OUR YOUNG FOLKS.
An Illustrated Magazine
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS.
VOL. I. JANUARY, 1865. NO. I.
HUM, THE SON OF BUZ.
At Rye Beach, during our summer's vacation, there came, as there always will to seaside visitors, two or three cold, chilly, rainy days,—days when the skies that long had not rained a drop seemed suddenly to bethink themselves of their remissness, and to pour down water, not by drops, but by pailfuls. The chilly wind blew and whistled, the water dashed along the ground, and careered in foamy rills along the roadside, and the bushes bent beneath the constant flood. It was plain that there was to be no sea-bathing on such a day, no walks, no rides; and so, shivering and drawing our blanket-shawls close about us, we sat down to the window to watch the storm outside. The rose-bushes under the window hung dripping under their load of moisture, each spray shedding a constant shower on the spray below it. On one of these lower sprays, under the perpetual drip, what should we see but a poor little humming-bird, drawn up into the tiniest shivering ball, and clinging with a desperate grasp to his uncomfortable perch. A humming-bird we knew him to be at once, though his feathers were so matted and glued down by the rain that he looked not much bigger than a honey-bee, and as different as possible from the smart, pert, airy little character that we had so often seen flirting with the flowers. He was evidently a humming-bird in adversity, and whether he ever would hum again looked to us exceedingly doubtful. Immediately, however, we sent out to have him taken in. When the friendly hand seized him, he gave a little, faint, watery squeak, evidently thinking that his last hour was come, and that grim Death was about to carry him off to the land of dead birds. What a time we had reviving him,—holding the little wet thing in the warm hollow of our hands, and feeling him shiver and palpitate! His eyes were fast closed; his tiny claws, which looked slender as cobwebs, were knotted close to his body, and it was long before one could feel the least motion in them. Finally, to our great joy, we felt a brisk little kick, and then a flutter of wings, and then a determined peck of the beak, which showed that there was some bird left in him yet, and that he meant at any rate to find out where he was.
Unclosing our hands a small space, out popped the little head with a pair of round brilliant eyes. Then we bethought ourselves of feeding him, and forthwith prepared him a stiff glass of sugar and water, a drop of which we held to his bill. After turning his head attentively, like a bird who knew what he was about and didn't mean to be chaffed, he briskly put out a long, flexible tongue, slightly forked at the end, and licked off the comfortable beverage with great relish. Immediately he was pronounced out of danger by the small humane society which had undertaken the charge of his restoration, and we began to cast about for getting him a settled establishment in our apartment. I gave up my work-box to him for a sleeping-room, and it was medically ordered that he should take a nap. So we filled the box with cotton, and he was formally put to bed with a folded cambric handkerchief round his neck, to keep him from beating his wings. Out of his white wrappings he looked forth green and grave as any judge with his bright round eyes. Like a bird of discretion, he seemed to understand what was being done to him, and resigned himself sensibly to go to sleep.
The box was covered with a sheet of paper perforated with holes for purposes of ventilation; for even humming-birds have a little pair of lungs, and need their own little portion of air to fill them, so that they may make bright scarlet little drops of blood to keep life's fire burning in their tiny bodies. Our bird's lungs manufactured brilliant blood, as we found out by experience; for in his first nap he contrived to nestle himself into the cotton of which his bed was made, and to get more of it than he needed into his long bill. We pulled it out as carefully as we could, but there came out of his bill two round, bright, scarlet, little drops of blood. Our chief medical authority looked grave, pronounced a probable hemorrhage from the lungs, and gave him over at once. We, less scientific, declared that we had only cut his little tongue by drawing out the filaments of cotton, and that he would do well enough in time,—as it afterward appeared he did,—for from that day there was no more bleeding. In the course of the second day he began to take short flights about the room, though he seemed to prefer to return to us,—perching on our fingers or heads or shoulders, and sometimes choosing to sit in this way for half an hour at a time. "These great giants," he seemed to say to himself, "are not bad people after all; they have a comfortable way with them; how nicely they dried and warmed me! Truly a bird might do worse than to live with them."
So he made up his mind to form a fourth in the little company of three that usually sat and read, worked and sketched, in that apartment, and we christened him "Hum, the son of Buz." He became an individuality, a character, whose little doings formed a part of every letter, and some extracts from these will show what some of his little ways were.
"Hum has learned to sit upon my finger, and eat his sugar and water out of a teaspoon with most Christian-like decorum. He has but one weakness,—he will occasionally jump into the spoon and sit in his sugar and water, and then appear to wonder where it goes to. His plumage is in rather a drabbled state, owing to these performances. I have sketched him as he sat to-day on a bit of Spiraea which I brought in for him. When absorbed in reflection, he sits with his bill straight up in the air, as I have drawn him. Mr. A—— reads Macaulay to us, and you should see the wise air with which, perched on Jenny's thumb, he cocked his head now one side and then the other, apparently listening with most critical attention. His confidence in us seems unbounded; he lets us stroke his head, smooth his feathers, without a flutter; and is never better pleased than sitting, as he has been doing all this while, on my hand, turning up his bill, and watching my face with great edification.
"I have just been having a sort of maternal struggle to make him go to bed in his box; but he evidently considers himself sufficiently convalescent to make a stand for his rights as a bird, and so scratched indignantly out of his wrappings, and set himself up to roost on the edge of his box, with an air worthy of a turkey, at the very least. Having brought in a lamp, he has opened his eyes round and wide, and sits cocking his little head at me reflectively."
When the weather cleared away, and the sun came out bright, Hum became entirely well, and seemed resolved to take the measure of his new life with us. Our windows were closed in the lower part of the sash by frames with mosquito gauze, so that the sun and air found free admission, and yet our little rover could not pass out. On the first sunny day he took an exact survey of our apartment from ceiling to floor, humming about, examining every point with his bill,—all the crevices, mouldings, each little indentation in the bed-posts, each window-pane, each chair and stand; and, as it was a very simply furnished seaside apartment, his scrutiny was soon finished. We wondered, at first, what this was all about; but, on watching him more closely, we found that he was actively engaged in getting his living, by darting out his long tongue hither and thither, and drawing in all the tiny flies and insects which in summer-time are to be found in an apartment. In short, we found that, though the nectar of flowers was his dessert, yet he had his roast beef and mutton-chop to look after, and that his bright, brilliant blood was not made out of a simple vegetarian diet. Very shrewd and keen he was, too, in measuring the size of insects before he attempted to swallow them. The smallest class were whisked off with lightning speed; but about larger ones he would sometimes wheel and hum for some minutes, darting hither and thither, and surveying them warily; and if satisfied that they could be carried, he would come down with a quick, central dart which would finish the unfortunate at a snap. The larger flies seemed to irritate him,—especially when they intimated to him that his plumage was sugary, by settling on his wings and tail; when he would lay about him spitefully, wielding his bill like a sword. A grasshopper that strayed in, and was sunning himself on the window-seat, gave him great discomposure. Hum evidently considered him an intruder, and seemed to long to make a dive at him; but, with characteristic prudence, confined himself to threatening movements, which did not exactly hit. He saw evidently that he could not swallow him whole, and what might ensue from trying him piecemeal he wisely forbore to essay.
Hum had his own favorite places and perches. From the first day he chose for his nightly roost a towel-line which had been drawn across the corner over the wash-stand, where he every night established himself with one claw in the edge of the towel and the other clasping the line, and, ruffling up his feathers till he looked like a little chestnut-bur, he would resign himself to the soundest sleep. He did not tuck his head under his wing, but seemed to sink it down between his shoulders, with his bill almost straight up in the air. One evening one of us, going to use the towel, jarred the line, and soon after found that Hum had been thrown from his perch, and was hanging head downward fast asleep, still clinging to the line. Another evening, being discomposed by somebody coming to the towel-line after he had settled himself, he fluttered off; but so sleepy that he had not discretion to poise himself again, and was found clinging, like a little bunch of green floss silk, to the mosquito netting of the window.
A day after this we brought in a large green bough, and put it up over the looking-glass. Hum noticed it before it had been there five minutes, flew to it, and began a regular survey, perching now here, now there, till he seemed to find a twig that exactly suited him; and after that he roosted there every night. Who does not see in this change all the signs of reflection and reason that are shown by us in thinking over our circumstances, and trying to better them? It seemed to say in so many words: "That towel-line is an unsafe place for a bird; I get frightened, and wake from bad dreams to find myself head downward; so I will find a better roost on this twig."
When our little Jenny one day put on a clean white muslin gown embellished with red sprigs, Hum flew towards her, and with his bill made instant examination of these new appearances; and one day, being very affectionately disposed, perched himself on her shoulder, and sat some time. On another occasion, while Mr. A—— was reading, Hum established himself on the top of his head just over the middle of his forehead, in the precise place where our young belles have lately worn stuffed humming-birds, making him look as if dressed out for a party. Hum's most favorite perch was the back of the great rocking-chair, which, being covered by a tidy, gave some hold into which he could catch his little claws. There he would sit, balancing himself cleverly if its occupant chose to swing to and fro, and seeming to be listening to the conversation or reading.
Hum had his different moods, like human beings. On cold, cloudy, gray days, he appeared to be somewhat depressed in spirits, hummed less about the room, and sat humped-up with his feathers ruffled, looking as much like a bird in a great-coat as possible. But on hot, sunny days, every feather sleeked itself down, and his little body looked natty and trim, his head alert, his eyes bright, and it was impossible to come near him, for his agility. Then let mosquitos and little flies look about them! Hum snapped them up without mercy, and seemed to be all over the ceiling in a moment, and resisted all our efforts at any personal familiarity with a saucy alacrity.
Hum had his established institutions in our room, the chief of which was a tumbler with a little sugar and water mixed in it, and a spoon laid across, out of which he helped himself whenever he felt in the mood,—sitting on the edge of the tumbler, and dipping his long bill, and lapping with his little forked tongue like a kitten. When he found his spoon accidentally dry, he would stoop over and dip his bill in the water in the tumbler,—which caused the prophecy on the part of some of his guardians, that he would fall in some day and be drowned. For which reason it was agreed to keep only an inch in depth of the fluid at the bottom of the tumbler. A wise precaution this proved; for the next morning I was awaked, not by the usual hum over my head, but by a sharp little flutter, and found Mr. Hum beating his wings in the tumbler,—having actually tumbled in during his energetic efforts to get his morning coffee before I was awake.
Hum seemed perfectly happy and satisfied in his quarters,—but one day, when the door was left open, made a dart out, and so into the open sunshine. Then, to be sure, we thought we had lost him. We took the mosquito netting out of all the windows, and, setting his tumbler of sugar and water in a conspicuous place, went about our usual occupations. We saw him joyous and brisk among the honeysuckles outside the window, and it was gravely predicted that he would return no more. But at dinner-time in came Hum, familiar as possible, and sat down to his spoon as if nothing had happened; instantly we closed our windows, and had him secure once more.
At another time I was going to ride to the Atlantic House, about a mile from my boarding-place. I left all secure, as I supposed, at home. While gathering moss on the walls there, I was surprised by a little green humming-bird flying familiarly right towards my face, and humming above my head. I called out, "Here is Hum's very brother." But, on returning home, I saw that the door of the room was open, and Hum was gone. Now certainly we gave him up for lost. I sat down to painting, and in a few minutes in flew Hum, and settled on the edge of my tumbler in a social, confidential way, which seemed to say, "O, you've got back then." After taking his usual drink of sugar and water, he began to fly about the ceiling as usual, and we gladly shut him in.
When our five weeks at the seaside were up, and it was time to go home, we had great questionings what was to be done with Hum. To get him home with us was our desire,—but who ever heard of a humming-bird travelling by railroad? Great were the consultings; a little basket of Indian work was filled up with cambric handkerchiefs, and a bottle of sugar and water provided, and we started with him for a day's journey. When we arrived at night, the first care was to see what had become of Hum, who had not been looked at since we fed him with sugar and water in Boston. We found him alive and well, but so dead asleep that we could not wake him to roost; so we put him to bed on a toilet cushion, and arranged his tumbler for morning. The next day found him alive and humming, exploring the room and pictures, perching now here and now there; but, as the weather was chilly, he sat for the most part of the time in a humped-up state on the tip of a pair of stag's horns. We moved him to a more sunny apartment; but, alas! the equinoctial storm came on, and there was no sun to be had for days. Hum was blue; the pleasant seaside days were over; his room was lonely, the pleasant three that had enlivened the apartment at Rye no longer came in and out; evidently he was lonesome, and gave way to depression. One chilly morning he managed again to fall into his tumbler, and wet himself through; and, notwithstanding warm bathings and tender nursings, the poor little fellow seemed to get diptheria, or something quite as bad for humming-birds.
We carried him to a neighboring sunny parlor, where ivy embowers all the walls, and the sun lies all day. There he revived a little, danced up and down, perched on a green spray that was wreathed across the breast of a Psyche, and looked then like a little flitting soul returning to its rest. Towards evening he drooped; and, having been nursed and warmed and cared for, he was put to sleep on a green twig laid on the piano. In that sleep the little head drooped—nodded—fell; and little Hum went where other bright dreams go,—to the Land of the Hereafter.
Harriet Beecher Stowe.
THE VOLUNTEER'S THANKSGIVING.
The last days of November, and everything so green! A finer bit of country my eyes have never seen. 'Twill be a thing to tell of, ten years or twenty hence, How I came down to Georgia at Uncle Sam's expense.
Four years ago this winter, up at the district school, I wrote all day, and ciphered, perched on a white-pine stool; And studied in my atlas the boundaries of the States, And learnt the wars with England, the history and the dates.
Then little I expected to travel in such haste Along the lines my fingers and fancy often traced, To bear a soldier's knapsack, and face the cannon's mouth, And help to save for Freedom the lovely, perjured South.
That red, old-fashioned school-house! what winds came sweeping through Its doors from bald Monadnock, and from the mountains blue That slope off south and eastward beyond the Merrimack! O pleasant Northern river, your music calls me back
To where the pines are humming the slow notes of their psalm Around a shady farm-house, half hid within their calm, Reflecting in the river a picture not so bright As these verandahed mansions,—but yet my heart's delight.
They're sitting at the table this clear Thanksgiving noon; I smell the crispy turkey, the pies will come in soon,— The golden squares of pumpkin, the flaky rounds of mince, Behind the barberry syrups, the cranberry and the quince.
Be sure my mouth does water,—but then I am content To stay and do the errand on which I have been sent. A soldier mustn't grumble at salt beef and hard-tack: We'll have a grand Thanksgiving if ever we get back!
I'm very sure they'll miss me at dinner-time to-day, For I was good at stowing their provender away. When mother clears the table, and wipes the platters bright, She'll say, "I hope my baby don't lose his appetite!"
But oh! the after-dinner! I miss that most of all,— The shooting at the targets, the jolly game of ball, And then the long wood-ramble! We climbed, and slid, and ran,— We and the neighbor-children,—and one was Mary Ann,
Who (as I didn't mention) sat next to me at school: Sometimes I had to show her the way to work the rule Of Ratio and Proportion, and do upon her slate Those long, hard sums that puzzle a merry maiden's pate.
I wonder if they're going across the hills to-day; And up the cliffs I wonder what boy will lead the way; And if they'll gather fern-leaves and checkerberries red, And who will put a garland of ground-pine on her head.
O dear! the air grows sultry: I'd wish myself at home Were it a whit less noble, the cause for which I've come. Four years ago a school-boy; as foolish now as then! But greatly they don't differ, I fancy,—boys and men.
I'm just nineteen to-morrow, and I shall surely stay For Freedom's final battle, be it until I'm gray, Unless a Southern bullet should take me off my feet.— There's nothing left to live for, if Rebeldom should beat;
For home and love and honor and freedom are at stake, And life may well be given for our dear Union's sake; So reads the Proclamation, and so the sermon ran; Do ministers and people feel it as soldiers can?
When will it all be ended? 'Tis not in youth to hold In quietness and patience, like people grave and old: A year? three? four? or seven?—O then, when I return, Put on a big log, mother, and let it blaze and burn,
And roast your fattest turkey, bake all the pies you can, And, if she isn't married, invite in Mary Ann! Hang flags from every window! we'll all be glad and gay, For Peace will light the country on that Thanksgiving Day.
A STORY FOR CHILDREN.
DEAR OLD FRIEND:—We were all sitting round the fire the other evening after dinner. The evening paper had been read and explained, and the Colonel was now nursing his wounded arm, and musingly smoking his old camp-pipe, browned to a rich mahogany in many marches among the sands of Folly Island, through the rose-gardens of Florida, and over the hills and valleys of battle-worn old Virginia; I myself, who have never yet taken kindly to pipes,—though I suppose I shall have to ere many days,—was dreaming over a fragrant Cabanas; Madame was hard at work over a pile of the week's stockings; and the children taking their last frolic about the parlor, preparatory to their unwilling Good-night and fearful departure to the hated regions above stairs;—when our neat-handed Bridget entered the room, staggering under the weight of the monthly parcel of French books, just arrived by express.
You, who live where you can see all the new books as soon as they appear, can hardly imagine the eagerness with which we poor country people, far away from publishing-houses and foreign bookstores, welcome the sight of this monthly parcel. We passed over the green and yellow duodecimos, glancing at Feval, About, Berthel, Sand, and the rest, each looking for his particular favorite among the authors, when the children, whose busy fingers had helped to untie the knots and unwrap the packages, and who were rummaging with as much eagerness as we, suddenly discovered a sober octavo, that seemed to promise well; for, after a hasty look at it, they carried it away to the library-table, and examined it, for a time, in profound silence. After a while, one little boy spoke out:—
"O, papa! this must be a real old-fashioned fairy-book, for it is full of pictures of fairies, and knights, and giants, and dwarfs, and dragons! Do read it to us, please!"
Now, my dear friend, you know that my youngsters have a most insatiate appetite for, and a most thorough appreciation of, real fairy stories, as they call them. But they are pitiless judges; they can hardly tire of Blue Beard, and Beauty and the Beast, and the Arabian Nights; but they turn up their little noses in contempt at the moral fairy stories, which some of their kind aunts have attempted to impose upon them. I myself have a secret dislike for those sham stories which deceive you into believing you are hearing about real fairies and giants, only to tell you, at the end, that the good fairy is no other than Cheerfulness, Industry, or some sister virtue, and that the giant is Luxury, Ill-Temper, or some kindred vice. Yet the children are severer critics than I. They will have nothing whatever to do with the good fairies who have no magical power, and who live in their own little bodies; nor with the wicked giants who, they can see at once, have none of the attributes of the giants of old. They swallow the pill once, thinking it a sugar-plum; but after finding it to be a pill, no amount of sugar coating will make it anything but medicine. And all boys and girls are alike in this, and will be so, let us hope, to the end of time. Even we old fellows recall those old-time stories with something of the same awe-struck admiration, and something of the same unquestioning belief, with which we listened to them, I don't know how many years ago. We sneer at the improbabilities and inconsistencies of modern fiction; but who thinks of being startled at the charming incongruities, the bold but fascinating impossibilities, of Cinderella, and Aladdin, and Puss in Boots? Don't we in our heart of hearts still believe that, a long time ago, before men grew too wicked for them, the gentle fairies really lived in their jewelled palaces under ground, and came out, now and then, to protect the youth and beauty they loved from giants, and dragons, and malicious genii, and all manner of evil things? I declare I should be ashamed of myself if I did not; and I am sure that none of us, who are good for anything, have altogether lost that old belief; and when we look back at those days of young romance, and remember the thrill with which we read of Bluebeard's punishment, and Beauty's reward, we feel that it would be better for us if they had more of that old childlike faith. And so I encourage my youngsters to read and listen to, over and over again, the same old stories that, when I was a boy, warmed my young imagination, and to eschew the dismal allegories with which well-meaning but short-sighted writers try to supply the places of Jack the Giant-killer and all his marvellous family. And so I was almost as pleased as the children, when I saw, from its quaint and grotesque pictures, that their treasure-trove was really a book of real old-fashioned fairy stories.
Of course, nothing would do but that the bedtime should be put off, and that I should read one, at least, of the stories to the young folks. As my selection won their unqualified admiration, and they are, as I have said, good critics, I send it to you for the benefit of your little people. Your studies in the Norse languages have perhaps made you familiar with the original of it; but I think it will be new to most boys and girls.
Your old chum,
Once upon a time there was a peasant, who had three sons, Peter, Paul, and John. Peter was tall, stout, rosy and good-natured, but a stupid fellow; Paul was thin, yellow, envious, and surly; while Jack was full of mischief, pale as a girl, but so small that he could stow himself away in his father's jack-boots; and so he was called Thumbling.
All the wealth the poor peasant had was his family; and so poor was he, that it was a very feast-day in his cottage if only a penny happened to jingle there. Food was very high then, and wages low; so, as soon as the three boys were big enough to work for themselves, the good father was obliged to urge them to leave the cottage where they were born, and to go out into the world to seek their fortune.
"In foreign lands," he said, "across the sea, bread could always be had, even if it took hard work to get it; while at home, in spite of all their toil, they were never sure of a crust for the morrow."
Now it happened that, not a mile from the woodman's hut, there was a magnificent wooden palace, with twenty balconies and six beautiful windows. And directly opposite these windows there sprang up, one fine summer's night, without the least warning, an immense oak, whose leaves and branches were so thickly clustered together, that one could hardly see in the king's house. It was no easy task to cut down this enormous tree, for it was so tough that it turned the edge of every axe that was wielded against it; and for every branch that was lopped off, or root that was plucked up, two instantly grew in its place. In vain did the king promise three bags of golden crowns to any one who would rid him of his troublesome neighbor; it was of no use at all; and he had at last to light his palace with candles, in broad daylight.
Nor was this the poor king's only trouble. Although the surrounding country was so rich in springs and brooks, that they frequently gushed out of the solid rock itself, yet in the royal gardens they couldn't get a drop of water. In summer time, the king and all his court had to wash their hands in beer, and their faces with mead, which was not convenient, if it was pleasant. So that at last the king promised broad lands, heaps of money, and the title of Lord Marquis, to anybody who would dig a well in his court-yard deep enough to give a supply of water all the year round. In spite, however, of these magnificent promises, no one could get the reward; for the palace was on a lofty hill, and after digging a foot under ground there was a solid granite rock, as hard as flint.
Now these two troubles disturbed the king so much, that he couldn't get them out of his head. Although he was not a very great monarch, yet he was as obstinate as the Emperor of China himself. So one fine day he hit upon this wise plan. He caused an enormous placard to be prepared, with the royal arms magnificently displayed at the top; and in it he promised, to whoever would cut down the troublesome oak-tree, and dig him a satisfactory well, no less rewards than the hand of his only daughter, and the half of his kingdom. This placard was posted up on the palace-gate, and copies all over the kingdom. Now, as the princess was as beautiful as the morning, and the half of a kingdom by no means to be despised, the offer was enough to tempt any one; and there shortly came to the palace, from Sweden and Norway, from Denmark and Russia, from the continent and from the islands, a host of sturdy suitors, with axe on shoulder and pick in hand, ready to undertake the task. But all that they hacked and hewed, picked and hollowed, was labor lost. At every stroke the oak grew harder, and the granite no softer; so that the most persevering had at last to give up in despair.
One fine day, about this time, when everybody all over the land was talking of this wonderful affair, and everybody's head was full of it, our three brothers began to ask each other why, since their father wished them to do so, they shouldn't go out into the world to seek their fortune. They didn't hope for any great success, nor did they expect the hand of the princess, or the half of the kingdom. All they wished for was a good place and a kind master; and who could say they wouldn't find them both somewhere at the court? So they decided to try their luck; and after receiving the blessing of their good father, they started off, with stout hearts, on their way to the king's palace.
Whilst the two older brothers were slowly trudging along, Thumbling scampered up and down the road like a wild thing, running backwards and forwards like a sportive dog, spying here, there, and everywhere, and noticing everything that was to be noticed. Nothing was too small for his sharp little eyes, and he kept constantly stopping his brothers to ask the why and the wherefore of everything: why the bees dived into the fragrant flower-cups? why the swallows skimmed along the rivers? why the butterflies zigzagged capriciously along the fields? To all these questions Peter only answered with a burst of stupid laughter; while the surly Paul shrugged his shoulders, and crossly bade the little Thumbling hold his tongue, telling him he was an inquisitive little simpleton.
As they were going along, they came to a dense forest of pines, that covered the crest of a mountain, on the top of which they heard the sound of a woodman's axe, and the crackling of branches as they fell to the ground.
"That is a very strange thing," said Thumbling, "to be cutting trees on the top of a mountain like this."
"It would astonish me very much to find that you were not astonished at everything," answered Peter, in a sour tone; "everything is wonderful to simpletons. I suppose you never heard of woodcutters."
"It's all the same to me what you say," said Thumbling; "but I am going to see what is going on up there."
"Be off with you!" cried Paul; "tire yourself all out, and that will be a good lesson to you, for wanting to know more than your big brothers."
Thumbling didn't trouble himself much with what his big brothers said, but started for the place whence the noise seemed to come, and, after much hard climbing and running, he arrived at the top of the mountain. And what do you suppose he found there? You would never guess, and so I will tell you. A MAGIC AXE, that all by itself was hacking away at one of the tallest trees on the mountain.
"Good morning, Mistress Axe," cried Thumbling. "Doesn't it tire you to be chopping all alone there at that old tree?"
"Many long years I have been waiting for you, my son," replied the axe.
"Very well, ma'am, here I am!" said Thumbling; and without being astonished at anything, he seized the axe, put it in the stout leather bag he carried over his shoulder, and gayly descended to overtake his brothers.
"What marvel did Master Moonstruck see up there?" asked Paul, looking at Thumbling with a very scornful air.
"It was an axe that we heard," answered Thumbling, slyly.
"I could have told you so beforehand," said Peter; "and here you are now, all tired out, for nothing. You had better stay with us another time."
A little farther along, they came to a place where the road was hollowed with extreme difficulty out of a mass of solid rock; and here, in the distance, the brothers heard a sharp noise, like that of iron striking against stone.
"It is very wonderful that anybody should be hammering away at rocks away up there!" remarked Thumbling.
"Truly," said Paul, "you must have been fledged yesterday! Didn't you ever hear a woodpecker pecking at the trunk of an old tree?"
"He is right," added Peter, laughing; "it must be a woodpecker. Stay with us, you foolish fellow."
"It's all the same to me," answered Thumbling; "but I am very curious to see what is going on up there." So he began to climb the rocks on his hands and knees, while his two brothers trudged along, making as much fun of him as possible.
When he got up to the top of the rock, which was only after a deal of hard work, what do you suppose he found there? A MAGIC PICKAXE, that, all alone by itself, was digging at the hard stone as if it were soft clay; and digging so well, that at every blow it went down more than a foot in the rock.
"Good morning, Mistress Pickaxe," said Thumbling. "Doesn't it tire you to be delving alone there, hollowing away at that old rock?"
"Many long years I have been waiting for you, my son," answered the pickaxe.
"Very well, ma'am! here I am," replied Thumbling; and, without being astonished at anything, he seized the pick, took it off its handle, put the two pieces in the stout leather bag he carried over his shoulder, and gayly descended to overtake his brothers.
"What miracle did his Worship see this time?" asked Paul, in a surly tone.
"It was a pickaxe that we heard," answered Thumbling, slyly; and he plodded along, without any more words.
A little farther along, they came to a brook. The water was clear and fresh, and, as the travellers were thirsty, they all stopped to drink out of the hollows of their hands.
"It is very wonderful," said Thumbling, "that there should be so much water in this little valley. I should like to see where this brook starts from."
But to this the only answer was from Paul, who said gruffly to his brother, "We shall soon see this inquisitive fellow climbing up to Heaven, and asking questions of the angels themselves."
"Very well!" says Thumbling; "it's all the same; and I am very curious to see where all this water comes from."
So saying, he began to follow up the streamlet, in spite of the jeers and scoldings of his brothers. And lo and behold! the farther he went, smaller and smaller grew the brook, and less and less the quantity of water. And when he came to the end, what do you think he found? A simple nut-shell, from the bottom of which a tiny stream of water burst out and sparkled in the sun.
"Good morning, Mistress Spring," cried Thumbling. "Doesn't it tire you to be gushing away there all alone in your little corner?"
"Many long years I have been waiting for you, my son," replied the spring.
"Very well, ma'am! here I am," said Thumbling; and without being astonished at anything, he seized the nut-shell, plugged it up with moss, so that the water shouldn't run out, put it in the stout leather bag he carried over his shoulder, and gayly descended to overtake his brothers.
"Do you know now where the brook starts from?" shouted Peter, as soon as he saw him.
"Yes, brother Peter," replied Thumbling; "it came out of a little hole."
"This boy is too bright to live," grumbled Peter.
But Thumbling quietly said to himself, and rubbed his hands meanwhile, "I have seen what I wanted to see, and I know what I wanted to know; let those laugh who wish."
Shortly after this, the brothers arrived at the king's palace. The oak was stouter and thicker than ever; there was no sign of a well in the court-yard; and at the gate of the palace still hung the imposing placard that promised the hand of the princess, and the half of the kingdom, to whoever, noble, gentleman, or peasant, should accomplish the two things his Majesty so ardently desired. Only, as the king was weary of so many fruitless attempts, which had only resulted in making him more despairing than before, he had ordered a second and smaller placard to be pasted directly above the large one. On this placard was written, in red letters, the following terrible words:
"Be it known, by these presents, that, in his inexhaustible goodness, his Majesty, the King, has deigned to order, that whosoever does not succeed in cutting down the oak, or in digging the well, shall have his ears promptly stricken off, in order to teach him the first lesson of wisdom,—TO KNOW HIMSELF."
And, in order that everybody should profit by this wise and prudent counsel, the king had caused to be nailed around this placard thirty bleeding ears, belonging to the unfortunate fellows who had proved themselves ignorant of the first lesson of wisdom.
When Peter read this notice, he laughed to himself, twisted his mustaches, looked proudly at his brawny arms, whose swollen veins looked like so many pieces of blue whipcord, swung his axe twice around his head, and with one blow chopped off one of the biggest branches of the enchanted tree. To his horror and dismay, however, there immediately sprang forth two more branches, each bigger and thicker than the first; and the king's guards thereupon immediately seized the unlucky woodcutter, and, without any more ado, sliced off both his ears.
"You are an awkward booby, and deserve your punishment," said Paul to his brother. Saying this, he took his axe, walked slowly around the tree, and, seeing a large root that projected from the soil, he chopped it off with a single blow. At the same instant, two enormous new roots broke from the ground; and, wonderful to relate, each one immediately shot out a trunk, thickly covered with foliage.
"Seize this miserable fellow," shouted the furious king; "and, since he did not profit by the example of his brother, shave off both his ears, close to his head!"
No sooner said than done. But now Thumbling, undismayed by this double misfortune, stepped bravely forward to try his fortune.
"Drive this little abortion away," cried the king; "and if he resists, chop off his ears. He will have the lesson all the same, and will spare us the sight of his stupidity."
"Pardon, gracious Majesty!" interrupted Thumbling. "The king has passed his word, and I have the right to a trial. It will be time enough to cut off my ears when I fail."
"Away, then, to the trial," said the king, with a heavy sigh; "but be careful that I don't have your nose cut off to boot."
Thumbling now drew his magic axe from the bottom of his stout leather bag. It was almost as big as he was, and he had no little difficulty and trouble in standing it up, with the handle leaning against the enchanted tree. At last, however, all was accomplished; and stepping back a few steps, he cried out, "Chop! chop!! chop!!!" And lo and behold! the axe began to chop, hew, hack, now right, now left, and up and down! Trunk, branches, roots, all were speedily cut to bits. In fact, it only took a quarter of an hour, and yet there was such a heap, a monstrous heap of wood, that the whole court had nothing else to burn for a whole year.
When the tree was entirely cut down and cleared away, Thumbling approached the king, (who, in the mean time, had sent for the princess, and caused her to sit down by his side, to see the wonderful thing,) and, making them both a low bow, said:—
"Is your Majesty entirely satisfied with his faithful subject?"
"Yes, so far so good," answered the king; "but I must have my well, or look out for your ears!"
All went then into the grand court-yard. The king placed himself on an elevated seat. The princess sat a little below, and looked with some anxiety at the little husband that Heaven seemed to have sent her. He was not the spouse she had dreamed of, certainly. Without troubling himself the least in the world, Thumbling now drew the magic pickaxe from his stout leather bag, calmly put it together, and then, laying it carefully on the ground in the proper place, he cried:—
"Pick! Pick!! Pick!!!"
And lo and behold! the pick began to burst the granite to splinters, and in less than a quarter of an hour had dug a well more than a hundred feet deep, in the solid rock.
"Does your Majesty think," asked Thumbling, bowing profoundly, "that the well is sufficiently deep?"
"Certainly," answered the king; "but where is the water to come from?"
"If your Majesty will grant me a moment longer," rejoined Thumbling, "your just impatience shall be satisfied." So saying, he drew from his stout leather bag the nut-shell, all covered as it was with moss, and placed it on a magnificent fountain vase, where, not having any water, they had put a bouquet of flowers.
"Gush! Gush!! Gush!!!" cried Thumbling.
And lo and behold! the water began to burst out among the flowers, singing with a gentle murmur, and falling down in a charming cascade, that was so cold that it made everybody present shiver; and so abundant, that in a quarter of an hour the well was filled, and a deep trench had to be dug to take away the surplus water; otherwise the whole palace would have been overflowed.
"Sire!" now said Thumbling, bending gracefully on one knee before the royal chair, "does your Majesty find that I have answered your conditions?"
"Yes! my Lord Marquis Thumbling," answered the king; "I am ready to give you the half of my kingdom, or to pay you the value of it, by means of a tax my loyal subjects will only be too happy to pay. As to giving you the princess, however, and calling you my son-in-law, that is another question; for that doesn't depend upon me alone."
"And what must I do for that?" asked Thumbling proudly, ogling the princess at the same time.
"You shall know to-morrow," replied the king; "and meanwhile you are my guest, and the most magnificent apartment in the palace shall be prepared for you."
After the departure of the king and princess, Thumbling ran to find his two brothers, who, with their ears cut off, looked like cropped curs. "Ah! my boys," said he, "do you think now I was wrong in being astonished at everything, as you said, and in trying to find out the why and wherefore of it?"
"You have had the luck," answered Paul coldly; "Fortune is blind, and doesn't always choose the most worthy upon whom to bestow her favors."
But Peter said, "You have done well, brother; and with or without ears, I am delighted at your good fortune, and only wish our poor old father was here to see it also."
Thumbling took his two brothers along with him, and, as he was in high favor at court, that very day he secured them good situations.
Meanwhile, the king was tossing uneasily on his magnificent bed, and broad awake. Such a son-in-law as Thumbling didn't please him overmuch, so he tried to see if he couldn't think of some way of breaking his word, without seeming to do so. For people that call themselves honest, this is by no means an easy task. Put a thief between honor and interest, you won't find him hesitate; but that is because he is a thief. In his perplexity, the king sent for Peter and Paul, since the two brothers were the only ones who could enlighten him on the birth, character, and disposition of our hero. Peter, who, as you remember, was good-natured, praised his brother warmly, which didn't please the king overmuch; but Paul put the king more at his ease, by trying to prove to him that Thumbling was nothing but an adventurer, and that it would be ridiculous that so great a monarch should be under obligations to such a contemptible fellow.
"The scamp is so vain," continued the malicious Paul, "that he thinks he is stout enough to manage a giant; and you can use this vanity of his to get rid of him. In the neighboring country there is an ugly Troll, who is the terror of the whole neighborhood. He devours all the cattle for ten leagues about, and commits unheard-of devastation everywhere. Now Thumbling has said a great many times that, if he wanted to, he would make this giant his slave."
"We shall see about this," said the king, who caught at the insinuation of the wicked brother, and thereupon sent the two brothers away, and slept tranquilly the rest of the night.
The next morning, when the whole court was called together, the king ordered Thumbling to be sent for; and presently he made his appearance, white as a lily, ruddy as a rose, and smiling as the morn.
"My good son-in-law," said the king, emphasizing these words, "a hero like yourself cannot marry a princess without giving her a present worthy of her exalted rank. Now there is in the neighboring woods a Troll, who, they say, is twenty feet high, and who eats a whole ox for his breakfast. This fine fellow, with his three-cornered hat, his golden epaulettes, his braided jacket, and his staff, fifteen feet long, would make a servant indeed worthy of a king. My daughter begs you to make her this trifling present, after which she will see about giving you her hand."
"That is not an easy task," answered Thumbling; "but, if it please your Majesty, I will try."
So saying, he went down to the kitchen, took his stout leather bag, put in it the magic axe, a loaf of bread, some cheese, and a knife, and then, throwing all over his shoulder, started off for the woods. Peter whimpered, but Paul chuckled, thinking that, his brother once gone, he should never see him back again.
Once fairly in the forest, Thumbling looked around to right and left; but the grass was so thick that he couldn't see anything, so he began to sing at the top of his voice,—
"Master Troll, Master Troll! I defy you to appear! I must have you, body and soul, Master Troll, Master Troll! Show yourself, for I AM HERE!"
"AND I AM HERE!" cried the giant, with a terrible shout. "Wait a minute, and I will only make a mouthful of you!"
"Don't be in a hurry, my good fellow," replied Thumbling, in a little squeaking voice, "I have a whole hour to give you."
When the Troll came to the place where Thumbling was, he looked around on every side, very much astonished at not seeing anything. At last, lowering his eyes to the ground, he discovered what appeared to be a little child, sitting on a fallen tree, with a stout leather bag between his knees.
"Is it you, pigmy, who woke me up from my nap?" growled the Troll, rolling his great red eyes.
"I am the very one," replied Thumbling, "I have come to take you into my service."
"He! he!" laughed the giant, who was as stupid as he was big, "that is a good joke indeed. But I am going to pitch you into that raven's nest I see up there, to teach you not to make a noise in my forest."
"Your forest!" laughed Thumbling. "It is as much mine as it is yours, and if you say a word more, I will cut it down in a quarter of an hour."
"Ha! ha!" shouted the giant, "and I should like to see you begin, my brave fellow."
Thumbling carefully placed the axe on the ground, and said, "Chop! chop!! chop!!!"
And lo and behold! the axe begins to chop, hew, hack, now right, now left, and up and down, till the branches tumble on the Troll's head like hail in autumn.
"Enough, enough!" said the Troll, who began to be alarmed. "Don't destroy my forest. But who the mischief are you?"
"I am the famous sorcerer THUMBLING," answered our hero, in as gruff a voice as his little body was capable of; "and I have only to say a single word to chop your head off your shoulders. You don't know yet with whom you have to do."
The giant hesitated, very much disturbed at what he saw. Meanwhile, Thumbling, who began to be hungry, opened his stout leather bag, and took out his bread and cheese.
"What is that white stuff?" asked the Troll, who had never seen any cheese before.
"That is a stone," answered Thumbling. He began to eat as eagerly as possible.
"Do you eat stones?" asked the giant.
"O yes," replied Thumbling, "that is my ordinary food, and that is the reason I am not so big as you, who eat oxen; but it is also the reason why, little as I am, I am ten times as strong as you are. Now take me to your house."
The Troll was conquered; and, marching before Thumbling like a dog before a little child, he led him to his monstrous cabin.
"Now listen," said Thumbling to the giant, after they were fairly seated, "one of us has got to be the master, and the other the servant. Let us make this bargain: if I can't do whatever you do, I am to be your slave; if you are not able to do whatever I do, you are to be mine."
"Agreed," said the Troll; "I should admire to have such a little servant as you are. It is too much work for me to think, and you have wit enough for both; so begin with the trial. Here are my two buckets,—go and get the water to make the soup."
Thumbling looked at the buckets. They were two enormous hogsheads, ten feet high and six broad. It would have been much easier for him to drown himself in them than to move them.
"O, ho!" shouted the giant, as he saw his hesitation; "and so you are stuck at the first thing, my boy! Do what I do, you know, and get the water."
"What is the good of that?" replied Thumbling, calmly; "I will go and get the spring itself, and put that in the pot."
"No! no!" said the Troll; "that won't do. You have already half spoiled my forest, and I don't want you to take my spring away, lest to-morrow I shall go dry. You may attend to the fire, and I will go and get the water."
After having hung up the kettle, the giant put into it an ox cut into pieces, fifty cabbages, and a wagon-load of carrots. He then skimmed the broth with a frying-pan, tasting it every now and then, to see if it was done. When all was ready, he turned to Thumbling, and said:—
"Now to the table. We'll see if you can do what I can there. I feel like eating the whole ox, and you into the bargain. I think I will serve you for dessert."
"All right," said Thumbling; but before sitting down to the table, he slipped under his jacket his stout leather bag, which reached down to his feet.
The two champions now set to work. The Troll ate and ate, and Thumbling wasn't idle; only he pitched everything, beef, cabbage, carrots, and all, into his bag, when the giant wasn't looking.
"Ouf!" at last grunted the Troll; "I can't do much more; I have got to unbutton the lower button of my waistcoat."
"Eat away, starveling!" cried Thumbling, sticking the half of a cabbage into his bag.
"Ouf!" groaned the giant; "I have got to unbutton another button. But what sort of an ostrich's stomach have you got, my son? I should think you were used to eating stones!"
"Eat away, lazy-bones!" said Thumbling, sticking a huge junk of beef into his bag.
"Ouf!" sighed the giant, for the third time; "I have got to unbutton the third button. I am almost suffocated; and how is it with you, sorcerer?"
"Bah!" answered Thumbling; "it is the easiest thing in the world to relieve yourself; and so saying he took his knife, and slit his jacket and the bag under it the whole length of his stomach.
"It is your turn now," he said to the giant; "do as I do, you know, if you can."
"Your humble servant," replied the Troll; "pray excuse me! I had rather be your servant than do that; my stomach don't digest steel!"
No sooner said than done; the giant kissed Thumbling's hand in token of submission, and taking his little master on one shoulder, and a huge bag of gold on the other, he started off for the king's palace.
They were having a great feast at the palace, and thinking no more of Thumbling than if the giant had eaten him up a week before; when, all of a sudden, they heard a terrible noise that shook the palace to its very foundations. It was the Troll, who, finding the great gateway too low for him to enter, had overturned it with a single kick of his foot. Everybody ran to the windows, the king among the rest, and there saw Thumbling quietly seated on the shoulder of his terrible servant.
Our adventurer sprang lightly to the balcony of the second story, where he saw his betrothed, and, bending gracefully on one knee, he said:—
"Princess, you asked me for a slave; I present you two."
This gallant speech was published the next morning in the Court Gazette; but at the moment it was said it was quite embarrassing to the poor king; and as he didn't know how to reply to it, he drew the princess one side, and thus addressed her:—
"My child, I have now no possible excuse for refusing your hand to this daring young man; sacrifice yourself, my darling, to your country; remember that princesses do not marry to please themselves."
"Pardon me, father," answered the princess, courtesying; "princess or not, every woman likes to marry according to her taste. Let me defend my rights as I think best."
"Thumbling," added she, aloud, "you are brave and lucky; but that is not enough alone to please women."
"I know that," answered Thumbling; "it is necessary besides to do their pleasure, and submit to their caprices."
"You are a witty fellow," said the princess; "and since you understand me so well, I am going to propose another trial to you. You need not be alarmed, for this time you will only have me for an antagonist. Let us try and see who will be the sharpest and quickest, and my hand shall be the prize of the battle."
Thumbling assented, with a low bow, and followed the court into the great hall of audience, where the trial was to take place. There, to the affright of all, the Troll was found, sprawling on the floor; for, as the hall was only fifteen feet high, the poor fellow couldn't get up. On a sign of his young master, he crawled humbly to him, happy and proud to obey. It was Force itself, in the service of Wit.
"Now," said the princess, "let us begin with some nonsense. It is an old story that women are not afraid to lie; and we will see which of us will stand the biggest story without objection. The first one who says, 'That is too much,' will be beaten."
"I am always at the service of your Royal Highness," answered Thumbling; "whether to lie in sport, or to tell the truth in sober earnest."
"I am sure," began the princess, "that you haven't got a farm half as beautiful as ours; and it is so large, that, when two shepherds are blowing their horns at each end of it, neither can hear the other."
"That is nothing at all," said Thumbling; "my father's farm is so large, that, if a heifer two months old goes in at the gate on one side of it, when she goes out at the other she takes a calf of her own with her."
"That don't surprise me," continued the princess; "but you haven't got a bull half as big as ours; a man can sit on each of his horns, and the two can't touch each other with a twenty-foot pole."
"That is nothing at all," replied Thumbling; "my father's bull is so large, that a servant sitting on one of his horns can't see the servant sitting on the other."
"That don't surprise me," said the princess; "but you haven't got half so much milk at your farm as we have; for we fill, every day, twenty hogsheads, a hundred feet high; and every week, we make a pile of cheese as high as the big pyramid of Egypt."
"That is nothing at all," said Thumbling. "In my father's dairy they make such big cheeses, that once, when my father's mare fell into the press, we only found her after travelling seven days, and she was so much injured that her back was broken. So to mend that I made her a backbone of a pine-tree, that answered splendidly; till one fine morning the tree took it into its head to grow, and it grew and grew until it was so high that I climbed up to Heaven on it. There I looked down, and saw a lady in a white gown spinning sea-foam to make gossamer with. I went to take hold of it, and snap! the thread broke, and I fell into a rat-hole. There I saw your father and my mother spinning; and as your father was clumsy, lo and behold, my mother gave him such a box on the ear, that it made his old wig shake——"
"That is too much!" interrupted the princess. "My father never suffered such an insult in all his life."
"She said it! she said it!" shouted the giant "Now, master, the princess is ours!"
But the princess said, blushing: "Not quite yet. I have three riddles to give you, Thumbling; guess them, and I will obey my father, and become your wife without any more objections. Tell me, first, what that is which is always falling, and is never broken?"
"Oh!" answered Thumbling, "my mother told me that a long time ago; it is a waterfall."
"That is so," interrupted the giant; "but who would have thought of that."
"Tell me, next," continued the princess, with a slight trembling in her voice, "what is that that every day goes the same journey, and yet never returns on its steps?"
"Oh!" answered Thumbling, "my mother told me that a long time ago; it is the sun."
"You are right," said the princess, pale with emotion. "And now for my last question, which you will never guess. What is that that you think, and that I don't think? What is that we both think, and what is that we neither of us think?"
Thumbling bent his head, and seemed embarrassed; and the Troll whispered to him: "Master, don't be disturbed. If you can't guess it, just make a sign to me, and I will carry off the princess, and make an end of the matter at once."
"Be silent, slave!" answered Thumbling. "Force alone can do nothing, my poor friend, and no one ought to know it better than you. Let me have my own way."
"Madame," said he then to the princess, in the midst of a profound silence, "I hardly dare guess; and yet in this riddle I plainly perceive my own happiness. I dared to think that your questions would have no difficulty for me, while you thought the contrary; you have the goodness to believe that I am not unworthy to please you, while I have hardly the boldness to think so; finally," added he, smilingly, "what we both think is, that there are bigger fools in the world than you and I; and what we neither of us think is, that the king, your august father, and this poor giant have as much—"
"Silence!" interrupted the princess; "here is my hand."
"What were you thinking about me?" asked the king; "I should be delighted to know."
"My dear father," said the princess, embracing him, "we think that you are the wisest of kings, and the best of fathers."
"It is well!" replied the king, loftily; "and now I must do something for my subjects. Thumbling, from this moment you are a Duke!"
"Long live Duke Thumbling! long live my master!" shouted the giant, with a terrific roar, that sounded like a clap of thunder breaking over the palace. But, luckily, there was no harm done, save badly frightening everybody, and breaking all the windows.
It would be unnecessary to give a full account of the wedding of the princess and Duke Thumbling. All weddings are alike; the difference is in what follows after them. Nevertheless, it would be improper in a truthful historian not to say that the presence of the Troll added a great deal to the magnificent display. For instance, when the happy couple were returning from the church, the giant, in the excess of his joy, found nothing better to do than to take the royal carriage on the top of his head, and to carry the wedded pair back to the palace. This is an incident worth noting, because it doesn't happen every day.
At night there was a splendid feast at the palace, with suppers, orations, poems, fireworks, illuminations, and everything. Nothing was wanting, and the joy was universal. Everybody in the palace laughed, sung, ate, or drank, save one man, who, seated sullenly alone in a dark corner, amused himself in a very different way from everybody else. It was the surly Paul, who rejoiced that his ears had been cut off, because he had become deaf, and consequently couldn't hear the praises all were showering on his brother. On the other hand, he was unhappy, because he couldn't help seeing the happiness of the bride and bridegroom. So he rushed out into the forest, where the bears speedily made an end of him; and I wish a like punishment to all envious people like him.
Thumbling was such a little fellow that it was hard work for his subjects to respect him; but he was so wise, so affable, and so kind, that he very soon conquered the love of his wife, and the affection of all his people.
After the death of his father-in-law, he succeeded to the throne, which he occupied fifty-two years, without anybody ever having thought of a revolution; a fact that would be incredible, if it were not attested by the official records of his reign. He was so wise, says history, that he always divined what could best serve or please the humblest of his subjects, while he was so good, that the pleasures of others constituted his greatest happiness. He only lived for others.
But why praise his goodness? Is not that the virtue of all men of intelligence and wit? Whatever others may say, I don't believe there are such things as good brutes here on earth; I speak now of featherless brutes that go on two legs. When a man is brutal, he cannot be kind and good; when a man is good, he cannot be brutal;—believe my long experience, which has learned it. If all blockheads are not vicious,—and I think they are,—all wicked men are necessarily foolish. And that is the moral of this story, if you can't find a better one. If you will find me a better, I will go and tell it to the Pope of Rome himself.
From the Finnish.
There was commotion in Leafland. All the cities of the Great Republic were smitten with sudden dismay. Oakwich, Mapleton, Ashby, Elmthorpe, Beechworth, Sumachford, Nutham, trembled from centre to circumference. There were hurried consultations, desperate resolutions rejected as soon as adopted, eager inventories taken of domestic property, and a fearful looking-for of coming calamity. For, on the fine September morning when the sun poured out golden showers, and Leafland sat fair and smiling in robes of green, and so the whole universe was golden-green, there came a messenger flying from the North country,—a wandering Wood-thrush, deserted, draggled, and forlorn, faltering on weary wing through the lovely lanes of Leafland. The men begged him to tarry; the women promised him the daintiest tidbit in the sweetest bower on the sunniest bough; and the little Leaf-people clapped their tiny hands, and danced on the tips of their tiny toes for glee. For so admirably managed in Leafland are the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Foreign Affairs, that you might think the Leaflanders had solved the great problem of universal brotherhood. The stranger that is within their gates is all one with him who is bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. No sooner does a foreigner enter their borders, than he is presented with the freedom of all their cities. They provide for his wants, protect him from danger, and cherish his home as tenderly as if he were one of themselves. Robin the Red-breast and shy little Veery, Pewee the plaintive and cheerful Chewink, Long-sparrow, Bluebird, and sweet Chickadee, all glide freely in and out of their green and golden halls, flit through their winding streets, and take part in all their delights. Nor have the Leaflanders any trouble to understand bird-language. They have not, like the old Ger-men, eaten the hearts of birds, but by a more excellent way have they entered into all their secrets. Through long summer days and the silence of dewy nights, they lean so lovingly over them, they stir so softly around the still bird-cradles, they coo so tenderly to the sweet egg-nestlings and the helpless baby-birds, that one heart-language springs up between them, and shines familiarly through all foreign phrase. Nor is it the birds alone who take out naturalization-papers in Leafland. All manner of nations and peoples partake of its hospitalities and remember it for blessing. You have only to be pure-hearted, and you may become at once a Leaflander.
So it came to pass that the Leaflanders were sore grieved at heart to see the weary Wood-thrush deaf to all their entreaties, and bent alone on pursuing his solitary way. But as he wheeled slowly above their heads, as he seemed just about to vanish into the blue distance, they heard his faint voice—whether in terror or weakness they could not tell—only the words fell distinctly on their ears,—
"I see! I see! I see! The Red-coats are coming!"
Faint and far and clarion-clear, it trembled through Leafland, low but ominous. Mapleton heard it and wondered; Elmthorpe and Ashby and Nutham repeated it, looking into one another's eyes for a meaning. Proud old Oakwich tried to assume a grave aspect, but was inwardly at her wits' end. "The Red-coats are coming." All the ancient men and women, great-great-great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers, whose childhood lay wellnigh lost in the infinite past of April days, said it over to each other with thin, quavering voices; but all their experience gave them no key to the mysterious message. Then the post-riders were brought into requisition. The whole corporation of Gale, Breeze, Zephyr, & Co., Express Company, all their clerks, agents, and errand-boys, were sent to and fro through the Commonwealth, to see if any one anywhere had a little light to bestow upon the subject. Alas! the light came all too soon, and brought infinite sighing and sobbing. A thought suddenly broke loose in Oakwich, and up spake an old Oakwichian. "Oh! and oh! and woe is me for my miserable land now, now about to be bereft of her children! All her strength destroyed, all her loveliness laid desolate!"
Straightway throughout Leafland rose the voice of wailing, "Woe! woe! woe! for the miserable land!" but none of them knew what they were crying for; only the Oakwichian began it, and nothing better occurred to them to do than to join in; which soon made the sunny day overcast, and all the people walking in Netherworld where it approaches Leafland wrapped their old cloaks about them, and said spitefully, "What a disagreeable, raw east-wind it is, to be sure!"
But by and by, when their throats were quite dry and sore with wailing, one of the Mapletonians, a very sensible young woman, quite famous indeed for her wisdom, bethought herself to inquire what it was all about. Then there was a very pretty outburst of indignation. For a moment they forgot their grief, and, what was still worse, their good manners, and turned upon the unfortunate young woman.
"And so you set yourself above your betters, and fiddle while Leafland is burning!" cried one.
"And pray, Miss Wiseacre," asked another, "how came you to know so much more than any one else? Who told you that nothing was the matter?"
"Oh! if women would only mind the house, and not meddle with what does not belong to them!" exclaimed a third.
All very unjust as you see, for surely the destruction of Leafland concerned the women as much as the men, and poor "Miss Wiseacre" had not so much as made an assertion,—only asked a question. However, the Leaflanders must be excused, because they were quite beside themselves with terror, and, moreover, a question is sometimes more exasperating than fire and sword.
But the old Oakwichian was more reasonable, and, ever glad, even in the article of death, to disseminate useful knowledge, interposed. "I will tell you what the matter is," he said. "Well I remember in the far-away past, in the sunny summer-days that will return, alas! no more,"—here a burst of sorrow prevented speech, but he presently recovered himself,—"how a little maid used to walk in Netherworld, and rest under the shadow of our greatness, toying with the light. She was a favorite with every one hereabouts. Gold was her hair like a spun sunbeam, blue her eyes like our own June sky, and her voice might sing the lowest lullaby of the Red Mavis, or his song to his love in her nest. Sometimes the little maiden looked up wistfully to us, her eyes all a-gleam with her glowing fancies. Then we pelted her with sunshine, and caressed her with shade, and then she was happiest of all. But sometimes she brought with her hateful things, tasks and tools, useless, awkward, bungling, sharp weapons, that hurt her tender fingers, long cords that she pulled aimlessly back and forth, huge books with harsh names, that blurred her dear eyes and gloomed her bright face. First we tried to shame and then to woo her away from them, but some invisible old dragon stood over her, and forced her on; and so we learned at length to watch and wait till the hated task was over. Thereby we learned many strange and wonderful things; but this alone is to the purpose, that I surely recall how for many days she kept reading about the Red-coats, and I peeped down over her shoulder, as we swayed in the dance one afternoon, and saw pictures of these same Red-coats, a great destroying army, fierce and fell, who burn villages, and talk piously, and slay men, women, and children. Them has friend Wood-thrush verily seen, and against them he strove to warn us. But, ah! what avails it? What can we do, or whither shall we flee! Can a nation take wing like a Wood-thrush? Can Leafland flit about like a Swallow? And who should warrant us that the Red-coats should not pursue us to remotest fastnesses? Nay, they may be even now upon us. Woe! woe is me! We were Leaflanders; Oakwich was, and the great glory of the Elmthorpians! But now we be all dead men!"
At this, the Leaflanders only paused long enough to upbraid the young woman. "See now whether anything is the matter!" and immediately fell to upon their despair.
"A nation in ruins!" cried the statesman. "Leafland falls from its lofty summit, and I live to see the day."
"I behold the gods departing from Leafland," spake the scholar. "This is the end of the fates of Leafland."
"Now I do not care for your gods and your fates and your what-all," sobbed a nervous little lady. "I never could see that they were of any use in housekeeping; but who shall watch over the tender birdlings when we are gone?"
"And never any more dances! Forever, never, never, forever!" You may know it was a belle said that.
"Dances are but the vanity of this world," moaned a sedate matron; "but woe for my dear pet Aphides, with their six hundred thousand children, who will be dead before they are born!"
"Bother your six hundred thousand children!" growled a crusty philosopher. "If they are dead, it is the only good thing ever I heard about them. It might be worth while to have one's country crashing about one's ears occasionally, for the sake of being well rid of such trash. Here are all our laboratories broken up, and the sun's occupation gone, and you making a to-do about a parcel of babies!"
"O the sweet sunshine!" wept a poet, but most musically,—"the warm, delicious sunshine, that our hungry souls can feed upon no more, nor ever fill our drinking-cups with nectared dew!"
And so in Mapleton and Sumachford and through all Leafland was nothing heard but the voice of lamentation, and nothing seen but floods of tears, and nothing thought of but how to avert or escape the threatened calamity; and, in their terror and trouble, the Leaflanders almost lost their fine tempers, and were often on the brink of quarrelling; and the people walking in Netherworld met each other under blue cotton umbrellas, and exclaimed, "What a spell of weather!" and altogether it was very uncomfortable, both in Leafland and Netherworld.
Just at this time a gay young Chipmonk appeared upon the scene,—a careless, dashing, saucy fellow, very popular among the young Leaflanders of the rapid sort. He came skipping and frisking into Nutham, as his manner was, both pockets full of corn which he had confiscated, he remarked significantly, from a field down yonder. He nodded jauntily right and left, and then disposed himself comfortably in a corner, and began cracking his dainties in a very free-and-easy manner, not noticing the woe-begone aspect of his friends. All at once, however, he awoke to a realizing sense of things, and showed his sympathy after his own fashion, by giving a sudden flirt with his tail, and calling out, irreverently, "What's the row?"
Amid tears and sighs, the sad story was related to him, in all its length and breadth and thickness; but, instead of the answering tear and sigh which his auditors expected, he only thrust his paws into his pockets, and whisked his tail over his back in frantic convulsions of laughter; muttering, as breath came to him in the pauses, "O, what a gony! For that matter, O, what a pack of gonies!"
Now the Leaflanders were quite too well-bred ever to have used or heard so barbarous a word as "gony." Nevertheless, reason and instinct both taught them, as it will teach all people of refined sensibilities, that to be called a gony is to be called something very disagreeable; and if anything can heighten the unpleasant sensation, it is to be called "a pack of gonies." Consequently the Leaflanders began to look at each other blankly, and even to suspect that possibly they had been making fools of themselves. But Chipmonk did not leave them long in suspense. "Your terrible Red-coats are your own selves," he cried. "I have heard of people being frightened by their own shadow; but never, in all my born days, did I hear of any one being frightened by his own shine."
"Now will you explain yourself?" cried one of the young ladies, her curiosity getting the better of her chagrin. All the old men and the young men were longing to know, but were too proud to ask; but the question being asked for them, they were glad enough to crowd in, and hear the answer.
"It is only this, and nothing more," answered Chipmonk, ejecting a pine-seed from his mouth. "You are all going to have a new suit of clothes, more splendid than you ever saw in your lives,—yellow and brown and spotted, and all manner of magnificent colors, but chiefly red; and then you will be Red-coats, won't you? Wood-thrush came from north, where the tailoring began; and he saw it, and told you. It is a sign for him to be up and flying. He thought it would be his excuse for declining your invitation, instead of which you all went thrusting your heads into a bramble-bush. O my!"
"But say, Chipmonk, do you know this? Are you sure of it? It seems too good news to be true."
"Well, all I can say is, I have lived here, man and boy, nigh on to forty months; and I know it always has happened about this time. I am young for a Chipmonk; but I was in full career long before the oldest crone among you was born; and if there is anything hereabouts that I don't know, you may take your affidavit it isn't worth knowing." And he sat back, and betook himself once more to his "confiscated" corn with the most indifferent superiority.
Oh! but there was gladness then in Leafland, you may be sure. All their sadness was turned to rejoicing; and even then the work of transformation—called, in squirrelicular, "tailoring"—began. Old and young, men and maids, felt a glory in their blood. All the essence of the summer-long sunshine seemed to pour itself into their hearts. From one end of Leafland to another was only singing and dancing and delight. Mapleton crowned herself with a golden crown, and Oakwich wreathed her brows with the sunset. All the beauty of the past was dull and sombre to this new splendor, this royal magnificence, born of the ineffable light.
A poet and a publisher walked through the Essex woods one October afternoon; and they remarked that the foliage was very brilliant this year, which was quite true; but if I had not been born, you never would have known all about it.
Was a fortress to be stormed: Boldly right in view they formed, All as quiet as a regiment parading: Then in front a line of flame! Then at left and right the same! Two platoons received a furious enfilading. To their places still they filed, And they smiled at the wild Cannonading.
"'T will be over in an hour! 'T will not be much of a shower! Never mind, my boys," said he, "a little drizzling!" Then to cross that fatal plain, Through the whirring, hurtling rain Of the grape-shot, and the minie-bullets' whistling! But he nothing heeds nor shuns, As he runs with the guns Brightly bristling!
Leaving trails of dead and dying In their track, yet forward flying Like a breaker where the gale of conflict rolled them, With a foam of flashing light Borne before them on their bright Burnished barrels,—O, 't was fearful to behold them! While from ramparts roaring loud Swept a cloud like a shroud To enfold them!
O, his color was the first! Through the burying cloud he burst, With the standard to the battle forward slanted! Through the belching, blinding breath Of the flaming jaws of Death, Till his banner on the bastion he had planted! By the screaming shot that fell, And the yell of the shell, Nothing daunted.
Right against the bulwark dashing, Over tangled branches crashing, 'Mid the plunging volleys thundering ever louder! There he clambers, there he stands, With the ensign in his hands,— O, was ever hero handsomer or prouder? Streaked with battle-sweat and slime, And sublime in the grime Of the powder!
'T was six minutes, at the least, Ere the closing combat ceased,— Near as we the mighty moments then could measure,— And we held our souls with awe, Till his haughty flag we saw On the lifting vapors drifting o'er the embrasure! Saw it glimmer in our tears, While our ears heard the cheers Rend the azure!
Through the abatis they broke, Through the surging cannon-smoke, And they drove the foe before like frightened cattle! O, but never wound was his, For in other wars than this, Where the volleys of Life's conflict roar and rattle, He must still, as he was wont, In the front bear the brunt Of the battle.
He shall guide the van of Truth! And in manhood, as in youth, Be her fearless, be her peerless Color-Bearer! With his high and bright example, Like a banner brave and ample, Ever leading through receding clouds of Error, To the empire of the Strong, And to Wrong he shall long Be a terror!
J. T. Trowbridge.
THE LITTLE PRISONER.
ON THE BATTLE-GROUND.
We—grandma, "our young folks," and I—live up here among the hills, in a quaint, old-fashioned farm-house,—older than any of the "old folks" now living; and every day, when the sun goes down, we gather around the great wood fire in the sitting-room, and talk and tell stories by the hour together. I tell the most of the stories; for, though I am only a plain farmer, going about in a slouched hat, a rusty coat, and a pair of pantaloons so old and threadbare that you would not wear them if you were in the ash business, I have mingled with men, seen a great many places, and been almost all over the world.
My own children like my stories, because they think they are true, and because they are all about the men I have met, and the places I have seen, and so give them some glimpses of what is going on in the busy life outside of our quiet country home; but I do not expect other young folks to like them as well as my own do,—for their own father will not tell them. However, I am going to write out a few of the many I know, in the hope that they may give some trifling pleasure and instruction to boys and girls I have never seen, and who gather of evenings around firesides far away from the one where all my stories are first told.
As I sit down to write by this bright, blazing fire, the clouds are scudding across the moon, and the wind is moaning around the old house, shaking the doors, and rattling the windows, and snapping the branches of the great trees as if a whole regiment of young giants were cracking their whips in the court-yard. On just such a night a wounded boy lay out on the Wilderness battle-ground!
You have heard of that great battle; how two hundred thousand men met in a dense forest, and for two long days and nights, over wooded hills, and through tangled valleys, and deep, rocky ravines, surged against each other like angry waves in a storm. And you have heard, too—what is very pitiful to hear—how, when that bloody storm was over, and the sun came out, dim and cold, on the cheerless May morning which followed, thirty thousand men—every one the father, brother, or friend of some young folks at home—lay dead and dying on that awful field. Amid such a host of dead and dying men, you might overlook one little boy, who, all that starless Friday night, lay there wounded in the Wilderness. I do not want you to overlook him, and therefore I am going to tell you his story.
He was a bright-eyed, fair-haired boy of twelve, the only son of his mother, who was a widow. He used to read at home of how little boys had gone to the war, how they had been in the great battles, and how great generals had praised them; and he longed to go to the war too, and to do something to make himself as famous as the little boy who fought on the Rappahannock. For a long time his mother was deaf to his entreaties,—and he would not go without her consent; but at last, when a friend of his father raised a company of hundred-days men in his native town, she let him join as a drummer-boy in the regiment.
The first battle he was in was the terrible one in the Wilderness. His regiment shared in the first day's fight, but he escaped unharmed; and all that night, though tired and hungry, he went about in the woods carrying water to the wounded. The next morning he snatched a few hours' sleep, and that and a good breakfast refreshed him greatly. At ten o'clock his regiment moved, and it kept moving and fighting all that day, until the sun went down; but, though a hundred of his comrades had fallen around him, he remained unhurt.
The shadows were deepening into darkness, and the night was hanging its lanterns up in the sky, when the weary men threw themselves on the ground to rest. Overcome with fatigue, he too lay down, and, giving one thought to his mother at home, and another to his Father in heaven, fell fast asleep. Suddenly the sharp rattle of musketry and the deafening roar of cannon sounded along the lines, and five thousand rebels rushed out upon them. Surprised and panic-stricken, our men broke and fled; and, roused by the terrible uproar, James—that was his name—sprang to his feet, but only in time to catch in his arms the captain, who was falling. He was shot through and through by a minie ball.
James laid him gently on the ground, took his head tenderly in his lap; and listened to the last words he had to send to his wife and children. Meanwhile, yelling like demons, the Rebels came on, and passed them. Then he could have escaped to the woods, but he would not leave his father's friend when he was dying.
Soon our men rallied, and in turn drove the enemy. Slowly and sullenly the Rebels fell back to the hill where James and his friend were lying. There they made a stand, and for half an hour fought desperately, but were at last overborne and forced back again. As they were on the eve of retreating, a tall, ragged ruffian came up to James, and demanded the watch and money of the captain.
"You will not rob a dying man?" said the little boy, looking up to him imploringly.
"Wall, I woan't!" was the Rebel's brutal reply, as he aimed his bayonet straight at the captain's heart.
By a quick, dexterous movement, James parried the blow; but, turning suddenly on the poor boy, the ruffian, with another thrust of his bayonet, ran him directly through the body. His head sunk back to the ground, and he fainted.
How long he lay there unconscious he does not know, but when he came to himself the moon had gone down, and the stars had disappeared, and thick, black clouds were filling all the sky. It did not rain, but the cold wind moaned among the trees, and chilled him through and through. He tried to rise, but a sharp pain came in his side, and for the first time he thought of his wound. Passing his hand to it, he found it was clotted with blood. The cold air had stopped the bleeding, and thus saved his life. Though the bayonet had gone clear through him, his hurt was not mortal, for no vital part was injured.
He thought of the captain, and spoke his name; but no answer came. Then he reached out his hand to find him. He was there, but his face was cold,—colder than the cold night that was about them. He was dead.
The wounded lay all around, and all this while their cries and groans, as they called piteously for water, or moaned aloud in their agony, came to his ear, and went to his very soul. He had heard their cries the night before, as he crept about among them in the thick woods; but then they had not sounded so sad, so pitiful, as now, and that night was not so cold, so dark, so cheerless as this was. Soon he knew the full extent of their agony. An intolerable thirst came upon him. Hot, melted lead seemed to run along his veins, and a burning heat, as of a fire of hot coals kindling in his side, almost consumed him. He cried out for help, but no help came,—for water, but still he thirsted. Then he prayed,—prayed to the Good Father, who he knew was looking pitifully down on him through the thick darkness, to come and help him.
And He came. He always comes to those who ask for Him. Soon the clouds grew darker, the wind rose higher, and the rain—the cooling, soothing, grateful rain—poured down in torrents. It wet him through and through, but it eased his pain, cooled the fever in his blood, and he slept! In all that cold and pelting storm he slept!
It was broad day when he awoke. The sun was shining dimly through the thick masses of gray clouds which floated in the sky, but the wind had gone down, and the rain was over. The moans of the wounded still came to him, but they were not so frequent, nor so terrible, as they were the night before. Many had found relief from the rain, and many had ceased moaning forever.
He could not rise, but, after long and painful effort, he succeeded in turning over on his side. Then he had a view of the scene around him. He lay near the summit of a gentle hill, at whose base a little brook was flowing. At the north it was crowned with a dense growth of oaks and pines and cedar thickets, but at the south and west it sloped away into waving meadows and pleasant cornfields, already green with the opening beauty of spring. Beyond the meadows were other hills, and knolls, and rocky heights, all covered with an almost impenetrable forest, and there the hardest fighting of those terrible days was done. A narrow road, bordered by a worm-fence (Western boys know what a worm-fence is), wound around the foot of the hill, and led to a large mansion standing half hidden in a grove of oaks and elms, not half a mile away. Before this mansion were pleasant lawns and gardens, and in its rear a score or more of little negro houses, whose whitewashed walls were gleaming in the sun. This was the plantation—so James afterwards learned—of Major Lucy, one of those wicked men whose bad ambition has brought this dreadful war on our country.
The scene was very beautiful, and, looking at it, James forgot for a moment the darker picture, drawn in blood, on the grass around him. But there it was. Blackened muskets, broken saddles, overturned caissons, wounded horses snorting in agony, and fair-haired boys and gray-haired men mangled and bleeding,—some piled in heaps, and some stretched out singly to die,—lay all over that green hillside! Here and there a crippled soldier was creeping about among the wounded, and, close by, a stalwart man, the blood dripping from his dangling sleeve, was wrapping a blue-eyed, pale-faced boy in his blanket. "Don't cry, Freddy," he said; "ye sha'n't be cold! Yer mother'll soon be yere!" But the boy gave no answer, for—he was dead!
"He don't hear you," said James. "He isn't cold now!"
"I'se afeard he ar',—he said he war. Oh! ef his mother know'd he war yere! 't would break her heart,—break her heart!" moaned the man, still wrapping the blanket about the boy.
James closed his eyes to shut out the painful scene, and the thought of his own mother came to him. Would it not break her heart to know he was wounded? to hear, perhaps, that he was dead? He must not die; for her sake, he must not die! ONE only could help him, and so he prayed. Again he prayed that the Good Father would come to him, and again the Good Father came!
"What is ye a doin' yere, honey,—a little one loike ye?" asked a kind voice at his side.
He looked up. It was an old black woman, dressed in a faded woollen gown, a red and yellow turban, and a pair of flesh-colored stockings which Nature herself had given her. She was very short, almost as broad as she was long, and had a face as large round as the moon,—and it looked very much like the moon when it shines through a black cloud; for, though darker than midnight, it was all over light,—that kind of light which shines through the faces of good people.
"I am wounded; I want water," said the little boy, feebly.
"Ye shill hab it, honey," said the woman, giving him some from a bucket she had set on the ground.
"Guv some ter my lad," cried the man who sat by the dead boy; "he's been a cryin' fur it all night—all night! Didn't ye yere him?"
"No, I didn't, massa. I hain't been yere more'n a hour, and a tousand's a heap fur one ole ooman ter 'tend on," she replied, filling a gourd from the bucket, and going with it to the dead boy.
She stooped down and held the water to his lips, but in a moment started back, and cried out in a frightened way,—"He'm dead! He can't drink no more!"
"He hain't dead!" yelled the man, fiercely; "he sha'n't die! Guv me the water, ole 'ooman."
With a trembling hand, he tried to give it to his son. He held it to the boy's lips for a moment, then, dropping the gourd, and sinking to the ground, he cried out,—"It'll kill his mother,—kill his mother! Oh! oh!"
"He'm better off, massa," said the woman, in a voice full of pity; "he'm whar he kin drink foreber ob de bery water ob life."