friends, shall I shrink from saying to you, 'Be thankful it is in this Age and not in that you have been born, and that you know the Lord as this Age knows Him, and not as He was seen and known in His own.'
"We arrived at Bethany on the day when Lazarus was raised. I mingled with the crowd around the grave. I saw the sisters. I was amazed to find that nothing looked to me as I had expected it to do. Even the Lord had not the appearance of One who could raise the dead. And when the dead man came forth, I could not but mark that some who had seen the mighty miracle turned away from the spot, jeering and scoffing at the Lord, its worker.
"When I next saw the Lord He was in the hands of the scoffers who had turned away from the grave of Lazarus. He was being led along the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. The streets on both sides were crowded with stalls, and with people buying and selling as at a fair. Nobody except a few women seemed to care that so great a sufferer was passing by. He was bending under the weight of the Cross. His face was pale and all streaked with blood. I said to myself: 'Can this be He who is more beautiful than ten thousand?' My eyes filled with tears. Sickness came over my heart. I was like one about to die. I hurried away from the pitiless crowd, from the terrible spectacle, from the city accursed. And straightway I turned my face toward my home. And as I came within sight of my father's kingdom, I gave thanks to God that my lot had been cast in this favored Age, and that the horrors through which the Lord had to pass are behind us; and that we see Him now in the story of the Gospels, as the Son of God, clothed with the glory of God, seated on the throne of heaven and making all things work together for good."
As the Prince was bringing his speech to a close, a distant rolling of drums announced that one of his brothers had arrived at the gates of the city. It was Goldmorrow. And in a little while he entered the hall, embraced his father, and was telling the story of his travel.
"My companions and I," he said, "have been where the Golden Age of my dreams is displayed. We have been in that far future where there is to be neither ignorance nor poverty, neither sickness nor pain, and where cruelty and oppression and war are to be no more. It is greater than my dreams. It is greater than I have words to tell. It is greater than I had eyes to see. We were not able to endure the sight of it. We felt ourselves to be strangers in a strange land. The people we met looked upon us as we look upon barbarians. Our hearts sickened. We said to each other: 'It is too high, we cannot reach up to it.' The very blessings we had come to see did not look to us like the blessings of which we had dreamed.
"But our greatest trial was still to come. The Lord had come back to the earth and was living among the people of that Age. We made our way to the palace in which He lived. It was like no palace we had ever seen. It was like great clouds piled up among the hills. We were present when the doors were thrown open. We beheld Him coming forth. But the vision of that glory smote our eyes like fire. We were not able to gaze upon it. Our hearts failed within us. This was not the Christ we had known. We shrank back from the light of that awful presence. We fell on the ground before Him. 'God be merciful to us sinners,' we cried, 'we are not worthy to look upon thy face.' And when we could open our eyes again the vision had passed.
"Then, O father! then, O friends beloved, I knew that I had sinned. In that moment of my humiliation and shame I recalled a sight which I had seen in the first days of my journey. I remembered some peasants fleeing from a plague-stricken village, whom we had passed. I said to myself, I say this day to you, we were that day at the gates of the real Golden Age and we did not know it. We might that day have turned aside to the help of these peasants, but we missed the golden chance sent to us by God."
THE FINDER OF THE AGE.
When Goldmorrow had finished, a strain of the most heavenly music was heard. It sounded as if it were coming toward the assembly hall from the gates of the city. It was like the chanting of a choir of angels, and the sounds rose and fell as they came near, as if they were blown hither and thither by the evening wind. In a little while the singing was at the doorway of the hall, and every eye was turned in that direction. A procession of white-robed children entered first. Behind them came a coffin, carried on men's shoulders, and covered with wreaths of flowers. Then, holding the pall of the coffin, came in the Princess Faith, behind her the attendants who had accompanied her brother and herself, and last of all a long line of bare-headed peasants walking two and two. It was the coffin of the Prince Goldenday. His strength had never come back to him. He had laid down his life for the poor villagers. Having fulfilled his task in their desolate home, the brave young helper sickened and died.
When this was known, the old King lifted up his voice and wept, and the Princes, and the nobles, and all the people present joined in his sorrow. Then it seemed to be found out, that the dead Prince had been of the three brothers the most beloved. Then, when the weeping had continued for a long time, the Princess Faith stepped forward, and in few words told the story of the year. Then silence, only broken by bursts of sorrow, fell upon all. And then the Councillor rose up from his seat at the right hand of the King, and said:
"We have heard, O King, the words of the Princes who searched the Past and the Future for the Age of Gold. The lips that should have spoken for the Age we are living in are forever closed; but in the beautiful statement of our Princess we have heard the story they had to tell.
"Can there be even one in this great assembly, who has listened to the story of the Princess, and does not know that the Age of Gold is found, and that it was found by the Prince whose dead body is here?
"O King, and ye Princes and peers and people, it was the daily teaching of the Sainted Lady, our Queen, that the Golden Age is the time when Christ is present in our life. In every form in which Christ's presence can be felt, it was felt in the village for whose helping the dear Prince laid down his life.
"A time of great misery had come to that village. The harvest, year after year, had failed. Poverty fell upon the people. Then, last and worst of all, came the pestilence. Through the story told by the beloved Princess we can see that faith in God began to fail. The people cried out in their agony: 'Has God forgotten?' And some, 'Is there a God at all?'
"It was in the thick darkness of that time the Prince visited them. He met them fleeing from their home. He gave up his own plans that he might help them. His coming into the village, into the very thick of its misery, was like the morning dawn. He was summer heat and summer cheer to the people. The clouds of anxiety and of terror began to lift. The shadow of death was changed for them into the morning. He made himself one with them. He went from house to house with cheer and help. The burden seemed less heavy, the future less dark, that this helper was by their side. Best of all, faith came back to them. It was as if the Lord had come back. In a real sense He had come back. He was present in His servant the Prince. The people beheld the form of the Son of God going about their streets doing good. They saw the old miracles. The blind saw, the deaf heard God, as in the days when Jesus was in the flesh. Even death was conquered before their eyes. A real gleam of heaven is falling this evening on the once-darkened village. The evil things that infested its life have been cast out and a new heaven and a new earth have come to it. It is the Golden Age come down to them from God.
"In his great task the dear Prince died. Our hearts are heavy for that we shall see his face no more. But count it not strange that he died, or that this trial should have descended on our King and us. It is the rule in the kingdom of the Lord. Whoever will bring the Golden Age where sin is, must himself lay down his life. For those peasants, as Christ for all mankind, the Prince laid down his life."
The people listened till the Councillor reached these words, then, as by one impulse, they rose and burst into a grand doxology. Then a company of torch-bearers entered. Then, the children took up their place at the head of the coffin and began again to sing. The bearers lifted the coffin. The King and Faith and the two Princes followed; after them the peasants from the village, then the chief nobles and the people, and in this order the coffin was carried to the place of the dead.
In the course of years the wise Pakronus died, and Yestergold became King. He made his brother Prime Minister. And the two brothers became really what their father called them when boys—"Captains of the Golden Age." In everything that was for the good of the people, they took the lead. They were Captains in every battle with sin and misery. What Goldenday did for the plague-stricken village, they strove to do for the whole kingdom. Their Sister Faith gave herself to the building and care of schools and hospitals. And the time in which those three lived is described in all the histories of that kingdom as a Golden Age.
It is told by travelers who have visited the Royal city, that a statue of the Prince Goldenday stands above the old gateway of the Abbey, and that there are written below it the words:
"TO-DAY IF YE WILL HEAR HIS VOICE."
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
AS TOLD BY MARY SEYMOUR.
In the beautiful Italian city of Venice there dwelt in former times a Jew, by name Shylock, who had grown rich by lending money at high interest to Christian merchants. No one liked Shylock, he was so hard and so cruel in his dealings; but perhaps none felt such an abhorrence of his character as a young man of Venice named Antonio.
This hatred was amply returned by the Jew; for Antonio was so kind to people in distress that he would lend them money without taking interest. Besides, he used to reproach Shylock for his hard dealings, when they chanced to meet. Apparently the Jew bore such reproaches with wonderful patience; but could you have looked into his heart, you would have seen it filled with longing for revenge.
It is not strange to find that Antonio was greatly loved by his fellow-countrymen; but dearest of all his friends was Bassanio, a young man of high rank, though possessed of but small fortune.
One day Bassanio came to tell Antonio that he was about to marry a wealthy lady, but to meet the expense of wedding such an heiress, he needed the loan of three thousand ducats.
Just at that time Antonio had not the money to lend his friend, but he was expecting home some ships laden with merchandise; and he offered to borrow the required sum of Shylock upon the security of these vessels.
Together they repaired to the Jewish money-lender; and Antonio asked for three thousand ducats, to be repaid from the merchandise contained in his ships. Shylock remembered now all that Antonio had done to offend him. For a few moments he remained silent; then he said:
"Signor, you have called me a dog, and an unbeliever. Is it for these courtesies I am to lend you money?"
"Lend it not as a friend," said Antonio; "rather lend it to me as an enemy, so that you may the better exact the penalty if I fail."
Then Shylock thought he would pretend to feel more kindly.
"I would be friends with you," he said. "I will forget your treatment of me, and supply your wants without taking interest for my money."
Antonio was, of course, very much surprised at such words. But Shylock repeated them; only requiring that they should go to some lawyer, before whom—as a jest—Antonio should swear, that if by a certain day he did not repay the money, he would forfeit a pound of flesh, cut from any part of his body which the Jew might choose.
"I will sign to this bond," said Antonio; "and will say there is much kindness in a Jew."
But Bassanio now interfered, declaring that never should Antonio put his name to such a bond for his sake. Yet the young merchant insisted; for he said he was quite sure of his ships returning long before the day of payment.
Meanwhile Shylock was listening eagerly; and feigning surprise, he exclaimed: "Oh, what suspicious people are these Christians! It is because of their own hard dealings that they doubt the truth of others.—Look here, my lord Bassanio. Suppose Antonio fail in his bond, what profit would it be to me to exact the penalty? A pound of man's flesh is not of the value of a pound of beef or mutton! I offer friendship, that I may buy his favor. If he will take it, so; if not, adieu."
But still Bassanio mistrusted the Jew. However, he could not persuade his friend against the agreement, and Antonio signed the bond, thinking it was only a jest, as Shylock said.
The fair and beautiful lady whom Bassanio hoped to marry lived near Venice; and when her lover confessed that,—though of high birth,—he had no fortune to lay at her feet, Portia prettily said that she wished herself a thousand times more fair, and ten thousand times more rich, so that she might be less unworthy of him. Then, declaring that she gave herself to be in all things directed and governed by him, she presented Bassanio with a ring.
Overpowered with joy at her gracious answer to his suit, the young lord took the gift, vowing that he would never part with it.
Gratiano was in attendance upon his master during this interview; and after wishing Bassanio and his lovely lady joy, he begged leave to be married also; saying that Nerissa, the maid of Portia, had promised to be his wife, should her mistress wed Bassanio.
At this moment a messenger entered, bringing tidings from Antonio; which Bassanio reading, turned so pale that his lady asked him what was amiss.
"Oh, sweet Portia, here are a few of the most unpleasant words that ever blotted paper," he said. "When I spoke of my love, I freely told you I had no wealth, save the pure blood that runs in my veins; but I should have told you that I had less than nothing, being in debt."
And then Bassanio gave the history of Antonio's agreement with Shylock, the Jew. He next read the letter which had been brought: "Sweet Bassanio—My ships are lost: my bond to the Jew is forfeited; and since in paying it, it is impossible I should live, I could wish to see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your pleasure: if your love for me do not persuade you to come, let not my letter."
Then Portia said such a friend should not lose so much as a hair of his head by the fault of Bassanio, and that gold must be found to pay the money; and in order to make all her possessions his, she would even marry her lover that day, so that he might start at once to the help of Antonio.
So in all haste the young couple were wedded, and also their attendants, Gratiano and Nerissa. Bassanio immediately set out for Venice, where he found his friend in prison.
The time of payment was past, and the Jew would not accept the money offered him: nothing would do now, he said, but the pound of flesh! So a day was appointed for the case to be tried before the Duke of Venice; and meanwhile the two friends must wait in anxiety and fear.
Portia had spoken cheeringly to her husband when he left her, but her own heart began to sink when she was alone; and so strong was her desire to save one who bad been so true a friend to her Bassanio, that she determined to go to Venice and speak in defence of Antonio.
There was a gentleman dwelling in the city named Bellario, a counsellor, who was related to Portia; and to him she wrote telling the case, and begging that he would send her the dress which she must wear when she appeared to defend the prisoner at his trial. The messenger returned, bringing her the robes of the counsellor, and also much advice as to how she should act; and, in company of her maid Nerissa, Portia started upon her errand, arriving at Venice on the day of the trial.
The duke and the senators were already in court, when a note was handed from Bellario saying that, by illness, he was prevented pleading for Antonio; but he begged that the young and learned Doctor Balthasar (for so he called Portia) might be allowed to take his place.
The duke marveled at the extremely youthful appearance of this stranger, but granted Bellario's request; and Portia, disguised in flowing robes and large wig, gazed round the court, where she saw Bassanio standing beside his friend.
The importance of her work gave Portia courage; and she began her address to Shylock, the Jew, telling him of mercy:
"The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown."
But Shylock's only answer was, that he would insist upon the penalty: upon which Portia asked if Antonio could not pay the sum. Bassanio then publicly offered the payment of the three thousand ducats; the hard Jew still refusing it, and declaring that he would take nothing but the promised pound of flesh.
Bassanio was now terribly grieved, and asked the learned young counsellor to "wrest the law a little."
"It must not be—there is no power in Venice can alter a decree established," said Portia. Shylock, hearing her say this, believed she would now favor him, and exclaimed: "A Daniel come to judgment! O wise young judge, how do I honor thee!"
He never guessed what was coming, when the young counsellor gravely asked to look at the bond. She read it, and declared that the Jew was lawfully entitled to the pound of flesh, but once more she begged him to take the offered money, and be merciful.
It was in vain to talk to Shylock of mercy. He began to sharpen a knife; and then Portia asked Antonio if he had anything to say. He replied that he could say but little; and prepared to take leave of his well-beloved Bassanio, bidding him tell his wife how he had died for friendship.
In his grief, Bassanio cried out that, dearly as he loved his wife, even she could not be more precious to him than Antonio's life; and that he would lose her and all he had, could it avail to satisfy the Jew.
"Your wife would give you little thanks for that, if she were by to hear you make that offer," said Portia; not at all angry, however, with her husband for loving such a noble friend well enough to say this.
Then Bassanio's servant exclaimed that he had a wife whom he loved, but he wished she were in heaven, if, by being there, she could soften the heart of Shylock.
At this, Nerissa—who, in her clerk's dress, was by Portia's side—said, "It is well you wish this behind her back."
But Shylock was impatient to be revenged on his victim, and cried out that time was being lost. So Portia asked if the scales were in readiness; and if some surgeon were near, lest Antonio should bleed to death.
"It is not so named in the bond," said Shylock.
"It were good you did so much for charity," returned Portia.
But charity and mercy were nothing to the Jew, who sharpened his knife, and called upon Antonio to prepare. But Portia bade him tarry; there was something more to hear. Though the law, indeed, gave him a pound of flesh, it did not give him one single drop of blood; and if, in cutting off the flesh, he shed one drop of Antonio's blood, his possessions were confiscated by the law to the State of Venice!
A murmur of applause ran through the court at the wise thought of the young counsellor; for it was clearly impossible for the flesh to be cut without the shedding of blood, and therefore Antonio was safe.
Shylock then said he would take the money Bassanio had offered; and Bassanio cried out gladly, "Here it is!" at which Portia stopped him, saying that the Jew should have nothing but the penalty named in the bond.
"Give me my money and I will go!" cried Shylock once more; and once more Bassanio would have given it, had not Portia again interfered. "Tarry, Jew," she said; "the law hath yet another hold on you." Then she stated that, for conspiring against the life of a citizen of Venice, the law compelled him to forfeit all his wealth, and his own life was at the mercy of the duke.
The duke said he would grant him his life before he asked it; one-half of his riches only should go to the State, the other half should be Antonio's.
More merciful of heart than his enemy could expect, Antonio declared that he did not desire the Jew's property, if he would make it over at his death to his own daughter, whom he had discarded for marrying a Christian, to which Shylock reluctantly agreed.
THE AFFLICTED PRINCE.
A TALE OF THE ANCIENT BRITONS.
It is said by some ancient historians, and by those who have bestowed much pains in examining and comparing old conditions, that several kings reigned over Britain before Julius Caesar landed in the country. Lud Hurdebras is supposed to have been the eighth king from Brute, whom the Bards, and after them, the monkish historians, report to have been the first monarch of Britain. I am going to tell you a story of Prince Bladud, the son of this Lud Hurdebras, which, there is reason to believe, is founded on fact.
Bladud was the only child of the king and queen, and he was not only tenderly beloved by his parents, but was also considered as a child of great beauty and promise by the chiefs and the people. It, however, unfortunately happened that he was attacked with that loathsome disease, so frequently mentioned in Scripture by the name of leprosy. The dirty habits and gross feeding of the early natives of Britain, as well as of all other uncivilized people, rendered this malady common; but at the time in which Prince Bladud lived, no cure for it was known to the Britons. Being highly infectious, therefore, all persons afflicted with it were not only held in disgust and abhorrence, but, by the barbarous laws of the times, were doomed to be driven from the abodes of their fellow-creatures, and to take their chance of life or death in the forests and the deserts, exposed alike to hunger and to beasts of prey.
So great was the horror of this disease among the heathen Britons, and so strictly was the law for preventing its extension observed, that even the rank of the young prince caused no exception to be made in his favor. Neither was his tender youth suffered to plead for sympathy; and the king himself was unable to protect his own son from the cruel treatment accorded to the lepers of those days. No sooner was the report whispered abroad, that Prince Bladud was afflicted with leprosy, than the chiefs and elders of the council assembled together, and insisted that Lud Hurdebras should expel his son from the royal city, and drive him forth into the wilderness, in order to prevent the dreaded infection from spreading.
The fond mother of the unfortunate Bladud vainly endeavored to prevail on her royal husband to resist this barbarous injunction. All that maternal love and female tenderness could urge, she pleaded in behalf of her only child, whose bodily sufferings rendered him but the dearer object of affection to her fond bosom.
The distressed father, however deeply and painfully he felt the queen's passionate appeal, could not act in contradiction to the general voice of his subjects; he was compelled to stifle all emotions of natural compassion for his innocent son, and to doom him to perpetual banishment.
Bladud awaited his father's decision, in tears and silence, without offering a single word of supplication, lest he should increase the anguish of his parent's hearts. But, when the cruel sentence of banishment was confirmed by the voice of his hitherto doating sire, he uttered a cry of bitter sorrow, and covering his disfigured visage with both hands, turned about to leave the haunts of his childhood forever, exclaiming, "Who will have compassion upon me, now that I am abandoned by my parents?"
How sweet, how consoling, would have been the answer of a Christian parent to this agonizing question; but on Bladud's mother the heavenly light of Revelation had never shone. She knew not how to speak comfort to the breaking heart of her son, in those cheering words of Holy Writ, which would have been so applicable to his case in that hour of desertion: When thy father and thy mother forsake thee, I will take thee up. She could only weep with her son, and try to soothe his sorrow by whispering a hope, which she was far from feeling, that the day might come, when he could return to his father's court, cured of the malady which was the cause of his banishment.
"But years may pass away before that happy day, if it ever should come," replied the weeping boy; "and I shall be altered in stature and in features; the tones of my voice will have become strange to your ears, my mother! Toil and sorrow will have set their hard marks upon my brow. These garments, now so brightly stained with figures that denote my royal birth and princely station, will be worn bare, or exchanged for the sheep-skin vest of indigence. How, then, will you know that I am indeed your son, should I ever present myself before you cleansed of this dreadful leprosy?"
"My son," replied the queen, taking a royal ring of carved agate from her finger, and placing it on a stand before him, for so great was the terror of contagion from those afflicted with leprosy, that even the affectionate mother of Bladud avoided the touch of her child,—"this ring was wrought by the master-hand of a Druid, a skillful worker in precious stones, within the sacred circle of Stonehenge. It was placed upon my finger before the mystic altar, when I became the wife of the king, your father, and was saluted by the Arch-Druid as Queen of Britain. In the whole world, there is not another like unto it; and, should you bring it back to me, by that token shall I know you to be my son, even though the lapse of thrice ten years shall have passed away, and the golden locks of my princely boy shall be darkened with toil and time, and no longer wave over a smooth, unfurrowed brow."
The unfortunate Bladud, having carefully suspended his mother's ring about his neck, bade her a tearful farewell, and slowly and sorrowfully pursued his lonely way across the hills and downs of that part of England which is now called Somersetshire.
Evening was closing in before Bladud met with a single creature to show him the slightest compassion. At length, he was so fortunate as to encounter a shepherd-boy, who appeared in scarcely less distress than himself; for one of the sheep belonging to his flock had fallen into a ditch, the sides of which were so steep that he was unable to pull it out without assistance.
"Stranger," said he, addressing the outcast prince, "if ever you hope to obtain pity from others, I beseech you to lend me your aid, or I shall be severely punished by my master, for suffering this sheep to fall into the ditch."
Bladud required no second entreaty, but hastily divesting himself of his princely garments, assisted the boy in extricating the sheep from the water. The grateful youth bestowed upon him, in return, a share of his coarse supper of oaten cakes. Bladud, who had not broken his fast since the morning, ate this with greater relish than he had often felt for the dainties of which he had been accustomed to partake at his father's board.
It was a fine and lovely evening; the birds were singing their evening song; and a delicious fragrance was diffused from the purple heath and the blooming wild flowers. The sheep gathered round their youthful keeper; and he took up a rustic pipe, made from the reeds that overhung the margin of a neighboring rivulet, and played a merry tune, quite forgetful of his past trouble.
Bladud saw that a peasant boy, while engaged in the performance of his duties, might be as happy as a prince. Contentment and industry sweeten every lot, while useless repining only tends to aggravate the hardships to which it is the will of God that the human family should be exposed.
"You appear very happy," said Bladud to his new friend.
"How should I be otherwise?" replied the shepherd-boy: "I have wherewithal to eat and to drink; I have strength to labor, and health to enjoy my food. I sleep soundly on my bed of rushes after the toils of the day; and my master never punishes me except for carelessness or disobedience."
"I wish I were a shepherd-boy, also," said the prince: "can you tell me of some kind master, who would employ me to feed his flocks on these downs?"
The shepherd-boy shook his head, and replied, "You are a stranger lad from some distant town; most probably, by your fine painted dress, the runaway son of some great person, and unacquainted with any sort of useful occupation. Let me hear what you can do to get an honest living."
Bladud blushed deeply. He had been accustomed to spend his time in idle sports with the sons of the chieftains, and had not acquired the knowledge of anything likely to be of service in his present situation. He was silent for some minutes, but at length replied, "I can brighten arrows, string bows, and shoot at a mark."
Math, the shepherd-boy, advised his new companion, in his rustic language, not to mention these accomplishments to the peaceful herdsmen of Caynsham, (as the spot where this conference took place is now called,) lest it should create a prejudice against him; "neither," continued he, "would I counsel you to sue for service in a suit of this fashion." He laid his sunburnt hand, as he spoke, on Bladud's painted vest, lined with the fur of squirrels, which was only worn by persons of royal rank.
"Will you, for charity's sake, then, exchange your sheep-skin coat for my costly garments?" asked Bladud.
"Had you not so kindly helped me to pull my sheep out of the ditch, I would have said to you nay," replied Math; "but as one good turn deserves another, I will even give you my true shepherd's suit for your finery." So saying, he exchanged suits with the young prince.
"And now," said Bladud, "do you think I may venture to ask one of the herdsmen of the valley to trust me with the care of a flock?"
"Trust you with the care of a flock, forsooth!" cried Math, laughing; "I wonder at your presumption in thinking of such a thing, when you confess yourself ignorant of all the duties of a shepherd-boy!"
"They are very simple, and can easily be learned, I should think," said Bladud.
"Ay," replied Math, "or you had not seen them practiced by so simple a lad as Math, the son of Goff. But as all learners must have a beginning, I would not have you aspire at first to a higher office than that of a swineherd's boy; for remember, as no one knows who you are, or whence you come, you must not expect to obtain much notice from those who are the possessors of flocks and herds."
Bladud sighed deeply at this remark; but as he felt the truth of what Math said, he did not evince any displeasure at his plain speaking. He, therefore, mildly requested Math to recommend him to some master who would give him employment.
Math happened to know an aged swineherd who was in want of a lad of Bladud's age to attend on his pigs. He accordingly introduced his new friend, Bladud, as a candidate for that office; and his mild and sedate manners so well pleased the old man, that he immediately took him into his service.
Bladud at first felt the change of his fortunes very keenly, for he had been delicately fed and nurtured, and surrounded by friends, servants, and busy flatterers. He was now far separated from all who knew and loved him; exposed to wind and weather, heat and cold, and compelled to endure every species of hardship. He had no other bed than straw or rushes; his food was far worse than that which is now eaten by the poorest peasants, who deem their lot so hard; and he was clothed in undressed sheep-skins, from which the wool had been shorn. His drink was only water from the brook, and his whole time was occupied in his attendance on the swine.
At the earliest peep of dawn he was forced to rise, and lead forth into the fields and woods a numerous herd of grunting swine in quest of food, and there to remain till the shades of evening compelled him to drive them to the shelter of the rude sheds built for their accommodation, round the wretched hovel wherein his master dwelt. Bladud was sure to return weary and hungry, and often wet and sorrowful, to his forlorn home. Yet he did not murmur, though suffering at the same time under a most painful, and, as he supposed, an incurable disease.
He endeavored to bear the hardships of his lot with patience, and he derived satisfaction from the faithful performance of the duties which he had undertaken, irksome as they were. The greatest pain he endured, next to his separation from his parents, was the discovery that several of his master's pigs were infected with the same loathsome disease under which he was laboring; and this he feared would draw upon him the displeasure of the old herdsman.
But the leprosy, and its contagious nature, were evils unknown to the herdsmen of Caynsham, or Bladud would never have been able to obtain employment there. His master was an aged man, nearly blind, who, being convinced of the faithful disposition of his careful attendant, left the swine entirely to his management; so the circumstance of several of the most valuable of them being infected with leprosy, was never suspected by him. Bladud continued to lead them into the fields and forests in quest of their daily food, without incurring either question or reproach from him, or, indeed, from any one, for it was a thinly-inhabited district, and there were no gossiping neighbors to bring the tale of trouble to the old herdsman.
But though Bladud's misfortune remained undetected, he was seriously unhappy, for he felt himself to be the innocent cause of bringing the infection of a sore disease among his master's swine. He would have revealed the whole matter to him, only that he feared the evil could not now be cured.
From day to day he led his herd deeper into the forests, and further a-field; for he wished to escape the observation of every eye. Sometimes, indeed, he did not bring them back to the herdsmen's enclosure above once in a week. In the meantime he slept at night, surrounded by his uncouth companions, under the shade of some wide-spreading oak of the forest, living like them, upon acorns, or the roots of the pig-nuts, which grew in the woods and marshes, and were, when roasted, sweet and mealy, like potatoes, with the flavor of the chestnut. These were dainties in comparison to the coarse, black unleavened cakes on which poor Bladud had been used to feed ever since his unhappy banishment.
The old herdsman was perfectly satisfied with Bladud's management of the swine, and glad to find that he took the trouble of leading them into fresh districts for change of food, of which swine are always desirous.
So Bladud continued to penetrate into new and untrodden solitudes with his grunting charge, till one day he saw the bright waters of the river Avon sparkling before him in the early beams of the morning sun. He felt a sudden desire of crossing this pleasant stream. It was the fruitful season of autumn, and the reddening acorns, with which the rich oaken groves that crowned the noble hills on the opposite side were laden, promised an abundant feast for his master's swine, of whose wants he was always mindful.
He would not, however, venture to lead them across the river without first returning to acquaint his master, for he had already been abroad more than a week. So he journeyed homeward, and reached his master's hovel, with his whole herd, in safety. He then reported to the good old man, that he had wandered to the side of a beautiful river, and beheld from its grassy banks a rich and smiling country, wherein, he doubted not, that the swine would find food of the best kind, and in great abundance. "Prithee, master," quoth he, "suffer me to drive the herd across that fair stream, and if aught amiss befall them, it shall not be for want of due care and caution on the part of your faithful boy."
"Thou art free to lead the herd across the fair stream of which thou speakest, my son," replied the herdsman, "and may the blessing of an old man go with them and thee; for surely thou hast been faithful and wise in all thy doings since thou hast been my servant."
That very day he set out once more to the shores of the silvery Avon, and crossed it with the delighted pigs, at a shallow spot, which has ever since that time, in memory thereof, been called Swinford, or Swine's-ford.
No sooner, however, had they reached the opposite shore, than the whole herd set off, galloping and scampering, one over the other, as if they had one and all been seized with a sudden frenzy. No less alarmed than astonished at their sudden flight, Bladud followed them at his quickest speed, and beheld them rapidly descending into a valley, towards some springs of water, that seemed to ooze out of the boggy land in its bottom, amidst rushes, weeds, and long rank grass. Into this swamp the pigs rushed headlong, and here they rolled and reveled, tumbling, grunting, and squeaking, and knocking each other head over heels, with evident delight, but to the utter astonishment of Bladud, who was altogether unconscious of the instinct by which the gratified animals had been impelled.
All the attempts which Bladud made to, drive or entice them from this spot were entirely useless. They continued to wallow in their miry bed, until at length the calls of hunger induced them to seek the woods for food; but after they had eaten a hearty meal of acorns, they returned to the swamp, to the increasing surprise of Bladud. As for his part, having taken a supper of coarse black bread and roasted acorns, he sought shelter for the night in the thick branches of a large oak-tree.
Now poor Bladud was not aware that, guided by superior Wisdom, he had, unknown to himself, approached a spot wherein there existed a remarkable natural peculiarity. This was no other than some warm, springs of salt water, which ooze out of the earth, and possess certain medicinal properties which have the effect of curing various diseases, and on which account they are sought by afflicted persons even to the present day.
Bladud awoke with the first beams of morning, and discovered his grunting charge still actively wallowing in the oozy bed in which they had taken such unaccountable delight on the preceding day.
Bladud, however, who was accustomed to reason and to reflect on everything he saw, had often observed that the natural instinct of animals prompted them to do such things as were most beneficial to them. He had noticed that cats and dogs, when sick, had recourse to certain herbs and grasses, which proved effectual remedies for the malady under which they labored; and he thought it possible that pigs might be endowed with a similar faculty of discovering an antidote for disease. At all events he resolved to watch the result of their revelings in the warm ooze bath, wherein they continued to wallow, between whiles, for several days.
The wisdom of this proceeding was shortly manifested; for Bladud soon observed that a gradual improvement was taking place in the appearance of the swine.
The leprous scales fell off by degrees, and in the course of a few weeks the leprosy gradually disappeared, and the whole herd being cleansed, was restored to a sound and healthy state.
The heart of the outcast prince was buoyant with hope and joy when the idea first presented itself to his mind, that the same simple remedy which had restored the infected swine might be equally efficacious in his own case. Divesting himself of his humble clothing and elate with joy and hope, he plunged into the warm salt ooze bed, wherein his pigs had reveled with so much advantage.
He was soon sensible of an abatement of the irritable and painful symptoms of his loathsome malady; and, in a short time, by persevering in the use of the remedy which the natural sagacity of his humble companions had suggested, he became wholly cured of the leprosy and was delighted to find himself restored to health and vigor.
After bathing, and washing away in the river the stains of the ooze, he first beheld the reflection of his own features in the clear mirror of the stream. He perceived that his skin, which had been so lately disfigured by foul blotches and frightful scales, so as to render him an object of abhorrance to his nearest and dearest friends, was now smooth, fair, and clear.
"Oh, my mother!" he exclaimed, in the overpowering rapture of his feelings on this discovery, "I may then hope to behold thy face once more! and thou wilt no longer shrink from the embrace of thy son, as in the sad, sad hour of our sorrowful parting!"
He pressed the agate ring which she had given him as her farewell token of remembrance, to his lips and to his bosom, as he spoke; then quitting the water, he once more arrayed himself in the miserable garb of his lowly fortunes, and guided his master's herd homeward.
The old man, who was beginning to grow uneasy at the unwonted length of Bladud's absence, and fearing that some accident had befallen the swine, was about to set forth in search of him, when he heard the approach of the noisy herd, and perceived Bladud advancing toward him.
"Is all well with thyself and with the herd my son?" inquired the old man.
"All is well, my father," replied Bladud, bowing himself before his lowly master, "yea, more than well; for the blessing of the great Disposer of all that befalleth the children of men, hath been with me. I left you as a poor destitute, afflicted with a sore disease, that had rendered me loathsome to my own house, and despised and shunned by all men. I was driven forth from the dwellings of health and gladness, and forced to seek shelter in the wilderness. From being the son of a king, I was reduced to become the servant of one of the humblest of his subjects, and esteemed myself fortunate in obtaining the care of a herd of swine, that I might obtain even a morsel of coarse food, and a place wherein to lay my head at night. But, behold, through this very thing have I been healed of my leprosy!"
"And who art thou, my son?" demanded the old herdsman, in whose ears the words of his youthful servant sounded like the language of a dream.
"I am Bladud, the son of Lud Hurdebras, thy king," replied the youth. "Up—let us be going, for the time seemeth long to me, till I once more look upon his face, and that of the queen, my mother."
"Thou hast never yet in aught deceived me, my son," observed the herdsman, "else should I say thou wert mocking me with some wild fable; so passing all belief doth it seem, that the son of my lord the king should have been contented to dwell with so poor and humble a man as myself in the capacity of a servant."
"In truth, the trial was a hard one," replied Bladud; "but I knew that it was my duty to submit to the direction of that heavenly Guardian who has thus shaped my lot after His good pleasure; and now do I perceive that it was in love and mercy, as well as in wisdom, that I have been afflicted." Bladud then proposed to his master that he should accompany him to his father's court; to which the old herdsman, who scarcely yet credited the assertion of his young attendant, at length consented; and they journeyed together to the royal city.
In these days, many a mean village is in appearance a more important place than were the royal cities wherein the ancient British kings kept court; for these were merely large straggling enclosures, surrounded with trenches and hedge-rows, containing a few groups of wattled huts, plastered over with clay. The huts were built round the king's palace, which was not itself a more commodious building than a modern barn, and having neither chimneys nor glazed windows, must have been but a miserable abode in the winter season.
At the period to which our story has now conducted us, it was, however, a fine warm autumn day. King Hurdebras and his queen were therefore dwelling in an open pavilion, formed of the trunks of trees, which were covered over with boughs, and garlanded with wreaths of wild flowers.
Bladud and his master arrived during the celebration of a great festival, held to commemorate the acorn-gathering, which was then completed. All ranks and conditions of people were assembled in their holiday attire, which varied from simple sheep-skins to the fur of wolves, cats, and rabbits.
Among all this concourse of people, Bladud was remarked for the poverty of his garments, which were of the rude fashion and coarse material of those of the humblest peasant. As for the old herdsman, his master, when he observed the little respect with which Bladud was treated by the rude crowds who were thronging to the royal city, he began to suspect either that the youth himself had been deluded by some strange dream respecting his royal birth and breeding, or that for knavish purposes he had practiced on his credulity, in inducing him to undertake so long a journey.
These reflections put the old man into an ill humor, which was greatly increased when, on entering the city, he became an object of boisterous mirth and rude jest to the populace. On endeavoring to ascertain the cause of this annoyance, he discovered that one of his most valuable pigs, that had formed a very powerful attachment to Prince Bladud, had followed them on their journey, and was now grunting at their very heels.
The herdsman's anger at length broke out in words, and he bitterly upbraided Bladud for having beguiled him into such a wild-goose expedition. "And, as if that were not enough," quoth he, "thou couldst not be contented without bringing thy pet pig hither, to make a fool both of thyself and me. Why, verily, we are the laughing-stock of the whole city."
Bladud mildly assured his master that it was through no act of his that the pig had followed them to his father's court.
"Thy father's court, forsooth!" retorted the old man, angrily; "I do verily believe it is all a trick which thou hast cunningly planned, for the sake of stealing my best pig. Else why shouldst thou have permitted it to follow thee thither?"
Bladud was prevented from replying to this unjust accusation by a rabble of rude boys, who had gathered round them, and began to assail the poor pig with sticks and stones. Bladud at first mildly requested them to desist from such cruel sport; but finding that they paid no attention to his remonstrances, he began to deal out blows, right and left, with his stout quarter-staff, by which he kept the foremost at bay, calling at the same time on his master to assist him in defending the pig.
But Bladud and his master together were very unequally matched against this lawless band of young aggressors. They certainly would have been very roughly handled, had it not been for the unexpected aid of a shepherd-lad who came to their assistance, and, with the help of his faithful dog, succeeded in driving away the most troublesome of their assailants.
In this brave and generous ally, Bladud had the satisfaction of discovering his old friend Math of the Downs. So completely, however, was Bladud's appearance changed in consequence of his being cleansed of the leprosy, that it was some time before he could convince Math that he was the wretched and forlorn outcast with whom he had changed clothes, nearly a twelvemonth before on the Somersetshire Downs.
Math, however, presently remembered his old clothes, in the sorry remains of which Bladud was still dressed; and Bladud also pointed with a smile to the painted vest of a British prince, in which the young shepherd had arrayed himself to attend the festival of the acorn-gathering. Strange to say, the generous boy had altogether escaped infection from the clothes of his diseased prince.
Bladud now briefly explained his situation to the astonished Math, whom he invited to join himself and his master in their visit to the royal pavilion, in order that he might be a witness of his restoration to the arms of his parents, and the honors of his father's court.
Math, though still more incredulous than even the old herdsman, was strongly moved by curiosity to witness the interview. He stoutly assisted Bladud in making his way through the crowd, who appeared resolutely bent on impeding their progress to the royal pavilion, which, however, they at length approached, still followed by the persevering pig.
The last load of acorns, adorned with the faded branches of the noble oak, and crowned with the mistletoe, a plant which the Druids taught the ancient Britons to hold in superstitious reverence, was now borne into the city, preceded by a band of Druids in their long white robes, and a company of minstrels, singing songs, and dancing before the wain. The king and queen came forth to meet the procession, and, after addressing suitable speeches to the Druids and the people, re-entered the pavilion, where they sat down to regale themselves.
Bladud, who had continued to press forward, now availed himself of an opportunity of entering the pavilion behind one of the queen's favorite ladies, whose office it was to fill her royal mistress' goblet with mead. This lady had been Bladud's nurse, which rendered her very dear to the queen, whom nothing could console for the loss of her son.
Bladud, concealed from observation by one of the rude pillars that supported the roof of the building, contemplated the scene in silence, which was broken only by the agitated beating of his swelling heart. He observed that the queen, his mother, looked sad and pale, and that she scarcely tasted of the cheer before her. She sighed deeply from time to time, and kept her eyes fixed on the vacant place which, in former happy days used to be occupied by her only son!
King Hurdebras endeavored to prevail upon her to partake of some of the dainties with which the board was spread.
"How can I partake of costly food," she replied, "when my only child is a wanderer on the face of the earth, and, perchance, lacketh bread?"
Bladud, unable longer to restrain the emotions under which he labored, now softly stole from behind the pillar, and, unperceived, dropped the agate ring into his mother's goblet.
"Nay," replied the king, "but this is useless sorrow, my lady queen. Thinkest thou that I have borne the loss of our only son without grief and sorrow? Deeply have I also suffered; but we must not forget that it is our duty to bow with humility to the wise decrees of the great Disposer of all human events?"
"But canst thou feel our loss in like degree with me?" she exclaimed, bursting into tears; "what shall equal a mother's love, or the grief of her who sorroweth for her only one?"
"Fill high the goblet, Hetha," said the king, turning to the favorite of his royal consort; "and implore the queen, thy mistress, to taste of the sweet mead, and, for the happiness of those around her, to subdue her sorrow."
The queen, after some persuasion, took the wine-cup, and raised it with a reluctant hand; but, ere the sparkling liquor reached her lips, she perceived the ring at the bottom of the goblet, and hastily pouring the mead upon the ground, seized the precious token, and holding it up, with a cry of joy, exclaimed, "My son! my son!"
Bladud sprang forward, and bowed his knee to the earth before her. "Hast thou forgotten me, oh! my mother?" he exclaimed, in a faltering voice; for the queen, accustomed to see her princely son attired in robes befitting his royal birth, looked with a doubtful eye on the ragged garb of abject indigence in which the youth was arrayed. Moreover, he was sun-burnt and weather-beaten; had grown tall and robust; and was, withal, attended by his strange friend, the pig, who, in the untaught warmth of his affection, had intruded himself into the presence of royalty, in the train of his master.
A second glance convinced the queen, the king, and the delightful Hetha, that it was indeed the long-lost Bladud upon whom they looked; and it scarcely required the testimony of the old herdsman, his master, and that of his friend Math, the shepherd, to certify the fact, and bear witness to the truth of his simple tale.
Touching was the scene when the king, recovering from the surprise into which the first shock of recognition had plunged him, rushed forward and clasped his long-lost son to his bosom. The big tear-drops rolled down his manly cheeks, and, relaxing the dignity of the king, and the sternness of the warrior, all the energies of his nature were embodied in the one single feeling, that he was a happy and a beloved father!
The news of the return of their prince spread throughout the assembled multitudes, on wings of joy. Loud and long were the shouts and acclamations which burst forth in every direction, as the distant groups became apprised of the event. The Druids and the Minstrels formed themselves into processions, in which the people joined; and the harpers, sounding their loudest strains, struck up their songs of joy and triumph. The oxen, loosened from the wains, and decked with garlands of flowers, were led forward in the train; and the dancers and revelers followed, performing with energy and delight their rude sports and pastimes around the king's pavilion.
Night at length closed upon the happy scene, and the king and queen retired to their tent, accompanied by their son, to learn from his lips the course of events by which his life had been preserved, and his health restored. They joined in humble thanks to the Great Author of all happiness, for the special blessings that had been bestowed upon them; and the king marked his sense of gratitude by gifts and benefits extended to the helpless and the deserving among his subjects. The good old herdsman was among the most favored, and the worthy Math was put in a path of honor and promotion, of which he proved himself well deserving.
You could not have found anywhere two happier boys than were Charlie and Selwyn Kingsley one Saturday morning early in June. In their delight they threw their arms around each other and danced up and down the piazza, they tossed their hats in the air and hurrahed, they sprang down the stone steps two at a time, dashed about the grounds in a wild fashion that excited their dog Fritz, and set him barking in the expectation of a frolic, then raced across to their special chum and playmate, Ned Petry. They arrived there almost out of breath, but with such beaming faces that before they reached the hammock where he lay swinging Ned called out, "Halloa! what's happened? Something good, I know."
"We're going—" panted Charlie, dropping down on the grass beside him.
"To Europe!" supplemented Selwyn.
"No!" cried Ned, springing up. "Isn't that just jolly! When do you sail, and who all are going? Let's sit in the hammock together. Now tell me all about it." The three boys crowded into the hammock, and for a few minutes questions and answers flew thick and fast.
"You know we've always wanted to go." said Charlie. Ned nodded. "And the last time papa went he promised he'd take us the next trip, but we didn't dream he was going this summer."
"Though we suspected something was up," broke in Selwyn, "because for about a week past whenever Charlie and I would come into the room papa and mamma'd stop talking; but we never thought of Europe."
"Until this morning," continued Charlie, "after breakfast, when papa said, 'Boys, how would you like a trip to Europe with your mother and me?'"
"At first we thought he was joking," again interrupted eager little Selwyn, "because his eyes twinkled just as they do when he is telling a joke."
"But he wasn't," resumed his brother, "and the long and short of the matter is that we are all—papa, mamma, sister Agatha, Selwyn, and I—to sail in the Majestic, June 17, so we've only about a week more to wait."
"Oh! oh! it's too splendid for anything!" cried Selwyn, clapping his hands in delight and giving the hammock a sudden impetus, which set it swaying rapidly. "We're to spend some time with Uncle Geoffrey Barrington—you know, Ned, Rex's father—and we're to see all the sights of 'famous London town'—the Houses of Parliament, the Zoo, Westminster Abbey, and the dear old Tower! Just think of it, Ned, papa's going to show us the very cells in which Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh were shut up! Oh, don't I wish you were going, too!"
"Wouldn't it be splendid!" said Charlie, throwing his arm across Ned's shoulders.
"Wouldn't it!" echoed Ned, ruefully. "I wonder when our turn will come; soon, I hope. I shall miss you fellows awfully."
"Never mind, Ned, we'll write to you," cried both boys, warmly, "and tell you all about everything."
The next week was full of pleasant excitement for Charlie and Selwyn. They left school a few days before it closed that they might help mamma and sister Agatha, who were very busy getting things into what papa called "leaving order." There was a great deal to do, but at last everything was accomplished, the steamer trunks had been packed, and some last good-byes spoken. Fritz and the rabbits had been given into Ned's keeping with many injunctions and cautions. Carefully wrapped in cloths, the boys had placed their bicycles in the seclusion which a garret granted. Balls, tennis rackets, boxes of pet tools, favorite books, everything, in fact, had been thought of and cared for, and at last the eventful day of sailing arrived.
A number of friends came to the city to see the Kingsleys off. They sat in the saloon of the big steamer with Mrs. Kingsley and her daughter, while the boys, under papa's care, remained on the dock for a while, deeply interested in their unusual surroundings. They were almost wild with excitement, which not even the prospect of parting with Ned could quiet, and it is not much to be wondered at, there was so much going on.
The long covered dock was crowded with men, women, and children, nearly all of whom were talking at the same time. Large wagons were unloading; trunks, boxes and steamer-chairs stood about, which the steamer "hands" were carrying up the gangway as rapidly as possible; huge cases, burlap-covered bundles, barrels and boxes were being lowered into the hold by means of a derrick; men were shouting, children crying, horses champing, and in the midst of the confusion loving last words were being spoken.
When papa joined the grown people in the saloon, Charlie, Selwyn, and Ned made a tour of the steamer. Of course they were careful not to get in the way of the busy sailors, but they found lots to see without doing that. First, wraps and hand-satchels were deposited in their state-rooms, which were directly opposite each other, and the state-rooms thoroughly investigated, each boy climbing into the upper berths "to see how it felt." Then they visited the kitchen, saw the enormous tea and coffee pots, and the deep, round shining pans in which the food was cooked. But they did not stay here long, as it was nearly dinner time, and everybody was very busy. Next came the engine-room, which completely fascinated them with its many wheels and rods and bolts, all shining like new silver and gold.
From there they went on deck, clambered up little flights of steps as steep as ladders and as slippery as glass; walked about the upper deck, and managed to see a great deal in fifteen or twenty minutes. By the time they returned to the gangway all the baggage and merchandise had been taken on board. A man in a blue coat with brass buttons, and a cap with a gilt band around it, called out in a loud voice, "All on shore!" and then came last good-byes. Smiles and laughter vanished, tears and sobs took their places. "Good-bye!" "God bless you!" "Bon voyage!" "Don't forget to write!" was heard on every side. Mamma and sister Agatha shed a few tears; even papa was seen to take off his glasses several times to wipe the moisture which would collect on them.